Page images
PDF
EPUB

splashing, and the ascent of vast columns of dense steam, the author describės as truly terrific. On partially ascending the mountain Krabla, the author had a view of a circular pool, of black liquid matter, at least three hundred feet in circumference; from the centre of which, a column of the same substance, about ten feet in diameter, was ejected to a height of thirty feet, surrounded by smoke, and with a loud thundering noise. Leaving this mountain, he visited Hrafntinnufial, or the Obsidian mountain, so called from its abounding in obsidian, or the Icelandick agate, of which our traveller selected such specimens as he could conveniently carry.

In crossing a river in this neighbourhood, which, like many others in Iceland, proceeds from a yokul, or ice-field, the author encountered considerable danger. He was afterwards benighted in a desert, six miles in extent, where, not being able to discern the path, he was carried on safely by the instinct of his hascs, until stopped by a steep elevation, which on examination, proved to be the farm house of Grimstad, which was the limit of his day's journey.

In calculating time, our traveller informs us that the Icelanders make use of the natural horizon, which they divide into eight points, consisting of the peaks or projections of mountains; or,

in the absence of these, of pyramids of stones, erected on the corresponding heights.

More than once, our author passes his encomium on Icelandick manners, particularly where they are not corrupted by intercourse with strangers. He describes the inhabitants as moral, religious, cheerful, contented, and hospitable. Much simplicity appears to prevail among them, together with a degree of information in the peasants, quite remarkable, and superior to what is generally observed in that class. The intemperance which was sometimes observable formerly, has been checked by the high price of spirituous liquors; and, to use the expression of an Icelandick clergyman, ' their poverty is the bulwark of their happiness. It is difficult to resist the testimony founded on daily observation, of the effect of so simple a state of society, in promoting virtue; but, at the same time, these remarks carry with them a severe reflection on the manners of a majority of those communities to whom Providence has allotted abundant temporal blessings.

We notice, in perusing our author's narrative, that in the parish of Hof, containing upwards of four hundred souls, there was only one parishioner more than eight years of age, who could not read, and this individual was prevented by a natural infirmity.

Following our traveller, we behold him now cheered by the prospect of fine meadows; now crossing a deep river, by a slight and partially decayed bridge, thrown from one precipice to another; now perplexed in tording a stream, and now tracing a resemblance between the mountain peaks and the turrets of Edinburgh castle, or the dome of St. Paul's.

At the factory of Diupavog, the most southerly harbour on the east coast, the author met with a pretty voluminous circulating library, which the zeal of the proprietor has prompted him to establish, for the accommodation of such as may wish to cultivate different branches of science.

The following is an interesting account of some mineralogical curiosities:

• At the distance of about three miles from the factory, we came to a long irregular range of cliffs, where the shore, "eat into caverns by the restless wave," exposed the place of stones," and disclosed to the ravished eye, some of the most unparalleled beauties of the mineral kingdom. In the hard rock, were numerons and widely diversified crystallizations of quartz; but what particularly attracted iný attention, was the zeolite, or star stone, so called from the beautiful shining rays of crystal, which all divirge from a common centre, and terminate in a pyramidal form. It was imbedded in argiliaceous earth, and on this account, is easily dug out; but was so exceedingly brittle, of itself, that it could hardly bear the removal of the clay. Of this mineral, I met with many beautiful varieties. Some of these stars contain four sided rays, or bars of crystals, nearly as fine as hairs, and not more than a quarter of an inch from the centre to the circumference; others consist of bars near a quarter of an inch in circumference, and three or four inches in length, while others are found in the shape of a goose's egg, but twice as large, which, on being broken, present a flat surface, consisting, at one end, of a white, and white bluish substance, resembling cornelian, and at the other, of beautiful bars of white crystal, that lie close together, like pillars in a bed of basalt. These last are covered with a thin coat, of a light green colour, in which, in various places, small prominences appear, consisting of a greenish loose grained substance. At the same place I found some small light stones, externally of the same colour; but on being broken, they discovered a beautiful shining substance, which I take to be calcareous spar. Chalcedonies and red jasper also abound in the neighbourhood; and though most of the European cabinets have been stocked with specimens from this place, in the selection of which, the greatest waste has been made; it still contains inexhaustible treasures, and would richly repay the toils of the naturalist, who spent a summer here in mineralogical researches.'

