SEAS AND SKIES IN MANY LATITUDES.* WITH the exception of
Mr. Ruskin's chapters on " Clouds " in Modern Painters, which must remain unique in their beauty of language and unrivalled in the way they combine scientific description with magnificent word-painting and poetry of feeling, no writer has given his attention to that cloudland which gives life to every land or seascape, and is, as Mr.
Abercromby says, one of the most striking aspects of Nature. The face of the sky has, strange to say, never been methodically described by any traveller. In the present book, Mr. Aber- cromby has aimed at giving us a description of clouds and weather in the numerous countries he has visited ; and as he is thoroughly versed in the scientific knowledge necessary, possesses just appreciation of the value of details together- with keen observation, and is, moreover, gifted with much power of graphic description, this book is a most valuable addition to travellers' tales of exploration and adventure. As he himself observes, no one is justified nowadays, when all the world travels, in publishing a book of travels, unless he has something special to tell, whether it be adventure or research. The existence of this present book is amply justified ; it contains much valuable information upon climates, soils, customs, civilisations, besides the particular subjects dealt with by the author, of weather and temperatures ; and all is told in such a pleasant, simple, and popular way, that it might be taken as a handbook on these various subjects by any ordinary traveller. Mr. Abercromby's travels take him pretty well round the world, to Canada, America, Australia, India, Japan, the South Sea Islands, &c. His. chief object, that of investigating the phenomena of the sky and weather in these various parts, is always kept in view, and he gives " only enough narrative to bind the subject together when describing the beaten track, but adds more complete descriptions when giving an account of less well-known countries, such as Fiji or Borneo."
Out of the twenty-three chapters, two are devoted to the Himalayas, and these, with the first chapter, containing an account of a winter spent in Canada in 1864, are to our mind the only ones which are rather commonplace and unequal in interest, though even here observations of value may be picked out. Hurricanes and cyclones form an especial object of Mr. Abercromby's study. One of his strongest wishes was to meet with one in order to decide by personal observation several doubtful points connected with these storms ; but though he went to the Mauritius at the hurricane time of year, and "sailed all through the Chinese seas in hopes of meeting • Seas and Skies in Many Latitudes; or, Wanderings in Search of Weather. By the Hon. Ralph Abercromby. London: Edward Stanford.
with a typhoon," he was not successful in his search, and had to be contented with collecting very carefully sifted evidence on the subject, and the scientific information in the various countries. In Mauritius, these storms are the most terrible. Fortunately, it is not once in ten years that the full violence of the " kernel " of a hurricane reaches the island, though it often suffers more or less from the outskirts of one .of the cyclones. The director of the observatory in the Mauritius, Mr. Meldrum, has given his particular attention to forecasting these storms. As he has not the help of telegraphic -communication with other countries, which would give him the barometric height, the wind and weather, from surrounding places, he is obliged to deduce forecasts entirely from the readings of his own instruments, from the appearance of the sky, and from his experience of the nature and ways of these -cyclones :-
" As much as five or six days before the arrival of the hurricane, long wisps and cirrus cloud mares'-tails' begin to cover the sky.
Later on, the filaments become less accentuated, and either trans- form themselves into a kind of pale, milky atmosphere, in which halos are frequently observed, or else the cirri resolve themselves
into cirro-cumulus. All this time the barometer falls very slowly, and then the sea begins to speak. Two or three days before the arrival of the cyclone, a peculiar tide-race (raz de marde) agitates the ships which are at anchor, dragging the water, as it were, along the bottom of the sea, and sometimes entirely altering the shape of a sandy coast ; while a little later a mountainous swell rolls in, and breaks with a roar. This is always ominous in the hurricane season. Now temperature begins to increase, but the -oppressive sensation which it brings is much greater than the actual rise of the thermometer would suggest. At this moment the direction of the wind presents very uncertain indications. Sometimes a stupefying calm, accompanied by puffs of suffocating air, precedes the arrival of a hurricane ; other times light breezes from all directions fail to announce in any way the future -direction of the wind. Then the appearances of the sky at sunrise and sunset furnish other premonitory symptoms. The clouds- cirro-cumulus or cirro-stratus—are coloured orange-red, and this coloration causes such a magnificent cloud-pageant that even those who do not doubt the imminence of the danger are con- strained to admire. As the cyclone approaches, this red colour takes a weird copper tint of sinister augury, and admiration -changes to a well-founded apprehension. Later on, cumulus cloud presents itself, allowing the upper cirrus to be seen only at rare intervals ; and twenty-four hours before the first squalls, a thick layer of cumulo-nimbus concentrates itself on the horizon between the North-East and South-East. By this time all Nature is alive to the approach of some catastrophe. The leaves of the trees moan without any wind, and low sounds are heard in the mountains. Wasps and cockchafers swarm into houses ; the sea- birds take refuge ashore and fill the air with their screams. Lastly comes nimbus, low and flying rapidly, while the air on the -earth's surface is almost calm, and then the first squall of the hurricane bursts with all its fury amidst a downpour of rain. If we are exactly on the line of the path of the cyclone's centre, the barometer now begins to fall very fast, the rain to pour down in torrents, and the squalls from the South-East to increase in violence. The character of these latter is one of the most marked peculiarities of a hurricane. The wind seems to lull for a moment, and then to come down with a burst, and the roar of a heavy piece of ordnance,—in fact, an exaggeration of that form of gustiness which is known as blowing great guns.' All of a sudden the wind falls, the clouds begin to break, and the blue sky appears. We might think that the storm was passed, but the barometer remains at its lowest point ; we are in the most dreaded portion of a cyclone, the central vortex. After three or four hours, the sky looks black to the North-West, and the hurricane recommences suddenly with a tremendous squall from the quarter exactly opposite to the previous wind, and heavy rain comes on again, with a rapidly rising barometer. After a somewhat shorter period than that which elapsed between the disappearance of blue sky and the arrival of the central vortex, the clouds begin to break for the second time. Between the openings in the driving scud, beautiful flocks of granular cirro- cumulus are seen floating in the upper sky, and gradually, as the wind falls, the rain clears off, and the usual trade wind cumulus announces the return of settled weather."
