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Title: The Polar World - A popular description of man and nature in the Arctic and - Antarctic regions of the globe
Author: Hartwig, G. (Georg)
Language: English
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[Illustration: 1. ESQUIMAUX DOG-TEAM.]



  THE POLAR WORLD:

  A POPULAR DESCRIPTION OF
  MAN AND NATURE
  IN THE
  ARCTIC AND ANTARCTIC REGIONS OF THE GLOBE.


  BY DR. G. HARTWIG,

  AUTHOR OF

  “THE SEA AND ITS LIVING WONDERS,” “THE HARMONIES OF NATURE,”
  AND “THE TROPICAL WORLD.”


  WITH ADDITIONAL CHAPTERS AND ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-THREE
  ILLUSTRATIONS.


  NEW YORK:
  HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS,
  FRANKLIN SQUARE.
  1869.



  Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1869, by

  HARPER & BROTHERS,

  In the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the United States for
  the Southern District of New York.



PREFACE.


The object of the following pages is to describe the Polar World in
its principal natural features, to point out the influence of its
long winter-night and fleeting summer on the development of vegetable
and animal existence, and finally to picture man waging the battle of
life against the dreadful climate of the high latitudes of our globe
either as the inhabitant of their gloomy solitudes, or as the bold
investigator of their mysteries.

The table of contents shows the great variety of interesting subjects
embraced within a comparatively narrow compass; and as my constant aim
has been to convey solid instruction under an entertaining form, I
venture to hope that the public will grant this new work the favorable
reception given to my previous writings.

                              G. HARTWIG.



NOTE BY THE AMERICAN EDITOR.


I have made no alterations in the text of Dr. Hartwig’s book beyond
changing the orthography of a few geographical and ethnological terms
so that they shall conform to the mode of representation usual in our
maps and books of travel. For example, I substitute _Nova Zembla_
for “Novaya Zemla”, and _Samoïedes_ for “Samojedes.” Here and there
throughout the work I have added a sentence or a paragraph. The two
chapters on “Alaska” and “The Innuits” have been supplied by me; and
for them Dr. Hartwig is in no way responsible.

The Illustrations have been wholly selected and arranged by me. I found
at my disposal an immense number of illustrations which seemed to me
better to elucidate the text than those introduced by Dr. Hartwig.
In the List of Illustrations the names of the authors to whom I am
indebted are supplied. The following gives the names of the authors,
and the titles of the works from which the illustrations have been
taken:

  ATKINSON, THOMAS WITLAM: “Travels in the Regions of the Upper Amoor;”
    and “Oriental and Western Siberia.”

  BROWNE, J. ROSS: “The Land of Thor.”

  DUFFERIN, LORD: “Letters from High Latitudes.”

  HALL, CHARLES FRANCIS: “Arctic Researches, and Life among the
    Esquimaux.”

  HARPER’S MAGAZINE: The Illustrations credited to this periodical have
    been furnished during many years by more than a score of travellers
    and voyagers. They are in every case authentic.

  LAMONT, JAMES: “Seasons with the Sea-Horses; or, Sporting Adventures
    in the Northern Seas.”

  MILTON, VISCOUNT: “North-west Passage by Land.”

  WHYMPER, FREDERICK: “Alaska, and British America.”

  WOOD, REV. J. G.: “Natural History;” and “Homes without Hands.”

I trust that I have throughout wrought in the spirit of the author;
and that my labors will enhance the value of his admirable book.

                              A. H. G.



CONTENTS.


                                                                    Page

  CHAPTER I.

  THE ARCTIC LANDS.

  The barren Grounds or Tundri.--Abundance of animal Life on the
    Tundri in Summer.--Their Silence and Desolation in Winter.--
    Protection afforded to Vegetation by the Snow.--Flower-growth
    in the highest Latitudes.--Character of Tundra Vegetation.--
    Southern Boundary-line of the barren Grounds.--Their Extent.--
    The forest Zone.--Arctic Trees.--Slowness of their Growth.--
    Monotony of the Northern Forests.--Mosquitoes.--The various
    Causes which determine the Severity of an Arctic Climate.--
    Insular and Continental Position.--Currents.--Winds.--
    Extremes of Cold observed by Sir E. Belcher and Dr. Kane.--
    How is Man able to support the Rigors of an Arctic Winter?--
    Proofs of a milder Climate having once reigned in the Arctic
    Regions.--Its Cause according to Dr. Oswald Heer.--Peculiar
    Beauties of the Arctic Regions.--Sunset.--Long lunar
    Nights.--The Aurora.                                              17


  CHAPTER II.

  ARCTIC LAND QUADRUPEDS AND BIRDS.

  The Reindeer.--Structure of its Foot.--Clattering Noise when
    walking.--Antlers.--Extraordinary olfactory Powers.--The
    Icelandic Moss.--Present and Former Range of the Reindeer.--
    Its invaluable Qualities as an Arctic domestic Animal.--
    Revolts against Oppression.--Enemies of the Reindeer.--The
    Wolf.--The Glutton or Wolverine.--Gad-flies.--The Elk or
    Moose-deer.--The Musk-ox.--The Wild Sheep of the Rocky
    Mountains.--The Siberian Argali.--The Arctic Fox.--Its
    Burrows.--The Lemmings.--Their Migrations and Enemies.--
    Arctic Anatidæ.--The Snow-bunting.--The Lapland Bunting.--
    The Sea-eagle.--Drowned by a Dolphin.                             34


  CHAPTER III.

  THE ARCTIC SEAS.

  Dangers peculiar to the Arctic Sea.--Ice-fields.--Hummocks.--
    Collision of Ice-fields.--Icebergs.--Their Origin.--Their
    Size.--The Glaciers which give them Birth.--Their Beauty.--
    Sometimes useful Auxiliaries to the Mariner.--Dangers of
    anchoring to a Berg.--A crumbling Berg.--The Ice-blink.--
    Fogs.--Transparency of the Atmosphere.--Phenomena of
    Reflection and Refraction.--Causes which prevent the
    Accumulation of Polar Ice.--Tides.--Currents.--Ice a bad
    Conductor of Heat.--Wise Provisions of Nature.                    45


  CHAPTER IV.

  ARCTIC MARINE ANIMALS.

  Populousness of the Arctic Seas.--The Greenland Whale.--The
    Fin Whales.--The Narwhal.--The Beluga, or White Dolphin.--
    The Black Dolphin.--His wholesale Massacre on the Faeroe
    Islands.--The Orc, or Grampus.--The Seals.--The Walrus.--
    Its acute Smell.--History of a young Walrus.--Parental
    Affection.--The Polar Bear.--His Sagacity.--Hibernation of
    the She-bear.--Sea-birds.                                         59


  CHAPTER V.

  ICELAND.

  Volcanic Origin of the Island.--The Klofa Jökul.--
    Lava-streams.--The Burning Mountains of Krisuvik.--The
    Mud-caldrons of Reykjahlid.--The Tungo-hver at Reykholt.--
    The Great Geysir.--The Strokkr.--Crystal Pools.--The
    Almanuagja.--The Surts-hellir.--Beautiful Ice-cave.--The
    Gotha Foss.--The Detti Foss.--Climate.--Vegetation.--
    Cattle.--Barbarous Mode of Sheep-sheering.--Reindeer.--
    Polar Bears.--Birds.--The Eider-duck.--Videy.--Vigr.--
    The Wild Swan.--The Raven.--The Jerfalcon.--The Giant auk,
    or Geirfugl.--Fish.--Fishing Season.--The White Shark.--
    Mineral Kingdom.--Sulphur.--Peat.--Drift-wood.                    68


  CHAPTER VI.

  HISTORY OF ICELAND.

  Discovery of the Island by Naddodr in 861.--Gardar.--Floki of
    the Ravens.--Ingolfr and Leif.--Ulfliot the Lawgiver.--The
    Althing.--Thingvalla.--Introduction of Christianity into the
    Island.--Frederick the Saxon and Thorwold the Traveller.--
    Thangbrand.--Golden Age of Icelandic Literature.--Snorri
    Sturleson.--The Island submits to Hakon, King of Norway, in
    1254.--Long Series of Calamities.--Great Eruption of the
    Skapta Jökul in 1783.--Commercial Monopoly.--Better Times in
    Prospect.                                                         89


  CHAPTER VII.

  THE ICELANDERS.

  Skalholt.--Reykjavik.--The Fair.--The Peasant and the
    Merchant.--A Clergyman in his Cups.--Hay-making.--The
    Icelander’s Hut.--Churches.--Poverty of the Clergy.--Jon
    Thorlaksen.--The Seminary of Reykjavik.--Beneficial Influence
    of the Clergy.--Home Education.--The Icelander’s Winter’s
    Evening.--Taste for Literature.--The Language.--The Public
    Library at Reykjavik.--The Icelandic Literary Society.--
    Icelandic Newspapers.--Longevity.--Leprosy.--Travelling in
    Iceland.--Fording the Rivers.--Crossing of the Skeidara by
    Mr. Holland.--A Night’s Bivouac.                                  98


  CHAPTER VIII.

  THE WESTMAN ISLANDS.

  The Westmans.--Their extreme Difficulty of Access.--How they
    became peopled.--Heimaey.--Kaufstathir and Ofanleyte.--
    Sheep-hoisting.--Egg-gathering.--Dreadful Mortality among
    the Children.--The Ginklofi.--Gentleman John.--The Algerine
    Pirates.--Dreadful Sufferings of the Islanders.                  114


  CHAPTER IX.

  FROM DRONTHEIM TO THE NORTH CAPE.

  Mild Climate of the Norwegian Coast.--Its Causes.--The
    Norwegian Peasant.--Norwegian Constitution.--Romantic coast
    Scenery.--Drontheim.--Greiffenfeld Holme and Väre.--The
    Sea-eagle.--The Herring-fisheries.--The Lofoten Islands.--
    The Cod-fisheries.--Wretched Condition of the Fishermen.--
    Tromsö.--Altenfiord.--The Copper Mines.--Hammerfest the most
    northern Town in the World.--The North Cape.                     120


  CHAPTER X.

  SPITZBERGEN--BEAR ISLAND--JAN MEYEN.

  The west Coast of Spitzbergen.--Ascension of a Mountain by
    Dr. Scoresby.--His Excursion along the Coast.--A stranded
    Whale.--Magdalena Bay.--Multitudes of Sea-birds.--
    Animal Life.--Midnight Silence.--Glaciers.--A dangerous
    Neighborhood.--Interior Plateau.--Flora of Spitzbergen.--
    Its Similarity with that of the Alps above the Snow-line.--
    Reindeer.--The hyperborean Ptarmigan.--Fishes.--Coal.--
    Drift-wood.--Discovery of Spitzbergen by Barentz, Heemskerk,
    and Ryp.--Brilliant Period of the Whale-fishery.--Coffins.--
    Eight English Sailors winter in Spitzbergen, 1630.--Melancholy
    Death of some Dutch Volunteers.--Russian Hunters.--Their Mode
    of wintering in Spitzbergen.--Scharostin.--Walrus-ships from
    Hammerfest and Tromsö.--Bear or Cherie Island.--Bennet.--
    Enormous Slaughter of Walruses.--Mildness of its Climate.--
    Mount Misery.--Adventurous Boat-voyage of some Norwegian
    Sailors.--Jan Meyen.--Beerenberg.                                131


  CHAPTER XI.

  NOVA ZEMBLA.

  The Sea of Kara.--Loschkin.--Rosmysslow.--Lütke.--Krotow.--
    Pachtussow.--Sails along the eastern Coast of the Southern
    Island to Matoschkin Schar.--His second Voyage and Death.--
    Meteorological Observations of Ziwolka.--The cold Summer of
    Nova Zembla.--Von Baer’s scientific Voyage to Nova Zembla.--
    His Adventures in Matoschkin Schar.--Storm in Kostin Schar.--
    Sea Bath and votive Cross.--Botanical Observations.--A
    natural Garden.--Solitude and Silence.--A Bird Bazar.--
    Hunting Expeditions of the Russians to Nova Zembla.              147


  CHAPTER XII.

  THE LAPPS.

  Their ancient History and Conversion to Christianity.--
    Self-denial and Poverty of the Lapland Clergy.--Their singular
    Mode of Preaching.--Gross Superstition of the Lapps.--The
    Evil Spirit of the Woods.--The Lapland Witches.--Physical
    Constitution of the Lapps.--Their Dress.--The Fjälllappars.--
    Their Dwellings.--Store-houses.--Reindeer Pens.--Milking
    the Reindeer.--Migration.--The Lapland Dog.--Skiders,
    or Skates.--The Sledge, or Pulka.--Natural Beauties of
    Lapland.--Attachment of the Lapps to their Country.--
    Bear-hunting.--Wolf-hunting.--Mode of Living of the wealthy
    Lapps.--How they kill the Reindeer.--Visiting the Fair.--
    Mammon Worship.--Treasure-hiding.--“Tabak, or Braende.”--
    Affectionate Disposition of the Lapps.--The Skogslapp.--The
    Fisherlapp.                                                      156


  CHAPTER XIII.

  MATTHIAS ALEXANDER CASTRÉN.

  His Birthplace and first Studies.--Journey in Lapland, 1838.--
    The Iwalojoki.--The Lake of Enara.--The Pastor of Utzjoki.--
    From Rowaniémi to Kemi.--Second Voyage, 1841–44.--Storm on
    the White Sea.--Return to Archangel.--The Tundras of the
    European Samoïedes.--Mesen.--Universal Drunkenness.--Sledge
    Journey to Pustosersk.--A Samoïede Teacher.--Tundra Storms.--
    Abandoned and alone in the Wilderness.--Pustosersk.--Our
    Traveller’s Persecutions at Ustsylmsk and Ishemsk.--The
    Uusa.--Crossing the Ural.--Obdorsk.--Second Siberian
    Journey, 1845–48.--Overflowing of the Obi.--Surgut.--
    Krasnojarsk.--Agreeable Surprise.--Turuchansk.--Voyage down
    the Jenissei.--Castrén’s Study at Plachina.--From Dudinka to
    Tolstoi Noss.--Frozen Feet.--Return Voyage to the South.--
    Frozen fast on the Jenissei.--Wonderful Preservation.--
    Journey across the Chinese Frontiers, and to Transbaikalia.--
    Return to Finland.--Professorship at Helsingfors.--Death of
    Castrén, 1855.                                                   168


  CHAPTER XIV.

  THE SAMOÏEDES.

  Their Barbarism.--Num, or Jilibeambaertje.--Shamanism.--
    Samoïede Idols.--Sjadæi.--Hahe.--The Tadebtsios, or
    Spirits.--The Tadibes, or Sorcerers.--Their Dress.--Their
    Invocations.--Their conjuring Tricks.--Reverence paid to the
    Dead.--A Samoïede Oath.--Appearance of the Samoïedes.--Their
    Dress.--A Samoïede Belle.--Character of the Samoïedes.--
    Their decreasing Numbers.--Traditions of ancient Heroes.         179


  CHAPTER XV.

  THE OSTIAKS.

  What is the Obi?--Inundations.--An Ostiak summer Yourt.--
    Poverty of the Ostiak Fishermen.--A winter Yourt.--Attachment
    of the Ostiaks to their ancient Customs.--An Ostiak Prince.--
    Archery.--Appearance and Character of the Ostiaks.--The Fair
    of Obdorsk.                                                      185


  CHAPTER XVI.

  CONQUEST OF SIBERIA BY THE RUSSIANS--THEIR VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY
    ALONG THE SHORES OF THE POLAR SEA.

  Ivan the Terrible.--Strogonoff.--Yermak, the Robber and
    Conqueror.--His Expeditions to Siberia.--Battle of Tobolsk.--
    Yermak’s Death.--Progress of the Russians to Ochotsk.--Semen
    Deshnew.--Condition of the Siberian Natives under the Russian
    Yoke.--Voyages of Discovery in the Reign of the Empress
    Anna.--Prontschischtschew.--Chariton and Demetrius Laptew.--
    An Arctic Heroine.--Schalaurow.--Discoveries in the Sea of
    Bering and in the Pacific Ocean.--The Lächow Islands.--Fossil
    Ivory.--New Siberia.--The wooden Mountains.--The past Ages
    of Siberia.                                                      191


  CHAPTER XVII.

  SIBERIA--FUR-TRADE AND GOLD-DIGGINGS.

  Siberia.--Its immense Extent and Capabilities.--The Exiles.--
    Mentschikoff.--Dolgorouky.--Münich.--The Criminals.--
    The free Siberian Peasant.--Extremes of Heat and Cold.--
    Fur-bearing Animals.--The Sable.--The Ermine.--The Siberian
    Weasel.--The Sea-otter.--The black Fox.--The Lynx.--The
    Squirrel.--The varying Hare.--The Suslik.--Importance of the
    Fur-trade for the Northern Provinces of the Russian Empire.--
    The Gold-diggings of Eastern Siberia.--The Taiga.--Expenses
    and Difficulties of searching Expeditions.--Costs of Produce,
    and enormous Profits of successful Speculators.--Their
    senseless Extravagance.--First Discovery of Gold in the Ural
    Mountains.--Jakowlew and Demidow.--Nishne-Tagilsk.               204


  CHAPTER XVIII.

  MIDDENDORFF’S ADVENTURES IN TAIMURLAND.

  For what Purpose was Middendorff’s Voyage to Taimurland
    undertaken?--Difficulties and Obstacles.--Expedition down the
    Taimur River to the Polar Sea.--Storm on Taimur Lake.--Loss
    of the Boat.--Middendorff ill and alone in 75° N. Lat.--Saved
    by a grateful Samoïede.--Climate and Vegetation of Taimurland.
                                                                     220


  CHAPTER XIX.

  THE JAKUTS.

  Their energetic Nationality.--Their Descent.--Their gloomy
    Character.--Summer and Winter Dwellings.--The Jakut Horse.--
    Incredible Powers of Endurance of the Jakuts.--Their
    Sharpness of Vision.--Surprising local Memory.--Their manual
    Dexterity.--Leather, Poniards, Carpets.--Jakut Gluttons.--
    Superstitious Fear of the Mountain-spirit Ljeschei.--Offerings
    of Horse-hair.--Improvised Songs.--The River Jakut.              228


  CHAPTER XX.

  WRANGELL.

  His distinguished Services as an Arctic Explorer.--From
    Petersburg to Jakutsk in 1820.--Trade of Jakutsk.--From
    Jakutsk to Nishne-Kolymsk.--The Badarany.--Dreadful Climate
    of Nishne-Kolymsk.--Summer Plagues.--Vegetation.--Animal
    Life.--Reindeer-hunting.--Famine.--Inundations.--The
    Siberian Dog.--First Journeys over the Ice of the Polar Sea,
    and Exploration of the Coast beyond Cape Shelagskoi in 1821.--
    Dreadful Dangers and Hardships.--Matiuschkin’s Sledge-journey
    over the Polar Sea in 1822.--Last Adventures on the Polar
    Sea.--A Run for Life.--Return to St. Petersburg.                 233


  CHAPTER XXI.

  THE TUNGUSI.

  Their Relationship to the Mantchou.--Dreadful Condition of the
    outcast Nomads.--Character of the Tungusi.--Their Outfit for
    the Chase.--Bear-hunting.--Dwellings.--Diet.--A Night’s
    Halt with Tungusi in the Forest.--Ochotsk.                       244


  CHAPTER XXII.

  GEORGE WILLIAM STELLER.

  His Birth.--Enters the Russian Service.--Scientific Journey
    to Kamchatka.--Accompanies Bering on his second Voyage of
    Discovery.--Lands on the Island of Kaiak.--Shameful Conduct
    of Bering.--Shipwreck on Bering Island.--Bering’s Death.--
    Return to Kamchatka.--Loss of Property.--Persecutions of the
    Siberian Authorities.--Frozen to Death at Tjumen.                248


  CHAPTER XXIII.

  KAMCHATKA.

  Climate.--Fertility.--Luxuriant Vegetation.--Fish.--
    Sea-birds.--Kamchatkan Bird-catchers.--The Bay of Avatscha.--
    Petropavlosk.--The Kamchatkans.--Their physical and moral
    Qualities.--The _Fritillaria Sarrana_.--The Muchamor.--
    Bears.--Dogs.                                                    254


  CHAPTER XXIV.

  THE TCHUKTCHI.

  The Land of the Tchuktchi.--Their independent Spirit and
    commercial Enterprise.--Perpetual Migrations.--The Fair of
    Ostrownoje.--Visit in a Tchuktch Polog.--Races.--Tchuktch
    Bayaderes.--The Tennygk, or Reindeer Tchuktchi.--The Onkilon,
    or Sedentary Tchuktchi.--Their Mode of Life.                     262


  CHAPTER XXV.

