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the barn, and partly parallel to the river, was a long hedge which had been torn from a part of it yet adjoining to the garden hedge, and had been removed above forty yards downwards, together with some large trees that were in it and the land that it enclosed.
The tossing, tearing, and shifting of so many acres of land below, was attended with the formation of stupendous chasms above. One that struck me much, ran perpendicular to the river. Around it, as around a grave at a burial, stood, the day after, the numerous congregation to which the substance of the following Sermon was preached; ; except about two hundred hearers, who de. scended into it to be out of the crowd, and made me fear, lest the abrupt sides, pressed by the surrounding multitude, should give way and bury some of them alive ; but the ground happily stood firm as a rock.
At some distance above, near the wood which crowns the desolated spot, another chasm, or rather a complication of chasms, excited my admiration. It is an assemblage of chasms, one of which, that seems to terminate the desolation on the north-east, runs some hundred yards towards the river and Madeley-wood ; it looked like the deep channel of some great serpentine river dried up, whose little islands, fords, and hollows, appear without a watery veil.
This long chasm at the top, seems to be made up of two or three that run into each other. And their con. junction, when it is viewed from a particular point, exhibits the appearance of a ruined fortress, whose ramparts have been blown up by mines that have done dreadful execution, and yet have spared here and there a pyramid of earth, or a shattered tower, by which the spectators can judge of the nature and solidity of the demolished bulwark.
The strangeness of this, and some other parts of the prospect, vanishes daily; for many thousands of people, by walking again and again over the ruins, have trampled in, and partly closed numbers of the small apertures, that at first were several feet deep; and by climbing up the accessible places of the larger chasms, and ransack
ing them in search of fossils, they have caused the loosed earth and stones to come down. Add to this that the brittle stone, which in a great measure forms that stratum of earth, is of such a nature as to dissolve into a kind of infertile marl, when it is exposed to the open air. This, together with the natural crumbling of the pyramids, has already rendered the chasms in some places, considerably less deep than they were at first.
Fortunately there was on that spot but one house, in. habited by two poor countrymen and their families. It stands yet, though it has removed about a yard from its former situation. The morning in which the desolation happened, Samuel Wilcocks, one of the countrymen, got up about four o'clock, and opening the window to see if the weather was fair, he took notice of a small crack in the earth, about four or five inches wide ; and observed the above-mentioned field of oats, heaving up and rolling about like the wayes of the sea. by the motion of the ground, waved all as if they had been blown with the wind, though the air was calm and
And the river Severn, which for some days had overflowed its banks, was very much agitated, and seem. ed to run back to its source. The man being astonished at such a sight, rubbed his eyes, supposing himself not quite awake; but being soon convinced that destruction stalked about, he alarmed his wife, and taking their children in their arms, they went out of the house as fast as they could, accompanied by the other man and his wife. A kind providence directed their flight; for instead of running eastward across the fields that were just going to be overthrown, they fled westward, into a wood that had little share in the desolation.
When they were about twenty yards from the house, they perceived a great crack run very quick up the ground from the river. Immediately the land behind thein, with the trees and hedges, moved towards the Severn, with great swiftness and uncommon noise, which Samuel Wilcocks compared to a large flock of sheep running swiftly by him.
It was then chiefly that desolation expanded her
wings over the devoted spot, and the Birches saw & momentary representation of a partial chaos :—Then nature seemed to have forgotten her laws :—The opening earth swallowed a gliding barn :--Trees commenced itinerant ; those that were at a distance from the river, advanced towards it, while the submerged oak broke out of its watery confinement, and by rising many feet recovered a place on dry land :—The solid road was swept away, as its dust had been in a stormy day:–Then probably the rocky bottom of the Severn emerged, pushing towards heaven astonishing shoals of fishes, and hogsheads of water innumerable :- The wood, like an embattled body of vegetable combatants, stormed the bed of the overflowing river; and triumphantly waved its green colours over the recoiling flood :-Fields became moveables ; nay, they filed when none pursued; and as they fled, they rent the green carpets that covered them in a thousand pieces. In a word, dry land exhibited the dreadful appearance of a sea-storm!
