An Account of Mezzoterranea, or The Central Regions of the Earth
Addressed by M. Denon, Jun. to the French National Institute
I have the honour of unfolding to you a new page in the immense volume of cosmogony and geology.
The Emperor of the North shewed the depth of his sagacity, by deeming none of the numerous sçavans presented to his notice so worthy to accompany his progress under the great Atlantic tunnel as a member of the French National Institute. I, therefore, as representative of that august body, may claim for it the renown due to the first discovery of Mezzoterranea, For it is indubitable, that if none but his Imperial Majesty and his ministers had fallen through the strata that divides the Atlantic tunnel from the central regions of the earth, the upper world would never have enjoyed the benefit of a learned man’s description of them.
Our descent, Messieurs, was so sudden, that if any country except France was worthy to afford a comparison, I should say it most resembled the fall of a bucket into the salt mines of Cracow, or the monstrous coal-pits of our savage neighbours, the English. Among the ingenious conjectures of Mons. De Luc and his followers, as they appear in the two thousandth volume of our Encyclopedia, now seem so perfectly concurrent with probability, as the sublime hypothesis that the world is composed of alternate earth and water, like a dozen water-plates well-filled one upon the other, the smallest at the top and bottom, by which the form of an oblate sphere is preserved.—I am the more inclined to adopt this idea, because the middle plate of earth, which is my present subject, appeared to be kept hot by the boiling water below.
Our learned fraternity will understand from this hint, that the central regions of the earth have neither sun nor moon. When his Imperial Majesty’s travelling carriage fell through what I beg leave to call the cover of this middle plate, we were immediately surrounded by a groupe of people completely blue, as I discerned by the light of immense lamps kept alive, they told me, by spirits of wine, or acid gas.
My first care was to collect the mathematical instruments and books belonging to the literary attendants of the Emperor; and my next, to introduce myself and his Majesty to the principal person of these Blue regions, as became a member of the most august society in the world and their ally. His royal carriage was broken to fewer pieces than might have been expected, for the air of these regions is so heavy that a Frenchman might have floated in it; and consequently the concussion we received was much moderated. His Majesty was studying a model of a neighbour’s frontier-town, and instinctively placing it on his head when he felt himself and his carriage falling, he looked when he alighted as if he had been decorated with a mural crown. His prime-minister had been reading the last act of an English Parliament, and the skins of parchment on which it was engrossed were, as usual, so numerous and well stitched together, that it continued unrolling till he came down very gently, as he never let go his hold.
The inhabitants of this central region were impressed with great astonishment at the spectacle of our descent, especially as the Act of Parliament remained hanging as it were from the top of their world to the bottom. Of course they could not understand the multitude of words which covered it, but it was as useful as if they had. A deputation came to conduct the Emperor and his suite to the palace of their sovereign,and the chief personage of his court received me under his care. He had an instinctive knowledge that I belonged to the first nation on the upper earth; and as my journal of the first day we spent in his territory is all this packet can contain, I hasten to repeat our conversation.
“Monseigneur,” I said, for a Frenchman always gives or leads the tone of discourse, “I perceive by the happy uniformity of your complexions, that the female half of your nation must be exempt from many pangs and cares. I congratulate you on the tranquillity you must enjoy.”
“Your Excellency,” said the Blue Demon, bowing, “is not yet acquainted with us. Our bellies and beaux do not employ red and white paint, as I see you do, but they use yellow and green.”
“Yellow and green!—Mais par toutes les diables? Will your Magnificence condescend to explain how you pass your time in this country?”
“Sir, with the most felicitous readiness. First, I beg leave to inform you that I perfectly understand French. You observe our region is covered with a concave-crust of earth about a thousand fathoms distant from that on which we tread, being, I presume, a large resemblance of those delicious pyes or patés for which your land is famous.”
“Ah! say no more, my good friend!—a paté of tourterelles a thousand fathom deep!—What an excitement to a gourmand’s imagination! What might not a French cook devise to fill such a crust!”
