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Title: Ultima Thule; vol. 2/2 - or A Summer in Iceland
Author: Burton, Richard Francis, Sir
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Ultima Thule; vol. 2/2 - or A Summer in Iceland" ***

                             ULTIMA THULE;

                         A SUMMER IN ICELAND.

                     [Illustration: From a Photo.


                  M‘Farlane & Erskine, Londⁿ. Edinʳ.]

                             ULTIMA THULE;

                         A SUMMER IN ICELAND.


                          RICHARD F. BURTON.

        With Historical Introduction, Maps, and Illustrations.

                               VOL. II.

                           WILLIAM P. NIMMO.
                            AND EDINBURGH.


                           ST JAMES SQUARE.


CHAPTER VI.                                                   PAGE

The Press-Visit to the Latin SchoolLibraries and Collections-Gunnlaugsson’s
Map-Note (Natural History
and Anthropology),                                            1-23


Tourists and Tours-Guides and Horses-Horse Gear,
Traps, and Tents,                                            24-43


Excursions about Reykjavik-The Islands-The Laug or
Hammám-The Southern Laxá or Salmon River,                    44-59


Further Afield-Ascent of the Esja and the Skarðsheiði-The
Hof or Heathen Temple of Kjalarnes,                          60-83


Northwards Ho! To Stykkishólm and Grafarós,                  84-129


To Hekla and the Geysir in Haukadalr,                       130-211


On Human and other Remains from Iceland,                    212-220


To Eastern Iceland-We reach Mý-vatn,                        221-278


Three Days at the Solfatara of Mý-vatn,                     279-302


Return to Djúpivogr and End of Journey,                     303-328


On Sulphur in Iceland, by Henchel, Sir G. S. Mackenzie,
Mr Consul Crowe, Captain Burton (Notes
on Mr Vincent’s Paper), and C. C. Blake,                    329-377

Leasing Contract--Report of the Althing,                    378-389

Sulphur in Sicily,                                          390-400

Sulphur in Transylvania,                                    400-402

Sulphur in Andaman Islands,                                 402-404

INDEX,                                                      405-408




Danish Fishing Company’s Station at Berufjörð,     _Frontispiece._

The Basalt Hammer and the Stone Weight,                               21

The “Pretty Guide,”                                                   28

Inventory of Reykholt Kirk,                                           70

Snæfellsjökull from the North,                                        86

Hafnafjörð, which ought to be the Capital of Iceland,                 88

Snæfellsjökull from the South,                                        94

Sukkertoppr and Líkkista (Sugar-Loaf and Coffin),                     99

The Amulet,                                                          118

The Krísuvík Mines or Sulphur Mountains,                             138

The Sulphur Spring,                                                  140

Solfatara of Krísuvík,                                               146

The Rural Scene,                                                     156

Lögberg and Almannagjá,                                              195

Human Clavicle,                                                      217

The Broad-Shouldered,                                                265

Plan of Leirhnukr and Krafla Springs,                                279

Reykjahlíð Church,                                                   286

Map of the Mý-vatn and Vatnajökull District,                         314

View of the Vatnajökull from the Southern Slope of (Eastern)
Snæfell,                                                             320

Stone-Axe in Museum, Reykjavik,                                      328






The first newspaper printed in Iceland began in 1775: in the catalogue
of writers prefixed to the work of Uno Von Troil, it is called the
_Isländische Zeitung_. This Islendingur, not long defunct, gained
considerable reputation; the back numbers are to be found at the College
Library. At present the island publishes three periodicals, of which two
are printed at the capital. The first, which appears regularly twice a
month, is called the _Thjóðólfr_,[1] an old Icelandic Christian name;
and in 1872 numbered its twenty-fourth year. The sheets vary from one to
two, according to the amount of news; the columns are double, the page
is about 10 inches by 8½; the subscribers’ list shows some 1100, and the
yearly subscription is $1, 2m. 0sk. The editor, Hr Procurator Jón
Guðmundsson, a barrister, conducts it worthily, and with great
intelligence; he is outspoken, but not factiously so. The _Tíminn_
(Times) appears once a month; its politics are of the “Hlut-lausir,”
lot-less, or neutral tint, which would have caused it to be ostracised
at Athens; and there is some mystery about the editor, who is usually
supposed to be Hr Páll Eyúlfsson, silversmith and cicerone. The third is
the _Norðanfari_ (Northern Traveller) of Akureyri,[2] the chief
commercial station in the north. It usually comes out some twenty-six
times a year in the full size of four pages, and at intervals with
reduced proportions: matter is fearfully scarce during the four winter
months, when there are no mails, and local subjects must be at a
premium. As regards the sparring of rival journalists, it is, to quote
Arlequin’s saying, “tout comme chez nous.”

The history of printing-presses in Iceland has been copiously treated.
They were first established at the two bishoprics of Skálholt and Hólar;
privileges were then granted to Leirá, Viðey,[3] and Hrappsey; and now
there are two, in Reykjavik and Akureyri. The office at the capital is
in High Street, where three men work the two presses and four cases: the
folding machine has yet to be introduced.

The Icelandic Literary Society (Hið Íslenzka Bókmentafèlag) still
survives: after passing through the usual phases, it is now loyal and
respectable. Concerning the first, or Societas Invisibilis (Hið
ósynilega Fèlag), established in 1760, ample information will be found
in Bishop Pètursson’s “Hist. Eccles. Isl.” (pp. 339-342). The second
(Hið Íslenzka lærdomslista fèlag), dating from 1779, is treated of in
Mackenzie (chap, vii.): it admitted corresponding and honorary members.
The third (Hið konunglega Islenzka lærdómslista fèlag) in 1787 became a
Royal Society: it is interesting because it first treats of the sulphur
mines and trade of Iceland in the reign of Frederick II. (1336-59); and
the presiding genius was the celebrated Jón Eiríksson. This worthy,
whilst under the influence of melancholia, committed suicide, a
proceeding as rare amongst men of distinction in the post-Christian as
it was common during the pagan times of Iceland. I inquired in vain
about the savant’s bust, which was broken on the voyage to this island;
my informants had only a hazy idea that the head had been returned to
Copenhagen. A medallion of the great Scandinavian literato, now in the
hands of Hr Sigurður Guðmundsson, shows him in profile, with protruding
chin and brow, a nose worthy of Fielding, a long-tailed wig with _ailes
de pigeon_, and a frilled shirt.

The fourth Royal Society of General Instruction in Iceland (Hið
Konunglega islenzska Landsuppfrædíngar Fèlag) was established by Magnús
Stephensen. The fifth, Vísinda og Upplýsingar-Stiftan (Institute for
Knowledge and Instruction), was conducted by Björn Gottskálkson, when
the press was removed from Hrappsey to Leirágarðar. The sixth, which
actually exists (Hið íslenzka Bókmenta Fèlag), was founded by the
celebrated Professor Rask in 1816, on March 30, which is kept as its
birthday. The bye-laws were printed in Icelandic and Danish at
Copenhagen in 1818: the Skýrslur, or annual report, first appeared in

The object of the Society is to publish and circulate, at the cheapest
price, useful, standard, and also original books, together with
newspapers and periodicals. Such literature is still a prime want in the
country, and an enterprising publisher like Mr N. Trübner might do a
“good stroke of business.” The two branches, Danish and Icelandic,
choose their own executive every year, and keep separate accounts, which
are blended in the general annual statement: the latter is published by
Hr Bianco Luno of Copenhagen, in French and English, as well as in
Scandinavian. The books are also printed at the metropolis, and sent out
to the island. The _magnum opus_ is the annual review, historical
report, and magazine of general literature, classically called Skirnir,
the Narrator, or Eddaic messenger of Freyr.

The Society numbers some 720 Fèlagar (members), besides a few
corresponding and honorary, French and English, German and “American.”
The subscription is $3 per annum. The Icelandic branch meets, besides
extraordinary occasions, twice a year, in March and July; the latter is
the Synod time, corresponding with our May meetings; and the venue is at
the Priests’ Seminary for want of other room. The first president was
Hr Ární Helgason; Bishop Pètursson has held it for twenty years, and it
is actually tenanted by Hr Jón Thorkelsson, head-master of the Latin
School. The rector, Hr Jens Sigurðsson, is the treasurer; Hr Páll
Melsteð is secretary; and Hr Hálldór Guðmundsson acts librarian.

Formerly there was a high school at each bishopric, and a prime
grievance of the island is that the two having been reduced to one, the
northern and eastern provinces are put to uncalled for expense and
inconvenience. Children learn the “four R’s” at home from their parents:
hence the unalphabetic are rare, and some priests even refuse to marry
them. At the capital both sexes may attend a preparatory school in
Harbour Street (Hafnarstræti), till the age of confirmation, or
fourteen. The cost is small, $8 per annum, but all the pupils, even
those who come from afar, must live in the town. Besides the elements of
knowledge, they learn history and geography, Danish and Icelandic, but
neither French and English. Music is little cultivated, the piano is not
unknown, but the singing is chiefly confined to hymns, and of these few
are original. Dancing and gymnastics are equally neglected.

I visited the Supreme Court, a low building in the row north of the
Landfógeti or treasurer’s office, under charge of the stiff old usher.
The left room is for the town councils; the right for the administration
of justice, as shown by the oval table, by four chairs within, and by
two small tables and bench without the cross-rail. It would be hard to
swing a cat, with anything like safety to the animal, inside this temple
of Themis, and its mean proportions gave me satisfaction. The next move
was to the Latin School, which has now taken the place of the Schola
Bessastadensis. The highly uninteresting building, already collapsing in
its twenty-ninth year, is approached by a bridge spanning the foul
drain, and is fronted by a sloping, grassy lawn kept in decent order.
The civil hall-porter acts cicerone. Turning to the left of the hall,
where a big clock stands, we find the younger classes preparing for
examination, a professor walking about to prevent “cribbing:” this is
the written portion; the _vivâ voce_ process will be conducted in the
front hall of the first floor, where the Althing meets. It is a
fair-sized room, with the royal portrait at the bottom opposite the
entrance, fronted by a long desk of green cloth: the rest of the
furniture consists of benches covered with green baize. The governor
sits on the proper right of royalty, and the president of the Diet on
the left. The last session (1871) was described to me as somewhat
stormy, and the nays (neis) far outnumbered the yeas: the latter (já),
when reiterated in excitement and pronounced _yäu_, sound somewhat
comically, a manner of bark, yow, yow, yow.

There are two dormitories in which the little beds stand side by side.
Everything is of the humblest description; even the ceiling of the
professors’ sitting-room wants repair. A change to the capital has
somewhat modified the excessive uncleanness which foreign visitors
remarked at Bessastaðir, but there is still much to be desired.

In the Introduction I have given the details of the High School. The
programme leaves little to be desired, but sensible Icelanders agree
with strangers that the education is sterile and not “serious,” in the
French sense of the word invented about 1830. The pupils learn a
smattering of many things, but nothing thoroughly. This is doubtless the
result of a social condition in which only superficial knowledge is at a
premium: the same may be remarked in the United States and in the
Brazil, compared, for instance, with Oxford and Coimbra, where students
find specialties necessary.[4] The consequences of studying Icelandic
and Danish, Latin and Greek, English, French, and German, are that very
little can be learned. At the beginning of the century every priest
could converse in Latin--I have now met many who cannot speak a word of
it, and I have not met one who spoke it even tolerably. The useful
cosmopolitan dialect has been exchanged for “modern languages:”
similarly the Magyar now cultivates his own dialect, and has abandoned
the Latin which, to him almost a mother-tongue, kept Hungary in contact
with the culture of the West.

The pupils are hard workers and have excellent memories; they must
chiefly, however, depend upon books, and the result is that whilst many
of them collect a fair stock of phrases, and pronounce them remarkably
well, they can hardly understand a word of the reply. Another and a
severer charge is brought against the establishment. The dissipations of
Reykjavik appear very mild to a dweller in European cities, but they
are, comparatively speaking, considerable. Youngsters between the ages
of fourteen and twenty-three easily learn to become boon companions, and
to lay the foundation of habits which affect their after-lives. The
professorial Hetæra being unknown, the students are apt to make any
connections which present themselves, and intrigues with the “ancilla”
sometimes end in marriage perforce. Thus the country clergyman or the
franklin begins life burdened with a helpmate utterly unmeet for him;
who neglects his house and children, who thinks of nothing but dress and
“pleasuring,” and who leads him rapidly on the road to ruin, in a
country where all domestic comfort and worldly prosperity depend upon
the “gudewife.” Hence the old system of schools at Skálholt and Hólar,
and even at Bessastaðir, is greatly preferred, and, perhaps, even now
the seminary might with profit be removed to Thingvellir. Here it has
been proposed to lay out a model farm, where the alumni could add
agriculture to their pastoral acquirements.

About the age of twenty-three the Skóla-piltar, or pupils, become
“students,” that is to say, B.A.’s. In order to enter the learned
professions, especially the law, they matriculate at the University of
Copenhagen, where they are housed and receive annual stipendiums of £15
to £20. They distinguish themselves by thrift and canniness, emulation,
energy, and abundant application, when the place agrees with them. But
often they suffer from the insidious attacks of a climate which even
Englishmen would call rigorous; the comparative mildness acts upon them
as tropical heat upon us, and in not a few cases they die of pulmonary

Medicine may be studied at Reykjavik. The school is simply a room in
the Hospital, and subjects for dissection cannot be had without a
permission, which is generally refused. On the other hand, students have
the benefit of lectures from thoroughly able men, Drs Hjaltalín and
Jonassen. The course lasts from three to five years, and after an
examination the Læknir (M.D.) may either practise in private, or aspire
to become “physicus,” at some out-station.

Theological students attend the Priests’ Seminary at Reykjavik. It
consists of two lecture rooms, fronting the sea, in Hafnarstræti, and
furnished with chairs and black desks, a stove, and a list of lectures.
The candidates who reside in the town are taught by the Lector Sigurðr
Melsted and two “Docents,” Hannes Árnason and Helgi Hálfdanarson. The
examinations take place in June and August; the former tests their
progress in logic and psychology, the latter in theology, ecclesiastical
history, exegesis, and canon law. The course lasts at least two years,
and at the age of twenty-five, after the final examination, students
obtain the degree of “candidat.” Some do not choose to be at once
ordained, reserving the final step for later in life, but the material
advantages of the profession in Iceland never allow it to lack recruits.
The result of such a course is to saturate the mind with the Bible,
learnt from translations and explained by the individual opinions of
swarming commentators. It makes men “fall down and worship” (as the
great Spinoza has it) “an idol composed of ink and paper, instead of the
true word of God.” And when the superficial and ill-taught “divine” has
to do battle with a polemical Catholic or a pugnacious Rationalist, the
action generally ends in a ludicrous defeat. I especially allude to the
late controversies with M. Baudouin, and the disputes with
“Free-thinkers,” recorded by Professor Paijkull: the Great Book, or
Commentary on St John, written by Candidat (Theologiæ) Magnús Eiríksson,
is attacked by an “Old Pastor,” with an obsolete virulence worthy of the

I was introduced to Professor Hannes Árnason, the geologist of the
Government College, who kindly showed me the collections of natural
history. Of botany there is none, the hortus siccus seems to be
generally neglected in the smaller museums of the world: the student
must content himself with Dr Hjaltalín’s work, and the “Flora Danica,”
of which a good, but untinted, copy is found in the College Library.
Zoology is confined to a few stuffed birds.[5] The mineralogical
collection is richer; mostly, however, it is a _rudis indigestaque
moles_; the upper part of a chest will be labelled, and the lower
drawers in most unadmirable disorder. Moreover, where the traveller
wants only local specimens, they are mostly general; for instance, a
small cabinet of fourteen drawers contains Germany.[6]

We then proceeded to the College Library, a detached building of solid
construction, but suffering sadly from damp accumulating in the porous
stone. In the big bluewashed room fires are neglected, consequently the
books are damp and mildewed.[7] At the bottom, above a broken globe, is
a votive tablet erected to an English benefactor, Charles Kellsall of
London, who supplied funds for the building, and who left it a library,
which, they say, has not yet begun its journey Icelandwards: there is
none to Mr John Heath, who printed the Rev. Jón Thorlaksson’s well-known
Eddaic paraphrase of “Paradise Lost,” and to whom the Icelandic Literary
Society owes a heavy debt of gratitude.

The principal library is in the Dómkirkja, under the charge of Hr Jón
Árnason, inspector of the Latin School--in Iceland, as amongst Moslems,
the church is considered the natural place for the library. You open the
Lich-gate, ascend the right-hand staircase, and a second dwarf flight
leads to the greniers under the roof. When the sun shines, the slates
are too hot for the hand: this keeps the collection dry; and the reader
is disposed to enjoy it.

The library opens on Wednesdays and Saturdays between twelve and one
P.M., when you are allowed freely to borrow after signing your name. The
interior is not prepossessing. The total of the volumes may be 14,000;
but the catalogue is still to be made. Printed papers lie about in
extreme confusion, and “vieux bouquins” are so strewed and piled that
you can hardly find what you want. Many of the sets also are imperfect,
having been lost or stolen. The three large deal stands, and the shelves
ranged against the higher wall, do not supply accommodation enough, and
the single writing-table is always desert. The curiously-carved black
press from the west, and the pulpit with the four evangelists rudely cut
upon it, are interesting, but should be transferred to the Antiquarian

The manuscripts are a private collection belonging to the librarian, Hr
Jón Árnason. They number 226, but not a few of them are copied from
Sagas, and other works already printed; this is often done in Iceland,
where time is cheap and books are dear. A comparison of the state of
Icelandic with that of Persian literature would bring out a curious
similarity, resulting from similar conditions, mental as well as
physical; and it is the more interesting when we consider the intimate
blood connection of the two families. Hr Jón Árnason wanted £200 for his
neatly bound collection, and it has, I believe, been sold in London.[9]

The Antiquarian Museum, two rooms fronting north, is upon the same floor
as the Library, under the charge of Hr Sigurðr Guðmundsson, who, like
Hr Jón Árnason, is unsalaried. The former, smitten in youth by love of
art, has given his life to painting, and to the study of Icelandic
antiquities. The sketch and plans of the “Skáli,” or ancient hall, and
the plan of Thing-vollur in “Burnt Njál,” are productions of which he
need not be ashamed. He usually makes the Hospital his studio; and he
showed me some portraits which have the rare merit of representing the
person, and not another person. Unhappily, it was his fate to lack the
patron; a few years of youth spent like Thorwaldsen at Rome, where
models are found, and where Nature inspires the brain, would have given
warmth and life to a fancy frozen by the unartistic atmosphere of the
far north.

The Collection, open at the same time as the Library, is in “apple-pie
order,” and, though young and small, it promises a goodly growth. There
is a catalogue (Skýrsla um forngripasafn Íslands í Reykjavík, i.
1863-1866, published by the Icelandic Literary Society, and printed at
Copenhagen, 157 pages, octavo), to which addenda should be appended; the
specimens, as well as the cases, also require numbering, for easier
reference. It is to be hoped that my excellent correspondents, the late
Dr Cowie and Mr Petrie, have so arranged the collections at Lerwick and
Kirkwall that the Shetlands and Orkneys may not blush in the presence of
Iceland. I shall describe this museum at some length in a note at the
end of this chapter: here we are amongst the past centuries, and older
life in Iceland is prominently brought before our modern eyes.

Through the kindness of Hr Jón Árnason, I managed to “interview” the
venerable Professor Björn Gunnalaugsson, who, being now eighty-four
years old (born 1788), partly blind, and very deaf--his wife also an
invalid--rarely opens to strangers. He is a fine old man, with large
prominent features, shaven face, long hair, with small hands, here very
unusual, and thin knees, rarer still. His portrait, taken in middle age,
with two wellearned decorations upon the black dress-coat, shows an
unusually sympathetic figure.

Welcoming us kindly, the Professor sat in his stuffed chair before a
little table, and I noticed that he swayed his body to and fro like a
Moslem boy reading the Koran. We talked of his past life: he had
forgotten the details, but he remembered the main points. After spending
his youth in teaching mathematics and natural philosophy at the College,
he resolved to map out his native island with theodolite, compass, and
reflecting circle, and to this labour of love he conscientiously devoted
twenty years, not twelve nor eighteen, as has been generally said. He
was not very sure about his proceedings upon the Vatnajökullsvegr, the
path north of the great south-eastern glacier, before his time
considered utterly impracticable; and my curiosity was chiefly for this
point. He mentioned his fellow-traveller, Síra Sigurðr Gunnarson, then a
young man, who had just taken his degree. He believed that the march
took place in July or August, but not after. Of the eight ponies, two
were laden with hay, and they found grass at Tómasarhagi, north-west of
the Vatnajökull. During his march, no volcano was observed, either in
the glacier or to the north of it; and he seemed to have neglected
tracing out the sulphur diggings.

When consulted about the Vatnajökullsvegr, Professor Gunnlaugsson
strongly advised me to avoid it, as the animals would be exhausted
before the real work of exploration began. The easiest attack upon the
great glacier, he said, was from the north, especially when the polar
winds were blowing, and thus travellers might penetrate to the centre
without encountering the difficulties of the Klofajökull to the south.
Altogether he was in favour of Berufjörð, the starting point. As the
Danish steamer is bound, weather permitting, to touch at that port, I
had thought when in England of making it my base; unhappily, the line
was represented as too rugged for transit, in fact, impassable, whereas
it is distinctly the reverse.

The Napoleon Book (p. 94) declares that Professor Gunnlaugsson began the
wrong way by details instead of by an _ensemble_ or general plan--a
primitive style which would leave much of perfect topography to be
desired. It forgets the preliminary trigonometrical labours of the
Danish officers, detailed in the Introduction to these pages, and which
left to Professor Gunnlaugsson only the task of filling in the already
measured triangles. These meritorious men, as often happens, did the
best part of the work, yet their names have well nigh sunk into
oblivion. But what can we expect when politics and party-spirit enter
into science?


The room first entered is divided into two by a glass case, containing
the toilette of the past century, when dress, worth some $300, was an
heir-loom, and when costume was purely insular; not as now, a mixture of
Icelandic, Danish, and cosmopolitan. The Museum of Science and Art at
Edinburgh contains some articles presented by the gentleman to whom
these pages are inscribed; and M. de Kerguelen (1772) sketches a “lady
of Iceland” intelligible only when the several items are seen. The case
is surmounted by a rude portrait, with Latin verses, in honour of a
certain Frú[10] Hólmfríðr: her hair is concealed by a white koffur or
fillet wrapper, somewhat like that worn by the married German Jewess at
the four holy cities of Palestine, and this is surmounted by the Hæltve,
or travelling hat. The steeple-crowned broad-flapped felt is precisely
the Pétasus of the old Greeks, and probably came to Iceland with the
pilgrims of the Middle Ages. For the house there are skull caps in
plenty, mostly black velvet and gold embroidered; some of them have
flaps like the “Kan-top” of Hindostan, others show the rudimental crest
which culminated in the Skaut-faldr.[11] This foolscap, built with a
card-board frame, is then covered with linen; a thin plate of metal
forms the crest shape, and the white material is stuffed with cotton,
like the Húfa (pronounced _Húa_,= our hood). It is fastened to the hair
by pins; and an outer band, spangled with a dozen silver-gilt stars,
secures it round the brow, ending behind in a cravat bow and two
ribbons, which hide the fastening. Finally, a deep fall or lace veil is
turned back, passed over it, and thrown upon the shoulders, reaching
almost to the waist. This Skaut-faldr is an excrescence, which deserves
to be compared with the Tantúr, or silver horn of the Libanus, which was
and is generally confined to married, though sometimes worn by
marriageable women.

The other articles of dress are the Skirta (shift) of woollen stuff,
worn next to the body: according to some authorities, the health of the
people has been improved by cotton, which others deny. The Upphlutur is
the long-sleeved bodice, or waist piece, with gold embroidered cuffs,
and velvet stripes covering the seams. In modern days it is of velvet,
brought from Europe. The Fat is a Wadmal petticoat, extending to the
ankles, and of these articles sometimes two or three were worn for
warmth. The outer one is copiously worked, and is faced by the coloured
Svinta (apron). The Treja is a tight-fitting jacket, with chased
buttons: the Hempa, a short outer coat, worn by men and women, buttoned
over the chest, is wide at the bottom, about a hand’s breadth shorter
than the skirt, and open at the flaps to show the embroidered petticoat.
The Uppslög or cuffs are slashed; round the neck is a Hálsklútr (white
cravat), a Háls-sikener, or cravat of purple silk; and for full dress
Strútr, little black collars on the jacket neck, and Kragar, stiff hoops
or ruffs of black embroidered stuff, which make the head look as if it
were dished up. The terminations are Sokkar, coarse woollen stockings,
and Skór, the Iceland papushes: finally, Kvenn vetlingar, rough gloves,
protected the hands. The trimmings of the gowns, skirts, and petticoats
are very handsome; nothing of the kind can be found in the present day;
and the people have the lost art of cutting wool so as to resemble
velvet-pile. The black dye is admirable; it is a fast colour, and lasts
exceptionally long. According to the Custodian, it was made by steeping
the cloth in dark mud, and then treating it with the juice of the
arbutus (_Uva ursi_, Surtarlýng), our bear-berry and the cane-apple of
Ireland. The modern toilette has been greatly simplified to the
Skaut-faldr and bodice, the skirt of black broadcloth and velvet,
embroidered with green silk, and the waist-belt, a poor filigree copy of
old work. It costs £17 to £18, and might answer for a civilised fancy
ball: the general aspect is that of a Circassian woman’s dress--in

The ornaments, belts, buttons, bodices, chains, and rings, mostly
heir-looms, are as numerous as the articles of dress: they are survivals
of the time when people wore all their wealth. Some of the Hnappar
(buttons), round and of worked surface, have one or more figures of the
Crucifixion hanging to them. These are no longer made. There are
Ermahnappr, silver-gilt buttons, for the sleeves,[12] and much larger,
with clasps, for the waist; bodkins (Laufa priónar), ornamented with
silver; Keðja, chains of sorts; Hálsfesti for the neck, and Herðafesti
for the shoulder; rings of gold, silver and brass, one of them spiral
and elastic; Nisti (bracelets), and Mallinda, velvet girdles,
embroidered with silver. Some of the belts are plates of gold and
silver, linked together, and hanging down in front almost to the knees.
There is an immense demand for these curios: every stranger carries off
some specimens of the old work, with which the owners are compelled by
necessity to part: the country people would be buyers, not sellers.
Modern imitations are made without any success at Reykjavik, but not
elsewhere. You give German dollars to Páll Eyúlfsson, or to Hr
Sigfusson, if the latter is sober, and they convert them into filigree
work, which does not contrast well with the neat, plain jewellery of
Norway, now becoming known in England. Needless in these days to warn
strangers against counterfeits, the “Iceland snuff-boxes” of walrus
tooth are mostly made in Germany.

Near the door is a quaint bird’s-eye sketch, dating from 1770, brought
from the Borgafjörð Sýsla, and illustrating the dress of the time at a
Bær,[13] or farm-house. In front of the buildings, which are all out of
perspective, as if the painter had Chinese eyes obliquely set, stand
groups of men and women, walking, riding, and working. The former have
knee-breeches, and one of them not a little resembles in suit the
portraits of Doctor Johnson. There are two sawyers, and others ply the
iron-shod wooden spade, of which a specimen hangs in the room. The
women, raking hay, or pumping, drawing, and carrying water in pails,
bear the Skaut-faldr, now confined to Sundays and festivals. Another
portrait of a woman (1772) wears a foulard round the head, instead of
the skull cap or foolscap. A curious pencil sketch, probably copied from
the original in the Skarð church, Breiðafjörð, shows Daði Bjarnarson
(ob. æt. 68, A.D. 1643) and his wife Arnfrydur, both kneeling with
cuffed hands: he wears a Skegg (beard), in cut and shape most like a
tile, huge trunk hose, tight stockings, and shoes with big rosettes.

The same room contains a variety of domestic implements, especially
worked tapestry: in another part specimens of large-meshed white lace
are preserved. There is a bed, dating from 1740, box-shaped, but not so
much as the modern: on the outer side the occupant and the clothes are
guarded by rudely carved Rúm fjöl (bed foils) or planks, five feet long,
still used here and at the Færoes. Being carpentered into the
chamber-walls, the other side requires no such protection. Curtains
shelter it from the cold: there are coverlets and a night-cap, in those
days often used as a day-cap; and the outer corners are supplied with
rude human figures. The mannikin at the tester holds a kind of
candlestick, evidently to facilitate the practice, pleasant but wrong,
of reading in bed. Upon the top of a press stands a lantern, with scanty
glass, and woodwork rising flamboyant, or rather like green sausages,
above it. All the rooms contain upright planks, grotesquely carved:
these are lineal descents from the consecrated high seats of the
heathenry, and in more modern times they were ranged round the hall,
with hangings between. One of them shows a mermaid with pendent bosom
and child; of course, _desinit in piscem_. The single chair has a tall
carved back and inside the two doors are sets of ornamental iron work.
The quaint-shaped knockers are purely Roman--they are still dug up in

The weapons, which date from A.D. 1050 to 1400, are represented by old
spears and halberts. A good imitation Toledo blade, with sunk midrib;
daggers and battle-axes, one of which was taken from under a heap of
stones in the Vestmannaeyjar; chain armour, and a variety of large and
small Bigones (hones), of smooth compact basalt, for cleaning and
sharpening weapons. A saddle cloth, hanging against the wall, shows
figures of various animals, tolerable tambour work, in the Persian
style. There is a collection of iron, wooden, and bone stirrups, and
sundry prick-spurs. The cups are interesting; and one of them, probably
intended for a man and his wife, contains at least a quart bottle. The
finest are made of walrus teeth (Rostungr, _Trichecus rosmarus_), the
animal being often cast ashore in the north: poorer specimens are of
horn. Here we find the material for the Guma Minni, or memorial bowls;
the Guðfödurs Minni, or cup quaffed to God the Father; the Heilags Anda
Minni, to the Holy Ghost; the toast to the Archangel Michael, a fighter
like old Thor; the Mariu Minni, of the Blessed Virgin; and the
Marteinn’s Minni, to Martin (Turonensis). The snuff-boxes are unlike the
horns now used: one is an oval, with an upper plate of ivory and wood
below, hooped round with brass, and containing a cullender, probably
used for pulverising the leaf. Mangling seems to have been a favourite
occupation; the hand articles (Kefli) are found in numbers: the roller
is smooth; the upper stick is carved, and gaudily painted;[14] and the
_étuis_ are as numerous as the mangles. One case containing bobbins is
fastened to an embroidery cushion; another bears date 1677. Some hold
horn spoons, others razors, others buttons, and all are shaped like the
inkstands of the East, and curiously but artlessly carved. There is a
coarse plane for the carpenter. The weaver of rude cloth worked his
sword-shaped shuttle of polished bone, yielded by the whale, whose ribs
also supplied rafters, more expensive but more durable than wood. The
mammal gave material for dice and draughtsmen played at Kotra (tables),
and these are the nearest approaches to the “chessmen made of fish
bones,” mentioned in old books. There is a specimen of the Langspiel
(violin), and its horsehair bow, formerly so well known in the
Scoto-Scandinavian islands.[15] This instrument has three pegs for
strings, and seventeen frets, but no bridge: possibly it was played with
the thumb, as the Barber of Seville is still wont to do. Uno Von Troil
supplies it (p. 92) with six brass wires, acting strings; but I do not
understand what his “symphon” is. Mackenzie sketches it, but shows the
side instead of the face; and Hooker, drawing it from memory, draws it

The spoils of the Old Church are not numerous: they consist of two
altar-cloths embroidered in colours; the altar stone from the Skálholt
Cathedral, white marble, blackened above by use; an antique monstrance
with a Latin inscription; and some fine enamelled and jewelled
crucifixes, said to date from A.D. 1300: many of the stones have been
picked out, but the eyes remain. There is also a rudely carved salmon,
supposed to have been an _ex voto_.

In the same room stand two cases (unnumbered) containing finds from a
grave opened at Baldursheim in the north, and supposed to date before
the Christian era (A.D. 1000). Besides a few bits of rusty iron, serving
for different purposes, it has a calvaria without front teeth, and with
a large occipital projection like a woman’s. A third case, also from the
same place, shows fragments of another calvaria, a large jaw and other
bones, a small tooth-comb, and sundries. A fourth has horse-bits of
bronze and rust-eaten iron, shaped like the modern, and huge spurs with
and without rowels, now unknown in the island except to foreigners. A
fifth and a sixth preserve fine old filigree buttons and gold brooches,
larger than crown pieces, used as fibulæ for the breast and shoulders:
they are said to be pre-Christian; and the Edda (Völundarkviða, 24)
alludes to a curious ornamentation:

    “But of the teeth
    Of the two (children),
    He (Völundr, or Wayland Smith[16]) breast ornaments made.”

And even in modern days maternal affection sometimes mounts a
sucking-tooth in a ring. The necklace beads are very interesting; some
are of jade, others of crystal, and others of amber. There is a long
blue bugle, not unlike the Popo bead of West Africa, and the specimen
which Mr Rattray found at Sáhib el Zamán (Cælesyria), and presented to
the Anthropological Institute. Others are irregular tubes with green,
red, and white upon black ground; the forms, and even the decorations,
may be found everywhere, from the British Islands to the Arabian Desert.
It is hard to say whence these articles came to Iceland, beads are
indestructible as gums and cowries: of all ornaments they seem to have
travelled farthest.

There are also two presses containing antiquities, presented by Mr
Henderson, son of the well-known Icelandic traveller; the Lord’s Prayer
in old characters, ancient annotations of music, and a document with the
signature of the martyr (?) Jón Árason, “Biskup à Hólum.” The seal,
printed on red wax, bore a crucifix with the bishop standing to the
left: on the right was a mitre and a shield charged with a lily.

The most interesting parts of the collection to me were what have been
contemptuously called in Scotland “chuckie stanes.” Strictly speaking,
no pre-historic remains exist in Iceland: perhaps it is safer to say
that none have yet been found. At present we must believe, despite the
synecdoche of “Ultima Thule,” that the island, when colonised by the
Irish monks, was a desert, and we must continue to hold this opinion
until Mongoloid skulls or other remains shall have been discovered. The
neolithic-stone age still endures in Iceland, as it does in the Brazil,
not to mention other countries. Here almost every cottage, in places
where iron is wanting, has a stone-hammer for pounding fish: it is a
rounded ball of porous basalt about four inches in diameter, and bored
through to admit a wooden handle. The general use of the article may
convince students that the pierced celts and stone axes which, on
account of easy fracture, were held to have been intended for worship or
display, and, perhaps, for reproducing copper or bronze forms, might
have been used for battle if not for work.

The stone articles in Iceland seem to be imitated from those of the
outer world; and the similarity of type, extending from England to
Australia, has not a little astonished anthropologists:[17] “Tant il est
vrai,” says Sig. Visconti, “que l’esprit de l’homme, malgré la
différence des siècles et des climats, est disposé à agir de la même
manière dans des circonstances pareilles, sans avoir besoin ni de
tradition ni d’exemple.” Hence the New Zealanders, as well as the old
Icelanders, gave names to their ancestral canoes, their paddles, and
their weapons. The steatite bowls might be from Minas Geraes: the
material, according to the people, was supplied by the southern islands.
On the other hand, Mackenzie (chap. ix.) found about Drápuhlíð, “a
yellowish white substance, having a smooth, shining fracture; it may be
cut with a knife, and appears to be steatite.” He also mentions (p. 428)
friable, white and reddish-brown steatite, near the hot springs of
Reykjavik. A truncated, tetragonal pillar of bluish soap-stone, with a
square cornice and a shallow cup ending in a cylinder pierced right
through, is somewhat mysterious: possibly it was used, and so local
tradition asserts, as a portable font.

The basaltic specimens are: 1. Weaver’s weight bored for stringing; 2.
Sinker for fish-net, with deep groove round the longer waist of the
oval; 3. Weight, dating from 1693, shaped like a conical cannon-ball,
and adorned with bands and bosses; 4. Circular quern-stone with hole
through it; 5. Cone, with flat base, used to grind colours; 6. Rude
ladle with broken handle; 7. Pierced stones for spindles, resembling the
African; 8. Various hones, before alluded to; 9. Prismatic column with
runes, taken from a tomb; and, lastly, what seems to have been a club or
axe. Though made of the hardest and closest basalt, with broad ribs
whose angles are now rounded, the specimen is imperfect: the handle, one
foot one inch long, is partly broken away, and the head, four inches
broad, lacks the edged part. Still it is the most valuable of the
“ceraunei lapides.”

[Illustration: THE BASALT HAMMER.]

[Illustration: THE STONE WEIGHT.]

The east room has a large central stand of four compartments. We
especially remark: 1. The seals of ivory and bone. 2. An iron châtelaine
to which hung a knife, a skewer, and a key, not unlike those we use for
watches, but with the handle more rounded: it is inscribed I. H. S. 3. A
diminutive “Hammer of Thor,”[18] with a magical character on the head
which discovered thieves: the only other “Miölner” on the island
belongs to a widow at Hofsós. 4. Buttons of horsehair from the mane and
tail; they were still used by the Færoese in 1810. 5. Two specimens of
the Lausnarsteinn, a flat, hard seed two or three inches in diameter,
which here, as in Cornwall, was supposed, when drunk in infusion, to
facilitate parturition: the superstition vanished when it was found to
be not a magic bean but only a horse-chestnut thrown ashore, like the
_Dolichos urens_ and the _Entada gigalobium_, by the currents. 6. Onyxes
and agates, called Nachturn-steinn (nature stones), which, being banded,
were held to be charms, and prevented the owner losing his cattle,
whilst the Oska-steinn (asking-stone) gave him all he wished. 7. A fine
Christ, evidently from a crucifix; the blood is enamelled, and the work
appears to be Byzantine.

Two cases to the east contain a few early types cut in wood, and one of
them is devoted to those of Hreppsey. Only one letter of 1488 remains,
and there are a few capitals used by Bishop Guðbrand at Nupúfell in
Eyjafjörð. The drawers beneath protect old manuscripts written with
decoction of willow-bark, or with the arbutus-juice which served as
cloth-dye: the colour is well preserved. A glass box hanging to the
western wall contains German coins, pottery, quaintly rounded silver
spurs, and Bishop Guðbrand’s drinking-cup. Another and a similar case
shows the only procession flag in the island; it is of faded pink silk,
almost colourless, with a white linen cross and an edging of three
lappets fringed with green and gold. There are also narrow webs for
weaving ornamental cords.

Over the western doorway hangs an old lace bed-curtain, white, and well
made. Scattered about the room are various articles--viz.: 1. A wooden
plank with an epitaph dated 1755, and quite in the style of the “lying
tombstone;” 2. Carved door-posts for the church or the house; 3. A large
wooden chair, the arms ending in carved knights, whose horses are those
of our chessmen; and 4. A beam, ten feet long, pierced with thirty-two
holes--with such an instrument Penelope might have woven her web. There
is also a specimen of the old Flekí, two or three boards thirty-two
inches long by twenty-eight; it was drilled with holes pierced for
snares of twisted horsehair, and anchored off some skerry with ropes,
and stones or horse-bones. A decoy bird upon each instrument was useful
to catch guillemots.



Presently the steamers left Reykjavik, and the torpid little community
hybernated once more: it will awake and buzz for a while when the next
mail comes. In the meantime--

    “The skies they are ashen and sober,
      The streets they are dirty and drear.”

The weather makes the faintest struggles, even in mid-June, to be fine,
but a tolerable day appears always to exhaust its efforts, and to be
followed by a violent break. The Reykjavik climate is essentially
fickle, and the invalid can rarely neglect, till late summer, the warm
overcoat of which the cicerone at St Petersburgh persistently reminds
his charges. A bitter north-easter, with high cirri, and

    “The shrieking of the mindless wind,”

remind us that we are in high latitudes. All the thoroughfares are
deserted, and the houses are fast closed against the roaring, screaming

We were the first batch of the year’s tourists, arriving, however, only
one day before the “Diana,” which brought with it sundry others. Whilst
I remained at the capital to continue my studies, Messrs B. and S.
determined to “do” the usual trip as soon as possible. A five days’
delay, without books or some definite object, makes the headquarter
village a purgatory to strangers. Most of them bring out an Eton Latin
grammar, under the impression that, by its good aid, with a course of
Matthæus Corderius, they will make themselves at home amongst the
learned. But the English pronunciation is impossible, and too often a
total neglect of the “literæ humaniores,” persistently distributed over
long years, has swept away all memory of _musa, musæ_, and of _hic, hæc,
hoc_. Consequently, second-hand Anglo-Latin grammars are cheap and
plentiful at Reykjavik.

Those who would save time in travelling can hardly expect to spare their
expenditure. My companions wisely called in the head guide, Geir Zoega,
pronounced _Sögha_, and frequently simplified by the Briton to
“Goat-sucker.” The classical Italian name (De Origine et Usu
Obeliscorum, etc.) shows his origin, but the family has drifted through
Germany, and, as his grandfather settled in Iceland, he has wholly
thrown off the Latin aspect. A tall, robust man, with harsh Scotch
features, high cheek bones, yellow hair, and blue eyes, in earlier days
he would have been most useful to explorers; now, however, he has waxed
rich: he is farmer and fisherman, cattle-breeder and capitalist,
boasting of house, boats, beasts, and other symptoms of wealth. These
may represent a capital between £500 and £700, and almost unincumbered
by expenses--a century and a half ago the same fortune would fully have
contented a master-cutler at Sheffield. Consequently, Geir Zoega will
only engage for short trips, and, despite rumours of $15,000, he refused
to accompany the two young “Counts d’Elbe,” who came with the intention
of spending some six weeks in the interior. Having business of his own
in the east, he undertakes the tourists as far as the Geysirs, but he
positively refuses Hekla, forage being still wanting there. During the
bargain he amused me by certain points of resemblance with the Syrian
dragoman taking command of a party of youngsters: the same covered and
respectful contempt of greenhorns, the same intense objection to
innovation, the same unwillingness of experience to be guided by
“bumptious” inexperience, contrast curiously with the pliability of the
Italian courier or cicerone, who thinks only of his bill.

Finally, Hr Zoega agreed to supply a tent, absolutely necessary for the
Geysirs, a change of horses for each rider, and three baggage animals,
_moyennant_ a total of $14 per diem--his own fee being a daily $5.
Moreover, the travellers were to feed their nine beasts at the rate of
a mark each per march. This confirms Mr Newton’s opinion that, on the
whole, travelling in Iceland is not more expensive--perhaps he might
have said much cheaper--than in most parts of Europe.[19] Yet we find
Professor Melsted, an Icelander, describing his native land to Metcalfe
as “the most difficult and expensive country in the world.” During one
day on the Congo, I have been asked, for simple permission to pass
onwards, three times more than the cost of a three months’ tour in

Mr S. being a barrister, drew out a written agreement, which the guide
signed: the precaution, however, is of little value, as the stranger is
completely in the native’s power, and a threat to drive away the horses
will bring the most recalcitrant Griff to absolute submission. If you
turn off your leader, as a certain traveller did, he will assuredly sue
you in damages at Reykjavik; and for one who cannot speak Icelandic, or
at least Danish, to be guideless is to be cast naked upon a desert
shore. It is only fair to say that Hr Zoega gave ample satisfaction, and
we only regret the more that the deceitfulness of riches has spoiled a
thoroughly honest and intelligent guide.

My companions found no difficulty in starting: the dilatory Icelandic
movement, of which old travellers complain so loudly, is now a thing of
the past. The weather improved, as usual, after they left Reykjavik, and
there were only a few showers to gladden the peasant’s heart. The birds
were hatching, so they did not shoot: the water, cold, and clear as
crystal, wanted vegetation, without which even gold-fish cannot live,
consequently there was no fishing. There had been scanty reason to
complain of what the Brazilians call “immundicies”--the smaller animal
creation--but a Neapolitan might have recited every morning the popular

    “Quando mi cocco a letto,” etc., etc.

They lamented only one thing, not having taken a pack of cards, or a
cribbage board, to while away the long, slow hours of halt.

The next that effected his escape was a young painter, who came out for
the purpose of sketching Iceland scenery, and who wisely chose the
seldom-visited south coast. Thus he was able to imitate the _Conte di
Haga, che molto vede e poco paga_; and all his expenses during forty-two
days were limited to a couple of florins per diem. He resolved to buy
ponies, and laid out £17, 10s. upon three, expecting after return to
sell them for two-thirds of the outlay, whereas the usual hire would
have absorbed $126. And he was successful. But travelling in this way
becomes exceedingly slow, as the animals must be the first
consideration, if at least they are to fetch anything like cost price at
the end of the journey. He secured a guide, of whom more presently: the
fellow at once became painfully familiar, “independent” would be the
polite word, and stuck to his victim like a leech.

Captain J. and Dr S. of the Indian Army allowed themselves six weeks for
a sporting tour, which was a dead failure. Unfortunately they fell into
bad hands. Metcalfe advises the traveller to engage some student by way
of interpreter; and I found it a good plan in the eastern country.
Moreover, even at Reykjavik, good guides are procurable. But they lent a
willing ear to a certain Helgi Magnússon of the Latin School,
half-brother to an Icelander, who, after two years’ study at the Latin
School of Reykjavik, went to England for the purpose of translating
Icelandic documents, and managed, no one knows how, a good appointment
at Cambridge. People here inquire if the great English university is so
destitute of talent that it must come to Iceland. In reply, I can only
plead British eccentricity; the same curious policy which made the late
Colonel Sykes advocate the employment of the brothers Schlagintweit,
when a dozen Anglo-Indian officers were as well fitted for, as they were
ambitious of, being so employed. The following is Hr Helgi’s
_signalement_: tall, spare, blond, and clean shaven, except the long
mustachio, which is in the habit of being pulled. He claimed to know
English, meaning he was able to pronounce articulately a few sentences;
the answer, however, was an idiotic stare, and an ejaculated “No,”
invariably introduced. He began by finding fault with everything, and by
telling his employers that they must cook, make beds, groom,
saddle, and unsaddle for themselves. Presently he scented English
provisions--feeding amongst these people is all-important as to the
Bedawín--and the discovery greatly modified his tone. They did not,
however, come to terms; and he amused himself by doing all he could to
hinder the tourists. The same worthy called upon us, proposing an
exchange of sovereigns, not for our benefit, a form of annoyance
recognised by previous travellers; he also brought a cow’s horn, very
badly cut, for which he modestly asked a pound sterling.

[Illustration: THE “PRETTY GUIDE.”]

After maundering about for several days in despair, the travellers
engaged one Haldór Johannsen, a saddler, and certainly one of the
ugliest saddlers in the world. He began by objecting to the English
ropes, of which they had brought a store, and he could not travel
without Iceland gear, which stands about as much work as twisted straw.
He proved himself a perfect Mark Tapley on the road; but, on his return
from the first trip, he so abandoned himself to the cultus of Bacchus
that he could not be re-employed. This party lost time and money in
purchasing nags, at first they were asked £10 for animals worth at most
£4. They bought, after weary bargaining, three animals, for £7, £8, and
£9, and the consequence was that two out of three came to grief. They
also brought out a very extensive “kit,” which they flattered themselves
would readily sell after return to Reykjavik--it fetched the liberal sum
popularly called “half nothing.” They made two trips, one to Hekla viâ
Krísuvík, and the other to Surts-hellir, praised the fishing, and found
the shooting a farce.

As will be gathered from the following pages, the Icelandic Fylgimaðr
(“fugleman” or guide) is still in a rudimentary stage. He is apt either
to lag behind like the African, or to gallop ahead like the Gaucho of
the Pampas, utterly reckless of his charge. He is sure not to be cunning
in those details of country which save so much time and which, ignored,
so often lead to grief. As a rule, old paths have been broken up by
weather, and only those on the spot can know the later lines: when,
therefore, you see the least doubt, engage a temporary assistant for a
few marks, which are not wasted. He has one great merit: his language is
not foul, and he does not “exhort the impenitent quadruped” with the
emphasis of his brother bipeds elsewhere; he believes that swearing will
cause his tongue to become black-spotted. In point of conservatism he is
a Hindu; wain-ropes will not move him from settled “use and custom.”
Those I found of most account were Páll Eyúlfsson, Sigurð Jonasson, who
accompanied Lord Dufferin; Einar Símonsson, and Bjarni Stefansson, the
two latter speaking a little English.

And now to add a few remarks about Iceland ponies,[20] concerning which
gross exaggeration prevails: one traveller, who is generally remarkable
for sobriety, would ride them “over the ruins of Westminster Abbey.” The
origin of the horse, as of the man, is Norwegian; these “norbaggers”
reminded me of the little hay-fed nags of the Continent, and of
Wrangell’s Siberian travel. In Scandinavia, however, breeding has done
something, here nothing. No signs of an indigenous horse, like the
zebra-shaped Hipparion of Europe, Asia, and America, have yet come to
light, but the old bones dug up in several parts of the island show a
much larger animal. The “troops of wild Icelandic horses, which shift
for themselves even in the severest winters, when they perish in large
numbers,” is a traveller’s dream, like tales of wild camels. Traces of
the pony breed are found in Ireland and the Scoto-Scandinavian
archipelago, not to mention New Forest; the Asturiones, or small
mountain-ponies, which were so called, says Sir James Ware, because
imported from the Spanish Asturias, waxed scarce during the end of the
last century, and now they are well nigh extinct. The sheltie of
Hjaltland has been wrongly derived from Iberian blood: it is also
becoming rare, and, curious to say, though enjoying a much milder
climate, and a comparatively plentiful forage, it is more stunted and of
lighter build than those in the more barren north. The Orkney “garron”
was an admirable animal, and, _pur sang_, like the old Norman, which I
have seen in the “haras” of Abbeville, fine-limbed and high-spirited as
an Arab. The common “garron,” a mixed breed, was short and ugly, but an
excellent roadster, like the Tartar Yábú, which we have allowed to
become obsolete in India: ten years ago it fetched £5; the race has been
ruined by breeding for size, the sires being big hammer-headed stallions
from Aberdeen. The Færoese, unlike the Icelanders, have sold off all
their best animals, and it is hardly fair to judge from the refuse. I
would back against any Icelander, a New Forest pony or a Maharatta
“tattoo;” and my Kurdish Rahwán at Damascus would have knocked the wind
out of any in the island.

It has been shown that the total of horses in 1871 was only 3164 over
the number assigned to 1804. The reason is not hippophagy, which is
almost unknown, but which might have been practised with advantage save
for an obsolete superstition: as a rule, also, those classes are most
particular about their diet who can the least afford it; and the
obsolete Mosaic Code, so well adapted to its day and latitude, has not
yet been exchanged for the sensible omnivorous system of China. Thus, it
is now said, while horses are eaten in France, they eat us up in
England. The three commandments issued by Christianity to her proselytes
were, “Marry only one wife, expose not your children, and feed not on
horse-flesh.” These were accepted by all parts except the southern
coast, where hippic meat, like the Giftessen (arsenic-eating) of
mountainous Styria, ensured a good complexion; and it is well known that
in the Far West men prefer “three-year-old mustang” to bison or common
beef. But Hrosseitr became a word of reproach, and Iceland gave up what
was supposed to be unhallowed flesh offered to idols; the horse being,
as in the Aswamedha of the old Hindus, a great and ceremonious
sacrifice. The Devil always “scratches his writing on a blighted horse’s
bone;” the heathen swore by the “shoulder of a horse and the edge of a
sword;” and the horse’s head formed a “nithing-post” of peculiar
efficacy. The truth is, that the Icelander wants every blade of grass
and hay for his cows and sheep; he, therefore, either “traded off” his
colts, or cut their throats and sold their skins. Under the influence of
a ready market, breeding will again be resumed.

The export was caused by the rise of prices elsewhere; the New Forest
nag advanced, for instance, from £5 to £12. But the Icelander has had
the sense to part with inferior animals, jades fit only for the knacker
and the kennel. He has a curious idea that ponies used in the English
mines are first blinded, like decoy singing-birds upon the shores of the

In 1770 the horse fetched $3 (rixdollars, say half-crowns). During the
early part of the present century Mackenzie and others paid $6 where we
now disburse pounds sterling. In 1862 a picked animal sold from $12;
this price, in 1864, rose, as has been shown, to £5, 5s. a head. The
Consular Report of 1870-71 says, “The price for a good horse averages at
present from £2 to £4.” During my visit, the mean sums paid by the
steamers were £3 to £4. Baggage ponies for travellers commanded £5 to
£6, and good riding-nags £7 to £9. Perhaps no article in Iceland has run
up so rapidly as horse-flesh, and the resident feels it as well as the
traveller. This, however, is, as I have shown, probably a provisional
grievance; and, despite the inconvenience, the trade is perfectly
legitimate. Happily for Iceland, no class corresponds with our small
fund-holder, who is in a fair way of finding life in England impossible,
and who must disperse, like the large British colony of small rentiers
in Paris, when income became stationary and outlay became imperial.

Henderson (i. 19) and other travellers make the “Hross”[21] average from
13 to 14 hands. If this be true they have fallen off since the beginning
of the century, which is improbable as the degeneracy of peaches
recorded in “Gil Blas.” Baring-Gould says 14. I should lay down a high
average between 12 and 13: out of a number which were measured the
shortest was 10·3; and only one in a dozen barely reached 13. The
curious fact that the climate least fitted for the horse, and the land
where it fares worst, produces larger and stronger animals than the
southern islands, can be explained only by the superior size of those
first introduced. After a time the eye becomes accustomed to the stunted
stature, at least when not contrasted with a tall rider. The best
specimens are shaped somewhat like the Suffolk “punch,” with big
barrels, thick necks, and short, stout legs. They have round noses of
the Norman type, bearded chins, well-opened eyes, ears short and pretty,
erect manes, and the square box-head which appears in the classical
horse of medals and statuary. The strong points of the fubsy little
animals are the manes and tails; the former even when hogged conceal the
crest like a lion’s _crinière_, and if not cut would hang to the knees;
the latter would be ornamental but for the local fashion of thinning
them at the roots, and of tying up wisps of hair in small knots.

The horse in Iceland is an inevitable evil, the climate being too cold
to breed mules. The beasts show many signs of falling off besides size,
and we should wonder if it were otherwise. Stallions are allowed freely
to run with the mares; and the evil of inbreeding is exaggerated by the
small number--sometimes a parish will not have more than one. In the
classical days of Iceland men rode entire horses, and a favourite festal
pastime was a fight: the Hesta-thing (“horse meeting”) suggests the
champion camels which bite each other at Smyrna. It seems to have been a
brutal custom, as the animals had to be flogged, like the older sort of
Chinaman soldier, to the fray; what a contrast with the Indian
“man-eater,” which safely faces a tiger! The Sagas also mention racing
as a popular amusement: this, also, is apparently obsolete, at least I
never saw it. Stallions are now considered too fierce for general use,
and yet, like all the animals in the country, they will be found
exceptionally free from vice: mares also are rarely ridden, and the
people tell you that they are incapable of hard work, of course, an
utter prejudice; in fact, geldings, as with us, are the rule. The Arab,
it is well known, mounts the mare because she has more endurance and is
less given to neighing at times when surprises are intended: the
Spaniard preferred stallions, and to show his contempt for the
Ishmaelite, put the jester and the buffoon upon the mare--this custom
has prevailed throughout South America, though its origin is now
forgotten, and “Yeguas” are still slaughtered in thousands for their
hides and fat. And there are superstitions about marks and colour which
remind us of complicated Arabian system; for instance, a horse marked
with a cross will never drown you.

The effect of promiscuous intercourse appears in wall-eyes, locally
called “glass-eyes,” which are painfully common, and in coats of many
colours, fit only for the circus. The noble bay, chestnut, and iron-grey
are rare: many are skewballs, and the piebald, which in Texas would be
called “Paint,” and in the Brazil Jardim (a garden), are perhaps
considered the best. Some writers declare that the white are most
esteemed, and the black least--I found both exceptional as in the
Arabian breed. The foals often wear long fleecy coats, and here the
renowned Mr Barnum might have bought many “woolly horse,” real, not
manufactured; but whether the few would have lasted in the latitude of
New York, deponent sayeth not. Of course they are hardy and sagacious
from mode of life. In winter none but favourites are stabled and fed on
hay; the others are left out to fare as they best can, on the refuse of
the cows and on offals, such as fish bones and heads.[22] At last, when
it becomes a matter of life and death, the poor brutes are put under
shelter, and fed with a few handfuls of fodder. On the other hand, they
are perfectly free from the dire cohort of equine diseases produced by
the close and heated stable.[23] Like the sheep, they thrive upon the
many and plentiful fuci that line the shore; a similar necessity teaches
the horse in the interior of the Brazil to paw open and eat the cactus
flesh. Thus the price is nearly all profit to the breeder. During the
cold season Icelanders ride very little, if at all: where the snow is
deep and hard they use sledges and rough-shoe their nags. They are ready
for travel in early June, although I was told the contrary in England by
those who should have known better; but the razor-backs at this season
require carefully-padded saddles. From that time they get into better
condition; they are best in July, but in August again they are soft and
blown out by too much green meat. All are shod, and very badly shod; the
stones are sure to injure the frog, and Arab plates would be a great
improvement. The only remedy known for sore backs and saddle galls are
cruel setons in the breast: the Raki of Syria and the Caxaça of Brazil,
applied when the saddle is removed, would prevent much of this evil, but
spirits are too precious for “uso esterno.” The ears are cut off, not to
prevent the Pasha impounding them, but as a mark; and the nostrils are
slit with the silly idea of improving the wind. They never see grain,
which they must be taught to eat, and salt is not regularly served out
to them. From perpetually licking one another’s skins, they supply fine
specimens of Œgagropiles, the light and polished balls of hair, the
_Tophus Ovinus_ of Norway, so commonly found in the stomachs of
Brazilian cows. Broken wind is common, and cow-houghs are the rule.

The domestic animals of all countries bear testimony to the character of
their owners: reason, or the result of a developed brain, acts and is
acted upon by instinct, or the imperfect brain produce, the two being
different in quantity, not in quality. Man and beast learn to resemble
each other much after the fashion of Darby and Joan: the servants of
menageries, like those of mad-houses, become peculiarly brute-like,
whilst animals educated by men have an unspoken language which it is not
difficult to understand. In Iceland the horse has learned much from his
master. The hardy and hard-working little brutes are, like other
quadrupeds and bipeds too, curiously headstrong and self-willed. Their
obstinate conservatism is offended by anything savouring of innovation:
I tied a bell to the leader, and he showed his resentment by all the
pettishness of a spoiled child; as a rule, they appeared rather
frightened than pleased by the music so attractive to the Spanish mule.
Each has his own peculiar likes and dislikes: one shuns the puddles,
objecting to wet feet, another avoids rock, and all hate loose stones:
the lazy tread in preference upon the tops of the grassy mounds,
bog-trotting like humans; and these are the least safe; others step in
the hollows, as the trusty Brazilian mule in the “caldeirões.” They
resemble the riders in their dislike to beaten paths, probably from
experience of cracks and holes; they will at times resolve to go no
farther, and they have been known to stand in the same position until
killed by the cold. Upon bogs and swamps they seem to feel the surface,
to walk with the head down, and noses depressed, smelling the ground.
They change pace and swerve, as if starting, when they come upon
crevasses, with a suddenness and an agility which has unseated many a
traveller; and like mules and asses, they are unwilling to part
company--another sure sign of ignoble blood. Those over nine years old
are much preferred, because more prudent and experienced: they are even
better when nearly double that age, and they live from twenty to
twenty-five years.

The best roadsters are natural pacers (Skeið hestar, or Vakur-hestar),
moving like the camel and the elephant, two legs on one side, instead
of traversing: this is the well-known Paço, introduced into Southern
Europe by the nearer East. Many have a false amble (að valhopa),
cantering with the forehand, and bog-trotting behind: this the people
like because it easily covers six miles an hour. They are utterly
untrained to trot and canter (að stikkva); consequently, all go false: I
cannot but think the trot proper a purely artificial pace; in the
so-called wild horse it serves only to connect the walk and the canter,
and it is never kept up for long distances. This does not apply to the
amble or shuffle of the Barb and his American descendants: the former
was driven to this specialty by the necessity of raising the forelegs to
clear rough, thorny ground, and the peculiarity has been artificially
developed. If you attempt to make them back, they will probably, like
Argentine animals, tangle their legs and fall; few are accustomed to
leap, and the smallest ditch makes them spring like buck-jumpers when
put to it. They might be expected to prove surefooted, yet systematic
tripping and stumbling on easy ground are inveterate evils; the people
blame the rider when the pony breaks its knees, and the arms ache with
the exertion of holding the brute up. I once tried, for experiment,
giving my nag its head upon a tolerable road, and it came down with me
three times in a few hours’ march: my military saddle, however, was
unusually heavy; and, of course, increase of weight requires exceptional

It is a good plan for the first day or so to use spurs, which, as I have
said, are now all but unknown to the people. The only instrument of
punishment is a whip with short handle and strap, the latter always
coming off, and if this be absent the animals become utter slugs. The
comfortable traveller brings with him an English whip, and the long
thong is very useful for driving. Education is confined to making the
animal stand still when the reins drawn over the head are thrown upon
the ground: the custom is general throughout Australia and the Argentine
Republic; and I should recommend it to cavalry where the thongs are not
always liable to be wet and dirty; they are great at climbing
mountain-paths and hopping from rock to rock; they ford rivers well,
walking crab-wise with heads up stream, and in the “scour,” violent
shallow water, they kneel to their work. The worst footing for them is
the boulder-paved bed. If they happen to fall in fording, the best way
is to slip off on the current side, to hold the rein firm, and to steady
one’s self by pommel or cantle till the shore is reached. Those taken to
England soon sicken under change of diet and climate; some have done
well as ponies for children, and I saw a neat pair driven at Edinburgh.

There is an art in riding these little mustangs, and an Icelander will
get more work and better pace out of them than a stranger. Of course the
slowest gives the rate to the caravan, and this will sometimes not
exceed three miles an hour--making the journey an _écœurante corvée_.
All assure you that they never kick; you hear the same in the Argentine
Republic; you believe, and sooner or later you are kicked: two
Englishmen of my acquaintance suffered in the flesh, and an Iceland pony
suddenly did its best to knock out my teeth. Rearers and bolters are
rare, and I saw only one biter; the people are not brutal to their
beasts, but only careless. Temper never shows so much as when they are
loaded; the worst are the riding animals, which lose all manners,
apparently feeling insulted by the proceeding. They will never keep
Indian file like mules, they rush past one another, bumping and striving
to destroy the traveller’s traps; if a load happens to become loose or
to shift on one side, there is a grand scene of plunging, of lashing
out, especially at pots, kettles, and kegs, and of running away till
everything is strewed on the ground. About evening when hunger becomes
imperious, and especially where forage appears, they wax wild as

    “Omnis commoditas sua fert incommoda secum;”

but this is an inconvenience worse than anything that I have seen, even
when travelling with half-broken Brazilian mules.

The people boast that their shaggy, long-backed, short-legged poodles
equal the noble blood of Arabia, cover 100 miles a day, and carry 300
lbs.--Uno Von Troil says 400. The Thingmannaleið, the recognised march
to the Althing, however, is from twenty to twenty-five English statute
miles, and I have found 100 lbs. to be a full baggage-load.[24] By
proper management, the Lest (caravan) may be pushed on at a pinch some
thirty-five to forty miles a day, but every third march should be
followed by a halt. On one excursion we allowed three rests in twenty
days, but the nags did not recover for many a week. They must not start
before ten or eleven A.M., after they have had a good morning feed. They
are allowed to drink when and where they please, but only after the
chill is off the water. The Icelander seeing a fresh, green grazing,
generally dismounts to let his animal have a bite and stretch its limbs,
like a dog fresh from sleep. A careful man will walk up and down the
heaviest places. About three or four P.M. there is usually an hour’s
halt and, during the summer, as the nags suffer greatly from the sun,
night-travelling, if we can so call it, where all appears one night and
one day, is the rule. Straying is also an inveterate evil, especially in
bad weather; the hobbles are rotten cords or withers fastened by bits of
sheep’s shanks. Side-hobbling must be attended to; if only the forehand
is tethered or knee-hobbled, the beasts have learned by practice to hop
as fast and as far as kangaroos, and they will easily waste the best
part of an afternoon. Like the Norwegian nags, they are exceedingly fond
of rolling in the sand, and consequently the saddle suffers. The shoes
should be inspected after every march; in the country parts they may
generally be replaced for $1 the pair.

Icelanders ride from the days “when they first see the blood upon their
teeth;” their foot gear and the nature of the country incapacitate them
from walking, yet with our shoes they would soon learn to climb well.
There is a fashion in these things. The Mamlúk Bey would never cross
even the street except upon his mare; and the Brazilian church-goer will
send many miles for his horse to ride the same number of yards. A walker
in Iceland is a low fellow, like the “Zalamah” of Syria. The islander
mounts as often on the wrong side as not--of course every cavalry-man
should be trained to do the same. His long back and short legs make him
a curious contrast with his dwarf monture, and apparently he is easily
dislodged--I have seen men come off even when the animals are only
bogged. Another element of grotesqueness is the perpetual hammering of
the unarmed heel against the animal’s ribs; this “devil’s tattoo” keeps
the feet warm, and the horses will lag without it, as the Egyptian
Fellah wakes when his water-wheel ceases to creak and groan. The effect
is an indescribably loose and shambling seat.

Although cavalcades look tolerably well from afar, individuals are
ungraceful and unhandy riders compared with the Gauchos: an Englishman
observed to me that the latter will do in the dark what would puzzle the
former in the light. The general seat is somewhat like the English, a
kind of _juste milieu_ never adopted by purely equestrian races. The
Eastern horseman, take the Tartar for a type, sits his horse with
“crumpled legs,” as if upon a chair. The Western, that is to say, the
peoples of the New World, without exception, stand, as it were, upright
with legs apart, riding by balance alone. The Oriental style was
probably suggested by the greater steadiness of aim, with bow or gun,
obtained by rising upon the shovel-iron stirrups clear of the animal’s
back. The Occidental seat was evidently the result of long weary marches
over monotonous prairies and pampas, and it never leads to rupture like
our cavalry seat; riders carry little weight, and their waists are not
tightly buckled down so as to press upon the part most likely to give

It is a spectacle likely to be remembered, the shoeing of Iceland ponies
by the farrier, who is almost always unprofessional. Five men, without
including half-a-dozen spectators and advisers, bodily engage in the
task; one holds the cruel twitch, two hang on to the several limbs, one
or two hold up the hoof, and number five plies the hammer. And the
result is that in travelling you must always expect your animals to be

The traveller should take out with him a comfortable pony bridle, if he
intends to ride far. An Iceland bit is horrid to look at, but the long,
heavy mass of brass is never cruel; the chain is not tightened, often,
indeed, it is absent, and sometimes a bit of cord does duty. Happily for
the horses, they have no curbs, and I have many a time wished that we in
England could unlearn the use of them, or rather learn to use them only
when required. Nothing more unpleasant than to see both sexes in Rotten
Row worrying their animals into perpetual fidgets, and making them throw
up their heads like giraffes on the run. And this is not confined to
Hyde Park: at Edinburgh I saw an escort of one of our best cavalry
corps so pulling at their curbs, that every charger seemed to be upon
wires. A light hand is not given to every rider, but all can spare the
mouth by using the snaffle.

Upon the whole, I should say, hire your nags. Buyers no longer sell for
a song, as the foreign horsedealers are ready to pay fairly for good
animals; yet besides the risk of being jockeyed--and in the matter of
horseflesh the Icelander is quite the peer

    “Of a Yorkshireman hippodamoio”--

the owner, as has been said, will be obliged to travel slowly, and he
will incur additional troubles where the inevitable amply suffice.
Tolerable riding beasts (Rið hestar) may be hired for $1 (= 2s. 3d.) a
day, and baggage-animals (Puls or Klifia hestar) for four marks. The
hire should be paid after return. The guide is sure to take the best, in
order to whip up stragglers, and he will be the more careful of his
monture if he be its owner. Formerly, dogs trained to bark and to keep
the Indian file straight, always accompanied caravans: now they are rare
and dear. The use of the Madriña, or bell-mare, is utterly unknown--what
does Henderson mean by making the Arab’s bell-camel go last in the line
instead of first? An extra baggage-animal, besides remounts, is always
necessary: the day of the Hesta-kaup is long past when you could
exchange a lame or tired-out animal at any farm-house.

The Iceland saddle (Hnakkur), well stuffed and provided with a
sheepskin, can be bought at Reykjavik at prices varying from $15 to $50,
but the old campaigner will prefer a roomy old English hunting saddle,
duly prepared for “razor backs.” The woman’s saddle (Söðull) costs from
$40 to $80: it is a kind of arm chair, fronting the near side, and
covered with brass ornaments: the feet are supported by a piece of
board; and the whole affair is very dangerous--M. l’Abbé Baudouin saw a
woman drowned when crossing a not very rapid river by the fault of her
riding gear.[25] The lower classes ride _à califourchon_ like the
_hautes et puissantes dames_ of the old noblesse de Campagne, and roll
off like bundles of old clothes. However unseemly, the straddling style
is ever the safest, and I should strongly advise the seat _en cavalier_
in countries where the side-saddle might lead to accidents. The form of
riding should be that of the Libanus, with a long arm and a short
bridle, always ready to hold up the animal, but never attempting to
check it. And those disposed to _vertiges_ should look at the bank,
never at the fast-flowing water.

The baggage will be a perpetual trouble. I deposited at the rooms of the
Anthropological Institute a specimen of the Klifberi (crook-saddle), the
Klibber of the Shetlands, with its pegs of reindeer horn, so useful for
fraying everything they touch. This article will cost the stranger $3 to
$6. There is, however, a modern and improved form, which is far worse;
the arch, banded with iron, rises some five inches above the animal’s
back, and effectually destroys whatever rubs against it. If the people
could be induced to adopt the Otago pack-saddle, used by the transport
trains in the Abyssinian expedition, and commended by Messrs Freshfield
(Caucasus) and Stanley, it would be invaluable. I also exhibited
specimens of ropes with horn circlets, for making fast the luggage; they
are expensive as useless, and $3 buys a very small supply. Finally, I
showed the popular “namdah” of the island, two heavy slabs of turf, not
unlike a very thick mat: they are the fibrous roots of the buck bean or
marsh trefoil (_Menyanthes trifoliata_), in books called Hor-blaðka, but
here known as Reiðinga-gras. The damp heat produced by this article
acting upon chafes causes back-sores, which are sometimes fatal: the
Færoese smoke and chew the leaves of the “Bukka Blaa” as tobacco, and
hold that in infusion they cure scurvy. In the pagan days of Iceland,
strips of buck-bean turf made a yoke under which criminals were
compelled to walk; and when two men swore brotherhood or
foster-brotherhood, they passed through an arch of three long sods,
whose ends were attached to earth, and whose centre was raised by a

The Iceland box is very like that which old-fashioned Brazilians use for
mule travel: it admits wet; it readily falls open; and, when tourists
are numerous, it is not easily found at Reykjavik. Mr Shepherd, of
North-West Peninsula fame, had a model pair made by Silver & Co., which
own but one disadvantage--being “un-Icelandic,” the guide will object to
load them. One writer sensibly advises travellers to pack up and to roll
everything down the staircase; if the cases stand this test, they may be
passed with approval. Still everything will by degrees be smashed and
spilt: cartridges will be crushed or shaken loose; salt and sugar will
be mixed; oil and spirits will swamp books and flies; and collections of
botany and geology, unless inspected every day, will be lost or damaged;
strong tins will be crushed like paper; even cast-iron would not be
safe. The scene on unpacking for the first time after a march is “a
caution:” Iceland in this matter reminded me of Blá-land (Blue Land,
_i.e._, Blackland), where the ingenious negro managed to split a Papin’s
Digester, making me “marvel how.” Saddle-bags are hardly fair to the
ponies, and carpet-bags and canvas-bags being strange luxuries, will be
stowed away over the boxes, and will be worn through by the hide-lariats
which assist the rotten woollen ropes. Though bred to loading from his
childhood, the Icelandic guide has neither the skill nor the appliances
of the Iberian or Brazilian “Arriero;” anything like a miscellaneous
load will at once be shaken off by the rough jog-trot of the ponies; the
girths break, and the halts for reloading become hourly, and even
bi-hourly. There are two ways of conducting a caravan: one is to drive
the animals loose (að reka hestar), the other is to lead them (leiða
hestar í taumi, _i.e._, in team); the latter is generally done by the
care-taker (Lestamaðr) when approaching the farmhouse-tún, and halters
are fastened to tails in a way that would surprise a Syrian thoroughbred
into the height of misbehaviour. This “cringing,” as Shetlanders call
it, is also the tether for short halts, and it proves effective enough,
as they can only wheel round in a narrow circle--vicious withal.

The traveller will find a tent necessary in the interior, but only on
account of the rain. During their September excursions, when the farmers
ride considerable distances to collect sheep from the distant pastures,
they camp out like Bedawin: as amongst the Canadian Indians, this change
from the superheated atmosphere of the house grows a plentiful crop of
colds, rheumatisms, and lumbagos. When they travel with baggage, they
carry tents like miniatures of the East Indian “pál,” and the large
inmate rising from the minimum of space suggests a “Jack in the box.”
Two uprights, four or five feet high, are connected by a cross-pole of
five to six feet, and over this frame is thrown the cover of coarse
white Wadmal, braced by cords at the edges. The flaps have small holes
for wooden pegs, generally three behind, and the same number on each
side; when these are lost, stones and turf (Siberian fashion) do duty
for them. Goods not likely to be injured are piled outside as a
“break-wind” and, even when the fore-flap is closed against rain, two
men will stow themselves away inside. My friend, Mr Robert Mackay Smith,
kindly lent me a little bell-tent, which had already seen service in
Iceland, and which proved uncommonly useful. A mattress is usually held
a necessary, but I found a Syrian Postín of black sheepskin spread upon
a caoutchouc, by far the most satisfactory article. The traveller,
however, must beware of “waterproof blankets,” which are sadly apt to
belie their name in an Iceland “shower.”

Writers who know Oriental travel only by books are fond of finding
reflections and resemblances in the far north; the differences, however,
are far greater, and the general likeness is soon destroyed by the
details. The horse, the tent, the bivouac, and the desert are salient
points of similitude; the want of life, of colour, and of
picturesqueness, the main accident of the East, soon break the spell.
And the traveller in Iceland will miss many things of which he has read,
as the “kiss of peace,” the pulling off boots, etc., by the daughters of
the house, and the parting salute by way of good night. These things may
survive on the rarely visited south coast; on the beaten tracks they are
of the dead past--at least I never saw a trace. Civilised coarseness and
polite vulgarity have made Icelanders deny that the custom of public
undressing ever existed: they are wrong to be ashamed of it. The removal
of muddy boots, wet stockings, and drenched garments, without any sense
of the “sho’king,” was a sign of innocence; the action was without any
sense of impropriety, even as the primitive matrons and maidens of St
Veran thought it uncivil to leave the room before the guest was fairly
in bed.



The weather appears to be that of the Inferno-circle, especially rich

                          “La piova
    Eterna, maledetta, fredda e greve.”

However, we take heart of grace to visit the islands. A boat is readily
found at the Bridge-House pier, the centre of industry. Here are knots
of fishermen, who might be in Leith, save that they are a wee bit
rougher; and the stout young women labouring with coals and rolling up
barrels of spirits, reminded me of the Teutonic emigrants to Rio de
Janeiro, where each one would girth double, and probably weigh treble,
the average _Brazileira_. At times there is a lively scene when ponies
are shipped, an operation managed very rudely, not to say brutally: the
animals are dragged or driven down the slimy, slippery plankway, and are
forced to spring into the nearest barge; they are accustomed to ferries,
but not to this kind of embarkation, which barks the shins and wounds
the hind legs. At times a little animal is jostled off the narrow
gangway, but instead of falling or leaping down, it clings like a cat
with the forelegs, and holds on long enough for men to run down and
catch it in their arms. The most amusing scene was when an Englishman
inflated a waterproof cloak, the Halkett-boat, and another, taking in
hand two apologies for paddles, began a series of astonishing gyrations.
All Reykjavik flocked to the pier, possibly under the stimulus thus
poetically recorded:

    “Pull him out! pull him out! he fell from yonder boat,
    We shall either get a sov’reign or a one-pound note.”

They were disappointed, however, for the Britisher gallantly held his
own, and taught the spectators “a thing or two.”

A few minutes of sharp sailing placed us at Engey, meadow-islet, the
central of the three largest which defend the Rade of Reykjavik. It
projects to the south-east, a long spit of loose rocks, covered, as
usual, with fucus[26] and seaweed: here two huge ravens are hung up as
scarecrows to keep off their kind, and to frighten away the great Erne
or cinereous eagle (_Falco albicilla_): this determined enemy of the
eider duck sometimes haunts the Laxá mouth. The “beneficent palmipède”
is about two feet long, and weighs 6-7 lbs.: it swims the water
gracefully as a swan, and is a strong and straight-flying bird, giving
excellent sport: the drake’s plume is silver, tipped with jet; the duck
is much more modestly clad. The Æðr has a good time of it in Iceland.
Their homes are, like those of olden commerce, the islets near the
coast; they will not build, as some travellers have related, in inland
lakes, and they are rarely seen ashore, preferring damp rocks, where
they can feed on seaweed and insects. From its haunts dogs and cats are
carefully excluded. No salute must be fired at Reykjavik for fear of
frightening “somateria mollissima.” The drake is sometimes poached after
the breeding season in August and September: I never tasted it, but
should imagine that the flavour must admirably combine fish and sea
tang. The people declare the flesh to be excellent eating, worth all the
other game put together, but fine and confiscation of the offending
weapon await the poaching gourmand: the _amende_ is a rixdollar per
shot, and if the offence be repeated, confiscation of the gun. How we
longed to see this happen to our Cockney friend!

The landing-place is the normal natural pier, a horrid mass of slimy,
slippery boulders near a small curing establishment, whose rich aroma
made us hurry frantically past, kerchief over nose. Here the islet is a
strew and scatter of cods’ heads, cods’ bones, and cod’s sounds: they
would be the best of compost if systematically used. Hopping from
hillock to hillock of fishy grass, we reached the large and
prosperous-looking farm-house, which occupies a domed rise to the
north-west. The owner, Hr Christian Magnússon, was superintending his
eider-down: he lives too near Reykjavik to ask us within his doors.

We then walked over the tussocky ground to the west, where the warm
exposure has special attractions for the brown mothers. Our companions
were troops of noisy peewits and terns: the former are spoil-sports, as
in the Brazil, where I have often been exasperated into giving them the
benefit of a barrel; and the latter, here termed Kría (plur. Kríur),
whence our “Cree,” sweep down upon the intruder in resolute style,
screaming furiously, and sometimes administering a vicious peck.
Possibly _Sterna hirundo_ knows that its egg is delicate food for man,
and becomes a winged Timon accordingly. In places these birds seem to
have fled the sea, and are found hovering over the fields in search of
food: they should not be shot, as they serve to keep down the
earth-worms, and here the lumbricus is a pest, as in the Færoe Islands.
Poultry would be useful for the same purpose, but it causes trouble, and
is seldom seen in the interior. It will be remembered that the ancient
Britons kept fowls only “voluptatis causâ,” which some understand “for
the sake of cock-fighting.”

Travellers describe the eider as a very wild bird in winter, but a mere
barn door during the summer season, so tame that, like the frequenters
of the gull-fair, Ascension, or of the Lage near Brazilian Santos, it
can be taken up with the hand. We found that they scurried away from us,
uttering a hoarse “crrr,” and only one showed mild fight in defence of
her flappers. Nor did we see more than a single monogamous duck in each
nest, despite the reported Mormon arrangements, strange if true. The
usual number of eggs was two, proving that the first lay had been
plundered; three was not, four was, rare. At this time (June 12) a few
hardly-fledged ducklings appeared, and some could just follow the
mother’s flight. The old ones teach their young the art and mystery of
swimming, by leading them to the shore, bearing them on their backs a
few yards out, and slipping from under them--a process which the tutor
of my childhood unconsciously imitated. The nests, which are always near
water, for facility of feeding, are built in hollows, like dwarf
arm-chairs, or the old fur-cap of Istria: in the centre is a thin
saucer-shaped lining of brown, grey, or mouse-coloured fluff,
exceptionally unclean. About mid-July all these matrons will become
frisky, gadding about the Fjörðs and river mouths.

Another pleasant excursion is to Viðey (wood-holm), the largest and
easternmost of the three great breakwaters. In some thirty-five minutes
we ran before the stiff breeze to the little landing-place, a hole in
the Palagonite rock. As we approached the islet, it appeared double,
connected, like the defunct Siamese twins, by a band which was bright
green with grass, and which carried a few wild-looking sheep. We had
seen M. Gaimard’s atlas, and we had read of the “beautiful pillars of
basaltic lava,” but we did not find them. The formation generally is
that of Arthur’s Seat: in places the stone is sub-columnar; here and
there it is quaquaversally disposed, the effect of lateral pressure, and
in most parts it can hardly be distinguished from the amorphous. The
basalts on the south of the island, and adjoining the remnants of a
crater to the west, are best worth seeing, but again--bad is the best.

A rough path leads to the tall wooden-barred gate and weather-cock which
defend the property of good Magnús Stephensen, Chief Justice of Iceland,
the friend of “Baron Banks,” and far-famed for his hospitalities in the
olden day. Though travellers say that he rented it from the Crown, he
was the owner of the islet which still remains to his family; and about
1820 he died at the satisfactory age of eighty-two. The house is a large
and substantial building of stone and lime, with ten windows facing the
south, a counterpart of the smallpox hospital at Laugarnes. The
characteristic remnant of the monastery, which was founded in A.D. 1226,
is the chapel to the west of the mansion, a solid box of rough basalt,
squared only at the corners, with rude arches over doorway and windows;
the dwarf “campanile,” a shed perched upon the roof, shelters three
bells. In the massive red door was a huge iron key, which may date from
the days of the ghostly owners. The roof is supported by heavy solid
rafters, and the furniture is older and more ornamental than usual; the
benches are carved, and the colours are the tricolor, blue, red, and

As in many country churches, the tall pulpit stands behind the humble
altar which Lutheranism in Iceland has not reduced to a table, but
converted into a safe for priests’ vestments. The confessional still
lingers in the shape of a tall-roofed chair, like that of a hall porter;
it is now used by the Prófastur (archdeacon) when he makes his visits,
but the people no longer confide their sins to the ecclesiastical ear.
Metcalfe (p. 317) seems to think that Icelanders are shrieved before
they communicate. The only “Reformed” remnant of the old Catholic custom
is the practice of seating the expectants round the chancel, when the
parson exhorts them in set phrase to repent their sins, and to amend
their lives. They do so, or are officially supposed so to do, and
absolution duly follows.

We looked into the western room of the old monastery where the
printing-press was wont to work; the rubbish lay in admired confusion,
almost as bad as the sacred hill-town of Safet can show, after parting
with its typographic reliques to the curious and the collectors of
Europe. The owner, lounging about, hands in pockets, prospected us more
carefully than courteously. Here the neighbourhood of Reykjavik is not
the only cause of inhospitality: the son of the old Chief-Justice was
notoriously unhappy in his family; and the heir to the “antiqua domus”
is locally famed as an _animal_, in the French and Spanish senses of the
term. So we wandered over the island, much to the confusion of the terns
and sheep, and enjoyed a charming bath in the sea to the north: the
walking was foul as usual, the swamplets have not been drained, nor have
the grass tussocks been levelled during an occupation of a thousand
years. Of course, in Wood-isle no wood exists, but near a farm-shed upon
the western half there is an eruption of turf-stacks, which show what
has become of the name-giving growth.

The tract behind and about Reykjavik is an epitome of Iceland, which we
can see in a day’s work; it admirably combines the quaking bogs of
Ireland with the Pantanaes of the Brazil, the rock-slides of the
Kasrawán and the metal domes and boilers of the Haurán.

“God made the country and man made the town” is a poor poet’s
sentimental say, which has passed into a truism, whilst every traveller
knows its falsehood. The country wants the hand of man almost as much as
the town does. Hereabouts, where the surface lies comparatively
unbroken, the absolute absence of trees gives the dreariest impression.
We do not feel the same want amongst the labyrinths of serrated ridges,
where the vapours break like seas in the morning, and which are
transfigured by the evening mists into glimpses of purple and golden
glory; nor amongst cataracts, “tumbling in a shower of water rockets”
over the perpendicular strata of basaltic rock; nor when fronting the
inverted arches of the Fjörð-mouths, where the sweeping lines of mist
and cloud are worthy the inspired pencil of Gustave Doré. And, though
throughout the island there is not one spot which “smiles with corn,”
the stretches of bright green pasturage, with spangled flowers,
relieving the blackness of the trap, serve passing well in the artistic
eye to take the place of cultivation. In these places we escape from the
eternal black and white, white and black, which sadden the eye in the

The lakelet south of the capital drains large bogs and peat-mosses at
its upper or inland end. It is poor stuff, which, however, like that of
the Brazil, burns without chemical treatment, and it contains, as in the
Færoe Islands, large quantities of birch trunks and bark, proving, if
proof were wanted, that the land was not always bare of trees. Although
the first colonists found the country wooded from the sea to the hills,
here, as elsewhere, first colonists regarded a tree as a personal and
natural enemy, to be annihilated with fire and steel. Consequently the
land became bog, the centuries deepened and added to it, and now it is
absolutely irreclaimable. Under the blessing of St Blazius, however, it
supplies the people with fuel. The turf-digger uses a rough instrument,
a straight bar of wood, with a side projection for the foot, and shod
with a crescent-shaped iron: it is the toysker familiar to the
Shetlanders.[27] The material is stacked in early June, and by September
it is ready for use; almost every family has its own turbary, where a
fortnight’s hard work would collect an ample supply for the whole year.
Yet the absence of fire is one of the characteristics of the Icelandic
farm-house, in which the people prefer to “pig” together for animal
heat, like the lower creation, rather than take the trouble of cutting,
stacking, and carrying in their peat. But here probably inveterate
custom perpetuates what arose from simple indolence.

The Landnámabók (De Originibus Islandiæ Liber), corresponding with our
Domesday Book and the Book of Joshua amongst the Hebrews, tells us that
in A.D. 1231 the plough was drawn by oxen and slaves. The Aryan
implement, never invented by the African nor by the “red man” of the
Western Hemisphere, is now simply impossible. The surface is either
quaking bog, where man is easily mired and “laired;” or covered with
runs and boulders of basalts and lavas, porous and compact, grey, brown,
red, and black; the grey being of course the oldest. This has never been
cultivated, and probably never will be. The grass land reminds you of a
deserted country churchyard. Many of the warts which garnish it are
originally formed like “glacier tables,” those pillars of ice bearing
tabular rock, which protects their bases whilst the sun melts the
surrounding matter. The scattered boulders keep the lump firm, whilst
the ground about it is washed away: mostly, however, the tussocky warts
are formed, as on the Irish bog, the Scotch moor, and the flanks of Ben
Nevis, by the melting of spring-snows and the heavy rains which carry
off the humus from the sides; and they show us on a small scale the
effects of weathering upon hills and mountains. The water, here and in
the bogs and peat-mosses, is a “gilded puddle,” rich in diatomaceous
silica and iron: as in parts of Ireland, it readily converts adipose and
muscular tissue into a saponaceous matter like spermaceti, and it forms
the “precious medicine Múmiyá” (human fat) once so highly valued for
fractures and pulmonary complaints.

These warts are exaggerated by the treading and grazing of cattle in the
depressions. Not a few travellers have asserted that the people,
forgetting that grass grows perpendicularly, leave the knobs _in situ_,
because a curve affords more surface than a plane. To a similar
prejudice, also, they attribute the use of the toy scythe, which shaves
round the lumps, wasting much time, and exposing the precious crop to be
destroyed by rain or snow. The real cause, of course, lies much deeper.
Firstly, there is the want of hands; secondly, there is the expense of
day labour; and thirdly, a man must be certain of tenure before he is
justified in undertaking such a task as levelling the surface of his
field. The turf must be carefully removed from every knob, the latter
must be planed away with the hoe, and lastly, the grassy covering must
be replaced: after a few years the snows and showers will require the
operation to be repeated. Meanwhile, the result is a short thin turf
like that of England, but exceptionally springy to the tread, as if it
had no solid foundation--in fact, something like a water-bed. A little
top-dressing brings out a goodly crop of grass, and although we must
despair of seeing even oats and rye, yet roots like potatoes and turnips
might become much more common than they are. But then--the landlord
would raise the rent.

A favourite walk with foreigners is to the Laug (pronounce _Lög_), the
reeking spring, lying about two miles from and nearly due east of the
town. The only bathing-place, especially on fine Sundays, between
church-time and dinner at two P.M., it is the haunt of many washerwomen,
and yet, during the last millennium, no attempt at a decent path has
been made. You leave the town by the Krísuvík, more properly the general
eastern, road, passing the fine new prison, which is rising rapidly from
the ground: the exceptionally thick walls are made of hewn and unhewn
trap, with an abundance of imported lime, blackened by basaltic sand.
There are apartments for the officials, and ample accommodation for all
the criminals in the island; indeed, if the interior only equal the
exterior, its superior comforts may act, it is feared, like our old
transportation system, and offer a premium for breaking the law. On the
right, you leave the Skolavarða,[28] or school mark, so called because
it was built for the College. This “observatory,” as foreigners call it,
is a two-storied building, ascended by two sets of double ladders: the
view from the green-painted hatchway which defends the opening above
lays the land before you like an embossed map. The lower story is foul
in the extreme, and there are scandals concerning the uses to which it
is normally put. The wooden building of old charts has clean
disappeared. No place could be worse adapted than this for an
observatory, at least, if magnetic instruments are to be used. The
French expedition found that the surrounding volcanic rocks gave the
most discordant results, for instance, 2° 32´ to north, and 11° 15´ to
south, upon the same rhumb. M. Lottier (p. 35) offers the following
comparison of magnetic declinations:

  1. At Reykjavik, 43° 14´.
  2. “  Thingvellir, 40° 8´.
  3. “  Geysirs, 45° 50´.
  4. “  Selsund, 40° 49´´.

He remarks that the first is probably correct on account of the care
with which the site had been prepared, two granite blocks having been
laid down upon the hard ground below the turf. The second was vitiated
by a huge _coulée_ of lava; the third by the looseness and Plutonic
nature of the soil, whilst at Selsund the Hekla _massif_, distant only a
mile to the north-east, must have exercised a disturbing effect.

Striking to the left, we pass the detached farm-houses, and hit the
shingly and rocky margin of the shore, which here and there shows heaps
and scatters of sub-columnar basalt. Presently, after treading the
pebbly bank and stony tracts, well garnished with mud, we reach the
mouth of the little stream, or rather the place where it should mouth.
Here, as on many parts of the coast, where not protected by islands to
windward, or where the rock does not come down to the water’s edge, a
high bank of sand and shingle is thrown up, and retains the water in
pools of various extent. Mostly, these basins are briny, being affected
by the percolating tide which ebbs and flows regularly inside: they
explain the presence of the upper bog; the matted roots of the
vegetation prevent free drainage; and the want of slope would probably
render even deep-ditching ineffectual.

We cross the streamlet higher up, and ascend the right bank, where
walking is better than on the left, wondering the while that during so
many centuries of use the feet of the washerwomen have not worn a way.
Here at length is some sign of life. “The lady-hen sings to the riv,” as
the Shetlanders say of the lark, but her carol is at the gate of a
milk-and-water heaven. The curlew and the whimbrel scream their wild lay
in the lower air; the snipe rises with a peculiar twitter; the snippet
bathes where the water is warm; the water-rail (_rallus_) courses before
us; the true sandpiper (_tringa_), accompanied by a purple congener (_T.
maritima_), with brown back, white waistcoat, black colours extending
over the eyes and crest, with long red beak and legs, forages busily for
food; whilst waterfowl, including the ubiquitous eiders, male and
female, float lazily off shore. In many places the sandpiper behaves
like the Brazilian João de Barros, alighting before the traveller, and
apparently enjoying the fun of narrow escapes.

A number of ponies, awaiting transportation to the mines of Great
Britain, were grazing about, and bolted as we drew near. The few cows,
almost all hornless, had small straight bodies, and large udders, which
are said sometimes to give from ten to twelve quarts of milk per diem,
and 3000 per annum; the proportion of butter being 1:16. Wretched
bullocks, not weighing more than a Syrian donkey, were fattened for
foreign markets: surely the roast beef of Old England never appeared in
meaner form. Presently they will be lashed to ponies’ tails, and afford
much amusement to the gamins of Reykjavik by springing over the little
drains with such action as the Toro at Ronda attempts the barricades.
The ewes, dull-yellow, straight-eared, and thin-tailed, some with coats,
others sheared, or rather plucked, in Shetland parlance “roo’d,” were at
a distance to be mistaken for goats; in June most of them are
accompanied by lambs, singlets or twins, looking extra innocent. They
yield a couple of quarts of milk per diem, or about fifty per annum, and
their fat is said to contain an unusual proportion of stearine. Merinos
have been tried, and to them many people attribute the dreadful scabies
which has raged since 1855. The goat, once so common, is extinct in this
part of the island, at least I never saw a specimen in Iceland: this
destructive animal could not have been much at home where there is so
little wooded land; and it was proscribed for climbing upon the turf
roofs, and doing other damage. The happy mean has been hit by Istria,
which issued laws in early ages _de capris non tenendis_, and which now
allows goats only in the wildest and stoniest parts. It will be a
fortunate day for the Libanus and Syria generally when the graveolent
there falls into like disfavour.

The comparatively fertile banks, clothed with the _Lecidea Lindleyana_
grass, shows us, for the first time, the pretty Icelandic flora in full
bloom; and the general effect is yellow, as that of Palestine is red:
this arises from the large proportion of buttercups (Icel. Sóley) and
dandelions. The properties of _Leontodon taraxicum_ in hepatic disease,
either as coffee or as salad, are here quite unknown; the Icelanders
call it Unda-fill, and the Færoese Heeasolia. Its flowers are used in
the southern islands for yellow dye, and the leaves are eaten in spring:
after that time they become bitter. There is an abundance of golden
liverwort (_Parnassea palustris_) and cross-worts (_galiums_) of many
kinds, locally called Maðra and Kross-maðra; of Alpine saxifrages (_S.
hircula_ and _oppositifolia_), of azaleas (_A. procumbens_), pretty red
flowers, loved by sheep; of lilac-tinted butter-worts; and of the yellow
ranunculus, common in the Pyrenees and Alps. The wild thyme (_T.
serpyllum_), which preserves a strong perfume, whilst the four violets
have lost it, is termed Blóðlýng by the people, and, mixed with other
leaves, is extensively used in ptisanes to “thin the blood.” An orchis,
an equisetum with small stiff leaves, and a “fox grass,” as the fern is
locally named, faintly remind us of the tropics--ferns always have this
effect. Very familiar to the eye are the daisy (in the Færoes,
Summudaar), the white chickweeds (_Stellarium_ and _Cerastium vulgatum_,
locally called “Musar-eyra,” (mouse’s ear); the forget-me-not
(_Kattar-auga_), which flourishes everywhere; the white cardamine (_C.
pratensis_); the common bitter cress, which Icelanders call
Hrafna-(pron. _Hrabna_) klukka, or raven’s bell; the other pretty little
crucifers, and the rhododendron (_laponicum_, Icel. Kalmanstúnga), with
a delicate red flower. The Iceland heath (_Erica vulgaris_) here becomes
a valuable plant: the people say that sheep cannot die where it abounds,
and they use it with peat and brushwood to smoke their meat. The
geranium (_G. silvaticum_) is common, especially the malva, known as
Ljons-kló or-löpp (lion’s paw), a name evidently given by those who had
never been presented to King Leo. The Fífa, or cotton-grass (_Epilobium_
or _Eriophorum polystachion_), with bright white pods, which extends
from Iceland to South Germany, and which fattens sheep in Dumfriesshire,
will haunt us in every swamp: it is a much maligned growth, and it
serves to make the bog far more solid and less like a rolling carpet
than the “Serbonian” feature otherwise would be. The less familiar
plants are the crowberry (_Empetrum nigrum_), eaten by Corvus in
Scotland before the grain is ripe; the red cowberry (_Vaccinium
vitis-idæa_), which mostly affects the hills, and is preserved for
pancakes; the grass of Parnassus (Icel. Mýra-sól-ey); and a moonwort,
rare in the British Islands.

The deep, narrow ditch winds through the plain, with bulges here and
there, which make good bathing-places: what little steam there is,
generally courses before the wind down the valley. The old centre of
ebullition is denoted by a small green mamelon or tumulus on the right
bank, supposed to be the site of a large spring once boiling: hereabouts
poor, brown, and fibrous peat is stacked, and on week-days it is the
meeting-place of a dozen Baðkonur (washerwomen),[29] of all ages, from
grandmother to small girl. A baylet in the right bank shows the present
focus of ebullition, though a little below, on the left side, the water
above a dwarf rapid is scalding hot: at the former, the thermometer (F.)
readily rises to 175°, and soon cools down stream. Higher up again the
little ditch, coloured with bog iron, and with strongly chalybeate
taste, is icy cold: as at the celebrated Snorri’s Bath, all degrees of
temperature can here be combined, and whilst one hand is parboiled, the
other is chilled.

