At Last
Charles Kingsley

Part 1 out of 8

Transcribed by David Price, email



My Dear Sir Arthur Gordon,

To whom should I dedicate this book, but to you, to whom I owe my
visit to the West Indies? I regret that I could not consult you
about certain matters in Chapters XIV and XV; but you are away again
over sea; and I can only send the book after you, such as it is,
with the expression of my hearty belief that you will be to the
people of Mauritius what you have been to the people of Trinidad.

I could say much more. But it is wisest often to be most silent on
the very points on which one longs most to speak.

Ever yours,



At last we, too, were crossing the Atlantic. At last the dream of
forty years, please God, would be fulfilled, and I should see (and
happily, not alone) the West Indies and the Spanish Main. From
childhood I had studied their Natural History, their charts, their
Romances, and alas! their Tragedies; and now, at last, I was about
to compare books with facts, and judge for myself of the reported
wonders of the Earthly Paradise. We could scarce believe the
evidence of our own senses when they told us that we were surely on
board a West Indian steamer, and could by no possibility get off it
again, save into the ocean, or on the farther side of the ocean; and
it was not till the morning of the second day, the 3d of December,
that we began to be thoroughly aware that we were on the old route
of Westward-Ho, and far out in the high seas, while the Old World
lay behind us like a dream.

Like dreams seemed now the last farewells over the taffrel, beneath
the chill low December sun; and the shining calm of Southampton
water, and the pleasant and well-beloved old shores and woods and
houses sliding by; and the fisher-boats at anchor off Calshot, their
brown and olive sails reflected in the dun water, with dun clouds
overhead tipt with dull red from off the setting sun--a study for
Vandevelde or Backhuysen in the tenderest moods. Like a dream
seemed the twin lights of Hurst Castle and the Needles, glaring out
of the gloom behind us, as if old England were watching us to the
last with careful eyes, and bidding us good speed upon our way.
Then had come--still like a dream--a day of pouring rain, of
lounging on the main-deck, watching the engines, and watching, too
(for it was calm at night), the water from the sponson behind the
paddle-boxes; as the live flame-beads leaped and ran amid the
swirling snow, while some fifteen feet beyond the untouched oily
black of the deep sea spread away into the endless dark.

It took a couple of days to arrange our little cabin Penates; to
discover who was on board; and a couple of days, too, to become
aware, in spite of sudden starts of anxiety, that there was no post,
and could be none; that one could not be wanted, or, if one was
wanted, found and caught; and it was not till the fourth morning
that the glorious sense of freedom dawned on the mind, as through
the cabin port the sunrise shone in, yellow and wild through flying
showers, and great north-eastern waves raced past us, their heads
torn off in spray, their broad backs laced with ripples, and each,
as it passed, gave us a friendly onward lift away into the 'roaring
forties,' as the sailors call the stormy seas between 50 and 40
degrees of latitude.

These 'roaring forties' seem all strangely devoid of animal life--at
least in a December north-east gale; not a whale did we see--only a
pair of porpoises; not a sea-bird, save a lonely little kittiwake or
two, who swung round our stern in quest of food: but the seeming
want of life was only owing to our want of eyes; each night the wake
teemed more bright with flame-atomies. One kind were little
brilliant sparks, hurled helpless to and fro on the surface,
probably Noctilucae; the others (what they may be we could not guess
at first) showed patches of soft diffused light, paler than the
sparks, yet of the same yellow-white hue, which floated quietly
past, seeming a foot or two below the foam. And at the bottom, far
beneath, deeper under our feet than the summit of the Peak of
Teneriffe was above our heads--for we were now in more than two
thousand fathoms water--what exquisite forms might there not be?
myriads on myriads, generations on generations, people the eternal
darkness, seen only by Him to whom the darkness is as light as day:
and to be seen hereafter, a few of them--but how few--when future
men of science shall do for this mid-Atlantic sea-floor what Dr.
Carpenter and Dr. Wyville Thomson have done for the North Atlantic,
and open one more page of that book which has, to us creatures of a
day, though not to Him who wrote it as the Time-pattern of His
timeless mind, neither beginning nor end.

So, for want of animal life to study, we were driven to study the
human life around us, pent up there in our little iron world. But
to talk too much of fellow-passengers is (though usual enough just
now) neither altogether fair nor kind. We see in travel but the
outside of people, and as we know nothing of their inner history,
and little, usually, of their antecedents, the pictures which we
might sketch of them would be probably as untruthfully as rashly
drawn. Crushed together, too, perforce, against each other, people
are apt on board ship to make little hasty confidences, to show
unawares little weaknesses, which should be forgotten all round the
moment they step on shore and return to something like a normal
state of society. The wisest and most humane rule for a traveller
toward his companion is to

'Be to their faults a little blind;
Be to their virtues very kind;'

and to consider all that is said and done on board, like what passes
among the members of the same club, as on the whole private and
confidential. So let it suffice that there were on board the good
steamship Shannon, as was to be expected, plenty of kind, courteous,
generous, intelligent people; officials, travellers--one, happy man!
away to discover new birds on the yet unexplored Rio Magdalena, in
New Grenada; planters, merchants, what not, all ready, when once at
St. Thomas's, to spread themselves over the islands, and the Spanish
Main, and the Isthmus of Panama, and after that, some of them, down
the Pacific shore to Callao and Valparaiso. The very names of their
different destinations, and the imagination of the wonders they
would see (though we were going to a spot as full of wonders as
any), raised something like envy in our breasts, all the more
because most of them persisted in tantalising us, in the hospitable
fashion of all West Indians, by fruitless invitations to islands and
ports, which to have seen were 'a joy for ever.'

But almost the most interesting group of all was one of Cornish
miners, from the well-known old Redruth and Camborne county, and the
old sacred hill of Carn-brea, who were going to seek their fortunes
awhile in silver mines among the Andes, leaving wives and children
at home, and hoping, 'if it please God, to do some good out there,'
and send their earnings home. Stout, bearded, high-cheek-boned men
they were, dressed in the thick coats and rough caps, and, of
course, in the indispensable black cloth trousers, which make a
miner's full dress; and their faces lighted up at the old pass-word
of 'Down-Along'; for whosoever knows Down-Along, and the speech
thereof, is at once a friend and a brother. We had many a pleasant
talk with them ere we parted at St. Thomas's.

And on to St. Thomas's we were hurrying; and, thanks to the north-
east wind, as straight as a bee-line. On the third day we ran two
hundred and fifty-four miles; on the fourth two hundred and sixty;
and on the next day, at noon, where should we be? Nearing the
Azores; and by midnight, running past them, and away on the track of
Columbus, towards the Sargasso Sea.

We stayed up late on the night of December 7, in hopes of seeing, as
we passed Terceira, even the loom of the land: but the moon was
down; and a glimpse of the 'Pico' at dawn next morning was our only
chance of seeing, at least for this voyage, those wondrous Isles of
the Blest--Isles of the Blest of old; and why not still? They too
are said to be earthly paradises in soil, climate, productions; and
yet no English care to settle there, nor even to go thither for
health, though the voyage from Lisbon is but a short one, and our
own mail steamers, were it made worth their while, could as easily
touch at Terceira now as they did a few years since.

And as we looked out into the darkness, we could not but recollect,
with a flush of pride, that yonder on the starboard beam lay Flores,
and the scene of that great fight off the Azores, on August 30,
1591, made ever memorable by the pen of Walter Raleigh--and of late
by Mr. Froude; in which the Revenge, with Sir Richard Grenville for
her captain, endured for twelve hours, before she struck, the attack
of eight great Spanish armadas, of which two (three times her own
burden) sank at her side; and after all her masts were gone, and she
had been three times boarded without success, defied to the last the
whole fleet of fifty-one sail, which lay around her, waiting, 'like
dogs around the dying forest-king,' for the Englishman to strike or
sink. Yonder away it was, that, wounded again and again, and shot
through body and through head, Sir Richard Grenville was taken on
board the Spanish Admiral's ship to die; and gave up his gallant
ghost with those once-famous words: 'Here die I, Richard Grenville,
with a joyful and quiet mind; for that I have ended my life as a
true soldier ought, fighting for his country, queen, religion, and
honour; my soul willingly departing from this body, leaving behind
the lasting fame of having behaved as every valiant soldier is in
his duty bound to do.'

Yes; we were on the track of the old sea-heroes; of Drake and
Hawkins, Carlile and Cavendish, Cumberland and Raleigh, Preston and
Sommers, Frobisher and Duddeley, Keymis and Whiddon, which last, in
that same Flores fight, stood by Sir Richard Grenville all alone,
and, in 'a small ship called the Pilgrim, hovered all night to see
the successe: but in the morning, bearing with the Revenge, was
hunted like a hare amongst many ravenous houndes, but escaped' {4}--
to learn, in after years, in company with hapless Keymis, only too
much about that Trinidad and Gulf of Paria whither we were bound.

Yes. There were heroes in England in those days. Are we, their
descendants, degenerate from them? I, for one, believe not But they
were taught--what we take pride in refusing to be taught--namely, to

The morning dawned: but Pico, some fifty miles away, was taking his
morning bath among the clouds, and gave no glimpse of his eleven
thousand feet crater cone, now capped, they said, with winter snow.
Yet neither last night's outlook nor that morning's was without
result. For as the steamer stopped last night to pack her engines,
and slipped along under sail at some three knots an hour, we made
out clearly that the larger diffused patches of phosphorescence were
Medusae, slowly opening and shutting, and rolling over and over now
and then, giving out their light, as they rolled, seemingly from the
thin limb alone, and not from the crown of their bell. And as we
watched, a fellow-passenger told how, between Ceylon and Singapore,
he had once witnessed that most rare and unexplained phenomenon of a
'milky sea,' of which Dr. Collingwood writes (without, if I remember
right, having seen it himself) in his charming book, A Naturalist's
Rambles in the China Seas. Our friend described the appearance as
that of a sea of shining snow rather than of milk, heaving gently
beneath a starlit but moonless sky. A bucket of water, when taken
up, was filled with the same half-luminous whiteness, which stuck to
its sides when the water was drained off. The captain of the
Indiaman was well enough aware of the rarity of the sight to call
all the passengers on deck to see what they would never see again;
and on asking our captain, he assured us that he had not only never
seen, but never heard of the appearance in the West Indies. One
curious fact, then, was verified that night.

The next morning gave us unmistakable tokens that we were nearing
the home of the summer and the sun. A north-east wind, which would
in England keep the air at least at freezing in the shade, gave here
a temperature just over 60 degrees; and gave clouds, too, which made
us fancy for a moment that we were looking at an April thunder sky,
soft, fantastic, barred, and feathered, bright white where they
ballooned out above into cumuli, rich purple in their massive
shadows, and dropping from their under edges long sheets of inky
rain. Thanks to the brave North-Easter, we had gained in five days
thirty degrees of heat, and had slipped out of December into May.
The North-Easter, too, was transforming itself more and more into
the likeness of a south-west wind; say, rather, renewing its own
youth, and becoming once more what it was when it started on its
long journey from the Tropics towards the Pole. As it rushes back
across the ocean, thrilled and expanded by the heat, it opens its
dry and thirsty lips to suck in the damp from below, till, saturated
once more with steam, it will reach the tropic as a gray rain-laden
sky of North-East Trade.

So we slipped on, day after day, in a delicious repose which yet was
not monotonous. Those, indeed, who complain of the monotony of a
voyage must have either very few resources in their own minds, or
much worse company than we had on board the Shannon. Here, every
hour brought, or might bring, to those who wished, not merely
agreeable conversation about the Old World behind us, but fresh
valuable information about the New World before us. One morning,
for instance, I stumbled on a merchant returning to Surinam, who had
fifty things to tell of his own special business--of the woods, the
drugs, the barks, the vegetable oils, which he was going back to
procure--a whole new world of yet unknown wealth and use. Most
cheering, too, and somewhat unexpected, were the facts we heard of
the improving state of our West India Colonies, in which the tide of
fortune seems to have turned at last, and the gallant race of
planters and merchants, in spite of obstacle on obstacle, some of
them unjust and undeserved, are winning their way back (in their own
opinion) to a prosperity more sound and lasting than that which
collapsed so suddenly at the end of the great French war. All spoke
of the emancipation of the slaves in Cuba (an event certain to come
to pass ere long) as the only condition which they required to put
them on an equal footing with any producers whatsoever in the New

However pleasant, though, the conversation might be, the smallest
change in external circumstances, the least break in the perpetual--

'Quocumque adspicias, nil est nisi pontus et aer,'

even a passing bird, if one would pass, which none would do save
once or twice a stately tropic-bird, wheeling round aloft like an
eagle, was hailed as an event in the day; and, on the 9th of
December, the appearance of the first fragments of gulf-weed caused
quite a little excitement, and set an enthusiastic pair of
naturalists--a midland hunting squire, and a travelled scientific
doctor who had been twelve years in the Eastern Archipelago--fishing
eagerly over the bows, with an extemporised grapple of wire, for
gulf-weed, a specimen of which they did not catch. However, more
and more still would come in a day or two, perhaps whole acres, even
whole leagues, and then (so we hoped, but hoped in vain) we should
have our feast of zoophytes, crustacea, and what not.

