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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 76

Subterranean Experiences

Subterranean Experiences.

My underground wanderings began by a visit to the Catacombs at Syracuse, in Sicily, along subterranean passages in a limestone hill, into which a horseman may ride with spear erect, page 82 formerly used as a necropolis, and so extensive that without a guide one could not well get out of them again. Not far from Trieste, in Austria, there is a famous grotto, or Cavern of Adelberg, forming a suite of lofty chambers like palatial halls or cathedral naves, supported by columns of united stalactites and stalagmites, through which a silent river flows. When lighted up for visitors this great cavern forms a magnificent underground spectacle. The most remarkable and interesting mines that I have seen are near Cracow, from which rock salt has so long been quarried that the excavations extend to a great distance below the surface, and portions of the salt rocks are shaped into pillars and a chapel, as well as dwellings for the miners and stables for the horses employed to drag the blocks of salt to the shafts of the mine. It was a much more gloomy descent I made into the great Wallsend coal mine at Newcastle-on-Tyne. In a basket, and dressed as a miner, we were rapidly lowered down the shaft into perfect darkness. The sensation was more like that of ascending than of descending, until at the depth of, I think, as much as about three times the height that the dome of St Paul's is above ground, we were landed with a kind of shock on the floor of a black cavern, dimly lighted by flaring candles. I was provided with a safety lamp and led into exhausted passages of the mine where fire-damp was present, and also into active workings, where the half- page 83 clad miners were hewing and blasting out the precious product of countless bygone ages of vegetation, reserved by natural, or rather Providential, means to form the main source of the manufactures, wealth, and power of Great Britain, as well as the comfort of British homes. It is indeed wonderful to see how the vast number of men and boys employed in the low and narrow burrowings of mines, extending far under the North Sea, seem to retain bodily health and cheerfulness of mind, sustained by the same Providential care which renders conditions of life both above and below ground easily borne, and even enjoyed, which to others appear to be insupportable.