The water after traversing heated substances, evidently pyritic,
effervesces from a bottom of dark-grey mud; and when the stone is
exposed, we find heat-altered bazalt covered with a whitish
incrustation, silica, the chief ingredient, being deposited in a
gelatinous state. There is a strong smell of sulphuretted hydrogen, so
commonly remarked in dormant springs, and the offensive presence should
recommend it to skin diseases, especially where the _Sarcoptes scabiei_
is present. From the muds and deposits of these waters none of the rarer
earths, like yttria, glucina, and oxide of cereum, have been found,
though traces of cobalt occur: lime and magnesia abound; manganese, iron
and silica, soda and sulphuric acid, also exist in considerable
proportions. Dr Murray Thomson has carefully analysed the produce of the
Laug.[30] Eels are mentioned by travellers, but we never saw them: in
the lower course there are shell-less snails and a variety of worms

Broken bottles and fragments of the “Constitutionnel” show the favourite
place for bathing: formerly here, as at Thingvellir, a wooden shed was
set up; now every inch of it has disappeared. It is no joke to dress and
undress in the raw high east winds and the bursts of storm, but the
exceptionally healthy nature of the climate asserts itself under these
unpleasant circumstances. As there are traditions of a French sailor
having died of pleurisy after a bath, common prudence would suggest a
sunny afternoon. The amount of refreshment derived from the “Hammám” is
immense. Strangers in Iceland often attribute to other and less cleanly
causes the sudden eruption of Lichen (misnamed _Tropicus_) or prickly
heat, the nettle rash which the Danes call “Red Hound:” it seems to be
as common about the poles as throughout the tropics, and many of my
English acquaintances suffered severely from it in Iceland without
recognising it.

From the bath we walked over the stony bog to the nearest Bær, which is
generally deserted: it is occupied by the caretakers of the Laugarnes
Hospital. The two-storied whitewashed house is built of irregular and
unsquared basaltic blocks: the frontage is south of west. Each of the
two floors has three windows, and the wings two on the east and west,
but none to the north. Formerly the episcopal palace, it was last
occupied by Bishop Steingrímur Jonsen: the present dignitary has always
preferred the town. It has now been converted into a smallpox hospital:
two patients died there this year (1872); since then, as no cases have
come in, the doors are locked, and the attendants are engaging
themselves elsewhere. In olden times it was connected with the town by a
_chausée_, a causeway somewhat like the remains of the Saracen,
miscalled Roman, roads which cross the flat country south of Damascus.
Bad as it is, the fragment teaches a useful lesson--never, if possible,
to quit an Iceland road. “Follow the highway tho’ it winds,” say the

A Scotch gentleman, well-known in Iceland as a firm and hospitable
friend to Icelanders, proposed to buy Laugarnes for a summer residence,
to pay $3000, and, moreover, to conduct the water in tubes to Reykjavik,
where it might lead to a habit of Russian baths. Unhappily, it belongs
to a company, or rather to half-a-dozen proprietors, who have added
Klepp, the adjoining property: they showed their unwisdom by asking
$4000 for the original estate, and now their terms fluctuate, according
to chances, between $8000 and $14,000.

From the Hospital we follow the shore to the Laxá River East. On the way
there is a deposit of very light blue-grey hydrate of iron, cellular and
globular, and rich in water, and phosphorus: it is supposed to result
from the decomposition of titaniferous iron, contained in the underlying
dolerite. Close to the sea, and conspicuous to those who sail by, is a
classical spot, the Haugr, howe or cairn of Hallgerða, the fair-haired
with the thief’s eyes. That lady, so famous in Iceland legends,
virtually murdered three husbands; the last was the “peerless Gunnar,”
who, some years before, had slapped her face. She lived upon this farm,
which she inherited from Glum, her second victim; she died in A.D. 996,
and she was buried with all the honours of her rank. The tumulus always
remains green, doubtless a token of Heaven’s approval bestowed upon one
of the strongest-minded of her sex. Should Mary Stuart succeed in being
sanctified, the abominable Hallgerða surely has a chance: at present she
is known to local fame chiefly from the beauty of her locks, which hung
down to her waist. She is one of those women in history whom one would
like to interview.

Another tract of stone and bog led us to the Laxá River, which
discharges into the usual broad Fjörð, fronting Viðey, and bounded on
the east by the low, chapelled point of Gufunes (screw naze). The name,
often written Danicè Lax[31] (salmon) Elbe or Elve (river), is common in
the island, which may contain a dozen Laxás: there are four near
Reykjavik, each distinguished by some local affix. Henderson erroneously
calls it Hellirá, river of caverns, from the many holes in its lava bed;
others prefer Hellurá, river of slabs: so Newfoundland was first called
Hellu-land. The classical term, however, is Elliðaá, from the ship
“Elliði,” which Ketilbjörn Gamli (the old) caused to be dragged through
river and lake. It rises in the Elliða-vatn (Ellwich-water), a circular
lake with tuff walls, showing an extinct volcano: this place, about one
hour’s ride south-east of Reykjavik, is a famed place for picnics, and
is much affected by men who go a-fishing. The stream, or rather torrent,
rushes fiercely between tall and rocky banks, flares out at the mouth,
and finds rest in the broad bosom of Reykjavik Bay.

Presently we reached the salmon ground, which is now but a shadow of its
former self, doubtless the result of “barring” with weirs, traps, dams,
and nets. Until the beginning of this century it was held by the Crown,
and tradition declares that sometimes 3000 head, with a maximum weight
of 40 lbs., were taken in a single afternoon. It was first rented to Hr
Scheele, a Danish merchant at Reykjavik, and was afterwards sold in
perpetuity to the father of the present Hr Th. A. Thomsen. The sum
mentioned is $1200, a poor bargain for the local Government, as the
yearly revenue is said to be $1000. The owner has placed six common box
weirs, with crates, allowing the fish to work up stream, but not to
return; and stone dams, which are removed before the ice sweeps them
away in autumn--salmon and trout here spawn in October. They might be
placed a little higher up for the convenience of the fish, but at any
rate they are better than the standing nets, with which a Scotch
contractor “barred” the very mouth of the river.

I saw the boxes opened about mid-July; but rain had been scarce, and the
whole take was 15 salmon, the maximum being 5 lbs., and the average
under 4 lbs.: we heard, however, that some weeks before, one box had
yielded 63, and the six a total of 179. They are readily sold in the
town for 22 skillings per lb., and in the country the price falls to 12
or 13. By an arrangement with Hr Thomsen, the traveller might be allowed
to fish for salmon and trout in the lower stream, and in the upper
waters he can so do gratis. At the same time he must keep well out of
the owner’s limits, or there will be work for the lawyers.



Right opposite Reykjavik rises an interesting block of mountains.
Bearing due north is Akrafjall, bluff to the sea and sloping with a long
dorsum inland; it is the western steeple of the long Hvalfjörð, one of
the many digitations, carved by wind and water in the western coast. The
eastern is the Esja, which means a “kind of clay;” some travellers
miscall it the Esian or Essian, with the definite pronoun suffixed,[32]
and sounding much like “the Alcoran” to an Arabist. The southern flank
of this precipitous buttress, gashed with deep ravines and still spotted
and streaked with snow which will not disappear before mid-August, lies
north-east and across the baylet of Reykjavik: in fine weather it looks
as though you could see a man upon the summit. Between the two pilasters
of the inverted arch, forming the apparent bound of the far vista, is a
third, a smaller and a more precipitous block, Skarðsheiði--heath of the
_col_[33]--with five buttresses, waxing whiter and whiter as they leave
the warm western aspect. The view is fine albeit somewhat sinister, and
you miss it like removing from the Chiaja to the interior of Naples. All
this, we must remember, is only a corner of the great south-western
Fjörð, whose northern limit is the Snæfellsjökull and whose southern is
the Skagi (point) of Suðrnes: it is called Faxafjörð, from Fax,[34] the
Scot, who believed it to be the estuary of a mighty stream; the same
kind of mistake gave a name to glorious Rio de Janeiro.

The eastern or inland view from Reykjavik on a fine day is not less
picturesque. The clear cut basaltic line of mountains, here and there
broken and jagged, stretches from north-east to south-west. In the
former direction it appears a mural range, in the latter the blue wall
breaks up into detached features, the regular cone of Helgafell, or holy
hill, the pyramid of Keilir, “the wedge,” so well known to sailors, and
the four hillocks called the Trölladyngjur,[35] or giantesses’ bower.
Again this feature reminds me of the Jebel Haurán, and we shall find it
beautifully displayed from the several mountain-tops.

On June 12 I set out with Major B. and Mr S. to try our prentice-hand
upon the Esja. The vehicle was a two-oared boat redolent as usual of
fat, fin, and feather; the hour was 6.45 A.M., and the north-easter was
biting cold--at this season travellers should prefer post-meridional
excursions, as the afternoon wind, during fine weather, invariably
shifts to the genial west. The terns and the large Iceland gulls were
hurrying home to the several islands, each showing the economical value
of early birding.

After adding prospects of Geldinga Ness, Therney, and Lundey to our
repertory, and covering in two hours the six miles’ sail, we landed at
the usual place on the northern bank of the dwarf Kolla Firth. It showed
farm-houses scattered around and a few fishing craft carefully drawn up;
a very necessary precaution when the tide is going out. On the left was
Esjuberg, where Örlýgr Hreppson, converted by Patrick, Bishop of the
Hebrides, built the first Christian chapel, and dedicated it to St
Columbkille, Apostle and Thaumaturgus of the Picts. Farther off lay
another farm upon the site of the celebrated pagan temple known as the
Hof of Kjallarnes--we shall visit Keel-ness by and by.

It is perfectly true in Iceland that

    “The sea is wet as wet can be,”

but we cannot say that

    “The land is dry as dry.”

Throughout the lowlands Nature, organic as well as inorganic, seems
never to be free from moisture: like tropical man it always sits in a
damp skin.

Having hauled up our boat we crossed the moss towards the great gash in
the hill-flank, the _Caldera_, so conspicuous from Reykjavik; as usual
the ground was shaky bog, and in places like an exaggerated Turkey
carpet. The cause is that the shore, formed either of shingle or of
vegetation decayed to humus is, as we have seen, higher than the
interior, and the people content themselves with dykes for roads, and
with trenches never deep enough for thorough drainage. We passed two
small farms composed of the normal dwelling-places, stables, byres, and
outhouses; plans and elevations of these abodes have been given by every
Icelandic traveller who has used pencil as well as pen. Suffice it to
observe, that throughout Iceland the dwelling-place, like the “skip,”
has seen better days, and that both are now hopelessly degenerate.

At the second farm lived the guide, who was absent in the fields, and we
vainly attempted persuading the sailor lad, a regular “lazy,” to
accompany us with the provaunt-basket. An English youth would have been
delighted with the chance of a climb, but these _fainéants_ about the
capital, timid and apathetic, will do nothing for sport or adventure,
and move only when need drives.

After forty-five minutes’ walk we entered the great gorge, which
discharges a shallow stream, winding in many veins over its broad and
rocky wady: it must be a furious torrent during the thaws of spring. We
should have crossed it and ascended a sharp, rocky, zigzag on the
right-hand jaw, but we had no reason to regret the error, as the deep
section gave us an excellent view of the Esja’s internals. The
formation of the mountain is still a disputed point; some hold its base
to be basaltic pierced by more modern trachyte, whilst others believe in
the greater antiquity of the trachyte. As will be seen, when travelling
to Mosfell, or south-east, we found trachyte on a level with the Esja’s
foundation and, when coasting along the western flank, we saw Palagonite
sandstone, dyked with trap, and underlying as well as overlying the
later igneous formation. The sequence, therefore, appeared to be
Palagonite, trachyte, and trap. On the Kollafjörð also there is a line
of carbonate of lime running from north-east to south-west, and strongly
affecting the water: hence it is judged that Iceland spar may be found

After a few minutes we came to a place where the gorge was split by a
tall chine of rock, and where overfalls and deep inclines rendered the
two beds impassable. We climbed up this hogsback, remarking, as others
have done before and since, how dangerously brittle is the rubbishy
stone which comes away in large fragments under the foot. The same
observation constantly occurs in travels through Greenland and
Spitzbergen, and the cause is doubtless that which strews the upper
heights of the Libanus and Anti-Libanus with natural Macadam--fracture
by alternate expansion and contraction. In Iceland, moreover, the
_débris_ lies in dry heaps, loosely attached to the surface and not
based upon or secured by vegetation or tenacious humus, while the sharp
angles of the material produces many a rocking-stone. Hence large masses
giving way readily beneath the tread, somewhat surprise the
inexperienced. We then fell into a long stiff slope of rock and yellow
humus, puffed up under the sun; there was an abundance of water
stagnating even on the sharpest declivities, and doubtless percolating
from the snow strips above. Where the surface was tolerably level, rough
grasses upon which a few sheep were grazing were sprinkled with mosses
and with raised patches of bright green studded with pink flowerets
(_Diapensia_), faintly resembling the huge Tabbán pin-cushions of the
Hermon. Animal life appeared to be exceedingly scarce.

Presently the guide, who had followed us, was seen crossing the
left-hand or western ravine, and only his Iceland shoes enabled him to
do so. Of course, he wore gloves, for what reason we could not divine,
except to keep his unwashed hands white; and his alpenstock was an iron
stick, some three feet long, with a ring at one end and a half barb at
the other. He waddled like an ant-eater when showing his vigour by
spurts of running up and down, and his bent and _affaissé_ form was a
considerable contrast to that of the mountaineer generally. He was like
his brethren, the very rudiment of a guide, utterly disregardful of the
guided; and in case of difficulty or accident, we expected him at once
to skedaddle. When he whooped “ho!” it was the screech of a sea-fowl.

Arriving at the stiffer part of the ascent, about 2400 feet above
sea-level, we should have bent to the west towards the largest patch of
snow, where the angle is exceptionally easy. But our guide followed us
with African docility, as we bent eastward under the tall scarps of
submarine trap, which from Reykjavik appear to stand up like a wall.
There were several _couloirs_ to cross, mostly slides of icy snow: in
August they will appear like broad yellow gutters polished by frost.
Here we picked up specimens of red jasper, crystals of lime, and stones
whose drusic cavities were charged with _calcaire_.

Then began the climb up the crest. The stairs, about eight or ten feet
high, run with tolerable regularity, whilst breaks here and there allow
easy ascent: at the base is kittle _débris_, where falling blocks may be
expected. However hopeless may appear these trap walls, whose copings,
straight and regular as if built by man, form the characteristic feature
of maritime Iceland, they are generally climbable by creeping along the
ledges below the several grades till gaps offer an opportunity of
swarming up to the higher tier. If, however, a profile view shows that
these traps dip instead of tilting seawards, the normal disposition,
attempts will be in vain. Cryptogams were thinly scattered over the
blocks; lichens appeared to be rare, and the mosses had not revived from
the winter burning--as regards muserlogia there is still much to be done
in Iceland.

After a walk of three hours, we stood upon the level summit,[36] about
3000 feet above sea-level, and the ascent was according to the rule of
the Alpine Club, a thousand feet per hour. Here rose a number of Varðas
or old men. We crossed a dazzling _névé_, following the guide, who
probed as he went on, for here as elsewhere,

                          “The snow o’erlays
    The hidden pits and dangerous hollow ways.”

I narrowly observed its behaviour. The ground about it was so soft and
slushy that even stones would not support our weight, and the shallow
edges were icy-hard, the effect of increased evaporation. On sloping
surfaces the same effect is caused by pressure, like squeezing a
snow-ball, and gelufication is prevented by the little runnels which the
sun sets free to trickle down the gorges. The material was glacious
rather than flaky or niveous, and promised firm foothold. We have read
of travellers sinking to the shoulders, especially in the snow of
August, but it is doubtful if this ever takes place above a certain
altitude, especially in dry weather, when Iceland snow wastes away in
the wind like camphor.

The “raking view” from the summit was a fair physiognomical study of
treeless Thule. To the north the mountain is a mere section, a shell
with perpendicular falls and steep steps of loose stone, which demand
rope ladders. Before it the lowlands fall to the Hvalfjörð, beyond which
the Akrafjall dorsum slopes inland, or to north-east, till suddenly
arrested on the other side of the smooth green sea-arm by the five
buttresses of the sister formation, Skarðsheiði. The latter looks as
though a few hours, instead of two days, would reach it; and our friends
at Reykjavik showed their belief in the wondrous transparency of the
atmosphere by trying to detect, with their opera glasses, our small
bodies creeping up the slope at the distance of at least six direct
geographical miles. At Quito, under the equator, a horseman’s white
poncho may, according to Humboldt, “be distinguished with the naked eye
at a horizontal distance of 89,664 feet, and therefore under an angle of
thirteen seconds.”

Turning southwards, we found the Esja summit flanked to the east by
three regular buttresses, like artificial earthworks, with stepped
projections and horizontal lines of the whitest _névé_. Farther down
were _couloirs_ filled with a brown snow, in lines too steep for
crossing. The highland before us reminded me of the Paramos or deserts
of the Cordillera, and the view generally was a wondrous contrast with
European ideas of spring beauty. The lowlands at our feet were sprinkled
with lakelets and tarns, the Vaud and Soe of Norway, the largest being
the Hafravatn and the Elliðavatn. The formation of the Fjörðs lay in
panorama, a network of fibres and threads converging to form a main
embouchure; whilst the several bays had those hooks and “sickles” of
sand, which the “Rob Roy” canoe places in the Sea of Galilee, but which
my lamented friend Tyrwhitt-Drake and I were not lucky enough to find.
We have already remarked this wealth of “oyce” in the Scotch firths, and
Elius Corvinus declares the same to be the case in Dalmatian streams:

    “Danubio et Nilo non vilior Ombla fuissit
    Si modo progressus possit hebere suos.”

From south-east to south the prospect is bounded by the snow-dotted
Hraun or lava-run, which in places appears as two parallel ranges. It
completely hides the Thingvellir Lake, but in far distance, peeping over
the summit to the east, rises the bold and rocky head of the arch-humbug
Hekla. The range terminates to the south-west in Laugarfell, a
buttressed crest like the Esja, beyond which the Vestmannaeyjar
archipelago floats in little lumps below the cup-shaped horizon. The eye
rests with pleasure upon the Helgafell cone and the pyramid of Keilir,
perfect as the pigmies of Egypt: this shape is common in Iceland, and
forms the best of land and surveying marks. Beyond the long, thin point
of Reykjavik (Seltjarnarnes) and its scatter of volcanic islets, the
dwarfed projections of Skagi and Reykjanes fine away into mere streaks
of black upon the pale blue sea. Presently a cloud came over the sun,
and the cold air warned us to keep moving. Ugh! how raw it was; the wind
seemed to pierce every joint in our harness. We descended by the
picknicker’s path, showing the unnecessary trouble we had taken: the
line ran between the great gorges or rather rents in the flanks, which
gave excellent sections of the interior, stratified beds of newer red
and older grey-blue lavas remarkably distinct. At the foot of the
mountain the thermometer, placed in reflected heat upon the snowy
ground, showed 82°(F.), hardly to be expected in Iceland.

Reaching the guide’s house, we were kindly received by his wife, who
gave us coffee, biscuits, and excellent milk, which mixed with
Korn-schnapps, even the “water-bewitched” of Reykjavik, is a most
satisfactory beverage. We dropped a rixdollar, by way of being
“delicate,” into a child’s hand. Two months afterwards, our cicerone
wrote to Geir Zoega that he had guided (unbidden be it said) three
Englishmen up the mountain, and had given them coffee, etc.; that his
fee was $3, whereas they had left only $1 with a servant girl, from whom
he could not take it. This little trait--one of many--would not be worth
quoting did it not show that the unsophisticated age of the island has,
in these parts at least, passed clean away.

It speaks volumes for the excellence of the climate that next morning no
one, even after ten months of London life, complained of stiff muscles.
We had been baked, chilled, and baked again, yet there was not a trace
of “cold catching:” the latter, to resident foreigners, is not
unfrequently the result of the glacier winds, but they never seem to
adopt such simple precautions as a hareskin or a _Manus Dei_ (poor man’s

A most interesting part of the Esja mountain is the north-eastern
section, where two regularly-shaped cones of golden colour, sharp
towering in the milky blue air, attract the eye from Reykjavik. They are
conspicuous in snowy caps, which they long retain, whilst the basalts
and the dark Palagonites assist the thaws. I was anxious also to inspect
the head of the celebrated Hvalfjörð, to ascend Skarðsheiði, and to call
upon the Reverend Thorvaldr Bjarnason, who had hospitably invited me to
Reynivellir, his parsonage. The excursion took place about mid-July, but
I again sacrifice the unity of time to that of place. My companion was
Mr Martin Chapman, of New Zealand, now domiciled in the Temple: we had
already made the trip to Hekla, and his good gifts as a traveller, his
energy and his imperturbable good temper and _sang froid_, made him an
excellent companion. We again secured as guide Páll Eyúlfsson, of whom
more presently. Each had a remount, and a single baggage animal was
judged sufficient.

We set out merrily by the eastern road, through a country now familiar
to the reader, and soon covered the four miles between the town and the
ford of the Laxá (Elliðaá). On the way were many signs of glacial
action, grooving as well as slickensides, caused by the friction of two
rock surfaces: the ice-dressings which I had last seen on Arthur’s Seat
are everywhere around Reykjavik. At Hr Thomsen’s farm, Ártún (river
“toon”), we left the inland or Geysir road and turned towards the sea.
About Leiruvogr (mud bay) and the mouth of the Leiruvogsá the floor was
of trachyte, which appeared even in the stream-beds: the material was
heat-altered and discoloured by oxides. The little black church of
Mossfell (moss-hill), a common name in the island, was the half-way
house; and thence we rode up the Svinadalr (swine-vale), to the white
pass of Mó-skarða hnjúkr, also called Há-hnjúkr. Here, after travelling
three hours and forty-five minutes, we dismounted and prepared for the

On our left hand was a rough tooth, or _aiguille_, a conspicuous object
rising perpendicularly from the rapid slope: the lower ground was the
usual mixture of bog, moss, and water. This was soon exchanged for an
angle too steep for vegetation; yet even on the summit, we picked
scattered flowers, and the peculiarity of Iceland in the eyes of an
African traveller again repeated itself. Here we find not only genera
abnormally numerous compared with species, but also no change of growth
from the tropical to the temperate and the polar, as, for instance, on
Camarones Mountain. The same flora everywhere appears, the paucity of
vegetable corresponding with the poverty of animal forms: only in the
upper regions it is of course dwarfed by height and by the comparative
thinness of the aqueous vapours which screen the lowlands; and for the
same reason it grows and dies later in the year.

The surface of the mountain was purely trachytic, but the one material
was Protean in shape and colour. The prevailing tints were red and
golden yellow. We recognised the slate of Hekla and the heat-altered
material near the great Geysir. As we neared the summit the metal became
flaky, like the limestone of the Syrian mountains. After forty minutes
of rough climbing over slopes of rubbish--the smaller it was the firmer
it proved to the tread--we reached the apex, about 2000 feet above
sea-level: like the western Esja, it had the sharpest face to the north,
and the crest was a saw, a spiked _arête_, palisaded and bristling with
teeth and jags like the many-bladed knife of the cutler’s shop.[37]

Returning to our horses, we descended one of those staircases of earth
and stone now so familiar, and fell into the valley of a northern Laxá,
called for distinction, “of Reynivellir” (the sorb-apple plains). The
surface, so fair to sight, is swampy, despite its main-drain, and must
be traversed by earthen dykes. The lower part is protected to the north
by the Reynivallaháls (neck of Reynivellir), and to the south by the
Miðfell (mid-mount) and other outliers of the Esja. Here many houses are
scattered about; we recognise the sweet scent of hay; and the
dock-fringed plots of potatoes and cabbages look exceptionally
flourishing. In winter all freezes, but as the grass never protrudes
from the ice, however shallow, the neighbouring farmers visit one
another on skates, which are those of Europe generally.

At eleven P.M. we reached the parsonage, which showed three gables
pointing southwards, and a fourth to the east. A cart and a wheel-jack
gave signs that improvements were not unknown. The hour was unusual for
calling, but Iceland knows nothing of these fine distinctions: the house
dogs bayed the alarm; the host awoke the household; and, before turning
in, we supped comfortably at the parsonage.

On the next day Síra Thorvaldr could not accompany us, having service to
read. The only son of a widow, he entered the Church at her desire, but
his heart is book-hunting at Copenhagen, and, as his Sanskrit volumes
show, his delight would be Orientalism. But what can be done so far from
the haunts of learning? and at thirty-four he sees life gradually
slipping away from him. Meanwhile he takes pupils, he farms, he flirts
with botany, and he refreshes himself by an occasional visit to
Reykjavik. He kindly gave me a copy of the Reykholtskirkjumáldagi, the
Authentic Inventory of Reykholt Kirk, facsimile’d by the Icelandic
Literary Society:[38] the three specimens bear no date, but the Sagas
fix the time between A.D. 1143 and A.D. 1222.

About ten A.M. we were _en route_ and, worried by swarms of flies, in
forty minutes we walked up the great ugly prism, Reynivallaháls, whose
winding way was hardly visible from below. The summit is dotted with
Vörður, to guide travellers and church-goers through the snow. The
descent turned eastward, and showed us in front the familiar forms of
the horned and snow-streaked “Súlur,” the massive umbo of Skjaldbreið,
and the white dome of the Ok Jökull: to the left (north) was
Skarðsheiði, veiled in clouds. The lower gullies, where the heavy cold
air settles, condense their columns of warmer air into clouds, which
simulate water-spouts: at times these vapours, wonderfully resembling
smoke-pillars, have been mistaken for a rain of erupted ashes. At our
feet lay the head of the Hvalfjörð, looking unusually picturesque in the
still, blue air. Great double buttresses pushed peremptorily from
behind. The Múlafjall (mull-hills)[39] and Síldarmannafjall
(sillock-fisher or herring-catcher’s hill) are separated from
Reynivallaháls and from each other by Botnsdalr (bottom-head dale), and
by two green vales, Brynjudalr, where the brindled cow was once lost.
The river-like surface of the firth was exceptionally tranquil, and a
dwarf islet, shaped like a Strasburg



DATE BETWEEN A.D. 1143 AND A.D. 1222.]

pie, rose from its own reflection. There were other islets, and boats,
and eider-ducks temporarily separated _a mensâ et thoro_, screaming
“crees,” peewits, plovers, and the usual accidents of a firth-view in

At the foot of the descent we struck the Fossá farm, and rode along the
northern counterslope of the Reynivallaháls. The path ran over swamp and
rock; it was the _malus passus_ of the whole line, but by no means
dangerous as described by Geir Zoega. Fortunately the tide was out, and
we easily forded the mouths of the Brynjudalr and Botnsdalr; on our
return we exchanged the bad line for two long detours rounding the
forked head of the firth. We then ascended to a farm situated under the
Thyrill, or egg-kipper, the stick for whipping eggs, milk, or porridge.
This remarkable feature forms the westernmost head of the
Síldarmannafjall, and resembles nothing so much as two towers flanking
the gateway of a giant’s castle, built after the fashion of Normandy;
the superstructure is basalt, and time seems to have tilted it a little
awry, as if the proprietor had long been an absentee. This Thyrill takes
its name from the mountain gusts which hurl men from their horses,
threaten caravans with destruction by frightful whirlwinds, and raise
sheets of sea-water high in the air, tearing them to pieces like snow.
To look at the peaceful innocent scene we could hardly imagine that it
ever lets angry passions rise, or that it had been led to the excesses
and atrocities described by Ólafsson and Von Waltershausen.[40]

The farm-people leaned against the walls, sunning themselves like Slavs
under similar circumstances; there was no want of church-goers riding to
and fro, and generally the travellers were more civil than upon the
beaten paths. Iceland mostly reverses the rule of the world, the country
folk being less amiable to the stranger than the town folk. From the
Thyrill to the Ferstikla farm, a distance of an hour and a half, there
are two paths. The short cut lies along the shore of heavy dark sand
and rocky points of black basalt studded with white shells; the porous
material is in parts full of almonds of lime, hence the white coating
which we here observe, as in the Wadys of the Haurán. The inner line is
the usual mixture of warty surface, swamp, stone, and shaking bog. At
Ferstikla, where a path strikes north for Reykholt, we found some grass
and rested the ponies.

A couple of hours finished the ride. We turned left, over a shallow
divide, the Ferstikluháls, whose northern counterslope is wooded with
birches fully two feet tall, yet hardly equal to the task of pulling us
from our saddles. We then fell into another Svínadalr (swine-dale), with
three lakes disposed north-east to south-west, along the southern base
of Skarðsheiði, and drained by another Laxá. There was no lack of
farm-houses, a sight which cheered the nags whilst floundering through
the deep mud-bog. A guide whom we had engaged _pro tem._, pointed to the
cone of the Blákoll, a comparatively low formation to the right; but the
vaunted mountain with its stepped bluffs is everywhere easy, and
“climbing for climb” always suggests to me the African’s “drinkee for
drunk.” After a pleasant but very slow ride of seven hours, we made, at
7.30 P.M., the Skarð farmlet. After the muggy morning with a “rain-sun,”
followed by a chilly evening which threatened a down-pour, we were not
sorry to be lodged in the cow-house of a “Sel”[41] and to sleep upon
sweet-smelling hay, far preferable to the animal heat of the foul

This day we have passed over the Iceland terminus proposed by the Danish
telegraph line. Despite the fearful whirlwinds, described as capable of
breaking “tegulas imbricesque,” and the rocky bottom of the Whale Firth,
it is perhaps the best; it is absolutely free from icebergs (Fjall
jakar), floes, and field-ice (Hellu-ís): Arctic ice appears in the Faxa
Fjörð and about Reykjavik only about once a century, the last time
being 1763. Here the bay-ice is reduced to a little brash-ice and
shore-ice, which are of scanty importance. It is a lee-land defended by
the south-western projection and by the north-western digitations from
the berg-bearing currents; and the bottom, until the Hvalfjörð is
reached, appears to be sand and mud. As Forbes remarks, there is no
“eligible spot” for a station between Portland (Dyrhólaey) and
Reykjanes; whilst the submarine volcanic line of rocks, the passage of
steamers, and the shallows of Reykjavik, render that port impossible.
The Vestmannaeyjar again are too far from the capital, and the east
coast is simply not to be thought of.

The project is part of the “north-about line” of Atlantic telegraph, as
opposed to the “south-about,” viâ the Cap de Verds, St Paul’s Rock, and
Brazilian Cape St Roque. Many of us remember hearing it ably advocated
some dozen years ago by Colonel T. P. Shaffner of Louisville,[42]
Kentucky, who took it up in 1853; travelled to Labrador, Greenland, and
Iceland; advertised, expended time and capital, canvassed, obtained
concessions from Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, and published and lectured
before the Royal Geographical Society, in order to raise a fund of
£400,000. The time was propitious. The first attempt of 1857-58 had
broken down after sending some 400 messages: in 1860 the longest
sub-aqueous circuit was 750 miles. No. 2 cable (1863), carried by the
“Great Eastern,” had also failed; and Mr Faraday objected his
“retardation” and “return currents,” even to an air-line of a thousand
miles. The bankruptcy of Transatlantic telegraphy was therefore
confidently predicted; nor was it believed that any section of 2000
miles could possibly be made to last. Presently, by way of a practical
jest upon scientific hobbies and croakings, the third cable (1866)
succeeded: then came the Valentia-Newfoundland in the same year; and
lastly, in 1868, the Brest and New York, or French line. Now (1872) a
fourth is talked of, and the next half-a-dozen years may see another

Colonel Shaffner, who is well remembered in eastern Iceland, proposed
to cross the Atlantic by four stations, none exceeding 700
miles--namely, Scotland to Færoes (225-250), to Iceland (240), to
Greenland (600-700), and to the coast of Labrador (510); a maximum total
of 1700, afterwards reduced to 1645 miles. The project, however,
contained two elements of unsuccess. Firstly, it proposed an air-line
from Djúpivogr (east coast) to the capital: I do not know what my friend
Dr Rae, who was sent to inspect the route, reported; but the universal
opinion of Icelanders is that no telegraphic communication of the kind
could resist a single winter-storm, not to speak of earthquakes and
eruptions. “How repair the damage?” they ask: “how even carry the
posts?” The second objection, the state of the ice about the Greenland
coast, was perhaps even more fatal. Thus the scheme gradually fell into
oblivion, not, however, before it had done right good service in
exploring Newfoundland--a very paradise for anglers, where trout weigh 6
lbs. and where salmon sells at 4 cents. The persevering Danes still
cleave to a connection with Iceland, and that is why we saw the gun-boat
“Fylla” on her surveying cruise.

On the next morning, as the peasantry rose at three A.M. to ted their
hay, we began preparations for ascending Skarðsheiði (scarf-gap-heath)
by observing the aneroids.[43] Rain evidently threatened, as at A.M.
7.15 we attacked the slope of _débris_, green only where two trickling
streamlets played hide-and-seek under moss and stones. After an hour’s
walk we reached the first ridge, and found in front of us a broken
plateau about 2000 feet high, with five lakes and ponds distributed at
different altitudes: the waters are all sweet, percolation taking the
place of drainage. On our right rose a tall precipitous wall of receding
steps, which at a distance resemble string courses and stories. The
precipice is streaked with _couloirs_, very well disposed for falls and
cannonades of rocks: high up there are two broad Palagonite bands in the
trap, which may sometimes be seen from Reykjavik. Our guide the farmer
did the honours of the echo.

We now circled to the north, winding round the grim wall, up and down
ridge after ridge of moraine-like _débris_, and over moss-clad boulders,
among which we occasionally sank up to the knees. Here the most
conspicuous growths were reindeer moss and Fjall-grös (“mountain
grass”), the _Lichen Islandicus_, of which Felligrath sings:

    “Old, even in boyhood, faint and ill,
      And sleepless on my couch of woe
      I sip this beverage, which I owe
    To Guper’s death and Hecla’s hill.”

In Iceland I never heard--as old travellers relate--of its being dried,
put in bags, beaten, and worked into flour by stamping. Usually it is
boiled, and eaten with barley like burghoo, or it is infused in milk, as
cacao and maté sometimes are: it gives a light tinge of green, and a
very pronounced mucilaginous flavour. The simple old days used it as
coffee, but it could not stand its ground against the intruder which
arrests the waste of tissue, as well as warms the blood. “Iceland
grass,” however, is still valued at home as a jelly for _poitrinaires_;
and the last time I saw it was on the Campo-grosso or Dolomite mountains
of Italian Recoaro (Vicenza).

After a second hour we reached the north of the bluff. On our left hand
was a red and cindery mound, the Stellir,[44] justly famed as a landmark
for sailors: ahead, and to east, rose the detached Skessuhorn, which
seemed to present no difficulties: it was not till our return that we
heard it described as a local Matterhorn, often attacked, but attacked
in vain, and still awaiting its vanquisher. Turning to the right, we
worked up the quoin by a passage between stone walls of Nature’s make,
and in another half-hour we climbed up the stiff slope of decayed trap.
Our guide required some little management: he pointed in alarm to the
mists rolling up from the north, with a cruel rush of cold air, and
though the line was marked with stone-men, he ejaculated “Thoka!” (fog).
“Lost in the mists” is often a conclusion to a “tale of Iceland’s

The summit of Skarðsheiði, about 3000 feet above sea-level, resembled
that of the Esja, and afforded a view quite as extensive, though not now
so novel. To the north, under our feet, ran the winding Hvitá and its
outlying waters, draining to the Borgarfjörð, here a grisly “spiegel,”
dotted with black reefs. North-eastwards lay the bare sulphurous grounds
of Reykholt (reeky hill), while far to the north-west, bounding the
north of the Faxa Fjörð, the knuckles of Snæfell and the caldrons
popularly known as Katlar, the kettles, formed the land horizon.
Southward the view ranged clean over Reykjavik, and showed the easiest
route to Skarðsheiði: this would be by boat to Saurbær, north-east of
Akrafjall, whence a walk of five miles places the traveller at the Skarð

The ascent and descent had occupied four hours: we then mounted our
horses, and returned before night to Reynivellir.

A delightful morning (July 23), when the air was so fine, so clear, so
bright that

    “It seemed a sin to breathe it,”

a morning when one really would have been sorry to die, sent us to bathe
at the Reynivellir brook, regardless of slugs and snails, moths and
flies. The Reverend left, after a copious breakfast of mashed salmon,
with a promise to meet us on the road. He had just lost a parishioner.
Since July 11th there has not been a shower, and the sky was that of
Italy for a whole fortnight. This abnormally fine weather is equally
fatal to the very young and the very old: seven or eight deaths had just
taken place at Reykjavik, a large proportion out of an annual average of
sixty; and three successive days saw three funerals: the causes are
“pituita,” malignant catarrh, and influenza.

We were threatened with a _mal pas_, and again found it remarkably good.
From Reynivellir the path ran down the Laxá valley; and where we crossed
the stream, it was clear as crystal, and abundant in trout. Here, again,
turf has invaded lands once forested; and now we look in vain for a
specimen of the sorb-tree, which named the parsonage. _Chemin faisant_,
the Reverend lectured us upon the botany of his native vale. The Dutch
or white clover (Smári)[45] flourishes: that red-headed cannibal the
Lambagras, moss-campion or dwarf catch-fly (_Silene acaulis_), which
rises upwards of 11,000 feet on the Swiss Alps, here prefers the drier
soils. The lower lands are covered with the Gúnga-gras (“bag grass,”
_Bursa pastoris_), everywhere common, with the meadow-sweet (Mjaðurt =
οἰνομέλι, _Spiræa ulmeria_), which yields a yellow dye, and a grateful
perfume in hot weather. The pride of the plain is the thrift or
sea-gilly-flower (_Statice armeria_), with downy stalk and pale pink
heads, which the people call Geldingahnappar, “gelding,” that is to say,
wether, “button.” The richer and damper grounds are grown with the marsh
marigold (_Caltha palustris_), the Solia or Solveia of the Færoes, here
called Lækja-sóley or hóf-sóley, from its hoof-shaped leaf; cattle will
not eat it, save as a _pis-aller_; the small green flower-buds when
pickled resemble capers, and the inflorescence lasts from early May to
the end of summer. It is a congener of the carnivorous _Caltha
dionæafolia_. There is an abundance of the Engja-rós, eyre or meadow
rose (_Epilobium augustifolium_), forming a pink carpet--there are many
rosaceæ in Iceland, but roses are deficient, as in the southern
hemisphere, only one having been found;[46] and the traveller must not
expect to find the beautiful little “Ward” of the Libanus. Another
common growth is the leguminous Um-feðmingsgras, “holding grass,” the
tufted or creeping vetch (_Vicia cracca_), whose cirri fasten upon
neighbours; hence the Færoese call it Krogyogras, from Kroya, to cling.
The solitary _Andromeda hypnoides_, a small creeper, with heather-like
white flowers, acts lily of the valley. We are again reminded of Syria
by the chamomile-like Baldursbrá (_Anthemis cotula_), whose snowy petals
suggest the White God,[47] Baldur the Beautiful, and whose circular
yellow centre assimilates it to the solar orb--it is too bad to call it
“stinking camomile.” The common sorrel (_Rumex acetosa_, locally known
as Valla, or Korn-súra) is a social plant that prefers the neighbourhood
of farms, and flourishes in newly-manured túns: the other species are
the kidney-shaped mountain sorrel (_Oxyria reniformis_) and the sheep’s
sorrel (_R. acetosella_). In the more southern islands, where the root
gives a red dye, the leaf is said to grow a foot and a half long; it is
used to flavour bird soup, and is eaten with meat. An anti-scorbutic,
pleasant withal, it should here be used every day, as tomatoes are in
the southern United States; but if you advise the Icelander to correct
his blood with sorrel, he will probably reply that it is food for cows.

After an hour’s ride, including the inevitable short cut of wrong path
and turning back, we reached the Miðfell farm, which faces cosily west,
and is backed by its little range of trap so degraded that it seems to
be forming humus. Fronting it is the Miðfellsvatn lakelet, which drains
the north-eastern Esja: it swarms with the Sílungur trout, but there was
no boat for the convenience of fishermen. Whilst the Reverend went to
his funeral, we sat upon the grassy warts, and enjoyed the view of
Snæfell, bluish-white in the flickering air. The thermometer stood at
86° (F.) in the sun; and the ghost of a mist tempered, like the glazing
of a master-hand, the raw colours and rough forms of the scene. The
prospect suggested Tempe, not the grisly defile of reality, but the
picture painted by poets--Greek Greece and Syrian Syria contrast
wonderfully with the features which naturally form themselves in the
northern mind. We argued that a couple of pleasant summer months might
be spent at Miðfell, but that such æstivation would involve building a
fishing-box and stocking it with friends.

Not the least picturesque part of the prospect was the cavalcade of some
thirty men and women returning in Indian file from the funeral. At last,
wearied with waiting, we rode up the ugly rough ravine of Eilifsdalr,
and turned to the right between the Esja and its northern outlier,
Eyrarfjall. The latter showed sub-columnar and fan-shaped basalt in the
foundations, with Palagonite, here yellow, there dark, overlying and
underlying trap, whilst striated rocks everywhere appeared. On the left
hand, or under Esja, were mounds mightily resembling moraine:[48] they
were probably formed by the streams of frozen mud which carried with
them boulder fragments, and either strewed them upon the plain or swept
them out to sea. The most conspicuous of the natural tumuli, and crowned
with a stone, is called, ‘Róstuhóll,[49] “battle holt,” or, as Hooker
has it, “duel hill:” here Búi Andriðsson, for whom see the Kjalnesinga
Saga, kept his foes at bay, and slew half-a-dozen with a sling.

We then forded the streams, and crossed the nasty swamps and the stony
patches of the brook which flows to the Hvalfjörð. Farms were scattered
everywhere about the sheltered valley. After two hours and a half of
slow progress, we were joined by the Reverend, who, gallantly mounted,
rode straight as a fox-hunting parson of the last generation, and we
soon reached the ladder of red and green lavas which overlooks the
firth. The immediate banks show the feature locally called
Melarbakki,[50] horizontal lines bare of earth, regular as if heaped up
by man, and generally with inclines too stiff to retain vegetation. We
shall see the feature well displayed at Borðeyri and Grafarós. In
Canada, and New England also, where the snow covering, which prevents
radiation of heat, is blown away by winds, and the ground is frozen for
a depth of two feet or more, the surface remains brown and barren
throughout spring and summer.

Here we dismounted to collect the “Yaspis,” for which the place is
famous, and which we had found scattered over the Esja range. The
colours are bright red, blue, and blue-green, often prettily striped and
branched; the sharp edges cut like obsidian, and the whole appears as
impure opaque masses of quartz. According to Dr Hjaltalín, it remarkably
resembles that of Hungary, and the dark spots upon the surface are oxide
of copper, copper glance, or argentiferous copper. Zeolites were
abundant, so were almonds of lime in basalt; chalcedonies, milk-white,
red, yellow, green, and dark-brown, passing into cachalong and grades of
chalcedony and quartz, “cloisonnés” with crystals of carbonate of lime,
and superficially clad with capillary mesotype. We often heard in
Iceland of the noble opal, which might be expected in a volcanic
land--as at Aden, there are whole sheets of it, but none is noble. The
Færoese consider it to be a transition between zeolite and chalcedony: I
was told of fine specimens found there, but failed to see them.[51]

We then trotted merrily past Saurbær (sour mud or dirt-farm; perhaps
farm of Saur), and were shown the Tíða Skarð (tide or hour _col_), so
called because the congregation riding to mass could be seen when an
hour distant. The path along the shore was tolerable, and we had to
dismount only at a single swamp. After a total of four hours’ slow
progress from Miðfell, we reached the main object of our journey, the
celebrated Hof of Kjalarnes (Keel-ness), in the Kjósar or “choice”
Sýsla. It was the great place of assembly in the south-west, and the
chief of the twelve provincial “Things” before A.D. 928, when the
Althing was removed to the confiscated estate of Thingvellir. We
expected interesting ruins after reading of “Kialarness, remarkable for
the remains of a Hof or idolatrous temple erected towards the close of
the ninth century” (Henderson, ii. 3). The Crymogæa of “Arngrim Jonas”
speaks with admiration of two Hofs in the north and south of the island.
Each had an inner sacellum, or holy of holies, where the victims were
ranged in semicircle about the idol-altar (Stalli): the latter was
plated with iron, for protection against the pure, flint-kindled fire,
which, as in a Parsee temple, perpetually burned there: it supported a
brass bowl (blót bolli) to contain the blood, sprinkled with the
blood-twig (blót grein) or asperges upon the bystanders. There hung up,
likewise, a great silver ring, which they stained with blood, and which
whoever took an oath on these occasions was required to hold in his
hand. The “Baugr,” we are told, weighed two ounces, and was at times
worn by the priest: it possibly symbolised Odin’s magic “Draupnir,” made
by Brokkur, most skilful of the dwarfs. Till late years a specimen was
to be seen at the Reykjahlíð churchlet. The “oath on the ring” was taken
by dipping it in blood, often human, and by saying, after the solemn
adjuration of heathen old Scandinavia, “So help me Freyr and Njördr, and
that almighty Áss!” (ok hinn almáttki Áss, _i.e._, Thor);[52] and
Norsemen of rank were buried with the Armilla sacred to Odin. “In one of
these temples there was also, near the chapel, a deep pit or well into
which they cast the victims.”

Mallet, and other trustworthy authors of his day, assimilated the
ancient Scandinavian places of worship to those of the Persian Guebres
and the old Teutons, who would not offend the gods by immuring them, or
by roofing them in, which is not correct. The Hof was an enclosed
building, whilst the Hörg, in whose centre stood the huge sacrificial
stone, was open above. The Scandinavian temple, even that gold-plated
wonder of the North, the fane of Thor at old Upsala, was nothing but a
long wooden hall to contain the worshippers, with a sanctuary at one
end, the true Aryan Estika,[53] where the “Blót,”[54] or pagan
sacrifice, was performed by the priest or pontiff (hof-goði). The same
was the case with the Kjalarnes temple, a rough timber building, burnt
by Búi Andriðsson, the slinger.

The situation is right well chosen for effect. This Hof stood at the
base of a stony land-tongue separated by swampy ground from the iron
shore, lined and faced with _diabolitos_, or cruel little black rocks.
Opposite sleeps the tranquil bay of Reykjavik, backed by its picturesque
blue hills--a veritable Sierra, the backbone of this part of Iceland,
all cones and pyramids, notches and saw-like teeth, resembling the
sky-lines of El Safá. To the right is a rough rise of lava pushing out
jagged points, and to the left towers the Esja pile, with its network of
dykes and slides, an extinct Vesuvius faced by white cliffs. Farms and
hay-fields are scattered about, probably occupying the same positions
which looked upon the ancient heathen gods, with whose departure
prosperity left the land. There is not a trace of the building, but the
pasty-faced peasants showed us, below the rise, a bit of deep swamp
covered with marsh-marigold, and this they called the Blót-Kelda, or
victim well--possibly where men and beasts were sacrificially drowned.

After inspecting this humble marvel, we shook hands with the Reverend,
and took boat for Reykjavik, where we arrived at 9.30 P.M.

I afterwards was shown the traditional site of the Thór Hof near
Stykkishólm; and the utter absence of sign made me neglect to visit that
of Vopnafjörð, whose door was translated to the church, the Hörg, at
Krosshólar; and the fane of Goðaborg, with its sacrificial stone where
“David of the wilderness” dwelt. In 1770, Uno Von Troil (Letter XVI.)
offered a tempting list of northern antiquities, some of them possibly
pre-historic or proto-historic.[55] But except in cairns, tumuli, and
the kitchen-middens mentioned in various places, especially that near
Snorri’s bath at Reykholt, I should expect little yield even from the

The older Edda (Sigrdrífumál, st. 34) speaks of cairns--

    “Let a mound be raised
    For those departed;”

and we shall pass not a few during our journeys. It would be interesting
to know if any of them have the long adit, the vestibule, and the
separate chambers for the dead, which are characteristic of the
Mongolian tomb-temples, and of which a splendid specimen is found at
Maes Howe.




We are very anxious to leave this

    “Tivoli del mal conforte,”


    “O piove, o tira vento, o suona a morte.”

The “Jón Sigurðsson,” Captain Müller, ran into Reykjavik on June 26, and
next day we set out to prospect Hafnafjörð, the Haven Firth, distant two
bays south of the capital. Threading the now familiar islets, we doubled
the beaconed point of Suðrnes, and passed Bessastaðir, Besse or
Bear-stead, a place not undistinguished in island story. It was built by
the turbulent and traitorous “Herodotus of the North,” Snorrí Sturluson,
grandson of Sæmund the Wise, born at Hvamm, in A.D. 1178, and author of
the “prose Edda;” he died “in his shoes”--murdered as was the custom of
the day. Long years afterwards the place of “Meister Petz”[56] became
the Latin School, and now it belongs to a congenial soul, Hr Grímr
Thomsen. Followed Garðar, also on the Alpta-nes (swan-ness) peninsula,
where a fringe of farms

[Illustration: R. F. B. _delt._


and houses, each with seven gables or more, ranged in line, not massed
together, fronts the faint-green land, and prospects the glaucous
northern seas. After a couple of hours, which covered two Danish miles,
we steamed down a deep and sheltered sinus, facing the north-west, with
double entrance: here a red buoy made us independent of pilot; the tides
inflow by the south and race round and out to the north.

The scenery of Hafnafjörð, which Scotchmen compare with that of
Scalloway, is peculiar and somewhat grotesque. Like all the
south-western parts of Thule, the formation is a hopeless lava-field,
bristling with shrublets and patched with green: the outline of frontage
consists of points divided by bays of dark-grey sand, and the
habitations are perched between the knobs and turrets of the several
Hrauns, old and new. The land is comparatively level, backed by a
veritable Sierra--the dorsal spine of this part of Iceland--jagged,
notched, and vertebral, extending from north-east to south-west. Four
brigantines and a lugger were anchored in the clear water, off the five
pierlets, the usual planks and caissons, that denote the corresponding
comptoirs, one patch of building to the north, another to the south, and
a third at the bottom of the bay, whilst an extensive farm-house rose
from a dorsum of green, the Hval-eyri or whale strand.

Whilst the steamer discharged her salt and iron pans, we hailed an old,
blunt-snouted punt, and paid for the service two marks: the latter
process evoked a stare of surprise and a vigorous shake of the hand. I
note this proceeding because it is not unusual on the coast of Iceland;
it certainly distinguishes the boatman from his hateful brotherhood in
more genial lands; especially on the “Hesperian strand.” We landed at
Flensburg, about the bottom of the bay, the establishment of Hr Johnsen,
and walked round to the buildings on the north. All are timber, coloured
grey or black, with white windows and slate roofs; each flies its flag,
Danish or Norwegian. The latter belongs to the Bergen Company, which has
lately taken the place of the Scotch house at Reykjavik, with branch
agencies here and at Stykkishólm and Seyðisfjörð. At a little bridged
stream women and boys were busy with the corpses of cods, cutting gills,
tearing out gullets, splitting bellies to their ventral fins,
extracting livers and sounds, and tossing the trimmed carcases into
heaps--they were jolly as Italian peasants at the Vendemmia. Some of the
lads were fishing with sinkers of stone, floats of driftwood, and bait
of cod. Beyond the stream a new road to Reykjavik was being made, by
blasting the lava--as will be seen, it is much wanted. On the north of
the bay we inspected the remains of Hr Sivertsen’s dry dock, which looks
like a line of groins to keep the shore _in situ_. A couple of eaglets
were shown for sale; they had lately been taken from a crag in the
lava-run to the south-east: the chickens, hardly six weeks old, were
about the size of Cochin fowls; their skins showed bare through the
growing plume of grey and dark-grey, contrasting with the bright yellow
cere, and they opened threatening gapes at the stranger. The price had
lately risen to £3, whilst ten shillings a head were asked for the
fierce little graveolent foxes.

As usual we had time for a walk inland to the Varða, or landmark,
bearing magnetic east of the ship, and distant about thirty minutes: I
was anxious to see the behaviour of the lava. Travellers in Iceland
everywhere speak of vast outpours which, instead of showing any decided
point of origin, appear to have sweated from the soil. They especially
quote the lands about Mý-vatn and Krafla, where the contrary is the
case: the same has been observed in other volcanic countries, _e.g._, by
Mr Porter in Syria; by Messrs Tyrwhitt-Drake and Palmer in Moab; and by
those who have studied the Quito platform. Here, however, we distinctly
traced three craters, and it became evident that the mouth which
discharged the oldest torrents may have been obliterated by subsequent
eruptions. The principal lava-bed[57]

[Illustration: From a Photo. M^c.Farlane & Erskine, Lithrs., Edin^r.


Vol. II, Page 88.]

showed in section a shallow dome between two lateral fissures, where
contraction of the edges, and perhaps a less solid foundation, had
caused the sides of the stone-river to fall away and form dwarf “Gjás,”
or longitudinal rifts--we shall see the same action on a grander scale
at Almannagjá. The dorsum was broken by sharp edges, the tall crests of
split and splintered blisters, the bubbles of the earth where lava
overflowed wet ground; coils like tobacco-rolls and ropy corrugations,
ripple-marks and plications, showed where the hardening clinkers had
been compacted together, and everywhere yawned tunnels and caverns. Yet
the field was crossed by a horse-path.

The normal high shingle-bank of the shore formed an inland bog, and the
result was a subtending lagoon, as usual without outlet. Farmlets were
scattered about, all apparently on made ground. There was a tolerable
turbary haunted by whimbrels and loud-voiced terns; the lava-fields
belonged to the Snjotit-lingue, snow-flake or snow-tit (_Emberiza_ or
_Plectophranes nivalis_); to the Stein-depill or wheat-ear (_Motacilla
ænanthe_); and to the Máriátla or Mary-bird, the white wag-tail
(_Motacilla alba_). The three latter were exceptionally tame, and like
Joâo de Barros in the Brazil, amused themselves by flirting with the
unfeathered biped.

I have described Hafnafjörð at a greater length than it perhaps
deserves. Here not a few travellers have declared that the capital of
Iceland should be, and undoubtedly it will become the sole place of
export for the Krísuvík sulphur-fields. The harbour is exceptionally
safe, sheltered from all winds: the climate is better than that of
Reykjavik; and the sky is often clear when heavy clouds invest the
northern heavens. But unless ground is made, there is little or no
building room. On the other hand, for an exporting port, Hafnafjörð is
perfect. In the early sixteenth century the British corsairs, numbering
some 360 souls, had formed a regular colony at Haven Firth--let us hope
that the complaints of Christian II. will not call for renewal, when the
English miner shall spread himself over the land.

As the sun fell towards the horizon the air became cool; the thermometer
on deck showed 58° (F.), and the day gradually assumed a worn and faded
look, like a maiden when the sun breaks upon a ball. Before midnight we
were once more at Reykjavik, to start north on the next morning.

The “Jón Sigurðsson” (det Islandske Handelssamlag’s Dampskib) belongs to
a Norwegian company, who bought her at the high price of $60,000. An
iron hull, her draught is 9 feet, her tonnage 460, and her horse-power
80, which can be raised to upwards of 100: she must burn 12 tons of coal
during the twenty-four hours to average less than 8 knots, and this
combined with cheap passages prevents her paying.[58] Her good point is
the possession of two donkey-engines, the simple Cornish, with 6-inch
stroke, which do all the work. Her accommodations are not complete; we
occupy the seven sofas in the aft saloon, and of the four cabins three
are taken by the officers, including the agent. Broad, tubby, and high
out of the water, she catches the wind with her “gawky” telescope
funnel, a survival from the days of Watt; she has little sailing power,
and she is hardly safe off a lee-shore; in August she was beaten back
when attempting to make the Færoes.

The want of punctuality again is a serious disadvantage to “Jón.” The
departure will be fixed for any hour between six A.M. and two P.M.; you
will be hastily summoned on board at nine A.M., and yet not start till
noon. There are stated hours of feeding, but they are not regular enough
for passenger ships; and provisions, as well as liquor, often run short,
because the “restauration” is not obligatory. The delays are ever
recurring; covered lighters being unknown, and rye, with other
perishable goods, cannot be landed during rain. Again “Jón” is
over-officered. Besides captain and two lieutenants, we carry double
engineers who speak English; an agent and commissaire; steward,
stewardess, and assistant steward. The commander, A. W. Müller, is a
young lieutenant of the Norwegian navy, which wisely allows its
unemployed officers to take charge of postal and passenger steamers. We
find the advantage of this arrangement in every part of the
establishment. The brasses are bright; the decks are washed; the
“squeejee” is used; the offices are clean, and even the spittoons are
garnished with fresh heather; whilst the natty little steward and the
white-clad cook are pleasing contrasts with the state of affairs on
board English craft of the same kind. And we were all charmed with
Captain Müller, whose _bonhomie_ and obliging disposition made every
passenger right sorry to part with him.

       *       *       *       *       *

_June 28._

Steamed out at seven _A.M._ under Italian skies, and over seas smooth as
mirrors, which promised ample enjoyment of this day’s “lion,”
Snæfellsjökull, capping the northern land-arm of broad Faxa Fjörð. As we
crossed the Hvalfjörð-mouth, the lay of the land suggested a mighty
leaf; the water-line being the midrib, with Esja and Akranes
representing the up-turned sides. On the south-western slopes of
Skarðsheiði, we were shown the streamlet and farm of Leirá, “Rivière de
la Vase,” which once owned the printing-press; and beyond the broad
Borgarfjörð (burg firth)[59] lay the low alluvial flat Mýra Sýsla. The
unromantic name, “mire county,” becomes ridiculous when Mýra-maður
(mud-man) is applied to the dweller: the comical wrath which it excites
reminded me of Varnhagen’s indignation about the Corcovado or Hunch-back
mountain of Rio de Janeiro. Far over the fen-tract, streaked by its
three main streams, appeared a suggestive prospect: the long perspective
of Jökulls; Ok (the yoke), Geitland’s and the northern Skjaldbreið, not
to be confounded with the “Broad Shield” on the road to Hekla: this
chaos of ice-deserts and volcanoes was ranged in long dorsa,
dish-covers, or antediluvian Twelfth-cakes, flattened at the summit,
backed by pearly mists of their own growing, with crests rose-tinged by
the sun, and feet streaked with transparent blue shadows. In vain we
strained our eyes to catch a sight of Baula, the cow, pronounced
somewhat like (the land of) “Beulah;” its pale-grey trachytic columns,
though 3000 to 3500 feet high, were hidden by intervening buttresses:
even Eld-borg, the “Tower of Fire,” though quite near the coast, refused
to show its grand circular crater and flanks too steep for snow. Here
begins the northern Skarðsheiði, which, passing through the Hnappadals
(button-dale) Sýsla, anastomoses with the broken cones called Katlar
(the caldrons), and with the great Snæfellsjökull, the Snebels Hokell of
Pontanus, and the “Western Jökull” of our maps. The long thin tongue of
land, mostly trachytic, has been mightily exercised by the fire below.
Here, upon a naked Tenerife, rises a tall grey cone, fronted by a little
extinct volcano, flushing angry red; there a wall of brown lava is built
upon a base of ruddy cinders and scoriæ, which have assumed the natural
angle. It is a land of chimneys and spiracles rising from cinders and
other _rejectamenta_; of Öl-keldr or “ale” (mineral) “waters;” of
cascades, silver fibres dashing into kieves of snow; of jagged
sugar-loaves and saddle-backs; of craters either whole or half torn
away; and of Klettar or precipices stripped of the snows which encompass

Our attention was directed to the Búða-klettar, or cliffs of Buðir, the
celebrated centre of eruption which sent forth the Búðarhraun; and at
their base, ending the Jökullháls, the long ochraceous slope that falls
from the eastern ridge-flank of Snæfell to the settlement of Búðir (the
booths), far-famed for chalybeate springs. Huts for invalids have been
run up at this well-known “Kur-ort,” but the accommodation is described
as rough in the extreme. A little westward again, showing its basaltic
pillars, lies “Stapi,” the steeple-formed rock, a local Staffa,
suggesting memories of Fin M’Coul.

All eyes now fix themselves upon Snæfellsjökull: as the break of the sea
upon the shore told us, it rises within three miles, and the accidents
of weather, though apparently determined to conceal the calotte of snow,
combine to form an admir-

[Illustration: R. F. B. _delt._


able setting for the imposing scene. The clearness of the heavens had
gradually changed to light mists, which hung mid-way upon the
hill-sides: whilst “mackerel’s-back” flecks the upper air, woolpack,
growing from the snow wreaths, forms dark-grey columns, perfectly
simulating a burning coast, and puffy white cumuli cast a shadow
distinct as if drawn by a painter’s hand. About one P.M. the northern
breeze becomes a south-easter, bringing with it a decided freshness and
a few drops of rain. The brown and dun coloured cirri, before floating
high above the wool-pack, now girth its middle, and there is a grand
contrast between the here and the there. Around us a few cats’-paws fan
the waters, which, under the lee of the land, stretch smooth as oil, and
the air is mild and kindly. In the upper regions rages and roars
“Satan’s weather;” the cloud chariots rush forward in solid line against
the wind, dashing and clashing as they course and career over the
battlefield of virgin snow; they are torn to pieces by the artillery of
the Storm-Fiend; the troops whirl away in headlong flight, veiling now
one cusp of the crater, then another. The westerly peak is connected by
a deeply-gashed synclinal slope, a kind of broken saddle-back, with the
eastern horn, or rather horns, which appear in the shape of a
“Thríhyrningr,” while below them, on the oriental outline, a star of
jetty basalt shines radiant in the dazzling white. Below the western
peak also the binoculars show a broken quoin, a long, black dyke, and a
multitude of dark dots protruding from the _névé_, as if men were
ascending. The apex has never been reached, and we at once see the
reason why: it is--

    “Like a jagged shell’s lips, harsh, untunable;
      Blown in upon by devils’ wrangling breath.”

M. Gaimard declares the eastern pinnacle to be “_frisée comme des têtes
de choux-fleurs:_” it appeared to me umbrella-shaped, with under
ribbings of frozen snow. M. Jules Verne was not so happy as usual in
making “Sneffles” an entrance for Arne “Saknussemm;” nor could we learn
anything about “Scortaris.”

The southern front below the _névé_ is a steep incline of contorted
lava; and a multitude of “hornitos” and parasitic craters, apparently
fallen in or choked up, run down almost to the water’s edge, where they
form a wall of contorted and caverned layers. Above the cliff a gentler
slope has a faint tinge of rainbow-green; and the steeper acclivities
are bare, red and yellow, brown and black. As we hugged the shore, I
carefully looked for the snow-drainage, and saw none: had there been
any, the sea-scaur must have shown it. Henderson rightly reports the
general belief that the water set free by the sun passes by underground
tunnels to the sea; and, all along this peninsula, the people hold to
subterranean connections. But the explanation somewhat savours of the
Congo Yellala (rapids), where the mighty mass of the upper stream,
“above the ghauts,” is supposed to pass through an invisible channel.
Herðubreið afterwards taught me that Palagonite allows no surface
drainage in the dry season; and this I hold to be the true explanation
of a remarkable phenomenon often seen in Iceland.

So striking a feature as Snæfell, whose shadow may be traced in the air,
could not fail to engender a variety of tales and legends. Some declare,
with the old Sagas, that it is within sight of Hvítserk in Eastern
Greenland. Certes its height (4577 Danish feet) is very far from
affording a vision ranging over 200 direct geographical miles; but here
we are little more than a degree from the Arctic circle, and it is hard
to limit the magic powers of refraction.[60] When the bishop declared
that it was unassailable by reason of “Dominus Bardus Snæfellsás, cujus
sine auspiciis mons Snæfell vix, ac ne vix quidem, superari potest,” he
alluded to a superstition still preserved. In Hitárdalr,[61] farther
east, is shown a huge feminine face carved in stone, and said to
represent Hít, the Ás or guardian goddess of the dale: a “Plutonic
affection” exists between her and Bárð or Snæfell’s Ás, whom Mackenzie
calls a tutelar saint, and whom Charles Forbes uncivilly converts from
Dominus to demon. He represents right well the Spirit of the Glacier.
Curious to say, the same tale concerning the “Loves of the Mountains” is
told in far New Zealand, where Messrs Tongariro and Taranaki (Mount
Egmont) are jealous as they are amorous of Mrs or Miss Taupo.

The earliest climbers seem to have attempted the ascent from the east
and south-east, where the snow-line extends much lower. Such were Eggert
Ólafsson (1755); Mr, afterwards Sir, John Stanley (1789); and the three
Britishers who “wrote their mistresses’ names in the snow--the emblem of
their purity.” Sir George Mackenzie (1810) remained below, and Drs
Bright and Holland went stoutly up: the latter tells us (p. 55,
Recollections of a Fast Life) that a snow bridge gave way during the
descent, and one leg sank through the arch: he was saved by the poles of
the two Iceland guides, but ever after he sought to shun the
remembrance. They were followed by Henderson (1814), by Gaimard (1835),
and by Forbes (1859).

Of course, none reached the very summit. The Frenchman sensibly
attempted it from the north, and found the slope easy: we shall
presently see his line of march. Remains only to try the west where the
snow lies much higher up, and where the angle does not apparently exceed
25°: here also the distance to the cusps or peaks is notably shorter.
The Beruvík farm appears to be a good starting-place. But Alpines who
love “climbing for climb” must remember that without ropes and ladders,
perhaps kites also, and very likely with them, it will be impossible to
do more than has been done by their predecessors.

The accidents of the shore-line preserve their interest: the lone rock
Göltr (the deer)[62] and the twin Lón-drángar (sea-inlet drongs),
donjons of lava 240 feet tall, the north-western appearing as if
standing inland, where a red rock acts castle. Beyond it, amongst the
conical and degraded craters, we remark the Tröllakyrkja, Kirk of the
Trolls, or Giants, who here have a diocesan as well as a governor. They
have been busy on and off this coast, as shown by the Trölla-botn, Giant
Bay, the Polar Sea between Norway and Greenland; the Trölla-börn
(chimneys), or volcanic “hornitos;” the Trölla-hlað, the Giant’s
Causeway, or colonnade of basalt; and the Trölla-dyngjur, or Giantesses’
bowers, the mamelons near Reykjanes, which erupted in A.D. 1000. And
that the dwarfs have not been idle we see by the Dverga Kamarr, their
hollowed chambers in the basalt. We run by Dritvík (guano bay), along
the caverned cliff, built in various layers, here frosted like silver,
there dotted with white points, which prove to be birds. At Öndverðarnes
(fronting naze), after an hour of thorough enjoyment, thanks to Dominus
Barðr, we turn the corner, the north-westernmost projection of
Snæfellsjökull, which the pilot calls Svarta-lot, from the steps
protruded by the swart sea-wall; we open the Breiði Fjörð, and again we
find waters smooth as a silver plate.

Not that Broad Firth is always so well behaved: at times he rages with
frantic violence, mixing sea and sky till the general view is like a
well-shaken basin of soup, and confusing all the elements in a chaotic
matter, which justifies the much-maligned Pytheas. Many have been
drowned when crossing the dangerous sea, amongst them Ólafsson, the
Icelandic traveller, in 1767; shortly after he had “addicted himself to
the study of revealed religion.” During the winter of 1873-74, it was
completely invested by the Greenland ice; congelation extended as far as
the eye could reach from the highest hill-tops; and drifted bears were
slaughtered by the peasantry. There are traditions of skating across the
broad bay, of seals being killed, and of ships’ anchors being blown away
by the furious wind. At least, so says Mr Clausen, who has now taken us
in charge. The grandson of a Danish merchant mentioned by Henderson, he
has married a wife from Bonnie Dundee, and he has spent some four years
at Melbourne, which have opened his eyes to auriferous quartz-reefs, to
large deposits of iron, and to other minerals in his native island.

We delay for a while at the mouth of the big bay to swing the ship and
prove her compasses, a precaution never to be neglected. The “Jón” then
runs at a respectful distance along the northern shore of the
Snæfellsjökull tongue, which is not less interesting than its southern
coast. Our cicerone points out Enni or Ennisfjall, “forehead mountain,”
_la montagne de front_,[63] where those who would avoid a long detour
inland must pass over an Úfæra or “don’t travel” path--sands liable to
frequent bombardments from the red bluff 2500 feet high. Henderson tells
the exaggerated tale of its horrors, quaintly wondering how they were
not felt by the young girls who rode with him. Mr Clausen then
introduces to us Ólafsvík, his ancestral home, two slate-roofed houses,
with surrounding huts, nestling in a sheltered bay; and, by way of
urging his hospitality, he nobly makes us “free of the cellar.”


The eastern point of the “Vík” is Búlandshöfði (farm-land head), of
whose road Forbes has given a sketch, which verily makes the reader
“squirm.” From the sea, it appears a cone some 2000 feet high, shelving
towards the water, composed of many couches, said to belong to old
basaltic formations, rich in zeolites: between them are ledges and
_débris_ of the columnar type. All own the road to be dangerous for the
side-saddle; but also Mr Clausen had travelled over it in winter,
cutting steps for his nags in the icy snow, and holding on to his pony’s

An adjoining headland to the east showed us the quaint features called
the Coffin (Líkkista, the lich or corpse kist) and Sukkertoppr (the
sugar-loaf), both rising from a transparent sea, and backed by
slate-coloured walls and snow-dotted peaks. The former is an elongated
dorsum, with a shallow dome above, steps around its neck, and lower
slopes of a brownish-red. The Pão de Assucar, thinly greened, and
laterally barred with grey rock, seen from the north-east, is a regular
cone, like the Sugar-loaf of Sutherland; and over all hangs, like a
halo, the glorious presence of Bárðr’s home, whose snow roof stretches
far lower than on the southern side. As the sun slants towards the west
about 10.30 P.M., his last fires light it like a noble opal in a shining
bezel of sleety blue, the glow waxing brighter and brighter till the
snow, all aflame, dims every other object of earth, sea, and sky. At
last the fire burns slowly out, a tall white spectre, the ghost of the
morning’s scene, towers in the upper air, and the world becomes once
more cold, dull, and pale--by contrast colder, duller, and paler than
ever. It had been a “thing of beauty,” even though the incomparable
scenery of Magellan’s Straits, rendering me not a little fastidious, was
still fresh within my brain.

As we steam eastward we are shown the red Hraun of the Berserkir,[64]
two light-coloured knobs thrown out by the red and broken forms of the
Drápuhlíðarfjall. It has been asserted that Dr Backmann dug into the
Bersekja-dis, and found two skeletons, but men on the spot know nothing
about these _fouilles_. The story of their acting Macadam is too well
known to repeat, since it appeared in the Eyrbyggia Saga; we may
observe, however, that it has every characteristic of the normal
Icelandic legend. There is the unavoidable woman in the case, Asdisa, “a
young, haughty, fiery, and robust damsel.” The chief actors in the
tragedy, Halli, Leiknir, and their destroyer Arngrim, surnamed Víga Styr
(the stirrer or restless one), are all poets; and the latter
characteristically boasts of a foul and cowardly assassination, as if it
were a deed worthy of a Bayard. The highly honourable nature of murder
pure and simple, unaccompanied by aught of risk or gallantry, belongs to
a certain stage of society, and the Eastern reader finds many instances
in the career of Arab, Persian, and Hindu heroes.

And now, in the cold, fierce wind, we run past a scatter of islets,
especially noting Elliðaey (Ellwich Isle), the private property of the
bishop, whose fair daughter is on board. The light-green surface, effect
of summer growth, supports a few wrack-eating sheep; and the dark masses
of subcolumnar basalt, bluff to the north, and pierced with black caves,
are silvered over by troops of birds. About eleven P.M. we turn sharp to
starboard, and sight our destination, Stykkishólm, not Stockholm, not
_arène de morceaux_, but “holm of sticks,” that is, bits of pillared
stone: the settlement’s name is taken from one of the three rock-islets
to the north, Stykkisey. Leaving tall Súgandisey (wind-gush isle) to the
east, and the larger Landey to the west, we presently find ourselves in
a well-defended, dock-like inlet, with a landing-place above high tide.
The comptoir was of more importance than usual, Stykkishólm being then
the capital of the Western Quadrant: a schooner, two brigantines, and a
smack lay at anchor; seven flags were flying; of the eight houses two
were double-storied, and the parsonage boasted of a white belvedere.
Crosses on the rock-dyke, one looking from afar like the ancient Irish,
suggested a non-existing Calvary. The oldest tenement was that occupied
by the Amtmaðr, or high sheriff.

My first care at Stykkishólm was to see the Hr Administrator A. O.
Thorlacius, agent of the steamer: he came on board with his son, but,
unfortunately, we were “barbarians to one another.” The father has taken
meteorological observations once per diem, at noon, since November 1845:
in 1866 he was provided with instruments by the Board of Trade, and his
labours have appeared in the journal of the Scottish Meteorological

Early next morning we set out, mounted on rat-ponies, and guided by Mr
Sýslumaðr Skúli Magnússon, to see the curiosities of Thórsnes, the
little peninsula which was once a hot-bed of heathenism. Some
cantonniers were working at the path, which combined the Brazilian
pleasures of slippery plank-bridges, foul causeways, and corduroys of
slush; we were compelled to round the long inlet Vésvágr or Vé-vágr
(holy bay), because it cannot afford a ferry: here broken bottles showed
a habit of picnicing. Turning to the south-east we sighted Helgafell
(holy hill), a common name, as we have seen about Reykjavik. This lump
of subcolumnar basalt, perpendicular to the north and east, and falling
with an easy grassy slope to the south-west, after being honoured as
hillock never yet was, was chosen for one of the earliest Christian
churches; and people still pray at the dwarf chapel on the “Mount of
Immortality,” because the habit is 800 years old. It still preserves
intact the memory of Snorri Goði (the priest of Thor), “who was good to
his friends and grim to his foes:” the Eyrbyggia Saga tells the tale of
his intrigues, cruelties, and murders, Arnkell, whose tumulus is
hereabouts, being the “Charles” or good boy of the story. We were shown
the Munkrskarðr, where the holy men bade farewell to their beloved
monastery, a kind of Arctic “Last Sigh of the Moor”--an illiberal
English sacerdos adds, “their heart, doubtless, was with their treasure,
buried in a hill-side.” Monks, you see, are not like other men; they
must always be either almost superhuman, or, that failing, subhuman.

Thence we turned to the east, where Thórsnes lies, and whence the old
Thunderer looked out upon Hofsvágr or Temple Bay.[66] Here, in A.D. 883,
Thórolfr Mostrarskegg (of the big beard), following the pillars of his
high seat round the head of Snæfellsjökull, took possession of the
ground with burning firebrand, as was the significant custom of the day.
The good guide, being utterly guiltless of all local knowledge, led us
up to a substantial farm-house, at whose door stood a blear-eyed old
franklin. Our nags, which attempted to crop a few blades of grass, were
incontinently seized and tethered to a long cord--after the open-handed
hospitality of the Syrian peasant, who, however poor, supplies your
animal with barley and bruised straw, I was struck by the change for the
worse. Usually the people are to be pitied; they would, perhaps, be
hospitable, but they cannot afford it where every ounce of fodder is
wanted. Even in the wealthier age of paganism the guest who outstayed
his three days was said to “sit,” and was held to be a cosherer or
vagrant. This “bonder,” who had 200 head of sheep in his “rétt,”[67] and
300 elsewhere, evidently had better use for his grass than the pauper.
Moreover, there is far more ceremony in hyperborean than in sub-tropical
lands. If the farmer be absent, an Icelander will not enter the house;
the women know nothing, and prefer running away from strangers. When the
master is at home, the guest is too shy to ask for what he wants. After
a sufficient experience, I ended by dismounting, walking up to the door,
offering a pinch of snuff and a drain from my brandy-flask, and roundly
explaining my general requirements, to be paid for, _bien entendu_. A
stranger may do this, but the natives have a punctilious regard for one
another’s feelings, an admirable but uncomfortable quality, which
prevents their taking or tolerating any such liberties.

The steamer was to start at ten A.M., and the garrulous old man was
determined to extract every item of European news from the guide, whilst
Mister Sýslumaður could not disappoint a constituent--the average
dawdling is worse in Iceland than in Peru. At length he sent with us his
son, and this nice-looking lad led us to a shore fanged with hideous
stumps of basalt, grey rocks wetted by the perpetual wave, and long muds
foul with wrack, which resembled cods’ sounds. It had a certain
weirdness of aspect, especially its background, the torn and tormented
flanks of Drápuhlíð,[68] an extinct volcano to the south, famed for
minerals and alternate strata of trap and ropy lava. The only remains of
the Virki (“work”), where the local Thing met, were vallum-like lines of
green sod; and the Dóm-hringr, doom’s ring or judgment circle, was a
triangular shape, with the base facing the shore. Not a sign of the Hof
was to be seen; the Blótsteinn, or sacrificial stone, was asked for, but
beyond legends of buried treasure, nothing was known to the incurious

On our return to Stykkishólm, we called upon the Amtmaðr (high sheriff),
Hr Bergr Thorberg, who, fortunately for us, spoke good French. He
assured me that Hr Skuli Magnússon had found the Blótsteinn, and we
again accompanied him to sketch it. After thirty minutes, a boat placed
us on the eastern side of the little peninsula, and we landed upon the
broken basalt, weedy and slippery as ice. This shore is still known as
Thórsnes, and the place as Thingvellir. After vainly seeking information
at a cottage, inscribed T. (Teitur) G. S. Guðmundsson, 1869, we found a
shepherd lad, who steered us through the swamps to a rise on the west, a
site marked by a Varða of rock. The “Stone of Fear” was a bit of basalt,
six feet long by six feet two inches broad, and half buried in the
ground: at least, such was the article shown to us. South of it lay the
Doom-ring, a circle of rough rocks, twenty-five feet in diameter.
Between the two were buried the criminals whose backs had been broken
upon the stone.[69]

In these forensic and sacrificial circles the judge, still called
“Deemster” in the Isle of Man, faced eastwards, with his back to Holy
Hill, at which man might not look without ablution. On his right, the
direction of Múspellheim, the place of honour, from the profound popular
reverence for the sun, stood the accuser. The accused was on his left,
in the line of Niflheim, the nebulous north, a scene of horror and
guilt, which the old Germans called midnight. The twelve doomsmen
occupied the space within the Dóm-Steinar, where benches, here probably
of turf, were provided for them. The sentences delivered from the
“Circle of Brumo” were almost poetical in their ferocity. The old pagan
Scandinavian was the incarnation of destructiveness. His was not the
fickle pugnacity of the Kelt, who would fight and shake hands within the
hour; nor the feeble pride of the classic, who only battled to
“debellare superbos:” he was a Shiva, satisfied with nothing less than
absolute annihilation. The blood-men were warned lest “weak pity step in
between crime and its fitting punishment.” The following was the form of
outlawry sentence: “For this we judge and doom thee, and take thee out
of all rights, and place thee in all wrongs; and we pronounce thy lawful
wife a lawful widow, and thy children lawful orphans; and we award thy
fiefs to the lord from whom they came, thy patrimony and acquired
property to thy children, and thy body and flesh to the beasts of the
forest, the birds of the air, the fish in the water. We give thee over
to all men upon all ways; and where every man has peace and
safe-conduct, thou shalt have none; and we turn thee forth upon the four
ways of the world, and no man shall sin against thee.”

And this doom was to extend “wherever Christian men go to church and
heathen men sacrifice in their temples; wherever fire burns and earth
greens; wherever mother bears child, and child cries for mother; ship
floats, shield glitters, sun melts snow, fir grows, hawk flies the long
spring day and the wind stands under his wings; wherever the heavens
vault themselves, the earth is cultivated, the gale storms, water seeks
sea, and men sow corn. Here shall the offender be refused the Church and
God’s house, and good men shall deny him any home but hell.”[70]

And the old Scandinavian punishments were sanguinary and atrocious as
those of the Thulitæ, of whom Procopius spoke. Criminals were cast to
wild beasts, burned and boiled alive, flayed and impaled, to say nothing
of mutilation and such a trifle as tarring and feathering.[71] Cowards
were drowned or smothered in mud. Forest burners were exposed to the
fire till their soles were roasted. Barkers of trees had their internals
nailed to the injured bole, and were driven round it till their bowels
took the place of the despoiled coat. Removers of boundary-stones were
buried to the neck and ploughed to death with a new plough, drawn by
four unbroken horses, and driven by a carle who had never before turned
a furrow. And so forth.

The aspect of the Dóm-hringr vividly reminded me of the old theory held
by Sir Walter Scott, to mention no others, that Stonehenge and similar
buildings were Scandinavian courts of judicature, in which criminals
were doomed and put to death. One of these fora was fitly described by
Olaus Wormius as “Undique cautibus septum”--hemmed in on all sides with
stones equal to rocks, and usually disposed at a bowshot from the
centre. So Camden says of Stonehenge it is a “huge and monstrous piece
of work such as Cicero termeth ‘insanam substructionem:’” his sketches
make it like a dance of giants (choir gaur or chorus magnus), justifying
Walter Charleton’s “Chorea Gigantum, vulgarly called Stone-heng”
(London, 1663), which he also restored to the Danes. Mr Fergusson’s
anti-Druidical protest was anticipated as far back as 1805 in the
“History of the Orkney Islands” (Longmans, London), by the Rev. George
Barry, D.D., who justly observes, “These extraordinary monuments have,
like almost all others of the same nature, been supposed Druidical; but
with very little reason, since there is not the least shadow of evidence
that that order of men was ever within these islands;” while Coxe justly
calls the Druids a “favourite order of men, under whom we are apt to
shelter our ignorance.” Stonehenge and its chiselled, tenoned, and
morticed trilithons and cronets, though finished with more art, are
evidently the same class of building as the Standing Stones of Stennis;
and both would appear to represent in comparatively genial climes and
populous regions the rude Doom-ring of Iceland. I need hardly notice the
opinion of the Rev. Isaac Taylor, who, in a wild and ignorant book (p.
43, Etruscan Researches; London, Macmillan, 1874), converts to Turanian
sepulchres the monuments which covered the Wiltshire downs, and who
considers the stone circle a survival of the weights which kept down the
skin tents. Though bones have been found within such buildings, and
without the rings, the sepulchral use may have been of later date.[72]


Our next station was at Flatey, on the other side of the Breiði Fjörð,
one of a vast archipelago which we were slowly to thread. Like the
“cedars of Lebanon,” three things in Iceland cannot be counted--the
lakes, or rather ponds, of Arnavatnsheiði; the hillocks of
Vatndalshólar, and the islands of the Breiði Fjörð. Similarly it is said
no Laplander has lived long enough to visit all the islands in Lake
Enara, and no Swede has touched at the fourteen hundred of the Malar
Lake. The holms lie mostly at the bottom and on both sides of the Broad
Firth, and, being girt by broad reefs, they demand no little prudence.
Some are private property, but the greatest part belongs to the
parsonage of Helgafell, whose incumbent lives at Stykkishólm. These
quaint forms, the birth of upheaval and the toys of earthquakes, all
show traces of columnar and subcolumnar basalt: the colour is chiefly
black, whitened by gulls and sea-fowl; some are dimly green with a
house-leek bearing a pale flower; and here and there a Húshólmr supports
a homestead. We remark the “wash” dry at ebb-tide; the shoal, the dot,
the knob, the drong, the “cow and calf,” the dome, the pinnacle, the
“gizzard,” like the Moela of Brazilian Santos: the nub, the skerry, the
shield, the line, the ridge, and the back: castellations are common, and
one at the mouth of the Hvammsfjörð (comb-firth) bears two dwarf cones
passably resembling broken turrets.

Our signals failed to attract the pilot, who lives at Bjarneyjar, and
thus we were forced to rely upon ourselves: the grey weather and
spitting rain were, however, far less risky than sleet and snow. To
starboard lay the Dala Sýsla, a fat lingula of land, bounded south by
the Hvammsfjörð, and north by the Gilsfjörð. In the latter direction a
neck of about five miles broken by a lake, leads to the Húnaflói
(bear-cub floe),[73] opening upon the Polar Sea, and a canal like that
of Corinth would save rounding the great three-fingered palmation, the
work of west winds[74] and Greenland ice, which forms the north-west of
Iceland. Once upon a time a Troll, we are told, attempted to anticipate
the _specialité_ of M. de Lesseps, but he was caught by the sun before
his task was done, and, after the fashion of those days, he was
incontinently turned to stone: so travellers are still obliged to ride
across the neck. Hvammfjörð (comb-firth) is a fair specimen, says Munch,
of how trivially local names arose; the Landnámabók (ii. 16) tells us
that here (Kambsnes) Aud Ketilsdottir _pectinem suam amisit_. But Hvammr
also means Convallis, a place where several dales meet, or simply our
“combe.” The Dale-County peninsula ends westward in the Fellströnd
highlands, whose chief height is called Klofi or Klofningr (the cloven),
because it separates the two inlets; from the north its profile,
projecting the lowlands of Dægverðarnes (daywards naze) reminded me of
bottle-nosed Serafend (Sarepta) as seen from the Sidon road. Off this
headland we sighted a couple of small whales: in the early part of the
century we read of a school numbering some 1600, but now-a-days the
long-fibred Medusæ seem to be a waste of cetaceous provaunt.

At length the south-easter brought up heavy rain, veiling the shore, and
compelled us to turn for occupation to the study of our
fellow-passengers. At Stykkishólm we had shipped a Dr Hjörtr Jónsson, an
Icelander who spoke a little Latin and English, and who was very civil
and sea-sick. He had studied under Dr Hjaltalín at Reykjavik, and had
finished himself by a year at Copenhagen. The feminine part of the “old
lot” has at once thrown off the civilised hat and adopted the ridiculous
Húfa: the black or the grey shawl is sometimes worn over the head with
something of the grace that belongs to the ornamental _mantilla_ and the
useful _reboso_. All are in leathern _bottines_ which show the toes
carefully turned in when walking or sitting. First-class and
second-class of the ruder sex are distinguished by boots and “Iceland
shoes:” so the railway clerk in the Argentine Republic ranks you by your
spurs, the larger they are the lower you go. We distinguish the
Danish-speaking by a perpetual recurrence of “Hvává”--hvad behager, s’il
vous plaît?--from the Icelandic-speaking by an ejaculated “Há,”
explosive, aspirate, and nasal enough for Vikings and Berserkir. There
are half-a-dozen students with bowie-knives and long canes, like
officers of the United States navy. The signs of Burschdom are noise,
inquisitiveness, republicanism, hard drinking, and consequent “hot
coppers,” especially in those who are “unco heavy on the pipe.” They
gather together, singing Luther’s hymns and national Norwegian airs,
whilst not unfrequently they intone in chorus--

    “Doolce reedentem Lalagen” (pronounce _Lala-ghen_) “amábo
            Doolce loquentem.”

They gather round us, forgetting the venerable axiom, “Manners makyth
man;” they pester us, and ask in roaring voices about the English
“hestar,” for they naturally hold us to be horsedealers, and, as the
universal bow-legs show, all are “horsey” from babyhood. Their luggage
consists mainly of old saddles and bridles, and of nests of sealskin
riding-bags. They talk politics, they regret the old Iceland republic,
and they hope to see it once more--this must be expected from students,
and we find it even in the law-abiding Brazil. Two of them are never
sober, and huge horns of spirits acting bottles supply the _de quoi_:
all drink hard at each landing-place, which leads to the “stool of
repentance” next morning. Their heartiness, not to say their roughness,
is dashed with a curious ceremoniousness: they never omit pulling off
their hats, an uncomfortable practice perhaps less common in England
than elsewhere; they shake hands whose warts cause a shudder; and, when
they exchange the parting kiss, it is with deliberation--first
prospecting the place, then planting a “rouser” upon each cheek, and
finishing off full upon the mouth.

The Coryphæus of the band is a little rather reverend, freshly ordained
and stationed at some hole in the Skagafjörð, which elicits not a few
mild witticisms connecting his domicile with purgatory. Sir Guttormr,
who violently objects to his name being translated “_Dei vermiculus_,”
makes the serious mistake of disputing on Old Testament subjects with Mr
Levi, a Norwegian Jew, whom I had at once diagnosticised and drawn out
by a “Shalom lach:” Apella is now going to try the north, last year he
and his partner “did” the south. Their business consisted in women’s
hair, especially the tints which command such large prices in the
southern marriage-marts; and, unless report greatly belie them, they
collected their booty by “screwing” husbands and brothers up to the
cutting point with spirits.

Two hours’ steaming through the maze of rocks placed us at Flatey. It
occupies nearly the centre of the Eyja-Hrepp (island parish), and it is
connected in trade with the Svefneyjar or Isles of Sleep--ah! how
different from

    “That happier island in the watery waste”

which lodged the lotus-eaters. Flat-isle is, of course, not flat, but
rolling ground, trending east-north-east to west-south-west, with a
dwarf bluff in the former, and a high basaltic rib in the latter
direction. The length is at least a mile, by about three-quarters of
utmost breadth, though Henderson (ii. 91) gives it only one mile in
circumference. Curious to say, the little rock has a name in literature,
through the “Codex Flateyensis,” or annals of the Norwegian kings.[75]
In A.D. 1183 its monastery was transferred to Helgafell, and, during the
Reformation, its ninety-six farms were duly secularised and annexed by
the Danish Crown. At present about a quarter of the island belongs to
the Church; and thus the clergyman is no longer obliged, like Sira
Andreas, to “follow the original employment of Zebedee’s children,” and
be “particularly dexterous in catching seals.”

We landed on the north-western side of the island, about its middle
length, at a regular dock fronted by a natural breakwater of basalt,
upon the usual scatter of slippery wrack-grown rocks backed by a few
yards of black sand. A rude causeway, not made by man, leads up to the
settlement, half-a-dozen houses, one wholly wooden and double-storied;
the rest of the normal ground-floor type, overgrown with the
white-flowered weed. The huge vats and oil-tuns were not wanting: there
was a windmill like that of Reykjavik for grinding imported rye, and
higher up stood the church. A wooden box like those of the old Saxons,
it had a long coffin for a deceased clock, a steeple of two stages, each
with a white-framed window staring out of the black tar: where the apse
should be, the outline was stepped after Iberian fashion. The cemetery
lay around it, with a few monuments and railings neglected and broken
down, and this being Saturday, of course the building was closed. We
walked to the north-east over the wet grass and warty ground, and then
turned south-west towards a sloping and time-wrecked cross, crowned with
an old billy-cock and a fragmentary stocking. This is not intended for
irreverence, but to show that the place is to be respected by hawks,
ravens, and strangers; the utilitarian idea comes from Norway, where,
indeed, we must go for explanation of many Icelandic peculiarities. The
eiders, here and in Stykkishólm, float about the harbour tame as
horse-pond geese; at times a Skua causes the duck to bolt with
prodigious cackling, followed by its young, piping their plaints. The
turf is shaven and hollowed to make the nests, which affect the wrinkles
and pock-marks of the surface, and the places are marked by pegs; as at
Engey, some show eggs, others ducklings, whilst others are abandoned
with the down carelessly left to decay.

We returned on board in a greasy boat, with huge hooks fastened to
wooden bars, and baited with flesh of the sharp-biting puffin. The
“sea-parrot” nests in the sand, making holes two to three feet deep, and
clinging to one another when dragged out. The head and feet, wings and
entrails, are often mixed with cow-chips for fuel, whilst the breast is
salted. On this occasion, and many others, I remarked that the sailors
prefer turning sunways or to the right (_deasil_ or _dessil_), the left
or “widdershins” being held uncanny. The superstition is rather Aryan
than Semitic, the former affecting Pradakhshina, whilst the Tawáf of the
latter presents the sinister shoulder. So in the marriage ceremony of
the Russian Church, bride and bridegroom thrice circumambulate the
temporary altar.

       *       *       *       *       *

_June 30._

During the night we had steamed along the bold bluffs of Barðaströnd in
the Sýsla of that name: now we prepare to double the great north-western
projection of Iceland, which somewhat resembles south-western Ireland.
The country people extend the right hand horizontally: the thumb forms
the length, whose nail is Snæfellsjökull; the hollow between pollex and
index represents the Breiði Fjörð, and the other fingers are the
digitations of the _annexe_, North Cape being the ring of the little

The day broke frosty but kindly, like a fine November in England, with
a sharp north wind, and an oily sea under lee of the land: stationary
cirri stood high in air, and westward gleamed a clear stretch of
green-blue sky. After Patriksfjörð, another remnant of the Írar or
Eriners, and Tálknafjörð (whalebone firth), both of small importance, we
open Arnarfjörð (Erne firth), the most important in the north-west after
the Ísafjörð. Each greater _massif_ is jagged into a saw-blade of minor
peninsulas, forming shallow arcs, probably the work of ancient glaciers
meeting the Greenland icebergs, and every valley is now bisected by its
own drain, set free from the upper snow-fields. There is similarity but
no sameness in the wild view. The cliffs give the idea of having been
shot up their present height perfect and complete; the tableland, some
2000 feet high, and, of course, snow-covered, appears evenly upraised,
yet laterally split in all directions by jagged rifts. Seen in profile,
the cliffs form a long perspective of headlands, quoins, and bluffs,
ranging between 500 and 1500 feet in height; and the strata appear to be
horizontal, or little inclined. The bluffs, when faced, represent
trap-ladders alternating with layers of reddish tuff: when distinctly
stepped, they often fall steep and sheer to the unfathomed sea; in other
places they are footed by a talus of _débris_. The former shape appears
most commonly in the southern projections; in the northern tongues the
Plutonic spines occupy far less area than the verdant lowlands which
depend upon them, and these shallow slopes and plainlets are the sites
of homesteads. The bleak table-lands above the bluffs are barely grown
with hardy shrubs and gramens; the snow gradually increases as we go
northwards; the patches and powdering become long streaks, and at last
they touch the water’s edge, where every wave besprinkles them. Thule is
here fairly Snowland.

All these projections culminate southwards in the great Gláma (clatter)
system, and northwards in the Dránga Jökull, these two being the only
important masses in the north-western corner of the island. They are
said by those who have ascended them[76] to be becoming one great
glacier, but as yet there are no exact data whereby to calculate either
the measure or the periodicity of abnormal glacier action. The Gláma
throughout our cruise was capped by clouds, which occasionally burst,
and showed the slope and shoulders of the great hunchback.

We then opened the long and winding sea-river known as Dýrafjörð
(wild-beast firth),[77] at whose northern bend rose the ridge of Gnúpr
(_Cacumen montis_), foreshortened to a regular cone. A few farms were
scattered about; and behind Gnúpr lay Mýrar, the northern station of the
French frigate. The sea was by no means desert, we saw at the same time
a schooner and half-a-dozen luggers, Gauls and Danes, the latter mostly
confining themselves to the Arnarfjörð and the Ísafjörð. This must be a
good line to attack the western horn of the Gláma, upon which
Gunnlaugsson places a trigonometric mark, with farm-houses and “Skóg”
(forest) extending eastward to its very base.

The next feature was the Önundarfjörð (Önundr’s firth), whose tenants
are famed for wearing the longest beards on the island. The Súgandafjörð
is distinguished by its deposits of Surtarbrand or lignite, which the
people throughout this part of Iceland declare to be found on the
headlands, not where we might expect it, in the bays. Fine specimens
were sent to England last year (1871), and it is believed that a foreign
company will take the semi-mineral in hand.

We were now approaching our third station, and shortly after mid-day we
turned “Jón’s” head east. Isafjarðardjúp,[78] the deep of the ice-firth,
and the largest of the north-western inlets is so called because when
first sighted by Flóki it was filled with polar icebergs,[79] merits the
terminal, as no bottom can be found at 300 fathoms, and it gives a name
to the northernmost Sýsla. There is a curious contrast between the
shores of the great bay--the northern side, Snæfjallaströnd, is lee
land, whose snowy heights are subtended by a smooth, straight
shore-line, whilst the southern is jagged and hacked by currents, floes,
and the violent north-wester. To starboard before we round the corner
crouches the fair, green vale of Skálavík (hall bay), dotted with farms,
and flanked eastwards by Stigahlíð, the “stair-ledge” or slope, whose
reddish trap produces abundant Surtarbrand. Opposite the upper jaw of
the mighty gape is Grænahlíð, streaked with thin verdure, and striped,
despite southerly frontage, by snow descending to the sea. The central
projection of Snæfjallaströnd, representing the tongue of the gape, is
tipped by Bjarnagnúpr, the bear’s knoll, where the “old man with the fur
coat” has often landed from his floating home, weak and famished, a
ready victim to gun, club, and scythe. He is always the white ice-bear;
the other two kinds known in Norway are strangers to Iceland.[80]

A green bulge, an _impasse_ between two mighty blocks, with a little
stream in the middle, shows us the farms of Hóll--fishing-boats on the
shore, and houses built upon tumuli, to guard against the periodical
ragings of the brook. These settlements upon the western and northern
shores assume somewhat the aspect of villages; in the interior, however,
here as elsewhere, they diminish to scattered farms. The path from Hóll
to Eyri. is a noted “ú-færa:” one would hardly suspect danger unless
warned; yet during the course of the day we saw a land, or rather a
stone, slip from the loose trap cliffs. Where the strand is barred by
rocks the line runs up and down the _débris_; in other parts it lies
upon the sands, and here the traveller pricks as fast as he can.