Meanwhile, it must be remembered that this gulf-weed has not, as
some of the uninitiated fancy from its name, anything to do with the
Gulf Stream, along the southern edge of which we were steaming.
Thrust away to the south by that great ocean-river, it lies in a
vast eddy, or central pool of the Atlantic, between the Gulf Stream
and the equatorial current, unmoved save by surface-drifts of wind,
as floating weeds collect and range slowly round and round in the
still corners of a tumbling-bay or salmon pool. One glance at a bit
of the weed, as it floats past, showed that it is like no Fucus of
our shores, or anything we ever saw before. The difference of look
is undefinable in words, but clear enough. One sees in a moment
that the Sargassos, of which there are several species on Tropical
shores, are a genus of themselves and by themselves; and a certain
awe may, if the beholder be at once scientific and poetical, come
over him at the first sight of this famous and unique variety
thereof, which has lost ages since the habit of growing on rock or
sea-bottom, but propagates itself for ever floating; and feeds among
its branches a whole family of fish, crabs, cuttlefish, zoophytes,
mollusks, which, like the plant which shelters them, are found
nowhere else in the world. And that awe, springing from 'the
scientific use of the imagination,' would be increased if he
recollected the theory--not altogether impossible--that this
sargasso (and possibly some of the animals which cling to it) marks
the site of an Atlantic continent, sunk long ages since; and that,
transformed by the necessities of life from a rooting to a floating

'Still it remembers its august abodes,'

and wanders round and round as if in search of the rocks where it
once grew. We looked eagerly day by day for more and more gulf-
weed, hoping that

'Slimy things would crawl with legs
Upon that slimy sea,'

and thought of the memorable day when Columbus's ship first plunged
her bows into the tangled 'ocean meadow,' and the sailors, naturally
enough, were ready to mutiny, fearing hidden shoals, ignorant that
they had four miles of blue water beneath their keel, and half
recollecting old Greek and Phoenician legends of a weedy sea off the
coast of Africa, where the vegetation stopped the ships and kept
them entangled till all on board were starved.

Day after day we passed more and more of it, often in long
processions, ranged in the direction of the wind; while, a few feet
below the surface, here and there floated large fronds of a lettuce-
like weed, seemingly an ulva, the bright green of which, as well as
the rich orange hue of the sargasso, brought out by contrast the
intense blue of the water.

Very remarkable, meanwhile, and unexpected, was the opacity and
seeming solidity of the ocean when looked down on from the bows.
Whether sapphire under the sunlight, or all but black under the
clouds, or laced and streaked with beads of foam, rising out of the
nether darkness, it looks as if it could resist the hand; as if one
might almost walk on it; so unlike any liquid, as seen near shore or
inland, is this leaping, heaving plain, reminding one, by its
innumerable conchoidal curves, not of water, not even of ice, but
rather of obsidian.

After all we got little of the sargasso. Only in a sailing ship,
and in calms or light breezes, can its treasures be explored.
Twelve knots an hour is a pace sufficient to tear off the weed, as
it is hauled alongside, all living things which are not rooted to
it. We got, therefore, no Crustacea; neither did we get a single
specimen of the Calamaries, {8} which may be described as cuttlefish
carrying hooks on their arms as well as suckers, the lingering
descendants of a most ancient form, which existed at least as far
back as the era of the shallow oolitic seas, x or y thousand years
ago. A tiny curled Spirorbis, a Lepraria, with its thousandfold
cells, and a tiny polype belonging to the Campanularias, with a
creeping stem, which sends up here and there a yellow-stalked bell,
were all the parasites we saw. But the sargasso itself is a curious
instance of the fashion in which one form so often mimics another of
a quite different family. When fresh out of the water it resembles
not a sea-weed so much as a sprig of some willow-leaved shrub,
burdened with yellow berries, large and small; for every broken bit
of it seems growing, and throwing out ever new berries and leaves--
or what, for want of a better word, must be called leaves in a sea-
weed. For it must be remembered that the frond of a sea-weed is not
merely leaf, but root also; that it not only breathes air, but feeds
on water; and that even the so-called root by which a sea-weed holds
to the rock is really only an anchor, holding mechanically to the
stone, but not deriving, as the root of a land-plant would, any
nourishment from it. Therefore it is, that to grow while uprooted
and floating, though impossible to most land plants, is easy enough
to many sea-weeds, and especially to the sargasso.

The flying-fish now began to be a source of continual amusement as
they scuttled away from under the bows of the ship, mistaking her,
probably, for some huge devouring whale. So strange are they when
first seen, though long read of and long looked for, that it is
difficult to recollect that they are actually fish. The first
little one was mistaken for a dragon-fly, the first big one for a
gray plover. The flight is almost exactly like that of a quail or
partridge--flight, I must say; for, in spite of all that has been
learnedly written to the contrary, it was too difficult as yet for
the English sportsmen on board to believe that their motion was not
a true flight, aided by the vibration of the wings, and not a mere
impulse given (as in the leap of the salmon) by a rush under water.
That they can change their course at will is plain to one who looks
down on them from the lofty deck, and still more from the paddle-
box. The length of the flight seems too great to be attributed to a
few strokes of the tail; while the plain fact that they renew their
flight after touching, and only touching, the surface, would seem to
show that it was not due only to the original impetus, for that
would be retarded, instead of being quickened, every time they
touched. Such were our first impressions: and they were confirmed
by what we saw on the voyage home.

The nights as yet, we will not say disappointed us,--for to see new
stars, like Canopus and Fomalhaut, shining in the far south, even to
see Sirius, in his ever-changing blaze of red and blue, riding high
in a December heaven, is interesting enough; but the brilliance of
the stars is not, at least at this season, equal to that of a frosty
sky in England. Nevertheless, to make up for the deficiency, the
clouds were glorious; so glorious, that I longed again and again, as
I did afterwards in the West Indies, that Mr. Ruskin were by my
side, to see and to describe, as none but he can do. The evening
skies are fit weeds for widowed Eos weeping over the dying Sun;
thin, formless, rent--in carelessness, not in rage; and of all the
hues of early autumn leaves, purple and brown, with green and
primrose lakes of air between: but all hues weakened, mingled,
chastened into loneliness, tenderness, regretfulness, through which
still shines, in endless vistas of clear western light, the hope of
the returning day. More and more faint, the pageant fades below
towards the white haze of the horizon, where, in sharpest contrast,
leaps and welters against it the black jagged sea; and richer and
richer it glows upwards, till it cuts the azure overhead: until,
only too soon--

'The sun's rim dips, the stars rush out,
At one stride comes the dark,'

to be succeeded, after the long balmy night, by a sunrise which
repeats the colours of the sunset, but this time gaudy, dazzling,
triumphant, as befits the season of faith and hope. Such imagery,
it may be said, is hackneyed now, and trite even to impertinence.
It might be so at home; but here, in presence of the magnificent
pageant of tropic sunlight, it is natural, almost inevitable; and
the old myth of the daily birth and death of Helios, and the bridal
joys and widowed tears of Eos, re-invents itself in the human mind,
as soon as it asserts its power--it may be, its sacred right--to
translate nature into the language of the feelings.

And, meanwhile, may we not ask--have we not a right--founded on that
common sense of the heart which often is the deepest reason--to ask,
If we, gross and purblind mortals, can perceive and sympathise with
so much beauty in the universe, then how much must not He perceive,
with how much must not He sympathise, for whose pleasure all things
are, and were created? Who that believes (and rightly) the sense of
beauty to be among the noblest faculties of man, will deny that
faculty to God, who conceived man and all besides?

Wednesday, the 15th, was a really tropic day; blazing heat in the
forenoon, with the thermometer at 82 degrees in the shade, and in
the afternoon stifling clouds from the south-west, where a dark band
of rain showed, according to the planters' dictum, showers over the
islands, which we were nearing fast. At noon we were only two
hundred and ten miles from Sombrero, 'the Spanish Hat,' a lonely
island, which is here the first outlier of the New World. We ought
to have passed it by sunrise on the 16th, and by the afternoon
reached St. Thomas's, where our pleasant party would burst like a
shell in all directions, and scatter its fragments about all coasts
and isles--from Demerara to Panama, from Mexico to the Bahamas. So
that day was to the crew a day of hard hot work--of lifting and
sorting goods on the main-deck, in readiness for the arrival at St.
Thomas's, and of moving forwards two huge empty boilers which had
graced our spar-deck, filled with barrels of onions and potatoes,
all the way from Southampton. But in the soft hot evening hours,
time was found for the usual dance on the quarter-deck, with the
band under the awning, and lamps throwing fantastic shadows, and
waltzing couples, and the crew clustering aft to see, while we old
folks looked on, with our 'Ludite dum lubet, pueri,' till the
captain bade the sergeant-at-arms leave the lights burning for an
extra half hour; and 'Sir Roger de Coverley' was danced out, to the
great amusement of the foreigners, at actually half-past eleven.
After which unexampled dissipation, all went off to rest, promising
to themselves and their partners that they would get up at sunrise
to sight Sombrero.

But, as it befell, morning's waking brought only darkness, the heavy
pattering of a tropic shower, and the absence of the everlasting
roll of the paddle-wheels. We were crawling slowly along, in thick
haze and heavy rain, having passed Sombrero unseen; and were away in
a gray shoreless world of waters, looking out for Virgin Gorda; the
first of those numberless isles which Columbus, so goes the tale,
discovered on St. Ursula's day, and named them after the Saint and
her eleven thousand mythical virgins. Unfortunately, English
buccaneers have since then given to most of them less poetic names.
The Dutchman's Cap, Broken Jerusalem, The Dead Man's Chest, Rum
Island, and so forth, mark a time and a race more prosaic, but still
more terrible, though not one whit more wicked and brutal, than the
Spanish Conquistadores, whose descendants, in the seventeenth
century, they smote hip and thigh with great destruction.

The farthest of these Virgin Islands is St. Thomas's. And there
ended the first and longer part of a voyage unmarred by the least
discomfort, discourtesy, or dulness, and full of enjoyment, for
which thanks are due alike to captain, officers, crew, and
passengers, and also to our much-maligned friend the North-East
wind, who caught us up in the chops of the Channel, helped us
graciously on nearly to the tropic of Cancer, giving us a more
prosperous passage than the oldest hands recollect at this season,
and then left us for a while to the delicious calms of the edge of
the tropic, to catch us up again as the North-East Trade.

Truly, this voyage had already given us much for which to thank God.
If safety and returning health, in an atmosphere in which the mere
act of breathing is a pleasure, be things for which to be thankful,
then we had reason to say in our hearts that which is sometimes best
unsaid on paper.

Our first day in a tropic harbour was spent in what might be taken
at moments for a dream, did not shells and flowers remain to bear
witness to its reality. It was on Friday morning, December 17th,
that we first sighted the New World; a rounded hill some fifteen
hundred feet high, which was the end of Virgin Gorda. That resolved
itself, as we ran on, into a cluster of long, low islands; St.
John's appearing next on the horizon, then Tortola, and last of all
St. Thomas's; all pink and purple in the sun, and warm-gray in the
shadow, which again became, as we neared them one after the other,
richest green, of scrub and down, with bright yellow and rusty
rocks, plainly lava, in low cliffs along the shore. The upper
outline of the hills reminded me, with its multitudinous little
coves and dry gullies, of the Vivarais or Auvergne Hills; and still
more of the sketches of the Chinese Tea-mountains in Fortune's book.
Their water-line has been exposed, evidently for many ages, to the
gnawing of the sea at the present level. Everywhere the lava cliffs
are freshly broken, toppling down in dust and boulders, and leaving
detached stacks and skerries, like that called the 'Indians,' from
its supposed likeness to a group of red-brown savages afloat in a
canoe. But, as far as I could see, there has been no upheaval since
the land took its present shape. There is no trace of raised
beaches, or of the terraces which would have inevitably been formed
by upheaval on the soft sides of the lava hills. The numberless
deep channels which part the isles and islets would rather mark
depression still going on. Most beautiful meanwhile are the winding
channels of blue water, like land-locked lakes, which part the
Virgins from each other; and beautiful the white triangular sails of
the canoe-rigged craft, which beat up and down them through strong
currents and cockling seas. The clear air, the still soft outlines,
the rich and yet delicate colouring, stir up a sense of purity and
freshness, and peace and cheerfulness, such as is stirred up by
certain views of the Mediterranean and its shores; only broken by
one ghastly sight--the lonely mast of the ill-fated Rhone, standing
up still where she sank with all her crew, in the hurricane of 1867.