Solid earth, as if it had acquired the fluidity of water, tossed itself into massy waves, which rose or sunk at the beck of Him who raised the tempest.-And, what is most astonishing, the stupendous hollow of one of those waves, ran for near a quarter of a mile through rocks and a stony soil, with as much ease as if dry earth, stones, and rocks, had been a part of the liquid element.
Some hours after the desolation had happened, I met S. Wilcocks, on the ruins, and asked him many questions, to which he returned very few satisfactory an. swers, ingenuously acknowledging, he was so terrified, and so intent upon securing himself and his family, that he could not make any observations. He seemed then persuaded, that the overthrow was caused by an earthquake, protesting before several witnesses, that a shock of one had been felt in the house two nights before: And if he denies it now, his testimony is incon. sistent, and consequently not worthy to be depended upon.
Soon after the river was stopped, Samuel Cookson, a farmer, who lives about a quarter of a mile below the
Birches, on the same side of the river, was much terri. fied by a gust of wind, that beat against his window, as if shot had been thrown against it: But his fright greatly increased when, getting up to see if the flood, that was over his ground, had abated, he perceived that all the water was gone from his fields, and that scarce any remained in the Severn. He called up his family ; ran to the river ; and finding that it was dammed up, he made the best of his way to alarm the inhabitants of Buildwas, the next village above, which he supposed would soon be under water.
He was happily mistaken. Providence just prepared a way for their escape. The Severn, notwithstanding a considerable food, which at that time rendered it doubly rapid and powerful, having met with two dreadful shocks, the one from her rising bed, and the other from the intruding wood, could do nothing but foam and tum back with impetuosity. The ascending and descending streams conflicted some time about Buildwas bridge. The river sensibly rose for some miles back, and continued rising till, just as it was near entering into the houses at Buildwas, it got vent through the fields on the right; and after spreading far and near over them, collected all its might to assault its powerful aggressor; I mean the grove, that had so unexpectedly turned it out of the bed, which it had enjoyed for countless ages. Sharp was the attack, but the resistance was yet more vigorous; and the Severn, repelled again and again, was obliged to seek its old empty bed, by going the shortest way to the right; and the moment it found it again, it precipitated therein with a dreadful roar, and for a time formed a considerable cataract: Then with inconceivable fury (as if it wanted to be revenged on the first thing that came in its way) it began to tear and wash away a fine rich meadow opposite to the grove ; and there, in a few hours, worked itself a new channel about three hun. dred yards long, through which a barge from Shrews. bury ventured three or four days after.
Although the old English oaks and the travelling wood got the day, it was not without considerable loss ;
for some of the trees, which stood in the first rank, were so undermined by the impetuous onsets of the Severn, that they fell across the stream. But the others stood their ground in the very middle of the old channel, and flourished as if they had been in their native place, till the proprietor ordered them to be cut down and barked.
While the underwood still grows there in peace, (such is the vicissitude of sublunary things !) an unfortunate tree, that grew secure at a considerable distance from the shore in the opposite meadow, is now exactly in the middle of the river, where it leans downward, with the earth washed from its roots, ready to be carried away by the first flood.
But let us see what passed down the river. When its course was obstructed, the fall below was as quick as the flood above. Although the flooded fields refunded their waters into the Severn, it fell near two yards. This draining of the overflowed meadows was so sudden, that many fishes which sported over them, had not time to retire into the bed of the river, and were caught on dry land ; as were also several eels, that worked themselves from the obstructed channel, through the cracks, in the new-planted grove; or more probably crept out of the roots and rubbish, that were at the bottom of the river when it was forced up.
How fatal was that day to the finny tribes, that securely wantoned in their enlarged province! What a -striking emblem did they afford us of the sudden de. struction, which will one day overtake the shoals of impenitent sinners, who swim with the tide of sinful customs, frisk about in the stream of worldly vanity, or are immersed in the dregs of sensual pleasure !
Those fishes that had got out of the river, were left panting on the grass : While those that remained in the rocky bed of the river, were buried in its ruins ; and if any escaped that danger, it was only to meet a greater: To be caught in such a net as had never been drawn over them before, an earthen and wooden texture, made with the spreading roots of twenty large oaks.