Wonderful powers of mind displayed by the natives

The mild oblique rays of the morning sun gilded to our view

“A scene surpassing Fancy’s vision.”

Gently rolling hills within an easy sloping shore, covered with
verdure, chequered with groves of trees and shrubbery, studded with
numerous white buildings, and animated with groups of men and cattle,
all standing in relief near the foot of a lofty mountain, which in
the distance reared its majestic head above the clouds, offered to
mariners long confined to a wide waste of water the highest reward
for their enterprise and perseverance;–the heartfelt satisfaction,
that it was to their courage and skill that their fellow citizens
would be indebted for the contemplation of so much loveliness. Here
there was nothing wanting to a perfect landscape. Plain, hill, and
dell sometimes rising with an easy slope, at others, broken, abrupt,
or craggy; with an ocean in front, and a mountain in the rear, it
was complete.

When the bright light of the sun first presented distant objects
distinctly to our view, there were great numbers of vessels and boats
in sight, mostly near the shore. We had repeatedly seen them during the
night flitting past us like the shades of departed mortals. Immediately
on observing our extraordinary appearance, they all retired towards
an opening in the land to the northward, whither we followed them, and
soon found that the apparent opening in the shore was occasioned by an
island a short distance from the coast, having a roadstead within it,
in which were several vessels at anchor. After hoisting out our boats,
and seeing our guns in order, I stood in to the roadstead, with my
boats ahead. As we approached the anchorage, the vessels all retired
into the mouth of a river which they ascended until quite out of sight.

At noon, on the 24th of December, we anchored in 14 fathoms water,
on a fine sandy bottom. This land, out of gratitude to Capt. Symmes
for his sublime theory, I immediately named Symzonia. The coast lay
about S. S. W. and N. N. E. In the roadstead we were sheltered from
all winds except those which blew directly along shore. These were
not much to be feared, for we had found the prevailing W. S. W. winds
to blow as steady as a trade wind for several days without any gales
or stormy weather.

I passed an hour in surveying the enchanting scene by which I was
surrounded, and in making preparations for a visit to the inhabitants
of this internal world. I shaved my beard as smooth as I could,
put on my best go-ashore clothes, and swung my hanger by my side,
to make my appearance as imposing as possible. Here a difficulty
occurred. I wanted an officer to leave in charge of the boat, on whose
firmness and discretion I could rely in case of difficulty with the
natives. I could not take Albicore, without leaving Slim in command
of the Explorer, which was not to be thought of. I would not take
Slim with me, for he would be more likely to contrive some way to get
my throat cut out of sheer malice, than to use prudent measures for
my safety. Will Mackerel was so hasty, that he would probably shoot
the natives like pigeons, should he fancy them to be offering any
offence or insult to his commander. I therefore determined to take
Jack Whiffle, ostensibly to act as cockswain, with six of my best men,
furnished with a musket, a pair of pistols, and a sabre each.

Thus equipped, and with the stripes and stars waving over the stern of
the boat, I proceeded to the shore, having first instructed Albicore
to offer no offence to any people who might approach the ship in
my absence, unless it became necessary in actual self defence, or
to prevent them from taking possession of the vessel; and to inform
me by signal should any superior force appear in the offing, or any
danger be apprehended.

There were a number of buildings on the island, one of which from
its magnitude and superior appearance to the others, I judged to be
a public edifice of some sort. This structure was two stories high,
while all the others were but one. In the front, a large open portico
with an extensive platform, appeared to be a place of business,
great numbers of people being collected upon it. In front of this
building, a jettee into the water afforded convenient landing, and
I directed the boat to be placed alongside of it As I approached,
all the people retired, and no sooner had I stepped upon the jettee
than those in front of the large building moved into it.

Being determined to open an immediate communication with this people,
who from the comforts with which they were surrounded could not be
savages, I took off my sword, and gave it to Whiffle, and ordered
him to lay off with the boat a half pistol shot from the shore,
and not to fire a shot, nor to show his arms, unless he saw me run,
or heard me fire a pistol; in which cases he must pull into the most
convenient place to take me off, and to defend me.

I then walked slowly up the jettee. When I reached the head of it,
I took off my hat and made a low bow towards the building, to show
the Internals that I had some sense of politeness. No one appeared. I
walked slowly up the sloping lawn, stopped, looked about me, and
bowed, but still no one appeared to return my civilities. I walked
on, and had arrived within one hundred yards of the portico, when
I recollected, that when Captain Ross was impeded in his progress
northward by the northern ‘icy hoop,’ he met with some men on the
ice who told him they came from the north, where there was land and
an open sea. These men were swarthy, which Capt. Symmes attributes to
their being inhabitants of the hot regions within the internal polar
circle; in which opinion he was no doubt correct. I had frequently
reflected on this circumstance, and had settled the matter in my mind
that they were stragglers from the extreme north part of the internal
regions; and could not but consider Capt. Ross as a very unfit person
for an exploring expedition, or he would not have returned without
ascertaining where those men came from, or how a great sea could
exist to the northward of the ‘icy hoop,’ through fear of wintering
in a climate where he saw men in existence who had passed all their
lives there.

