Symzonia: A Voyage of Discovery (1820 novel)

From Kook Science

"A Voyage to the Internal World", The North American Review IV (1): 134-143, July 1821

NOTHING furnishes a stronger illustration of the superficial taste of men, than the almost exclusive attention they have paid to the external surface of the globe. The same willingness to be blinded by the outside appearance, which obtains in the details of manners and character, has exerted a much more pernicious effect on the general regard men have be stowed upon the earth they inhabit. One is fatigued with the mass of travels to explore its unknown regions, of voyages to discover its distant seas. Not an arrogant mountain, that towers upward, but has been measured ; nor an indenture on the rind, by the name of an ocean, a mine, or a valley, but has been fathomed, descended, and traversed till one is weary of this superficial pains-taking. All the while, the honest solid interior, the root and heart and kernel, the marrow and pith, the sacred penetralia of our globe have remained worse than unexplored.

We say, 'worse than unexplored,' because if men had confined themselves to a total neglect of these regions, much as we should have derided their folly, for travelling round and round so fair an abode without venturing bravely into it, we could have accused them of nothing worse than insensibility. It is a matter, however, which admits of no disguise to the diligent student of antiquity, or the observer of popular belief, that the conduct of men toward these interior regions has not rested here. And without trying to soften what after all must be confessed and hurried over as well as it can, it is a fact too notorious to be concealed, that the ancients from some primitive pique against the internals, early contrived to get the t in the name of the latter changed into an f; and to propagate the idea, that the centre of the earth was actually the location of a spot, which we desire not to mention 'to the ears polite' of the public. This seems to have produced an awkward feeling in men's minds, about visiting these abodes; and as the same insidious geographers were careful to lay down the entrance to them either in some pestiferous grotto or flaming crater, the persons best inclined by temper and taste to gravitate to the centre have either been wholly deterred, or gone about it with great tardiness of spirit. One of the most distinguished explorers of ancient times, indeed, found courage to undertake the excursion, by the virtue of a branch of gold, which he had the good fortune to find growing near the avenue; and if any thing would be attractive enough to enlist imitators of the experiment, we think it would be to have the entrance, through forests equally promising. We find no mention in Michaux, however, of a fungus of this kind, on any of our forest trees; and a late distinguished prince, the unfortunate emperor of Hayti, appears to have placed his hopes for the discovery of the internal regions (we make a matter of conscience to restore the t) on an attraction the same, to be sure, in principle, but different in form; for it is the only apophthegm, as far as we are acquainted, preserved of this monarch, that 'if there were a bag of coffee in the mouth of —, there would be two Americans after it.'

To do men justice, it must be acknowledged after all, that this their conduct has not proceeded from an abstract aversion to having the lower regions explored. On the contrary, they have shown themselves more disinterested on this head, than on most others. Backward as they have been to undertake the expedition themselves, there is none on which they are so ready to set out their neighbours ; and if polite wishes and friendly intimations could carry one thither, there are not many parts of the upper regions, which would be more frequented than the lower. But it seems to have but little effect; and people stand complimenting each other, like over polite folks at a door, neither being willing to take the first step, and each bowing his friend heartily onward.

We confess that we have always thought this prejudice against the interior unreasonable, and wholly unauthorized by analogy, — the best guide we can have in the want of positive information. The works of nature, the more they are studied, are found to exhibit a certain beautiful harmony, on which we have a right to proceed in regard to what is unknown. There are so few productions of nature, which fall beneath our inspection, of which the outside is not the least valuable part, that we find it hard to believe that she has lavished all her re sources on the exterior of the great globe itself; and condemned the main mass of it to a base and inanimate stratification, or to a hopeless chaos. In general, that which is good for much, whether in the unorganized, the vegetable, animal, or intellectual world, carries its merit within; and external beauties and superficial merits are proverbially transitory and worthless; either found to be unattended with interior worth, or at any rate far less permanent, and liable to rust, mildew, and decay. If you would have a fixed and permanent scarlet dye, you must seek out some unpromising mineral oxyde, or grind up a poor worm from a foreign coast; while that which you find on the leaves of the tulip, on a beautiful cheek, or the evening sky is gone almost before you can notice it. Messrs Perkins, Bairman, and Heath, nay Messrs Murray, Draper, &. Co. have an ingenious machine, by the aid of which, and a productive paper-mill, they can make money almost as fast as a woman of fashion can spend it; such beautiful money too, that our brethren in the west have already borrowed a million or two of it from one bank, 'without the demand being half satisfied:' nay, have even given a premium for the new bills over the old, as we ourselves, in our earlier days, remember to have entertained a strong prejudice in favor of a bright cent. So rapid too is the operation of this wonder-working machine, that what was hemp and flax yesterday, and linen, and rags, and money today, too often brings you down to rags tomorrow, and not perhaps quite so often as it might, to hemp again, the day after. This is superficial money, while the true, interior, substantial coin must be dug deep out of a dreary mine, amidst the rushing of subterranean waters, and the toiling of ponderous engines, and be beaten, and roasted, and smelted, and coined, and milled out of rough, unseemly ores; and after all is but a white or yellow counter, with an ugly Spanish nose upon it, while the other money is covered with ships, and eagles, and lions, and goddesses, as gay as the pantheon.