At length, in the afternoon, we neared the last point, and turning
inside an isolated and crumbling hummock, the Dutchman's Cap, saw
before us, at the head of a little narrow harbour, the scarlet and
purple roofs of St. Thomas's, piled up among orange-trees, at the
foot of a green corrie, or rather couple of corries, some eight
hundred feet high. There it was, as veritable a Dutch-oven for
cooking fever in, with as veritable a dripping-pan for the poison
when concocted in the tideless basin below the town, as man ever
invented. And we were not sorry when the superintendent, coming on
board, bade us steam back again out of the port, and round a certain
Water-island, at the back of which is a second and healthier
harbour, the Gri-gri channel. In the port close to the town we
could discern another token of the late famous hurricane, the
funnels and masts of the hapless Columbia, which lies still on the
top of the sunken floating clock, immovable, as yet, by the art of

But some hundred yards on our right was a low cliff, which was even
more interesting to some of us than either the town or the wreck;
for it was covered with the first tropic vegetation which we had
ever seen. Already on a sandy beach outside, we had caught sight of
unmistakable coconut trees; some of them, however, dying, dead, even
snapped short off, either by the force of the hurricane, or by the
ravages of the beetle, which seems minded of late years to
exterminate the coconut throughout the West Indies; belonging, we
are told, to the Elaters--fire-fly, or skipjack beetles. His grub,
like that of his cousin, our English wire-worm, and his nearer
cousin, the great wire-worm of the sugar-cane, eats into the pith
and marrow of growing shoots; and as the palm, being an endogen,
increases from within by one bud, and therefore by one shoot only,
when that is eaten out nothing remains for the tree but to die. And
so it happens that almost every coconut grove which we have seen has
a sad and shabby look as if it existed (which it really does) merely
on sufferance.

But on this cliff we could see, even with the naked eye, tall Aloes,
gray-blue Cerei like huge branching candelabra, and bushes the
foliage of which was utterly unlike anything in Northern Europe;
while above the bright deep green of a patch of Guinea-grass marked
cultivation, and a few fruit trees round a cottage told, by their
dark baylike foliage, of fruits whose names alone were known to us.

Round Water-island we went, into a narrow channel between steep
green hills, covered to their tops, as late as 1845, with sugar-
cane, but now only with scrub, among which the ruins of mills and
buildings stood sad and lonely. But Nature in this land of
perpetual summer hides with a kind of eagerness every scar which man
in his clumsiness leaves on the earth's surface; and all, though
relapsing into primeval wildness, was green, soft, luxuriant, as if
the hoe had never torn the ground, contrasting strangely with the
water-scene; with the black steamers snorting in their sleep; the
wrecks and condemned hulks, in process of breaking up, strewing the
shores with their timbers; the boatfuls of Negroes gliding to and
fro; and all the signs of our hasty, irreverent, wasteful, semi-
barbarous mercantile system, which we call (for the time being only,
it is to be hoped) civilisation. The engine had hardly stopped,
when we were boarded from a fleet of negro boats, and huge bunches
of plantains, yams, green oranges, junks of sugar-cane, were
displayed upon the deck; and more than one of the ladies went
through the ceremony of initiation into West Indian ways, which
consisted in sucking sugar-cane, first pared for the sake of their
teeth. The Negro's stronger incisors tear it without paring. Two
amusing figures, meanwhile, had taken up their station close to the
companion. Evidently privileged personages, they felt themselves on
their own ground, and looked round patronisingly on the passengers,
as ignorant foreigners who were too certain to be tempted by the
treasures which they displayed to need any solicitations. One went
by the name of Jamaica Joe, a Negro blacker than the night, in smart
white coat and smart black trousers; a tall courtly gentleman, with
the organ of self-interest, to judge from his physiognomy, very
highly developed. But he was thrown into the shade by a stately
brown lady, who was still very handsome--beautiful, if you will--and
knew it, and had put on her gorgeous turban with grace, and plaited
her short locks under it with care, and ignored the very existence
of a mere Negro like Jamaica Joe, as she sat by her cigars, and
slow-match, and eau-de-cologne at four times the right price, and
mats, necklaces, bracelets, made of mimosa-seeds, white negro hats,
nests of Curacoa baskets, and so forth. They drove a thriving trade
among all newcomers: but were somewhat disgusted to find that we,
though new to the West Indies, were by no means new to West Indian
wares, and therefore not of the same mind as a gentleman and lady
who came fresh from the town next day, with nearly a bushel of white
branching madrepores, which they were going to carry as coals to
Newcastle, six hundred miles down the islands. Poor Joe tried to
sell us a nest of Curacoa baskets for seven shillings; retired after
a firm refusal; came up again to R-----, after a couple of hours,
and said, in a melancholy and reproachful voice, 'Da--- take dem for
four shillings and sixpence. I give dem you.'

But now--. Would we go on shore? To the town? Not we, who came to
see Nature, not towns. Some went off on honest business; some on
such pleasure as can be found in baking streets, hotel bars, and
billiard-rooms: but the one place on which our eyes were set was a
little cove a quarter of a mile off, under the steep hill, where a
white line of sand shone between blue water and green wood. A few
yards broad of sand, and then impenetrable jungle, among which we
could see, below, the curved yellow stems of the coconuts; and
higher up the straight gray stems and broad fan-leaves of Carat
palms; which I regret to say we did not reach. Oh for a boat to get
into that paradise! There was three-quarters of an hour left,
between dinner and dark; and in three-quarters of an hour what might
not be seen in a world where all was new? The kind chief officer,
bidding us not trust negro boats on such a trip, lent us one of the
ship's, with four honest fellows, thankful enough to escape from
heat and smoke; and away we went with two select companions--the
sportsman and our scientific friend--to land, for the first time, in
the New World.

As we leaped on shore on that white sand, what feelings passed
through the heart of at least one of us, who found the dream of
forty years translated into fact at last, are best, perhaps, left
untold here. But it must be confessed that ere we had stood for two
minutes staring at the green wall opposite us, astonishment soon
swallowed up, for the time, all other emotions. Astonishment, not
at the vast size of anything, for the scrub was not thirty feet
high; nor at the gorgeous colours, for very few plants or trees were
in flower; but at the wonderful wealth of life. The massiveness,
the strangeness, the variety, the very length of the young and still
growing shoots was a wonder. We tried, at first in vain, to fix our
eyes on some one dominant or typical form, while every form was
clamouring, as it were, to be looked at, and a fresh Dryad gazed out
of every bush and with wooing eyes asked to be wooed again. The
first two plants, perhaps, we looked steadily at were the Ipomoea
pes caprae, lying along the sand in straight shoots thirty feet
long, and growing longer, we fancied, while we looked at it, with
large bilobed green leaves at every joint, and here and there a
great purple convolvulus flower; and next, what we knew at once for
the 'shore-grape.' {15a} We had fancied it (and correctly) to be a
mere low bushy tree with roundish leaves. But what a bush! with
drooping boughs, arched over and through each other, shoots already
six feet long, leaves as big as the hand shining like dark velvet, a
crimson mid-rib down each, and tiled over each other--'imbricated,'
as the botanists would say, in that fashion, which gives its
peculiar solidity and richness of light and shade to the foliage of
an old sycamore; and among these noble shoots and noble leaves,
pendent everywhere, long tapering spires of green grapes. This
shore-grape, which the West Indians esteem as we might a bramble, we
found to be, without exception, the most beautiful broad-leafed
plant which we had ever seen. Then we admired the Frangipani, {15b}
a tall and almost leafless shrub with thick fleshy shoots, bearing,
in this species, white flowers, which have the fragrance peculiar to
certain white blossoms, to the jessamine, the tuberose, the orange,
the Gardenia, the night-flowering Cereus; then the Cacti and Aloes;
then the first coconut, with its last year's leaves pale yellow, its
new leaves deep green, and its trunk ringing, when struck, like
metal; then the sensitive plants; then creeping lianes of a dozen
different kinds. Then we shrank back from our first glimpse of a
little swamp of foul brown water, backed up by the sand-brush, with
trees in every stage of decay, fallen and tangled into a doleful
thicket, through which the spider-legged Mangroves rose on stilted
roots. We turned, in wholesome dread, to the white beach outside,
and picked up--and, alas! wreck, everywhere wreck--shells--old
friends in the cabinets at home--as earnests to ourselves that all
was not a dream: delicate prickly Pinnae; 'Noah's-arks' in
abundance; great Strombi, their lips and outer shell broken away,
disclosing the rosy cameo within, and looking on the rough beach
pitifully tender and flesh-like; lumps and fragments of coral
innumerable, reminding us by their worn and rounded shapes of those
which abound in so many secondary strata; and then hastened on board
the boat; for the sun had already fallen, the purple night set in,
and from the woods on shore a chorus of frogs had commenced
chattering, quacking, squealing, whistling, not to cease till

So ended our first trip in the New World; and we got back to the
ship, but not to sleep. Already a coal-barge lay on either side of
her, and over the coals we scrambled, through a scene which we would
fain forget. Black women on one side were doing men's work, with
heavy coal-baskets on their heads, amid screaming, chattering, and
language of which, happily, we understood little or nothing. On the
other, a gang of men and boys, who, as the night fell, worked, many
of them, altogether naked, their glossy bronze figures gleaming in
the red lamplight, and both men and women singing over their work in
wild choruses, which, when the screaming cracked voices of the women
were silent, and the really rich tenors of the men had it to
themselves, were not unpleasant. A lad, seeming the poet of the
gang, stood on the sponson, and in the momentary intervals of work
improvised some story, while the men below took up and finished each
verse with a refrain, piercing, sad, running up and down large and
easy intervals. The tunes were many and seemingly familiar, all
barbaric, often ending in the minor key, and reminding us much,
perhaps too much, of the old Gregorian tones. The words were all
but unintelligible. In one song we caught 'New York' again and
again, and then 'Captain he heard it, he was troubled in him mind.'

'Ya-he-ho-o-hu'--followed the chorus.

'Captain he go to him cabin, he drink him wine and whisky--'

'Ya-he,' etc.

'You go to America? You as well go to heaven.'

'Ya-he,' etc.

These were all the scraps of negro poetry which we could overhear;
while on deck the band was playing quadrilles and waltzes, setting
the negro shoveller dancing in the black water at the barge-bottom,
shovel in hand; and pleasant white folks danced under the awning,
till the contrast between the refinement within and the brutality
without became very painful. For brutality it was, not merely in
the eyes of the sentimentalist, but in those of the moralist; still
more in the eyes of those who try to believe that all God's human
children may be some-when, somewhere, somehow, reformed into His
likeness. We were shocked to hear that at another island the evils
of coaling are still worse; and that the white authorities have
tried in vain to keep them down. The coaling system is, no doubt,
demoralising in itself, as it enables Negroes of the lowest class to
earn enough in one day to keep them in idleness, even in luxury, for
a week or more, till the arrival of the next steamer. But what we
saw proceeded rather from the mere excitability and coarseness of
half-civilised creatures than from any deliberate depravity; and we
were told that, in the island just mentioned, the Negroes, when
forced to coal on Sunday, or on Christmas Day, always abstain from
noise or foul language, and, if they sing, sing nothing but hymns.
It is easy to sneer at such a fashion as formalism. It would be
wiser to consider whether the first step in religious training must
not be obedience to some such external positive law; whether the
savage must not be taught that there are certain things which he
ought never to do, by being taught that there is one day at least on
which he shall not do them. How else is man to learn that the Laws
of Right and Wrong, like the laws of the physical world, are
entirely independent of him, his likes or dislikes, knowledge or
ignorance of them; that by Law he is environed from his cradle to
his grave, and that it is at his own peril that he disobeys the Law?
A higher religion may, and ought to, follow, one in which the Law
becomes a Law of Liberty, and a Gospel, because it is loved, and
obeyed for its own sake; but even he who has attained to that must
be reminded again and again, alas! that the Law which he loves does
not depend for its sanction on his love of it, on his passing frames
or feelings; but is as awfully independent of him as it is of the
veriest heathen. And that lesson the Sabbath does teach as few or
no other institutions can. The man who says, and says rightly, that
to the Christian all days ought to be Sabbaths, may be answered, and
answered rightly, 'All the more reason for keeping one day which
shall be a Sabbath, whether you are in a sabbatical mood or not.
All the more reason for keeping one day holy, as a pattern of what
all days should be.' So we will be glad if the Negro has got thus
far, as an earnest that he may some day get farther still.