I remembered that these men so seen by Capt. Ross, saluted him
by pulling their noses; and surely it is not surprising that men,
inhabiting such different positions on this earth as the inside and
outside of it, should differ so much as to consider that a compliment
in the one place, which is deemed an insult in the other. Indeed it
seemed to me a small thing, when I considered how widely the most
enlightened of the externals differ in opinion upon the most simple
propositions of religion, politics, and political economy.

I was full in the faith that those men of Ross had been internals,
and that their mode of salutation was much more likely to be in
accordance with the manners of the Symzonians, than the rude fashion
of us externals. I therefore pulled my nose very gracefully, without
uncovering my head.

This was a happy thought. It arose from my having read much, seen a
great deal of the world, and observed with tolerable accuracy, for a
shipmaster, the important ceremonies and sublime rules of etiquette,
by which the distinguished and the noble, the enlightened and the
great, are implicitly governed; they being considered matters of more
consequence than religious forms, or mere regulations of convenience.

I remembered that, on being honoured with an audience of a sublime
sovereign of the Mussulman empire, it was particularly enjoined upon
me by the vizier, not to take my hat off, nor to sit cross-legged,
the etiquette of the court forbidding any one to do so in the presence
of the sovereign; and showing the top of the head or bottom of the
feet being considered an insult to that exalted personage. Happily I
recalled to my mind all those weighty matters; and now, that I might
not be guilty of insult to this new found people, I stood bolt upright,
kept my hat on, and pulled my nose stoutly.

This had the desired effect. Several persons from within the building
assembled on the platform of the portico. They stared much at me,
which convinced me they were people of high fashion; conversed eagerly
with one another, and seemed undetermined how to act. More than one
hundred men collected, before any one showed any disposition to advance
even to the front of the portico; and on the other hand, I dared not
advance towards them, lest I should again put them all to flight,
being already sensible that it was my dark and hideous appearance that
created so much distrust amongst these beautiful natives, I therefore
kept my position, occasionally pulling my nose out of politeness.

Full twenty minutes passed in this suspense; when one of the group,
a man near five feet high, came to the threshold of the platform, and,
raising his hand to his forehead, he brought it down to the point
of his nose, and waved it gracefully in salutation, with a slight
inclination of the body, but without actually pulling the nose as I
had done. At the same time he spoke to me, in a soft, shrill, musical
voice. His language was as unintelligible to me as the notes of a
singing bird; but his mode of salutation was not. I caught it with
the aptness of a monkey, returned his courtesy after his own fashion,
and answered him in English, with as soft a whine as I could affect,
that my rude voice might not offend his ears.

Seeing him still in doubt whether it was a mortal or a goblin that
stood before him, I bethought me to show him that I had some sense
of a Supreme Being. I therefore fell on my knees, with my hands
and eyes upraised to heaven, in the attitude of prayer. This was
distinctly understood. It produced a shout of joy which was followed
by the immediate prostration of the whole party, who seemed absorbed
in devotion for a few minutes. They then rose, and the one who had
first advanced came towards me. I stood still to receive him, and as
he walked close up to me, I extended my hand to ascertain if a thing
so fair were tangible. He put out his hand, and seized mine with a grip
that made me start; but instantly let it go again, and gazed upon me.

We spoke to each other in vain: he walked round, and surveyed my person
with eager curiosity. I did the like by him, and had abundant cause;
for the sootiest African does not differ more from us in darkness of
skin and grossness of features, than this man did from me in fairness
of complexion and delicacy of form. His arms were bare; his body was
covered with a white garment, fitted to his shape, and hanging down
to his knees. Upon his head he wore a tuft of feathers, curiously
woven with his hair, which afforded shade to his forehead and was a
guard for his head against the rain. There was no appearance of any
weapon about either him or any of the others.

Having both satisfied our eyes, I again endeavoured to make myself
intelligible to him; and, by the aid of signs, succeeded so far as to
convince him that I came in peace, and meant no harm to any one. He
pointed to the building, which I took as an invitation to go in,
and walked towards the portico, with the Internal by my side.

The fair skinned people by whom I was now surrounded, kept at a
respectful distance from me. They formed a circle, and sat down
upon their feet, with their bodies perfectly upright, and invited
me to do the same. I admired the firmness of knee and strength of
muscle which enabled them to make such a posture easy and pleasant,
but took my seat on the floor cross-legged, like a Turk. Several of
the principal men of the party seated themselves near me, and moved
nearer and further off, as occasion required, with great facility,
and without changing their sitting posture.

An amusing scene now occurred, while we endeavoured to communicate our
thoughts and wishes to one another. I shoved up the sleeve of my coat,
to show them, by the inside of my arm, (which was always excluded from
the sun,) that I was a white man. I am considered fair for an American,
and my skin was always in my own country thought to be one of the
finest and whitest. But when one of the internals placed his arm,
always exposed to the weather, by the side of mine, the difference
was truly mortifying. I was not a white man, compared with him.

