Page images
PDF
EPUB

and vivacity which I found to prevail amongst them, and that, noi unfrequently, under circumstances of considerable external depression and want. Their predominant character is that of unsuspecting frankness, pious contentment, and a steady liveliness of temperament, combined with a strength of intellect, and acuteness of mind, seldom to be met with in other parts of the world. They have also been noted for the almost unconquerable attachmeat which they feel to their native island. With all their privations, and exposed as they are, to numerous dangers from the operation of physical causes, they live under the practical influence of one of their common proverbs: “ Iceland is the best land on which the sun shines.'

Christianity began to be prevalent in Iceland in the beginning of the eleventh century, and in 1551, the protestant doctrines were universally inculcated. The author gives great praise to the Icelandick clergy, for their faithful attention to the performance of the duties of their stations, notwithstanding the smallness of their salaries obliges them to devote much of their time to their farms.

We dismiss the author's introduction, and enter upon his journal, from which we make the following extract:

• The first view we obtained of Iceland, was on the evening of the 12th of July, 1814. At the distance of forty miles, we could discover some of the ice mountains towering to an immense height in the horizon, surrounded below with clouds, and completely covered with snow. From about the middle of the highest, a black rugged ridge commenced, which continued to dip gradually towards the west, till it was intercepted by two small conical snow capped mountains, that bore the most perfect resemblance to sugar loaves. When the tediousness of the voyage is taken into consideration, an allowance will easily be made, for my attaching the idea of beauty to those masses of perennial snow, notwithstanding the revolving presentiment of cold, which necessarily forced itself into my mind.'

Having received a welcome reception, both from private indi. viduals and from the constituted authorities, at Ruykiavik, which is the chief mercantile establishment on the island, our author prepared himself for the adventurous task of a journey through the interior to the northern coast, intending to return by the western shore.

After a picture of Icelandick travelling, of the rugged tracts of lava, which seem to form a considerable part of the surface of the island, and of that hospitality with which our traveller appears to have been uniformly welcomed in his journey, we are presented with the following account of a great natural curiosity:

The track we followed, led us, all at once, to the brink of the frightful chasm called Almannagia, where the solid masses of burnt rock have been disrupted, so as to form a fissure, or gap, not less than a hundred and eighty feet deep, in many places nearly of the

same width, and about three miles in length. At first sight, the stupendous precipices inspired us with a certain degree of terror, which, however, soon left us; and we spent nearly half an hour in surveying the deep chasms, running nearly parallel with the main one, almost below our feet. On the west side of the rent, at no great distance from its southern termination, it is met by another opening, partially filled with large masses of broken rock, down which the traveller must resolve to proceed. Binding up the bridles of our horses, we made them descend before us, while we contemplated with surprise, the undaunted nimbleness with which they leaped from one step of this natural staircase to another. In our own descent, it was not without impressions of fear, that we viewed the immensely huge pieces of rock that projected from the sides of the chasm, almost overhead, and which appeared to be but slenderly attached to the precipice. When we arrived at the bottom, we found ourselves situated in the midst of a fine green; and after stopping once more, to admire the wild and rugged grandeur of the scenery, we again mounted our steeds, and reaching a pass in the eastern cliffs, which owing to the sinking of the ground, are considerably lower, we made our egress with the utmost ease.'

Our traveller soon encountered some of the hot springs, which form one of the most conspicuous curiosities of Iceland, and he expatiates, with considerable enthusiasm, on the mingled richness and wildness of the landscape, which, on one occasion, met his view. Indeed, the union of summer and winter, which characterized the scene, was well calculated to fill the mind of the spectator with delightful emotions.