After proceeding some distance further, the author found himself in the midst of large masses of columnar rocks, which he compares to the remains of Grecian architecture.

'The pillars were piled one above another, with the most perfect exactness, and arranged so as to form an entire semicircle. They stand quite perpendicular; some of the divisions may be about four feet in length, but in general, they appeared to be from two to

three feet. The most of them were six-sided; a considerable number had five, and some seven sides. Finding that such fragments as had been thrown down, were mostly all concave, at the one end, and convex at the other, I was anxious to ascertain their original position, and climbed up amongst the broken pillars, when I discovered that they were all concave at the upper end; and the excavation appeared to be more or less hollowed, according to the convexity of the lower end of the joint that had stood upon it.'

The colour of some of the yokuls is thus described: ' In the upper regions, they appear to consist of the purest virgid snow; about the middle, they become blackish, owing, I suppose, to the admixture of sand and dust from the adjacent mountains; and a considerable way around the edge, they assume a beautiful green tint, which, reflecting the beams of the sun, produces the most brilliant effect.'

We are furnished with a description of a moving ice mountain, called the Breidamark yokul, about twenty miles in length, fifteen in breadth, and having an extreme height of about four hundred feet. Its progress towards the sea, appeared from its covering the tracks made in the sand by travellers the preceding year. The author observed, that one which had been made only eight days previous to his arrival, was already invaded by the ice.

Our poor traveller, in passing a river called the Yokulsa a Breidamerkursand, was in imminent danger. He describes its tumultuous roar, and the height of its breakers, to have been tremendous; and avers, that nothing but a confidence in the Divine protection, which seems to have been his support in every danger, emboldened him to encounter its fury. The boiling and raving of the stream, whose impetuous current was obstructed by shoals of ice, the washing of the loose stones hurled against one another at the bottom, the dashing of the waves, produced by masses of ice, stopped in their course by large stones, the baggage horses being swung round by the flood, when the water rose

against their sides, and our author's riding horse throwing himself suddenly against the stream to avoid being carried away, were circumstances which, when united, were well calculated to intimidate. It is in scenes like these, that the mind relinquishes, for the moment, that practical atheism in which the generality of mankind love to indulge, and which opposes, in the ordinary circumstances of life, a resistance too generally successful, to all serious and permanent impressions of religion.

An extraordinary instance of generosity was experienced by our author, from an Icelandick peasant, who exchanged a strong fresh horse for one of Dr. Henderson's lean ones, which he was obliged to leave behind, without expecting any money for the exchange. This is a custom of the country, called hesta-kuup, and is esteemed

59

VOL, XIV.

a duty of hospitality towards travellers who may need such as. sistance.

We meet, soon after, with a farmer famous for his attachment to ancient Scandanavian literature, and who owned more than a hundred sagas or legends.

We have also an account of a dreadful exundation of the vol. cano Orafa, which, in the year 1727 poured down such torrents of hot water, as to destroy, according to one estimate, six hundred sheep, and one hundred and sixty horses, besides carrying away two women and a boy.

We notice the account of the alternate progressive and retro. grade motion, at certain periods, of the southern Skeidera yokul, which on these occasions is known to recede more than half a mil. Our author observed, at the distance of about three eighths of a mile from the present margin of the yokril, a number of inferior heights that had been left on its regress in 1812, which was the last time, previous to his visit, that it had been observed to be in motion.

The following picture exhibits a pleasing contrast to the scenes of desolation and danger in which our traveller has wandered so long.

