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A NEW SKT.
HOWEVER deeply prejudiced an Englishman may be in favour of his own country, yet I think it is impossible for him to cross the Atlantic without admitting that in both the northern and southern hemispheres of the new world Nature has not only outlined her works on a larger scale, but has painted the whole picture with brighter and more costly colours than she had used in delineating and in beautifying the old world.
The heavens of America appear infinitely higher —the sky is bluer—the clouds are whiter—the air is fresher—the cold is intenser—the moon looks larger—the stars are brighter—the thunder is louder —the lightning is vivider—the wind is stronger— the rain is heavier—the mountains are higher—the rivers larger—the forests bigger—the plains broader; in short, the gigantic and beautiful features of the new world seem to correspond very wonderfully with the increased locomotive powers and other brilliant discoveries which, under the blessing of an Almighty power, have lately been developed to mankind.
The difference of climate in winter between the old and new world amounts, it has been estimated, to about thirteen degrees of latitude. Accordingly, the region of North America, which basks under the same sun or latitude as Florence, is visited in winter with a cold equal to that of St. Petersburgh or of Moscow; and thus, while the inhabitant of the Mediterranean is wearing v cotton or other light clothing, the inhabitant of the very same latitude in the new world is to be found either huddled close to a stove hot enough to burn his eyes out, or muffled up in furs, with all sorts of contrivances to preserve the very nose on his face, and the ears on his head, from being frozen.
This extra allowance of cold is the effect of various causes, one of which I will endeavour shortly to describe.
It is well known that, so far as temperature is concerned, cold is increased by altitude as it is by latitude; accordingly, that by ascending a steep mountain—the Himalayas, for instance—one may obtain, with scarcely any alteration of latitude, and in a few hours, the same change of temperature which would require a long journey over the surface of the earth to reach; and thus it appears that in the hottest regions of the globe there exist impending stratifications of cold proportionate in intensity to their respective altitudes.
Now, as soon as moisture or vapour enters these latitudes, in southern countries it is condensed into rain, and in the winter of northern ones it is frozen into snow, which, from its specific gravity, continues its feathery descent until it is deposited upon the surface of the ground, an emblem of the cold region from which it has proceeded.
But from the mere showing of the case, it is evident that this snow is as much a stranger in the land on which it is reposing, as a Laplander is who lands at Lisbon, or as in England a pauper is who enters a parish in which he is not entitled to settlement; and, therefore, just as the parish officers, under the authority of the law, vigorously proceed to eject the pauper, so does Nature proceed to eject the cold that has taken temporary possession of land to which it does not owe its birth; and the process of ejectment is as follows.
The superincumbent atmosphere, warmed by the sun, melts the surface of the snow; and as soon as the air has taken to itself a portion of the cold, the wind, bringing with it a new atmosphere, repeats the operation; and thus on, until the mass of snow is either effectually ejected, or materially diminished.
But while the combined action of sun and wind are producing this simple effect in the old world, there exists in the northern regions of the new world a physical obstruction to the operation. I allude to the interminable forest, through the boughs and branches of which the descending snow falls, until reaching the ground it remains hidden from the sun and protected from the wind; and thus every day's snow adds to the accumulation, until the whole region is converted into an almost boundless icehouse, from which there slowly but continuously arises, like a mist from the ground, a stratum of cold air, which the north-west prevailing wind wafts over the south, and which freezes everything in its way.
The effect of air passing over ice is curiously exemplified on the Atlantic, where, at certain periods of the year, all of a sudden, and often during the night, there suddenly comes over every passenger a cold mysterious chill, like the hand of death itself, caused by the vicinity of a floating iceberg.
In South America I remember a trifling instance of the same effect. I was walking in the main street of San Jago in the middle of the summer, and, like every human or living being in the city, was exhausted by extreme heat, when I suddenly felt as if some one was breathing upon my face with frozen lungs. I stopped, and, turning round, perceived at a little distance a line of mules laden with snow they had just brought down from the Andes. And if this insignificant cargo—if the presence of a solitary little iceberg in the ocean can produce the sensation I have described, it surely need hardly be observed how great must be the freezing effects on the continent of North America, of the north-west wind blowing over an uncovered icehouse, composed of masses of accumulated snow several feet in thickness, and many hundreds of miles both in length and breadth.