  BERING SEA--THE RUSSIAN FUR COMPANY--THE ALEUTS.

  Bering Sea.--Unalaska.--The Pribilow Islands.--St. Matthew.--
    St. Laurence.--Bering’s Straits.--The Russian Fur Company.--
    The Aleuts.--Their Character.--Their Skill and Intrepidity
    in hunting the Sea-otter.--The Sea-bear.--Whale-chasing.--
    Walrus-slaughter.--The Sea-lion.                                 268


  CHAPTER XXVI.

  ALASKA.

  Purchase of Alaska by the United States.--The Russian American
    Telegraph Scheme.--Whymper’s Trip up the Yukon.--Dogs.--
    The Start.--Extempore Water-filter.--Snow-shoes.--The
    Frozen Yukon.--Under-ground Houses.--Life at Nulato.--
    Cold Weather.--Auroras.--Approach of Summer.--Breaking-up
    of the Ice.--Fort Yukon.--Furs.--Descent of the Yukon.--
    Value of Goods.--Arctic and Tropical Life.--Moose-hunting.--
    Deer-corrals.--Lip Ornaments.--Canoes.--Four-post Coffin.--
    The Kenaian Indians.--The Aleuts.--Value of Alaska.              277


  CHAPTER XXVII.

  THE ESQUIMAUX.

  Their wide Extension.--Climate of the Regions they inhabit.--
    Their physical Appearance.--Their Dress.--Snow Huts.--The
    Kayak, or the Baidar.--Hunting Apparatus and Weapons.--
    Enmity between the Esquimaux and the Red Indian.--The
    “Bloody Falls.”--Chase of the Reindeer.--Bird-catching.--
    Whale-hunting.--Various Stratagems employed to catch the
    Seal.--The “Keep-kuttuk.”--Bear-hunting.--Walrus-hunting.--
    Awaklok and Myouk.--The Esquimaux Dog.--Games and Sports.--
    Angekoks.--Moral Character.--Self-reliance.--Intelligence.--
    Iligliuk.--Commercial Eagerness of the Esquimaux.--Their
    Voracity.--Seasons of Distress.                                  290


  CHAPTER XXVIII.

  THE FUR-TRADE OF THE HUDSON’S BAY TERRITORIES.

  The Coureur des Bois.--The Voyageur.--The Birch-bark Canoe.--
    The Canadian Fur-trade in the last Century.--The Hudson’s
    Bay Company.--Bloody Feuds between the North-west Company
    of Canada and the Hudson’s Bay Company.--Their Amalgamation
    into a new Company in 1821.--Reconstruction of the Hudson’s
    Bay Company in 1863.--Forts or Houses.--The Attihawmeg.--
    Influence of the Company on its savage Dependents.--The Black
    Bear, or Baribal.--The Brown Bear.--The Grizzly Bear.--The
    Raccoon.--The American Glutton.--The Pine Marten.--The
    Pekan, or Wood-shock.--The Chinga.--The Mink.--The Canadian
    Fish-otter.--The Crossed Fox.--The Black or Silvery Fox.--
    The Canadian Lynx, or Pishu.--The Ice-hare.--The Beaver.--
    The Musquash.                                                    304


  CHAPTER XXIX.

  THE CREE INDIANS, OR EYTHINYUWUK.

  The various Tribes of the Crees.--Their Conquests and subsequent
    Defeat.--Their Wars with the Blackfeet.--Their Character.--
    Tattooing.--Their Dress.--Fondness for their Children.--The
    Cree Cradle.--Vapor Baths.--Games.--Their religious Ideas.--
    The Cree Tartarus and Elysium.                                   319


  CHAPTER XXX.

  THE TINNÉ INDIANS.

  The various Tribes of the Tinné Indians.--The Dog-ribs.--
    Clothing.--The Hare Indians.--Degraded State of the Women.--
    Practical Socialists.--Character.--Cruelty to the Aged and
    Infirm.                                                          327


  CHAPTER XXXI.

  THE LOUCHEUX, OR KUTCHIN INDIANS.

  The Countries they inhabit.--Their Appearance and Dress.--Their
    Love of Finery.--Condition of the Women.--Strange Customs.--
    Character.--Feuds with the Esquimaux.--Their suspicious and
    timorous Lives.--Pounds for catching Reindeer.--Their Lodges.
                                                                     331


  CHAPTER XXXII.

  ARCTIC VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY, FROM THE CABOTS TO BAFFIN.

  First Scandinavian Discoverer of America.--The Cabots.--
    Willoughby and Chancellor (1553–1554).--Stephen Burrough
    (1556).--Frobisher (1576–1578).--Davis (1585–1587).--
    Barentz, Cornelis, and Brant (1594).--Wintering of the Dutch
    Navigators in Nova Zembla (1596–1597).--John Knight (1606).--
    Murdered by the Esquimaux.--Henry Hudson (1607–1609).--Baffin
    (1616).                                                          335


  CHAPTER XXXIII.

  ARCTIC VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY, FROM BAFFIN TO M’CLINTOCK.

  Buchan and Franklin.--Ross and Parry (1818).--Discovery of
    Melville Island.--Winter Harbor (1819–1820).--Franklin’s
    first land Journey.--Dreadful Sufferings.--Parry’s second
    Voyage (1821–1823).--Iligliuk.--Lyon (1824).--Parry’s third
    Voyage (1824).--Franklin’s second land Journey to the Shores
    of the Polar Sea.--Beechey.--Parry’s sledge Journey towards
    the Pole.--Sir John Ross’s second Journey.--Five Years in the
    Arctic Ocean.--Back’s Discovery of Great Fish River.--Dease
    and Simpson (1837–1839).--Franklin and Crozier’s last Voyage
    (1845).--Searching Expeditions.--Richardson and Rae.--Sir
    James Ross.--Austin.--Penny.--De Haven.--Franklin’s first
    Winter-quarters discovered by Ommaney.--Kennedy and Bellot.--
    Inglefield.--Sir E. Belcher.--Kellett.--M’Clure’s Discovery
    of the North-west Passage.--Collinson.--Bellot’s Death.--
    Dr. Rae learns the Death of the Crews of the “Erebus” and
    “Terror.”--Sir Leopold M’Clintock.                               344


  CHAPTER XXXIV.

  KANE AND HAYES.

  Kane sails up Smith’s Sound in the “Advance” (1853).--
    Winters in Rensselaer Bay.--Sledge Journey along the Coast
    of Greenland.--The Three-brother Turrets.--Tennyson’s
    Monument.--The Great Humboldt Glacier.--Dr. Hayes crosses
    Kennedy Channel.--Morton’s Discovery of Washington Land.--
    Mount Parry.--Kane resolves upon a second Wintering in
    Rensselaer Bay.--Departure and Return of Part of the Crew.--
    Sufferings of the Winter.--The Ship abandoned.--Boat Journey
    to Upernavik.--Kane’s Death in the Havana (1857).--Dr.
    Hayes’s Voyage in 1860.--He winters at Port Foulke.--Crosses
    Kennedy Channel.--Reaches Cape Union, the most northern known
    Land upon the Globe.--Koldewey.--Plans for future Voyages to
    the North Pole.                                                  365


  CHAPTER XXXV.

  NEWFOUNDLAND.

  Its desolate Aspect.--Forests.--Marshes.--Barrens.--
    Ponds.--Fur-bearing Animals.--Severity of Climate.--St.
    John’s.--Discovery of Newfoundland by the Scandinavians.--
    Sir Humphrey Gilbert.--Rivalry of the English and French.--
    Importance of the Fisheries.--The Banks of Newfoundland.--
    Mode of Fishing.--Throaters, Headers, Splitters, Salters, and
    Packers.--Fogs and Storms.--Seal-catching.                       376


  CHAPTER XXXVI.

  GREENLAND.

  A mysterious Region.--Ancient Scandinavian Colonists.--Their
    Decline and Fall.--Hans Egede.--His Trials and Success.--
    Foundation of Godthaab.--Herrenhuth Missionaries.--
    Lindenow.--The Scoresbys.--Clavering.--The Danish
    Settlements in Greenland.--The Greenland Esquimaux.--
    Seal-catching.--The White Dolphin.--The Narwhal.--
    Shark-fishery.--Fiskernasset.--Birds.--Reindeer-hunting.--
    Indigenous Plants.--Drift-wood.--Mineral Kingdom.--Mode of
    Life of the Greenland Esquimaux.--The Danes in Greenland.--
    Beautiful Scenery.--Ice Caves.                                   382


  CHAPTER XXXVII.

  THE ANTARCTIC OCEAN.

  Comparative View of the Antarctic and Arctic Regions.--
    Inferiority of Climate of the former.--Its Causes.--The
    New Shetland Islands.--South Georgia.--The Peruvian
    Stream.--Sea-birds.--The Giant Petrel.--The Albatross.--
    The Penguin.--The Austral Whale.--The Hunchback.--The
    Fin-back.--The Grampus.--Battle with a Whale.--The
    Sea-elephant.--The Southern Sea-bear.--The Sea-leopard.--
    Antarctic Fishes.                                                391


  CHAPTER XXXVIII.

  ANTARCTIC VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY.

  Cook’s Discoveries in the Antarctic Ocean.--Bellinghausen.--
    Weddell.--Biscoe.--Balleny.--Dumont d’Urville.--Wilkes.--
    Sir James Ross crosses the Antarctic Circle on New Year’s
    Day, 1841.--Discovers Victoria Land.--Dangerous Landing on
    Franklin Island.--An Eruption of Mount Erebus.--The Great Ice
    Barrier.--Providential Escape.--Dreadful Gale.--Collision.--
    Hazardous Passage between two Icebergs.--Termination of the
    Voyage.                                                          401


  CHAPTER XXXIX.

  THE STRAIT OF MAGELLAN.

  Description of the Strait.--Western Entrance.--Point
    Dungeness.--The Narrows.--Saint Philip’s Bay.--Cape
    Froward.--Grand Scenery.--Port Famine.--The Sedger River.--
    Darwin’s Ascent of Mount Tarn.--The Bachelor River.--English
    Reach.--Sea Reach.--South Desolation.--Harbor of Mercy.--
    Williwaws.--Discovery of the Strait by Magellan (October 20,
    1521).--Drake.--Sarmiento.--Cavendish.--Schouten and Le
    Maire.--Byron.--Bougainville.--Wallis and Carteret.--King
    and Fitzroy.--Settlement at Punta Arenas.--Increasing Passage
    through the Strait.--A future Highway of Commerce.               408


  CHAPTER XL.

  PATAGONIA AND THE PATAGONIANS.

  Difference of Climate between East and West Patagonia.--
    Extraordinary Aridity of East Patagonia.--Zoology.--The
    Guanaco.--The Tucutuco.--The Patagonian Agouti.--Vultures.--
    The Turkey-buzzard.--The Carrancha.--The Chimango.--
    Darwin’s Ostrich.--The Patagonians.--Exaggerated Accounts
    of their Stature.--Their Physiognomy and Dress.--Religious
    Ideas.--Superstitions.--Astronomical Knowledge.--Division
    into Tribes.--The Tent, or Toldo.--Trading Routes.--The
    great Cacique.--Introduction of the Horse.--Industry.--
    Amusements.--Character.                                          417


  CHAPTER XLI.

  THE FUEGIANS.

  Their miserable Condition.--Degradation of Body and Mind.--
    Powers of Mimicry.--Notions of Barter.--Causes of their low
    State of Cultivation.--Their Food.--Limpets.--_Cyttaria
    Darwini._--Constant Migrations.--The Fuegian Wigwam.--
    Weapons.--Their probable Origin.--Their Number, and various
    Tribes.--Constant Feuds.--Cannibalism.--Language.--
    Adventures of Fuegia Basket, Jemmy Button, and York Minster.--
    Missionary Labors.--Captain Gardiner.--His lamentable End.       425


  CHAPTER XLII.

  CHARLES FRANCIS HALL AND THE INNUITS.

  Hall’s Expedition.--His early Life.--His reading of Arctic
    Adventure.--His Resolve.--His Arctic Outfit.--Sets sail on
    the “George Henry.”--The Voyage.--Kudlago.--Holsteinborg,
    Greenland.--Population of Greenland.--Sails for Davis’s
    Strait.--Character of the Innuits.--Wreck of the “Rescue.”--
    Ebierbing and Tookoolito.--Their Visit to England.--Hall’s
    first Exploration.--European and Innuit Life in the Arctic
    Regions.--Building an Igloo.--Almost Starved.--Fight for
    Food with Dogs.--Ebierbing arrives with a Seal.--How he
    caught it.--A Seal-feast.--The Innuits and Seals.--The
    Polar Bear.--How he teaches the Innuits to catch Seals.--
    At a Seal-hole.--Dogs as Seal-hunters.--Dogs and Bears.--
    Dogs and Reindeers.--Innuits and Walruses.--More about
    Igloos.--Innuit Implements.--Uses of the Reindeer.--
    Innuit Improvidence.--A Deer-feast.--A frozen Delicacy.--
    Whale-skin as Food.--Whale-gum.--How to eat Whale Ligament.--
    Raw Meat.--The Dress of the Innuits.--A pretty Style.--
    Religious Ideas of the Innuits.--Their kindly Character.--
    Treatment of the Aged and Infirm.--A Woman abandoned to die.--
    Hall’s Attempt to rescue her.--The Innuit Nomads, without any
    form of Government.--Their Numbers diminishing.--A Sailor
    wanders away.--Hall’s Search for him.--Finds him frozen to
    death.--The Ship free from Ice.--Preparations to return.--
    Reset in the Ice-pack.--Another Arctic Winter.--Breaking up
    of the Ice.--Departure for Home.--Tookoolito and her Child
    “Butterfly.”--Death of “Butterfly.”--Arrival at Home.--
    Results of Hall’s Expedition.--Innuit Traditions.--Discovery
    of Frobisher Relics.--Hall undertakes a second Expedition.--
    His Statement of its Object and Prospects.--Last Tidings of
    Hall.                                                            433



