It is the same with the earthquake as with the volcano. The surface of the earth is never quite still. Tremors are constantly passing onward which can be distinguished by delicate instruments, but only rarely are these of sufficient force to become noticeable, except by instrumental means. At intervals, however, the power beneath the surface raises the ground in long, billow-like motions, before which, when of violent character, no edifice or human habitation can for a moment stand. The earth is frequently rent asunder, great fissures and cavities being formed. The course of rivers is changed and the waters are swallowed up by fissures rent in the surface, while ruin impends in a thousand forms. The cities become death pits and the cultivated fields are buried beneath floods of liquid mud. Fortunately these convulsions, alike of the earthquake and volcano, are comparative rarities and are confined to limited regions of the earth’s surface. What do we know of those deep-lying powers, those vast buried forces dwelling in uneasy isolation beneath our feet? With all our science we are but a step beyond the ancients, to whom these were the Titans, great rebel giants whom Jupiter overthrew and bound under the burning mountains, and whose throes of agony shook the earth in quaking convulsions. To us the volcanic crater is the mouth from which comes the fiery breath of demon powers which dwell far down in the earth’s crust. The Titans themselves were dwarfs beside these mighty agents of destruction whose domain extends for thousands of miles beneath the earth’s surface and which in their convulsions shake whole continents at once. Such was the case in 1812, when the eruption of Mont Soufriere on St. Vincent, as told in a later chapter, formed merely the closing event in a series of earthquakes which had made themselves felt under thousands of miles of land.
In olden times volcanoes were regarded with superstitious awe, and it would have been considered highly impious to make any investigation of their actions. We are told by Virgil that Mt. Etna marks the spot where the gods in their anger buried Enceladus, one of the rebellious giants. To our myth-making ancestors one of the volcanoes of the Mediterranean, set on a small island of the Lipari group, was the workshop of Vulcan, the god of fire, within whose depths he forged the thunderbolts of the gods. From below came sounds as of a mighty hammer on a vast anvil. Through the mountain vent came the black smoke and lurid glow from the fires of Vulcan’s forge. This old myth is in many respects more consonant with the facts of nature than myths usually are. In agreement with the theory of its internal forces, the mountain in question was given the name of Volcano. To-day it is scarcely known at all, but its name clings to all the fire-breathing mountains of the earth.