Symzonia; Voyage of Discovery, by Adam Seaborn (pseud. John Cleves Symmes?), , at sacred-texts.com
Description of the first view of the coast.—The Author names the discovered country Symzonia.—Enters the harbour.—His first interview with the Symzonians.—Sketch of their appearance.—He commences the study of the Symzonian language.—Wonderful powers of mind displayed by the natives.—Account of an aerial vessel.
The mild oblique rays of the morning sun gilded to our view
[paragraph continues] Gently rolling hills within an easy sloping shore, covered with verdure, chequered with groves of trees and shrubbery, studded with numerous white buildings, and animated with groups of men and cattle, all standing in relief near the foot of a lofty mountain, which in the distance reared its majestic head above the clouds, offered to mariners long confined to a wide waste of water the highest reward for their enterprise and perseverance;—the heartfelt satisfaction, that it was to their courage and
skill that their fellow citizens would be indebted for the contemplation of so much loveliness. Here there was nothing wanting to a perfect landscape. Plain, hill, and dell sometimes rising with an easy slope, at others, broken, abrupt, or craggy; with an ocean in front, and a mountain in the rear, it was complete.
When the bright light of the sun first presented distant objects distinctly to our view, there were great numbers of vessels and boats in sight, mostly near the shore. We had repeatedly seen them during the night flitting past us like the shades of departed mortals. Immediately on observing our extraordinary appearance, they all retired towards an opening in the land to the northward, whither we followed them, and soon found that the apparent opening in the shore was occasioned by an island a short distance from the coast, having a roadstead within it, in which were several vessels at anchor. After hoisting out our boats, and seeing our guns in order, I stood in to the roadstead, with my boats ahead. As we approached the anchorage, the vessels all retired into the mouth of a river
which they ascended until quite out of sight.
At noon, on the 24th of December, we anchored in I4 fathoms water, on a fine sandy bottom. This land, out of gratitude to Capt. Spumes for his sublime theory, I immediately named Symzonia. The coast lay about S. S. W. and N. N. E. In the roadstead we were sheltered from all winds except those which blew directly along shore. These were not much to be feared, for we had found the prevailing W. S. W. winds to blow as steady as a trade wind for several days without any gales or stormy weather.
I passed an hour in surveying the enchanting scene by which I was surrounded; and in making preparations for a visit to the inhabitants of this internal world. I shaved my beard as smooth as I could, put` on my best go-ashore clothes, and swung my hanger by my side, to make my appearance as imposing as possible. Here a difficulty occurred. I wanted an officer to leave in charge of the boat, on whose firmness and discretion I could rely in case of difficulty with the natives. I could not take Albicore, without leaving Slim in
command of the Explorer, which was not to be thought of. I would not take Slim with me, for he would be more likely to contrive some way to get my throat cut out of sheer malice, than to use prudent measures for my safety. Will Mackerel was so hasty, that he would probably shoot the natives like pigeons, should he fancy them to be offering any offence or insult to his commander. I therefore determined to take Jack Whiffle, ostensibly to act as cockswain, with six of my best men, furnished with a musket, a pair of pistols, and a sabre each.
Thus equipped, and with the stripes and stars waving over the stern of the boat, I proceeded to the shore, having first instructed Albicore to offer no offence to any people who might approach the ship in my absence, unless it became necessary in actual self defence, or to prevent them from taking possession of the vessel; and to inform me by signal should any superior force appear in the offing, or any danger be apprehended.
There were a number of buildings on the island, one of which from its magnitude and superior appearance to the others, I judged
to be a public edifice of some sort. This structure was two stories high, while all the others were but one. In the front, a large open portico with an extensive platform, appeared to be a place of business, great numbers of people being collected upon it. In front of this building, a jettee into the water afforded convenient landing, and l directed the boat to be placed alongside of it. As I approached, all the people retired, and no sooner had I stepped upon the jettee than those in front of the large building moved into it.
Being determined to open an immediate communication with this people, who from the comforts with which they were surrounded could not be savages, I took off my sword, and gave it to Whiffle, and ordered him to lay off with the boat a half pistol shot from the shore, and not to fire a shot, nor to show his arms, unless he saw me run, or heard me fire a pistol; in which cases he must pull into the most convenient place to take me off, and to defend me.
I then walked slowly up the jettee. When I reached the head of it, I took off my hat and made a low bow towards the building, to show the Internals that I had
some sense of politeness. No one appeared. I walked slowly up the sloping lawn,. stopped, looked about me, and bowed, but still no one appeared to return my civilities. I walked on, and had arrived within one hundred yards of the portico, when I recollected, that when Captain Ross was impeded in his progress northward by the northern 'icy hoop,' he met with some men on the ice who told him they came from the north, where there was land and an open sea. These men were swarthy, which Capt. Symmes attributes to their being inhabitants of the hot regions within the internal polar circle; in which opinion he was no doubt correct. I had frequently reflected on this circumstance, and had settled the matter in my mind that they were stragglers from the extreme north part of the internal regions; and could not but consider Capt. Ross as a very unfit person for an exploring expedition, or he would not have returned without ascertaining where those men came from, or how a great sea could exist to the northward of the 'icy hoop,' through fear of wintering in a climate where he saw men in existence who had passed all their lives there.