Presently we turned south into the Skutilsfjörð (“shuttle,” _i.e._,
harpoon, firth), where the scenery became even more impressive. The
bottom of the bay was split, and the two forks, separated by a central
buttress, formed amphitheatres hoar with snow above and each traversed
by its own runnel. The breadth of the mouth may be ten miles, and the
twin cliffs of trap rose at least 1200 feet. Many streamlets dashed and
coursed down the slopes; here and there they started from the ground,
these features are always pointed out as curiosities, but they simply
result from the drainage of the _couloirs_ and snow wreaths disappearing
under the rocky ground and reappearing, perhaps, hundreds of feet below.
We hugged the eastern side of the picturesque firth, Arnanes, a flat
tongue grown over with farms, in order to avoid a fronting spit or
shallow. The continuity of the wall was broken by a deep “corrie,” or
curved scarp, at whose mouth stood homesteads with scattered sheep,
apparently waited upon by ravens. We then rounded a shallow that
continues the sandspit of Eyri, and the clear way was hardly the length
of our steamer. There is a pilot for this bay, but Hr Wydholm is “very
stiff and proud,” demanding, for half-an-hour’s work, the unconscionable
sum of ten rixdollars specie. So we did very well without him; likewise
did a plucky little Norwegian cutter which followed “Jón” into the inner
harbour. Fortunately the weather was fine: in last May Captain Müller
had been delayed two days by the snow.

Eyri, in the maps, is popularly known as Ísafjörð. The former term,[81]
throughout the island, means a sandspit, in places equivalent to the
Greek “Zankle:” it is applied to the sickle-like banks of sand and
shingle, which we first noticed from the Esja summit; the effect of
confluence, influent meeting effluent. Here the line sets off from the
western shore and bends first to the south-west, and then to the
south-east, in the shape of an inverted letter S, forming a close dock,
seven fathoms deep, along shore: as we glided in, a perfect calm
succeeded the cold and violent _rafales_ outside. This Eyri may be 600
feet broad at the base; here are a few scattered hovels, a neglected
grave-yard and a wooden church and steeple, with the general look of a
card-house. About the middle it thickens to a quarter of a mile, forming
the body of the settlement, a bit of enclosed meadow-land and a rough
square, the houses being independently oriented, but mostly facing
north. The top fines off into a spit sixty feet across, and prolonged
under water: it carries a single establishment of five sheds, an
incipient windmill, and tarpaulin-covered heaps of dried cod--we shall
take in a small cargo of heads for Grafarós. The streets are made simply
by removing the stones; we count five flags, all Danish; the old houses
are faded black and white, the new pink, grey, and yellow, and there are
three roofs of very bright pigs-blood, such as delight the Brazilian
eye. A single landing-place and several abortive attempts at piers show
private not public spirit. The settlement has been sketched by Mr
Shepherd, whose frontispiece makes the Eyri far too narrow; also our
view of the same was by no means so romantic and startling in colour as

After feeding we ascended the eastern precipice, which shows two
distinct steps and a broken coping. The new comer would expect a dry
walk over the grass growing below the shunt of rubbish; we now know it
to be a quaking bog, the effect of retentive fibrous roots, even upon
the rapid slope. Murmuring runnels, which from the shore appear mere
threads, become deep gullies, garnished on either side with rocks and
boulders, shot down from the perpendicular cliffs. The weather was that
of August in England, fostering a pretty little vegetation, yet we soon
reached a deep patch of snow. The drainage flows into the Fjörð, and the
sea-water tasted almost sweet.

After a bird’s-eye view of the settlement we returned on board. In all
these places flaps of whale and porpoise meat hung out to dry, and huge
vats and tuns, reeking with high shark-liver, diffuse an odour
distinctly the reverse of spicy and Sabæan. The deck was crowded with
open-mouthed sight-seers, who walked round us as if we had been lately
floated over from Greenland, and who, between cigar-puffs, loudly asked
one another, “What _can_ they be?” In the evening they will be “fou” and
fond. On our return we were fortunate enough to meet Hr Thorwaldr
Jónsson, son of our friend Hr Guðmundsson of Reykjavik: he speaks
French, as _Médecin d’Isafjörð_ on his card shows, and he kindly gave me
an amulet of Surtarbrand, engraved with “runes”--the form is not found
in Baring-Gould’s collection.

[Illustration: THE AMULET.]

But neither he, “nor any other man,” could enlighten my curiosity as to
the island which Pontanus, or rather his mapper, Giorgius Carolus
Flandrus, places off the north-west coast. All being mere drongs and
skerries, I was forced to the conclusion that “Insula Gouberman” is only
the Gunnbjörn Skerries of Ivar Bardsen forced hundreds of miles to the

It was nearly ten P.M. when we steamed out of the Ísafjörð. We passed a
number of shallow-branched firths, combining to form the Jökulfirðir,
which well merits its name; at the bottom to the south-east rise the
roots and outliers of the Dránga snow-dome. After some two hours’
steaming we turned to the east and entered the “Cronian Sea,” where old
Saturn, planter of the vine, lies sleeping in his pumice cave. There was
a solemn charm in this end of the world of men. An arch of golden gleam
in the west threw a slanting light upon the noble bluff of Kögr (the
“dogger”); and the giant range of trap bluffs which faces the Pole,
forms a worthy barrier to the icy ocean. The profile showed a thick
ribbed curtain, topped by _chevaux de frise_, sharp-topped pyramids,
sheer to the fore, as we might expect on a shore exposed to the whole
fury of the north; the front view separated the three shells of cliff by
hollows, with a dreary attempt at verdure. The Horn[82] was signed by a
knob or chimney below the highest point; all present who knew the two,
preferred Icelandic Cap Nord to the Nord Cap of Norway, though the
latter lies far nearer to the Pole (N. lat. 71° 10´ 15´´). As we gazed
our full, a solid wall of sea-fog, which to the north wore the semblance
of an island, and to the south-west mimicked an ice-floe, rose from the
horizon and gradually wrapped in its grey pall the golden glories that
clothed the splendid cliffs. The last look at the three waving heads
sent me berth-wards to dream of the limestone billows of Syrian Blúdán
and Marmarún.

       *       *       *       *       *

_July 1._

The culminating point of excitement had now passed. We were tired with
craning necks backwards, and in the chill and cheerless weather of the
next morning we cast languid glances at the coast. But for “earth’s
period,” _the_ Horn, we might have admired the tall and bizarre form of
Kaldbakshorn (cold hill-peak) and the remarkable pyramid of Sandfell. We
were now running down the great gulf Húnaflói, bounded west by the
Stranda Sýsla and east by the long tongue of Húnavatn’s Sýsla, which
separates it from the Skagafjörð (naze firth). The shores are garnished
with a multitude of unimportant islands, and cut with secondary firths
and creeks, the western side being again much more torn and frayed than
the eastern shore. At two P.M. we entered the narrow Hrútafjörð (ram’s
firth); the dreary low-banked sea-arm looked like the estuary of a
mighty stream, yet it conducts only the mildest of streamlets draining
the smallest of lakes. “Go to Hrútafjarðarháls!” I may mention, is here
equivalent to sending a man to Jericho or--Halifax. The bluff eastern
point rejoices in the short and handy name of Bálkastaðaneshöfði, head
of the naze of Bálkastaðir or Balk-(bulk-head) stead.[83] On the western
of the two dwarf holms, Hrútey, appeared a cross, warning us to respect
the eider-duck; both belong to the Sýslumaðr, whose Bær is on the left
bank opposite. From a little hollow in the right bank curled the thin
blue vapour of the Reykir (hot springs), and south of it stood
Thóroddstaðir, a house with five gables and large tún.

After eighteen hours’ run we anchored in rapidly shoaling water, over a
bottom of deep mud outlying black sand, at Borðeyri, the table-spit, so
called because that article of furniture was found there: a miniature
copy of our last Eyri, based upon the western side, projects a few yards
to the south-east. Three plank-pierlets without caissons and removed, as
usual, in winter, outlie two establishments; in Messrs Shepherd’s (1862)
and Baring-Gould’s day (1863) there was only a single shed, deserted
when the season ends. One is salmon-coloured, the other yellow-white;
one flies a flag; both are double-storied, and both are surrounded by
peat-houses. The scene is wonderfully animated; this is the opening of
the “Handelstid,” or annual fair, attended by all the country-side; one
long day’s ride brings men from Stykkishólm, and in forty-eight hours
they can make Grafarós. Strings of ponies, somewhat better grown than
usual, are descending the hills, and groups of farmers and peasants
flock in to the two comptoirs, buying and selling for the year. They
exchange rough greetings, stand on the shore staring with intense
inquisitiveness, and scramble, like climbing bears, over the laddered
sides of the two Danish brigantines, which have affected the place
during the last nine years. This, with a considerable amount of hard
drinking and loud hymn-singing at night, form the only visible humours
of the _foire_ in the far north. The stations of the Spekulants or
shop-ships, and their length of stay, are fixed by law, and all are
Danes, the Icelanders have too little spirit for this work: the
primitive system reminded me of the banyans at Berberah and of the
trade-boats on the Amazonas. The holds are fitted up like shops, with
desk and counter; the stores supply all the wants of a primitive
people--dry-goods, clothes and caps, saddlery, wool-carders, querns of
basalt, and spinning-wheels; sugar, grain, tobacco, and, especially, the
rye-spirits, with which all purchasers, male and female, are copiously
drenched. These, and a multitude of notions, are exchanged for wool and
eider-down, dried-meat, salt-fish, and a few fox-skins.

We landed, for nearer inspection, in a dingy propelled by a single scull
aft; a common style called Rempe Ruðir, which the little Reverend, who
has a queer manner of “wut,” translates “progressio podiciana.” On shore
the violent flaws and _grains_ were stilled, and the sun shone with a
genial warmth. The Sýslumaðr, in gold-laced cap and uniform buttons,
made _acte de presence_, to keep order. The peasant women wore white
headkerchiefs over the usual black fez, and instead of shawls short
fichus, which reached only to the waist; they managed their baggy
petticoats with some art as they swarmed over the gunwale of the store
ships; and their side-saddles had unusually elaborate foot-boards, with
backs of worked brass. Dry meat hung in plenty, but it was very like
donkey, or the roast-beef of Sierra Leone. Heaps of wool lay upon the
ground for sale; it is a very poor article, half-rotten before it is
plucked off: after “gathering,” it is scalded, or rather boiled, in
caldrons, placed in frames, rinsed with cold water, and dried on stones
or turf. The owners asked one shilling per pound, and consulted us about
the chance of making money at Hull: a more likely spec. here would be to
import wool.

We then strolled up country, beginning with the bare Melbakki, so common
along the shores of these northern Fjörðs, a low dorsum of earth and
stone, from which the snow has only just melted; too steep for turf, and
kept bare by the furious winds. Often, as in this case, it is the bank
of an old torrent-bed. To the north-west the land again seemed to offer
a fair walk: “old Experience” had taught us that we shall have to
bog-trot from tussock to tussock, to paddle through ankle-deep waters,
and to cross turf-fens, which look solid and yet admit you to the calf.
The drainage of these hills would supply a little river, but, as usual,
it sinks, or rather lies. The turbaries, so deadly to the growth of
trees, were judged by the French expedition the only safe stations for
observations of magnetism; elsewhere the cellular dolerite, containing
oxydulated titaniferous iron, deflected the needle 1° to 1° 30´. Upon
the slope we found what appeared to be a Lögberg (law-mount),
artificially raised above the swamp; partly revetted on the top with
turf, which had been stripped off for use, and encircled by a remnant of
similar vallum. Ice appeared at the foot of the basaltic rises.

The summit, denoted by the usual “Varðas,” commanded the nearer Heiði, a
desolate land, a scatter of moor-ponds and bogs, everywhere alternating
with heaps and swathes of stone, and with dark mounds wearing cravats of
_névé_. To the south-south-east was a grand view of amphitheatral snow
mountains; the western flank rose in a shallow dome of purest white: we
judged it to be the Eyriksjökull, whose romantic and, of course,
murderous tale has often been told; while to the east Balljökull (hard
Jökull?), a lower elevation, showed dark-blue rocks, which had worn
their winter garb to strips. These outliers were backed by a radiant
semicircle of peaks, which, in the slanting sun, assumed splendid
rainbow hues.

       *       *       *       *       *

_July 2._

The “Jón” made a long halt at Borðeyri; she found only two shore-boats
for discharging goods, and these were dingies towed by a rope: it was
past two P.M. before we steamed out into the great Húnaflói. “Skyey
influences” appear to be peculiarly capricious on the shores of the
Cronian Sea. Morning; cloudy, with southerly wind, and clear with
north-easter, suggesting a “lady’s passage.” Noon; thermometer in sun
81° (F.), in shade 60°, although snow is upon the shore; with the sea,
as at Granton, in alternate stripes of deep-blue and silvery azure.
Afternoon; a Mediterranean, plus the normal long roll, and a biting
breath from the north; and, later still, the sea-fog and a return of
warmth under the protection of Skagafjörð. At five P.M. we had turned
the point Vatnsnes,[84] a long low projection from a high talus of
stepped rock: hence we sighted the southern Jökulls towering above the
lowlands and inlets of the shore--mighty masses of solid cloud, with
true cloud floating above and around them. To the north-west, over the
teeth and pyramids which jagged the shore of the Húnaflói, rose the
Dránga Jökull, apparently supporting the firmament, Atlas-like, upon its
vaulted head.

We then doubled at a respectful distance the long peninsula of Húnavatn,
which, hilly and broken at the root, thins out into a cliffy point, and
projects near Rifsnes the dangerous reefs of Skalli (the scald or bald
head). Two French schooners from Dunquerque sailed leisurely by, with
their rigging a mass of drying fish: after safe return these cod-fishers
will pilgrimage to Nôtre Dame des Dunes. The behaviour of the ice-fog
gave us some concern, we were now in N. lat. 66° 10´, and this was the
only night that would offer a chance of enjoying the midnight sun. The
mist came up in a white transparent line raised by the abnormal heat,
and at times a low, solid bank, precisely imitating floe-ice in all
points except being stationary, threatened, as is its wont when the
light of day lies low, to invade the land.

As time neared the noon of night, the burnished circle, utterly shorn of
its beams, seemed almost to stand still: when suspended about a diameter
and a half above the ocean, it changed to a long oval, to a mushroom
with distinct columella, to half a sovereign, and finally to a fragment
of golden egg, which seemed to indent the blue horizon. In the latter
phase it held its own till the bell struck, when the light of night
began to rise once more. The spectacle was a lecture upon such Eddaic
and Skáldic phrases and periphrases for the precious metal, as the Eld
Særar, “ocean or water flame;” the “sea’s bright beams,” or “lowe of the
waves;” the “swanbath’s rays;” the “ore of the Rhine” (any river); and
the “resplendent radiance of the flood.”

This was our farthest northern point--

    “Sistimus hic tandem, nobis ubi defuit orbis.”

We failed to sight inhospitable little Grímsey, which employs its spare
hours in adorning porridge-pots with the Runic knot or snake.

When abreast of long, high, and broken Málmey (Malm or sand isle), bluff
at both ends, we had fairly entered the Skagafjörð, which my classical
friend translates “_Sinus qui eminet_;” he is less happy with Grafarós,
_ostium sepulturæ_; Gröf, as in “Grafar-lækr,” here means the
deeply-encased bed of a stream. A little farther we left to starboard a
triad of islands classical in Iceland story. The northern rock-needle
bears the common name Karl (old man), whose hip, the Kerlíng (carline),
to the south, suggests a ship under sail. The middle, and by far the
largest, feature is Drángey, an area of 800 square yards, rising
steep-to some 600 feet high, and inaccessible except on the south, where
the cliff breaks, and where adventurous cragsmen swarm up to rob birds’
nests. It is one of the richest of its kind, and it is known far and
wide as the last refuge of Grettir Ásmundarson, popularly “Grettir the
Strong.” The millennial lithograph simply says of this strong man,
“outlaw for twenty years, and died in this capacity.” While telling the
tale of his well-merited death, the Icelandic speaker’s eyes, to my
wonder and confusion, filled with tears: I could not but think of my
poor friend James Hunt, who died of a broken heart because
“Anthropology” was not welcomed by the “British Ass.” The “Oxonian”
abridges the prodigious long yarn spun by the Gretla, and shows the
“William Wallace of Iceland,” as the outlaw is called by the admirers of
muscular un-Christianity, to have been, _pace_ Mr Morris, even for
Iceland, a superior ruffian. With few exceptions, we may say the same of
the Saga heroes generally, and it is ethnologically interesting to
contrast their excessive Scandinavian destructiveness with the
Ishmaelitic turn of the Bedawin--the reader has only to glance at the
pages of Antar, translated by Terry Hamilton. But the Arab, though
essentially a thief and a murderer, boasting that blood is man’s only
dye, and that battle is to him like manna and quails, has a soft corner
in his heart which the Iceland poet lacked; he was chivalrous as a
knight-errant in his treatment of women; he was great upon the subject
of platonic love, whose place in the hyperborean north is poorly
occupied by friendship, however tender and true; his poetry was inspired
by the sun, not by eternal ice and snow; and, like all the peoples of
the glowing south, his fiery savagery is gloomed by a peculiar and
classic shade of sadness. Witness this address of the dying Bedawi to
his fellow-clansmen:

    “O bear away my bones when the camel bears his load,
      And bury me beside you, if buried I must be;
    And bury not my bones ’neath the burden of the vine,
      But high upon the hill, to be sighted and to see;

    “And call aloud your names as you pass along my grave,
      For haply shall the voice of you revive the bones of me.
    I have fasted with my friends during life and in my death;
      I will feast with you the day when the meeting shall be free.”

We may compare the sentiment with that of the Roman epitaph,

    “Hic propter viam positus
    Ut dicant prætereuntes
        Lolli, vale!”

And one might quote by the score such inscriptions as--

    “Have, anima dulcis!”

which breathe only the most tender melancholy. This sentiment,
apparently unknown to the rugged and realistic soul of the north, is
felt deepest in the brightest climates, for instance, amongst the
Hindús, and generally the races which inhabit the “Lands of the Sun.”
Nor amongst the Arabs do we find the abominable heroines of Scandinavia;
“the grimmest and hardest hearted of all women,” adulteresses all and
murderesses, justifying the Norsk proverb, “Woman’s counsel is ever cold

The eastern shore of the Naze Firth then showed Thórðarhöfði, a majestic
headland of black lava, coiled and writhed, whose central hollows are
striped with yellow clay washed from above; whose upper crags lodge the
eagle and his brood, and whose base is caverned by the ceaseless
onslaughts of the waves. At first it seems an island, backed by its
lakelet, the Höfðarvatn, but it is connected with its mainland by strips
of natural causeway to the north and south, not unlike Etruscan
Orbetello. Wild strawberries are said to flourish in the well-sheltered
hollows. From about Grafarós it wears the aspect of a couchant lion,
and doubtless it was of old, like Helgafell, a Holy Hill. The Thórðr who
gave it a name was an “illuster and vailzeand compioun” of Irish blood
and fifth in descent from Ragnar Loðbrok (hairy-breeks),[85] one of the
most unpleasantly truculent persons in Scandinavian myth. His epicedium
or death-song, of course composed for and not by him, the only refrain
of whose twenty-nine stanzas is--

  “We hewed with the hanger” (Hiuggom ver með hiaurvi--_Pugnavimus ensibus_),

very adequately represents his sentiments and his career: it reads as if
it had been inspired by the Destroying Angel. The sooner this style of
literature, which deals in every manner of---- cide from parricide to
vulpecide, becomes obsolete in Iceland the better. Imagine a decent,
respectable Protestant paterfamilias, by way of whiling away the long
winter evenings, reading out these revolting and remorseless horrors to
his wife and daughters: I should feel as if treated to the Curse of

The next feature was Hofsós, a scattered settlement, with its chapel,
first a pagan temple and then a Catholic church; it is marked by a hill
rising bluff above the Unadalr (“Wone” or dwell vale), a little stream
which accounts for the term “oyce.” A mile or so farther south lies
Grafarós, and here we anchored, after a pleasant cruise of fourteen
hours from Borðeyri. This comptoir, chosen by Mr Henderson of Glasgow,
is very badly placed: the norther raises a surf which can make landing
impossible for a fortnight, and, as we could see, the south wind at once
breaks the Skagafjörð into dangerous waves. Surely safe ground could be
found under the lee of the grand Thórðar-head.

       *       *       *       *       *

_July 3._

Apparently the rule in Iceland is, that a fine day brings foul weather,
and July 3 was no exception. As we rose, a solid bank of rain stood high
in the north, and presently the Storm-King rode forth, beating down the
white heads of the angry billows. It was Ahriman waging eternal war with
Hormuzd; the battle of Osiris and Typhon; the war of Baldur and Loki. In
the course of the day, the gale forged round almost to the south, and
the alternations of mist, drizzle, and bright sunshine formed an
Ossianic framing highly appropriate to the picture: like the Scottish
Highlands, it would have looked ridiculously out of place under an
Italian sky.

The Skagafjörð is held to be one of the most picturesque, as well as
fertile and populous, districts in Iceland, wanting only the “hair of
the earth animal”--wood. The firth, a riverine sea-arm, ten miles broad,
is the embouchure of that formidable stream the Jökulsá Vestri
(western), which, like the Blandá or Blandwater, drains the central
Hofsjökull--the southern face, Arnarfellsjökull, discharging the much
more important Thjórsá. Flowing from south to north, before feeding the
bay, it bifurcates, forming a delta known as Hegranes (Hern-naze)
Island, and famed for beauty. On both sides, rugged and precipitous
shores are divided by ravines and valleys which, after an hour’s rain,
pour turbid yellow streams into the dull-green receptacle. The southern
part of the western bank is subtended by the Tindastóll (peak-host), a
well-known name: older travellers talk of “precious stones, probably
opals,” being found in abundance among its ravines, of onyx, zeolite,
and chalcedony, and of “caves containing curious crystals.” To the north
and south, the wall-coping is broken and jagged; the middle length shows
straight and regular lines, with numerous strata symmetrically piled.

The eastern shore of Skagafjörð, near the anchorage-ground, is of black
sand and shingle, with columnar basalt in places, and capped by a long
bare “Melbakki” some seventy feet high: its background rises in detached
hills and lines of bluff, counter-parts of the Tindastóll in miniature,
and copiously streaked with snow. The regular steps and stratified lines
here dip to the north.

The bottom of the firth disclosed a grand landscape of sky. Now a glint
of sunshine settled upon snowy top and glaucous slope, then a white mist
robed and capped the shadowy mountains, catching the reflection of
Bifrost, the bridge of the gods, a fragment of gaudy rainbow. Anon a
span of pale-blue firmament contrasted with the mackerels’ backs and
mares’ tales to windward; whilst to leeward the dark curtain of purple
cloud, hanging in rugged edges over the red and black hills, made the
distances dim, dimmer, and dimmest. The inevitable accompaniments of
this feature were the ghostly forms of pale birds fighting with the
wind; the _âmes perdues_ which attract the voyager’s eye on the
beautiful Bosphorus.

We landed to inspect the “one-horse” settlement of Grafarós, which
consists of a small temporary landing-place, a tarred store, sundry
stone-and-peat huts, and a double-storied red house flying a flag; a few
farms are scattered about inland, as well as on the shore. A single
schooner lay at anchor. North of the comptoir, and forming a bay in the
bare raised bank, is the “ostium” of the Deildardalr (dole-dale)[86]
river, a tenth-class Icelandic stream, which, despite its low degree,
can look first-rate in violence. There is a ford near the settlement,
but elsewhere the water courses over a succession of steps and ledges,
which would deter anything but that wild horse who is known to swim the
wilder flood. By this time we had seen enough of “Hofs,” and we
contented ourselves with strolling up the warm and genial valley, a bed
of violets.

Grafarós was formerly, and is still at times, frequented by English
smacks in search of whale and seal oil. These cockle-shells, manned by
four and five men, the “little friggits” of our ancestors, not larger
than the Icelandic “sharker,” work their course by dead reckoning and
often come to grief. It is the terminus of our voyage, and we could only
regret that the “Jón” had not orders to make a circuit of the
island--regrets tempered, however, by the thought that we had seen by
far the fiercer and the more interesting half. No better or easier way
than this to form a general idea of the formation; it requires only
supplementing by a few cross-cuts through the interior.

The students had all left us, and here our now pleasant party broke up.
The bishop’s daughter and her two friends had the choice of riding some
twenty miles round the Skagafjörð head, or of crossing it by boat, an
easy process which, however, did not seem to have charms for them. We
bade affectionate farewell to Síra Guttormr, whose beat is from Rípr
(the crag) in Helganes to Keta near the north-eastern extremity of the
Húnavatn peninsula--he seems to look upon it as a mean place. The
reverend has no pay, properly so called, and his “living” is expressed
by the contributions of his parishioners: truly a man must have a
vocation for such a life!

Late in the afternoon the “Jón” turned his head northwards, and on July
6 steamed into Reykjavik harbour. We shook hands with our excellent
captain, and heartily wished him every success, and bade an adieu which
was destined to be an _au revoir_.



This is indeed a Cockney trip, but a visit to Iceland without it would
be much like Dante’s Commedia with the Inferno omitted.


Mr Chapman and I determined to secure comparative novelty by a “hysteron
proteron,” beginning with the “Cope” and ending with the Gusher and the
Thingplain Lake.

We hastily collected the small quantity of _harnoys de gueule_
absolutely required--man eats less when travelling, and more when
voyaging. Our stores represented a ham, one serving for one mouth per
month; a couple of sausages, to be avoided when thirst is threatened;
four loaves of rye-bread (each 6 lbs. = one man per week); snuff,
cigars, and pigtail for friendship; small change for £5; and, lastly,
two mighty kegs of schnapps, the load of one-twelfth our carriage. The
Fylgjumaðr (leader) was Paudl (Páll) Eyúlfsson, before mentioned as the
“French guide;” our Lestamaðr (“last” driver) was “Smalls,” _alias_
Sigrbjörn Björnsson, fourteen years old, and four feet nothing: we are
careful to see that they do not monopolise the very best of the eight
riding-horses. We ourselves at once become Martednn (Marteinn)
Kaupmansson and Ríkarður Burtonsson; and thus having borrowed as much
local colouring as possible, we leave, nothing loath, the hard-soft
bosom of semi-civilisation.

Spurring hotly over ground now familiar (July 8, 1872), we delayed a few
minutes at Foss-vogr to inspect the “sedimentary and sandstone
stratifications,” found so interesting by older travellers in a purely
volcanic island. They suggested, in early times, to daring spirits that
granite might not be Plutonic, and they made the devil-may-care doubt
even the eruptive origin of basalt. The travels of Von Waltershausen
have settled Foss-vogr and its Palagonite.

There was nothing to keep us at Hafnafjörð, after a longing glance at
the “Jón Sigurðsson,” which lay in harbour. A man happened to mention
that the one herd of reindeer still haunting this part of the island had
been lately seen; it was not our fate to sight them.

At four P.M. we inspected the Kaldá--an exceptional feature. Rising from
a little tarn in the northern flank of the lone hill Helgafell, it winds
westward down a shapely river-valley. Half of the stream suddenly
disappears in a hollow of the right bank, a little below the farm
crossed by the high road or path, and the remainder follows suit about
two miles farther down. The feature suggested a limitation of the
accepted dictum, “Calcareous rocks are almost the only ones in which
great caverns and long winding passages are found.” This is true of
water-made passages, where carbonic acid has dissolved the limestone;
the cooling of the upper lava crust has the same effect in Plutonic
formations. The course of the Kaldá is very badly traced in the great
map; nor does the latter show where the lower stream reappears.

The next feature of importance was the Lángahlíð, a stepped and
buttressed block of trap like Esja, the Akrafjall, and the Skarðsheiði.
A tolerably regular triangle to the south-west, it acts bastion to the
great lava-plateau which extends from the Thingvallavatn, and our
morrow’s ride will subtend its southern flank. Immediately below
the western slopes, which are regular, lies the Kleifavatn
(cliff-water),[88] a lake of intensely gloomy shore. The dark waters,
ending south in a swamp, were lashed by the wind into mimic waves, and
the shores were grisly masses, standing and fallen, of dark Palagonite,
a conglomerate of small and large breccia, easily washed into gaps and
clefts, arches and caverns. I could not but remember the Lake of Hums so
similar, and yet so different, under the glowing Syrian sky; the
picturesque contrasts of cultivation and desert contrasting with the
lava-bound water, and the memory-haunted stream which once found a mouth
at Rome--

    “In Tiberim defluxit Orontes.”

Cutting across a hill-brow we sighted a tall, white plume whose fibrils,
causing many a cough, suggested the end of this day’s march. The
Icelandic traveller who has not read “The Great Sulphur Cure” of Dr
Robert Pairman, often lands with the idea that inhaling sulphur-vapour
is unwholesome, as the sulphuric acid and the sulphuretted hydrogen are
decidedly unpleasant: he soon corrects the impression, finding the
people of the two great brimstone centres exceptionally healthy. The
Krísuvík diggings are upon a line of volcanic hills, running from
north-north-east to south-south-west, and their irregular and tormented
flanks contrast sharply with the monotonous Lángahlíð wall, rising
opposite them. The “Ketill” (caldron) of Krísuvík, a huge “corrie,”
whence the puffs come, lies high up: the four “Brennisteins Námur” are
low upon the eastern flank, with the little blue pond, Grænavatn,
farther to the south. The scene is that of solfataras generally, a
distempered land of disordered cuticle, bright red, brass-yellow,
slate-grey, pink, purple, pale green, brown-black, and leprous white;
the water is milky and slimy, and even the dwarf willow and juniper
cease to grow. “Exhalations of sulphurous acid, sulphuretted hydrogen,
steam, and sulphur, burst in wild disorder from the hot ground.”[89]
Martednn looked at Ríkarður, and _vice versâ_; both had expected not a
single block, a mere patch, but a sulphur region to be measured by many
square miles.

We passed two huts, one of iron, the other of wood, with ore-heaps lying
around them, and, scrambling through a bog, we rode up to the Krísuvík
chapel and the three-gabled farm-house of a little widow, Mrs Ingveldr
Hannesdóttir. The district is tolerably populous; on the flanks of the
various rises we counted five farms, fringed with haystacks, under
sticks and turf, and white ponies dotted the long, swampy expanse,
between the Krísuvíkfell, a lump north of the chapel, the Arnarfjall to
the south-east, capped by a spitz or bec, and the long slope leading to
the Krísuvíkurberg, the precipice some 200 feet tall which boldly faces
the Deucaledonian main. Unhappily Henderson’s fine port is utterly
absent; on the other hand, it is said that an easy line of tramway has
been traced from the head of the Kleifavatn to Hafnafjörð.

The day’s work surprised us, we had not yet realised the shortness of
the distances travelled over. This mild march also has been called a
“maniac ride”--“one of the wildest in the world.” It is, however, only
fair to own that we took the lake road, which is not laid down in the
map, and that a few yards on either side of the way would offer as many
difficulties as the horseman, however ambitious, could desire.

The steepleless chapel, which was not worse than that of Blúdán, had
lost its key, and when the latter was found, the cabin proved a store
and a lumber-room: clothes hung to the seats, milk stood to cream, and
salt barrels cumbered the floor. A coffin, unfurnished, also stood on a
beam: the idea underlying this premature precaution is that it prolongs
the owner’s life. Here the chapel is the “mountain-stove” of Norway, the
Indian traveller’s bungalow, and the Sind mosque in which Kafirs ate
pork and drank wine. We pitched the tent near the byres, where broken
bottles showed the habits of civilisation, and slept despite the normal
evil, cold feet caused by riding in a hard head-wind. The frequent weary
halts to adjust pack-saddles should be utilised for restoring
circulation. “_Les picotements sont plus incommodes que le froid
lui-même_,” justly remarks M. Gaimard’s expedition; and the French
doctor advises the feet to be gradually warmed, or they will swell and
cause _demangeaisons_, which prevent rest. Above all things avoid the
Brazilian wrinkle, so valuable against damp in tropical climates--a
glassful of spirits poured into the riding-boots. We must not leave the
sulphur-field without some notice of the supply.

From Captain, now Commodore, Commerell’s Reports, dated Leith, July 9,
1857, we learn that “the mines of Krisuvik were worked from 1723 to
1730, with considerable profit; during that year, all the sulphur
consumed in Denmark and Norway and the Duchies was obtained from there,
but one of the owners, who had also been the director in Iceland, dying,
the mines were abandoned in consequence.

“In 1833, a merchant of Copenhagen, a Mr Kenidzen, obtained one large
cargo of sulphur from Krisuvik; the affair was managed through an agent
or factor, whose mismanagement was the principal cause of failure, since
then only a few tons having been taken by the peasants for home use.

“The actual extent of the sulphur beds it is quite impossible to
calculate; but from Krisuvik to Hengill (the mountain mass south-west of
the Thingvallavatn) forty-seven have been discovered, the distance of
the latter (former?) place to Havnefiord (Hafnafjörð) is from fourteen
to fifteen miles, but the road is much more hilly. The deposit of
sulphur I personally saw at Krisuvik must amount to many thousand tons;
hitherto the sulphur taken away has been reproduced in two or three
years, all the mines, or nearly all, being in a living state. Sulphur in
a pure state, I have little doubt, could be supplied at Havnefiord for
£1 per ton.”

We are also told that “Dr Hjaltalín, an Icelander and mineralogist, who
was ordered by the Danish Government to report on the sulphur beds,
informed Captain Commerell that those at Krisuvik could be worked very
easily, producing a large amount of sulphur, and as a speculation would
pay very well indeed.”

I need not here enter into the history of the Krísuvík diggings since
the date of Commander Commerell’s report, or during Mr Bushby’s
concession. Suffice it to say that the concession has now been granted
to Englishmen, and that Messrs Randall and Thorne, Curtis and Seymour,
are the actual owners. Until 1873, I believe, nothing has been done in
the working line--we shall hope to see more activity soon.

After expressing my surprise, as bound to do, at the smallness of the
Krísuvík area, it is only fair to own that Commander Commerell’s third
paragraph, if correct, is most hopeful. The supply which is puffed away
in air can be controlled by walls and roofs, upon which the vapour would
be deposited, and thus the period of renewal would probably be reduced
from two or three years to the same number of months. As regards Dr W.
Lauder Lindsay’s assertion that whilst crude Sicilian sulphur contains
80 to 90 per cent, of pure ore, and that of Krísuvík from 96·39 to
98·20, I am unable to pronounce judgment; but my suspicion is that
severely picked specimens were used as averages.

Since my return from Iceland, Mr Charles W. Vincent, F.C.E., published
in the _Journal of the Society of Arts_ (January 17, 1873), a valuable
paper “On the Sulphur Deposits of Krisuvik, Iceland.” It is here
reprinted with his express permission: the importance of the subject
will excuse its length, and the reader will exercise his undoubted right
of “skipping.”

“The canton of Krisuvik, in the south-west corner of Iceland, has long
attracted great interest, on account of its boiling mud caldrons, hot
springs, and above all, its ‘living’ sulphur mines; these are all
arranged in lines, evidently corresponding to the great volcanic
diagonal line stretching from Cape Reykjanes to the Lake of Myvatn.[90]
At the present time the greatest amount of volcanic activity is
manifested at the southern end of this line.

“In the last century it was the northern end of the volcanic diagonal,
near about Myvatn, where, according to the Icelandic records, the kind
of pseudo-volcanic action was most vigorous, by which the boiling
springs are set in operation and the sulphur deposits are formed; but a
violent eruption of the mud volcano Krabla, to a great extent buried the
then active strata beneath enormous masses of volcanic mud and ashes, so
that the energy has been probably transferred along the line

“The Krisuvik springs are in a valley beneath some high mountains. They
are reached by a track, so narrow that there is no more than room to
enable horses to pass along it--across the brink and along the side of a
vast hollow, termed the ‘kettle.’ Following this rude track, the
‘Ketilstip,’ the summit of the range of hills, is reached which
overlooks Krisuvik. In the midst of a green and extensive morass,
interspersed with a few lakes, are caldrons of boiling mud, some of them
fifteen feet in diameter, numberless jets of steam, and boiling mud
issuing from the ground, in many instances to the height of six or eight
feet. Sir George Mackenzie (who was accompanied by Sir Henry, then
Doctor, Holland, now the President of the Royal Institution), in his
justly-celebrated ‘Travels in Iceland, in 1810,’ gives a vivid
word-picture of the scene. ‘It is impossible,’ he writes, ‘to convey
adequate ideas of the wonders of its terrors. The sensation of a person,
even of firm nerves, standing on a support which feebly sustains him,
where literally fire and brimstone are in incessant action, having
before his eyes tremendous proofs of what is going on beneath him,
enveloped in thick vapours, his ears stunned with thundering
noises--these can hardly be expressed in words, and can only be
conceived by those who have experienced them.’[92]

“On the other side of the mountains subterranean heat is also
manifested, and hot springs, accompanied by sulphur beds, are also
found; but they have not been as thoroughly examined




as those in the valley, and are represented as being less active.

“Mr Seymour, who has spent many months at Krisuvik, tells me that the
sulphur beds on this side have been submerged by the clays washed down
by the winter rains, and are, for the most part, now completely
overgrown with grass. On digging beneath the surface, however, the
sulphur earth is found to be only a short distance down, and on analysis
the percentage of sulphur in one bed, 116 yards long, running up the
side of the mountain, was discovered to range between 64 and 65·5. Here
the earth was completely cold, and all further deposition of sulphur
appeared to have ceased.

“In the valley itself the springs are not always visible at the surface,
being so completely covered by the earth that it is only by piercing
through the crust of indurated sulphur earth, that their presence is
discovered. Sometimes the explorer is made unpleasantly aware of the
insecure nature of his footing by falling through, and thus opening up a
fresh thermal spring. The late Sir William Hooker, when visiting this
place, in endeavouring to escape a sudden gust of strongly odorous
vapour, jumped into a mass of semi-liquid hot earth and sulphur--and but
for his presence of mind, in throwing himself flat upon the ground,
would have sunk to a considerable depth; as it was, the difficulty of
extricating himself was very considerable.

“The surface of the ground is covered in many places with a crust of two
to three feet in depth of almost pure sulphur; and in the valley, where
the steam jets are protected from the extreme violence of the wind, the
sulphur is deposited tolerably evenly over the whole surface. If it were
not for the ever-varying direction of the wind, the sulphur would,
Captain Forbes is of opinion, be precipitated in regular banks, but it
hardly ever falls for twenty-four hours in one direction, the wind
capriciously distributing the shower in every direction.

“It has been suggested by those who wish to utilise the immense
sulphur-producing power of this wonderful locality, that chambers should
be erected (Sir George Mackenzie), or walls built up (Dr Perkins), by
which means the force of the wind being broken, the sulphur would be
quietly floated to the ground, instead of being carried up the sides of
the hills, and thus more widely distributed.

[Illustration: THE SULPHUR SPRING.]

“With little variation the general appearance of the ‘solfataras’ over
the space of twenty-five miles along the volcanic diagonal is much
alike: an elevation about two feet high and three feet in diameter,
which is composed of a dark-bluish-black viscid clay, forms a complete
circle round the mouth of a medium-sized spring. The water is sometimes
quiescent, and sunk about two feet within the aperture; at other times
it is ejected, with great hissing and roaring noise, to the height of
from five to eight feet. At all times clouds of steam, strongly
impregnated with sulphuretted hydrogen and sulphurous acid gas, issue
from the orifice, both of which, during an eruption of the water, are
greatly augmented in quantity. From the dark coloured and elevated
margin of the fountain the yellow crust of crystallised sulphur extends
a great distance in every direction. Columns of steam ascend from
numberless points in the whole district, which are thus impregnated; and
thus it is that, apparently for ages past, sulphur has been gradually
heaped up in this locality till there are actually hills, which, as far
as they have yet been pierced, show sulphur earth to be their main
constituents. Hence they have acquired the name of the Sulphur

“The soil is of different colours, but most generally white. It is, in
the vicinity of the springs, a viscid earth, less plastic than clay, and
more readily broken.

“When excavations are made into this earth, it is found to be composed
of multitudinous layers, of different colours or shades of colour, each
layer being quite distinctly divisible from those above and below it,
though frequently no more than an inch or two in thickness.

“It is much to be regretted that the good example set by Olafsen and
Povelsen of investigating the nature of the earth’s crust round about
the solfataras, by piercing the soil, has not been more frequently
carried out. In the summer of last year one of the suggestions which I
made for the instruction of an expedition to this place, was that boring
implements should be taken out and extensively used; but accident
prevented the necessary appliances being forthcoming at the right time.
I believe, however, that one of the chief features in the expedition
which is to set out in March, will be the thorough examination, to as
great a depth as practicable, of the strata in various parts of the
Sulphur Valley.

“The spring chosen by Olafsen and Povelsen as the subject of their first
experiment, was one which had made its appearance since the preceding
winter, and which was just beginning to be surrounded by other mud
springs and jets of steam. The ground was still covered with lovely
verdure, and charming flowers were abundant, even at the very verge of
the caldron of hideous hue and odour. A short distance from this opening
they established their boring apparatus. The sequence of the layers was
as follows:

“1. Three feet of reddish-brown earth, of a fatty consistence--of the
ordinary temperature; at the bottom heat was perceptible to the touch.

“2. Two feet of a firmer kind of earth, nearly the same in colour as the
first layer, unctuous to the touch.

“3. One foot of a lighter kind of soil.

“4. Five feet of a very fine earth of different colours, the first two
feet being veined red and yellow, with streaks of blue, green, red, and
white intermingled. The lower portion of this earth was somewhat firmer
than that which covered it. The heat of this thick bed was so great that
the soil extracted by the auger could not be handled until it had been
for some time exposed to the air.

“5. One foot of a compact greyish-blue earth.

“6. In tapping this bed, which was four feet nine inches in thickness,
and consequently at a depth of about twelve feet, water was first met
with. It was found by comparison that the level of the water in the
boiling mud spring coincided at this time with that of the water thus
discovered. The heat was now very great, and a constant hissing and
bubbling could be heard as proceeding from the bottom of the hole which
had been made.

“7. Nine inches of greyish-blue earth.

“8. One foot six inches of a similar unctuous earth, containing many
small white stones. This was the hottest layer of any yet pierced; the
buzzing, humming noise was now much louder than before.

“9. Three feet of the same kind of clay, but much harder and more
compact; this layer was also full of small, round, white stones.

“10. Six inches of a violet tinged earth, very greasy to the touch. In
this bed the heat sensibly diminished.

“11. One foot six inches of red and blue clay intermingled. The heat
continued to diminish very fast.

“12. One foot of reddish-looking clay, the temperature remaining about
the same.

“13. Six inches of yellow and red clay.

“14. One foot of a greenish coloured earth, much less coherent than the
previous layers. Here the heat again began to increase.

“15. One foot six inches of blue clay, filled with small pieces of white
tufa. This bed was much hotter than either that above or that below it.

“16. One foot three inches of soft blue clay.

“17. Nine inches of an earth, easily pulverised when dry, which, whilst
moist, was of a violet colour; on exposure to the air, however, this
rapidly changed to a chocolate brown. The heat was again augmented as
the centre of the bed was approached.

“At thirty-two feet the full length of the boring implements was used
up; but from the set of the country in the vicinity, the experimenters
believed they were close upon basaltic rock, when the heat probably

“In digging for the peculiar kind of brown coal which they call
‘surturbrand’ (a kind of fuel very much resembling Irish bog-oak, which
can be used for like purposes), the inhabitants frequently go as deep as
twenty-eight feet. They report that before reaching this depth they
frequently pass through three or four beds of blue, yellow, and brown
clay, and almost invariably find that the layers of blue clay are much
hotter than any of the other strata.

“A second trial of the soil was made in the neighbourhood of some recent
springs, farther to the east. The activity of the agencies at work here
appeared to be greater than in the former case, and to have been longer
in operation. The whole surface was thickly covered with sulphur, in a
finely-divided state; there was much gypsum, and a large efflorescence
of feathery alum. Thousands of very minute holes were discoverable on
close examination, through which continuous jets of steam, sulphuretted
hydrogen and sulphurous acid gases were emitted.

“An attempt was made to dig with spades; but the soil was found to be so
hot, whilst the footing was at the same time so insecure, that it could
not be persisted in. A spot some distance farther off was therefore
pitched upon, where the earth was firmer and colder. The borer pierced
through six feet of blue clay with great facility, the lowest portion
being extremely hot. After this depth the earth became rapidly softer,
at the depth of seven feet the same peculiar bubbling noise before
noticed was heard. Continuing to bore, the bottom of the hole appeared
to be in a state of ebullition, a boiling liquid being ejected in the
narrow space around the handle of the auger with extraordinary violence,
and no sooner was the tool withdrawn than a thick black fluid was
ejected from the orifice to the height of several feet. A short time
afterwards the jet ceased, the subterranean fire appeared to have
expended its fury, but it soon recommenced with redoubled activity to
dart forth fresh jets of steam and black, muddy water, continuing to
boil and dance with but slight intermission. It appeared, therefore,
evident that the result of this experiment was the premature formation
of a fresh hot spring, which would otherwise have been, perhaps, a
considerable time in forcing its way to the surface.

“It is somewhat to be regretted that no one amongst the numerous eminent
men, men accustomed to experimental investigations and acute observers,
who have since traversed this region, should have investigated the
question of the origin of these hot springs and sulphur deposits from
the point of view which was thus displayed by these careful and
painstaking philosophers.

“The phlogistic theory being generally accepted in their day, and the
chemistry of the earths and metals being in a very undeveloped state, we
cannot now accept to its full extent the explanation they put forth of
these phenomena; but the facts they disclose appear to me to be of the
highest value, and to afford a clue which, if carefully followed, may
lead to discoveries of much importance in the domain of volcanic energy.

“The conclusion they drew from their investigation is, that the hidden
fires of Iceland dwell in the crust of the earth, and not in its
interior; that the boiling springs and the mud caldrons certainly do not
derive their heat from the depths of our globe, but that the fire which
nourishes them is to be found frequently at only a few feet below the
surface, in fermenting matters, which are deposited in certain strata.

“By their theory the gases from the more central parts of the earth
penetrate these beds by subterranean channels, and so set up the
chemical action, producing fermentation and heat, these channels also
forming the means of intercommunication between the separate sites of
activity, and equalising and transferring pressure.

“To return to their facts. They further observed that the heat is
invariably found to be greatest in the blue and bluish-grey earth; that
these earths almost always contain sulphuric acid; that they contain
also sulphur, iron, alum, and gypsum; and lastly, that finely-divided
particles of brass-coloured pyrites are visible throughout the whole of
the beds when heat exists.

“Sulphuric acid is found in the hot beds above and below that which is
the hottest, but this latter manifests no acidity that is sensible to
the taste.

“Sulphuretted hydrogen is continually evolved from the clays containing
the brass-coloured pyrites. Silver coins dropped into a hole made in
these strata become rapidly reddened, and brass becomes quite black if
held over it for a short time.

“Lastly, not only does the heat increase and diminish in various
successive layers of the earth, in the neighbourhood of the active
springs, but the locality of the heat, as might be expected from their
previous observations, travels very considerably in different years.

“The solfatara of Krisuvik, with the mountains about it, is shown in the
accompanying sketch by M. Eugène Roberts. It appears from afar to occupy
the place of an ancient crater, but, as we have already seen, it is not
near the crater, about the centre of the drawing, but at a considerable
distance from the old volcanic centre, that the thermal springs and
sulphurous exhalations have their present origin.

“Wherever they may have been previously, the springs are now situated
between two mountains, the one Badstofer, on the right, originally
composed of lava, the other, Vesturhals, on the left, of basaltic
formation. Both, by the action of the thermal springs, are undergoing a
process of disintegration and reconstruction.

“The kind of hills which form the solfataras, properly so called,
increase in extent day by day; by the addition to the disintegrated rock
of sulphur and of sulphurous and sulphuric acids.

“The yellow sulphur earth contains about four per cent. of free
sulphuric acids; sometimes a little free hydrochloric acid, and a
variety of sulphates, as might be supposed. Treated with distilled
water, the filtered solution reddens litmus strongly; on addition of
acetate of lead a flocculent precipitate is produced, which, when heated
with carbon, disengages sulphurous acid.

[Illustration: SOLFATARA OF KRISUVIK. From a Sketch by M. Eugène

“The sulphur is found in many different conditions, but for the most
part in the same finely-divided, whitish-yellow form in which it is
precipitated from sulphuretted hydrogen solutions. Where it assumes
other states, crystallised in tears on the surface of the rocks, or
coagulated in veins, it is on account of its having undergone subsequent
heating. Of its primary origin by the decomposition of sulphuretted
hydrogen, there is in my opinion no doubt.

“Professor Bunsen visited Krisuvik in 1845; his opinion is that
sulphurous acid is evolved from the earth’s interior, which, oxidised
either at the surface by the atmosphere, or at subterranean depths by
atmospheric oxygen dissolved in cold water, is converted into sulphuric
acid. The sulphuric acid thus generated is diffused among the
constituents of the decomposed beds. This process represents the first
stage of the fumerole action, which is manifested in the namar or
solfatara of Krisuvik.

“Sulphur is now generally regarded as emanating from the stage of
intermittent lethargy of a volcano, and the sulphides of iron, copper,
arsenic, zinc, selenium, etc., fall in the same category as sulphur;
they are secondary, not primary, formations. In the stage further off we
have the host of sulphates produced by the oxidation of the sulphur into
sulphuric acid, and its subsequent reaction on the metals and earths
with which it becomes associated.

“The description of the Sicilian sulphur beds coincides so very exactly
with that of the Icelandic mines, that one might pass very well for the
other. D’Aubigny pictures nearly the whole of the central portion of
Sicily as being occupied by a vast bed of blue clay or marl, in which
are numerous and thick beds of gypsum and sulphur, and a combination of
this mineral with iron and copper. The natural process by which they
have been formed must, I think, be the same in each case. At Krisuvik
copper has been found only in small quantities, but that is probably
because it has not been sought for below the surface. Carbonate of
copper, associated with sulphate of lime, is of frequent occurrence; and
native copper has to a limited extent been discovered.

“A district in America, very similar in most of its characteristics, has
recently been explored. The great hot-spring region of the sources of
the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, in the United States, has, on
account of the wonderful natural phenomena there manifested, been set
apart by the United States Congress as a great national park for all

“The whole of this district is covered with rocks of volcanic origin of
comparatively modern date. At present there are no signs of direct
volcanic action going on, but the secondary kind of action, resulting
probably as at Krisuvik, from the disintegration and decomposition of
beds of volcanic origin, is in full progress. Boiling springs,
mud-caldrons, and geysers are found in all parts of the region, and the
description given by Mr V. Hayden, of the Yellowstone Lake and its
vicinity, in every respect coincides with those of the geysers,
mud-caldrons, and hot-springs of Iceland.

“In all cases there was found to be free access of water; free sulphur
was widely dispersed, and the steam-jets were invariably accompanied by
large quantities of sulphuretted hydrogen. The subterranean action in
this country does not appear to have continued long enough to produce
beds of sulphur and sulphur-earths, but has, nevertheless, been of
sufficiently long standing to build up geyser tubes of so great a length
that the internal pressure has formed other vents, rather than lift the
immense column of water above it.

“The water of the springs contains sulphuretted hydrogen, lime, soda,
alumina, and a slight amount of magnesia; some of these are only
occasionally at the boiling point, and these, when the temperature is
reduced below 150° Fahr., deposit great quantities of the sesquioxide of
iron, which lines the insides of the funnels, and covers the surface of
the ground wherever the water flows. If the reaction consists in the
decomposition of iron pyrites, and the sulphur is carried sufficiently
far off to prevent its re-combination with the iron to form iron
sulphate, the formation of the iron sesquioxide is fully accounted for.

“As a rule, the groups of hot springs are, as in Iceland, in the lower
valleys, and either along the margins of streams, or nearly on a level
with them. The grand area where they occur is within the drainage of the
Yellowstone, where a space of forty miles in length, with an average
width of fifteen miles, is either at the present time, or has been in
the past, occupied by hot springs.

“That the quantity of sulphuric acid here produced is very large, is
proved by the immense quantity of alum which is found, for the streams,
the mud, the earth are thoroughly impregnated with it. The funnel-shaped
craters from which the boiling mud is ejected, are so similar to those
of the Krisuvik that the figure on page 140 will answer for both places.
The circular rim varies from a few inches to several feet in diameter.
Sometimes these are clustered close together, yet each one being
separate and distinct from the others.

“The foregoing are the most prominent facts connected with the
development of sulphur from the earth in the elementary state. The full
explanation of all the phenomena accompanying it appears to me to be the
key by which the great secret of volcanic energy may he ultimately
unlocked. At present it appears to be doubtful whether the sulphur
results from the decomposition of metallic sulphides, by heat and water
combined, or by sulphuric acid formed by the oxidation of sulphurous
acid. In the one case, the whole action is so far within our reach, that
it should not be an insurmountable difficulty to establish the point as
to whether the whole action does not depend on the percolation of water
into beds of pyrites surrounded by other beds which are non-conductors
of heat.

“The other view, viz., that the sulphur proceeds as sulphurous acid from
a lower depth, is on account of the more complicated action required,
far from being as satisfactory to my mind as the more simple supposition

“Until boring experiments have been made, conducted with great care, and
to considerable depths, no positive conclusion can be arrived at. It is
also an element in the question of much importance, to discover whether
the beds penetrated by the water are already heated, whether the water
is heated before it reaches the sulphur-bearing strata (the clays
containing pyrites), or whether both are not alike cold till they have
been for some time in contact.

“Less than a quarter of a mile from the hot springs is a lake,
Geslravatn, formed by the filling up of an extinct crater. This the
inhabitants describe as being fathomless (Mr Seymour, last year, found
no bottom at five and twenty fathoms). The depth is, at any rate, very
considerable. Although so close to a spot where the ground is, even at
the surface, scorching to the feet, the water in this lake is ice-cold.
Sir George Mackenzie also remarked a somewhat similar fact. On the side
of the Sulphur Mountain, amidst the seething, steaming hills of almost
burning earth, a spring of clear cold water was met with. To my mind
these facts are most in accordance with the view that the action is
local and self-dependent.

“The Krisuvik sulphur mines have been worked at various times, but want
of proper roads, and ignorance of the proper method of extracting and
refining the sulphur, have prevented their proper development. The
Sicilian mines can be worked at a considerable profit, where, more than
390 feet below the surface, beds are met with containing only 15 per
cent. of sulphur. At Krisuvik, absolutely on the surface, clays are met
with which contain from 15 to 90 per cent. of sulphur. Under proper and
careful supervision, their future should be prosperous.

“Two German gentlemen, under the auspices of the Danish Government,
worked these mines in the early part of the last century, and so much
was exported to Copenhagen during the time the excavations were carried
on, that a sufficiently large stock was laid up to serve the consumption
of Denmark and Norway from 1729 to 1753.

“Horrebow describes the sulphur mines as being actively worked from 1722
to 1728, to the great advantage of the inhabitants, who reaped much
profit from its extraction.

“By his account of their mode of prosecuting this enterprise, the
sulphur does not appear to have been refined in the island, but exported
in its crude state. The less active mines were chosen for cutting into.
He says: There is always a layer of barren earth upon the sulphur, which
is of several colours, white, yellow, green, red, and blue. When this is
removed, the sulphur earth is discovered, and may be taken up with
shovels. By digging three feet down, the sulphur is found in proper
order. They seldom dig deeper, because the place is generally too hot,
and requires too much labour, also because sulphur may be had at an
easier rate, and in greater plenty, in the proper places. Fourscore
horses may be loaded in an hour’s time, each horse carrying 250 lbs.
weight. The best veins of sulphur are known by a kind of bank or rising
in the ground, which is cracked in the middle. From hence a thick vapour
issues, and a greater heat is felt than in any other part. These are the
places they choose for digging, and after removing a layer or two of
earth, they come to the sulphur, which they find best just under the
rising of the ground, when it (the sulphur) looks just like sugar candy.
The farther from the middle of the bank, the more it crumbles, at last
appearing as mere dust. But the middle of the bank is an entire hard
lump, and is with difficulty broken through. The brimstone, when first
taken out, is so hot that it can hardly be handled, but grows cooler by

“In two or three years these veins are again filled with sulphur. The
death of the person at Copenhagen who had the sole and exclusive
privilege of exporting sulphur from Iceland put an end to what had
promised to be a very thriving industry. The inhabitants continued to
collect the sulphur earth for some time after its exportation had
ceased; and many of them lost considerably by it, large quantities
having been gathered which they were never able to dispose of.

“According to Dr Perkins, the sulphur mines were again worked by the
Danish Government for fifteen years, but the method of purifying adopted
was very imperfect. The sulphur earth was heated in iron boilers, and
when the sulphur was melted, fish oil was added, and the whole mass
stirred up. On allowing the mixture to stand for a time, the earthy
matter formed a soap on the top of the molten mass; this being removed,
tolerably pure sulphur remained behind.

“In 1832, these mines were visited by K. von Nidda, the celebrated
geologist, by whose advice a Danish merchant, named Kenidzon, purchased
them. He only worked them for a short period. The sulphur earth was
collected without much regard being paid to the relative richness of the
beds. It was taken on the backs of horses to Havnafiord, and thence
shipped to Copenhagen. The cost of transport brought the sulphur to too
high a price to render the undertaking successful.

“In 1857, political matters caused the attention of Her Majesty’s
Government to be directed to finding a new source of sulphur supply.
Commander J. E. Commerell, of her Majesty’s ship ‘Snake,’ was sent to
Iceland by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, to visit and report
upon the capabilities of the mines of Krisuvik and Husavik. He found
that the nearest safe port to the Krisuvik beds was Havnafiord; this
port is fourteen miles from the sulphur beds by the present roads, and
nine miles from Reikjavik. The harbour is well sheltered, with good
anchorage of seven or eight fathoms three cables’ length from the beach;
it at present enjoys as much traffic as Reikjavik. The road from
Krisuvik might be much shortened, and a tramway might also he laid down.
During the past year a survey has been made, and plans drawn for a
railway or tramway to Havnafiord.

“The actual extent of the sulphur beds it is quite impossible to
calculate; forty-seven have been already discovered. The deposit of
sulphur Commander Commerell personally saw he describes as amounting to
many thousands of tons, and, all the mines being in what is called a
‘living’ state, the sulphur taken away is reproduced in two or three
years. He considers that sulphur in a pure state could be shipped at
Havnafiord for £1 per ton.

“The sulphur at Myvatn, though great in quantity, is, he considers, at
too great a distance from a port of embarkation to permit its extraction
being carried on with any chance of competing with that from the
Krisuvik mines.

“No further steps were taken in the matter by the British Government,
the political complications which led to the expedition having been
removed; but the attention of English merchants having been drawn to
these rich deposits by the highly favourable character of Commander
Cornmerell’s remarks, renewed attempts are being made to render
commercially available the immense sulphur-producing power which the
Krisuvik solfataras undoubtedly possess. To some of these gentlemen I am
greatly indebted for much valuable information, put at my disposal for
the purposes of this paper, and amongst them I have specially to tender
my thanks to Mr Ramsdale and Messrs Thorne, of Gracechurch Street, and
particularly for the use of numerous and carefully-selected samples of
the sulphur earths which were freely placed at my disposal. These
samples I hope to make the subject of a future paper.

“Since writing the foregoing paper, I mentioned, in the course of
conversation with Sir Henry Holland, the conclusions which are derived
from the examination of all the trustworthy facts relating to the
sulphur deposits. This led him to examine entries in his unpublished
diary, made at Krisuvik in 1810. The theory which he then conceived so
thoroughly agrees with all that has been learnt respecting the phenomena
in question, that I, with his kind permission, print an extract from his

“‘The theory of these sulphureous springs (if springs they may be
termed) at Krisuvik is an interesting object of inquiry. They are
situated in a country decidedly of volcanic origin. The high ground on
which they appear is composed principally of the conglomerate or
volcanic tufa, which has before been noticed. The source of the heat
which can generate permanently so enormous a quantity of steam must,
doubtless, reside below this rock; whether it be the same which produces
the volcanic phenomena may be doubted, at least if the Wernerian theory
of volcanoes be admitted. It certainly seems most probable that the
appearances depend upon the action of water on vast beds of pyrites. The
heat produced by this action is sufficient to raise an additional
quantity of water in the form of steam, which makes its way to the
surface, and is there emitted through the different clefts in the rocks.
The sulphates of lime and alumina, appearing upon the surface, are
doubtless produced, in process of time, by these operations. In
corroboration of this view, it may be observed that the quantity of
steam issuing from the springs at Krisuvik is always greater after a
long continuance of wet weather, and that whenever earthquakes occur on
this spot, it is during the prevalence of weather of this kind.’

“The learned and now aged author expressed the highest gratification
that the views which he formed at twenty-two years of age should possess
so much value so many years after.”

       *       *       *       *       *

The visit of the two engineers, Messrs Shields & Gale, has also been
elsewhere alluded to. Finally, Mr R. M. Smith informs me that the
prospects of the Krísuvík diggings now look brighter. The project of
tramways, or locomotives, seems to have been abandoned in favour of
carts and ponies plying on a good road, about sixteen miles long,
between the Sulphur Mountain and Hafnafjörð.


The next morning’s work began with a path which introduced us to the
mud-bog, as opposed to the turf-bog. This pleasant feature led to lava,
whose three main torrents and many secondary streamlets could be seen
spilling over the trap wall of Lángahlíð. There were the two normal
kinds, the soft and cindery, caverned and friable, which makes good
paths: it degrades to the dark red and yellow-red humus which is here,
as in the Haurán, the general colour of the ground. This variety is clad
with two lichens; the grey with black scutella (_L. calcareus?_), and
the pure white (_L. Tartareus?_) which makes the ejections of the Safá
near Damascus simulate limestone. The other is intensely hard, ruddy
black or brown-grey, and in places solid as if poured out yesterday; the
reason generally given is the presence of olivine in this trachytic or
silicious form. M. Durocher’s theory is, that being lighter than the
doleritic and augitic (basic), it therefore floats separately, and thus
he would explain how lava floods of different composition may proceed
from the same locality.[93] The plications of this hard lava, looking as
if hogs-heads of honey had been poured upon stone, the domes and the
drops, not to speak of the sharp-toothed mouths and crevasses, make the
traveller suffer for the sufferings of his nag.

At the end of the first great lava-stream was the farm of Herdísarvík;
now not a “vik” but a “vatn”--we looked around for sulphur, but in vain.
Hard by our right the fierce seas burst and roared upon a coast cruel
and harbourless as that of Kafir-land; whilst in the smooth distance a
few catspaws suggested shoaly islets. The Hlíðarvatn (lithe or slope
water) is not like its neighbour a misnomer, but the supply is brackish,
ebbing and flowing with the tide, like wells in the valley of the
Thames. The only birds seen were wild geese, crees, gulls, curlews,
young snipes, and ravens which especially affect this warm part of the
island. During the halt we especially noticed a number of web-less
hunting spiders, whose little nests were full of young--the peasants
still preserve the old Köngur-váfa (web-weaver) which the citizens hold
obsolete, preferring Könguló or Konguló. There are spider-stories, too,
like the Gold Coast “Anansesem;” a small red species, for instance,
kills when it bites.

From Litlaland, which we reached whilst the sun was still high, we
enjoyed a pleasant view. Beyond the rise of Thorlakshöfn lie the “Irish
Islands,” tall and picturesque, fronted by the great alluvial plain of
south-western Iceland. It has been called Tempe, Arcadia, and Vale of
Enna, though utterly unlike the grim defile of Peneus, the stern
limestone mounts of the Peloponnesus, and the waterless slopes of
Sicily. The “Pastorale in A flat,” as Thomas Hood, sen., would have
called it, a raw northern facsimile of the Lagos Lagoon, as it appeared
to me, gains dignity by the eastern background of eternal snows, the
flat top of Eyjafjall, the long ridge of Tindafjall, and the sharp point
of Torfajökull. And it is “classic ground.” From a commanding site we
can prospect Ingolfsfjall, where Iceland’s first settler is supposed to
be buried, and the Bergthórshvoll farm in the delta of the Markarfljót;
behind it lies Hlíðarendi, where the “peerless Gunnar” sleeps in the
Tverá Holm.[94]

There is--for Iceland--rare pathos in this description of the hero’s

     “They cast a cairn over Gunnar, and made him sit upright in the

     “He sang in the cairn which opened, and he turned himself and
     looked at the moon, which was shining clear and bright. And men
     thought they saw four lights burning in the cairn, and none of them
     cast a shadow. He sang a song, after which the cairn was shut up

The next morning led us to Reykir. As we rode up the valley of the
Ölfusá we could mark the features of the scene. In front the river was a
lake, and the green expanse of the water-veined delta was scattered over
with south-facing farms, not acknowledged by Gunnlaugsson and Olsen.
Eyrarbakki, so called from the host of islets which line the shore, is
the only port till Berufjörð on the eastern coast, and it was wholly
occupied by two ships. Mr William Hogarth of Aberdeen, who owned the
establishment, has not been here, we were told, for years; lately,
however, some English visitors had excellent fishing in the river, and
were hospitably entertained by Hr Thorgrimsson, agent to M. Lefolii, a
Danish merchant. All this greenery was set off by the barrenness of the
buttressed Lángahlíð hard on our left. The regular horizon of trap-wall
had been succeeded by a sharp slope of Palagonite conglomerate, which
evidently underlies the whole block. On the summit is a desert where no
man dwells, broken by pyramids which are evidently lava-cones, Skálafell
(scald or bald hill?) being the chief feature; upon the lips of the
plateau are gushes of modern lava, and on the low levels appears an
ancient sea-beach, scattered with rounded blocks like giant rocs’ eggs.

[Illustration: THE RURAL SCENE.]

“Hjalli,” which we reached about noon, was somewhat peculiar--instead
of being a single farm, four establishments clustered round the black
chapel. It had its rivulet where the girls comb their yellow hair o’
mornings; the Lavapés (wash-feet) of the Brazilian country town; it had
also its Paradís, a poetical name for the grassy combe, where men bask
i’ the sun. The males were clad in pastoral attire, the old native dress
deemed somewhat too _marqué_ for town and comptoir. The chief items are
a shirt, a waistcoat, and a tight, very tight, flannel culotte, braccæ
gartered below the knee and ending in stockings and Iceland shoes. The
stranger’s first impression is that harlequin, without his spangles, has
forgotten his overalls. This primitive toilette of the non-Roman
races,[95] which gave birth to our civilised attire, still lingers in
parts of Europe, notably in the Cicería of Istria, where the
charcoal-burners (Cici) will adopt no other costume. And what can be
more ridiculous than the Hungarian footsoldier wearing his drawers, when
we know the wide Turkish Shalwar to be his national terminations?

“Reykir!”[96] ejaculated Páll, pointing triumphantly to a little yellow
splotch on the far side of the broad valley. As we progressed towards
the Reeks, we found the forage improving, and the soil becoming damper;
this is commonly the case, because the western frontage enjoys the most
sun. Of five springs clustered upon either bank of the little Varmá, the
largest lies on the left, where Palagonite breccia forms the base of a
ruddy spine, projected by the northern outliers of the Ingolfsfjall
_massif_. The usual motley colours of a solfatara are set off by a more
brilliant green than usual, and by a silver-tinted moss (_Trichostomum
canescens_), which makes the turf-carpet feel soft as velvet.

Reykir is known as the Litlé Geysir, or “the Geysir in Ölfus.” In 1770
Uno Von Troil declared that it used to rise sixty to seventy
perpendicular feet, in fact, as high as the Great Geysir of 1872, but
that an earthquake, after cutting off a few feet (fifty-four to sixty),
made it spout sideways. Nothing can be meaner than the modern display,
and my companion compared it disadvantageously with that “furious
fountain” of the guidebooks, the Sprudel of Carlsbad. The chief well to
the north has built for itself a party-coloured mound like a nest of
African termites, and puffs only vapour with the sumph of a
donkey-engine. A hundred yards or so to the south is a younger spring
with double boilers, in which the water may rise at times a foot and a
half high: the “hell broth” slithers through a soft and soppy circle,
down a foul channel of burnt pyrites and silica-clothed trap to the
bubbling Varmá. This stream shows from a height, three branches draining
from the north-west, where are other sulphur springs.

A whole generation of travellers has complained of the farmer of Beykir,
who is said to have charged one man $52 per diem. We can only speak of
him as we found him; his demand for forage was extremely moderate, and
we attributed the fact to having an honest and thrifty guide.

A swampy ride in the afternoon led to the ferry of the Ölfusá or lower
Hvitá. The ground was spangled with Fífa or cotton grass (_Eriophorum_),
a weed with a bad name. It is more common here than in the southern
islands, Scotland, and Germany, and it is supposed to haunt the worst
and most dangerous bogs, where water sinks instead of flowing. “Avoid
cotton grass ground” is the advice of every traveller: unfortunately you
cannot, and you must make the best of it. But why call it the
“treacherous cotton grass,” when it at once tells you the worst? On the
other hand, buck-bean (Hor-blaka, or _Menyanthes trifoliata_) is praised
because it shows the surface to be safe.

After three hours we reached the ferry, a busy scene for Iceland.
Caravans charged with imported boards and fish to be exported, lay
unloaded on either bank. Amongst the travellers was the Bishop of
Iceland with a party of six; he had ridden from Reykjavik to Reykir in
nine hours, and as he sat waterproof’d in the sun, he complained sadly
of fatigue. A couple of two-oared boats, big and small, with a third
high and dry, did not tend to expedite transit--nothing would be easier
than to establish a wire rope and a ferry with lee-boards, thus making
the current do all the work.

Rain threatened, and we lodged, as Abyssinians might lodge, in the
church of Laugadælir, after duly admiring the farmer’s _chef d’œuvre_, a
brass chandelier. All was very grotesque; the Psalms were chalked up on
the wall, a Mambrino’s helmet acted font, and the altar-piece showed
bow-legged Mattheus, with Marcus, Lucus, and Johannes to match. Around
the fane lay the churchyard, where the peasant

            “lies at peace with all his humble race,
    And has no stone to mark his burial-place.”

It was the usual reverse of gardenesque or picturesque. Sheep grazed
upon the weeds that “had no business there,” and the railings were
utilised for drying socks and small-clothes.

The fourth march proved peculiarly unpleasant. When the weather is bad
at Reykjavik, here it is detestable. The display of water-works seemed
the effort of the old Polynesian giants, who submerged the greater part
of earth--Terrible-rain, Long-continued-rain, Fierce-hailstorm, and
their progeny, Mist, Heavy-dew, and Light-dew. In plain English it was a
“jolly wet day.” The horses very sensibly bolted up stream, and refused
to be caught till noon, when the men returned dripping as loons or
roaches. The delta of the two great streams is said to be, in fine
weather, one of the fairest pastoral scenes the island can show; but we
saw it at its worst, sadly deformed, and we gathered practical
experience of what a few hours of downfall can do in this semi-saturated
region. The paths were “dead,” or rather, they were shown only by lines
of puddle; the sloughs and quagmires admitted our ponies to the hocks;
the drains overflowed like little hill-races, and the labour of rounding
the deeper fens was immense. A few peaks which lay but a little distance
to the north seemed immeasurably removed, like

    “Far-off mountains turnèd into clouds.”

About mid-afternoon we came upon the Thjórsá, “fluviorum rex Eridanus”
of Iceland: even at this upper part it looked like an estuary, split by
sandbars, piles of basalt, sandbars and basalt again. We pushed hard
over the few good places; and moist, mouldy, and malcontent, we were
right glad to find ourselves in the strangers’ room of the ferryman’s
house: 20 feet long by 14 broad and 7 high: dated 1848, it was an
_omnium gatherum_ of the family goods, and it boasted of one four-paned
window, which has never opened, and which never will. The features
denoting wealth were huge wooden lockers, like seamen’s chests, of
bright colours, painted with flowers and arabesques of still brighter
tints: I could not but remember the pea-green and gamboge box which
carried to Meccah the drugs of a certain “Haji Abdullah.” The soiree
ended with a distressing banality. Fair visions of girls who kiss the
stranger on the mouth, who relieve him of his terminal garments, and who
place a brandy bottle under his pillow, and a bowl of milk or cream by
his side, where are ye? Icelanders have allowed their pleasant primitive
fashions to be laughed away by the jeering stranger, who little thought
how much the custom told in favour of the hosts. The _naïve_ modesty of
antiquity, when Nestor’s youngest daughter laved, anointed, and dressed
Telemachus, and when the maids of Penelope had a less pleasant task with
the elderly Ulysses, has departed with the public bathings, in angelic
attire, of Iceland, of Sind, and of Japan, and the kiss given to the
guest by the young wife or the eldest daughter of the Morlacchi house.
This _sublime impudeur_ was possible only amongst a pure race: the
sneers of a single civilised savage suffice to demolish this “_heureuse
absence du ‘schoking.’_”

Next morning, while the horses were grazing, we ascertained that the
farm had its therma: a jet of steam issuing from the ground near the
river had been turfed over, with room to stand; and thus a Turkish, or
rather a Russian, bath was possible on bath-day. We then walked down to
the Thjórsá, an especially grisly spectacle. Its breadth, 250 yards, was
occupied by white glacier water, with a sulphury tinge, rendered more
ghastly by the black sand, rocks, and islets studding the bed above and
below the ferry. The right bank showed a wall of conglomerate, and on
both sides “cachociras” dashing over the stones gave pleasant
reminiscences of San Francisco. The left bank is of Hekla lava, either
compact or very porous containing crystals of lime. We found a natural
hatchet and quantities of pumice, many-coloured, but mostly yellow: it
floats in water, and it is useful for holystoning the skin. The velocity
was three knots, and the temperature 52° (F). The ferry creeps up from
the stone-head acting pier on the right bank, swings across below the
break, and lands you in water on the far side.

The conduct of ponies at the ferry is always amusing. They are driven in
by the shouts of lads and lasses, by tossings and wavings of the arms,
by sticks and stones, and by the barking and biting of curs. They sidle,
jostle, step in daintily, smell the water, and, after trembling on the
brink for a time, some plucky little nag takes the lead. He is followed
by the ruck, but there are often cowards ready to hark back: these must
be forced on with renewal of stick and stone, and by driving those that
have crossed up and down the bank. In dangerous narrow beds, it is often
necessary to tow over shirkers one by one with a rope. The swimmers
gallantly breast the flood, which breaks upon their crests; and they
paddle with heads always up stream, dilated eyes and nostrils snorting
like young hippopotami; the best always carry the back high. As they
reach the far end, they wade slowly to shore, and fall at once to
grazing. They took four minutes thirty seconds to cross the Thjórsá, and
as usual they were drifted far down.

We then pricked fast over the little pampa which lies between the
Thjórsá and the Hekla-foot, making, I know not why, for Stóruvellir.
Here we were received by Síra Guðmundr Jónsson, a gentlemanly man, who
has accompanied several travellers, notably the “Oxonian,” up the
volcano; he showed the Iceland peculiarity of “walking the
quarter-deck;” and his handsome blue-eyed daughter wore the sternest of
looks, apparently engendered by semi-solitude. He indulged in wild
archery about the dangers of the climb, which, over biscuits and coffee,
sounded truly awful. After leaving the parsonage, we enjoyed our first
fair view of Hekla: during the earlier ride it had been buried in
clouds, and hidden by the chapel block, Skarðfjall.

The Hekla of our ingenuous childhood, when we believed in the “Seven
Wonders of the World,” was a mighty cone, a “pillar of heaven,” upon
whose dreadful summit white, black, and sanguine red lay in streaks and
patches, with volumes of sooty smoke and lurid flames, and a pitchy sky.
The whole was somewhat like the impossible illustrations of Vesuvian
eruptions, in body-colours, plus the ice proper to Iceland. The Hekla
of reality, No. 5 in the island scale,[97] is a commonplace heap, half
the height of Hermon, and a mere pigmy compared with the Andine peaks,
rising detached from the plains; about three and a half miles in
circumference, backed by the snows of Tindafjall and Torfajökull, and
supporting a sky-line that varies greatly with the angle under which it
is seen. Travellers usually make it a three-horned Parnassus, with the
central knob highest--which is not really the case. From the south-west,
it shows now four, then five, distinct points; the north-western lip of
the northern crater, which hides the true apex; the south-western lip of
the same; the north-eastern lip of the southern crater, which appears
the culminating point, and the two eastern edges of the southern bowls.
A pair of white patches represents the “eternal snows.” On the right of
the picture is the steep, but utterly unimportant, Thríhyrningr, crowned
with its bench-mark; to the left, the Skarðsfjall, variegated green and
black; and in the centre, the Bjólfell, a western buttress of the main
building, which becomes alternately a saddleback, a dorsum, and an
elephant’s head, trunk, and shoulders.

We came upon the valley of the Western Rángá[98] at a rough point, a
gash in the hard yellow turf-clad clay, dotted with rough lava blocks,
and with masses of conglomerate, hollowed, turned, and polished by
water: the shape was a succession of S, and the left side was the more
tormented. Above the ford a dwarf cascade had been formed by the lava of
’45, which caused the waters to boil, and below the ford jumped a
second, where the stream forks. We then entered an Iceland “forest,” at
least four feet high; the “chapparal” was composed of red willow (_Salix
purpurea_), of Grá-viðir, woolly-leaved willow (_Salix lapponum_),[99]
the “tree under which the Devil flayed the goats”--a diabolical
difficulty, when the bush is a foot high--and the awful and venerable
birch,[100] “la demoiselle des fôrets,” which has so often “blushed with
patrician blood.” About mid-afternoon we reached Næfrholt (birch-bark
hill),[101] the “fashionable” place for the ascent, and we at once
inquired for the guide. Upon the _carpe diem_ principle, he had gone to
Reykjavik with the view of drinking his late gains; but we had time to
organise another, and even alpenstocks with rings and spikes are to be
found at the farm-house. Everything was painfully tourist.

In the evening we scaled the stiff slope of earth and Palagonite which
lies behind, or east of, Næfrholt: this crupper of Bjólfell, the
Elephant Mountain, gives perhaps harder work than any part of Hekla on
the normal line of ascent. From the summit we looked down upon a dwarf
basin, with a lakelet of fresh water, which had a slightly (carbonic)
acid taste, and which must have contained lime, as we found two kinds of
shells, both uncommonly thin and fragile. Three species of weeds floated
off the clean sandstrips. Walking northwards to a deserted byre, we
found the drain gushing under ground from sand and rock, forming a
distinct river-valley, and eventually feeding the Western Rángá. This
“Vatn” is not in the map; though far from certain that it is not
mentioned by Mackenzie, we named it the “Unknown Lake.” Before night
fell we received a message that three English girls and their party
proposed to join us. This was a “scare,” but happily the Miss Hopes
proved plucky as they were young and pretty, and we rejoiced in offering
this pleasant affront of the feminine foot to that grim old _solitaire_,
Father Hekla.

Before the sleep necessary to prepare for the next day’s work, I will
offer a few words concerning the “Etna of the North,” sparing the
reader, however, the mortification of a regular history. It was
apparently harmless, possibly dormant, till A.D. 1104, when Sæmund, the
“Paris clerk,” then forty-eight years old, threw in a casket, and awoke
the sleeping lion. Since that time fourteen regular eruptions, without
including partial outbreaks, are recorded, giving an average of about
two per century. The last was in 1845. The air at Reykjavik was
flavoured, it is said, like a gun that wants washing; and the sounds of
a distant battle were conducted by the lava and basaltic ground. The
ashes extended to Scotland. When some writers tell us that on this
occasion Hekla lost 500 feet in height, “so much of the summit having
been blown away by the explosions,” they forget or ignore the fact that
the new crater opened laterally, and low down.

Like Etna, Vesuvius, and especially Stromboli, Hekla became mythical in
Middle-Age Europe, and gained wide repute as one of the gates of
“Hel-viti.” Witches’ Sabbaths were held there. The spirits of the
wicked, driven by those grotesque demons of Father Pinamonti which would
make the fortune of a Zoological Society, were seen trooping into the
infernal crater; and such facts as these do not readily slip off the
mind of man. The Danes still say, “Begone to Heckenfjæld!” the North
Germans, “Go to Hackelberg!” and the Scotch consign you to “John
Hacklebirnie’s house.” Even Goldsmith (Animated Nature, i. 48) had heard
of the local creed, “The inhabitants of Iceland believe the bellowings
of Hecla are nothing else but the cries of the damned, and that its
eruptions are contrived to increase their tortures.” Uno Von Troil
(Letter I.), who in 1770, together with those “inclyti Brittanici,”
_Baron_ Bank and Dr Solander, “gained the pleasure of being the first
who ever reached the summit of this celebrated volcano,” attributes the
mountain’s virginity to the superstitions of the people. He writes
soberly about its marvels; and he explains its high fame by its
position, skirting the watery way to and from Greenland and North
America. His companions show less modesty of imagination. We may concede
that an unknown ascent “required great circumspection;” and that in a
high wind ascensionists were obliged to lie down. But how explain the
“dread of being blown into the most dreadful precipices,” when the
latter do not exist? Moreover, we learn that to “accomplish this
undertaking” they had to travel from 300 to 360 miles over uninterrupted
bursts of lava, which is more than the maximum length of the island,
from north-east to south-west. As will be seen, modern travellers have
followed suit passing well.

The next morning (July 13) broke fair and calm, reminding me

    “Del bel paese la dove il sì suona.”

The Miss Hopes were punctual to a minute--an excellent thing in
travelling womanhood. We rode up half-way somewhat surprised to find so
few parasitic craters; the only signs of independent eruption on the
western flank were the Rauðhólar (red hills), as the people call their
lava hornitos and spiracles, which are little bigger than the
bottle-house cones of Leith.

At an impassable divide we left our poor nags to pass the dreary time,
without water or forage, and we followed the improvised guide, who
caused not a little amusement. His general port was that of a bear that
has lost its ragged staff--I took away his alpenstock for one of the
girls--and he was plantigrade rather than cremnobatic: he had stripped
to his underalls, which were very short, whilst his stockings were very
long, and the heraldic gloves converted his hands to paws. The two
little snow fonds (“steep glassy slopes of hard snow”) were the easiest
of walking. We had nerved ourselves to

    “Break neck or limbs, be maimed or boiled alive,”

but we looked in vain for the “concealed abysses,” for the “crevasses to
be crossed,” and for places where “a slip would be to roll to
destruction.” We did not sight the “lava wall, a capital protection
against giddiness.” The snow was anything but slippery; the surface was
scattered with dust, and it bristled with a forest of dwarf
earth-pillars, where blown volcanic sand preserved the ice. After a slow
hour and a half we reached the crater of ’45, which opened at nine A.M.
on September 2, and discharged lava till the end of November. It might
be passed unobserved by an unexperienced man. The only remnant is the
upper lip prolonged to the right; the dimensions may have been 120 by
150 yards, and the cleft shows a projecting ice-ledge ready to fall. The
feature is well marked by the new lava-field of which it is the source:
the bristly “stone-river” is already degrading to superficial dust. A
little beyond this bowl the ground smokes, discharging snow-steam made
visible by the cold air. Hence doubtless those sententious old
travellers “experienced, at one and the same time, a high degree of heat
and cold.”

Fifteen minutes more led us to the First or Southern Crater, whose
Ol-bogi (elbow or rim) is one of the horns conspicuous from below. It is
a regular formation about 100 yards at the bottom each way, with the
right (east) side red and cindery, and the left yellow and sulphury;
mosses and a few flowerets grow on the lips; in the sole rise jets of
steam, and a rock-rib bisects it diagonally from north-east to
south-west. We thought the former the highest point of the volcano, but
the aneroid corrected our mistake.

From First Crater we walked over the left or western dorsum, over which
one could drive a coach, and we congratulated one another upon the
exploit. Former travellers, “balancing themselves like rope dancers,
succeeded in passing along the ridge of slags which was so narrow that
there was scarcely room for their feet,” the breadth being “not more
than two feet, having a precipice on each side several hundred feet of
depth.” Charity suggests that the feature has altered, but there was no
eruption between 1766 and 1845; moreover, the lip would have diminished,
not increased. And one of the most modern visitors repeats the “very
narrow ridge,” with the classical but incorrect adjuncts of “Scylla
here, Charybdis there.” Scylla (say the crater slope) is disposed at an
angle of 30°, and Mr Chapman coolly walked down this “vast” little
hollow. I descended Charybdis (the outer counterscarp) far enough to
make sure that it is equally easy.

Passing the “carriage road” (our own name), we crossed a _névé_ without
any necessity for digging foot-holes. It lies where sulphur is notably
absent. The hot patches which account for the freedom from snow, even so
high above the congelation-line, are scattered about the summit: in
other parts the thermometer, placed in an 18-inch hole, made earth
colder than air. After a short climb we reached the apex; the
ruddy-walled north-eastern lip of the Red Crater (No. 2): its lower or
western rim forms two of the five summits seen from the prairie, and
hides the highest point. We thus ascertained that Hekla is a linear
volcano of two mouths, or three including that of ’45, and that it wants
a true apical crater. But how reconcile the accounts of travellers?
Pliny Miles found one cone and three craters; Madame Ida Pfeiffer, like
Metcalfe, three cones and no crater.

On the summit the guides sang a song of triumph, whilst we drank to the
health of our charming companions and, despite the cold wind which
eventually drove us down, carefully studied the extensive view. The
glorious day was out of character with a scene _niente che montagne_, as
the unhappy Venetian described the Morea; rain and sleet and blinding
snow would better have suited the picture, but happily they were
conspicuous by their absence. Inland, beyond a steep snow-bed
unpleasantly crevassed, lay a grim photograph all black and white;
Lángjökull looking down upon us with a grand and freezing stare; the
Hrafntinnu Valley marked by a dwarf cone, and beyond where streams head,
the gloomy regions stretching to the Sprengisandur, dreary wastes of
utter sterility, howling deserts of dark ashes, wholly lacking water and
vegetable life, and wanting the gleam and the glow which light up the
Arabian wild. Skaptár and Öræfa were hidden from sight. Seawards,
ranging from west to south, the view, by contrast, was a picture of
amenity and civilisation. Beyond castellated Hljóðfell and conical
Skjaldbreið appeared the familiar forms of Esja, and the long lava
projection of the Gold Breast country, melting into the western main.
Nearer stretched the fair lowlands, once a broad deep bay, now traversed
by the network of Ölfusá, Thjórsá, and the Markarfljót; while the
sixfold bunch of the Westman Islands, mere stone lumps upon a blue
ground, seemingly floating far below the raised horizon, lay crowned by
summer sea. Eastward we distinctly traced the Fiskivötn.[102] Run the
eye along the southern shore, and again the scene shifts. Below the red
hornitos of the slope rises the classical Three-horned, not lofty, but
remarkable for its trident top; Tindfjall (tooth-fell) with its two
horns, or pyramids of ice, casting blue shadows upon the untrodden snow;
and the whole mighty mass known as the Eastern Jökull, Eyjafjall
(island-fell), so called from the black button of rock which crowns the
long white dorsum; Kátlá (Kötlu-gjá), Merkrjökull, and Goðalands,
all connected by ridges, and apparently neither lofty nor
impracticable.[103] I venture to predict that they will succumb to the
first well organised attack.

The descent, in three hours, was as fast as the ascent had been slow. We
soon saw the last of our fair companions who, mounted and attended by
their train, rode gallantly back to Stóruvellir. Amongst the party was
Síra Guðmundr’s son, a sharp youth of eighteen, and if there was not
something under his waistcoat buttons which was beating at an
accelerated pace, I am much mistaken. We felt demoralised by this
unusual dissipation; we cooled our blood with Skyr; we bathed in the
Lavapés, and we tried throwing a line, but came back with a hook behind,
as the people say.

The reader will probably determine that this account of Hekla is a
trifle hypercritical. But after a single day spent upon the volcano,
which has so often been ascended, what can man find to explore except
the labours of his predecessors? Nor would it be fair to leave unnoticed
this excellent specimen of exaggerated writing upon the subject of
Thule, which perhaps culminates on Hekla.


I would willingly have spent another day on Hekla, but the seething hot
morning (82° F., at nine A.M.) had animated the flies with a more than
normal “cussedness.” The scene was unusually “Arcadian.” Betimes the
dogs folded the ewes with loud barkings, re-echoed by the backing ridge;
and mother and daughters went to milk them, the “help” carrying a pair
of pails fended by a square hoop. Meanwhile the lads drove the cows
towards the womankind, and accompanied the horses to pasture. Even the
hyæna-striped cats, bastard tortoise-shells, crept towards the fields,
as if intent on grasshopper-hunting. About the house hung only the
mankind, too dignified for labour; and the grandmother here is, like the
grandfather, an institution; the bearded, mustachioed “old soldier,”
with huge fez and hair cut boy-fashion, wanted to “swop” with us for
spirits: all the males, middle-aged or old--the latter _plutôt vieillis
que vieux_--appeared cut in the same pattern. Their necks were swathed
as if lately recovering from diphtheria; their coarse heavy limbs were
displayed by the flannel “tights;” their unshaven faces with loose lips,
open mouths, and noses embrowned by preeing the sneeshing-mull, looked
stolid enough when blear-eyed; when not so the hard optics had a cunning
rat-like expression, showing that abundant _selbstgefühl_ and a strong
brain lie behind that unpromising mask. Such in some points was, in days
we have read of, the rude Carinthian boor, now most polished of

This day’s march, between Hekla and the Geysir, is one of the most
unpleasant in civilised Iceland. Travellers going eastward complain of
it, and we found it worse for horse and rider, as the progress was from
good to bad. A clerical friend subsequently divided the _iter_ into
three: between Næfrholt and the Thjórsá it was “bonum,” “mediocre” from
the river to Hruni, and thence to the end “malum”--“pessimum.” As it is
Sunday, the ferry lacks ferryman, and delays us for some time. The
peasants are all _endimanchés_, and they stare at the stranger,
expecting him to bow first. The Brazilian Caipira bends to the best
mule, the Styrian to the black coat, but these men have no standard, and
a rough nod is the extent of their recognition. They remind me much of
what was said about the Siebenburgers of Transylvania: “The people are
shrewd and intelligent, and, thanks to the national custom, they possess
a fair amount of knowledge. But the peasant’s demeanour imposes at
first, and all would be _adelig_. After this it rather tells against him
than otherwise, for when you come to measure him, you involuntarily do
so by a higher scale than you would apply to another in his position of
life. Then, if you find discrepancies, you are apt to judge him over
severely, but this is partly his own fault, for it was solely his air
and manner which caused you to apply the standard you have chosen.” On
the other hand, the unpromising figure that rides by with a glare in
Iceland may be a man of substance, possibly even a vestryman.

We saw Hekla more than once on both sides of the Thjórsá, and now, aided
by experience, we could explain the varying of the apices. About
mid-afternoon we came upon the Laxá, for which Páll condescended to make
certain preparations. An old man mumbled some directions about the ford,
but they were utterly unintelligible. A mark persuaded a barefooted
woman to leave the house: after spitting, as did the gentlemen of Beaux
before they drank, she led the way, knitting and talking at least a
quarter of an hour, to impress upon us the necessity of making for
_that_ rock. Crossing the broad bed was quite easy, and the view was
unusually picturesque. The goodly stream was girt on both sides by spoil
banks of red and white earth, suggesting hot springs; there were green
side-gorges ready for homesteads, and the upper part was a rugged brown
ravine, somewhat like what may be seen on the higher Arno.

After fording we rode up to the Sólheimar farm, a large and comfortable
establishment; its approach was the usual avenue which wants ditches and
drains instead of turf walls. The churlish owner detained us till the
horses were strung together and sent, under the charge of his son,
outside the “tún.” He gave us some skimmed milk, and we paid him
half-a-mark. The idea of a gentleman farmer, or even humble Giles,
taking twopence for a glass of small beer!

We sat, after reaching Hruni, amongst the graves, which had just been
utilised by mowing. Seeing our forlorn plight, the Prófastr, Síra Johann
Brím or Briem, came out of his house, kindly greeted us in Latin, and
did the honours of his little church. On the right of the entrance was
the small library, containing the oldest Icelandic translation of the
New Testament[104]--not bad _pro pauperie nostrâ_. Better still, he led
us to his home and, enlarging upon the _mal paso_ before us, he
adhibited a most copious feed of Hvítá salmon, smoked beef, cheese,
biscuits, and white bread, with golden sherry and sundry cups of _café
au lait_. And as we mounted with many _vales_ and _gratias agimus_, he
insisted upon a final Hesta-skál (stirrup-cup) of distilled waters. I
afterwards learned that we were not the only travellers whom the good
Prófastr has sent on their way rejoicing: he extends a similar
hospitality to all strangers.

Mightily refreshed, we looked forward with pleasure to the novelty of a
really vile Iceland path, and to fording a river with a notably bad
name. The line was certainly foul, a succession of ugly swamps: in this
part of the island the meridional routes are good, not so those running
east to west, and striking the streams at right angles. The Hvítá proved
itself a barking dog; the muddy white water, like the discharge of a
gutter, was split into six veins, and swashed round the sand-holms,
bright with the island-rose. The worst were Nos. 1, 4, and 6, the latter
nearest the right bank. Páll’s nag came to grief over a round stone, but
he cleverly dismounted; and our stout little animals, now waxing sadly
tired, mustered courage to spring goat-like up the steep side. In the
Morea this Hvítá would be called Gaidaropnictis, or the donkey-drowner.

We travelled along the right-hand valley of the White Water, which here
assumes a menacing, sinister aspect, and the frequent ferries, above and
below the ford, prove that it can be really dangerous: when the
spring-snows melt, the scene must be imposing. The current, like that of
the Congo, boils and swirls through a deep gorge, a trough of
perpendicular rocks which wholly ignore landing-places. A number of “old
men” showed the desolation of the land, all gorges and dykes, and the
sheep followed us, as young bisons do, for company’s sake. We remarked,
for the first time, that the sun really set, and that in Iceland there
is such a thing as a moon: this simulation of night without a dawn
before one A.M. was comforting. Still in the brassy northern sky rose
the weird forms of the Jarlhettur, the earl’s hats--and we wearily
wondered who the hatter might have been. A tower and a rampart, jagged
into a saw, form a castellated wall defending the south-eastern glacis
of Lángjökull. About ten P.M. we fell into a long descent, clothed with
birch forest, and we idly discussed how long it would take a rhinoceros
to graze it down. Mr Bryson could not trace any birch or bush nearer
than thirty miles from the Geysir: he might have found them within five
miles to the west and seven to the east. A big column of white vapour on
our right, and others scattered over the distance, again and again
deluded us, and we neglected the real thing, two humble puffs, to the
left or west.

A short colloquy at a farm-house made Páll sure of his direction, and he
hurried us on to the goal through villainous bog and splashing streams.
Disappointment at once awaited us. A large party of travellers had, we
heard, pitched tents at the water-works, stubbornly resolved to wait an
explosion. The hay, the firewood, the broken bottles, the scraps of
newspaper, and the names fresh-graved upon the sintery saucer told their
own tale: the Gusher had gushed, we afterwards learned, on the 13th, and
might not gush again for a fortnight. In melancholy mood we pitched the
“pal,” open towards the basin, and under the shadow as it were of the
steam, which we could hear, see, feel, touch, and smell. The guide went
off to sleep at Haukadalr (hawk dale), a farm dimly looming to the
north; but the traveller is, to speak figuratively, tied by the leg,
chained to the Geysir. Unless Fate favour him with a display, he can
neither visit the home of Ari Fróði nor St Martin’s baths, whose
miraculous cures of the lame and the leper have ceased with the
child-like, trusting faith that caused them.

Once or twice during the remnant of the night we heard a growl, when

    “Fell Geyser roared and struggling shook the ground.”

Each time the rumble and the crepitus caused a rush from the tent, but
beyond the pleasing mobility of the vapour-clouds there was nothing to
see. The cold morning air showed the puffs and sheets of steam rising
from the Geysir-ground to great advantage.

St Swithin’s Day “in the morrnin’,” began with a visit from Páll, who
brought an old woman to make coffee at the boiling spring, and Haukadalr
cream which savoured strongly of civilising influences--Hr Sigurðr
Pállsson’s family has evidently learnt “a thing or two.” Came also the
spade _de rigeur_, which a generation has used for worrying the Strokkr;
it lets for $1 per diem, and by this time it must have proved itself a
small silver mine.

The day broke cold and cloudy, with a wind from north and north-west,
and the air was not swept clean till the afternoon, when a strong
north-wester set in. We found to the west of the Geysir a bath, lately
made with turf and stone; its unconscionable heat drove us farther
south. An excellent therma might easily be cut in the silex; and as for
warm and cold water, they can be turned on _ad libitum_. The element has
a slimy feel, the effect of silica (?), which reminded me of Central
African frog-pools; it has no appreciable taste nor sediment, yet
clothes washed in it are tainted with sulphur; and we can swear that it
tinges “Schnapps” with a rich horsepond hue.

After the holystoning required for comfort, we proceeded to the serious
study of the emplacement. It has been perfunctorily described by all
travellers, even by Baring-Gould, and worse by the venerable Lyell. The
latter makes “the Geysers” rise through lava which may have been erupted
by Hekla, distant only thirty miles, which is impossible.

The site has been compared with the Vale of Siddim (the gushers?), where
a certain “sad catastrophe” took place, and where general volcanic
action exists only in the brain of M. de Saulcy. Nothing can be more
unlike. These pocket “Campi Phlegræi” cover a few square yards, a patch
probably overlying pyrites, upon the left or western plain, which gently
slopes towards the Túngufljót. The “Tongue”[105] or Mesopotamian “flood”
winds snake-like through the moorland of dull-yellow clay,
rhubarb-coloured humus, and bog, alternating with green vegetation: here
it is hid by high banks; there it shows its vertebræ in streaks and dots
of silvery stream, flashing in the sun. Houses and farms unknown to the
map vary the surface. The readily-flooded river-valley, of old a
sea-arm, trends with almost imperceptible fall from north-north-east to
south-south-west; and at this point it may be nine miles wide: in the
former direction it drains the Haukadalsheiði, and ultimately the
Lángjökull. Up stream the eye ranges from the azure saddleback of
Bláfell, an extinct volcano, they say, to the lumpy cones and
denticulated crests, rocky and snowy, known as the Hrútafell, the
Hrefnubúðir, the Brekkja, and the Hreppfjall. Down stream the glance
rests upon a number of little mounds dotting the various alluvial Doabs
of the ancient Fjörð, especially the Hestfjall, backed by the taller
Örðufell, lying south-east of Skálholt. The eastern bank is a regular
line of rolling hill, separating the main artery from the Hvítá, the
snow-streaked peaks of Gelldingafell: the Berghyllsfjall, and the
coffin-shaped Miðfell are the principal eminences. The western flank is
formed by the major range of the Laugarfjall, which is not named in the
map; this line is backed by the Bjarnarfell, the Sandfell, and the
lava-stream known as Uthliðshraun.

