The Central Sea

: A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

At first I saw absolutely nothing. My eyes, wholly unused to the

effulgence of light, could not bear the sudden brightness; and I was

compelled to close them. When I was able to reopen them, I stood still,

far more stupefied than astonished. Not all the wildest effects of

imagination could have conjured up such a scene! "The sea the sea," I


"Yes," replied my uncle, in a tone of pardonable pride; "t
e Central

Sea. No future navigator will deny the fact of my having discovered it;

and hence of acquiring a right of giving it a name."

It was quite true. A vast, limitless expanse of water, the end of a lake

if not of an ocean, spread before us, until it was lost in the distance.

The shore, which was very much indented, consisted of a beautiful soft

golden sand, mixed with small shells, the long-deserted home of some of

the creatures of a past age. The waves broke incessantly and with a

peculiarly sonorous murmur, to be found in underground localities. A

slight frothy flake arose as the wind blew along the pellucid waters;

and many a dash of spray was blown into my face. The mighty

superstructure of rock which rose above to an inconceivable height left

only a narrow opening but where we stood, there was a large margin of

strand. On all sides were capes and promontories and enormous cliffs,

partially worn by the eternal breaking of the waves, through countless

ages! And as I gazed from side to side, the mighty rocks faded away like

a fleecy film of cloud.

It was in reality an ocean, with an the usual characteristics of an

inland sea, only horribly wild so rigid, cold and savage.

One thing startled and puzzled me greatly. How was it that I was able to

look upon that vast sheet of water instead of being plunged in utter

darkness? The vast landscape before me was lit up like day. But there

was wanting the dazzling brilliancy, the splendid irradiation of the

sun; the pale cold illumination of the moon; the brightness of the

stars. The illuminating power in this subterranean region, from its

trembling and Rickering character, its clear dry whiteness, the very

slight elevation of its temperature, its great superiority to that of

the moon, was evidently electric; something in the nature of the aurora

borealis, only that its phenomena were constant, and able to light up

the whole of the ocean cavern.

The tremendous vault above our heads, the sky, so to speak, appeared to

be composed of a conglomeration of nebulous vapors, in constant motion.

I should originally have supposed that, under such an atmospheric

pressure as must exist in that place, the evaporation of water could not

really take place, and yet from the action of some physical law, which

escaped my memory, there were heavy and dense clouds rolling along that

mighty vault, partially concealing the roof. Electric currents produced

astonishing play of light and shade in the distance, especially around

the heavier clouds. Deep shadows were cast beneath, and then suddenly,

between two clouds, there would come a ray of unusual beauty, and

remarkable intensity. And yet it was not like the sun, for it gave no


The effect was sad and excruciatingly melancholy. Instead of a noble

firmament of blue, studded with stars, there was above me a heavy roof

of granite, which seemed to crush me.

Gazing around, I began to think of the theory of the English captain who

compared the earth to a vast hollow sphere in the interior of which the

air is retained in a luminous state by means of atmospheric pressure,

while two stars, Pluto and Proserpine, circled there in their mysterious

orbits. After all, suppose the old fellow was right!

In truth, we were imprisoned bound as it were, in a vast excavation.

Its width it was impossible to make out; the shore, on either hand,

widening rapidly until lost to sight; while its length was equally

uncertain. A haze on the distant horizon bounded our view. As to its

height, we could see that it must be many miles to the roof. Looking

upward, it was impossible to discover where the stupendous roof began.

The lowest of the clouds must have been floating at an elevation of two

thousand yards, a height greater than that of terrestrial vapors, which

circumstance was doubtless owing to the extreme density of the air.

I use the word "cavern" in order to give an idea of the place. I cannot

describe its awful grandeur; human language fails to convey an idea of

its savage sublimity. Whether this singular vacuum had or had not been

caused by the sudden cooling of the earth when in a state of fusion, I

could not say. I had read of most wonderful and gigantic caverns but,

none in any way like this.

The great grotto of Guachara, in Colombia, visited by the learned

Humboldt; the vast and partially explored Mammoth Cave in Kentucky what

were these holes in the earth to that in which I stood in speechless

admiration! with its vapory clouds, its electric light, and the mighty

ocean slumbering in its bosom! Imagination, not description, can alone

give an idea of the splendor and vastness of the cave.