“I am charmed to have suggested such a pleasant idea, especially as we are all cooks here. But to return to my first communication. The upper crust of earth which covers us is composed of various strata; and as we have often striven to penetrate through it, we have found many fossil bones of apes interspersed with a prodigious quantity of books amalgamated as it were with the carbonic matter and under-strata. We suppose these books have been deposited in the bed of the Atlantic ocean by various shipwrecks, or that before one of the five hundred deluges described by Indians, the earth above us may have been dry, and inhabited by Frenchmen.”
I hope my Brothers of the National Institute will be touched by this sublime compliment to our nation. I bowed thrice to the speaker, who added, “When we want books, we climb up to our upper earth and dig out all we can find, and by this means, probably, it has become in some places so thin, that carriages containing a sovereign prince, all his eatables, his philosophers, and his privy-council, would be quite heavy enough to break through it.”
“That might have happened,” I replied, “if the philosophers had been English or German, but your Magnificence will be pleased to observe, that his Majesty’s literary suite are Frenchmen.”
The Arch Chancellor of the Blue Demons bowed courteously. “I concluded as much,” said he, “when I saw how gracefully you fluttered in the air. But your first question was, how our time is spent. My answer must be a long one. None of us live above sixty or seventy years; and as there is nothing worth caring for in this our world, we make ourselves as miserable as we can, that we may be ready to leave it.”
“How, Monsiegneur! I thought you searched for books, and have had the happiness of finding some volumes of French literature.”
“Many thousand, Mon cher Ami! for French poems and romances seem to have a propensity to sink, and are better under the earth than above it. But you must acknowledge there is nothing in them worth remembering.”
“But our philosophers, our historians—”
“I told you we try to be miserable, and French philosophy is marvellously suited to make us as discontented and uncomfortable about every thing as we could desire.”
“Your Magnificence is quite wrong—English writers would do the business much better. You can have no idea how delightfully those people make themselves ill-humoured in a place which, to say the truth, is rather better than ".”
“You are quite right,” said my new friend—“I have been in England with a great number of my family very often. There is a private aperture by which we have effected a passage into the largest island of Great Britain, and can make our entry on the surface through abundance of nooks and crannies in every county. Formerly we could only find our way into the cities or fens; but now we take the air every day in their best fields and villages.”
“Ah, ah! Monseigneur, pardon me—We Parisians, often hear of you there, commonly called the Blue Dev...—but I pray your excuse—we have a much fitter soubriquet for you in France—May I ask of your courtesy by what name our Geologists must distinguish you in the next folio of our Encyclopedia?”
“We have no titles of distinction or honour,” said this Blue Asmodeus—“if we cared for any, we should not be miserable enough. But the truth is, that in our own region we keep the soubriquet or nickname applicable to our habits and employments—Mine, for instance, is Teapottus.”
“Ah!—most hearned Seigneur Teapottus, I crave the honour of your affection. But if you care for nothing, I beg leave to fear that your dinners and suppers must be very ill-cooked, which will cause great trouble to his majesty, for the clerk of his kitchen being plethoric, was decomposed by his fall.”
“I perceive,” said M. Teapottus, “that French physiology has its limits, though its gastronomy may have none. If we did not eat abundantly and cook scientifically, we should become too light and volatile for this atmosphere. We must cherish and increase the grosser particles of our animal constitutions, or we should be fit only for a purer climate, and might come too often, perhaps, into your fields of battle, literary academies, and ball-rooms.”
“On my veracity, Monseigneur, I never remember to have heard of you either in our armies or our Boulevards from the days of the Great Henri to Napoleon’s! But if you have no battles, no academies, no balls, how do you contrive to exist?”
“My dear Monseigneur, that word is English—there is none like it in our language, nor in any other. I understand you perfectly. Then all your tiers etats—your artizans, your manufacturers, your ploughmen and hay- makers, grumble by way of amusement.”
“You mistake—we have none of these classes—Our earth is warmed and fed by the moisture it receives from the hot springs and volcanoes beneath us, All its fruits and harvests are given without toil, and the cotton grass you see is our raiment.”
