Niels Klim's Underground Travels

Ludvig Holberg

Preview: Issue 1 of 11



Since it has come to our ears that some persons have doubted the truth of this story, and that, consequently, the publisher of the subterranean voyage has gotten, here and there, a bad reputation, we have, to prevent all false accusations, held it advisable to prefix to this new edition certificates from men whose honesty and sincerity are raised above all distrust, and whose evidence will secure the publisher against all opposition. The first two of these witnesses we know to have been contemporary with our hero; the rest flourished at a period immediately subsequent; and all are generally known as people venerable in virtue and honesty, whose cool and sound judgments effectually preclude the blandishments of cajolery, while their noble candor and undeviating uprightness forbid the sanction of their names to whatever is, in its nature, deceitful or fictitious. With the testimony of such respectable persons, we shall bind the tongues of all false, prejudiced and sneering critics, and, before these signatures, oblige them to acknowledge their folly and take back their heedless accusations. The certificate sent to my brother and myself reads thus:

"At the desire of the estimable and much respected young men, Peter Klim and Andreas Klim, we, the undersigned, do certify, that among the books and papers left by the celebrated Niels Klim, we have seen a manuscript, with the title, 'Subterranean Voyage.' To the same 'Voyage' were added a subterranean Grammar and Dictionary, in two languages, namely, Danish and Quamitic. By comparing the celebrated Abelin's Latin translation with this old manuscript, we find that the former does not, in the least point, deviate from the hand-text. To its further confirmation we have hereby placed our seals.

Adrian Peterson, mpp. Jens Thorlaksen, mpp. Svend Klak, mpp. Jokum Brander, mpp. Jens Gad, (for self and brother,) mpp. Hieronymous Gibs, (Scotch,) mpp."

We hope by such distinguished and authentic testimony to remove all doubt; but should there be found any stubborn enough to persist in their suspicions, in spite of these certificates, we will anticipate their objections, and endeavor to subdue their incredulity with other weapons.

It is a known fact, that in a section of Norway, called Finnmark , exist people who have advanced so far in the study and practice of natural witchcraft, (a science into which other nations have scarcely looked,) that they can excite and subdue storms; transform themselves to wolves; speak several, and in our world entirely unknown, languages; and travel from the north to the south pole in less time than one hour. One of these Finns, by name Peyvis, came lately to Bergen, and exhibited so many strange proofs of his art and science, that all present deemed him worthy of a doctor's hat: at the same time a fierce critic came out with a review of the "Subterranean Travels," which he assumptively tagged to the long list of "old women's stories;" the honor of the Klims being thus impugned, and his own by implication, Peyvis, through our influence, obtained permission to collect materials and prepare himself for a voyage under ground. He commenced by publishing a card, wherein he exalted his abilities in the following expressions:

What will you? say! From northern ice to southern land: From eastern isles to western sand, Spirits of earth, spirits of air; Spirits foul and spirits fair, My power obey! I break the rainbow's arched line; That herald of approaching calm. Thunder I send by cold moonshine,-- Mine is the bane and mine the balm. My beck upwhirls the hurricane: The sun and moon and stars in vain Their wonted course would keep; Honey from out the rock doth weep When I command. My potent wand, Stretched on the mighty northern wave, Or seas that farther India lave, Subdues their mountain billows hoarse, To inland brooklets' murmuring course. What is on earth, what is in sea, In air and fire, from Peyvis free?

Everybody shuddered from fear at hearing these incredible assumptions. The Finn immediately prepared himself for the voyage, undressed, and, strange sight! suddenly transformed to an eagle, raised himself into the air and soon vanished. After a full month's absence, our wonderful doctor, early on a morning, re-appeared, entirely exhausted, his forehead streaming with sweat. When sufficiently recovered from his fatigue, he commenced a description of his adventures on his air passage and in the subterranean lands. He told us that on his arrival below, war was raging between the established government and the opposition, in which the party of Klim got the ascendancy, and reinstated the son of our Niels on the throne; our kinsman had for a long time borne the sceptre, under the administration of his mother; but now, old and glorified for many great feats, reigned alone over the whole subterranean world, with the name of Niels the Second.

Now, take shame to yourselves, ye incredulous mortals! and learn hereafter, in important matters, to proceed with more caution. Be ashamed, ye scoffers! and ask pardon for your unfounded accusations, your atrocious sneers. Stand abashed, finally, ye hyper-critics! and know that the learned world shall no longer suffer from your audacious and unreasonable judgments; then silence your stunted progeny at their birth, or if you will, yourselves!


In the year 1664, after graduating at the Academy of Copenhagen, in Theology and Philosophy, I prepared to return to my father-land, and took passage in a ship bound for the city of Bergen, in Norway. I had been furnished with brilliant testimonials from both faculties, and wanted only money;--a fate common to Norwegian students, who generally return home with empty purses from the Temple of the Muses.

We had a good wind, and in three days arrived at my native town, Bergen.

I occupied myself now, in expanding my knowledge of natural philosophy, and for practice, geologically examined the neighboring mountains. On the top of the most interesting of these mountains, (interesting I mean to a student,) was a remarkable cave, which the inhabitants of the town called Florien. From its mouth, a mild and not unpleasant air issues at certain periods, as though the cave inhaled the breeze and gently sighed it forth again.

The learned in Bergen, especially the celebrated Abelin and Edward, had longed to examine it; but these latter, from their great age, being unable to perform so arduous a feat, used every occasion to induce the young and adventurous to attempt the exploration. Instigated, (and it was a foolish, and I might say, a wicked resolution,) instigated, I say, not less by the encouragement of these great men than by my own inclination, I determined to descend into the cave. The longer I thought of the matter, the firmer I became. I prepared every thing needful for the expedition, and on a Thursday, at the morning twilight, departed from the city. I started thus early, because I desired to finish my labors before dark, and make a report the same evening.

