The night had been passed at Adelsberg, and the morning had been agreeably occupied in exploring the wonders of its celebrated cavern. The entrance is through an opening in the side of a hill. In a few moments, after walking down a gentle descent, a sound of flowing water is heard, and the light of the torches borne by the guides gleams faintly upon a river which runs through these sunless chasms, and revisits the glimpses of day at Planina, some ten miles distant.
The visitor now finds himself in a vast hall, walled and roofed by impenetrable darkness. Rude steps in the rock lead down to the level of the stream, which is crossed by a wooden bridge; and the ascent on the other side is made by a similar flight of steps. The bridge and steps are marked by a double row of lights, which present a most striking appearance as their tremulous luster struggles through the night that broods over them. Such a scene recalls Milton’s sublime pictures of Pandemonium, and shows directly to the eye what effects a great imaginative painter may produce with no other colors than light and darkness. Here are the “stately height,” the “ample spaces,” the “arched roof,” the rows of “starry lamps and blazing cressets” of Satan’s hall of council; and by the excited fancy the dim distance is easily peopled with gigantic forms and filled with the “rushing of congregated wings.”
After this, one is led through a variety of chambers, differing in size and form, but essentially similar in character, and the attention is invited to the innumerable multitude of striking and fantastic objects which have been formed in the lapse of ages, by the mere dropping of water. Pendants hang from the roof, stalagmites grow from the floor like petrified stumps, and pillars and buttresses are disposed as oddly as in the architecture of a dream. Here, we are told to admire a bell, and there, a throne; here, a pulpit, and there, a butcher’s shop; here, “the two hearts,” and there, a fountain frozen into alabaster; and in every case we assent to the resemblance in the unquestioning mood of Polo-thus. One of the chambers, or halls, is used every year as a ballroom, for which purpose it has every requisite except an elastic floor, even to a natural dais for the orchestra.
Here, with the sort of pride with which a book collector shows a Mazarin Bible or a folio Shakespeare, the guides point out a beautiful piece of limestone which hangs from the roof in folds as delicate as a Cashmere shawl, to which the resemblance is made more exact by a well-defined border of deeper color than the web. Through this translucent curtain the light shines as through -a picture in porcelain, and one must be very unimpressible not to bestow the tribute of admiration which is claimed. These are the trivial details which may be remembered and described, but the general effect produced by the darkness, the silence,, the vast spaces, the innumerable forms, the vaulted roofs, the pillars and galleries melting away in the gloom like the long-drawn aisles of a cathedral, may be recalled but not communicated.
To see all these marvels requires much time, and I remained under ground long enough to have a new sense of the blessing of light. The first glimpse of returning day seen through the distant entrance brought with it an exhilarating sense of release, and the blue sky and cheerful sunshine were welcomed like the faces of long absent friends.
A cave like that of Adelsbergfor all lime-stone caves are, doubtless, essentially similar in characterought by all means to be seen if it comes in one’s way, because it leaves impressions upon the mind unlike those derived from any other object. Nature stamps upon most of her operations a certain character of gravity and majesty. Order and symmetry attend upon her steps, and unity in variety is the law by which her movements are guided. But, beneath the surface of the earth, she seems a frolicsome child, or a sportive undine, who wreaths the unmanageable stone into weird and quaint forms, seemingly from no other motive than pure de-light in the exercise of overflowing power. Everything is playful, airy, and fantastic; there is no spirit of soberness; no reference to any ulterior end; nothing from which food, fuel, or raiment can be extracted. These chasms have been scooped out, and these pillars have been reared, in the spirit in which the bird sings, or the kitten plays with the falling leaves. From such scenes we may safely infer that the plan of the Creator comprehends something more than material utility, that beauty is its own vindictator and interpreter, that sawmills were not the ultimate cause of mountain streams, nor wine-bottles of cork-trees.