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I Magazine of Literature, Science, and Art.
VOL. V.-JAN. 1855.-NO. XXV.
THE OCEAN AND ITS LIFE.
IGH on the terrible cliff that overhangs the Charybdis of the ancients, stood King Frederick, of Sicily; and by his side the fairest of Europe's fair daughters. Often and often had he gazed down into the fierce seething cauldron beneath him, and in vain had he offered the gold of his treasure and the honors of his court to him who would dive into the whirlpool and tell him of the fearful mysteries that were hid beneath the hissing, boiling foam. But neither fisherman nor proud knight had dared to tempt the God of mercy, and to venture down into the dread abyss, which threatened death, sure, inevitable death, to the bold intruder. But better than gold and honor, is fair maiden's love. And when the king's beautiful daughter smiled upon the gazing crowd around her, and when her sweet lips uttered words of gentle entreaty, the spell was woven, and the bold heart found that would do her bidding, forgetful of worldly reward, and alas! unmindful, also, of the word of the Almighty!
He was a bold seaman, and his companions called him Pesce-Colo, Nick the fish, for he lived in the ocean's depths, and days and nights passed, which he spent swimming and diving in the warm waters of Sicily. And from the very cliff on which the king had spoken his taunting words, from the very feet of his fair, tempting child, he threw himself down into the raging flood. The waters closed over him, hissing and seething in restless madness, and deeper VOL. V.-1
and darker grew the fierce whirlpool. All eyes were bent upon the gaping gulf, all lips were silent as the grave. Time seemed to be at rest; the very hearts ceased to beat. But lo! out of the dark waves there arises a snowwhite form, and a glowing arm is seen, and black curls hanging down on the nervous neck of the daring seaman. And, as he breathes once more the pure air of heaven, and as his eyes behold once more the blue vault above him, he stammers words of thanks to his Maker; and a shout arose from cliff to cliff, that the welkin rang, and the ocean's roar was hushed.
But when their eyes turned again to greet the bold man who had dared what God had forbidden, and man had never ventured to do, the dark waters had closed upon him. They saw the fierce flood rush up in wild haste; they saw the white foam sink down into the dark, gloomy gulf; they heard the thundering roar and the hideous hissing below; the waters rose and the waters fell, but the bold, daring seaman was never seen again.
And so it is even now. Little is known of the fearful mysteries of the great deep, and the hungry ocean demands still its countless victims. For the calm of the sea is a treacherous rest, and under the deceitful mirror-like smoothness reign eternal warfare and strife. Oceanus holds not, as of old, the Earth, his spouse, in quiet, loving embrace; our sea-god is a god of battles, and wrestles and wrangles in never-ceasing struggle
with the firm continent. Even when apparently calm and slumbering, he is moving in restless action, for "there is sorrow on the sea, it cannot be quiet." Listen, and you will hear the gentle beating of playful waves against the snowy sands of the beach; look again, and you will see the gigantic mass breathe and heave like a living being. No quiet, no sleep, is allowed to the great element. As the little brook dances merrily over rock and root, never resting day and night, so the great ocean also knows no leisure, no
It is not merely, however, that the weight of the agitated atmosphere presses upon the surface of the vast ocean, and moves it now with the gentle breath of the zephyr, and now with the fierce power of the tempest. Even when the waters seem lashed into madness by the raging tornado, or rise in daring rebellion under the sudden, sullen fury of the typhoon, it is but child's play compared with the gigantic and yet silent, lawful movement, in which they ascend to the very heavens on high, where "He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds," and then again sink uncomplaining to the lowest depths of the earth.
As the bright sun rests warm and glowing on the bosom of the cool flood, millions of briny drops abandon the mighty ocean and rise, unseen by human eye, borne on the wings of the wind, up into the blue ether. But soon they are recalled to their allegiance. They gather into silvery clouds, race around the globe, and sink down again, now impetuously in a furious storm, bringing destruction and ruin, now as gentle rrain, fertilizing and refreshing, or more quietly yet, as brilliant dew pearls, glittering in the bosom of the unfolding rose and filling each tiny cup held up by leaf aird blossom. Eagerly the thirsty earth drinks in the heavenly gift; in a thousand veins she sends it down to her lowest depths, and fills her vast invisiTble reservoirs. Soon she can hold the rich abundance of health-bringing waters no longer, and through the cleft and eliff they gush joyfully forth as merry, chattering springs. They join Trill to rill, and rush heedlessly down Tthe mountains in brook and creek, until they grow to mighty rivers, thundering over gigantic rocks, leap fearlessly down lofty precipices, or gently rolling their mighty masses along the inclined planes
of lowlands, become man's obedient slaves, and carry richly laden vessels on their broad shoulders, before they return once more to the bosom of their common mother, the great ocean.
