The Philosophy of Earthquakes, Natural and Religious
|The Philosophy of Earthquakes, Natural and Religious (1750) by
Natural and Religious.
An Inquiry into their Cause, and their Purpose.
O Vitæ philosophia dux, virtutum indagatrix, expultrinque vitii! Cicero.
By WILLIAM STUKELEY, M. D. Rector
of St. George's, Queen-Square: Fellow of the
College of Physicians and Royal Society:
The SECOND EDITlON.
To which is added, PART II. on the same Subject.
LONDON: Printed for C. Corbet over-against St. Dunstan's
M DCC L.
To the Reader.
THE substance of the philosophical part of this discourse was delivered at twice to the Royal Society, on March 15, and 22: The theological, in my own church. I could not refuse the solicitation of my friends, hearers in both places, to print it. I wish my intention, in the compliance, may any ways prove successful; to show, how vain, and unmeaning, are all our philosophical inquiries, when destitute of their true view; to lead us into the more engaging paths of religion. That, from speculation of material causes, we may become adepts in that wisdom which is from above. Otherwise, like Epicurus, and the ancient heathen philosophers, we barter away our immortal part, for a curiosity, that amuses us to no good purpose. Mean are these objects of our senses to be accounted, in comparison of our spiritual natures, to which our principal regard is due! For we must rightly say with Job: Lo, these are parts of God's ways, but how little a portion is heard of him? and the thunder of his power, who can understand?
Martin Folkes, Esq; L L. D.
President of the Royal Society.
March 26, 1750.
WHEN so great and unusual a phœnomenon, as an earthquake, and that repeated, happens among us; it will naturally excite a serious reflexion in every one that is capable of thinking. And we cannot help considering it, both in a philosophical, and a religious view. Any mind will take the alarm, when we perceive a motion that affects the earth, that bears the whole city of London and some miles round it. And at the same time while it gives us so sensible a shake, so gently sets us down again; without damage to any buildings, and without a life lost.
'Tis hard to say, which is the greater wonder. But alas in the works of nature, there are no degrees of great, and little; comparisons are incompatible. We indeed are more affected with what seems great in our own apprehensions: I would rather say, what is rare and unusual. An omnipotent power admits of no distinctions. And when prodigious effects are produc'd from causes imperceptible, it rightly claims our most serious attention, as well as wonder. Nor need we lose sight of the theological purpose of these amazing alarms, whilst we endeavour to find out the philosophy of them.
Among all the appearances of nature, which are the subject of the inquiries of the Royal Society, none more deserves the regard of a contemplative mind. And among the very numerous accounts received there, from all quarters, being only Observations upon the manner of it, and its extent: I judg'd, it became us to inquire into the cause of so extraordinary a motion: of which we could not form a proper idea; had we not repeatedly seen, and felt it.
The moderns have not improved upon the opinions of the ancients, in this matter; any further than by the fancied analogy of some chymical experiments. But these chymical experiments, and all sorts of explosions by gunpowder, and the like, are to me, very unsatisfactory solutions; they are merely artificial compositions, which can have nothing similar in the bowels of the earth, and they produce their effects by violence, by rending and tearing, by a solutio continui. This is indeed too often the case of earthquakes, but that in a partial degree, not at all equivalent to the compass of the shock; and is very far from being the constant concomitant of an earthquake. Quite the contrary. Innumerable such happen, when there is no breach of the surface; and of these three or four which we have now felt, nothing of it has appeared. But the immensity of the vibration of the earth which shook every house in London with impunity, and for twenty miles round, can never, in my apprehension, be owing to so unbridled a cause, as any subterraneous vapours, fermentations, rarefactions, and the like; the vulgar solution. Nor does the kind of motion, which I discern in an earthquake, in any sort agree with what we should expect from explosions.
In order then to proceed with some degree of certainty, in our inquiry after the cause of earthquakes, it will be useful, in the first place, to set in one view, the general appearances remarkable therein: the most usual concomitants: As we can collect them from our own observation, or from the relations and writings of others.
I. That earthquakes always happen in calm seasons, in warm, dry, sultry weather; or after dry, frosty air.
II. That they they are felt at sea, as well as land, even in the main ocean; and at that time, the sea is calm.
III. That earthquakes differ very much in magnitude. Some shake a very large tract of country, at the same instant of time; nay, sometime extend to very many countries, separated by mountains, seas, lakes, the ocean.
IV. That earthquakes differ very much in the quantity, of their vibratory motion: Whence in some, tho' largely extended, they are innocuous; in others, both small and great, they lay all in ruin and destruction.
V. That a hollow, thundering, unusual noise accompanies them, or rather seems to preceed the shock; which rolls in the air like the noise of cannon.
VI. That they are felt more sensibly in the upper story of houses than in the lower.
VII. That the shock is more violent upon more solid buildings, churches, castles, and stone-houses, than upon those of slighter materials.
VIII. That many people find themselves sick at stomach, with headake, and pains in their joints, and the like, which sometime lasts for the day after, or longer.
IX. That earthquakes generally happen to great towns, and cities, and more particularly to those that are situate on the sea.
X. That earthquakes do not cause any damage to springs and fountains; but the water in wells becomes foul for a short time.
XI. That they are more frequent in the neighbouring countries of a vulcano.
This last circumstance, in my opinion, has led all inquirers in this question, out of the true path; therefore I propose in the ensuing paper.
I. To shew what it is not; the insufficiency of the vulgar opinion, of subterraneous fires and vapours.
II. To show what it is in reality, as it appears to me.
III. I shall conclude with the moral use we ought to make of these prodigies of nature.
I. The struggles of subterraneous winds and fires, that should heave up the ground like animal convulsions, seem to me impossible: Their powers, and manner of acting (if such there be) is quite incapable of producing the appearance of an earthquake. That these should operate instantaneously, in one minute, thro' a circle of 30 or 40 miles diameter, or more, I could not conceive. Nor that there should be any possible, much less ready passage thro' the solid earth, for such nimble agents, as every one is apt to imagine, that speak of this appearance; without sufficiently reflecting on the insuperable difficulties in that hypothesis.
We cannot pretend to deny, that there may be such vapours, and fermentations, inflammable substances, and actual fires, in the bowels of the earth; and that there may be some caverns under ground, as well at we find some few above ground: such as Pool's-Hole, The Devil's-Arse in the Peak of Derbyshire and Okey-Hole in Somersetshire. These, I believe, to have been so from the creation, never were made by earthquakes. We know, there are hot springs running continually: There are some vulcano's frequently belching out flames and smoke, and to these perhaps some earthquakes may be owing, tho' not according to the vulgar notion; as we shall see, by and by.
But these matters are very rare, much rarer than earthquakes, both as to time and place, Vesuvius in Italy, and in that part of it abounding with mines of sulphur: Ætna in Sicily, and Heckla in Iceland; these are all we know of, in the old world. In the Andes mountains of America there are some. The scarcity of these appears to me a strong argument against the common deductions made therefrom, as to their being the cause of earthquakes.
