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The Cruise of the Betsey
Chapter 4

 There had been rain during the night; and when I first got on deck, a little after seven, a low stratum of mist, that completely enveloped the Scuir, and truncated both the eminence on which it stands and the opposite height, stretched like a ruler across the flat valley which indents so deeply the middle of the island. But the fogs melted away as the morning rose, and ere our breakfast was satisfactorily discussed, the last thin wreath had dispappeared from around the columned front of the rock-tower of Eigg, and a powerful sun looked down on moist slopes and dank hollows, from which there arose in the calm a hazy vapour, that, while it softened the lower features of the landscape, left the bold outline relieved against a clear sky. Accompanied by our attendant of the previous day, bearing bag and hammer, we set out a little before eleven for the north-western side of the island, by a road which winds along the central hollow. My friend showed me as we went, that on the edge of an eminence, on which the traveller journeying westwards catches the last glimpse of the chapel of St. Donan, there had once been a rude cross erected, and another rude cross on an eminence on which he catches the last glimpse of the first; and that there had thus been a chain of stations formed from sea to sea, like the sights of a land-surveyor, from one of which a second could be seen, and a third from the second, till, last of all, the emphatically holy point of the island, - the burial-place fo the old Culdee, - came full in view. The unsteady devotion, that journeyed, fancy-bound,along the heights , to gloat over a dead man’s bones, had its clue to carry it on in a straight line. Its trail was on the ground; it glided snake-like from cross to cross, in quest of dust; and without its finger-posts to guide it, would have wandered devious , It is surely a better devotion that, instead of thus creeping over the earth to a mouldy sepulchre, can at once launch into the sky, secure of finding Him who arose from one. In less than an hour we were descending on the Bay of Laig, a semicircular indentation of thecoast about a mile in length, and, where it opens to the main sea, nearly two miles in breadth; with the noble island of Rum rising high in front, like some vast breakwater; amd a meniscus of comparatively level land, walled in behind by a semicircular rampart of continuous precipice, sweeping round its shores.There are few finer scenes in the Hebrides than that furnished by this island bay and its picturesque accompaniments, - none that break more unexpectedly on the traveller who descends upon it from the east; and rarely has it been seen to greater advantage than on the delicate day, so soft, and yet so sunshiny and clear, on which I paid it my first visit.

The island of Rum, with its abrupt sea-wall of rock, and its steep-pointed hills, that attain, immediately over the sea, an elevation of more than two thousand feet, loomed bold and high in the offing, some five miles away, but apparently much nearer. The four tall summits of the island rose clear against the sky, like a group of pyramids; its lower slopes and precipices, variegated and relieved by graceul alternations of light and shadow, and resting on their blue basement of sea, stood out with equal distinctnes; but the entire middle space from end to end was hidden in a long horizontal stratum of gray cloud, edged atop with a lacing of silver. Such was the aspect of the noble breakwater in front. Fully two-thirds of the semi-circular rampart of rock which shuts in the crescent-shaped plain directly opposite lay in deep shadow; but the sun shone softly on the plain itself, brightening up many a dingy cottage, and many a green patch of corn; and the bay below stretched out, sparkling in the light. There is no part of the island so thickly inhabited as this flat meniscus. It is composed almost entirely of Oolitic rocks, and bears atop, especially where an ancient oyster-bed of great depth forms the subsoil, a kindly and fertile mould. The cottages lie in groupes; and, save where a few bogs, which it would be no very difficult matter to drain, interpose their rough shag of dark green,` and break the continuity, the plain around them waves with corn. Lying fair, green nd populous within the sweep of its inaccessible rampart of rock, at least twice as lofty as the ramparts of Babylon of old, it reminds one of the suburbs of some ancient city lying embosomed, with all its dwellings and fields, within some roomy crescent of the city wall. We passed, ere we entered on the level, a steep-sided narrow dell, through which a small stream finds its way from the higher grounds, and which terminates at the upper end in an abrupt precipice, and a lofty but very slim cascade. “One of the few superstitions that still linger on the island,” said my friend the minister, “ is associated with that wild hollow. It is believed that shortly before a death takes place among the inhabitants, a tall withered female may be seen in the twilight, just yonder where the rocks open, washing a shroud in the stream. John, there, will perhaps tell you how she was spoken to on one occasion, by an over-bold, over-inquisitive islander, curious to know whose shroud she was preparing; and how she more than satisfied his curiosity, by telling him it was his own. It is a not uninteresting fact,” added the minister, “that my poor people, since they have become more earnest about their religion, think very little about ghosts and spectres: their faith in the realities of the unseen world seems to have banished from their minds much of their old belief in its phantoms.”