That night, however, he kept no Sabbath, and we got no sleep; and
were glad enough, before sunrise, to escape once more to the cove we
had visited the evening before; not that it was prettier or more
curious than others, but simply because it is better, for those who
wish to learn accurately, to see one thing twice than many things
once. A lesson is never learnt till it is learnt over many times,
and a spot is best understood by staying in it and mastering it. In
natural history the old scholar's saw of 'Cave hominem unius libri'
may be paraphrased by 'He is a thoroughly good naturalist who knows
one parish thoroughly.'

So back to our little beach we went, and walked it all over again,
finding, of course, many things which had escaped us the night
before. We saw our first Melocactus, and our first night-blowing
Cereus creeping over the rocks. We found our first tropic orchid,
with white, lilac, and purple flowers on a stalk three feet high.
We saw our first wild pines (Tillandsias, etc.) clinging parasitic
on the boughs of strange trees, or nestling among the angular limb-
like shoots of the columnar Cereus. We learnt to distinguish the
poisonous Manchineel; and were thankful, in serious earnest, that we
had happily plucked none the night before, when we were snatching at
every new leaf; for its milky juice, by mere dropping on the skin,
burns like the poisoned tunic of Nessus, and will even, when the
head is injured by it, cause blindness and death. We gathered a
nosegay of the loveliest flowers, under a burning sun, within ten
days of Christmas; and then wandered off the shore up a little path
in the red lava, toward a farm where we expected to see fresh
curiosities, and not in vain. On one side of the path a hedge of
Pinguin (Bromelia)--the plants like huge pine-apple plants without
the fruit--was but three feet high, but from its prickles utterly
impenetrable to man or beast; and inside the hedge, a tree like a
straggling pear, with huge green calabashes growing out of its bark-
-here was actually Crescentia Cujete--the plaything of one's
childhood--alive and growing. The other side was low scrub--prickly
shrubs like acacias and mimosas, covered with a creeping vine with
brilliant yellow hair (we had seen it already from the ship, gilding
large patches of the slopes), most like European dodder. Among it
rose the tall Calotropis procera, with its fleshy gray stems and
leaves, and its azure of lovely lilac flowers, with curious columns
of stamens in each--an Asclepiad introduced from the Old World,
where it ranges from tropical Africa to Afghanistan; and so on, and
so on, up to a little farmyard, very like a Highland one in most
things, want of neatness included, save that huge spotted Trochi
were scattered before the door, instead of buckies or periwinkles;
and in the midst of the yard grew, side by side, the common
accompaniment of a West India kitchen door, the magic trees, whose
leaves rubbed on the toughest meat make it tender on the spot, and
whose fruit makes the best of sauce or pickle to be eaten therewith-
-namely, a male and female Papaw (Carica Papaya), their stems some
fifteen feet high, with a flat crown of mallow-like leaves, just
beneath which, in the male, grew clusters of fragrant flowerets, in
the female, clusters of unripe fruit. On through the farmyard,
picking fresh flowers at every step, and down to a shady cove (for
the sun, even at eight o'clock in December, was becoming
uncomfortably fierce), and again into the shore-grape wood. We had
already discovered, to our pain, that almost everything in the bush
had prickles, of all imaginable shapes and sizes; and now, touching
a low tree, one of our party was seized as by a briar, through
clothes and into skin, and, in escaping, found on the tree
(Guilandina, Bonducella) rounded prickly pods, which, being opened,
proved to contain the gray horse-nicker-beads of our childhood.

Up and down the white sand we wandered, collecting shells, as did
the sailors, gladly enough, and then rowed back, over a bottom of
white sand, bedded here and there with the short manati-grass
(Thalassia Testudinum), one of the few flowering plants which, like
our Zostera, or grass-wrack, grows at the bottom of the sea. But,
wherever the bottom was stony, we could see huge prickly sea-
urchins, huger brainstone corals, round and gray, and branching
corals likewise, such as, when cleaned, may be seen in any curiosity
shop. These, and a flock of brown and gray pelicans sailing over
our head, were fresh tokens to us of where we were.

As we were displaying our nosegay on deck, on our return, to some
who had stayed stifling on board, and who were inclined (as West
Indians are) at once to envy and to pooh-pooh the superfluous energy
of newcome Europeans, R----- drew out a large and lovely flower,
pale yellow, with a tiny green apple or two, and leaves like those
of an Oleander. The brown lady, who was again at her post on deck,
walked up to her in silence, uninvited, and with a commanding air
waved the thing away. 'Dat manchineel. Dat poison. Throw dat
overboard.' R-----, who knew it was not manchineel, whispered to a
bystander, 'Ce n'est pas vrai.' But the brown lady was a linguist.
'Ah! mais c'est vrai,' cried she, with flashing teeth; and retired,
muttering her contempt of English ignorance and impertinence.

And, as it befell, she was, if not quite right, at least not quite
wrong. For when we went into the cabin, we and our unlucky yellow
flower were flown at by another brown lady, in another gorgeous
turban, who had become on the voyage a friend and an intimate; for
she was the nurse of the baby who had been the light of the eyes of
the whole quarter-deck ever since we left Southampton--God bless it,
and its mother, and beautiful Mon Nid, where she dwells beneath the
rock, as exquisite as one of her own humming-birds. We were so
scolded about this poor little green apple that we set to work to
find put what it was, after promising at least not to eat it. And
it proved to be Thevetia neriifolia, and a very deadly poison.

This was the first (though by no means the last) warning which we
got not to meddle rashly with 'poison-bush,' lest that should befall
us which befell a scientific West Indian of old. For hearing much
of the edible properties of certain European toadstools, he resolved
to try a few experiments in his own person on West Indian ones;
during the course of which he found himself one evening, after a
good toad-stool dinner, raving mad. The doctor was sent for, and
brought him round, a humbled man. But a heavier humiliation awaited
him, when his negro butler, who had long looked down on him for his
botanical studies, entered with his morning cup of coffee. 'Now,
Massa,' said he, in a tone of triumphant pity, 'I think you no go
out any more cut bush and eat him.'

If we had wanted any further proof that we were in the Tropics, we
might have had it in the fearful heat of the next few hours, when
the Shannon lay with a steamer on each side, one destined for 'The
Gulf,' the other for 'The Islands'; and not a breath of air was to
be got till late in the afternoon, when (amid shaking of hands and
waving of handkerchiefs, as hearty as if we the 'Island-bound,' and
they the 'Gulf-bound,' and the officers of the Shannon had known
each other fourteen years instead of fourteen days) we steamed out,
past the Little Saba rock, which was said (but it seems incorrectly)
to have burst into smoke and flame during the earthquake, and then
away to the south and east for the Islands: having had our first
taste, but, thank God, not our last, of the joys of the 'Earthly


I had heard and read much, from boyhood, about these 'Lesser
Antilles.' I had pictured them to myself a thousand times: but I
was altogether unprepared for their beauty and grandeur. For
hundreds of miles, day after day, the steamer carried us past a
shifting diorama of scenery, which may be likened to Vesuvius and
the Bay of Naples, repeated again and again, with every possible
variation of the same type of delicate loveliness.

Under a cloudless sky, upon a sea, lively yet not unpleasantly
rough, we thrashed and leaped along. Ahead of us, one after
another, rose high on the southern horizon banks of gray cloud, from
under each of which, as we neared it, descended the shoulder of a
mighty mountain, dim and gray. Nearer still the gray changed to
purple; lowlands rose out of the sea, sloping upwards with those
grand and simple concave curves which betoken, almost always,
volcanic land. Nearer still, the purple changed to green. Tall
palm-trees and engine-houses stood out against the sky; the surf
gleamed white around the base of isolated rocks. A little nearer,
and we were under the lee, or western side, of the island. The sea
grew smooth as glass; we entered the shade of the island-cloud, and
slid along in still unfathomable blue water, close under the shore
of what should have been one of the Islands of the Blest.

It was easy, in presence of such scenery, to conceive the exaltation
which possessed the souls of the first discoverers of the West
Indies. What wonder if they seemed to themselves to have burst into
Fairyland--to be at the gates of The Earthly Paradise? With such a
climate, such a soil, such vegetation, such fruits, what luxury must
not have seemed possible to the dwellers along those shores? What
riches too, of gold and jewels, might not be hidden among those
forest-shrouded glens and peaks? And beyond, and beyond again, ever
new islands, new continents perhaps, an inexhaustible wealth of yet
undiscovered worlds.

No wonder that the men rose above themselves, for good and for evil;
that having, as it seemed to them, found infinitely, they hoped
infinitely, and dared infinitely. They were a dumb generation and
an unlettered, those old Conquistadores. They did not, as we do
now, analyse and describe their own impressions: but they felt them
nevertheless; and felt them, it may be, all the more intensely,
because they could not utter them; and so went, half intoxicated, by
day and night, with the beauty and the wonder round them, till the
excitement overpowered alike their reason and their conscience; and,
frenzied with superstition and greed, with contempt and hatred of
the heathen Indians, and often with mere drink and sunshine, they
did deeds which, like all wicked deeds, avenge themselves, and are
avenging themselves, from Mexico to Chili, unto this very day.

I said that these islands resembled Vesuvius and the Bay of Naples.
Like causes have produced like effects; and each island is little
but the peak of a volcano, down whose shoulders lava and ash have
slidden toward the sea. Some carry several crater cones,
complicating at once the structure and scenery of the island; but
the majority carry but a single cone, like that little island, or
rather rock, of Saba, which is the first of the Antilles under the
lee of which the steamer passes. Santa Cruz, which is left to
leeward, is a long, low, ragged island, of the same form as St.
Thomas's and the Virgins, and belonging, I should suppose, to the
same formation. But Saba rises sheer out of the sea some 1500 feet
or more, without flat ground, or even harbour. From a little
landing-place to leeward a stair runs up 800 feet into the bosom of
the old volcano; and in that hollow live some 1200 honest Dutch, and
some 800 Negroes, who were, till of late years, their slaves, at
least in law. But in Saba, it is said, the whites were really the
slaves, and the Negroes the masters. For they went off whither and
when they liked; earned money about the islands, and brought it
home; expected their masters to keep them when out of work: and not
in vain. The island was, happily for it, too poor for sugar-growing
and the 'Grande Culture'; the Dutch were never tempted to increase
the number of their slaves; looked upon the few they had as friends
and children; and when emancipation came, no change whatsoever
ensued, it is said, in the semi-feudal relation between the black
men and the white. So these good Dutch live peacefully aloft in
their volcano, which it is to be hoped will not explode again. They
grow garden crops; among which, I understand, are several products
of the temperate zone, the air being, at that height pleasantly
cool. They sell their produce about the islands. They build boats
up in the crater--the best boats in all the West Indies--and lower
them down the cliff to the sea. They hire themselves out too, not
having lost their forefathers' sea-going instincts, as sailors about
all those seas, and are, like their boats, the best in those parts.
They all speak English; and though they are nominally Lutherans, are
glad of the services of the excellent Bishop of Antigua, who pays
them periodical visits. He described them as virtuous, shrewd,
simple, healthy folk, retaining, in spite of the tropic sun, the
same clear white and red complexions which their ancestors brought
from Holland two hundred years ago--a proof, among many, that the
white man need not degenerate in these isles.

Saba has, like most of these islands, its 'Somma' like that of
Vesuvius; an outer ring of lava, the product of older eruptions,
surrounding a central cone, the product of some newer one. But even
this latter, as far as I could judge by the glass, is very ancient.
Little more than the core of the central cone is left. The rest has
been long since destroyed by rains and winds. A white cliff at the
south end of the island should be examined by geologists. It
belongs probably to that formation of tertiary calcareous marl so
often seen in the West Indies, especially at Barbadoes: but if so,
it must, to judge from the scar which it makes seaward, have been
upheaved long ago, and like the whole island--and indeed all the
islands--betokens an immense antiquity.