Nor can I enter into the sentiments of those that hold the cavernous state of the earth, so as to contribute to the forming an earthquake by vapours running from place to place under ground. How many thousand acres of coal-mines do they daily work in England, and have done for ages? I have been myself 2 or 300 feet deep in a solid rock of native salt: I have walked a mile lengthwise directly into the earth, and descending all the way, in the proportion of one yard in five, 'till we came under the bed of the very ocean, where ships were sailing over our heads. This was at Sir James Lowther' coal-pit, at Whitehaven. We were at this time deeper under ground by the perpendicular than any part of the ocean, between England and Ireland.
We never hear, from the many hundreds of thousands of workmen in this kind, at Newcastle, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Somersetshire, and Wales: from the infinite numbers of workmen in the mines of lead, tin, and the like, of the cavernous state of the earth, so as to give any colour for this hypothesis of earthquakes. The earth is generally of solid rocks in which there must be now, and then, some clefts, and vacuities, small in compass, as naturally so many heterogeneous strata of the earth consolidate together. But there can be no imagination of vapours breaking through, uniting, traversing so suddenly, a large space of earth, so as to produce those earthquakes, we have seen, and felt; much less such as we read of. The workmen in all sorts of mines confess by their hard labour, that the earth is not cavernous; nor are there mines of sulphur, nitre, and the like inflammable materials in England. Or if there were, could they burn, and cause convulsions of the earth, without proper cavities, pipes, and conveyances of air; as vulcano's, and coal-pits, when set on fire. But even from these coal-pits, when fired, do we ever find any thing like an earthquake produced. Nor do we find earthquakes frequent in those countries, that abound with coal-mines, as certainly would be the case, if that hypothesis was just. How easy would it be, on the slightest occasion for earthquakes to happen in the countries abounding with coal-mines, which are so full of artificial cavities communicating with one another, for many miles together: The very thing supposed, by those who hold the old opinion, of vapours traversing the earth for that purpose.
In the coal-pits, some small natural cavities now and then are found; which when opened, send forth a pestiferous vapour, and a fire-damp which runs for a long time together. And tho' there are many substances that may generate air, within the bowels of the earth; yet these matters are infinitely unable to produce an earthquake: Never would have force to open a passage for themselves thro' the solid rock, of perhaps many hundred feet in thickness. Nor did we observe in these last earthquakes any fire, vapour, smoke, or smell, any kind of eruption, in the least; as must certainly have been, in so great a struggle of the superfice, as affected a circle of so large a diameter. Were there such, we could scarce hope any otherwise, than that they would be too sensibly felt; to the destruction of many thousands, by their pestiferous qualities.
Indeed this consideration alone, of the extent of that surface, is sufficient to overthrow any supposition, of earthquakes being chiefly owing to subterraneous vapours: They cannot momentarily fly under so large a tract of ground, if they were near the outward shell of the earth. They could not do it without breaking ground, and discovering themselves to the sight, or smell; and that for a long time after. It cannot possibly be imagin'd, they should have so immense a force, as to lift up the city of London, and never be perceived by our organs, and outward senses. We have frequent accounts of a little fire-ball burning in the air, at a distance; yet it instantly propagates a sulphureous smell around.
If the movement of a superficies of 30 miles diameter was owing to fumes, and vapours; we ought reasonably to find some great discharges of them, belching out smoke and fire, for a long time after, like vulcano's, and coal-pits fir'd. The operation of the shock ought to be of hours continuance, not instantaneous; and the evaporation of so vast a quantity of matter, must darken the whole region of the air for a long time after; or require a long time, if gradually it discharges itself. We see how immense a volume of smoke is produc'd by a very small quantity of gun-powder; and no vapour could be so subtle, that produc'd such effects, and not be very obvious to our senses.
Even in vulcano's, it is the opinion of the learned Italian philosopher Borelli, and of other great naturalists, that they are kindled first from the surface, where there is a possibility of ventilation from the air. They imagine, it begins at the top of the mountains; not by any fancied fermentation of the pyrites and sulphureous vapours arising from subterraneous caverns, in the lower parts of mountains.
There is another consideration, which utterly overthrows these suppositions, of earthquakes being caused by any thing under-ground; and that is a due consideration of springs, and fountains perpetually flowing; and that from the creation of the world to this day. If we would form any tolerable idea of their nature, we must needs conceive, that God Almighty has laid their pipes, and canals in the earth, from a great depth, even to the surface; like as he has planted the veins, arteries, and glands in an animal body. And likewise that they are more and more ramify'd, as they nearer approach the outward shell of the earth; just so our veins, and arteries, as they come nearer the skin.
The workmen in coal-mines, and those of metals, minerals, and stone-quarries, never fail to meet with springs, and currents of water, every where. Often they ruin, and divert springs another way, only by digging into the earth for foxes, and the like. Whenever they dig for wells, in any kind of earth, they commonly find springs. The colliers, and workers of mines, are oblig'd to drain the waters off with very great expence.
These are circumstances not favorable to subterraneous fires being in the earth in abundance; much less to their being the cause of earthquakes. And further, we cannot possibly think of earthquakes doing their work that way, without absolutely ruining the whole system of springs, and fountains, throughout the whole country, where they pass. But all this is quite contrary to fact even where an earthquake has been repeatedly. For an instance from home.
On Wednesday, April 6, 1580, about six in the evening, just such another earthquake was felt in London and around it, at these two we have seen. Another exactly similar in 1692. In all these four, no houses thrown down, no springs disturb'd thereby, no sensible eruptions nor smells.
These considerations I apply only to this little inconsiderable space, of a circle 30 miles diameter, as with us. But what is that, to the earthquakes we read of in history? In the year of our Lord 17, no less than thirteen great and noble cities in Asia minor, were destroyed in one night. Tacitus, Pliny, and many other authors mention it. The fact is so notorious, that some persons here present, have seen a vast block of white marble now standing near Naples; being the pedestal of a coloss statue of Tiberius the emperor; having carv'd on it the genius's, or pictures of all those cities, with their names. The accurate Bulifon and others have wrote treatises upon it. These cities were rebuilt by that emperor. But without going so far, we may see another evidence of it, a coin of that emperor struck upon the occasion, with this inscription,
CIVITATIBUS ASIAE RESTITUTIS.
I have one of them, in large brass, which was found at Colchester.
The compass of this earthquake may be reckoned to take up 300 miles diameter, as a circle. Now, we cannot conceive, how any subterraneous vapour can produce such an effect, as instantaneously to demolish all these cities; and that such an accident should never happen after. That the whole country of Asia minor should not at the same time be destroy'd, its mountains be renversed, its fountains, springs, and rivers broken up and ruin'd for ever. Instead whereof we find thing suffered, but those cities; no kind of alteration in the surface of the country; it remains the same as it were in the beginning of time. In 1586 an earthquake in Peru, that extended 900 miles.
From these considerations, I cannot persuade myself, to enter into the opinion of vapours, and eruptions being the cause sought for; and, after we have treated the argument in a superficial view, we must go a little deeper.
If we would consider things like philosophers, let us propose to ourselves this problem: Where is the power to be plac'd, that is required to move a surface of earth 30 miles in diameter?
