( Originally Published 1897 )
THE total amount of heat which the sun sends annually to the earth is invariable, and hence if any portion of the earth's surface during any given year be colder than ordinary, we may infer with certainty that some other portion of the surface is then warmer than ordinary. The port of Odessa owes its importance to a case of atmospheric compensation of this kind. Forty or fifty years ago, Western Europe received less than its normal amount of heat ; the missing sunbeams fell upon the East, and Odessa became, to some extent, the granary from which the hungry West was fed. The position it then assumed it has since maintained. The atmosphere is the grand distributor of heat. It has its cold and warm currents—vast aerial rivers, which chill or cheer according to the proximate sources from which they are derived. In this present year 1860 the British Isles appear to lie near the common boundary of two such currents —the limit, however, shifting so as to cause both to pass over us in swift succession. Near this boundary line the atmospheric currents mingle, and the copious aqueous precipitation which we now observe is the result.
Superadded to this source of general rain, we have at Killarney local condensers in the neighbouring mountains. Round the cool crests of Carrantual and his peaked and craggy brothers the moist and tilted south-west wind curdles ceaselessly into clouds, which nourish the moss and heather whose decomposition produces the peat which clothes the disintegrated rocks. Grandly the vast cumuli build themselves in the atmosphere, hanging at times lazily over the mountains and mottling with their shadows the brown sides of the hills.. Reddened by the evening sun, these clouds cast their hues upon the lakes, the crisped surface of which breaks up their images into broad spaces of diffused crimson light. On other days the cumuli seem whipped into dust, and scattered through the general air, mixing therewith as the smoke of London mingles with the supernatant atmosphere. Day by day the guides prophesy fine weather—the blackest cloud is ' all for hate.' You are assured that if you start today you will not get ' a single dhrop' of rain you go, and are drenched ; but the guide's purpose is accomplished, the moderate sum of three and sixpence being added to his private store.
In ages past these mountain condensers acted differently. The wet winds of the ocean, which now descend in liquid showers upon the hills, once discharged their contents as snow. And a famous deposit they must have made. In addition to the charms which this region presents to every eye, the mind of him who can read the rocks aright is carried back to a time when deep snowbeds cumbered the mountain-slopes, and vast glaciers filled the vales. In neither England nor Wales do the traces of glacial action reach the magnitude which they exhibit here.
The Gap of Dunloe is the channel of an ancient glacier ; and all through it the scratching and polishing may be traced. The flanks of the Purple Mountain have been planed down by the moving ice, and the rocky amphitheatre which the guides choose for the production of echoes has been scooped and polished by the same agency. Near the point where the road from the Gap joins that up the Black Valley is a slab of rock, which rivals the famous Hôllen Platte in Haslithal. The Black Valley, indeed, was the mould through which a great glacier from the adjacent mountains moved, ' unhasting, arresting, grinding the rocks right and left, and filling the entire basin now occupied by the waters of the Upper Lake. All the islands of this lake are glacier domes The shapes, moreover, which have suggested the fanciful names given to some of the rocks are entirely due to the planing of the ice. The 'Cannon Rock,; the ' Giant's Coffin,' the ' Man-of-War,' and others, owe their forms to the mighty moulding-plane which in bygone ages passed over them.
I have spoken of the echoes in the Gap of Dunloe. They are very fine, and are usually awakened by a guide who plays a bugle, and to whom extra wages are paid on this account. The man times his operations so that the echo and the original sound shall not overlap, and he usually places his guests behind a hill-brow, which partially cuts away the direct sound, but offers no impediment to the echoes. He flourishes his trumpet, and pauses ; the rocks respond, the first return of the sound being almost as strong as the blast itself; the sonorous pulses leap from crag to crag, and from them to the listener's ear, diminishing in intensity and augmenting in softness the oftener they are reflected. Moore's melody of ' The Meeting of the Waters,' suitably played, is thus returned with exquisite sweetness by the reflecting rocks.
The rain here is pitiless, but the march of the showering clouds over the mountains is sometimes very grand. One really good day is all that I have been able to number out of six spent on the banks of the Lower Lake, and even that day was ushered in by heavy rain. Afterwards, however, the cloud field broke, and the condensed vapours rolled them-selves up into sphered masses, which sailed majestically through the ether. With some other visitors I rowed to the Upper Lake, landed at the base of the Purple Mountain, and with one companion climbed the latter to its crest. This is covered by loose masses of stone of a purplish hue, from which the mountain derives its name.