In the rude fences that separate from each other the little farms in this plain, we find frequent fragments of the oyster-bed, hardened into a tolerably compact limestone. It is seen to most advantage, however, in some of the deeper cuttings in the fields, where the surrounding matrix exists merely as an incoherent shale; and the shells may be picked out as entire as when they lay, ages before,in the mud, which we still see retaining around them its original colour. They are small, thin, triangular, much resembling in form some specimens of the Ostrea deltoidea, but greatly less in size. The nearest resembling shell in Sowerby is the Ostrea acuminata, - an oyster of the clay that underlies the great Oolite of Bath. Few of the shells exceed an inch and half in length, and the majority fall short of an inch What they lack in bulk, however, they make up in number. They are massed as thickly together, to the depth of several feet, as shells on the heap at the door of a Newhaven fisherman, and extend over many acres. Where they lie open we can still detect the triangular disc of the hinge, with the single impression of the adductor muscle; and the foliaceous character of the shell remains in most instances as distinct as if it had undergone no mineral change. I have seen nowhere in Scotland, among the secondary formations, so unequivocal an oyster-bed; nor do such beds seem to be at all common in formations older than the Tertiary in England, though the oyster itself is sufficiently so. We find Mantell stating, in his recent work (“Medals of Creation”), after first describing an immense oyster-bed of the London Basin, that underlies the city (for what is now London was once an oyster-bed), that in the chalk below, though it contains several species of Ostrea, the shells are diffused promiscuously throughout the general mass. Leaving, however, these oysters of the Oolite, which never net inclosed not drag disturbed, though they must have formed the food of many an extinct order of fish, - mayhap reptile, - we pass on in a south-western direction, descending in the geological scale as we go, untl we reach the southern side of the Bay of Laig. And there, far below tidemark, we find a dark-coloured argillaceous shale of the Lias, greatly obscured by boulders of trap, - the only deposit of the Liasic formation in the island.]

A line of trap-hills that rises along the shore seems as if it had strewed half its materials over the beach. The rugged blocks lie thick as stones in a causeway, down to the line of low ebb, - memorials of a time when the surf dashed against the shattered bases of the trap-hills, now elevataed considerably beyond it reach; and we can catch but partial glimpses of the shale below. Wherever access to it can be had, we find it richly fossiliferous; but its organisms, with the exception of its Belemnites, are very imperfectly preserved. I dug up from under the trap-blocks some of the common Liasic Amnmonites of the north-eastern coast of Scotland, a few of the septa of a large Nautilus, broken pieces of wood, and half-effaced casts of what seems a branched coral; but only minute portions of the shells have been converted into stone; here and there a few chambers in the whorls of an Ammonite or Nautilus, though the outline of the entire organism lies impressed in the shale; and the ligneous and polyparious fossils we find in a still greater state of decay. The Belemnite alone, as is common with this robust fossil, so often the sole survivor of its many contemporaries, - has preserved its structure entire. I disinterred from the shale good specimens of the Belemnite sulcatus and Belemnite elongatus,and found, detached on the surface of the bed, a fragment of a singularly large Belemnite a full inch and a quarter in diameter, the species of which I could not determine.

