Irving, John to William Elphinstone Malcolm (1836/07/25)

H.M.S. “Edinburgh,”
Zante, July 25, 1836.

My dear Malcolm,—  . . . We left Malta in April and visited Syracuse and Catania. From the latter place I went with a large party to the summit of Mount Etna. There was a great quantity of snow on the mountain, and we had some hours’ very hard work toiling up to the middle in snow; but we were amply repaid for our trouble, on arriving at the top, by the magnificent prospect of the whole coast-line of Sicily and the southern shore of Italy laid out at our feet like a map. As to the crater, if you could imagine a sugar-loaf with a round hole bored in the apex of an inch in depth and the same diameter, you have a good model of the cone of Etna. The actual depth of the crater is 300 feet, and the same diameter. The edge is quite sharp, and fringed with snow. We could sit with one leg hanging into the crater and the other down the steep slope of the cone, which is 1100 feet, and then the mountain slopes away in a more gradual manner. At the bottom of the cone the thermometer stood 16°, 9000 feet above the sea. At the top of the cone, 1100 feet higher, it stood at 21°, owing to the internal heat of the mountain. Water boiled at 188° at the top. We all got new skins to our faces, from the great change of temperature in going up and coming down. Being so early in the year, we had to walk six miles in snow above our knees. There were some splendid icicles hanging from the edge into the crater—fifty feet long, and at the upper part, three feet thick—caused by the sulphurous vapours melting the snow on the edge.


We returned to Malta, and completing four months’ provisions, we sailed to Corfu; remained there a week; visited one or two other places, and then returned here after a cruise of a few days. We sail for Salamis to-morrow, there to meet four French line-of-battle ships. I believe we are all going to cruise together.


“It is nearly three years since I saw you last. I suppose you are so grown and altered that I will not know you when I next see you.”

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