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CAUSES OF EARTHQUAKES. *
FROM THE PENNSYLVANIA GAZETTE, DECEMBER 15TH, 1737.
The late earthquake felt here, and probably in all the neighbouring provinces, having made many people desirous to know what may be the natural cause of such violent concussions, we shall endeavour to gratify their curiosity, by giving them the various opinions of the learned on that head. Here naturalists are divided. Some ascribe them to
. water, others to fire, and others to air; and all of them with some appearance of reason. To conceive which, it is to be observed, that the earth everywhere abounds in huge subterraneous caverns, veins, and canals, particularly about the roots of mountains; that of these cavities, veins, &c., some are full of water, whence are composed gulfs, abysses, springs, rivulets; and others full of exhalations; and that some parts of the earth are replete with nitre, sulphur, bitumen, vitriol, &c. This premised,
1. The earth itself may sometimes be the cause of its own shaking; when, the roots or basis of some large
* This paper is contained in Duane's edition of the author's writings, but in no previous collection. It is taken from the newspaper published by Franklin ; but it is dated several years earlier than any of his other pieces on philosophical subjects, and appears to be rather a compilation from various authors than an original composition. It is not without interest, however, as presenting a curious account of earthquakes, and of the theories respecting their causes. - Editor. VOL, VI.
mass being dissolved, or worn away by a fluid underneath, it sinks into the same, and, with its weight, occasions a tremor of the adjacent parts, produces a noise, and frequently an inundation of water.
2. The subterraneous waters may occasion earthquakes by their overflowing, cutting out new courses, &c. Add, that the water, being heated and rarefied by the subterraneous fires, may emit fumes, blasts, &c., which by their action, either on the water or immediately on the earth itself, may occasion great succussions.
3. The air may be the cause of earthquakes; for, the air being a collection of fumes and vapors raised from the earth and water, if it be pent up in too narrow viscera of the earth, the subterraneous or its own native heat rarefying and expanding it, the force, wherewith it endeavours to escape, may shake the earth ; hence there arise divers species of earthquakes, according to the different position, quantity, &c., of the imprisoned aura.
Lastly, fire is a principal cause of earthquakes; both as it produces the aforesaid subterraneous aura or vapors; and as this aura, or spirit, from the different matter and composition whereof arise sulphur, bitumen, and other inflammable matters, takes fire, either from other fire it meets withal, or from its collision against hard bodies, or its intermixture with other fluids; by which means bursting out into a greater compass, the place becomes too narrow for it; so that, pressing against it on all sides, the adjoining parts are shaken; till, having made itself a passage, it spends itself in a volcano, or burning mountain.
But to come nearer to the point. Dr. Lister is of opinion, that the material cause of thunder, lightning, and earthquakes, is one and the same, viz. the inflammable breath of the pyrites, which is a substantial sulphur, and takes fire of itself.