Returning by the track we came, we reach the bottom of the bay, which we find much obscured with sand and shingle; and pass northwards along its side, under a range of low sandstone precipices, with interposing grassy slopes, in which the fertile Ooliltic meniscus descends to the beach. The sandstone, white and soft, and occurring in thick beds, much resembles that of the Oolite of Sutherland. We detect in it few traces of fossils; now and then a carbonaceous marking, and now and then what seems a thin vein of coal, but which proves to be merely the bark of some woody stem, converted into a glossy bituminous lignite, like that of Brora.But in beds of a blue clay, intercalated with the sandstone, we find fossils in abundance, of a character less obscure. We spent a full half-hour in picking out shells from the bottom of a long dock-like hollow among the rocks, in which a bed of clay has yielded to the waves, while the strata on either side stand up over it like low wharfs on the opposite sides of a river. The shells, though exceedingly fragile, - for they partake of the nature of the clayey matrix in which they are embedded, - rise as entire as when they had died among the mud, years, mayhap ages, ere the sandstone had been deposited over them; and we were enabled at once to detect their extreme dissimilarity, as a group, to the shells of the Liasic depoist we had so lately quitted. We did not find in this bed a single Ammonite,Belemnite, or Nautilus; but chalky Bivalves, resembling out existing Tellina, in vast abundance, mixed with what seem to be a small Buccinum and a minute Trochus, with numerous rather equivocal fragments of a shell resembling an Oiliva. So thickly do they lie clustered together in this deposit, that in some patches where the sad-coloured argillaceous ground is washed bare by the sea; it seems marbled with them into a light gray tint. The group more nearly resembles in type a recent one than any I have yet seen in a secondary deposit, except perhaps in Weald of Moray, where we find in one of the layers a Planorbis scarce distinguishable from those of our ponds and ditches, mingled with a Paludina that seems as nearly modelled after the existing form. From the absence of the more characteristic shells of the Oolite, I am inclined to deem the deposit one of estuary origin. Its clays were probably thrown down, like the silts of so many of our rivers, in some shallow bay, where the waters of a descending stream mingled with those of the sea, and where, though shells nearly akin to our existing periwinkles and whelks congregated or the Nautilus orAmmonite hoisted its membranaceous sail.

We pass on towards the north. A thick bed of an extremely soft white sandstone presents here, for nearly half a mile together, its front to the waves, and exhibits, under the incessant wear of the surf, many singularly grotesque combinations of form. The low precipices, undermined at the base, beetle over like the sides of stranded vessels. One of the projecting promontories we find hollowed through and through by a tall rugged archway; while the outer pier of the arch, - if pier we may term it, - worn to a skeleton, and jutting outwards with a knee-like angle, presents the appearance of a thin ungainly leg and splay foot, advanced, as if in awkward courtesy, to the breakers. But in a winter or two, judging from its present degree of attenuation, and the yielding nature of its material, which resembles a damaged mass of arrowroot consolidated by lying in the leaky hold of a vessel, its persevering courtesies will be over, and pier and archway must lie in shapeless fragments on the beach. Wherever the surf has broken into the upper surface of this sandstone bed, and worn it down to nearly the level of the shore, what seem a number of double ramparts, fronting each other, and separated by deep square ditches exactly parallel in the sides, traverse the irregular level in every direction. The ditches vary in width from one to twelve feet; and the ramparts, rising from three to six feet over them, are perpendicular as the walls of houses, where they front each other, and descend on the opposite sides in irregularslopes. The iron block, with square groove and projecting ears, that receives the bar of a railway, and connects it with the stone below, represents not inadequately a section of one of these ditches with its ramparts. They form here the sole remains of dykes of an earthy trap, which, though at one time in a state of such high fusion that they converted the portions of soft sandstone in immediate contact with them into the consistence of quartz rock, have long since mouldered away, leaving but the hollow rectilinear rents which they had occupied, surmounted by the indurated walls which they had baked.Some of the most curious appearances, however, connected with the sandstone, though they occur chiefly in an upper bed, are exhibited by what seem fields of petrified mushrooms, of a gigantic size, that spread out in some places for hundreds of yards under the high-water level. These apparent mushrooms stand on thick squat stems, from a foot to eighteen inches in height: the heads are round, like those of toad-stools, and vary from one foot to nearly two yards in diameter. In some specimens we find two heads joined together in a form resembling a squat figure of eight, of what printers term the Egyptian type, or, to borrow the illustration of M’Culloch, “like the ancient military projectile known by the name of double-headed shot;” in other specimens three heads have coalesced in a trefoil shape, or rather in a shape like that of an ace of clubs divested of the stem. By much the greater number, however, are spherical. They are composed of concretionary masses, consolidated, like the walls of the dykes, though under some different process, into a hard siliceous stone, that has resisted those disintegrating influences of the weather and the surf under which the yielding matrix in which they were embedded has worn from around them. Here and there we find them lying detached on the beach, like huge shot, compared with which the greenstone balls of Mons Meg are but marbles for children to play with; in other cases they project from the mural front of rampart-like precipices, as if they had been showered into them by the ordnance of some besieging battery, and had stuck fast in the mason-work. Abbotsford has been described as a romance in stone and lime: we have here, on the shores of Laig, what seems a wild but agreeable tale, of the extravagant cast of “Christabel,” or the “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner,” fretted into sandstone. But by far the most curious part of the story remains to be told.

