My Uncle Makes A Great Discovery
From: A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth
Looking back to all that has occurred to me since that eventful day, I
am scarcely able to believe in the reality of my adventures. They were
truly so wonderful that even now I am bewildered when I think of them.
My uncle was a German, having married my mother's sister, an
Englishwoman. Being very much attached to his fatherless nephew, he
invited me to study under him in his home in the fatherland. This home
was in a large town, and my uncle a professor of philosophy, chemistry,
geology, mineralogy, and many other ologies.
One day, after passing some hours in the laboratory my uncle being
absent at the time I suddenly felt the necessity of renovating the
, I was hungry, and was about to rouse up our old French
cook, when my uncle, Professor Von Hardwigg, suddenly opened the street
door, and came rushing upstairs.
Now Professor Hardwigg, my worthy uncle, is by no means a bad sort of
man; he is, however, choleric and original. To bear with him means to
obey; and scarcely had his heavy feet resounded within our joint
domicile than he shouted for me to attend upon him.
"Harry Harry Harry "
I hastened to obey, but before I could reach his room, jumping three
steps at a time, he was stamping his right foot upon the landing.
"Harry!" he cried, in a frantic tone, "are you coming up?"
Now to tell the truth, at that moment I was far more interested in the
question as to what was to constitute our dinner than in any problem of
science; to me soup was more interesting than soda, an omelette more
tempting than arithmetic, and an artichoke of ten times more value than
any amount of asbestos.
But my uncle was not a man to be kept waiting; so adjourning therefore
all minor questions, I presented myself before him.
He was a very learned man. Now most persons in this category supply
themselves with information, as peddlers do with goods, for the benefit
of others, and lay up stores in order to diffuse them abroad for the
benefit of society in general. Not so my excellent uncle, Professor
Hardwigg; he studied, he consumed the midnight oil, he pored over heavy
tomes, and digested huge quartos and folios in order to keep the
knowledge acquired to himself.
There was a reason, and it may be regarded as a good one, why my uncle
objected to display his learning more than was absolutely necessary: he
stammered; and when intent upon explaining the phenomena of the heavens,
was apt to find himself at fault, and allude in such a vague way to sun,
moon, and stars that few were able to comprehend his meaning. To tell
the honest truth, when the right word would not come, it was generally
replaced by a very powerful adjective.
In connection with the sciences there are many almost unpronounceable
names names very much resembling those of Welsh villages; and my uncle
being very fond of using them, his habit of stammering was not thereby
improved. In fact, there were periods in his discourse when he would
finally give up and swallow his discomfiture in a glass of water.
As I said, my uncle, Professor Hardwigg, was a very learned man; and I
now add a most kind relative. I was bound to him by the double ties of
affection and interest. I took deep interest in all his doings, and
hoped some day to be almost as learned myself. It was a rare thing for
me to be absent from his lectures. Like him, I preferred mineralogy to
all the other sciences. My anxiety was to gain real knowledge of the
. Geology and mineralogy were to us the sole objects of life, and
in connection with these studies many a fair specimen of stone, chalk,
or metal did we break with our hammers.
Steel rods, loadstones, glass pipes, and bottles of various acids were
oftener before us than our meals. My uncle Hardwigg was once known to
classify six hundred different geological specimens by their weight,
hardness, fusibility, sound, taste, and smell.
He corresponded with all the great, learned, and scientific men of the
age. I was, therefore, in constant communication with, at all events the
letters of, Sir Humphry Davy, Captain Franklin, and other great men.
But before I state the subject on which my uncle wished to confer with
me, I must say a word about his personal appearance. Alas! my readers
will see a very different portrait of him at a future time, after he has
gone through the fearful adventures yet to be related.
My uncle was fifty years old; tall, thin, and wiry. Large spectacles
hid, to a certain extent, his vast, round, and goggle eyes, while his
nose was irreverently compared to a thin file. So much indeed did it
resemble that useful article, that a compass was said in his presence to
have made considerable N (Nasal) deviation.
The truth being told, however, the only article really attracted to my
uncle's nose was tobacco.
Another peculiarity of his was, that he always stepped a yard at a time,
clenched his fists as if he were going to hit you, and was, when in one
of his peculiar humors, very far from a pleasant companion.
It is further necessary to observe that he lived in a very nice house,
in that very nice street, the Konigstrasse at Hamburg. Though lying in
the centre of a town, it was perfectly rural in its aspect half wood,
half bricks, with old-fashioned gables one of the few old houses spared
by the great fire of 1842.