The two subdivisions of Skaftafell's syssel are separated from each other by the Gnupsootn, and the traveller, on passing that boundary, leaves the regions of perpetual ice and snow, and enters a tract, which, though greatly defaced by the terrible convulsions of nature to which the last century was witness in this neighbourhood, still exhibits ample specimens of that beauty and fertility, for which it has been renowned. The northern Skeidera and Skaptar yokuls lie at a considerable distance back from the farms, and the low flat hills which occupy the intermediate space, while they screen the inhabitants from the cold northern blasts of winter, afford their flocks and herds a pretty luxuriant pasturage. The numerous cottages that line the base of the hills; the rich vegetation which clothes nearly two thirds of the declivity; and the beautiful basaltick pillars appearing among the cliffs above, the tops of which are met by the descending heath, all combine to render the districts of Lida and Fliotshverfi the most delightful of any in Iceland,

In the year 1783, an eruption of the Skaptar volcano, produced, according to two accounts published by chief justice Stephenson through its immediate effects, and by the famine and other mise. ries which it caused, a loss, in two years, of 9,336 persons, 28,000 horses, 11,461 head of cattle, and 190,488 sheep.'• The extreme length of the torrent of lava, says our author, is about fifty miles; its greatest breadth, in the low country, between twelve and fifteen miles; its height in the level country does not exceed a hundred feet, but in some parts of the channel of the river Skapta, it is not less than six hundred feet high.' These dimensions are taken by our author, from chief justice Stephenson's description of the

eruption of 1783, altered according to Mr. Paulson's M. S. The great distance to which its minor effects extended appears from the following extract. The quantity of ashes, brimstone, &c. thrown up into the atmosphere, was so great, that nearly the whole European horizon was enveloped in obscurity. Salso sulphureous rains fell in several countries of the north. In the Faroe islands, the ground was, at times, almost entirely covered with sand, ashes and pumice; and luminous meteors, were observed in England, Holland, and other parts of the continent.'

A living scene of human misery soon succeeds to the black and melancholy aspect of the lava, and is thus depicted:

* A little to the west of this place, (Sida,) we came to Hoyland hospital, one of the four establishments existing on the island, for the reception of incurable lepers, where I had an opportunity of contemplating that loathsome disease, so particularly described in the Levitical code; and which gave occasion to the composition of one of the most sublime pieces of Hebrew poetry, that is to be met with in the sacred volume. Two females were, at this time, in the hospital, the one about thirty, and the other upwards of fifty years of age. The latter of these objects exhibited the most miserable spectacle I ever beheld. Her face and hands were swelled to a frightful degree, and full of livid red sores, or blotches, be. tween which appeared scars, or rents, resembling cuts in a high state of inflammation. The other seemed to be afflicted with a less malignant species of the same malady: for, though her face was also swelled, no pustules appeared; but the skin was covered with whitish glossy scales, and, in some places, intersected by reddish streaks, which are, most probably, a disposition to wrinkles. They were both sitting in the door of the Lazar-house, and the deepest melancholy seemed depicted in their looks.'

Our author meets in his progress, with an Icelandick gentleman, Mr. Ivend Paulson, a surgeon by profession, whose researches into the natural history of the island have been extensive and valų. able.

In crossing the Hafursa, a river swollen by the rain, our author's guide and his horse, together with the baggage horses, were carried away by the impetuosity of the stream, and narrowly escap. ed destruction. Dr. Henderson himself, attempted to follow, but was obliged to return, and to pass the night, which was rainy, alone, and unsheltered on the mountain. His imagination was occupied in this situation, by the romantic strains of Ossian, and the more placid images of the bard of the Seasons.

• In one sense, says he, I could say with Colma, It is night. I am alone; forlorn on the hill of storms. The wind is heard in the mountain. The torrent pours down the rock. No hut receives me from the rain; forlorn on the hill of winds! But I could also with a nobler propriety, adopt the effusions of Thomson:

« PreviousContinue »