We now approach, perhaps, one of the most remarkable works of nature. This is the geysers, or principal boiling fountains of Iceland. They have attracted the attention, and been described by the pens of many travellers, among whose accounts, that of Dr. Henderson is not the least interesting, and is, in part, as follows:

'Though surrounded by a great multiplicity of boiling springs, and steaming apertures, the magnitude and grandeur of which, far exceeded any thing we had ever seen before; we felt at no loss in determining on which of them to feast our wondering eyes, and bestow the primary moments of astonished contemplation. Near the northern extremity of the tract, rose a large circular mound, formed by the depositions of the fountain, justly distinguished by the appellation of the great geyser, from the middle of which, a great degree of evaporation was visible. Ascending the rampart, we had the spacious basin at our feet, more than half filled with the most beautiful, hot, crystalline water, which was but just moved by a gentle ebullition, occasioned by the escape of steam, from a cylindrical pipe, or funnel, in the centre. This pipe, I ascertained by admeasurement, to be seventy-eight feet of perpendicular depth; its diameter is, in general, from eight to ten feet, but near the mouth, it gradually widens, and opens, almost imperceptibly, into the basin, the inside of which, exhibits a whitish surface, which has been rendered almost perfectly smooth by the incessant action of the boiling water. The diameter of the basin is fifty-six feet, in one direction, and forty-six in another; and when full, it measures about four feet in depth, from the surface of the water to the commencement of the pipe. The borders of the basin, which form the highest part of the mound, are very irregular, owing to the various accretions of the deposited substances; and at two places, are small channels, equally polished with the interior of the basin, through which the water makes its escape, when it has been filled to the margin. The declivity of the mound is rapid at first, especially on the northwest side, but instantly begins to slope more gradually, and the depositions are spread all around, to different distances, the least of which is near a hundred feet.

[blocks in formation]

* Twenty-five minutes past nine, as I returned from the neighbouring hill, I heard reports, which were both louder and more numerous than any of the preceding, and exactly resembled the distant discharge of a park of artillery. Concluding from these circumstances,

that the long expected wonders were about to commence, I ran to the mound, which shook violently under my feet, and I had scarcely time to look into the basin, when the fountain exploded, and instantly compelled me to retire to a respectful distance on the windward side. The water rushed up out of the pipe with amazing velocity, and was projected by irregular jets into the atmosphere, surrounded by immense volumes of steam, which, in a great measure, hid the column from the view. The first four or five jets were inconsiderable, not exceeding fifteen or twenty feet in height; these were followed by one about fifty feet, which was succeeded by two or three, considerably lower; after which, came the last, exceeding all the rest in splendor, which rose at least to the height of seventy feet. The large stones, which we had previously thrown into the pipe, were ejaculated to a great height, especially one, which was thrown much higher than the water. On the propulsion of the jets, they lifted up the water in the basin, nearest the orifice of the pipe, to the height of a foot, or a foot and a half; and on the falling of the column, it not only caused the basin to overflow at the usual channels, but forced the water over the highest part of the brim, behind which I was standing. The great body of the column, (at least ten feet in diameter,) rose perpendicularly, but was divided into a number of the most superb curvated ramifications; and several smaller spoutings were severed from it, and projected in oblique directions, to the no small danger of the spectator, who is apt to get scalded ere he is aware, by the falling jet.'

The author, next morning, saw an eruption of the new geyser, or, as it is called by the natives, strokr, nine feet in diameter, and from fifty to eighty feet high. The longest eruption of these fountains, witnessed by Dr. Henderson, continued for eight minutes and ten seconds.

We accompany our author from the geysers to the northern coast of Iceland, not without some sympathizing sentiments at the hardships which he endured, and admiration at the composed fortitude with which they were borne and surmounted. The interior of the island exhibits a dreary and uninhabited tract, composed of icy and volcanic mountains, mingled with tracts of sand and lava, and affording only small spots of verdure at the stations, which, in one instance, are fifty miles apart. We compassionate our travel. ler in his entrance on the desert, and share in the cheerfulness which animated him on beholding, after a dreary journey from a mountain, the valley of Eyafiord, which he thus describes:

' The change in the prospect was indescribably delightful. The green grass with which the valley was richly clad, the beautiful river by which it was intersected, the cottages which lay scattered on both sides, and the sheep and lambs which were grazing in every direction, and which, from their distance below us, appeared only as small specks; these circumstances, combined with the height of the mountains that boldly faced each other, and then sloped gently down into the valley, proved an agreeable relief to the eye, which, for four days, had scarcely beheld a tuft of grass; or, indeed, any thing but stones and snow.'

