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The Coast of Sicily-Marsala-Quarantine-Medusa-Their powers of sight--Cuvier-A dolphin hunt-Arrival at Malta-Harbour of La Valetta-Departure from Malta-CandiaShores of Egypt.
December 28.-We stood across the bay, and bade farewell to Algiers. As the evening of the first of January approached, we neared the coast of Sicily, which at some distance appeared a collection of separate islands, the extreme lowness of the shore in some places between the mountains giving rise to this delusion. We were now beginning to experience the exhilarating influence of a warmer atmosphere, and to witness and appreciate the glowing beauties of a Claude Lorraine sky, and the varying tints of a Mediterranean sunset. The lower animals seemed to feel the animation imparted by returning spring, as the sea was now alive with myriads of its many-hued mollusca, that during the noon-tide heat rose to the surface ; and at night the crest of every wave was fringed with the metallic lustre of phosphoric light.
The island of Maretimo and the town of Marsala we passed within view, and shaped our course towards Malta, but during the next two days the whole appearance of the weather changed ; the sky became clouded, dark, and louring, and the wind cold and variable.
On the morning of the 3rd, the wind was “dead on end," after which it came on to blow so hard that, although nearly half-way to Malta, we were forced to run back, and anchor in the roadstead of Marsala, to escape the fury of a blast which seemed as if each wayward sister had risen from her Scottish heath, and sent a wind to drive us from our course.
Viewed from our present position, this place had a cold, bleak appearance, probably increased by the effects of the late gale.
· 167 A good harbour is much wanting here, and could be formed without incurring any very great expense, by raising and joining the present break-water to the shore opposite the wharf.
The vessels lying here were mostly English, engaged in the wine trade, which is the only commerce of the place. Wishing to visit the town and the neighbouring quarries, we applied for permission to land. After some hours' delay a board of health, composed of the butchers, bakers, and barbers of the town, made their appearance at the lazaretto, and hearing that we had but just arrived from Barbary, appeared particularly horrified at the thought of admitting so much plague and pestilence amongst them, and consequently imposed a quarantine of twenty-one days upon us; at the same time, each member of the board kindly informed us of his trade or occupation, and solicited our patronage during our captivity. We procured some provisions, and remained at anchor, ready to go to sea the moment the wind favoured.
As far as I have yet seen or heard, I know of few stations that offer a greater field of interest and profit to the marine naturalist, than Marsala and the coast of Sicily generally. Today (Jan. 4) the water is literally swarming with medusæ of all shapes and colours, but more particularly the beautiful pink and blue rhizostomata. These extraordinary animals surrounded the vessel in such quantities, that several could be captured at one haul of a bucket. By the alternate expansion and contraction of their umbrella-shaped tops, they progress through the water in a slanting direction, generally about a foot from the surface ; but what struck me as remarkable was, that they possess an undoubted perception of objects even at some distance ;* for in swimming or floating around us, they with great caution avoided
* The acalephæ, in which this sense was most apparent, were the cyanea labiche ; and this perception of objects arose not only from the percussion of the water, by any thing thrown into it, but also from any piece of rope or pole held steadily in their way. Professor Ehrenberg has already shown that certain modifications of eyes exist in other members of the medusa family, particularly the medusa aurita. In all probability, these creatures possess the very first and simplest form of optical apparatus; and in some of this tribe Müller has demonstrated an eye composed of an expanded nerve, vitrious humour, and a choroid coat.
not only the sides of the vessel, but also any object thrown in their way. Numerous aphrodites and valelle* rose occasionally to the surface; and both the beroe idya and cephea papuensis floated round us in vast quantities.
I can never take up one of these animals without associating with it the name of Cuvier, because it reminds me of what wonders he achieved in this department of comparative anatomy, and how great a reward it in turn heaped upon its votary; for it was this knowledge that raised the poor tutor of Normandy to a rank seldom equalled in the annals of scientific literature. It was this knowledge that rescued animals from their supposed vegetable existence—this it was that could alone have enabled him to tell the organization, and build up the figure of an animal from the mere inspection of its footsteps, that called a fossil world into being, and that placed the great naturalist on that high pinnacle from which he took so grand and comprehensive a view of the animal kingdom, that formed a classification not since surpassed, and confessed to be the purest we may in all probability ever have. And what was his reward ? Fame, rank, wealth, honours, and the united homage of the whole scientific world. Fortunately for him, he belonged to a country whose government cherishes science, and where the wealth of talent can purchase rank, and the labour of discovery and research is rewarded by even the highest offices of the state. Alas! like many other great men, he died but too early for the cause of science--a counsellor of state, a peer of France, and the greatest zoologist of the age. The band of weeping friends that knelt around his dying couch, told of the private worth and domestic endearments of the man, in whom Paris lost the brighest jewel that glittered in her literary coronet. The sçavans of his country followed him to his grave; but no funeral oration need have been pronounced at his tomb, for the mourning voice of science throughout the civilized world sung his requiem.
