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THE PACIFIC OCEAN.
WHEN the astonishing sagacity and enterprise of the Genoese had discovered the confines of a new world across the trackless Atlantic, it was without hesitation concluded, not only by himself, but by all Europe, that the new land formed the extreme eastern shore of Asia; and hence the name of Indies, by this mistake, was given to these islands, which has been perpetuated even to the present time. Aware of the round form of the earth, the geographers of that age could well conceive the possibility of reaching India by a westerly course; but, ignorant of the magnitude of the globe, they had formed a very inadequate idea of its existence, being totally unaware of the vast continent, and still vaster ocean, which separated Asia from the Atlantic. But as, impelled by an insatiable thirst for gold, the unprincipled Spaniards pushed their career of robbery and murder further and further into the continent, they began to hear tidings of a boundless sea, which stretched away to the south and west, beyond the horizon of the setting sun.
Balboa, one of the reckless spirits who sought fortune and fame at all hazards in the newly-found regions, boldly determined to seek the sea of which the Indians spake. At the head of a little band of men, guided by a Mexican, he succeeded, after severe privations and imminent dangers, in crossing the isthmus that connects the northern and southern portions of the continent. They had arrived at the foot of a hill, from the top of which the Indian assured him he would obtain a sight of the wished-for sea, when, in the enthusiasm of the moment, leaving his companions behind, the Spanish chief ran to the summit, and beheld a limitless ocean sleeping in its immensity at his feet! With the spurious piety common to the times-a piety that could consist with the grossest injustice, the blackest perjury, and the most barbarous cruelty-he knelt down and gave thanks aloud to God for such a termination of his toils; then, having descended the cliffs to the shore of the ocean, he bathed in its mighty waters, taking possession
of it, by the name of the Great South Sea, on behalf of the King
This was in the year 1513, but it was not till seven years afterwards that its surface was ruffled by a European keel. Then Magalhaens, or Magellan, a Portuguese navigator of great ability, in the service of Spain, having run down the coast of South America, discovered the straits which have since borne his name, through which he sailed, and emerging from them on the 28th November 1520, first launched out upon the broad bosom of the South Sea. For three months and twenty days he sailed across it, during which long period its surface was never ruffled by a storm; and from this circumstance he gave to the ocean the appellation of the Pacific, which it still retains. The immediate vicinity of the straits, however, has been considered peculiarly subject to tempests; while the almost continual prevalence of westerly winds, joined to the severity of the climate, has always given a character of difficulty and hazard to the passage from the one ocean to the other.
A remarkable feature in the Pacific Ocean, and one that distinguishes it from every other sea, is the immense assemblage of small islands with which it is crowded, particularly in the portion situated between the tropics. For about three thousand miles from the coast of South America, the sea is almost entirely free from islands; but thence to the great isles of India, an immense belt of ocean, nearly five thousand miles in length, and fifteen hundred in breadth, is so studded with them as almost to be one continuous archipelago. The term Polynesia, by which this division of the globe is now distinguished, is compounded of two Greek words, signifying many islands. Very few of these gems of the ocean are more than a few miles in extent, though Tahiti, and some in the more western groups, are of rather larger dimensions; while Hawaii, the largest island in Polynesia, is about the size of Yorkshire.
The isles, which in such vast numbers thus stud the bosom of the Pacific, are of three distinct forms-the coral, the crystal, and the volcanic. Of these, the first formation greatly predominates;
but the largest islands are of the last description: of the crystal formation but few specimens are known.
Imagine a belt of land in the wide ocean, not more than half a mile in breadth, but extending, in an irregular curve, to the length of ten or twenty miles or more; the height above the water not more than a yard or two at most, but clothed with a mass of the richest and most verdant vegetation. Here and there, above the general bed of luxuriant foliage, rises a grove of cocoa-nut trees, waving their feathery plumes high in the air, and gracefully bending their tall and slender stems to the breathing of the pleasant trade-wind. The grove is bordered by a narrow beach on each side, of the most glittering whiteness, contrasting with the beautiful azure waters by which it is environed. From end to end of the curved isle stretches, in a straight line, forming, as it were, the cord of the bow, a narrow beach, of the same snowy whiteness, almost level with the sea at the lowest tide, enclosing a semicircular space of water between it and the island, called the lagoon.
Over this line of beach, which occupies the leeward side, the curve being to windward, the sea is breaking with sublime majesty; the long unbroken swell of the ocean, hitherto unbridled through a course of thousands of miles, is met by this rampart, when the huge billows, rearing themselves upwards many yards above its level, and bending their foaming crests, "form a graceful liquid arch, glittering in the rays of a tropical sun as if studded with brilliants. But, before the eyes of the spectator can follow the splendid aqueous gallery which they appear to have reared, with loud and hollow roar they fall, in magnificent desolation, and spread the gigantic fabric in froth and spray upon the horizontal and gently broken surface."
Contrasting strongly with the tumult and confusion of the hoary billows without, the water within the lagoon exhibits the serene placidity of a mill-pond. Extending downwards to a depth varying from a few feet to fifty fathoms, the waters possess the lively green hue common to soundings on a white or yellow ground; while the surface, unruffled by a wave, reflects with accurate distinctness the mast of the canoe that sleeps upon its bosom, and the tufts of the cocoa-nut plumes that rise from the beach above it.
Such is a coral island; and if its appearance is one of singular loveliness, as all who have seen it testify, its structure, on examination, is found to be no less interesting and wonderful. The beach of white sand, which opposes the whole force of the ocean, is found to be the summit of a rock which rises abruptly from an unknown depth, like a perpendicular wall. The whole of this rampart, as far as our senses can take cognizance of it, is composed of living coral! and the same substance forms the foundation of the curved and more elevated side which is smiling in the luxuriance and beauty of tropical vegetation. The elevation of the coral to the surface is not always abruptly perpendicular; sometimes reefs of varying depths extend to a considerable distance, in the form of successive platforms or terraces.
In these regions may be seen islands in every stage of their formation: 66 some presenting little more than a point or summit of a branching coralline pyramid, at a depth scarcely discernible through the transparent waters; others spreading, like submarine gardens or shrubberies, beneath the surface, or presenting here and there a little bank of broken coral and sand, over which the rolling wave occasionally breaks ;" while others exist in the more advanced state that I have just described, the main bank sufficiently elevated to be permanently protected from the waves, and already clothed with verdure, and the lagoon enclosed by the narrow bulwark of the coral reef.
Though the rampart thus reared is sufficient to preserve the inner waters in a peaceful and mirror-like calmness, it must not be supposed that all access to them from the sea is excluded. It almost invariably happens that in the line of reef one or more openings occur, which, though sometimes narrow and intricate, so as scarcely to allow the passage of a native canoe, are not unfrequently of sufficient width and depth to permit the free ingress of large ships.
The advantage to man of these openings is very great. Without them the islands might smile invitingly, but in vain,—no access could be obtained to them by shipping, through the tremendous surf by which their shores are lashed; but by these entrances the lovely lagoons are converted into the most quiet, safe, and com