But the intricacy of the site, a valley within a valley, is not yet
ended. On the west of the Túngufljót there are still two influents,
badly shown in the map, which form a watershed of their own, flowing
down troughs which often obscure them from sight, parallel with and
eventually feeding their main stream. This secondary feature is bounded
eastward by a dwarf divide, a shallow arch of ground, and westward by
the Laugarfjall, an insulated node of degraded phonolite and
heat-altered trachyte, which has been driven through the
Palagonite.[106] This rock islet, a few hundred feet high, with its two
green knobs, is divided by a stony precipice, and by a low, marshy,
stream-cut valley from the western range (Laugarfjall), of which it is
an outlier; and it curves with its concavity open to the rising sun.

On the eastern slope of the trachytic pile and extending round the north
of the rock-wall are the Hvers and Geysirs. Nothing can be meaner than
their appearance, especially to the tourist who travels as usual from
Reykjavik; nothing more ridiculous than the contrast of this pin’s
point, this atom of pyritic formation, with the gigantic theory which
it was held to prove, earth’s central fire, the now obsolete dream of
classical philosophers and “celebrated academicians;”[107] nothing more
curious than the contrast between Nature and Art, between what we see in
life and what we find in travellers’ illustrations. Sir John Stanley,
perpetuated by Henderson, first gave consistence to popular idea of
“that most wonderful fountain the Great Geysir:” such is the character
given to it by the late Sir Henry Holland, a traveller who belonged to
the “wunderbar” epoch of English travel, still prevalent in Germany.
From them we derive the vast background of black mountain, the single
white shaft of fifty feet high, domed like the popular pine-tree of
Vesuvian smoke, the bouquet of water, the Prince of Wales feathers,
double-plumed and triple-plumed, charged with stones; and the minor jets
and side squirts of the foregrounds, where pigmies stand and extend the
arm of illustration, and the hand of marvel.

In this little patch, however, we may still study the seven forms of
Geysir life. First, is the baby still sleeping in the bosom of Mother
Earth, the airy wreath escaping from the hot clay ground; then comes the
infant breathing strongly, and at times puking in the nurse’s lap;
third, is the child simmering with impatience; and fourth, is the youth
whose occupation is to boil over. The full-grown man is represented by
the “Great Gusher” in the plenitude of its lusty power; old age, by the
tranquil, sleepy “laug;” and second childhood and death, mostly from
diphtheria or quincy, in the empty red pits strewed about the dwarf
plain. “Patheticum est!” as the old scholiast exclaimed.

It is hardly fair to enter deeply in the history of the Great Geysir,
but a few words may be found useful. The silence of Ari Fróði (A.D.
1075), and of the Landnámabók, so copious in its details, suggests that
it did not exist in the eleventh century; and the notice of Saxo
Grammaticus in the preface to his History of Denmark proves that it had
become known before the end of the thirteenth. Hence it is generally
assumed that the volcanic movements of A.D. 1294, which caused the
disappearance of many hot springs, produced those now existing.[108]
Forbes cleverly proved the growth of the tube by deposition of silex on
the lips,[109] a process which will end by sealing the spring: he placed
its birth about 1060 years ago, which seems to be thoroughly reasonable;
and thus for its manhood we have a period of about six centuries.

In 1770 the Geysir spouted eleven times a day; in 1814 it erupted every
six hours; and in 1872 once between two and a week. Shepherd vainly
waited six days; a French party seven; and there are legends of a wasted
fortnight. The heights are thus given by travellers:

Ólafsson and Pállsson (1770-72),           360 feet.
Von Troil (1772),                           92  ”
Stanley (1789), measured with a quadrant,   96  ”
Lieutenant Ohlsen (1804), mentioned by
  Henderson, also with a quadrant,         212  ”
Hooker (1809), upwards of a                100  ”
Mackenzie (1810),                           90  ”
Henderson (1815),                        60-80  “ {Second visit,
                                                  {above 200 ft.
Barrow (1834),                              80  ”
Pliny Miles (1854),                      70-72  ”
Forbes (1860),                          60-100  ”
Symington (1862),                          200  ”
Baring-Gould (1863),                    90-100  ”
Bryson (1864),                 “as high as the Scott Monument.”
Robert Mackay Smith (1864),                100 measured feet.

Thus the mean of the best authorities would be 80 feet, exactly equal to
the _Grandes Eaux_ of Versailles. The artificial maximum is popularly
laid down at 90 feet. But torpedo experiments with 100 lbs. of picric
powder have lifted a 2000-ton column 53 yards high; and we hear of
pillars 50 feet thick reaching 123 yards. The Giant Geysir, a silicious
spring near the head of the Firehole River, according to Dr F. V.
Hayden, propels an 8-feet shaft by steady impulses from 150 to 200 feet
from the orifice.

The shooting action of the Geysir, an affair of 700 horse-power, has
been explained in four distinct and several ways: by a reservoir, by a
straight tube, by a bent tube, and by no tube at all. Furthermore, one
experimenter applies fire to the centre of the tube, another cold,
whilst a third heats the angle. Mackenzie suggested the “hypothetical
subterranean cave” which was adopted by all the writers of his day; by
Scrope, Dufferin, the Napoleon Book, and many others. They all forget
that the reservoir and the syphon would produce regular and not
intermittent action.

The epoch-marking visit of Professor Bunsen proved, by soundings, the
Geysir to be a regular tube, 60 to 74 feet deep, with a diameter of 10
feet 4 inches: he found the temperatures by _termometres à deversement_
varying to a maximum of 270° (F.), or 58° above boiling point; and Mr
Bryson (1864) verified these observations, making the bottom of the pipe
240°, and the centre 270°. Superheated water loses the cohesion of its
particles with the expulsion of air, and, if pressure be removed,
“flashes into steam;” this well-known fact at once suggested the
chemist’s explanation. Thus M. Müller was able to make an artificial
Geysir; M. Douay of Ghent corked a straight brass tube, and caused
explosion by heating it at the bottom and at half length; and Professor
Tyndall followed with his pipe of galvanised iron, 6 feet long,
surmounted by a basin, and girt about the centre with burning gas. Even
the detonations were imitated; those of the model were explained by
steam being condensed in the saucer, whose diameter is 52 to 60 feet,
and whose contents are cooled by abundant evaporation--the same
phenomenon on a small scale will be observed if water be heated in a
bottle. Whilst the far-famed Werner held that volcanoes were caused by
the burning of coal-beds, George Stephenson, a great and original
mechanical genius, more Wernerian in this point than the master himself,
was so impressed by the rhythm and regularity of movements as he first
sighted a volcano that he at once referred them to steam and superheated

But presently observers raised the valid objection that if air were
liberated in large quantities, the Geysir surface would be ever boiling
like that of the “Strokkr.” Hence Baring-Gould suggested that an angle
in the pipe is sufficient to produce all the phenomena, and he calls the
following experiment “merely an adaptation of Sir George Mackenzie’s
theory.” Bend an iron tube to 110°, making one arm half the length of
the other; fill with water, and place in the fire. For a minute the
liquid will remain quiet; presently it begins to quiver; steam generated
in the shorter section causes a slight overflow, without signs of
ebullition, till the bubble turns the angle: the column of the longer
arm is then suddenly forced high in the air, and a jet of eighteen feet
can be produced with a tube, whose long arm measures two feet, and whose
bore is three-eighths of an inch. The bending pipe is given by Forbes
(p. 252), but he has drawn no conclusions from it.

Finally, Dr Hochstetter (Revue Hebdomadaire de Chimie), whose highly
interesting experiments throw much light upon volcanic action, can
almost dispense with a pipe. When sulphur is melted under water, with a
pressure of forty-five pounds to the square inch, the mineral absorbs
part of the fluid, and as the former cools, the latter is driven out as
steam accompanied by explosions. When the quantity of sulphur is
excessive, upheavals take place, craters are formed, and melted
brimstone is ejected.

Evidently the several theories require reconciling. A friend wrote to
me: “Your suggestion of emptying the Geysir can be done only by a force
pump. The long arm of a syphon would require to measure upwards of a
hundred yards to find a lower level than the bottom of the tube, which
lies eighty-six feet below the upper basin-rim. And even if you succeed,
we shall learn very little more than what we already know, or we have
reason to assume.” I rejoin that the position of the spring which fills
the Geysir after each explosion, and which keeps up the constant flow
over its saucer, is a matter of the greatest importance.

Ólafsson produced a new “Gusher,” by simply piercing through eighteen
feet of sulphur ground at Krísuvík; and in Tuscany there are artificial
_soffioni_, one of which has been driven 168 metres into strata showing
145° (Centig.). In the present state of science we evidently need not
despair of being able to create a Great Geysir upon the grandest scale:
these eruptions come from earth’s skin not from her intestines; and the
subterranean laboratories of metallic bases are readily opened to

Remains now only to walk over the ground, which divides itself into four
separate patches: the extinct, to the north-west, below and extending
round the north of the Laugarfjall buttress; the Great Geysir; the
Strokkr and the Thikku-hverar to the south.

In the first tract earth is uniformly red, oxidised by air, not as in
poetical Syria by the blood of Adonis. The hot, coarse bolus, or
trachytic clay, soft and unctuous, astringent, and adhering to the
tongue, is deposited in horizontal layers: snowy-white, yellow-white,
ruddy, light-blue, blue-grey, mauve, purple, violet, and pale-green, are
the Protean tints; often mixed and mottled, the effect of alum,
sulphuric acid, and the decomposition of bisulphide of iron. The saucer
of the Great Geysir is lined with Geysirite (_silica hydraté_), beads or
tubercles of grey-white silica; all the others want these fungi or
coral-like ornaments. The dead and dying springs show only age-rusty
moulds and broken-down piles, once chimneys and ovens, resembling those
of Reykir, now degraded and deformed to couthless heaps of light and
dark grey. Like most of the modern features, they drained to the cold
rivulet on the east, and eventually to the south. The most interesting
feature is the Blesi (pronounced _Blese_), which lies 160 feet north of
the Great Geysir. This hot-water pond, a Grotta Azurra, where cooking is
mostly done, lies on a mound, and runs in various directions. To the
north it forms a dwarf river-valley flowing west of the Great Geysir;
eastward it feeds a hole of bubbling water which trickles in a streak of
white sinter to the eastern rivulet and a drip-hole, apparently
communicating underground with an ugly little boiler of grey-brown,
scum-streaked, bubbling mud, foul-looking as a drain. The “beautiful
quiescent spring” measures forty feet by fifteen,[110] and is of
reniform or insect shape, the waist being represented by a natural arch
of stone spanning the hot blue depths below the stony ledges which edge
them with scallops and corrugations. Hence the name; this bridge is the
“blaze” streaking a pony’s face. Blesi was not sealed by deposition of
silex; it suddenly ceased to erupt in A.D. 1784, the year after the
Skaptár convulsion, a fact which suggests the origin of the Geysirs. It
is Mackenzie’s “cave of blue water;” and travellers who have not enjoyed
the _lapis lazuli_ of the Capri grotto, indulge in raptures about its
colouration. North-west of the Blesi, and distant 300 feet, is another
ruin, situated on a much higher plane and showing the remains of a large
silicious mound: it steams, but the breath of life comes feebly and
irregularly. This is probably the “Roaring Geyser” or the “Old Geyser,”
which maps and plans place eighty yards from the Great Geysir.

The Great Geysir was unpropitious to us, yet we worked hard to see one
of its expiring efforts. An Englishman had set up a pyramid at the edge
of the saucer, and we threw in several hundredweights, hoping that the
silex, acted upon by the excessive heat, might take the effect of turf;
the only effects were a borborygmus which sounded somewhat like
B’rr’rr’t, and a shiver as if the Foul Fiend had stirred the depths. The
last eruption was described to us as only a large segment of the tube,
not exceeding six feet in diameter. About midnight the veteran suffered
slightly from singultus. On Monday the experts mispredicted that he
would exhibit between eight and nine A.M., and at one A.M. on Tuesday
there was a trace of second-childhood life. After the usual eructation,
a general bubble, half veiled in white vapour, rose like a gigantic
glass-shade from the still surface, and the troubled water trickled down
the basin sides in miniature boiling cascades. Thence it flowed
eastwards by a single waste-channel which presently forms a delta of two
arms, the base being the cold, rapid, and brawling rivulet: the
northern fork has a dwarf “force,” used as a _douche_, and the southern
exceeds it in length, measuring some 350 paces.

We were more fortunate with the irascible Strokkr, whose name has been
generally misinterpreted. Dillon calls it the piston, or churning-staff;
and Barrow the “shaker:” it is simply the “hand-churn” whose upright
shaft is worked up and down--the churn-like column of water suggested
the resemblance. This feature, perhaps the “New Geyser” of Sir John
Stanley and Henderson, formerly erupted naturally, and had all the
amiable eccentricity of youth: now it must be teased or coaxed. Stanley
gave it 130 feet of jet, or 36 higher than the Great Geysir; Henderson,
50 to 80; Symington, 100 to 150 feet; Bryson, “upwards of a hundred;”
and Baring-Gould, “rather higher than the Geysir.” We found it lying 275
feet (Mackenzie, 131 yards) south of the big brother, of which it is a
mean replica. The outer diameter of the saucer is only 7 feet, the inner
about 18; and it is too well drained by its silex-floored channel ever
to remain full. A funnel or inverted cone, whereas the Great Geysir is a
mound and a cylinder, it gives the popular idea of a crater: the upper
bore is 8 feet 4 inches to 9 feet, the depth 44 to 49, and about
half-way down it narrows to 11 inches. The surface is an ugly area of
spluttering and even boiling water. A “fulminating dose” of twenty-four
turfs and stones, with three by way of “bakhshísh,” brought on the usual
tame display of “bouquets d’eau in sheaves, gerbes, lanceolations, and
volutes,” the highest rising at most 40 feet: travellers give twelve
minutes for the operation, others see it “almost instantaneously;” we
had to wait more than an hour. Bryson explains (pp. 44, 45) the action
of turf by its organic matter causing violent ebullition, like the mucus
or albumen of eggs, which make the pot boil over, or like the vesicles
in foam or custard-confining atmospheric oxygen. But a second experiment
with stones only, and the want of suddenness in the outburst, made us
fall back upon the homely old theory, namely, that stopping the narrow
tube enables the water to overcome the pressure of the upper column. The
French expedition, after duly “activising it,” fired a shotted gun at
the surface of the Strokkr, which is said at once to have ceased

The most interesting part to us was the fourth or southern tract. It is
known as Thikku-hverar, thick caldrons (hot springs), perhaps in the
sense opposed to thin or clear water. Amongst its “eruptiones flatuum,”
the traveller feels that he is walking

                  “Per ignes,
    Suppositos cineri doloso.”

There are at least fifty items in operation over this big lime-kiln;
some without drains, others shedding either by sinter-crusted channels
eastward or westward through turf and humus to the swampy stream. It
shows an immense variety, from the infantine puff to the cold
turf-puddle; from Jack-in-the-box to the cave of blue-green water,
surrounded by ledges of silex and opalline sinter (hydrate of silica),
more or less broad: the infernal concert of flip-flopping, spluttering,
welling, fizzing, grunting, rumbling, and growling never ceases. The
prevalent tints are green and white, but livelier hues are not wanting.
One “gusherling” discharges red water; and there is a spring which
spouts, like an escape pipe, brown, high and strong. The “Little
Geysir,” which Mackenzie places 106 yards south of the Strokkr, and
which has been very churlish of late years, was once seen to throw up 10
to 12 feet of clean water, like the jet of a fire-plug. The “Little
Strokkr” of older travellers,[111] a “wonderfully amusing formation,
which darts its waters in numerous diagonal columns every quarter of an
hour,” is a stufa or steam-jet in the centre of the group, but it has
long ceased its “funning.”

Here we tried our final experiment. The small spring farthest to the
south-west, and about 310 feet from the Strokkr; raised upon a little
platform of silicious laminæ, and draining southwards, has two distinct
issues, one nearly circular (1 foot by 10 inches), and the other
long-oval (1 foot by 6 inches), distant 2 feet 2 inches, but apparently
communicating; the depth is 11 feet, after which soundings are prevented
by irregularities. We blocked up both apertures with well-tamped turf.
The northern remained closed. After forty minutes, the southern began
to play; it threw up gerbes some 30 feet, which showed fragments of
“Geysir rainbow,” and this lasted at least an hour and a half, after
which it was completely exhausted; its earths were stopped next morning,
but during six hours there were no results. Simultaneously with this
eruption, and reminding us of Horrebow’s sympathetic water, the Red
Mouth, a dwarf basin some 440 feet to the south-east, into which we had
also thrown stones, began to play. This experiment suggested
considerable doubts as to the general applicability of all existing
theories. Another point which still remains for inquiry is that of the
Salses or cones emitting slime and hydrogen. In the United States it is
supposed that these “mud-puffs” begin as clear Geysirs, or as boiling
springs, and that they become thicker and thicker till the heat dies
out, when the fetid matter no longer appears. As far as I know, the
theory has never been applied to Iceland.

I cannot but hold the Geysirs, in their present condition, to be like
Hekla, gross humbugs; and if their decline continues so rapidly, in a
few years there will be nothing save a vulgar solfatara, 440 by 150
yards in extent. But, luckily for the sight-seer, facilities of travel
increase in still greater proportion. A few will visit the jetting
boiling water near the beautiful Lake Roto-ma in New Zealand, made known
to us by the Curse of Manaia. Many will picnic to the “Grand National
Park” of the Yellowstone, where, as in the new hemisphere generally,
every feature, lakes and cataracts, forest and cañon, is on a scale
unknown to the old.[112] Here the Mud Geysir (Firehole Basin) is a
greater Strokkr; the Mud Puffs are the Thikku-hverar _en grand_; and the
silicious mound of the “Giant Geysir” is so broken that its sinuous
orifices expose the boiling water forty feet below, and its paroxysms
have lasted three hours.

After this depreciatory notice of another “Wonder of the World,” it is
only fair to the reader that he should be supplied with a description of
it by a more enthusiastic pen.

“I was particularly fortunate,” writes a friend from Edinburgh, “in
witnessing two grand eruptions of this magnificent fountain: the first
from its commencement till its close.

“By the favour of the Danish Government, the 18-gun ship ‘Thor’ received
six travellers on board in Leith Roads on the 18th of June 1855. My
friend the late Dr Robert Chambers, in his ‘Tracings of Iceland and the
Faroe Islands,’ gives an interesting account of our voyage, of a boat
trip with him and a friend through the Faroe group, and of our ride to
the Geysers.

“We arrived at Reykjavik on the 27th, having difficulty in getting a
pilot to come on board the monster that could sail against wind and
tide, the ‘Thor’ being the first steamer that had appeared in Iceland

“After a ball at the Governor’s on the evening of the 28th, we started
in the morning for Thingvellir, accompanied by Captain Raffenberg, three
officers of the ‘Thor,’ our kind host and entertainers, and by young
Count Carl Trampe, son of the Governor, with forty-one horses, and
arrived on the field of the Geysers in the evening of the 30th. Shortly
before, as we were descending to the ford of the river, a column like
smoke was observed in the distance before us; this, as we afterwards
learnt, was from Geyser--one of his great displays.

“A little tent pitched near the great Geyser was not proof against the
pelting rain, but I was glad to get a friend to share it, the rest of
the party taking refuge at the neighbouring farm-house.

“The night was dark, with heavy rain. Geyser (as he is emphatically
called by the Icelanders) gave no sign.

“The first of July was warm and bright.

“There were several eruptions during the day, making me familiar with
his operations, but there were none of them to any great height, lasting
only for two or three minutes: the basin not quite emptied.

“Several eruptions of Strokkr were witnessed, two of them by giving him
a dose of turf: the prescription discovered by Henderson. These were a
series of violent explosions, without any warning; the first burst went
up like a rocket fifty or sixty feet, followed in such quick succession
lower and higher that frequently the ascending mass passed through the
descending waters, falling outwards on all sides. During the ten minutes
they lasted, a stream of boiling water was given off only inferior to
that of the Great Geyser.

“The last shoot into the air was generally the highest.

“It is not quite safe to be near this fellow in his spasmodic pranks,
but they cannot be looked upon without amazement. The action is
altogether different from that of the orderly majestic movements of the
great King of all the Geysers, with whom he has evidently no connection.

“In his normal state, eight feet down from his not very pretty mouth,
the water in Strokkr is always in violent ebullition.

“The estimate we formed of the extreme height of the sheaves of water
was above 100 feet. In order to assist in the computation, we had
measured that distance to the ground where we stood. The more practised
eyes of the naval officers agreed in this estimate.

“It was now eleven P.M.; the sky as clear as day.

“With the exception of my tent friend and a companion, who had gone to
visit the Little Geyser, the rest of the party had left for the night.

“Standing on the edge of the basin to windward, assisted by the
Hoffmeister in measuring the line I had stretched across it at different
points, several heavy thumps were felt under our feet, followed by
earthquake movement, and the rolling sound, so often described, coming
from a distance to the south. My assistant had thrown down the lines and

“The water in the basin was as smooth as glass, the slight vapour rising
being carried to the south-west, when suddenly in the centre of the
basin over the well or pipe (10 feet 4 inches in diameter, as afterwards
measured) the water rose, through the water in the basin, to the full
circumference of the pipe (31 feet), to the height of about 3 feet.

“The column appeared for an instant as if a solid body, immediately
falling into the basin, and ruffling its surface with a series of

“Lord Dufferin, in his charming ‘Letters from High Latitudes,’ in happy
illustration of this phenomenon adds in a foot-note:

    ‘As if an angel troubled the waters.’

“Again, the water rose 5 or 6 feet, falling as before, creating a little
storm in the basin, and rushing out at the two openings in the rim, the
one on the north-east, the other on the east. By the third and fourth
rise of these columns, following each other with increasing rapidity,
the boiling water came tumbling like a cataract over the basin and down
the mound on all sides. Compelled to retire a little distance, columns
of water were now dimly seen following each other with loud noise, as
they rushed through the tube into the air, each succeeding column higher
than the one before it. These were now a series of explosions, giving
off enormous clouds of steam, black from their density.

“My two friends then joined me and witnessed this rare sight in all its
grandeur. The display lasted for about seven minutes from the

“Immediately after the last and highest explosion, the flow down the
sides of the mound suddenly ceased, and running up and into the basin,
we found it empty, and the water standing some ten feet down, the tube
gradually filling again.

“The Hoffmeister of the ‘Thor’ had returned, and throwing some stones
into the well, myriads of steam bubbles were disengaged, and rose to the
surface, making him run again for his life from the wrath of the demon
he had thus provoked.

“_2d of July._--Fast asleep in the tent at six in the morning. I was
roused by the underground thundering to the south: my friend, who was
up, had looked out and thought it was only an abortive attempt; the
noise continued, accompanied by the sound of rushing waters near us.
Following my friend, I lost him for a minute or two in the dense mass of
steam, which smelt of sulphur, but he speedily joined me in my former
position; and before the explosions had attained their highest
elevation, the whole party were near us. Their opinion was, that the
height the explosions had attained was quite as great as that of Strokkr
on the previous day. I was much too near to form any adequate opinion.
Rising above the dense clouds of vapour, the water in columns was
distinctly seen opening out at the top into separate shoots at varying
heights, the lower curving outwards, the higher shot up perpendicular,
and shattered into diamond drops, sparkling in the sun. The well opens
up trumpet-shape into the basin, the diameter of the curve being about 2
feet 6 inches. To this it appears to be due that most of the water falls
outside its margin.

“From one of the last columns about a third broke off, and, bending
between me and the sun, left his image quite black upon the retina.

“Prepared for the close, we had reached the basin in time to see the
last portion of its contents running into the well, leaving the basin
burning hot, and not a drop of water in it. The well was standing about
12 feet down, the water slowly rising, and taking about 15 minutes again
to fill the basin.

“During these eruptions the rush of boiling water never ceased; but
uniting to the east of the mound, it flowed down to the river in a
continuous stream, in some places 20 yards in breadth.

“Taking the average height of the columns of water at 45 feet, and eight
shoots in a minute during a period of eruption of 7½ minutes, the
discharge is 1,410,600 gallons; or take one column 80 feet by 10 feet 4
inches diameter, gives 41,797 gallons at one discharge; a shot weighing
186 tons 11 cwts. 3 qrs. 17 lbs. from this great gun, to which the
Woolwich Infant is but a babe.

“To the eye, so far as could be seen, the pipe was quite cylindrical;
and, plumbed all round, no irregularity was discovered, except at the
bottom, which was very irregular, giving to my line a depth of 80 feet
on one side, 82 on the other. My tent companion and friend, the late
Robert Allan, in a paper read at the meeting of the British Association
at Glasgow in 1855, and published in its Transactions, gave the depth 83
feet 2 inches. The diameter of the basin from two points--72 feet 6
inches, 68 feet 1 inch: my four measurements taken twice on the surface
of the water gives the average of 66 feet.

“Assembled round the basin, which had now filled, the water smooth and
bright, with a thin screen of vapour carried to the south, a curious
discovery was made. Standing with his back to the sun, and looking into
the basin, the spectator saw his face and head clear as in a mirror,
surrounded by a halo of bright prismatic colours. The coloured rays
extended round the head to the distance of 2 or 3 feet, forming
two-thirds to three-fourths of a circle, the lower portion wanting. The
observer could only see his own likeness, not that of his neighbour.

“The temperature of Geyser at rest varied from 180° to 188°, but no
perceptible difference was noticed before or after the explosions.

“The heat of the water may be ascertained very nearly by observing the
amount of steam given off.

“During eruptions the water was expelled at a temperature far above the
boiling point, as the dense masses of steam clearly showed.

“There was no steam from Geyser, which was not given out from the water
itself, during the explosions.

“On examining the basin, little ripple markings were found all over its
surface, similar to what are left on the sands of the sea by the
retiring tide.

“It was unbroken by sacrilegious chisel and hammer, then busily employed
by all three in collecting specimens.

“On my visit three years after, in 1858, some of these rejected
specimens were found so firmly cemented in the place they were left that
my hammer could not disengage them without tearing up a portion of the
rock to which they adhered.

“In the little pools on the sides of the mound films of pure silica were
discovered; and on the edge of the little falls of the stream towards
the river I got some good specimens of calcedony in process of
formation, but they were too brittle to carry safely away.

“On my second visit to the Geysers I was congratulated by Captain Verron
of the ‘Artemise’ of being sure to witness a grand eruption, seeing he
had been two days there without one; but, storm-stayed for four days,
and never out of sight of my tent, I was disappointed. The incessant
rain had so subdued the motive powers of action that the Great Geyser
seldom rose near half his former height. Strokkr growled, making some
praiseworthy efforts, and the smaller Geysers did their best under such
adverse circumstances.

“Among the preparations made I had for ascertaining the temperature of
the well of the Geyser:

“1. A cord repeatedly shrunk in hot water, then stretched, and marked
every ten feet.

“2. Another to span the basin with a ring in the centre, through which
No. 1 was passed.

“The thermometer being attached to No. 1, was let down into the tube
every 10 feet successively, and with the help of two assistants on
opposite sides of the basin, bringing it home to note the temperature.

“Unfortunately, a Negretti by Stevenson, though in a case, and well
protected, got injured during the operation; one of the screws which
fastened the glass tube to its case was out, and a bit at the upper end
broken off. The injury I found, after all, would not have amounted to
more than a difference of 5° to 6° Fahrenheit in temperature, but I had
lost confidence in it.

“So far as observed, the temperature rose very nearly in proportion to
the depth of the well, from about 188° at the top to about 260° at the

The following are the temperature measurements at the Great Geyser,
taken on August 6 and 7, 1874, and given on April 29, 1875, at the Royal
Society of Edinburgh by Robert Walker, Esq., a Fellow of the Society:

Depth in feet from surface.    Observed temperature (Fahr.).

         0   =                            187°
        10·5 =                            190°
        18   =                            197°
        27   =                            211°
        36   =                            243°
        39   =                            247°
        45   =                            250°·5
        49·5 =                            254°
        54   =                            256°·5
        58·5 =                            254° (?)
        67·5 =                            259°·5
        77·5 =                            257°

“As an example of change in these springs: on the first visit, a pool
was found near the Little Geyser, from which a stream ran eastwards, the
temperature on the surface was 168°; adhering to the sides thick fleshy
leaves of Algæ of a greenish-brown colour were floating. The spot was
marked, and three years after, the Algæ were gone, all but a little on
the sides, the temperature reduced to 139°, the water had sunk down, and
the stream had ceased, leaving its former course quite discernible by
the grass which covered it being of a lighter green tint than that on
each side of its course. To the west, steam issued out of a minute hole:
a stroke of the hammer disclosed a little pool in ebullition, but the
temperature was only 184°. Is this little fellow destined at some future
day to rival his companions?

“Between the Geyser and the beautiful caverns often described there is
an ugly hole about 8 feet diameter, most dangerous, and horrible to look
at; unlike all the rest, containing the purest water, it is filled to
within 4 or 5 feet of its mouth with a silicious paste of a dark-brown
colour, of the consistency of porridge, alternately popling and boiling

“Visiting Reykir in 1858, we were informed by the pastor that the period
of _its_ Geyser was just six hours, so we had but an hour to wait. True
to time, the water gradually rose with a continuous flow, rising higher
and higher during a space of twenty minutes, until it had reached a
height of 38 feet. A little instrument, designed by the Astronomer Royal
for Scotland, with the aid of a friend from Bo’ness, was sufficient to
give this close approximation.

“The charm of the Geyser at Reykir could not be exceeded; the shafts, as
they rose, curved outwards all round in perfect symmetry, a tree of live
water, throwing off steam, but not sufficient to obscure its marvellous
beauty, as the sun played and sparkled among its branches.

“It is difficult to account for these various phenomena.

“Place a glass tube half filled with water over a lamp or gas light.
After the water is boiled, it will be ejected by successive spurts; and
looking at the bottom of the tube, an air space will be seen, expanding
as the water is ejected. This is the explosive material so often
referred to, and it is upon this operation that the diminutive Geysers
have been constructed to so far explain the action and time of these
water volcanoes.

“The observations made upon these two visits led me to the following
conclusions as to the phenomena accompanying the eruptions of the Great

“The cavity of Sir George Mackenzie, or boiler, as I shall here term it,
I would place from 200 to 230 yards to the south of it, not far from the
little Strokkr, from which the sound of underground ‘artillery’ is heard
to proceed. Here it is that the explosive force--highly superheated
steam--is generated. Connected with it and the underground passage to
Geyser is the reservoir of hot water.

“These underground caverns are numerous over Iceland, Surseitler being
the most famous; in it the sides of the cave, a mile in length, are
smooth and rounded to the ceiling, evidently formed when the lava was in
a plastic state--blown out like the molten glass under the hands of the
bottle-maker. From the roof large blocks had fallen, rendering the
passage extremely difficult.

“It seems highly probable that the cause of the sharp rattling noise
heard during eruption is due to such loose angular masses of lava rock
being driven against each other with the force that propelled the rush
of waters to the Geyser. The explosive force unequal at first to impel
more than a portion of water up the tube, the resistance becomes less as
the reservoir gets emptied by its escape up the tube, and so the water
is propelled higher and higher to the last. The explosions cease by the
steam in the boiler being suddenly condensed, and the vacuum thus
created drawing back the water from the passage, and from the basin, and
in part from the well. The premonitory thumps were probably caused by
the first waves of the rushing mass of water striking against a wall of
rock close to the bottom of the well.

“Numerous Geysers worthy of note are scattered all over Iceland, the
joint production of water and the subterranean fires which underlie


The next morning (July 16) saw our departure. The breeze had chopped
round to the north, and, perhaps, this change of wind produced the
general excitement which we noticed in the springs. Both yesterday and
to-day several parties of Icelanders came to see the sights, the women
shawled to the ears, despite the hot sun, and with bodices unpleasantly
tight-laced by lines of eyelet-holes across the breast. Formerly the
people “never passed the Geysir without spitting into it; or, as they
say, _utí Fjandans munn_--into the Devil’s mouth.” We set off at eleven
A.M., passing south-south-west to the Laug farm, where some travellers
have slept and “lost the eruption,” and crossing the filthy swamp, where
sheep graze and curlews scream, we forded the little stream which drains
between the Laugarfjall and its trachytic outlier. The approach to the
thermæ from the south is even meaner than the eastern, a dwarf slope of
bright-coloured ground trending from the concave lump to the Túngufljót.

Most of this march is only fit for the itinerary. The path in places
becomes like the hollow ways of the Brazil, whose gullies spread over a
hundred yards of ground, and the “forest,” as on the Anti-Libanus, shows
more root than hole, the tree hugging earth, as it were, to save itself
from being blown away. The first chapel farm gives an extensive view of
the coast features and of the highly picturesque formations, the
Jarlhettur rampart, the twin bluffs and spines of Hagafell, and the
grim, black isolated castellation of Hljóðufell, outlying the
Lángjökull. At about half-past one P.M., warned by a rustling which was
mistaken for that of the forest, we came “lickity, lickity, switch,”
upon the planks of the Brúará or Bridgewater: in Perthshire there is
also a Bruar, so called from its natural arch. Gaimard, carefully copied
by later writers, shows a plank forty feet long, utterly undefended by
“gardefou,” and “spanning the depths of a narrow cleft in a precipice,”
where men “rush for their lives,” and where “the danger is at least a
hundred feet.” Symington was reminded of the Mósi-wá-túnyá (Victoria)
Falls, the Niagara of South Africa! The river, classical in Iceland
story for the lynching of Jón Gerikson, the Swedish bishop, here washes
over a rocky channel about 160 feet broad. There is a ferry below;
higher up a gash, nearly 100 yards long, forms a wedge-shaped crevasse,
opening down stream, and a drop of half-a-dozen feet in the bed combines
to make a miniature horse-shoe, over which the blue water pours, foaming
and mildly roaring. Over the gash is thrown a bridge of twelve
planks,[113] some twelve feet broad, and well guarded by iron-cramped
rails. Man must lately have suffered from “Dil. Tre.” to feel nervous in
such a place, and we went our ways laughing.

Shortly after six P.M. we sighted Thingvallavatn, the “monarch of
Iceland lakes,” an expanse of placid blue, ruffled by the pleasant
south. Its two crater-islets are Nesjaey, small and green, near the
western shore, and larger Sandey, a two-pronged lump of black stone and
green turf, rising a little south of a “Lisán,” a dark foreland
projected by the eastern shore. Shortly afterwards we came suddenly upon
the Hrafnagjá, or Raven’s Geo,[114] whose “startling depths” extend from
the snow-patched Hrafnabjörg, or Raven’s Crag, about four miles long to
the Vellankatla, Bay of the Lake. This longitudinal crevasse is the
facsimile of a “Ká’ah” in Hauránic Leja or the Refuge; the long parallel
lines show corresponding angles, and there is little difference of level
between the upper and lower lips of the barranco; in fact, it is the
lateral rent to be found, in a smaller scale, upon every lava-field. The
arched form is common to such streams, and where the sides find a soft
and yielding foundation, and cold contracts the heated mass, it splits
on both sides of the major axis, and thus forms chasms, often one or
more, upon each flank. Here, at least, no “collapse theory” is wanted.

A fair causeway across the Raven’s Rift is made by the falling of many
rocks. Upon the lower slopes we found “forest,” which does not exist on
the sister formation. We then crossed the eastern or, as it is known in
history, the “upper plain;” the surface on both sides of the path is
streaked with “Geos,” mostly running parallel; we remarked one disposed
obliquely to the lay, and the various names given to us were Háflagjá,
Hólagjá, and Breðnigjá. At half-past nine P.M. we entered the
Thingvellir church: the altar-piece, a Last Supper, is old; the pulpit
dates from A.D. 1683; and the loft is not, as usual, a store-room for
the farm, but a sleeping apartment for travellers, provided with pillows
and mattresses, decently clean. Prófastr Bech was happily absent: his
wife sent us forelles and Kaka,[115] thin rye cakes, but Icelandic
modesty did not admit of our seeing the lady.

The next morning was spent in prospecting the humble wonders of
Thingvellir; the Tingvold of Norway; the Dyngsted of Oldenburg;[116] the
Dingwall of Ross-shire; the Tingwall of Hjaltland; and Tynwald of
Dumfries and the Isle of Man. This assembly plain owes all its fame to
history; its civilising influence upon the race reminds us of the annual
reunions of the Greeks at Delphi, and the Hebrews at Jerusalem.
Sentimentalists would restore the obsolete practice, and transfer the
legislators from their comfortable hall at Reykjavik to this wild and
savage spot--why not propose that the barons of England meet in
parliament at Runnymede?

The lake is computed at thirty miles in circumference, and the depth in
places to exceed a hundred fathoms. The aspect on a cloudless morning is
that of the humble Scotch waters, wanting only gentlemen’s seats and a
small steamer: here, however, we are in Snowland, and we see it. The
depressed plain begins with the rugged delta of the Öxará,[117] or
Axewater, and runs to the north-east about four miles each way: the
limits north and south are mountains and hills, east and west run the
twin “stone-streams.” Maps and plans make all the lava flow to the
south-west from Skjaldbreið: this must be an error, as in parts it would
flow upwards. I suspect a crater behind Hrafnabjörg, whence issued the
double stream, which can be seen from Thingvellir: the two forks circled
round that burnt red cone, anastomosed, and formed the Hrafnagjá and two
shorter Geos in the eastern half of the same stone-torrent: the latter
do not cut the road, but they are visible from every height. The fiery
flood west of the plain which forms the Almannagjá (all-men or great
rift),[118] is not so easily traced. A traveller might pass a
satisfactory week to himself and others by journeying to Skjaldbreið,
where a path leads, and by ascending the mountain high enough to map the
lava-sources and the streams which form the two Geos.


The popular theory is, that the whole plain, an item of the pyroxenic
plateau from Reykjavik to Geysir, has bodily “dropped at once and
subsided” to its present level, leaving exposed a section of the rent
rocks on either side. It reposes solely on the evidence of the two
parallel Geos, and I do not see that they bear it out. Both of the inner
sides have sunk, not from subterraneous crevassing, but because the
strips of ground which subtended them could not bear the weight. Mr
Scrope would account for the fosses, not by vertical settlement of
superficial lava into any cavity beneath, but by the “simple and usual
process, the bulk of the semi-fluid lava-stream, upon the cessation of
supply from above, having run out into the depths of the Thingvalla
Lake.” The normal operation of this movement, however, is to form a
tunnel, not an open trough, and this objection is one of the least.

The contrast of mountain and water, as usual, gives a certain
picturesqueness to the site. South-east of the lake rises the Búrfell,
here a goodly presence, and no longer the little cone seen from about
Reykir; south lies familiar Ingólfsfjall, and south-west towers the
“tall hanging hill,” Hengilshöfði, famed for sulphur springs;
snow-streaked, blue-tinted, and shaped somewhat like an elephant’s head.
Wheeling round to face north-west, we see the pinnacles of Súlarfell,
bristled as with trees; the fretted peaks about Gagnheiði; the dull
black heap of Ármannsfell, so called from Orman the Irish giant, who
there lies in his grave; and the ridgelet of Jornkliff, crouching below
it. There to north-east stands Skjaldbreið, shield-shaped as its name
says, ending in a snow-flaked umbo which suggests a crater. The peaks of
Tindaskagi at its foot apparently connect with the great Hrafnabjörg;
and far behind them, but brought near by the surpassing atmospheric
clearness, sparkle the snows of Lángjökull. The eastern view ends with
the quaint serrations of Dímon, which may be either lava blisters, or
the lips of a true crater, with the long buttress-like promontory of
Arnarfell, and with the background heights of Miðfell.

Dasent’s “Topography of the Thingfield,”[119] will confine our notices
of details to a narrow range. We inspected the Ell-stone or
Fathom-stone, a block of vesicular lava, 4 feet 9 inches high, opposite
the church door, and planted upon a rubble foundation. The six lines
upon the east face measure 1 foot 9 inches, 11 (10·50), 8, 7, 5, and 4
inches; they may be standards, but they look like the work of nature. We
then walked up to the grassy site of the Althing, and that local Sinai,
the Lögberg or Moothill, the latter a natural stone-mound to the north.
Parliament was formerly held on an island; it was for the best of
reasons transferred here, where the public was railed off by deep
chasms, and where hon. members could be attacked only by a single
gateway. So the Shetland Tingwall (Thingvöllr) was held on a holm,[120]
accessible only by stepping-stones, and the Thing-booths were on the
lake-plain. East is the Hrossagjá, and 20 yards west, the
Nikolásagjá,[121] with the smaller Brennrugjá below the latter. These
miniatures of the two great rifts, distant about a mile and a half from
the lake, are of crumbling subcolumnar black rock, varying from 16 to 40
feet in breadth, and falling sheer some 30 feet to clear blue-green
water, whose depths show detached blocks of lava. The two former unite
to the north, the second and third to the south, enclosing a long oval
with a natural bridge, a few feet wide, to the south-east. We admired
the leap, worthy of Morton and the Black Linn, by which Flosi escaped
the “blood-stone;” this article was shown to us on the western bank of
the Hrossagjá, a detached slice some 12 feet long, whence the victim
would fall into the “Geo.” Below to the west lay the lower Öxará, which
has probably changed all its features since Njál’s day. Yet the guides
still point out the islet, where holm-gangs were fought in presence of
the multitude;[122] and amongst the sand-banks formed by ankle-deep
rivulets, the “Thorleifshólmr,” upon which criminals were beheaded.

I passed the greater part of the morning examining the Almannagjá, whose
total length is about two miles,[123] and the average breadth 100 feet.
Ascending the outer or eastern edge by a slope of 20°, I found the upper
strata to be ropy, treacly, and scoriaceous lava, whilst below and
inside the couches are hard and crystalline. There is a slip in the
“Topography of the Thingfield” (p. cxxvii.), where it says, “about a
mile and a half from where the great rift touches the lake, its inner
lip ceases,” and the “Enlarged Plan” makes it break off where it is very
distinctly marked. The sole was a mass of _débris_ fallen from the
sides, and good pasture streaked with many a path. Up the chasm there
are rude dry walls of mortarless stone, the Makíl of the Syrian
goat-herd, and serving as Sæters for sheep--the guides declare them to
be the Búðir of the old Thingmen, but their booths did not extend north
of the river. The upper or western wall, whose crest is weathered into
pinnacles, varies from 80 to a maximum of 100 feet, whilst the lower
ranges from 30 to 50; both are perpendicular and show stratifications
which seem to proceed from a succession of discharges.

The Axewater, above the “Geo,” is a stream like an English rivulet,
flowing through a wild and desolate Heiði. It tumbles over the western
lip by a gap about 50 feet high; here the layers of lava are well
defined on both sides, and it is easy to climb up either flank of the
toy cascade. This fall was sighted during the last march, and suggested
great expectations as the foot was hidden. M. Gaimard takes the liberty
of removing the screen, and showing the whole height prodigiously
exaggerated. It does not “explode in a cataract,” but falls decently
into a font-like kieve, and threads the sand and boulders of the Geo.
After a few yards it finds a gap in the inner lip, and here it dashes
towards the plain with two falls, mere steps in the rock. In the lower
basin, “sack-packed wretched females”--the author must have been
dreaming of the Bosphorus--were let down by ropes and drowned as a
punishment for infanticide. Farther on, witches were burned; less lucky
than other travellers, I could not find their bones. After thus
bisecting the Geo from north-west to south-east, the Axewater runs along
its eastern base, and enters the Thingvallavatn. The latter is drained
to the south-east by the Sog (inlet) outlet, which eventually feeds the
Ölfusá or lower Hvítá; it may be reached in five hours’ sharp riding
from Thingvellir, and in about double that time from Reykjavik. Here in
July any quantity of salmon-trout may be caught; the fish lie above the
first foss thick as water-plants. My informant had taken twenty-five in
one day; the heaviest was 7 lbs., and only two weighed under 6 lbs.; but
he had been almost blinded by the plagues of gnats and flies, which
covered his pony with blood-points.

In the afternoon we rode merrily “home.” The road began by fording the
Axewater, after which was a rude causeway of basalt, about thirty feet
long, ascending the eastern lip. It crossed diagonally the grassy
surface of the “Geo,” and climbed the western wall. A short ramp, paved
for beasts, like a bad flight of steps, runs between the true rampart
and a slice of rock which has been parted from it. Travellers usually
sight it from above, hence we read of the “frightful dangerous chasm,”
and we are told (N.B.--_not_ by an Irishman) that “this is perhaps the
most unique scene in the world.” The moderns compare it with the
“Devil’s Staircase” in the Pass of Glencoe. The path would hardly
startle the most nervous girl, and a Harfushi horseman would gallop his
Arab up and down it.

Beaching the summit, we spurred across the Mossfellsheiði, which those
fresh from home describe as a “horrible stony waste, bordered by lofty
mountains.” But we had met with worse things than this
“ever-to-be-avoided heiði,” where, moreover, labourers were working at
the road. Seen in bad weather, it must be grim enough, as the many
“stone-men” show; hence, doubtless, general complaints about the
“mournful wail of the plover, and the wild scream of the curlew.”[124]
We found a number of these birds, besides sandpipers, purple
oyster-breakers, whimbrels, whose “soft fluid jug,” according to the
“Oxonian,” “is not unlike the nightingale’s song,” and a fair scatter of
ravens. I proposed a turkey-buzzard on a blasted tree, proper, as the
arms of Dahome, and Grip on a lava pinnacle would suit Iceland passing

The only interest of this day’s ride is, that it crosses the “great
trachytic band” opposed to the lesser trachytic band of Snæfellsjökull;
the former made by old writers to stretch clean across Iceland from near
Reykjanes (south-west) to Langanes (north-east). We examined a few veins
of that rock, but the surface was mainly lava above and Palagonite
below. The latter is said to be remarkably well developed in the
Seljaland gorge,[125] and we dismounted to secure red specimens, and to
find, if possible, an Irish rose. This feature, I suppose, is one
writer’s “vast precipice, where there is only about sixteen inches to
tread on,” and the “deep ravine, wild, horrid, and frightful,” of
another pen, whose pencil supplies it with a herd of deer.

As we drew near Reykjavik the sun, after shimmering horizontally along
the ground, obliged us by occasionally setting behind the hills, and
when it

    The old farm-gable, we thought it turned
    The milk that fell in a babbling flood
    Into the milk-pail, red as blood.”

The moon arose with a judicious repression of details: the silver light,
the dark purple brooding at the hill-feet, and the gleam of the golden
west gave more colour than usual to the view. The ponies, under boxes
now empty, seemed to fly as they scented home. The only difference in
the familiar scene was a vast eruption of peat-stacks, made, like hay,
whilst the sun shines. Shortly before midnight we were again at home: in
Iceland there are no hours, and kind-hearted Frú Jonassen did not keep
us waiting either for supper or for bed.



_Monday, July 8, 1872._

Left Reykjavik at A.M. 11.30. Rounded heads of two dwarf Fjörðs (1
_P.M._), Fosvogr and Kópavogr (seal-cub voe); turf at valley-heads.

1.45 P.M.--Hafnafjörð = 2 hours 15 min. riding; path tolerable up
torrent bed; crossed first divide of rugged ropy lava; path bad.

3.20 P.M. (= 3 hours 50 min.).--Changed horses in grassy cup-shaped
hollow, under broken wall of lava.

3.30 P.M.--Started again; at 4 P.M. forded Kaldá (cold water) River.

4.45 P.M.--Short halt on grassy bottom at foot of Lángahlíð.

6.30 P.M. (=7 hours).--Kleifarvatn (cliff-water); path along western
shore of lake.

7.15 P.M.--Left lake; over bog and up hill.

⊙ I. 8.30 P.M.--Reached Krísuvík (Bay of Krísa, proper name of woman), 5
hours + 3.50 = 8 hours 50 min. Frequent halts and delays with
pack-saddles. At most 3 miles per hour by 9 = 27 indirect statute miles.
People call the distance “10 to 15 miles.” Road upon map, 16 direct
geographical miles from Reykjavik to Krísuvík. General direction, north
to south with a little westing.

Good, grey, travelling day; no sun and no rain till night.

Paid at Krísuvík, $1, 3m. 0sk. (the cheapest).


_July 9._

Left Krísuvík 10.45 A.M.; floundered over bog. Great arid plateau of
Iceland to left.

11.45.--Crossed rocky divide. Short cut over livid plain of lava; sea to
right; road along slopes.

12.45.--Entered great lava-field, which lasted with intermissions
throughout day.

1.15 P.M.--Sweet-water lakelet (not shown on map) of Herdisarvík
(Her-dís, proper name); first great lava-stream ends.

3.15 P.M.--Rode across Hlíðarvatn, at foot of Lángahlíð, now not open to
sea as in map; water brackish. Halted 1 hour near Vogsósar (voe’s
mouths) farm; gnats and flies. Rode 4 hours 30 min. = 13½ indirect
statute miles.

4.15 P.M.--Left Vogsósar. Basaltic sands and shells; thin grass. Then
loose sand and old flow of lava; domes, caves, and circular blow-holes,
like those of the Haurán. Deep sand, black and red. Rocky divide; went
gently over the stones.

7.30 P.M.--Passed Hlíðarendi (not _the_ Lithe-end, or Ridge-end) to the
left (north); farm under green slope.

Forded streamlet in swampy river-valley; rough causeway; should have
crossed at the stone-man farther down.

⊙ II. 8 P.M.--Reached Litlaland; five-gabled farm of Magnús Magnússon.
Rode 3 hours 30 min. = 11 indirect statute miles. Total, 8 hours =
24½ indirect statute miles; on map, 19 direct geographical miles.
General direction, west to east.

Misty morn. Day like yesterday, but more sun. Wind ranged from
south-east to north. At night cirri; show clear day to-morrow.

Paid $2, 0m. 0sk.


_July 10._

Set out 10.30 A.M. Up rise over cindery lava.

11.30.--Road forks, right branch leading to big farm. Took path to left;
reached old beach, water-worn galettes lying in long lines. Skálafell
above to left (north-west).

11.35.--Right bank of Ölfusá (proper name) valley, higher up called the
Sog. Ölfusvatn is the old name for Thingvallavatn.

11.45.--Hjalli (a hillock, much the same as “Hóll;” Cleasby says, “a
shelf or ledge in a mountain-side”); chapel farm. Skirted tall
Palagonite precipice on left.

1 P.M.--Passed through Níupat (?), filthy Bær, dunghill to pony’s knees.
Up right bank of Varmá, influent of broad Ölfusá. Wet riding, water
draining and sinking from above. Then white, smooth soil.

1.50 P.M.--Forded Varmá; easy descent and ascent; water to horses’
knees. Left baggage animals. Reached Reykir 2 P.M. Morning ride, 3 hours
40 min. by 4 miles = 16 indirect statute miles; on map, 9 direct
geographical miles. Direction, south-west to north-east.

Left Reykir 3.40 P.M. Circled round south of hill spine dividing Varmá
and Ölfusá. Forded two small streams and trotted over causeway (Brú),
here common, with some dwarf bridges. After third stream fine riding
along west and south walls of Ingólfsfjall. On slopes and at tongue-tip
fallen masses of light, lavender-coloured Palagonite, water-worn to
shape of volcanic bombs. Crossed two causeways, down slope of Ölfusá

⊙ III. At 6.45, ferry of Laugardælir; spent 1 hour 20 min. in crossing.
Reached farm of Sæmund Bjarnarson 8 P.M. Afternoon ride, 3 hours by 5 =
15 miles; on map, 6 direct geographical miles. Direction,
north-north-west to south-south-east. Total ride, 6 hours 45 min. = 30
indirect statute miles; on map, 15 miles. General direction,
south-south-west to north-north-east.

Weather charming; real enjoyment. Sun clear, not hot; high north-easter;
lofty cirri and woolpack. Evening cloudy. Rain at night; wind changed to
west and south-west; heat brought bad weather.

At ferry paid $1, and the bishop paid $2. Tariff, 10sk. Danish per
horse, and 12sk. per man or load. Pays well at this season; travellers
by day and night. Englishmen have been asked $20 and got off with $12
(rascality of guide?).

For lodging (church) and forage, coffee and biscuits, paid $3.


_July 11._

Horses strayed. Left at noon. Over delta-like flat between Hvítá and
Thjórsá (bull’s water); to north of former, detached bills of Búrfell (a
cabochon seen from north and south, and a hogsback elsewhere),
Stóraborg, and Hestfjall, resembling dots. Bog on old lava: stone
outcrops at places; wettest part often most solid base.

1.30 P.M.--Hraungerði (lava garth) chapel; two farms 8 miles from ferry;
horses and neat cattle.

2 P.M.--Hill dividing Ölfusá and Thjórsá. Rough work; showed
lake-country below, and Thjórsá line raised by refraction. Along natural
lava-dyke to dismal, dreary moor, all knobs and hummocks. Even ravens
avoid it in this weather.

4.30 P.M. (3 hours 30 min. = 18 indirect statute miles).--Halted thirty
minutes and changed horses at Lángamýri; large farm-house, one of many;
wire fence, two strands, and stripped branches for hedge.

5 P.M.--Remounted. Bad riding.

5.40.--Came upon Thjórsá. Ólafsvellir to left; ferry saves distance, but
dangerous in fierce wind. Path along stream excellent, black basaltic
sand, at times cut off corners, clay covering sand. Turned from
north-east to east. Farms and cattle. Passed Sandlækr and tall riverine
islet, Arnesthing. “Rústir,” or ruins, on right. Ponies tired; when
leaving river often lost way.

7 P.M.--Country more thickly peopled.

⊙ IV. 8.30 P.M.--At Thjórsárholt ferry-house (3 hours 30 min. = 20
miles). Total 8 hours, varying pace = 46 indirect statute miles; map, 26
direct geographical miles. General direction, west-south-west to

Weather vile, unlike the finest month, July, as possible; forenoon cold;
driving rain. At noon stopped. Furious in afternoon. At times drizzle,
like hoar-frost on grass by decomposition of light. Rain again violent
till end of march.

Paid $3 for night’s lodging and ferry. Tariff, 11sk. per man or pack; on
return paid $1.


_June 12._

Left Thjórsárholt 10 A.M.; up stream to ferry. Spent 1 hour 30 min.
crossing Thjórsá.

11.30 A.M.--Over turf of left (east) valley, like a dwarf prairie; 50
min. Many farms; good land, grassy sward, two to three feet deep.
Threads of lava, with dangerous holes and sinks, sometimes covered with
grass-turf. In places lava bare and broken. Crossed rivulet.

12.55 P.M.--Stóruvellir parsonage, 1 hour 30 min. = 6 miles; map, 4
direct geographical miles. Direction, south with a little easting. Place
afflicted by winds from Sprengisandur, distant two to three days’ ride.

2.30 P.M.--Left Stóruvellir with guide. Pastoral scene at foot of Hekla,
a pampa. Sheep everywhere; ditto stinging flies throughout the inhabited
part, few at Geysir.

3.45 P.M.--Leirubakki farm. Changed guides. After a few minutes reached
Vestri (west) Rangá (“wrong” or crooked stream), at the mouth called
Ytri (outer or uttermost) Rangá. Forded two preliminary brooks, and
tethered horses together for third or main channel, girth deep. Dwarf
forest, birch and willows. Then two streams, one a ditch, the other a
“lavapés,” flowing, like lava, north-east to south-west.

⊙ V. 5 P.M.--Næfrholt (birch-bark copse), last cottage at foot of
Bjólfell, western outlier of Hekla. Formerly travellers slept at Selsund
farm, south-south-west of Næfrholt.

Afternoon march, 2 hours 30 min. = 12 indirect statute miles. Total of
day’s ride, 4 hours = 18 indirect statute miles; map, 10 direct
geographical miles.

Grey day, like the start; clouds had expended ammunition. Wind
south-east. In evening weather doubtful, wind west. Hekla misted over,
good sign; travellers often stopped by fogs, and even by snow, in July.
Flies suddenly disappeared, wings wetted; not the case with the gnats
and midges acting mosquitoes.

Instruments in evening.

Aneroid, 30·24; thermometer, 58° (F.).

Hygrometer, 4° (exceptionally dry).


_July 13._

Ascended Hekla.

Left Næfrholt 8.25 A.M.

Rode down the turf lane; crossed the dwarf stream (lavapés), up right
grassy bank, and crossed again. Entered basin of “Unknown Lake”--thin
strip of flat land with holes often marked by grass and willows. All
“sinks” (sink-holes) and punchbowls, as if limestone country. Last thick
vegetation 1500 feet high. Then into dreary region, sand and cinder;
powdery red cone of fine cinder on left. Slabs of heat-altered trachyte.
Obsidian of two kinds--(1.) Huge blocks of pitchstone found from top to
bottom of cone, hard and flinty (Hrafntinnu proper); and (2.) Small
pieces of “Samidin,” or obsidian with crystals of white jasper like that
of Tenerife and other places. Bombs showed furious cannonade. Palagonite
everywhere _in situ_ and in scatters: some contained obsidian.

Made for big, rough lava-stream, rusty and in heaps; in places rapidly
degrading, and leaving only core. Ponies sank to fetlock. Hugged left of
Steiná (stone stream). After two hours’ ride, at 10.30 A.M. crossed
hill, reached barren divide too steep for horses.

Aneroid in air, 28·18 (difference, 2·06); thermometer, 92° (in pocket);
hygrometer, 2°.

Walked up slope of divide; descended very short pitch of stone and
_débris_, steepest bit of whole march. Crossed vein of lava (Sept. 2,
1845) like pulled bread, all slag and clinker; pulverising above.
Reached a kind of _couloir_, a rim on left of lava-stream. Black sand
and two large tongues of ice-based snow, white and brown, ridged with
dirty earth, and dotted with dwarf ice-tables, sable above and ermine
below. More ice as we ascended, keeping on the earthy parts. Many halts.

12.20.--Reached crater of 1845. Observed instruments.

Aneroid in air, 26·33 (difference, 3·90); thermometer, 83° (in pocket).

Stiff ascent (15 min.) to First or Southern Crater. At 1.13 P.M. sat
down upon its western lip. Walking lasted 2 hours 45 min. Total ascent,
4 hours 45 min.

Aneroid, 25·94 (difference, 3·30); thermometer, 68° (air); hygrometer,

Passed over ridge, and reached snow; thence to north-east lip of Second
or Northern Crater, the apex. Reached highest point 1.53 P.M. Total, 3
hours 13 min. (included halts, not bad for difference 2·56 of aneroid).

Aneroid, 25·62 (difference, 4·84); thermometer, 67°; hygrometer, 0°.

2.30 P.M.--Began descent (walked 1 hour 25 min.).

3.28 P.M.--Lowest snow.

3.45 P.M.--Mounted horses (rode slowly 1 hour 45 min.).

5.30 P.M.--Næfrholt farm. Total descent, 3 hours 10 min.

Total of ascent and descent, 7 hours 55 min. (say 8 hours).

Day clear, sun very hot; air thirsty for man and beast.

Paid guide $1, 4m. 0sk. To house for forage, etc. (two days), $5.


_July 14._

Long, weary day.

Left Næfrholt 9.40 A.M. Wind drove away flies. Crossed Rangá and five
other streams.

12.10 P.M.--Reached Thjórsá, 2 hours 30 min. of fast riding--five miles
per hour. Ferried over at Thjórsárholt. This third of road good.

1.45 P.M.--Remounted; crossed flat land; two Kálfá; east fork big and
west fork small. Bad mosses; rounding foul swamps; one furlong of good
path to one mile of bad.

3.45 P.M.--Reached (Eastern) Laxá; reported bad ford; found it very

4.10 P.M.--Crossed Laxá valley to Sólheimar (sun-home) farm. Rounded
fens and crossed morasses. Passed a made tank for washing sheep--rare
luxury here. Foul bog of cotton-grass; deep vein along causeway.

5.20 P.M.--Hruni chapel; 4 hours 35 min. from Thjórsá, fast riding. This
third of road moderate.

6.45 P.M.--Left Hruni; road to Geysir now very bad; five fast or seven
slow hours; took guide ($1), or it would have been worse. Went north;
road not on map. Crossed ugly wet swamp to Minni Laxá (lesser
salmon-river); ford not bad.

Up divide of Palagonite running north-east to south-west. Rounded and
crossed easiest part of another swamp. Causeway. Up another divide
showed us valley of Hvítá. West of us smokes of Reykholt, Laugs
everywhere. Avoided causeway, because it runs through tún of large farm,
Gröf (the pit).

8 P.M.--Changed pack-horses. Ugly swamp and causeway to Hvítá River.

8.20 P.M.--Forded Hvítá stream; the heaviest, but not bad. Up right
bank, a wild gorge; guide left us. Through swamps. Entered ugly system
of broken ground, rock-walls, earth and stone, faults and dykes.

10 P.M.--Fell into long descent of birch “forest.” Long trot. Forded
Túngufljót (Tongue, _i.e._, Mesopotamia or Doab) River.

10.50 P.M.--Beached Geir-hóll farm, then villainous swamp for tired
nags. Crossed eastern three branches of the Árbrandsá (upper
Túngufljót), all troublesome; and two other foul, flowing fast influents
of the right or western bank.

⊙ VI. At 12 P.M. reached Geysir.

Total of this day’s ride, 12 hours 20 min., at least 50 indirect statute
miles; map, 31 direct geographical miles. General direction,
south-south-east to north-north-west.

Dew very heavy, yet plague of flies. Sweltering morn. At 9 A.M.,
thermometer 82° (F.). 9.30 A.M., good sea-breeze from south. Fine day.
In evening cold; clouds from east gathering, 9 P.M.; thick at night,
threatened rain.


_July 16._

Left Geysir 11 _A.M._ Passed Laug farm to south-west, and crossed spongy
bog and swamp in rivulet-influent of Túngufljót, passing between
Laugarfjall and the outlier. Rounded south end of Laugarfjall.

12 (noon).--Múli (muzzle, maul, mull) farm, one of the best; skirted
southern Bjarnarfell, between ugly, black, bare hills and swamp over
triangle (Biskupstúngur), formed by Túngufljót and Brúará.

12.20 P.M.--Chapel farm, Uptirhlíð (?); extensive view; sunk road. Two
rivulets, second small and boulder-paved. Forest (birch and willow)
begins and lasts with interruptions all day. See more wood in one hour
than on all south coast.

1 P.M.--Passed to left chapel farm, Úthlið, at foot of Hraun of same

1.40 P.M.--Crossed bridge of Brúará (bridgewater), and entered lands of
Laugardalr. Forded a fourth stream. On right, Efstidalr (uppermost
dale), at foot of black plateau, ugly, bare, and gashed with many
drains. Hognhöfð pyramid to north, rhinoceros head and horn. Left
Miðdalr chapel on right, and rounded upper swamp of Apavatn (ape or fool
water, from a settler in the ninth century).

3.15 P.M.--Crossed streamlet fed by many drains and trickles; first
down, then up bed, sand-bars and islets; must be unfordable below.
Rounded Laugarvatn (lake), large farm and hot spring.

4 P.M.--Halted Laugarvatnsvellir; fine pastures. Five hours tolerably
fast = 20 indirect statute miles. Good view of Hekla. Saw two
snow-fonds, up which we had walked.

5.20 P.M.--Left Laugarvatn by made road on “barmr” (edge) of low rolling
ground and humus, confining big swamp on north; Bjarnarfell hill to
right, then three peaks of Kálfstindar. Travellers and caravans.

6 P.M.--Entered old lava. Path rose to 600 feet, and showed Thingvellir
Lake. Grim hill, Reyðarbarmr (red, _i.e._, salmon-trout edge), to right.
Road rutty. Dimon or Tindhruni (Bryson’s Tintron), an extinct crater in
shield form, rising at base of high hill on right.

7.30 P.M.--Gjábakki farm, close to Vellankatla (boiling kettle),
north-eastern bay of lake (proper name of boiling well; Cleasby supposes
it sank below water-level), along lake.

8.15 P.M.--Hrafnagjá; eastern crevasse.

9.15 P.M.--Middle crevasse, called Háflagjá, Hólagjá, or Breðnigjá (?).

⊙ VII. 9.30 P.M.--Chapel of Thingvellir.

Second march, 4 hours 10 min. = 20 miles. Total, 40 indirect statute
miles; map, 26·5 direct geographical miles.

General direction, north-east and by north to south-west and south.

Glorious morning; cloudless; gentle breeze from north. At 11 A.M.,
chopped round to south-west. At noon west, blowing dust in face
everywhere except on lava. Clouds. Few drops of rain. Presently weather
recovered itself. Very fine evening and night.


_July 17._

3.35 P.M.--Left Thingvellir (paid $2, 3m. 0sk.).

Forded Öxará; up rude basaltic causeway, some ten yards long, a little
south of where Öxará escapes into plain--site of Búðir. A few yards down
grassy surface of Almannagjá. Up split in western wall. Dreary scene on
summit; old lava, grassy and moss grown.

5.40 P.M.--Last sight of Thingvellir Lake, and first view of black
buttressed Esja, with gleam of sea. Entered Mosfellsheiði; soil damp,
sour, and barren; signs of road-making, and Varðas everywhere. Left to
right two ponds, Leiruvogsvatn and Geldingatjörn, latter undrained;
skirted east and south base of Grimmansfell (ugly man’s fell); to right,
steaming spring (Reykjalaug).

7 P.M.--Descent to the far-famed Seljadalr (sallow = willow dale).

7.45 P.M.--Dwarf ravine on left. Its stream finds the Hrafnavatn
reservoir of Reykjavik Laxá. Rode down grassy basin; forded stream
twenty-five times, fetlock to knee-deep.

8 P.M.--Halted to graze ponies. First march, 4 hours 25 min. = 20
indirect statute miles.

8.45 P.M.--Remounted. Continued Seljaland valley; ponds on both sides
with and without drains. View of Snæfellsjökull. On left
porcupine-shaped Helgafell.

Hill and basins. Travellers camped where forage is not paid for. Then
inhabited country.

10 P.M.--Causeway and made road to Reykir. Ponies dashed through two
branches of Laxá.

⊙ VIII. 11.30 P.M.--Reykjavik. Home.

Second march, 3 hours = 15 indirect statute miles. Total, 8 hours= 35
miles; map, 24 direct geographical miles.

General direction, east and by north to west and by south.

Weather fine and clear like yesterday. Sun now sets at 10 P.M., and air
grows cold. Find people strolling at midnight. Dust in Reykjavik very


Guide (10 days at $2, 3m. 0sk.),             $25 0 0
Boy (10 days at $1, 3m. 0sk.),                15 0 0
Returning horses to owners,                    4 3 0
Hire of pack-saddles and boxes,                7 0 0
Twelve horses (at $1 per diem),              120 0 0
                                     Total, $171 3 0

The extras and minor expenses, $27, 2m. 0sk.

Share of each traveller, $104, 2m. 8sk., or £12 for ten days.



Shortly after my return to England the following letter was sent to the
Anthropological Institute:

“I have the pleasure to forward a small collection of human remains and
other articles from Iceland.

“The site of the ‘find’ will readily be found upon the four-sheet map of
Gunnlaugsson and Olsen. Cast the eye eastward of the great southern
stream ‘Markarfljót,’ mark or forest flood, whose eastern delta-arm
debouches nearly opposite to Vestmannaeyjar, Islands of the Irishmen.
You will see on the left (east) of the stream the little valley of
Thórsmörk, the grove of Thor, a good sturdy old god, whose name still
lives and thrives in Iceland. He was even preferred to Odin, ‘Hin
Almattki Áss,’ ‘that Almighty Áss,’ by the people of Snowland, and in
more modern days he was invoked when a doughty deed was about to be
done; the deities of Christianity being preferred only when the more
feminine qualities of mildness and mercy were to be displayed.

“The valley in question is described by the ‘Oxonian in Iceland’ as a
‘beautiful green-wooded spot,’ near which flows the Markarfljót. About
eight miles long, with precipitous sides, its site is bisected by a
narrow but tolerably deep ‘boulder-river,’ a bugbear, by-the-by, of
Icelandic travel, and this must be repeatedly forded. The map shows a
green patch; the shrubs may average six feet, whilst one monster, a
rowan or mountain ash, attains the abnormal altitude of thirty to
thirty-six feet. It is one of the tallest, if not the tallest, in the
island; the two ‘giant trees’ of Akureyri, which every traveller is in
duty bound to admire, do not exceed twenty-five feet.

“Reaching, on July 16, 1872, Thingvellir (Dingwall or Thingwall), after
a Cockney tour to Hekla and the Geysir, I met a young Englishman who was
returning from a sketching expedition round the now rarely visited south
coast. From Hekla I might easily have made Thórsmörk in a day, but the
depôt of bones was then unknown to me. Mr W---- had travelled from the
Eyvindarholt farm, west-south-west of the site of the find, in some six
hours of fast work, and complained much of the road. There are only two
guides, and the half-dozen influents of the Markarfljót were judged
dangerous. It is only fair, however, to state that he had read the
‘Oxonian in Iceland,’ and he was prepared to ford the terrible torrents,
nearly three feet deep! in boots and ‘buff.’ After passing the sites of
many fine farms, now destroyed by the ever-increasing ice, he entered
the valley from Eyvindarholt by a rugged entrance, leaving the bone-heap
about half-way, and to the right of his track. The remains lie under a
cliff, where much rocky matter has fallen; above it is the ice-snout
projected by the great glaciers and _névés_, Merk-Jökull and Godaland’s
Jökull, which rise to the north-east and south-west, whilst the rest of
the valley, where eternal winter has not overwhelmed the woods, is the
usual Icelandic green, vivid and metallic.

“The heaps evidently consist of

                  “‘The bones of men
    In some forgotten battle slain,
    Bleached by the drifting wind and rain.’

Social traditions assign them to the troublous times of ‘Burnt Njál.’
This must be expected in these parts of Iceland; several of the remains,
however, are described as those of infants.

“From Bjarni Finnbogason, who, as a ‘youth of extreme usefulness,’ had
accompanied Mr Shepherd, and who, developed to a prodigious rascal, had
undertaken Mr W----, I took the cranial fragments marked A and B.
Arrived at Reykjavik, he agreed for 27 rixdollars (say £3) to ride back
and bring me as many skulls as could be found or dug up. After
attempting in vain--he had taken earnest money--to throw me over in
favour of another party of travellers, he set out on Saturday, July
20th. He was not to return till the next Friday evening, but, wishing
to secure other victims, he came back on Thursday, too soon for any good
results. Moreover, he charged me for doing nothing 32 instead of 27
rixdollars, which extortionate demand was satisfied rather than run the
risk of men saying that an Englishman had shirked payment. I have the
pleasure, despite sundry certificates obtained from various innocents,
his dupes, to give him the very worst of characters, and strongly to
warn future travellers in Iceland against him. He was familiar as the
lower order of Hebrew; he would listen to every conversation; he haunted
his master like a Syrian dragoman; he intrigued and abused all other
guides; and as for his English, he understood ‘a whip with a thong ten
feet long’ to mean ‘a pony ten years old.’ The guides at Reykjavik are
not worse than the generality of their craft, _pace_ Baring-Gould; some
are better; but Mister Bjarni--he is generally called by his English
employers Blarney and Barney--is a bad lot, who knows well how to
_pelare la quaglia senza farla gridare_.

“The following are the principal items herewith forwarded:

  3 fragments of thighbones;
  1 large hone, 3 smaller;
  1 parcel of sundries;
  1 broken spindle (?) steatite (?).

“The bones, of which there is an interesting collection in the young
museum of Reykjavik, are interesting. The old world Icelanders, as Uno
Von Troil, as may be seen in the Rigsthulu, informs us, ever held it a
‘noble art to understand well how to sharpen the instruments of death.’


       *       *       *       *       *

The following paper was read by the author:

     “NOTES _on_ HUMAN REMAINS _brought from Iceland by Captain Burton_.
     By C. CARTER BLAKE, Doct. Sci., M.A.I., Lecturer on Comparative
     Anatomy and Zoology at Westminster Hospital.

“The remains which Captain Burton has brought from Iceland are composed
of fragmentary evidences of man, hog, ox, and horse.

“I. MAN.

“There are five races of man with whom any remains which may be found in
Iceland may be compared with a view to their identification--the
Norwegian, Skrælling or Esquimaux, Irish, Lappish, and Russian. I shall
briefly pass over the chief characters of these races, and as the
Norwegian is the race which forms the majority of the Icelandic
population at the present time, I shall commence with it.

“The late Dr James Hunt, during his tour in Norway, collected an
enormous amount of statistical facts with regard to the cranial
measurements of the Norwegians, which were verbally communicated to the
British Association for the Advancement of Science at Birmingham.

“The publication of the memoir containing them was postponed at the wish
of the author, and I am consequently only able to refer to my own rough
notes, taken at a time when I examined the manuscript of my lamented
friend. The general results seem to have been that the Norwegian skull,
excluding from consideration all persons apparently of Lappish descent,
was excessively short and round, that cases of brachistocephaly were
frequent, and that cases even of hyperbrachistocephaly were to be found.
The district investigated by Dr Hunt was chiefly to the north of
Drontheim, and especially the neighbourhood of Hammerfest. The Swedish
skull, on the other hand, appears to be dolichocephalic to a degree;
while the researches of Dr Beddoe on the head forms of the Danes
indicate a population whose cranial index oscillates from 85·9 to 75·3.

“The cranial characters of the Esquimaux, Irish, Lappish, and Russian
races have been so often described, that I pass over the minute
comparison, and proceed at once to the evidences on the table. These
consist of the following specimens:

“1. Fragmentary calvaria of adult human individual. The contour of the
skull has been brachycephalic, though its measurement is precluded by
the fact that the left parietal, which alone exists, has been broken off
from the frontal bone. The frontal region is bombate. Moderate
superciliaries overhang a shallow supernasal notch. The nasal bones
extend forwardly, and have not the slightest approach to the form
presented by the Esquimaux, and in the ‘Turanian’ skulls described by
Dr Pruner Bey. The superorbital foramina are converted into notches on
both sides. A small piece of the alisphenoid bone exists, attached to
the right frontal, indicating that there was a normal spheno-parietal
suture. The dentitions and seriations in the coronal suture have been
deep. The parietal bone of large size accords with the frontal in all
essential characters of these sutures.

“The occipital bone is in a very fragmentary condition. It is not marked
with any prominent ridges for the attachment of muscles, a fact which,
coupled with the small development of the mastoid processes, leads the
observer to consider that the present skull has belonged to a female.

“Three petrous bones, with fragmentary mastoid processes attached, exist
in the collection. The smaller size and partial relationship of two of
these render it probable that they belonged to one individual, and that
the same whose cranial vault has just been described. One large, light,
petrous bone appertains to an individual of much larger size, possibly
masculine, but I regret that no other specimens are found of this
interesting person.

“A fractured palate, with two teeth _in situ_ (the first and second
molars), leaves evidence highly conclusive as to the food of the
inhabitants of Thórsmörk. The crowns of the molars are much attrited by
the consumption of hard substances, and are in the same condition as is
presented by the teeth of the neighbouring but different race of
Skrællings. The first and second molars are both implanted by three

“The right clavicle (pl. xix.), which is found with both extremities
broken away, indicates an individual smaller in size, and with lighter
and more slender clavicles, than the Australian drawn by Owen in ‘Trans.
Zool. Soc.,’ vol. v., plate ii., figure 4, and of course more so than in
the European drawn in figure 2 of the same plate. Three long and slender
femora, a right first rib, a large axis vertebra, a fragment of
shattered humerus, and a cuneiform carpal bone are found in the


“The remains consist entirely of fragmentary limb bones, and of a few
teeth. These need not be noticed in detail.

[Illustration: HUMAN CLAVICLE.]


“The equine remains from Thórsmörk are interesting. The first molar and
the fourth premolar tooth of the lower jaw, as well as the third
deciduous molar of another individual, indicate the existence of a horse
of ordinary dimensions, as large as the ordinary European horse of the
present day, and larger than the Shetland or Dartmoor ponies. There are
few points of resemblance between these teeth and those of the _Equus
spelœus_ figured by Owen (‘Philosophical Transactions,’ 1869, plate 57).

“IV. OX.

“Teeth of the _Bos taurus_ are present, though in an imperfect

“From the above remarks it will be, I believe, clear that the skulls now
described belong to the Norwegian race, though possibly there may be an
admixture of Celtic blood derived from the descendants of the Irish
prisoners brought into Iceland by the Norsemen. But in no sense can
these be termed any Esquimaux or ‘Boreal’ affinities. That prior to the
year A.D. 860, when the expedition of Naddod to ‘Snæland’ brought
Iceland face to face with Norwegian civilisation, a more ancient race,
allied to the Esquimaux, may have existed in Iceland, is a possible
speculation, but one of which as yet we possess no anthropological
proofs. The domestic fauna which exists in Iceland appears to accord for
the most part with that of Norway, and the people do not appear to
possess any intermixture of Esquimaux blood.


“Mr MAGNUSSON said--As regards the possibility of an admixture of
Esquimaux blood in the Icelandic nation it cannot be maintained on
historical grounds. There is no record extant to countenance the
supposition that at any time Iceland has been inhabited, wholly or
partially, by this polar race. The island lies out of the belt of the
Esquimaux, and he would find himself there entirely out of his element,
the conditions for the existence of human life in Iceland being entirely
different from those on which life in the polar regions depends. The
parts of the country first discovered by the Norwegians contained a few
people who had come from England in A.D. 795; and it was first in A.D.
874, or thereabouts, that the first settlers came upon living human
beings there. These, however, were not Esquimaux, but Irish Culdees, who
had taken up their hermit abode in some of the outlying islands off the
south and south-east coast--their solitude being more congenial to the
spirit of the anchorite than a residence on the mainland, which meant a
more energetic fight with nature than a residence on the islands. The
spirit of priest and pirate being then no more homogeneous than now, the
Westmen--as they were called by the invader--were soon destroyed. This
is, briefly stated, what we learn about these Westmen from Icelandic
sources of history. But from Irish sources we learn more. The Irish monk
Dicuil, of the eighth century, has written a book called ‘De Mensura
orbis Terræ,’ in which he says that in A.D. 795, he spoke to some Irish
hermits having returned from an island in the north, which he calls
Ultima Thule, and which, from his description, can be none other than
Iceland. It is, therefore, certain that Iceland had been discovered from
Great Britain or Ireland some seventy years at the least before ever the
Norwegians ever came there. As to the human remains before us, they need
be no older than the eleventh century, unless scientific evidence should
prove the contrary, for at the beginning of that century, and long
afterwards, Thórsmörk, the locality from which they are said to come,
was an inhabited countryside. Their real value, I presume, depends
entirely on their antiquity; but being no philosopher in matters of this
nature, I take leave of the bones and Captain Burton’s paper, which has
thus far disappointed me that I have learned from it much less than I

“Dr CARTER BLAKE agreed with Dr King that no affinities to the Esquimaux
were presented by the present specimens. Many Lapp skulls existed in the
Continental museums, and some Tschuktchi; but there was great dearth of
Esquimaux skulls from Behring’s Straits. On the hypothesis that the Aïno
skulls exhibited Esquimaux affinities, it was difficult to discuss the
question. Dr Rae’s observations on the stature of the Esquimaux were
certainly interesting. The skeletons in our museums were short and
stout; but how far were they typical examples of the race? The
circulation of the queries by the Arctic Exploration Committee would
tend to elucidate these questions. With regard to the observations which
had fallen from Mr Eirikr Magnússon, he was himself ‘agreeably
disappointed’ that the Institute was not to be converted into a
‘hólmgang’ wherein to criticise Captain Burton’s excellently narrated
facts. He failed to perceive what evidence a French or Irish monk could
have possessed of Culdees in Iceland in A.D. 795, as Iceland was not
discovered (according to Mr Magnússon’s statement) till A.D. 874, and
according to ordinary chronologists, till A.D. 860. In matters wherein
the veracity of a distinguished traveller had been attacked, it was
necessary that the utmost care should be taken respecting facts and
dates. Captain Burton in no part of his paper assigned a high antiquity
to the bones, which may either belong to the time of Burnt Njál, or to a
far more recent period.”




Travelling seawards from western to eastern Iceland is by no means so
easy as the converse. I held myself lucky, though somewhat late, in
finding the Postdampskibet “Diana” bound for Berufjörð. She left the
capital betimes on a normal Icelandic summer day (July 27); windless or
sea-breezy below, while high in ether a tangled web of white threads and
comet-like cirri showed the usual upper gale, the ἄνεμοι δύο of these
regions. The straw-yellow sun-gleams cast upon the south-western shore
enabled our learned glances to distinguish the features of the scenery,
a now familiar scene.

About noon we ran along the great lava-field of rough slag and deep,
loose volcanic ashes, bearing here and there a tuft of wild oats; the
surface was fissured with Geos, and the sharp broken and splintery edges
were reddened by fire, and whitened by birds. This corner was seldom
visited by the older travellers; Mackenzie reached only Grindavík, and
even Henderson neglected Reykjanes. It was carefully examined by Dr
Hjaltalín, first in 1827, after the submarine eruption to the
south-west, which floated a quantity of pumice, and again in 1866, to
examine the silica diggings. He found several Makkalubers, or mud-puffs,
and Hverar (hot springs), the north-easternmost called Gunna. A little
to the north, a solfatara, extending over an acre or so of bald red
bolus, was blowing off steam from cracks and holes, whilst to the
south-east rose a large extinct vent which had discharged abundantly
north-north-westward. This was the “New Geysir,” concerning which I had
endured plentiful “chaff;” for instance, the lines addressed to me by a
charming person, and beginning with--

    “So there is a new Guy, sir, in Iceland.”

The silica mounds, which are now partly, if not wholly, English
property, lie near the largest of the mud-puffs, a common caldron, some
fifty feet in breadth by half that depth, spluttering thick blue-grey
mire, and wasting sulphurous steam. The mineral is remarkably pure; its
whiteness suggests that it has been deposited by water, though how and
when no one pretends to say; and its laminations are easily reduced to
fine powder. It would doubtless sell well in the home markets, but at
present there are two objections to it; the quantity does not appear
sufficient to justify heavy works, and without these, transport is
simply impossible.

To starboard, we had a fine view of the Fuglasker (fowl or gull
skerries), which the fog had hid from us in June, and which, like the
Canaries, are seldom all visible at the same time. The nearest, about
eight miles from Reykjanes, is Eldey (fire eyot), also called the
Mjöl-sekkr, from its likeness to a “monstrous half-filled bag of flour;”
Scotchmen compare it with Ailsa Craig, and Scoto-Scandinavians with the
Holm of Noss. Its shape is that of a tree-stump 200 feet high, cut with
a slope dipping north-west, and yellowish-white with rain-washed guano.
The heavy surge swarming up the sides and swirling round its small red
appendage, the Eldeyjardrángr, suggested peculiar difficulties of
landing. The tumult of the waves is described to be even greater about
the rest of these “Kaimenis,” the Geirfuglasker, and the tall stack
known as Geirfugladrángr, the Danish Grenadeer Huen, or grenadier’s cap.
The two latter, prolonging the line to south-west and by west, and
distant twelve and fifteen miles out to sea, lie far from the course of
steamers; landing must be impossible, save on exceptional days, and the
climbing is said to be bad as the landing. Lastly, there is the
Eldeyjarboði, “boder,” or warning-stone, _alias_ Blindfuglasker, a
sunken rock, where New Isle (Nyöe) rose with the Skaptár[126] eruption
in 1783, gathered its three craters into one, and presently disappeared
in five to thirty fathoms depth. I could learn nothing about the
favourite auk-rock, said also to have been submerged in 1801, or of the
skerry which Lyell throws up in June 1830.

As we steamed along shore, where the host of white spectres haunting the
background contrast so curiously with the fat burgher-like plain, we
looked curiously, but in vain, for the Drífanda-foss (spray-driving
force), which acts barometer to the Westman Islands, and which
travellers describe as if it were the Yosemite, “swinging like a
pendulum, and often scattered into air.” It is probably a local name for
the Seljaland-foss, east of the Markarfljót,[127] under whose arch of
waters there is the same pleasant and comfortable passage which
distinguishes sections of Niagara and the Giessbach. Beyond it we
distinguish the Skógarfoss, where the old colonist, burying his treasure
in a kieve, still causes men to sing--

    “Thrasi’s box is precious
    Under Skogar’s force;
    Whose thither goeth
    Folly hath enough.”

The approach to the Vestmannaeyjar about evening time, when a vinous hue
masked the grim complexion of these “basaltic ninepins,” was more than
usually picturesque. We steamed by the twin drongs and the little black
dot, Einarsdrángr, and anchored on the north-west. Fortunately for
travellers, there is riding-ground here, when the fierce easter makes
the Kaupstaðir impracticable. In propitious weather, ships usually round
the north-eastern head of Heimaey, and lie off the eastern or true port,
which is somewhat defended by Bjarnarey. The Holm-isle, once a
fire-mountain, now a habitation for mankind, is the main body, to which
a score of outlying rocks and skerries act satellites. Viewed from the
west, this couthless mass of columns, pinnacles, and obelisks, becs,
prongs, vigrs, stacks, and frow-stacks,[128] resolves itself into a line
of three heaps, like the Moela, or Gizzard Island of Brazilian Santos.
The eastern side shows a low slip of land connecting two culminations;
to the north, Heimaklettr, upon whose tormented slopes, 916 feet high,
sheep are grazing; and southwards, Helgafell, a more shapely volcanic
cone of cinders and grass--it is the work of the Trolls, famed for
truth. A white church and steeple, fronted by black huts, provides for
some 400 souls, excellent cliff men, full of fight, and armed with guns
against the marauding of foreign fishermen--Frenchmen especially.

After the visit of Mr Syslumaðr, who came with the Danish flag to fetch
the Iceland mails, we resumed our course, leaving a nameless shoal and
Bjarnarey to starboard, and presently the tall bluff peak of
Erlendsey[129] to port. The sun setting in cloud, mist, and rain at the
respectable hour of 9.30, we congregate below, and enter upon a critical
consideration of the “Diana.” The English passengers agree that the
“Queen” is more “homely-like,” which must console her owners for
twenty-three tons of fuel per twenty-four hours; the old Danish craft,
much like a gunboat on the West Coast of Africa, with 150 horse-power to
drive 300 tons, burns only ten, but, _en revanche_, she seldom exceeds
seven knots. Those who converted her to peaceful pursuits built an upper
cabin, cut up the deck, and forgot seats on the quarter-deck; this
“hurricane deck” acts like a pendulum, and makes her roll in the mildest
sea, lively as her namesake, till we almost expect her to “turn turtle.”
The management is essentially in naval style combined with extreme
irregularity of hours; even beds are not allowed in the saloon, whilst
there are vacant berths in the dog-holes below, consequently sleep is
satisfactory as in the “omnibus” of the P. and O., when running down the
Red Sea during midsummer. The cleanliness of the Norwegian is notably
absent; two wash-hand basins for sixteen head of passengers, and
suspended towels, heap difficulties upon washing and make bathing
impossible. The Hofmeister or restaurateur, who pays the company for
leave to feed the taken-in, is not a praiseworthy institution: I almost
prefer the purser-plague. Nor are the Danes famed for cooking; they
affect grease and, generally, an amount of carbonaceous matter which
would horrify Mr Banting. At seven A.M. there is coffee or tea,
appropriately called “tea-water;” we breakfast at nine, dine after Genoa
fashion at three, and sup at half-past seven--or thereabouts. All the
meals begin with _hors d’œuvres_, pickled oysters, preserved lobsters,
and the bulbs which, according to Don Quixote, are fit only for cullions
and scullions; there is an abundance of cold meat, salt and fresh, and
of sausages which, to the British mind, suggest nothing but trichines
and hydatids. As long as kindly Captain Holme ruled the “Diana,” we had
not much cause to complain; on my return voyage his place was taken by a
manner of naval martinet, and it is hard to pay full merchantman’s fare
for man-of-war’s discipline.[130]

The next morning rose tolerably fair, a matter of no small importance to
sight-seers, who are here exposed to constant disappointments--a rainy
summer’s day in Iceland is common as a shower in England. About noon we
were abreast of the low black ridge, the southern base of a bay-island,
whose name, “Ingólfshöfði,” still notes where the first colonist first
landed. Over this headland, and due north, rose the culminating point of
Iceland, “Öræfa-(pronounced _Oeriva-_) jökull,” in the Skaptafells
Sýsla, the havenless ice-mountain, so called from the open unsheltered
coast of south-eastern Thule.[131] Here the climate, affected by the
huge refrigerator, becomes Arctic, and the land somewhat justifies the
exaggeration of travellers, who compare Iceland with a “bit of the
moon;” the sober Paijkull’s “exalted scale of nature” now reads not
inapplicable. As Mr Forrester describes “Norway and its Scenery” (1853),
this region is an expanse of “savage heights and unfathomable depths,”
crowned by its shapely white apex, which rose like an atmosphere of
clouds--we were never tired of gazing at it. In June the whole of the
upper half, at least 3000 feet high, had been mantled with snow; now the
line had shrunk to 2000; and black points, lava islands, and basalt
nubs, which warm exposure or too steep an angle had left uncovered, ran
up almost to the summit. On August 25 I noticed no change. The shape
from the south appeared a flattened cone, a headless sugar-loaf, with
white stripes extending far down the folds; about the waist a
fast-moving nimbus, brown and slate coloured, enhanced the virgin ermine
of the garb. Farther east we saw a long congealed wall built on a
meridian, crested about midway by the peaky Hvannadalshnúkr, and
buttressed southwards by two parallel points, the hnappar or knobs.
Inland the Klofajökull was wholly concealed from view; seawards the
semicircle at its base showed every variety of Icelandic eccentricity,
the coffin, the sugar-loaf, the horn, the crescent: the expanse of
snow-falls and ice-ridges, streaked with _couloirs_ and gullies, ends in
glaciers and hanging glaciers, the first we had seen on the island,

    “Projecting huge and horrid o’er the surge.”

The Breiðamerkr, rolling down towards the ocean, kept up by pressure
from behind, and showing the usual glorious tints of sapphire-blue and
emerald-green, was a model to its kind.

About sunset the scene again shifted. A false shore of lagoon and
sand-strips, varying from a mile to a hundred yards in breadth, is
broken by a headland, the giants of Vestrahorn--Whydah and Jan Mayen
side by side. To the north lies Papós, pope’s or priest’s oyce, the
mouth of Papafjörð, which in the Brazil would be called a _mar pequeno_,
fed by drainage from the highlands, meeting the ocean-tide. This unsafe
anchorage is the only riding ground for ships along the southern and
south-eastern coast, between Eyrarbakki and Djúpivogr. Formerly the
peasantry had a week’s journey to the comptoir of Berufjörð, but in
1862-63 Hr Jonssen, a Dane, established a trading station. Beyond Papós
rises the five-crested top of the Eystrahorn ridge, a wild and savage
spectacle which, being gradually wrapped in a winding-sheet of vapour
solid as an ice-fog, ended the glories of the day. Our fellow-passengers
wished us Berufjörðians _bon voyage_--we were to reach our destination
at dawn.

But the kindly hope came too soon. July 19 opened with one of those calm
and clammy “Scotch mists,” for which all this part of the coast is
infamous as Newfoundland, and no wonder, when it lies to leeward of a
Jökull-land, covering some 3000 square miles. “Diana” was bound to wait
forty-eight hours before she carried us away southwards, but she did so
grumblingly: naval officers in Denmark, as in England, may be deterred
by undue blame from undertaking the least possible responsibility.
Indeed a protest has been proposed against even visiting Berufjörð.
Although we saw the loom of the land, we did the very worst thing we
could do, steaming slowly to and fro between the twins Selsker and
Papey, where the bottom is foul with hidden rocks. The coast between
Berufjörð and its southern neighbour, Hamarsfjörð, the latter so called
from its hammerhead of perpendicular cliff, is an infinite complication
of small, black islets, useful only to eider-ducks, and a

                “tortuous labyrinth of seas
    That shine around these Arctic Cyclades.”

We inquired vainly for the apocryphal Kuggr (“cog,” or small
fishing-craft) of the maps, Gunnlaugsson’s included, which is
represented only by a shoaling of some six fathoms. We afterwards saw
the little lump of Geirfuglasker or Hvalsbak,[132] distant about twelve
miles. It was described to me as a rock forty fathoms long and about the
height of a ship’s deck, rising from very deep water. Yet it begat the
large Enchuysen Island of the Dutch. This modern representation of the
Islanda of the Zeni Brothers was perpetuated in Maury’s Wind and Current
Charts (3d edit., 1849) and in the Enkhuysen Island of Laurie (1862),
who cut off 120 miles (= 2°) from the eastern coast of Iceland. It is a
worse case than in olden Ireland, where “the sly surveyors stole a

It is interesting to observe how the country has retained the names of
the Papar. These white-robed “anchorites,” as they are generally called,
must first have settled in the island (Papey), and the Ystoria Norwegiæ
tells us, “Adhuc quædam insula Papey ab illis denominatur.” They then
took courage to explore the coast lying south-west, entered the
Papafjörð by the Papós and, passing towards the warm Auster, founded the
monastery of Kirkjubær, on the Skaptárós, not far from the point where,
in after-ages, Hjörleif landed. We must therefore differ from a modern
writer (_Edinburgh Review_, viii., note, p. 243) who says, “It appears
that some wrong-headed monks, either by stress of weather, or by design
(for the perfection of religion was supposed to consist in rendering
themselves useless by withdrawing from society), had actually sailed to
Iceland where they settled, it being most probable impossible for them
to find their way back again.” The Papar were no castaways; they kept
up, as Dicuil has shown, connection with the mother country; and the
Landnámabók, at the end of the Prologus, mentioning both Papey and
Papýli or Pappýli (_i.e._, Paparbýli or _pagus_), says, “It is related
in English books that men fared often from one land to the other.”

Another interesting remark is that whatever way we approach Iceland from
Europe, south-east, south, or south-west, we find some islet or needle
named Geirfugl, and this connected with the “Gare”-fowl (_Alca
impennis_, Linn.), an ancient and almost forgotten term for the great
auk, revived by Messrs Wolley and Newton.[133] This northern “Roc,”
Dodo, or Moa (_Dinornis gigantea_),[134] is sketched by Paijkull in the
shape of a three-foot penguin; and according to Professor Steenstrŭp,
supported by Mr Newton, it was confined to the Polar regions, or,
indeed, to the far north. The Icelanders believe it to be blind
(_Blind_-fuglasker), an opinion not shared by the Norwegians and the
Færoese. Mr Newton advised me, in case of success, not to follow the
usual system of skinning the birds, and blowing the eggs, but to treat
the former with pyroligneous acid, which mummifies the meat, and to
preserve the latter in spirits after being coated with paraffin or
stearine: thus they would be useful for embryological and other

The unwieldy bird, common till 1834, was killed off for its meat and
feathers, and the last eggs were taken from Eldey (the meal-sack) and
the Geirfugladrángr in 1844. Mr Newton suggested a visit to these
needles, and Mr R. Buist kindly directed the “Queen” to touch at them;
but the weather made a visit impossible. He also advised an exploration
of the Geirfuglasker, the south-westernmost skerries of the
Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, and others spoke of the Geirfuglasker or
Hvalsbak, east of Berufjörð. But the old Icelandic fiery spirit of
adventure, all but burnt out under normal circumstances, flames high
when the fuel of rixdollars is liberally applied. Geir Zoega of
Reykjavik assured me that the Eldey and the Auk-Needle off Reykjanes had
been repeatedly visited by fishermen since 1844, the date of the last
find;[135] and, though Hr Grímr Thomsen of Bessastaðir “begged to differ
in opinion,” the destruction of the bird during the last twenty years
proves that the people have been in the habit of hunting it. Of the
Hvalsbak I was told that though auks may have been seen there, the
breach of the sea would have prevented their nesting and breeding.
Remains only the Gare-fowl-skerry of the Irishmen’s Isles, and I am not
sanguine that exploration will yield favourable results.

The fog from the west and south-west, which enwraps this firth when the
northern Fjörðs are quite clear, began to break at eight A.M., and
before eleven it had lifted sufficiently to show the beacon and the one
big house perched upon the basaltic knob of Papey. There is a report
that this feature and the islets around it are gradually rising, and
that a sensible difference is observed every thirty years. Gradually to
starboard the lower folds of Strandafjöll, stepped like the Esja and
Skarðsheiði, and farther off the black curtain of Búlandstindr, frayed
at the summit, struggled into sight. It was a most inhospitable-looking

          “a coast of dreariest continent,
    In many a shapeless promontory rent.”

Shortly after noon passing Jón’s Holmr and beyond it the Long Tongue,
forming the eastern entrance, we anchored in thirteen fathoms water off
Djúpivogr (deep voe), a baylet in the southern jaw of the great eastern
firth, Berufjörð.[136]


I parted regretfully with Mr Chapman, who had no longer anything to
detain him in Iceland, and landed in company with four Englishmen. Mr
Askam, with a fine persistency which hails from Yorkshire, would have
probably tried to swim ashore had “Diana” shown the white feather. Mr
Alfred G. Lock, the concessionist of the north-eastern sulphur mines,
his son Charles, and a friend, Mr Pow, of Penicuick, lately from the
Argentine Republic, were equally pleased with the unexpected favours of
the fog. The former easily persuaded me to join him as far as the
Mý-vatn, with the hopes of pushing southwards over the Ódáða Hraun to
the unexplored Vatnajökull.