To answer this, consult the ingineers, and those that make mines in the sieges of towns; they will acquaint us, that the effect of mines is produced in form of an inverted cone. And that a diameter of 30 miles, in the base, will require an axis of 15 or 20 miles to operate upon that base, so as to shake it, at least. Now the vapours, or whatever power we propose to operate, according to the foregoing requisite, in order to form the appearance of an earthquake, must be 15 or 20 miles deep in the earth. But what mind can conceive, that any natural power is able to move an inverted cone of solid earth, whose base is 30 miles diameter, whose axis 20? or was it possible; would not the whole texture of that body of earth be quite disturb'd and shatter'd, especially in regard to its springs and fountains? but nothing like this is ever found to be the consequence of an earthquake, tho' fatal to cities.
Apply this reasoning to the earthquake of Asia minor, and this vigorous principle at the apex of the cone must lie, at least, 200 Miles deep in the ground. Enough to show the absurdity of any moving power plac'd under the Earth! A cone of 300 miles diameter at base, 200 miles axis: I dare be bold to say, that all the gun-powder made since its invention, if put together and fired, would not be able to move it; how much less pent up vapours? what must we say of a circle of 900 miles diameter?
But, could that be admitted as possible, would any one be persuaded, that such a subterraneous tumult, of so vast an extent, will be no ways injurious to the internal system of springs and fountains, and that this shall often be repeated without the least damage? We may as well imagine, that we can stab a man 100 times and never touch vein or artery.
Since I gave in my two papers to the Royal Society, a letter of Mr. Flamsted's has been printed, which abundantly confirms my sentiments. The whole drift of it is, to show how invalid is the vulgar idea conceiv'd, of earthquakes arising from subterraneous vapours and eruptions: That the earth itself is not moved to any depths and that the shock must arise from the atmosphere. The circumstances which he has judiciously collected, are extremely agreeable to mine; many of them the very same, strongly confirming my hypothesis: And had that great man known the properties of electricity, which we are now masters of, he would have prevented me in this affair.
"Considering (says he) what variety of substances, sand, gravel, stones, rock, minerals, clay, and mold, our earth is compounded of, and how little nitre, or explosive matter, a large quantity thereof will afford; I cannot think, where we can find matter enough to move so vast a bulk of earth, as all the South parts of England, all the Netherlands, with part of Germany, all France, and perhaps Italy, (which were shock'd at once the 8th of September last 1692;) or part of Asia and near all Europe, which trembled together the same day, 91 years before.
"But, allowing there may have been sufficient matter prepared for these purposes, I can hardly think, there are continued cavities, at any reasonable depth, all under Europe, wherein an explosion being made, might shake the whole at once, and yet make no clefts, or separations, in those parts where the minerals and mountainous rocks part from the light mold and clay. If an hundred barrels of gun-powder could be fixed in some cave, a thousand yards under ground; allowing the force of the explosion sufficient to raise all the weight of earth incumbent on the cavern; it would certainly break the loose mold from any large solid rock we may conceive adjacent, and leave at least some clefts behind it. But we seldom or never hear of such clefts, made in such places, when earthquakes happen."
Again, he writes thus: "I cannot apprehend, (if all earthquakes must be made by explosions in subterraneous caverns) why sometimes a large country, or whole continent, should be thereby shook all at once; why there should be no eruptions in the neighbourhood?"
From all circumstances consider'd, he concludes, that the abstruse, effective cause of them comes from the air; and that a calm is necessary before an earthquake. And these two particulars are likewise Dr. Hales's positions: "The earth-lightning, as he calls it, is first kindled on the surface, and not at great depths, as has been thought; whose explosion is the immediate cause of an earthquake. He says long, dry, hot sea seasons, are usually the preparatory forerunners of earthquakes." From all these considerations I conclude; earthquakes are not caus'd by subterraneous vapors.
II. We are to inquire, what is the cause of earthquakes.
In an age when electricity has been so much our entertainment, and our amazement; when we are become so well acquainted with its stupendous powers and properties, its velocity, and instantaneous operation through any given distance; when we see, upon a touch, or an approach, between a non-electric and an electrified body, what a wonderful vibration is produced! what a snap it gives! how an innocuous flame breaks forth! how violent a shock! Is it to be wonder'd at, that hither we turn our thoughts, for the solution of the prodigious appearance of an earthquake?
Here is at once an assemblage of all those properties and circumstances which we so often see in courses of electricity. Electricity may be call'd a sort of soul to matter, thought to be an ethereal fire pervading all things, and acting instantaneously, where, and as far as it is excited. 'Tis every body's observation, that there never was a winter, like the last past, in any one's memory, so extremely remarkable for warmth and driness, abounding with thunder and lightning, very uncommon in winter; coruscations in the air frequent, justly thought electrical by all philosophers; particularly, twice we had the extraordinary appearance of that called aurora australis with colours altogether unusual and this just before the first earthquake: All the while the wind constantly south and south-west, and that without rain, which is unusual with these winds.
This state of the atmosphere had continued five months before the first earthquake. Is it not hence reasonable to conclude, that the earth, especially in our region, must be brought into an unusual state of electricity; into that vibratory condition wherein electricity consists; and, consequently, nothing was wanting but the approach of a non-electric body, to produce that snap, and that shock, which we call an earthquake; a vibration of the superficies of the earth.
That the earth was in that vibratory and electric state we have further reason to conclude, from the very extraordinary forwardness of all the vegetable world with us. Every one knows, that, at the end of February, all sorts of garden-stuff, trees, fruits, and flowers, were as forward as in other years, by the middle of April. Conformable to which, experiments abundantly show, that electrifying of plants quickens their growth, equally as in animals it quickens the pulse. Nor will the unusual driness and warmth of the weather solely account for such a precipitate vegetation: because a necessary supply of rain was wanting, as in the natural Spring-season.
A very long dry frost will produce the same electrical state of the earth, as it equally favours electrical experiments. Thus, March 27, 1076, a frost from the 1st of November to the middle of April, a general earthquake in England succeeded. Matt. Paris. That of Oxford, 17th of September 1683, was after a frost. Jan. 4, 1680, An earthquake in Somersetshire: The air was very calm; a frosty night,
Mr. Flamsted concurs with us, in our first position, That earthquakes always happen in calm seasons. He adds, "That Keckerman, a learned author, who wrote on the subject, affirms, and backs it from the authority of Aristotle and Pliny."
The 8th of September 1601 was a very calm day but cloudy: And the Smyrna merchants observe the earthquakes there happen in calm, still weather. The remarkable clearness and calmness of the morning was observed in that of Oxford 17th of September 1683, and the air continued so for five or six days after: Therefore we may infer, that it is not impossible, what has been abundantly related, that some foreigners from Italy here in England, some from the West-Indies (in both which countries earthquakes are more frequent than with us) did seem to apprehend our first earthquake, from the apparent temper of the weather; and observations of this kind are as old as Aristotle. It is observed in Jamaica when the air is extraordinary calm, an earthquake is always apprehended.
We had lately read at the Royal Society, a very curious discourse, from Mr. Franklin of Philadelphia, concerning thundergusts, lightning, the northern lights, and like meteors. All which he rightly solves from the doctrine of electricity. For, if a cloud raised from the sea, which is a non-electric, happens to touch a cloud raised from exhalations of the land, when electrified, it must immediately cause thunder and lightning. The electrical fire flowing from the touch of perhaps a thousand miles compass of clouds, makes that appearance which we call lightning. The snap which we hear in our electrical experiments, when re-echoed from cloud to cloud, the extent of the firmament, makes that affrightning sound of thunder.