How little did I then dream that like another Phaeton, I should be driven headlong through the air and precipitated to another globe, there to ramble for the space of ten years, before I should see my friends and native land again. The expedition took place in the year 1665. Accompanied by four men to carry the necessary implements, and assist in letting me down, I ascended the mountain. Arrived at the top, near the fatal cave, we sat down to breakfast. Now, for the first time, my heart began to faint, as though it foreboded my coming misfortune; but, in a moment, my half extinguished courage blazed again. I fixed a rope around my body, stood on the edge of the cave, and commended my soul to God. Ordering the men to veer the rope steadily, and to hold when I cried out, I took a boat-hook in my right hand, and glided into the abyss. Aided by the pole, I was enabled to keep clear of the jutting points of rock that would have impeded my progress, as well as have wounded me. I was somewhat anxious about the rope, for it rubbed hard against the rocks at the top; and, in fact, I had scarcely descended twenty to thirty feet, when it gave way, and I tumbled with strange quickness down the abyss, armed like Pluto, with a boat-hook, however, in place of a sceptre.

Enveloped by thick darkness, I had been falling about a quarter of an hour, when I observed a faint light, and soon after a clear and bright-shining heaven. I thought, in my agitation, that some counter current of air had blown me back to earth. The sun, moon and stars, appeared so much smaller here than to people on the surface, that I was at a loss with regard to my where-a-bout.

I concluded that I must have died, and that my spirit was now about to be carried to the blessed dwellings. I immediately conceived the folly of this conclusion, however, when I found myself armed with a boat-hook, and dragging behind me a long strip of rope; well knowing that neither of these were needful to land me in Paradise, and that the celestial citizens would scarcely approve of these accessories, with which I appeared, in the manner of the giants of old, likely to attack heaven and eject the gods therefrom.

Finally, a new light glimmered in my brain. I must have got into the subterranean firmament. This conclusion decided the opinion of those, who insist that the earth is hollow, and that within its shell there is another, lesser world, with corresponding suns, planets, stars, &c., to be well-grounded. The result proved that I guessed right.

The rapidity of my descent, continually augmented for a long time, now began to decrease gradually. I was approaching a planet which I had from the first seen directly before me. By degrees it grew larger and larger, when, penetrating the thick atmosphere which surrounded it, I plainly saw seas, mountains and dales on its surface.

As the bold bird, between the billow's top And mountain's summit, sweeps around The muscle-clothed rock, and with light wing Sports on the foam, my body hovered.

I found now that I did not hang in the atmosphere, buoyed up by the strong current of which I have spoken, but that the perpendicular line of my descent was changed to a circle. I will not deny that my hair rose up on my head in fear. I knew not but that I might be metamorphosed to a planet or to a satellite; to be turned around in an eternal whirl. Yet my courage returned, as I became somewhat accustomed to the motion. The wind was gentle and refreshing. I was but little hungry or thirsty; but recollecting there was a small cake in my pocket, I took it out and tasted it. The first mouthful, however, was disagreeable, and I threw it from me. The cake not only remained in the air, but to my great astonishment, began to circle about me. I obtained at this time a knowledge of the true law of motion, which is, that all bodies, when well balanced, must move in a circle.

I remained in the orbit in which I was at first thrown three days. As I continually moved about the planet nearest to me, I could easily distinguish between night and day; for I could see the subterranean sun ascend and descend--the night, however, did not bring with it darkness as it does with us. I observed, that on the descent of the sun, the whole heavens became illuminated with a peculiar and very bright light. This, I ascribed to the reflection of the sun from the internal arch of the earth.

But just as I began to fancy myself in the near presence of the immortal gods, about to become myself a new heavenly light and wondered at as a brilliant star--behold! a horrible, winged monster appeared, who seemed to threaten me with instant destruction. When I saw this object in the distance I supposed it to be one of the celestial signs, but when it came near I perceived it to be an enormous eagle, which followed in my wake as if about to pounce upon me. I observed that this creature noticed me particularly, but could not determine whether as a friend or enemy.

Had I reflected, I should not have wondered that a human being, swinging round in the air, with a boat-hook in his hand, and a long rope dragging behind him, like a tail, should attract the attention of even a brute creature.

My uncommon figure gave, as I afterwards understood, occasion for strange reports to the inhabitants on my side of the planet.

The astronomers regarded me as a comet, with a very long tail. The superstitious thought my appearance to be significant of some coming misfortune. Some draughtsmen took my figure, as far as they could descry it, so that when I landed I found paintings of myself, and engravings taken from them, and hawked about.

But to return; the eagle flew towards me and attacked me with his wings very furiously. I defended myself as well as I could with my boat-hook, and even vigorously, considering my unstable situation. At last, when he attempted to grapple with me, I thrust the hook in between his wings so firmly that I could not extricate it.

The wounded monster fell, with a terrible cry, to the globe beneath; and holding the hook, I, well tired of my pendant attitude, was dragged to the planet.

At first my descent was violent, but the increasing thickness of the atmosphere as I approached the planet, made me sink with an easy and soft fall to the earth. Immediately on touching it the eagle died of its wounds.

It was now night; or rather the sun was down, for it was not dark. I could see clearly to read the papers I had in my pocket.

The light, as I have already said, comes from the firmament or internal shell of our earth, half of it being brightened at one time like our moon. The only difference between night and day is that the absence of the sun makes the weather a little colder.

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