There are no electric manifestations. If thunder and lightning are observed in the signs of bad weather, people say at once, No hurricane." For those interested in the subject, the appendix contains in somewhat less popular form extra details and conclusions on the relations and differences between a tropical cyclone and those generated in higher latitudes.
After this long extract, we can only mention briefly the account of the causes of the rough weather in the Bay of Biscay. When high pressure covers all Northern Europe, the eastward impetus of the Atlantic cyclone is arrested, for the storm beats up against the high pressure like waves against a rock ; the geographical position of the Bay of Biscay, with Brittany over- hanging it on the north, catches and arrests many of these cyclones, which are a class of storms that affect neither the English Channel on one side, nor the coast of Portugal on the other ; but the Bay is not nearly so rough as the West Coast of Ireland, which receives the full brunt of the Atlantic cyclones.
Mr. Abercromby has a happy faculty for drawing the reader into his own speculations on civilisations, on the where- fore of customs, manners, and religions, and also a power of in- teresting others in what interests himself. There is much valuable information to be gleaned in his well thought-out accounts of the natives in out-of-the-way countries, and ample interest for those readers who care for the vegetable world. He reminds us of the well-known myth of the deadly upas- tree which grew in Java ; no animal could approach it without dropping down dead, no vegetation flourished near the poisonous spot, and to fell the tree in order to obtain its wood, convicts were bribed by the promise of their liberty if they survived. There is more truth in this story than in many similar tales, for the tree is really dangerous to fell, for if the skin is wounded by a chip, a violent but not dangerous eruption sometimes takes place ; but the particular upas. tree of Java which was the origin of the myth stands near a place where carbonic acid gas issues from the volcanic soil, as in the Grotto del Cane near Naples, so that any animal is liable to be poisoned by these fumes ; and thus arose the story of the deadly shade of the upas-tree. There is a singular history of a plant in the jungle of New Zealand, which is quite dramatic in its way. The " Rata" begins its life as a small seed, which, when found on the ground, is swallowed by a certain kind of caterpillar, whose mission in life is that of foster- parent to a future forest tree. The seed begins to grow in the interior of the caterpillar, and in time sends a shoot out of the mouth of the unfortunate grub, which is killed after a time by the growth of the roots. The rata, which is then about the size and thickness of a lead-pencil, attaches itself to one of the forest trees. It looks like any other innocent creeper as it mounts up the trunk to the height perhaps of 150 ft., where its leaves are found mingling with those of the sup- porting stem. It is difficult at this stage to think that this slender creeper will eventually kill the tree that has supported it, and become a large forest tree itself. Its main stem grows nearly straight up, but has lateral shoots which entwine the parent trunk, and become great suckers of the life-giving sap; it grows rapidly, and looks like a green boa-constrictor as it encircles the huge tree. Then the tree begins to die ; it cannot stand the drain for long :-
" For many years the decaying trunk helps to sustain the treacherous Rata, till at length the creeper has grown into a great tree quite able to stand by itself, after killing both the foster- parents who have helped it up the ladder of life."
Besides these rather sensational episodes of vegetable life, we would draw attention to the most useful and interesting com- parison between the plants of countries which lie in the same latitude, but which are utterly different in consequence of other and secondary causes,—to the description of the Aus- tralian bush, to the account of sugar-plantations, and that of the intense care required in the cultivation of the finest tobacco, such minute care that " probably no one but a Chinaman would do the work properly." Besides this minute care, the cultivator has more than his share of anxiety on the subject of weather ; for during the hundred days of cultivation and growth, the amount, and still more the quality of the rainfall, are of such vital importance to the due development of the plant, that should the rain be too heavy or attended with wind, the whole crop will be damaged or destroyed. Rain ought to fall every day while planting out, but never while final cutting is in progress. Even rain that falls in a few big drops, followed by a bright sun, greatly takes from the value of the crop.
There is a telling description of the midnight sun. The " Legend of Maui," or the myth of the origin of the diverging rays of the sun, is charmingly told. Mr. Abercromby gives us an account of the coral reef. He has also much interesting speculation on the geography of religions, and the influence of language on thought ; and there is much more in his book which we cannot even briefly mention, chipters in each
one of which the reader may gather easily, pleasant and useful information. The illustrations really illustrate the subjects, and are some of them of much value, especially those
which show instantaneous cloud-effects in various latitudes. It is altogether a book that opens out many new paths of thought, and should be as interesting to those who stay at home as to those who travel for themselves.