A few days previously I had been on the top of Mangerton, a spot selected by the guides as affording a prospect of the entire region of the Lakes. But Mangerton is a stupid mountain, and it is climbed by a wearisome pony track. It is incomparably inferior to the Purple Mountain. From the latter, on one side, we look into the heart of Magillicuddy's Reeks, and shake hands with Carrantual across the Gap of Dunloe. It commands a splendid mountain panorama, and on the occasion of my visit showed the Reeks in their true character, as cloud-generators. A light wind swept across them. Far to westward, towards the sea, the air was cloudless ; but over the Reeks its moisture was densely precipitated, and formed there a canopy which threw an inky gloom upon the mountains. The clouds sometimes- descended so as to touch the summits, but for the most part they floated a little way above them, leaving the jagged outlines clear. From the Reeks the clouds were wafted westward ; but here, meeting with warmer air, they diminished in size, the smaller ones melting quite away. Below us gleamed the Upper Lake, running in and out amid the mountains, fringed with woods and studded with islands covered with sunny foliage. From this lake a long, sinuous, and narrow outlet, called the Long Range, runs to the Middle Lake. The suddenness with which this lovely sheet of water opens on quitting the Long Range constitutes perhaps the greatest surprise which the traveller here encounters.
We walked along the ridge of the Purple Mountain ankle deep in elastic moss, with glorious views at either side. Arrived at the end of its greatest spur, the Middle and Lower Lakes with their islands, and the wooded and tortuous peninsula between them, lay before us. No view of the English lakes known to me could compete in loveliness with this one. We passed onward through the heather to the brow above the Bay of Glena, and there clambered down the mountain, helping our-selves by the trees which grasped with gnarled roots the messed and slippy crags. At Glena we met our boat, and were rowed over the jerking waves to the island of Innisfallen, and thence to our hotel. Various bits of climbing were accomplished during my stay, and almost in every case in opposition to the guides. The Eagle Rock, for example, a truly noble mass, and others, were climbed, amid emphatic enunciations of ' impossible. Yet these guides and boatmen are fine, hardy fellows, and of great endurance, but they appear averse to trying their strength under new conditions.
I write on a drenching day, and a strong wind which wails dismally round the house has roused the Lower Lake to foam and fury. Innisfallen looms feebly through the grey haze, but the opposite Toumies mountains are plunged in impenetrable gloom. All round the horizon is built a black cloud-wall, but the zenithal heaven is clear. Over the coping of this thunderous bulwark the sun shoots his rays, which, meeting the dropping cloud of the opposite heaven, paint upon it a complete and magnificent bow. Here the white beam enters the front of the falling drop, and is reflected at its back, emerging unravelled to its component hues. But the condition is, that after being thus unravelled, the coloured rays shall not diverge on quitting the drop. If they did, they would be lost immediately to the senses; but they are squeezed together to parallel sheaves, and thus their intensity is preserved through long aerial distances. Above the vivid bow hangs its spectral secondary brother, in which a double reflection within each raindrop enfeebles the colours, and inverts the order of succession.
Touched by the wand of law, the dross of facts becomes gold, the meanest being raised thereby to brotherhood with the highest. Thus the smoke of an Irish cabin lifts our speculations to the heavenly dome. We look through the cloudless air at the darkness of infinite space, and are met by the azure of the firmament—we look through a long reach of the same atmosphere at the bright sun or moon and see them orange or red. We look through the peat-smoke at a black rock, or at the dark branches of a yew, and see the smoke blue—we look through the same smoke at a cloud illuminated to whiteness by the sun and find the smoke red. The selfsame column of smoke may be projected against a bright and a dark portion of the same cloud, and thus made to appear blue and red at the same time. The blue belongs to the light reflected from the smoke the red to the light transmitted through it. In like manner, the hues of the atmosphere are not due to colouring matter, but to the fact of its being a turbid medium. Through this we look at the blackness of unillumined space and see the blue; at the western heaven at sunset, and meet that light which steeps the clouds of evening in orange and crimson dyes.