From the same principle I infer, that, if a non-electric cloud discharges its contents upon any part of the earth, when in a high electrified state, an earthquake must necessarily ensue. The snap made upon the contact of many miles compass of solid earth, is that horrible uncouth noise, which we hear upon an earthquake; and the shock is the earthquake itself.
In the relation received from Portsmouth, and the Isle of Wight, concerning the last shock there, on the 18th of March, the writer observes, the Day was warm and serene; but, upon a gentle shower falling in the evening, the earthquake came. Here we have reason to apprehend the electrified state of the earth, and the touch of the non-electric: which caused the earthquake.
The learned Dr. Childrey observes, treating on this subject:, that earthquakes happen upon rain; a sudden shower of rain in the time of a great drought.
'Tis objected, that, if this was the case, nothing would be more frequent than earthquakes; but these two circumstances concurring, a shower and dry weather, must not necessarily cause it, any more than touching a tube before it is electrified causes a snap. The earth must be in a proper electrified state to produce it; and electricity has its fits; is remitted, intended, ceased and recommenced. It has its bounds. All causes must concur. And now, with us, all necessary causes did so apparently. Tho' a shower of rain falling upon the earth when electrified, may cause an earthquake, yet too much rain before, will prevent that state of electricity, necessary.
The day before the catastrophe of Port-Royal, the weather was remarkably serene and clear. In that most dreadful earthquake, 1692, of Sicily, where 54 cities and towns, beside a great number of villages were destroy'd; but especially the whole city of Catania; It was preceded by a most agreeable, serene and warm season, which was the more observable on account of its being unusual at that time of the year.
I have been inform'd, that in the morning of both earthquakes last past with us, the air was serene and calm; on the morning before that 8th of February, the air was observ'd to be remarkably calm; and that a little before, a black cloud appeared over great part of the horizon. Dr. Hales in his relation, says, the Centinels in St. James's Park, and others who were abroad in the morning of the last earthquake, observ'd a large black cloud, and some coruscations, just before the shock, and that it was vary calm weather: And that, in the history of earthquakes, they generally begin in calm weather, with a black cloud.
This observation includes the suspicion of earthquakes arising from tumults and commotions in the upper, or under region of the air. The remarkable clearness of the air before earthquakes, observ'd by all, shows evidently how free it is from vapours and the like.
Agreeable to our fifth position, Mr. Flamsted writes, "A hollow noise in the air always precedes an earthquake, so near that it rather seems to accompany them. He refers us to Philosophical Transactions No 151. p. 311. The noise was heard by many that liv'd in the out-streets, and alleys of London, remote from the noise and tumult of the greater streets,"
This he speaks of that felt in London 1692; but now the whole city heard the noise, on both these earthquakes of ours.
The gardener, who gave a relation to the Royal Society of what he observed in the Temple-garden, took notice, that first he heard the most dreadful noise imaginable, which he thought to be a great discharge of ship-guns, on the river: and that the noise rolled from the water-side towards Temple-bar, rather before the nodding of the houses.
The gentleman who observed it about Hartingfordbury, says, the noise preceded the shock. And this is a common observation, which at once both strengthens our opinion of electricity, and confutes that of subterraneous vapours; for, in the latter case, the concussion must precede the noise.
Agreeable to our second position, Mr. Flamsted writes, "That earthquakes are felt at sea, equally as on land. Our merchants say, that, tho' the water in the bay of Smyrna lies levels and smooth as a pond; yet ships riding there feel the shocks very sensibly, but in a very different manner from the houses at land: For they heave not, but tremble; their mast shiver, as if they would fall to pieces, and their guns start in their carriages, tho' the surface of the sea lie all the time calm and unmov'd." In Dr. Hook's Philosophical Collections, No 6. p. 185, we are told, "That a ship felt a shock in the main ocean; that the passengers, who had been asleep in their cabins, came upon deck in a fright, fearing the ship had struck upon some rock, but, on heaving the lead, found themselves out of foundings."
All this is extremely agreeable to our assumption. The water receives the electrical touch, and vibratory intestine motion of its parts, as well as land. And the impression may be made solely on the water a non-electric, by the touch of an electric fire-ball, or the like; and that seems to have been often the case. The proper vibratory motion is impress'd on the water without ruffling its surface; and so communicated to all the parts of the ship, gives the sense of a shock to the bottom, the shivering to the mast, and the rest of the symptoms: which sufficiently proclaim the cause of it to be an electrical impression upon the water. The president mentioned a relation of a waterman, that felt it in his boat upon the river; he thought it like a great thump at the bottom of the boat. And so the ships at sea fancy, they strike upon a rock.
This makes us apprehend, the reason of the fishes leaping up out of the canal in Southwark, of which we had an account. So in that of Oxford, 1683, one fishing in the Charwell felt his boat tremble under him, and the lesser fishes seem'd affrighted by an unusual skipping. That electricity is the cause sought for, seems deducible from this consideration. Several writers on earthquakes assimilate these vibrations of the earth to those of a musical firing. Experiments have shown, that fishes in water may be killed by the particular tone of a musical firing; and 'tis known, that electricity will kill animals. They assuredly felt the vibratory motion in the water, which they were absolutely strangers to before. No doubt it made them sick, as those of weak nerves on land. And this circumstance alone precludes any suspicion of subterraneous fires under the ocean. Or, if we were to admit of it, would the boiling of the water exhibit any appearance, like what we are speaking of, either to the water, of to the ship?
Mr. Flamsted likewise concurs in our eighth position, "That many people found themselves suddenly sick at stomach, and their heads dizzy and light; so that those that had formerly fits of apoplexies, dreaded their return; particularly, one gentleman, a surgeon, feeling himself so affected, and fearing a return of his apoplexy, resolved to be let blood, without suspecting the earthquake."
After these two shocks which we felt, many people had pains in their joints and back, as after electrifying; many had sickness, headakes, hysteric and nervous disorders, and colicks, for the whole day after, and some much longer, especially people of weak nerves, weak constitutions; some women miscarry'd upon it; to some it has prov'd fatal.
To this we must attribute, that relation we had, of the dog lying asleep before the fire; but upon the earthquake, he suddenly got up, run about the room, whining, and endeavouring to get out.
Any solid matter is capable of being put into a state of electricity, such as iron guns; and the more so, by reason of their solidity. And in proportion to it, is the greatness of the snap, and of the shock and a kind of lambent flame issues from the point of contact; and likewise somewhat of a sulphurous smell: So that if both flame and smell were discernible in an earthquake; 'tis to be found, without going to the bowels of the earth.
Dr Hales mentions, that solid bodies are the best conductors of aereal lightning; whence oaks are rent, and iron melted. And in our earthquakes in London, the loudest noise was heard near such large stone buildings, as churches, with lofty steeples. From the top of these we must apprehend, that the electrical explosion goes off into the open air; as in our experiments, from the point of swords, and the like.