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


                                                                    PAGE

    1.  Esquimaux Dog-team.                                   HALL.    1

    2.  The Tundra of Siberia.                            ATKINSON.   17

    3.  Indian Summer Encampment, Alaska.                  WHYMPER.   18

    4.  Rocks and Ice.                                        HALL.   20

    5.  Coast of Labrador.                            HARPER’S MAG.   21

    6.  Coast of Norway.                                    BROWNE.   22

    7.  Arctic Forest.                                      LAMONT.   23

    8.  Verge of Forest Region.                       HARPER’S MAG.   24

    9.  Forest Conflagration.                              WHYMPER.   26

   10.  Arctic Clothing.                              HARPER’S MAG.   29

   11.  Arctic Moonlight.                                     HALL.   30

   12.  Aurora seen in Norway.                        HARPER’S MAG.   31

   13.  Aurora seen in Greenland.                             HALL.   32

   14.  Group of Reindeer.                                  LAMONT.   35

   15.  Elks.                                                 WOOD.   39

   16.  The Musk-ox.                                          WOOD.   40

   17.  Argali.                                           ATKINSON.   41

   18.  The Snowy Owl.                                        WOOD.   43

   19.  Bernide Goose.                                        WOOD.   44

   20.  The Sea-eagle.                                        WOOD.   44

   21.  Arctic Navigation.                            HARPER’S MAG.   45

   22.  Among Hummocks.                               HARPER’S MAG.   46

   23.  Drifting on the Ice.                          HARPER’S MAG.   47

   24.  Forms of Icebergs.                                    HALL.   47

   25.  Gothic Icebergs.                                      HALL.   48

   26.  Pinnacle Icebergs.                                    HALL.   48

   27.  Icebergs aground.                                     HALL.   49

   28.  Icebergs and Glacier, Frobisher Bay.                  HALL.   51

   29.  Glacier, Bute Inlet.                               WHYMPER.   52

   30.  Scaling an Iceberg.                                   HALL.   53

   31.  An Arctic Channel.                                    HALL.   56

   32.  Open Water.                                           HALL.   57

   33.  Glacier Discharging.                                  HALL.   58

   34.  The Whale.                                            WOOD.   60

   35.  The Narwhal.                                          WOOD.   61

   36.  Walruses on the Ice.                                LAMONT.   63

   37.  Home of the Polar Bear.                               WOOD.   66

   38.  The Gull.                                             WOOD.   67

   39.  Lava-fields.                                        BROWNE.   68

   40.  Effigy in Lava.                                     BROWNE.   70

   41.  The Strokkr.                                        BROWNE.   72

   42.  Entrance to the Almannagja.                         BROWNE.   73

   43.  The Almannagja.                                     BROWNE.   74

   44.  The Hrafnagja.                                      BROWNE.   75

   45.  The Tintron Rock.                                   BROWNE.   75

   46.  Fall of the Oxeraa.                                 BROWNE.   76

   47.  Icelandic Horses.                                   BROWNE.   81

   48.  Shooting Reindeer.                                  LAMONT.   82

   49.  The Eider-duck.                                       WOOD.   83

   50.  The Jyrfalcon.                                        WOOD.   85

   51.  The Giant Auk.                                        WOOD.   86

   52.  Cathedral at Reykjavik.                             BROWNE.   89

   53.  Thingvalla, Lögberg and Almannagja.                 BROWNE.   92

   54.  Reykjavik, the Capital of Iceland.                  BROWNE.   98

   55.  Governor’s Residence, Reykjavik.                    BROWNE.   99

   56.  Icelandic Houses.                                   BROWNE.  103

   57.  Church at Thingvalla.                               BROWNE.  105

   58.  The Pastor’s House, Thingvalla.                     BROWNE.  106

   59.  The Pastor of Thingvalla.                           BROWNE.  107

   60.  Bridge River, Iceland.                              BROWNE.  111

   61.  Icelandic Bog.                                      BROWNE.  113

   62.  Coast of Iceland.                                   BROWNE.  114

   63.  Westman Isles.                                      BROWNE.  115

   64.  Home of Sea-birds.                                  BROWNE.  117

   65.  Fishing in Norway.                                  BROWNE.  120

   66.  Norwegian Farm.                                     BROWNE.  122

   67.  Steaming along the Coast.                           BROWNE.  123

   68.  The Puffin.                                           WOOD.  124

   69.  The Dovrefjeld.                                     BROWNE.  127

   70.  Midnight Sun off Spitzbergen.                     DUFFERIN.  131

   71.  Magdalena Bay, Spitzbergen.                       DUFFERIN.  134

   72.  Burial in Spitzbergen.                            DUFFERIN.  139

   73.  Arctic Fox.                                       DUFFERIN.  140

   74.  Chase of the Walrus.                                LAMONT.  143

   75.  A glimpse of Jan Meyen’s Island.                  DUFFERIN.  145

   76.  A Samoïede Priest.                                ATKINSON.  179

   77.  Banks of the Irtysch.                             ATKINSON.  185

   78.  Group of Kirghis.                                 ATKINSON.  188

   79.  View of Tagilsk.                                  ATKINSON.  191

   80.  The Beach at Nicolayevsk.                     HARPER’S MAG.  196

   81.  On the Amoor.                                 HARPER’S MAG.  197

   82.  Village on the Amoor.                         HARPER’S MAG.  198

   83.  Koriak Yourt.                                 HARPER’S MAG.  199

   84.  Kamchatka Sables.                             HARPER’S MAG.  201

   85.  Tartar Encampment.                                ATKINSON.  204

   86.  Siberian Peasant.                                 ATKINSON.  207

   87.  View of Irkutsk.                              HARPER’S MAG.  209

   88.  A Jakut Village.                              HARPER’S MAG.  229

   89.  Bering’s Monument at Petropavlosk.                 WHYMPER.  248

   90.  Church at Petropavlosk.                            WHYMPER.  254

   91.  View of Petropavlosk.                         HARPER’S MAG.  257

   92.  Dogs Fishing.                                 HARPER’S MAG.  259

   93.  Dog-team.                                          WHYMPER.  259

   94.  Dogs Towing Boat.                             HARPER’S MAG.  260

   95.  Frame-work of Tchuktchi House.                     WHYMPER.  262

   96.  Tchuktchi Canoe.                              HARPER’S MAG.  263

   97.  Tchuktchi Pipe.                                    WHYMPER.  264

   98.  An Aleut.                                          WHYMPER.  268

   99.  View of Sitka.                                     WHYMPER.  270

  100.  A Baidar.                                     HARPER’S MAG.  272

  101.  Fort St. Michael.                                  WHYMPER.  277

  102.  The Frozen Yukon.                                  WHYMPER.  279

  103.  Under-ground House.                                WHYMPER.  280

  104.  Fish-traps on the Yukon.                           WHYMPER.  281

  105.  Aurora at Nulato.                                  WHYMPER.  282

  106.  Breaking up of the Ice.                            WHYMPER.  283

  107.  Fort Yukon.                                        WHYMPER.  285

  108.  A Deer Corral.                                     WHYMPER.  286

  109.  Lip Ornaments.                                HARPER’S MAG.  287

  110.  A Baidar.                                     HARPER’S MAG.  288

  111.  Four-post Coffin.                                  WHYMPER.  288

  112.  Tauana Indian.                                     WHYMPER.  289

  113.  Winter Hut of Hunters.                              MILTON.  309

  114.  Fort Edmonton, North Saskatchewan.                  MILTON.  311

  115.  Trader’s Camp.                                HARPER’S MAG.  312

  116.  Swamp formed by deserted Beaver Dam.                MILTON.  314

  117.  Hunting Bison in the Snow.                    HARPER’S MAG.  319

  118.  Herd of Bison.                                HARPER’S MAG.  320

  119.  Driving Bison over a Precipice.               HARPER’S MAG.  321

  120.  Watching for Crees.                                 MILTON.  322

  121.  A Cree Village.                               HARPER’S MAG.  324

  122.  The Albatross.                                        WOOD.  396

  123.  Strait of Magellan.                           HARPER’S MAG.  405

  124.  A Highway of Commerce.                        HARPER’S MAG.  416

  125.  Patagonians.                                  HARPER’S MAG.  417

  126.  Coast of Fuegia.                              HARPER’S MAG.  425

  127.  Fuegian Traders.                              HARPER’S MAG.  427

  128.  A Fuegian and his Food.                       HARPER’S MAG.  429

  129.  Starvation Beach.                             HARPER’S MAG.  432

  130.  Surveying in Greenland.                               HALL.  433

  131.  Hall and Companions, in Innuit Costume.               HALL.  434

  132.  Kudlago.                                              HALL.  436

  133.  Greenland Currency.                                   HALL.  437

  134.  Woman and Child. (Drawn and Engraved by an            HALL.  438
          Innuit.)

  135.  Festival of the Birthday of the King of               HALL.  439
          Denmark.

  136.  Preparing Boot-soles.                                 HALL.  440

  137.  Wreck of the Rescue.                                  HALL.  441

  138.  The George Henry laid up for the Winter.              HALL.  442

  139.  Storm-bound.                                          HALL.  443

  140.  Innuit Stone Lamp.                                    HALL.  444

  141.  Fighting for Food.                                    HALL.  445

  142.  Through the Snow.                                     HALL.  446

  143.  Waiting by a Seal-hole.                               HALL.  447

  144.  Looking for Seals.                                    HALL.  448

  145.  Innuit Strategy to Capture a Seal.                    HALL.  449

  146.  Seal-hole and Igloo.                                  HALL.  450

  147.  Waiting for a Blow.                                   HALL.  450

  148.  Dog and Seal.                                         HALL.  451

  149.  Spearing through the Snow.                            HALL.  452

  150.  Dogs and Bear.                                        HALL.  453

  151.  Barbekark and the Reindeer.                           HALL.  454

  152.  Head of Reindeer.                                     HALL.  454

  153.  Spearing the Walrus.                                  HALL.  455

  154.  Innuit Igloos.                                        HALL.  456

  155.  Walrus Skull and Tusks.                               HALL.  457

  156.  The Woman’s Knife.                                    HALL.  457

  157.  Innuit Implements.                                    HALL.  458

  158.  Finding the Dead.                                     HALL.  461

  159.  Innuit Summer Village.                                HALL.  462

  160.  Returning to the Ship.                                HALL.  463

  161.  Over the Ice.                                         HALL.  464

  162.  The Frozen Sailor.                                    HALL.  465

  163.  Farewell of the Innuits.                              HALL.  467



THE POLAR WORLD.



[Illustration: 2. THE TUNDRA OF SIBERIA.]


CHAPTER I.

THE ARCTIC LANDS.

  The barren Grounds or Tundri.--Abundance of animal Life on the
    Tundri in Summer.--Their Silence and Desolation in Winter.--
    Protection afforded to Vegetation by the Snow.--Flower-growth
    in the highest Latitudes.--Character of Tundra Vegetation.--
    Southern Boundary-line of the barren Grounds.--Their Extent.--
    The forest Zone.--Arctic Trees.--Slowness of their Growth.--
    Monotony of the Northern Forests.--Mosquitoes.--The various
    Causes which determine the Severity of an Arctic Climate.--Insular
    and Continental Position.--Currents.--Winds.--Extremes of
    Cold observed by Sir E. Belcher and Dr. Kane.--How is Man able
    to support the Rigors of an Arctic Winter?--Proofs of a milder
    Climate having once reigned in the Arctic Regions.--Its Cause
    according to Dr. Oswald Heer.--Peculiar Beauties of the Arctic
    Regions.--Sunset.--Long lunar Nights.--The Aurora.


A glance at a map of the Arctic regions shows us that many of the
rivers belonging to the three continents--Europe, Asia, America--
discharge their waters into the Polar Ocean or its tributary bays.
The territories drained by these streams, some of which (such as the
Mackenzie, the Yukon, the Lena, the Yenisei, and the Obi) rank among
the giant rivers of the earth, form, along with the islands within
or near the Arctic circle, the vast region over which the frost-king
reigns supreme.

Man styles himself the lord of the earth, and may with some justice lay
claim to the title in more genial lands where, armed with the plough,
he compels the soil to yield him a variety of fruits; but in those
desolate tracts which are winter-bound during the greater part of the
year, he is generally a mere wanderer over its surface--a hunter, a
fisherman, or a herdsman--and but few small settlements, separated from
each other by immense deserts, give proof of his having made some weak
attempts to establish a footing.

It is difficult to determine with precision the limits of the Arctic
lands, since many countries situated as low as latitude 60° or even
50°, such as South Greenland, Labrador, Alaska, Kamchatka, or the
country about Lake Baikal, have in their climate and productions
a decidedly Arctic character, while others of a far more northern
position, such as the coast of Norway, enjoy even in winter a
remarkably mild temperature. But they are naturally divided into two
principal and well-marked zones--that of the forests, and that of the
treeless wastes.

[Illustration: 3. INDIAN SUMMER ENCAMPMENT, ALASKA.]

The latter, comprising the islands within the Arctic Circle, form
a belt, more or less broad, bounded by the continental shores of
the North Polar seas, and gradually merging toward the south into
the forest-region, which encircles them with a garland of evergreen
coniferæ. This treeless zone bears the name of the “barren grounds,”
or the “barrens,” in North America, and of “tundri” in Siberia and
European Russia. Its want of trees is caused not so much by its high
northern latitude as by the cold sea-winds which sweep unchecked over
the islands or the flat coast-lands of the Polar Ocean, and for miles
and miles compel even the hardiest plant to crouch before the blast and
creep along the ground.

Nothing can be more melancholy than the aspect of the boundless
morasses or arid wastes of the tundri. Dingy mosses and gray lichens
form the chief vegetation, and a few scanty grasses or dwarfish
flowers that may have found a refuge in some more sheltered spot are
unable to relieve the dull monotony of the scene.

In winter, when animal life has mostly retreated to the south or sought
a refuge in burrows or in caves, an awful silence, interrupted only
by the hooting of a snow-owl or the yelping of a fox, reigns over
their vast expanse; but in spring, when the brown earth reappears from
under the melted snow and the swamps begin to thaw, enormous flights
of wild birds appear upon the scene and enliven it for a few months.
An admirable instinct leads their winged legions from distant climes
to the Arctic wildernesses, where in the morasses or lakes, on the
banks of the rivers, on the flat strands, or along the fish-teeming
coasts, they find an abundance of food, and where at the same time
they can with greater security build their nests and rear their
young. Some remain on the skirts of the forest-region; others, flying
farther northward, lay their eggs upon the naked tundra. Eagles and
hawks follow the traces of the natatorial and strand birds; troops of
ptarmigans roam among the stunted bushes; and when the sun shines, the
finch or the snow-bunting warbles his merry note.

While thus the warmth of summer attracts hosts of migratory birds to
the Arctic wildernesses, shoals of salmon and sturgeons enter the
rivers in obedience to the instinct that forces them to quit the seas
and to swim stream upward, for the purpose of depositing their spawn in
the tranquil sweet waters of the stream or lake. About this time also
the reindeer leaves the forests to feed on the herbs and lichens of the
tundra, and to seek along the shores fanned by the cooled sea-breeze
some protection against the attacks of the stinging flies that rise in
myriads from the swamps. Thus during several months the tundra presents
an animated scene, in which man also plays his part. The birds of the
air, the fishes of the water, the beasts of the earth, are all obliged
to pay their tribute to his various wants, to appease his hunger, to
clothe his body, or to gratify his greed of gain.

But as soon as the first frosts of September announce the approach of
winter, all animals, with but few exceptions, hasten to leave a region
where the sources of life must soon fail. The geese, ducks, and swans
return in dense flocks to the south; the strand-birds seek in some
lower latitude a softer soil which allows their sharp beak to seize
a burrowing prey; the water-fowl forsake the bays and channels that
will soon be blocked up with ice; the reindeer once more return to the
forest, and in a short time nothing is left that can induce man to
prolong his stay in the treeless plain. Soon a thick mantle of snow
covers the hardened earth, the frozen lake, the ice-bound river, and
conceals them all--seven, eight, nine months long--under its monotonous
pall, except where the furious north-east wind sweeps it away and lays
bare the naked rock.

This snow, which after it has once fallen persists until the long
summer’s day has effectually thawed it, protects in an admirable
manner the vegetation of the higher latitudes against the cold of the
long winter season. For snow is so bad a conductor of heat, that in
mid-winter in the high latitude of 78° 50° (Rensselaer Bay), while the
surface temperature was as low as -30°, Kane found at two feet deep a
temperature of -8°, at four feet +2°, and at eight feet +26°, or no
more than six degrees below the freezing-point of water. Thus covered
by a warm crystal snow-mantle, the northern plants pass the long winter
in a comparatively mild temperature, high enough to maintain their
life, while, without, icy blasts--capable of converting mercury into a
solid body--howl over the naked wilderness; and as the first snow-falls
are more cellular and less condensed than the nearly impalpable powder
of winter, Kane justly observes that no “eider-down in the cradle of
an infant is tucked in more kindly than the sleeping-dress of winter
about the feeble plant-life of the Arctic zone.” Thanks to this
protection, and to the influence of a sun which for months circles
above the horizon, and in favorable localities calls forth the powers
of vegetation in an incredibly short time, even Washington, Grinnell
Land, and Spitzbergen are able to boast of flowers. Morton plucked a
crucifer at Cape Constitution (80° 45’ N. lat.), and, on the banks
of Mary Minturn River (78° 52’), Kane came across a flower-growth
which, though drearily Arctic in its type, was rich in variety and
coloring. Amid festuca and other tufted grasses twinkled the purple
lychnis and the white star of the chickweed; and, not without its
pleasing associations, he recognized a solitary hesperis--the Arctic
representative of the wall-flowers of home.

[Illustration: 4. ROCKS AND ICE.]

Next to the lichens and mosses, which form the chief vegetation of
the treeless zone, the cruciferæ, the grasses, the saxifragas, the
caryophyllæ, and the compositæ are the families of plants most largely
represented, in the barren grounds or tundri. Though vegetation becomes
more and more uniform on advancing to the north, yet the number of
individual plants does not decrease. When the soil is moderately dry,
the surface is covered by a dense carpet of lichens (_Corniculariæ_),
mixed in damper spots with Icelandic moss. In more tenacious soils,
other plants flourish, not however to the exclusion of lichens, except
in tracts of meadow ground, which occur in sheltered situations, or in
the alluvial inundated flats where tall reed-grasses or dwarf willows
frequently grow as closely as they can stand.

[Illustration: 5. COAST OF LABRADOR.]

It may easily be supposed that the boundary-line which separates the
tundri from the forest zone is both indistinct and irregular. In some
parts where the cold sea-winds have a wider range, the barren grounds
encroach considerably upon the limits of the forests; in others, where
the configuration of the land prevents their action, the woods advance
farther to the north.

[Illustration: 6. COAST OF NORWAY.]

Thus the barren grounds attain their most southerly limit in Labrador,
where they descend to latitude 57°, and this is sufficiently explained
by the position of that bleak peninsula, bounded on three sides by
icy seas, and washed by cold currents from the north. On the opposite
coasts of Hudson’s Bay they begin about 60°, and thence gradually rise
toward the mouth of the Mackenzie, where the forests advance as high
as 68°, or even still farther to the north along the low banks of that
river. From the Mackenzie the barrens again descend until they reach
Bering’s Sea in 65° N. On the opposite or Asiatic shore, in the land
of the Tchuktchi, they begin again more to the south, in 63°, thence
continually rise as far as the Lena, where Anjou found trees in 71° N.,
and then fall again toward the Obi, where the forests do not even reach
the Arctic circle. From the Obi the tundri retreat farther and farther
to the north, until finally, on the coasts of Norway, in latitude 70°,
they terminate with the land itself.

Hence we see that the treeless zone of Europe, Asia, and America
occupies a space larger than the whole of Europe. Even the African
Sahara, or the Pampas of South America, are inferior in extent to the
Siberian tundri. But the possession of a few hundred square miles of
fruitful territory on the south-western frontiers of his vast empire
would be of greater value to the Czar than that of those boundless
wastes, which are tenanted only by a few wretched pastoral tribes, or
some equally wretched fishermen.

[Illustration: 7. ARCTIC FOREST.]

The Arctic forest-regions are of a still greater extent than the vast
treeless plains which they encircle. When we consider that they form an
almost continuous belt, stretching through three parts of the world,
in a breadth of from 15° to 20°, even the woods of the Amazon, which
cover a surface fifteen times greater than that of the United Kingdom,
shrink into comparative insignificance. Unlike the tropical forests,
which are characterized by an immense variety of trees, these northern
woods are almost entirely composed of coniferæ, and one single kind of
fir or pine often covers an immense extent of ground. The European and
Asiatic species differ, however, from those which grow in America.

[Illustration: 8. VERGE OF FOREST REGION.]

Thus in the Russian empire and Scandinavia we find the Scotch fir
(_Pinus sylvestris_), the Siberian fir and larch (_Abies sibirica_,
_Larix sibirica_), the _Picea obovata_, and the _Pinus cembra_; while
in the Hudson’s Bay territories the woods principally consist of the
white and black spruce (_Abies alba and nigra_), the Canadian larch
(_Larix canadensis_), and the gray pine (_Pinus banksiana_). In both
continents birch-trees grow farther to the north than the coniferæ,
and the dwarf willows form dense thickets on the shores of every river
and lake. Various species of the service-tree, the ash, and the elder
are also met with in the Arctic forests; and both under the shelter of
the woods and beyond their limits, nature, as if to compensate for the
want of fruit-trees, produces in favorable localities an abundance of
bilberries, bogberries, cranberries, etc. (_Empetrum_, _Vaccinium_),
whose fruit is a great boon to man and beast. When congealed by the
autumnal frosts, the berries frequently remain hanging on the bushes
until the snow melts in the following June, and are then a considerable
resource to the flocks of water-fowl migrating to their northern
breeding-places, or to the bear awakening from his winter sleep.

Another distinctive character of the forests of the high latitudes is
their apparent youth, so that generally the traveller would hardly
suppose them to be more than fifty years, or at most a century old.
Their juvenile appearance increases on advancing northward, until
suddenly their decrepit age is revealed by the thick bushes of lichens
which clothe or hang down from their shrivelled boughs. Farther to
the south, large trees are found scattered here and there, but not
so numerous as to modify the general appearance of the forest, and
even these are mere dwarfs when compared with the gigantic firs of
more temperate climates. This phenomenon is sufficiently explained by
the shortness of the summer, which, though able to bring forth new
shoots, does not last long enough for the formation of wood. Hence the
growth of trees becomes slower and slower on advancing to the north;
so that on the banks of the Great Bear Lake, for instance, 400 years
are necessary for the formation of a trunk not thicker than a man’s
waist. Toward the confines of the tundra, the woods are reduced to
stunted stems, covered with blighted buds that have been unable to
develop themselves into branches, and which prove by their numbers how
frequently and how vainly they have striven against the wind, until
finally the last remnants of arboreal vegetation, vanquished by the
blasts of winter, seek refuge under a carpet of lichens and mosses,
from which their annual shoots hardly venture to peep forth.

A third peculiarity which distinguishes the forests of the north from
those of the tropical world is what may be called their harmless
character. There the traveller finds none of those noxious plants
whose juices contain a deadly poison, and even thorns and prickles
are of rare occurrence. No venomous snake glides through the thicket;
no crocodile lurks in the swamp; and the northern beasts of prey--the
bear, the lynx, the wolf--are far less dangerous and blood-thirsty than
the large felidæ of the torrid zone.

The comparatively small number of animals living in the Arctic forests
corresponds with the monotony of their vegetation. Here we should
seek in vain for that immense variety of insects, or those troops of
gaudy birds which in the Brazilian woods excite the admiration, and
not unfrequently cause the despair of the wanderer; here we should in
vain expect to hear the clamorous voices that resound in the tropical
thickets. No noisy monkeys or quarrelsome parrots settle on the
branches of the trees; no shrill cicadæ or melancholy goat-suckers
interrupt the solemn stillness of the night; the howl of the hungry
wolf, or the hoarse screech of some solitary bird of prey, are almost
the only sounds that ever disturb the repose of these awful solitudes.
When the tropical hurricane sweeps over the virgin forests, it awakens
a thousand voices of alarm; but the Arctic storm, however furiously it
may blow, scarcely calls forth an echo from the dismal shades of the
pine-woods of the north.

In one respect only the forests and swamps of the northern regions vie
in abundance of animal life with those of the equatorial zone, for the
legions of gnats which the short polar summer calls forth from the
Arctic morasses are a no less intolerable plague than the mosquitoes of
the tropical marshes.

[Illustration: 9. FOREST CONFLAGRATION.]

Though agriculture encroaches but little upon the Arctic woods, yet
the agency of man is gradually working a change in their aspect. Large
tracts of forest are continually wasted by extensive fires, kindled
accidentally or intentionally, which spread with rapidity over a wide
extent of country, and continue to burn until they are extinguished by
a heavy rain. Sooner or later a new growth of timber springs up, but
the soil, being generally enriched and saturated with alkali, now no
longer brings forth its aboriginal firs, but gives birth to a thicket
of beeches (_Betula alba_) in Asia, or of aspens in America.

The line of perpetual snow may naturally be expected to descend
lower and lower on advancing to the pole, and hence many mountainous
regions or elevated plateaux, such as the interior of Spitzbergen,
of Greenland, of Nova Zembla, etc., which in a more temperate clime
would be verdant with woods or meadows, are here covered with vast
fields of ice, from which frequently glaciers descend down to the verge
of the sea. But even in the highest northern latitudes, no land has
yet been found covered as far as the water’s edge with eternal snow,
or where winter has entirely subdued the powers of vegetation. The
reindeer of Spitzbergen find near 80° N. lichens or grasses to feed
upon; in favorable seasons the snow melts by the end of June on the
plains of Melville Island, and numerous lemmings, requiring vegetable
food for their subsistence, inhabit the deserts of New Siberia. As
far as man has reached to the north, vegetation, when fostered by a
sheltered situation and the refraction of solar heat from the rocks,
has everywhere been found to rise to a considerable altitude above the
level of the sea; and should there be land at the North Pole, there
is every reason to believe that it is destitute neither of animal
nor vegetable life. It would be equally erroneous to suppose that
the cold of winter invariably increases as we near the pole, as the
temperature of a land is influenced by many other causes besides its
latitude. Even in the most northern regions hitherto visited by man,
the influence of the sea, particularly when favored by warm currents,
is found to mitigate the severity of the winter, while at the same
time it diminishes the warmth of summer. On the other hand, the large
continental tracts of Asia or America that shelve toward the pole have
a more intense winter cold and a far greater summer’s heat than many
coast-lands or islands situated far nearer to the pole. Thus, to cite
but a few examples, the western shores of Nova Zembla, fronting a wide
expanse of sea, have an average winter temperature of only -4°, and a
mean summer temperature but little above the freezing-point of water
(+36½°), while Jakutsk, situated in the heart of Siberia, and 20°
nearer to the Equator, has a winter of -36° 6’, and a summer of +66° 6’.

The influence of the winds is likewise of considerable importance
in determining the greater or lesser severity of an Arctic climate.
Thus the northerly winds which prevail in Baffin’s Bay and Davis’s
Straits during the summer months, and fill the straits of the American
north-eastern Archipelago with ice, are probably the main cause of
the abnormal depression of temperature in that quarter; while, on the
contrary, the southerly winds that prevail during summer in the valley
of the Mackenzie tend greatly to extend the forest of that favored
region nearly down to the shores of the Arctic Sea. Even in the depth
of a Siberian winter, a sudden change of wind is able to raise the
thermometer from a mercury-congealing cold to a temperature above the
freezing-point of water, and a warm wind has been known to cause rain
to fall in Spitzbergen in the month of January.