In the evening the wind moderated, and as this inland sea goes down nearly as rapidly as it rises, we were enabled to continue our course towards Malta.
* The two plates that form the skeleton of this singular little animal resemble very much the substance called the pen of the calmar, (sepia loligo.) * For some remarks upon the mode of suckling in the Cetaceæ, see Appendix, G.
As night set in, a large shoal of dolphins surrounded us. I have seldom witnessed a scene of greater interest and excitement than the moonlight gambols of these cetaceæ, and the sport of miniature whaling. Our schooner was holding on her course in gallant style; a steady breeze-a rippled phosphorescent seaa cloudless sky—and “the watch” on deck or in the rigging anxiously waiting for the dart of the harpoon from the boatswain, who stood upon the martingal before the cutwater. Hundreds of dolphins (delphinus delphis) dashed through the water ; diving under the vessel ; bounding in graceful curves above the surface ; and by the flakes of light that break from the disturbance of thousands of marine productions, showing every line of their beautiful forms. Sometimes they would follow in our wake ; then deploy on either side of us, as if to try our rate of sailing ; pass us; and again fall back alongside. All was breathless expectation on board ; at last a large one came immediately in front, and the barbed steel entered deep into its chest. It instantly dived, taking with it a coil of rope attached to the head of the harpoon ; then came to the surface to blow, and dived again several times, the yacht still holding on her course at least seven knots an hour. At last exhausted, it was hauled to the vessel's side, puffing and splashing in a most terrific manner. Then a bowling knot was slipt over its tail—"all hands on deck," and some six or eight stout fellows dragged the creature over the bows. It was about eight feet in length, and its dissection occupied me the two next days.*
January 6th.-On awaking this morning we found ourselves snugly moored within the harbour of La Valetta; but our joy was soon marred, by the information that a twelve days' quarantine had been imposed upon us. Except, however, the disappointment of not going on shore, this had the less effect upon our spirits, as a day or two was the most we intended to have remained, and that only to have taken in the necessary stores and provisions, before we set forward on our voyage towards Egypt and Syria, where we proposed wintering.
Malta has been well and often described. I can only speak of
it from the water view, where on one side of us a row of stores, custom-houses, and health-offices fronted a handsome quay; over these the houses of the town rose in terraces, the narrow, steep streets, plainly visible from our position, and the turrets of the governor's palace, with the steeples of the numerous churches, breaking up the monotony of dead-walls and house-tops. On the other side of this magnificent harbour all was fort, battery, tiers of cannon, red coats, and perpendicular walls of dazzling whiteness.
This was a holiday, so the ringing of bells never ceased from morning till night ; it certainly shows no small degree of liberality in our government to bear with a nonsensical ceremony, that is pronounced a nuisance even in the most Catholic cities of the Continent.
Although not allowed to land, we were not without amusement; hundreds of boats passing and repassing with the Maltese ladies in their black valdetts; the vessels of the English fleet moored on all sides of us; and the good cheer afforded us of fish, fresh milk, game, lamb, peas, Tangerine oranges, and fruit of all kinds, enabled us to make up for the pleasures of a bad hotel; and in the evening the bands of the men-of-war playing the airs of old England was particularly delightful.
On the 7th we left Malta, a light wind stealing us gradually out of its land-locked harbour, to the great annoyance of some score of boats that had hoped to be employed to tow out “my lord Inglese," a term applied to all the English who travel with any degree of comfort through the Levant, and always applied to the owner of a yacht. These harpies were the only sailors I ever met who seemed to have no liking for a wind.
On the 10th we were near the shores of Candia, but could only distinguish the “ loom of the land ;” next day Mount Ida was visible, and on the 13th the shores of Africa were again before us, and recognizable from the mast-head.