Much more recent--in appearance at least--is the little isle of St.
Eustatius, or at least the crater-cone, with its lip broken down at
one spot, which makes up five-sixths of the island. St. Eustatius
may have been in eruption, though there is no record of it, during
historic times, and looks more unrepentant and capable of
misbehaving itself again than does any other crater-cone in the
Antilles; far more so than the Souffriere in St. Vincent which
exploded in 1812.

But these two are mere rocks. It is not till the traveller arrives
at St. Kitts that he sees what a West Indian island is.

The 'Mother of the Antilles,' as she is called, is worthy of her
name. Everywhere from the shore the land sweeps up, slowly at
first, then rapidly, toward the central mass, the rugged peak
whereof goes by the name of Mount Misery. Only once, and then but
for a moment, did we succeed in getting a sight of the actual
summit, so pertinaciously did the clouds crawl round it. 3700 feet
aloft a pyramid of black lava rises above the broken walls of an
older crater, and is, to judge from its knife-edge, flat top, and
concave eastern side, the last remnant of an inner cone which has
been washed, or more probably blasted, away. Beneath it, according
to the report of an islander to Dr. Davy (and what I heard was to
the same effect), is a deep hollow, longer than it is wide, without
an outlet, walled in by precipices and steep declivities, from
fissures in which steam and the fumes of sulphur are emitted.
Sulphur in crystals abounds, encrusting the rocks and loose stones;
and a stagnant pool of rain-water occupies the bottom of the
Souffriere. A dangerous neighbour--but as long as he keeps his
temper, as he has done for three hundred years at least, a most
beneficent one--is this great hill, which took, in Columbus's
imagination, the form of the giant St. Christopher bearing on his
shoulder the infant Christ, and so gave a name to the whole island.

From the lava and ash ejected from this focus, the whole soils of
the island have been formed; soils of still unexhausted fertility,
save when--as must needs be in a volcanic region--patches of mere
rapilli and scoriae occur. The mountain has hurled these out; and
everywhere, as a glance of the eye shows, the tropic rains are
carrying them yearly down to the lowland, exposing fresh surfaces to
the action of the air, and, by continual denudation and degradation,
remanuring the soil. Everywhere, too, are gullies sawn in the
slopes, which terminate above in deep and narrow glens, giving,
especially when alternated with long lava-streams, a ridge-and-
furrow look to this and most other of the Antilles. Dr. Davy, with
his usual acuteness of eye and soundness of judgment, attributes
them rather to 'water acting on loose volcanic ashes' than to 'rents
and fissures, the result of sudden and violent force.' Doubtless he
is in the right. Thus, and thus only, has been formed the greater
part of the most beautiful scenery in the West Indies; and I longed
again and again, as I looked at it, for the company of my friend and
teacher, Colonel George Greenwood, that I might show him, on island
after island, such manifold corroborations of his theories in Rain
and Rivers.

But our eyes were drawn off, at almost the second glance, from
mountain-peaks and glens to the slopes of cultivated lowland,
sheeted with bright green cane, and guinea-grass, and pigeon pea;
and that not for their own sakes, but for the sake of objects so
utterly unlike anything which we had ever seen, that it was not
easy, at first, to discover what they were. Gray pillars, which
seemed taller than the tallest poplars, smooth and cylindrical as
those of a Doric temple, each carrying a flat head of darkest green,
were ranged along roadsides and round fields, or stood, in groups or
singly, near engine-works, or towered above rich shrubberies which
shrouded comfortable country-houses. It was not easy, as I have
said, to believe that these strange and noble things were trees:
but such they were. At last we beheld, with wonder and delight, the
pride of the West Indies, the Cabbage Palms--Palmistes of the French
settlers--which botanists have well named Oreodoxa, the 'glory of
the mountains.' We saw them afterwards a hundred times in their own
native forests; and when they rose through tangled masses of richest
vegetation, mixed with other and smaller species of palms, their
form, fantastic though it was, harmonised well with hundreds of
forms equally fantastic. But here they seemed, at first sight, out
of place, incongruous, and artificial, standing amid no kindred
forms, and towering over a cultivation and civilisation which might
have been mistaken, seen from the sea, for wealthy farms along some
English shore. Gladly would we have gone on shore, were it but to
have stood awhile under those Palmistes; and an invitation was not
wanting to a pretty tree-shrouded house on a low cliff a mile off,
where doubtless every courtesy and many a luxury would have awaited
us. But it could not be. We watched kind folk rowed to shore
without us; and then turned to watch the black flotilla under our

The first thing that caught our eye on board the negro boats which
were alongside was, of course, the baskets of fruits and vegetables,
of which one of us at least had been hearing all his life. At St.
Thomas's we had been introduced to bananas (figs, as they are
miscalled in the West Indies); to the great green oranges, thick-
skinned and fragrant; to those junks of sugar-cane, some two feet
long, which Cuffy and Cuffy's ladies delight to gnaw, walking,
sitting, and standing; increasing thereby the size of their lips,
and breaking out, often enough, their upper front teeth. We had
seen, and eaten too, the sweet sop {25a}--a passable fruit, or
rather congeries of fruits, looking like a green and purple
strawberry, of the bigness of an orange. It is the cousin of the
prickly sour-sop; {25b} of the really delicious, but to me unknown,
Chirimoya; {25c} and of the custard apple, {25d} containing a pulp
which (as those who remember the delectable pages of Tom Cringle
know) bears a startling likeness to brains. Bunches of grapes, at
St. Kitts, lay among these: and at St. Lucia we saw with them, for
the first time, Avocado, or Alligator pears, alias midshipman's
butter; {26a} large round brown fruits, to be eaten with pepper and
salt by those who list. With these, in open baskets, lay bright
scarlet capsicums, green coconuts tinged with orange, great roots of
yam {26b} and cush-cush, {26c} with strange pulse of various kinds
and hues. The contents of these vegetable baskets were often as
gay-coloured as the gaudy gowns, and still gaudier turbans, of the
women who offered them for sale.

Screaming and jabbering, the Negroes and Negresses thrust each
other's boats about, scramble from one to the other with gestures of
wrath and defiance, and seemed at every moment about to fall to
fisticuffs and to upset themselves among the sharks. But they did
neither. Their excitement evaporated in noise. To their 'ladies,'
to do them justice, the men were always civil, while the said
'ladies' bullied them and ordered them about without mercy. The
negro women are, without doubt, on a more thorough footing of
equality with the men than the women of any white race. The causes,
I believe, are two. In the first place there is less difference
between the sexes in mere physical strength and courage; and
watching the average Negresses, one can well believe the stories of
those terrible Amazonian guards of the King of Dahomey, whose boast
is, that they are no longer women, but men. There is no doubt that,
in case of a rebellion, the black women of the West Indies would be
as formidable, cutlass in hand, as the men. The other cause is the
exceeding ease with which, not merely food, but gay clothes and
ornaments, can be procured by light labour. The negro woman has no
need to marry and make herself the slave of a man, in order to get a
home and subsistence. Independent she is, for good and evil; and
independent she takes care to remain; and no schemes for civilising
the Negro will have any deep or permanent good effect which do not
take note of, and legislate for, this singular fact.

Meanwhile, it was a comfort to one fresh from the cities of the Old
World, and the short and stunted figures, the mesquin and scrofulous
visages, which crowd our alleys and back wynds, to see everywhere
health, strength, and goodly stature, especially among women.
Nowhere in the West Indies are to be seen those haggard down-trodden
mothers, grown old before their time, too common in England, and
commoner still in France. Health, 'rude' in every sense of the
word, is the mark of the negro woman, and of the negro man likewise.
Their faces shine with fatness; they seem to enjoy, they do enjoy,
the mere act of living, like the lizard on the wall. It may be
said--it must be said--that, if they be human beings (as they are),
they are meant for something more than mere enjoyment of life. Well
and good: but are they not meant for enjoyment likewise? Let us
take the beam out of our own eye, before we take the mote out of
theirs; let us, before we complain of them for being too healthy and
comfortable, remember that we have at home here tens of thousands of
paupers, rogues, whatnot, who are not a whit more civilised,
intellectual, virtuous, or spiritual than the Negro, and are
meanwhile neither healthy nor comfortable. The Negro may have the
corpus sanum without the mens sana. But what of those whose souls
and bodies are alike unsound?

Away south, along the low spit at the south end of the island, where
are salt-pans which, I suspect, lie in now extinguished craters; and
past little Nevis, the conical ruin, as it were, of a volcanic
island. It was probably joined to the low end of St. Kitts not many
years ago. It is separated from it now only by a channel called the
Narrows, some four to six miles across, and very shallow, there
being not more than four fathoms in many places, and infested with
reefs, whether of true coral or of volcanic rock I should be glad to
know. A single peak, with its Souffriere, rises to some 2000 feet;
right and left of it are two lower hills, fragments, apparently, of
a Somma, or older and larger crater. The lava and ash slide in
concave slopes of fertile soil down to the sea, forming an island
some four miles by three, which was in the seventeenth century a
little paradise, containing 4000 white citizens, who had dwindled
down in 1805, under the baneful influences of slavery, to 1300; in
1832 (the period of emancipation) to 500; and in 1854 to only 170.
{27a} A happy place, however, it is said still to be, with a
population of more than 10,000, who, as there is happily no Crown
land in the island, cannot squat, and so return to their original
savagery; but are well-ordered and peaceable, industrious, and well-
taught, and need, it is said, not only no soldiers, but no police.

One spot on the little island we should have liked much to have
seen: the house where Nelson, after his marriage with Mrs. Nisbet,
a lady of Nevis, dwelt awhile in peace and purity. Happier for him,
perhaps, though not for England, had he never left that quiet nest.

And now, on the leeward bow, another gray mountain island rose; and
on the windward another, lower and longer. The former was
Montserrat, which I should have gladly visited, as I had been
invited to do. For little Montserrat is just now the scene of a
very hopeful and important experiment. {27b} The Messrs. Sturge
have established there a large plantation of limes, and a
manufactory of lime-juice, which promises to be able to supply, in
good time, vast quantities of that most useful of all sea-medicines.

Their connection with the Society of Friends, and indeed the very
name of Sturge, is a guarantee that such a work will be carried on
for the benefit, not merely of the capitalists, but of the coloured
people who are employed. Already, I am assured, a marked
improvement has taken place among them; and I, for one, heartily bid
God-speed to the enterprise: to any enterprise, indeed, which tends
to divert labour and capital from that exclusive sugar-growing which
has been most injurious, I verily believe the bane, of the West
Indies. On that subject I may have to say more in a future chapter.
I ask the reader, meanwhile, to follow, as the ship's head goes
round to windward toward Antigua.

Antigua is lower, longer, and flatter than the other islands. It
carries no central peak: but its wildness of ragged uplands forms,
it is said, a natural fortress, which ought to be impregnable; and
its loyal and industrious people boast that, were every other West
Indian island lost, the English might make a stand in Antigua long
enough to enable them to reconquer the whole. I should have feared,
from the look of the island, that no large force could hold out long
in a country so destitute of water as those volcanic hills, rusty,
ragged, treeless, almost sad and desolate--if any land could be sad
and desolate with such a blue sea leaping around and such a blue sky
blazing above. Those who wish to know the agricultural capabilities
of Antigua, and to know, too, the good sense and courage, the
justice and humanity, which have enabled the Antiguans to struggle
on and upward through all their difficulties, in spite of drought,
hurricane, and earthquake, till permanent prosperity seems now
become certain, should read Dr. Davy's excellent book, which I
cannot too often recommend. For us, we could only give a hasty look
at its southern volcanic cliffs; while we regretted that we could
not inspect the marine strata of the eastern parts of the island,
with their calcareous marls and limestones, hardened clays and
cherts, and famous silicified trees, which offer important problems
to the geologist, as yet not worked out. {28}

We could well believe, as the steamer ran into English Harbour, that
Antigua was still subject to earthquakes; and had been shaken, with
great loss of property though not of life, in the Guadaloupe
earthquake of 1843, when 5000 lives were lost in the town of Point-
a-Pitre alone. The only well-marked effect which Dr. Davy could
hear of, apart from damage to artificial structures, was the partial
sinking of a causeway leading to Rat Island, in the harbour of St.
John. No wonder: if St. John's harbour be--as from its shape on
the map it probably is--simply an extinct crater, or group of
craters, like English Harbour. A more picturesque or more uncanny
little hole than that latter we had never yet seen: but there are
many such harbours about these islands, which nature, for the time
being at least, has handed over from the dominion of fire to that of
water. Past low cliffs of ash and volcanic boulder, sloping
westward to the sea, which is eating them fast away, the steamer
runs in through a deep crack, a pistol-shot in width. On the east
side a strange section of gray lava and ash is gnawn into caves. On
the right, a bluff rock of black lava dips sheer into water several
fathoms deep; and you anchor at once inside an irregular group of
craters, having passed through a gap in one of their sides, which
has probably been torn out by a lava flow. Whether the land, at the
time of the flow, was higher or lower than at present, who can tell?
This is certain, that the first basin is for half of its
circumference circular, and walled with ash beds, which seem to
slope outward from it. To the left it leads away into a long creek,
up which, somewhat to our surprise, we saw neat government-houses
and quays; and between them and us, a noble ironclad and other ships
of war at anchor close against lava and ash cliffs. But right
ahead, the dusty sides of the crater are covered with strange
bushes, its glaring shingle spotted with bright green Manchineels;
while on the cliffs around, aloes innumerable, seemingly the
imported American Agave, send up their groups of huge fat pointed
leaves from crannies so arid that one would fancy a moss would
wither in them. A strange place it is, and strangely hot likewise;
and one could not but fear a day--it is to be hoped long distant--
when it will be hotter still.