The hollows and fissures of the lower sandstone bed we find filled with a fine quartzose sand, which, from its pure white colour, and the clearness with which the minute particles reflect the light, reminds one of accumulations of potato-flour drying in the sun. It is formed almost entirely of disintegrated particles of the soft sandstone; and as we at first find it occurring in mere handfuls, that seem as if they had been detached from the mass during the last few tides, we begin to marvel to what quarter the missing materials of the many hundred cubic yards of rock, ground down along the shore in this bed during the last century or two, have been conveyed away. As we pass on northwards, however, we see the white sand occurring in much larger quantities, - here heaped up in little bent-covered hillocks above the reach of the tide, - there stretching out in level, ripple-marked wastes into the waves, - yonder rising in flat narrow spits among the shallows. At length we reach a small, irregularly-formed bay, a few hundred feet across, floored with it from side to side; and see it, on the one hand, descending deep into the sea, that exhibits over its whiteness a lighter tint of green, and, on the other, encroaching on the land, in the form of drifted banks, covered with the plants common to our tracts of sandy downs. The sandstone bed that has been worn down to form it contains no fossils, save here and there a carbonaceous stem; but in an underlying harder stratum we occasionally find a few shells; and, with a specimen in my hand charged with a group of bivalves resembling the existing conchifera of our sandy beaches, I was turning aside this sand of the Oolite, so curiously reduced to its original state, and marking how nearly the recent shells that lay embedded in it resembled the extinct ones that had lain in it so long before, when I became aware of a peculiar sound that it yielded to the tread, as my companions paced over it. I struck it obliquely with my foot, where the surface lay dry and incoherent in the sun, and the sound elicited was a shrill sonorous note, somewat resembling that produced by a waxed thread, when tightened between the teeth and the hand, and tipped by the nail of the forefinger. I walked over it, striking it obliquely at each step, and with every blow the shrill note was repeated. My companions joined me; and we performed a concert, in which, if we could boast of but little variety in the tones produced, we might at least challenge all Europe for an instrument of the kind which produced them. It seemed less wonderful that there should be music in the granite of Memnon, than in the loose Oolitic sand of the Bay of Laig. As we marched over the drier tracts, an incessant woo, woo, woo, rose from the surface, that might be heard in the calm some twenty or thiry yards away; and we found that where a damp semi-coherent stratum lay at the depth of three or four inches beneath, and all was dry and incoherent above, the tones were loudest and sharpest, and most easily evoked by the foot. Our discovery, - for I trust I may regard it as such, - adds a third locality to two previously known ones , in which what may be termed the musical sand, - no unmeet counterpart to the “singing water” of the tale, - has now been found. And as the island of Eigg is considerably more accessible than Jabel Nakous in Arabia Petraea, of .Reg-Rawan in the neighbourhood of Cabul, there must be facilities presentedthrough the discovery which did not exist hitherto, for examing the phenomenon in acoustics which it exhibits, - a phenomenon, it may be added, which some of out greatest masters of the science have confessed their inability to explain.