The moment you turn your attention to the globe itself, you find it increase in value, as you penetrate below the surface; thereby furnishing the strongest encouragement to make the rough work; and instead of grubbing on the outside, go at once to the inside. The mere superficies of the earth is, as we all know, barren, sterile, worthless; and decked with beauties and riches not its own. The great trees, which adorn it, are not set down like flower pots on the top, but if Virgil can be trusted, actually go downward as far as they rise upward, and bring from below all that nourishes the splendid foliage above. It is so with the members of the whole vegetable tribe, which would die in the first sultry sun on the treacherous bosom of the soil, if they did not shoot inward their sagacious fibres, and force down their greedy taproots, and suck out some of the nutriment of the rich strata within. The farther you go down into the earth, the richer it grows. You first meet with your pigments and ochres, then with your rich porcelain clays and petuntzes; farther down you have your salt and your coal, and still farther your gold and your silver. Then too what blessed fountains of health gush up from its hidden springs. It is a great thing on the surface of the earth to get plain fair water, and this, at some places, as at Taunton, is so weak that it will not run down hill. While the fountains from beneath come bubbling up with all their sparkling carbonic gases, and tingling chalybeate freshness. In short, we look upon the earth as a great fig, the outside black and unpromising; remove the skin, and you come to an agreeable, nutritious pulp; while the germ, the fructification, the origin, and life of the whole is shut up and enclosed in the centre.

We have thrown together these ideas, by way of forestalling the favor of our readers to the projects of our ingenious countryman, one of the few men of the day, who seems to have pursued these analogies, and to have emancipated himself from the slavery of superficials. Col. John C. Symmes, whose original and highly instructive correspondence has, till the appearance of the work at the head of our article, been communicated in the columns of the government paper, seems to have caught, what may literally be called an insight into the nature of the earth, and to have disclosed the astonishing fact, that this globe we inhabit is but a shell, and that its interior surface is actually accessible. We are unfortunately not able to inform our readers, in what way the colonel was conducted to these interesting conclusions; but it does great credit to his zeal and the curiosity of his neighbours, to find him engaged in making his discoveries the subject of courses of lectures in some of the western towns. This fact reflects great honor on our country; and while the inhabitants of the old world are still grovelling about the surface and sending out voyage after voyage of circumnavigation and discovery, and expedition after expedition to the south pole and the north, we may I claim, we think, the undisputed glory of suggesting and organizing a practicable route to the interior.

The colonel, we believe, has presented the public with printed memoirs and lectures from his own pen. These, we regret to say, we have not had an opportunity of seeing; probably from more pains having been taken, by the publisher, to furnish the inside of the earth, than this poor bark on which we live. Nor can we wonder that the inhabitants of those regions should, out of gratitude, buy up the first editions of the colonel's lucubrations; since, if they esteem it any advantage to be brought to light, they must feel it to be one, for which they are exclusively indebted to him. The same grateful feeling appears to have actuated them in bestowing the name of their discoverer upon some of their regions; for, as our readers perceive in the title of this work, the chief internal continent is actually called Symzonia.

The work before us is the journal of a voyage actually undertaken and carried on with success, in pursuance of Col. Symmes' discoveries. It was ostensibly made to the islands lately discovered in a high southern latitude, of which some of our shrewd countrymen are said to have kept the secret for a course of years. But worthy Capt. Seaborn, whose name will go down to the admiration of the latest posterity with that of Col. Symmes, had no such ordinary views of interest, and leaving a part of his crew at these new found regions, he pushed boldly on with the rest to the southern opening, and made an effectual entrée into the before unexplored world. He found it, as might have been expected, instead of the dismal regions of the poets, the fiery volcanic caverns of cosmogonists, or the solid massy granite of modern theorists, a lightsome, happy abode, with inland seas and islands, and wise and good men. The adventures of the worthy captain have a pleasing Gulliverian cast; and in point of authenticity will compare to great advantage with Sinbad the Sailor, Robinson Crusoe, Gen. Pillet's researches in England, and the best of the modern English tourists in America.

