* Arrest Simoon. l. 65.

At eleven o'clock while we were with great pleasure con∣templating the rugged tops of Chiggre, where we expected to solace ourselves with plenty of good water, Idris cried out with a loud voice, "fall upon your faces, for here is the simoom!" I saw from the S. E. a haze come in colour like the purple part of a rainbow, but not so compressed or thick; it did not occupy twenty yards in breadth, and was about twelve feet high from the ground. It was a kind of a blush upon the air, and it moved very rapidly, for I scarce could turn to fall upon the ground with my head to the northward, when I felt the heat of its current plainly upon my face. We all lay flat upon the ground, as if dead, till Idris told us it was blown over. The meteor, or purple haze, which I saw was indeed passed; but the light air that still blew was of heat to threaten suffocation. For my part I found distinctly in my breast, that I had imbibed a part of it; nor was I free of an asthmatic sensation till I had been some months in Italy.

Bruce's Travels. Vol. IV. p. 557.

It is difficult to account for the narrow track of this pestilential wind, which is said not to exceed twenty yards, and for its small elevation of twelve feet. A whirlwind will pass forwards, and throw down an avenue of trees by its quick revolution as it passes, but nothing like a whirling is described as happening in these narrow streams of air, and whirlwinds ascend to greater heights. There seems but one known manner in which this channel of air could be effected, and that is by electricity.

The volcanic origin of these winds is mentioned in the note on Chunda in Vol. II. of this work; it must here be added, that Professor Vairo at Naples found, that during the eruption of Vesuvius perpendicular iron bars were electric; and others have observed suffocating damps to attend these eruptions. Ferber's Travels in Italy, p. 133. And lastly, that a current of air attends the passage of electric matter, as is seen in presenting an electrized point to the flame of a candle. In Mr. Bruce's account of this simoom, it was in its course over a quite dry desert of sand, (and which was in consequence unable to conduct an electric stream into the earth beneath it,) to some moist rocks at but a few miles distance; and thence would appear to be a stream of electricity from a volcano attended with noxious air; and as the bodies of Mr. Bruce and his attendants were insulated on the sand, they would not be sensible of their increased electricity, as it passed over them; to which it may be added, that a sulphurous or suffocating sensation is said to accompany flashes of lightning, and even strong sparks of artificial electricity. In the above account of the simoom, a great redness in the air is said to be a certain sign of its approach, which may be occasioned by the eruption of flame from a distant volcano in these extensive and impenetrable deserts of sand. See Note on l. 292 of this Canto.

 [ return to text ]