I gave them to understand that I wanted food and drink, and immediately
some delicious fruits, and a large bowl of excellent milk, were placed
before me, which I ate with much satisfaction and an eager appetite,
to the great amusement of the spectators, who seemed astonished at
the enormous quantity I took. I afterwards learnt, that what they
set before me was sufficient for ten of these temperate beings.

The result of this interview was an understanding between us, that
learning each others languages would be the first essential step
towards an intercourse between us; and for that purpose two persons
were promptly singled out from the crowd, who took their seats by
my side, with a writing apparatus, composed of some very delicate
white leaves, more like sheets of very white ivory than like paper,
and pencils which made a deep green mark.

We had scarcely entered on this important preliminary, when it was
disagreeably and painfully interrupted by the firing of a gun on
board the Explorer. The roar of a twelve-pounder, which jarred the
building, struck a panic through the whole circle, and the volume of
smoke which floated on the water alarmed them much.

With my pocket spyglass I observed that the signal for a fleet in the
offing was flying, and it was to call my attention to this signal
that Albicore had fired the gun. It was no easy matter to pacify
the internals, and make them understand that the terrific noise,
fire and smoke, were quite harmless. After many useless efforts,
I made them comprehend that it was but the voice of the vessel,
telling me it was time to return on board.

My spyglass attracted their notice. I gave it to one of the internals,
and directed it to the ship, showing him how to find the focus. An
exclamation of surprise showed me that this discovery in optics was
unknown to them. This little incident was of great service to me. It
showed the internals that some useful knowledge might be obtained
from the hideous strangers, and excited their curiosity to know more
about us.

I now made signs to the two persons appointed to instruct me in the
language, to accompany me on board, which after a few minutes they
did, together with two others, ordered for the same purpose, and to
make observations on our vessel and manners. I was the more willing to
render this interview a short one, because I saw that no progress could
be made until we had arranged some mode of communicating our ideas.

Soon after our arrival on board, a boat came off from the shore with
a large supply of fruits and milk, which were most joyfully received;
and in return, I sent a spyglass, a looking-glass, and several articles
of glass ware.

The vessels which had been signalled by Albicore, entered the bay and
passed into the river, without coming any nearer to us than the land
compelled them to.–After having shown my visiters about my ship,
every part of which they examined with scrutinizing attention,
I conducted them to my cabin, and sat down to the study of their
language. Two devoted themselves to this object; the other two wrote
an account of all they had observed, and sent it by the boat which
brought the fruits and milk.

I had not been long at my study of language, when Mr. Albicore sent
me word that a bird as big as the ship was coming towards us. I went
on deck, and immediately saw that Albicore’s bird was no other than
an ærial vessel, with a number of men on board. It came directly over
the ship, and descended so low that the people in it spoke with the
internals who were with me; but I was not yet qualified to understand
a word of what passed. I observed its appearance to be that of a
ship’s barge, with an inflated windsail, in the form of a cylinder,
suspended longitudinally over it, leaving a space in which were the
people. It had a rudder like a fishes tail, and fins or oars, which
appeared to be moved by the people within. On the whole, it was not
a matter of great surprise to me. I only inferred from it, that the
internals understood ærostatics much better than the externals.

I afterwards learned, that the air vessel over the boat was charged
with an elastic gas, which was readily made by putting a small quantity
of a very dense substance into some fluid, which disengaged a vast
quantity of this light gas. By this means, the specific gravity of
the vessel was diminished, in the same manner as that of a fish is
by its sound. I also learned that this vessel had been despatched by
the government of the country to make observations upon the stranger
who had entered their waters.

The following day I made preparations for another visit on shore,
when I was made to understand by my instructors that I must not land
again until I could speak the language of the country. I was not much
pleased with this, not liking a confinement of two or three months,
which, even with my faculty of learning languages, was the least
term within which I could expect to qualify myself to speak one so
new and difficult. My instructors, however, appeared very earnest on
this point, and I thought it best to comply, and gave my undivided
attention to the necessary study.

At the end of the first week, I was astonished and delighted to
find my instructors addressing me in very good English. I could
not help arguing, from their wonderful quickness of intellect,
and faithfulness of memory, that I should find them intelligent and
refined, beyond the conception of external mortals. In this I was
not disappointed. My greatest misfortune was a want of capacity to
comprehend intelligence so far beyond my powers of mind. They never
forgot any thing, and it was only necessary to name a thing once to fix
it on their memories. The alphabet once read, and sounds pronounced,
they had it perfectly, and expressed the greatest astonishment that
I should require them to repeat the same names of things over five
or six times, to fix them in my mind.

Having qualified themselves to act as interpreters, they acquainted me
that permission had been given for me to visit the place of assembly,
where the Best Man and the council of worthies were in session; but
that my vessel must remain where she was, and none of the people be
permitted to go out of her.