Gabriel Harvey (1550-1631) on the Cause of Earthquakes.



The Dover Straits earthquake, which occurred on April 6, 1580, was the subject of a letter from Gabriel Harvey to the poet Edmund Spenser. The following excerpt appears in an article by Douglas Northrop in Philological Quarterly:

The Materiall Cause of Earthquakes ... is no doubt great abundance of wynde, or stoare of grosse and drye vapors and spirites, fast shut vp, and as a man would saye, emprysoned in the Caues, and Dungeons of the Earth: which winde, or vapors, seeking to be set at libertie, and to get them home to their Naturall lodgings, in a great fume, violently rush out, and as it were, breake prison, which forcible Eruption, and strong breath, causeth an Earthquake. . . .

Note that if Harvey's material hypothesis were true, then an earthquake might more appropriately be called an earthfart. provides an excellent summary of the events of that day. I found this particularly interesting:

Perhaps the most terrifying were the experiences of those sailing on the English Channel, where freak waves and swells sank more than two dozen English, French and Flemish vessels. A passenger on a boat from Dover reported that his vessel had grounded on the sea bed five times and that the seas had risen higher than the mast of his vessel.

As a side note, this is the earthquake that the Nurse refers to in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet:

"’T is since the earthquake now eleven years...” (I.iii, line 22)

The illustration depicts an earthquake in Switzerland, 1557

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