The voyages of Kane and Belcher have made us acquainted with the lowest
temperatures ever felt by man. On Feb. 5, 1854, while the former was
wintering in Smith’s Sound (78° 37’ N. lat.), the mean of his best
spirit-thermometer showed the unexampled temperature of -68° or 100°
below the freezing-point of water. Then chloric ether became solid,
and carefully prepared chloroform exhibited a granular pellicle on
its surface. The exhalations from the skin invested the exposed or
partially clad parts with a wreath of vapor. The air had a perceptible
pungency upon inspiration, and every one, as it were involuntarily,
breathed guardedly with compressed lips. About the same time
(February 9 and 10, 1854), Sir E. Belcher experienced a cold of -55°
in Wellington Channel (75° 31’ N.), and the still lower temperature
of -62° on January 13, 1853, in Northumberland Sound (76° 52’ N.).
Whymper, on December 6, 1866, experienced -58° at Nulatto, Alaska (64°
42’ N.).

Whether the temperature of the air descends still lower on advancing
toward the pole, or whether these extreme degrees of cold are not
sometimes surpassed in those mountainous regions of the north which,
though seen, have never yet been explored, is of course an undecided
question: so much is certain, that the observations hitherto made
during the winter of the Arctic regions have been limited to too short
a time, and are too few in number, to enable us to determine with any
degree of certainty those points where the greatest cold prevails. All
we know is, that beyond the Arctic Circle, and eight or ten degrees
farther to the south in the interior of the continents of Asia and
America, the average temperature of the winter generally ranges from
-20° to -30°, or even lower, and for a great part of the year is able
to convert mercury into a solid body.

It may well be asked how man is able to bear the excessively low
temperature of an Arctic winter, which must appear truly appalling to
an inhabitant of the temperate zone. A thick fur clothing; a hut small
and low, where the warmth of a fire, or simply of a train-oil lamp, is
husbanded in a narrow space, and, above all, the wonderful power of the
human constitution to accommodate itself to every change of climate, go
far to counteract the rigor of the cold.

After a very few days the body develops an increasing warmth as the
thermometer descends; for the air being condensed by the cold, the
lungs inhale at every breath a greater quantity of oxygen, which of
course accelerates the internal process of combustion, while at the
same time an increasing appetite, gratified with a copious supply of
animal food, of flesh and fat, enriches the blood and enables it to
circulate more vigorously. Thus not only the hardy native of the north,
but even the healthy traveller soon gets accustomed to bear without
injury the rigors of an Arctic winter.

“The mysterious compensations,” says Kane, “by which we adapt ourselves
to climate are more striking here than in the tropics. In the Polar
zone the assault is immediate and sudden, and, unlike the insidious
fatality of hot countries, produces its results rapidly. It requires
hardly a single winter to tell who are to be the heat-making and
acclimatized men. Petersen, for instance, who has resided for two years
at Upernavik, seldom enters a room with a fire. Another of our party,
George Riley, with a vigorous constitution, established habits of free
exposure, and active cheerful temperament, has so inured himself to the
cold, that he sleeps on our sledge journeys without a blanket or any
other covering than his walking suit, while the outside temperature is
-30°.”

[Illustration: 10. ARCTIC CLOTHING.]

There are many proofs that a milder climate once reigned in the
northern regions of the globe. Fossil pieces of wood, petrified acorns
and fir-cones have been found in the interior of Banks’s Land by
M’Clure’s sledging-parties. At Anakerdluk, in North Greenland (70° N.),
a large forest lies buried on a mountain surrounded by glaciers, 1080
feet above the level of the sea. Not only the trunks and branches, but
even the leaves, fruit-cones, and seeds have been preserved in the
soil, and enable the botanist to determine the species of the plants
to which they belong. They show that, besides firs and sequoias, oaks,
plantains, elms, magnolias, and even laurels, indicating a climate such
as that of Lausanne or Geneva, flourished during the miocene period
in a country where now even the willow is compelled to creep along
the ground. During the same epoch of the earth’s history Spitzbergen
was likewise covered with stately forests. The same poplars and the
same swamp-cypress (_Taxodium dubium_) which then flourished in North
Greenland have been found in a fossilized state at Bell Sound (76° N.)
by the Swedish naturalists, who also discovered a plantain and a linden
as high as 78° and 79° in King’s Bay--a proof that in those times the
climate of Spitzbergen can not have been colder than that which now
reigns in Southern Sweden and Norway, eighteen degrees nearer to the
line.

We know that at present the fir, the poplar, and the beech grow fifteen
degrees farther to the north than the plantain--and the miocene period
no doubt exhibited the same proportion. Thus the poplars and firs which
then grew in Spitzbergen along with plantains and lindens must have
ranged as far as the pole itself, supposing that point to be dry land.

In the miocene times the Arctic zone evidently presented a very
different aspect from that which it wears at present. Now, during the
greater part of the year, an immense glacial desert, which through its
floating bergs and drift-ice depresses the temperature of countries
situated far to the south, it then consisted of verdant lands covered
with luxuriant forests and bathed by an open sea.

What may have been the cause of these amazing changes of climate? The
readiest answer seems to be--a different distribution of sea and land;
but there is no reason to believe that in the miocene times there was
less land in the Arctic zone than at present, nor can any possible
combination of water and dry land be imagined sufficient to account for
the growth of laurels in Greenland or of plantains in Spitzbergen. Dr.
Oswald Heer is inclined to seek for an explanation of the phenomenon,
not in mere local terrestrial changes, but in a difference of the
earth’s position in the heavens.

[Illustration: 11. ARCTIC MOONLIGHT.]

We now know that our sun, with his attendant planets and satellites,
performs a vast circle, embracing perhaps hundreds of thousands of
years, round another star, and that we are constantly entering new
regions of space untravelled by our earth before. We come from the
unknown, and plunge into the unknown; but so much is certain, that our
solar system rolls at present through a space but thinly peopled with
stars, and there is no reason to doubt that it may once have wandered
through one of those celestial provinces where, as the telescope shows
us, constellations are far more densely clustered. But, as every star
is a blazing sun, the greater or lesser number of these heavenly bodies
must evidently have a proportionate influence upon the temperature
of space; and thus we may suppose that during the miocene period our
earth, being at that time in a _populous_ sidereal region, enjoyed the
benefit of a higher temperature, which clothed even its poles with
verdure. In the course of ages the sun conducted his herd of planets
into more solitary and colder regions, which caused the warm miocene
times to be followed by the glacial period, during which the Swiss
flat lands bore an Arctic character, and finally the sun emerged into
a space of an intermediate character, which determines the present
condition of the climates of our globe.

[Illustration: 12. AURORA SEEN IN NORWAY.]

Though Nature generally wears a more stern and forbidding aspect on
advancing toward the pole, yet the high latitudes have many beauties of
their own. Nothing can exceed the magnificence of an Arctic sunset,
clothing the snow-clad mountains and the skies with all the glories of
color, or be more serenely beautiful than the clear star-light night,
illumined by the brilliant moon, which for days continually circles
around the horizon, never setting until she has run her long course
of brightness. The uniform whiteness of the landscape and the general
transparency of the atmosphere add to the lustre of her beams, which
serve the natives to guide their nomadic life, and to lead them to
their hunting-grounds.

[Illustration: 13. AURORA SEEN IN GREENLAND.]

But of all the magnificent spectacles that relieve the monotonous
gloom of the Arctic winter, there is none to equal the magical beauty
of the Aurora. Night covers the snow-clad earth; the stars glimmer
feebly through the haze which so frequently dims their brilliancy in
the high latitudes, when suddenly a broad and clear bow of light spans
the horizon in the direction where it is traversed by the magnetic
meridian. This bow sometimes remains for several hours, heaving or
waving to and fro, before it sends forth streams of light ascending
to the zenith. Sometimes these flashes proceed from the bow of light
alone; at others they simultaneously shoot forth from many opposite
parts of the horizon, and form a vast sea of fire whose brilliant waves
are continually changing their position. Finally they all unite in a
magnificent crown or copula of light, with the appearance of which the
phenomenon attains its highest degree of splendor. The brilliancy of
the streams, which are commonly red at their base, green in the middle,
and light yellow toward the zenith, increases, while at the same time
they dart with greater vivacity through the skies. The colors are
wonderfully transparent, the red approaching to a clear blood-red, the
green to a pale emerald tint. On turning from the flaming firmament to
the earth, this also is seen to glow with a magical light. The dark
sea, black as jet, forms a striking contrast to the white snow-plain or
the distant ice-mountain; all the outlines tremble as if they belonged
to the unreal world of dreams. The imposing silence of the night
heightens the charms of the magnificent spectacle.

But gradually the crown fades, the bow of light dissolves, the streams
become shorter, less frequent, and less vivid; and finally the gloom of
winter once more descends upon the northern desert.



CHAPTER II.

ARCTIC LAND QUADRUPEDS AND BIRDS.

  The Reindeer.--Structure of its Foot.--Clattering Noise when
    walking.--Antlers.--Extraordinary olfactory Powers.--The
    Icelandic Moss.--Present and Former Range of the Reindeer.--
    Its invaluable Qualities as an Arctic domestic Animal.--Revolts
    against Oppression.--Enemies of the Reindeer.--The Wolf.--The
    Glutton or Wolverine.--Gad-flies.--The Elk or Moose-deer.--The
    Musk-ox.--The Wild Sheep of the Rocky Mountains.--The Siberian
    Argali.--The Arctic Fox.--Its Burrows.--The Lemmings.--Their
    Migrations and Enemies.--Arctic Anatidæ.--The Snow-bunting.--The
    Lapland Bunting.--The Sea-eagle.--Drowned by a Dolphin.


The reindeer may well be called the camel of the northern wastes, for
it is a no less valuable companion to the Laplander or to the Samojede
than the “ship of the desert” to the wandering Bedouin. It is the
only member of the numerous deer family that has been domesticated by
man; but though undoubtedly the most useful, it is by no means the
most comely of its race. Its clear, dark eye has, indeed, a beautiful
expression, but it has neither the noble proportions of the stag nor
the grace of the roebuck, and its thick square-formed body is far from
being a model of elegance. Its legs are short and thick, its feet
broad, but extremely well adapted for walking over the snow or on a
swampy ground. The front hoofs, which are capable of great lateral
expansion, curve upward, while the two secondary ones behind (which
are but slightly developed in the fallow deer and other members of
the family) are considerably prolonged: a structure which, by giving
the animal a broader base to stand upon, prevents it from sinking too
deeply into the snow or the morass. Had the foot of the reindeer been
formed like that of our stag, it would have been as unable to drag the
Laplander’s sledge with such velocity over the yielding snow-fields
as the camel would be to perform his long marches through the desert
without the broad elastic sole-pad on which he firmly paces the
unstable sands.

The short legs and broad feet of the reindeer likewise enable it to
swim with greater ease--a power of no small importance in countries
abounding in rivers and lakes, and where the scarcity of food renders
perpetual migrations necessary. When the reindeer walks or merely
moves, a remarkable clattering sound is heard to some distance, about
the cause of which naturalists and travellers by no means agree.
Most probably it results from the great length of the two digits of
the cloven hoof, which when the animal sets its foot upon the ground
separate widely, and when it again raises its hoof suddenly clap
against each other.

A long mane of a dirty white color hangs from the neck of the reindeer.
In summer the body is brown above and white beneath; in winter,
long-haired and white. Its antlers are very different from those
of the stag, having broad palmated summits, and branching back to
the length of three or four feet. Their weight is frequently very
considerable--twenty or twenty-five pounds; and it is remarkable that
both sexes have horns, while in all other members of the deer race the
males alone are in possession of this ornament or weapon.

[Illustration: 14. GROUP OF REINDEER.]

The female brings forth in May a single calf, rarely two. This is
small and weak, but after a few days it follows the mother, who
suckles her young but a short time, as it is soon able to seek and
to find its food. The reindeer gives very little milk--at the very
utmost, after the young has been weaned, a bottleful daily; but the
quality is excellent, for it is uncommonly thick and nutritious. It
consists almost entirely of cream, so that a great deal of water can
be added before it becomes inferior to the best cow-milk. Its taste
is excellent, but the butter made from it is rancid, and hardly to be
eaten, while the cheese is very good.

The only food of the reindeer during winter consists of moss, and the
most surprising circumstance in his history is the instinct, or the
extraordinary olfactory powers, whereby he is enabled to discover it
when hidden beneath the snow. However deep the _Lichen rangiferinus_
may be buried, the animal is aware of its presence the moment he comes
to the spot, and this kind of food is never so agreeable to him as when
he digs for it himself. In his manner of doing this he is remarkably
adroit. Having first ascertained, by thrusting his muzzle into the
snow, whether the moss lies below or not, he begins making a hole
with his fore feet, and continues working until at length he uncovers
the lichen. No instance has ever occurred of a reindeer making such
a cavity without discovering the moss he seeks. In summer their food
is of a different nature; they are then pastured upon green herbs or
the leaves of trees. Judging from the lichen’s appearance in the hot
months, when it is dry and brittle, one might easily wonder that so
large a quadruped as the reindeer should make it his favorite food and
fatten upon it; but toward the month of September the lichen becomes
soft, tender, and damp, with a taste like wheat-bran. In this state its
luxuriant and flowery ramifications somewhat resemble the leaves of
endive, and are as white as snow.

Though domesticated since time immemorial, the reindeer has only partly
been brought under the yoke of man, and wanders in large wild herds
both in the North American wastes, where it has never yet been reduced
to servitude, and in the forests and tundras of the Old World.

In America, where it is called “caribou,” it extends from Labrador to
Melville Island and Washington Land; in Europe and Asia it is found
from Lapland and Norway, and from the mountains of Mongolia and the
banks of the Ufa, as far as Nova Zembla and Spitzbergen. Many centuries
ago--probably during the glacial period--its range was still more
extensive, as reindeer bones are frequently found in French and German
caves, and bear testimony to the severity of the climate which at that
time reigned in Central Europe; for the reindeer is a cold-loving
animal, and will not thrive under a milder sky. All attempts to prolong
its life in our zoological gardens have failed, and even in the royal
park at Stockholm Hogguer saw some of these animals, which were quite
languid and emaciated during the summer, although care had been taken
to provide them with a cool grotto to which they could retire during
the warmer hours of the day. In summer the reindeer can enjoy health
only in the fresh mountain air or along the bracing sea-shore, and has
as great a longing for a low temperature as man for the genial warmth
of his fireside in winter.

The reindeer is easily tamed, and soon gets accustomed to its master,
whose society it loves, attracted as it were by a kind of innate
sympathy; for, unlike all other domestic animals, it is by no means
dependent on man for its subsistence, but finds its nourishment alone,
and wanders about freely in summer and in winter without ever being
inclosed in a stable. These qualities are inestimable in countries
where it would be utterly impossible to keep any domestic animal
requiring shelter and stores of provisions during the long winter
months, and make the reindeer the fit companion of the northern nomad,
whose simple wants it almost wholly supplies. During his wanderings, it
carries his tent and scanty household furniture, or drags his sledge
over the snow. On account of the weakness of its back-bone, it is less
fit for riding, and requires to be mounted with care, as a violent
shock easily dislocates its vertebral column; the saddle is placed on
the haunches. You would hardly suppose the reindeer to be the same
animal when languidly creeping along under a rider’s weight, as when,
unencumbered by a load, it vaults with the lightness of a bird over the
obstacles in its way to obey the call of its master. The reindeer can
be easily trained to drag a sledge, but great care must be taken not
to beat or otherwise ill-treat it, as it then becomes obstinate, and
quite unmanageable. When forced to drag too heavy a load, or taxed in
any way above its strength, it not seldom turns round upon its tyrant,
and attacks him with its horns and fore feet. To save himself from its
fury, he is then obliged to overturn his sledge, and to seek a refuge
under its bottom until the rage of the animal has abated.

After the death of the reindeer, it may truly be said that every part
of its body is put to some use. The flesh is very good, and the tongue
and marrow are considered a great delicacy. The blood, of which not a
drop is allowed to be lost, is either drunk warm or made up into a kind
of black pudding. The skin furnishes not only clothing impervious to
the cold, but tents and bedding; and spoons, knife-handles, and other
household utensils are made out of the bones and horns; the latter
serve also, like the claws, for the preparation of an excellent glue,
which the Chinese, who buy them for this purpose of the Russians, use
as a nutritious jelly. In Tornea the skins of new-born reindeer are
prepared and sent to St. Petersburg to be manufactured into gloves,
which are extremely soft, but very dear.

Thus the cocoa-nut palm, the tree of a hundred uses, hardly renders a
greater variety of services to the islanders of the Indian Ocean than
the reindeer to the Laplander or the Samojede; and, to the honor of
these barbarians be it mentioned, they treat their invaluable friend
and companion with a grateful affection which might serve as an example
to far more civilized nations.

The reindeer attains an age of from twenty to twenty-five years, but
in its domesticated state it is generally killed when from six to ten
years old. Its most dangerous enemies are the wolf, and the glutton
or wolverine (_Gulo borealis_ or _arcticus_), which belongs to the
bloodthirsty marten and weasel family, and is said to be of uncommon
fierceness and strength. It is about the size of a large badger,
between which animal and the pole-cat it seems to be intermediate,
nearly resembling the former in its general figure and aspect, and
agreeing with the latter as to its dentition. No dog is capable of
mastering a glutton, and even the wolf is hardly able to scare it from
its prey. Its feet are very short, so that it can not run swiftly,
but it climbs with great facility upon trees, or ascends even almost
perpendicular rock-walls, where it also seeks a refuge when pursued.

When it perceives a herd of reindeer browsing near a wood or a
precipice, it generally lies in wait upon a branch or some high cliff,
and springs down upon the first animal that comes within its reach.
Sometimes also it steals unawares upon its prey, and suddenly bounding
upon its back, kills it by a single bite in the neck. Many fables
worthy of Münchausen have been told about its voracity; for instance,
that it is able to devour two reindeer at one meal, and that, when
its stomach is exorbitantly distended with food, it will press itself
between two trees or stones to make room for a new repast. It will,
indeed, kill in one night six or eight reindeer, but it contents itself
with sucking their blood, as the weasel does with fowls, and eats no
more at one meal than any other carnivorous animal of its own size.

Besides the attacks of its mightier enemies, the reindeer is subject
to the persecutions of two species of gad-fly, which torment it
exceedingly. The one (_Œstrus tarandi_), called Hurbma by the
Laplanders, deposits its glutinous eggs upon the animal’s back. The
larvæ, on creeping out, immediately bore themselves into the skin,
where by their motion and suction they cause so many small swellings or
boils, which gradually grow to the size of an inch or more in diameter,
with an opening at the top of each, through which the larvæ may be seen
imbedded in a purulent fluid. Frequently the whole back of the animal
is covered with these boils, which, by draining its fluids, produce
emaciation and disease. As if aware of this danger, the reindeer runs
wild and furious as soon as it hears the buzzing of the ’fly, and seeks
a refuge in the nearest water. The other species of gad-fly (_Œstrus
nasalis_) lays its eggs in the nostrils of the reindeer; and the larvæ,
boring themselves into the fauces and beneath the tongue of the poor
animal, are a great source of annoyance, as is shown by its frequent
sniffling and shaking of the head.

A pestilential disorder like the rinderpest will sometimes sweep away
whole herds. Thus in a few weeks a rich Laplander or Samojede may be
reduced to poverty, and the proud possessor of several thousands of
reindeer be compelled to seek the precarious livelihood of the northern
fisherman.

The elk or moose-deer (_Cervus alces_) is another member of the cervine
race peculiar to the forests of the north. In size it is far superior
to the stag, but it can not boast of an elegant shape, the head being
disproportionately large, the neck short and thick, and its immense
horns, which sometimes weigh near fifty pounds, each dilating almost
immediately from the base into a broad palmated form; while its long
legs, high shoulders, and heavy upper lip hanging very much over the
lower, give it an uncouth appearance. The color of the elk is a dark
grayish-brown, but much paler on the legs and beneath the tail.