How quietly, how silently_nature works in her great household. Unheard and unseen, these enormous masses of water rise up from the broad seas of the earth, and yet it requires not less than one-third of the whole warmth which the sun grants to our globe, to lift them up from the ocean to the region of clouds. Raised thus by forces far beyond our boldest speculations, and thence returning as blessed rain, as humble mill-race, or as active, rapid high-road carrying huge load from land to land, the ocean receives back again its own, and thus completes one of its great movements in the eternal change through water, air, and land.
But the mighty ocean rests not even in its own legitimate limits. When not driven about as spray, as mist, as river, when gently reposing in its eternal home on the bosom of the great earth, it is still subject to powerful influences from abroad. That mysterious force which chains sun to sun, and planet to planet,. which calls back the wandering comet to its central sun, and binds the worldsin one great universe, the force of general attraction, must needs have its: effect upon the waters also, and under the control of sun and moon, they perform a second race around the globe on which we live.
When the companions of Nearchus, under Alexander the Great, reached the mouth of the Indus, nothing excited their amazement in that wonderful country so much as the regular rise and fall of all the ocean-a phenomena which they had never seen at home, on the coasts of Asia Minor and Greece. Even their short stay there sufficed, however, to show them the connection of this astonishing change with the phases of the moon. For "sweet as the moonlight sleeps upon this bank," it is nevertheless full of silent power. Stronger even than the larger sun, because so much nearer to the earth, it raises upon the boundless plains of the Pacific a wave only a few feet high, but extending down to the bottom of the sea, and moves it onwards, chained as it were to its own path high in heaven. Harmless and powerless this wave rolls along the placid surface of the ocean. But lands arise, New Holland on one side, South
ern Asia on the other, and the low but immensely broad tidal wave is pressed together and rises upwards, racing rapidly round the sharp point of Africa. An hour after the moon has risen highest at Greenwich, it reaches Fez and Morocco; two hours later it passes through the Straits of Gibraltar, and along the coast of Portugal. The fourth hour sees it rush with increased force into the Channel and past the western coast of England. There the rocky cliffs of Ireland and the numerous islands of the Northern seas arrest its rapid course, so that it reaches Norway only after an eight hours' headlong race. Another branch of the same wave hurries along the eastern coast of America in almost furious haste, often amounting to 120 miles an hour; from thence it passes on to the north, where, hemmed in on all sides, it rises here and there to the enormous height of eighty feet. Such is not rarely the case in the Bay of Fundy-a circumstance which shows us forcibly the vast superiority of this silent, steady movement over that of the fiercest tempest. Even at that most stormy and most dreaded spot on earth, Cape Horn, all the violence of raging tempests cannot raise the waves higher than some thirty feet, nor does it ever disturb the habitual calm of the ocean deeper than a few fathoms, so that divers do not hesitate to stay below, even when the hurricane rages above. Gentle in its appearance, though grand in its effect, this mighty wave shows its true power only when it meets obstacles worthy of such effort. Where strong currents oppose its approach, as in the river Dordogne, in France, it races in contemptuous haste up the daring stream and reaches there, for instance, in two minutes, the height of lofty houses. Or it rolls the mighty waters of the Amazon River mountain high up into huge dark masses of foaming cascades, and then drives them steadily, resistlessly upwards, leaving the calin of a mirror behind, and sending its roar and its thunder for miles into the upland.
Still less known and less observed is the third great movement which interrupts the apparent calm and peace of the ocean. For here, as everywhere, movement is life, as rest would be death. Without this-ever stirring activity in its own bosom, without this constant moving and intermingling of its waters, the countless myriads of
decaying plants and animals which are daily buried in the vast deep, would soon destroy, by their mephitic vapors, all life upon earth. This, greatest of all movements, never resting, never ending, is the effect of the sun and the warmth
it generates. Like all bodies, water also contracts, and consequently grows heavier as the temperature sinks; but only to a certain point, about three degress Reaumur. This is the invariable warmth of the ocean at a depth of
3,600 feet, and below that. If the temperature is cooler, water becomes thinner again and lighter, so that at the freezing point, as ice, it weighs considerably less than when fluid. The consequence of this peculiar relation of water to warmth produces the remarkable result, that in the great ocean an incessant movement continues: up to the above mentioned degree of warmth, the warmer and lighter water rises continually, whilst the cooler and heavier sinks in like manner; below that point the colder water rises and the warmer part descends to the bottom. Hence, the many currents in the vast mass of the ocean; sometimes icy cold, at other times warm, and even hot, so that often the difference between the temperature of the current and that of the quiet water by its side, is quite astonishing. The great Humboldt found at Truxillo, the undisturbed waters as warm as 22 degrees, whilst the stream on the Peruvian coast had but little more than 8 degrees, and the sailor who paddles his boat with tolerable accuracy on the outer line of the gulf-stream, may dip his left into cold and his right into warm water.