I gazed at these marvels in profound silence. Words were utterly wanting

to indicate the sensations of wonder I experienced. I seemed, as I stood

upon that mysterious shore, as if I were some wandering inhabitant of a

distant planet, present for the first time at the spectacle of some

terrestrial phenomena belonging to another existence. To give body and

existence to such new sensations would have required the coinage of new

words and here my feeble brain found itself wholly at fault. I looked

on, I thought, I reflected, I admired, in a state of stupefaction not

altogether unmingled with fear!

The unexpected spectacle restored some color to my pallid cheeks. I

seemed to be actually getting better under the influence of this

novelty. Moreover, the vivacity of the dense atmosphere reanimated my

body by inflating my lungs with unaccustomed oxygen.

It will be readily conceived that after an imprisonment of forty-seven

days, in a dark and miserable tunnel it was with infinite delight that I

breathed this saline air. It was like the genial, reviving influence of

the salt sea waves.

My uncle had already got over the first surprise.

With the Latin poet Horace his idea was that

Not to admire is all the art I know,

To make man happy and to keep him so.

"Well," he said, after giving me time thoroughly to appreciate the

marvels of this underground sea, "do you feel strong enough to walk up

and down?"

"Certainly," was my ready answer, "nothing would give me greater


"Well then, my boy," he said, "lean on my arm, and we will stroll along

the beach."

I accepted his offer eagerly, and we began to walk along the shores of

this extraordinary lake. To our left were abrupt rocks, piled one upon

the other a stupendous titanic pile; down their sides leaped

innumerable cascades, which at last, becoming limpid and murmuring

streams, were lost in the waters of the lake. Light vapors, which rose

here and there, and floated in fleecy clouds from rock to rock,

indicated hot springs, which also poured their superfluity into the vast

reservoir at our feet.

Among them I recognized our old and faithful stream, the Hansbach,

which, lost in that wild basin, seemed as if it had been flowing since

the creation of the world.

"We shall miss our excellent friend," I remarked, with a deep sigh.

"Bah!" said my uncle testily, "what matters it? That or another, it is

all the same."

I thought the remark ungrateful, and felt almost inclined to say so; but

I forbore.

At this moment my attention was attracted by an unexpected spectacle.

After we had gone about five hundred yards, we suddenly turned a steep

promontory, and found ourselves close to a lofty forest! It consisted of

straight trunks with tufted tops, in shape like parasols. The air seemed

to have no effect upon these trees which in spite of a tolerable breeze

remained as still and motionless as if they had been petrified.

I hastened forward. I could find no name for these singular formations.

Did they not belong to the two thousand and more known trees or were we

to make the discovery of a new growth? By no means. When we at last

reached the forest, and stood beneath the trees, my surprise gave way to


In truth, I was simply in the presence of a very ordinary product of the

earth, of singular and gigantic proportions. My uncle unhesitatingly

called them by their real names.

"It is only," he said, in his coolest manner, "a forest of mushrooms."

On close examination I found that he was not mistaken. Judge of the

development attained by this product of damp hot soils. I had heard that

the Lycoperdon giganteum reaches nine feet in circumference, but here

were white mushrooms, nearly forty feet high, and with tops of equal

dimensions. They grew in countless thousands the light could not make

its way through their massive substance, and beneath them reigned a

gloomy and mystic darkness.

Still I wished to go forward. The cold in the shades of this singular

forest was intense. For nearly an hour we wandered about in this visible

darkness. At length I left the spot, and once more returned to the

shores of the lake, to light and comparative warmth.

But the amazing vegetation of subterraneous land was not confined to

gigantic mushrooms. New wonders awaited us at every step. We had not

gone many hundred yards, when we came upon a mighty group of other trees

with discolored leaves the common humble trees of Mother Earth, of an

exorbitant and phenomenal size: lycopods a hundred feet high; flowering

ferns as tall as pines; gigantic grasses!

"Astonishing, magnificent, splendid!" cried my uncle; "here we have

before us the whole flora of the second period of the world, that of

transition. Behold the humble plants of our gardens, which in the first

ages of the world were mighty trees. Look around you, my dear Harry. No

botanist ever before gazed on such a sight!"