[Illustration: 15. ELKS]

We owe the first description of this gigantic deer to Julius Cæsar,
in whose time it was still a common inhabitant of the German forests.
But the conqueror of Gaul can hardly have seen it himself, or he would
not have ascribed to it a single horn, placed in the middle of the
forehead, or said that both sexes are perfectly alike, for the female
is smaller and has no antlers. At present the elk is still found in the
swampy forests of East Prussia, Lithuania, and Poland, but it chiefly
resides in the more northern woods of Russia, Siberia, and America.
It is a mild and harmless animal, principally supporting itself by
browsing the boughs of willows, asps, service-trees, and other soft
species of wood. It does not, like the reindeer, seek a refuge against
the attacks of the gad-flies, by wandering to the coasts of the sea, or
retreating to the bare mountains, where it would soon perish for the
want of adequate food, but plunges up to the nose into the next river,
where it finds, moreover, a species of water-grass (_Festuca fluitans_)
which it likes to feed upon. Though naturally mild and harmless, it
displays a high degree of courage, and even ferocity when suddenly
attacked; defending itself with great vigor, not only with its horns,
but also by striking violently with its fore feet, in the use of which
it is particularly dexterous. It is generally caught in traps, as it
is extremely shy and watchful, and finds an easy retreat in the swamp
or the forest. The only time of the year when it can be easily chased
is in the spring, when the softened snow gets covered during the night
with a thin crust of ice which is too weak to bear the animal’s weight.

Though not ranging so far north as the reindeer or the elk, we find
in the Old World the red-deer (_Cervus elaphus_), in the vicinity of
Drontheim, in Norway, and along with the roebuck beyond Lake Baikal,
in Siberia, while in America the large-eared deer (_Cervus macrotis_),
and the Wapiti, or Canada stag (_Cervus strongylo-ceras_), extend their
excursions beyond 55° of northern latitude. The latter is much larger
and of a stronger make than the European red-deer, frequently growing
to the height of our tallest oxen, and possessing great activity as
well as strength. The flesh is little prized, but the hide, when
made into leather after the Indian fashion, is said not to turn hard
in drying after being wet--a quality which justly entitles it to a
preference over almost every other kind of leather.

[Illustration: 16. THE MUSK-OX.]

One of the most remarkable quadrupeds of the high northern regions is
the musk-ox (_Ovibos moschatus_), which by some naturalists has been
considered as intermediate between the sheep and the ox. It is about
the height of a deer, but of much stouter proportions. The horns are
very broad at the base, almost meeting on the forehead, and curving
downward between the eye and ears until about the level of the mouth,
when they turn upward. Its long thick brown or black hair hanging down
below the middle of the leg, and covering on all parts of the animal a
fine kind of soft ash-colored wool, which is of the finest description,
and capable of forming the most beautiful fabrics manufactured, enables
it to remain even during the winter beyond 70° of northern latitude.
In spring it wanders over the ice as far as Melville Island, or even
Smith’s Sound, where a number of its bones were found by Dr. Kane. In
September it withdraws more to the south, and spends the coldest months
on the verge of the forest region. Like the reindeer, it subsists
chiefly on lichens and grasses. It runs nimbly, and climbs hills and
rocks with great ease. Its fossil remains, or those of a very analogous
species, have been discovered in Siberia: at present it is exclusively
confined to the New World.

In the Rocky Mountains, from the Mexican Cordillera plateaux as far as
68° N. lat., dwells the wild sheep (_Ovis montana_), distinguished by
the almost circular bend of its large, triangular, transversely striped
horns, from its relative the Siberian argali (_Ovis argali_), which is
supposed to be the parent of our domestic sheep, and far surpasses it
in size and delicacy of flesh. Both the American and the Asiatic wild
sheep are in the highest degree active and vigorous, ascending abrupt
precipices with great agility, and, like the wild goat, going over the
narrowest and most dangerous passes with perfect safety.

Among the carnivorous quadrupeds of the northern regions, many,
like the lynx, the wolf, the bear, the glutton, and other members
of the weasel tribe, have their head-quarters in the forests, and
only occasionally roam over the tundras; but the Arctic fox (_Canis
lagopus_) almost exclusively inhabits the treeless wastes that fringe
the Polar Ocean, and is found on almost all the islands that lie
buried in its bosom. This pretty little creature, which in winter
grows perfectly white, knows how to protect itself against the most
intense cold, either by seeking a refuge in the clefts of rocks, or
by burrowing to a considerable depth in a sandy soil. It principally
preys upon lemmings, stoats, polar hares, as well as upon all kinds
of water-fowl and their eggs; but when pinched by hunger, it does not
disdain the carcasses of fish, or the molluscs and crustaceans it may
chance to pick up on the shore. Its enemies are the glutton, the snowy
owl, and man, who, from the Equator to the poles, leaves no creature
unmolested that can in any way satisfy his wants.

[Illustration: 17. ARGALI.]

The lemmings, of which there are many species, are small rodents,
peculiar to the Arctic regions, both in the New and in the Old World,
where they are found as far to the north as vegetation extends. They
live on grass, roots, the shoots of the willow, and the dwarf birch,
but chiefly on lichens. They do not gather hoards of provisions for
the winter, but live upon what they find beneath the snow. They seldom
prove injurious to man, as the regions they inhabit are generally
situated beyond the limits of agriculture. From the voles, to whom they
are closely allied, they are distinguished by having the foot-sole
covered with stiff hairs, and by the strong crooked claws with which
their fore feet are armed. The best known species is the Norwegian
lemming (_Lemmus norwegicus_), which is found on the high mountains
of the Dovrefjeld, and farther to the north on the dry parts of the
tundra, where it inhabits small burrows under stones or in the moss.
Its long and thick hair is of a tawny color, and prettily marked
with black spots. The migrations of the lemming have been grossly
exaggerated by Olaus Magnus and Pontoppidan, to whom the natural
history of the North owes so many fables. As they breed several times
in the year, producing five or six at a birth, they of course multiply
very fast under favorable circumstances, and are then forced to leave
the district which is no longer able to afford them food. But this
takes place very seldom, for when Mr. Brehm visited Scandinavia, the
people on the Dovrefjeld knew nothing about the migrations of the
lemming, and his inquiries on the subject proved equally fruitless in
Lapland and in Finland. At all events, it is a fortunate circumstance
that the lemmings have so many enemies, as their rapid multiplication
might else endanger the balance of existence in the northern regions.
The inclemencies of the climate are a chief means for keeping them in
check. A wet summer, an early cold and snowless autumn destroy them
by millions, and then of course years are necessary to recruit their
numbers. With the exception of the bear and the hedgehog, they are
pursued by all the northern carnivora. The wolf, the fox, the glutton,
the marten, the ermine devour them with avidity, and a good lemming
season is a time of unusual plenty for the hungry Laplander’s dog. The
snowy owl, whose dense plumage enables it to be a constant resident on
the tundra, almost exclusively frequents those places where lemmings,
its favorite food, are to be found; the buzzards are constantly active
in their destruction; the crow feeds its young with lemmings; and even
the poor Lap, when pressed by hunger, seizes a stick, and, for want of
better game, goes out lemming-hunting, and rejoices when he can kill a
sufficient number for his dinner.

[Illustration: 18. THE SNOWY OWL.]

Several birds, such as the snowy owl and the ptarmigan (_Lagopus
albus_), which can easily procure its food under the snow, winter
in the highest latitudes; but by far the greater number are merely
summer visitants of the Arctic regions. After the little bunting, the
first arrivals in spring are the snow-geese, who likewise are the
first to leave the dreary regions of the north on their southerly
migration. The common and king eider-duck, the Brent geese, the
great northern black and red throated divers, are the next to make
their appearance, followed by the pintail and longtail ducks (_Anas
caudacuta_ and _glacialis_), the latest visitors of the season. These
birds generally take their departure in the same order as they arrive.
The period of their stay is but short, but their presence imparts a
wonderfully cheerful aspect to regions at other times so deserted and
dreary. As soon as the young are sufficiently fledged, they again
betake themselves to the southward; the character of the season much
influencing the period of their departure.

As far as man has penetrated, on the most northern islets of
Spitzbergen, or on the ice-blocked shores of Kennedy Channel, the
eider-duck and others of the Arctic anatidæ build their nests; and
there is no reason to doubt that if the pole has breeding-places for
them, it re-echoes with their cries. Nor need they fear to plunge into
the very heart of the Arctic zone, for the flight of a goose being
forty or fifty miles an hour, these birds may breed in the remotest
northern solitude, and in a few hours, on a fall of deep autumn snow,
convey themselves by their swiftness of wing to better feeding-grounds.

One of the most interesting of the Arctic birds is the snow-bunting
(_Plectrophanes nivalis_), which may properly be called _the_ polar
singing-bird, as it breeds in the most northern isles, such as
Spitzbergen and Novaja Zemlya, or on the highest mountains of the
Dovrefjeld, in Scandinavia, where it enlivens the fugitive summer with
its short but agreeable notes, sounding doubly sweet from the treeless
wastes in which they are heard. It invariably builds its nest, which
it lines with feathers and down, in the fissures of mountain rocks or
under large stones, and the entrance is generally so narrow as merely
to allow the parent birds to pass. The remarkably dense winter plumage
of the snow-bunting especially qualifies it for a northern residence,
and when in captivity it will rather bear the severest cold than even
a moderate degree of warmth. In its breeding-places it lives almost
exclusively on insects, particularly gnats: during the winter it feeds
on all sorts of seeds, and then famine frequently compels it to wander
to a less rigorous climate.

[Illustration: 19. BERNIDE GOOSE.]

The Lapland bunting (_Centrophanes lapponicus_), whose white and black
plumage is agreeably diversified with red, is likewise an inhabitant of
the higher latitudes, where it is frequently seen in the barren grounds
and tundras. Both these birds are distinguished by the very long claw
of their hind toe, a structure which enables them to run about with
ease upon the snow.

[Illustration: 20. THE SEA-EAGLE.]

Among the raptorial birds of the Arctic regions, the sea-eagle
(_Haliatus albicilla_) holds a conspicuous rank. At his approach the
gull and the auk conceal themselves in the fissures of the rocks, but
are frequently dragged forth by their relentless enemy. The divers are,
according to Wahlengren, more imperilled from his attacks than those
sea-birds which do not plunge, for the latter rise into the air as soon
as their piercing eye espies the universally dreaded tyrant, and thus
escape; while the former, blindly trusting to the element in which
they are capable of finding a temporary refuge, allow him to approach,
and then suddenly diving, fancy themselves in safety, while the eagle
is only waiting for the moment of their re-appearance to repeat his
attack. Twice or thrice they may possibly escape his claws by a rapid
plunge, but when for the fourth time they dive out of the water, and
remain but one instant above the surface, that instant seals their
doom. The sea-eagle is equally formidable to the denizens of the ocean,
but sometimes too great a confidence in his strength leads to his
destruction, for Kittlitz was informed by the inhabitants of Kamschatka
that, pouncing upon a dolphin, he is not seldom dragged down into the
water by the diving cetacean in whose skin his talons remain fixed.



[Illustration: 21. ARCTIC NAVIGATION.]


CHAPTER III.

THE ARCTIC SEAS.

  Dangers peculiar to the Arctic Sea.--Ice-fields.--Hummocks.--
    Collision of Ice-fields.--Icebergs.--Their Origin.--Their
    Size.--The Glaciers which give them Birth.--Their Beauty.--
    Sometimes useful Auxiliaries to the Mariner.--Dangers of anchoring
    to a Berg.--A crumbling Berg.--The Ice-blink.--Fogs.--
    Transparency of the Atmosphere.--Phenomena of Reflection and
    Refraction.--Causes which prevent the Accumulation of Polar Ice.--
    Tides.--Currents.--Ice a bad Conductor of Heat.--Wise Provisions
    of Nature.


The heart of the first navigator, says Horace, must have been
shielded with threefold brass--and yet the poet knew but the sunny
Mediterranean, with its tepid floods and smiling shores: how, then,
would he have found words to express his astonishment at the intrepid
seamen who, to open new vistas to science or new roads to commerce,
first ventured to face the unknown terrors of the Arctic main?

In every part of the ocean the mariner has to guard against the perils
of hidden shoals and sunken cliffs, but the high northern waters are
doubly and trebly dangerous; for here, besides those rocks which are
firmly rooted to the ground, there are others which, freely floating
about, threaten to crush his vessel to pieces, or to force it along
with them in helpless bondage.

The Arctic navigators have given various names to these movable
shoals, which are the cause of so much delay and danger. They are
_icebergs_ when they tower to a considerable height above the waters,
and _ice-fields_ when they have a vast horizontal extension. A _floe_
is a detached portion of a field; _pack-ice_, a large area of floes
or smaller fragments closely driven together so as to oppose a firm
barrier to the progress of a ship; and _drift-ice_, loose ice in
motion, but not so firmly packed as to prevent a vessel from making her
way through its yielding masses.

[Illustration: 22. AMONG HUMMOCKS.]

The large ice-fields which the whaler encounters in Baffin’s Bay, or
on the seas between Spitzbergen and Greenland, constitute one of the
marvels of the deep. There is a solemn grandeur in the slow majestic
motion with which they are drifted by the currents to the south; and
their enormous masses, as mile after mile comes floating by, impress
the spectator with the idea of a boundless extent and an irresistible
power. But, vast and mighty as they are, they are unable to withstand
the elements combined for their destruction, and their apparently
triumphal march leads them only to their ruin.

[Illustration: 23. DRIFTING IN THE ICE.]

When they first descend from their northern strongholds, the ice of
which they are composed is of the average thickness of from ten to
fifteen feet, and their surface is sometimes tolerably smooth and even,
but in general it is covered with numberless ice-blocks or hummocks
piled upon each other in wild confusion to a height of forty or fifty
feet, the result of repeated collisions before flakes and floes were
soldered into fields. Before the end of June they are covered with
snow, sometimes six feet deep, which melting during the summer forms
small ponds or lakes upon their surface.

[Illustration: 24. FORMS OF ICEBERGS.]

Not seldom ice-fields are whirled about in rotatory motion, which
causes their circumference to gyrate with a velocity of several miles
per hour. When a field thus sweeping through the waters comes into
collision with another which may possibly be revolving with equal
rapidity in an opposite direction--when masses not seldom twenty or
thirty miles in diameter, and each weighing many millions of tons,
clash together, imagination can hardly conceive a more appalling scene.
The whalers at all times require unremitting vigilance to secure their
safety, but scarcely in any situation so much as when navigating amidst
these fields, which are more particularly dangerous in foggy weather,
as their motions can not then be distinctly observed. No wonder that
since the establishment of the fishery numbers of vessels have been
crushed to pieces between two fields in motion, for the strongest ship
ever built must needs be utterly unable to resist their power. Some
have been uplifted and thrown upon the ice; some have had their hulls
completely torn open; and others have been overrun by the ice, and
buried beneath the fragments piled upon their wreck.

[Illustration: 25. FORMS OF ICEBERGS.]

[Illustration: 26. FORMS OF ICEBERGS.]

The icebergs, which, as their name indicates, rise above the water
to a much more considerable height than the ice-fields, have a very
different origin, as they are not formed in the sea itself, but by
the glaciers of the northern highlands. As our rivers are continually
pouring their streams into the ocean, so many of the glaciers or
ice-rivers of the Arctic zone, descending to the water-edge, are slowly
but constantly forcing themselves farther and farther into the sea.
In the summer season, when the ice is particularly fragile, the force
of cohesion is often overcome by the weight of the prodigious masses
that overhang the sea or have been undermined by its waters; and in
the winter, when the air is probably 40° or 50° below zero and the sea
from 28° to 30° above, the unequal expansion of those parts of the mass
exposed to so great a difference of temperature can not fail to produce
the separation of large portions.

Most of these swimming glacier-fragments, or icebergs, which are
met with by the whaler in the Northern Atlantic, are formed on the
mountainous west coast of Greenland by the large glaciers which
discharge themselves into the fiords from Smith’s Sound to Disco Bay,
as here the sea is sufficiently deep to float them away, in spite of
the enormous magnitude they frequently attain. As they drift along
down Baffin’s Bay and Davis’s Strait, they not seldom run aground on
some shallow shore, where, bidding defiance to the short summer, they
frequently remain for many a year.

[Illustration: 27. ICEBERGS AGROUND.]

Dr. Hayes measured an immense iceberg which had stranded off the little
harbor of Tessuissak, to the north of Melville Bay. The square wall
which faced toward his base of measurement was 315 feet high, and a
fraction over three-quarters of a mile long. Being almost square-sided
above the sea, the same shape must have extended beneath it; and
since, by measurements made two days before, Hayes had discovered that
fresh-water ice floating in salt water has above the surface to below
it the proportion of one to seven, this crystallized mountain must have
gone aground in a depth of nearly half a mile. A rude estimate of its
size, made on the spot, gave in cubical contents about 27,000 millions
of feet, and in weight something like 2000 millions of tons!

Captain Ross in his first voyage mentions another of these wrecked
bergs, which was found to be 4169 yards long, 3689 yards broad, and 51
feet high above the level of the sea. It was aground in 61 fathoms,
and its weight was estimated by an officer of the “Alexander” at
1,292,397,673 tons. On ascending the flat top of this iceberg, it was
found occupied by a huge white bear, who justly deeming “discretion the
best part of valor,” sprang into the sea before he could be fired at.

The vast dimensions of the icebergs appear less astonishing when we
consider that many of the glaciers or ice-rivers from which they
are dislodged are equal in size or volume to the largest streams of
continental Europe.

Thus one of the eight glaciers existing in the district of Omenak, in
Greenland, is no less than an English mile broad, and forms an ice-wall
rising 160 feet above the sea. Further to the north, Melville Bay and
Whale Sound are the seat of vast ice-rivers. Here Tyndall glacier forms
a coast-line of ice over two miles long, almost burying its face in
the sea, and carrying the eye along a broad and winding valley, up
steps of ice of giant height, until at length the slope loses itself in
the unknown ice-desert beyond. But grand above all is the magnificent
Humboldt glacier, which, connecting Greenland and Washington Land,
forms a solid glassy wall 300 feet above the water-level, with an
unknown depth below it, while its curved face extends full sixty miles
in length from Cape Agassiz to Cape Forbes. In the temperate zone it
would be one of the mightiest rivers of the earth; here, in the frozen
solitudes of the North, it slowly drops its vast fragments into the
waters, making the solitudes around re-echo with their fall.

As the Polar shores of continental America and Siberia are generally
flat, and below the snow-line, they are consequently deprived both of
glaciers and of the huge floating masses to which these give birth.

In a high sea the waves beat against an iceberg as against a rock; and
in calm weather where there is a swell, the noise made by their rising
and falling is tremendous. Their usual form is that of a high vertical
wall, gradually sloping down to the opposite side, which is very low;
but frequently they exhibit the most fantastic shapes, particularly
after they have been a long time exposed to the corroding power of the
waves, or of warm rains pelting them from above.

A number of icebergs floating in the sea is one of the most magnificent
spectacles of nature, but the wonderful beauty of these crystal cliffs
never appears to greater advantage than when clothed by the midnight
sun with all the splendid colors of twilight.

[Illustration: 28. ICEBERGS AND GLACIER, FROBISHER BAY.]

“The bergs,” says Dr. Hayes, describing one of these enchanting nights,
“had wholly lost their chilly aspect, and glittering in the blaze of
the brilliant heavens, seemed in the distance like masses of burnished
metal or solid flame. Nearer at hand they were huge blocks of Parian
marble inlaid with mammoth gems of pearl and opal. One in particular
exhibited the perfection of the grand. Its form was not unlike that
of the Colosseum, and it lay so far away that half its height was
buried beneath the line of blood-red waters. The sun, slowly rolling
along the horizon, passed behind it, and it seemed as if the old Roman
ruins had suddenly taken fire. In the shadow of the bergs the water
was a rich green, and nothing could be more soft and tender than the
gradations of color made by the sea shoaling on the sloping tongue of
a berg close beside us. The tint increased in intensity where the ice
overhung the water, and a deep cavern near by exhibited the solid color
of the malachite mingled with the transparency of the emerald, while in
strange contrast a broad streak of cobalt blue ran diagonally through
its body. The bewitching character of the scene was heightened by a
thousand little cascades which leaped into the sea from these floating
masses, the water being discharged from lakes of melted snow and ice
which reposed in quietude far up in the valleys separating the high icy
hills of their upper surface. From other bergs large pieces were now
and then detached, plunging down into the water with deafening noise,
while the slow moving swell of the ocean resounded through their broken
archways.”

[Illustration: 29. GLACIER, BUTE INLET.]

A similar gorgeous spectacle was witnessed by Dr. Kane in Melville Bay.
The midnight sun came out over a great berg, kindling variously-colored
fires on every part of its surface, and making the ice around the ship
one great resplendency of gemwork, blazing carbuncles and rubies, and
molten gold.

In the night the icebergs are readily distinguished even at a distance
by their natural effulgence, and in foggy weather by a peculiar
blackness in the atmosphere. As they are not unfrequently drifted
by the Greenland stream considerably to the south of Newfoundland,
sometimes even as far as the fortieth or thirty-ninth degree
of latitude (May, 1841, June, 1842), ships sailing through the
north-western Atlantic require to be always on their guard against
them. The ill-fated “President,” one of our first ocean-steamers, which
was lost on its way to New York, without leaving a trace behind, is
supposed to have been sunk by a collision with an iceberg, and no doubt
many a gallant bark has either foundered in the night, or been hurled
by the storm against these floating rocks.