The electrical shock is proportionate to the solid electrified, agreeable to our seventh position. This fully accounts for earthquakes in general, and for many in particular. What can be imagin'd greater than a shock of the body of the earth? 'Tis greater, or less in proportion to the state of electrification. And now we can account for several appearances. In the first earthquake, the Lord Chancellor, Masters in Chancery, and several Judges, were sitting in Westminster-Hall, with their backs to the wall of the upper-end, which is of a vast thickness. They all relate the severity of the shock, from the wall seeming to push towards them with great violence.
And thus in the earthquake of 1692, Deal castle is one of them built by Henry VIII the walls are of immense thickness, and strength; yet they shook so sensibly, that the people living in it, expected it was falling on their heads. And this is the case in all earthquakes: the more substantial the building, the more violent is the shock: exactly the mode of electrical vibration. And this Dr. Hales takes notice of and others; that an earthquake shatters rocks of marble, more easily than the strata of sand, earth, or gravel. In the earthquake here of 1692, a great cliff fell down near Dover, and part of Saltwood-castle wall.
'Tis from hence we account for that observation, that when we electrify any person; upon a touch, the pain and blow of the shock is felt at the joints, the wrist, elbow, and shoulder, for instance, more than in the intermediate parts; because there is the greatest quantity of solid.
At the same time, that the force of electricity in solids, is as the quantity of matter: we see most evidently, by innumerable experiments, that water is equally assistant in strengthning, and conveying the force of electricity; and that in proportion too to its quantity. And hence is to be deduc'd the reason of my observation; that the most frequent and dreadful earthquakes have fallen upon maritime places. And I find the same is taken notice of in some degree, by Acosta, by Dolittle, who wrote on that in 1692, and others.
In the dreadful catastrophe at Port-Royal then, 'tis notorious, that its violence was chiefly near the sea. So Lima could not suffer without its port of Callao. Even in those so lately felt by us, they were sensibly more violent towards the river, than farther from it.
In that earthquake which was felt in England, in the year 1692, (which was very much like these with us) there were no houses thrown down, nor persons kill'd: but it reached more particularly Sheerness, Sandwich, Deal, Dover, Portsmouth, and the maritime parts of Holland, Flanders, and Normandy.
In this that happened on Sunday the 18th of March last, at Bath, it was felt particularly and strongly at Portsmouth, seven miles above and below it, on the sea-side; all round the isle of Wight, at Southampton, the sea-coast of Selsey, south of Chichester, Arundel, and the whole coast of Sussex, without going up the land; and across the sea to the islands of Jersey and Guernsey.
On Monday night, the 2d of this instant April, 1750, at ten o'clock, at Leverpool, a shock of an earthquake. And felt in several other places in the neighbourhood; but particularly at Chester, and Warington.
If we look into ancient history, we find 197 years before Christ, an earthquake shook terribly the isle of Rhodes, damag'd many cities: and some quite swallow'd up.
Seventeen years before Christ, many cities in the isle of Cyprus destroy'd.
Six years before Christ, the isle of Coos vehemently afflicted.
During the Peloponnesian war among the Greeks, the isle of Delos shaken, and the most beautiful temple of Apollo thrown down.
Soon after, the city of Lacedæmon totally destroy'd.
A. D. 79. Three cities in Cyprus over-thrown.
A. D. 82. The city of Smyrna ruined.
In the time of Valens the emperor, a terrible earthquake in Crete whereby 100 cities were destroy'd.
Feb. 13, 1247, An earthquake, chiefly felt in the Thames. Matt. Paris.
May, 1382, A general earthquake, which did much mischief; the Friday following one less; the Saturday following, one felt mostly by water. Henry de Knyhton. Holinshed.
A. D. 1456, In the city of Naples, 40,000 people lost.
Constantinople has often suffer'd, particularly in 1509, 13,000 people overwhelmed.
1531, At Lisbon, 1400 houses thrown down; as many shatter'd.
April, 1690, The Leeward-Islands, Montserat, Nevis, and Antigua: At Martinico, and the French islands, at St. Lucia, &c. a violent earthquake.
Dec. 8, 1703, An earthquake at Hull, a perfect calm.
1702, At Stroution, in Argyleshire, which extended all along the west coast of Great-Britain; but to no breadth on land.
Oct. 25, 1734, At Havant, in Sussex, considerable, the air perfectly calm.
But instances enough, to show what I aim'd at, that maritime places are most subject; which is a strong argument in favour of electricity; when both the solid of the earth, and the quantity of the water concur, to make the shock; exactly as in electrical experiments; when the bottle of water is held in the hand.
Thus when our mind is discharged of the prejudices of former notions, we discern, that every appearance favours the principle we go upon. That, agreeable to Mr. Flamsted, subterraneous explosions, could they pervade, and traverse the earth at pleasure, must at last burst, and disperse every thing in their way. Yet 'tis not possible for us to imagine, such a kind of vibration should follow, either by sea or land, as that we are treating of. But electricity compleatly answers it. This accounts for that superficial movement of the earth, that universal instantaneous shock, which made every house in London to tremble, none to fall: That quivering, tremulous, horizontal vibration, highly different from any motion we must conceive, to be produced from subterraneous evaporations. Hence authors tell us, Dec. 30, 1739, describing ail earthquake in the west-riding of Yorkshire: It seem'd as if the earth mov'd backward and forward horizontally; a quivering, with reciprocal vibrations.
Mr. Flamsted rightly accounts the motion of earthquakes to be undulatory; and by being continued, causes a like motion to a great distance. As when you strike a long stretch'd string of wire at one end, the motion is immediately continued to the other. So far he entered into the nature of electricity.
Tho' he be in the right, thinking the cause comes from the air, yet what follows, contradicts his own hypothesis. For if a calm be necessary before an earthquake; then 'tis not produced by any turbulence in the air. Nor can we imagine that any aerial commotion, tho' it may shake windows, chimneys, and the like, shall reach 500 miles distance, split the solid earth, destroy whole cities, and cause those dire desolations we hear of.
Mr Flamsted mentions a circumstance, that the earthquake here in 1692, was not felt in the north of England, nor in all Scotland: for rain fell that day in both. We may very readily conceive, the earth there was not in an electrified state; and the rain would sufficiently prevent it. We hence understand, how the southern regions should be more subject to them, than our northern; where the warmth, and driness of the air, so necessary to electricity, is more frequent than with us.
From electric vibration only can we account for our tenth position, of springs, and fountains being no ways damag'd by earthquakes: The motion goes no deeper into the earth, than the force and quantity of the shock reaches; which generally is not far; yet it proceeds lower down when the ready passage of a well offers, and there affects the water contained in it; puts it into an intestine vibration, as to foul it, and raise mud from the bottom.
It may seem difficult to conceive, how a large portion of the earth's surface should be thus capable of electrification. This difficulty is lessened by reflecting on the nature of electricity, and of the electrical, ethereal fluid pervading all things: how it is excited by the little motion of a small revolving glass globe. By this we electrify the most solid bodies, to the greatest distance, and with a velocity equal to that of lightning.
Dr. Hales observes, that the usual explosion of the cannon on great days, in St. James's-Park, is observ'd to electrify the glass, in the windows of the Treasury.
