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The geographical and historical dictionary of America and the West Indies [volume 1]
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ipleasant forests : a great number of rivers derive*heir sources from it, and its perpetual verdureturnishes a proof that its eruptions have never beenvery violent.
20. Earthquakes . — The quantity of inflammablesubstances with which the soil of Chile abounds,rendered active by the electric fluid, may be con-sidered as one of the principal causes of earth-quakes, the only scourge that afflicts this favouredcotintry. Another, however, not less capable ofproducing this terrible phenomenon, is the elas-ticity of the air contained in the bowels of theearth, in consequence of the water which, insinuat-ing itself by subterranean passages from the sea,becomes changed into vapour. This hypothesiswill explain why the provinces to the e. of theAndes, at a distance from the sea, are so little in-commoded by earthquakes. Two, however, Co-piapo and Coquimbo, although near the sea, andas rich in minerals as the others, have never suf-fered from earthquakes ; and whilst the otherparts of the country have been violently shaken,these have not experienced the least shock, orbeen but slightly agitated. It is a general opinionthat the earth in these provinces is intersected bylarge caverns. The noises heard in many places,and which appear to indicate the passage of waters,or subterraneous winds, seem to confirm this opinion,and it is highly probable that by affording a freevent to the inflamed substances, these caverns mayserve to counteract the progress of those convul-sions to which the neighbouring country is subject.The inhabitants usually calculate three or fourearthquakes at Chile annually, but they are veryslight, and little attention is paid to them. Thegreat earthquakes happen but rarely, and of thesenot more than five have occurred in a period of244 years, from the arrival of the Spaniards to thepresent period, J8I2. From a course of accurateobservations it has been ascertained, that earth-quakes never occur unexpectedly in this country,but are always announced by a hollow sound pro-ceeding from a vibration of the air; and as theshocks do not succeed each other rapidly, the in-habitants have sufficient time to provide for theirsafety. They have, however, in order to securethemselves at all events, built their cities in avery judicious manner ; the streets are left so broadthat the inhabitants would be safe in the middle ofthem, should even the bouses fall upon both sides.In addition to this, all the houses have spaciouscourts and gardens, which would serve as places ofrefuge ; those who are wealthy have usually intheir gardens several i^eat wooden barracks,where they pass the night whenever they are
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threatened wdth an earthquake. Under these cir-cumstances the Chilians live without apprehension,especially as the earthquakes have never beenhitherto attended with any considerable sinking ofthe earth, or falling of buildings ; this is probablyowing to subterranean passages coramunicatino-with the volcanoes of the Andes, w Inch are so manyvent-holes for the inflamed substances, and serveto counteract tlieir effects. Were it not for thenumber of these volcanoes, Chile would, in allprobability, be rendered uninhabitable. Somepretend that they can foretel an earthquake fromcertain changes in the atmosphere : although tinsdoes not appear to be impossible, it is altogetlierdiscredited by many of the best writers on Chile :these observe that they will occur both in therainy and dry seasons, during a storm as well as acalm.
21. Some detail of productions . — Chile pro-duces none of those dangerous or venomous ani-mals which are so much dreaded in hot countries ;and it has but one species of small serpent, whichis perfectly harmless, as the French academiciansascertained when they went to Peru, in 1736, tomeasure a degree of the meridian. IJIIoa also, inhis Voyage, part II. vol. 111. observes, “ Thiscountry is not infested by any kind of insect ex-cept the chiguas, or pricker, or any poisonousreptile ; and although in the w oods and fields somesnakes are to be found, their bite is by no meansdangerous ; nor does any savage or ferociousbeast excite terror in its plains. The puma, orAmerican lion, which is sometimes met w'ith in thethickest and least frequented forests, is distinguish-ed from the African lion, both by its being with-out a mane and its timidity ; there is no instanceof its ever having attacked a man, and a personmay not only travel, but lie down to sleep withperfect security, in any part of the plain, andeven in the thickest forests of the mountains. Nei-ther tigers, wolves, nor many other ferociousbeasts that infest the neighbouring countries, areknown there. Probably the great ridge of theAndes, which is every where extremely steep,and covered with snow, serves as a barrier to theirpassage. The mildness of the climate may alsobe unfavourable to them, as the greater part ofthese animals are natives of the hottest countries.Horses, asses, cattle, sheep, goats, many kindsof dogs, cats, and even mice, have been broughthither by the Spaniards. All these animals havemultiplied exceedingly, and increased in size.The price of the best horses is from 100 to 500crowns ; the asses are strong and stately, thoughhunted chiefly for their skins; and the mules are]