Jabel Nakous, or the “Mountain of the Bell,” is situated about three miles from the shores of the Gulf of Suez, in that land of wonders which witnessed for forty years the journeyings of the Israelites, and in which the granite peaks of Sinai and Horeb overlook an arid wilderness of rock and sand. It had been known for many ages by the wild Arab of the desert, that there rose at times from this hill a strange, inexplicable music. As he leads his camel past in the heat of the day, a sound like the first low tones of an Aeolian harp stirs the hot breezeless air. It swells louder and louder in progressive undulations, till at length the dry baked earth seems to vibrate under foot, and the startled animal snorts and rears, and struggles to break away. According to the Arabian account of the phenomenon, says Sir David Brewster, in his “Letters on Natural Magic,” there is a convent miraculously preserved in the bowels of the hill; and the sounds are said to be those of the “Nakous, a long metallic ruler, suspended horizontally, which the priest strikes with a hammer, for the purpose of assembling the monks to prayer.” There exists a tradition that on one occasion a wandering Greek saw the mountain open, and that, entering by the gap, he descended into the subterranean convent, where he found beautiful gardens and fountains of delicious water, and brought with him to the upper world, on his return, fragments of consecrated bread. The first European traveller who visited Jabel Nakous, says Sir David, was M. Seetzen, a German. He journeyed for several hours over arid sands, and under ranges of precipices inscribed by mysterious characters, that tell, haply, of the wanderings of Israel under Moses. And reaching, about noon, the base of the musical fountain, he found it composed of a white friable sandstone, and presenting on two of its sides sandy declivities. He watched beside it for an hour and a quarter, and then heard, for the first time, a low undulating sound, somewhat resembling that of a humming top, which rose and fell, and ceased and began, and then ceased again; and in an hour and three quarters after, when in the act of climbing along the declivity, he heard the sound yet louder and more prolonged.It seemed as if issuing from under his knees, beneath which the sand, disturbed by his efforts,was sliding downwards along the surface of the rock.Concluding that the sliding sand was the cause of the sounds, not an effect of the vibrations which they occasioned, he climbed to the top of one of the declivities, and, sliding downwards, exerted himself with hands and feet to set the sand in motion. The effect produced far exceeded his expectations: the incoherent sand rolled under and around in a vast sheet; and so loud was the noise produced, that “the earth seemed to tremble beneath him to such a degree, that he states he should certainly have been afraid if he had been ignorant of the cause.” At the time Sir David Brewster wrote (1832), the only other European who had visited Jabel Nakous was Mr. Grey, of University College, Oxford. This gentleman describes the noises he heard, but which he was unable to trace to their producing cause, as “beginning with a low continuous murmuring sound, which seemed to rise beneath his feet,” but “which gradually changed into pulsations as it became louder, so as to resemble the striking of a clock, and became so strong at the end of five minutes as to detach the sand.’The Mountain of the Bell has been since carefully explored by Lieutenant J. Welsted of the Indian Navy; and the reader may see it exhibited in a fine lithograph, in his travels, as a vast irregularly-conical mass of broken stone, somewhat resembling one of our Highland cairns, though, of course, on a scale immensely more huge, with a steep angualar slope of sand resting in a hollow in one of its sides, and rising to nearly its apex. “It forms,” says Lieutenant Welsted, “one of a ridge of low calcareous hills, at a distance of three and a half miles from the beach, to which a sandy plain, extending with a gentle rise to their base, connects them. Its height, about four hundred feet, as well as the material of which it is composed,-a light -coloured friable sandstone,-is about the same as the rest of the chain; but an inclined plane of almost impalpable sand rises at an angle of forty degrees with the horizon, and is bounded by a semicircle of rocks, presenting broken, abrupt,and pinnacled forms, and extending to the base of this remarkable hill. Although their shape and arrangement in some respects may be said to resemble a whispering gallery, yet I determined by experiment that their irregular surface renders them but ill adapted for the production of an echo. Seated at a rock at the base of the sloping eminence, I directed one of the Bedouins to ascend; and it was not until he had reached some distance that I perceived the sand in motion, rolling down the hill to the depth of a foot. It did not, however, descend in one continued stream; but, as theArab scrambled up, it spread out laterally and upwards,until a considerable portion of the surface was in motion. At their commencement the sounds might be compared to the faint strains of an AEolian harp when its strings first catch the breeze: as the sand became more violently agitated by the increased velocity of the descent, the noise more nearly resembled that produced by drawing the moistened fingers over glass. As it reached the base, the reverberations attained the loudness of distant thunder, causing the rock on which we were seated to vibrate; and our camels, - animals not easily frightened, - became so alarmed, that it was with difficulty their drivers could restrain them.”