We must conceive, that when the electric shock is communicated to one part of the earth it tends itself proportionably to the force of the shock, and to the quantity of electrified surface; and to the quality of the matter more or less susceptible of it, more or less apt to propagate it.
Set 1000 men in a row; let every one communicate with those next him by an iron-wire held in their hands: on an electrical shock they all feel it alike, at the same instant; and this gives us a very good idea of the earthquake.
When the earth is broken up in any large degree, 'tis by the sea-side; where sometimes on a bold shore, whole streets tumble into the sea, or into the gaping earth, now falling toward the sea. Sometimes on a flat and sandy shore, whole streets are rolled along the level into the sea.
I am not sensible of any real objection against our hypothesis, but this, being the eleventh of my positions, or circumstances. It seems true, that earthquakes are more frequent in Italy, near Vesuvius and by Ætna, in Sicily. And the cause seems apparently owing to these vulcano's. At first sight, every one would think so, but not from the true reason. This has given the great prejudice to the judgments of the curious, even at this day. But consider the matter impartially, and it will appear, so far from being a strong argument in favour of subterraneous eruptions, that it ought to be esteem'd a convincing proof to the contrary, and most cogent in favour of my principle. In strictest logic, there is no inference to be made from particulars to generals. Quite the contrary. We have but these two or three vulcano's on one quarter of the globe, and two of them toward the warmer climate of it; whereas earthquakes are innumerable, especially in those of a warmer clime. That there are no vulcano's, no discharges of fire and smoke for a continuance, and abundance, after earthquakes; no suspicion of it either from sight or smell, as we know by innumerable examples, as well as in our own country, and experience: is demonstration, that this is not the cause. If the Vulcano's were the real cause of earthquakes, we ought assuredly to expect, that in the countries thereabouts, the earthquakes ought to be far more extensive than those in other countries, where are no vulcano's; but this is altogether contrary to experience. For, as the celebrated naturalist: Buffon observes, such are not extensive, as are near Ætna and Vesuvius. He further adds: Histoire naturelle, tom. 1. p. 508. speaking, among many others, of a vulcano in the island of Ternate, he remarks, "That this burning gulph is less agitated when the air is calm, and the season mild, than in storms and hurricanes; and says, "This confirms what I have said in my foregoing discourse, and seems evidently to prove, that the fire which makes vulcano's comes not from the bottom of mountains, but from the tops, or at least from a very little depth; and that the hearth (or floor) of the fire is not far from the summit of the vulcano's; for, if this was not the case, great winds could not contribute to their conflagration." And this, in general, is a corroborative proof of my whole hypothesis. For there can be no great fire in the earth, where there is no great conveyance of air.
We have one vulcano in the cold region of Iceland, and there is sometimes an earthquake there; but, in the countries of that northern latitude, and those of lesser, 'tis obvious in all history, that earthquakes are less frequent than in the more southern. Therefore 'tis easy, and very natural to conclude, from all considerations weighed together, that these vulcano's help to put the earth about them, into that vibratory state and condition of electricity, which is the requisite in my hypothesis; and by that means only, promote a frequency of earthquakes there.
I have only one circumstance to add, which may seem not inconsiderable; probably perceived by many, tho' not taken notice of. For a whole week before the first earthquake, the partition wainscot of my house (between the forward and backward rooms) made an odd kind of tremulous, crackling noise continually, as if the wainscot would split; or as if some damage was apprehended to the house. This was observ'd by the family, with a good deal of concern. That in the chamber crackled more than that below. We never perceiv'd it before, nor since; and apparently, it shows the vibratory state of the surface of the earth, at that time.
But whether our conjectures upon this important subject be well founded or no, certainly becomes a christian philosopher, whilst he is investigating material causes, to look up, and regard the moral use of them. For in reality, every thing, the whole world, was ultimately for that purpose made. When we see such a kind of spirituality impress'd on mere matter, as this amazing property of electricity, it should kindle in us a high ambition of asserting, and exerting the infinitely superior value, and powers, and excellency of the spiritual part of us, destin'd to an immortal duration. And of all the great and public calamities, which affects us mortals, earthquakes claim the first title to the name of warnings and judgments. None so proper to threaten, or to execute vengeance upon a guilty people. Nor has any other, those annexed terrors, so much of the unusual, the unavoidable, the sudden and the horrible apprehension of being crush'd to death, or buried alive. And when in our own sight, these rare and extraordinary phænomena appear, it cannot but be a lesson to us, to do our duty toward that great Being, who, by a drop of water, can produce effects so prodigious.
That earthquakes proclaim themselves to mankind in this light, is further deducible from this observation, the ninth in our recapitulation of circumstances; that they are peculiarly directed to great cities, and maritime towns, those nurseries of wealth, luxury, and of all the evils naturally flowing therefrom. It would be childish to recharge from old history, or modern, a proof of it. We have no other notices of them. Look upon these two shocks we have here felt. We own that Hampsted-heath and Finchley-forest and Kennington-common were affected with it; yet it is notorious, that London was the center, the place to which the finger of God was pointed.
And this leads us in the third place, to consider the moral use and purpose of these magnalia naturæ, and prodigies of the agency of material causes. For. nothing sure, but an electrical shock, and that from a divine hand, could have been so well adjusted, as twice, nay four times, so forcibly to shake every house in London and not throw one down. This duty we will endeavour to execute, from the words of that great man, king David.
PSALM xviii. 7.
THIS Psalm is a triumphal song, which David delivered publickly before God, in thankful remembrance of the great mercies he had receiv'd; being firmly established on his throne: and all his enemies, foreign or domestick, subdued.
He does not attribnte this happy situation of his affairs to his own prudence and courage; but, like a consummate politician, absolutely to the mediation of the divine providence.
He draws up a most grand and magnificent description of the advent of the deity, such as words never before expressed. All the heathen pictures of the appearance of their gods, are cold and lame, compared to this; which is deservedly so much admir'd by all criticks that have any taste for religion, as well as language. This verse, in our text, is the first movement in the scene, which was to represent the appearance of Jehovah, without whose interposition David hoped for nothing fortunate. After describing all the pomp of light, and darkness, celestial; hailstones, thunder, lightning, and the like instances of majesty and terror, in the skies; he still keeps his eye on the ground, and concludes with the earthquake, where he began.
Our holy psalmist, at other times, has exhibited the same images, in different coloring, as a great master varies his works, to strike out all the beauties.
Psal. lviii. 7. ''O God, when thou wentest forth before thy people; when thou didst march thro' the wilderness; the earth shook, the heavens also dropped, at the presence of God. Even Sinai itself was moved, at the presence of God; the God of Israel.
By this he means, the giving the law. Exod. xix. 8. And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke; because the Lord descended on it in fire: and the smoke ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.
Again, Psal. cxiv. when he is describing the passage over the Red-sea, and that over Jordan; he brings in the machinery of earth-quakes, to testify the divine prefence.
When Israel went out of Egypt, and the house of Jacob from among a strange people; the sea saw it and fled. Jordan was driven back.
The mountains skipped like rams: and the little bills like young sheep.
Then he asks the question, What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest? and thou Jordan, that thou wast driven back?
Ye mountains that ye skipped like rams, and ye little hills like young sheep?