But though often dangerous neighbors, the bergs occasionally prove
useful auxiliaries to the mariner. From their greater bulk lying below
the water-line, they are either drifted along by the under-current
against the wind, or, from their vast dimensions, are not perceptibly
influenced even by the strongest gale, but, on the contrary, have the
appearance of moving to windward, because every other kind of ice is
drifted rapidly past them. Thus in strong adverse winds, their broad
masses, fronting the storm like bulwarks, not seldom afford protection
to ships mooring under their lee.

Anchoring to a berg is, however, not always unattended with danger,
particularly when the summer is far advanced, or in a lower latitude,
as all ice becomes exceedingly fragile when acted on by the sun or by
a temperate atmosphere. The blow of an axe then sometimes suffices to
rend an iceberg asunder, and to bury the careless seaman beneath its
ruins, or to hurl him into the yawning chasm.

[Illustration: 30. SCALING AN ICEBERG.]

Thus Scoresby relates the adventure of two sailors who were attempting
to fix an anchor to a berg. They began to hew a hole into the ice, but
scarcely had the first blow been struck, when suddenly the immense mass
split from top to bottom and fell asunder, the two halves falling in
contrary directions with a prodigious crash. One of the sailors, who
was possessed of great presence of mind, immediately scaled the huge
fragment on which he was standing, and remained rocking to and fro
on its summit until its equilibrium was restored; but his companion,
falling between the masses, would most likely have been crushed to
pieces if the current caused by their motion had not swept him within
reach of the boat that was waiting for them.

Frequently large pieces detach themselves spontaneously from an
iceberg and fall into the sea with a tremendous noise. When this
circumstance, called “calving,” takes place, the iceberg loses its
equilibrium, sometimes turns on one side, and is occasionally inverted.

Dr. Hayes witnessed the crumbling of an immense berg, resembling in
its general appearance the British House of Parliament. First one
lofty tower came tumbling into the water, starting from its surface an
immense flock of gulls; then another followed; and at length, after
five hours of rolling and crashing, there remained of this splendid
mass of congelation not a fragment that rose fifty feet above the water.

One of the most remarkable phenomena of the Polar Sea is the ice-blink,
or reflection of the ice against the sky. A stripe of light, similar
to the early dawn of morning, but without its redness, appears above
the horizon, and traces a complete aërial map of the ice to a distance
of many miles beyond the ordinary reach of vision. To the experienced
navigator the “blink” is frequently of the greatest use, as it not only
points out the vicinity of the drift-ice, but indicates its nature,
whether compact or loose, continuous or open. Thus Scoresby relates
that on the 7th of June, 1821, he saw so distinct an ice-blink, that
as far as twenty or thirty miles all round the horizon he was able to
ascertain the figure and probable extent of each ice-field. The packed
ice was distinguished from the larger fields by a more obscure and
yellow color; while each water-lane or open passage was indicated by a
deep blue stripe or patch. By this means he was enabled to find his way
out of the vast masses of ice in which he had been detained for several
days, and to emerge into the open sea.

The tendency of the pack-ice to separate in calm weather, so that one
might almost be tempted to believe in a mutual repulsive power of the
individual blocks, is likewise favorable to the Arctic navigator. The
perpetual daylight of summer is another advantage, but unfortunately
the sun is too often veiled by dense mists, which frequently obscure
the air for weeks together, particularly in July. These fogs, which
are a great impediment to the whaler’s operations, have a very
depressing influence upon the spirits; and as they are attended
with a low temperature, which even at noon does not rise much above
freezing-point, the damp cold is also physically extremely unpleasant.

At other times the sun sweeps two or three times round the pole without
being for a moment obscured by a cloud, and then the transparency of
the air is such that objects the most remote may be seen perfectly
distinct and clear. A ship’s top-gallant mast, at the distance of five
or six leagues, may be discerned when just appearing above the horizon
with a common perspective-glass, and the summits of mountains are
visible at the distance of from sixty to a hundred miles.

On such sunny days, the strong contrasts of light and shade between
the glistening snow and the dark protruding rocks produce a
remarkable deception in the apparent distance of the land, along a
steep mountainous coast. When at the distance of twenty miles from
Spitzbergen, for instance, it would be easy to induce even a judicious
stranger to undertake a passage in a boat to the shore, from a belief
that he was within a league of the land. At this distance the portions
of rock and patches of snow, as well as the contour of the different
hills, are as distinctly marked as similar objects in many other
countries, not having snow about them, would be at a fourth or a fifth
part of the distance.

Nothing can be more wonderful than the phenomena of the atmosphere
dependent on reflection and refraction, which are frequently observed
in the Arctic seas, particularly at the commencement or approach of
easterly winds. They are probably occasioned by the commixture, near
the surface of the land or sea, of two streams of air of different
temperatures, so as to occasion an irregular deposition of imperfectly
condensed vapor, which when passing the verge of the horizon apparently
raises the objects there situated to a considerable distance above it,
or extends their height beyond their natural dimensions. Ice, land,
ships, boats, and other objects, when thus enlarged and elevated, are
said to loom. The lower part of looming objects are sometimes connected
with the horizon by an apparent fibrous or columnar extension of their
parts; at other times they appear to be quite lifted into the air, a
void space being seen between them and the horizon.

A most remarkable delusion of this kind was observed by Scoresby while
sailing through the open ice, far from land. Suddenly an immense
amphitheatre inclosed by high walls of basaltic ice, so like natural
rock as to deceive one of his most experienced officers, rose around
the ship. Sometimes the refraction produced on all sides a similar
effect, but still more frequently remarkable contrasts. Single
ice-blocks expanded into architectural figures of an extraordinary
height, and sometimes the distant, deeply indented ice-border looked
like a number of towers or minarets, or like a dense forest of naked
trees. Scarcely had an object acquired a distinct form, when it began
to dissolve into another.

It is well known that similar causes produce similar effects in the
warmer regions of the earth. In the midst of the tropical ocean, the
mariner sees verdant islands rise from the waters, and in the treeless
desert fantastic palm-groves wave their fronds, as if in mockery of the
thirsty caravan.

When we consider the intense cold which reigns during the greatest part
of the year in the Arctic regions, we might naturally, expect to find
the whole of the Polar Sea covered, during the winter at least, with
one solid unbroken sheet of ice. But experience teaches us that this is
by no means the case; for the currents, the tides, the winds, and the
swell of a turbulent ocean are mighty causes of disruption, or strong
impediments to congelation. Both Lieutenant de Haven and Sir Francis
M’Clintock[1] were helplessly carried along, in the depth of winter,
by the pack-ice in Lancaster Sound and Baffin’s Bay. A berg impelled
by a strong under-current rips open an ice-field as if it were a thin
sheet of glass; and in channels, or on coasts where the tides rise to
a considerable height, their flux and reflux is continually opening
crevices and lanes in the ice which covers the waters. That even in
the highest latitudes the sea does not close except when at rest, was
fully experienced by Dr. Hayes during his wintering at Port Foulke;
for at all times, even when the temperature of the air was below the
freezing-point of mercury, he could hear from the deck of his schooner
the roar of the beating waves. From all these causes there has at no
point within the Arctic Circle been found a firm ice-belt extending,
either in winter or in summer, more than from fifty to a hundred miles
from land. And even in the narrow channels separating the islands of
the Parry Archipelago, or at the mouth of Smith Sound, the waters
will not freeze over, except when sheltered by the land, or when an
ice-pack, accumulated by long continuance of winds from one quarter,
affords the same protection.

[Illustration: 31. AN ARCTIC CHANNEL.]

But the constant motion of the Polar Sea, wherever it expands to a
considerable breadth, would be insufficient to prevent its total
congelation, if it were not assisted by other physical causes. A
magnificent system of currents is continually displacing the waters
of the ocean, and forcing the warm floods of the tropical regions to
wander to the pole, while the cold streams of the frigid zone are as
constantly migrating toward the Equator. Thus we see the Gulf Stream
flowing through the broad gateway east of Spitzbergen, and forcing out
a return current of cold water to the west of Spitzbergen, and through
Davis’s Strait.

[Illustration: 32. OPEN WATER.]

The comparatively warm floods which, in consequence of this great law
of circulation, come pouring into the Arctic seas, naturally require
some time before they are sufficiently chilled to be converted into
ice; and as sea-water has its maximum of density, or, in other words,
is heaviest a few degrees above the freezing-point of water, and then
necessarily sinks, the whole depth of the sea must of course be cooled
down to that temperature before freezing can take place. Ice being a
bad conductor of heat, likewise limits the process of congelation; for
after attaining a thickness of ten or fifteen feet, its growth is very
slow, and probably even ceases altogether; for when floating fields, or
floes, are found of a greater thickness, this increase is due to the
snow that falls upon their surface, or to the accumulation of hummocks
caused by their collision.

Thus, by the combined influence of these various physical agencies,
bounds have been set to the congelation of the Polar waters. Were it
otherwise, the Arctic lands would have been mere uninhabitable wastes;
for the existence of the seals, the walrus, and the whale depends upon
their finding some open water at every season of the year; and deprived
of this resource, all the Esquimaux, whose various tribes fringe the
coasts in the highest latitudes hitherto discovered, would perish in a
single winter.

If the Arctic glaciers did not discharge their bergs into the sea,
or if no currents conveyed the ice-floes of the north into lower
latitudes, ice would be constantly accumulating in the Polar world,
and, destroying the balance of nature, would ultimately endanger the
existence of man over the whole surface of the globe.

[Illustration: 33. GLACIER DISCHARGING.]



CHAPTER IV.

ARCTIC MARINE ANIMALS

  Populousness of the Arctic Seas.--The Greenland Whale.--The Fin
    Whales.--The Narwhal.--The Beluga, or White Dolphin.--The Black
    Dolphin.--His wholesale Massacre on the Faeroe Islands.--The Orc,
    or Grampus.--The Seals.--The Walrus.--Its acute Smell.--History
    of a young Walrus.--Parental Affection.--The Polar Bear.--His
    Sagacity.--Hibernation of the She-bear.--Sea-birds.


The vast multitudes of animated beings which people the Polar Seas form
a remarkable contrast to the nakedness of their bleak and desolate
shores. The colder surface-waters almost perpetually exposed to a
chilly air, and frequently covered, even in summer, with floating
ice, are indeed unfavorable to the development of organic life; but
this adverse influence is modified by the higher temperature which
constantly prevails at a greater depth; for, contrary to what takes
place in the equatorial seas, we find in the Polar Ocean an increase
of temperature from the surface downward, in consequence of the warmer
under-currents, flowing from the south northward, and passing beneath
the cold waters of the superficial Arctic current.

Thus the severity of the Polar winter remains unfelt at a greater depth
of the sea, where myriads of creatures find a secure retreat against
the frost, and whence they emerge during the long summer’s day, either
to line the shores or to ascend the broad rivers of the Arctic world.
Between the parallels of 74° and 80° Scoresby observed that the color
of the Greenland sea varies from the purest ultramarine to olive green,
and from crystalline transparency to striking opacity--appearances
which are not transitory, but permanent. This green semi-opaque water,
whose position varies with the currents, often forming isolated
stripes, and sometimes spreading over two or three degrees of latitude,
mainly owes its singular aspect to small medusæ and nudibranchiate
molluscs. It is calculated to form one-fourth part of the surface of
the sea between the above-mentioned parallels, so that many thousands
of square miles are absolutely teeming with life.

On the coast of Greenland, where the waters are so exceedingly clear
that the bottom and every object upon it are plainly visible even at
a depth of eighty fathoms, the ground is seen covered with gigantic
tangles, which, together with the animal world circulating among
their fronds, remind the spectator of the coral-reefs of the tropical
ocean. Nullipores, mussels, alcyonians, sertularians, ascidians, and
a variety of other sessile animals, incrust every stone or fill every
hollow or crevice of the rocky ground. A dead seal or fish thrown into
the sea is soon converted into a skeleton by the myriads of small
crustaceans which infest these northern waters, and, like the ants in
the equatorial forests, perform the part of scavengers of the deep.

Thus we find an exuberance of life, in its smaller and smallest forms,
peopling the Arctic waters, and affording nourishment to a variety of
strange and bulky creatures--cetaceans, walruses, and seals--which
annually attract thousands of adventurous seamen to the icy ocean.

Of these sea-mammalians, the most important to civilized man is
undoubtedly the Greenland whale (_Balæna mysticetus_), or smooth-back,
thus called from its having no dorsal fin. Formerly these whales were
harpooned in considerable numbers in the Icelandic waters, or in the
fiords of Spitzbergen and Danish Greenland; then Davis’s Straits became
the favorite fishing-grounds; and more recently the inlets and various
channels to the east of Baffin’s Bay have been invaded; while, on the
opposite side of America, several hundreds of whalers penetrate every
year through Bering’s Straits into the icy sea beyond, where previously
they lived and multiplied, unmolested except by the Esquimaux.

[Illustration: 34. THE WHALE.]

More fortunate than the smooth-back, the rorquals, or fin-whales
(_Balænoptera boops_, _musculus_, _physalis_, and _rostratus_), still
remain in their ancient seats, from which they are not likely to be
dislodged, as the agility of their movements makes their capture more
difficult and dangerous; while at the same time the small quantity
of their fat and the shortness of their baleen render it far less
remunerative. They are of a more slender form of body, and with a more
pointed muzzle than the Greenland whale; and while the latter attains
a length of only sixty feet, the _Balænoptera boops_ grows to the vast
length of 100 feet and more. There is also a difference in their food,
for the Greenland whale chiefly feeds upon the minute animals that
crowd the olive-colored waters above described, or on the hosts of
little pteropods that are found in many parts of the Arctic seas, while
the rorquals frequently accompany the herring-shoals, and carry death
and destruction into their ranks.

The seas of Novaja Zemlya, Spitzbergen, and Greenland are the domain
of the narwhal, or sea-unicorn, a cetacean quite as strange, but not
so fabulous as the terrestrial animal which figures in the arms of
England. The use of the enormous spirally wound tusk projecting from
its upper jaw, and from which it derives its popular name, has not
yet been clearly ascertained, some holding it to be an instrument of
defense, while others suppose it to be only an ornament or mark of the
superior dignity of the sex to which it has been awarded.

[Illustration: 35. THE NARWHAL.]

Among the numerous dolphins which people the Arctic and Subarctic seas,
the beluga (_Delphinus leucas_), improperly called the white whale, is
one of the most interesting. When young it has a brown color, which
gradually changes into a perfect white. It attains a length of from
twelve to twenty feet, has no dorsal fin, a strong tail three feet
broad, and a round head with a broad truncated snout. Beyond 56° of
latitude it is frequently seen in large shoals, particularly near the
estuaries of the large Siberian and North American rivers, which it
often ascends to a considerable distance in pursuit of the salmon. A
troop of belugas diving out of the dark waves of the Arctic Sea is said
to afford a magnificent spectacle. Their white color appears dazzling,
from the contrast of the sombre background, as they dart about with
arrow-like velocity.

The black dolphin (_Globicephalus globiceps_) is likewise very common
in the Arctic seas, both beyond Bering’s Straits and between Greenland
and Spitzbergen, whence it frequently makes excursions to the south.
It grows to the length of twenty-four feet, and is about ten feet in
circumference. The skin, like that of the dolphin tribe in general, is
smooth, resembling oiled silk; the color a bluish-black on the back,
and generally whitish on the belly; the blubber is three or four inches
thick.

The full-grown have generally twenty-two or twenty-four teeth in each
jaw; and when the mouth is shut, the teeth lock between one another,
like the teeth of a trap. The dorsal fin is about fifteen inches high,
the tail five feet broad; the pectoral fins are as many, long and
comparatively narrow; so that, armed with such excellent paddles, the
black dolphin is inferior to none of his relatives in swiftness. Of an
eminently social disposition, these dolphins sometimes congregate in
herds of many hundreds, under the guidance of several old experienced
males, whom the rest follow like a flock of sheep--a property from
which the animal is called in Shetland the “ca’ing whale.” No cetacean
strands more frequently than the black dolphin, and occasionally large
herds have been driven on the shores of Iceland, Norway, and the
Orkney, Shetland and Faeroe islands, where their capture is hailed as
a godsend. The intelligence that a shoal of ca’ing whales or grinds
has been seen approaching the coast, creates great excitement among
the otherwise phlegmatic inhabitants of the Faeroe Islands. The whole
neighborhood, old and young, is instantly in motion, and soon numerous
boats shoot off from shore to intercept the retreat of the dolphins.
Slowly and steadily they are driven toward the coast; the phalanx of
their enemies draws closer and closer together; terrified by stones
and blows, they run ashore, and lie gasping as the flood recedes. Then
begins the work of death, amid the loud shouts of the executioners and
the furious splashings of the victims. In this manner more than 800
grinds were massacred on August 16, 1776; and during the four summer
months that Langbye sojourned on the island in 1817, 623 were driven
on shore, and served to pay one-half of the imported corn. But, on the
other hand, many years frequently pass without yielding one single
black whale to the tender mercies of the islanders.

The ferocious orc, or grampus (_Delphinus orca_), is the tiger of the
Arctic seas. Black above, white beneath, it is distinguished by its
large dorsal fin, which curves backward toward the tail, and rises to
the height of two feet or more. Measuring no less than twenty-five
feet in length and twelve or thirteen in girth, of a courage equal to
its strength, and armed with formidable teeth, thirty in each jaw,
the grampus is the dread of the seals, whom it overtakes in spite of
their rapid flight; and the whale himself would consider it as his
most formidable enemy, were it not for the persecutions of man. The
grampus generally ploughs the seas in small troops of four or five,
following each other in close single file, and alternately disappearing
and rising so as to resemble the undulatory motions of one large
serpentiform animal.

The family of the seals has also numerous and mighty representatives
in the Arctic waters. In the sea of Bering we meet with the formidable
sea-lion and the valuable sea-bear, while the harp-seal, the bearded
seal, and the hispid seals (_Phoca grœnlandica_, _barbata_, _hispida_),
spreading from the Parry Islands to Novaja Zemlya, yield the tribute
of their flesh to numerous wild tribes, and that of their skins to the
European hunter.

Few Arctic animals are more valuable to man, or more frequently
mentioned in Polar voyages than the walrus or morse (_Trichechus
rosmarus_), which, though allied to the seals, differs greatly from
them by the development of the canines of the upper jaw, which form
two enormous tusks projecting downward to the length of two feet.
The morse is one of the largest quadrupeds existing, as it attains a
length of twenty feet, and a weight of from fifteen hundred to two
thousand pounds. In uncouthness of form it surpasses even the ungainly
hippopotamus. It has a small head with a remarkably thick upper lip,
covered with large pellucid whiskers or bristles; the neck is thick
and short; the naked gray or red-brown skin hangs loosely on the
ponderous and elongated trunk; and the short feet terminate in broad
fin-like paddles, resembling large ill-fashioned flaps of leather.
Its movements on land are extremely slow and awkward, resembling those
of a huge caterpillar, but in the water it has all the activity of the
seals, or even surpasses them in speed.

[Illustration: 36. WALRUSES ON THE ICE.]

Gregarious, like the seals and many of the dolphins, the walruses love
to lie on the ice or on the sand-banks, closely huddled together. On
the spot where a walrus lands, others are sure to follow; and when
the first comers block the shore, those which arrive later, instead of
landing on a free spot farther on, prefer giving their friends who are
in the way a gentle push with their tusks so as to induce them to make
room.

Timorous and almost helpless on land, where, in spite of its formidable
tusks, it falls an easy prey to the attacks of man, the walrus evinces
a greater degree of courage in the water, where it is able to make a
better use of the strength and weapons bestowed upon it by nature.
Many instances are known where walruses, which never attack but when
provoked, have turned upon their assailants, or have even assembled
from a distance to assist a wounded comrade.

Like the seals, the walrus is easily tamed, and of a most affectionate
temper. This was shown in a remarkable manner by a young walrus brought
alive from Archangel to St. Petersburg in 1829. Its keeper, Madame
Dennebecq, having tended it with the greatest care, the grateful animal
expressed its pleasure whenever she came near it by an affectionate
grunt. It not only followed her with its eyes, but was never happier
than when allowed to lay its head in her lap. The tenderness was
reciprocal, and Madame Dennebecq used to talk of her walrus with the
same warmth of affection as if it had been a pet lapdog.