We heartily congratulate the public on this discovery, and augur from it the happiest results. In the first place, it procures us a vast accession of territory, probably of the richest kind, for if ordinary bottom lands are notoriously fertile, what must those be, which are not only at the bottom, but on the other side. The addition to our jurisdiction is almost immense. It is well known that in the vocabulary of political science, all nations, for the first time discovered, are heathen, savage, and barbarous; of course wholly without right or claim to the land on which they live, of which the property immediately vests in fee simple and unqualified sovereignty in the discoverer;— who becomes authorized, to use an expressive phrase, to 'extinguish the Indian title,' in which process it commonly happens that the Indian is extinguished with it. A milder policy, however, prevails in some regions; and in South America the natives are only condemned to perpetual slavery, in the mines. As these are five or six hundred fathoms deep, those who live in them are favored with a cool temperature in those hot tropical climates; and never coming up, are not exposed to those vicissitudes which bring on phthisis; and if such as tend at the furnaces have a warmer time, they are compensated again, by being steeped gratis in the fumes of the sublimating mercury of the amalgamation process, so that they get their calomel cheaper, though probably not more abundantly, than the patients of the most decisive modern physician. Should it be found expedient to run a tunnel from our external to our internal territories, this would furnish us with a fine opportunity, to make the labor of our newly discovered subjects available, in this humane way; and when the work shall reach the point, where the respective gravitations from the outward and inward surfaces meet, it will doubtless afford some novel theorems in the doctrine of forces, highly worthy the attention of the inquiring mind, particularly of the statesmen, who, in this awkward neutrality of party politics, hardly know how to choose their ground, and of writers like ourselves, who are of no party, which of all sides we ever happened to be on, is that where the kicks bear the largest proportion to the coppers.

Secondly, we shall probably gain a great market for our produce. There is no reason to believe that the Internals will not be glad to eat flour, and wear Waltham shirtings, and smoke tobacco; and it was ever a main feature of the benignant Colonial policy, that the colony should feed and clothe itself from the mother country. Thus in our own happy state of colonial union with England, it was a crime in New England to manufacture hats, because this would cramp the industry of the mother country. The manufacture was accordingly prohibited, and this is what is called being 'fostered by the care of a mother country.' Should the Internals refuse to eat, drink, and smoke, as we direct, there then will doubtless be found ways to compel them. As to the latter article, there can be no difficulty. No one takes tobacco at first without nausea, and if we actually put it down their throats by main force, a struggle, more or less, is of no consequence. Or we shall have but to draw a large curtain across the opening at the poles, and we can have them upon their knees, for their very sunshine. We have no doubt that Col. Symmes, who has distinguished himself so much in opening this passage, would, with equal readiness, undertake to close it;— and if it were thought necessary for greater security, would erect a half moon, or even, like his comrade in Moliere, a whole one, on each of its opposite edges.

With respect to the reputation of the discoverer, we think that these extraordinary disclosures will place the name of Col. Symmes on an equal rank with 'the illustrious Ilixiofou.' If the mere conception of a north-western passage, which he did not find out, has given his glory to Columbus, what a title to immortality does not the colonel possess! The opinion which may be formed of honest Capt. Seaborn's researches has no effect on this question. If they are authentic, then certainly the great proposer of this splendid path ought to live forever on the annals of fame: if they are not authentic, nay if no such opening as the colonel describes should ever be found, we should be glad to know what this detracts from the brilliancy of Col. Symmes' theory. Never have men been so niggardly, as to demand a mere practical success. Columbus would have been the most arrogant schemer on this principle. He sailed not for America, but for India; and he thought he had found it. But he did not find what he sought, and he did not seek what he found; and yet we load him with praises, because he happened to be arrested by Hispaniola, on the way to the Indian ocean. Col. Symmes ought to have the advantage of a similar indulgence. We doubt if all Pinkerton and Purchas contain more splendid discoveries than those which Col. Symmes projects, and we maintain that if the not finding a north-west passage round the world is a source of glory to Columbus, that the colonel has as fair a prospect of immortality, for not finding the passage through it. Sat est voluisse. The actual success is often a mere mechanical thing, in which chance, and ship-timber, and fair weather have more to do, than learning or sagacity. Whether any body will actually penetrate to the interior (granting for a moment that the work before us is a romance) we are willing to leave in doubt. But we take leave, out of justice to merit to say, that we think Col. Symmes fairly entitled to the credit of a theory, which never entered into the head of any other man before; and of which, much as we should expect from the fruit of his lecturing — if he lectures as well as he speculates — we have strong doubts whether it will ever enter into the head of any body again. He may be truly said to have 'exhausted worlds and then imagined new.' Goldsmith bestows great and just commendations on the 'Belgic sires,' for having, as he calls it, 'scooped out an empire;' but our enterprising country man, in scooping out the globe itself, and proving it to be a sort of terraqueous egg-shell, has furnished the future Gold smiths of our country with higher themes of panegyric.