The hill of Reg-Rawan, or the ‘Moving Sand,” says the late Sir Alexander Burnes, by whom the place was visited in the autumn of 1837, and who has recorded his visit in a brief paper, illustrated by a rude lithographic view, in the “Journal of the Asiatic Society” for 1838, “is about forty miles north of Cabul, towards Hindu-kush, and near the base of the mountains.” It rises to the height of about four hundred feet, in an angle formed by the junction of two ridges of hills; and a sheet of sand, “pure as that of the sea-shore,” and which slopes in an angle of forty degrees, reclines against it from base to summit. As represented in the lithograph, there projects over the steep sandy slope on each side, as in “the Mountain of the Bell,” still steeper barriers of rock; and we are told by Sir Alexander, that though “the mountains here are generally composed of granite or mica, at Reg-Rawan there is sandstone and lime.” The situation of the sand is curious, he adds: it is seen from a great distance; and as there is none other in the neighbourhood, “it might almost be imagined, from its appearance, that the hill had been cut in two, and that the sand had gushed forth as from a sand-bag.” “When set in motion by a body of people who slide down it, a sound is emitted. On the first trial we distinctly heard two loud hollow sounds, such as would be given by a large drum;” - “there is an echo in the place; and the inhabitants have a belief that the sounds are only heard on Friday, when the saint of Reg-Rawan, who is interred hard by, permits.” The phenomenon, like the resembling one in Arabia, seems to have aattracted attention among the inhabitants of the country at an early period; and the notice of an eastern annalist, the Emperor Baber, who flourished late in the fifteenth century, and, like Caesar, conquered and recorded his conquests, still survives. He describe it as the Khwaja Reg-Rawan, “a small hill, in which there is a line of sandy ground reaching from the top to the bottom,” from which there “issues in the summer season the sound of drums and nagarets,” In connection with the fact that the musical sand of Eigg is composed of a disintegrated sandstone of the Oolite, it is not quite unworthy of notice that sandstone and lime enter into the composition of the hill of Reg-Rawan, - that the district in which the hill is situated is not a sandy one, - and that its slope of sonorous sand seems as if it had issued from its side.These various circumstances, taken together, lead to the inference that the sand may have originated in the decompostion of the rock beneath. It is further noticeable, that the Jabel Nakous is composed of a white friable sandstone, resembling that of the the white friable bed of the Bay of Laig, and that it belongs to nearly the same geological era.I owe to the kindness of Dr. Wilson of Bombay, two specimens which he picked up in Arabia Petraea, of spines of Cidarites of the mace-formed type so common in the Chalk and Oolite, but so rare in the older formations. Dr. Wilson informs me that they are of frequent occurrence in the desert of Arabia Petraea, where they are termed by the Arabs petrified olives; that nummulites are also abundant in the district; and that the various secondary rocks he examined in his route through it seem to belong to the Cretaceous group. It appears not improbable, therefore, that all the sonorous sand in the world yet discovered is formed, like that of Eigg, of disintegrated sandstone; and at least two-thirds of it of the disintegrated sandstone of secondary formations, newer than the Lias. But how it should be at all sonorous, whatever its age or origin, seems yet to be discovered. There are few substances that appear worse suited than sand to communicate to the atmosphere those vibratory undulations that are the producing causes of sound: the grains, even when sonorous individually, seem, from their inevitable contact with each other, to exist under the influence of that simple law in acoustics which arrests the tones of the ringing glass or struck bell, immediately as they are but touched by some foreign body, such as the hand or finger. The one grain, ever in contact with several other grains, is a glass or bell on which the hand always rests. And the difficulty has been felt and acknowledged. Sir John Herschel, in referring to the phenomenon of the Jabel Nakous, in his “Treatise on Sound,” in the “Encyclopaedia Metropolitana,” describes it as to him “utterly inexplicable;” and Sir David Brewster, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in December last, assured me it was not less a puzzle to him than to Sir John. An eastern traveller, who attributes its production to “a reduplication of impulse setting air in vibration in a focus of echo,” means, I suppose, saying nearly the same thing as the two philosophers, and merely conveys his meaning in a less simple style.