That parental love should be highly developed in animals thus
susceptible of friendship may easily be imagined. Mr. Lamont, an
English gentleman whom the love of sport led a few years since to
Spitzbergen, relates the case of a wounded walrus who held a very young
calf under her right arm. Whenever the harpoon was raised against it,
the mother carefully shielded it with her own body. The countenance of
this poor animal was never to be forgotten: that of the calf expressive
of abject terror, and yet of such a boundless confidence in its
mother’s power of protecting it, as it swam along under her wing, and
the old cow’s face showing such reckless defiance for all that could be
done to herself, and yet such terrible anxiety as to the safety of her
calf. This parental affection is shamefully misused by man, for it is a
common artifice of the walrus-hunters to catch a young animal and make
it grunt, in order to attract a herd.

The walrus is confined to the coasts of the Arctic regions, unless when
drift-ice, or some other accident, carries it away into the open sea.
Its chief resorts are Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, North Greenland, the
shores of Hudson’s and Baffin’s bays; and on the opposite side of the
Polar Ocean, the coasts of Bering’s Sea, and to the north of Bering’s
Straits, the American and Asiatic shores from Point Barrow to Cape
North. It has nowhere been found on the coasts of Siberia from the
mouth of the Jenisei to the last-mentioned promontory, and on those of
America from Point Barrow to Lancaster Sound; so that it inhabits two
distinct regions, separated from each other by vast extents of coast.
Its food seems to consist principally of marine plants and shell-fish,
though Scoresby relates that he found the remains of fishes, or even of
seals, in its stomach.

As the Polar bear is frequently found above a hundred miles from the
nearest land, upon loose ice steadily drifting into the sea, it seems
but fair to assign him a place among the marine animals of the Arctic
zone. He hunts by scent, and is constantly running across and against
the wind, which prevails from the northward, so that the same instinct
which directs his search for prey also serves the important purpose
of guiding him in the direction of the land and more solid ice. His
favorite food is the seal, which he surprises crouching down with his
fore paws doubled underneath, and pushing himself noiselessly forward
with his hinder legs until within a few yards, when he springs upon his
victim, whether in the water or upon the ice. He can swim at the rate
of three miles an hour, and can dive to a considerable distance. Though
he attacks man when hungry, wounded, or provoked, he will not injure
him when food more to his liking is at hand. Sir Francis M’Clintock
relates an anecdote of a native of Upernavik who was out one dark
winter’s day visiting his seal-nets. He found a seal entangled, and
whilst kneeling down over it upon the ice to get it clear, he received
a slap on the back--from his companion as he supposed; but a second
and heavier blow made him look smartly round. He was horror-stricken
to see a peculiarly grim old bear instead of his comrade. Without
taking further notice of the man, Bruin tore the seal out of the net,
and began his supper. He was not interrupted, nor did the man wait
to see the meal finished, fearing, no doubt, that his uninvited and
unceremonious guest might keep a corner for him.

Many instances have been observed of the peculiar sagacity of the Polar
bear. Scoresby relates that the captain of a whaler, being anxious to
procure a bear without wounding the skin, made trial of the stratagem
of laying the noose of a rope in the snow, and placing a piece of
_kreng_, or whale’s carcass, within it. A bear, ranging the neighboring
ice, was soon enticed to the spot. Approaching the bait, he seized it
in his mouth; but his foot, at the same moment, by a jerk of the rope,
being entangled in the noose, he pushed it off with the adjoining paw,
and deliberately retired. After having eaten the piece he carried away
with him, he returned. The noose, with another piece of kreng, being
then replaced, he pushed the rope aside, and again walked triumphantly
off with the kreng. A third time the noose was laid, and this time
the rope was buried in the snow, and the bait laid in a deep hole dug
in the centre. But Bruin, after snuffing about the place for a few
minutes, scraped the snow away with his paw, threw the rope aside, and
escaped unhurt with his prize.

The she-bear is taught by a wonderful instinct to shelter her young
under the snow. Towards the month of December she retreats to the
side of a rock, where, by dint of scraping and allowing the snow to
fall upon her, she forms a cell in which to reside during the winter.
There is no fear that she should be stifled for want of air, for the
warmth of her breath always keeps a small passage open, and the snow,
instead of forming a thick uniform sheet, is broken by a little hole,
round which is collected a mass of glittering hoar-frost, caused by the
congelation of the breath. Within this strange nursery she produces
her young, and remains with them beneath the snow until the month of
March, when she emerges into the open air with her baby bears. As the
time passes on, the breath of the family, together with the warmth
exhaled from their bodies, serves to enlarge the cell, so that with
their increasing dimensions the accommodation is increased to suit
them. As the only use of the snow-burrow is to shelter the young, the
male bears do not hibernate like the females, but roam freely about
during the winter months. Before retiring under the snow, the bear
eats enormously, and, driven by an unfailing instinct, resorts to
the most nutritious diet, so that she becomes prodigiously fat, thus
laying in an internal store of alimentary matter which enables her not
only to support her own life, but to suckle her young during her long
seclusion, without taking a morsel of food. By an admirable provision
of nature, the young are of wonderfully small dimensions when compared
with the parent; and as their growth, as long as they remain confined
in their crystal nursery, is remarkably slow, they consequently need
but little food and space.

[Illustration: 37. HOME OF THE POLAR BEAR.]

The Polar bear is armed with formidable weapons, and a proportionate
power to use them. His claws are two inches in length, and his canine
teeth, exclusive of the part in the jaw, about an inch and a half.
Thus the hoards of provisions which are frequently deposited by Arctic
voyagers to provide for some future want, have no greater enemy than
the Polar bear. “The final cache,” says Kane, “which I relied so much
upon, was entirely destroyed. It had been built with extreme care, of
rocks which had been assembled by very heavy labor, and adjusted with
much aid, often, from capstan-bars as levers. The entire construction
was, so far as our means permitted, most effective and resisting. Yet
these tigers of the ice seemed hardly to have encountered an obstacle.
Not a morsel of pemmican remained, except in the iron cases, which
being round, with conical ends, defied both claws and teeth. They had
rolled and pawed them in every direction, tossing them about like
footballs, although over eighty pounds in weight. An alcohol can,
strongly iron-bound, was dashed into small fragments, and a tin can of
liquor smashed and twisted almost into a ball. The claws of the beast
had perforated the metal and torn it up as with a chisel. They were too
dainty for salt meats; ground coffee they had an evident relish for;
old canvas was a favorite, for some reason or other; even our flag,
which had been reared ‘to take possession’ of the waste, was gnawed
down to the very staff. They had made a regular frolic of it; rolling
our bread-barrels over the ice; and, unable to masticate our heavy
India-rubber cloth, they had tied it up in unimaginable hard knots.”

[Illustration: 38. THE GULL.]

Numbers of sea-birds are found breeding along the Arctic shores as
far as man has hitherto penetrated; some even keep the sea in the
high latitudes all the winter, wherever open water exists. On the
most northern rocks the razorbill rears its young, and the fulmar and
Ross’s gull have been seen in lanes of water beyond 82° lat. As the sun
gains in power, enormous troops of puffins, looms, dovekies, rotges,
skuas, burgermasters, Sabine’s gulls, kittiwakes, ivory gulls, and
Arctic terns, return to the north. There they enjoy the long summer
day, and revel in the abundance of the fish-teeming waters, bringing
life and animation into solitudes seldom or perhaps never disturbed
by the presence of man, and mingling their wild screams with the
hoarse-resounding surge or the howling of the storm. In many localities
they breed in such abundance, that it may be said, almost without
exaggeration, that they darken the sun when they fly, and hide the
waters when they swim.



[Illustration: 39. LAVA-FIELDS.]


CHAPTER V.

ICELAND.

  Volcanic Origin of the Island.--The Klofa Jökul.--Lava-streams.--
    The Burning Mountains of Krisuvik.--The Mud-caldrons of
    Reykjahlid.--The Tungo-hver at Reykholt.--The Great Geysir.--
    The Strokkr.--Crystal Pools.--The Almannagja.--The
    Surts-hellir.--Beautiful Ice-cave.--The Gotha Foss.--The
    Detti Foss.--Climate.--Vegetation.--Cattle.--Barbarous Mode
    of Sheep-shearing.--Reindeer.--Polar Bears.--Birds.--The
    Eider-duck.--Videy.--Vigr.--The Wild Swan.--The Raven.--
    The Jerfalcon.--The Giant auk, or Geirfugl.--Fish.--Fishing
    Season.--The White Shark.--Mineral Kingdom.--Sulphur.--Peat.--
    Drift-wood.


Iceland might as well be called Fireland, for all its 40,000 square
miles have originally been upheaved from the depths of the waters
by volcanic power. First, at some immeasurably distant period of
the world’s history, the small nucleus of the future island began
to struggle into existence against the superincumbent weight of the
ocean; then, in the course of ages, cone rose after cone, crater was
formed after crater, eruption followed on eruption, and lava-stream
on lava-stream, until finally the Iceland of the present day was
piled up with her gigantic “jökuls,” or ice-mountains, and her vast
promontories, stretching like huge buttresses far out into the sea.

In winter, when an almost perpetual night covers the wastes of this
fire-born land, and the waves of a stormy ocean thunder against its
shores, imagination can hardly picture a more desolate scene; but in
summer the rugged nature of Iceland invests itself with many a charm.
Then the eye reposes with delight on green valleys and crystal lakes,
on the purple hills or snow-capped mountains rising in Alpine grandeur
above the distant horizon, and the stranger might almost be tempted to
exclaim with her patriotic sons, “Iceland is the best land under the
sun.” That it is one of the most interesting--through its history, its
inhabitants, and, above all, its natural curiosities--no one can doubt.
It has all that can please and fascinate the poet, the artist, the
geologist, or the historian; the prosaic utilitarian alone, accustomed
to value a country merely by its productions, might turn with some
contempt from a land without corn, without forests, without mineral
riches, and covered for about two-thirds of its surface with bogs,
lava-wastes, and glaciers.

The curse of sterility rests chiefly on the south-eastern and central
parts of the island. Here nothing is to be seen but deserts of
volcanic stone or immense ice-fields, the largest of which--the Klofa
Jökul--alone extends over more than 4000 square miles. The interior of
this vast region of névè and glacier is totally unknown. The highest
peaks, the most dreadful volcanoes of the island, rise on the southern
and south-western borders of this hitherto inaccessible waste; the
Oraefa looking down from a height of 6000 feet upon all its rivals--the
Skaptar, a name of dreadful significance in the annals of Iceland,
and farther on, like the advanced guards of this host of slumbering
fires, the Katla, the Myrdal, the Eyjafjalla, and the Hecla, the most
renowned, though not the most terrible, of all the volcanoes of Iceland.

As the ice-fields of this northern island far surpass in magnitude
those of the Alps, so also the lava-streams of Ætna or Vesuvius are
insignificant when compared with the enormous masses of molten stone
which at various periods have issued from the craters of Iceland. From
Mount Skjaldebreith, on both sides of the lake of Thingvalla as far as
Cape Reykjanes, the traveller sees an uninterrupted lava-field more
than sixty miles long, and frequently from twelve to fifteen broad; and
lava-streams of still more gigantic proportions exist in many other
parts of the island, particularly in the interior. In general, these
lava-streams have cooled down into the most fantastic forms imaginable.
“It is hardly possible,” says Mr. Holland, “to give any idea of the
general appearance of these once molten masses. Here a great crag
has toppled over into some deep crevasse, there a huge mass has been
upheaved above the fiery stream which has seethed and boiled around its
base. Here is every shape and figure that sculpture could design or
imagination picture, jumbled together in grotesque confusion, whilst
everywhere myriads of horrid spikes and sharp shapeless irregularities
bristle amidst them.”

By the eruptions of the Icelandic volcanoes many a fair meadow-land has
been converted into a stony wilderness; but if the subterranean fires
have frequently brought ruin and desolation over the island, they have
also endowed it with many natural wonders.

In the “burning mountains” of Krisuvik, on the south-western coast, a
whole hill-slope, with a deep narrow gorge at its foot, is covered with
innumerable boiling springs and fumaroles, whose dense exhalations,
spreading an intolerable stench, issue out of the earth with a hissing
noise, and completely hide the view.

[Illustration: 40. EFFIGY IN LAVA.]

The Námar, or boiling mud-caldrons of Reykjahlid, situated among a
range of mountains near the Myvatn (Gnat-Lake), in one of the most
solitary spots in the north of the island, on the border of enormous
lava-fields and of a vast unknown wilderness, exhibit volcanic power
on a still more gigantic scale. There are no less than twelve of these
seething pits, all filled with a disgusting thick slimy gray or black
liquid, boiling or simmering with greater or less vehemence, and
emitting dense volumes of steam strongly impregnated with sulphurous
gases. Some sputter furiously, scattering their contents on every side,
while in others the muddy soup appears too thick to boil, and after
remaining quiescent for about half a minute, rises up a few inches
in the centre of the basin, emits a puff of steam, and then subsides
into its former state. The diameter of the largest of all the pits can
not be less than fifteen feet; and it is a sort of mud Geysir, for
at intervals a column of its black liquid contents, accompanied with
a violent rush of steam, is thrown up to the height of six or eight
feet. Professor Sartorius von Waltershausen, one of the few travellers
who have visited this remarkable spot, says that the witches in
_Macbeth_ could not possibly have desired a more fitting place for the
preparation of their infernal gruel than the mud-caldrons of Reykjahlid.

Among the hot or boiling springs of Iceland, which in hundreds of
places gush forth at the foot of the mountains, some are of a gentle
and even flow, and can be used for bathing, washing, or boiling, while
others of an intermittent nature are mere objects of curiosity or
wonder. One of the most remarkable of the latter is the Tungo-hver,
at Reykholt, in the “valley of smoke,” thus named from the columns of
vapor emitted by the thermal springs which are here scattered about
with a lavish hand. It consists of two fountains within a yard of each
other--the larger one vomiting a column of boiling water ten feet
high for the space of about four minutes, when it entirely subsides,
and then the smaller one operates for about three minutes, ejecting a
column of about five feet. The alternation is perfectly regular in time
and force, and there are authentic accounts of its unfailing exactitude
for the last hundred years.

But of all the springs and fountains of Iceland there is none to equal,
either in grandeur or renown, the Great Geysir, which is not merely
one of the curiosities of the country, but one of the wonders of the
earth, as there is nothing to compare to it in any other part of the
world.

At the foot of the Laugafjall hill, in a green plain, through which
several rivers meander like threads of silver, and where chains
of dark-colored mountains, overtopped here and there by distant
snow-peaks, form a grand but melancholy panorama, dense volumes of
steam indicate from afar the site of a whole system of thermal springs
congregated on a small piece of ground which does not exceed twelve
acres. In any other spot, the smallest of these boiling fountains would
arrest the traveller’s attention, but here his whole mind is absorbed
by the Great Geysir. In the course of countless ages this monarch
of springs has formed, out of the silica it deposits, a mound which
rises to about thirty feet above the general surface of the plain, and
slopes on all sides to the distance of a hundred feet or thereabouts
from the border of a large circular basin situated in its centre, and
measuring about fifty-six feet in the greatest diameter and fifty-two
feet in the narrowest. In the middle of this basin, forming as it were
a gigantic funnel, there is a pipe or tube, which at its opening in the
basin is eighteen or sixteen feet in diameter, but narrows considerably
at a little distance from the mouth, and then appears to be not more
than ten or twelve feet in diameter. It has been probed to a depth
of seventy feet, but it is more than probable that hidden channels
ramify farther into the bowels of the earth. The sides of the tube are
smoothly polished, and so hard that it is not possible to strike off a
piece of it with a hammer.

Generally the whole basin is found filled up to the brim with sea-green
water as pure as crystal, and of a temperature of from 180° to 190°.
Astonished at the placid tranquillity of the pool, the traveller can
hardly believe that he is really standing on the brink of the far-famed
Geysir; but suddenly a subterranean thunder is heard, the ground
trembles under his feet, the water in the basin begins to simmer, and
large bubbles of steam rise from the tube and burst on reaching the
surface, throwing up small jets of spray to the height of several
feet. Every instant he expects to witness the grand spectacle which
has chiefly induced him to visit this northern land, but soon the
basin becomes tranquil as before, and the dense vapors produced by
the ebullition are wafted away by the breeze. These smaller eruptions
are regularly repeated every eighty or ninety minutes, but frequently
the traveller is obliged to wait a whole day, or even longer, before
he sees the whole power of the Geysir. A detonation louder than
usual precedes one of these grand eruptions; the water in the basin
is violently agitated; the tube boils vehemently; and suddenly a
magnificent column of water, clothed in vapor of a dazzling whiteness,
shoots up into the air with immense impetuosity and noise to the height
of seventy or eighty feet, and, radiating at its apex, showers water
and steam in every direction. A second eruption and a third rapidly
follow, and after a few minutes the fairy spectacle has passed away
like a fantastic vision. The basin is now completely dried up, and on
looking down into the shaft, one is astonished to see the water about
six feet from the rim, and as tranquil as in an ordinary well. After
about thirty or forty minutes it again begins to rise, and after a few
hours reaches the brim of the basin, whence it flows down the slope
of the mound into the Hvita, or White River. Soon the subterraneous
thunder, the shaking of the ground, the simmering above the tube, and
the other phenomena which attend each minor eruption, begin again,
to be followed by a new period of rest, and thus this wonderful
play of nature goes on day after day, year after year, and century
after century. The mound of the Geysir bears witness to its immense
antiquity, as its water contains but a minute portion of silica.

[Illustration: 41. THE STROKKR.]

After the Geysir, the most remarkable fountain of these Phlegræan
fields is the great Strokkr, situated about four hundred feet from
the former. Its tube, the margin of which is almost even with the
general surface, the small mound and basin being hardly discernible,
is funnel-shaped, or resembling the flower of a convolvulus, having a
depth of forty-eight feet, and a diameter of six feet at the mouth, but
contracting, at twenty-two feet from the bottom, to only eleven inches.
The water stands from nine to twelve feet under the brim, and is
generally in violent ebullition. A short time before the beginning of
the eruptions, which are more frequent than those of the Great Geysir,
an enormous mass of steam rushes from the tube, and is followed by a
rapid succession of jets, sometimes rising to the height of 120 or 150
feet, and dissolving into silvery mist. A peculiarity of the Strokkr
is that it can at any time be provoked to an eruption by throwing into
the orifice large masses of peat or turf; thus choking the shaft, and
preventing the free escape of the steam. After the lapse of about ten
minutes, the boiling fluid, as if indignant at this attempt upon its
liberty, heaves up a column of mud and water, with fragments of peat,
as black as ink.

About 150 paces from the Great Geysir are several pools of the most
beautifully clear water, tinting with every shade of the purest green
and blue the fantastical forms of the silicious travertin which
clothes their sides. The slightest motion communicated to the surface
quivers down to the bottom of these crystal grottoes, and imparts what
might be called a sympathetic tremor of the water to every delicate
incrustation and plant-like efflorescence. “Aladdin’s Cave could not
be more beautiful,” says Preyer; and Mr. Holland remarks that neither
description nor drawing is capable of giving a sufficient idea of the
singularity and loveliness of this spot. In many places it is dangerous
to approach within several feet of the margin, as the earth overhangs
the water, and is hollow underneath, supported only by incrustations
scarcely a foot thick. A plunge into waters of about 200° would be
paying rather too dearly for the contemplation of their fairy-like
beauty.

[Illustration: 42. ENTRANCE TO THE ALMANNAGJA.]

The gigantic chasm of the Almannagja is another of the volcanic wonders
of Iceland. After a long and tedious ride over the vast lava-plain
which extends between the Skalafell and the lake of Thingvalla, the
traveller suddenly finds himself arrested in his path by an apparently
insurmountable obstacle, for the enormous Almannagja, or Allman’s
Rift, suddenly gapes beneath his feet--a colossal rent extending above
a mile in length, and inclosed on both sides by abrupt walls of black
lava, frequently upward of a hundred feet high, and separated from
about fifty to seventy feet from each other.

[Illustration: 43. THE ALMANNAGJA.]

A corresponding chasm, but of inferior dimensions, the Hrafnagja,
or Raven’s Rift, opens its black rampart to the east, about eight
miles farther on; and both form the boundaries of the verdant plain
of Thingvalla, which by a grand convulsion of nature has itself been
shattered into innumerable small parallel crevices and fissures fifty
or sixty feet deep.

[Illustration: 44. THE HRAFNAGJA.]

Of the Hrafnagja Mr. Ross Browne says: “A toilsome ride of eight miles
brought us to the edge of the Pass, which in point of rugged grandeur
far surpasses the Almannagja, though it lacks the extent and symmetry
which give the latter such a remarkable effect. Here was a tremendous
gap in the earth, over a hundred feet deep, hacked and shivered into
a thousand fantastic shapes; the sides a succession of the wildest
accidents; the bottom a chaos of broken lava, all tossed about in
the most terrific confusion. It is not, however, the extraordinary
desolation of the scene that constitutes its principal interest. The
resistless power which had rent the great lava-bed asunder, as if
touched with pity at the ruin, had also flung from the tottering cliffs
a causeway across the gap, which now forms the only means of passing
over the great Hrafnagja. No human hands could have created such a
colossal work as this; the imagination is lost in its massive grandeur;
and when we reflect that miles of an almost impassable country would
otherwise have to be traversed in order to reach the opposite side
of the gap, the conclusion is irresistible that in the battle of the
elements Nature still had a kindly remembrance of man.

