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These sands are often thrown up in hillocks by the wind, like the sandy deserts of which I spoke to you the other evening. In those parts which are not covered by this loose sand, there is no soil or turf, but merely sand or yellow loam, mingled with marine mire, which does not produce a tree or shrub, or even a blade of grass, or anything vegetable except a few marine plants. I could mention much more in proof of what Mr. Dillon has told you; but now we had better visit the lakes of Persia separately, and see if we can find anything more to interest us.
The Caspian Sea is 646 miles in length from north to south, and from 100 to 265 miles in breadth. It is therefore the largest body of water without an outlet, that is to say, the largest lake in the world. I hardly know anything which shows so strongly the progress we have made in geographical knowledge, as the amazing difference between the figure of this lake in our own maps, and that in the maps of former times. Look at the plan of the Caspian as it appeared in this volume of Travels (pointing to a book of Travels), printed about two hundred years since, compare it with that in the map we are using.
H. What a difference !
U. O. It looks as little as possible like what it is. You see its length is placed from east to west, instead of from north to south; and the breadth in proportion to the length is incomparably greater than in the true Caspian Sea. Indeed the regular appearance which the sea makes in this map, with the rivers all in a row round the brim, shows how little was known beyond the fact that there was a large lake in that quarter, and that certain rivers flowed into it. The proper course, of leaving unrepresented what is not known, as is now done in our best maps, was never taken then ; but what was only guessed, was put down as clearly as what was known. The other lakes fare no better than the Caspian. The great lake Shahee is not set down at all : and the river Aras, which nowhere approaches within a hundred miles of the lake Van in America, is made to flow from it to the Caspian, which reduces the river to less than half its proper length. An old Greek traveller (Herodotus) who lived about 2000 years before Herbert, seems to have known the Caspian much better. He gives its length and breadth pretty correctly, and, of course, knew that it was a lake. Yet another writer (Strabo), who lived about 400 years later than Herodotus; did not know that it was a lake, but thought that it joined the North Sea. For our present improved knowledge of the Caspian Sea we are chiefly indebted to the Russians, by whom it has been regularly surveyed.
The northern shore of the Caspian, from this river Terek to the eastern extremity of this bay of Mertvoi Kultyuk, is low, flat, swampy, and overgrown with reeds, and the weather is generally hazy. You will recollect that this part must have been under the water in the time of that great lake of which Mr. Dillon has been speaking. From the Terek to Astrabad, there is a narrow tract of low land between the sea and the mountains, which is very rich, and is covered with forests alınost to the top of the mountains, looking in its greenness and fertility very different from the rest of Persia; but the climate is unhealthy, because it is so damp, and because the air is corrupted by the standing water. The part from Astrabad to the bay of Balkan has no mountains behind it. It is principally a plain, partly covered by fine pasture, and partly with wood. The former attracts the Turcomans to come there with their flocks. From the bay of Balkan to that of Mertvoi, the land affords pasture, but not so much wood; the shore becomes
high and bold, and the water is so deep that a line of 450 fathoms will often not reach the bottom when thrown close to the shore. Nevertheless the sea is altogether so full of shallow places, that it is never navigated by vessels that draw more than nine or ten feet water.
F. Draw! what does that mean, Sir?
U. O. A ship is said to draw so many feet of water as the “ keel,” or lowest part of the ship, is below the surface of the water. It is not only these shallows and many small islands which make the navigation difficult, but the sea is also exceedingly stormy, as is generally the case with other inland seas; and during these storms there is hardly a part in all the shore which is perfectly safe. .
Jane. Are the ships in that sea so big as those we saw the other day at Sheerness ?
U. 0. Oh, no! A ship cannot be very large that draws no more than ten feet water. The largest of the ships which you saw at Sheerness will draw no less than 26 feet, and will carry a burden of more than 2000 tons, while the largest vessels in the Caspian cannot carry more than from about 200 to 250 tons, and those most generally in use do not carry more than 30 to 40 tons. On account of the shallow places in the sea, the Russians have introduced a sort of flatbottomed vessel, clumsily built and not very ingenious in its construction, but very strong. But I will describe these vessels to you. The common vessels are generally without decks that is (nodding to June) they have not that flooring upon which people walk in large ships, and which makes a cellar and rooms of the parts below.
Jane. Then I wonder they don't get wet, and their things too, when it rains.
U. O. They can spread over their things a tarred cloth through which the water cannot get; but as for themselves, men who attend to the business of any ship must be wet when it rains, and also when the waves dash over the vessels, as you have seen them dash over the rocks.
J. Poor men! Don't they take cold ?
U. O. No. Sailors never take cold; because they are used to the things which give colds to other people. Well: these vessels are carried forward by means of a single square sail ; but sometimes they put another sail at the top above that. The vessels belonging to the Persians are mostly made of elm ; the sails are of cotton, the cables of flax, and some, of the barks of trees. They have another sort of vessel, which is larger and