When I say a nice house, I mean a handsome house old, tottering, and
not exactly comfortable to English notions: a house a little off the
perpendicular and inclined to fall into the neighboring canal; exactly
the house for a wandering artist to depict; all the more that you could
scarcely see it for ivy and a magnificent old tree which grew over the
My uncle was rich; his house was his own property, while he had a
considerable private income. To my notion the best part of his
possessions was his god-daughter, Gretchen. And the old cook, the young
lady, the Professor and I were the sole inhabitants.
I loved mineralogy, I loved geology. To me there was nothing like
pebbles and if my uncle had been in a little less of a fury, we should
have been the happiest of families. To prove the excellent Hardwigg's
impatience, I solemnly declare that when the flowers in the drawing-room
pots began to grow, he rose every morning at four o'clock to make them
grow quicker by pulling the leaves!
Having described my uncle, I will now give an account of our interview.
He received me in his study; a perfect museum, containing every natural
curiosity that can well be imagined minerals, however, predominating.
Every one was familiar to me, having been catalogued by my own hand. My
uncle, apparently oblivious of the fact that he had summoned me to his
presence, was absorbed in a book. He was particularly fond of early
editions, tall copies, and unique works.
"Wonderful!" he cried, tapping his forehead. "Wonderful wonderful!"
It was one of those yellow-leaved volumes now rarely found on stalls,
and to me it appeared to possess but little value. My uncle, however,
was in raptures.
He admired its binding, the clearness of its characters, the ease with
which it opened in his hand, and repeated aloud, half a dozen times,
that it was very, very old.
To my fancy he was making a great fuss about nothing, but it was not my
province to say so. On the contrary, I professed considerable interest
in the subject, and asked him what it was about.
"It is the Heims-Kringla of Snorre Tarleson," he said, "the celebrated
Icelandic author of the twelfth century it is a true and correct
account of the Norwegian princes who reigned in Iceland."
My next question related to the language in which it was written. I
hoped at all events it was translated into German. My uncle was
indignant at the very thought, and declared he wouldn't give a penny for
a translation. His delight was to have found the original work in the
Icelandic tongue, which he declared to be one of the most magnificent
and yet simple idioms in the world while at the same time its
grammatical combinations were the most varied known to students.
"About as easy as German?" was my insidious remark.
My uncle shrugged his shoulders.
"The letters at all events," I said, "are rather difficult of
"It is a Runic manuscript, the language of the original population of
Iceland, invented by Odin himself," cried my uncle, angry at my
I was about to venture upon some misplaced joke on the subject, when a
small scrap of parchment fell out of the leaves. Like a hungry man
snatching at a morsel of bread the Professor seized it. It was about
five inches by three and was scrawled over in the most extraordinary
The lines shown here are an exact facsimile of what was written on the
venerable piece of parchment and have wonderful importance, as they
induced my uncle to undertake the most wonderful series of adventures
which ever fell to the lot of human beings.
My uncle looked keenly at the document for some moments and then
declared that it was Runic. The letters were similar to those in the
book, but then what did they mean? This was exactly what I wanted to
Now as I had a strong conviction that the Runic alphabet and dialect
were simply an invention to mystify poor human nature, I was delighted
to find that my uncle knew as much about the matter as I did which was
nothing. At all events the tremulous motion of his fingers made me think
"And yet," he muttered to himself, "it is old Icelandic, I am sure of
And my uncle ought to have known, for he was a perfect polyglot
dictionary in himself. He did not pretend, like a certain learned
pundit, to speak the two thousand languages and four thousand idioms
made use of in different parts of the globe, but he did know all the
more important ones.
It is a matter of great doubt to me now, to what violent measures my
uncle's impetuosity might have led him, had not the clock struck two,
and our old French cook called out to let us know that dinner was on the
"Bother the dinner!" cried my uncle.
But as I was hungry, I sallied forth to the dining room, where I took up
my usual quarters. Out of politeness I waited three minutes, but no sign
of my uncle, the Professor. I was surprised. He was not usually so blind
to the pleasure of a good dinner. It was the acme of German
luxury parsley soup, a ham omelette with sorrel trimmings, an oyster of
veal stewed with prunes, delicious fruit, and sparkling Moselle. For the
sake of poring over this musty old piece of parchment, my uncle forbore
to share our meal. To satisfy my conscience, I ate for both.
The old cook and housekeeper was nearly out of her mind. After taking so
much trouble, to find her master not appear at dinner was to her a sad
disappointment which, as she occasionally watched the havoc I was
making on the viands, became also alarm. If my uncle were to come to
table after all?
Suddenly, just as I had consumed the last apple and drunk the last glass
of wine, a terrible voice was heard at no great distance. It was my
uncle roaring for me to come to him. I made very nearly one leap of
it so loud, so fierce was his tone.
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