He answers: Tremble thou earth at the presence of the Lord: at the presence of the God of Jacob.
He fails not to attribute these marvellous appearances, to their true cause. Tho' he knew full well, that the God of nature administred the ordinary course of the earth by second causes; yet he could not be so blind but to perceive, when the waves of the ocean retreated; when the waters of Jordan divided; when mount Sinai was all in fire, smoke, lightning and thunder, with the trumpet of God founding, and the whole mountain shaking: he could not but perceive the presence of the author of nature, in these extraordinary appearances.
But every where in sacred scripture earthquakes are particularly singled out, above all other natural phænomena, as having more of the majesty and terrific pomp, to denote an immediate operation of God's hand; to excite our fear, and shew his anger, as in our text, because he was wroth. In imitation of the sacred writers, the heathen poets, both greek and latin, express the anger of their Jupiter by an earthquake:
The moving meteors in the free air, lightning, coruscations, fire-balls, tempests, thunders, or the dreaded comets, tho' frightful enough; yet people that do not think to any purpose, hope, as they are at a distance, to escape their effects. But when the terror comes home to us, to our feet; when the earth moves on which we stand; what heart is not moved? When our houses shake over our ears, the greatest courage is shaken.
It is true, an earthquake causes an universal dread among all sorts of people; even the philosopher immersed in speculation of second causes, quakes; as well as the pious, whose fear proceeds from solid piety: a due sense of the anger of the almighty Being.
We saw how the late earthquakes affrighted every one; but, as to the generality, it was but for a moment. When they found themselves safe, and alive; thoughtless they ran to their business, or their diversion: and this not only the first, but the second time. And I am apprehensive, were another, and another to come, they would only be less regarded than the preceding. As the Israelites, to whom miracles became familiar; as the Jews, in our Saviour's time, demanding of him to show them a sign from heaven, in the midst of the constant scene of miracles innumerable.
But 'tis my present business to call you to a due and serious reflexion, on these extraordinary events; by considering,
I. What the written word of God, the holy scriptures, informs us, concerning the ultimate purpose of earthquakes.
II. What we can learn from profane history.
III. To conclude with our text, that they are strictly and properly divine judgments; because he was wroth.
Ever since the earth began, earthquakes have been looked on as extraordinary appearances, among the prodigies of nature, and executioners of divine justice. In the case of Korah, the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up; and their houses, and all the men that pertained unto them; and all their goods.
In the miraculous victory obtain'd by Jonathon, and his armor-bearer, over the army of the Philistines, I. Sam. xiv. There was a panic terror infused into the Philistines, and an earthquake: it is call'd a very great trembling of God. What the heathen attributed to Pan, an imaginary deity of their own making: the, Hebrews rightly refer'd to the true cause, the first, and supreme.
In the new testament, at our Saviour's death, there was a great earthquake, which was altogether miraculous; as much as the eclipse of the sun then. The elements might well sympathize with the God of nature. The sun was darkned, the vail of the temple was rent in twain; the earth did quake, the rocks rent.
Again, at his resurrection. Matt. xxviii. 2. There was a great earthquake. The angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.
And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.
Matt, xxvii. 54. When the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, they feared greatly. See the consequence of it in one place; and thus in another:
Acts iv. 31. The Apostles, in the infant church, when praying, the place was shaken, where they were assembled together: and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost. The heathen centurion feared upon the earthquake: The christians praying, were filled with the Holy Ghost.
Acts xvi. 26. When Paul and Silas were in prison. At midnight when they pray'd, and sang hymns to God, suddenly there was a great earthquake; so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.
Observe the consequence it had upon tho goaler; He called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
The goal trembled; and the goaler trembled, as is observed by a writer on this head, an earthquake could soften his hard heart, and open what he had lock'd, it awaken'd him out of his spiritual slumber, as well as his natural sleep, and made his conscience, as well as the foundations of the prison, to quake. A bad conscience is as a troubled sea that cannot rest, but casteth up mire, and clay. The goaler perceiv'd the celestial warning, and made a proper use of it.
There are many circumstances in the nature of earthquakes, which render them peculiarly proper to be the instruments in God's hand, to give warning to a people, to amend their ways.
The suddenness is one. We saw, not long ago, what an effect was produced by a solar eclipse, tho' it was expected long before. We had the prediction and calculations about it in all our almanacs; yet there was an universal seriousness that followed it. All that morning, we could walk the street, without hearing an oath, and the churches were full, in time of prayer. But the suddeness of an earthquake that comes at an instant, unthought of, without warning, that seems to bring unavoidable death along with it; is able to touch an adamantin heart. To see death stalking over a great city, ready to sweep us all away, in an instantaneous rain, without a single moment to recollect our thoughts; this is fear without remedy; this is far beyond battle and pestilence. The lightning and thunderbolt, the arrow that flieth by day, may suddenly take off an object or two, and leave no space for repentance: but what horror can equal that, when above a million of people are liable to be buried, in one common grave!
Another consideration that inhances the dread of earthquakes, is the unavoidableness of the calamity. Famine, and war, and rebellion, and pestilence we may run from, the disease among the cattle, and locusts, and the like stripes of angry heaven, we may have some chance to escape: but no means, uo precaution, no remedy, no prudence can screen us, from so universal a desolation as this: 'tis as the presence of God. Whither then can we go to hide ourselves? Must we call upon the rocks and mountains, to cover, and shelter us from the divine wrath! And they shall go into the holes of the rocks, and into the caves of the earth, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty; when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth. Alas, those are the very instruments he employs for our destruction; to be our tombstones!
This unusual kind of death too, strikes us with horror; to be buried alive. The earth, the common mother of us all, and the common grave; to eat up her offspring alive; crouds all the images of amazement together, that can enter into the heart of man.
The greater the terror accompanying earthquakes, the greater a blessing is our deliverance from the danger of it! What can equal God's power and judgment but his mercy? Consider the wonderful consequence; that the whole city of London should so sensibly be shaken, and yet no one inhabited house to fall; nor one person kill'd. Amazing instance of power, and goodness, in our preservation! And this not only once, but the second time also; tho' evidently stronger was the concussion. So strong that almost every person was throughly persuaded, that some part, at least, of their houses, was falling down. Can we help admiring, that judgment should be so tempered with mercy! Do we look only at the second causes with our unbelievers; and sport away the divine presence, as if it was an ordinary occurrence of every day? They want to see a miracle. Nought can affect them, but a direct, supernatural agency.
I answer, behold a visible, and notorious miracle; plainly obvious, and before all their senses. For can there be a greater miracle, can any thing be more directly the finger of God than this, which we ourselves saw with our eyes; that befell the whole city of London.
We know the nature of the building of London houses; which sometimes fall of themselves, without shaking. Wonderful then is it to be thought, and a miracle indeed, that every house in this vast city, should twice be agitated, and rocked to and fro; and not one fall, nor one person receive any damage.
