A World of Fire and DesolationDecember 07, 2015

"A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder" was serialized anonymously in Harper's Weekly, eight years after James De Mille passed away. It might be a good thing that he wasn't around, as reviews were unjust. It was the latest in the "Lost World" genre, but critics saw similarities with other popular works (under that genre). "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket", "MS. Found in a Bottle", "She: A History of Adventure". De Mille had a dream telepathy with Edgar Allan Poe and H. Rider Haggard. It may also be coincidence.

De Mille's book opened with a surreal description of Antarctica. Readers would be so enthralled, as they have no idea that the Canadian was imagining the hollow Earth.

"The volcanoes on either side of the channel towered on high with their fiery floods of lava, their incessant explosions, their fierce outbursts of flames, and overheard there rolled a dense black canopy of smoke - altogether forming a terrific approach to that unknown and awful pathway upon which we were going. So we passed this dread portal, and then there lay before us - what? Was it a land of life or a land of death? Who could say?"

It turned out to be both.

The cavern of the dead

Adam More, a native of Kenswick, Cumberland, was a sailor of the ship Trevelyan. After sailing the Antarctic Ocean for weeks, he and the rest of the crew saw Desolation Island. A herd of seals excited More, as he was eager to hunt (and kill) a few of them. Captain Bennet was rather cautious. The old captain told the young Englishman to bring along a companion. More chose Agnew, the second mate.

More's elation made him not notice the change of weather; it was cloudless and sunny while he was aboard the Trevelyan. The sky was gray when he and Agnew were done with the hunt. The gusty wind and heavy snowfall forced the ship to sail away, leaving More and Agnew drifting in the sea. The current brought them to the twin volcanoes, which were the ones that James Cook discovered more than a century ago. More thought so, but Agnew sensed an unexplored domain. They followed the stream, which brought them to a strange land. Snow-capped peaks towered above a dark landscape. (The duo believed it was volcanic ash from the volcanoes, which could still be seen from the distance.) And they encountered humans. They reminded More and Agnew of the natives in the Pacific, whom Cook met during his journeys. But there was something else.

These people were the Kosekins, whose language was probably derived from Hebrew. They believed in the virtue of poverty, even discouraged relationship. And they practiced cannibalism. More, who sensed the gloom beforehand, knew there was little chance of going back to the open sea. He wrote a manuscript and put it inside a cylinder, hoping someone would read it.

Scientific theories and skepticism

Someone did retrieved the cylinder.

It happened seven years after More was done with the manuscript. Lord Featherstone, weary of the life in England, was aboard the Falcon. He had company, who were utterly bored of the seascape. The yacht was between the Canary and Madeira Islands, and a little amusement led them to the cylinder. Their reaction was disheartening, but De Mille may have intended it.

More's tale could be a satire on Victorian society. De Mille, a native of New Brunswick, only spent half a year in England. Don't be surprised if he didn't have a favourable impression of London. Queen Victoria may have cared less, in case she read his book. But how Featherstone and his mates saw it would make readers think twice. One criticised More's writing style, while another one exposed his anti-Semitic views. As for Feathermore himself, the sun was getting into him.

It was a fantastic voyage, and dead authors couldn't tell more.

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