The dwelling-houses of the Icelanders are far from being inviting, as they are low, poorly finished and dirty.

On his arrival on the northern coast, our traveller altered his plan of returning to Reykiavik, by the western part of the island, and determined to proceed by the eastern and southern divisions. Previous, however, to executing this determination, he made a short excursion to the west. On this tour, we find him paying a visit to a poet, who had translated Milton into the Icelandick tongue.

The following is an account of one of the many dangers to which the Icelanders are subject:

One of the principal inconveniences to which the inhabitants of the valleys, in the north of Iceland, are exposed, is what they call the scrida, or the falling of part of the surface of the mountains, into the valley below. It generally begins high up, by the disruption of a cliff, or the loosening of the earth after rain, which, accumulating fresh strength, and receiving new accessions as it proceeds, spreads wider and wider, and with a tremendous noise, hurls every thing before it, into the middle of the plain.'

On his return from Holurn, which was formerly the seat of a bishop, and where a printing press was established in the sixteenth

century, from which issued three editions of the Icelandick scriptures, Dr. Henderson commenced his return to Reykiavik. In the course of his progress, we find him passing a salmon fishery, and crossing a ferry, at which it was necessary to swim the horses. He was furnished with a tent, which he pitched almost every night, prefering it to the accommodation which the houses could afford. His attention was attracted by the hot springs of Reykiaverf, the principal of which are three in number. The basin of the largest is about thirty-three feet in diameter, the pipe, about ten, and of no great depth. The fountain is adorned with incrustations and other siliceous depositions, similar to those at the geysers. It only jets in tempestuous weather, when the eruptions are said to be both lofty and frequent; but our author witnessed an ebullition of about a fost in height, which produced an overflow of the basin, and lasted about half a minute. Another of these springs, instead of alternate states of quiet and eruption, boils continually and furiously; its pipe is about fourteen feet deep. The third, the pipe of which is about eight feet in diameter, combines in its operation, the spouting and boiling of the other two. Its jets take place every five or six minutes, and are from fifteen to twenty-feet high.

On his way to Reykiaplid, our traveller passed near Theiandadal, or, The Valley of Silence, so called from its having been formerly inhabited, but depopulated by the plague. We trace him over lava, with its craters; rivers with their cascades, and through a desert called Myvats-sandar, consisting entirely of sand, pumice, and other volcanic substances. He also crosses, several times, a stream of lava, one of those which issued from the neighbouring mountains of Leishnukr and Krabla, between the years 17-24 and 1730. At this period, three farms were destroyed, and the molten stream advancing into the lake Myvator, formed several small islands, and destroyed the fish. This lake derives its name from the remarkable swarms of gnats by which it is infested, the bite of which is extremely painful.

On the border of the lake, our traveller met with a respectable family removing, on horseback, a distance of not less than five hundred miles to the south. To females, this journey must have been terrible, and a distressing accident which had occurred on the morning when these travellers reached Dr. Henderson's tent, of a child of two years old, breaking its thigh, at a great distance from surgical aid, in being dropped from the horse by its attendant, may illustrate the hardships which they underwent.

Our author, proceeding on his journey, passed the vapour bath, a low rude building of lava, raised over a crevice, through which a quantity of steam issues. Soon after, he arrived at the sulphur mines, which have been dug by the peasants, in an irregular and prodigal manner. The beds of sulphur are thick, and covered only with a thin crust. Near these mines are situated twelve large caldrons of boiling mud, the action of which, attended by roaring,

« PreviousContinue »