A few preliminary words concerning the mysterious formation along whose
southern line we have coasted, and whose northern frontier we shall
presently visit. The map shows a huge white blot, labelled Vatnajökull
eða Klofajökull, and little distinction is made by the people. The
former, signifying water or lake glacier, is so called because
_avalasses_ of fluid are at times discharged--a phenomenon generally
attributed to the bursting of reservoirs through the frozen edges, which
are higher than the interior: perhaps the snow and ice may be melted by
volcanic eruptions. Klofajökull would mean the crevasse glacier, and its
nature is said to justify the name. The total area, 3000 square
geographical miles (115 by 60, according to Baring-Gould), has been
reduced by Dr Lauder Lindsay, utterly without reason, to 400. The
volcano hidden within the white depths is placed, by the best authority,
Síra Sigurðr Gunnarson, on the north-eastern mid-arc of the
Skaptárjökull (N. lat. 64° 17´ to 20´, and W. long. 30° 20´). Its smoke
has been seen at Úthlið, south-west of the Geysir, and the people of
Berufjörð attribute to it the fog and ash-mist which prevailed between
August 18 and 24 of 1872.

Mr James Bryce says of the Vatnajökull, “One tremendous mass, out of
which the highest peaks of the island rise, has never been crossed, and
never will.” I see no reason to admit him even among the minor prophets.
In early days attempts were made to penetrate from the north. The
Landnámabók (part iii., pp. 257, 258) tells us, that Bárðr sun
Heyángursbiarnar (Bardus filius Heyangur-Biörnis), who had settled up
the Skjálfandafljót (river of shivering or earthquakes?), hoping to find
a milder climate on the southern coast of the island, began to travel in
spring, “per _Vonarskardum_ (crenam spei) cui postea nomen est
_Bardargata_ (Semita Bardi); ille postea Fliotshversum occupavit, et
Gnupis habitavit, tunc cognomen Gnupa-Bardus (Gnúpa-Bárdr) adeptus est.”
Bárðdalr is still known upon the middle course of the Skjálfandafljót,
and Fljótshverfi (flood-village) lies east of the Blængr cone. Thus the
old man crossed from north to south, along the western skirts of the
Vatna-and Klofa-jökulls. The northern counterscarp was visited early in
the present century by a party of Danish officers, who, in the attempt,
lost a number of ponies through cold and hunger. In July to August 1838,
Professor Gunnlaugsson, accompanied by Síra Sigurðr Gunnarson, travelled
along the Vatnajökullsvegr, which subtends the north-west, passed the
Kistufell, where the west Jökulsá rises, during the night, or when a fog
hid it; crossed the upper waters of that river, and struck the Brú
(bridge) on the eastern “glacier-river” of the same name. Hr
Guðmundsson, of Reykjavik, subsequently visited the Blængr cone, an
extinct volcano at the head of the Skaptá-Kuði valley, to the
south-west of the Klofajökull. He advised me to travel inland from
Hekla, leaving the Skælíngar (scowling) peaks to the left or north; to
rest at the fine Búland farm; to cross the Skaptá, and to attack the
glacier from the Blængr, where the approach is easy, and whence he saw
neither lakes nor crevasses. I also heard of another attempt to
penetrate from the Skeiðará valley, which lies west of the Öræfajökull;
it failed, but no further details were procurable.

In the summer of 1871, a stout-hearted attempt to penetrate from the
south was made by a young law student, Mr Watts, of the Middle
Temple,[137] who, accompanied by Mr Milne, reached the large patch of
forest called in the map “Núpstaðarskógr.” Hence he made for a crooked
cone lying west of a black rock, but he was compelled to beat a retreat.
No Icelander would be persuaded to risk life or limb. The travellers had
no snow shoes to prevent their sinking thigh-deep at every step, and,
having neglected ladders, they were obliged to throw their packs across,
and to leap the numerous little crevasses; moreover, the intense cold
robbed them of sleep. After his return, he described the Vatnajökull as
“at once a volcano and glacial region of immense extent, within which
there is reason to believe that many active craters (?) are included.
Vast streams of lava, of a magnitude unparalleled elsewhere (?), have
issued from it, both in pre-historic and in historic times. Surmises of
the vaguest character have been formed respecting the interior, which
may possibly include fertile valleys, the resort of the reindeer for
winter quarters (?). It is encompassed on all sides, as far as the
traveller could judge, by a desert formed by the action of the sea, huge
lava-streams, and fragmentary ejectments, and _detritus_ brought down by
the flooded rivers incidental to volcanic eruptions. The south base of
the mountain is composed of repeated layers of basalt, overlying the
older tufas (Palagonite?), over which many lava-streams had flowed at
various times, while beyond this, apparently, lies a huge glacier,
through which many extinct as well as active volcanic vents have

Mr Watts has twice renewed his attempt (1874 and 1875), and his stout
heart deserves, if it cannot command, success. He strongly advised me to
avoid the Berufjörð line, and there, I think, he was wrong. The Journal
will enter into details; suffice it here to say that there are two roads
perfectly practicable. One which we did not visit ascends the Fossárdalr
and strikes the Axavatn (axe-water) and Líkárvatn (lyke-water lake?),
tarns which many Icelanders have visited: thence the traveller would
ford or boat over the upper waters of the Fljótsdalr and the little
Jökulsá, which latter leads directly into the north-eastern Vatnajökull.
The other, _viâ_ the Lagarfljót, will be described in the following
pages. Both offer the great advantages of saving a week’s hard travel to
man and beast, of sparing supplies, and of offering a choice of places
where depôts can be established.

We found three dwarf landing-piers at Djúpivogr; and that to the east,
with its double tramway, was a queer contrast with the popular anchor,
four upright cask staves, and two below, containing rough blocks of
basalt. A hospitable reception awaited us from Hr N. P. E. Weywadt, the
principal agent for the comptoir, and his brother Captain H. R. Tvede,
both Danes: the latter has travelled far and wide, he has served in the
United States navy, and his abundant information is freely retailed. The
former occupies the block of building, tarred wood as usual, to the west
of the baylet, containing the dwelling-house and sundry stores. The
windmill, little bigger than a man, a common labour-saver in these
regions, is rudeness personified. The toy sails of sacking work a
perpendicular cog acting upon a horizontal wheel, whose square iron
spindle turns the stone: the rye is placed in the hopper or upper case
provided with a shoot; the damsel is a nail worked by the spindle, and,
as there is no vent in the bucket, the flour must be baled out with the
hand. The stones are taken from the quern, and indeed larger sizes are
not wanted. These primitive articles make better meal than the mouldy
imported flour. Finally, the “wind-house” crowns an adjoining nub of
basalt. Facing it is the boiling establishment, a large wooden shed like
an Iceland church, containing thirteen vats, an iron pan, and a smithy
in a detached hovel. On the hill behind is the “look-out,” which becomes
important when steamers are expected. South, or at the bottom of the
baylet, lie two double-storied black houses, with white windows, Captain
Tvede’s stores: we were comfortably lodged in the upper floor. The
climate here is exceptionally genial, less severe in fact than that of
Scotland. The north wind is cold and clear, the south wet and warm, the
east raw and clammy, and the west mild and muggy. It is reported that an
observatory will be established at Djúpivogr. Little farms, provided
with nets against sheep, are scattered all around, and Hr Weywadt rents
a large tract of ground which we shall pass going up the firth.

I spent some days at the mouth of the Berufjörð, coming and going, and
had a good opportunity of studying the whale fishery. A company was
established by Captain Hammar, a Danish officer, who afterwards went to
Russia with the object of teaching the use of strychnine and
curari--here the people opposed him as much as possible, declaring that
the flesh, which is poisonous only about the wound, would kill men and
dogs.[138] The chief objection is that the animal sinks, and does not
rise till some two days after death, causing frequent loss. The first
year brought in $10,000; the second, $5000; after which the concern was
sold to three capitalists, under whom the shares fell 95 per cent., with
a loss of $300,000 to $400,000.

The Iceland whale fishery, famous during the last century[139] all round
the island, ceased about the middle of last century, when better grounds
were discovered: the result is that the animals have increased
abundantly. The natives declare that there are thirteen species, but of
these doubtless some are _Delphini_. The following are the four best

1. _Balæna mysticetus_, or “right” whale of Greenland and the South
Atlantic; _la baleine franche_, which lacks dorsal fin, is found off the
north coast, but was never seen here by living man.

2. _Balænopter a gigas_, or humpback whale, whose fins, despite the
name, do not form wings: it is the biggest, averaging seventy to eighty
feet; it contains the best and largest quantity of oil, and its colour
is whitish, with wrinkled belly.

3. _Balæna physalus_, herring or sulphur whale, containing far less
blubber than the preceding.

4. _Balæna rostrata_, the yellow-brown finback, or round-lipped whale,
whose forefins are some nine feet in length: it is the smallest, the
liveliest, and the most powerful; it frequently ascends the firths, and
it is known by throwing the highest jets.

The animals are wild and wary, probably the result of clear water, and
do not allow themselves to be approached in steamers: they are harpooned
from boats using four to six oars. The latter three being “finners”
(_Physalus antiquorum_), do not produce much--fifty barrels would be a
fair average. The carcass is cut up on the strand; and the fatty
matter, after being kept for some three weeks, when it supplies more
oil, is boiled down. The belly, which contains no blubber, yields the
favourite food, “Rengi:” when fresh this yellow-white layer between the
Spik (speck) and the Thersti (flesh) is mistaken by the ignorant for
beef and pork, while connoisseurs prefer it to any meat, especially
after it has been soaked in vinegar or sour whey. The whalebone is sent
to England, where, according to Mr Consul Crowe (loc. cit.), “it appears
to be used for making Prussian blue.” The oil is employed in tanning:
the first boiling, of course, is the clearer, and the second is browner,
with more “foot.”

Shark-hunting is a popular pastime, here as in “Colymbia,” being more
profitable to the Icelander than the whale. It is chiefly the _Scymnus
microcephalus_, or Greenlander, called by the people Há-karl[141]
(pronounced _Hau-kadl_); it may average 18 feet in length, and attain a
maximum of 25; the back has two small fins, and the liver, which extends
nearly through the whole body, may yield two barrels of oil, each about
140 quarts. It is dangerously voracious; we never hear of accidents to
men, for the best reason, they do not bathe; but it tears steaks from
the whale’s sides, it devours dead reindeer (?), porpoises, seals, and
cods, and it does not despise a pair of boots. The _Scymnus_ much
resembles the sunfish or basking-shark (_Scyllium maximus_), which is
caught off western Ireland between May and the end of June; the southern
monster, however, ranges from 20 to 50 feet in length, and its dorsal
fin stands like a gigantic ploughshare about a yard above water. The ova
of the Há-karl, nearly the size of hens’ eggs, are produced in July and
August, each shark yielding about half a barrel full. The skin is grey,
coarse-grained, and incapable of being polished, but it is valued for

The sense of smell is said to be highly developed in the Há-karl; on the
other hand, it is dim of sight as the elephant, the horny covering of
the eye attracting the parasitical whale-louse (_Læermodipoda_,
_Cyamus_, etc.), which often invest the whole organ. Its vitality is
familiar to all who have seen a shark cut up, and tales are told of its
swimming round the vessel after being ripped up and losing its liver.
This carnivor is caught near the eastern coasts, in 60 to 80 fathoms. On
the north it always hugs the land between November and March: in summer
it goes out to sea, and it sometimes lies in a depth of 300 fathoms. The
usual “sharkers” were half-decked affairs, ranging from 20 to 25 tons,
with a crew of six to eight men: they were preferred because heavy
grapnels and hawsers are not required; moorings could readily be
shifted, and, being low in the water, the prey could be more easily
hauled in.

Off late years the craft used on the north side of the island are decked
vessels of 35 to 54 tons, provided with oars, and so lightly built that
in calm weather they can easily move from place to place, and get clear
of the ice. They lie in preference off the rising edge of a bank, the
anchor being generally a four-pronged iron grapple, weighing about 180
lbs., with 15 to 20 fathoms of 9/16 inch. chain-cable, and a 350-fathom
hawser. If nothing is caught, the position is shifted until the shark is
found; and if the latter is good, the vessel remains at the spot, and
rides out the storms. In calm wintry weather the fishermen venture their
small boats, and if fortunate, they may secure within a couple of days
fifteen barrels of liver per crew.

The lines used are thick as our deep-sea log-lines, fastened to three
fathoms of chain, weighted in the middle with leads of 10 to 13 lbs.
Under this is attached a strong 6-inch iron hook, notched inside to
prevent the bait slipping: the latter is generally horsemeat, which has
been soaked in blood, or seal-blubber which fetches a mark and more per
pound. When hauled up to the surface, the captive is made fast with a
rope attached to the craft, and killed with a lance; the belly is ripped
up, the liver is stowed away, the gall is preserved for soap, the head
is cut off, and the carcass is slung alongside the vessel. “The stench
of the dead shark is so intolerable that it cannot be taken on board;
but the reason for keeping it is the fear that if the live ones were
allowed to glut themselves on their dead comrades, they would no longer
take the bait so readily; for they are so voracious that often only a
portion of the shark caught on the hook reaches the surface, the others
having partly devoured the wounded monster on his passage upwards. So
firm are the fishermen on the west coast in this belief, that they have
petitioned the legislature to enforce by law the keeping of the
carcasses alongside as long as the fishing lasts. This opinion, however,
is not shared by all the shark-fishers, and is open to doubt.”

The value of a carcass on shore is about 7s. 6d. A moderate-sized shark
gives two-thirds of a barrel of oil, and three barrels of liver yield on
an average two barrels; the former each worth between 37s. and 50s., and
the latter from 55s. to 125s. The chief markets are Sweden and Germany,
where it is largely used for tanneries. The high odour of the comptoirs
arises from the liver being kept for some three weeks, under the idea
that the supply is increased. The skin is pegged out on the ground to
dry, and the flesh, especially of a kind of dog-shark, is sold. The
latter is buried for some months above high-water mark; a year is
better, and two years make it a delicacy. This _bonne bouche_ has a
clear, yellow, red colour, with somewhat the appearance of smoked
salmon. Indigestible as all sharks’ meat, it is peculiarly “staying”
food, and a couple of ounces will satisfy a man for the day. According
to some travellers (Dillon and others), this “crack-dish” communicates
its rankness to the eater, who is unapproachable for three weeks; but I
never observed the fact; nor did I find that the prepared flesh was
unpleasant to the nose, “its presence in a room being very perceptible.”
Mr Crowe adds that the peasants often burying it in the ground for two
or three weeks, take it up, wash, and cut it in strips, which are hung
for a year in the drying house before being considered fit for food.
Finally, it is never used here, as in Maskat and Zanzibar, when in the
state which may mildly be called “high.”

At Djúpivogr we found the usual species of fin. The white fish is caught
by long lines laid at night, and hauled in next day. They carry 200 to
300 hooks, but they are miniatures of the giants used by English
fishermen in the North Sea, which are measured by miles. The flounder,
the halibut (Heilag-fiski, Helliflynder, _Hippoglossus pinguis_, or holy
flounder), and the red-spotted plaice are favourites, despite want of
flavour: the dried skate is the bread of this ichthyophagous race, and
the fish has passed into a proverb for voracity--“he eats everything
that comes in his way like a skate.” I heard reports of enormous squids,
the skate-whaals of the Shetlands, which may easily have given rise to
the “Kraken” tale. Specimens have been seen from Zanzibar to
Newfoundland, where cuttle-fish (_Architeuthis monachus_ and _A. Dux.
Steenstrŭp_) have been found with bodies 15 feet long by 19 inches
diameter, and “extensive arms of unknown extent.” The “Great
Cuttle-fish” is the Dragon of Polynesian mythology (p. 209, The
Emigration of Turi), and it pulled down canoes unless killed by the axe.
The Calmar de Bouguer, so called from the officer commanding the aviso
“Alecton,” was attacked in 1861, off north-eastern Tenerife, with
bullets and harpoons; this _piuvre_ is described as 18 feet long, and
beaked like a giant parrot. Moreover, the lumps of rock rising suddenly
from the smooths and lines of ripple, viewed through the evening fog,
must have kept alive the haunting idea of the kraken. The Great Sea
Serpent, or Soe-orm, _alias_ Aale last (_Serpens marinus magnus_),
appears in the pages of Bishop Pontoppidan as an impossible snake, with
crescental coils disposed perpendicularly instead of horizontally.
Although Professor Owen determined it to be an otary, the fact is not
“proven;” and of late years it was revived as a gigantic saurian which
has escaped the general destruction of his race. Similarly there is an
immense mass of evidence in favour of the Lind-orm or great land
serpent. We find him in Livy, Pliny, and Strabo; and Regulus saw him at
Bagrada stretching 100 feet long. That most conscientious traveller, Dr
de Lacerda, relates that when voyaging up the Brazilian Tiété, his
slaves sat down upon a trunk, which proved to be a snake; and I brought
home traditions of his having closed a path to travellers in Eastern
Intertropical Africa.


At Djúpivogr we met Hr Oddr V. Gíslason, a “Candidatus Theologiæ,” who
had visited England, and had published an Icelandic primer (Leidvisír,
Reyk., 1863), which he dedicated to a friend, the late Hermann Bicknell.
At the capital where his wife remains, he acts as Lloyd’s agent, and in
the east he collects ponies and sheep for Mr Askam. His local reputation
as a shark-fisher and a _viveur_ stands tolerably high, but he can work
hard when he pleases. This worthy at once applied himself to buying
bât-ponies, and to hiring a guide, whose perfect and well-known
uselessness deserves notice.

Gísli Eyriksson is a good-looking man of thirty-five, with blue eyes,
aquiline nose, and a full blond beard. Formerly a day labourer, he
prefers to be an able-bodied pauper; the sturdy vagrant owns two nags,
yet he has thrown his loafing self, his wife, and his three children
upon the parish. His only merit is not drinking; and the women pity him
because he is pretty. An Ebionite from the womb, a Lazarus with the
tastes of Dives, the invertebrate creature is soft as a girl; he dawdles
limp as a negro; he malingers, pleading a bad knee to attract
compassion; he makes everybody do his duty; he is ever in the kitchen,
never at work; he breaks everything he touches; it makes one’s fingers
tingle to look at him. Presently he will strike for more pay. Meanwhile
he is the picture of the Prodigal Son in Iceland garb: his
stutt-buxur,[142] the pointed and buttoned overalls, said to have been
imported from Scotland by King Magnús Berfætti, are in rags and tatters;
his stirrups are knotted cords, and his bridle is a string. Inconsequent
as a Somali, he drops his fragmentary Svipa (whip) every hour, and he
manages even to lose his knife. We engaged him for 4 marks per diem; the
“dog of an Icelander” swore after return that the wage was $1, 3m.; and
when he received his $29 he mounted his nag and jogged leisurely home.

_July 30._

We sent on our ponies, the first detachment, during the thick fog of
morning, the warm moist sea-air showing 73° (F.), condensed by the black
and white heights; and in mid-afternoon, we set out for Berufjörð in
Captain Tvede’s whaleboat. It had a centre-board after approved fashion,
but no sail to catch the fair wind from the Fjörð-mouth. The crew
consisted of two Icelanders, who, accustomed to the silly narrow blade,
the “mos majorum,” were unable to handle the broad oar; the two coopers,
a Dane, and a German who disliked soldiering at home, did much better.
As the mist lifted we enjoyed the views upon the firth, which our
patriotic captain compared with the Organ Mountains, Rio de Janeiro. Yet
there is abundant Icelandic physiognomy in the Fjörð viewed from above,
especially when the sun is slightly veiled and the shadow of the mist
falls upon the wild forms with a pale, unearthly glare. As a rule, too,
there is a distinct circulation, an indrift of lower and an outdrift of
upper cloud; the effect of the double winds, so common in maritime
Iceland, and very striking to the nephelophile. The rival shores
contrast sharply. The northern, especially about the Berunes chapel, has
broader flats and more frequent farms, backed by the stepped copings and
the buttresses of the Strandafjöll. The trend is to the north-west,
where quaint and regular castellations, either rising sheer or based
upon _débris_ disposed at the natural angle, are divided by deep gaps
and fosses. The eastern sky-line is broken into crags which appear a
mass of ruins; in places the capping is a single stone, a needle, a
column, a Grettis-tak (logan-stone), or an “old man;” here falls a sharp
_arête_; there towers a pyramid, which viewed at another angle proves to
be a headland. The general form is not unlike those dolomites which Sir
Humphrey Davy mistook for granite. A remarkable band of green
Palagonite, locally called “petrified clay,” dips waterwards at an angle
of 37°; it crops out north at Breiðdalsvík, and it is said to be
traceable southwards for a two days’ march.

The fronting shore begins with a fringe of rocks and skerries; the
Fiskenakketange baylet is mistaken at night for Djúpivogr; and the inner
and outer Gleðivík (gled-wich), the Indre and Ydre Glæding of old
Danish charts, are especially rich in “rognons of rock.” The uplands are
formed by masses of trap, with drops and slopes cut and chasmed, at
right angles, by gashes and ravines bearing a thin vegetation. We are
shown the Teigarhorn (paddock-horn) torrent, about a mile and a half
from Djúpivogr; here fine zeolites are, or rather were, found, and
Iceland spar is known to exist--unfortunately the farm is Church
property. The only important feature is the Búlandstindr, whose
north-eastern pyramid, laid down at 3388 feet (Danish), makes an
excellent landmark for those coming from the south; the grim black wall
bears snow on the northern exposure, and the easily breaking stone
renders the ascent unpleasant. At five P.M. we passed the Gautavik
(Gothwich) farm, about a century ago the only trading comptoir, dating
from the days of Burnt Njál. Some forty-five minutes afterwards we
touched at the excellent anchorage of Staulovik, to land Hr Gíslason and
a very small boy carrying a very very large jar of rum. Shortly
afterwards we opened on the right bank Fossárdalr, which bounds
Búlandstindr on the north: here the strata rise waterwards at an angle
of 28°. The vale, faintly green, is called Viðidalr in the upper part;
it is the directest line _viâ_ Keldadalr (well-vale) to Fljótsdalr,
immediately east of Snæfell, but there is no bridle-path, and the
compass must be the only guide.

The channel was not wholly desert, we met two boats; the sticks planted
upon the islet-rocks, the Æðarsker, and the Æðarsteinn, showed it to be
an eider-firth, where the intelligent seal well knows that he may not be
shot, and where ravens flock in forlorn hopes of a duckling. “Faraóslið”
is the folk or cavalry of Pharaoh, for that wicked but debatable king,
so great is the might of myth, has colonised even Ultima Thule; and his
lieges still become men and women, laying aside their furs, on the eve
of St John. They give rise to a multitude of proverbs, _e.g._, “‘Too
near the nose,’ as the seal said when hit in the eye.” Phoca here forms
part of the parson’s flock. They are tame as porpoises. The cows are
never killed, and the young are spared; when a battue of men-seals with
gun and club takes place, it is during summer. These mammals are most
numerous on the southern and eastern coasts; here in one spot we count
fourteen pair of eyes quietly but persistently prospecting us. As the
fine is three marks for firing a gun within a mile, and the flesh is
the best possible shark-bait, we are consulted upon the subject of
aircanes.[143] “Krummi” (crook-bill), the raven, whose size has been
exaggerated by travellers, is everywhere in Iceland an unmitigated pest,
and he shows the unbecoming familiarity of the “ghurab” in Somaliland.
His impunity may be due to his cousin the corbie’s sentiment:

    “Ho, ho, ho! said the old black crow,
    For that nobody will eat him he very well doth know.”

Perhaps some survival of old paganism may preserve the “yellow footed
bird in the inky cloak,” who became black by reason of his sins: Odin’s
hawk, the “black cousin of the swan,” who appeared in the traditional
oriflamme of the Norsk Vikings, and who still survives in the lines:

    “Though Huginn’s (Mind’s) loss I should deplore,
    Yet Muninn’s (Memory’s) would affect me more.”[144]

Hence, possibly, the prevailing superstitions, _e.g._, that Ralph
combines eccentric habits with human intelligence; that he is a bird of
augury; that he holds a Hrafna-Thing (council) in autumn, to billet the
several couples; that every church has its own pair; that Grip does not
plunder the farm nor fight the dogs of those who lodge the Grips; and
that he warns the owner of dead sheep. The Raven’s Song (Krumma-Kvæði),
a dialogue between “Hrafn” and a peasant, is well known, whilst the
Hrafna-galdur Öðins (Odin’s Raven Song) is a miracle of mystery.
Ralph’s croakings were and still are omens, betokening death, when heard
in front of a house, and he has appropriated a variety of proverbs.
Perhaps this sentiment prevented the Northerner “improving the subject,”
as did blind Herve in the Breton verse, “When you see a raven fly, think
that the Devil is as black and as wicked. When you see a little dove
fly, think that your Angel is as sweet and white.” Thus after St Vincent
was beheaded, all the Grips that alighted upon his corpse fell dead; on
the other hand, Ravenna owes her name to the fact that ravens, crows,
and jack-daws flocked from every part of Italy to take part in the feast
of St Appolinarius. In the Færoes the bird of the “brook Cherith” has
lost all his Odinic reputation; he is easily killed when the snow drives
him to the farm-house, and four skillings are given for his beak.
Perhaps instead of being slaughtered, he might be exported to England,
where he would now command seven shillings. According to the people, he
is not invincible, being often beaten by the agile sea-pie (_Hæmatopus
ostralegus_, the Sceolder of Shetland), and sometimes slain by the
strong-billed sea-parrot (puffin).

As we approached the bottom of Berufjörð, we could see the snows over
which our path would lie, and the “gurly flood” dashing down the broad
steps of trap. It drains the Axarvatn, the “Axe-water,” so called from
its shape; it is said to be rich in trout and fish, but Mr Pow, who was
of the party, found it far too clear and cold. After a pleasant row of
twelve miles in about three hours, we reached our destination, and the
“new chums” derided the place which appears so large upon the map.
Berufjörð is, in fact, nothing but a Prestagarðr (parsonage) and a
chapel, the latter distinguished from a stable only by the white cross,
episcopally commanded; the doors hang about, and there is a sad want of
paint. In Iceland the clergyman often moves off when his church wants
repair, for he must pay the expense.

We were courteously and hospitably received by Síra Thorstein
Thorarensson, who was busy in his tún superintending the day-labourers.
It is the hay-harvest, the only harvest that Iceland knows. The men ride
to and from their work, ply their ridiculous scythes, and, besides being
fed, are paid per teigr (80 square feet) 1 Fjórðung[145] = 10 lbs. of
butter, here worth 2 marks per lb. An active hand at this season can
make $2 per diem, 11 marks being the average; many farms are nude of
males, and consequently guides in August are scarce and dear. Hay, which
fetches 1 mark per 10 lbs. in winter, now sells for $2 the kapall[146]
(horseload, or 240 lbs. Danish); and as the ton in Scotland costs at
this season only £1, 10s. to £2, 10s., Mr Pow scents a spec. That
evening passed in the confusion of sorting goods and sending back all
articles not strictly necessary; it was far into the small hours before
we could settle ourselves upon the rotten boards, and under the hideous
crucifix which, forming the chapel’s altar-piece, carefully avoids
breaking commandment No. 2.

_July 31._

Whilst awaiting the arrival of our carriage, Captain Tvede volunteered a
walk up the Berufjarðarskarð, which crosses the northern wall of the
firth, and afterwards anastomoses with the road to Thingmúli. This part
had not undergone its annual repair, and it was painfully pitted with
horse-traps, deep holes. The lower part was an avalanche line:

    “Interdum subitam glacie labente ruinam
    Mons dedit, et trepidis fundamina subruit astris;”

but “interdum” hardly applies to what happens annually from these
“thunderbolts of snow.” To the right lay Sóta-botn, a huge hollow,
probably formed by hydraulic pressure, the sinking of a mountain-stream,
a common feature in the Brazil. As Sóti and his wife Bera (the bearess),
a name often given to women, were riding home over this pass, their
enemies raised a magic fog; he broke his neck by falling into the pit;
she broke her head as the famished horse, to whose instinct the rider
had trusted, rushed into the stable--the site of the latter is still
shown near the parsonage. Bera’s cairn lies at the top of a little
promontory at the north end of the Fjörð, where her ghost sits gazing
upon the ever restless tide.[147] The picture was diversified by an
advance of white mist; its fragments, forming a vanguard like a flock of
wild geese, with abundant play and movement presently invested the
shallow cupola of Thrándar Jökull, whose brown clouds were its own
growth: at times it melted under the sun, and presently it renewed
itself in the cold wind of the firth and in the colder breath of the
snow-clad summits. Finally, it settled upon the mid-ridge, making the
upper half appear miles away from its base.

After a two hours’ stroll we reached the Bitruháls, or _col_, which
stands over 2000 feet above sea-level.[148] On the left hand rose
Kistufell, the apex where the Danish officers placed a landmark: the
summit must be at least 1000 feet higher than the pass. Through the reek
and dance of the morning air we looked down upon Breiðdalsvík; the Broad
Dale is parted into a northern and southern feature by “Möleyri,” a
great spine of trap, and the nearer section is split by three large
perpendicular Gjás. The winding Breiðdalsá, which has a fork for each
valley, is clear and limpid, very different from Jökull water; and large
farms are scattered everywhere about the soles. The northern face of the
Berufjarðarskarð is even more striking than the southern; the “Vandyke
cliffs” have all the tints of Brazilian Tauá; nowhere does Iceland show
more colouring. The red, pink, dead-white, and pale-green Palagonite
follows the torrent-beds and girths the rivers; and the singularity is
increased by walls and outcrops of the hardest and blackest hornblende,
building dykes, bridging chasms, and causing the snow-streams to breach
over in cascades. Farther down there is a vein of glistening trachyte
celled with iron, probably a prolongation of the Skriða hills, which we
shall pass farther north; afar it looks like plaster fallen from a
wall. The valley is scattered over with chalcedonies and crystals of
lime, the produce of geodes washed out of the trap, and with jaspers,
especially the red, green, and banded; Hr Gíslason’s “copper ore” is
probably nothing but burnt or corroded “yaspis.” Along the stream-banks
grow yellow poppies (_P. nudicaule_; Icel. Mela-Sól), with small
lemon-coloured flowers and large spreading roots; they extend to
Spitzbergen, and the last time I saw them was in the Desert of the

Down the northern descent, which is rapid but provided with a good
causeway _à tourniquet_, runs the eastern road to Seyðisfjörð, firth of
the Seið or _Gadus virens_, the abode of many merchants, distant some
sixty miles from Djúpivogr: the western _viâ_ the Öxarheiði (ox-heath)
is generally preferred because it crosses two instead of three great
divides. The line to Thingmúli turns to the left, repeatedly crosses the
southern Breiðdalsá, and ascends by another newly built causeway, the
Breiðdalsheiði, where there is a nameless lakelet, neglected by the map,
which discharges the southern Broad Dale fork.


July 31 ended with a “sea of troubles.” Captain Tvede and Mr Pow left
us, greatly to our regret, and no one seemed anxious to effect a
departure but ourselves. The guide skulked, the ponies came in slowly,
and, worst of all, a dark march was proposed. This always appears to me
the _summum malum_ of travelling; it is equally injurious to strength
and temper; it often wastes the next day; and, worst of all, it gives a
false idea of the country.

Our party is now formed. Messrs Lock, father and son, are attended by
Bowers, an able seaman, born in Jamaica and domiciled at Southampton. He
is to superintend the sulphur boring; he does the work of half-a-dozen
Icelanders, but he has seldom been aboard a nag; and the honest fellow
is apt to forget the adage, “astern of a sail and ahead of a horse.”
Besides Gísli, the skulk, we temporarily engage for nine marks per diem
Hr Hoskulldar Guðmundsson, who is _en route_ for his father’s house. Hr
Gíslason, wishing to attend a fair, accompanies us for the first march.
The kind and obliging parson, after feeding us with fish, mutton fresh
and dry, sharks’ flesh, and seals’ haslets--good with vinegar, but even
then somewhat too oily--and after insisting upon sundry stirrup-cups of
“Iceland wine” (schnapps), determines to start one of the most
disorderly of caravans.

We have a total of nineteen ponies all under six years, which would be
four-year olds in England, and with the nineteen never a rope. For the
most part utterly unbroken, they break away and lose our time; disgusted
with their loads, especially with the long boring-rods, they kick and
bite, requiring constant reloading. Consequently, Mr Lock misses a
carpet-bag, which contains only his money and his papers, and all our
baggage suffers more in ten hours than in a year of railways. The
commercial complication was enormous; almost each animal had its own
hire; one was to be left at this place; two were to be sent on to that;
we took the wrong ones with us to Mý-vatn, and consequently we were
threatened with a lawsuit. Mr Lock (_père_) has a _largâ manu_ manner,
but he is strongly imbued with the Anglo-Saxon “idee,” to wit,

    “The grand idee that every man jest do what he dam pleases.”

He compels the most headstrong to obey him; he remembers the adage, “In
Iceland if you want anything, ask for it;” he takes high ground, and he
“puts up with no nonsense.” The people, gentle and simple, do not openly
resent the novelty, but they slang him behind his back, and with a
certain dry humour they dub him “Loki,”[149] the bad god of Scandinavian
mythology. I can only say that the tone answered well as in Syria or

The disorderly party set out about an hour before midnight. We passed
in the dark a mine of magnetic iron disposed, they say, in volcanic
rock. This metal cannot be smelted for want of fuel, and its only
_raison d’être_ in Iceland is to deflect the magnet and to make
navigation and the Vatnajökull dangerous. The ugly bridle-path running
up the left bank of the Axavatn, and ascending a variety of stony steps,
divided by flats of deep moss, with a rare Beitivellir, baiting or
pasture ground, and snow-wreaths sounding hollow beneath the tread,
showed few features. Before the cold mist set in from the north, we saw
at our feet the long Berufjörð, and the spectre of Thrándar Jökull,
gleaming white in the pale and glaucous green light of an Arctic
midnight; whilst the continuous roar of foss and torrent rang in our

At the foot of the fifth and roughest grade, the Öxarheiði, we halted
for a while, where the steep ascent is called, apparently in bitter
derision, Vagna-brekka, or waggon-hill. The huge mountain-walls seemed
to tower straight above our heads; on the right was the Haurar-Gil
(crag-gil), and nearer the Mannabeinafjall, or man-bone hill, where some
of Sóti’s horsemen were slain. These things the good priest tells us,
and then, wringing our hands and bidding us Godspeed, he rides home,
bearing with him our best thanks. The very large jar of rum proved too
much for one of his friends; after galloping about like one insane,
changing his horse every half-hour, and drinking every ten minutes, he
lay him down to sleep comfortably upon the soft, cool snow, and lost no
time in losing his saddle and saddle-cloth, his bridle and his horse. He
will walk into camp at five P.M. next day, sadly crestfallen, if not

After three hours, during which I felt frozen hands for the first time,
we stood on the summit of the Breiðdalsheiði, and looked down upon the
long valley to the north. It was a pleasant change after our uncouth way
and the _panorama maudit_ of the earlier night; but the sunlight, though
gleaming pink and gold upon the snow hills to the north, only saddened
sleepy eyes. The path leads down the right bank of the Múlaá in the
Skriðdalr, a mad stream rolling reckless over slope and drop, green and
blue, cold and clear, here deeply encased by huge slices of black trap,
there low-banked with long streaks of red-yellow bog-iron. The left
wall was regular with gracious concave lines, ending in the lion-headed
Múli, which gives a name to the Múla Sýsla: the right was a succession
of buttresses, each owning its own Kvísl, or shallow drain, and the
latter were _mauvais pas_, where only the cleverest ponies could spring
up and down the rocks without a fall. As we advanced, the valley
broadened out into flats of vivid, unwholesome green, bog and swamp
spangled with cotton-grass, whose pods much resemble those of the
veritable tree-wool, and which should be collected for sheep-fodder. At
9.30 A.M. we forded the stream, and rode up to Thingmúli, much to the
edification of the mowers, men in shirt-sleeves and women half-dressed--

                        “All hands employed,
    Like labouring bees on a long summer day.”

We were not equally edified by their unbusy, dawdling ways: so at the
churn the servant girls will work five minutes and rest fifteen.

As I expected, the Thursday was a _dies non_, whose only event was
pancake made by the farmer’s wife. We inspected the tall Múli, whose
bare and ragged head of trap ends the long buttress to the
north-north-east: it is bounded east by the Geitdalsá, rising in the
Líkárvatn; draining, they say, the Thrándar, and uniting with the Múlaá
to form the Grímsá. We botanised at its foot, collecting two equiseta,
Elting (spearwort, or _E. arvense_) and Beitill (horse-tail), of which
there are many varieties; the Fjóla or violet (_V. montana?_); the
Hrossanál, or horse-needle (_Juncus squamosus_); the Blá-ber and
Grænyaxlar or young blaeberry (_Vaccinium myrtillus_); the bog-whortle
(_V. uliginosum_); the blue-bell (Bláklukka; _Campanula rotundifolia_,
Hjalt.), which grows everywhere, reminding us of Europe; the small, grey
birch; the dwarf-willow, all catkins; the Alpine bartsia (Icel.
Loka-sjóðsbróðir[150]); the meadow-rue (_Thalictrum Alpense_; Icel.
Kross-gras); the fleabane (_Erigeron_; Icel. Smjör-gras) and the
ephemeral Veronica. There were also the bright, yellow-green
reindeer-moss; the red Alpine catch-fly (_Lychnis Alp._); the usual
“sun’s-eye,” or buttercup (Sól-ey); the dandelion (Fífill); and the
lamb-grass or moss-campion, still in flower; the bladder-campion
(_Silene inflata_); the pretty, common lyng (heather); the
mountain-asphodel (_Tofieldia palustris_; Icel. Sýkis-gras); and, most
remarkable of all, the pale-lemon blossoms of the mountain avens already
beginning to pall. The Kræki-lyng, the black crowberry (_E. nigrum_),
supplied its small, red currants, sweet and mawkish, of which Bishop Pál
made sacramental wine; the vine-like Hrútaberjalyng (_Rubus ling_)
trailed on the sward; and the meadow-rose (_Epilobium angustifolium_;
Icel. Eyra-rós) reigned queen of Iceland flora. The leafage already
showed autumnal tints, yellows and reds taking the place of greens,
light and dark; and the air was all alive with grey moths (Fyrireld).

An interesting feature of the Skriðdalr, or slipping dale, is the Skriða
range, a name not in the map, but given to the north-eastern buttresses
of the broken valley as far as Sandfell. Fronted by dark traps they
rise, nude of turf, conspicuous in light-yellow skins of trachyte and
Palagonite, based upon a thin and sickly green--we learned to call them
the Sulphur Range. As the long streaks and gullies, the broad parting
_fiumaras_, and the slides and heaps of footing _débris_, show, the
Skriðas are infamous for landslips and snowslips (Snæ-Skriða), the
latter overwhelming túns and houses--

                      “Multos hausere profundæ
    Vastâ mole nives; cumque ipsis sæpe juvencis
    Naufraga candenti merguntur claustra barathro.”

The sole defence against these avalanches (Skriðáfall)[151] is the
Skriða-garðr, a dry wall, built very strongly at the sharp angle facing
the Skriða and the Snjóflóð, and repaired every year.

In the evening the people began to gather for the fair, and most of them
were in that state politely called “excited.” One man made himself
especially remarkable; with one leg shorter than the other, he was
dancing, roaring, snorting fou’; his face was much knocked about; and,
with his ’baccy smeared lips, he insisted on succulently kissing every
feminine mouth. Mr Lock, sen., had a somewhat narrow escape from a
venerable matron whose nostrils showed that she was no better in one
matter than our grandmothers: she advanced towards him prognathously,
when in the nick of time he turned and fled. He was much shaken, and for
some hours looked pale and weak.

The evening might have been in Tuscany; and we drank coffee outside, a
practice which excited general reprehension--here you rarely see a bench
or seat in the open air. We were lucky in engaging a superior guide, the
student Sigurður Gunnarsson, nephew of the archdeacon of Hallormstaðir;
his seven years at Reykjavik had given him a tincture of English; he was
good-tempered and obliging; in fact, the absolute reverse of
Baring-Gould’s “Grímr.” Hr Gíslason, to the satisfaction of every one,
disappeared with his big dog, a cur whose only idea of life was to chivy

Our day’s march was far more interesting than usual: it lay over the
long, prismatic tongue of land, a sister formation of the Múli line,
separating the Grímsá from its ultimate receptacle, the lake. Amongst
the scatter of farms lay Geirólfstaðir, where I slept on return: the
house is partly built of greenstone. The mountain path is called, why, I
know not, a “Remba,” a hard road to travel, from “að rembask,” to
struggle with, to puff one’s self up. The summit of this
Hallormstaðarháls was a mere divide, not a Heiði with level ground; and
from its altitude, about 880 feet, we looked down upon and around a most
extensive view. Below us, and stretching to north-north-east, lay the
long “broad,” known as the Lagarfljót, a milky water evidently from the
snow-mountains; and on the nearer shore, protected from the biting
blasts, lay the celebrated Skógr, or forest of Hallormstaðir, straggling
some twenty miles, and composed of birch-trees,

    “If trees they may be called, which trees are none.”

Yet from afar they act pretty well as acacias, the point-lace of the
forest. To the north-east rise the nubs, heaps, and snows of Höttr, the
hats or cowls, and their frost-bound prolongation, the icy range of
Borgarfjörð, and, especially, the cones of Dyrfjöll. But every eye
turned instinctively southwards when majestic Snæfell, the northernmost
outlier of the Vatnajökull, fronted by its two northern outliers, the
Hafrsfell and the Laugarfell, shoots up towards the cirri and cumuli of
the still air, its glistening glaciers and steely-blue sides making
eternal winter in a lovely garb appear.

At Hallormstaðir, our first stage, we failed to find the Prófastr
(archdeacon) Sigurður Gunnarsson, who had gone for supplies to
Seyðisfjörð. His wife received us kindly with “Yule bread,” containing
raisins and other delicacies. She must be a model housewife; her
six-gabled house was being painted; her kitchen-garden grew unusually
fine potatoes; and her poultry-yard was far better stocked than usual.
We were hospitably invited to pass the night, and Gísli Skulk looked
wistfully at the comforts around him; but we were inexorable and, after
a two hours’ halt, began operations upon the next stage.

I shall not readily forget that march. The ponies, also, had apparently
made up their minds for a half-holiday, and, when refused, they resolved
to revenge themselves. Briefly, the loads were everywhere except where
they should have been, and the fight at the ford was unusually severe.
The bridle-path up the right bank, moreover, was bad, broken with
gullies, rugged with rocks, and cullendered with holes; in places we had
to avoid headlands of stony teeth by fording the waters; and, as on the
skirts of Hermon, the ways were double, high for winter, and low for
summer. Student Sigurður explained Lagarfljót as a corruption of Laugr,
a bath; others translate it the “layer” or mixed water, because composed
of ice and mud. It is considered unwholesome and undrinkable. The
average breadth is one mile and a half, and the people declare that the
depth reaches sixty fathoms. It is formed by a glacier stream, the
little Jökulsá, flowing through the Fljótsdalr or Norðurdalr, a line
which we shall presently follow; and an eastern lake-stream, the Keldá,
draining the Syðridalr. The latter rises in the Keldavatn, which the map
writes Kelduárvatn, the lake of springs-water; and it is reached in a
long day’s ride from the Víðivellir, or the Klúka farm, which almost
fronts Valthiófstaðir.

I had heard much of the Skógr (Shaw) of the Lagarfljót, as the most
beautiful in Iceland: it probably tempted the first settler, Hallormr,
to become Hallormr of the Wilderness. In other places, the freezing and
thawing of the sap bursts the vessels and kills the plants. Here,
however, the Birkis have a backing of heights to concentrate sun-heat, a
westerly exposure, and a large sheet of water tempering the cold. The
thin birch-scrub grows on all kinds of soil; mostly the trees are mere
bushes, but the topmost twigs of the giants of the forest may reach
twenty feet, and the timber is heavy enough to make pack-saddles. All
are being felled, and none are planted; the weight of the snow is said
to destroy the young trees. Nor was the Skóg a vocal growth: I listened
long and in vain for the merest chirp.

About an hour before reaching the ferry we had a fair prospect of the
Hengifoss, said to be the tallest cataract in Iceland. It is an
Icelandic copy of the immortal Cocytus (Mavroneria) in Arcadia, with a
fall six times the depth. “Hanging-force” plunges suddenly into a huge
caldron, the Hengifossárgil, and is dashed to drops before it reaches
the kieve, which is considered to lie 1200 feet below. Its wonders can
hardly be appreciated, we were told, without entering the cavity: it
faces to the south-east; and, as you ride along the lake, the strata lie
exposed to sight, as in a Californian cañon. Amongst them is said to be
a small quantity of Surtarbrand.

We had sent on to warn the ferryman, and Charon, Sigfús Stefánsson, of
Bessastaðir, with fiery hair, clean-cut red whisker, and huge goggles,
was the model of a Scotch pedagogue. Remounting, we galloped _ventre à
terre_, the best cure for cold feet, over the turfy flat of the left
bank, and found ourselves at Valthiófstaðir, the church and parsonage of
Síra Pétur Jónsson. The house was being painted, but we found lodgings
in the church: the altar candles were duly lighted, and, after doing
what little we could to make ourselves comfortable, we turned in shortly
before midnight.

_August 3._

At Waltheofstede, whose name is distinctly Saxon, we reduced our stud to
the best sixteen head; we bought ropes and horseshoes; we mended the
pack-saddles; we paid off the temporary guides; and we engaged the
student Stefán Sigfússon, of Bessastaðir, who gave thorough satisfaction
when he did not air his ten words of English. Whilst these preparations
were being made, I inspected the premises. The farm is of old date, but
it is not the Waltheofstede so pleasantly mentioned in the Landnámabók
(p. 100): “Tunc servi Erici ruinam villæ Valthiofi de Valthiofstadis
intulerunt, Eyolfus autem Saur (Eyólfr Saur) ejus cognatus servos apud
Skeidsbrekkas super Vatnshornum occidit, eâ de causâ Eirikus Ejolfum
Saurem interfecit, iste quoque Holmgangu Rafnem (Rafn, the duellist)
Leifskalis interemit.” Thus, in seven half Lines, we have a regular
monomachist, the destruction of a farm, and the murder of two Franklins,
with an indefinite number of thralls. We still find a Thórdísa, in
memory of old days, the granddaughter of the parson at Valthiófstaðir.

The church is somewhat larger and better, that is, more tawdry, than
usual; and justly vain of it is the district. Outside it is red-striped,
with gallery, tower, spire, finial, staff, and weather-cock: the latter
bears the cross of Denmark, yet “Odi Danicos, sperno, contemno,” is a
sentiment frequently expressed in this neighbourhood. Inside it is
daubed to mock marble. The bell in the loft bears for date 1744, and the
altarpieces are truly hideous: Sanctus Peterus (_sic_), with key and
book, wears his glory on one side of the head, like a cavalryman’s
forage cap. The churchyard epitaphs are funny as usual. Hjörleif
Thórðarson (ob. 1786) speaks of his future prospects with a confidence
which some might consider premature, if not misplaced:

    “Fluctibus innumeris adversæ sortis in orbe
        Tandem transmissis, jam benè tutus ago;”

and another’s long home, a box, has become a classic “urn:”

    “Qui fuit eximium gentis decus undique nostræ
    Gutthormus, jacet hic tenui Hiorlerius urnâ.”

More satisfactory was the aspect of the farm, which supports 11 cows and
600 sheep. The labourers’ Hey-annir is now begun, and will last for six
weeks: they were at work “queerving” the grass, as Shetlanders say, with
long thin rakes, so that it may not dry too soon; “mixtæ pueris puellæ,”
the lasses with turned-up sleeves and the inevitable gloves: at mid-day
all seek shelter from the “torrid sun.” This essential part of Iceland
“agriculture” is well and carefully done; and the number of hands
enables the farmer far to surpass anything farther south. The “Taða,” or
hay from the manured (Tað) infield, opposed to the Ut-hey, or produce of
the outfield and hills, is close-shaved, and tedded twice, and even
thrice, a day: that wanted for immediate use is carried to the house in
Kláfrs (creels or crates), articles of universal use, the Leipur of the
Færoes, which also carry peat in the Isle of Lewis; and the rest, when
thoroughly dry, is stacked and covered with turf. The implements are
mere toys, mounted on rods like billiard queues for easy packing and
cheap passage. The scythe is a sickle attached to a two-handed stick
nine spans long; the blade of three spans, little more than an inch
broad, and sharp as a razor, is used here and in the Færoes because the
warty ground permits no other. The rakes are of two kinds, with big pegs
and with small teeth, both wholly of wood; and in the best farms there
are always wheelbarrows and hand-barrows.

The venerable parson, who appeared somewhat “eld-gamall” (_un vieux
vieux_), consented to give us an extra guide, a student lad named
Thorsteinn, from the north country, whose circumstances had not allowed
him to keep his term at Reykjavik: he was to receive the unconscionable
sum of $4 for one day’s march. We set out in mid-afternoon, and rode
down the Lagarfljót’s left bank, in twenty-five minutes, to the ruins of
Skriðuklaustr, the last priory founded in Iceland. Two long barrows of
earth and stone show the site of the church: they measure 87 feet north
to south, and 62 east to west. The fane is surrounded by an _enceinte_
of similar humble material: the northern entrance is apparently ancient;
that to the west, modern. The habitations of the reverend men were near,
but below the little adjoining farm; and there are still fragments of a
built causeway running south-west to the cemetery. The latter lay all
around the church, and the old custom has been perpetuated: to the south
is the grave of Sýslumaður Winne, who died in the early eighteenth
century; whilst another heap, which trends east to west, not north to
south, is called the “tomb of the bad fellow”--a point of affinity
between Icelandic and New Zealand English. Unfortunately, I had no time
for skull-digging, and gaining the title of Haugabriótr (cairn-breaker).

We were not asked to dismount, nor did we dismount, at Bessastaðir: the
tumulus of the founder, old Bessi (the bear), is a green heap by the
river-side. After a general bout of kissing and rekissing, we began the
rugged divide separating the Lagarfljót from the Eastern Jökulsá, and at
once blundered northwards: when in the worst quagmire the new guides,
Stefán and Thorsteinn, a cock-nosed lad of about twenty-two, quietly
said, “Há, we should have gone there!” Gradually we rose to 2000-2200
feet, the average altitude of these Heiðis. The foreground was unusually
repulsive, and its aspect suggested frost a few inches below. It was a
surface of mosses, ever dank and dew-drenched; of iron-stained swamps;
of tarns like horse-ponds; of soppy stream beds, with livid-yellow
Palagonite encasing the gashes; of brown heath and black peat; of huge
heaps instead of the usual warts, as if the farmer had just drawn the
manure--in fact, it was a bad specimen of the worst parts of the New
Forest centuries ago.

Our eyes, saddened by a path all steps and drops, were suddenly
electrified by the first magical view of the Vatnajökull; it had
hitherto been hidden by sundry outliers, especially the Eastern or
lesser Eyvindar, a snowless block, or rather double block, curving like
a serpent’s tail, from left to front, from south to west (275° mag.).
For better examination, we dismounted at Vegup--“Collis viæ,” said the

Behind the Snæfell cone a blue distance of lowland sweeps, like a streak
of paint, to the very foot of the “Lake Glacier,” whose general aspect
is a high dorsum of virgin white, an exaggeration of the Wiltshire downs
after a heavy fall of snow. The first thing which strikes me is that the
altitude by no means justifies all this eternal frost: we must probably
seek a cause in the immense agglomeration of ice behind; in thrust from
above, and in the prevalence of southerly, here the frigid, winds.
Secondly, the features of the grand _névé_ are perfectly separable and
distinct, very unlike the dead blank plateau of all the maps. Beginning
from the south-west, we notice the domed Kverk (throat) Jökull, fronted
by the feature which gives it a name; the huge gloomy mound, fissured to
the north, stands boldly out from the pure expanse, and sinks to the
level of the deep-blue air. Successively rise the Skálafell (hall-hill),
a double cone, connected by a long yoke of miniver, and fronted by a
glistening glacier; the three horns of Sval-barð and the ice-mailed
points of Snæfellsjökull, not to be confounded with the isolated Snæfell
cone:[153] this small Spitzbergen,

                         “ribbed and paled in
    With rocks unscalable and roaring waters,”

all bristling with pink and silvery spikes, tapering, tooth ranged near
tooth, in formidable array, projects a long slope eastwards. Farther on,
the line, _bombé_ in the map, bends with a great bay from us. Helped by
Olsen and the students, we pick out the various features of the
south-eastern corner; the Heinabergsjökull (hone-hill glacier); the
Sauðhamarstindr (sheep-cliff point), a dark mound like a brown cloud;
and eastward, again, the Kollumúli (hind-mull), alternately a black
tower and a ridge-end; whilst behind, and upon another plane, flashes a
great and glorious snow-peak which, at other angles, assumes the aspect
of a bluff or buttress. To the extreme south-east, the blue and
snow-streaked horizon, backed by pearly mists, swells into a gigantic
bride-cake, the Hofsjökull, bounded west by a pale saddleback, and north
of it lies the now familiar dome of the Thrándar ice-mountain. The gold
and purple gleams of the westering sun, the opalline play of the
projections and prominences which catch the lights, the faint pink-azure
of the shades, and the skylarking of the cloud-hosts over the heads of
the tallest peaks, set off by the umbreous black foreground, dull and
sodden, by the beggarly features of the middle distance, and by the wash
of deep damascene blue at the base, fall into glorious picture; and the
presence of black spots, like “erminites,” in the waste of white
suggests the haunts of some Troll-like race--I no longer wondered that
there are superstitions about this mysterious realm of eternal snow.

After a sketch, for the purpose of better fixing the picture upon the
brain-plate, we jogged on, leaving the snow-streaked Knefill (the pole)
to the north; and at eleven P.M. we began the short and rugged descent
to the Eastern Jökulsá. The mountain flank was gashed with the hideous
chocolate-coloured chasms of the Sharon plain; we had to pull our
way-fagged horses down boulder and through bog. As we reached the
riverine plain, well sheltered from the wind, the poor beasts recovered
courage and carried us gallantly into the new farm, with its
three-gabled house, Thorskagerði (codfish garth). Whilst Mr Lock and I
put up the tent, “Charlie” bolted into the “eld-house” (kitchen),
much to the astonishment of the gudewife, who bolted out in
demi-semi-toilette: we supped at the “fashionable” hour of one A.M., and
we slept in the broad bright dawn.

       *       *       *       *       *


This was a day of peculiarly hard work; I look back upon it with
pleasure, because it introduced me to two new features, the cage and the
sand-desert. The forenoon began with the inspection of the Jökulsá, here
a frequent name: there are three which drain the Vatnajökull
northwards--;the Little Jökulsá, from Snæfellsjökull, forming the
headwater of the Fljótsdalr; the Great Easternmost Jökulsá, known to the
people as the Vale River (á dalr), or the Bridge Stream (á Brú); and the
Great Westernmost Jökulsá, or the Hill River (á fjöllum). Icelanders
apply the term Jökulsá Eystri (eastern) and Jökulsá Vestri (western) to
the chief headwaters of the Skagafjörð, as those who have read Chapter
X. may remember. Our river, an ugly gutter-water, milky, mineral as the
drain of a Cornish mining village, and consequently desert of fish, runs
in an old valley; and the ledges between the hills and stream are the
sites of frequent farms. The deep perpendicular rifts, cut by
rain-torrents, are filled with wintry snow; and throughout this part of
the country the people use sledges, heavy, tasteless board-boxes on iron
runners, wanting all the finish of Russia and North America. The modern
bed is mostly a crevasse of grey-blue basalt, black when wetted, built
in regular strata, and pitted with drusic pock-holes: the perpendicular
walls are split into thick and thin slicings; and slaty _débris_ and
spoil-banks deform the “broads” where the cliffs sink low into the

The narrowest parts of the bed are naturally chosen for passage; in
these gorges there is a great rush from sides to centre, with a furious
boiling of the foul stream, tossing up dirty waves, from which there
would be scanty hope of escape. On one precipice two ends of Kaðlar
(cables), here inch ropes, knotted to one cross-piece, and passed over a
second, are made fast under piles of rough stone: on the farther side
the cords are roven with a round turn over the cross-piece, and are kept
clear of the rock by a wooden bar, battened and rag-garnished, to
prevent slipping and chafing. The Kláfur, or cage, is a lidless box, a
stool, whose upturned legs are provided with pulleys; it is, in fact,
the “cradle” which once crossed the chasm, 65 feet wide, between the
Heights and the Holm of Noss in the Shetland Isles. The passenger,
sitting or standing, is towed across by one of the two guys, fastened
fore and aft. The passage takes about half a minute; you descend the sag
with a little run, and are slowly hauled up the other section of the
arc. Wire might be an improvement, but it would certainly be rejected as
liable to cut the pulleys. Meanwhile, the guy is always snapping and
wanting “splicing;” so, _að fára í Kláfi_, is by no means pleasant to
the nervous man, who looks down upon

    “The hell of waters, where they howl and hiss,
    And boil in endless torture.”

I need hardly observe that the “cradle” is a form still ruder than the
rudest Andine or Himalayan swinging-bridge, which gave a hint--for
“travelling teaches”--to the civilised suspension.

We wasted four hours at this river, the chief delay being caused by the
horses. The caravan then gathered at Eyríkstaðir, the large farm of Hr
Jón Janssen. Whilst the nags were being shod, we drank “blanda,” milk
mixed with water, the best procurable remedy for thirst. Inquiring about
the stage ahead, we were told that it would take four, six, eight, or
ten “tíma” (times), not to be confounded with “Klukku-stundir.” As the
student Thorsteinn had left us, we here engaged for the day’s march the
owner’s brother, Hr Gunnlaugr Janssen, who also gave complete

The afternoon had passed away before we began to clamber up the high
eastern bank of the Jökuldalsheiði: presently we came upon a lake
country, a scatter of tarns large and small. The map shows half-a-dozen,
but not the largest, Ánavatn. Between them lie various hill-ranges, the
Western Knefill and Sval-barð (the cool hill-edge), which yesterday
appeared to us in epauletted form: to the west lay a Thríhyrningr, with
triple peak on a meridian concealing the broad shoulders of Herðubreið.
Where hill and water were not, sand, here chocolate-coloured, there
bright yellow, gave unusual opportunities for a gallop, especially where
the ground was free from dwarf-willow, deep earth-cracks, and streams
whose black arenaceous beds bent and swayed under the horses’ weight. We
were shown our line far ahead, marked by five bits of snow, which,
disposed upon a hill-side, passably imitated the human face: it veiled
and unveiled itself like a plain coquette.

On such a formation we expected a devious path hard to find; but we were
bitterly disappointed by the absence of game, where heads in thousands
have formerly been seen. Here and there lingered a duck or a teal, a
snipe or snippet, too wild to approach; the Arctic tern (_Sterna
Arctica_, Preyer) was not coy, but a solitary skua (_Lestris Thuliaca?_
Pr.), that had gone a-fishing, kept well out of our reach. A sharp
canter from No. 2 lake, Gripdeilir,[154] “_Certamen ovium_,” according
to our literary guides, soon placed us at the lakelet and farmlet of
Vetur-hús--winter-house, as opposed to Setr. It is neutral ground
between the swamps, which, probably, are under water every spring, and
the dry sands of the old sea-shore farther west. The owner, Páll
Vigfússon, owns a boat for char-fishing, and a fine flock of goat-like
sheep: his kailyard is well manured, to judge from the quantity of soft
and brittle puffs (Icel. Gorkúla; _Agaricus fomentarius_), which here
take the place of mushrooms.[155] The farm-box was a burrow worthy of St
Kilda or Rona in the olden day, entered by a hall like a mine-gallery;
the Baðstofa was fouler than the forecastle of a Greek brig; and the
three bunks which serve as dinner seats, as well as beds, gave one the
shudders. The only caloric was the natural form, which sheep have
learned to utilise; and the only chimney was a hole in the kitchen roof.
Yet the farm contained provision-room, smithy, workshop, byre, and
sheep-house. It was my fate to sleep there on the return march, but I
persuaded the good Paudl to put me in a hay-garret. After all, we must
remember Sir James Simpson’s description of the Barvas district in the
Isle of Lewis, where, during the last generation, neither window nor
chimney, chair, table, nor metal vessel existed. What a national scandal
was this barbarism!

After Vetur-hús we passed sundry farms, and we drank at every place, as
if on the banks of the Congo. Men, boys, and maidens came out to be
kissed by the two young guides, but we had only once reason to envy
their island-privilege. Beyond the Ánavatn lay the Sænaut lakelet, once
upon a time haunted by the fabled sea-cow; another pond was passed on
the left, whilst swampy ground extended far to the right. We then
ascended a ridge of sand scattered over with basaltic fragments, and saw
the Grjótgarðr, or stone-fence. It has a singular appearance, a line of
blocks, some of them ten feet square, roughly piled upon one another,
and extending half an English mile across the neck of ground. The
cubical masses appear like the produce of some quarry. The general look
suggests the line of rocks subtending the Grind of the Navir: I can only
conjecture that icebergs here meeting and grounding, have deposited
their burdens of huge boulder-rocks. The legend is that two Trolls, one
a sea-giant and the other a Jökull-giant, agreed to divide their
domains; the former started from the north, the latter from the south;
they built this wall at the place where they shook hands, and they lived
in peace--I was not told whether they married--ever afterwards.

Descending from the Grjótgarðaháls, we halted near the last lake, and
collecting a cart-load of willow-roots, which here represent the sage of
the Far Western Prairies, we kept out the mist and cold with a roaring
fire. The students, too lazy to follow our example, lay upon the ground;
yet when riding, these shuddering tenants of the frigid zone muffled
their throats in huge comforters, enclosed their hands in worsted
gloves, and wore vast waterproofs of oilskin, with other signs of
softness. It was the first fire, though not the last, that I saw in
Iceland travel.

Resuming our road, we presently began the ascent which had been pointed
out to us in the afternoon; crossed a snow-wreath and a snow-patched
divide, unusually hard work, and frequently felt the horses sinking
fetlock deep in the loose sand. We then descended the misty sides into
Heljadalr, and shivered in “Hellsdale.” A broad and open way crosses
this “Barahút,” whose unpleasant title is derived from the tremendous
torrents of spring-tide, the deep snows of winter, and the furious
dust-storms of the dry season. Leaving the Heljadalsfjall, we entered
the cold plain of Geitirssandr; the surface was of water-rolled stones
and pebbles, the base of black sand, whilst light-yellow Palagonite
appeared in the courses of the dry _fiumaras_. In places there were
crater-like heaps of dust from ten to a hundred feet high, the smaller
features perfectly conical, and set off by bars and patches of white
sand, lime, potash, and other produce of the sea. Evidently the
formation is subaqueous, as well as volcanic,[156] and I subsequently
found reason to believe that the ancient sea-beach begins west, and upon
the parallel, of the Jökulsá bridge, and runs up to the north-western
base of Snæfell, the mountain, not the Jökull. The whole tract reminds
one of what is said anent the Barony of Bunen: it has neither wood,
water, nor earth sufficient to hang, to drown, or to bury a man.

Walking our fagged horses down the yielding slopes, we presently found
the ground improve. A stream flowed to our left; a lakelet lay on the
right, and thin grass, well covered with sheep, made the scene an oasis.
We again put on steam, and shortly after three A.M. we made the
Möðrudalr farm. The church was shut, but the buxom housekeeper took
compassion upon our weary plight; basins were brought to relieve eyes
red with flinty dust, and skins painful with prickly heat; bowls of hot
coffee comforted the inner man, and once more we revelled in the luxury
of sheeted beds.

       *       *       *       *       *

_August 5._

The farm of Galiums (etymologically “Madder”), girt by its desert of
sand and stone in all directions but the west, where the Western Jökulsá
flows at a distance of six indirect miles, is one of the best, if not
the best, in Iceland. It is not known in the Landnámabók,[157] which
tells us that this quadrant was the last occupied. The white-headed
owner, Sigurður Jónsson, has often been offered his own price for it,
but to no purpose. He brings out the map and enlightens us upon the
features of the wilderness on the other side of the river. He denies the
existence of the mountain “Dýngjufjöll hin nyðr Trölladýngjur,”
immediately south of Bláfjall; and I afterwards found that he was right.
Speaking of Baring-Gould’s project to attack the Sprengisandur from
Möðrudalr, he said that a traveller would be taking the wrong road; the
usual line is from Bárðardalr on the Skjálfjandifljót to the Thjórsá
headwaters: moreover, that this Sahara is never passed till early July.
He denied that the snows on Bláfjall give any rule for crossing the cap
of the Iceland dome, of which one stage is a _jornada_ of twenty-four
hours, waterless and grainless. He confirmed my idea that the Ódáða
Hraun is bounded east as well as west by the sandy region; and he
shrugged his shoulders when I consulted him about ascending the local
sundial, Herðubreið,[158] distant some sixteen miles. The
“Broad-shouldered” stood before us in all his majesty, cabochon-shaped,
or, as the Syrians say, a “Khatím” (seal-ring), girt by perpendicular
walls, and projecting a tall point between the double glacier, here of
frosted, there of polished silver, as the surface caught the rays of the
noontide sun. It is not my fault if the sketch be very unlike
Henderson’s “Herdubreid, seen from Mödrudal.”


The wife was absent, but the buxom housekeeper let us want for nothing
except a sight of the Beauty of Möðrudalr, one of the daughters, who is
spoken of by every traveller. The comfortable homestead with three
gables showed me amongst other things a map of Palestine; but why did Mr
James Nisbet write “Treconitus?” The mill was a turbine, so quaint in
construction that the water could not be turned off. _En revanche_, the
mutton was admirable: the sheep easily fatten in this dry and delicate
air, and like their congeners of Somaliland, they put on flesh with the
slenderest rations. Not expecting to see it again, we devoured the fresh
meat as if devouring were a duty.

Mr Lock, sen., found the heat oppressive, and we waited till after noon
before we set out. A few minutes’ riding over grass led into loose, deep
sand, evidently a subaqueous formation; and here amongst the hillocks
grows the Melr, or wild oat, with pale glaucous and striped leaf, long,
tough root, large ear, and grain too small for making bread.[159] We saw
none during the night; as on the Sprengisandur, the land was too high to
hold water, and the cereal prefers hollows where it can enjoy a modicum
of damp. It will extend in scatters and patches as far as Mý-vatn; our
horses enjoy it, but the sheep apparently refuse the coarse growth, like
the “_pasto fuerte_” of the Argentine Republic. I looked in vain for
“birdies” amongst these tufts, probably they find the sands too hot and
too cold.

After an hour’s slow ride, we turned off the road to the right, where
Goðahóll, we were told, shows a temple of Thór. At the southern slope of
a hillock known as Selhóll, lay a few loose stones; farther down was the
place where the Dóm-hring was held, and northwards a black influent of
the Skarðsá formed the Blót-keldar. All was mean and barbarous in the

We now entered upon what is called the “best road in Iceland.” To the
left or west lay Sandfell and Geldíngafell; the crests were sharp as
rabbits’ teeth, and for a similar reason. After about two hours we
crossed the Skarðsá, an ugly, dark torrent, the cesspool of the hills,
and, following a ledge, we passed through the defile of the same name,
Vegaskarð: the formation was of basalt and Palagonite, the pure and the
puddingstone. This _col_ debouched upon a Viðidalr, of course nude of
withies and willows; the poor and barren slope, cut by black waters, was
girt on either side by gloomy hillocks spotted with snow. We halted for
a time at the Sel which belongs to Möðrudalr, and the carpenter, a son
of the Rev. Pètur Jónsson, kindly offered us a drink.

The “best road” began again, the only defects being rock and deep sand
in patches. The ponies, offended by the pace, bit and kicked, shied and
bumped their loads. Presently we reached the Biskupsháls, where the
saintly men of Skálholt and Hólar once met: two cairns, the
Biskupsvarðas, conspicuously placed on a height, divide the Eastern from
the Northern Quadrant. During the rough descent, of basalt flaky and red
as jasper, leading to the valley, we saw the Jökulsá called á fjöllum,
“of the hills,” for the all-sufficient reason that it flows in a vale:
the map terms this part of the bed í Axarfirði because it disembogues
into the Axarfjörð. The milky water flows through a plain of green,
thinly veiling the chocolate-coloured face of earth. Beyond it, half hid
by gloomy mist, lay the Desert of Mý-vatn, and, farther still, rose the
slaty-blue cones and ridges with which we were presently to become

Shortly before ten P.M. we rode up to the Grímstaðir establishment
belonging to the farmer and ferryman, Guðmund Árnason: he was absent at
the time, so his surly wife was duly kissed on the mouth by the
temporary guide, a peasant from Möðrudalr. This place trades, especially
in wool and mutton, with Vopnafjörð, distant a hard day’s ride; and by
this line travellers from the eastern ports usually make the Mý-vatn.
The sheep, mud marked on the rump, are good, and give rich milk, but
both articles are inferior to those of the “model farm” which we last
sighted. Grímr, the old Norwegian founder, chose a capital site; a
grassy slope gently rising from the right bank of a stream, and
protected by a ground-wave in front from the draughts and moving sands
of the river-side. It is marked by the Hálskerling, _alias_ the
Grímstaða Kerling, a natural pyramid, conspicuous to those coming from
the west: farther off rises the Haugr cone, snowy always. To the north
of the establishment is the workshop; and here I saw for the first time
horns of the reindeer, which had been shot about Herðubreið: they are
common in the neighbouring establishments. The guest-room, entered by a
small porch, had a wainscot painted to resemble maple; a gold beading
and mahogany furniture; but it boasted neither stove nor fireplace, and,
as usual, a whisper rang through the house. Then came the family
parlour, with eight windows, each single-paned, facing south: the rest
of the building consisted of outliers, byres, the sheep-house, known by
the normal central trough, and the usual artless windmill.

       *       *       *       *       *

_August 6._

This morning the owner, a rough, hard-faced and obliging man, in
appearance much like our typical “Lowlander,” lectured me in the
geography of the Útgarð, or outer regions; and an hour before noon we
cantered over the three or four miles to the river. This Jökulsá is
about 200 yards across, with a sand-bank hard by the left shore. The
sides are of crumbling basaltic sand, red and yellow Palagonite, and
water-rolled stones; on the right lay a little strip of equisetum, and
opposite it were clumps of wild oats, which promised well for a ride to
the south. The turbid, slaty-white stream flows at the rate of at least
three knots an hour: there is a tradition of its being swum by a
horse-stealer, but the cold would deter most men unless riding for dear
life. Now low in the bed, it must rise at least five feet, as appears
from the driftwood, ground to little bits, which forms the high-water
mark. The rule of Andine travellers is to cross such rivers about dawn,
when the nightly frost has bound the snows which feed them. The map
places its chief sources in the northern border of the Vatnajökull, but
the details cannot be relied upon. The length must be at least 120
miles; and as the fall from Grímstaðír to the sea is about 1200 feet,
there can be no navigation except in the several reaches, and we can
hardly be surprised that it forms the Dettifoss, the small Niagara of
little Iceland. The ferry was shaped like a spoon amputated at the
handle; it was always half full; and four trips were made necessary by
the extent of our belongings. We sat amongst the Eyrarós, the islet
roses, representing the oleanders of Syria, and watched the nags
swimming across, with their heads as usual well up-stream--apparently
the custom of towing them from the boat is obsolete in Iceland, at least
I never saw it.

Shortly after noon we attacked the Mý-vatn Öræfi, the wilderness of
Mý-vatn, which is very perfunctorily laid down in the map. It is not
wholly barren. The surface is composed of ropy and cavernous lava, with
bursten bubbles and extinguished fumaroles, growing thin grass, the
usual flowers, dwarf birch, ground-juniper, and two species of willows,
the grey always in the neighbourhood of forage; these stripes overlie
and alternate with barren volcanic sand and stones, bad retainers of
water. The larger arteries of fire-stone, as usual in Iceland, are
called Hraun-fljót (run-floods), and the smaller veins Hraun-arða. The
sheep of Reykjahlíð and other farms are driven to the green parts during
the fine season; it is a _pays brûlé_, but we shall presently see
something far worse. Here, again, game was almost wholly wanting.
Plovers sat upon the stone-heaps, and the stringy curlew (Spói), which,
our ancestors loved to “unioynt” (carve), cried over our heads; possibly
they knew that their insipidity and toughness would save them from any
but steel-tipped teeth. A few ptarmigan ran almost from under our
horses’ hoofs, ejaculating Reu! reu! reu! They are excellent eating, but
it is a shame for any but starving men to shoot them at this season,
when the grey-brown poults, little balls of fluff, are still unable to
fly. The bird may be stupid, but it is an excellent mother, praise which
can by no means be accorded to all clever animals; it appears wholly to
forget self when aiding in the escape of its progeny. At this season
ptarmigan come down from the barren uplands to seek flowers and berries
in more genial climes; yet a few days and they will retire with the
young family to safer homes.

The remarkable mound on our left, a refuge to “lifters” in olden times,
is known as Hrossaborg, the Horse-fort. From afar it appears a mere
shell of stratified mud; a nearer approach shows a worn and degraded
Herðubreið, with regular couches of Palagonite clay falling steep on all
sides but one. The huge semicircus opens to the east, where its drainage
sheds to the Hrossaborglindá, the stream of the Horse-fort spring,
flowing from the south, and much affected by sheep. I found no sign of
lava, but an abundance of sand around it; if it ever erupted, the
discharge must have been like that of Hverfjall, which we shall
presently visit. Beyond it the sand is lively as that of Sind: on my
return I saw a dozen columns careering at the same time over the plain
although rain had fallen during three days. Our caravan was struck by
one of these “Hvirfilsbíld-ör” (whirlwind bolts), which arose close by;
unlike the Shaytan of the Arabian wild, which is adjured with “Iron, O
Devil!” it did not even remove our hats. The pillars, which spread out
at the top like a stone-pine in Italy, may have been 200 feet high: some
travellers, imitating the licence of Abyssinian Bruce, swell the
altitude to 2000 yards.

As the gear wore out, so the loads fell with unpleasant persistency,
making us plod slowly over good riding ground. In front rose a
semicircular ridge, extending from north, _viâ_ east, to south of the
lake, and thickly studded with hills and cones. The map calls it
Mý-vatns Sveit, the Mý-vatn district; our student corrupted it to
“Sveinn” (puer), opposed to Stúlka, a lass. The latter reminded us of
the Joe Miller attributed to the British sailor who understood why women
were called “Snorers” (Señoras) in Spain, but could not explain their
being “Stokers” in Iceland. This mild joke had power to comfort us
whilst all manner of topographical details concerning Jörundr,
Hlíðarfell, Búrfell, Hvannfell, Sighvatr, and Bláfjall, were poured into
our dull and dusty ears. We halted for a few minutes at the little farm
Eystrasel, and then pushed forward to the solfatara. After threading the
Námaskarð, where the air was not balsam, we sighted the lake, one of the
ugliest features of its pretty kind; and at 8.30 P.M., preceding my
companions, I rode in to our destination, Reykjahlið. The features here
only named will be described at full length in the following chapter.



_Wednesday, July 31, 1872._

Left Berufjörð at 10.45 P.M. Line north-west up left bank of Axarvatn
stream, draining to Berufjörð; turf, sand, stones, washed from gullies.
Five distinct steps, separated by undulating ground; path rough; cold
mist; mountain streams to cross.

1.15 A.M. (2 hours 30 min.).--Halted at foot of fifth step, Hænu-brekka
(hen-ledge), the worst.

Walked up Hænu-brekka; snow-slope, path along _névé_; bending to north,
rough Öxarheiði, broken plain, tiers of trap, about 700 feet above
sea-level. Crossed sundry wreaths and beds of snow.

2.45 A.M.--Summit of Breiðdalsheiði; path marked by three Varðas.
Changed nags, 3.45 A.M.

Down valley of Múlaá, in the great Skriðdalr; watershed changes from
south to north.

6.30 A.M.--Passed first farm, Stefánstaðir; little Bær on left bank of
stream, and west of Skriðavatn; little lake, or rather “broad” of river.
On right, falls in the eastern path over the Berufjarðarskarð. Farms
every half-hour.

7.45 A.M.--Arnaholtstaðir farm; to-morrow will have cattle fair; some
sixty head for sale.

8.10 A.M.--Hallbjarnarstaðir, backed by its hill; general trend,
south-east to north-west.

Several farms together. At 9.30 A.M., forded Múlaá, girth-deep; rode up
to _Thingmúli_ (⊙ I.) chapel and farm, under priest of Hallormstaðir.
Good property; seventy sheep, and eight cows.

Night’s work, 10 hours 45 min., halts included. Average march, 3 to
3½ miles an hour. On map, direct geographical miles, 17. Direction,
north-west, bending to north.

Morning fine and sunny. Mist at 8 to 9 A.M.; heavy at 3 P.M. Night
cold, raw, and foggy; about midnight, mist from north.

Paid farmer, Davíð Sigurðarson, $5; his wife wanted $3 more. Little
trodden paths more expensive. People have no standard of value.


_Friday, August 2._

Set out, 12.30 P.M. Forded river, rode down Grímsá valley; often crossed
stream; best road near the bank. After 45 minutes, left Grímsá, and
struck the Melar or barrens at foot of divide. To left Geirólfstaðir,
small farm of civil people, where I slept August 19. Up the long green
slope of Hallormstaðarháls; less abrupt than western slope. Reached
summit 3 P.M. (aneroid, 29·32), and began rough and abrupt descent. At
3.15 crossed Hafursá (buck-goat river), a dwarf ravine. Trap in steps,
and red-ochre fields to left. Lagarfljót Lake below; both banks easy
slopes; green ledges and swamps, crossed by causeways. Bridle-path well
kept, because it is road to Eskifjörð, the port. Farms everywhere; see
seven on western side. Passed through the “Skóg,” forest of
Hallormstaðir. General direction, north-west; direct distance, 4
geographical miles.

4.10 P.M.--(After 3 hours 40 min. slow = 2 fast) Reached Hallormstaðir.
Left it at 6 P.M. Up right bank of Lagarfljót; succession of torrents,
gullies, and bad stony places, which can be rounded. Rode under the
Rana-Skóg (wood of the hog-shaped hill). Big sand-bar of Gilsa forms a
tongue of boulders and bad torrent if the ford is not hit. Path double,
summer along lake and in water; winter, higher up. Deep holes between
basaltic blocks; horse sinks breast-high.

8.30 P.M.--At Hrafnkelstaðir (proper name of man), opposite Hengifoss
cataract, on other side of lake.

9 P.M.--Opposite fine farm, Bessastaðir.

9.30 P.M.--Ferry below junction of two forks of Lagarfljót; swift, cold
stream.; breadth, 200 yards; current, 3 knots; horses swam in 2 min. 30
sec. On return, forded it higher up, when split into three large and
three small streams. Another ford, wither-deep, farther down. Paid
ferry, $2.

⊙ II. 10.45 P.M.--After 20 minutes’ gallop over green plain, reached
Valthiófstaðir church and parsonage. Second march (general direction,
south-south-west), 3 hours 30 min. = 10 indirect geographical miles.
Total day’s work, 7 hours 10 min. = 14 miles.

Aneroid, 29·94; thermometer, 76° (second observation, 29·96;
thermometer, 83° in sun).

Morning gloriously clear. At 10 A.M., cloudy and sunny. 2 P.M., sun hot,
and people complained. Cirri and cumuli over the Vatnajökull. Evening
clear and cool.


_Saturday, August 3._

Started 2.45 P.M.--Took upper road to avoid túns; lower better.

3.10 P.M.--Ruined monastery, Skriðuklaustr. Delayed 15 minutes.

Crossed ugly boulder-torrent, which wetted the beds. Reached Bessastaðir
farm, 3.50 P.M.

At 4.30 P.M., true start over the Fljótsdalsheiði. Map shows nearly
straight line from east to west. Not travelled over now. We struck
north-west-west; stiff rise for 45 minutes. Rotten ground, and cold air.

Reached first step at 5.10 P.M. Aneroid, 28·73; thermometer, 76°, on

First view of Vatnajökull from Vegup (Vègúp? or Vegupp?), 6.20 P.M.

Aneroid, 27·92.

On the southern road (Aðalbólsvegr) the highest point of the divide was
shown by aneroid 27·80.

7.30 P.M.--Reached midway height, water stagnates; presently the versant
changed, and the Miðvegr (half-way) torrent flowed west to the great
Jökulsá. Despite Varðas, lost way half-a-dozen times. Ground more and
more rotten.

10.30 P.M.--Crossed boulder river, Eyvindará, and turned from north-west
to south-west. Began descent.

11 P.M.--The western is the shortest, the Eastern Jökulsá being some 900
feet above the Lagarfljót. Crossed many streams divided by ridges.

_N.B._--The Holkná (water of the rough stony field) is misplaced in the
map. It is south of Eyríkstaðir, on opposite bank. Rode along river
banks; air much warmer.

⊙ III. 12.40 P.M.--Beached Thorskagerði. Ferryman’s house newly built.

Total on road, 9 hours 55 min.; very slow work; about 7 to 8 hours’ real
work. Distance measured by map, 22 to 23 geographical miles. General
direction, north-west and west-south-west.

In morning, sun and strong north wind. Then clouds from south. At 5 P.M.
saw a shower in the Lagarfljót. 7 P.M., drops of rain.


_Sunday, August 4._

Early in the forenoon, crossed the (E.) Jökulsá in the cage. The horses
were driven to the ford, 200 yards below. Only four of sixteen swam over
at first trial, in 1 hour 30 min. The rest were driven farther down, and
seven passed over in 1 hour 30 min. to 2 hours 30 min. The last five
were towed over with a rope. Occupied 4 hours. Ended at 12.45.

Loaded at Eyríkstaðir; left bank of, and 100 feet above, stream. Aneroid
at 2 P.M., 28·98; thermometer (in shade), 60°.

Set out at 5 P.M. Up the high left bank of stream, and at once lost the
road. Line not traced in map; it lies between the Möðrudalsvegr, north,
and the Jökuldalsheiði to the south. Began to cross the great divide, a
tableland, not a prism, between the two Jökulsás.

At 6 P.M., aneroid, 27·90; thermometer, 74°.

Passed north and along foot of Eyríks mountain. Entered a region of
lakes or tarns; whole surface has been under water, and probably is so
still in spring. Buðará reservoir and stream to right. Divided by dust
plains, chocolate and bright-yellow; good galloping-ground.

On right, second lake, Gripdeildr, at foot of Sval-barð Hill.

8.15 P.M.--Vetur-hús farm and lakelet; 3½ Danish (14 geographical)
miles from Möðrudalr. On return, rode in 4 hours 45 min.

End of first stage, which occupied 3 hours 15 min. = 4 geographical

Resumed road, 8.30 P.M. On left big lake, Ánavatn (Áni proper name), not
in map.

9.20 P.M.--Sænautasel (shieling of the sea-cow), a little bye, belonging
to the large Rangalon (Ranga, proper name, and-lón, sea-loch, inlet,
still-water) farm to north. There is also a Sænautavatn and a
Sænautafjall to west. Another lakelet to left. Up rise, a regular
divide; swampy region to right. Examined the “Halse of the stone wall”
(Grjótgarðaháls). Lakes and swamps again; peats cut here.

10.45 P.M.--Halted near edge of last swamp or lake. This second stage
occupied 2 hours 15 min. = 4 geographical miles.

Set out, 11.15 P.M. Bad descent to Rangaá (river), headwater of Hofsá,
going to Vopnafjörð. Map does not prolong it so far south. Exchanged
swamp for sand and snow-fonds.

Into Heljardalsfjall. Broad smooth plain of Geitirssandr.

Aneroid, 28·08.

Along hill-side to first steep descent; pyramid hill to left. Second
deep descent, the Skarð leading to plain of Möðrudalr.

⊙ IV. Arrived at Möðrudalr, 3.10 A.M. Third stage, 4 hours = 12 miles.
Total of day, 9 hours 30 min.; the distance, according to the people,
being 25 English miles. We made it 20 geographical miles.

Aneroid, 28·50; thermometer, 70° (in room).

Grey morning; sunny noon; high north wind; then heavy clouds; but no
rain till after we were lodged.


_August 5._

General direction, almost due north.

In morning took sights.

Herðubreið, 263° 30´ to 266° mag. (local variation--40°), or 223° 30´ to
226° true.

Kverkfjöll, 248° 30´ mag.

Fagradalsfjall, 244° to 246° mag.

$6 to owner, and $2 to student guide.

Set out, 2.45 P.M. Made for Geldíngafell (11° mag.), in line of tall
cliffs. Sandfell, rounded cone, on left. To right (eastward) was
Vegahnúkr, 45° mag., and the rocks and tumuli of Nýpi, or Núpur, 64°
mag. Not in map. Soon off grass into deep sand.

At 3.45 turned back, and lost twenty minutes visiting Goðahóll.

4.45 P.M.--Crossed Skarðsá, ugly black torrent, influent of Western
Jökulsá. Along a _corniche_, the Vegaskarð, a pass through the hills.
Dun-coloured Palagonite clay upon the stones; large blocks of
conglomerate and yellow basaltic rock below.

5.15 P.M.--The Miðvegr (mid-way).

Sharp riding to Víðidalr; ugly barren slope, black waters, foul stream
feeding Jökulsá. Red hill on left.

6.20 P.M.--Halted at farm; two white gables; many byres. Halted..

First stage, slow work, 3 hours = 10 geographical miles.

Set out again, 7.15 P.M. On right, Grímstaða Kerling, natural pyramid of
rock, used by trigonometrical survey.

8.45 P.M.--Biskupsháls.

Skirted Ytri Núpur, northern hill, bounded south-west by Grímstaða

9.15 P.M.--Good gallop over grass; rolling ground up and down.

⊙ V. Crossed rivulet south of farm, and reached Grímstaðir farm, 9.45

Second stage, fast; 2 hours 30 min. = 12 miles. Total, 5 hours 30 min.,
half-slow, half-fast = 22 direct geographical miles.

Paid guide, $1; he wanted $2. Will gallop back in two hours.

Morning hot and dry; sun oppressive; in afternoon, cool and cloudy air.
About 8 P.M., cold east wind; hands numbed. In evening, dense cloud,
like ice-fog, rose from the horizon and covered the sun.

Aneroid, 28·88; thermometer, 52°. Next morning, aneroid, 28·72;
thermometer, 59°.


_August 6._

General direction, nearly due west. Took sights, and farmer gave names:

1. Jörundr, bare cone of Palagonite, which we shall leave to right, or
north, 334° mag.

2. Búrfell, tall blue hill, south of our road, 300° mag.

3. Hvannfell, at north end of Bláfell, 293° mag.

4. Fremrinámar, at south-east end of Bláfell (from afar very like
Krísuvík), 276° 30´ mag.

5. Herðubreiðarfell (not to be confounded with true Herðubreið), called
by people, Dýngjufjöll; long line of low heaps and craters, partly
concealing snows of Herðubreið.

Paid $4 for pasture, $2 for ferry (Henderson paid $3), and $2 for this
day’s guide, who has two horses, and returns in the evening.

11 A.M.--Left farm; pricked over plain, sand-outs, and thin scrub.

12.15 P.M.--Jökulsá River; 3 miles. Aneroid, 28·90; thermometer, 63°.

Ferry made four trips. Horses swam to island in 1 min. 15 sec.; spent
two hours at river.

Remounted, 2.15 P.M. Passed Hrossaborg block, and began the Mý-vatn
Öræfi (Desert of Mý-vatn).

Rode slowly; loads falling. Line, lava runs (five large) and sand; many
little craters studding the plain. In front, detached hills and cones,
arc of circle with hollow towards lake. The Mý-vatns Sveit (district).

6.30 P.M.--Little farm, Eystrasel (in map, Mý-vatnssel), 1 hour 30 min.
from Reykjahlíð; swamp to east, and stream to west. Line marked by tall
Varðas, alternate layers of turf and sticks.

Up and down the Námaskarð (_col_ of the wells), dividing Dalfjall, the
northern, from Námafjall, the southern range. Pass through the heart of
the solfatara.

At west end of pass sighted the Mý-vatn.

⊙ VI. 8.30 P.M.--Arrived at Reykjahlíð, our destination.

Second stage from river, 6 hours 15 min. = 17 to 18 direct geographical
miles, riding fast and slow. Total of day’s work, 7 hours 30 min. = 20

Dull, grey morning; threatens glare and warmth. Wind from north-west;
showers on hills. Dust clouds on plain, showing excess of electricity;
signs of heat, not of rain. Sunny afternoon; gloomy evening.



I cannot accuse myself of failing to do traveller’s duty at Mý-vatn:
although the weather became raw and rainy, not an hour was wasted. The
first step was to climb the nearest height and form a general notion of
Midge-water, which must not be derived _à micturitione Diaboli_. It is
said to be forty miles in circumference--you might as well measure round
a spider--and the “gorgeous green isles” look like lumps of mud in a
horsepond; their only use is to grow angelica; but we saw them under a
dull grey sky, like an inverted pewter-pot. The mean of many
observations gave for the aneroid 29·12, and the thermometer 54°: if
this be correct, Midge Lake must be nearer 900 than 1500 feet above
sea-level. Travellers tell you that the fair dimensions were curtailed
by the great eruption of Leirhnúkr and Krafla (1724-30); that the lava
is not yet thoroughly cooled; and that consequently the surface is never
wholly frozen. But the Krafla, as we shall see, can never have flowed
here, and there are old craters and hornitos, volcanoes in miniature,
all about the edge: the whole becomes a solid sheet of ice, except where
sulphur and other minerals send forth springs more or less tepid;
moreover we found a depth of only 27 feet. The bottom is black and
muddy; the water along shore is shallow and weedy, sedgy and spumy,
whitening the coast and the island edges; it is glorious breeding-ground
for the blood-drawing “chief inhabitants of the district.” Gnat terrors
are emphatically noticed, and one traveller assures us that the people
wear a visored cassinet of black cloth to guard head and neck. They are
compared with those _feræ naturæ_, the midges of Maine; “No-see-ums,”
the “Indians” call them. We brought

[Illustration: N^o. 1.


N^o. 2.


N^o. 3.


M^c. Farlane & Erskine Lithrs. Edin^r.

Vol. II. Page 279.]

veils, and hardly saw a “Mý”--but then, the cold weather was against the
“bodies of Behemoths and the stings of dragons.” Nor did we find Mý-vatn
“a place where birds and fishes abound, and where many of the wonders of
Iceland are concentrated.” Every student of the avi-fauna who has
sighted the pool, from the days of Proctor and Krüper to those of
Shepherd[160] and Baring-Gould, makes it a very happy hunting-ground:
all give lists which bring water to the sportsman’s mouth. Ten short
years, however, have made the latest obsolete. We did not meet with a
single Iceland falcon, once so common; the birds, with the exception of
gulls, a host of sandpipers, and plucky little terns, whose sharp beaks
threatened our heads and eyes, were rare in the extreme; and we found
defunct chicks at every few hundred yards. Although we boated and shot
over the ugly puddle, our only bag consisted of a mallard, a widgeon, a
few grebes and pipers, and the Sefönd or horned grebe (_Podiceps
cornutus_ or _auritus_?), tufted on both sides of the head. The waters
supplied trout and char; there is no salmon, as the fish cannot leap the
falls twenty-five miles from the lake. Dead shells lay everywhere upon
the spumy margin, and the corpse of a duck was found studded with
mollusks. The soil, disintegrated volcanic rock, is of the richest; some
thirty farms and farmlets are scattered about the Hlíðar or ledges
between the several lava-gushes; and the pastures support some 3000

The Mý-vatn is somewhat in the delta shape, with the apex fronting west
(⊳), and with the base extending seven to eight miles: its drain, the
Laxá frá Mý-vatn, escaping about the point and feeding the Skálfandi
Fjörð, must be a mere torrent. North of it is the lumpy, uninteresting
mound, Vindbeljarfjall, “wind-bellows hill;” the bag to the south, and
the nozzle to the north-east; an African pair of bellows, _i.e._, one
“bellow,” if such word there be. It is a trigonometrical station like
the Hlíðarfjall, a bare cone north-east of Reykjahlíð. The points and
promontories are most remarkable to the south, but these and other
features will be better observed on the road to the Fremrinámar.

My general survey ending about noon, I set out for Leirhnúkr and Krafla
under the guidance of Hr Pètur Jónsson, the farmer of Reykjahlíð. The
tall, burly old man, made taller by contrast with his little Jack nag,
had fenced himself against the grey mist and skurrying sea-wind by the
usual huge comforter meeting the billy-cock hat behind; by
“conservators” of green glass, and by a mighty paletot of the thickest
Wadmal. We followed yesterday’s road, and now I carefully observed the
lay of the land. Beyond the green and grassy point, Höfði (the
headland), we came upon sundry veins of lava about a century and a half
old, and much like slag: where Palagonite-conglomerate forms the
surface, begin the Sandfell and the Hlíðarnámar (Lithewells), the latter
wrongly confounded in the map with the Námar to the east of the
Námafjall range. A couple of boards some six inches long were the only
signs of work. The dirty-yellow mountain, striped from top to toe, as if
washed by rain, with primrose, brick-red, dark blue, pea-green, light
blue, and chalky-white, now stood smoking before us; and beginning the
ascent, we passed the two boulders of pure sulphur, from which every
traveller has carried off a bittock. Threading the Námaskarð by a decent
path, we wound first to south and then to north, till we sighted the mud
caldrons on the eastern slope. In Henderson’s day they numbered twelve;
in 1872 apparently they were on their “last legs:” two lay to the north,
four to the south; they were shaped like Sitz baths, and they ejected,
with a mild puff which could not be called a roar, spirts of repulsive
slime, blue-black, like mud stained by sulphate of iron. These
“Makkalubers” contrasted strongly with the patches of lively citron and
sprightly pink all about the slopes. One traveller finds it a “most
appalling scene”--he must be easily “appalled.”

Debouching upon the eastern plain, we rode along the foot of the
Dalfjall (dale-hill), which continues the Sulphur Range to the north,
hugging the sides to avoid the Steiná, another bed of newish lava, an
impossible mass of cinder, brown, black, and red, on our right. The path
was well grown, but the “lady of the woods” (birch) is a dwarf in these
parts, and looked tame beside the patches of Dryas. We flushed sundry
ptarmigan, which were certainly not “absurdly tame.” After an hour and
a half of “Trossacks,” which on return was covered in forty-five
minutes, we halted at Skarðsel, a little Setr or summer shieling, a mere
“but and ben” without tún, a heap of peat and stones grubbed out into
rooms. The primitive churn found in every dairy shows that the ewes’
cream is here made into cheese, whilst the skim-milk forms the national
Skýr. Of course the animals are poor and thin all the year round--the
effect of continued “drain upon the constitution.”

Beyond the Skarðsel, we began to ascend and round sundry diseased and
mangy hills, walking up the higher pitches, and riding over peat mounds,
based upon oldish lava. After a total of two hours, we dismounted at the
foot of Leirhnúkr (mud-knoll), where the horses’ hoofs flung up mere
sulphur, and where warm, damp air escaped from every hole. The view from
the summit convinced me that the emplacement has been poorly described
by travellers. It is the northern head of a thin spine, a sharp prism
about a mile broad, lying almost upon a meridian (215° mag.), and
continuing the heights of Thríhyrningr, Dalfjall, and Námafjall. At some
distance to the north-west rises the snowy buttress, Gæsadalsfjöll
(geese-dale hills), almost concealing the Kinnarfjall (cheek or jaw
mountain). Nearer lies a chain of cones and craters, with sundry
outliers; they seem to have discharged a torrent nine miles long by
three of maximum breadth, which inundated the north-eastern corner of
the Mý-vatn with veins and arteries of fire; and the scatter of hornitos
and fumaroles to the north has also aided in the work of destruction, or
rather reconstruction. The map shows only a patch of lava reaching from
Leirhnúkr to the Hlíðarfjall cone south-west.

The Leirhnúkr proper is composed of two hillocks trending north and
south; the southern is larger than the northern, and the whole, a long
oval extending some 2000 paces, is one vast outcrop. The lowland to the
east is far broader than the western, a mere slip; here frequent
splotches of sulphur and anaphysemata, or gas vents, lead to the Krafla
springs. The aneroid showed the summit of the Mud-Knoll to be about 2000
feet above sea-level. Henderson (i., p. 167) calls it a volcano, and
connects it with his other volcano, Krafla, by a non-existing ridge;
but with him, _omne ignotum_, etc.--Hrossaborg and even Herðubreið are
volcanoes. When he compares the scenery with that of the Dead Sea, one
of the fairest of salt-water lakes, we must remember that his idea of
“Asphaltites” was borrowed from that lively modern writer, Strabo.