Out of English Harbour, after taking on board fruit and bargaining
for beads, for which Antigua is famous, we passed the lonely rock of
Redonda, toward a mighty mountain which lay under a sheet of clouds
of corresponding vastness. That was Guadaloupe. The dark
undersides of the rolling clouds mingled with the dark peaks and
ridges, till we could not see where earth ended and vapour began;
and the clouds from far to the eastward up the wind massed
themselves on the island, and then ceased suddenly to leeward,
leaving the sky clear and the sea brilliant.

I should be glad to know the cause of this phenomenon, which we saw
several times among the islands, but never in greater perfection
than on nearing Nevis from the south on our return. In that case,
however, the cloud continued to leeward. It came up from the east
for full ten miles, an advancing column of tall ghostly cumuli,
leaden, above a leaden sea; and slid toward the island, whose lines
seemed to leap up once to meet them; fail; then, in a second leap,
to plunge the crater-peak high into the mist; and then to sink down
again into the western sea, so gently that the line of shore and sea
was indistinguishable. But above, the cloud-procession passed on,
shattered by its contact with the mountain, and transfigured as it
neared the setting sun into long upward streaming lines of rack,
purple and primrose against a saffron sky, while Venus lingered low
between cloud and sea, a spark of fire glittering through dull red

And now the steamer ran due south, across the vast basin which is
ringed round by Antigua, Montserrat, and Guadaloupe, with St. Kitts
and Nevis showing like tall gray ghosts to the north-west. Higher
and higher ahead rose the great mountain mass of Guadaloupe, its
head in its own canopy of cloud. The island falls into the sea
sharply to leeward. But it stretches out to windward in a long line
of flat land edged with low cliff, and studded with large farms and
engine-houses. It might be a bit of the Isle of Thanet, or of the
Lothians, were it not for those umbrella-like Palmistes, a hundred
feet high, which stand out everywhere against the sky. At its
northern end, a furious surf was beating on a sandy beach; and
beyond that, dim and distant, loomed up the low flat farther island,
known by the name of Grande Terre.

Guadaloupe, as some of my readers may know, consists, properly
speaking, of two islands, divided by a swamp and a narrow salt-water
river. The eastward half, or Grande Terre, which is composed of
marine strata, is hardly seen in the island voyage, and then only at
a distance, first behind the westward Basse Terre, and then behind
other little islands, the Saintes and Mariegalante. But the
westward island, rising in one lofty volcanic mass which hides the
eastern island from view, is perhaps, for mere grandeur, the
grandest in the Archipelago. The mountains--among which are, it is
said, fourteen extinct craters--range upward higher and higher
toward the southern end, with corries and glens, which must be, when
seen near, hanging gardens of stupendous size. The forests seem to
be as magnificent as they were in the days of Pere Labat. Tiny
knots on distant cliff-tops, when looked at through the glass, are
found to be single trees of enormous height and breadth. Gullies
hundreds of feet in depth, rushing downwards toward the sea,
represent the rush of the torrents which have helped, through
thousands of rainy seasons, to scoop them out and down.

But all this grandeur and richness culminates, toward the southern
end, in one great crater-peak 5000 feet in height, at the foot of
which lies the Port of Basse Terre, or Bourg St. Francois.

We never were so fortunate as to see the Souffriere entirely free
from cloud. The lower, wider, and more ancient crater was generally
clear: but out of the midst of it rose a second cone buried in
darkness and mist. Once only we caught sight of part of its lip,
and the sight was one not to be forgotten.

The sun was rising behind the hills. The purple mountain was backed
by clear blue sky. High above it hung sheets of orange cloud
lighted from underneath; lower down, and close upon the hill-tops,
curved sheets of bright white mist

'Stooped from heaven, and took the shape,
With fold on fold, of mountain and of cape.'

And under them, again, the crater seethed with gray mist, among
which, at one moment, we could discern portions of its lip; not
smooth, like that of Vesuvius, but broken into awful peaks and
chasms hundreds of feet in height. As the sun rose, level lights of
golden green streamed round the peak right and left over the downs:
but only for a while. As the sky-clouds vanished in his blazing
rays, earth-clouds rolled up below from the valleys behind; wreathed
and weltered about the great black teeth of the crater; and then
sinking among them, and below them, shrouded the whole cone in
purple darkness for the day; while in the foreground blazed in the
sunshine broad slopes of cane-field: below them again the town,
with handsome houses and old-fashioned churches and convents, dating
possibly from the seventeenth century, embowered in mangoes,
tamarinds, and palmistes; and along the beach a market beneath a row
of trees, with canoes drawn up to be unladen, and gay dresses of
every hue. The surf whispered softly on the beach. The cheerful
murmur of voices came off the shore, and above it the tinkling of
some little bell, calling good folks to early mass. A cheery,
brilliant picture as man could wish to see: but marred by two ugly
elements. A mile away on the low northern cliff, marked with many a
cross, was the lonely cholera cemetery, a remembrance of the fearful
pestilence which a few years since swept away thousands of the
people: and above frowned that black giant, now asleep; but for how

In 1797 an eruption hurled out pumice, ashes, and sulphureous
vapours. In the great crisis of 1812, indeed, the volcano was
quiet, leaving the Souffriere of St. Vincent to do the work; but
since then he has shown an ugly and uncertain humour. Smoke by day,
and flame by night--or probably that light reflected from below
which is often mistaken for flame in volcanic eruptions--have been
seen again and again above the crater; and the awful earthquake of
1843 proves that his capacity for mischief is unabated. The whole
island, indeed, is somewhat unsafe; for the hapless town of Point-a-
Pitre, destroyed by that earthquake, stands not on the volcanic
Basse Terre, but on the edge of the marine Grande Terre, near the
southern mouth of the salt-water river. Heaven grant these good
people of Guadaloupe a long respite; for they are said to deserve
it, as far as human industry and enterprise goes. They have, as
well, I understand, as the gentlemen of Martinique, discovered the
worth of the 'division of labour.' Throughout the West Indies the
planter is usually not merely a sugar-grower, but a sugar-maker
also. He requires, therefore, two capitals, and two intellects
likewise, one for his cane-fields, the other for his 'ingenio,'
engine-house, or sugar-works. But he does not gain thereby two
profits. Having two things to do, neither, usually, is done well.
The cane-farming is bad, the sugar-making bad; and the sugar, when
made, disposed of through merchants by a cumbrous, antiquated, and
expensive system. These shrewd Frenchmen, and, I am told, even
small proprietors among the Negroes, not being crippled, happily for
them, by those absurd sugar-duties which, till Mr. Lowe's budget,
put a premium on the making of bad sugar, are confining themselves
to growing the canes, and sell them raw to 'Usines Centrales,' at
which they are manufactured into sugar. They thus devote their own
capital and intellect to increasing the yield of their estates;
while the central factories, it is said, pay dividends ranging from
twenty to forty per cent. I regretted much that I was unable to
visit in crop-time one of these factories, and see the working of a
system which seems to contain one of the best elements of the co-
operative principle.

But (and this is at present a serious inconvenience to a traveller
in the Antilles) the steamer passes each island only once a
fortnight; so that to land in an island is equivalent to staying
there at least that time, unless one chooses to take the chances of
a coasting schooner, and bad food, bugs, cockroaches, and a bunk
which--but I will not describe. 'Non ragionam di lor, ma guarda'
(down the companion) 'e passa.'

I must therefore content myself with describing, as honestly as I
can, what little we saw from the sea, of islands at each of which we
would gladly have stayed several days.

As the traveller nears each of them--Guadaloupe, Dominica,
Martinique (of which two last we had only one passing glance), St.
Vincent, St. Lucia, and Grenada--he will be impressed, not only by
the peculiarity of their form, but by the richness of their colour.

All of them do not, like St. Kitts, Guadaloupe, and St. Vincent,
slope up to one central peak. In Martinique, for instance, there
are three separate peaks, or groups of peaks--the Mont Pelee, the
Pitons du Carbet, and the Piton du Vauclain. But all have that
peculiar jagged outline which is noticed first at the Virgin

Flat 'vans' or hog-backed hills, and broad sweeps of moorland, so
common in Scotland, are as rare as are steep walls of cliff, so
common in the Alps. Pyramid is piled on pyramid, the sides of each
at a slope of about 45 degrees, till the whole range is a congeries
of multitudinous peaks and peaklets, round the base of which spreads
out, with a sudden sweep, the smooth lowland of volcanic ash and
lava. This extreme raggedness of outline is easily explained. The
mountains have never been, as in Scotland, planed smooth by ice.
They have been gouged out, in every direction, by the furious tropic
rains and tropic rain-torrents. Had the rocks been stratified and
tolerably horizontal, these rains would have cut them out into
tablelands divided by deep gullies, such as may be seen in
Abyssinia, and in certain parts of the western United States. But
these rocks are altogether amorphous and unstratified, and have been
poured or spouted out as lumps, dykes, and sheets of lava, of every
degree of hardness; so that the rain, in degrading them, has worn
them, not into tables and ranges, but into innumerable cones. And
the process of degradation is still going on rapidly. Though a
cliff, or sheet of bare rock, is hardly visible among the glens, yet
here and there a bright brown patch tells of a recent landslip; and
the masses of debris and banks of shingle, backed by a pestilential
little swamp at the mouth of each torrent, show how furious must be
the downpour and down-roll before the force of a sudden flood, along
so headlong an incline.

But in strange contrast with the ragged outline, and with the wild
devastation of the rainy season, is the richness of the verdure
which clothes the islands, up to their highest peaks, in what seems
a coat of green fur; but when looked at through the glasses, proves
to be, in most cases, gigantic timber. Not a rock is seen. If
there be a cliff here and there, it is as green as an English lawn.
Steep slopes are gray with groo-groo palms, {33} or yellow with
unknown flowering trees. High against the sky-line, tiny knots and
lumps are found to be gigantic trees. Each glen has buried its
streamlet a hundred feet in vegetation, above which, here and there,
the gray stem and dark crown of some palmiste towers up like the
mast of some great admiral. The eye and the fancy strain vainly
into the green abysses, and wander up and down over the wealth of
depths and heights, compared with which European parks and woodlands
are but paltry scrub and shaugh. No books are needed to tell that.
The eye discovers it for itself, even before it has learnt to judge
of the great size of the vegetation, from the endless variety of
form and colour. For the islands, though green intensely, are not
of one, but of every conceivable green, or rather of hues ranging
from pale yellow through all greens into cobalt blue; and as the
wind stirs the leaves, and sweeps the lights and shadows over hill
and glen, all is ever-changing, iridescent, like a peacock's neck;
till the whole island, from peak to shore, seems some glorious
jewel--an emerald with tints of sapphire and topaz, hanging between
blue sea and white surf below, and blue sky and white cloud above.

If the reader fancies that I exaggerate, let him go and see. Let
him lie for one hour off the Rosseau at Dominica. Let him sail down
the leeward side of Guadaloupe, down the leeward side of what island
he will, and judge for himself how poor, and yet how tawdry, my
words are, compared with the luscious yet magnificent colouring of
the Antilles.