In vain will the philosophers seek for a solution of this problem, in natural causes only. By their chymical experiments, they make some little mimic imitations of tremors and fumes, and explosions. So by gun-powder, we ape the regal voice of thunder. But where is the discretionary act of mercy, and benignity, that separates between the vengeful and kind? These second causes act according to their material nature, like the roaring waves of the ocean, that flow in, and overwhelm every thing, where a breach is made. They can observe no distinction between the lands of a righteous man, and of a sinner: they cannot stop at the breach, and gather themselves on an heap, and not enter in at all, as the waters of Jordan did.
But in the case before us, the hand of the Lord, that stayed the flowing of the waters, that quelled the raging of the sea, and its proud waves; sets bounds to the trembling of the earth. Hither shall its vibrations go, and no further. When alas, if it went but one inch further (in comparison) a total ruin must unavoidably follow.
Consider this particular, when apply'd to all the buildings in this immense city: and wonder and adore, that almighty providence, which overlook'd us, and prescrib'd the limits; so narrow, so precise; which sav'd us from universal havoc!
II. Did we escape; how much happier are we, than the millions that have perished by the like calamity? Josephus the famous Jewish historian records, that about 29 years before our Saviour's birth, there happened such an earthquake in the country of Judea, that 30,000 men perished.
In the fifth year of the reign of Tiberius, so dreadful an earthquake happened in Asia minor, that no less than 13 cities were destroy'd in one night; many of them great, and Royal: Sardis in particular, said to be second to Babylon.
In A. D. 66. Another earthquake happen'd there, which destroy'd Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colossus.
A. D. 79. Three cities in Cyprus were overthrown.
A. D. 114. The city of Antioch suffered extremely; whilst the emperor Trajan was in it. And in the 7th year of that emperor, nine several cities were destroy'd in Asia, Greece, and Calabria.
To come nearer home, and our own times; In 1169, Catania in Sicily was destroyed, and 15,000 people killed.
1692, The whole city deslroy'd and 18000 Inhabitants.
1456, At Naples 40,000 perished by an earthquake.
1531, In the city of Lisbon, 1400 houses were overthrown there, besides many damaged.
We know the miserable and deplorable catastrophe of Port-Royal, in Jamaica; which fell out in our own days. My blood shudders at the relation of it. And not many months ago, the populous Lima in America, was wholly swallowed up.
Have we not reason then to fear, for ourselves? 'Tis true, we have hitherto escaped. But can we tell how soon God shall let loose the avenging power of another; which may come, for ought we know, while we are speaking of it. And if it must come, happy may it be for us, that it finds us in this place, and so doing.
III. And this brings us, to consider the uses of these admonitions; and to show, that they are the effects of the divine anger. For the earth shook and trembled, says the holy psalmist, the foundation of the hills moved and were shaken; because he was wroth.
And here we cannot possibly have a stronger and more convincing evidence, of these convulsions of nature, being the immediate finger of God, than this single consideration. Let us but reflect on what has been said, in short; that these visitations only happen to great and populous cities, to great and eminent ports, and maritime emporiums flourishing in trade, riches, and luxury.
We hear not of barren desarts, uninhabited wildernesses, wide heaths, and downs, rocky cliffs, and beaches of the sea, to be the usual subject of earthquakes: but of towns and cities. Not so much of little villages, but of those immense collections of people. God does not give his warnings to birds, and beasts of the forest; to flocks of sheep; that punctually execute the respective offices he has enjoined them: but to us. the lords of the creation; to whom he has given reason, sense, and faculties, to reflect, and judge of things, of our own actions, as well as his; of his doings, toward the children of men.
We observed before, a plain and notorious proof of God's hand in these judgments; that he cou'd move a whole city without throwing down a house. And this is most assuredly a second proof; that he visits only great cities, with these judgments. And we must conclude this to be as strong an argument of a divine interposition in these affairs, as any mathematical demonstration.
Some free-thinkers, or free-livers, when they find, they cannot set aside this reasoning, shelter themselves, with the history of God's converse with Abraham; about the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha; assuring themselves, there is no danger. For tho' they can't pretend to be the meritorious people; yet they think God's mercy will be as signal to us, as heretofore: and that we have among us, at leafl ten righteous persons, to save the rest.
But vain are such hopes: God will say to them, as heretofore to the Jews: If I bring my great judgments upon the earth, as I live faith the Lord, tho' Noah, Daniel, and Job were there; they should save neither sons, not daughters, but their own fouls only.
God can, if he pleases, by very extraordinary means, preserve such as he thinks fit. But in general judgments, the righteous must undergo one common fate, with the wicked. God's mercy will be shown to them after this life, to make the superabundant amends.
But this is a solid lesson to us, of the necessity of a future life. We may as well banish God out of the earth, as to deny his attributes of power, and goodness, and justice, and the like. And these will insure us of a future state; when an exact return will be made, for our behaviour in this; otherwise we might justly expostulate, as Abraham did. Will not the judge of all the earth do right?
Good men, who have endeavour'd to do their duty, may say, God is our refuge and strength, a wry present help in trouble, Therefore will not we fear, tho' the earth be remov'd; tho' the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; tho' the waters thereof roar, and be troubled; tho' the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.
Come behold the works of the Lord; what deviations he hath made on the earth.
In the mean time, let us not think on running away from the danger, so much as on mending our ways; perfecting the christian life; reforming the abominable crimes, so justly chargeable on great and maritime cities; overflowing with riches, pride, and luxury, with vanity, pleasure, and profaneness; with gaming, immorality, infidelity; and especially with the notorious crime of sabbath-breaking, which is the foundation of all, and comprehends all others; for it prevents people from amending of any. If they fail of their duty towards God, in making their regular approaches to his temple; no wonder they are guilty of all crimes; regard neither God nor man. If they fail of coming, where they may hope for the kindly influences of God's holy Spirit; we need not wonder at their egregious wickedness: they become absolutely irreclaimable.
But of you, my beloved brethren, here assembled, I hope better things. You shun the degenerate corruptions of this evil age; you are not of the number of those that frequent our public meetings of folly, from the morning rendezvouzes to the mid-night assemblies; and that protracted to the morning light again. As if we ought to banish all serious thoughts of our immortal interests; and that in the sacred season of lent; destin'd by the church, for this very serious purpose.
Let us think, how this warning happened to us, in the time of lent; when they were revelling in their places of entertainment, both morning and evening, as if no such thing had been; and this on the very days as if they confronted, and dar'd almighty vengeance. Much of a parallel case with that of the famous city of Herculaneum, which is now the entertainment of the curious. First it was miserably shatter'd by an earthquake; whilst the people were at their diversions in the theatre; where all assembled perished. This was in the first year of Titus the emperor: but such a partial judgment not mending their manners; 9 years after, the whole city was destroy'd by a lake of liquid fire and brimstone, from mount Vesuvius, just in the manner we now find it; 50 foot deep in cinders, and ashes.
When thy judgments, O God, are abroad, the inhabitants of the earth will learn righteousness.
The Lord is the true God; he is the living God; the everlasting King: At his wrath, the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation; says the prophet Jeremiah, x. 10.
God give us grace, that instead of these short-liv'd, and unsatisfying pleasures; instead of palaces and houses here, ornamented in a sumptuous and elegant taste; which may perhaps be swept away, with their owners, in a moment; we may aspire towards that heavenly city, which is above; whose foundations are not laid with hands, eternal in the heavens, &c.