I remembered that these men so seen by Capt. Ross, saluted him by pulling their noses; and surely it is not surprising that men, inhabiting such different positions on this earth as the inside and outside of it, should differ so much as to consider that a compliment in the one place, which is deemed an insult in the other. Indeed it seemed to me a small thing, when I considered how widely the most enlightened of the externals differ in opinion upon the most simple propositions of religion, politics, and political economy.
I was full in the faith that those men of Ross had been internals, and that their mode of salutation was much more likely to be in accordance with the manners of the Symzonians, than the rude fashion of us externals. I therefore pulled my nose very gracefully, without uncovering my head.
This was a happy thought. It arose from my having read much, seen a great deal of the world, and observed with tolerable accuracy, for a shipmaster, the important ceremonies and sublime rules of etiquette, by which the distinguished and the noble, the enlightened and the great,
are implicitly governed; they being considered matters of more consequence than religious forms, or mere regulations of convenience.
I remembered that, on being honoured with an audience of a sublime sovereign of the Mussulman empire, it was particularly enjoined upon me by the vizier, not to take my hat off; nor to sit cross-legged, the etiquette of the court forbidding any one to do so in the presence of the sovereign; and showing the top of the head or bottom of the feet being considered an insult to that exalted personage. Happily I recalled to my mind all those weighty matters; and now, that I might not be guilty of insult to. this new found people, I stood bolt upright, kept my hat on, and pulled my nose stoutly.
This had the desired effect. Several persons from within the building assembled on the platform of the portico. They stared much at me, which convinced me they were people of high fashion; conversed eagerly with one another, and seemed undetermined how to act. More than one hundred men collected, before any one showed any disposition to advance even to the
front of the portico; and on the other hand, I dared not advance towards them, lest I should again put them all to flight, being already sensible that it was my dark and hideous appearance that created so much distrust amongst these beautiful natives. I therefore kept my position, occasionally pulling my nose out of politeness.
Full twenty minutes passed in this suspence; when one of the group, a man near five feet high, came to the threshold of the platform, and, raising his hand to his forehead, he brought it down to the point of his nose, and waved it gracefully in salutation, with a slight inclination of the body, but without actually pulling the nose as I had done, At the same time he spoke to me, in a soft, shrill, musical voice. His language was as unintelligible to me as the notes of a singing bird;. but his mode of salutation was not. I caught it with the aptness of a monkey, returned his courtesy after his own fashion, and answered him in English, with as soft a whine as I could affect, that my rude voice might not offend his ears.
Seeing him still in doubt whether it was a mortal or a goblin that stood before him, I bethought me to show him
that I had some sense of a Supreme Being. I therefore fell on my knees, with my hands and eyes upraised to heaven, in the attitude of prayer. This was distinctly understood. It produced a shout of joy, which was followed by the immediate prostration of the whole party, who seemed absorbed in devotion for a few minutes. They then rose, and the one who had first advanced came towards me. I stood still to receive him, and as he walked close up to me, I extended my hand to ascertain if a thing so fair were tangible. He put out his hand, and seized mine with a grip that made me start; but instantly let it go again, and gazed upon me.
We spoke to each other in vain: he walked round, and surveyed my person with eager curiosity. I did 'the like by him, and had abundant cause; for the sootiest African does not differ more from us in darkness of skin and grossness of features, than this man did from me in fairness of complexion and delicacy of form. His arms were bare; his body was covered with a white garment, fitted to his shape, and hanging down to his knees. Upon his head he wore a tuft of feathers, curiously woven
with his hair, which afforded shade to his forehead, and was a guard for his head against the rain. There was no appearance of any weapon about either him or any of the others.
Having both satisfied our eyes, I again endeavoured to make myself intelligible to him; and, by the aid of signs, succeeded so far as to convince him that I came in peace, and meant no harm to any one. He pointed to the building, which I took as an invitation to go in, and walked towards the portico, with the Internal by my side.
The fair skinned people by whom I was now surrounded, kept at a respectful distance from me. They formed a circle, and sat down upon their feet, with their bodies perfectly upright, and invited me to do the same. I admired the firmness of knee and strength of muscle which enabled them to make such a posture easy and pleasant, but took my seat on the floor cross-legged, like a Turk. Several of the principal men of the party seated themselves near me, and moved nearer and further off, as occasion required, with great facility, and without changing their sitting posture.