We then remounted and rode over the dwarf Phlegræan fields to the Námar
of Krafla,[161] the _immense soufrière_ of M. Robert. The lowland is
here studded with many inverted cones of cold, blue water; the principal
feature being Helvíti Stærra (Greater Hell). It is an irregular circle,
with little projections at the longest diameter, north-west to
south-east, a large, tawny funnel of burnt clay and bolus, the
degradation of trachyte and Palagonite, about 800 yards across. This is
the famous “mud-caldron of Krabla,” a “natural phenomenon hardly
inferior to the Geyser;” but Henderson’s Hell of 1815 was greatly
changed in 1872; and we shall see far larger features at the Hverfjall
and the Námarkoll. Instead of that “terrific scene,” the “jetting pool”
of wild illustrations, a lakelet smiling in the bright sun, which burst
the clouds about two P.M., a placid expanse of green-blue water, cold,
and said to be deep, occupied the bottom of the hole, and the only
movement was a shudder as the wind passed over it. I could not help
thinking of “La belle vision d’Élie, ou un Dieu passe sous la figure
d’un vent léger.” Despite the “abrupt and precipitous descent, 200 feet
deep,” there is no difficulty in descending the sides of “Olla Vulcani,”
now the mere dregs of a volcano.

After inspecting this poor, “abolished Hell,” we rode round it
northwards, crossing sundry snow-wreaths, which on the Libanus would be
called Talláját, and left our cards upon “Little Hell.” The latter is
composed of two smaller lakes on a higher plane, one bearing
east-south-east and the other south-east. Between the pair lie some
half-dozen slimy-bordered “leir-hverar,”[162] mud-boilers of fetid
smell: the ejections bubbled and spluttered, falling into their own
basins, and the fumes did not prevent the growth of Fífa and bright

After seeing what you may see in almost any solfatara, we rode to the
north-east, and in twenty minutes we ascended the turfy and muddy
northern cone of Krafla mountain; a mass of Palagonite, pierced, to
judge from the surface scatters, with white trachyte. An isolated cone
appears in the map; I found that the northerly part sweeps round to the
north-north-east, connecting with the Hágaung (high-goer), a long,
meridional buttress of similar formation; whilst the south-eastern
prolongation anastomoses with the black mass called the Hraftinnuhryggr
or “Obsidian mountain.” I utterly failed to discover any sign of crater:
we are told that Krafla was torn in half during the last century, and
Henderson apparently makes Great Helvíti the remains of the bowl. From
the apex, where the aneroid showed 27·30, we could trace the course of
the Laxá; and a gleam in the north was pronounced by the farmer to be
the Axarfjörð, a corner of the house where dwells _Le Père Arctique_.
Upon the black summit, where we

    “Toil and sweat, and yet be freezing cold,”

Dryas was still in bloom, and violets and buttercups were scattered over
the lower slopes. I looked in vain for specimens of the plumbago or
black lead, reported to be found on Krafla. There is no objection to its
presence in this katakekaumene; “graphitical carbon” was found by M.
Alibert in the volcanic formations of Siberian Meninski, so it is not
confined, as at Borrowdale, to the “primitives.”

As we were descending the hill, my guide inspected a flock of his own
sheep, and I vainly attempted to lay in a store of fresh mutton. These
people would probably sell, if they could get $8 to $9 per head, some
2000 of their 3000 animals, and greed of gain would leave them almost
destitute. Yet here, as at other farms, it is impossible, even with a
week’s work and offering treble price, to buy a single head; excuses are
never wanting, “There is no one to send! All the ewes have lambs! The
lambs are not fit for food!” The latter probably means that the lamb
will in time become a sheep; the wild negro of the African interior,
equally logical, expects a chicken to bring the price of a hen. In
Tenerife I should have shot a wether, and have left the price upon its

A shallow valley led to the Hraftinnuhryggr, where previous accounts
would induce you to expect a “mountain of broken wine-bottles,” all
“shining with their jetty colouring.” The thin strew upon the streamlet
sides and about the feet was of small fragments, which became larger as
I ascended. Mostly it was black and regular, that is, not banded, and
the outer coating was a reddish paste: in places it forms a conglomerate
with sandstone, and on the eastern summit, where trachyte also crops
out, it seems to be _in situ_. M. Cordier (p. 278) translates the word
“_pierre de Corbeau_,” thus robbing the raven: he proposes “_gallinace_”
(_i.e._, turkey-buzzard), for the glassy material of pyroxenic base,
reserving “obsidian” for the felspathic. From this place, I believe,
came the specimens lately studied by Dr Kennott of Zurich: one of them
exhibited under the microscope, “numerous small, brown, hollow bodies,
of globular and cylindrical shape, regularly arranged in definite
series.” Obsidian has been found north-east of Hekla, passing into
pumice, and old Icelandic travellers seem to confound it with
pitchstone, asphalte, or bitumen of Judea, a vegetable produce. Many of
the obsidians are remarkably acid. “Iceland agate” (why?) must be
handled with care, as Metcalfe found to the cost of his bridle-hand.
Iceland ignores the pure “stone age” of Tenerife and Easter Island; and
though strangers pick up specimens, the “volcanic glass” here has never
been worked, as by the natives of the Lipari group. I observed that
Ravenflint ridge, which prolongs the Krafla, is itself prolonged by the
Sandabotnafjöll, and by the Jörundr, which the map makes an isolated
cone. The classical name of the latter suggests memories of the old
anchorite of Garðar.

The day ended pleasantly. After finding what there was and what there
was not to be seen, I galloped back in a fine sun and warm evening, and
after seven hours thirty minutes of total

[Illustration: REYKJAHLID CHURCH--(miraculously preserved).]

work, found my companions busy in pitching the tent, despite the cold
threats of night. They complained of the stranger’s room, although it
rejoiced in such luxuries as two windows, a bed and curtains,
looking-glass, commode, map, thermometer, and a photograph of Jón
Sigurðsson. The house, with five gables, fronts west-south-west to
“Wind-bellows hill;” here the south wind is fair and warm, the norther
brings rain, the easter is wet, and the wester dry and tepid. As in
England, the south-wester is the most prevalent, and flowers thrive best
where best sheltered from it. The house has the usual appurtenances,
workshop and carpenter’s bench; smithy and furnace; byre and sheep-fold.
The shabby little windmill, with three ragged sails, goes of itself,
like Miss K.’s leg; there is an adjacent Laug, of course never used, and
the nearness of the lake renders a Lavapés (rivulet) unnecessary.
Plough, harrows, watering-pot, and hay-cart are also evidences of
civilisation, but the kail-yard is nude of potatoes--probably they
require too much hard labour. Shabbier than the windmill, the church,
bearing date 1825, lacks cross, and wants tarring; it has no windows to
speak of, and the turf walls are built after an ancient fashion, now
rare, the herring-bone of Roman brickwork. The cemetery around it is
indecently neglected, and bones, which should be buried, strew the
ground. Baring-Gould (1863) gives an account of its chasubles and other
ecclesiastical frippery, which may still be there, unless sold to some
traveller. It is a lineal descendant of that “church which in an almost
miraculous manner escaped the general conflagration” of 1724-30.
Henderson adds the question, “Who knows but the effectual fervent prayer
of some pious individual, or some designs of mercy, may have been the
cause fixed in the eternal purpose of Jehovah for the preservation of
this edifice?” I may simply remark that lava does not flow up hill; the
stream split into two at the base of the mound, without “being inspired
with reverence for the consecrated ground,” and united in the hollow
farther down. Yet travellers of that age derided the Neapolitan who
placed his Madonna in front of the flowing lava; and when she taught him
the lesson of Knútr (Canute) the Dane,[163] tossed her into the fire
with a _‘naccia l’anima tua_, etc., etc., etc. Superstition differs not
in kind, but only in degree.

The reason for the tent-pitching soon appeared. The burly farmer has a
lot of lubberly sons, and two surly daughters; “Cross-patch” and
“Crumpled-horn” being attended by half-a-dozen suitors and women
friends, _bouches inutiles_ all. If we look into the kitchen, these
Lucretias make a general bolt. There is extra difficulty in getting
hot-water, although Nature, as “Reykjahlíð” shows, has laid it on hard
by; and even the cold element is brought to us in tumblers. The coffee
is copiously flooded; this is feminine economy, which looks forward to
the same pay for the bad as for the good; and cups, which suggest “take
a ’poon, pig,” poorly supply the place of the pot. One of the sons
speaks a little English: we tried him upon the lake, and after two
hours’ rowing he was utterly exhausted. Besides, there are lots of
loafers, jolter-headed, crop-eared youngsters,

    “With no baird to the face
    Nor a snap to the eyes,”

who are mighty at doing nothing: they peep into, and attempt to enter,
the tent; when driven off they lounge away to the smithy, or to the
carpenter’s bench, and satisfied with this amount of exercise, they
lounge back into the house, where we hear them chattering and wrangling,
cursing and swearing, like a nest of young parrots. They remind me of
the Maori proverb, “Your people are such lazy rogues, that if every
dirt-heap were a lizard, no one would take the trouble to touch its tail
and make it run away.” They cannot even serve themselves: the harder
work is done by a pauper couple, a blind man and his wife, who sleep in
the hay-loft. The only sign of activity is shown by the carpenter,
Arngrímr, a surly fellow, wearing a fur cap, like a man from the
Principalities, and with mustachioes meeting his whiskers, like those of
the Spanish Torero. “He is Nature’s artist,” says the student, meaning
that he has taught himself to paint, and _hélas!_ to play flute and
fiddle. So the evening ends with ditties, dolefully sung, and the
Icelandic national hymn, the latter suggesting Rule (or rather be Ruled)
Britannia. We are curious to know how all these sturdy idlers live. They
fish; they eat rye-bread and Skýr; they rob the nests, and at times they
kill a few birds: the best thing that could happen to them would be
shipment to Milwaukee, where they would learn industry under a Yankee
taskmaster. I have drawn this unpleasant interior with Dutch minuteness:
it is the worst known to me in Iceland.

The old farmer, Pètur Jónsson, lost no time in deserving the character
which he has gained from a generation of travellers; his excuse is that
he must plunder the passing stranger in order to fill the enormous gapes
which characterise his happy home. Yet he makes money as a blacksmith;
he owns a hundred sheep, and he is proprietor of a good farm. In his old
billycock, his frock-coat and short waistcoat, he looks from head to
foot the lower order of Jew; we almost expect to hear “ole clo’” start
spontaneously from his mouth. He began by asking $3, to be paid down,
for the Krafla trip, and $4, the hire of four labouring men, for
trinkgeld to the Fremrinámar; and the manner was more offensive than the
matter of the demand. His parting bill was a fine specimen of its kind.
It is only fair to state that he bears a very bad name throughout the

Next day the north wind still blew; the heavy downpour at five A.M.
became a drizzle two hours later; and at ten A.M. there was a blending
of sunshine and mistcloud, which showed that we had nought to fear save
a shower or two of rain and sleet. Mr Lock (_fils_) and I determined
upon a ride to the Fremrinámar; “a field of sulphur and boiling mud,”
says Baring-Gould, “not visited by travellers, as it is difficult of
access, and inferior in interest to the Námar-fjall springs.” After
breakfast, we set out, each provided with two nags, which we drove over
the lava-field to the Vogar farm, about half-an-hour distant on the
other side of the grassy point, Höfði. This “oasis in the lava”--a
description which applies to all the farms of Eastern Mý-vatn--was the
parsonage in Ólafsson’s day (1772); we expected to find the Jón Jónsson
mentioned by Shepherd, who had learned English in Scotland--he had,
however, joined _il numero dei più_. As sometimes happens to the
over-clever, we notably “did” ourselves; the owner, Hjálmar Helgason, a
very civil man over a tass of brandy, was, we afterwards found out, a
son-in-law of old Pètur; he also, doubtless informed of the _rixe_,
demanded $4, which we had to pay; he kept us waiting a whole hour whilst
the horses were being driven in, and he sent with us a raw laddie, whose
only anxiety was to finish the job.

Shortly after noon we rode forward, crossing the unimportant Gjá, which
the map stretches in a zigzag south of Reykjahlíð; we passed the “horrid
lava-track” of Ólafsson, a mild mixture of clinker and sand, and in
twenty minutes we reached Hverfjall, lying to the south-east. From afar
the huge black decapitated cone, symmetrically shaped and quaquaversally
streaked, has a sinister and menacing look. It is not mentioned by
Henderson, whose account of the Mý-vatn is very perfunctory. According
to Baring-Gould, it is “built up of shale and dust, and has never
erupted lava:” as the name shows, it contained a Hver, or mudspring. We
mounted it in ten minutes, and found the big bowl to consist of volcanic
cinder and ashes based upon Palagonite and mud: the shape was somewhat
like that of the Hauranic “Gharáreh” which supplied the lava of the
Lejá. The aneroid (28·70; thermometer, 83°) showed some 800 feet above
Reykjahlíð; and the vantage-ground gave an excellent view of the lake,
with its low black holms and long green islets, of which the longest and
the greenest is Miklaey (mickle isle). This _Monte nuovo_ was erupted in
1748-52; and a plaited black mound in the easily-reached centre shows
where the mud was formerly ejected. Almost due south of it lies a
precisely similar feature, the Villíngafjall. These formations are
technically called Sand-gýgr, “sand craters,” opposed to Eld-gýgr, the
“fire abyss;” and their outbreaks form the “sand summers” and the “sand
winters” of arenaceous Iceland and its neighbourhood. I look upon the
Hverfjall as the typical pseudo-volcanic formation of the island.

The real start was at one P.M., when, having rounded the western wall of
the Hverfjall, we passed east of a broken line of craters based upon
thin-growing grass. The whole can be galloped over, but ’ware holes! Nor
did I find the skirt of a lava-flood always an “unsurmountable barrier
to Iceland ponies,” although in new places it may be. On the east was
Búrfell (“byre” hill), the name is frequently given to steep, circular,
and flat-topped mounds; south-west of it lay the Hvannfell, long and
box-shaped. Farther to the south-west, and nearly due south of the lake,
rose Sellandarfjall, apparently based on flat and sandy ground; patches
of snow streaked the hogsback, which distinguished itself from the
horizontal lines of its neighbours. Far ahead towered the steely heights
of Bláfjall, which from the east had appeared successively a cone and a
bluff: it still showed the snows which, according to travellers, denote
that the Sprengisandur is impassable; the last night had added to them,
but the lower coating soon melted in the fiery sun-bursts. The line of
path was fresh lava overlying Palagonite; and in the hollows dwarf
pillars of black clay were drawn up from the snow by solar heat: their
regular and polygonal forms again suggested doubts about the igneous
origin of basalt, which may simply result from shrinking and pressure.
This columnar disposal of dried clay, and even of starch desiccated in
cup or basin, was noticed by Uno Von Troil as far back as 1770.

After an hour’s sharp ride, during which my little mare often rested on
her nose, we struck a cindery divide, a scene of desolation with sandy
nullahs, great gashes, down whose sharp slopes we were accompanied
bodily by a fair proportion of the side: of course the ascents were made
on foot. The material is all volcanic and Palagonitic; here trap and
trachyte _in situ_ apparently do not exist: as we made for a _Brèche de
Roland_, east of Bláfjall, we passed a sloping wall of white clay; and
at half-past three we halted and changed nags at the Afréttr
(_compascuum_), to which the neighbouring farmers drive their sheep in
July and August. The lad called it the Laufflesjar, leafy green spots in
the barren waste. We saw little of the willow which he had led us to
expect; but the dark sand abounded in flowers and gramens; the former
represented by the white bloom of the milfoil (_Achillea millefolium_),
which the people term Vallhumall,[164] or “Welsh,” that is, “foreign,”
hop; and the latter by the Korn-Súra (_Polygonum viviparum_), viviparous
Alpine buckwheat. A snow-patch at the western end of the plainlet gave
us drink; and thus water, forage, and fuel were all to be found within a
few hundred yards. The guide said it was half-way, whereas it is nearly
two-thirds, and we rode back to it from Bláfjall, which bears 100°
(mag.), in an hour.

Resuming our road we rounded the sides of the hillocks, and presently we
attacked a Hraun unmarked by Varðas. Discharged by a multitude of little
vents, the upper and the lower portions are the most degraded; the
middle flood looks quite new, and ropy like twisted straw. We now
sighted and smelt the smoke pouring from the yellow lip, which looks as
if the sun were ever shining upon its golden surface, and which stands
out conspicuous from the slaggy, cindery, and stony hills. At five P.M.,
after a ride of four hours and a half, we reached the northern or
smaller vent, an oval opening to the north-north-west, and we placed our
nags under shelter from the wind. The hair was frozen on their backs
into “_lamellæ niveæ et glaciales spiculæ_;” they had no forage beyond a
bite at the Afréttr, and we were on a high, bleak level, the aneroid
showing 27·10, and the thermometer 40°.

When the sun had doffed his turban of clouds, we sat upon the edge of
the Little “Ketill” and studied the site of the Fremrinámar, the
“further springs,” because supposed to be most distant from the lake.
From the Öræfi the pools seem to cluster about the yellow crater; now we
see that they occupy all the eastern slope of the raised ground, the
section of the Mý-vatns Sveit extending from Búrfell to Bláfjall. The
northern vent is merely one of the dependencies of Hvannfell; the
southern or Great Crater belongs to the “Blue Mountain.” We presently
turned southwards and ascended the Great Kettle, which Paijkull declares
to be “probably the largest in Iceland.” This Námakoll, “head” or “crown
of the springs,” is an oval, with the longer diameter disposed
north-east to south-west (true), and measuring nearly double the shorter
axis (600:350 yards).[165] The outer wall, raised 150 to 200 feet, is
one mass of soft sulphur covered by black sand; every footstep gives
vent to a curl of smoke, and we do not attempt to count the hissing
fumaroles, which are of every size from the thickness of a
knitting-needle upwards. With the least pressure a walking-stick sinks
two feet. We pick up fragments of gypsum; alum, fibrous and
efflorescent; and crystals of lime, white and red, all the produce of
the Palagonite, which still forms the inner crust; and we read that sal
ammoniac and rock-salt have also been found. The rim is unbroken, for no
discharge of lava has taken place; the interior walls are brick-red and
saffron-yellow, and where snow does not veil the sole, lies a solid
black pudding, the memorial cairn of the defunct Hver or Makkaluber.
From the west end no sulphur fumes arise; south-eastward the ruddy
_suffioni_ extend to a considerable distance.

The Appendix will describe the old working of these diggings, which did
not pay, although the hundredweight cost only ten shillings. At the
southern end a staff planted in the ground amongst the hissing hot
coppers still shows the labourers’ refuge, a shed built with dry lava
blocks. If Professor Henchel characterised them correctly as “bad,
because all the sulphur was taken away last year” (1775), they have
wonderfully recovered in the course of a century: evidently “all the
sulphur” means only the pure yellow flowers lying on the surface. The
mass of mineral is now enormous. The road to the lake is a regular and
easy slope, and working upon a large scale would give different results
from those obtained by filling and selling basketfuls.

From the summit of the Námakoll we had an extensive view of the unknown
region to the south. Upon the near ridge stood the Sighvatr rock, the
landmark of the Öræfi, from which it appears a regular pyramid: here it
assumes the shape of a _Beco de papagaio_. I now ascertained that there
are no northern Dýngjufjöll, or rather that they are wrongly disposed
upon the map. I wonder also how that queer elongated horse-shoe farther
south, the “Askja” or “Dýngjufjöll hin Syðri,” came to be laid out; but
my knowledge of the ground does not enable me to correct the shape.
North of Herðubreið lay the Herðubreiðarfell, all blue and snow-white.
To the south-west stretched far beyond the visible horizon the Ódáða
Hraun, which most travellers translate the “Horrible Lava,” and some
“Malefactors’ Desert” or “Lava of Evil Deed.” The area is usually
estimated at 1160 square miles, more than one-third the extent of the
Vatnajökull, which it prolongs to the north-west. Viewed from the
Námakoll it by no means appears a “fearful tract, with mountains
standing up almost like islands above a wild, black sea.” I imagine that
most of the _contes bleues_ about this great and terrible wilderness
take their rise in the legendary fancies of the people touching the
Útilegumenn, or outlaws who are supposed to haunt it. I observed that Hr
Gíslason prepared a pair of revolvers in case we met them upon the Öxi;
and I found to my cost that even educated men believe in them. Previous
travellers may be consulted about the Happy Valleys in the stone-desert,
the men dressed in red Wadmal, the beautiful women, and the hornshod
horses. I can only observe that such a society has now no _raison
d’être_; it might have had reasons to fly its kind, but a few sheep
lost during the year are not sufficient proofs of such an anomaly still

All I saw of the Ódáða Hraun was a common lava-field, probably based
upon Palagonite. It seemed of old date, judging from the long dust-lines
and the stripes tonguing out into ashes and cindery sand. The surface
was uneven, but not mountainous; long dorsa striped the ejected matter,
and the latter abounded in hollows and ravines, caverns and boilers.
Many parts retained the snow even at a low level, and thus water cannot
be wholly wanting even in the driest season. Here and there were tracts
of greenish tint, probably grass and willows, lichens and mosses;
possibly of the lava with bottle-like glaze over which I afterwards
rode. The prospect to the south-south-west ended with a blue and white
buttress, an outlier of the Vatnajökull, which might be the (Eastern)

We proposed to return by the eastern road _viâ_ the Búrfell, but our
guide declared that the lava was almost impassable, and that the hardest
work would not take us to Reykjahlíð before the morning. Having neither
food, tobacco, nor liquor, and being half frozen by the cold, we
returned _viâ_ the Afréttr; we passed to the east of Hverfjall, not
gaining by the change of path; and after a ride of eight hours and a
half we found ourselves “at home” shortly before eleven P.M. My feet did
not recover warmth till three _A.M._

August 9th was an idle day for the horses, which required rest before a
long march to the wilderness; the weather also was rainy, and more
threatening than ever. I proceeded to examine the Hlíðarnámar, or
Ledge-springs, and to see what boring work had been done by my
companions.[166] The “smell of rotten eggs,” the effects of “suffocating
fumes” upon “respiratory organs,” which by the by can only benefit from
them, and the chance of being “snatched from a yawning abyss by the
stalwart arms of the guide”--we were our own guides--had now scanty
terrors for our daring souls. They have been weighty considerations with
some travellers; their attitude reminds me of two Alpine climbers who,
instead of crossing it, sat down and debated whether, as fathers of
families, they would be justified in attempting that snow-bridge.
Perhaps the conviction that the “abyss” here rarely exceeds in depth
three feet, where it meets with the ground-rock, Palagonite, may account
for our exceptional calmness. The reader will note that I speak only of
the Hlíðarnámar: in 1874 they tell me a traveller was severely scalded
at some hot spring.

The Hlíðarnámar west of the Námafjall, which Henderson calls the
“Sulphur Mountain,” are on a lower plane than the Námar proper, east of
the divide. They are bounded on the north by the double lava-stream
which, during the last century, issued from the north-east, near the
base of the Hlíðarfjall: to the south stretch independent
“stone-floods,” studded with a multitude of hornitos, little vents, and
foci. The area of our fragment of the great solfatara extending from the
mountain, where it is richest, to the lava which has burnt it out, may
be one square mile. It is not pretty scenery save to the capitalist’s
eye, this speckled slope of yellow splotches, set in dark red and
chocolate-coloured bolus, here and there covered with brown gravel, all
fuming and puffing, and making the delicate and tender-hued Icelandic
flora look dingy as a S’a Leone mulatto.

We began with the lowlands, where the spade, deftly plied by the handy
Bowers, threw up in many places flowers of sulphur, and almost pure
mineral. Below the gold-tinted surface we generally found a white layer,
soft, acid, and mixed with alum; under this again occurred the bright
red, the chocolate, and other intermediate colours, produced either by
molecular change, the result of high temperature; or by oxygen, which
the steam and sulphur have no longer power to modify. Here the material
was heavy and viscid, clogging the spade. Between the yellow outcrops
stretched gravelly tracts, which proved to be as rich as those of more
specious appearance. Many of the issues were alive, and the dead vents
were easily resuscitated by shallow boring; in places a puff and fizz
immediately followed the removal of the altered lava blocks which
cumbered the surface. In places we crushed through the upper crust, and
thus “falling in” merely means dirtying the boots. Mr Augustus Völlker,
I am told, has determined the bright yellow matter to be almost pure
(95·68:100). The supply, which has now been idle for thirty years, grows
without artificial aid, but the vast quantities which now waste their
sourness on the desert air, and which deposit only a thin superficial
layer, might be collected by roofing the vents with pans, as in Mexico,
or by building plank sheds upon the lava blocks, which appear already
cut for masonry. According to the old traveller, Ólafsson, the supply is
readily renewed; and Dr Mouat (“The Andaman Islanders”) covers all the
waste in two or three years.

Leaving our nags in a patch of wild oats, which, they say, the Devil
planted to delude man, we walked up the Námafjall, whose white, pink,
and yellow stripes proved to be sulphur-stones and sand washed down by
the rain so as to colour the red oxidised clay. Here we picked up
crystals of alum and lime, and fragments of selenite and gypsum
converted by heat into a stone-like substance. The several crests,
looking like ruined towers from below, proved to be box-shaped masses of
Palagonite and altered lava; the summits, not very trustworthy to the
tread, gave comprehensive prospects of the lowlands and the lake. Upon
the chine we also found mud-springs, blubbering, gurgling, spluttering,
plop-plopping, and mud-flinging, as though they had been bits of the
Inferno: the feature is therefore not confined, as some writers assert,
to the hill-feet facing the Öræfi. The richest diggings begin east of
the crest, and here the vapour escapes with a treble of fizz and a bass
of sumph, which the vivid fancy of the Icelandic traveller has converted
into a “roar.” My companions were much excited by the spectacle of the
great _soufrière_, and by the thought of so much wealth lying dormant in
these days of “labour activised by capital,” when sulphur, “the
mainstay,” says Mr Crookes, “of our present industrial chemistry,” has
risen from £4, 10s. to £7 a ton, when 15 to 20 per cent. is a paying
yield in the Sicilian mines, and when the expensive old system of
working the ore has been rendered simple and economical as
charcoal-burning. And we should have looked rather surprised if informed
that all these mines were shortly to be extinguished by a scientific
member of the Society of Arts.

In the evening, which unexpectedly proved the last when we three met in
Iceland, the conversation naturally fell upon sulphur and
sulphur-digging. The opinion expressed by Professor Jönstrüp, who in
1871 had used the six-inch boards, was also duly discussed. He was
undoubtedly right in believing that for exploitation foreigners can do
more than natives, and that money spent by the Danish Government would
only weight the Icelander’s pocket. But he gave a flourishing account to
Mr Alfred G. Lock, who, after wooing the coy party since 1866, has
obtained a concession for fifty years; the only limiting condition being
that he is not to wash in running waters, an absurdity demanded by local
prejudices. For many years the Iceland diggings were a “bone of
contention” between England and France. In 1845, M. Robert, the same who
quietly proposed robbing the Iceland spar, wrote, “Aussi doît-il bien se
garder de jamais accorder aux Anglais qui l’ont sollicitée, la faculté
d’exploiter ces soufrières; comme on l’a fait en Laponie a l’égard des
mines de cuivre.” Let us hope that under the enlightened rule of
philanthropic Liberal Governments, nations have improved in 1874. But as
the Iceland fisheries prove, the French rulers have ably and
substantially supported their fellow-subjects, whereas ours find it
easier and more dignified to do nothing, and to “let all slide.” Nothing
proves England to be a great nation more conclusively than what she does
despite the incubus from above. Nothing is more surprising than to see
the man whom you have known for years to be well born, well bred, and
well worthy of respect, suddenly, under the influence of office or of
public life, degenerating into the timid Conservative, or the rampant,
turbulent Radical. But the do-nothing policy of late years must give way
the moment pressure is put upon it, and popular opinion requires only
more light for seeing the way to a complete change.

I did not visit the House-wich of old Garðar Svafarson nor the road by
which the Mý-vatn sulphur has been shipped in small quantities to
Copenhagen, but Mr Charles Lock kindly sent me a sober and sensible
description, which is given in his own words.

“The Húsavík line is very good, being for the most part over gently
undulating downs, with basalt a few feet below the surface; crossing no
streams of importance, and having a fall of 1500 feet in a distance of
45 miles.[167] It is wrongly shown in Gunnlaugsson’s map, for instead of
being on the eastern side of Lángavatn it skirts the western shore of
that lake, and it likewise passes on the western side of Uxahver.

“Húsavík harbour is a very good one, judging from the description given
us by Captain Thrupp, R.N., of H.M.S. ‘Valorous,’ who spent some time
there this summer. An old Danish skipper said it was perfectly safe when
proper moorings were laid down, no vessel having been lost in it during
the last thirty years. He has been trading between Copenhagen, Hull, and
Húsavík for twenty-five years past, reaching the latter port each year
about the end of February, and making his last voyage home in October.
Between October and February there is generally a quantity of ice
floating off the coast, which hinders vessels entering the

I also asked my young _compagnon de voyage_ to collect for me, upon the
spot, certain details of the earthquake which occurred in the
north-eastern part of the island, and which, as was noticed in the
Introduction, did some damage at Húsavík. On the afternoon of April 16,
three shocks were felt; two others followed during the afternoon of
April 17; the second was remarkably violent, and throughout the night
the ground continued, with short intervals of repose, to show lively
agitation, which on the 18th reached its culmination. All the wooden
huts were thrown down, and the stone houses were more or less shaken,
the factory alone remaining in any measure habitable. Some cattle were
killed; there was no loss of human life, but from twenty to thirty
families were compelled to seek shelter in the outskirts. Nobody
remained in the dilapidated little market-town except the Sýslumaðr,
whose family left for Copenhagen in the steamer “Harriet,” bringing the
news to Europe--I met them on their return to Reykjavik, and they
confessed having been terribly startled and shaken. During the three
days after the 18th, the vibrations continued with diminished violence;
they were unimportant in the immediate neighbourhood of Húsavík; they
were insignificant about Krafla, and when the vessel sailed they had
wholly ceased. There was also a report that the crater in the icy depths
of the Vatnajökull had begun to “vomit fire.”

This much the _Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung_ had informed me: Mr
Charles Lock added the following details: “During the eight days of
earthquake the thermometer (R.), during the night, fell as low as-8°.
The direction of the shocks was from east to west, and some of them were
very severe. The inhabitants were so much frightened that they crowded
on board a vessel which chanced to be in port. I was not told that the
effects were at all felt in the harbour. The Sýslumaðr slept in one of
the streets for several nights. Many small cracks were left in the
ground when the shocks had subsided; but these have since been filled
up: some naturally, others by the peasants.”

Let us now “hark back” to Mý-vatn.

As a wandering son of Israel once said to me, in my green and salad
days, “Gold may be bought too dear.” The question is not whether sulphur
exists in Iceland; it is simply “Can we import sulphur from Iceland
cheaper than from elsewhere?” Calculations as to profit will evidently
hinge upon the cost of melting the ore at the pit’s mouth, and of
conveying it to a port of shipment: however cheap and abundant it may be
in the interior, if fuel be scarce and roads and carriage wanting, it
cannot be expected to pay. My opinion is that we can, if science and
capital be applied to the mines. The digging season would be the hot
season; and the quantity is so great that many a summer will come and go
before the thousands of tons which compose every separate patch can be
exhausted. But this part of the work need not be confined to the fine
weather: it is evident, even if experience of the past did not teach us,
that little snow can rest upon the hot and steaming soil. As one place
fails, or rather rests to recover vigour, the road can be pushed forward
to another--I am persuaded that the whole range, wherever Palagonite is
found, will yield more or less of the mineral.

The first produce could be sent down in winter to Húsavík by the Sleði
(sledge). When income justifies the outlay, a tramroad on the Haddan
system would cheapen transit. The ships which export the sulphur can
import coal to supply heat where the boiling springs do not suffice,
together with pressed hay and oats for the horses and cattle used in the
works. As appears in the Appendix, turf and peat have been burned, and
the quantity of this fuel is literally inexhaustible. It will be
advisable to buy sundry of the farms, and those about Mý-vatn range in
value between £300 and a maximum of £800. The waste lands to the east
will carry sheep sufficient for any number of workmen. The hands might
be Icelanders, trained to regular work, and superintended by English
overseers, or, if judged advisable, all might be British miners. Good
stone houses and stoves will enable the foreigner to weather a winter
which the native, in his wretched shanty of peat and boards, regards
with apprehension. Of the general salubrity of the climate I have no

The sulphur trade will prove the most legitimate that the island can
afford. Exploitation of these deposits, which become more valuable every
year, promises a source of wealth to a poor and struggling country; free
from the inconveniences of the pony traffic, and from the danger of
exporting the sheep and cattle required for home supply. And the
foreigner may expect to enrich, not only the native, but himself, as
long at least as he works honestly and economically, and he avoids the
errors which, in the Brazil and elsewhere, have too often justified the
old Spanish proverb, “A silver mine brings wretchedness; a gold mine,

These statements, printed in the _Standard_ (November 1, 1872), have
lately been criticised by a certain “Brimstone” (_Mining Journal_,
August 29, and September 19, 1874). He is kind enough to say, “I have
the greatest respect for Captain Burton as a traveller, but none
whatever as an inspector of mining properties”--where, however, a little
candour and common sense go a long way. And he is honest enough to own,
despite all interests in pyrites or Sicilian mines, that the “working of
the sulphur deposits in question may possibly, with great care and
economy, give moderate returns on capital.” His letters have been
satisfactorily answered by Dr C. Carter Blake and Mr Jón A. Hjaltalín.
It only remains for me to remark that nothing is easier than to draw
depreciatory conclusions from one’s own peculiar premises. “Brimstone,”
for instance, reduces the working days to 150, when the road would be
open all the year round to carts and sledges; he considers the use of
sledges upon snow a “fantastic idea,” and he condemns the horses to
“eat, month after month, the oats of idleness,” whereas they can be
profitably employed throughout the twelve months either at the diggings
or in transporting the ore. The statistics of Iceland emigration prove
that even during the fine season a sufficiency of hands might, if well
and regularly paid, be “withdrawn into the desert from fishing and
agricultural operations,” which, after all, are confined to the
Heyannir, or hay-making season, and which take up but a small fraction
of the year, between the middle of July to the half of September.
Moreover, there is little, if any, fishing on the coasts near the
northern mines. The report of the Althing shows that ten, and sometimes
twenty, labourers worked at the Krísuvík diggings, where fishing is
busiest, during almost the whole winter of 1868-69, and the silica
mining of Reykjanes was not interrupted during December and January
1872-73. The spell is from five to six hours during the darkest months,
the shortest day in Iceland being five hours. About mid-March the island
night is not longer than in England, and from early May there is
continual daylight till August, when the nights begin to “close in.” The
hands in the southern mines were paid from 3½d. to 6d. per hour.
Professor Paijkull made the northern sulphur cost 3 marks per cwt., and
the horses carried 3 to 3½ cwts. in two days to the trading station:
Metcalfe also declares that 200 cwts. per annum were melted at Húsavík,
and that the price was half that of Sicilian. “Brimstone” complains that
the distance from the coast is variously laid down at 25 (direct
geographical), 28⅘, 40, and 45 (statute) miles, when the map and the
itineraries of many travellers are ready to set him right. He need
hardly own that he has no personal knowledge of Húsavík, Krísuvík, or
any part of Iceland, when he sets down “such necessary little items as
loading, lighterage, harbour-dues, improving Husavik, brokerage, et
cætera,” confounding the ideas of Snowland and England. After a startled
glance at the cost of British labour, “and, worse still, of idleness
during the greater part of the year”--a phantom of his own raising--he
asks, “What about the demoralisation consequent on the latter, and on
the inevitable use and abuse of the spirits of the country, in order to
while away the time?” The Brazil is surely as thirsty a land as Iceland,
yet my host, Mr Gordon, of the gold mines in Minas Geraes, would be
somewhat surprised, and perhaps not a little scandalised, to hear that
his white, brown, and black hands cannot be kept from drink. Briefly the
objector’s cavils may be answered in the “untranslatable poetry” of the
American backwoodsman, “T’aint no squar’ game; he’s jest put up the
keerds on that chap (Sicily) from the start.” I have no idea who Mr
“Brimstone” is, but I must say that he deserves a touch of his own
mineral, hot withal, for so notably despising the Englishman’s especial
virtue--Fair Play.

On the other hand, my notes on the Mý-vatn mines drew from a Brazilian
acquaintance, Mr Arthur Rowbottom, the following note, containing an
inquiry which unfortunately I could not answer:

“I read your account of the sulphur mines of Myvatn with great interest
and pleasure; and from your report I should feel disposed to believe
that boracic acid exists in the same district. You will, no doubt,
remember the conversation we had on board the ‘Douro,’ returning from
Brazil, about the very large fortune made by Count Larderel out of the
boracic acid produced in the Tuscan lagoons situated near Castelnuovo.
Wherever native alum and brimstone are found, there are always traces of
borate of soda in one form or another. Boracic acid exists at the Torre
del Greco, and in Volcano of the Lipari Islands.[169] The locality where
the ‘Tincal’ is found in Thibet is reported to be plutonic; in fact,
nearly all the countries from whence the borate of soda is drawn are
somewhat similar to the sulphur districts of Iceland; and I should feel
greatly obliged if you could inform me if boracic acid or borate of lime
exists in the island.”




_August_ 10.

We were humanly threatened with rain on the fourth day, but my aneroid
gave me better news. The principal difficulty was to find a guide for
the southern Öræfi. Hr Pètur’s sons shrugged their shoulders and pleaded
illness--“_pituitam habent_” explains the student--they swore that the
farm horses were not strong enough to traverse the grassless waste.
After a three days’ search, I managed to secure a _dummer junger_, named
Kristián Bjarnason of Eilífr, who had once almost reached the base of
Herðubreið; and old Shylock lent him, for a consideration, two lean
nags, with orders to go so far and no farther. My own stud consisted of
eight, and only one of these carried the little tent and provisions--a
loaf of brown rye-bread, two tins of potted meat, a diminutive keg of
schnapps, and rations for my companions, the student Stefán and Gísli
Skulk. The latter showed some alacrity in preparing to return home; as
he had a grudge against Mr Lock, so he contrived to nobble all the
ropes, and tried furtively to drive off all the baggage-horses. I looked
carefully to the tethers of my nags, and personally saw them shod with
good irons and new-made nails: I strongly suspect my henchman of having
stolen a march upon me; he could not smash my hammer, but he managed to
lose the extra nails. More than one shoe proved to be broken on the
second day, and several were found fastened with only three mere
“tacks,” the best contrivance in the world for permanently injuring a

The start was, as usual, painfully slow; although I rose at five A.M.,
the journey did not begin before 10.30. The Messrs Lock accompanied me
part of the way; we were all to meet at Djúpivogr on the seventh day,
but that meeting was not written in the Book of Fate. After shaking
hands with the good Bowers, I pricked sharply over the plain, glad to
escape the reeking valley of Mý-vatn; the cool and clear north-easter at
once swept away the mournful _grisaille_ of the charged sky; presently
the sun came out, afflicting the horses, and the dust rose, troubling
the riders. About half-way to the river we turned off south-eastward,
and rode over the usual mounds, which resemble

    “The grassy barrows of the happier dead.”

After this rough, tussocky ground came black sand, bordering black and
ropy lava; the former was grown with oat-clumps seven to eight feet
high, many of them dead at this season: they sheltered the normal
vegetation, and extended immense roots to collect nutriment from the
barren soil. The path was pitted, especially on the outskirts of the
various stone-floods, with blind holes (Gjá), wearying, and even
dangerous, to horses--I soon preferred the rougher riding. The
floor-rock again was yellow Palagonite, barred with white waves, soda
and potash. At four P.M. we crossed the Fjallagjá, a yellow wady, which
might have been in the heart of Arabia Deserta; we were approaching its
recipient, the foul Jökulsá. Finally, after entering broken ground of
deep sand, and crossing a black hill, Gleðahús, the gled’s house, we
come to our halting-ground, Valhumall-lá,[170] the “low land of
milfoil,” another wady, but black with sand, and showing lava-streams to
the south. The guide declared that we were on the parallel of Víðidalr,
which, however, could not be seen.

The day’s work had been thirty-two miles, in six hours twenty minutes,
and I was much pleased with it; no better proof was wanted to show the
feasibility of travelling in the wilderness, at least wherever a river
is found. All the features have names given during the annual
sheep-hunts. We found tracks of the flocks and the ponies which had
followed them, extending up to the Vatnajökull. To the south-west, and
apparently close at hand, rose Herðubreið: viewed from the north, its
summit, which is tilted a few degrees to westward, appears like a
cornice perpendicular, and in places even leaning forward, whilst a
solid conical cap of silvery snow ends the whole. In the evening air the
idea of an ascent looked much like mounting upon a cloud; the more you
craned at it, as the phrase is, the less you liked it; but I trusted
that a nearer approach would level difficulties, and that the sides must
be striped by drainage _couloirs_. The cold became biting before eight
P.M., another reminiscence of the Asiatic desert, in which you perspire
and freeze, with the regularity of the tides, every twenty-four hours:
in both cases the cause is the exceeding clearness and dryness of the
atmosphere, so favourable to the radiation of heat and to the deposit of
dew. I slept comfortably in the tent pitched upon the sands, disturbed
only by Stefán’s hearty snores.

       *       *       *       *       *

_August_ 11.

The day broke badly indeed: at early dawn (aner., 28·55; therm., 41°) a
white fog lay like wool-pack on the ground, making the guide despair of
finding his path: at nine A.M. it began to lift, promising a fiery noon,
which, however, was tempered by a cool north breeze. The men persuaded
me to leave the tent; there are no thieves in the Icelandic desert, in
this point mightily different from that of Syria: they declared that we
should easily reach Herðubreið in two to three hours. We presently
crossed a new lava-stream, the usual twisted, curled, “tumbled
together,” and contorted surface, in places metallic and vitrified by
fire; here and there it was streaked with level, wind-blown lines of
dust and ashes. Thence we passed into the usual sand, black and cindery,
based upon tawny Palagonite, and curiously beached with pebble-beds; the
rounded stones had been scattered on the path by ponies’ hoofs. This
sand was deeply cracked, and our nags, panting with heat, sank in it to
the fetlock. The maximum of caloric at certain hours of a summer’s day
during a long series of years is far more equally distributed over earth
than men generally suppose. Some have gone so far as to assert that it
is “the same in all regions from the Neva to the banks of the Senegal,
the Ganges and the Orinoco;” and the range has been placed “between 93°
and 104° (F.) in the shade. In this island we are preserved from
extremes by the neighbourhood of the sea, yet the power of the sun at
times still astonishes me. The “Ramleh” (arenaceous tract) ended in a
pleasant change, a shallow, grassy depression, with willows, red and
grey, equisetum, “blood-thyme,” wild oats, which abhor the stone tracts,
and the normal northern flora. Here, as I afterwards found, we should
have skirted the Jökulsá, made for the mouth of the Grafarlandsá, and
ridden up the valley of the dwarf stream. The guide preferred a short
cut, which saved distance and which lost double time.

To the right or north-west we could trace distinctly the golden crater,
the Sighvatr pyramid, and the familiar features of the Fremrinámar. I
again ascertained that a line of high ground, a blue range streaked with
snow, trending from north-west to south-east (mag.), and representing
the fanciful Trölladýngjur (_Gigantum cubilia_) of the map, also
connects Bláfjall with the Herðubreiðarfell. The latter, separated by
“Grave-land Water,” a common name for deeply encased streams, from the
“Broad-Shouldered” proper, is a brown wall with frequent discolorations,
a line of domes and crater cones, now regular, then broken into the
wildest shapes; in one place I remarked the quaint head and foot pillars
of a Moslem tomb. A single glance explained to me the ash-eruption from
the Trölladýngjur recorded in 1862, and the many stone-streams supposed
to have been ejected from Herðubreið; they extended to the very base of
the latter, and all the “Hraunards” (lava-veins) which we crossed that
day had evidently been emitted by these craters.

At noon, after four hours fifteen minutes (= fifteen very devious
miles), we entered a line of deep, chocolate-coloured slag and cinder,
unusually bad riding. It presently led to the soft and soppy, the grassy
and willowy valley of Grafarlönd, which is excellently supplied with
water. I naturally expected to find a drain from the upper snow-field of
the Great Cone; the whole line is composed of a succession of springs
dividing into two branches, a northern, comparatively narrow, and a
southern, showing a goodly girth of saddle-deep water. The weeds of the
bed and the luxuriant pasture amid the barrenest lava, “Beauty sleeping
in the lap of Terror,” suggested that in this veritable oasis, if
anywhere, birds would be found. A single snipe and three
Stein-depill[171] (wheat-ear) showed how systematic throughout this part
of the country had been the depopulation of the avi-fauna. A few
grey-winged midges hovered about, but I looked in vain for shells. The
spring showed only a difference of + 0·5 from our sleeping-place. And
now my error began to dawn upon me: the ride to Herðubreið would be
seven hours instead of two to three; the tent had been left behind; the
men had no rations, and “alimentary substances” were confined to a few
cigars and a pocket-pistol full of schnapps.

But regret was now of no avail; and time was precious. After giving the
nags time to bite, I shifted my saddle, and, at two P.M., leaving Gísli
Skulk in charge of the remounts, I pushed on south, accompanied by
Stefán and Kristián. We crossed the two streamlets, each of which has
its deeper cunette, luckily a vein of hard black sand. Beyond the right
bank of the Grafarlandsá we at once entered the wildest lava-tract,
distinguished mainly by its green glaze, fresh as if laid on yesterday.
It was like riding over domes of cast-iron, a system of boilers, these
smooth or corrugated, those split by Gjás and showing by saw-like edges
where the imprisoned gases had burst the bubbles: near the broken cairns
we found lines of dust which allowed the shortest spurts; the direct
distance to Herðubreið was not more than two miles, but the devious path
had doubled it. Again we had been led by the worst line; on our return,
Kristián, having recovered his good temper, showed us a tolerable
course. He frequently halted, declaring that his master had forbidden
him to risk the nags where the Útilegumenn might at any moment pounce
upon them.

At 4.30 P.M. I reached the base of Herðubreið, and found it, as was to
be expected, encircled by a smooth, sandy, and pebbly moat, a kind of
Bergschrund, whose outer sides were the lava-field, and whose inner
flanks formed in places high cliffs and precipices. The formation at
once revealed itself. The Broad-Shouldered mountain is evidently only
the core of what it was. Its lower part is composed of stratified
Palagonite clay, which higher up becomes a friable conglomerate,
embedding compact and cellular basalt, mostly in small fragments. The
heaps at the base are simply slippings, disposed at the natural angle,
and they are garnished with many blocks the size of an Iceland room.
Above them rise the organs, buttresses, and flying buttresses,
resembling pillars of mud, several exceeding 300 feet; the material
assumes the most fantastic shapes: in one place I found a perfect
natural arch resting upon heat-altered basalt. The heads of the columns
form a cornice, and from the summit of the cylinder an unbroken cone of
virgin snow sweeps grandly up to the apex. Evidently the Herðubreið is
not the normal volcano: it may be a Sand-gýgr after the fashion of
Hverfjall, but of this we cannot be assured until the cap is examined.
The chief objection would be the shape, the reverse of the usual hollow.

Leaving Kristián in charge of the horses, I attacked the slope in
company with Stefán, from the north-east, and we gradually wound round
to the east of the cone. The slopes were clothed with small and loose
fragments of basalt, making the ascent difficult. Here rain-gullies
radiated down the incline; to the south-east yawned a great _marmite_, a
breach probably formed by a long succession of clay-slips and
avalanches. The adhesive snow clinging to the rough conglomerate lay in
fans and wreaths even against perpendicular walls, whereas in Europe
large masses cannot accumulate at an angle of 45°, and the meteor is
unstable and apt to break away when the angle exceeds 30°; here it seems
plastered upon the steepest sides, looking from afar like glistening
torrents. After seeing the huge _névé_ which clothes the mountain from
the shoulders upwards, I was surprised to find that, although the ascent
was broken by huge gullies which in spring must discharge torrents, the
flanks are absolutely waterless; as on Western Snæfell, the drainage
sinks through the porous matter and, passing underground, reappears in
springs upon the plain, a familiar feature to the traveller in Syria.
Yet the slopes carried the usual Iceland flora, of course shrunk and
stunted by the cold thin air. I picked up the vermiform earths of some
wild animal, which crumbled to pieces in my pocket: the farmers
recognised the description, declared that they knew them well, but could
not tell me what the creature was. None would believe me when I assured
them that Herðubreið was a formation of “Mó-berg.”

As we approached the upper pillars the lowlands lay like a map before
us. Hard by the south-eastern foot sat the little tarn Herðubreiðarvatn,
surrounded by soft mud, instead of rush and reed: the Vatn has no
outlet, but it is perfectly sweet. Farther north there is a streamlet
flowing, like the Grafarlandsá, through patches and streaks of green: it
rejoices in the name of Herðubreiðarlindá, the “river of the spring of
the Broad-Shouldered.” Beyond the blue cone Jökullsclidá--I am not sure
of my orthography--which rises to the south-east, the Great Jökulsá,
after broadening into apparently a shallow bed, forks, divided by a
lumpy ridge, the Fagradalsfjall, which we had seen like a blue cloud
from Möðrudalr. It has the appearance of a ford, but Stefán assured me
that the farmers are deterred from crossing it by quicksands: this was
afterwards contradicted. The eastern branch, lying upon a higher plane,
again splits, enclosing the Fagridalr. On the “Fair Hill,” and in the
“Fair Dale,” where outlaws are said formerly to have mustered strong,
sheep from the eastern farms are fed upon the very edge of the Ódáða
Hraun. We had an admirable study of the Kverk and the (Eastern) Snæfell,
making the student remark that he was close to his home at Bessastaðir.
As the sun sank, the peak projected a gnomon-like shadow on the plain,
an affecting reminiscence of the Jebel el Mintar, which acts dial to
“Tadmor in the Wilderness.”

After an hour and a half of very hard work, for we had scrambled up
nearly 2000 feet (aneroid, 26·60; thermometer, 35°), we reached the
mud-pillars, and serious difficulties began. My _camaro_, who walked
pluckily enough, could mount no more. I had taught him the rule of
volcano-climbing on stones and descending on cinders; of using the toes
when going up and the heel when going down; and the consequence was that
his Iceland slippers and stockings were clean worn away, and in a few
minutes his feet would be cut. I left him and sought a _couloir_, which
by careful “swarming,” might have opened a passage. But here a new
difficulty was added to ever-increasing darkness and to numbing cold. In
Switzerland the rock cannonades are most frequent between midnight and
dawn: here the blocks of basalt, detached by the leverage of sun and
frost, begin to fall as soon as the temperature lowers. The _couloir_
was too narrow for swarming up the sides, which are less risky than the
centres. After three narrow escapes, in one of them my right hand saving
my head, I judged that the game was not worth the candle. Though close
to the snow (aneroid, 26·55), it would have been impossible to reach the
summit alone, in the night and over an unknown field.

Descending in double-quick time--“devouring space,” as Belmontel
says--we soon reached the moat which separates the castle from its
outworks of lava, and refreshed ourselves at the little tarn. During the
descent I observed a feature, before hidden from view; a lumpy tail with
two main bulges prolonging Herðubreið to the south-west: perhaps the
next attempt might succeed if this line be followed. From the
Heröubreiðarvatn we took the south-eastern line, where the
lava-field was by no means so horrid. After an hour, striking the
Herðubreiðarlindá, also an influent of the Jökulsá, we hurried down the
right bank, frequently crossing when the soft and rotten ground
threatened to admit the ponies. Finally, we traversed in fifteen minutes
a divide of lava, we forded the double channel of the Grafarlandsá, and
at 9.45 we were received with effusion by the solitary Gísli. Those who
follow me will do well to ascend the left bank of the Jökulsá, to trace
the Grave-land Water to its source, to pass over the lava-breach, and to
follow the Lindá where it rises from the plain.

The day’s ride had occupied nine hours thirty minutes, and the
unfortunate “tattoos” were not prepared for some four more: moreover,
_les genous m’entraient dans le corps_, as the _gamin_ says. The
blood-red sunset promised a fair night, free from wind and fog, and,
although we were some 1400 feet above sea-level, a bivouac in the
glorious air of the desert under

    “Cette obscure clarté qui tombe des étoiles,”

could not be considered a hardship. No one thought of a fire till I set
the example of collecting willow-roots, and then all, beasts as well as
men, were greatly comforted by the short, sharp bursts of blaze. The
poor fellows offered me a share of their only viaticum, a bit of bread
and sausage, but I saw by their longing, hungry eyes that their
necessities were greater than mine. A blanket instead of the oilskin
from my saddle-bag would have been a comfort; but even without it I
slept like _un bienheureux_, and awoke lively as a lark. What a
different matter was my night in the open below Fernando Po peak!

That morning I had set out to “plant a lance in Iceland,” by mastering
the Herðubreið; for once utterly deceived by the clearness of the air, I
had despised my enemy, and he got the better of me--the general verdict
will be, “Serve you right.” My consolation was that, though beaten, I
had hardly been fairly beaten; the fog was not to be controlled; the
guide led us by the worst paths, and we crept over lava after expecting
to move fast. The altitude is laid down at 5447 English feet above
sea-level; and as we rode up to the base, about 1500 feet high, there
remained only 4000 feet, which would not have taken more than five
hours. Such was my calculation, and it erred by being drawn too fine.
Nor could the attempt be renewed next day. I had promised to send back
to Mr Lock my only companion, Stefán, whose foot-gear was in tatters;
Gísli and Kristián would have seen me in Ná-strönd, the shores of the
ignoble “straw-dead,” rather than accompany me over an unknown
snow-field, and such climbing must not be done single-handed.


_August_ 12-16.

There is little to say concerning these five days, which were spent in
returning to Valthiófstaðir by devious ways. On August 12th the world,
according to local belief, was to have been destroyed; knowledge has
increased since A.D. 1000, so no one made preparation, spiritual or
material, for what Hindus call the Pralaya, hourly expected by primitive
Christianity. _Je m’en moque comme de l’an quarante_ (1740). At three
A.M. we rode down the cold valley of the Grafarlandsá, picked up the
tent, and bidding adieu to the good Stefan and the miserable Kristián,
we reached the Jökulsá ferry after a total of six hours forty-five
minutes. The blood-red sunset had kept its promise till clouds rolled up
from the south, and I have seldom had a more thorough dusting.

At early nightfall suddenly appeared Mr Pow and his guide, Jón
Pètursson, son of the old priest of Valthiófstaðir: they had been paying
a visit to Mý-vatn, and now they were hastening home for a wedding. The
former had been making inquiries about sheep-farming; he believed that,
in that line, something might be done whilst the pony traffic was
thoroughly worked out. Farms ranging from $3000 to $6000 are readily
bought throughout this part of the country. As the snow begins upon the
Heiðis in November, lies deep in December and January, and lasts till
May, it would be necessary to allow one ton of hay per thousand head,
and the import price, excluding freight, must be computed at £2,10s.
rising to £4. He was sanguine enough to expect a cent. per cent. profit:
I never heard that the project had any results.

Next day we started betimes in the cool east wind, which presently
chopped round to the south, and gave us a taste of Sind and the
Panjáb--all the sand of the Arabian desert seemed to be in the air, and
it was the sharpest of its kind. We enjoyed a headlong gallop not
unworthy of the Argentine Pampas, halted a few minutes at the Möðrudalr
oasis, and pressed on to Vetur-hús: here we parted as I wished to
examine the lake region, and to inspect the Brú of the Jökulsá.

On the next morning, which, after the stillness of dawn, also obliged me
with a dust-storm, I set out at eight, rounded the swamps and black
bogs, and, after crossing a marshy divide, entered the valley between
the Eiríkr and Thríhyrning hills. The land is poor, but it manages to
support two little Sels. At last we came upon the Thverárvatn, the
southernmost of the tarns, and following the right bank of its drain,
the Thverá,[172] we reached the Brú after an hour and a half’s hard
riding. It still preserves the traditional name although the natural
arch of rock fell in 1750: in Henderson’s day it was succeeded by a
wooden bridge, and now there is only a cradle. Horses are forded about a
mile up stream, where the break becomes a broad, split by holms and
sand-banks. The seedy little chapel of Brú wants cross and steeple: it
is built of turf, like that of Mý-vatn.

We left the river at 10.30 _A.M._, and resolved to inspect the
Aðalbólsvegr, the southernmost road across the Heiði. It begins by
crossing a divide, after which, rounding the Vaðbrekka, or ford-ledge
hill, it ascends the dusty valley of the Hrafnkelsá. Two farmlets,
Vaðbrekka and Aðalból,[173] the latter with four gables of wood and
turf, and backed by Laugs of warm water, hug the left bank. After
fording the stream thrice we walked up another divide, where the path
was cobwebbed and all in holes--these “dead roads” are by no means
pleasant travelling. The upper plateau was, like the northern line, the
usual scene of standing waters and flowing waters, especially the Höllná
and the Heiðará; all these soppy black beds are named, but none appear
in the map. The list of this day’s birds comprised a few snippets, three
ravens, and a couple of whoopers (_C. ferus_ or _C. Bewickii_?) which
travellers often mistake for sheep. It was not my fate in Iceland ever
to hear the sweet song of the swan, which borrows an additional charm on
dark wintry nights from the popular belief that it promises a thaw; the
poetical fancy of its being a death-lay seems here unknown. The descent
to the Fljótsdalr occupied half-an-hour, and after seven hours
forty-five minutes of rough riding from the Brú I reached
Valthiófstaðir, where they did not expect me before nightfall.

There was revelling at the parsonage, and though I missed the howling of
hymns and hollaing of anthems, the splendid “upholstering” of the girls,
and the starry veil which takes the place of orange-flowers, I was in
time for the feast. The daughter of the house, a notably good manager,
was the bride; the bridegroom was a well-to-do widower of eighteen
months’ standing. Hr Nikólás Jónsson had learnt joinery at Copenhagen,
and found his handicraft pay well at Seyðisfjörð. Ponies, with all
manner of gear, including the “handsome brass woman’s saddle” of a
certain English traveller, filled the stables, or browsed about the tún,
showing a goodly gathering of relatives and friends; even Seyðisfjörð
sent forth its contingent. Those who had dined were chatting and
“touching pipes” on the green: despite my garb being the reverse of a
wedding garment, I was hospitably pressed to join the second detachment.
After we had satisfied hyperborean appetites, the speeches began,
prefaced by loud cries of “Silentium!” As many of the orators were
priests and students training for the priesthood, few could plead
“unaccustomed to public speaking,” and most of them acquitted themselves
remarkably well. Mr Pow, after delivering his sentiments in English,
sprang out of the window to prepare for a wild ride; I aired my Latin,
concluding with an effective sentence, “Deus sit propitius his
potatoribus”--of course ignoring Walter de Mapes. Having talked
ourselves “dry,” we installed a “magister bibendi,” and fell to with a
will; we were loud in our mirth “as the Ritur (tarrock-gull) on the
rocks,” and the bottles of Cognac and rye-brandy required repeated
replenishing, till the small hours sent us to bed. The newly-married
couple slept at home, and next morning, after coming to breakfast, they
took horse and went their ways.

At Valthiófstaðir I was fortunate enough to meet Prófastr Sigurður
Gunnarson of Hallormstaðir, whose name has already been mentioned. A
portly, good-looking man of sixty, hardly showing fifty, he is a good
Latinist, and his genial manners make him a general favourite. He first
accompanied Professor Gunnlaugsson in 1832 to the Vatnajökullsvegr, and
since that time he has made three trips to the northern edge. He gave me
the position of the volcano (N. lat. 64° 20´, and W. long. G. 30° 20´),
which appears upon the map. When told that Herðubreið was a mass of
Palagonite, he declared that he had seen Mó-berg at Lomagnúpr and other
hills of Sera and Floskeldar; moreover, that he suspected it to be the
constituent of the Kistufell and the Kverk, which he had passed in the
dark. He assured me that he had found the Western Jökulsá easily
fordable after its fork, where it is called Kreppa, or the
Squeezer.[174] Among other places which


M^c.Farlane & Erskine Lithrs. Edin^r.

William P. Nimmo, London & Edinburgh]

are shown by the map, he mentioned the Lindákeilir (fountain-pyramid)
with its two springs, the northern cold, the southern hot; the
Hvannalindir, rich, as the name shows, in Angelica; and the Kringilsá,
or encircling water.

The morning after the feast was spent in breakfasting, in chess-playing,
and at cards, with coffee-beans for counters: on this occasion the men
ate first, and after them the women, somewhat after the fashion of the
Druses: the parson’s wife also waited, like an “Oriental,” upon her
younger brothers. The friends mounted their stout nags, and disappeared
after the normal salutations: amongst them was the Prófastr, with coarse
woollen stockings sensibly drawn over his shoes. The kith and kin waited
till two P.M. on the next day, and, when the heartiest and smackingest
of busses had been duly planted upon projecting lips, all rode off,
escorting the bride and bridegroom, and escorted by the family _honoris
causâ_ as far as the next farm. Mr Pow had agreed to join me in
attempting the Vatnajökull; but, whilst I remained to collect provaunt
and to avoid the heavy weather which threatened, he resolved upon a
preliminary trip, with the prime object of shooting a reindeer. He hired
for $2 an old round-ball Enfield from the farmer-ferryman of
Bessastaðir, who, apparently convinced of the Enskimaður’s insanity,
snatched it three times out of his hands, till he received a watch in
pledge. The solitary march was hardly to be recommended. About the
Vatnajökull fog or snow may cover the world at any moment, even in July,
the best month; and dozens of sheep are often killed by a single violent
storm. Mr Pow set out early on the 15th, missed the road, and returned
at eleven A.M. on the next day, thoroughly dazed, and apparently unable
to give any account of his march--Jón Pètursson’s eyes filled with tears
at the sight. That trial proved sufficient for my intended companion,
who, as soon as his two nags could move, set out for Seyðisfjörð.

The weather, which had been surly and wrathy for some time, could no
longer restrain its rage: the afternoon (August 16) was bad, and the
evening was very bad. The day sped wearily watching the cloud-battalions
as they scaled the seaward hills: here this easter and deflected norther
brings heavy rains and thick raw mists; the souther and the south-wester
are little better, and men rely only upon the western wind, which comes
from the arid lavas and sands of the Ódáða. The night was one long howl
of storm; “drip-drip” resounded from the church floor, and the wind
flung itself against the building, threatening to bear away the frail
steeple into space. Huge black nimbi, parted by pale and sickly gleams,
ever greeted my sight as I gazed in sorrow from the casement of my
ecclesiastical lodging. But joy came in the morning: first a glimpse of
blue sky between the flirts of rain, then a sign of the sun. The river
was reported to be rapidly filling--never mind, unlucky Friday has
passed by, and we may look for better things on Saturday.

The provisions, bread, meat, and cheese ($3), with the unfinished keg of
schnapps, were awaiting our departure. But Stefán Pètursson, who was to
accompany me, had fallen ill, the malady being probably that popularly
called in India a “squiffy quotidian:” so I engaged as guide the student
Thorsteinn, who had led us to Thorskagerði, paying for him and his nag
$3, 3m. Osk. per diem. Gísli, the “coal-biter,” when drawn badger-like
from the kitchen, again tried to shirk, pleading the weakness of the
ponies, but a threat to withhold wages reduced all opposition to a
slackness of the knees, a settled melancholy, and a hurt-feeling
expression of countenance. This time he was never left alone with the
horses after they had been shod: he presently revenged himself by
displaying an amount of appetite which threatened the party with
starvation, if it lingered in the wilderness a day longer than he liked.


_Saturday, August 17._

I managed to draw the sleep-thorn from Gísli’s ears and, after the usual
silly delays, to set off at 9.45 along the left bank of the Fljótsdalr,
_alias_ the Norðurdalr: the wind was still southerly, clouds came from
the east, but the aneroid was rising and the sun was taking the master’s
place. The broad trap valley supports, on either side, many farms and
Sels; Glúmstaðir, Hóll, Thuriðarstaðir; the large Egilstaðir, highest on
the map, reached in two _orette_; and Kleif, with its Sætur and backing
of western hill. The angry stream is crossed in many places by ropes and
cradles; gradually it becomes a torrent-gorge, and the whole length
receives a least a dozen rain-bred cataracts: everywhere we saw their
smokes and heard the dull charge of cavalry, whilst the rattling of
stones upon the sandy beds sounded like the distant pattering of
musketry. There was, however, no difficulty in crossing the mouths and,
after three hours fifteen minutes of mild work, we rested the nags and
changed saddles at the sheep-house of Kleif.

Beyond this point the torrent-gorge is impracticable, and we ascended
the rough, steep left bank, whose lower levels were garnished with
stunted birches: it led to the monotonous Heiði, which I had now passed
thrice. The streams on this line were more troublesome, owing to the
slippery crossings of sheet-rock. We forded the Stóri-lækr (big rivulet)
four times, and twice the upper waters of the Öxará above its ugly
little cataract in a dwarf valley. A short tract of sandy, willow-grown
ground led to the Laugará, which was girth-deep. Riding down its right
bank, we came to the Laug, which much resembles that of Reykjavik: the
waters show boiling point at the source, and 115° (F.) a few yards
below. It lies on the north-eastern slope of Laugarfell, and nearly due
east (mag.) of the pointed black cone Hafrsfell: these two detached
hills, disposed upon a meridian, are mere outliers of Snæfell. Fifteen
yards west of the Laug is the Laugarkofi, or the Warm-spring-cell, a hut
some 7 feet by 6, with dry stone walls sunk two feet in the ground: the
raftered roof is supported by a central post, and made tight with turfs.
We were happy to find it in repair. The weather again broke, and a
Scotch mist settled stubbornly upon the dreary landscape; the aneroid
showing 27·60, and the thermometer 38°. Our day’s march had lasted only
five hours fifteen minutes, and on return we easily covered it in three
hours fifty minutes. The night in a warm and (comparatively) clean nest,
with the howling wind outside, would have been delightful, but for
misgivings about the morrow.

_August 18._

I rose at dawn with no little anxiety; in these altitudes man is wholly
dependent upon weather: it is like a Polar expedition on a small scale.
The rainy and windy night had cleared the air, and the sun rose bright,
bringing with him a stinging and intensely dry[175] south wind from off
the Jökulls. The baggage pony was loaded, and all preparations were made
by 8.45. We began with the rotten and boggy ground, draining the Snæfell
and its north-eastern outliers to the Jökulsá. Here began the trouble
which lasted more or less throughout the morning. The surface is cut by
gullies and earth-cracks, often twenty feet deep, and varying from a
yard to ten yards in breadth. Few could be leaped by untrained animals,
and the many which could not be crossed caused detours either up or
down, often a furlong to cover a perch. The smaller sort were the most
troublesome, owing to the badness of the take off and landing: the nags
made themselves ridiculous in attempting to scramble over, with their
hind legs in the hollows, whilst the forehand was holding on the farther
bank. In the worst places, at least one of the caravan was sure to be
sprawling upon the ground. The best parts were the stony spots, and the
medium were the swamps, especially where Fífa and bright mosses spangled
the ground.

The wind now veered to the south-west, and after two hours we easily
forded the Hafrsá, a drain rising in the south-east of its “fell.” The
latter, seen from the eastward, proves not to be a single cone, as the
map shows; behind the knob lie a jagged, saw-toothed ridge and sundry
outliers. At a distance, it appears to be lava, but when riding over it
in the afternoon I noticed that such form of erupted rock is wholly
absent from this line. The material, like that of Herðubreið, is
Palagonite, which doubtless forms the base of the northern Vatnajökull.
Unlike the basaltic conglomerate of the Broad-Shouldered, however, it is
puddinged with cinders reddened and charred by the flames. The colours
are ruddy, black-brown, chalky-white, green, and yellow, the two latter
extending in a band through Snæfell from

[Illustration: R. F. B. _delt._ VIEW OF THE VATNAJÖKULL FROM THE

south-west to north-east. Scoriæ also are scattered upon the sand, and
these, with a strew of basalt, make up the sum of the surface rocks.

At noon we forded the Thjófagilsá (water of the thief’s gil) below the
little waterfall dashing down columnar basalt, and we halted near the
Hálskofi, a hut like the nest near the Laug. After half-an-hour we
resumed our ride along the eastern flank of Snæfell, which greatly
altered in shape. The first view (August 2) from the heights above
Hallormstaðir showed a Háls or _col_ to the north, in fact the
Snæfellsháls of the map, which should be countermarched to the south:
“Snowfell” also seemed attached to the Vatnajökull by a long Rani, or
tongue of raised ground, to which it acts tip: this must be changed for
lowland and lake; and the shape suggested climbing on the western side,
where it is almost perpendicular. Viewed from the north-west (August
14), Snæfell hill assumed a sphinx shape, the hindquarters being like
those of Herðubreið to the south.

Snæfell projects to the north-north-east, or above our path, a long
clean _arête_ of yellow Palagonite, flanking a great fissure: the lower
parts are here snowy, the upper are revetted with dark conglomerate.
Behind, or to the west of this ridge, is a large snow-field, one of the
many buttresses, extending to the flat-topped summit. We ascended stony
ground when working to the south; and here an unpleasant surprise
awaited me. Instead of the clear course of the little Jökulsá draining
the peaks and pins of the Snæfellsjökull, a northern section of the
Vatnajökull, the whole expanse lying between the glacier and the height
upon which we stood formed a broad and apparently shallow lake, in part
composed of clear pools, and the rest of muddy veins. At its head is a
great depression in the Jökull, marked eastward by Eyjarbakki (island
bank), a black cone, which may be a crater. The delta-shaped mass of
water projects its point to the north, where we can distinctly see it
falling over the Eyjarbakka-foss into the Jökulsá gorge. This formation
may be temporary, dry ground flooded by the late rains: the farmers,
however, know it by the name of Eyjarbakka-vatn. Permanent or not, it
was utterly impassable without boats, whilst the Jökulsá was too full to
be forded.

A near view of the Vatnajökull, from the south of Snæfell, confirmed my
previous impressions. The snowy base-line is formed by the descending
angle of the wind: this must explain how all is congealed at a height
where Snæfell is free from frost (aneroid, 27·75): perhaps the thrust
from behind may perpetuate the _névé_. Beyond the long white wave, pure
ermine above, and below spotty like a Danish dog, stretching far to the
west, rose the quaint form of Kverk, the throat or angle beneath the
chin,[176] with two big, blue buttresses to the east: the black outlier
of conical shape has a deep gullet to the north, vomiting a light-blue
glacier upon the snow-fields lying at the base; it is prolonged north by
the Kverkhnúkrrani (snout of the gullet-knoll), apparently containing
two distinct patches of volcanic aspect.

Resuming our ride to the west over the true Snæfellsháls, whose stony
flanks delivered us from bog and earth-crack, we found that even here
the summer pasturages are not unused. The dandelion and the violet, dead
elsewhere, still enjoyed the autumn of life; sign of reindeer was seen
in two places, and we flushed sundry coveys of ptarmigan. A couple of
ravens and a snow-tit composed the remnant of animal life; happily for
us the midges were absent.

At two P.M. we reached our farthest southern point, the long dorsum
which prolongs Snæfell southwards to the Snæfellsháls. On the far side
of the _col_ rose Thjófahnúkr, a big, black, cindery cone, like the
rest. Between it and the northern hypothenuse of the Vatnajökull lay a
dark saddleback, with all the appearance of a volcanic crater; the
absence of lava may be explained by its vomiting, like Hverfjall and
Herðubreið, cinder and ashes. As we turned up the Thjófadalr, between
the Thieves’ Knoll and the Snæfell proper, the ice-wind struck full on
our backs. The amphitheatre was girt on both sides by jagged, rocky
peaks, like the edges of bursten bubbles and blisters; and the shoulders
of Snæfell projected to the south-west, a sharp ridge and a cone of
warm-yellow Palagonite--here the ascent would have offered no
difficulties. This part of the valley discharges to the south many
streamlets of melted snow, some clear, others of white water. Crossing
the divide, we struck the Hrafnkelsá, which is prolonged by the
Jökulkvisl and the Sauðará (sheep-water) to “Jökulsá of the Bridge.” The
line presently became a deep and grisly gorge of black and
copper-coloured Palagonite; and we passed sundry long bridges of hard
snow which were excellent riding. So far I can confirm the experience of
the French naval officers, who assured me that in Iceland these
formations, so redoubtable farther south, offer no risk.

At four P.M. we halted for an hour at the head of the Eastern Jökulsá,
quietly enjoying the warm western exposure. From this point there was an
extensive view of the river-drained plain which, broken by detached
lumps of hill and broken ridges, separates Snæfell from the eastern edge
of the Ódáða Hraun. When the nags had enjoyed a bite we resumed the
descent of the deep and broken river-valley that passes between the
Hafrsfell and its western outliers: the buttresses and banks of loose
wind-blown sand descended bodily with our weight. Again we saw a spine
of Palagonite, showing a fair ascent to the upper snow-field; and we
looked in vain for the delicate ripple-marks which from a distance
betray hidden crevasses. Here the surface material melting in the sun
sinks into the lower strata, making the whole a solid mass--hence the
glacier growth which exists in Greenland, and which is suspected in
Iceland. As we rode under the precipices of North-western Snæfell, the
snow, sliced off as if by a razor, forms a wall some fifty feet thick,
soft above, and below pale-blue, like the Blaabreen of Norway, where
hardened to ice by excessive pressure. This fine “snout” showed a few
thin ribbons, but nothing like “veined structure,” that vexed subject of
the glacialists. The whole “snow-fond” for perfect beauty wanted only
the lovely background of mazarine-coloured skies to be seen in more
southern latitudes.

At six P.M. we forded the Hauká (hawk-water), one amidst a score of
shallow, bubbling, pebbly streams, random rivulets, which the afternoon
heat was setting free from the vast sheets of snow. Beyond Hafrsfell we
recognised with disgust the sodden, rotten ground of the morning, and
the weary ponies so lost their tempers that they seemed unwilling to
rise after the frequent falls. Yet I could not but admire the pathos,
the strange double nature of the wild prospect. Here it was a hard and
uncompromising photograph, a weird etching by Rembrandt or Doré, in
which, from the vivid whiteness of the snow and the blackness of the
rocks, the far appeared near: amongst the chaotic rubbish heaps there
was no shadow within shadow, no dark as opposed to a light side. There,
beyond a middle ground of steely blue plain, lay a “lovely Claude,” a
dream-landscape of distant Jökull. The delicate tints, cool azure-white
and snow warm with ethereal rose-pink, seemed to flush and fade, to
shift and change places, as though ghostly mists, unseen by the eye of
sense, were sailing in the pale beryl-coloured sky. Anon the sun sinking
towards the hilly horizon rained almost horizontal floods of light,
transfiguring the scene with golden glory as every feature kindled and
lit up with a peculiar freshness of expression--a region so calm and
bright did not seem to be of this world. Yet a few moments more and its
rare spiritual loveliness, passing through gradations of matchless
tenderness, began to fade; the pale-grey shadow came, “stealing like
serious thought o’er joyous face,” and all disappeared in the dark
nothingness of night. These splendours of the Trolls’ home were well
worth a journey to the “Brumous Isle,” but the long search and the short
fruition almost tempt me to “point a moral.”

After some ten hours’ hard work for man and beast, we were cheered by
the steam rising from the Laug, and we again thanked Iceland for laying
on such plenteous supplies of hot water. The memory of the last touching
view, with its “wild beauty of colouring,” moved me to issue, about
midnight, from the nest and to compare the dark with the light hours.
But the moon and stars seemed to count for nothing in that “inspissated
gloom.” The scene was

    “All ruined, desolate, forlorn, and savage.”

The deepening glooms made the silence something more oppressive--τῆς
σιγῆς βάρος--than the mere negative of sound; it became an indescribably
awful presence, weighing on and deadening to the spirit as the sense of
utter solitude--even the nasal music within the Laugarkofi was a
positive relief. I can easily imagine a man lost in this utter
stillness and swoon of Nature finding the horror and oppression


To Gísli’s infinite satisfaction, a vile sea-fog crept up the Jökulsá
valley, slowly, but persistently, and, meeting scant opposition in the
air, which the falling aneroid showed to be unusually deficient in
weight, it spread, like the magical “Foka” of folk-lore, over the face
of the upper world. Below us, we afterwards heard, all was merry as a
fine May-day. I had intended to make the Kverk direct from “Snowdon,”
and from that vantage-ground to prospect the Kistufell and the
Skjaldbreið, with “Trölladyngja,” the bower of the Troll-Carline. But in
the words of Wordsworth’s happy warrior, I did not see what I foresaw,
and had only the cold comfort of reflecting--

    “Est quiddam prodire tenus, si non datur ultra.”

Icelandic exploration is “chancy” as Central African, and the traveller
must expect to be the sport of circumstances far beyond his control,
unless, at least, he can afford unlimited time.

The next morning (August 20) was also foggy: I waited till 8.45 A.M.,
and then all the _munitions de bouche_ being thoroughly exhausted, the
word was given for a retreat. The approach to Valthiófstaðir was
perfumed, after the rancid moss and the hard snow-wind, by the fragrant
crop of newly-mown hay. I bade friendly adieu to the family which had
shown me so much kindness; to Stefán, who was still abed, and to Björn,
the eldest son. A man of forty-six, and suffering from rheumatism, for
which the parsonage is famous, he was the only Icelander who in physique
realised my idea of a Saga-hero. The gentlemanly old-fashion parson put
into my hands, when parting, an appeal which touched me, “Opto ubi de
Islandiâ locutus estis, benè rem referere.”

My return-ride need not be described: it was over the same path, the
only difference being the last half of the last day, which is noticed
in Chapter XIII. At Hallormstaðir I again missed Síra Sigurðr, who
appears not to be of a very domestic turn. Reaching the Berufjörð
parsonage at 4.45 P.M. on August 21, I found the ponies far too much
fagged by a day’s work of 5500 feet, up and down, for riding another
twelve miles round the firth. The Reverend was absent from the
Prestagarð, but his wife kindly found me a boat and a boat-boy, the
student Thorsteinn taking the other oar. Progress was painfully slow,
and the tall ghostly loom of Búlandstindr seemed to follow us like a
“Fylgja,” or fetch. We enjoyed all the pleasures of _l’humidité spéciale
de l’eau de mer pulverisée_; the bright phosphoric lights of the
tropical seas were absent--indeed, I never saw them in Iceland. At this
season the nights become real nights; the smooths in the water,
alternating with ripple-lines, had no worse effect than to persuade the
inexperienced lads that they were approaching land, and, as the skerries
and drongs are thickly ranged along the southern shore, we were
fortunate that there was no gale--

    “Only the sea-fogs to and fro
    Skipped like the ghosts of the streams below.”

After six hours of mortal weariness, I landed with feet dead from
sitting in cold water, and awoke Captain Tvede. My good friend turned
out of his bunk; the cooper put the kettle on; sundry glasses of red-hot
toddy were administered medicinally; and I went to my old quarters, well
satisfied with having ridden, from under the very shadow of the
Vatnajökull, in two days to the eastern coast.

The “balance” of my stay at Djúpivogr would not have been pleasant
without the Ancient Mariner, who energetically assisted in preparing my
diary and in paying off the guides, a matter of $49. Hospitable Hr
Weÿvadt’s son, the acting Syslumaðr, presently joined us from Eskifjörð,
and lectured me upon taxation in Iceland which, as the reader has seen,
is “no joke.” The only drawback was a certain nervousness touching the
movements of the “Diana,” which was to touch at Deep Bay for the last
time this season. Alternate fog and rain, with faint attempts at
clearing about mid-day, had lasted for a week, and on August 24 the
“Postdampskibet” was due. The seamist rolled thick as a bolster up the
narrow line of Fjörð; I had almost abandoned hope, when suddenly we
received the glad tidings of her being anchored at the mouth of the voe.
Hurried adieux were exchanged, and we steamed for Reykjavik the same

Rain and fog accompanied us the whole way; fortunately for me, Dr
Hjaltalín was on board, returning from a visit to Denmark, or the lively
“Diana” would have been a very purgatory of dullness. The rest of my
tale is soon told. We made Reykjavik on the 26th. On September 1, I
embarked on board an old friend, the “Jón Sigurðsson;” and steaming
southwards cast a farewell view, while Iceland faded into the past, at
the palegold and glittering silver of the Öræfajökull.

On September 15, I landed at Granton.


The past has been very short-lived of late, says the Duc de Noailles:
the world moves fast, and even

            “the naked, melancholy isles
    Of farthest Thule.”

have felt the civilising influence of the nineteenth century. During the
two short years which have followed my visit, Iceland, after a
generation-long struggle for political liberty and self-government, has
conquered, by inscribing her name on the European list of constitutional
countries. The “Annus Jubilæus Millesimus” has been an “Annus
Mirabilis:” the Present has met the Past: the “living antiquarian
museum” has been honoured with a royal visit, which highly gratified the
loyal, and which gave the disloyal an opportunity of declaring that
“Iceland has laws.” The Millenary festival drew a host of tourists and
“Own Correspondents,” even Hungary being represented, and a dozen
octavos will presently be the result. The practical Americans brought
with them a gift of some 2000 volumes which will, when room is found
for housing them, change the face of the Reykjavik library. As regards
physical matters, Iceland has witnessed a new eruption of the Skaptár;
and, as the map shows, the north-eastern side of the island is at this
moment (July 1875) in violent volcanic action. The Kötlu-gjá, or Katla’s
Rift of many terrors, has been visited and found to be another “humbug;”
and, last but not least, the Vatna-, or more probably the Klofa-, jökull
has been penetrated by the enterprising Mr Watts and his party, who are
reported to have planted the Union Jack upon the highest peak. I may
conclude with the lines of the Millennial Memorial:

    “Ages thou numberest ten, unconquered and long-biding Thule!
    Hardy mother of men, Thorr grant thee life through the ages;
    After thy sad, sad past, may Happiness smile on thy future,
    And Liberty, won so late, crown every blessing with glory.”





Let us begin this subject with an extract from Hr O. Henchel’s Report on
the Icelandic Sulphur Mines, and on the Refining of the Sulphur. January
30, 1776. (Translated from the Danish).

I arrived at Krísuvík the 24th of June 1775, and immediately after my
arrival I made preparations for examining the mountain of Krísuvík, with
its mines and the surrounding neighbourhood. This mountain is situated
two miles from the sea, the intervening space all the way from the
sulphur mines being a tolerably level field, with only a few diminutive
hills. The mountain stretches from north-east to south-west, and about
two miles south-west from the mines it terminates in a plain, three
miles of which are covered with lava. To north-east I did not examine
the mountain more than three miles from the mines, because I found that
in this direction the whole of it consisted of the same stuff, viz., of
a very loose sandstone (Palagonite), except where the mines and the hot
springs are to be found; there it consists of gypsum, and partly also of
a red and blue “bolus,” which, in my opinion, has been sublimated by
acid vapours, and partly thrown up by the hot springs. In some places
these soft earths have become a hard stone, the cause, being, no doubt,
that the access of the water has been stopped in these places, and when
the acid vapours could not any more penetrate through this soft earth,
it became hard by degrees.

In some places the above-mentioned gypsum is found to be tough and
sticky, and when it is dried slowly it has a greasy touch; sometimes it
is perfectly white, sometimes with red streaks, and one might take it
for pipe-clay. One may therefore conclude, that by the acid, the effects
of the rain and the sun and the rising heat, a fermentation has been
brought about in this earth, and that it has thus become tough. Besides
the already-mentioned variation, another kind of gypsum earth is found
on the top of the mountain in hard sheets irregularly formed; here we
probably see the effects of strong heat combined with absence of
sufficient water, after the fermentation has taken place. In other
places where this earth is saturated with sufficient acid, and partly
dissolved by the same, and has, besides, a suitable or a natural degree
of heat, so to speak, it is found in loose, reddish, and prismatic
crystals. There is a considerable quantity of it, but it is never found
deeper than from one foot to a foot and a half; the deeper you go the
less solid it becomes, and at a depth of one foot it becomes quite
fluid, because the heat is so strong, and the ground penetrated by warm
vapours to such a degree that it cannot attain any solidity; in fire it
loses its red colour. In short, this earth goes through so many changes,
partly through the greater or lesser degree of heat, partly through a
greater or less abundance of acids and water, and through the admixture
of foreign substances, that it can almost bewilder one.

The blue “bolus” is found everywhere beside the boiling springs, and
some of them are filled with it in such quantities that they are like a
pot full of thick gruel. When the “bolus” has become hard it cannot be
melted by the blow-pipe, but, in its natural condition, it attracts
vapours from the air, and forms very fine white crystals, and at a
distance they look like hoar-frost. This seems to show that this kind of
stone must be impregnated with calcareous earth which has been saturated
with vitriolic acid. That it must be this kind of earth in a hardened
state is seen both from its form and from the flowers of pyrites that
are mixed with it; for when one breaks off a piece of these earths in
their soft and half-solid condition, the broken pieces have the same
form, and are also interspersed with pyrites.

The red “bolus” is always found on the surface of the ground like the
white gypseous earth, and is never covered by a bed of another kind; it
is never mixed with the water of the boiling springs; there is no
sublimated sulphur where it is found, although the subterranean heat in
some such places is quite as strong as where that process actually takes

Several hot springs are to be found here, and most of them contain the
blue “bolus,” but one contains white earth. These springs often
disappear in one place, and break out again in another place where no
spring has been before; the probable cause is that the narrow pipes
under the ground, through which the spring is supplied with water, fill
up by degrees; the strong heat transforms the water into very elastic
vapours, which break through the ground where they find the least
resistance, and thus a new hot spring is formed.

On a hill between the southernmost hot spring, called the Bath-room, and
the more northerly springs, a hardened “bolus” is found; it is so
brittle that it can easily be broken between the fingers; it is porous,
and its holes are filled with hardened lime. At first I assumed this
“bolus” to be a kind of lava partly dissolved by the atmosphere and the
slow heat rising from the ground; the lime I took for a kind of salt,
which had been embedded in the lava, and let loose by its solution, and
then settled down into the holes of the “bolus.” But, upon closer
examination of the solid state of this lime, and, after having tested it
by aquafortis, by which it was brought to a high state of effervescence,
I saw plainly it must be lime. I had tried to dissolve it in water, but
without success; if it had been a salt let loose by the dissolution of
the molten lava, it must have been more loose and in a somewhat
crystallised state. My idea is that the lime must have been sublimated
by the hot vapours when the lava was already thrown out; then it
subsided into the holes of the lava and became hard. When I compared
this earth with the lava of other places where volcanoes had been, from
which the lava had spread far and wide, without undergoing any
perceptible change or dissolution, I saw that this could never have been
a lava. Although the lava of volcanic mountains is often confounded with
slag produced by burning of the ground, I saw that this had never been
melted to real slag; and it seemed to me therefore probable, that it
must be a kind of hardened clay. I did not, however, find anything to
confirm my conjecture until I came to Mývatn, where I found specimens of
it in a soft and crude state.

The loose sandstone (Palagonite) already mentioned, which is found
besides the most northern hot springs, is there much finer than in other
places; it is of a slaty structure, and between the plates gypsum is
found, so one might almost take it for alum plates. On the top of the
mountain another kind of sandstone (trachyte?) is found; it is a good
deal harder and burnt; it looks like millstone rocks from the Rhine, yet
it is more porous; it is in irregular heaps, and never makes a whole
mountain, as if it had been thrown over by earthquakes.

Near the boiling springs, where the ground is loose and porous, but
especially where the heat has free ventilation through the
above-mentioned gypseous earth, the sulphur is to be found. At the
bottom it is dissolved and mixed with acid vapours; and when the
sublimation has taken place, it becomes fixed in the outermost crust
where there is a colder bed; and here it is found either in the shape of
crystals, powder, or flowers; it is never deeper than one, two, or three
inches under the surface, according to the greater or lesser degree of
heat, or the greater or lesser porosity of the earth which forms the
uppermost bed, as the sulphur bed itself, when it is in the shape of
powder, is never more than three to six inches; and when in a
crystallised form, never thicker than two to two and a half-inch, and
three inches at the very highest.

These mines are not many, and do not cover a large space of ground;
there are indeed a few spots here and there where sulphur is sublimated,
but these spots are very small. The most important as well as the
largest are the two mines highest up in the mountain; one of them is 120
yards long, and from 16 to 20 yards broad; the other is from 140 to 160
yards long, and from 20 to 40 yards broad. In these two mines the finest
and best sulphur is found in the largest quantities. The bed covering
the sulphur contains a great deal more of acids than the layer
immediately below it, because the hot acid vapours rising from the
depths below must keep the lower bed permanently acid and damp; the
surplus acids are driven up through the sulphur, and that portion of
them which does not unite with the sulphur, comes to the uppermost
crust, where it is dried by the combined efforts of the sun, the air,
and the wind. Here the acids are therefore more concentrated, and
consequently able to dissolve some portions of the gypseous earth with
which it has become united; in this condition it makes a kind of flowers
of alum, which, however, are partly vitriolic or blended with iron. I
tried to examine the purity of this salt by dissolving it in water. When
the water had been filtered it had a green colour; thereupon
precipitated with alkali, it gave a white precipitate; and when this was
separated from the water, the latter became after a while quite yellow,
as if it had been coloured with iron rust. This salt cannot really be
called alum unless we should call it _lime-alum_. Like alum it has a
nauseous taste, but more pungent and almost caustic. When, after
dissolution, it has become solid by evaporation, it is not nearly as
close as alum, and no crystallisation can be perceived in it.

As the sulphur is sublimated in the manner above stated, and by
condensation becomes fixed in the cold earth at the surface, it will be
seen that the opinion is erroneous, that sulphur is generated in earth
penetrated and made porous by the air. My instructions were to find out,
by blasting the rocks, whether any traces of sulphur were to be found in
them; but blasting was out of the question on account of the softness of
the ground, the great heat, and the large quantity of hot vapours. The
rocks must, moreover, be at a great depth, since all attempts to find
them with the earth-borer, which was fifteen feet in length, proved

Close to the mines on the south side heat is seen to have been in the
mountain formerly. Here the same kinds of stone are found as at the hot
spring, and the yellowish gypseous earth as well. By some cause or
another the heat has been removed somewhere else. I was convinced that
sulphur must be found here, as it might have been covered with earth
after the heat left; but all my diggings, both with the earth-borer and
otherwise, proved unsuccessful.

With the earth-borer I tried to ascertain the difference of the beds
where sulphur is sublimated, and of those where it is not, and where
only a slight heat is felt. The first experiment was made in the
northernmost mine. Below the sulphur I found a one-foot thick bed of the
white gypseous earth; then there was a bed of fine blue “bolus,” or an
earth impregnated with flowers of pyrites here and there. In this bed
the heat began to increase, and when I came to a depth of three feet the
bed became a little harder, but, at the same time, warmer and coarser,
as if it were mixed with gravel; and thus it continued to the depth of
fourteen feet, when it became a little softer.

I examined another place where no considerable heat was felt. The white
gypseous earth continued to the depth of a foot and a half; and in this
place it was harder and more solid than where the heat had a free
egress. Then came the blue earth; uppermost it was somewhat loose, but
farther down it became so hard and close that the earth-borer could
hardly penetrate it; the lower down the more it became mixed with
pyrites, and was filled with gravel, as it were. At the depth of twelve
to thirteen feet it became a little looser as I thought. It was the same
kind of earth all the way through; the heat was intense.

The third place which I examined was at the most northern point, beside
a small hot spring, thick with blue earth. Uppermost there was red
“bolus” to the depth of one foot; then a bed of purple and a yellowish
one, three feet thick; then a purple and bluish one, one foot thick. The
heat increased with the depth; here the bed became very hard, and I
found the blue earth impregnated with pyrites. This bed was ten feet
deep; at this depth the heat was so intense that the water trickling
down from the upper beds boiled violently, and prevented all further

By these experiments I found that the conditions necessary for the
sublimation of the sulphur are: _Firstly_, A sufficient quantity of
water to keep the soil loose and porous, that the sulphur may pass
through it, and to drive the sulphur vapours upwards. _Secondly_, That
the water must come from below; for when it comes from above, it cannot
penetrate through the blue bed in the absence of the rising hot vapours
which keep the bed porous; and in that case the bed becomes harder and
harder, and prevents the sublimation of the sulphur.

I tried in several places, both with the earth-borer and otherwise, to
discover some of the so-called dead mines, but without success. From the
many experiments I made, I concluded that the volcanic mountains of
Iceland must have been sulphur mountains or sulphur mines in the
beginning; the blue bed became hard, and the sulphur vapours were thus
prevented from being sublimated. Thus they became more condensed, and,
at the same time, more elastic in the ground; then there arose in them a
“heat-forming movement,” by which the whole ground, which is very
sulphureous, became violently shaken, and subsequently ignited, causing
tremendous destruction.



At Húsavík I obtained horses and workmen from the sheriff, and left that
place the 9th of August, and arrived the 12th in the evening at the
so-called Fremri-námar. At a distance of about one mile from the mines,
there is a valley called Hellaksdalur, where there is a little grass,
just so much as to give the ground a green colour, and this is the only
green spot that is to be found here within a distance of many miles; yet
there was not grass sufficient for the horses, but I had to bring with
me hay for them, and water for the men. In this valley I spent the
night, and the next morning, the 13th, I went to the mines, which are
about ten Icelandic miles (11 indirect, 40 geographical) south-east from
Húsavík, situated on the west side of a mountain called Herðubreið. On
the top of the mountain there is a ridge or an eminence, from which
there is an extensive view; but as far as the eye can reach in every
direction, nothing can be seen but lava. This eminence is 1500 paces
long, and equally broad, and about 120 feet high. On the top of the
eminence there is a deep hollow completely round, and about 200 paces in
diameter. From its shape it is called by the inhabitants a _kettle_. The
south and west sides of this eminence, as well as the hollow itself,
consist of lava, and it may therefore be concluded that the mountain has
been an active volcano in olden times. On the north and east side the
mines are found, and where these are the mountain consists of gypseous
earth like that at Krísuvík. A large quantity of sulphur is said to
have been dug from the dead mines here; but now they are rarely found,
because they have been worked annually, and the sulphur is not generated
afresh in these as in the live ones. Thirty paces from the end of the
valley, and also on the side of the mountain, the first live mines are
found. In the valley they are about 60 paces long, and from 20 to 30
broad. On the side of the mountain they are 200 paces long, and from 20
to 30 broad. On the east side of the mountain, 40 paces lower than the
mines above mentioned, other live mines are found 220 paces long, and 40
to 50 paces broad. From all these the sulphur has been completely
cleared away, because the sulphur found here was very good and pure. The
soil is moderately damp, and the sulphur has just as much water as (when
converted into steam by the heat) is sufficient to raise it up, and to
keep the ground in a loose and porous condition, so the sulphur can be
sublimated through it without hindrance. Yet it does not make the soil
too loose; in that case, small particles of earth would rise along with
the sulphur, become mixed with it, and thus make it impure. In the
mines, which, according to my guide’s information, had been completely
cleared of sulphur, there was already a new bed of sulphur one to two
inches in thickness, but very impure. There are others which formerly
yielded sulphur, now quite cold, and ruined. The destruction of the
mines, as well as the impurity of the sulphur, arises from careless
digging. When the peasants dig the sulphur out of a mine, and particles
of earth and impurities are sticking to it, they clear away the largest
lumps; but they do not take care not to let the impurities fall down
where they had taken the sulphur, where some flowers of sulphur always
remain. For although the uppermost sulphur is tolerably compact and
crystallised, the lowest is loose. The reason is that the uppermost bed
is made more and more compact by the sulphur rising from below, and the
acid phlegm surrounding the sulphur vapours cannot evaporate; the small
sulphur particles are thus prevented from immediate contact with each
other, but are enveloped in the superfluous phlegm. This is the reason
why the lowermost sulphur must remain in the shape of flowers until the
hard crust is removed; then the phlegm is exposed to the air and
evaporates, until the surface has become hard again. It will therefore
be seen, that when the impurities fall into these loose flowers, and the
fine sulphur is subsequently sublimated among them, the impurities will
be imbedded in the sulphur, and must be taken out with it at a second

Another reason for the impurity of the sulphur is this, that a man,
coming to a mine to see how the sulphur is, thrusts his spade into the
ground in various places, without first carefully removing the upper
earth, whereby the sulphur and the earth become mixed together. If he
does not think the sulphur good or abundant enough to be dug out at that
time, he leaves the mine thus disturbed; and the rising sulphur is
sublimated among the disturbed lumps of earth and sulphur, and the whole
becomes a compact mass; it often looks quite pure, but turns out
altogether different at the refinery. Thus a single man may in one hour
destroy a great many mines that might have been excellent if more
carefully handled.

One more cause of the impurity of the sulphur may be found, I think, in
the following circumstance. When the peasants come to a good mine they
take out all the sulphur that is to be found there, and do not take care
how they tread down the loose earth below the sulphur; the down-trodden
earth, over which the wind sweeps freely, becomes tough and hard when
the heat from below is not strong enough to break through it, and thus
keep it porous; thus the mine becomes cold and useless. In other places
where the heat is strong enough to force the steam through the trodden
earth, there is, however, this disadvantage: _Firstly_, It takes a
longer time for the sulphur to arrive at a state of perfect sublimation
than if the earth had remained in its porous condition. _Secondly_, The
fresh sublimation will be impure. When one steps into the loose earth,
deep holes, separated by thin ridges, will be formed. When the sulphur
is formed in these holes, covering the ridges as well, it is evident
that all these ridges must come out with the sulphur at a subsequent

Those that work the mines must therefore be ordered: _Firstly_, To
remove the earth before they dig up any mine, so that nothing shall fall
into the sulphur. _Secondly_, When they remove lumps of earth from the
sulphur, they must carry them outside the mine. _Thirdly_, When they
work a mine, they must first remove the uppermost earth; they must not
completely empty any mine of its sulphur: they should leave the utmost
border standing; then run a trench along the whole length of the mine,
then leave a ridge standing, and run another trench, and so on until
they have reached the utmost border, which they are to leave standing.
Thus the wind will be prevented from having a full sweep of the mine,
and thus making it cold. These trenches ought therefore to run across
the course of the most frequent winds; these are here, in my opinion, a
north-wester and south-easter. After one year the ridges left standing
might be taken with the same precaution as mentioned above. The workmen
ought therefore to be as much as possible prohibited from stepping into
the mines; every digger should take with him a board to stand on while
he digs, and this he should move with him as he proceeds. By these means
the mines might be saved from being unequally trodden down, and the
digger might escape from burning his feet, which he now frequently does,
by sinking through the loose and hot soil.

