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The Temple of Nature

By Erasmus Darwin



Next when imprison'd fires in central caves
Burst the firm earth, and drank the headlong waves. CANTO I. l. 302
THE great and repeated explosions of volcanoes are shown by Mr. Mitchell in the Philosoph. Transact. to arise from their communication with the sea, or with rivers, or inundations; and that after a chink or crack is made, the water rushing into an immense burning cavern, and falling on boiling lava, is instantly expanded into steam, and produces irresistible explosions.

As the first volcanic fires had no previous vent, and were probably more central, and larger in quantity, before they burst the crust of the earth then intire, and as the sea covered the whole, it must rapidly sink down into every opening chink; whence these primeval earthquakes were of much greater extent, and of much greater force, than those which occur in the present era.

It should be added, that there may be other elastic vapours produced by great heat from whatever will evaporate, as mercury, and even diamonds; which may be more elastic, and consequently exert greater force than the steam of water even though heated red hot. Which may thence exert a sufficient power to raise islands and continents, and even to throw the moon from the earth.

If the moon be supposed to have been thus thrown out of the great cavity which now contains the South Sea, the immense quantity of water flowing in from the primeval ocean, which then covered the earth, would much contribute to leave the continents and islands, which might be raised at the same time above the surface of the water. In later days there are accounts of large stones falling from the sky, which may have been thus thrown by explosion from some distant earthquakes, without sufficient force to cause them to circulate round the earth, and thus produce numerous small moons or satellites.

{15} Mr. Mitchell observes, that the agitations of the earth from the great earthquake at Lisbon were felt in this country about the same time after the shock, as sound would have taken in passing from Lisbon hither; and thence ascribes these agitations to the vibrations of the solid earth, and not to subterraneous caverns of communication; Philos. Transact. But from the existence of warm springs at Bath and Buxton, there must certainly be unceasing subterraneous fires at some great depth beneath those parts of this island; see on this subject Botanic Garden, Vol. II. Canto IV. l. 79, note. For an account of the noxious vapours emitted from volcanoes, see Botanic Garden, Vol. II. Cant. IV. l. 328, note. For the milder effects of central fires, see Botanic Garden, Vol. I. Cant. I. l. 139, and Additional Note VI.