An amusing scene now occurred, while we endeavoured to communicate our thoughts and wishes to one another. I shoved up the sleeve of my coat, to show them, by the inside of my arm, (which was always excluded from the sun,) that I was a white man. I am considered fair for an American, and my skin was always in my own country thought to be one of the finest and whitest. But when one of the internals placed his arm, always exposed to the weather, by the side of mine, the difference was truly mortifying. I was not a white man, compared with him.
I gave them to understand that I wanted food and drink, and immediately some delicious fruits, and a large bowl of excellent milk, were placed before me, which I ate with much satisfaction and an eager appetite, to the great amusement of the spectators, who seemed astonished at the enormous quantity I took. I afterwards learnt, that what they set before me was sufficient for ten of these temperate beings.
The result of this interview was an understanding between us, that learning each others languages would be the first essential step towards an intercourse between
us; and for that purpose two persons were promptly singled out from the crowd, who took their seats by my side, with a writing apparatus, composed of some very delicate white leaves, more like sheets of very white ivory than like paper, and pencils which made a deep green mark.
We had scarcely entered on this important preliminary, when it was disagreeably and painfully interrupted by the firing of a gun on board the Explorer. The roar of a twelve-pounder, which jarred the building, struck a panic through the whole circle, and the volume of smoke which floated on the water alarmed them much.
With my pocket spyglass I observed that the signal for a fleet in the offing was flying, and it was to call my attention to this signal that Albicore had fired the gun. It was no easy matter to pacify the internals, and make them understand that the terrific noise, fire and smoke, were quite harmless. After many useless efforts, I made them comprehend that it was but the voice of the vessel, telling me it was time to return on hoard.
My spyglass attracted their notice. I gave it to one of the internals, and directed
it to the ship, showing him how to find the focus. An exclamation of surprise showed me that this discovery in optics was unknown to them. This little incident was of great service to me. It showed the internals that some useful knowledge might be obtained from the hideous strangers, and excited their curiosity to know more about us.
I now made signs to the two persons appointed to instruct me in the language, to accompany me on board, which after a few minutes they did, together with two others, ordered for the same purpose, and to make observations on our vessel and manners. I was the more willing to render this interview a short one, because I saw that no progress could be made until we had arranged some mode of communicating our ideas.
Soon after our arrival on board, a boat came off from the shore with a large supply of fruits and milk, which were most joyfully received; and in return, I sent a spyglass, a looking-glass, and several articles of glass ware.
The vessels which had been signalled by Albicore, entered the bay and passed
into the river, without coming any nearer to us than the land compelled them to.—After having shown my visiters about my ship, every part of which they examined with scrutinizing attention, I conducted them to my cabin, and sat down to the study of their language. Two devoted themselves to this object; the other two wrote an account of all they had observed, and sent it by the boat which brought the fruits and milk.
I had not been long at my study of language, when Mr. Albicore sent me word that a bird as big as the ship was coming towards us. I went on deck, and immediately saw that Albicore's bird was no other than an ærial vessel, with a number of men on board. It came directly over the ship, and descended so low that the people in it spoke with the internals who were with me; but I was not yet qualified to understand a word of what passed. I observed its appearance to be that of a ship's barge, with an inflated windsail, in the form of a cylinder, suspended longitudinally over it, leaving a space in which were the people. It had a rudder like a fishes tail, and fins or oars, which appeared
to be moved by the people within. On the whole, it was not a matter of great surprise to me. I only inferred from it, that the internals understood ærostatics much better than the externals.
I afterwards learned, that the air vessel over the boat was charged with an elastic gas, which was readily made by putting a small quantity of a very dense substance into some fluid, which disengaged a vast quantity of this light gas. By this means, the specific gravity of the vessel was diminished, in the same manner as that of a fish is by its sound. I also learned that this vessel had been despatched by the government of the country to make observations upon the stranger who had entered their waters.
The following day I made preparations for another visit on shore, when I was made to understand by my instructors that I must not land again until I could speak the language of the country. I was not much pleased with this, not liking a confinement of two or three months, which, even with my faculty of learning languages, was the least term within which I could expect to qualify myself to speak one so new and
difficult. My instructors, however, appeared very earnest on this point, and I thought it best to comply, and gave my undivided attention to the necessary study.
At the end of the first week, I was astonished and delighted to find my instructors addressing me in very good English. I could not help arguing, from their wonderful quickness of intellect, and faithfulness of memory, that I should find them intelligent and refined, beyond the conception of external mortals. In this I was not disappointed. My greatest misfortune was a want of capacity to comprehend intelligence so far beyond my powers of mind. They never forgot any thing, and it was only necessary to name a thing once to fix it on their memories. The alphabet once read, and sounds pronounced, they had it perfectly, and expressed the greatest astonishment that I should require them to repeat the same names of things over five or six times, to fix them in my mind.
Having qualified themselves to act as interpreters, they acquainted me that permission had been given for me to visit the
place of assembly, where the Best Man and the council of worthies were in session; but that my vessel must remain where she was, and none of the people be permitted to go out of her.