On the east side of the mountain, below the above-mentioned mines, a red
“bolus” begins, stretching round the mountain from south to north until
it meets with a sandstone mountain; between the mountain and this ridge
of “bolus” there is a little sulphur mine, and here the gypseous earth
is found below the sulphur as usual. Digging up the real “bolus,” I
found it to be very loose and soft; it was full of holes, like the
hardened one at Krísuvík, and the holes were filled with lime, very
loose and gelatinous, and slimy to the touch. Under the “bolus” the
earth was in many places hollow, and one hardly dared to tread there.
Very hot vapours arise from the bottom, by which these earths are
sublimated, for it is quite as hot here as in the sulphur mines. This is
a very interesting circumstance, and well worth observing, that there
are two places lying side by side, and presenting such a difference in
the stuffs driven up from the bottom by the heat, which is equally great
in both places. In one, however, sulphur is sublimated along with a
strong acid, and in the other the above said lime is sublimated, and not
the least acid is found in it.


The 15th I went to the so-called Hliðar-námar, which are about eighteen
miles distant from the former ones. These are the largest of all the
mines, and here too is the greatest heat; the sulphur is consequently
sublimated in less time than in any of the others. At present there is a
large quantity of sulphur here, but it is all in powder, or in the form
of flowers; most of them are found in the mountains, as in the former
places; and the sulphur bed is in many places six inches and more in
thickness. The reason why the heat drives up greater quantities of
sulphur here than in the former places is to be found in the looseness
of the soil; it is not only much looser than in the former ones, but in
some places even too loose and damp, which both makes the spot difficult
to approach in order to dig, and fills the sulphur with earth and
impurities, so as to make it useless. The reason why these mines are in
such a good condition now is, that the sulphur brought from here to the
refinery was not so well received as that which came from the
Fremri-námar, or the so-called Theystarreykja-námar nearest to Húsavík.
I admit that the sulphur found here is more mixed with earth and acids
than in the other places; not, however, in such a degree as to offer any
serious difficulties. But as the whole of the sulphur is in the form of
flowers, and the earth immediately below it has nearly the same
appearance, and cannot therefore be easily distinguished from the
sulphur, the peasants do not, therefore, I think, separate the sulphur
from the earth with as much care as where it is found in a more solid
condition, and where the earth is more easily detected.

The mountain where these mines are situated stretches from north to
south, and on the north side it goes a considerable distance beyond the
mines. The same kinds of earth are found here as at Krísuvík, except the
grey slate, of which there is none here, neither are there any
variations in the gypseous earth; and very little of gypsum is to be
found, which probably is owing to the higher degree of heat, or it may
be because the heat has less interrupted egress, and consequently keeps
the earth constantly porous. There is a larger quantity of the vitriolic
alum. For the rest, the mountain consists of common sandstone. That
even these mines have not been worked carefully is evident from the
considerable number of ruined and cold mines.

Below the sulphur mountain on the east side there are three boiling
springs; it is evident that the two farthest to the south, and situated
close to each other, have been produced by an earthquake, because they
are found in a rift in the mountain, and boil with such awful noise,
especially the most southern one, that it can be heard 200 yards off,
and the ground, which consists of bluish “bolus,” is shaken. Close to
these hot springs is a large lava-tract, which spreads to the north to a
considerable distance; it also winds round the southern point of the
mountain, and crosses the path that leads to Fremri-námar, and spreads
almost down to Reykjahlið. The ground is hot everywhere, and the hot
vapours rise through the lava, and the whole is therefore continually
steaming. About nine miles north of these mines is the mountain Krabla,
where excellent mines are said to have been, but when the eruption of
1724 took place, it caused great destruction. One branch of the
lava-stream coming from this mountain passed close by the mines on the
west side and through the farm of Reykjahlið, the whole of which was
destroyed, and at last the current flowed into the lake Mývatn. The lava
thus produced was in various places hollow, as if the uppermost crust
had been hardened by the air, and the still liquid lava which was under
it flowed away. As the outmost crust cooled down by degrees, it
contracted, and thus rifts were formed; in some places also it was not
strong enough to support its own weight, and fell down. Crawling into
these caves, I found a kind of salt which had been sublimated from the
earth, and become fixed there. It had a bitter taste, and after being
dissolved and dried again it formed square crystals, with a square
point. It was easily melted by the blow-pipe.

_Theystarreykja Mines._

The 31st of August I came to the Theystarreykja mines, which are about
two miles from the refinery. A large quantity of sulphur is said to have
been brought from these mines to the refinery, as they were very
important ones, but now they are almost all cold, and it is only in a
few of them that sufficient heat is found. Therefore, although four
years are said to have passed since sulphur was taken herefrom, there
are only four or five where it might be taken again. Nevertheless the
heat seems in some of the cold mines to be breaking through so far that
the vitriolic acid can be sublimated through the ground, as it has in
combination with the dissolved lime formed the above-mentioned vitriolic
salt. It is therefore to be hoped that many of these ruined mines may
recover after a time, yet this is not certain. Here is again a clear
instance of how the very best mines may be ruined in a short time by
careless treatment. If, therefore, the still remaining mines, either
here or in other places, are to be preserved, the peasants must be
prevented from digging the sulphur.

The home-field of Theystarreykir is good though small, and has a fine
situation; and to the north there is a large piece of uncultivated
ground which might be made useful. Close to the farm is a hill called
Bæarfell, where some of the mines are situated. It begins on the south
side of the most southern mines, and continues in a northerly direction,
then it takes a turn to the east and then again to the north. In the
corner between the eastern and southern arms of the Bæarfell the best
mines are found at present. There have been a great number of mines on
the west side of the mountain, but these are now cold, except a few in
the middle, where the earth is tolerably loose, and the heat can
therefore sublimate the sulphur. Those, however, that are on the east
side of the hill are quite cold, except two small ones high up in the
hill, but there is sufficient heat in all these mines; and I am
therefore of opinion that sulphur may be sublimated in them for the
future. Some of the western ones are also found to be considerably hot,
and it may therefore be expected that these ruined mines may recover in
time. On the west side of these mines there is a large tract of lava. On
the north side of the Bæarfell the home-field begins, and north of that
again a piece of uncultivated ground; when beyond that, the lava
reappears and takes an easterly turn. On the top of the Bæarfell there
is a great deal of red “bolus,” and a strong heat under it. But sulphur
is never sublimated with or through the red “bolus,” therefore it is
not found here. Very little of gypsum is found in these mines. The warm
springs are neither deep nor very hot, and the minerals are either
sandstone, or hardened like those at Krísuvík.

All the sulphur mines which I visited in the north are in the following
condition: _Fremri-námar_ bad, because all the sulphur was taken away
last year. _Hliðar-námar_ good, because they have been saved the most.
_Theystarreykja-námar_ are worst, because the largest quantity has been
taken from them. My advice is, therefore, to let _Fremri-námar_ and
_Theystarreykja-námar_ rest for some time, and to work the
_Hliðar-námar_ only. When these have been emptied, the former two may be
worked in their turn.

_The Refining of the Sulphur._

The refinery is situated a few hundred paces from the factory of
Húsavík, and consists of a sulphur hut; two store-houses, one for the
raw sulphur, the other for the melted, or refined ore; a dwelling-house,
with kitchen and outhouses, all built of turf according to the Icelandic
fashion. The hut is about 20 feet long and 12 to 14 feet broad. In the
middle of it is a small chimney, and on both sides of it two iron
boilers are walled in; one is quite small, and holds only 1 cwt. of
melted sulphur, the other holds 3 cwts.; the smaller one is very little
used. Above the boiler a small board is inserted in the chimney, which
reaches over the middle of the boiler; it has a hole at one end, through
which a stick is put to stir up the sulphur; when its lowermost end
reaches the bottom of the boiler, the uppermost is supported by the
board, and he who stirs the sulphur can therefore move the stick more
easily than if its upper end were loose. The other instruments are, an
iron spade with holes, which is used for taking off the impurities
floating on the molten sulphur. Then there are some wooden forms, into
which the molten sulphur is poured. They are made of oak planks 3 inches
thick, 12 inches broad, and 3 feet long. On one side of the two
outermost planks, and on both sides of the two middle ones, three
cylinder-shaped grooves are made, so that every half-cylinder groove of
the two outermost corresponds with those on the middle ones, and those
on the middle ones with each other. The planks are laid one on the top
of the other, and kept together with an iron ring; in such a form nine
bars can be made at the same time. A small iron sieve with narrow holes
is put in the top of each hole, through which the sulphur is sifted when
poured out from the boiler with a large iron ladle. When not used the
forms are put into a tank filled with water, in order that the hot
sulphur may not stick to the sides of the holes. This is completely
prevented by soaking the forms in water. These are all the instruments
used in the refining of the sulphur. The fuel used is some little wood
sent by the Government, and for the rest peat, of which there is a good
supply close by.

When the sulphur is to be purified, a slow fire is made under the
boiler, and when it grows hot a small quantity, about two pounds, of raw
sulphur is put in; this is stirred till it becomes hot; the fire must be
slow, in order not to burn the sulphur, which might easily happen on
account of the quantity of earth mixed with it. When the portion is
quite dry and begins to melt, a little train-oil is poured in and
stirred quickly, by which the earth unites with the oil, and floats on
the top. As soon as this is melted, another portion of raw sulphur is
put in; and when this is melted, another portion of oil, if required:
this is easily seen; if the earth absorbed by the oil falls to pieces
like ashes, it falls again into the sulphur, and oil must be poured in
immediately. Thus the work is continued until the boiler is full. When
the boiler is nearly filled with molten sulphur, a quantity of train-oil
is poured on the top of it, and heated sufficiently. Then the fire is
removed and the stirring discontinued. The impurities absorbed by the
oil are removed with the iron spade described above. The forms are taken
out of the water, put together, and raised on one end. The iron sieve
described above is placed over the first form, and the sulphur poured
over it from the boiler. When it is full the sieve is placed over the
second one, then over the third, and so on.


The next account that we have of the Krísuvík diggings will be found in
the following extracts from “Travels in the Island of Iceland during the
Summer of the Year 1810,” by Sir George Steuart Mackenzie, Bart., etc.,
etc., second edition, 1812.

Pp. 113, 114.--We set out towards the Sulphur Mountain, which is about
three miles distant from Krisuvik. At the foot of the mountain was a
small bank, composed chiefly of white clay and some sulphur, from all
parts of which steam issued. Ascending it, we got upon a ridge
immediately above a deep hollow, from which a profusion of vapour arose,
and heard a confused noise of boiling and splashing, joined to the roar
of steam escaping from narrow crevices in the rock. This hollow,
together with the whole side of the mountain opposite, as far up as we
could see, was covered with sulphur and clay, chiefly of a white or
yellowish colour. Walking over this soft and steaming surface we found
to be very hazardous, and we were frequently very uneasy when the vapour
concealed us from each other. The day, however, being dry and warm, the
surface was not so slippery as to occasion much risk of our falling. The
chance of the crust of sulphur breaking, or the clay sinking with us,
was great; and we were several times in danger of being much scalded. Mr
Bright ran at one time a great hazard, and suffered considerable pain
from accidentally plunging one of his legs into the hot clay. From
whatever spot the sulphur is removed, steam instantly escapes; and, in
many places, the sulphur was so hot that we could scarcely handle it.
From the smell we perceived that the steam was mixed with a small
quantity of sulphuretted hydrogen gas. When the thermometer was sunk a
few inches into the clay it rose generally to within a few degrees of
the boiling point....

Pp. 115, 116.--At the foot of the hill, in a hollow formed by a bank of
clay and sulphur, steam rushed with great force and noise from among the
loose fragments of rock.

Farther up the mountain we met with a spring of cold water, a
circumstance little expected in a place like this. Ascending still
higher, we came to a ridge composed entirely of sulphur and clay,
joining two summits of the mountain. Here we found a much greater
quantity of sulphur than on any other part of the surface we had gone
over. It formed a smooth crust from a quarter of an inch to several
inches in thickness. The crust was beautifully crystallised, and
immediately beneath it we found a quantity of loose granular sulphur,
which appeared to be collecting and crystallising as it was sublimed
along with the steam. Sometimes we met with clay of different colours,
white, red, and blue, under the crust; but we could not examine this
place to any depth, as the moment the crust was removed steam came
forth, and proved extremely annoying. We found several pieces of wood,
which were probably the remains of planks that had been formerly used in
collecting the sulphur, small crystals of which partially covered them.
There appears to be a constant sublimation of this substance; and were
artificial chambers constructed for the reception and condensation of
the vapours, much of it might probably be collected. As it is, there is
a large quantity on the surface; and, by searching, there is little
doubt that great stores may be found. The inconvenience proceeding from
the steam issuing on every side, and from the heat, is certainly
considerable; but, by proper precautions, neither would be felt so much
as to render the collection of the sulphur a matter of any great
difficulty. The chief obstacle to working these mines is their distance
from a port whence the produce could be shipped. But there are so many
horses in the country, whose original price is trifling, and whose
maintenance during the summer costs nothing, that the conveyance of
sulphur to Reikiavik presents no difficulties which might not probably
be surmounted.

Below the ridge on the farther side of this great bed of sulphur we saw
a great deal of vapour escaping with much noise.


Mr Consul Crowe’s Report (1871-72) supplies the following notices of
mineral prospects in Iceland:

Mineral deposits, showing the presence of copper, iron, lead, and
silver, are found in many parts of the island, but either from their
poorness or the want of fuel, no attempt has been made to utilise them.
Calcareous stone, marbles(?), and feldspath are also found; and large
deposits of sulphur likewise exist in some districts, which at different
times have been the object of commercial speculation. The sulphur mines
at Krisuvik, in the south, are at present worked for foreign account,
but, I believe, owing to their partial inaccessibility, and difficulty
of transport, without much success.

The right of working sulphur mines at Myvatn, in the northern portion of
the island, has recently been conceded by the Danish Government to an
Englishman on a fifty years’ lease. They were worked some years ago for
account of a Copenhagen house, but were abandoned in 1851, since which
time they have remained closed. Many causes contributed to this result;
the chief of which, doubtless, were, ignorance of the proper method of
mining the sulphur, the cost of transport on horseback to the sea-board,
and the want of remunerative demand.

Since then these conditions have changed, and there exists no reason why
these mines should not be worked profitably. They extend over a large
tract of country, and their position is most advantageous, in the midst
of a flat country, within an easy distance of Husavik, a convenient
shipping port; and, during the many years they have been closed, the
deposits must have very greatly accumulated, and should yield
abundantly. Indeed, so strong was this conviction in the minds of the
natives that they long opposed the leasing except on very onerous terms,
although quite unable themselves to work them.

As these mines are now likely to remain in English hands for many years,
a short account of their former history may be read with some interest.

They are situated between 65° 20´ north latitude and the Arctic Sea, or
more definitely speaking, lying in the tract between Myvatn on the east,
and Jökulsá (glacier river) on the west.

The right of working them was bought from private owners by the Danish
king, Frederick the Second, in 1563, and this right has ever since been
in the possession of the Danish Crown (now the State). During the reign
of this king a considerable quantity of sulphur was extracted, amounting
to as much as 400 tons annually. In the reign of his son and successor,
Christian the Fourth, the produce appears to have fallen off, and his
Majesty was unsuccessful in his endeavours to lease them to foreigners.
To the falling-off of their supply of sulphur in this reign, and the
consequent scarcity of gunpowder, the Danes attribute their defeat by
the Swedes in Holstein (1644).

In 1665 we are informed that the Crown granted a concession for “digging
sulphur” to a foreigner, who is stated to have exported large quantities
up to the year 1676; since which date no special mention appears to have
been made of them until the early part of the eighteenth century, when
two foreigners, apparently Germans, acquired in 1724 the right of
exporting sulphur from Iceland. They also shipped considerable
quantities during the succeeding five years, when the death of the
lessees put a stop to this commerce.

After this date, and up to the beginning of the present century, the
Danish Government worked the mines for their own account, at times, it
appears, with considerable profit, until 1806, when they were again
leased to a foreigner. Subsequently, they have at times been worked by
private speculators up to 1851, since which date, as already mentioned,
they have remained untouched.

In 1840 they were visited by some scientific travellers, who calculated
that these northern mines might easily yield an annual net profit of
£1000 or £1200. Ten years later they were specially examined by a Danish
mineralogist, who discredited this statement, and reported them to be
less valuable;[177] but in speaking of the Krisuvik mines in the south,
he says, “These might be easily made to yield 200 tons annually,” and
yet they have always been considered inferior to the northern mines. A
French geologist, Eugène Robert, who visited Iceland in 1835, and
afterwards published a treatise on its geology, calls the attention of
the Danes to the value of the Myvatn mines, and advises them not to
lease them to the Englishmen (who were then applying for them), as the
property might become of great consequence in the event of the sulphur
mines of Sicily falling off, of which, he affirmed, symptoms had shown

It will thus be seen that opinions are divided as to the productiveness
and present richness of these mines; but so much is certain, that they
have for several centuries been worked at intervals with varying
results; at times with considerable profit: the history of the country,
and the experience of so many years, point to the conclusion that, if
properly worked, they would become valuable property.

The mines, for instance, at Reykjahlidar-námar are the richest to be
found in all Iceland, and produce large quantities of the purest

The reproduction is incessantly going on from upwards of a thousand
small eminences, called solfataras, which are found on the ridge along
the sides and at the foot of Námarfjall. Rich sulphur deposits are also
found at the Ketill Crater (called Fremri-námar), while the least rich
are the Krafla-námar, but at all these there is a continual deposition
of sulphur going on. They all have the great advantage of lying in the
track of one of the few practicable roads in the island, leading to an
accessible shipping port.


_16th February 1873._

The following are the notes which I made, for the use of Mr Lock, upon
Mr Vincent’s able and instructive paper.

“Holding sulphur-export to be the most legitimate trade in which Iceland
can engage, I rejoice to see the paper by Mr C. W. Vincent, F.C.E.

“The writer’s theory upon the formation of the mineral, by the by, the
action of water upon pyrites, is not new, nor am I certain that it is
true: perhaps it may be provisionally accepted, until we have a better.
He has done good service to students by noticing the similarity of the
Icelandic diggings with those of Central Sicily and of the Yellowstone
River sources. On the other hand, after actual inspection of the
Icelandic sulphur mines, I must differ upon many details with Mr
Vincent, who has derived his information from hearsay. He nowhere
notices the interesting combination of the Palagonitic groundwork of the
island with lavas of modern date, which seems to me a constant feature
of these solfataras. The venerable Sir Henry Holland recorded in 1810,
that the Krísuvík formation occupied high ground ‘composed principally
of the conglomerate or volcanic tufa which has before been noticed:’
this palpable reference to Palagonite has not been worked out as it
deserved to be. The ‘vivid word-pictures’ of older travellers are either
written in the fine style of former days, or the subjects of description
have lost youth and vigour. The ‘tremendous proofs of what is going on
beneath us’ are now, or have become, phenomena on a very mild scale;
while the ‘thundering noises’ which ‘stunned the ears’ of a former
generation, have learned to ‘roar gently,’ and to avoid shaking weak

“As regards the authorities quoted, I may notice Commander (now Admiral
Sir) J. E. Commerell, who in the Vincent lecture appears enthusiastic
upon the capabilities of the Krísuvík mines. But that able officer’s
more dubious views do not come forth: he expressly states in the same
report that ‘a tramway might also be laid down; but, as there are two
hills to cross, with other difficulties, I could not positively state
whether this were possible or not.’ Mr Seymour (_fils_) has spent many
months in Iceland, but that does not mean Krísuvík. Captain Forbes is
also quoted, although it is well known that my friend has not a high
opinion of the south-western solfatara, and the sketch of travel over
that part of Iceland given in his lively volume (p. 103) suggests
anything but facility of transit. When a tramway has to cross a
hill-range, and a lava-tract some twelve indirect miles broad, we
already expect difficulties. Here, however, I must confess not to have
seen the plan and estimates drawn up by Messrs Shields and Gale, who set
out for Krísuvík a few days before my departure from Iceland.

“Also Mr Vincent appears to extend the solfatara district of Krísuvík
over a space of twenty-five miles, along a fancied volcanic diagonal.
This may be the case, but on July 9-10 Mr Chapman and I rode from
‘Krísa’s Bay’ eastward to the Reykir, _alias_ the ‘Little Geysir,’ and,
although we looked curiously for the enormous area theoretically
assigned to the sulphur formation, we failed to see any sign of it. Our
path ran over the normal quaking bogs, over large spills of modern lava
poured down the walls of the high interior plateau, and occasionally
over a strip of sea-sand. The apparently indispensable Palagonite was
also missing till near the end of the second march. Gunnlaugsson’s and
Olsen’s large map of Iceland, hereabouts so minute in all its details,
does not show a single hot spring between Krísuvík and Reykir; on the
contrary, all is coloured red-yellow, as a Hraun (lava-tract). Even the
‘western mine’ of Krísuvík has been described to me by authorities who
know the country well, as containing very little sulphur; and a passing
visit induces me to believe them.

“All these are minor objections to Mr Vincent’s paper. But when speaking
of, or rather alluding to, your concession, he has fallen into grievous
error. If he has studied the subject, he simply misrepresents it; if
not, he should have avoided all depreciatory notice of the Mý-vatn

“And now for the proofs.

“I read (p. 137) with unpleasant surprise, ‘a violent eruption of the
mud-volcano Krabla to a great extent buried the then active strata
beneath enormous masses of volcanic mud and ashes, so that the energy
has been probably transferred along the line’ (viz., the great volcanic
diagonal stretching, or supposed to stretch, from Cape Reykjanes to the
Mý-vatn lake) ‘southwards,’ that is to say, to Krísuvík.

“Without dwelling upon the fact that Mr Vincent’s theory about the local
production of sulphur renders such ‘transfer of energy’ impossible, I
remark that, firstly, the Hlíðarnámar, the nearest deposits of the
Mý-vatn sulphur, are at least two miles removed from the extremest
influence of Krafla, whilst the Fremrinámar are four times that
distance, and the latter are situated upon a much higher plane. To those
who have breathed the live sulphur tainting the air for mile after
mile, this ‘transfer of energy’ becomes a mere matter of fancy.
Secondly, on the very flank of Krafla, the hollow called Great Hell
(Helvíti Stærra) shows an abundance of sulphur, which extends right
across the valley westwards to Leirhnúkr (mud knoll). In this small
section of your concession Gunnlaugsson gives no less than seven Hverar
(boiling springs) lying close together. I need hardly pursue this part
of the subject: to one who has seen the country the assertion that any
eruption from Krafla has effected either the Hlíðar or the Fremri
diggings appears inconceivable. Suffice it to say that your six square
miles of live sulphur contrast wonderfully well with the two at the
south-western end of the island. Krafla alone contains as many
solfataras, boiling springs, and ‘makkalubers’ (mud caldrons), as exist
in the whole district of Krísuvík, and Krafla is only a part, a very
small part also, of the north-eastern deposits.

“Again I see with astonishment (p. 143), that ‘the sulphur at Myvatn,
though great in quantity, is at too great a distance from the port of
embarkation to permit its extraction being carried on with any chance of
competing with that from the Krisuvik mines.’

“It is true that your concession lies some twenty-five direct
geographical miles from Húsavík, the nearest available port, whilst
those of Krísuvík are only ten distant from Hafnafjörð. But a simple
statement of this kind is fallacious, because it conveys the wrong
impression. It is known to every Icelander that the northern line is one
of the best, the southern one of the worst, if not the worst, in the
island. The Húsavík road has the immense advantage of an easy and
regular incline from 900 feet high to sea-level, and in the depths of a
protracted winter your sledges can always carry down the material dug up
during the long summer days. There is nothing to prevent your having
your tramway, when such expensive article becomes advisable.

“You are at liberty to make any use you please of these short and
hurried notes. Pray understand that my object is by no means to
disparage the sulphur mines of Krísuvík; on the contrary, I hope soon to
see a company formed, and a stout-hearted attempt made to benefit both
the island and ourselves. M. Robert’s opinion upon the capability of
Iceland generally to supply an article which every year grows in
request, and his truly Gallican horror of the trade falling into English
hands, are too well known, and have too often been quoted, to justify
repetition. But I can truthfully say, that the Mý-vatn concession will
be found preferable to that of Krísuvík, and I regret that Mr Vincent
has adopted, without personal acquaintance with Iceland, information
which seems to come from suspected sources.

“Why do you not render justice to the Mý-vatn mines by a lecture, with
the assistance of maps, plans, and other requisites? Mr Vincent, I see,
proposes to continue writing upon the highly interesting sulphur supply
of Iceland: pray remember that in these wild solitudes I am wholly
dependent upon the piety of my friends and the pity of those who
remember me.

“Ever yours truly,


“Alfred G. Lock, Esq.”


     SULPHUR IN ICELAND. By C. CARTER BLAKE, Doc. Sci., Hon. For. Sec.
     Lond. Anth. Soc. London: E. & F. N. Spon, 48 Charing Cross. 1873.

The fact that sulphur, one of the most useful substances known, and, in
the words of Mr Crookes, “the mainstay of present industrial chemistry,”
has been an article of commerce throughout all time, and that a ready
market has always existed for it, is familiar to all. Like the famous
electrum of the ancients, its origin has been comparatively unknown. We
shall briefly consider the conditions under which sulphur is found; its
geographical distribution over the face of the globe; the method of its
preparation for the market, and the circumstances which may lead
capitalists to seek for the productive mineral at a shorter distance
from our own shores than the Mediterranean or Mexico.

Sulphur is a simple, inflammable, brittle substance, of which all the
forms found native belong to the rhombic or trimetric system, and are
more or less modified rhombic pyramids. These crystals could not be
formed at temperatures approaching that of boiling water, or be exposed
to such a temperature without alteration; crystals of native sulphur
must therefore have been formed at ordinary temperatures. Sulphur does
not occur anywhere in sufficient quantity to constitute a rock, but is
widely disseminated throughout rocks of different ages, either implanted
in crystals, in small beds, nests and nodules in a pulverulent
condition, as a coating, as in some lavas, or as a cement of decomposed
trachyte. Dr Sullivan has said:[178]

“In volcanic regions the deposition of sulphur may result from two
causes: 1st, the action of oxygen on damp sulphide of hydrogen gas, or
on solutions of the gas; and 2d, the mutual decomposition of sulphide of
hydrogen, H_{2}S, and sulphurous anhydride, S_{2}O. If the former be in
excess, water and sulphur appear to be formed; if the latter be in
excess, pentathionic acid, H_{2}S_{5}O_{6}, and water are formed; the
pentathionic acid is gradually decomposed into sulphur and sulphuric
acid, which produce sulphates. In connection with this reaction, it may
be observed that several sulphates are associated with the sulphur found
in districts where the sulphur is formed from gases escaping through
fissures. Old craters having such active fissures called fumaroles, are
termed solfaterras.”

So important an influence does the price of sulphur exercise upon the
cost of production of bleached and printed cotton stuffs, soap, glass,
and other valuable manufactures of this country,[179] that it was the
express subject of a commercial treaty, and in 1838 the British
Government took very decided steps to put an end to a monopoly attempted
to be established in it by the Sicilian Government.

That the present supply of sulphur is inadequate to the demand is proved
by its high price, by the use of pyrites as a substitute, and by the
inquiries recently made by the British Government as to its existence in
Mexico. That the already large demand for this important substance must
increase is quite evident when we consider the purposes to which it is

_Gunpowder._--Sulphur enters into the composition of this important
article in proportions ranging from 10 to 20 per cent., according to
whether the powder is required for war, sporting, or blasting
purposes.[180] When we consider the vast quantity required by the
gigantic armaments now maintained in every civilised country, as well as
by the numerous mining and engineering operations at present in
existence throughout the world (in which it is indispensable for
blasting), we can form some idea of the immense amount of sulphur
annually consumed in the manufacture of gunpowder alone.

_Sulphuric Acid._--One of the most important chemical agents required in
the arts and manufactures, is used very extensively for making soda-ash
for bleaching linen, woollens, etc., straw, etc.,[181] manure making,
and for a variety of chemical productions; also for refining

_Soda-ash_ (alkali) is obtained from common salt by means of
concentrated sulphuric acid. It is used instead of barilla for
soap-making, as a substitute for pot and pearl ashes in glass-making;
for cleaning and bleaching; and, in the form of carbonate, for medicinal
and domestic purposes. In the year 1862 the enormous quantity of from
100,000 to 120,000 tons of the former, and from 25,000 to 30,000 tons of
the latter, was made in Great Britain alone.[183] That quantity is now
vastly increased.[184]

_Manures._--A great consumption of sulphuric acid has of late years
taken place for agricultural purposes,[185] viz., in the preparation of
superphosphate of lime, the most active manure for turnips, grass, and

_Oïdium._--Within the last few years it has been discovered that the
use of flowers of sulphur, containing traces of sulphuric and sulphurous
acid, and of carburetted hydrogen, is a protection against the vine
disease--_oïdium_. Although no reliable information exists as to the
exact quantity used for this purpose, yet it is known to be very

Flowers of sulphur have recently been strongly recommended as a remedy
for the potato disease.[186]

Such are a few of the principal objects to which sulphur is devoted, and
for which it is needed; thereby proving most conclusively that THE

Sulphur is found in Corfu, the neighbourhood of Rome, Transylvania,
Spain, the clear or borax lake in California, the slopes of the
Popocatepetl, in the province of Puebla, Mexico; in Montana, North
America, and in the Andaman and the Japanese islands. Supply from these
sources is practically impossible, and the whole supply of sulphur to
Europe and America is derived from the Sicilian sulphur-deposits, the
imports of which into this country arose from 16,686 tons in 1842 to
58,204 tons in 1859,[187] and over 75,000 tons in 1862;[188] and in
France, from 6668 tons in 1820 to 33,361 tons in 1855.

Sulphur is found either (_a_) in a pure native state, (_b_) as gas, or
(_c_) in mechanical admixtures with clays or other earths. The method of
extraction of sulphur when mechanically combined with foreign substances
is thus described in Richardson and Watts’ “Chemical Technology,” vol.
i., part iii, p. 314:

“It has already been noticed that the deposits of sulphur are always
associated with various mineral or earthy matters, and three processes
are followed to separate the principal part of these impurities, which
generally amount to more than one-half of the entire weight of the

“When the deposit is rich in sulphur it is melted in a cast-iron pot,
heated by an open fire. The melted mass is stirred with an iron rake to
facilitate the separation of the earthy matters, which are allowed to
fall to the bottom. The liquid sulphur is then removed by a ladle,
thrown into an iron vessel, and allowed to solidify. The temperature
ought to vary between 250° and 300° Fahr., and never reach 480°, at
which point the sulphur would take fire. The residue which remains, and
contains more or less sulphur, is removed, and may be treated by either
of the following plans:

“A small blast furnace, constructed of fire-brick or stone, is charged
with the sulphur-stone at the bottom, which is ignited, and fresh
charges of the sulphur-stone are thrown in from time to time. The
working holes at the sides admit a small supply of air to support
combustion on the surface, by which means sufficient heat is generated
to melt the sulphur, which runs off at the bottom through a pipe into an
iron pot, where it solidifies.

“The third plan is suitable for treating the impure sulphur-stone,
containing from 8 to 12 per cent, of sulphur. It consists of a furnace
sufficiently wide to receive two rows of earthen pots--the vessels for
distillation--which are arranged in pairs somewhat raised above the sole
of the furnace, upon the supports so that the necks of the pots are a
little above the top of the furnace. Thus the mouths of the pots are
free, and having been charged from without, they are closed by the lids,
cemented on, and the distillation begins. The sulphur vapours pass over
by the lateral tubes to the receivers, where they condense to liquid
sulphur, which flows through into a vessel filled with water, and there

We have indicated the three conditions under which sulphur is found. The
sulphur in a gaseous state in Iceland, where, besides the large and
rapid deposit of the sulphur in and upon the ground, an immense quantity
escapes in the sulphureous vapour, is now entirely wasted, but with the
adoption of the improved Mexican process an enormous saving would
result. Now the whole of this may be recovered by condensing these
vapours in clay vessels, a method practised with great success in
Mexico, where in certain places the fumes escape from the soil and can
be utilised only in this manner. The sulphur thus obtained is required
at the mint of the city of Mexico and at the assaying works.

Sulphur is an essential product of volcanic action: now Iceland is _par
excellence_ the spot of the world where volcanic action is at its
maximum, and Iceland, as a consequence, is the spot where sulphur is
found most extensively. The districts round the active volcanoes of
Etna, in Sicily, and Vesuvius, near Naples, supply the whole amount of
sulphur now used. In seeking, then, for a new source of this commodity,
we should naturally turn our attention to a volcanic district. And where
in the whole world does there exist another country so pre-eminently
volcanic as _Iceland_? Its fearful lava-tracts, its vast plains of
scoriæ, volcanic dust and ashes, its pools of boiling water, its
spouting geysirs, its vast caldrons of seething mud, proclaim its
volcanic origin. It owes its upheaval wholly to volcanic agency, and is
composed almost entirely of igneous rocks.

While these pages are passing through the press, the volcanic force has
broken out in Iceland, and Skaptar Jökull burst into eruption for four
days in the month of January last.

The wildest theories have been uttered respecting the modes of origin of
sulphur. An inquirer, who investigated the southern Icelandic mines in a
superficial manner, has thrown out a theory that the sulphur derived
from Krísuvík, and other southern localities, has been produced by the
action of water on the sulphurets of iron contained in the rocks. This
idea, which rivalled some of the speculations of De Luc, was expressed
by him in a paper read before the Society of Arts, on the 15th January
1873. The notion was, that the hidden fires of Iceland dwell in the
crust of the earth, and not in its interior; that the boiling springs
and mud-caldrons certainly do not derive their heat from the depths of
our globe, but that the fire which nourishes them is to be found
frequently at only a few feet below the surface, in fermenting matters
which are deposited in certain strata! How far this theory is probable
may be estimated when we glance at the converse hypothesis, which we
must impress upon our readers. The lava at Myvatn is only a few feet, or
at most, a few yards, thick; this is clearly shown by the fact that the
gaseous vapour escapes from innumerable holes in the lava lying between
the mines and the lake. The stoppage of an outlet for the upward flow
of the gas has caused the outbreak of the fluid at spots far distant
from the original central “crater” of the sulphur volcano. The geology
of Mr Vincent is decidedly vague.

That a great volcanic diagonal line stretches from Cape Reykjanes to the
lake of Myvatn, is a theory which is unproven by topographical science,
and which a glance at the map, which shows the elevated hills of
Lángjökull, Hofsjökull, and Vatnajökull extending across this imaginary
line, is sufficient to disprove. The relative elevations of the
mountains, from Snæfell on the east, to Eyjafjallajökull on the west,
seem to indicate that the central line of volcanic action has been along
a line parallel with the south-south-east coast, and which has left the
formations in the neighbourhood of Lake Myvatn, with the small volcanic
chain of Sellandafjall, Bláfjall, Hvannfell, and Búrfell, entirely to
the north. The abrupt escarpment of the greater chain lies along its
south-eastern strike, and the fissures along which the parallel rivers
from the Jökuldalr to the Hrútafjörðará flow are, according to a
well-known geological law, produced on the less inclined slopes. Whilst
Mr Vincent’s theoretical geology verges on the speculative, his
assertion of known geographical facts is inexact.

In 1857, when the temporary cessation of war by England led the British
Government to look for fresh sources of gunpowder supply for Europe,
Captain J. E. Commerell, of H.M.S. “Snake,” was sent to Iceland by the
Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to report upon the capabilities of
the mines of Krísuvík and Húsavik. He found the Krísuvík mines, though
comparatively close to the sea, did not possess a safe port of
debarkation nearer than Hafnarfjörðr. An _ex parte_ statement of the
“objects, pleasures, and advantages” of the “truly eligible” Krísuvík
sulphur mines leaves itself open to severe criticism, and the opinion of
Commander Commerell that “the sulphur at Myvatn, though great in
quantity, is at too great a distance from a port of embarkation to
permit its extraction being carried on with any chance of competing with
that from the Krísuvík mines,” may be profitably contrasted with that of
A. de Capel Crowe, Esq., H.B.M.’s Consul in Copenhagen.[189]

Consul Crowe’s remarks as to the richness of these deposits are
corroborated by Commander Commerell himself, who says in his report:

“I found at Námarfiall, which lies about six miles to the east of Lake
Myvatn, large beds of sulphur in a very pure state; and though the
quantities already deposited were very great, no signs appeared of their
having been worked.”

We shall give the testimony of a few of the more distinguished Icelandic
travellers relating to the value of the Myvatn fields. But quotations
are only made from authors whose scientific and literary position render
their opinion of value and authority.

The testimony of the Rev. Mr Henderson, the celebrated missionary in
Iceland, cites the following notorious and well-known facts:

“To the east of Krabla the sulphur mines of Reykjahlid.[190]

“Of the sulphur mountains a particular description is given in the

“...Several huge dark mountains that are again relieved in the east by
the Námar, or sulphur mountains, from the decomposition going forward,
in which a vast profusion of smoke is constantly forming, ascending to a
great height in the atmosphere.[192]

“Olafsen and Povelsen, describing two pools on the south-east side of
Krabla, _say that the whole region completely answers to the well-known
solfatara in Italy_.”[193]

Describing the neighbourhood of Myvatn, he, in an eloquent description,

“On either side lay vast beds of sulphur covered with a thin crust,
containing innumerable small holes, through which the vapour was making
its escape. In many parts the crust, which presented the most beautiful
aluminous efflorescence, was not more than half-an-inch in thickness;
and on its being removed, _a thick bed of pure sulphur appeared, through
which the steam issued with a hissing noise_. The sublimation of the
sulphur is produced by the constant ascension of this vapour; and it is
found to possess greater and less degrees of purity, in proportion as
the soil is more or less porous. In general, however, _these mines are_
VASTLY _superior to any other in Iceland_, owing to the intense degree
of subterranean heat, and the very loose and porous nature of the earth
at this place.

“The sulphur mountain rises to a considerable height from the east side
of the hollow in which these mines are situate. It does not exceed a
mile in breadth, but is more than five miles in length, stretching from
the east end of the lake in a northerly direction, between the volcanoes
_Krabla_ and _Leirhnukr_, where it joins the ridge by which these two
mountains are connected. The surface is very uneven, consisting of
immense banks of red bolus and sulphur, the crust of which is variegated
with random mixtures of yellow, light-blue, and white colours, and in
some places a soft sandstone makes its appearance through the
predominant mould. I could also observe holes, out of which the sulphur
has been dug by the peasants.

“The jetting is accompanied with a harsh roar, and the escape of a vast
quantity of vapour strongly impregnated with sulphur.... Passing a
desolate farm, and keeping at a distance from the sulphur banks, which
appeared in the face of a contiguous mountain, we succeeded in reaching
the base of Krabla.... On the northern margin rose a bank, consisting of
red bolus and sulphur, from which, as the wind blew from the same
quarter, we had a fine view of the whole. Nearly about the centre of the
pool is the aperture whence the vast body of water, sulphur, and
bluish-black bolus is thrown up; and which is equal in diameter to the
column of water ejected by the _Great Geyser_ at its strongest
eruptions.... What was visible of Krabla appeared covered with the same
clay, pumice, and sand as that on which I stood, only diversified by
beds of yellow sulphur.... To the west of this wilderness lay a number
of low mountains, where the _Fremri_ Námar are situated. Directly in
front was the valley filled with lava above described; near the farther
end of which the large columns of smoke ascending from the sulphur
springs had a fine effect.”[194]

The Rev. S. Baring-Gould, whose researches into Icelandic literature
have been of such service to the philologist, gives the following
description of the view from the slope above Reykjahlíð, looking across
the Lake Myvatn:

“You see the indigo chain of Blafell, beyond which is a _field of
sulphur_ and boiling mud called Fremri-Námar, not visited by travellers,
as it is difficult of access, and inferior in interest to the Námarfjall
springs.... (From Námarfjall) in half an hour we reach the sulphur
mountains, a chain of red hills, perfectly destitute of vegetation. We
dip into a glen, and find it full of fumaroles, from which steam is
puffing, and sulphur is being deposited. These run along the dale in a
zigzag. By the road-side I noticed a block of pure sulphur, from which
every traveller breaks a piece, so that in time it will disappear

“Passing through the Námar-skarth, a winding cleft in the mountains, I
came upon a plain of mud, the wash from the hills bounded by a
lava-field; the mountains steaming to their very tops, and depositing
sulphur, the primrose hue of which gives extraordinary brightness to the
landscape.... Presently the beautiful Lake Myvatn, or Midge Lake, opened
before us, studded with countless lava islets; beyond was the sulphur
range, yellow as though the sun ever shone on it.”[195]

In Mr Shepherd’s work on the North-West Peninsula of Iceland, we find
another lucid description:

“We rode to the sulphur mountains on the east of the lake (Myvatn).
These large hills are a very wonderful sight. They are of various
colours, a variety of mixtures of red and yellow. From their sides are
emitted various jets of steam, and _masses of bright yellow sulphur_ are
strewed all around them.... All around the soil was very treacherous,
consisting of hot mud, with a covering of sulphur about an inch in
thickness, which in most cases was sufficiently strong to bear a man’s
weight. When the crust was broken, steam issued forth, strongly
impregnated with sulphur.”[196]

The distinguished Lord Dufferin (the present Governor-General of
Canada) in his charming book, “Letters from High Latitudes,” says:

“Opal, calcedony, amethyst, malachite, obsidian, agate, and felspar are

M’Culloch’s “Geographical Dictionary,” vol. i., p. 585, under the
heading “Iceland,” says:

“Few metals are met with. Iron and copper have been found, but the mines
are not wrought. THE SUPPLY OF SULPHUR IS INEXHAUSTIBLE; large mountains
are encrusted with this substance, which, when removed, is again formed
in crystals by the agency of the hot steam from below. Large quantities
were formerly shipped; but latterly the supplies sent to the foreign
market were comparatively small.”

“Chambers’s Encyclopædia,” under the heading “Iceland,” vol. v., p. 505,

“The mineral wealth of Iceland has only begun to be developed. IN NO

An adequate idea of the value of the Icelandic sulphur fields, as
compared with those of Italy, cannot be conveyed by the reports of
travellers. To thoroughly comprehend this, we must bear in mind the
reproductive properties displayed by solfataras, and the best means
suggested by practice to extract the sulphur and yet not interfere with
this peculiarity.

The process for the separation of the sulphur at the celebrated
solfatara of Pozzuoli, near Naples, where the sulphur is condensed in
considerable quantities amongst the gravel collected in the circle which
forms the interior of the crater, is conducted as follows: The mixture
of sulphur and gravel is dug up and submitted to distillation to extract
the sulphur, and the gravel is returned to its original place, and in
the course of about THIRTY _years_ is again so rich in sulphur, as to
serve for the same process again.[197]

We thus see that the reproductive process occupies a period of THIRTY
_years_ in the Italian mines, whereas the same results are produced in
THREE years in the Icelandic mines, _i.e_., that A GIVEN AREA IN ICELAND

“The permanency of the volcano, as a source of sulphur, would depend on
the rapidity with which the sulphur would be replaced, after the sand
had been once exhausted. The time required for this is not necessarily
fixed to periods of twenty-five or thirty years. In Iceland, at a
similar spot the sulphur is renewed every two or three years.”[198]

The nearest port suitable for shipment of the sulphur is “Húsavík,”
situate in the Bay of Skjálfandi; it is perfectly accessible at all
times of the year. Mr Consul Crowe having been questioned on the
subject, states[199] that:

“The Icelandic ports are, owing to the influence of the Gulf Stream, in
ordinary years accessible to shipping all the year round, and shipments
can safely be made during seven months at ordinary rates of freight and
insurance. Húsavík, as a rule, is never frozen up, the only impediment
to free navigation being the floating ice which at certain seasons is
loosened from Greenland, and may for a time lie off the coast. Such
occurrences, however, have their stated times and seasons, which are
well known to navigators in those waters; in some years there are no
hindrances of the kind at all, and shipments in good vessels may be made
all the year round. In support of this statement, I may mention the fact
that steamers leave Copenhagen for Iceland as late as the middle or end
of October, and would do so later were there sufficient goods or
passengers to make them pay. Again, the Iceland ‘Althing’ have recently
proposed to raise funds for running steamers round the island ‘_all the
year_,’ and thus supply the want of internal communication; and, if the
proposal fell through, it was only on financial grounds, and not from
inaccessibility of ports from ice. I am therefore simply repeating facts
in stating that, as a rule, Iceland navigation is free all the year
round. _The island is but a two days’ journey_ _from Scotland, and with
suitable vessels an almost uninterrupted intercourse might, in ordinary
seasons, be kept up_. In further confirmation of what I have stated, I
may add that this same warm current from the Mexican Gulf, which is so
beneficial to Iceland, keeps also all the Norway ports, from the Naze to
the North Cape, ice-free all the year round.”

The road from Hafnarfjörðr to Krísuvík will certainly be improved by the
formation of a railway.

It has been said by Professor Paijkull that this road is one of seven or
eight hours’ journey.

“This road is one of the best in Iceland. The ‘heiði’ south of Húsavik
is free from stones, and is level, although only sparsely overgrown with
grass. Neither are there any hills or fjelds to be met with along it,
and there are only a few small streams to be crossed. The last few miles
north of Myvatn certainly consist of a sandy plain, but it is tolerably
level, and the road is pretty good, owing, I suppose, to the sulphur
traffic from the solfataras, near Myvatn, to Húsavik, in former days, in
which 100 horses are said to have been employed at one time.”[200]

In 1868, the late foreign minister of the United States, Mr W. H.
Seward, one of the most far-sighted statesmen which that country has
ever produced, was able to anticipate the future importance of the
Iceland sulphur mines both to Europe and to America. It was even
proposed that the United States Government should purchase both Iceland
and Greenland, as well as St Thomas, from the Danish Government. To
promote this object, Mr B. M. Pierce was sent to Iceland to report on
the mines. Extracts from his report are subjoined:

“The sulphur mountains, beds, and mines are very rich and extensive,
easily worked, and of immense value. The sulphur is supplied at half the
cost of that furnished by the Sicilian mines, which it is believed will
soon be exhausted. _The possession of these mines as a part of our
territory is a question of vital magnitude._

“...By the way of Reykjahlid and Krabla, where are the most extensive
sulphur deposits of the island.

“There are two principal fields of sulphur in Iceland; one near Krabla
and Reykjahlid in the north-eastern, the other at Krísuvík in the
south-western corner. _The former is by far the most extensive region_,
but the latter gives the purer product. Every traveller gives us a
description, more or less minute, of these sulphur hills, and the beds
of pure yellow, often a foot thick, which extend about them. Up to a few
years ago the sulphur had only been explored in the rudest way by the
natives. The industry thus carried on was almost insignificant in
result, and was soon abandoned when the supply of surface material
became scanty. Still the exportation of sulphur was enough during the
days of the peasant mining to give the brightest hopes of what it would
be under enlightened management and economy. One of the most interesting
and remarkable facts connected with these mines is that a region
apparently exhausted becomes re-sulphurised again, so that the stores of
brimstone are PRACTICALLY as INEXHAUSTIBLE as those of the infernal
regions. Although the mines of Krísuvík are twenty miles from
Hafnarfjörðr, one of the best harbours in the island, and those of
Krabla are farther still from the seaboard, and from the principal
trading station of Húsavik, it would appear that pure Icelandic sulphur
is excessively cheap, half the price, say some, of Sicilian sulphur.
_With improved means of transportation it would control the market._ The
Oxonian, remarking on this, says (p. 138), ‘like everything else in
Iceland, the light is under a bushel.’ Our most trustworthy information
comes from Forbes, who, being an officer, sees the importance of the
sulphur supply, and enters energetically into a thorough discussion on
the prospects of the Iceland beds. We shall give the substance of what
he says: ‘The deposits are formed by the decomposition of the sulphurous
fumes that burst up from the ground, and afterwards sublimate as solid
sulphur. A part is mixed with clay; a part is almost pure sulphur,
containing but 4 per cent. of gangue. The number and energy of these
sulphur gases continually coming up is incredible. The sulphur earth, or
impregnated clay, averages from 6 feet to 3 feet in thickness, and
contains 50 or 60 per cent. of pure sulphur.’

“Sulphur is found also at Námafjall, in the north of Iceland, in
geological circumstances analogous to those of the beds at Krísuvík. It
is found there generally in concrete masses of a citron-yellow colour,
quite pure, sometimes very plentiful, and generally associated with lime
and silica. It is to be regretted that the Danish Government does not
favour this industry, which would furnish as fine sulphur as that of
Sicily, and doubtless at a lower price. Besides, Denmark possesses in
Iceland immense stores, which will one day be of great value to her when
those of Sicily are exhausted.”

Before the concession was granted to Mr Lock, Professor Johnstrüp was
sent by the Danish Government to survey and make plans of the mines. His
report is inserted at length:

“Referring to the consul’s request to me in date of the 27th of last
month, I beg to inform him that on the journey which I made last year to
Iceland I visited the sulphur mines belonging to the State there, which
lie to the east of Myvatn, and I made maps of them, which were sent to
the Minister of Justice, who will, no doubt, let you have copies of
them. From these you will be able to see that the richest mines are to
be found in that part called Reykjahlidar-Námar, where large deposits of
the purest sulphur are to be found.

“The reproduction is _incessantly_ going on from about _a thousand small
eminences (solfataras)_, which are found on the ridge, along the sides,
and at the foot of Námarfjall.

“Further rich sulphur mines are to be found at the Kétill crater, called
the Fremri-Námar, while the least rich mines are the so-called
Krabla-Námar, but also at these there is a continual production of
sulphur going on. The first-mentioned mines ARE THE RICHEST TO BE FOUND
IN THE WHOLE OF ICELAND, and have the advantage of lying in the track of
a PRACTICABLE ROAD _to the shipping port of_ HÚSAVIK, WHICH ROAD IS
AMONG THE BEST IN THE ISLAND. As regards the position of the mines, I
must refer you to Olsen and Gunnlaugsson’s map of Iceland, on which they
are marked. It will be a pleasure to me should these particulars be of
service to you.

“(Signed)   J. F. JOHNSTRÜP,
“_Prof. Mineralogy at the Copenhagen University._

“_April 30, 1872._”

The examination of these facts is quite enough to show the inquirer that
the transit from Myvatn to Húsavík is more practical, and of more easy
access, than that from Krísuvík to any of the ports at the south-west
corner of the island, which have been extolled by Mr Vincent in his _ex
parte_ glorification of the Krísuvík mines. We will now turn to the
testimony of a far greater traveller, whose opinion on the subject
ought, indeed, to be regarded as final. Captain R. F. Burton, in his
recent exploration of Iceland, devoted much time to the examination of
the Myvatn sulphur deposits. The great question is answered by him in
the following letter which appeared in the London _Standard_, Nov. 1,

“Sir,--Perhaps you will allow me, in continuation of my letter of
October the 14th, to attack the subject of the sulphur deposits in
Iceland now belonging to British subjects.

“For many years these diggings, so valuable since the exhaustion of the
supply from Sicily, were a bone of contention between France and

“Denmark can hardly work the mines for herself without a great
expenditure of capital, which will find its way into Icelandic pockets,
and thus she wisely leases her property to strangers. She relies upon
the fact that sulphur has risen from £4, 10s. to £7 per ton, and
consequently that her Iceland diggings must become more valuable every

“I spent three days--from August 7th to August 9th, 1872--at the
solfataras of Mý-vatn, or Midge Lake, situated to the north-east of the
island. I lodged at the farm of Reykjahlið (reeky ledge), under the roof
of the well-known Hr Pètur Jónsson, whose alacrity in composing a bill
of charges has won for him a wide reputation.

“On Wednesday, August 7th, I set out under the guidance of this worthy
to inspect the diggings of Krafla, generally but erroneously written
Krabla. And now a verbatim extract from my diary will assure the reader
that my statements are completely free from the process called

“Rode to Leirhnúkr (mud knoll) in one hour fifteen minutes. At once
understood an _emplacement_ very imperfectly described by old
travellers. It is the northern head of a spine, a sharp prism about one
mile broad, with a magnetic direction of 215 deg., in fact, nearly due
north--south. It is a mass of Palagonite (sea-sand forming a stone),
everywhere capped by spills and gushes of modern lava, _and sulphur
abounds_ at the junction of these formations. The hillock of _Leirhnúkr
is one vast mass of sulphurous deposits_. I counted seven wells upon the
slope, whilst the lowlands around were spotted with unwholesome-looking
eruptions. Rode east to Helvíti, which the Rev. Mr Henderson described
in 1815 as a crater, not unworthy of its grim name. ‘Hell,’ here as
elsewhere, has been ‘dismissed with costs,’ the placid blue lake,
ruffled at times by the passing breeze, and blowing off odours the
reverse of Sabæan, is now hardly worth visiting. At Hrafntinnuhryggr
(raven stone ridge)--excuse the word, I did not make it--expected to
find, as the ‘Obsidian Mountain’ has been described, ‘a heap of broken
wine bottles shining with their jet-like colouring.’ Found nothing of
the kind, but picked up some decent specimens. Rode back much edified,
etc., etc....

“On the next day rode to the Fremrinámar (outer warm-springs) to the
south with some easting to Reykjahlíð. Found the road utterly dissimilar
to anything laid down in maps. After four hours thirty minutes of rough
travelling, reached the _deposit which has been worked for some
generations, but which cannot be said to have been_ EVEN SCRATCHED. The
‘lay’ is upon the north-eastern, the eastern, and the southern flank of
a crater, described by the late Professor Paijkull as ‘probably the
largest in Iceland.’ _Immense deposits covered the ground, and white
fumes everywhere filled the air. Whole torrents_ of what Mr Crookes
calls the ‘mainstay of our present industrial chemistry’--I mean
_sulphur--have here been ejected_. Could not count the hissing ‘hot
coppers,’ popularly called fumaroles. Returned after a stiff ride of
eight hours thirty minutes, which gave a fine view of the Ódáða Hraun,
the ‘great and terrible wilderness’ of lava to the south-west, etc....

“August 9th was a lazy day, spent in preparing for a trip to the desert.
Inspected the Hlíðarnámar (ledge springs), from which the farm of
Reykjahlíð takes its name. Bravely objected to be deterred by the ‘smell
of rotten eggs,’ by the ‘suffocating fumes,’ and by the chance of being
‘snatched from yawning abysses by the guide’s stalwart arms.’ Perhaps
the conviction that the abyss nowhere exceeds three feet in depth may
account for my exceptional calmness in such deadly peril. The
Hlíðarnámar, or Ledge Springs, lie west of the sulphur mountain, and on
a lower plane than the eastern deposits. They are bounded north by two
lava-streams issuing from the base of the Hlíðarfjall, and south by
independent outbreaks of lava, showing hosts of small detached craters.
East is the hill, and west the Mý-vatn water, and its selvage of
fire-stone. The area of this fragment of the grand solfatara may be one
square mile.

“The spade deftly wielded threw up in many places pure flowers of
sulphur. According to Dr Augustus Vöelcker, this bright yellow matter
gives 95·68 per cent., and according to the Icelandic traveller
Ólafsson, it is readily renewed. Below the golden colour usually is a
white layer, soft, acid, and mixed with alum; it is calculated to yield
20 to 30 per cent. Under it again are the red, the dark purple, the
chocolate, and other tints, produced either by molecular change in the
mineral, or by oxygen which the sulphur no longer modifies. Here the
material is heavy and viscid, clogging the spade, and the yield is
reported at 50 to 60 per cent. These figures will show the absolute
value of the supply. Beneath, at short distances, say at three feet,
lies the ground-rock, invariably Palagonite: thus ‘falling in’ merely
means dirtying the boots. Between the yellow outcrops stretch gravelly
tracts which the spade showed to be as rich as the more specious
appearances. Many of the issues are alive, and the dead vents are easily
resuscitated by shallow boring, in places even by pulling away the
altered lava-blocks which cumber the surface.

“Leaving my horse in a patch of the wild oats that everywhere
characterise this region, I walked up the sulphur mountain, whose white
and yellow washings, so conspicuous from afar, prove to be sulphur,
stones, and sand deposited by the rain upon the red clay. Here we picked
up crystals of alum and lime and fragments of gypsum and selenite. The
crests and box-shaped masses of Palagonite and altered lava gave fine
views of the lowlands. On the summit we found some small mud-springs,
which Iceland travellers have agreed to call by the corrupted name
‘Makkaluber;’ the people know them as ‘Hverar.’ This peculiarity is
therefore not confined, as writers assert, to the eastern hill feet. The
richest diggings lie below the crest, and here the fumes escape with a
fizz and a mild growl, which vivid fancy has converted into a ‘roar.’ _I
returned from the immense soufrière vastly edified with the spectacle of
so much wealth lying dormant in these days of capital activised by
labour_, etc., etc....

“To the question, ‘Will this sulphur pay its transport?’ I reply
unhesitatingly, Yes, if great care and moderate capital be expended upon
the mines. In the first place, the live vents which waste their sourness
on the desert air must be walled round with stones, or, better still,
with planks, and the fumes should be arrested, as in Mexico, by pans and
other contrivances. The working season would be the summer, AND THE
the produce can be sent down to Húsavík (House’s Bay), by sledges, not
the Esquimaux-like affair at present used in Eastern Iceland, but the
best Norwegian or Canadian. The road is reported by all travellers to be
exceptionally good, running for the most part over gently undulating
heaths, overlying basalt. There are no rivers of importance on the way,
and the fall is about 1500 feet in forty-five English statute miles. The
line is wrongly placed in Gunnlaugsson’s map: it runs on the eastern,
not the western shore of the Langavatn, and it passes to the east of the
celebrated Uxahver. I am also assured that the much-abused Bay of
Húsavík is a safe harbour, when proper moorings are laid down, that no
vessel has been lost there during the last thirty years, and that
Captain Thrupp, of H.M.S. ‘Valorous,’ judged favourably of it. This also
was the verdict of an old Danish skipper, who assured us that during the
last twenty-five years he has been trading between Copenhagen, Hull, and
Húsavík, reaching the latter place about the end of February, and making
his last voyage home in October. During the ‘balance’ of the year masses
of floe-ice prevent navigation.

“From such a speculation present returns may be expected. When income
justifies the outlay a tramway would greatly cheapen transit. The ships
which export the sulphur can import coal, and now that the officinal
treatment of sulphur has been so much simplified by the abolition of
train-oil, nothing else except pressed hay for the cattle is wanted.
When one patch is exhausted, the road can be pushed forward to another.
I am persuaded that the _whole range, wherever Palagonite and lava meet,
will be found to yield more or less sulphur_. Of course it will be
advisable to purchase sundry of the farms, and these, in Iceland, range
in value from £300 to £800 maximum. The vast waste lands to the east
will carry sheep sufficient for any number of hands; and good stone
houses will enable the Englishman to weather a winter at which the
Icelander, in his wretched shanty of peat and boarding, looks with
apprehension. I have already spoken about the excellence of the summer
climate, and any gazetteer shows that the change of temperature at
Montreal is more to be feared than in Iceland.

“I am, &c.,



“_October 16, 1872._”

The very language of Iceland seems to indicate the importance of its
sulphur deposit. It is a significant fact that the Icelandic language
indicates sulphur as the “burning-stone,” _Brennisteinn_, unlike the
Danish _Svovel_, which is obviously derived from _Sulphur_, Lat.

Mr Vincent’s theory that sulphur is produced by the action of water on
pyrites, though having some elements of probability in it, is
nevertheless entirely unproven in the present state of science, and it
is most unfortunate that throughout his paper, theory and fact are
mingled in equal proportions, each being independent of the other.
“_Tant pis pour les faits._”

It was left for Captain Burton to point out that the testimony of
Commander Commerell, which appears in Mr Vincent’s paper to make the
transit from Krísuvík to Hafnarfjörðr a real path of roses, did not
actually speak with such unqualified enthusiasm. Commander Commerell

“A tramway might also be laid down, but as there are two hills to cross,
with other difficulties, I could not positively state whether this were
possible or not.”

Another objection by Captain Burton appears to be of greater force. It
is alleged that the Krísuvík deposits extend over an area of twenty-five
miles. No precise geological map is given of the locality, and it is
most significant that when Captain Burton and Mr Chapman rode from
Krísa’s Bay, eastward to the Little Geysir, and although they looked
anxiously for the enormous area theoretically assigned to the
sulphur-formation, they failed to see any sign of it. The sulphur, like
the Spanish fleet, was not in sight; and the absence of the Palagonite,
which is invariably in other Icelandic localities found in juxtaposition
with the sulphur, ought to hint to geologists the true state of the

The Danish Government were not slow to perceive, and have on numerous
occasions endeavoured to attract attention to, their valuable mineral
products. Mr Lock, an Englishman, some years ago petitioned the Danish
Government, and expressed his wish to take a lease of the sulphur mines
at Myvatn. A committee was elected by the Icelandic Althing to report
upon this subject. This report, which is dated the 14th August 1869,
exhibits the utmost timidity in permitting an alien to acquire rights
over the mineral products of Iceland. It is given at full length in the
terminal notes to this paper.

It is not here necessary to narrate the circumstances under which the
Danish Government declined to adopt the local recommendation. It will
suffice to say that on the 13th April 1872, a contract was signed
between Alfred G. Lock of London and the Danish Minister of Justice,
Andreas Frederik Krieger, on the part of the Danish Government. This
contract will be found in full in Note No. 1. The lease lasts for fifty
years, and the terms, although costly to the English concessionaire,
were satisfactory to the Danish Government. The greatest possible
irritation has consequently been produced among a very small section of
“Home Rule” Icelanders, who objected to the working of the mines by a
stranger. The matter, however, being entirely taken out of their hands,
their criticism on the arrangement becomes a mere historical question.

A fuller description of Mr Lock’s property will be of interest to the
English inquirer, as it shows to what an extent capital may be
productively invested.

_Description of the Property._

The property comprises the solfataras or sulphur springs, the sulphur
banks or fields, and the sulphur quarries belonging to the State of
Denmark, and situated in the Things Syssel in the north and east
provinces of Iceland.

The sources of sulphur in this property are threefold:

1st. The _solfataras_, or sulphur springs.

2d. The _sulphur banks_, or fields.

3d. The _sulphur quarries_.

_The Solfataras._--Sulphur is formed by certain gases generated
underground by volcanic action, and in solfataras these gases find their
way to the surface of the earth through sand, ashes, or other volcanic
substances, and in their passage sublime and deposit a certain portion
of their sulphur, a certain amount escaping into the air.

This formation of sulphur is continuous and increasing, and in
proportion to the strength of the volcanic influences so is the rapidity
with which the sulphur is formed and the amount taken from the solfatara
replaced. For this reason they are called “living.”

The solfataras of Italy require a period of twenty-five or thirty years
to renew the sulphur in sufficient quantities to pay for extraction,
whilst these are said to require only three years to produce the same
result, the same area of solfataras in Iceland being consequently ten
times as valuable as an equal area in Italy.

The methods of extracting the sulphur from these are most inexpensive,
and the plant required of the simplest description.

The gases at present escaping into the air can be condensed and the
sulphur obtained in a pure crystallised state, without any expenses for
refining, by collecting the gases in clay vessels.

2d. _The Sulphur Banks_, or Fields.--The gases before mentioned escaping
into the air condense and deposit sulphur, which, were the atmosphere
always calm, would be precipitated in regular banks, but owing to the
constant shifting of the wind it is blown in all directions, forming
layers varying from a few inches to several feet in thickness, and
extending over vast areas of the surface of the surrounding ground.

3d. _Sulphur Quarries._--In these localities the accumulation of sulphur
has ceased, and when once extracted is not replaced; they are therefore
called “dead.” The sulphur is found imbedded in, and mixed with, lime,
clay, etc., and nearly all the sulphur exported from Sicily is obtained
from this description of sulphur-bearing strata.

The same kind of strata exists in the Romagna in Italy, and in some
districts of Spain, but in the Romagna the deposit is 390 feet below the
surface, and only yields, in the furnaces, 15 per cent. of sulphur,
while the best of those in Spain are from forty to sixty feet below the
surface, and contain a varying quantity of sulphur of from 21 to 36 per
cent.--the poorest strata being nearest the surface--whilst these (in
Iceland) are upon the surface; and Henderson, the missionary, a most
trustworthy authority, describes a valley one mile wide and five miles
long in the neighbourhood of Krabla, the surface of which is very
uneven, and consists of immense banks of red bolus and sulphur, with
mixtures of yellow, light-blue, and white coloured earth.

Forbes found similar clays to contain, the white from 30 to 40 per
cent., and the red and blue clays about 16 per cent. of sulphur.

The plans made by J. F. Johnstrüp, Professor of Mineralogy at the
University of Copenhagen, by order of the Danish Government, and
attached to the leasing contract, a copy of which will be found in the
Appendix, show the solfataras, or living sulphur-fields, to extend over
a district of more than SIX SQUARE MILES, viz.:

                               Acres.  Sq. miles. Acres.

No. 2. Krabla-námar,     about 1998    = 3         78
No. 3. Reykjahlid-námar,   ”   1068    = 1½    108
No. 4. Fremri-námar,       ”    808    = 1¼      8

As a gauge of the value of the Icelandic sulphur-fields we have been
describing, it would be well to compare them with those of other
countries. To arrive at this result, we shall give a comparison of the
estimated cost of Sicilian and Spanish sulphur, and contrast it with
that derived from Iceland.


Cost of Sicilian sulphur, according to Signor Parodi’s Report to the
Italian Government, vouched by English engineers, viz.:

Per ton of sulphur.
                                      Fr. c.

Excavation of mineral,                13  0
Oil and tools,                         5  0
Extraction of mineral,                16  5
Pumping,                              10  0
Fusion,                                5  5
General charges and taxes,            11  0
Carriage from mines to port,          20  0
Rent to proprietor of soil,           15  0
                                      96  0 = £3 16 10


                                       £  s. d.
Freight,                               1  0  0
Export duty,                           0  8  0
Port charges, commission, etc.,        0  4  6
Insurance, brokerage, etc.,            0  8  0
                                       -------      2  0  6

_Cost of Sicilian sulphur, per ton_,          £5 17  4

“_Estimated cost of Spanish sulphur_, from a Report by Mr J. Sopwith
to the Hellin Sulphur Company:”

The first tin contains 21 per cent. of sulphur.
”   second  ”          36    ”           ”
”   third   ”          28    ”           ”

It takes six tons of Spanish ore to make one ton of sulphur.

                                      Per ton of sulphur.

                                            £ s. d.

Cost,                                       2 13 0
Carriage to railway station,                0  2 4
Railway carriage to Cartagena,              0  6 6
Loading, etc.,                              0  4 6
Freight from Cartagena to England,          0 14 0
Royalty to Government,                      0  2 8
Insurance,                                  0  8 0

_Estimated cost of Spanish sulphur_,       £4 11 0

“This sulphur should be worth, either in England or Marseilles, from £6
to £7 per ton.

“Flowers of sulphur would cost £6 per ton, and their value would be

_Estimated Cost of Icelandic Sulphur._

Although from the fact of the deposits of the sulphur producing clay,
sand, ashes, etc., in Iceland being on the surface, the working expenses
of excavation (and from the closer proximity to the coalfields of
England, the cost of extraction) must be far less than those of Sicily,
yet it has been thought advisable to be on the safe side by taking the
costs of excavation, extraction, and fusion, to be in each case the

The expenses of bringing the sulphur to this country will then be:

                                                       Per ton.
                                                        £ s. d.
Excavation of mineral,                                  0 10 10
Oil and tools,                                          0  4  2
Extraction of mineral,                                  0 13  9
Fusion,                                                 0  4  7
[201] Carriage to port of shipment,                     0 15  0
[201] Freight to United Kingdom, including insurance,   0 10  0
_Estimated cost of Icelandic sulphur_,            £2 18  4

                                       Per ton.

                                        £ s. d.

Cost of Sicilian sulphur,               5 17 4
   ”    Icelandic   ”                   2 18 4

_Profit in favour of Iceland_,         £2 19 0

                                       Per ton.

                                        £ s. d.

Estimated cost of Spanish,              4 11 0
    ”       ”     Icelandic,            2 18 4

_Profit in favour of Iceland_,         £1 12 8

_Estimated Profit on Icelandic Sulphur_.

The market price of sulphur ranges from about £6, 5s. per ton for third
quality to £8 for best. As by far the greater part of the Icelandic
sulphur would be best quality, its average market price may be safely
put at £7 per ton.

                                        £ s. d.

Market price,                           7  0 0
Cost price,                             2 18 4

_Estimated profit per ton_,            £4  1 8

_Estimated Profit per Annum_.

Italy, in the year 1870, exported 52,546 tons. From the comparison
between the relative formations, there is every reason to believe that
as large a quantity can be exported from Iceland as from Italy; but,
supposing that for the first year or two only one-third that quantity is
exported, viz., 17,515 tons, at a profit of £4, 1s. 8d. per ton, the
annual profit would amount to over £71,500.




The undersigned, Andreas Frederik Krieger, His Majesty the King of
Denmark’s Minister of Justice, Commander of the Dannebrog and
Dannebrogsmand, Commander of the Order of the North Star, in virtue of
the authority given him by a Royal Resolution of the 9th March 1872,
hereby grants to Alfred G. Lock, of London, a lease of the sulphur mines
belonging to the State, situated in the Thing Syssel in the North and
East Provinces of Iceland, on the following conditions:

     I. Exclusive right to work the above-mentioned mines is given to
     the lessee for the duration of the lease; they consist of the
     so-called Reykjahlidar, Krabla, and Fremri-Námar; on the other
     hand, the present contract gives the lessee no right to the use of,
     or to the possession of the land around the mines, which ground
     does not belong to the State. It must be remarked that the mines on
     the church lands at Theistareykir are not included in this leasing.

     II. The lease is given for fifty years, reckoned from the 1st
     September 1872 to the 31st August 1922, without either of the
     contracting parties having the right to withdraw from it. Liberty,
     however, is conceded to Alfred G. Lock to withdraw from the
     contract at any time before the 31st August this year, date

     The lessee can make over his rights acquired by this present
     contract, together with his obligations, to other parties, against
     whose respectability and solvency no reasonable objection can be
     made, but he shall nevertheless be bound to communicate such
     transfer to the Ministry of Justice. His rights likewise shall at
     his death be transmitted to his heirs.

     III. Full liberty is given to the lessee as regards the working of
     the mines. The sulphur, however, must not be washed in running
     waters which have their outlet in the sea, nor in fishing-waters,
     and as a matter of course the sulphur beds or mines must not be
     destroyed, with respect to which it is remarked that the earth
     during the diggings must not be trodden down into the warm beds,
     which are designated by a green colour in the maps attached to the
     contract, which in the year 1871 were made by J. F. Johnstrüp,
     Professor of Mineralogy at the Copenhagen University.

     On the delivering over of the mines a survey will take place, at
     which the maps in question will be used as guides. On the
     delivering back of the mines a survey shall likewise take place.

     IV. Neither the lessee nor the workmen he employs at the mines
     shall be subject to any extraordinary taxes or imposts by the State
     or the municipality, other than those imposed on the other
     inhabitants of the island; and he shall in this respect enjoy the
     same rights as natives; but, on the other hand, he shall not be
     exempted from the ordinary taxes and charges imposed by the general
     laws of the land.

     V. The lessee shall be bound to allow the State authorities to
     inspect the mines whenever they may think fit to do so.

     VI. The lessee shall pay an annual rental of £50 for the first
     year; £60 for the second year; £70 for the third year; £80 for the
     fourth year; £90 for the fifth year; and £100 for the sixth and for
     each of the succeeding forty-four years.

     The rental shall be paid _in advance_ to the Minister of Justice in
     Copenhagen in two half-yearly payments,--viz., on the 1st September
     and 1st March, each time with the half part of the yearly amount.
     The first time on the 1st September 1872, with £25, for the
     half-year from that day to the 28th February 1873.

     The lessee shall, on the signing of this present contract, as
     security for the due payment of the rental and the proper working
     and redelivery of the mines in an uninjured condition, deposit a
     sum of 5000 rixdollars in the private bank of Copenhagen, in such
     manner that the Minister of Justice retains the certificate of
     deposit in his possession, and can, without trial or sentence, and
     without the lessee’s authority, take them out of the private bank,
     which institution shall be forbidden to return them to the lessee
     or others without the Justice Minister’s permission.

     As long as the above-mentioned amount is deposited in the private
     bank the interest of the sum may, without let or hindrance from the
     Minister of Justice, be paid to the lessee or his representatives.

     On the expiry of this leasing contract and the redelivery of the
     sulphur mines in an uninjured state, the Minister of Justice shall
     be bound to return the certificate of deposit to the lessee or
     other duly authorised persons.

     VII. Should the rental not be paid at the proper times, and should
     the lessee destroy the mines, he (the lessee) shall lose the rights
     conceded to him by this contract, and the Minister of Justice shall
     in such case be empowered to take from him the lease (eject him
     from the mines), and the deposit money be forfeited to the Iceland
     Land Fund (State Fund). Should, however, a breach of contract take
     place only through omission to pay the rental, and the collective
     amount of the rentals still to be paid be less than the deposit,
     the Minister of Justice will refund the difference.

     VIII. Should the lessee not have removed, within two years from the
     expiry of this contract, or from the date of its annulment (see §
     7), all buildings, machinery, and the like put up at the mines,
     they shall become the property of the State without indemnity.

     IX. Disputes arising as to whether the lessee’s treatment of the
     mines is destructive to them, shall be settled by arbitration, each
     of the contracting parties choosing one man, and these latter in
     case of disagreement to choose an umpire. If from any cause an
     arbitration cannot be obtained, the parties at issue are empowered
     to appeal to the law courts; as likewise in all other disputes
     arising out of this contract, in which cases the Royal Supreme
     Court of Copenhagen shall be the proper tribunal; for which reason
     the lessee, on signing this contract, shall appoint a Copenhagen
     resident, who on his behalf shall receive summonses for his
     appearance. Should the Minister of Justice think fit to take law
     proceedings against him in Iceland, he (the lessee) shall be bound
     to receive summonses at the sulphur mines for his appearance at the
     Iceland courts.

     X. The expense of drawing up this contract, with the stamped paper
     and registration, as well as the expense of surveys on the
     delivering over and the delivery back of the mines mentioned in
     this contract, shall be borne by the lessee.

     The contract shall be drawn up in duplicate, of which the one copy
     is held by the Minister of Justice and the other by Mr A. G. Lock.

     On the above conditions I, Alfred G. Lock, of London, have signed
     the present contract.

     Copenhagen, 13th April 1872.

(Signed)     KRIEGER.

(Signed)   { For Alfred G. Lock,
           { A. DE C. CROWE.


(Signed)  RICARD.
( “ )     POULSEN.

     The value of the stamp on this contract is calculated at 9 rigsd.
     to the pound sterling.



     REPORT drawn up by the Committee elected for this purpose by the
     Icelandic “Althing” of 1869, translated after the original
     Icelandic text from the “Althing” reports.

We, the undersigned, have, by the honourable “Althing,” been elected
into a Committee, to state our opinion as to a memorial which about
three years ago has been sent in to the Government by an English
gentleman, Mr Lock, importing his wish to take lease of the sulphur
mines in the north of Iceland, situated between 65° 20´ north latitude
and the Arctic Sea, or, otherwise speaking, the mines lying on the said
tract, east of “Myvatn” (Gnat Lake) and west of Jökulsá (Glacier River).

Before stating our opinion about this matter, we think it necessary that
it should be clearly understood by the honourable Assembly--

1. How the matter now stands with the sulphur mines in question.

2. What right the Government has to lease out these mines without
incurring some obnoxious consequences to the leaseholder, or to other
parties concerned.

The sulphur mines that are at the disposal of the Government[202] are
those of “Reykjahlid,” “Kráfla-námar” (the mines of the Krafla
mountain), and “Fremri-námar” (the mines farthest from the coast), but
“Theistareykja-námar” (the mines of Theistareykir) have never been
Government property, although they apparently are lying in the tract of
which the above-mentioned Mr Lock has wished to take lease.

As it is well known, from the excellent essay by the Right Reverend
Hannes Finnson, Bishop of Iceland (see “Rit hins islendska
lærdómslista-fèlags”--the Works of the Icelandic Society of Learning and
Arts--vol. iv., p. 29), Mr Paul Stigsson, superintendent or governor of
Iceland, bought of the Thorsteinssons, so called, in the presence of Mr
Hans Nilsson and Mr Hans Lauritsson, on the behalf of his Majesty
Frederik II., the mines of which there is no question here, with the
exception of the Theistareykja mines, or more properly speaking, the
right of digging sulphur in these mines. This bargain was made at
Eyjafjord on the 15th of August 1563, and the said Thorsteinssons gave
up the sulphur-diggings in “Fremri-námar,” “Kráfla-námar,” and
“Heidar-[203] (heath) námar;” but it is nowhere on record, that any land
or ground for house-building and road-making has been comprised in this
bargain. As it appears, the Government of his Majesty Frederik II. has
thought it sufficient to acquire the monopoly of the sulphur that was to
be found there, for, as it appears, there has, as a rule, never been
lack of persons willing to dig out the sulphur and to carry it, like
_other merchandise_, down to the sea-coast.

In this manner the above-mentioned mines were worked in the time of his
Majesty Frederik II., and a great quantity of sulphur was dug up there.
It is said that the profit has sometimes, in the said period, amounted
to 10,000 rixdollars (or upwards of £1100), and that the total export of
sulphur has gone up to about 200 commercial lasts (or 400 tons) a year.

In the time of Christian IV. the working of the mines, which had
answered so well in the time of his father, was almost discontinued; and
the attempts of this king to let the mines, for a period of fifteen
years, to Mr Jorgen Brochenhuus, of Wolderslev, and Mr Svabe, proved a
complete failure. Thus, in the time of Christian IV., the mines were of
little consequence for the Government and the country. This, the Right
Reverend Hannes Finnson says, was a great drawback for the Danes, as it
caused the scarcity of powder, which was one of the reasons why the
Danes were defeated by the Swedes in Holstein in 1644.

Shortly after the middle of the seventeenth century, or in the year
1665, a certain “assessor,” Gabriel Marsilius by name, acquired a
concession of digging sulphur and exporting it from Iceland; and it is
said that he has exported from here a very great quantity of sulphur
with considerable profit. Since that time, or since 1676, little is said
of the sulphur-mining in Iceland until the first part of the eighteenth
century; then, in 1724, two foreigners, Mr Sechmann and Mr Holtzmann,
acquired a concession of exporting sulphur from Iceland; and it is said
that they exported a great quantity of sulphur for a period of five
years; but this export was again discontinued, owing to the death of Mr
Holtzmann, who was the leader of the business, and to the apparent
unwillingness of Mr Sechmann to repair to Iceland.

In the year 1753 the sulphur-mining was recommenced in Iceland by the
Government. First it was commenced in the south, and afterwards, or in
1761, in the north (see “Eptirmæli 18 aldar”--“Review of the Events of
the Eighteenth Century”). The author of this work, the late Mr
Stephensen, says, that both the mines, the southern and northern, have
been worked with considerable profit, adding, that the produce of the
mines has amounted to 1400 rixdollars (or upwards of £155) a year; and
in 1772 the profit of the sulphur mines in the north, according to the
same author, was estimated at 1260 rixdollars (or about £140). After
1806 the Danish Government leased out the sulphur mines in the north to
some merchants there for a trifling yearly rent, which in no way was a
sufficient indemnity for the deterioration of the mines during the time
of the lease.

For ten years ago it was a general opinion that the brimstone in the
Icelandic sulphur mines for the most part was embedded in the layer that
covers the “live mines,” and which must be considered a “sublimate”
product of the so-called sulphur pits or caldrons; it had, however, been
observed that in the “Fremri-námar,” so called, “dead mines” also
existed where the sulphur stratum sometimes was a foot thick. The
sulphur digging at Krisuvik last year has proved that these strata can
be a good deal thicker, as it has also been ascertained that most
sulphur mountains contain a considerable quantity of sulphur earth,
clayish and ferruginous sulphur; all of which might yield from
twenty-five to fifty per cent. of clean sulphur, if managed in the right

When the three naturalists, Mr Steenstrup, Mr Schythe, and Jonas
Hallgrimson, travelled through Iceland in 1840, they calculated that the
sulphur mines in the north might yield 10,000 rixdollars a year; but Dr
Hjaltalin, who, ten years later, was sent to examine these mines,
disavows this statement, adding that the mines, as the matter then
stood, could by no means yield so much, for the “live mines” were then
in a state of deterioration, and that it would be impossible exactly to
say how many “dead mines” were to be found till it is ascertained by
successive examinations; on the other hand, he is convinced that the
mines of Krisuvik might be able to yield 100 commercial lasts (or 200
tons) of clean sulphur a year, and the experience of the recent time has
proved this to be no exaggeration; for during the last winter (1868-69)
about 250 commercial lasts (or 500 tons) of raw sulphur have been dug
up, which must make a good deal more than 100 lasts of clean sulphur at
least; further, Dr Hjaltalin observes, that copper ore of rather a good
quality is to be found there, and a more recent experience has rendered
it likely that there is a considerable quantity of this mineral.

On the other hand, the sulphur must, no doubt, have accumulated to a
considerable degree in the mines of the north for the last twenty years
they have not been worked; it is, therefore, pretty certain that they
might now yield a considerable quantity of sulphur if they were worked
in the right manner; but as it must always be borne in mind that no
mines are so liable to deterioration as sulphur mines, it must in
consequence be very precarious to make them over to foreigners. A French
geologist, Mr Eugène Robert, who travelled here in 1835, and afterwards
has written treatises on the geology of Iceland in the French language,
has also called attention to this point. He says, that care ought to be
taken not to lease out to the Englishmen (who then were applying for the
lease) the mines in the north, as they might be of great consequence,
the sulphur mines of Sicily having begun to fall off.

As pointed out by the history of the country, and sufficiently proved by
the experience, the produce of the mines in the north, if worked in the
right way, ought to outweigh by far the lease-rent offered by Mr Lock;
it would consequently be a downright loss to the country now to lease
out those mines to this foreigner, who would not be able to give any
satisfactory guarantee for his working the mines in the right manner,
but might, after a lapse of several years, return them so spoiled that
the country might, for a long time at least, miss the profit which it
ought to have by these mines: _indeed the lease-rent offered by the
memorialist seems to be comparatively high_ when compared to what was
paid for the mines in the beginning of the present century, but when it
is taken into consideration that the rent now offered is only the tenth
part of the net profit which the mines yielded in the sixteenth century,
the offer is by no means advantageous, _neither is it desirable that
foreigners should be allowed for many years to import into this country
a great number of foreign workmen, as this might lead to the Icelanders
being deprived of a profitable business in their own native land_.[204]

The population of Iceland is, as it is well known, constantly
increasing, but several branches of trade are rather in a state of
decadence. Nothing could, therefore, be more beneficial to this country,
than if here were to be found profitable mines, in which labourers might
work in all sorts of weather, and this may be done in sulphur and other
mines, as the experience showed at Krisuvik last winter; ten and
sometimes upwards of twenty labourers were at work there, almost the
whole winter, earning good daily wages. There is nevertheless no
security to be had, that the inhabitants shall be able to benefit by
this, if the mines are made over to strangers, neither can it be
controlled that they shall not destroy the mines altogether, and render
them completely useless after a lapse of some years.

The Icelandic sulphur mines are in such a condition as not to be worse
for waiting, on the contrary they will improve by it, and it would be
greatly beneficial to them, not to be worked for the present.

The sulphur mining at Krisuvik has shown that these mines are better and
richer than had been expected; and this may be the case too with the
mines in the north, which have most frequently been deemed richer and
more extensive than those of Krisuvik.

When sulphur trade has been carried on in this country, both in past
centuries and at present, the mode of proceeding has been very
inappropriate and unpractical, for partly the sulphur has been carried,
with all the dross in it (which often goes up to forty per cent. or
more), down to the sea-coast, and from there to Copenhagen; partly the
method of cleaning has been so unsatisfactory and inappropriate, as to
render the cost of cleaning the double of what is needful. It appears
from the writings of the late Bishop Hannes Finsson, that in the time of
King Frederick II., the sulphur was cleaned by means of train-oil, and
this method has been continued down to the middle of the present
century. This was sheer insanity, as it made the cleaning many times
more expensive than was necessary, and than it was at the same time in
other countries, where sulphur was then cleaned by means of sublimation.
But this was not all, the grease moreover that got into the sulphur,
rendered it unfit for powder manufacture, as may be seen from the
writings of Mr Jón Eiríksson and others. Of late a new method has been
hit upon in France, namely, to clean the sulphur by condensing hot
steam, and as hot springs are to be found in the neighbourhood of all
the Icelandic sulphur mines, this might now be turned to a good account
for the sulphur trade; besides it would make the cost of transport by
far less heavy, if the sulphur could be carried down to the sea-coast
and marketed in a clean state.

It results from all this that Mr Lock’s offer is by no means so
acceptable as some might suppose, for the local government (when
established here) might, with the greatest facility, make the mines in
the north many times more profitable than they would be if Mr Lock’s
offer were to be accepted; moreover, the mines being at the disposal of
the said government, a sufficient control may be had that they shall not
be overworked or destroyed.

Were the Danish Government, therefore, to grant the request of the
memorialist, as it is framed, this might easily, as the matter now
stands, lead to suits of law between the Government itself and him, on
the one hand, and between the said Government and some private
landowner, on the other; for it is quite certain that the Government has
no right whatever over the sulphur trade in all the localities pointed
out by the memorialist. As clearly evinced by the late Bishop Hannes
Finsson, the sulphur trade in Iceland can, in no way, be considered as a
“regale;” and, accordingly, the Government ought to be very circumspect
in this matter, lest it hurt the right of private landowners.

From the above-mentioned motives, it seems to the Committee that it is
unadvisable to accept the offer of the memorialist, and, consequently,
submits to the honourable “Althing” to dissuade the Government
altogether from granting the concession requested by Mr Lock.

But as some members of the Committee have uttered the opinion that it
might be considered as partiality, altogether to exclude foreigners from
the sulphur trade in Iceland, provided that it could be sufficiently
controlled, that this should neither be detrimental to the country in
general, or to the mines in special, the Committee has thought it its
duty, if this consideration should prevail in the honourable assembly,
to submit a secondary or modified proposal, to the effect that it shall
be requested of the Government to make the concession dependent on the
following conditions:

     1. The memorialist shall himself make the necessary arrangements
     with the parties concerned concerning pieces, lots, and parcels of
     land, which he may be in need of, for the cleaning and transport of
     the sulphur, and which are not at the disposal of the Government.

     2. The memorialist shall have commenced the working of the mines
     within a year from the day on which the licence is handed over to

     3. The memorialist shall always give the natives of Iceland
     opportunity to work by halves at the cleaning and transport of the
     sulphur, and he shall not, for this purpose, employ foreigners more
     than by halves at most, as far as he offers the same conditions to
     the natives as to the foreigners, and these conditions shall be
     acceded to by the former.

     4. The Government shall be authorised, at the cost of the
     memorialist and its own, to be paid by halves, to appoint a man for
     the purpose of controlling, that the leaseholder shall not destroy
     the mines for ever by his method of working them.

     5. The memorialist shall pay a rent of £100 sterling for the first
     year; for the next two years, £200; for the next two years thereon,
     £300; and for the last five years, £400 a year; and the concession
     shall expire after a lapse of ten years.

     6. The memorialist shall, on receipt of the licence, deposit a sum
     of £5000 as a security for the fulfilment of these conditions, but
     it shall be returned to him at the end of the ten years, during
     which he shall have made use of the concession as far as he shall
     have fulfilled all the conditions that have been stipulated; but
     otherwise he is to forfeit both the concession and security-money
     if he shall have infringed any of the above conditions, excepting
     only if this infringement be caused by difficulties in making such
     arrangements with the parties concerned on the spot as are
     mentioned under _head_ 1.

     7. All disputes arising from this contract between the Government
     on the one hand, and the memorialist on the other, shall be settled
     by the said Government alone; and no appeal to courts of law shall
     be allowed in this case, neither in this country or elsewhere.

     8. Both the yearly rent and security-money, if forfeited, shall
     fall to the Icelandic country-fise, and be at the disposal of the

REYKJAVIK, _the 14th August 1869_.

_Chairman and Reporter_, BENEDIKT SVEINSSON.
_Secretary_, GRÍMUR THOMSEN.

In a most humble petition of the “Althing,” dated the 7th September
1869, addressed to His Majesty the King, the said assembly has
altogether adopted the considerations and proposals of the Committee, as
specified above.

Thus, _in the first place_, the “Althing” begs that the Government of
His Majesty _shall not accept Mr Lock’s offer_ to take lease of the
sulphur mines in the north, but, on the contrary, _refuse altogether to
lease them out for the present_; and in case His Majesty’s Government
should not think fit to follow this advice, the “Althing,” _in the
second place_, begs that the concession, if granted at all, may be made
dependent on such conditions as are specified in the above report under
_heads 1 to 8_.

The only difference between the conditions contained in the Report of
the Committee and those in the petition of the “Althing” is: that under
_head 5_ is added a clause to the effect that the lease-holder, besides
the yearly rent, _shall pay £10 a year to the clergyman of
“Myvatns-thing” (or district of Myvatn)_.[205]



The kindness of Mr Consul Dennis of Palermo enables me to offer the
following sketch of sulphur in Sicily.

Sulphur, it is well known, forms the most important branch of Sicilian
commerce and exportation. Found, as in Iceland, in the blue marl which
covers the central and the southern parts of the island, its area
extends over 2600 square miles; fresh mines are always being discovered,
and there is no symptom of exhaustion. In 1864 Sicily worked about 150
distinct diggings, whose annual yield exceeded 150,000 tons; in 1872
these figures rose to 550 and nearly 2,000,000 of quintals, or cantars.
The latter contains 100 rotoli (each 0·7934 kilogrammes = 1¾ lb. Eng.
avoir.), or 79·342 kilogrammes = 175 lbs. Eng. avoir. The richest in
1864 were those of Gallizze, Sommatine, and Favara: their respective
yearly production showed 100,000, 80,000, and 60,000 quintals.

“The visitor to a sulphur mine,” says Mr Goodwin, late H.M.’s Consul,
Palermo, “usually descends by a plane or staircase of high inclination
to the first level, where he finds the half-naked miner picking sulphur
from the rock with a huge and heavy tool; boys gathering the lumps
together, and carrying them to the surface; and if water be there, the
pump-men at work draining the mine. A similar scene meets his eye in the
lower or second level. Above ground the sulphur is heaped up in piles,
or fusing in kilns.” This passage well shows the superior facility of
collecting sulphur in Iceland, where it lies in profusion upon the

The ore thus obtained by fusion, after hardening into cakes, is carried
to the coast by mules and asses, or by carts where there are roads. When
the new network of railways covers the island, of course there will be
greater facility for transport, but the expense will increase with equal

The number of hands in 1844 was estimated at 4400--_i.e._, 1300
pick-men, 2600 boys, 300 burners, and 200 clerks and others, to whom
must be added 2600 carters, and 1000 wharfingers, raising the total to
8000, out of a population (January 1, 1862) of 2,391,802, inhabiting an
area of 10,556 square miles.

The following translation, or rather an abbreviation of an article, “Lo
Zolfo,” in the journal _Il Commercio Siciliano_ (March 4, 1873), gives
the latest statistics:

“The Committee of Industrial Inquiry, during its recent sessions at
Palermo, Messina, and Catania, has collected valuable information upon
the general conditions of the island, and upon its principal articles of

“We will begin with the chief branch, sulphur, whose exportation in the
raw state during the last decade is shown by these figures:

In 1862, = 1,433,000 quintals = 250,775,000 Eng. lbs. avoir., or 125,387
                                tons of 2000 lbs.
 “ 1863, = 1,470,000     ”
 “ 1864, = 1,398,000     ”
 “ 1865, = 1,382,000     ”
 “ 1866, = 1,791,000     ”
 “ 1867, = 1,923,000     ”
 “ 1868, = 1,723,000     ”
 “ 1869, = 1,701,000     ”
 “ 1870, = 1,727,000     ”
 “ 1871, = 1,712,000     ”
 “ 1872, = 1,969,000     “ (estimated).

“Sicily may be considered the monopolist of the trade in natural
sulphur. Other solfataras exist in Croatia, Gallicia, and Poland; at
Vaucluse in France, at Murcia in Spain, and in Egypt on the Red
Sea;[206] but the production may be considered unimportant. Even the
Zolfare of the Romagna cannot be compared with those of Sicily, as we
see by the following figures of exportation:

In 1862, = 22,057 quintals.
“  1863, = 57,275    ”
”  1864, = 35,524    ”
”  1865, = 70,841    ”
”  1866, =  4,351    ”
”  1867, =  2,722    ”
”  1868, =  8,846    ”
” 1869, =  3,885     ”
” 1870, = 15,659     ”
” 1871, = 12,320[207]  ”

“The annual production of the Romagna mines reaches only 120,000
quintals, including the less important diggings of Latera Scrofaro,
Volterra, Grosseto, and Avellino. Sulphurous earth covers all the
Sicilian provinces of Caltanissetta (Kal’ at el Nisá, the fort of women)
and Girgenti,[208] and a part of Catania; whilst there are two isolated
ridges (lembi) at Lercara de’ Freddi of Palermo, and at Ghibellina of
Trapani. Those actually worked exceed 550.

“Experts greatly differ in opinion concerning the supply still remaining
for exportation; we have determined that the diggings at the actual rate
of exportation may last another hundred years.[209]

“Mining property, according to Sicilian law, belongs to the soil; and
public opinion, as well as vested interests, would strenuously oppose
the legislation which prevails in upper Italy. Yet the present
conditions are highly unsatisfactory. Working upon a small scale in
fractionary estates has diminished profits, and in many cases has caused
mines to be abandoned. And the evil is ever increasing with the greater
depths of the diggings where the inflow of water offers fresh
difficulties. The only remedy would be the combination of small farmers,
and the massing of the less important diggings under a single

“As yet there are only two such associations; and their success in
working properties so subdivided as not to pay, recommends them to
societies and capitalists. One is at the Croce group of Lercara, where
many owners have joined to subscribe for machinery to raise the mineral
(_macchina di eduzione_). The other is at the Madore group, also of
Lercara; here a considerable part of the very small diggings has of late
been let to one and the same ‘cultivator.’ At Aggira, in the province of
Catania, there are two bodies of workmen, called _Gabellotti_, because
they unite to pay the annual Gabella (rent-price) to the proprietor. Of
these the large and the more successful is at Assaro in the territory of
Calascibetta; it has collected eighteen members who formerly injured one
another by the mismanagement of the deep diggings and by jealous
competition in securing hands. It is a civil society with unlimited
liability; some of the associates receive only half shares, which
reduces the whole number of _actionnaires_ to sixteen. The works are
directed by a resident member, and the exportation by another at
Catania. It is a good instance of how valueless mines may be made to

“But Sicily, under her present law, has to contend not only against the
excessive division of property, but also with the normal conditions of
leasing it. Of these, the most injurious is the short term of the
Gabella, which averages six, and which seldom passes nine, years. This
period, far too brief to permit the use of machinery, which, demanding
unusual outlay, secures a much greater amount of production.

“The _Gabella_ is generally defrayed in kind, that is, in sulphur at the
mouth of the pit. Only one case of money payment is known; in 1868 the
Prince of Sant ‘Elia, owner of the Zolfara di Grottacalda, leased his
property to an anonymous French society, which, besides advances of
capital _à fonds perdus_, can afford a high yearly rent. Before this
agreement was concluded, the _Gabelle_ did not exceed 30 per cent. of
the total production; now they have risen to 36, and even to 40. But in
this case longer leases were conceded.

“Several of the most important diggings have been let to French and
English companies.

“Nothing can be ruder than the mode of working. Where the usual outward
signs of sulphur present themselves, steeply inclined galleries called
_Buchi a Scale_ are driven, and the ore is brought to grass, without any
of those preparatory measures which demand time and money, but which
afterwards yield so well. The underground works are longitudinal tunnels
following the inclination of the sulphur bank, and so cut by cross
galleries that the prospect suggests a cavern supported by stalactite
columns. The metal, detached with picks, is carried up the rude flights
of stairs by children whose ages vary from seven to fifteen, and it is
disposed about the pit mouth in a peculiar way, so as to facilitate
measurement and distribution.

“When the bank is exhausted, the pillars are attacked, and thus the
abandoned portions readily fall in. Accidents at times occur from the
pressure of the ground, and these have often caused loss of life; they
usually result from the negligence and ignorance of the overseers
(_Capimaestri_), men who ignore everything but ‘rule of thumb.’ The
Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce has wisely drawn out a project of
mining laws, intended to secure the safety of the workmen by giving
information to the directors, and by facilitating works of common
interest to those concerned. It is evident that the State can remove the
obstacles of sub-divided property, and that its duty is to look after
the condition and the health of its subjects who are working 80 to 100
metres underground. Already the ministry has founded a superior school
of mines at Palermo, and a second at the Zolfare of Caltanissetta. Let
us hope that its term of office may last long enough for carrying out
the instruction which alone can develop the sulphur supply of Sicily.