“Ah! magnificent! the very thing our English neighbours wanted a hundred years ago! Harvests without sowing or reaping—fruits without planting—and clothes growing ready made—all by the help of one great steam-engine!—This will fill ten pages in our next philosophical report. But, Monseigneur, here is a Palace and a King—What has he to do?”
“Nothing, Mons. but to hear his subjects grumble.—Things are very equally divided here. We have senators, peers, and gentlemen, and they have clubs, coachmen, and attornies. The senate has lawyers and orators;—their clubs make longer speeches, and unmake the laws:—our peers have coronets and high places; their coachmen have more manners and more money:—our gentlemen have title-deeds, and their attornies have the estates.”
“M. Teapottus, you unfold to me a new and complete system of equality. I comprehend it at a glance—the masters here have the sound and the glitter, but the servants hold the power and the property. The great men think they govern, and the little men know they do. Thus both parties are satisfied.”
M. Teapottus shrugged his shoulders—“Satisfied! I have read all the histories that have been consigned to enrich the understrata of your earth among dust and ashes, from the days of Sanchoniath to those of your own Voltaire, and I never heard of any satisfied people—no, not even among the Troglodites, who drowned their wives whenever they pleased.”
“Eh! Monseigneur, then you have not always been so dull as your excellency pleases to represent—If you have read all those droll histories, you must have laughed sometimes. But permit me to observe that the twilight grows very obscure, and I do not know that we have a right to expect any of the sun’s beams here, unless you have a funnel in some part of this dominion, by which you can receive and concentrate his rays in that huge burning-glass which I see yonder.”
“Sir, your notion is worthy a member of the most illuminated society upon earth—but we have no funnels that reach to your upper world, except those you call volcanoes, which, as you know, let out more fire and smoke than they let in light.”
“Very true, Monseigneur Teapottus; and considering that you pique yourselves on being always discontented, I suppose the inlets you have into your world will always be of that kind. But if your excellency has no means to obtain daylight, how is this central region illuminated?”
“By that globe of burning gas which you see on the pinnacle of this Palace, which is also a Temple. I and my comrades in what we call our order of nobility, have no other business than to mend and keep this light burning.—When it goes out, which very often happens while we are quarrelling because the flame does not always burn blue enough, we kindle another, having no combustible wood, by striking our heads together.”
“Ah, mon cher M. Teapottus!” I exclaimed, “if, instead of digging for old books, you were to seek out the bones of all the great men who have fought and talked since the crusade of Richard Cœur-de-Lion, (who, by-the-bye, according to our Provençal traditions, ought to have been called Queue-de-Lion,) you would have plenty of combustibles and skulls hard enough to knock against each other, in the way of flint and steel, without risking your own.”
“We have sufficient volcanic matter,” he answered gravely; “and though we inhabitants of these lower regions are called gnomes and demons, we have no desire to be acquainted with greater demons than ourselves.”
He then broke off the conversation, intimating that his hours for attending the royal chapel and council were near, and, as he added, they were his only hours for sleep. He retired with a singular glance at my head, which, as all nations are apt to borrow light from Frenchmen, seemed to indicate an idea that my brain might be sufficiently phosphoric to be useful. I hope my aversion to the experiment will be ascribed not to egotistical cowardice, but to a patriotic wish to reserve myself for my country. Seeing the Act of the British Parliament still reaching, as I may say, from one half of the world to the other, I made a ladder of it, and crept through one of the clauses into the tunnel under the Atlantic and Mediterranean seas, I turned my steps towards Europe; and hearing the workmen among the ruins of Pompeii, I emerged through one of their excavations, to deposit my journal among the archives of our National Institute, trusting that I shall not be mistaken. as my grandfather was by a learned lady, for the fabling traveller Crusoe.
V. DENON, Junior.
- Note by the English Translator—This is doubtful. An inhabited region in the earth’s centre was first suspected by a Scotchman. ↩