It is impossible to anticipate the changes, which these great discoveries may make in science. If the falling of an apple led to the Newtonian theory of gravitation, what will not this excavation of the earth do for our systems of philosophy. The speculators of the present day, with a disposition some what talparian, have chosen the centre of the earth as the great theatre of their doctrines. Not daring to meet the examination of the world in the face of day, they have gone down

'To the mountain's massy core,
To the mines of living ore,
To the dank and to the dry,
To the unseen of mortal eye;'

and played their fantastic tricks in the antipodes of high heaven. The colonel, we think, will ferret them out. We have observed the countenances of our geologists to lengthen ominously at the mention of Capt. Seaborn's voyage; and, Wernerian or Huttonian, we find they are alike far from relishing the test of an actual expedition to the regions, which they have chosen to fill with their central volcanoes and gulfs. We have not heard of one of them offering to accompany colonel Symmes to the centre. Cuvier affects to be busy with his Megatherion, the great school at Freyberg maintains a solemn silence with regard to Col. Symmes' call for volunteers; and we do not believe that if the Pope, in imitation of the grant of his predecessor Alexander VI. to the Spaniards and Portuguese, were to cede one of the internal hemispheres to the Vulcanians, and the other to the Neptunians, that there is one of them would dare to put his theory to the touchstone of observation, and set off for the arctic or antarctic opening. We say, we do not believe it; there is no movement toward it. On the contrary, an effort is made to keep up a scornful silence, on the subject of Col. Symmes' proposals; an intemperate and arrogant in difference is put on by the geologists;— they seem to think the disclosure is to be whiffled out of the world's sight, by a boisterous reserve on their part; and we think Col. Symmes should come out at once, with a 'Réponse au silence de Messieurs les geologistes.' The public will go along with him, in any step of this kind; for the hanging back of the geologists, on this occasion, has excited much the same disgust as Mr Clay's refusal to emigrate to Shebro, with the reverend Mr Kezzel, and the brethren of his color. We have heard but one voice from the African Society of Boston on that subject, which was that of the admirable sentiment at their public festival, 'Mr Clay and our colored brethren, if he wants them to go, why does he not go himself?' It is with a disapprobation equally marked, that the American public has seen the busy ignorance in which the geologists have chosen to remain in regard to Col. Symmes' offers to lead them through the polar openings. It was thought that, with the first annunciation of the proposal, the Neptunians and Vulcanians would have respectively fitted out their expeditions:— that the one party, in a fire proof ship, with ropes and sails of amianthus, and masts of iron, with fire engines and fire buckets, and every thing necessary to with stand a conflagration, would have sailed off, in a mass, to the southern opening, to explore their internal volcanoes. We do not say that they would have been bound in duty all to jump in; but till they had gone to the crater, till they had brought us back some of their internal obsidian, till they had shown us a fragment of basalt or celestine from Symzonia, they could not have asked of the public any farther faith in their theories. Meantime, we should have looked for a corresponding conduct on the part of the Wernerians; an outfit to the interior gulf, a tight seaworthy vessel, with ample provisions to go and plough about on the edges of the great abyss,— and then if they had come back and told us they had actually seen their old red sand stone, in a state of paste, and their antediluvian fish working their way through a surf of liquid schistus, they would have done more for their theory than they have hither to been able to effect. This they should have done, but in stead of this they keep grovelling upon the Callon hill, the chalk basin of Paris, and the Harz mountains, and if a piece of lava or madreporite from the centre would save the nation, we do not believe there is one of them would go and fetch it.

But it is time to draw to a close, and we beg leave to recommend the discoveries of Col. Symmes again to the public. His success with the unexplored interior of our earth is so signal, that we advise him next to turn his attention to the moon, unless as some features in his speculations lead us to think, he has already done it.

Symzonia: A Voyage of Discovery (1820 novel)