“Here, as elsewhere, the miners’ deadliest enemy is water. Of the
various draining systems applied to the tunnels, the favourite is a long
cut through the gallery, carried to the surface; and its principal merit
is the saving of labour where wages are, as in this island, unusually
high. But as the disposition of the ground often causes drains to become
long and expensive works, there is a general use of pumps. The latter,
till the last few years, were made of wood, and worked by hand; metal
has become more common, but steam machinery is almost confined to the
foreign concessions. As regards hauling up, shafts, or vertical wells,
are almost unknown, although they have been strongly recommended for
mines which have reached 50 metres, and _a majori_ for those 100 metres

“The metal, when brought to grass, is freed from its earthy matters
principally by fusion; the system being founded upon the different
degrees of caloric required to liquefy ore and dross. The operation most
in vogue is that called _dei Calcaroni:_ the heaps are covered with a
layer of earth, and the heat is kept up chiefly by burning the sulphur
itself. As those kilns are built upon inclined surfaces, the melted
matter flows into wooden forms, where it cools and solidifies. The great
loss, calculated at about one-third, has led to a variety of
improvements; many have been adopted by private cultivators, few have
been more extensively applied, and none can boast of complete success.
The best hitherto produced is the so-called ‘vapour-fusion’ invented by
a certain Sig. Thomas, and patented to the _Società privilegiata per la
fusione dello Zolfo in Italia_, an anonymous body, whose headquarters
are at Milan. The essential part of the process is to separate the ore
by ordinary fuel, using for the transmission of caloric water-steam at
the tension corresponding with the temperature which fuses sulphur. The
Society established its apparatus at several mines, which paid a
proportion of raw sulphur as bonus to the patentees; the remainder went
to the ‘cultivator’ as remuneration for the mineral which he provided.
Many were disused after a few months, the reason alleged being that they
were of use only when applied to poor ores and gypseous gangues. Lercara
is the only place which still works by ‘vapour-fusion.’

“The sulphur is exported either in lumps (_ballate_[210]), as it comes
from the moulds, or it is refined to suit the intended object. That used
for vines is ground before exportation; there are mills at all the
ports, and the expense per quintal reaches only a few centimes. The
powder is stored in sacks.

“Sicilian sulphur is sufficiently pure, as a rule, to be directly
adopted in many chemical and industrial processes. For the pharmacy,
however, for gunpowder, and for other specialties of technology, further
refining is necessary. This operation is limited on the island by the
high price of fuel; there are only two or three _usines_ at Catania and
at Porto Eurpedoch; moreover, these work irregularly, and on a small
scale. Thus the refinery of Sicilian and Romagna sulphurs is carried on
almost exclusively abroad.

“The principal exporting places are Catania, Licata, Palermo, Porto
Eurpedoch, Terranova, and Messina. The following are the approximate
figures of the respective harbours:

Catania        ships,  .  .  202,000 quintals.
Licata          ”      .  .  460,000   ”
Messina         ”      .  .   50,000   ”
Palermo         ”      .  .   78,000   ”
Porto Eurpedoch “      .  .  917,000   ”
Terranova       ”      .  .  200,000   ”

Palermo offers great advantages of freight by means of return colliers,
but the distance of land transport is fatal to all but the sulphur of
Lercara.[211] Messina exports only to the United States; sulphur forms
the heavy cargo, the lighter being composed of rags, oil, and _agrumi_
(sour fruits, lemons, etc.). But if there is little shipping of the
mineral at Messina, she may be called the headquarters of the sulphur
trade. Embarkation takes place at other harbours, though there are often
badly protected roads; the only reason being their neighbourhood to the
mines. Messina[212] urged upon the Committee a reduction of tariffs on
the railways which connect it with Catania and Leonforte; but it would
be hardly fair thus to protect one city when its rivals, besides being
favoured by topographical position, are industriously improving their
means of embarkation, and are making efforts to protect shipping during

“At all the harbours there are merchants who make the export their
specialty; they buy up the produce of the smaller mines, store it in
their magazines, and ship it when the prices are most likely to pay. The
principal ‘cultivators,’ however, have established their own deposits,
and export on their own account without using middle-men.

“An intelligent merchant at Messina assured the Committee that
two-thirds of the total consumption took place in winter and the rest in
summer, whilst the exportation during the latter season is by far the
greatest on account of the superior ease and safety of navigation. But,
as the melting is mostly in September, the results to cultivators and to
exporters are, that a large part of the year passes away in inaction,
accumulating interest upon cargoes and seriously checking profits.

“It is greatly to be desired that some company with large capital should
be formed to make advances of money, thus setting free the modest means
of ‘cultivators’ and merchants, and enabling them to lay out more upon
the mines.[213]

“The actual medium price (March 4, 1873) of sulphur in the Sicilian
ports is represented by twelve lire (or francs) per quintal; and the
following are the approximate items which make up this figure:

Cost of mining,        = 6·600 lire or francs.
Land transport,        = 2·480      ”
Embarking,             = 0·313      ”
‘Cultivator’s’ profit, = 1·607      ”
Export dues,           = 1·000      ”
Total,                  12·000[214]   ”

“After a few years, when the network of railways shall have been
finished, when embarkation is improved, and perhaps when the production
is rendered easier and safer, we may hope to see the figure L.12 fall to
L.11, and even to L.10.50.

“The Committee has hitherto considered only the produce of Sicily _per
se_, and this appears the place to notice its future production and its
employment in the general commerce of the world. Many have indulged in
exaggerated hopes and fears upon this subject. While some fear that our
mineral may be superseded by other substances, others hope that the
reduced cost of Sicilian sulphur may enable it to serve the purposes for
which pyrites are now generally used.

“An attentive examination of the question proves that, in the actual
state of industry, sulphur and pyrites have nothing to fear from each

“Several industries, especially the manufactures of sulphuric acid, do
not require pure sulphur in the free state; they find it more economical
to extract that contained in metallic sulphures, especially in iron
pyrites. On the other hand, it is well known that extracting pure
sulphur from the sulphures and manufacturing sulphuric acid from pure
sulphur are practically impossible; the former could never contend
against the Sicilian mines, nor can the latter rival the cheap produce
of pyrites. As the uses of the two are different, so will be their
sources of supply; and it is hard to believe that any change of price
can cause _concurrence_ between the two.[215]

“A fair proof is the concurrent development of both articles. Between
1832 and 1872 the produce of the Sicilian mines has quadrupled; and this
was exactly the time when pyrites began to be used, and successfully
took their place in the manufacture of sulphuric acid.

“These considerations should silence the arguments which contend for the
abolition of export duties upon sulphur, in order to make it compete
with pyrites. The State draws an annual revenue of some two million lire
(2,000,000 francs = £80,000); and it cannot be expected to yield so
legitimate a source of income, until at least assured by competent
persons that the impost is a weight upon, and a damage to, Italian
industry and commerce.”

To this very fair report Mr Consul Dennis adds: “I have no notion that
the supply of Sicilian sulphur is nearly exhausted; more deposits are
known than can be worked. There are many spots in the heart of the
island which abound in the mineral, but it must lie useless, for as yet
there are no means of conveying it to the coast for shipment. The export
of sulphur has been increasing greatly, it is true, from 100,000 tons (=
£400,000) in 1855 to 200,000 (= £1,000,000) in 1871, but the export is
regulated rather by the demand in foreign markets than by the supply.
_The large quantity made from iron pyrites of late years in many
European countries has, of course, much lowered the demand on Sicily._
In 1871 the quantities fell to 180,000 tons (= £956,000), but in 1872
they rallied to 192,000 tons. This quantity was thus distributed:

Great Britain and her colonies took 46,418 tons.[216]
France, .    .    .    .    .    .  41,699   ”
United States,    .    .    .    .  21,846   ”
Germany and Austria,   .    .    .  22,348   ”
Italy and the East,    .    .    .  47,160   ”
Russia, .    .    .    .    .    .   1,526   ”
Spain and Portugal,    .    .    .   8,236   ”
Other countries,  .    .    .    .   3,008   ”
                      Grand total, 192,241   ”

“I should remark that the quantities stated above are from the official
returns of the custom-house; they are probably understated to the extent
of 25 to 50 per cent., few exporters declaring the full quantity or
value, and the Doganieri having scant interest to verify the
declarations. The amount exported last year (1873) was probably not much
under 300,000 tons.

“The great rise of prices in the necessaries of life of late years, and
the increased demand for labour, consequent on the construction of
railways, harbours, and other public works, have doubled the price of
sulphur in Sicily. But when the network of railways with which it is
proposed to intersect the island is completed, when the country roads
are laid out to feed them, and when the ports of Girgenti, Licata, and
Catania, are enlarged and deepened, so as to accommodate vessels of
large size, then it will soon be ascertained what treasures of sulphur
Sicily still contains.”

In conclusion I would observe that this age of national armies and
bloated armaments is not likely to allow decline in the use and the
value of sulphur, and that nothing can be more unwise than to rely upon
a single source of supply, Sicily, which might at any time be closed to
us by a Continental war.



Schweinfurth (“Heart of Africa”), when passing down the Red Sea, speaks
of the Sulphur Company at Guirsah. Its concession extends over 160 miles
of coast southwards from Cape Seid. The ore is obtained from gypseous
schiste; and all the fresh water for the workmen, of whom there are over
300, must be brought from the Nile.

I need hardly remark that if sulphur is found to pay under these
circumstances, we may expect great things from Iceland.



According to Mr Charles Boner (p. 312, “Transylvania: its Products and
its People,” London: Longmans, 1865), the whole district round Büdös
contains rich deposits of sulphur; and yet Hungary draws her supplies
from the Papal States and Sicily; yielding, as the latter has hitherto
done, a million and a half hundredweights per annum. So with sulphuric
acid which has played so important a part in raising the industry of
Europe to its present state. A single commercial house in Kronstadt
employs nearly 300 cwts., and would probably use more were its price not
so high. The sulphuric acid factory at Hermannstadt, the only one in the
province, uses 300 to 400 cwts. annually. The custom-house returns for
Transylvania vary from 300 cwts. to 3000 cwts., as the article comes
sometimes from Trieste, sometimes from Vienna, where the duty has
already been paid. In 1863, the amount of sulphur produced in the
Austrian monarchy was 35,085 cwts., at an average price of 6fl. 44kr.
per cwt. The consumption has regularly augmented owing to the increase
in the number of soda factories: in 1858, the import from foreign states
was 71,337 cwts.; in 1859, it was 86,673. Mr Boner has profited in the
following remarks by two reports made by M. Brem, director of a chemical
factory at Hermannstadt, and by Dr F. Schur, professor at Kronstadt:

“The sulphur-deposits are situated at the south and west of Büdös,[217]
and not on the mountain itself. The places are Kis Soosmezö, also
Vontala Feje Búlványos, and a little above the chalet Gál András. Thirty
different diggings were undertaken in a circuit of at least eighteen
miles; but the extent of the ground where the deposits are, is more than
three times this size. The deposits run in unequal strata of from one to
nine inches under the mould, which varies in thickness from one to three
feet. The soil was everywhere saturated with sulphur, and in this
permeated earth pieces of pure sulphur were found. They were of
pale-yellow colour, fine-grained, and with a strong smell of
sulphuretted hydrogen. Here and there only was a sort found with a
certain hardness (cohesion), and even this, when dried, became brittle
and ticturable. All this shows that the mineral is a true volcanic
sulphur, and that the deposits will continue as long as the inner
activity of Mount Büdös lasts. A careful analysis gives as result, in
the earth taken in one place, 63·96 per cent.; in a second spot, 61·00
per cent; and in a third, 41·01 per cent. of sulphur.”[218]

“The district whence the earth was taken is a space of 16,000,000 square
fathoms. Allowing for interruptions in the deposits, and taking these at
an average thickness of three inches instead of nine, 200 lbs. of
sulphur might be obtained from every square fathom, even if we suppose
the earth to contain only 50 per cent. of the mineral. But we have seen
that it has 61 per cent., and, in some cases, nearly 64 per cent. of
sulphur. Continuing the calculation, the district would contain
16,000,000 cwts. of the precious commodity. Ten years ago, raw sulphur
from Sicily and the Papal States (_viâ_ Trieste) cost, in Hermannstadt,
9½ florins per cwt. Competent authorities are of opinion that it
might be produced here for 5 florins per cwt., inclusive of the carriage
from Büdös to Kronstadt. Sulphur costs more than this in the places
where it is produced in Poland, Slavonia, and Bohemia. Every year the
demand for the article increases, for almost each year brings with it
new appliances, and shows how indispensably necessary it is in the daily
life of civilised communities. We all know what are the profits arising
from chemical fabrications; and I think the facts here given will hardly
fail to attract the attention of those who are willing to turn their
knowledge and spirit of enterprise to account. For Transylvania at
large, but for Kronstadt especially, it would be of the greatest
advantage to obtain the article in question at a cheaper rate; for not
only might undertakings, which, as yet, are but projects, be called into
existence, but others already thriving be considerably enlarged.”


By FREDERIC J. MOUAT, M.D., F.R.C.S., ETC., ETC., ETC. Hurst & Blackett,
Publishers, London, 1863.

The sulphur on the top of the cone occurs in such quantity in the cracks
and fissures, often lining them to the thickness of more than
half-an-inch, that the question naturally arises whether the sulphur
could not be worked with advantage.

Although in the immediate neighbourhood of the crater, where the
fissures are numerous, the ground seems to be completely penetrated with
sulphur; this is so evident in other parts, only a few feet lower, where
the surface is unbroken. There are, however, some reasons which seem to
promise that a search might be successful. In eruptive cones, like that
of Barren Island, there is always a central tube or passage, connecting
the vent in the crater with the volcanic action in the interior. In this
tube the sulphur, generally in combination with hydrogen, rises in
company with the watery vapour, and is partly deposited in the fissures
and interstices of the earth near the vent, the remainder escaping
through the apertures.

If in the present case we admit the sensible heat of the ground of the
upper third of the cone to be principally due to the condensation of
steam--a process of which we have abundant evidence in the stream of hot
water rushing out from underneath the cold lava--it is not improbable
that the whole of the upper part of the interior of the cone is
intersected with spaces and fissures filled with steam and sulphurous
vapour, these being sufficiently near the surface to permit the heat to
penetrate. It is therefore not unlikely that at a moderate depth we
should find sulphur saturating the volcanic sand that covers the outside
of the cone.

I only speak of the outside, as we may conclude from the evidence we
have in the rocks of lava in the crater, and those bulging out on the
side, that the structure of the cone is supported by solid rock nearly
to its summit, the ashes covering it only superficially.

From what has been said above, the probability of sulphur being found
near the surface, disposed in such a way as to allow of its being
profitably exhausted, will depend on the following conditions:

First, That the communication of the central canal, through which the
vapours rise, with its outlets, be effected not through a few large but
through many and smaller passages, distributed throughout the thickness
of the upper part of the cone.

Second, That some of these passages communicate with the loose cover of
ashes and stones which envelops the rocky support of the cone.

Although I have mentioned some facts which seem to indicate the
existence of such favourable conditions, and which are moreover
strengthened by an observation by Captain Campbell, who saw vapour
issuing, and sulphur being deposited near a rocky shoulder, about
two-thirds of the height, on the eastern descent of the cone; still
their presence can only be ascertained satisfactorily by experimental

If a preliminary experiment should make it appear advantageous to work
the cone regularly, the material about the apex, after being exhausted
of the sulphur that is present, could, by blasting and other operations,
be disposed in such a way as to direct the jets of vapour in the most
convenient manner through uncharged portions of ground. If the sulphur
should aggregate in periods of not too long duration, it would be
possible to carry on the work of filling up new ground on one side, and
taking away saturated earth on the other at the same time--so that,
after working round the whole circumference, the earth that had been
first put on would be ready to be taken away.

If the periods should prove too long to allow the work permanently to be
carried on, an interval of time might be allowed to pass before resuming

Water for the labourers could always be obtained from the warm spring at
the entrance of the island.

The distilling, or melting, of sulphur, to separate it from adherent
earth, is a matter of comparatively little expense or trouble. If the
sulphur be abundant, it might be effected as in Sicily, by using a part
of it as fuel. It is not necessary to do it on the spot; it might be
done at any place where bricks and fuel are cheap.


African lakes, re-discovery of the, i. 29.

Agriculture, state of, i. 179-189.

Almannagjá, the, ii. 198.

Alpen-glow, the, i. 68.

Althing, re-establishment of the, i. 103;
  biennial, 106.

American gift to Iceland, ii. 327.

Amulet with Runes, ii. 118.

Antiquarian Museum, an, ii. 10, 13-23.

Anthropology, i. 122.

Art in Iceland, i. 160.

Arthur’s Seat, view of, from Firth of Forth, i. 270.

Aurora Borealis, the, i. 67.

Bede on Iceland, i. 31.

Berufjörð fisheries, ii. 234.

_Berserkir_, derivation of, ii. 100.

Black death, the, i. 100.

Blake, C. C., on human remains from Iceland, ii. 214;
  on sulphur, 352.

Bogs of Iceland, i. 51.

Books on Iceland criticised, i. 369.

Boxes for travel, ii. 41.

Breiðalsheiði, top of the, ii. 249.

“Brimstone” on the sulphur diggings, ii. 301;
  his unfairness, 302.

Broad-Shouldered, the, ii. 265.

Bruce, James, and the Nile sources, i. 22.

Buchan, A., on the climate of Stykkishólm, i. 63.

Bunsen’s division of Iceland rocks, i. 38.

Caithness, shores of, from the sea, i. 275.

Calabrian earthquake, the, i. 48.

Casaubon, Isaac, on Thule, i. 7.

Catholicism in Iceland, i. 100.

Cattle of Iceland, i. 186; ii. 53.

Character of the Icelander, i. 137-141.

Charnock’s, Dr Richard S., note on the Culdees, i. 28;
  on Thule, 33.

Christ and Thor, i. 94.

Christian IX. and the Millenary Festival, i. 109.

Chronometry, i. 70.

Clay of Iceland, i. 51.

Cleanliness, i. 136.

Climate of Iceland, i. 55;
  effect of Gulf Stream on, 56;
  wholesomeness of, 66.

Coal and peat, i. 294.

Cavalcade, a, ii. 39.

Coal in Iceland, i. 377.

Cockney sportsman, a, i. 316.

Cod-fishing, i. 192, 193.

Constable, the head, i. 358.

Coinage, the, i. 215-218.

Commerce, i. 219-224.

Cowie, Dr Robert, on pre-historic remains found in Shetland, i. 300-306.

Culdees, the, note, i. 28, 29.

Danes, the, and home rule in Iceland, i. 105.

Danish Government, the, i. 378-380.

Days, Icelandic names for, i. 73.

Denmark and the annexation of Iceland, i. 99.

Desolate prospect, a, ii. 324.

Diseases, i. 151-155.

Divisions of Iceland, i. 116, 117.

Divorce, an easy method of, i. 151.

Doomsday Book of the North, the, i. 27; ii. 50.

Dress, styles of, i. 147.

Drunkenness in Iceland, i. 359-362.

Duncansbay Head, i. 274, 278.

Eddas, the, i. 95.

Edinburgh, defenceless state of, i. 270.

Education, i. 155-162.

Eider down, the, i. 201, 202.

Eider duck, the, ii. 45, 46, 112.

Emigration, i. 208.

Epitaph, a model, i. 137.

Eyjarbakka-vatn, ii. 321.

Færoe Islands, the, dulness of, i. 299.

Fair Isle, i. 308.

Family, the, i. 148-151.

Farewell to Edinburgh, a, i. 267.

Farm-house, a, i. 145;
  a rough, ii. 288.

Finance of Iceland, i. 110-112.

Fish diet for brain-workers, i. 190.

Fisheries, i. 189-198.

Fjörðs, the, popular theory about, i. 49.

Flora of Iceland, i. 175-79.

Fox, the, i. 170.

Foula, the island of, i. 22, 309.

Funeral customs, i. 372.

Gare-fowl, the, ii. 228.

Genesis and geology, i. 35.

Geysir, the, i. 55, 319, ii. 169;
  Bunsen on, 177;
  Werner and Baring-Gould on, 178;
  decline of the, 183;
  description of, in eruption, 184-191;
  a new Geysir, 222.

Granton, i. 269;
  compared with Reykjavik, 269;
  the central quay, 269;
  farewell to group of friends, 269.

Guide, the pretty, ii. 27;
  guides, 29;
  a bad, 214.

Gulf Stream, the, i. 56.

Hafnafjörð, ii. 87-89.

Hakon of Norway and the liberty of Iceland, i. 98.

Hay-harvest, the, ii. 245.

Hay-making, i. 148.

Hekla, i. 315;
  exaggeration of former travellers, ii. 161;
  ascent of, 162;
  sayings about, 164.

Hel-viti, gate of, ii. 164.

Herðubreið, view of, from north, ii. 305;
  volcano of, 308;
  ascent of, given up, 311.

Henchel’s report on the Icelandic sulphur mines, ii. 329-343.

High school, deficiency of education in, ii. 5;
  method of teaching, 6;
  theological school, 7.

Hindús, faith of the, i. 93.

Historical notes, i. 78.

Hjaltalín, Jón A., on the Danish chronicles, i. 83;
  on finance, 110.

Horse, use of, by Icelanders, ii. 33.

Human and other remains in Iceland, paper on, ii. 212-220.

Hydrography, i. 53;
  names of rivers and lakes, 54, 55.

Inchkeith, i. 270.

Intermarriage, i. 135.

Iron-ore, presence of, i. 205.

Itinerary from Reykjavik to Hekla and the Geysir, ii. 201-211;
  from Berufjörð to Mý-vatn, 271.

Johnston, Mr Keith, on volcanic eruptions, i. 44.

John o’ Groats, i. 275.

Jökulsá River, the, ii. 268;
  view of from Herðubreið, 309.

Judicial procedure, i. 120.

Kerguelen on the trade of Iceland, i. 228.

Kincardineshire, coast of. i. 272.

Kirkjubæ, ruins of, i. 298.

Kirkwall visited, i. 282.

Kissing, the custom of, i. 160.

Krísuvík sulphur diggings, the, ii. 133-135;
  paper on, by C. W. Vincent, 135-153.

Landnámabók, the, i. 27;
  extracts from, 78, 79, ii. 50.

Laug, the, or reeking spring, ii. 51.

Lakes, the, of Iceland, i. 54.

Law, meaning of, i. 271.

Ledge-springs, the, ii. 294.

Leirhnúkr, sulphur springs at, ii. 282.

Lemprière on Thule, i. 10.

Leprosy, prevalence of, i. 153.

Lerwick, i. 281.

Lich-gate, the, i. 349.

Literature on Iceland, i. 235-260;
  in Iceland, ii. 2.

Little Hell, ii. 283.

Livingstone familiarly known in Iceland, i. 367.

Lock, A. G., and the sulphur diggings, ii. 297.

“Lord Kilgobbin,” description of moors and bogs in, i. 293.

Macculloch on Palagonite, i. 38.

Magnus, Cathedral of St, i. 282.

Magnusson on human remains in Iceland, ii. 218.

Maori proverb, a, ii. 288.

Maps of Iceland, i. 252.

Marriage, a check to, i. 148;
  customs at feast, ii. 314, 315.

Medicine, the study of, ii. 6.

Mela on Thule, i. 7.

Merchant, the general stock kept by, i. 233.

Millenary Festival, the, i. 109.

Model farm, a, ii. 266.

Months, names of the, in Iceland, i. 71.

Moss, Iceland, i. 203, ii. 75.

Mountains of Iceland, altitude of the, i. 41, 42.

Mud-springs, ii. 296.

Mý-vatn, the solfatara of, ii. 279;
  sport at, 280.

Napoleon, Prince, his expedition to Iceland, i. 38.

Newspapers in Iceland, ii. 1.

Northmen, character of the, i. 138.

Norwegians, the, peopling of Iceland by, i. 88.

Obsidian, where found, ii. 285.

Old Man of Hoy, the, i. 280.

Orcadian minister, prayer by, i. 279.

Palagonite, the, of Iceland, i. 35-38.

Papæ;, the, i. 27;
  Dasent’s remarks on, 28, ii. 310.

Peat and coal, i. 294.

Peewits, ii. 46.

Pentland Skerries, the, i. 276;
  Firth, the, 276.

Personal appearance of Icelanders, i. 132, 133.

Physical geography of Iceland, i. 35.

Picture, an Icelandic, described, ii. 16.

Piracy, the practice of, i. 89.

Pliny on Thule, i. 8.

Political geography, i. 113.

Population of Iceland, i. 115, 124-129.

Ponies, export of the, i. 224, ii. 30;
  prices of the, 31;
  method of riding, 37;
  difficulties in shoeing, 39;
  method of putting on board, 44.

Postal arrangements, i. 200, 201, 223.

Printing presses, number of the, ii. 2.

Professions, i. 162-169.

Prudentius Aurelius on Thule, i. 3.

Ptolemy on Thule, i. 9.

Radical Road (Arthur’s Seat), i. 270.

Raven, the, ii. 243.

Reformation, the, its effect on the national mind, i. 238, 374, 375.

Reindeer, the, i. 170.

Reykholt Kirk, Inventory of, ii. 70.

Reykir, ii. 157.

Reykjanes, i. 318, 322, 323.

Reykjahlíð Church, ii. 286.

Reykjavik, i. 59;
  appearance of, from the sea, 325;
  description of, 326-380;
  Sunday in, 348, 357;
  trades and professions, 363;
  riding saddles, ii. 41;
  fishermen of, 44;
  the pier, 45.

Road-making in Iceland, i. 52.

Roc, the, ii. 228.

Romans, the, their knowledge of Iceland, i. 21;
  remains of, 30.

Ronaldshaw, i. 278.

Runic writing, i. 288;
  alphabet, explanation of, 288.

Sagas, the, i. 95, 131;
  a Saga hero realised, ii. 325.

Salmon fishing, the, i. 194, 197;
  salmon ground, ii. 59.

Scandinavian curse, a, ii. 105;
  savage punishments by, 106.

Sand pillars, ii. 270.

Schools in Iceland, ii. 4.

Seal, the, ii. 242.

Seneca on Thule, i. 2.

Servius on Thule, i. 2.

Shaffner, Colonel, and Atlantic telegraphy, ii. 73.

Shark, a dead, ii. 237.

Shark-hunting, ii. 236.

Sheep, i. 186.

Shetland, life in, i. 295;
  Shetlanders, personal appearance of the, 295.

Sibbald, Sir Robert, on Thule: a part of Great Britain, i. 11.

Simpson, Sir James, his archæological researches, i. 279.

Skálds, the, i. 97;
  poetry of, 237.

Skaptárjökull, eruption of the, i. 46.

Sledging, ii. 260.

Smallpox, ravages of the, i. 152.

Smoking, in and out of fashion, i. 362.

Snæ-land, on the meaning of, i. 76.

Snæfell, i. 323, ii. 78, 96.

Snakes, on the absence of, from Iceland, i. 173.

Snuff boxes, the manufacture of, ii. 16.

Society, i. 141-148.

Solan goose, the, i. 317.

Spinning, i. 198.

Stonehenge, a theory concerning, ii. 106.

Stone of Iceland, i. 51.

Stone implements found in Iceland, ii. 20.

Stone weapons, ii. 20.

Store, the, i. 225.

Strabo on Thule, i. 3.

Strokkr, the, ii. 181.

Stromness, museum at, i. 290.

Stykkishólm, climate of, i. 63, ii. 101.

Sulphur, i. 171;
  diggings, the, 171;
  at Krísuvík, ii. 133, 135;
  disused, 292;
  mountain, 295;
  pure, 295;
  commercial value of, 296;
  diggings leased by Mr Lock, 297;
  importation of, 299;
  prospects of trade in, 300.

Sulphur in Iceland, ii. 329;
  mines at Krísuvík, 329;
  at Mý-vatn, 335;
  at Hlíðarnámar, 340;
  Theystarreykja mines, 340;
  refining of the sulphur, 342;
  Sir G. S. Mackenzie on, 344;
  Consul Crowe’s report on, 345;
  Captain Burton’s notes on Mr Vincent’s paper on, 348;
  C. C. Blake on, 352;
  leasing contract for, 378;
  report of the Althing on, 381;
  in Sicily, 390;
  on Red Sea, 400;
  in Transylvania, 400;
  in Andaman Islands, 402.

Sunday in Iceland, i. 348.

Service in church, i. 352, 353, 357.

Swan, song of the, ii. 313.

Taxation, i. 119, 209, 215.

Taylor’s “Etruscan Researches” criticised, ii. 107.

Telegraphy, ii. 73.

Tents for travel, ii. 43.

Theology, the study of, ii. 7.

Things, the, i. 90-92.

Thingvallavatn Lake, ii. 193.

Thor and Christ, i. 94.

Thorvaldsen an Icelander, i. 350, 351.

Thule, of, i. 1;
  princess of, and king of, 1;
  political and rhetorical, 1, 2;
  Strabo, Mela, Pliny, and Ptolemy on, 3-11;
  part of Great Britain, 11-23;
  as Scandia, 23-25;
  as Iceland, 25-32;
  etymology of, 32.

Tom Noddy, the, i. 316.

Trades in Iceland, i. 125.

Trout fishing, about, i. 197.

Tyndall, Professor, on Palagonite, i. 37;
  on the Mer de Glace, 43;
  on active volcanoes, 49.

Vatnajökull, crossing of the, ii. 231;
  view of the, 258;
  sudden fogs on the, 315.

Vesuvius, eruption of, i. 47.

Virgil on Thule, i, 2.

Volcanic ashes, i. 50.

Wallace, the, of Iceland, ii. 124.

Waterproof for Iceland, note, i. 261.

Watts, Mr, on the Vatnajökull, ii. 232.

Weaving, i. 198.

Weights and measures, the national, i. 215, 218.

Wild oats, story regarding, in Iceland, ii. 296.

Windmill, a, ii. 233.

Yankee traveller, the, i. 356.

Zoological notes and sport, i. 169-175.


_M‘Farlane & Erskine, Printers, Edinburgh._


[1] From Thjóð old High Germ. Diot, a people, a nation; often found in
composition, as Thjóð-fundr =constituent assembly, Thjóð-rekr = Germ.
Diet-rich, and Thjóð-marr = Germ. Dit-mar (Cleasby).

[2] Akureyri had another paper, the _Gángleri_, which ceased
publication in 1872. It contained some valuable articles, especially
one headed “What am I to pay to the Thing?” and the answer was
apparently not easy, as it occupied seven issues, beginning with
February 7, 1871.

[3] It was here in Henderson’s time, and it was disliked because
charged with “a tendency to introduce the illumination of the German
school.” At present, besides the presses of Reykjavik and Akureyri,
there is a third at the Elliðavatn, one hour’s ride from the capital.
It belongs to a certain Hr Benedikt, ex-assessor of the High Court of
Justice, who was removed for the best of reasons. He has no licence to

[4] And even England lacks the foundations which encourage specialties
in Germany. What we want is a number of students who are able to
devote their time to pursuits never likely to pay in a publishing
sense. Some day, perhaps, one of those philanthropists who give
half-a-million sterling to an hospital or to a church, will provide the
necessary accommodation in the “Temple of Science”--£15,000 per annum,
divided into incomes ranging from £200 to £300, would supply a great

[5] The principal are the red-breasted merganser (_Mergus merganser_);
the rare lap-wing (_Vanellus cristatus_); the water-rail (_Rallus
aquaticus_), also uncommon; the thrush (_Turdus eleacus_); the willow
wren (_Motacilla trochilus_); and the little regulus with big feet and
bill (_Troglodytes borealis_), the Pjetur Nonsmad, or Peter Dinner
of Norway, because he is not seen after noon, and the Fugle Kongr,
because he rides the eagle. Curious stories are also told about the
wren at Trieste; he appears and disappears with the thrushes, avoiding
the heats of summer: the same is said about the Abú Hin (the father
of Henna) at Damascus. The black-bird (_Turdus merula_) is sometimes
driven to Iceland by southern gales.

[6] Of local specimens we were shown varieties of the Mó-berg
(Palagonite tuff), especially from the Seljadalr, which feels soft,
between chalk and steatite, some white or dull yellow, acted upon by
acids; others brown and black. Palagonite conglomerate with large
pieces of felspar. Blue compact basalt from Kjallarnes, with and
without drusic cavities; hexagonal basalt; reniform pebbles of the
same material. Jaspers, red, yellow, and green, from the north, the
latter containing copper. Dolerite or greenstone. A collection of
Hekla lavas, passing from the porous to the highly compact. Micaceous
“glimmer schiefer” studded with garnets. Zeolite and Iceland spar;
silicates of lime. Quartz needles from the Geysir, and other quartzes,
uncrystallised and crystallised into fine hexagons, large and small,
often contained in bolides. Aluminous clays and oxide of iron, some
with regular angles and metallic revetments. Concretions from Laugarnes
and the Geysir, the stalks of plants resembling petrified bones. The
_Cyprina Gaimardi_ and _Byssomea arctica_ from the north. Other shells:
_Balanus_, _Mya truncata_, _Venus Islandica_, _Lepas_, _Bulla_, and
_Turbinus_. True cannel coal from Suderoe, to the west; lignites,
old and new; pieces of Surtar-brand, flat, and showing impressions
of leaves; large fragments of true pitch-stone resembling, and
others in transition to, obsidian. Hrafntinna (Raven-flint, _Gagates
Islandicus_), obsidian or Iceland agate, black and liver-brown,
like Jews’ pitch or asphalt, from Mý-vatn and the Hrafnatinnuhraun
of Hekla. Henderson (i. 178) mistranslates Hrafnutinna, “_Piedra de
Galinazzo_, or raven-stone” (for buzzard-stone). Agates, chalcedonies,
and transitional opals, from Múla Sýsla, Tindastoll, and Heimaklettur,
in the Vestmannaeyjar: according to Professor Abel, the south-eastern
coast affords the noble stone, and the islanders believe that about
1821 a Mr Methley (?) carried home a valuable collection. Professor
Árnason kindly gave me a little box of chalcedonies which looked like

[7] The Skýrsla (Report) of the Library gives a total of 387 works,
distributed amongst eight stands of sixteen shelves--they are by no
means well filled. Classical authors occupy two cases on the left of
the entrance; on the right are translations of the Testament, and some
elementary works in Arabic and Armenian, Hindostani, Maharati, and
Bengali, all “dead letters” here. At the further end are modern books
printed in Reykjavik. The small collection of Icelandic manuscripts
is all on paper, the more valuable vellum has left the island for
“foreign parts.” There are bundles of ecclesiastical archives, tattered
and unbound copies of the defunct “Islendingur,” which is more quoted
in England than in Iceland; and finally, there is a small set of
novelists, Walter Scott (in German), Dickens, and Bulwer, lent to the
reading public.

[8] The only remarkabilities are the Bibles and the manuscripts. Among
the first we find the large folio Biblia of 1584--the first entire
work--translated from the German version of Martin Luther by Guðbrand
Thorlaksson, Bishop of Hólar, and there printed. This admirable work,
which rivals our “established version,” is not divided into verses,
and is chiefly curious because the mechanical dignitary, who in 1574
imported new types, made his own capitals, plates, and woodcuts. He was
assisted by the Icelander Jón Jónsson, and preceded by John Mathieson,
a Swede, who brought the first printing press about 1520, and who
published the “Breviarium Nidarosiense” in 1521; an ecclesiastical
handbook, Luther’s Catechism, and others of the same kind. These
works, especially the Breviarium, are so rare as to be practically
unprocurable. According to my informants, no “Elucidarius” has ever
been published in Iceland. The Rev. Thorwaldr Bjarnason assured me that
the oldest Icelandic manuscript is one of these catechisms, translated,
as they all were, from Latin, and dating from the thirteenth century.
The second Biblia (1644), after the Danish version of Bishop Resinius,
is the work of Bishop Thorlak Skurlason of Hólar, who divided it into
verses. The type is black letter, ultra-Gothic Gothic, and the two
folios are in the best condition. There is a copy of the New Testament
(1540, Henderson, ii. 265) translated by Oddr Gottskálksson, with
the distinguishing mark [Illustration: figure] (G. T. and cross), a
large and thick duodecimo, with the beginning and the end restored
by manuscript--Icelanders, as a rule, are very skilful in supplying
lost pages. Of this book only three copies are known, the two others
are at the deanery of Hruni and in Glasgow. Another New Testament
(1609), reprinted at Hólar by Bishop Guðbrand, whose high-nosed and
fork-bearded face remind us of his kinsman Rustam in far Iran, is a
small stout octavo, with an old binding and metal clasps.

[9] The valuable printed books are the fourth volume of Finn Jónsson’s
“Historia Monastica,” of which only three copies exist in the island;
the “Scriptores Rerum Danicarum” (Jacobus Longebek, 8 vols. folio,
Hafniæ, 1772); and the “Crymogea” of Arngrimr Jónsson, 4 vols. octavo:
the latter is so unhappily divided that it is most difficult to find a
passage required. Some of the shelves are filled with presents made by
patriotic Icelanders and liberal publishers, such as _The Gentleman’s
Magazine_ till 1771; a few Smithsonian and Patent Office Reports; “Le
Plutarch Français;” “Conversations Lexicons;” the “Allgemeine Deutsch
Bibliotek;” the “Bibliothêque des Romans;” “Chambers’s Information
for the People;” “Dictionnaire de Bayle,” and the “Chronique des
Religieux de Saint Denis,” by L. Bellaguet--a curious mixture by the
side of Thackeray, Dickens, and Marryat. The list of local works, so
much wanted by travellers and so rarely found, is eminently defective.
Neither the first nor the second volume of Cleasby was among the
number, and although the Latin translation of the Njála exists, Mr
Dasent’s “Burnt Njál” did not appear. Of Englishmen in Iceland, I found
Hooker and Mackenzie, Lord Dufferin, and Symington. Gaimard’s sumptuous
and expensive work, including the folio illustrations, is there: its
fate has been general abuse and unlimited “cribbing.” I was shown in
London some photographs of exploration in the Vatnajökull, which were
mere reproductions of the “Sommet du Snæfells Jökull;” and many a book
of travels has similarly enriched itself.

[10] The oldest form is Frauva, and the later Frú is probably a
contracted form of Fruvu, or of Freyja (Venus), according to the
Prose Edda (c. 24), but in the glossary to the Poetical Edda, it is
from Friðr, handsome, whence Friðla, a concubine, corresponding with
the German Frau, but put after as well as before the name. It was
little used before the thirteenth century, and in the fourteenth it
was applied to abbesses and the wives of knights, not of priests. At
present, it is given without distinction. Húsfreyja is = Germ. Hausfrau
= Eng. Housewife, always a married woman. Junfrú is = Germ. Jungfrau, a
princess in the thirteenth century, now simply Mademoiselle. Víf (Weib,
a wife) is purely poetical in Icel.: it is supposed to be originally
a weaver (Vefa, vífiðr). Hence the Anglo-Saxon Wîf-mann = woman,
not womb-(Icel. Vömb) man. Herra (= Germ. Herr) was a title
given in A.D. 1277 to the new Norwegian creation of barons
(Hersar) and knights: bishops and abbots were also so styled. After
the Reformation it became an integral part of the address of bishops,
as Síra of priests, but only applied like the Latin Don (dominus)
to Christian names. Now it is our Mister or Esquire in writing: in
conversation Icelanders have no equivalent for these words; the person,
if not a clerk, is simply addressed by his Christian name. The old
scale of precedence was Konungr, Jarl, Hersir (the baron of Normandy
and Norman England), Höldr (yeoman), and Búandi or Bóndi, = Germ.
Bauer, a tiller of the ground (Cleasby).

[11] From Falda, to fold, hence the Ital. Falda and Faldetta,
head-dress. As women vied in the size of this “stately national
head-gear,” it obtained the sarcastic name Stiku-faldr, “yard-long
fald.” In modern poetry, Iceland, with her glaciers, is represented as
a woman with her fald on. Skaut is the “sheet” or veil, which hung down
behind (Cleasby).

[12] Forbes’ sketch of “Helda’s buttons” gives an excellent idea of the

[13] M. Gaimard deduces this word from the Germ. Bauer, peasant;
evidently an error. The North of England names, of which twenty to
thirty end in -_by_, e.g., Kirk-by, derived the suffix from the Danish
and Swedish -_by_, which is = Icel. Bær (Cleasby).

[14] The instrument occurs in the proverb, “Svá eru Flosa ráð sem fari
Kefli.” Flosa plans are a rolling cylinder (Gr. Οἱ δὲ κυλίνδροις ἄλλοτ’
ἐπ’ ἀλλὰ φέρονται), the metaphor being taken from a mangle (Cleasby).

[15] The latter also has introduced the rude Scotch Posh or fiddle,
strung with “Torren,” the small gut of the sheep (Edmonston).

[16] Thorpe (Edda, preface, part ii., pp. iv., v.) suggests that the
name of this adaptation of Vedic and Iranic artificer-gods, this
northern Vulcan and Dædalus, may be merely an adaptation from the
German Wieland, or the Anglo-Saxon Weland, and notices Sir Walter
Scott’s woeful perversion, in “Kenilworth,” of the venerable legend
travestied from the Berkshire tradition. Blackwall tells us that a
labyrinth was called Völundarhús--a wayland house; and Cleasby that
Völundr survives in the Fr. Galant, and the Eng. Gallant.

[17] The day, however, has not come when these weapons can be
ranged strictly according to date, and when a narrow comparison of
differences, not of superficial resemblance, can be made between those
discovered in different parts of the world.

[18] It is nothing but the “cross cramponné” of heraldry, and is
generally identified with the mythic “thunderbolt;” hence, probably,
the pre-Christian crosses of Scandinavian inscriptions. Of the sacred
cross in the Huaca at Cuzco, we learn that the Incas did not worship
it, beyond holding it in veneration on account of the beauty of
its form, or for some other reason which they could scarcely give
expression to (Garcilasso de la Vega, translated, etc., by Clements
R. Markham, C.B., for the Hakluyt Society, London, 1869). It may be
remarked that the pre-Christian cross, shaped as an ordinary Greek
cross, when not connected with the sacred Tan of Egypt, was the symbol
of the four quarters; when surrounded by a circle, it denoted the solar
path from left to right round the world. A later symbol of the same
order was the Hindu _Swastika_ (mystical mark, meeting of four roads,
etc.), whose arms, according to Mr Beal, should always be drawn from
left to right, and not, as is sometimes done, “widdershins,” or in the
reverse way. Finally, the crocheted cross (Cruz ansata at four ends) is
the Aryan symbol of the sacred fire lit by Pramatha (Prometheus).

[19] The trip of eight days thus costs £14, but the travellers had
potted provisions, liquor, and other comforts, which may have brought
the expense up to £20--£10 each. Allowing £3 for the six days of delay,
in or about Reykjavik, till the fortnightly steamer starts; £6 for
coming from and returning to Granton; and £3 for extras; the total of
£22 easily “does” the Geysirs. Of course, those who are not hurried
will pay much less.

[20] The figures have been treated in the Introduction, Sect. VII.

[21] Hross in Icelandic (Germ. Ross, Fr. Rosse) is singular and plural.
So Chaucer makes “hors” plural, and we still say, a troop of horse,
like a flock of sheep. So in Shetland Russa-bairn (stallion, male)
is opposed to Hesta-bairn (mare) child. The Hengist and Horsa of our
innocent childhood were derived from the same words.

[22] Nothing easier than to teach the horse meat-eating and
fish-eating. Where little and highly nutritious food is forced by the
necessity of saving weight, the habit is acquired in youth.

[23] In this matter the last few years have seen a wonderful
improvement amongst us; still, I have visited wealthy stables in
England where the thermometer stood at 72° (F.), equal to Boston
Hotel, or to an Anglo-Indian London Club. It is difficult to reform
the evil where grooms sleep above these ovens, where hot air saves
grooming coats, and where the vet. requires to make a livelihood. The
perfection of horse-stabling appears to me a modification of the Afghan
system--protecting the chest and body with felts, thick or thin as the
season demands, and allowing the head and throat to be hardened by
cold, pure air.

[24] This is a general rule: 65 for an ass, 100 for a pony, and 120-150
for an ox. The latter are not trained to carry luggage in Iceland, and
it is hard to tell the reason why.

[25] Astraddle was doubtless the earliest form of feminine seat, yet Mr
Newton found at Budrum a statue of Diana sitting her horse sideways.

[26] Information concerning them may be met with in Gosselin (Historia
Fucorum): travellers have paid scant attention to this branch of
botany. The wracks feed man and beast, and serve for fuel, bed
stuffing, and other domestic purposes: consequently some forty-four
kinds have been described, especially that impostor, the _Zostera
marina_, which lies in loose heaps. The most common are the _Fucus
palmatus_, _Sacchurinus esculentus_, _edulis_, _fœniculaceus_, and
_digitatus_. The first-mentioned is the Sol, eaten in Ireland and in
Scotland, where it is called Dulce: at Oreback (Eyrarbakka), it sells
for 70 fishes per voet (= 80 lbs.). The second, _F. saccharinus_ (_Alga
saccharifera_), is the Welsh Laver, whose spirally-twisted leaves, six
feet long by one broad, become straight when dry. In the Shetlands
the larger fuci in general are called Tangle, Tang, and Ware, and are
extensively used as manure.

[27] Dr Cowie (Shetland, 1st edit., chap. ix., pp. 165-167) gives an
excellent account of “peat-casting.”

[28] Varða, in the plural Vörður, is a beacon, more generally an “homme
de pierre,” a pile of stones to act as landmark or way sign; it is
derived from að varða, to ward, to guard, monere (quod hîc vicus est).
Our travellers generally write the word in the Danish form “Varde.”
These piles, like the “‘a’úr” (Kakúr) of Syria and Palestine, are often
put up by the shepherd lads, apparently for want of something else to

[29] Kona, of old Kwina and Kuna, is evidently the English Quean (but
not Queen). It is a congener of γυνή;(Sansk. Jani), which the Rev. Wm.
Ridley (p. 390, _Anthrop. Journal_, July and Oct. 1872) traces through
Guni, Gun, Gyn, and Gin, to the Australian “Jin:” why not take it at
once from the Arab. Jinn (Genie), a manner of devil? For many years,
Konungr (A.S., Cynig, our King) was composed of Konr, man of gentle
birth, and Ungr, young; but the Dictionary pronounces this to be a mere
poetical fancy.

[30] The pint was found to contain 3·51 grains of solid matter. The
specific gravity (at 60° F.) was 1000·21, and the components were:

Silica,              1·04 grains.
Protoxide of iron,   0·24    ”
Lime,                a trace.
Magnesia,            0·2     ”
Soda,                0·84    ”
Sulphuric acid,      0·76    ”
Chlorine,            0·40    ”
Organic matter,      0·30    ”
              Total, 3·60 grains.

[31] We have Lax rivers in England. Some books translate Lax “trout”
as well as salmon. This is a mistake, the former is always known as
Sílungr or Forelle (Dan.): as may be expected, there are numerous terms
for the fish at different ages and in several conditions.

[32] This suffixed article, which has died out of so many northern
tongues, appears to be comparatively modern, only once showing in the
Voluspa (_e.g._, Goðin, v. 117). It is found in Coptic, _e.g._, Mau-t,
the mother, for Ti-mau; and in Wallach (Daco-Roman): the latter, for
instance, says Frate-le (in Italian, Il fratello), and Dinte-le for Il
Dente (dens).

[33] Skarð, common in local names, is the English Shard, a notch,
chink, an open place in a bank, a mountain-pass, the Cumbrian Scarf-gap
(Cleasby). Henderson gives Kampe as the popular name of a _col_; he
probably means Kambi, a comb or ridge.

[34] Meaning a mane, hair, and still preserved in such names as Fairfax.

[35] The word often occurs in Iceland; it is applied to a lady’s
bower or a dungeon, both being secluded chambers, to a heap of refuse
(Cleasby), and to conspicuous warts and peaks of rock.

[36] At sea-level the compensated aneroid (Casella, 1182) showed 30·05,
the thermometer (F.) 66°. Here it was 27·10 in the open air, with the
thermometer at 40° (F.), and in the pocket 26·90, with the thermometer
at 80° (F.). The instrument, despite compensation, must always be
cooled in the shade before use.

[37] “The whole formation of the mountain (Büdös) and the surrounding
cones, the sharp-edged blocks and masses of rock, heaped up one on
the other, of which these consist, the apparently molten surface of
the trachyte--all seems plainly to prove that it was only after the
formation of these masses, and when they were in a rigid state, that a
grand upheaval took place here; during which, the powerful gases from
below, raising, and straining, and tearing the masses, piled them up
in mighty domes and mountain-tops, tossing them about till, here and
there, they had found permanent canals leading to the surface of the
earth.” (Frederic Fronius, quoted by Mr Bonar).

[38] It is noticed in the “Mémoires de la S. R. des Antiquaires
du Nord” (p. 9, vol. of 1845-49). The writer assigns it to
A.D. 1143, in the days of “Are Frode” (Ari hinn Fróði).

[39] Múli (pron. _mule_) is the Germ. Maul, a muzzle, and the Scotch
Mull (_e.g._, of Galloway), the Shetland and Orkney “Mule.” It means
a buttress, with bluff head, a tongue of high land, bounded on three
sides by slopes or precipices, and the word should be adopted into
general geography. The Arabs would call this favourite site for old
towns, “Zahr et Taur”--the bull’s back.

[40] The late Mr Piddington tells us that the Hvalfjörð district is
“called by the neighbouring inhabitants _Veðra-Kista_, that is, box
or chest of winds, which implies that this inlet is, as it were, the
abode of violent storms.” He gives cyclones to Iceland, where there are
none, and he corrects Uno Von Troil (p. 41) who rightly makes the name
“Storm-coast (Veðra-kista) to be given to some places in Iceland.”

[41] The Sel, which often occurs in Icelandic names, is the German
Senn-hütte, a shed, or little farm-house, in a mountain-pasture. The
A.S. Sele probably reappears in our north-country “Shiel,” a small
shooting farm. In Norway such huts are called Setr, or Sætr, the A.S.
Sætar: hence Sumur Sætas (dwellers in summer huts) became our Somerset.
Iceland wants the cold arbour (Ceald here-berga = Kaltern herberg of
old Germany), the bare-walled lodge, or “Traveller’s bungalow.”

[42] The North Atlantic Telegraph viâ the Færoe Islands, Iceland, and
Greenland. London: Stanford, 1861.

[43] At the farm-house the mean of three observations taken before
setting out, and after return, gave 29·60, th. (F.) 71°; summit of
first ridge, 27·65, th. 87°; top of mountain, 26·60, th. 77°.

[44] From að stilla, to fix a position.

[45] In the Shetlands called Smora, from Dan. Smör, butter, because it
gives an abundance of cream.

[46] Hooker, ii. 325.

[47] The Mexicans also had a “Fair God,” Quetzel, beautiful as Baldur,
and, better still, averse to human sacrifices. The popular tradition,
that some day he would return from the east and rule the land, made
Montezuma recognise him in the blond-haired Cortez: the great explorer
and conqueror, however, did not prove a satisfactory Quetzel. Of these
white gods and foreigners from the east, even in South America, I have
treated fully in my notes to Hans Stade (Hakluyt Soc.), part ii., chap.

[48] The word was taken from Chamounix by De Saussure. It is not, as
Petermann says, the _detritus_ or rubbish heaps from the bottom and
sides of the glacier or ice-fall, but the _débris_ of the rock above it.

[49] This is the popular form of Or-usta, battle.

[50] Melr, a sandy hill, and especially a bare bank of sand and stone,
familiar to Iceland travellers, has been explained in the Introduction
(Sect. VII.). Baring-Gould (p. 284) would derive it from a root
signifying to grind; Holmboe from Myldja, to dig, or from Mold, loose
earth. Bakki is a bank or ridge, opposed to Brekka (brink), a slope, a

[51] This stone, like the diamond, threatens to lose more than half its
value, if it be true that the State of Queretaro in Mexico has lately
(1874) yielded “opals of the first quality, and of all varieties; the
milk-opals, fire-opals, girasols or ‘harlequins,’ and the richest
Hungarian or precious opals.”

[52] The word Áss, _pl._ Asar and Æsir, is explained by Jornandes,
“Gothi proceres suos quasi qui fortunâ vincebant non pares homines
sed semideos, i.e. _Anses_ (Ans in Mæso-Gothic) vocavere.” Suetonius
makes Æsar an Etruscan word which meant God (probably a plural of Kelt.
Es). We find forms of it in the Mongolian dialects, and in the Aryan,
Sanskrit (Asura), Keltic, Teutonic (Æsir), German (Anshelm, p. n.), and
even in the English Osborn and Oswald. _As_ appears to correspond with
the Semitic _Al_, but the word is still involved in mystery.

[53] The Hebrew Esh and the Chaldee Esha (fire) are synonymous with the
Aryan Is, whence Isti, an offering on the hearth, and Estika the place
of offering. Hence the Greek Hestía, fire, hearth, stove, and, with
digamma, the Latin Vesta when worshipped as Genius or Lar familiaris.

[54] Blót (or Forn), a sacrifice of men and beasts, horses and
oxen, swine and sheep, must not be confounded with Blóð, blood. The
Blót-steinn or sacrificial stone, which acted as our gallows, is
described as of “oval form and a little pointed at the top,” which
suggests the Moab-god Chemosh, it stood in every Thing-field, a place
adjoining the Hof. I did not remark that the site of the temples always
faced south, as Mallet says. The Öndvegi, or high-seat of the hall, was
“on the side of the sun,” _i.e._, south.

[55] He specifies the ruined castle near Videdal (Viðidalr), some 200
perches in circumference and 20 fathoms (?) high on the north side;
another castle near the parsonage Skaggestad at Laugarnaes; remains of
heathen temples at Midfjörð, Godale, Viðvik, etc.; the ancient place
of execution at Hegranaes; pagan burial-places, like that of Thorleif
Jarlaskáld’s in the Oxerá island, which yielded old swords and helmets;
two Bauta-steinn, great standing stones (Menhirs?), on the heaths
of Thingman’s and Threkyllis, “which probably, according to Odin’s
regulations, were monuments to the memory of deceased persons;” the
grass-grown mound of Reykholt, “said to be raised from the ruins of
Sturluson’s house;” the Sturlunga Reitr, or burial-place of his family,
and forty small figures of brass representing animals and other objects
found near Flatey: “unfortunately they fell into the hands of people
who did not know their value, consequently they have all been lost” (p.

[56] This popular German expression is evidently the Scandinavian
Besse, for Berr or Bersi = Bär, a bear. Besse, again, has a suspicious
likeness to the Yakut “Ese,” the most respectful term in the language,
= grandfather or monseigneur, applied by those Siberian Mongols to
the great white bear, their most formidable foe. Bruin in Gothland
being the “king of the beasts,” to do a thing with Besse’s leave is
equivalent to doing it without leave. The quaint quadruped is much
noticed in folk-lore; “Mishka” is his pet name in Russia; “Berengarius”
is derived from the French Dan Beringer; and Ephraim and Ole Cuffey
are well known in the U.S. Persia abounds in tales about his wearing a
turband and riding asses.

[57] It supplied the Hafnafiordite of Forchhammer, leek-green, light,
porous, and friable pumice-tuff, containing the following proportions:

Silica,             35·89
Alumina,            27·36
Protoxide of iron,  14·41
Lime,               10·86
Potash,              9·00
Sulphuric acid,      1·55

Dr W. Lauder Lindsay remarks, “The sp. gr. is usually 2·729; it appears
to be a lime-oligoclase, belonging, therefore, to the Felspathic family
of minerals.”

[58] Passengers to Hafnafjörð paid only 2 marks (7d.). The nine days to
the north and back were the cheapest known to me--$9 (=£1) each way, and
for living £4, a total of 13s. per diem, including steward’s fees, and
excellent Norwegian ale and Geneva _ad lib_. Breakfast of fish and meat
at eight to ten A.M.; dinner of ditto and coffee at two to four P.M.;
and supper, a repetition of the two, at eight to nine P.M. Port, sherry,
and Château Yquem = $1 specie (4s. 6d.); champagne, $2; porter, $0·48;
and Norwegian beer, 12sk. (3½d.) per bottle. The cooking was excellent,
and plate and linen equally spotless; the table was laid _à la Russe_
with pleasant little _hors d’œuvres_ of sardines and smoked salmon, salt
meat, ham, and sausage, in fact what Italians facetiously call
“Porcheria.” We mentally re-echo Mr Thackeray’s hope that Great Britain,
who is supposed to rule the waves, will some day devote a little more
attention to her _cuisine_.

[59] Borg, a castle, a city, or a small dome-shaped height, is a common
local term. “It may be questioned whether these names (Borgarholt,
Eld-borg, etc.) are derived simply from the hill on which they stand
(berg, bjarg), or whether such hills took their names from old
fortifications built upon them: the latter is more likely, but no
information is on record, and at present ‘borg’ only conveys the notion
of a hill” (Cleasby). In Chap. I., I have shown that “borg” and “broch”
are sons of the same family.

[60] Captain Graah (loc. cit.) looks upon this as a mere fable: I do

[61] Hít is a scrip made of skin, and, metaphorically, a big belly.
With a short vowel, Hitár-dalr means the Vale of the Hot (_i.e._,
volcanic) River, opposed to Kaldá or Cold Stream. According to Cleasby,
the derivation from the Giantess Hít is a modern fiction not older than
the Bárðar Saga: he also, contrary to other authorities, makes Dominus
Bárð a giantess.

[62] The Dictionary gives Göltr, a hog, and Kolla, a deer without
horns, a humble deer, a hind.

[63] Both translations are somewhat too literal: Enni, a forehead,
secondarily means the “_brow_ of a hill,” a steep crag, a fronting

[64] As the “Berserkir” is becoming a power in novelistic literature,
it may be advisable to give the correct form. The singular nominative
is Ber-serkr, the plural Ber-serkir, and the oblique form Berserkja,
_e.g._, Berserkja-dis, cairn of the Berserkir. Cleasby (sub voce)
shows that the common derivation, taken from Snorri, “berr” (bare) and
“Serkr” (sark or shirt) is inadmissible, and greatly prefers “Berr”
(a bear), whose skins were worn by athletes and champions; perhaps
also here we find traces of that physical metamorphosis in which all
the older world believed. The “Berserksgangr” (_furor bersercicus seu
athleticus_), when these “champions” howled like wild beasts, gnawed
their iron shields, and were proof against fire and steel, may be
compared with the “running amok” of the Malays, and the “bhanging up”
of the Hindu hero--invariably the effect of stimulants. This fact
considerably abates our interest in Eastern tales of “derring-do,” for
instance, in the account of the two sentinels at Delhi, whose calm
gallantry, probably produced by opium or hemp, is noticed in pitying
terms by Sir Hope Grant.

[65] For the observations at Stykkishólm, see Introduction, Sect. II.

[66] Henderson (ii. 67) places “Hofstad” on the western side of the

[67] Réttir are the big public pens, Dilkar the small folds round the
former, and the Stekkjarvegr is the spring-fold; all are dry stone
walls, as on the Libanus.

[68] As the word is written, it can only signify “Lithe (slope) of
the panegyric;” Drápa being a poem in honour of gods, saints, kings,
princes, and so forth, as opposed to the short panegyric “Plockr,”
and to the longer “Hroðr,” or “Lof.” The boatman, however, explained
it to mean Slope of Death, _i.e._, where some battle took place, and
this would be derived from Dráp, slaughter. Both words (says Cleasby)
come from Drepa, to strike. There is also a dispute concerning the
formation of certain beds in this mountain, some holding that they
issued from the same crater successively, and others, simultaneously,
from different mouths.

[69] Henderson (ii. 68) places the stone in the swamp, not on the
hill-side; Forbes (219) adds that it was in the centre of the
Doom-ring. If so, we did not see it: moreover, Mr R. M. Smith heard
from Hr Thorlacius that we were misled. I cannot help believing in the
shepherd-boy; and there was no mistaking the Doom-ring. For the most
part, the instruments of death stood in the fens where certain classes
of criminals were drowned. On the other hand, the Landnámabók (chap.
xii.) says, that after the profanation of Helgafell (Monticulus Sacer),
Thórðr Gellir “forum (Thing) in _superiora linguæ loca_ ubi nunc est,
transportavere ... ibique adhuc conspiciendus est lapis Thorinus
(Thórsteinn), supra quem homines sacrificio destinati, frangebantur;
ibi etiam circulus judicialis existit in quo homines ad victimas

[70] Compare this Northern effort with the poetical Greek curse at the
Akropolis of Athens: “I entrust the guardianship of this temple to the
infernal gods, to Pluto, and to Ceres, and to Proserpine, and to all
the Furies, and to all the gods below. If any one shall deface this
temple, or mutilate it, or remove anything from it, either of himself,
or by means of another, to him may not the land be passable, nor the
sea navigable, but may he be utterly uprooted! May he experience all
evils, fever, and ague, and quartan, and leprosy! And as many ills as
man is liable to, may they befall that man who dares to move anything
from this temple!” Perhaps the most picturesque composition of the
kind is the inscription upon the sarcophagus of Eshmunazar, king of
Sidon--at least in the translation of the late Duc de Luynes.

[71] This form of “lynching” is popularly and erroneously supposed to
have been invented upon the Atlantic seaboard of the United States. The
Brazilian “Indians” practised it by way of ceremonial toilette.

[72] Waring and many others suggest that the “Prostrate Stone” lying
north-east of the horse-shoe or elliptical opening of the Stonehenge
trilithons, and the three--formerly five--fallen stones inside the
vallum, represent the first or outer circle, like that of Avebury.
It is usually assumed that the “Friar’s Heel,” the single “block
lying farther to the north-east of the “Prostrate Stone,” served for
astronomical purposes, the sun rising over it on the summer solstice,
and striking the sacrificial Thorsteinn or Blótsteinn (4 by 16 feet).
The same arrangement is remarked at Stennis. There seems, however, no
reason why both should not have been members of an outermost circle.

Martin (Description of Western Islands, London, 1716) has preserved
the popular tradition that the sun was worshipped in the larger, and
the moon in the lesser, ring of the Orkney ruins. Later writers deny
the honour of erecting the circles of Stennis and Borgar (anciently
Broisgar = Brúar-garðr) to the “Northmen,” because such circles are
found only in localities where a Keltic race has ruled, and because
“such names as Stennis and Stonehenge prove that they had existence
before the people who so designated them arrived in the country.”
The _causa_ appears to me a _non causa_, especially if they were
Thingsteads and Doom-rings, which in later days would take modern and
trivial names from their sites or peculiarities of structure. On the
other hand, the absence of tradition concerning the popular use of the
buildings, which we might expect to linger in the minds of men, is a
serious objection.

[73] We have retained the word “Flói” in ice-_floe_. It properly means
the deep water of a bay opposed to the shallow water along shore.

[74] We see in Ireland, Scotland, and the English coast about Bristol,
the effect of these gales: they prevail along the coast of Brittany,
become less violent in the Bay of Biscay and along Portugal, and
finally the Mediterranean, as the regular outlines of the Balearics,
Sicily, and Malta prove, ignores them.

[75] The work of Jón Thórðarson and another compiler in the fourteenth
century, who transcribed from old MSS., and bring the history up to
A.D. 1395, that is a century before the Columbian
discovery. A facsimile specimen of the vellum manuscript used by
Professor Rafu as the basis of his text is given in the “Antiquitates

[76] In June 1862 Mr Shepherd and his party succeeded in mastering the
Dránga Jökull. Upon the summit the barometer marked 26·5° (at sea-level
29 inches, not degrees), and the thermometer 32° (F.). Glámu (Dict.,
Glam, Glamr, Glaumr, glamour) is translated “noisy Jökull,” from the
hljóð (Germ. Laut), or the clamour, the crashing and clashing of
ice-slips and torrents.

[77] Dýr is Θήρ, their, deôr, and deer, in Iceland especially applied
to the fox, being the only insular beast of prey (Cleasby).

[78] According to some local authorities, Ísafjörð is the mouth of the
Ísafjarðardjúp. Mr Shepherd (p. 92) lays down that the bay-head and
the town are called Ísafjörð, whilst Ísafjarðardjúp is the name of the

[79] Ísa being the genitive plural of Íss, ice. See page 5, “The
Thousandth Anniversary of the Norwegian Settlement of Iceland,” by
Jón A. Hjaltalín, Reykjavik, 1874: the _Standard_ (August 25, 1874)
confounds this author with Dr Hjaltalín, “by far the greatest and
most learned Icelander of the day.” Some have erroneously derived it
from Ísa or Ýsa, a coal-fish or haddock, which is here plentiful:
this _Gadus carbonarius_ is known to western Scotland by many names.
They are “cuddies” when six to eight inches long, excellent eating in
October; when herring-sized they become “saythes,” somewhat coarse of
flesh; and when full-grown “stane-lochs,” almost unfit for food.

[80] The _Ursus albus maritimus_ or _Thalarctos_ is called Bamsin and
the female Bingsen: it is well known to be carnivorous, a “lahhám,”
as the peasants of the Libanus term their small brown bears (_U.
Syriacus_): moreover, it rises upon its haunches to scalp the huntsman,
like the Himalayan bear (_U. Thibeticus_). The two others common
in Norway are the Hesta-biörn or horse-bear (the common brown _U.
Arctos_), and the Myre or small bear (possibly a variety of the former,
like the black bear of Europe). The latter is valued for its hams, as
the paws of the great grizzly (_U. ferox_), the most savage of its
kind, are prized in the Western States of North America.

[81] It must not be confounded, as some travellers have done, with
Eyra, an ear. Eyri is the modern form of Eyrr, the Shetland Urie, and
the Swedish Ör: _e.g._, Helsing-ör, our Elsinore. Eyr-byggjar are men
who build in Eyris; and, hence, the “Eyrbyggja Saga.” The feature, like
the Holmr, was used for battle-plains; thus Ganga út á eyri, is to
fight a duel (Cleasby).

[82] This common name for such features is one of the Semitic words
(Arab. Karn) which has been naturalised in Aryan speech through Κέρας
and Cornu. Another is “Botn,” flat or low land, _e.g._, Gulf of
Bothnia, in Arab. Batn.

[83] Staðr (plur. Staðir), our “stead,” secondarily means a church
establishment, see, convent, chapel, and so forth. The “church contest,”
or struggle, between the clergy and laity about the ownership and
administration of churches and glebes, which began at the end of the
thirteenth century, and was partially settled by the agreement of A.D.
1296, has diffused this word far and wide through Iceland. Thus the
heathen Fell, Hraun, Hóll, and Melr became Staðar-fell, Staðar-hraun,
Staðar-hóll, and Mell-Staðar. On the other hand, the plural Staðir is
frequent in local names of the pagan time, as Höskulds-Staðir,
Alreks-Staðir, etc. (Cleasby).

[84] So the point was called by all on board; the map gives Krossanes
(cross naze).

[85] The Lodbrokar Kviða (Lodbrog’s Quoth) or Krákumál, so called
from the “mythical lady” Kraka, was translated (1782) by the Rev.
James Johnstone, A. M., chaplain to the British Embassy at Copenhagen.
It is given by Henderson (ii. 345-352), who believes--_O sancta
simplicitas!_--that the ruffian, who probably never existed, himself
composed the “warlike and ferocious song.” The word Kviða, or lay,
derives from Kveðja, cognate with the English “quote” and “quoth.”

[86] This common term is explained in Chap. XIII.

[87] I know no reason why we should conserve such veteran blunders
as “Hecla” and “Geyser.” The latter has already been explained. The
former, whose full form is Heklu-fjall, derives from Hekla (akin to
Hökull, a priest’s cope), meaning a cowled or hooded frock, knitted of
various colours, and applied to the “Vesuvius of the North,” from its
cap and body vest of snow. Icelanders usually translate it a chasuble,
because its rounded black shoulders bear stripes of white, supposed to
resemble the cross carried to Calvary.

[88] “Kleifar” is a local name in West Iceland, from Kleif, a ridge of
cliffs or shelves in a mountain-side (Cleasby).

[89] Professor Tyndall (loc. cit.) tells us that the “two first gases
cannot exist amicably together. In Iceland they wage incessant war,
mutually decompose each other, and scatter their sulphur over the
steaming fields. In this way the true solfataras of the island are
formed.” He derives the vapour of sulphur in nature from the action of
heat upon certain sulphur compounds.

[90] I have denied the existence of this diagonal.--R. F. B.

[91] The Journal shows how great this mistake is.--R.F.B.

[92] The description is prodigiously exaggerated.--R.F.B.

[93] Mr Judd, examining Western Scotland, opines that the felspathic
(acid) rocks have been erupted from the Eocene volcanoes, and the
augitic (basic) from those of the Miocene age. In Iceland, however,
both seem to have been discharged by the Post-tertiary, as well as by
the Tertiary epochs.

[94] “He” (Gunnar Hámundarson) “was eulogised by many poets after his
death,” said an Icelander, with unthinking satire. The last poem is the
“Gunnarshólmr,” by Jonas Hallgrímsson, a poet who, being loved of the
gods, died young.

[95] The Romans were naked below the knee: the pillars of Trajan and
Antonine show Teutonic captives wearing a dress much resembling that of
our peasants and sailors.

[96] Often written Reykium (for Reykjum), dative plural of second
declension. As has been seen, the word enters into a multitude of
Icelandic proper names.

[97] The four higher are (S.E.) Öræfajökull (6426 English feet); (W.)
Snæfell (5964); Eyjafjallajökull (5593) to south, and Herðubreið (5447)
to north-east. Stanley (repeated by Dillon) assigned to Hekla 4300;
Sir J. Banks, with a Ramsden’s Barometer, 5000. Gunnlaugsson gives
5108, but here he is very defective, wanting a separate and enlarged
plan. The direct distance from the summit to the sea is usually laid
down at thirty miles; measured upon the map, the “bee-line” would be
twenty-seven geographical miles.

[98] Rángá (“wrong” or crooked stream) is a name that frequently
occurs, and generally denotes either that the trend is opposed to the
general water-shed, or that an angle has been formed in the bed by
earthquakes or eruptions.

[99] The down is applied as a styptic to cuts, the leaves are used in
tanning, and the wood makes ink.

[100] Klaproth remarks that this is the only tree (? the poplar =
Pippal) which the Aryan colonists of Europe remarked, and distinguished
by the Sanskrit name. Thus Bhurrja became the Latin Betula, the Gothic
Birkun, the Scandinavian Birki and Björk, the German Birke, and the
English Birch. The name is applied under the form of Bjarkar to the
thirteenth Runic letter = B or P; and it is the first Irish letter,

[101] Næfr, or birch-bark, was used for thatching: Næfra-maðr, the
birch-bark man, was an outlaw (Cleasby).

[102] Mr Pliny Miles distinctly denies the existence of these
fish-lakes, which Metcalfe observed, and which we clearly saw. There is
a Fisksvatnsvegr, which has been travelled over, and there are reports
of a volcano having burst out there about a century ago.

[103] The highest apparent point shown to us on the south-east was
Grænafjall. Upon the map it is an insignificant north-eastern “mull” of
the Tindafjallajökull, but refraction had added many a cubit to its low

[104] Alluded to in Chap. VI.

[105] Tunga is applied to the Doab of two rivers; Tangi is a land-spit,
a point projecting into the sea or river.

[106] This is the “low trap hill” of former travellers, supposed to be
one of the veins that pierced the elevated diagonal.

[107] Especially M. Dortous de Mavian, whose theory was succeeded
by the age of chemicals, pyrites, and alkalis, and the oxidation of
unoxidised minerals, with a brief deversion in favour of “The Fire,”
by Sir Humphrey Davy. Poisson extinguished it when he remarked that if
fed by incandescent gases it would burst the shell, or at least would
be subject to tides, causing daily earthquakes. Happily, also, the
term “earth’s _crust_” is also becoming obsolete, or rather the solid
stratum of 100 miles overlying a melted nucleus has suddenly grown to
800 (Hopkins). Sir William Thomson (Proceedings of the Royal Society,
xii., p. 103) holds it “extremely improbable that any crust thinner
than 2000 or 2500 miles could maintain its figure with sufficient
rigidity against the tide-generating forces of sun and moon, to allow
the phenomena of the ocean tides, and of precession and nutation, to be
as they are now.” We will hope for more presently.

[108] Cleasby tells us that the end of Árna Saga (the bishop), the
sole historical work of that time, is lost. He opines that a certain
“pretty legend,” referring to the “moving” of founts when defiled with
innocent blood, could not have arisen “unless a change in the place of
hot springs had been observed.”

[109] Everywhere we found leaves laminated with silicious deposit, but
no trace of shells, even though we sought them under the turf. The
composition of Geysir water will illustrate Forbes. In 1000 parts of
water there are 0·5097 of silica, whereas the rest, carbonates of soda
and ammonia, sulphates of soda, potash, and magnesia, chloride and
sulphide of sodium, and carbonic acid, amount only to 0·4775, Out of
the latter, again, soda represents 0·3009, and sodium 0·2609; silica
and soda are therefore _the_ constituents. The specific gravity is
1000·8 (Faraday).

[110] More exactly the two divisions are each about twenty feet long;
the smaller is twelve and the greater is eighteen feet broad; the
extreme depth is thirty feet.

[111] See Barrow’s ground-plan of the Geysirs (p. 177).

[112] In 1859, when I passed over the Rocky Mountains, near the
headwaters of the Missouri and the Yellowstone, the North American
Geysirs had not been invented, nor did we hear a word about them from
the backwoodsmen and prairiemen along the line. In fact, the United
States Expeditions which surveyed, photographed, and described them,
began only in 1868.

[113] Baring-Gould makes the bridge seven to eight yards long; far too
long for single planks.

[114] Written Ravnegiá, and other barbarous forms. Gjá also has been
corrupted to Gaia, etc. The word is found in the Hebrew אנ, the
Greek γᾶια, and the German and Swiss Gau, a district, a canton; it
is preserved in the Scottish Geo or Geow: it is the Cornish Hor, and
the Skaare of the Færoes, supposed to extend under the sea. It “often
denotes a rift, with a tarn or pool at bottom, whence Gil is a rift
with running water;” and it is akin to Gína (χαινω, A.S. Gínan);
Gähnen, to yawn (Cleasby). In Iceland these fosses are split by the
hammer of Thor.

[115] This is evidently the Germ. Kuchen and the Eng. Cake: we can
trace it back to the Pers. “Kahk.”

[116] According to Blackwall, the Thingstead in Oldenburg still shows
the Doom-ring of upright stones, and the Blót-steinn in the centre.

[117] The Axewater, so called because Kettlebjörn, the Old, when
prospecting for a residence here, lost his axe. Barrow gives Oxera,
which would mean Oxwater. There has been no change in the Thingvellir
since the days of the Norwegian colonists.

[118] Al-manna, genitive plural from an obsolete Almenn (comp.
Alemanni), is a prefix to some nouns, meaning general, common,
universal. The local name of the great rift near the Althing was given
because all the people met upon its eastern flank (Cleasby).

[119] A large plan, but not very correct, is given by Dufferin (p. 73).

[120] I believe it has been transferred by later antiquaries from the
holm to the mainland; but Cowie (p. 178) still keeps it in the islet.

[121] This Gjá is amazingly exaggerated by Baring-Gould (p. 69);
assuming the human figures at only 5 feet, the depth of the chasm would
be 75.

[122] For the code of honour in pagan Iceland, Dasent refers to
Kormak’s Saga, chap. x., where the law of the duello was most
punctiliously laid down as the “British Code of Duel” (London, 1824) by
a philanthropic and enterprising Irish gentleman. The weapons chiefly
used were broadsword and battle-axe; the combatants might not step back
beyond a given space, and the latter peculiarity is still preserved in
the hostile meetings of students throughout Northern Germany, where the
floor or ground is marked with chalk. In some cases they stood upon a
hide and were not allowed to gain or to break ground. The Hólm-ganga
was a “judicium Dei,” differing from the Einvígi, or simple duel, by
the rites and rules which accompanied it. The Norwegian duel was worthy
of the Scrithofinni; the combatants were fastened together by the belt,
and used their knives till one was killed. How pugnacious the old pagan
Scandinavians were, may be judged from the wife’s practice of carrying
the husband’s shroud to weddings and “merry makings.”

[123] Paijkull gives the length, one geographical mile, and the maximum
depth, 140 feet; too short and too deep.

[124] The curlew (_Scolopax arquata_), when young, is apparently called
a whimbrel (_Numenius phœopus_) in the London market.

[125] It is analysed by Bunsen (Art. II., loc. cit.).

[126] Skapt is a “shaved” stick, haft, shaft, or missile; Skapt-á, the
shaft-river = Scot. and Eng. Shafto; and hence, Skaptár-fell (sounded
_Skapta-fell_), is the Shapfell of Westmoreland (Cleasby), the Icel.
“sk” being generally permuted to the softer English “sh.”

[127] Baring-Gould places it near Holt, east-north-east of Erlendsey.

[128] The “frow-stack” is a skerry, resembling a woman’s skirt. Sir
W. Scott (The Pirate, xxvi.) says the “_Fraw-Stack_,” or Maiden Rock,
an inaccessible cliff, divided by a narrow gulf from the island of
Papa, has on the summit some ruins, concerning which there is a legend
similar to that of Danoë. Vigr (a spear, in the Orkneys Veir) describes
a sharp-pointed rock.

[129] Erlendr is here a proper name: usually it is an adjective,
meaning “foreign” = the Germ. Elendi.

[130] Also the single day’s passage from Reykjavik to Berufjörð is $12,
or one-third of the full passage to Granton, which takes eight to nine
days. The other and far more important complaints against the “Diana”
have been noticed before.

[131] From Ör, negative, and Höfn, a haven: as will be seen, the plural
Öræfi is also applied to a wilderness.

[132] In the Færoes the whale is written “Qual,” a pronunciation still
retained in Iceland.

[133] Mr Newton’s valuable paper in the _Ibis_, containing all that
is required _quâ_ Iceland ornithology, has been alluded to. He quotes
the works of the late Hr Petur Sturitz, of Professor Steenstrŭp
(Videnskabelige Meddellser for Aaret 1855), of the venerable Richard
Owen (Paleontology, 2d edit., 1861, and Trans. Zool. Soc., June
14, 1864), and of many other writers. An interesting note about
the “only wingless, or rather flightless, species of the northern
hemisphere,” and two recorded instances of the _rara avis_ being kept
in confinement, are given by Baring-Gould, Appendix A., pp. 406, 407.

[134] My companion, Mr Chapman, a New Zealander, who has returned to
New Zealand, suggested that, despite Dr Hector, the Moa, a bird eight
feet high, may still be found alive in some of the forest fastnesses of
his native island.

[135] According to Barnard, the last European auk was killed in 1848,
at Vardö, a Norwegian fortress on the frontier of Russia.

[136] Berufjörð is derived from Berr, of whom more presently, or from
Bera, a she-bear, the animal being often floated over upon ice-floes:
Bare Firth, from “berr,” bare, which has been proposed (Longman, p.
33), is a mere error. It is the longest, if not the largest, feature
of this coast, except Reyðarfjörð, which lies to the north, separated
by three minor inlets. The “look-out” stands, according to nautical
charts, in N. lat. 64° 39´ 45´´, and W. long. (G.) 14° 14´ 15´´ (in
Olsen 14° 19´ 47´´), the latter supposed to require correction. The
difference of time from Reykjavik is about 30´. The variation (west)
diminishes: it was laid down at 39° or 40°, but on May 18, 1872,
Captain Tvede made it 35° 15´. Here local attractions, often causing
a difference of half-a-point within a few hundred yards, would puzzle
“George Graham of London.”

[137] Mr Watts, who is now publishing an account of his march, and who
has started a third time for the Vatnajökull, gave me this list of

1. Reykjavik to Reykir.
2. To near the Tindafjallajökull, south of Hekla; very rough path.
3. Over the deep Mælifellssandr to east, where the valleys are grassy.
4. To the Búland farm.
5. To Kirkjubær cloister, on the Skaptá.
6. To the Núpstaðr farm, a long day’s march. Here provisions and forage are

[138] Mr Tom Roys, an American, accompanied by his four brothers,
established himself at Seyðisfjörð, and used a rocket harpoon patented
by himself, and so much “improved” that it will hardly leave the gun:
the shell explodes in the body, kills the animal instantly, and, by
generating gas, causes the carcass to float; if not, the defunct is
buoyed and landed at discretion. He first hunted with a small sailing
craft, and in 1865, after bagging seven to eight animals, each worth
$2000, he brought from England a screw of 40 tons burden to tow his
whaling boats. He calculated that 365 whales would allow 1 lb. of food
to 68,000 souls every day in the year: he also proposed pressing the
meat for feeding dogs and fattening pigs (!). In that year his total
bag till August was twenty-five whales, of which he landed thirteen. I
was told, however, that the speculation proved a failure, and that Mr
Roys went off to Alaska. At Seyðisfjörð, distant two days’ march, there
was a Dutch steamer, which last year had killed thirteen whales. When
reduced to the last extreme, we thought of travelling home in her, but
future explorers must not count upon such opportunities.

[139] Uno Von Troil (129, 130) gives interesting notices of the
whale. He divides the mammals into two kinds: (1.) “Skidis-fiskur,”
or smooth-bellied, with whalebone instead of teeth; the largest,
“Stettbakr,” or flat-back, measures nearly 200 English feet, and
the “Hnufubakr” is only 50 feet shorter. Of the Reydar-fiskur, or
wrinkle-bellied (No. 2), the largest is the “Steipereidur,” attaining
nearly 240 English feet; the “Hrafnreyður” and the “Andanufia;” all are
considered very dainty food; and the Icelanders say the flesh has the
taste of beef. The whales with teeth are (1.) the eatable, such as the
Hnysen, the Hnyðingur, the Hundfiskur, and the Maahyrningr; and (2.)
the ice-whale, or uneatable, with its subdivisions, the Roðkammingur
and the Náhvalur, were both “forbidden as food by some ancient
regulations, and particularly by the Church laws. The Icelanders
believe that the first sort are very fond of human flesh, and therefore
avoid fishing in such places where they appear.” The carnivorous whales
were frightened away by carrying “dung, brimstone, juniper-wood, and
some other articles of the same nature, in their boats”--an idea worthy
of the black tars who navigate Lake Tánganyika.

[140] Professor Paijkull adds the Reyðr (whence Reyðarfjörð),
_Physeter_ or _Catodon macrocephalus_, a large spermaceti whale; he
also gives to the Iceland waters the Arctic walrus (Icel. Rosm-hvalir;
_Trichecus rosmarus_), and the narwhal (_Monodon monoceros_). The Sagas
specify twenty-five kinds of whales.

[141] The Ork. Hockla is the dog-fish, _Squalus acanthius_ or
_archiarius_. Mr Vice-Consul Crowe gives the names “Nákarla or
havkalur,” probably misprints; he adds, however, that the Greenland
shark rarely attacks man unless molested by him. This assertion, which
is made in all popular books, may, I believe, be modified by the reason
given in the text. He also tells us that the hide is cheaper than
either seal or lamb skin, but is neither strong nor durable--this again
I doubt. The Greenland shark is called by some travellers Háskerðingr,
and it can swallow, they say, a reindeer.

[142] Properly short-breeks, or curt-hose, from Stuttr, stunted,
stinted, scant (Cleasby).

[143] Iceland does wisely to preserve her seals. Argyleshire in the
olden time, and especially the holms south of Skye, were famed for
them; now they are very wild and not likely to be caught basking on the
rocks, or bathing in shallow water. Old bull seals, who may measure 5
feet 6 inches, are wary in the extreme, and seldom allow the use of
the club. Phoca must also be hit on the head, or the hunter will see
no more of him. In Greenland the packs have been almost killed out by
the scores of vessels which Dundee and Peterhead, Norway and Sweden,
Denmark and Germany, send every year, and it is reported that without
a “close time,” the breed will become, like the oyster and the crab,
almost extinct. San Francisco has been sensible enough to preserve the
flocks of Proteus by the strong arm of the law--I wonder if grim old
“Ben Butler” still tries to stare man out of countenance as he floats
off the Ocean House.

[144] Mr Blackwall satirically suggests that our Huggins and Muggins
may descend from this respectable parentage, whilst he trusts that
the Smiths, Smyths, and congeners, “will duly acknowledge the sturdy
Scandinavian yeoman, Smiðr Churlsson, grandson of the jovial old
fellow, Grandfather, who had the honour of pledging a bumper with a
celestial deity, as their common ancestor.”

[145] A fourth; hence our farthing.

[146] Evidently from Caballus, the word which has so successfully
ousted the more classical Equus. The Dictionary makes the horseload =
5 trusses; Uno Von Troil, 12 to 15 lispunds, each about 17 Eng. lbs.

[147] Mr Jón A. Hjaltalín informs me that on the borders of Norway
and Sweden several local names are called after Sóti and Bera, and
the legend may have been transplanted to Iceland. It is not found in
the list of Sagas quoted by the Cleasby-Vigfusson Dictionary: I am
therefore inclined to refer it to the sea-rover Hallvarð Sóti, of whom
we read, “Thence Kol steered his course out of the river to Norway ...
and came on Hallvarð Sóti unawares, and found him in a loft. He kept
them off bravely till they set fire to the house, then he gave himself
up, but they slew him, and took there much goods” (Burnt Njál, ii. 2).

[148] The aneroid (compensated) showed 27·63; the thermometer, 67°
(F.) in the open air. On the return march, the former was 28·08, and
the latter 76° (both in pocket). At sea-level the instruments stood at
30·04 to 30·12, and 63° (F.).

[149] The name was formerly derived from Loka, to shut, like Wodan from
Vaða, even as Juno a Juvando, and Neptunus a nando. The Dictionary
suggests that the old form may have been Wloka (Volcanus), the _w_
being dropped before the _l_ according to the rules of the Scandinavian
tongue. It is strange that though Öðin, Thórr, and Loki were by far the
most prominent personages of the heathen faith, the name of the latter
is not preserved in the records of any other Teutonic, or rather let us
say, Gothic people.

[150] Loka-sjóðr, or Loki’s purse, is the cockscomb, or yellow rattle
(_Rhinanthus crista galli_).

[151] Mr Tuckett, of Alpine fame, shows us anent this word that
“strange game (Anglicè, wild-goose) has been started in the dark forest
of etymology.” Like Avalasse and Avalaison (a _debâcle_ of rain or
melted snow), the Schnee-schlipfe is certainly derived from the low
Latin “advallare,” to advance valleywards: others propose “a labendo;”
“Lau,” the warm spring winds; “avaler” (_e.g._, avaler son chaperon),
the village; “Abländssch,” in French “Avéranche,” and, lastly, the
German Lauwíne, “Löwin,” because these avalantic descents have the
rage and power of a lioness. I may add that in mountainous Europe each
valley seems to have its own name, Lavena, Labina, Lavigne, Avelantze,
Evalantze, Líantze, etc., etc., etc.: the giant snow-ball is called in
and about Italian Recoaro “Valanghi” and “bughi di neve.”

[152] It is only fair to repeat what the _Standard_ (August 29,
1874) says of this worthy: “The man to whom I should strongly advise
any English visitors to Iceland to apply for advice and active
assistance--a resident in Reykjavik, speaking excellent English,
active and energetic, whose name is Gislasson--was, in his early days,
a theological student, and previous to his ordination was appointed
to the pastorate of Grimsey. He declined to go, and withdrew from
the ministry. I do not know whether the Grimsey fishermen lost a
good priest or not, but I know that the English gained an excellent
counsellor. He is the Grímr of Baring-Gould’s well-known book, but if
the sketch of him there contained is at all true to the life, he must
have wonderfully improved.” I have spoken of him as we found him.

[153] This Snæfellsjökull, which we shall see from a far nearer
point, is not laid down in the map: it lies due south of Snæfell, the
mountain. Thus there are three Snæfells in Eastern and Western Iceland.
There are also two Eyvindars, both snowless; one near the road, the
other close to the Vatnajökull: we distinguished them as the eastern
and the western. Finally, there is an Eastern as well as a Western

[154] The Dictionary gives “Grip-deildir,” rapine, robbery. Deild
(dole, deal) and Deildir (dealings) are common in local names,
especially to boundary places which have caused lawsuits, _e.g._,
Deildará (boundary-river), Deildar-hvammr, etc.

[155] Uno Von Troil (p. 108) gives the Icelandic names of four Agarici.

[156] The volcanic ashes and lapilli show supra-marine eruptions, but
the water-rolled stones tell another tale.

[157] _The_ Möðruvellir, the abode of Guðmund the Rich or Powerful, was
up the Eyjafjörð, and the map still shows a chapel there.

[158] It is thus written by all travellers: Herði-breiðr, however, from
Herðar, would be the adjective “broad-shouldered.”

[159] According to the “Antiquaires du Nord” (p. 434, vol. 1850-60),
“Slesvig” means Vík, or bay, of the Slè or Sli Arundo Arenaria. But is
not this word the Icel. Slý, water cotton (_Byssus lanuginosa_), used
as tinder?

[160] This traveller mentions eider-ducks at Mý-vatn. We saw none, and
the farmers declare that the birds do not leave the sea-shore.

[161] Pronounce but do not indite “Krabla”--there is no such written
word as Krabla. The Dictionary gives “að krafla,” to paw or “scrabble;”
it also means to scratch, and perhaps the obtuse agricultural mind has
connected this pastime with the evil for which sulphur is a panacea.

[162] Some travellers call them Makkaluber, and Icelanders write
“Makalupe,” a corruption of Macaluba, famed for air volcanoes, near
Girgenti, itself a corruption of the Arabic “Maklúb.”

[163] The docks of Southampton, built where he sat, have somewhat
stultified the simple wisdom of the old man.

[164] Thus in the Dictionary. Baring-Gould (p. 429), or possibly his
printer, calls it Vell-humall, which would be “gold hop.”

[165] In 1776 Professor Henchel found it “about 200 paces in diameter.”
(See Appendix, “Sulphur in Iceland,” Section I.)

[166] The lay and the succession of the strata so much resembled those
quoted in Mr Vincent’s paper that they need not be repeated here.

[167] As has been seen, I would considerably reduce these figures.

[168] This “banquise,” as the French call it, is said to form a compact
belt extended thirty miles from shore in the Skjálfandifjörð.

[169] It was there found by the late Sir Henry Holland; Dolomieu had
some specimens, but he did not know whence they came.

[170] The Dictionary gives Lá, surf, shallow water along shore; and
hair (Lanugo). I found it extensively used to signify a low place where
water sinks, the Arab’s “Ghadir.”

[171] Depill is a spot or dot; a dog with spots over the eyes,
according to the Dictionary, is also called “Depill.” Cleasby
translates Stein-delfr (mod. Stein-depill) by wagtail, _Motacilla_.

[172] Thverá, the “thwart-water,” from Thver, Germ. Quer, and Eng.
Queer, is generally translated Crooked River, Rivière à travers: the
term is often applied to a tributary which strikes the main stream at a
right angle.

[173] Aðalból is a manor-house, a farm inhabited by its master, opposed
to a tenant farm.

[174] From the verb Kreppa, to cramp, clench. The map gives the name to
the eastern headwaters of the Jökulsá, rising from the Kverk.

[175] The experiments of M. J. M. Ziegler of Winterthür show the drying
power of ice; a difference of 32° per cent. humidity in the glacier air
and in the air of the adjacent plain.

[176] Thus in the dictionaries; but it seems to have another sense in
popular language.

[177] In Chapter XIV. I have given the reasons why the Mý-vatn mines
were not recommended by the Danish engineers.--R. F. B.

[178] Jukes and Geikie, Manual of Geology, 3d edition, p. 55.

[179] Liebig’s Familiar Letters on Chemistry, p. 152.

[180] Ure’s Dict., vol. ii., p. 432.

[181] Simmond’s Dictionary of Trade Products, p. 367; Muspratt’s
Chemistry, vol. i., p. 320.

[182] Liebig’s Letters, p. 149.

[183] Simmond’s Dictionary of Trade Products, p. 351.

[184] See Exports for 1872.

[185] Liebig’s Familiar Letters on Chemistry, p. 150.

[186] See Smee’s My Garden.

[187] Richardson and Watts’ Chem. Tech., 2d edit., 1863, vol. i.,
part iii., pp. 2 and 3. This old calcarelle furnace has been greatly
improved. It must not be described as a “blast-furnace.”

[188] Simmond’s Dict. Trade Products, 1863, art. “Sulphur.”

[189] Quoted _in extenso_, Appendix, Section III.

[190] Henderson’s Iceland, 1818, Introduction, p. 4.

[191] _Ibid._, p. 7.

[192] _Ibid._, vol. i., p. 160.

[193] _Ibid._, p. 176.

[194] Henderson’s Iceland, 1818, vol. i., pp. 166, 167, 170, 171, 173,
174, 177.

[195] S. Baring-Gould’s Iceland, 1863.

[196] Shepherd’s North-West Peninsula of Iceland, 1867, p. 157.

[197] Ure’s Dict. of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines, 1860, vol. iii., p.

[198] Dr F. J. Mouat’s Adventures and Researches among the Andaman
Islanders, 1863, p. 169.

[199] Letter of A. de C. Crowe, Esq., 27th June 1872.

[200] Paijkull, pp. 217, 244, 245, 246, 247.

[201] These two items are calculated at excessive and extravagant
rates. The first item (15s. per ton) was supplied by an eminent
shipowner, and the amount of freight is also overstated.

[202] A certain Hr “Thorlákur O. Johnsen,” whom I met in Iceland, wrote
to the _Standard_ (Nov. 16, 1872), and asserted my “entire ignorance”
concerning Iceland generally, and the relationship between Denmark and
Iceland in particular. What his ignorance, or rather dishonesty, must
be, is evident when he states a little further on: “As to the so-called
wisdom of the Danish Government in leasing the mines to strangers,
there can be only one reply, that _all the mines in Iceland, whether of
sulphur or other minerals, belong to Iceland and not to Denmark_.”--R.
F. B.

[203] I presume this to be a clerical error for “Hlíðarnámar”

[204] The words in italics show the good old Æsopian policy, “dog in
the manger” redivivus. The Icelandic “hand,” when not superintended by
foreigners, is idle and incurious as the native of Unyamwezi: he will
not work, and the work must not be done for him by strangers! In the
Journal I have suggested employment of the natives, who might learn
industry by good example and discipline.--R. F. B.

[205] The words in italics show the “narrowness of the insular mind:”
the idea of £10 per annum being an item of any importance in the
extensive operations which would be required to make these sulphur
diggings pay!--R. F. B.

[206] Iceland is here ignored, perhaps from the jealousy which foresees
a fortunate rival.

[207] These immense fluctuations in the market are probably caused
by the _Phylloxera vastatrix_ now devastating the Continent. Trieste
alone, for instance, has of late years imported as much as twenty
cargoes of 200 tons each (a total of 4000) per annum; and the unground
sulphur sells at about £7, 10s. per ton as in England. The spread of
the disease is likely to cause an increased demand.

[208] In 1864, according to Mr Consul Dennis, the author of Murray’s
“Hand-book of Sicily,” the two most important mines of Girgenti were
“La Crocella” and “Maudarazzi” near Comitine, belonging to Don Ignazio
Genusardi. They yielded annually 140,000 quintals = 10,937½ tons, worth
about £70,000, and gave constant employment to 700 hands (chiefly from
the opposite town of Arragona), at the daily cost of about £60. The
produce was shipped at the Mole of Girgenti, and the road was thronged
day and night at certain seasons with loaded carts and beasts of
burden, chiefly mules.

Caltanissetta, Serra di Falco, on Monte Carano, and St Cutaldo are
villages in the heart of the sulphur district. “The scenery is wild and
stern. The mountains are of rounded forms, always bare, here craggy,
there browned with scorched herbage, and in parts tinged with red,
yellow, and grey, by the heaps of ore and dross at the mouths. Corn
will not thrive in the fumes of sulphur; what little cultivation is to
be seen is generally in the bottoms of the valleys. The hills around St
Cutaldo are burrowed with sulphur mines.”

[209] In a recent report to the Italian Government, Sig. Parodi
estimates that Sicilian sulphur will be exhausted in fifty to sixty

[210] Each _ballata_ weighs 70 rotoli = 122½ lbs. avoir., and two are a

[211] On the northern flank of the range, which, running from
north-north-east to south-south-west, nearly bisects the island. It is
a mean town in the mountains. Licata, the southern port, is nearest to
the central mines.

[212] Her chief exports are fruit, oil, and silk.

[213] “Trust” seems to be the _beau ideal_ of trade where it has not
been tried. I have seen its workings in Africa and in Iceland, and my
experience is that it is a pis aller which gives more trouble than it
is worth.

[214] Here it is not stated whether paper or specie “lire” are meant.

[215] It would be better to state that sulphur costing above £5 per ton
cannot at present compete with pyrites; sold below that price it would
soon drive its rival out of the market.

[216] “Brimstone” in the _Mining Journal_ (September 19, 1874) made
England import in 1872 a total of 50,049 tons (= £336,216), but in 1873
only 45,467 tons (= £299,727).

[217] Büdös is elsewhere described as a pointed cone of trachyte 3745
feet high, a solfatara or volcano, which, though never in actual
eruption, incessantly pours forth streams of sulphuretted hydrogen gas,
and these act as vents for the forces generated in the depths of the

[218] The following is the analysis of the aluminous earth near Büdös:

Sulphuric acid,  .    .    .    51·59 per cent.
Water and sulphuric clay,} .     3·54   ”
    mixed with lime,     }
Clay,  .    .    .    .    .    18·98   ”
Silica,.    .    .    .    .    14·00   ”
Lime,  .    .    .    .    .     9·65   ”
Potash,.    .    .    .    .     1·00   ”

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