The traveller, at least so I think, would remark also, with some
surprise, the seeming smallness of these islands. The Basse Terre
of Guadaloupe, for instance, is forty miles in length. As you lie
off it, it does not look half, or even a quarter, of that length;
and that, not merely because the distances north and south are
foreshortened, or shut in by nearer headlands. The causes, I
believe, are more subtle and more complex. First, the novel
clearness of the air, which makes the traveller, fresh from misty
England, fancy every object far nearer, and therefore far smaller,
than it actually is. Next the simplicity of form. Each outer line
trends upward so surely toward a single focus; each whole is so
sharply defined between its base-line of sea and its background of
sky, that, like a statue, each island is compact and complete in
itself, an isolated and self-dependent organism; and therefore, like
every beautiful statue, it looks much smaller than it is. So
perfect this isolation seems, that one fancies, at moments, that the
island does not rise out of the sea, but floats upon it; that it is
held in place, not by the roots of the mountains, and deep miles of
lava-wall below, but by the cloud which has caught it by the top,
and will not let it go. Let that cloud but rise, and vanish, and
the whole beautiful thing will be cast adrift; ready to fetch way
before the wind, and (as it will seem often enough to do when viewed
through a cabin-port) to slide silently past you, while you are
sliding past it.

And yet, to him who knows the past, a dark shadow hangs over all
this beauty; and the air--even in clearest blaze of sunshine--is
full of ghosts. I do not speak of the shadow of negro slavery, nor
of the shadow which, though abolished, it has left behind, not to be
cleared off for generations to come. I speak of the shadow of war,
and the ghosts of gallant soldiers and sailors. Truly here

'The spirits of our fathers
Might start from every wave;
For the deck it was their field of fame,
And ocean was their grave,'

and ask us: What have you done with these islands, which we won for
you with precious blood? What could we answer? We have misused
them, neglected them; till now, ashamed of the slavery of the past,
and too ignorant and helpless to govern them now slavery is gone, we
are half-minded to throw them away again, or to allow them to annex
themselves, in sheer weariness at our imbecility, to the Americans,
who, far too wise to throw them away in their turn, will accept them
gladly as an instalment of that great development of their empire,
when 'The stars and stripes shall float upon Cape Horn.'

But was it for this that these islands were taken and retaken, till
every gully held the skeleton of an Englishman? Was it for this
that these seas were reddened with blood year after year, till the
sharks learnt to gather to a sea-fight, as eagle, kite, and wolf
gathered of old to fights on land? Did all those gallant souls go
down to Hades in vain, and leave nothing for the Englishman but the
sad and proud memory of their useless valour? That at least they
have left.

However we may deplore those old wars as unnecessary; however much
we may hate war in itself, as perhaps the worst of all the
superfluous curses with which man continues to deface himself and
this fair earth of God, yet one must be less than Englishman, less,
it may be, than man, if one does not feel a thrill of pride at
entering waters where one says to oneself,--Here Rodney, on the
glorious 12th of April 1782, broke Count de Grasse's line (teaching
thereby Nelson to do the same in like case), took and destroyed
seven French ships of the line and scattered the rest, preventing
the French fleet from joining the Spaniards at Hispaniola; thus
saving Jamaica and the whole West Indies, and brought about by that
single tremendous blow the honourable peace of 1783. On what a
scene of crippled and sinking, shattered and triumphant ships, in
what a sea, must the conquerors have looked round from the
Formidable's poop, with De Grasse at luncheon with Rodney in the
cabin below, and not, as he had boastfully promised, on board his
own Fills de Paris. Truly, though cynically, wrote Sir Gilbert
Blane, 'If superior beings make a sport of the quarrels of mortals,
they could not have chosen a better theatre for this magnificent
exhibition, nor could they ever have better entertainment than this
day afforded.'

Yon lovely roadstead of Dominica--there it was that Rodney first
caught up the French on the 9th of April, three days before, and
would have beaten them there and then, had not a great part of his
fleet lain becalmed under these very highlands, past which we are
steaming through water smooth as glass. You glance, again, running
down the coast of Martinique, into a deep bay, ringed round with gay
houses embowered in mango and coconut, with the Piton du Vauclain
rising into the clouds behind it. That is the Cul-de-sac Royal, for
years the rendezvous and stronghold of the French fleets. From it
Count de Grasse sailed out on the fatal 8th of April; and there,
beyond it, opens an isolated rock, of the shape, but double the
size, of one of the great Pyramids, which was once the British sloop
of war Diamond Rock.

For, in the end of 1803, Sir Samuel Hood saw that French ships
passing to Fort Royal harbour in Martinique escaped him by running
through the deep channel between Pointe du Diamante and this same
rock, which rises sheer out of the water 600 feet, and is about a
mile round, and only accessible at a point to the leeward, and even
then only when there is no surf. He who lands, it is said, has then
to creep through crannies and dangerous steeps, round to the
windward side, where the eye is suddenly relieved by a sloping grove
of wild fig-trees, clinging by innumerable air-roots to the cracks
of the stone.

So Hood, with that inspiration of genius so common then among
sailors, laid his seventy-four, the Centaur, close alongside the
Diamond; made a hawser, with a traveller on it, fast to the ship and
to the top of the rock; and in January 1804 got three long 24's and
two 18's hauled up far above his masthead by sailors who, as they
'hung like clusters,' appeared 'like mice hauling a little sausage.
Scarcely could we hear the Governor on the top directing them with
his trumpet; the Centaur lying close under, like a cocoa-nut shell,
to which the hawsers are affixed.' {36} In this strange fortress
Lieutenant James Wilkie Maurice (let his name be recollected as one
of England's forgotten worthies) was established, with 120 men and
boys, and ammunition, provisions, and water, for four months; and
the rock was borne on the books of the Admiralty as His Majesty's
ship Diamond Rock, and swept the seas with her guns till the 1st of
June 1805, when she had to surrender, for want of powder, to a
French squadron of two 74's, a frigate, a corvette, a schooner, and
eleven gunboats, after killing and wounding some seventy men on the
rock alone, and destroying three gunboats, with a loss to herself of
two men killed and one wounded. Remembering which story, who will
blame the traveller if he takes off his hat to His Majesty's quondam
corvette, as he sees for the first time its pink and yellow sides
shining in the sun, above the sparkling seas over which it
domineered of old? You run onwards toward St. Lucia. Across that
channel Rodney's line of frigates watched for the expected
reinforcement of the French fleet. The first bay in St. Lucia is
Gros islet; and there is the Gros islet itself--Pigeon Rock, as the
English call it--behind which Rodney's fleet lay waiting at anchor,
while he himself sat on the top of the rock, day after day, spy-
glass in hand, watching for the signals from his frigates that the
French fleet was on the move.

And those glens and forests of St. Lucia--over them and through them
Sir John Moore and Sir Ralph Abercrombie fought, week after week,
month after month, not merely against French soldiers, but against
worse enemies; 'Brigands,' as the poor fellows were called; Negroes
liberated by the Revolution of 1792. With their heads full (and who
can blame them?) of the Rights of Man, and the democratic teachings
of that valiant and able friend of Robespierre, Victor Hugues, they
had destroyed their masters, man, woman, and child, horribly enough,
and then helped to drive out of the island the invading English, who
were already half destroyed, not with fighting, but with fever. And
now 'St. Lucia the faithful,' as the Convention had named her, was
swarming with fresh English; and the remaining French and the
drilled Negroes made a desperate stand in the earthworks of yonder
Morne Fortunee, above the harbour, and had to surrender, with 100
guns and all their stores; and then the poor black fellows, who only
knew that they were free, and intended to remain free, took to the
bush, and fed on the wild cush-cush roots and the plunder of the
plantations, man-hunting, murdering French and English alike, and
being put to death in return whenever caught. Gentle Abercrombie
could not coax them into peace: stern Moore could not shoot and
hang them into it; and the 'Brigand war' dragged hideously on, till
Moore--who was nearly caught by them in a six-oared boat off the
Pitons, and had to row for his life to St. Vincent, so saving
himself for the glory of Corunna--was all but dead of fever; and
Colonel James Drummond had to carry on the miserable work, till the
whole 'Armee Francaise dans les bois' laid down their rusty muskets,
on the one condition, that free they had been, and free they should
remain. So they were formed into an English regiment, and sent to
fight on the coast of Africa; and in more senses than one 'went to
their own place.' Then St. Lucia was ours till the peace of 1802;
then French again, under the good and wise Nogues; to be retaken by
us in 1803 once and for all.

I tell this little story at some length, as an instance of what
these islands have cost us in blood and treasure. I have heard it
regretted that we restored Martinique to the French, and kept St.
Lucia instead. But in so doing, the British Government acted at
least on the advice which Rodney had given as early as the year
1778. St. Lucia, he held, would render Martinique and the other
islands of little use in war, owing to its windward situation and
its good harbours; for from St. Lucia every other British island
might receive speedy succour. He advised that the Little Carenage
should be made a permanent naval station, with dockyard and
fortifications, and a town built there by Government, which would,
in his opinion, have become a metropolis for the other islands. And
indeed, Nature had done her part to make such a project easy of
accomplishment. But Rodney's advice was not taken--any more than
his advice to people the island, by having a considerable quantity
of land in each parish allotted to ten-acre men (i.e. white yeomen),
under penalty of forfeiting it to the Crown should it be ever
converted to any other use than provision ground (i.e. thrown into
sugar estates). This advice shows that Rodney's genius, though,
with the prejudices of his time, he supported not only slavery, but
the slave-trade itself, had perceived one of the most fatal
weaknesses of the slave-holding and sugar-growing system. And well
it would have been for St. Lucia if his advice had been taken. But
neither ten-acre men nor dockyards were ever established in St.
Lucia. The mail-steamers, if they need to go into dock, have, I am
ashamed to say, to go to Martinique, where the French manage matters
better. The admirable Carenage harbour is empty; Castries remains a
little town, small, dirty, dilapidated, and unwholesome; and St.
Lucia itself is hardly to be called a colony, but rather the nucleus
of a colony, which may become hereafter, by energy and good
government, a rich and thickly-peopled garden up to the very

We went up 800 feet of steep hill, to pay a visit on that Morne
Fortunee which Moore and Abercrombie took, with terrible loss of
life, in May 1796; and wondered at the courage and the tenacity of
purpose which could have contrived to invest, and much more to
assault, such a stronghold, 'dragging the guns across ravines and up
the acclivities of the mountains and rocks,' and then attacking the
works only along one narrow neck of down, which must be fat, to this
day, with English blood.

All was peaceful enough now. The forts were crumbling, the barracks
empty, and the 'neat cottages, smiling flower gardens, smooth grass-
plats and gravel-walks,' which were once the pride of the citadel,
replaced for the most part with Guava-scrub and sensitive plants.
But nothing can destroy the beauty of the panorama. To the north
and east a wilderness of mountain peaks; to the west the Grand Cul-
de-sac and the Carenage, mapped out in sheets of blue between high
promontories; and, beyond all, the open sea. What a land: and in
what a climate: and all lying well-nigh as it has been since the
making of the world, waiting for man to come and take possession.
But there, as elsewhere, matters are mending steadily; and in
another hundred years St. Lucia may be an honour to the English

We were, of course, anxious to obtain at St. Lucia specimens of that
abominable reptile, the Fer-de-lance, or rat-tailed snake, {38}
which is the pest of this island, as well as of the neighbouring
island of Martinique, and, in Pere Labat's time, of lesser
Martinique in the Grenadines, from which, according to Davy, it
seems to have disappeared. It occurs also in Guadaloupe. In great
Martinique--so the French say--it is dangerous to travel through
certain woodlands on account of the Fer-de-lance, who lies along a
bough, and strikes, without provocation, at horse or man. I suspect
this statement, however, to be an exaggeration. I was assured that
this was not the case in St. Lucia; that the snake attacks no
oftener than other venomous snakes,--that is, when trodden on, or
when his retreat is cut off. At all events, it seems easy enough to
kill him: so easy, that I hope yet it may be possible to catch him
alive, and that the Zoological Gardens may at last possess--what
they have long coveted in vain--hideous attraction of a live Fer-de-
lance. The specimens which we brought home are curious enough, even
from this aesthetic point of view. Why are these poisonous snakes
so repulsive in appearance, some of them at least, and that not in
proportion to their dangerous properties? For no one who puts the
mere dread out of his mind will call the Cobras ugly, even anything
but beautiful; nor, again, the deadly Coral snake of Trinidad, whose
beauty tempts children, and even grown people, to play with it, or
make a necklace of it, sometimes to their own destruction. But who
will call the Puff Adder of the Cape, or this very Fer-de-lance,
anything but ugly and horrible: not only from the brutality
signified, to us at least, by the flat triangular head and the heavy
jaw, but by the look of malevolence and craft signified, to us at
least, by the eye and the lip? 'To us at least,' I say. For it is
an open question, and will be one, as long as the nominalist and the
realist schools of thought keep up their controversy--which they
will do to the world's end--whether this seeming hideousness be a
real fact: whether we do not attribute to the snake the same
passions which we should expect to find--and to abhor--in a human
countenance of somewhat the same shape, and then justify our
assumption to ourselves by the creature's bites, which are actually
no more the result of craft and malevolence than the bite of a
frightened mouse or squirrel. I should be glad to believe that the
latter theory were the true one; that nothing is created really
ugly, that the Fer-de-lance looks an hideous fiend, the Ocelot a
beautiful fiend, merely because the outlines of the Ocelot approach
more nearly to those which we consider beautiful in a human being:
but I confess myself not yet convinced. 'There is a great deal of
human nature in man,' said the wise Yankee; and one's human nature,
perhaps one's common-sense also, will persist in considering beauty
and ugliness as absolute realities, in spite of one's efforts to be
fair to the weighty arguments on the other side.