My uncle's enthusiasm, always a little more than was required, was now


"You are right, Uncle," I remarked. "Providence appears to have designed

the preservation in this vast and mysterious hothouse of antediluvian

plants, to prove the sagacity of learned men in figuring them so

marvelously on paper."

"Well said, my boy very well said; it is indeed a mighty hothouse. But

you would also be within the bounds of reason and common sense, if you

added that it is also a vast menagerie."

I looked rather anxiously around. If the animals were as exaggerated as

the plants, the matter would certainly be serious.

"A menagerie?"

"Doubtless. Look at the dust we are treading under foot behold the

bones with which the whole soil of the seashore is covered "

"Bones," I replied, "yes, certainly, the bones of antediluvian animals."

I stooped down as I spoke, and picked up one or two singular remains,

relics of a bygone age. It was easy to give a name to these gigantic

bones, in some instances as big as trunks of trees.

"Here is, clearly, the lower jawbone of a mastodon," I cried, almost as

warmly and enthusiastically as my uncle; "here are the molars of the

Dinotherium; here is a leg bone which belonged to the Megatherium. You

are right, Uncle, it is indeed a menagerie; for the mighty animals to

which these bones once belonged, have lived and died on the shores of

this subterranean sea, under the shadow of these plants. Look, yonder

are whole skeletons and yet "

"And yet, nephew?" said my uncle, noticing that I suddenly came to a

full stop.

"I do not understand the presence of such beasts in granite caverns,

however vast and prodigious," was my reply.

"Why not?" said my uncle, with very much of his old professional


"Because it is well known that animal life only existed on earth during

the secondary period, when the sedimentary soil was formed by the

alluviums, and thus replaced the hot and burning rocks of the primitive


"I have listened to you earnestly and with patience, Harry, and I have a

simple and clear answer to your objections: and that is, that this

itself is a sedimentary soil."

"How can that be at such enormous depth from the surface of the earth?"

"The fact can be explained both simply and geologically. At a certain

period, the earth consisted only of an elastic crust, liable to

alternative upward and downward movements in virtue of the law of

attraction. It is very probable that many a landslip took place in those

days, and that large portions of sedimentary soil were cast into huge

and mighty chasms."

"Quite possible," I dryly remarked. "But, Uncle, if these antediluvian

animals formerly lived in these subterranean regions, what more likely

than that one of these monsters may at this moment be concealed behind

one of yonder mighty rocks."

As I spoke, I looked keenly around, examining with care every point of

the horizon; but nothing alive appeared to exist on these deserted


I now felt rather fatigued, and told my uncle so. The walk and

excitement were too much for me in my weak state. I therefore seated

myself at the end of a promontory, at the foot of which the waves broke

in incessant rolls. I looked round a bay formed by projections of vast

granitic rocks. At the extreme end was a little port protected by huge

pyramids of stones. A brig and three or four schooners might have lain

there with perfect ease. So natural did it seem, that every minute my

imagination induced me to expect a vessel coming out under all sail and

making for the open sea under the influence of a warm southerly breeze.

But the fantastic illusion never lasted more than a minute. We were the

only living creatures in this subterranean world!

During certain periods there was an utter cessation of wind, when a

silence deeper, more terrible than the silence of the desert fell upon

these solitary and arid rocks and seemed to hang like a leaden weight

upon the waters of this singular ocean. I sought, amid the awful

stillness, to penetrate through the distant fog, to tear down the veil

which concealed the mysterious distance. What unspoken words were

murmured by my trembling lips what questions did I wish to ask and did

not! Where did this sea end to what did it lead? Should we ever be able

to examine its distant shores?

But my uncle had no doubts about the matter. He was convinced that our

enterprise would in the end be successful. For my part, I was in a state

of painful indecision I desired to embark on the journey and to

succeed, and still I feared the result.

After we had passed an hour or more in silent contemplation of the

wondrous spectacle, we rose and went down towards the bank on our way to

the grotto, which I was not sorry to gain. After a slight repast, I

sought refuge in slumber, and at length, after many and tedious

struggles, sleep came over my weary eyes.