Greater wonders still are hidden under the calm, still surface of the slumbering giant. Thoughtless and careless, man passes in his light fragile boat, over the boundless expanse of the ocean, and little does he know, as yet, of the vast plains beneath him, the luxuriant forests, the sweet, green meadows, that lie stretched out at the foot of unmeasured mountains, which raise their lofty peaks up to his ship's bottom, and the fiery volcanoes that earthquakes have thrown up below the waves.
For the sea, also, has its hills and its dales; its table-lands and its valleys; sometimes barren, and sometimes covered with luxuriant vegetation. Beneath its placid, even surface, there are inequalities far greater than the most startling on the continents of the earth. In the
Atlantic, south of St. Helena, the lead of the French frigate Venus, reached bottom only at a depth of 14,556 feet, or a distance equal to the height of Mount Blanc; and Captain Ross, during his last expedition to the South Pole, found, at 27,600 feet, a depth equal to more than five miles, no bottom yet: so that there the Dawalaghiri might have been placed on top of Mount Sinai, without appearing above the waters! And yet, from the same depth, mountains rise in cliffs and reefs, or expand upwards, in broad, fertile islands.
Nor can we any longer sustain the ancient faith in the stability of the "terra firma," as contrasted with the everchanging nature of the sea. Recent discoveries have proved that the land changes, and the waters are stable! The ocean maintains always the same level; but, as on the great continents, tablelands rise and prairies sink, so does the bottom of the sea rise and fall. In the South Sea this takes place alternately, at stated times. To such sinking portions of our earth belongs, among others, New Holland. So far from being a new, young land, it is, on the contrary, with its strange flora, so unlike that of the rest of the world, and its odd and marvellous animals, an aged, dying island, which the ocean is slowly burying, inch by inch.
And a wondrous world, is the world of the great sea. There are deep abysses, filled with huge rocks, spectral ruins of large ships, and the corpses of men. There lie, half covered with lime and slime, the green, decaying gun, and the precious box, filled with the gold of Peru's snow-covered Alps, by the side of countless skeletons, gathered from every shore and every clime. There moulders the bald skull of the brave sea captain, by the side of the broken armor of gigantic turtles; the whaler's harpoon rests peaceably near the tooth of the whale; thousands of fishes dwell in huge bales of costly silks from India, and over them pass, in silent crowds, myriads of diminutive infusoria; enormous whales, and voracious sharks, chasing before them thickly packed shoals of frightened herrings. Here, the sea foams and frets restlessly up curiously-shaped cliffs, and oddly-formed rocks; there, it moves sluggishly over large plains of white, shining sand. In the morning, the tidal waves break in grim fury against the bald peaks of submarine Alps, or pass, in hissing streams, through ancient forests
on their side; in the evening, they glide noiselessly over bottomless abysses, as if afraid, lest they, also, might sink down into the eternal night below, from which rises distant thunder; and the locked up waters roar and whine like evil spirits chained in the vast deep.
The ocean is a vast charnel house. There are millions and millions of animals mouldering, piled up, layer upon layer, in huge masses, or forming milelong banks. For no peace is found below and under the thin, transparent veil; there reigns endless murder, wild warfare, and fierce bloodshed. Infinite, unquenchable hatred seems to dwell in the cold, unfeeling deep. Destruction alone, maintains life in the boundless world of the ocean. Lions, tigers and wolves, reach a gigantic size in its vast caverns, and, day after day, destroy whole generations of smaller animals. Polypi and medusæ, in countless numbers, spread their nets, catching the thoughtless radiati by tens of thousands, and the hage whale swallows, at one gulp, millions of minute, but living creatures. The swordfish and the sea-lion hunt the elephant and rhinoceros of the Pacific, and tiny parasites dart upon the tunny fish, to dwell in myriads in his thick layers of fat. All are hunting, killing, murdering; but the strife is silent, no war-cry is heard, no burst of anguish disturbs the eternal silence, no shouts of triumph rise up through the crystal waves to the world of light. The battles are fought in deep, still secresy; only now and then the parting waves disclose the bloody scene for an instant, or the dying whale throws his enormous carcass high into the air, driving the water up in lofty columns, capped with foam, and tinged with blood.