These Fer-de-lances, be that as it may, are a great pest in St.
Lucia. Dr. Davy says that he 'was told by the Lieutenant-Governor
that as many as thirty rat-tailed snakes were killed in clearing a
piece of land, of no great extent, near Government House.' I can
well believe this, for about the same number were killed only two
years ago in clearing, probably, the same piece of ground, which is
infested with that creeping pest of the West Indies, the wild Guava-
bush, from which guava-jelly is made. The present Lieutenant-
Governor has offered a small reward for the head of every Fer-de-
lance killed: and the number brought in, in the first month, was so
large that I do not like to quote it merely from memory. Certainly,
it was high time to make a crusade against these unwelcome denizens.
Dr. Davy, judging from a Government report, says that nineteen
persons were killed by them in one small parish in the year 1849;
and the death, though by no means certain, is, when it befalls, a
hideous death enough. If any one wishes to know what it is like,
let him read the tragedy which Sir Richard Schomburgk tells--with
his usual brilliance and pathos, for he is a poet as well as a man
of science--in his Travels in British Guiana, vol. ii. p. 255--how
the Craspedocephalus, coiled on a stone in the ford, let fourteen
people walk over him without stirring, or allowing himself to be
seen: and at last rose, and, missing Schomburgk himself, struck the
beautiful Indian bride, the 'Liebling der ganzen Gesellschaft;' and
how she died in her bridegroom's arms, with horrors which I do not

Strangely enough, this snake, so fatal to man, has no power against
another West Indian snake, almost equally common, namely, the Cribo.
{40} This brave animal, closely connected with our common water-
snake, is perfectly harmless, and a welcome guest in West Indian
houses, because he clears them of rats. He is some six or eight
feet long, black, with more or less bright yellow about the tail and
under the stomach. He not only faces the Fer-de-lance, who is often
as big as he, but kills and eats him. It was but last year, I
think, that the population of Carenage turned out to see a fight in
a tree between a Cribo and a Fer-de-lance, of about equal size,
which, after a two hours' struggle, ended in the Cribo swallowing
the Fer-de-lance, head foremost. But when he had got his adversary
about one-third down, the Creoles--just as so many Englishmen would
have done--seeing that all the sport was over, rewarded the brave
Cribo by killing both, and preserving them as a curiosity in
spirits. How the Fer-de-lance came into the Antilles is a puzzle.
The black American scorpion--whose bite is more dreaded by the
Negroes than even the snake's--may have been easily brought by ship
in luggage or in cargo. But the Fer-de-lance, whose nearest home is
in Guiana, is not likely to have come on board ship. It is
difficult to believe that he travelled northward by land at the
epoch--if such a one there ever was--when these islands were joined
to South America: for if so, he would surely be found in St.
Vincent, in Grenada, and most surely of all in Trinidad. So far
from that being the case, he will not live, it is said, in St.
Vincent. For (so goes the story) during the Carib war of 1795-96,
the savages imported Fer-de-lances from St. Lucia or Martinique, and
turned them loose, in hopes of their destroying the white men: but
they did not breed, dwindled away, and were soon extinct. It is
possible that they, or their eggs, came in floating timber from the
Orinoco: but if so, how is it that they have never been stranded on
the east coast of Trinidad, whither timber without end drifts from
that river? In a word, I have no explanation whatsoever to give; as
I am not minded to fall back on the medieval one, that the devil
must have brought them thither, to plague the inhabitants for their

Among all these beautiful islands, St. Lucia is, I think, the most
beautiful; not indeed on account of the size or form of its central
mass, which is surpassed by that of several others, but on account
of those two extraordinary mountains at its south-western end,
which, while all conical hills in the French islands are called
Pitons, bear the name of The Pitons par excellence. From most
elevated points in the island their twin peaks may be seen jutting
up over the other hills, like, according to irreverent English
sailors, the tips of a donkey's ears. But, as the steamer runs
southward along the shore, these two peaks open out, and you find
yourself in deep water close to the base of two obelisks, rather
than mountains, which rise sheer out of the sea, one to the height
of 2710, the other to that of 2680 feet, about a mile from each
other. Between them is the loveliest little bay; and behind them
green wooded slopes rise toward the rearward mountain of the
Souffriere. The whole glitters clear and keen in blazing sunshine:
but behind, black depths of cloud and gray sheets of rain shroud all
the central highlands in mystery and sadness. Beyond them, without
a shore, spreads open sea. But the fantastic grandeur of the place
cannot be described in words. The pencil of the artist must be
trusted. I can vouch that he has not in the least exaggerated the
slenderness and steepness of the rock-masses. One of them, it is
said, has never been climbed; unless a myth which hangs about it is
true. Certain English sailors, probably of Rodney's men--and
numbering, according to the pleasure of the narrator, three hundred,
thirty, or three--are said to have warped themselves up it by lianes
and scrub; but they found the rock-ledges garrisoned by an enemy
more terrible than any French. Beneath the bites of the Fer-de-
lances, and it may be beneath the blaze of the sun, man after man
dropped; and lay, or rolled down the cliffs. A single survivor was
seen to reach the summit, to wave the Union Jack in triumph over his
head, and then to fall a corpse. So runs the tale, which, if not
true, has yet its value, as a token of what, in those old days,
English sailors were believed capable of daring and of doing.

At the back of these two Pitons is the Souffriere, probably the
remains of the old crater, now fallen in, and only 1000 feet above
the sea: a golden egg to the islanders, were it but used, in case
of war, and any difficulty occurring in obtaining sulphur from
Sicily, a supply of the article to almost any amount might be
obtained from this and the other like Solfaterras of the British
Antilles; they being, so long as the natural distillation of the
substance continues active as at present, inexhaustible. But to
work them profitably will require a little more common-sense than
the good folks of St. Lucia have as yet shown. In 1836 two
gentlemen of Antigua, {43a} Mr. Bennett and Mr. Wood, set up sulphur
works at the Souffriere of St. Lucia, and began prosperously enough,
exporting 540 tons the first year. 'But in 1840,' says Mr. Breen,
'the sugar-growers took the alarm,' fearing, it is to be presumed,
that labour would be diverted from the cane-estates, 'and at their
instigation the Legislative Council imposed a tax of 16s. sterling
on every ton of purified sulphur exported from the colony.' The
consequence was that 'Messrs. Bennett and Wood, after incurring a
heavy loss of time and treasure, had to break up their establishment
and retire from the colony.' One has heard of the man who killed
the goose to get the golden egg. In this case the goose, to avoid
the trouble of laying, seems to have killed the man.

The next link in the chain, as the steamer runs southward, is St.
Vincent; a single volcano peak, like St. Kitts, or the Basse Terre
of Guadaloupe. Very grand are the vast sheets, probably of lava
covered with ash, which pour down from between two rounded mountains
just above the town. Rich with green canes, they contrast strongly
with the brown ragged cliffs right and left of them, and still more
with the awful depths beyond and above, where, underneath a canopy
of bright white clouds, scowls a purple darkness of cliffs and
glens, among which lies, unseen, the Souffriere.

In vain, both going and coming, by sunlight, and again by moonlight,
when the cane-fields gleamed white below and the hills were pitch-
black above, did we try to catch a sight of this crater-peak. One
fact alone we ascertained, that like all, as far as I have seen, of
the West Indian volcanoes, it does not terminate in an ash-cone, but
in ragged cliffs of blasted rock. The explosion of April 27, 1812,
must have been too violent, and too short, to allow of any
accumulation round the crater. And no wonder; for that single
explosion relieved an interior pressure upon the crust of the earth,
which had agitated sea and land from the Azores to the West Indian
islands, the coasts of Venezuela, the Cordillera of New Grenada, and
the valleys of the Mississippi and Ohio. For nearly two years the
earthquakes had continued, when they culminated in one great
tragedy, which should be read at length in the pages of Humboldt.
{43b} On March 26, 1812, when the people of Caraccas were assembled
in the churches, beneath a still and blazing sky, one minute of
earthquake sufficed to bury, amid the ruins of churches and houses,
nearly 10,000 souls. The same earthquake wrought terrible
destruction along the whole line of the northern Cordilleras, and
was felt even at Santa Fe de Bogota, and Honda, 180 leagues from
Caraccas. But the end was not yet. While the wretched survivors of
Caraccas were dying of fever and starvation, and wandering inland to
escape from ever-renewed earthquake shocks, among villages and
farms, which, ruined like their own city, could give them no
shelter, the almost forgotten volcano of St. Vincent was muttering
in suppressed wrath. It had thrown out no lava since 1718; if, at
least, the eruption spoken of by Moreau de Jonnes took place in the
Souffriere. According to him, with a terrific earthquake, clouds of
ashes were driven into the air with violent detonations from a
mountain situated at the eastern end of the island. When the
eruption had ceased, it was found that the whole mountain had
disappeared. Now there is no eastern end to St. Vincent, nor any
mountain on the east coast: and the Souffriere is at the northern
end. It is impossible, meanwhile, that the wreck of such a mountain
should not have left traces visible and notorious to this day. May
not the truth be, that the Souffriere had once a lofty cone, which
was blasted away in 1718, leaving the present crater-ring of cliffs
and peaks; and that thus may be explained the discrepancies in the
accounts of its height, which Mr. Scrope gives as 4940 feet, and
Humboldt and Dr. Davy at 3000, a measurement which seems to me to be
more probably correct? The mountain is said to have been slightly
active in 1785. In 1812 its old crater had been for some years (and
is now) a deep blue lake, with walls of rock around 800 feet in
height, reminding one traveller of the Lake of Albano. {44} But for
twelve months it had given warning, by frequent earthquake shocks,
that it had its part to play in the great subterranean battle
between rock and steam; and on the 27th of April 1812 the battle

A negro boy--he is said to be still alive in St. Vincent--was
herding cattle on the mountain-side. A stone fell near him; and
then another. He fancied that other boys were pelting him from the
cliffs above, and began throwing stones in return. But the stones
fell thicker: and among them one, and then another, too large to
have been thrown by human hand. And the poor little fellow woke up
to the fact that not a boy, but the mountain, was throwing stones at
him; and that the column of black cloud which was rising from the
crater above was not harmless vapour, but dust, and ash, and stone.
He turned, and ran for his life, leaving the cattle to their fate,
while the steam mitrailleuse of the Titans--to which all man's
engines of destruction are but pop-guns--roared on for three days
and nights, covering the greater part of the island in ashes,
burying crops, breaking branches off the trees, and spreading ruin
from which several estates never recovered; and so the 30th of April
dawned in darkness which might be felt.

Meanwhile, on that same day, to change the scene of the campaign two
hundred and ten leagues, 'a distance,' as Humboldt says, 'equal to
that between Vesuvius and Paris,' 'the inhabitants, not only of
Caraccas, but of Calabozo, situate in the midst of the Llanos, over
a space of four thousand square leagues, were terrified by a
subterranean noise, which resembled frequent discharges of the
loudest cannon. It was accompanied by no shock: and, what is very
remarkable, was as loud on the coast as at eighty leagues' distance
inland; and at Caraccas, as well as at Calabozo, preparations were
made to put the place in defence against an enemy who seemed to be
advancing with heavy artillery.' They might as well have copied the
St. Vincent herd-boy, and thrown their stones, too, at the Titans;
for the noise was, there can be no doubt, nothing else than the
final explosion in St. Vincent far away. The same explosion was
heard in Venezuela, the same at Martinique and Guadaloupe: but
there, too, there were no earthquake shocks. The volcanoes of the
two French islands lay quiet, and left their English brother to do
the work. On the same day a stream of lava rushed down from the


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