National Geographic : 1902 Jun
LAFCADIO HEARN ON THE ISLAND AND PEOPLE OF MARTINIQUE* THE first attempt to colonize Mar tinique was abandoned almost as soon as begun, because the leaders of the expedition found the country "too rugged and too moun tainous " and were "terrified by the prodigious number of serpents which covered its soil." Landing on June 25, 1635, Olive and Duplessis left the island after a few hours exploration, or, rather, observation, and made sail for Guade loupe, according to the quaint and most veracious history of Pere Dutertre, of the order of Friars-Preachers. (Mar tinique was settled by the French in 1665, and with the exception of 22 years, 1794-1816, when the English held it, has been a French colony ever since. It sends a senator and two deputies to the National Assembly at Paris.) No description could give the reader a just idea of what Martinique is, con figuratively, so well as the simple state ment that, although less than fifty miles in extreme length, and less than twenty in average breadth, there are upward of four hundred mountains in this little island, or of what at least might be termed mountains elsewhere. These again are divided and interpeaked, and bear hillocks on their slopes, and the lowest hillock in Martinique is fifty meters high. Some of the peaks are said to be totally inaccessible; many more are so on one or two or even three sides. Ninety-one only of the principal mountains have been named. MONT PEL]EE Is the great volcano dead? Nobody knows. Less than forty years ago it rained ashes over the roofs of St. Pierre ; within twenty years it had uttered mut terings. For the moment it appears to be asleep, and the clouds have dripped into the cup of its highest crater until it has become a lake several hundreds of yards in circumference. The crater occupied by this lake, called L' tang or the Pool, has never been active within human memory. There are others difficult and dangerous to visit because opening on the side of a tremendous gorge-and it was one of these, no doubt, which has always been called La Souffriere, which rained ashes over the city in 1851. The explosion was almost concomi tant with the last of a series of earth quake shocks, which began in the mid dle of May and ended in the first week in August-all much more severe in Guadeloupe than in Martinique. In the village Au Precheur, lying at the foot of the western slope of Pelee, the people had been for some time complaining of an oppressive stench of sulphur, or, as the chemists declared it, sulphuretted hydrogen, when on the 4 th of August much trepidation was caused by a long and appalling noise from the mountain, a noise compared by planters on the neighboring slopes to the hollow roaring made by a packet blowing off steam, but infinitely louder. These sounds con tinued through intervals until the fol lowing night, sometimes deepening into a rumble like thunder. At i p. m. the noise was terrible enough to fill all St. Pierre with alarm, and on the morning of the 6th the city presented an un wonted aspect, compared by Creoles who had lived abroad to the effect of a great hoar-frost. A committee appointed to make an investigation and prepare an official re port found that a number of rents had either been newly formed, or suddenly become active, in the flank of the moun- * From " Two Years in the French West Indies," Lafcadio Hearn, Harper & Bros.