Ceaseless as that warfare is, it does not leave the ocean's depths a waste, a scene of desolation. On the contrary, we find that the sea, the most varied and the most wonderful part of creation, where nature still keeps some of her profoundest secrets, teems with life. "Things innumerable, both great and small, are there." It contains, especially, a most diversified and exuberant abundance of animal life, from the microscopic infusoria, in inconceivable numbers, up to those colossal forms which, free from the incumbrance of weight, are left free to exert the whole of their giant power for their enjoyment. Where the rocky cliffs of Spitzbergen and the inhospitable shores of Victoria land refuse to nourish
even the simplest, humblest lichen, where no reindeer is ever seen, and even the polar bear finds no longer comfort, there the sea is still covered with fuci and confervæ, and myriads of minute animals crowd its life-sustaining waves. Naturally, the purest springwater is not more limpid than the water of the ocean; for it absorbs all colors save that of ultramarine, which gives it the azure hue vying with the blue of heaven. It varies, to be sure, with every gleam of sunshine, with every passing cloud, and when shallow, it reflects the color of its bed. But its brightest tints, and strangest colors, are derived from infusoria and plants. In the Arctic Sea, a broad band of opaque olive green, passes right through the pure ultramarine; and off the Arabian coast, we are told, there is a strip of green water so distinctly marked, that a ship has been seen in blue and green water at the same time. The Vermillion Sea of California, has its name from the red color of vast quantities of infusoria, and the Red Sea of Arabia changes from delicate pink to deep scarlet, as its tiny inhabitants move in thicker or thinner layers. Other masses of minute creatures tinge the waters round the Maldives black, and that of the Gulf of Guinea, white.
When Captain Ross, in the Arctic Sea, explored the bottom of the sea, and dropped his lead to a depth of 6,000 feet, he still brought up living animalculæ ; and, even at a depth exceeding the height of our loftiest mountains, the water is alive with countless hosts of diminutive, phosphoric creatures, which, when attracted to the surface, convert every wave into a crest of light, and the wide ocean into a sea of fire. It is well known that the abundance of these minute beings, and of the animal matter supplied by their rapid decomposition, is such, that the sea water itself becomes a nutritious fluid to many of the largest dwellers in the ocean. Still, they all have their own homes, even their own means of locomotion. They are not bound to certain regions of that great country below the ocean's waters. They travel far and fast; currents, unknown to man, carry them, in vast masses, from the Pole to the Equator, and often from Pole to Pele, so that the whale must travel, with locomotive speed, to follow the medusæ of the Arctic to the seas of the Antilles, if he will not dispense with his daily food. How strange a chase! The giant of the seas racing in furious
haste after hardly visible, faintly colored, jelly-balls!
But, for othe purposes, also, there is incessant travel going on in the ocean's hidden realin. Water is the true and proper element of motion. Hence, we find here the most rapid journeys, the most constant changes from zone to zone. No class of animals travel so much and so regularly as fish, and nowhere, in the vast household of nature, do we see so clearly the close relation between the wants of man, and the provision made for them by a bountiful providence. The first herrings that appeared in the waters of Holland, used to be paid for by their weight in gold, and a Japanese nobleman spent more than a thousand ducats for a brace of common fish, when it pleased his Japanese majesty to order a fish dinner at his house in the depth of winter, when all fish leave the coasts of his country.
Now singly, now in shoals, fish are constantly seen moving through the ocean. The delicate mackerel travels towards the south, the small, elegant sardine, of the Mediterranean, moves in spring westward, and returns in fall to the east. The sturgeon of northern seas, sails lonely up the large rivers of the continent of Europe, and has been found in the very heart of Germany, under the shadow of the famous cathedral of Strasburg. Triangular masses of salmon press up nearly all northern rivers, and are sometimes so numerous, so closely packed, that they actually impede the current of large rivers. Before their arrival, countless millions of herrings leave the same waters, but where their home is, man has not yet found out. Only in the spring months there suddenly appear vast banks of this remarkable fish, two or three miles wide, and twenty to thirty miles long, and so dense are the crowds, so great their depth, that lances and harpoons, even the sounding lead-thrown at random amongst them, do not sink, but remain standing upright. What numbers are devoured by sharks and birds of prey, is not known; what immense quantities are caught along the coast, to be spread as manure on the fields inland, is beyond all calculation; and yet, it has been ascertained that over a thousand millions alone, are annually salted for winter consumption!
Alike gigantic is the life of the ocean in its dimensions. Whales of a hundred feet length and more, are the largest of all animals on earth, five times as long as