I have not yet procured what I expect to procure soon, - sand enough from the musical bay at Laig to enable me to make its sonorous qualities the subject of experiment at home. It seems doubtful whether a small quantity set in motion on an artificial slope will serve to evolve the phenomena which have rendered the Mountain of the Bell so famous. Lieutenant Welsted informs us, that when his Bedouin first set the sand in motion, there was scarce any perceptible sound heard; - it was rolling downwards for many yards around him to the depth of a foot, ere the music arose; and it is questionable whether the effect could be elicited with some fifty or sixty pounds weight of the sand of Eigg, on a slope of but at most a few feet, which it took many hundredweight of the sand of Jabel Nakous, and a slope of many yards, to produce. But in the stillness of a close room, it is just possible that it may. I have, however, little doubt, that from small quantities the sounds evoked by the foot on the shore may be reproduced: enough will lie within the reach of experiment to demonstrate the strange difference which exists between this sonorous sand of the Oolite, and the common unsonorous sand of our sea-beaches; and it is certainly worth while examinng into the nature and producing causes of a phenomenon so curious in itself, and which has been characterized by one of the most distinguished of living philosophers as “the most celebrated of all the acoustic wonders which the natural world presents to us.” In the forthcoming number of the “North British Review,” - which appears on Monday first,* - the reader will find the sonorous sand of Eigg referred to, in an article the authorship of which will scarce be mistaken “We have here,” says the writer, after first describing the sounds of Jabel Nakous, and then referring to those of Eigg,”the phenomenon in its simple state, disembarrassed from reflecting rocks, from a hard bed beneath, and from cracks and cavities that might be supposed to admit the sand; and indicating as its cause, either the accumulated vibrations of the air when struck by the driven sand, or the accumulated sounds occasioned by the mutual impact of the particles of sand against each other. If a musket-ball passing through the air emits a whistling note, each individual particle of sand must do the same, however faint be the note which it yields; and the accumulation of these infinitesimal vibrations must constitute an audible sound, varying with the number and velocity of the moving particles. In like manner,if two plates of silex or quartz, which are but large crystals of sand, give out a musical sound when mutually struck, the impact or collision of two minute crystals or particles of sand must do the same, in however inferior a degree; and the union of all these sounds, though singly imperceptible, may constitute the musical notes of the Bell Mountain, or the lesser sounds of the trodden sea-beach at Eigg.”

Here is a vigorous effort made to unlock the difficulty. I should, however, have mentioned to the philosophic writer, - what I inadvertently failed to do, - that the sounds elicited from the sand of Eigg seem as directly evoked by the slant blow dealt it by the foot, as the sounds similarly evoked from a highly waxed floor, or a board strewed over with ground rosin..The sharp shrill note follows the stroke, altogher independently of the grains driven into the air. My omission may serve to show how much safer it is for those minds of the observant order, that serve as hands and eyes to the reflective ones, to prefer incurring the risk of being even tediously minute in their descriptions, to the danger of being inadequately brief in them,. But, alas! for purposes of exact science, rarely are verbal descriptons other that inadequate. Let us just look, for example, at the various accounts given us of Jabel Nakous. There are strange sounds heard proceeding from a hill in Arabia, and various travellers set themselves to describe them. The tones are those of the convent Nakous, says the wild Arab; - there must be a convent buried under the hill. More like the sounds of a humming top, remarks a phlegmatic German traveller. Not quite like them, says an English one in an Oxford gown; they resemble rather the striking of a clock,. Nay, listen just a little longer and more carefully, says a second Englishman, with epaulettes on his shoulder: “the sounds at their commencement may compared to the faint strains of an AEolian harp when its strings first catch the breeze,” but anon, as the agitation of the sand increases, they “more nearly resemble those produced by drawing the moistened fingers over glass.” Not at all, exclaims the warlike Zahor Ed-Din Muhammad Baber, twirling his whiskers: “I know a similar hill in the country towards Hindu-kush: it is the sound of drums and nagarets that issues from the sand.” All we really know of this often-described music of the desert, after reading all the descriptions, is, that its tones bear certain analogies to certain other tones, - analogies that seem stronger in one direction to one ear, and stronger in another direction to an ear differently constituted, but which do not exactly resemble any othe sounds in nature. The strange music of Jabel Nakous, as a combination of tones, is essentially unique.

* March 31, 1845

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