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is that wherein the proudest of us all feels himself to be nothing more than he is: but I find myself unable to manage it with decorum; these details are of a species of horror so nauseous and disgusting; they are so degrading to the sufferers and to the hearers; they are so humiliating to human nature itself, that, on better thoughts, I find it more advisable to throw a pall over this hideous object, and to leave it to your general conceptions."
"IT is very strange," said the Bachelor, "when Egeria had laid down the book, that we should enjoy so much pleasure from the description of calamities."
"It argues," said the nymph, "nothing very favourable to the benevolence of the human heart."
"Yes; it is a proof of the malice of our nature, that we should find delight in hearing of the sufferings of our fellow-creatures," replied the Bachelor.
"I did not make the remark with any reference to so general a sentiment," said Egeria;-" but, now that you call my attention to it so particularly, I must own that it does look as if we had a latent penchant to be pleased with evil. May not, however, our pleasure in perusing descriptions of sorrows and calamities arise from the degree of excitement which they produce on our sympathetic feelings? Be the
source of our enjoyment, however, in the good or the bad properties of our own heart, there is no disputing the fact, that we do receive great pleasure from well-drawn pictures, whether they be with words or with colours, of those scenes in which the nothingness of man, as an object of the care of Providence, is most strikingly delineated. This morning for example, in turning over the leaves of De Humboldt's Travels, I felt myself very pleasingly interested by his vigorous description of the catastrophe which befell the city of Caraccas. I shall read it to you."
"A great drought prevailed at this period in the province of Venezuela. Not a single drop of rain had fallen at Caraccas, or in the country ninety leagues round, during the five months which preceded the destruction of the capital. The 26th of March was a remarkably hot day. The air was calm and the sky unclouded. It was Holy Thursday, and a great part of the population was assembled in the churches. Nothing seemed to presage the calamities of the day. At seven minutes after four in the afternoon the first shock was felt; it was sufficiently powerful to make the bells of the churches toll; it lasted five or six seconds, during which time the ground was in a continual undulating movement, and seemed to heave up like a boiling liquid. The danger was thought to be past, when a tremendous subterraneous noise was heard, resembling the rolling of thunder, but louder, and of longer continuance, than that heard within the tropics in time of storms. This noise preceded a perpendicular motion of three or four seconds, followed by an undulatory movement somewhat longer. The shocks were in opposite directions, from north to
south, and from east to west. Nothing could resist the movement from beneath upward, and undulations crossing each other. The town of Caraccas was entirely overthrown. Thousands of the inhabitants (between nine and ten thousand) were buried under the ruins of the houses and churches. The procession had not yet set out; but the crowd was so great in the churches, that nearly three or four thousand persons were crushed by the fall of their vaulted roofs. The explosion was stronger toward the north, in that part of the town situated nearest the mountain of Avila, and the Silla. The churches of La Trinidad, and Alta Gracia, which were more than one hundred and fifty feet high, and the naves of which were supported by pillars of twelve or fifteen feet diameter, left a mass of ruins scarcely exceeding five or six feet in elevation. The sinking of the ruins has been so considerable, that there now scarcely remain any vestiges of pillars or columns. The barracks, called El Quartel de San Carlos, situate farther north of the church of the Trinity, on the road from the customhouse de la Pastora, almost entirely disappeared. A regiment of troops of the line, that was assembled under arms, ready to join the procession, was, with the exception of a few men, buried under the ruins of this great edifice. Nine-tenths of the fine town of Caraccas were entirely destroyed. The walls of the houses that were not thrown down, as those of the street San Juan, near the Capuchin Hospital, were cracked in such a manner that it was impossible to run the risk of inhabiting them. The effects of the earthquake were somewhat less violent in the western and southern parts of the city, between the principal square and the ravin of Caraguata. There the cathedral, supported by enormous buttresses, remains standing.
Estimating at nine or ten thousand the number of the dead in the city of Caraccas, we do not include those
unhappy persons, who, dangerously wounded, perished several months after for want of food and proper care. The night of Holy Thursday presented the most distressing scene of desolation and sorrow. That thick cloud of dust, which, rising above the ruins, darkened the sky like a fog, had settled on the ground. No shock was felt, and never was a night more calm or more serene. The moon, nearly full, illumined the rounded domes of the Silla, and the aspect of the sky formed a perfect contrast to that of the earth, covered with the dead and heaped with ruins. Mothers were seen bearing in their arms their children, whom they hoped to recall to life. Desolate families wandered through the city seeking a brother, a husband, a friend, of whose fate they were ignorant, and whom they believed to be lost in the crowd. The people pressed along the streets, which could no more be recognised but by long lines of ruins.
"All the calamities experienced in the great catastrophes of Lisbon, Messina, Lima, and Riobamba, were renewed on the fatal day of the 26th of March 1812. The wounded, buried under the ruins, implored by their cries the help of the passers-by, and nearly two thousand were dug out. Never was pity displayed in a more affecting manner; never had it been seen more ingeniously active, than in the efforts employed to save the miserable victims, whose groans reached the ear. Implements for digging and clearing away the ruins were entirely wanting; and the people were obliged to use their bare hands to disinter the living. The wounded, as well as the sick who had escaped from the hospitals, were laid on the banks of the small river Guayra. They found no shelter but the foliage of trees. Beds, linen to dress the wounds, instruments of surgery, medicines, and objects of the most urgent necessity, were buried under the ruins. Every thing, even food, was wanting during the first days. Water became alike scarce in the
interior of the city. The commotion had rent the pipes of the fountains; the falling in of the earth had choaked up the springs that supplied them; and it became necessary, in order to have water, to go down to the river Guayra, which was considerably swelled; and then vessels to convey the water were wanting.
"There remained a duty to be fulfilled toward the dead, enjoined at once by piety and the dread of infection. It being impossible to inter so many thousand corpses, half-buried under the ruins, commissaries were appointed to burn the bodies; and for this purpose funeral piles were erected between the heaps of ruins. This ceremony lasted several days. Amid so many public calamities, the people devoted themselves to those religious duties, which they thought were the most fitted to appease the wrath of Heaven. Some, assembling in processions, sang funeral hymns; others, in a state of distraction, confessed themselves aloud in the streets. In this town was now repeated, what had been remarked in the province of Quito after the tremendous earthquake of 1797;-a number of marriages were contracted, between persons who had neglected for many years to sanction their union by the sacerdotal benediction; children found parents, by whom they had never till then been acknowledged; restitutions were promised by persons who had never been accused of fraud; and families, who had long been enemies, were drawn together by the tie of common calamity.”
"Doubtless," said the Bachelor, "in that description of De Humboldt many things give us pleasure which reasonably ought not to do so; but does it not arise from the satisfaction that we derive from the contemplation of the vast power exerted to produce such appalling effects?"
"Yes," replied Egeria, "I think you are