[Illustration: 45. THE TINTRON ROCK.]

“Five or six miles beyond the Hrafnagja, near the summit of a dividing
ridge, we came upon a very singular volcanic formation, called the
Tintron. It stands, a little to the right of the trail, on a rise of
scoria and burnt earth, from which it juts up in rugged relief to the
height of twenty or thirty feet. This is, strictly speaking, a huge
clinker, not unlike what comes out of a grate--hard, glassy in spots,
and scraggy all over. The top part is shaped like a shell; in the
centre is a hole about three feet in diameter, which opens into a vast
subterranean cavity of unknown depth. Whether the Tintron is an extinct
crater, through which fires shot out of the earth in by-gone times, or
an isolated mass of lava, whirled through the air out of some distant
volcano, is a question that geologists must determine. The probability
is that it is one of those natural curiosities so common in Iceland
which defy research. The whole country is full of anomalies--bogs where
one would expect to find dry land, and parched deserts where it would
not seem strange to see bogs; fire where water ought to be, and water
in the place of fire.”

[Illustration: 46. FALL OF THE OXERAA.]

“Ages ago,” says Lord Dufferin, “some vast commotion shook the
foundations of the island; and bubbling up from sources far away amid
the inland hills, a fiery deluge must have rushed down between their
ridges, until, escaping from the narrower gorges, it found space to
spread itself into one broad sheet of molten stone over an entire
district of country, reducing its varied surface to one vast blackened
level. One of two things then occurred: either, the vitrified mass
contracting as it cooled, the centre area of fifty square miles (the
present plain of Thingvalla) burst asunder at either side from the
adjoining plateau, and sinking down to its present level, left two
parallel gjas, or chasms, which form its lateral boundaries, to mark
the limits of the disruption; or else, while the pith or marrow of the
lava was still in a fluid state, its upper surface became solid, and
formed a roof, beneath which the molten stream flowed on to lower
levels, leaving a vast cavern into which the upper crust subsequently
plumped down.” In the lapse of years, the bottom of the Almannagja
has become gradually filled up to an even surface, covered with the
most beautiful turf, except where the river Oxeraa, bounding in a
magnificent cataract from the higher plateau over the precipice, flows
for a certain distance between its walls. At the foot of the fall the
waters linger for a moment in a dark, deep, brimming pool, hemmed in
by a circle of ruined rocks, in which anciently all women convicted of
capital crimes were immediately drowned. Many a poor crone, accused of
witchcraft, has thus ended her days in the Almannagja. As may easily be
imagined, it is rather a nerve-trying task to descend into the chasm
over a rugged lava-slope, where the least false step may prove fatal;
but the Icelandic horses are so sure-footed that they can safely be
trusted. From the bottom it is easy to distinguish on the one face
marks and formations exactly corresponding, though at a different
level, with those on the face opposite, and evidently showing that they
once had dovetailed into each other, before the igneous mass was rent
asunder.

Two leagues from Kalmanstunga, in an immense lava-field, which probably
originated in the Bald Jökul, are situated the renowned Surts-hellir,
or caves of Surtur, the prince of darkness and fire of the ancient
Scandinavian mythology. The principal entrance to the caves is an
extensive chasm formed by the falling in of a part of the lava-roof;
so that, on descending into it, the visitor finds himself right in the
mouth of the main cavern, which runs in an almost straight line, and
is nearly a mile in length. Its average height is about forty, and its
breadth fifty feet. The lava-crust which forms its roof is about twelve
feet thick, and has the appearance of being stratified and columnar,
like basaltic pillars, in its formation. Many of the blocks of lava
thus formed have become detached and fallen into the cavern, where
they lie piled up in great heaps, and heavily tax the patience of the
traveller, who has to scramble over the rugged stones, and can hardly
avoid slipping and stumbling into the holes between them, varied by
pools of water and masses of snow. But after having toiled and plodded
to the extremity of this dismal cavern, his perseverance is amply
rewarded by the sight of an ice-grotto, whose fairy beauty appears
still more charming, in contrast with its gloomy vestibule. From the
crystal floor rises group after group of transparent pillars tapering
to a point, while from the roof brilliant icy pendants hang down to
meet them. Columns and arches of ice are ranged along the crystalline
walls, and the light of the candles is reflected back a hundred-fold
from every side, till the whole cavern shines with astonishing lustre.
Mr. Holland, the latest visitor of the Surts-hellir, declares he never
saw a more brilliant spectacle; and the German naturalist, Preyer,
pronounces it one of the most magnificent sights in nature, reminding
him of the fairy grottoes of the Arabian Nights’ Tales.

From the mountains and the vast plateau which occupies the centre of
the island, numerous rivers descend on all sides, which, fed in summer
by the melting glaciers, pour enormous quantities of turbid water
into the sea, or convert large alluvial flats into morasses. Though
of a considerable breadth, their course is frequently very short,
particularly along the southern coast, where the jokuls from which
they derive their birth are only separated from the sea by a narrow
foreland. In their impetuous flow, they not seldom bear huge blocks
of stone along with them, and cut off all communication between the
inhabitants of their opposite banks.

The chief rivers of Iceland are, in the south, the Thiorsa and the
Hvita, which are not inferior in width to the Rhine in the middle
part of its course; in the north, the Skjalfandafljot and the Jökulsa
and the Jökulsa i Axarfirdi, large and rapid streams above a hundred
miles long; and in the east the Lagarfliot. As may be expected in a
mountainous country, containing many glacier-fed rivers, Iceland has
numerous cascades, many of them rivalling or surpassing in beauty the
far-famed falls of Switzerland.

One of the most celebrated of these gems of nature is the Goda-foss,
in the northern part of the island, formed by the deep and rapid
Skjalfandafljot, as it rushes with a deafening roar over rocks
fifty feet high into the caldron below; but it is far surpassed in
magnificence by the Dettifoss, a fall of the Jökulsa i Axarfirdi.

“In some of old earth’s convulsions,” says its _discoverer_, Mr.
Gould,--for from its remote situation, deep in the northern wilds of
Iceland, it had escaped the curious eye of previous travellers--“the
crust of rock has been rent, and a frightful fissure formed in the
basalt, about 200 feet deep, with the sides columnar and perpendicular.
The gash terminates abruptly at an acute angle, and at this spot the
great river rolls in. The wreaths of water sweeping down; the frenzy
of the confined streams where they meet, shooting into each other
from either side at the apex of an angle; the wild rebound when they
strike a head of rock, lurching out half way down; the fitful gleam
of battling torrents, obtained through a veil of eddying vapor; the
Geysir-spouts which blow up about seventy feet from holes whence
basaltic columns have been shot by the force of the descending water;
the blasts of spray which rush upward and burst into fierce showers on
the brink, feeding rills which plunge over the edge as soon as they are
born; the white writhing vortex below, with now and then an ice-green
wave tearing through the foam to lash against the walls; the thunder
and bellowing of the water, which make the rock shudder under foot, are
all stamped on my mind with a vividness which it will take years to
efface. The Almannagja is nothing to this chasm, and Schaffhausen is
dwarfed by Dettifoss.”

The ocean-currents which wash the coasts of Iceland from opposite
directions have a considerable influence on its climate. The south
and west coasts, fronting the Atlantic, and exposed to the Gulf
Stream, remain ice-free even in winter, and enjoy a comparatively mild
temperature, while the cold Polar current, flowing in a south-western
direction from Spitzbergen to Jan Mayen and Iceland, conveys almost
every year to the eastern and northern shores of the island large
masses of drift-ice, which sometimes do not disappear before July
or even August. According to Dr. Thorstensen, the mean annual
temperature of the air at Reykjavik is +40°, and that of the sea +42°,
while according to Herr von Scheele the mean annual temperature at
Akureyre, on the north coast, is only +33°, though even this shows
a comparatively mild climate in so high a latitude. But if Iceland,
thanks to its insular position and to the influence of the Gulf Stream,
remains free from the excessive winter cold of the Arctic continents,
its summer, on the other hand, is inferior in warmth to that which
reigns in the interior of Siberia, or of the Hudson’s Bay territories.

The mean summer temperature at Reykjavik is not above +54°; during many
years the thermometer never rises a single time above +80°; sometimes
even its maximum is not higher than +59°; and, on the northern coast,
snow not seldom falls even in the middle of summer. Under such
circumstances, the cultivation of the cereals is of course impossible;
and when the drift-ice remains longer than usual on the northern
coasts, it prevents even the growth of the grass, and want and famine
are the consequence.

The Icelandic summer is characterized by constant changes in the
weather, rain continually alternating with sunshine, as with us in
April. The air is but seldom tranquil, and storms of terrific violence
are of frequent occurrence. Towards the end of September winter
begins, preceded by mists, which finally descend in thick masses of
snow. Travelling over the mountain-tracks is at this time particularly
dangerous, although cairns or piles of stone serve to point out the
way, and here and there, as over the passes of the Alps, small huts
have been erected to serve as a refuge for the traveller.

In former times Iceland could boast of forests, so that houses and even
ships used to be built of indigenous timber; at present it is almost
entirely destitute of trees, for the dwarf shrubberies here and there
met with, where the birch hardly attains the height of twenty feet, are
not to be dignified with the name of woods. A service-tree (_Sorbus
ancuparia_) fourteen feet high, and measuring three inches in diameter
at the foot, is the boast of the governor’s garden at Reykjavik; it is,
however, surpassed by another at Akureyre, which spreads a full crown
twenty feet from the ground, but never sees its clusters of berries
ripen into scarlet.

The damp and cool Icelandic summer, though it prevents the successful
cultivation of corn, is favorable to the growth of grasses, so that
in some of the better farms the pasture-grounds are hardly inferior
to the finest meadows in England. About one-third of the surface of
the country is covered with vegetation of some sort or other fit
for the nourishment of cattle; but, as yet, art has done little for
its improvement--ploughing, sowing, drainage, and levelling being
things undreamt of. With the exception of the grasses, which are of
paramount importance, and the trees, which, in spite of their stunted
proportions, are of great value, as they supply the islanders with
the charcoal needed for shoeing their horses, few of the indigenous
plants of Iceland are of any use to man. The _Angelica archangelica_
is eaten raw with butter; the matted roots or stems of the _Menyanthes
trifoliata_ serve to protect the backs of the horses against the
rubbing of the saddle; and the Icelandic moss, which is frequently
boiled in milk, is likewise an article of exportation. The want of
better grain frequently compels the poor islanders to bake a kind of
bread from the seeds of the sand-reed (_Elymus arenarius_), which on
our dunes are merely picked by the birds of passage; and the oarweed
or tangle (_Laminaria saccharina_) is prized as a vegetable in a land
where potatoes and turnips are but rarely cultivated.

When the first settlers came to Iceland, they found but two indigenous
land-quadrupeds: a species of field-vole (_Arvicola œconomus_) and the
Arctic fox; but the seas and shores were no doubt tenanted by a larger
number of whales, dolphins, and seals than at the present day.

The ox, the sheep, and the horse which accompanied the Norse colonists
to their new home, form the staple wealth of their descendants;
for the number of those who live by breeding cattle is as three to
one, compared with those who chiefly depend on the sea for their
subsistence. Milk and whey are almost the only beverages of the
Icelanders. Without butter they will eat no fish; and curdled milk,
which they eat fresh in summer and preserve in a sour state during the
winter, is their favorite repast. Thus they set the highest value on
their cattle, and tend them with the greatest care. In the preservation
of their sheep, they are much hampered by the badness of the climate,
by the scantiness of winter food, and by the attacks of the eagles, the
ravens, and the foxes, more particularly at the lambing season, when
vast numbers of the young animals are carried off by all of them. The
wool is not sheared off, but torn from the animal’s back, and woven by
the peasantry, during the long winter evenings, into a kind of coarse
cloth, or knit into gloves and stockings, which form one of the chief
articles of export.

“While at breakfast,” says Mr. Shepherd, “we witnessed the Icelandic
method of sheep-shearing. Three or four powerful young women seized,
and easily threw on their backs the struggling victims. The legs were
then tied, and the wool pulled off by main force. It seemed, from the
contortions of some of the wretched animals, to be a cruel method; but
we were told that there is a period in the year when the young wool,
beginning to grow, pushes the old out before it, so that the old coat
is easily pulled out.” The number of heads of cattle in the island is
about 40,000, that of the sheep 500,000.

The horses, which number from 50,000 to 60,000, though small, are very
robust and hardy. There being no wheel carriages on the island, they
are merely used for riding and as beasts of burden. Their services are
indispensable, as without them the Icelanders would not have the means
of travelling and carrying their produce to the fishing villages or
ports at which the annual supplies arrive from Copenhagen. In winter
the poor animals must find their own food, and are consequently mere
skeletons in spring; they, however, soon recover in summer, though even
then they have nothing whatever but the grass and small plants which
they can pick up on the hills.

The dogs are very similar to those of Lapland and Greenland. Like them,
they have long hair, forming a kind of collar round the neck, a pointed
nose, pointed ears, and an elevated curled tail, with a temper which
may be characterized as restless and irritable. Their general color is
white.

In the year 1770 thirteen reindeer were brought from Norway. Ten
of them died during the passage, but the three that survived have
multiplied so fast that large herds now roam over the uninhabited
wastes. During the winter, when hunger drives them into the lower
districts, they are frequently shot; but no attempts have been made to
tame them: for, though indispensable to the Laplander, they are quite
superfluous in Iceland, which is too rugged and too much intersected by
streams to admit of sledging. They are, in fact, generally considered
as a nuisance, as they eat away the Icelandic moss, which the islanders
would willingly keep for their own use.

[Illustration: 47. ICELANDIC HORSES.]

The Polar bear is but a casual visitor in Iceland. About a dozen come
drifting every year with the ice from Jan Mayen, or Spitzbergen, to
the northern shores. Ravenous with hunger, they immediately attack the
first herds they meet with; but their ravages do not last long, for the
neighborhood, arising in arms, soon puts an end to their existence.

In Iceland the ornithologist finds a rich field for his favorite study,
as there are no less than eighty-two different species of indigenous
birds, besides twenty-one that are only casual visitors, and six that
have been introduced by man.

The swampy grounds in the interior of the country are peopled with
legions of golden and king plovers, of snipes and red-shanks; the lakes
abound with swans, ducks, and geese of various kinds; the snow-bunting
enlivens the solitude of the rocky wilderness with his lively note,
and, wherever grass grows, the common pipit (_Anthus pratensis_) builds
its neat little nest, well lined with horsehair. Like the lark, he
rises singing from the ground, and frequently surprises the traveller
with his melodious warbling, which sounds doubly sweet in the lifeless
waste.

[Illustration: 48. SHOOTING REINDEER.]

The eider-duck holds the first rank among the useful birds of Iceland.
Its chief breeding-places are small flat islands on various parts of
the coast, where it is safe from the attacks of the Arctic fox, such as
Akurey, Flatey, and Videy, which, from its vicinity to Reykjavik, is
frequently visited by travellers. All these breeding-places are private
property, and several have been for centuries in the possession of the
same families, which, thanks to the birds, are among the wealthiest of
the land. It may easily be imagined that the eider-ducks are guarded
with the most sedulous care. Whoever kills one is obliged to pay a
fine of thirty dollars; and the secreting of an egg, or the pocketing
of a few downs, is punished with all the rigor of the law. The chief
occupation of Mr. Stephenson, the aged proprietor of Videy, who dwells
alone on the islet, is to examine through his telescope all the boats
that approach, so as to be sure that there are no guns on board. During
the breeding season no one is allowed to land without his special
permission, and all noise, shouting, or loud speaking is strictly
prohibited. But, in spite of these precautions, we are informed by
recent travellers that latterly the greater part of the ducks of Videy
have been tempted to leave their old quarters for the neighboring
Engey, whose proprietor hit upon the plan of laying hay upon the
strand, so as to afford them greater facilities for nest-building. The
eider-down is easily collected, as the birds are quite tame. The female
having laid five or six pale greenish-olive eggs, in a nest thickly
lined with her beautiful down, the collectors, after carefully removing
the bird, rob the nest of its contents, after which they replace her.
She then begins to lay afresh, though this time only three or four
eggs, and again has recourse to the down on her body. But her greedy
persecutors once more rifle her nest, and oblige her to line it for the
third time. Now, however, her own stock of down is exhausted, and with
a plaintive voice she calls her mate to her assistance, who willingly
plucks the soft feathers from his breast to supply the deficiency.
If the cruel robbery be again repeated, which in former times was
frequently the case, the poor eider-duck abandons the spot, never to
return, and seeks for a new home where she may indulge her maternal
instinct undisturbed.

[Illustration: 49. EIDER-DUCK.]

Mr. Shepherd thus describes his visit to Vigr, in the Isafjardardjup,
one of the head-quarters of the eider-duck in the north of Iceland:
“As the island was approached, we could see flocks upon flocks of the
sacred birds, and could hear their cooings at a great distance. We
landed on a rocky wave-worn shore, against which the waters scarcely
rippled, and set off to investigate the island. The shore was the most
wonderful ornithological sight conceivable. The ducks and their nests
were everywhere in a manner that was quite alarming. Great brown ducks
sat upon their nests in masses, and at every step started up from under
our feet. It was with difficulty that we avoided treading on some of
the nests. The island being but three-quarters of a mile in width,
the opposite shore was soon reached. On the coast was a wall built of
large stones, just above the high-water level, about three feet in
height, and of considerable thickness. At the bottom, on both sides
of it, alternate stones had been left out, so as to form a series of
square compartments for the ducks to make their nests in. Almost every
compartment was occupied; and, as we walked along the shore, a long
line of ducks flew out one after another. The surface of the water
also was perfectly white with drakes, who welcomed their brown wives
with loud and clamorous cooing. When we arrived at the farmhouse we
were cordially welcomed by its mistress. The house itself was a great
marvel. The earthern wall that surrounded it and the window embrasures
were occupied by ducks. On the ground, the house was fringed with
ducks. On the turf slopes of the roof we could see ducks; and a duck
sat in the scraper.

“A grassy bank close by had been cut into square patches like a
chessboard (a square of turf of about eighteen inches being removed,
and a hollow made), and all were filled with ducks. A windmill was
infested, and so were all the outhouses, mounds, rocks, and crevices.
The ducks were everywhere. Many of them were so tame that we could
stroke them on their nests; and the good lady told us that there was
scarcely a duck on the island which would not allow her to take its
eggs without flight or fear. When she first became possessor of the
island, the produce of down from the ducks was not more than fifteen
pounds’ weight in the year, but, under her careful nurture of twenty
years, it had risen to nearly one hundred pounds annually. It requires
about one pound and a half to make a coverlet for a single bed, and
the down is worth from twelve to fifteen shillings per pound. Most of
the eggs are taken and pickled for winter consumption, one or two only
being left to hatch.”

Though not so important as the eider, the other members of the duck
family which during the summer season enliven the lakes and swamps of
Iceland are very serviceable. On the Myvatn, or Gnat Lake, one of their
chief places of resort, the eggs of the long-tailed duck, the wild
duck, the scoter, the common goosander, the red-breasted merganser,
the scaup-duck, etc., and other anserines are carefully gathered and
preserved in enormous quantities for the winter, closely packed in a
fine gray volcanic sand.

The wild swan is frequently shot or caught for his feathers, which
bring in many a dollar to the fortunate huntsman. This noble bird
frequents both the salt and brackish waters along the coast and the
inland lakes and rivers, where it is seen either in single pairs or
congregated in large flocks. To build its nest, which is said to
resemble closely that of the flamingo, being a large mound, composed of
mud, rushes, grass, and stones, with a cavity at top lined with soft
down, it retires to some solitary, uninhabited spot. Much has been said
in ancient times of the singing of the swan, and the beauty of its
dying notes; but, in truth, the voice of the swan is very loud, shrill,
and harsh, though when high in the air, and modulated by the winds, the
note or whoop of an assemblage of them is not unpleasant to the ear. It
has a peculiar charm in the unfrequented wastes of Iceland, where it
agreeably interrupts the profound silence that reigns around.

The raven, one of the commonest land-birds in Iceland, is an object
of aversion to the islanders, as it not only seizes on their young
lambs and eider-ducks, but also commits great depredations among the
fishes laid out to dry upon the shore. Poles to which dead ravens are
attached, to serve as a warning to the living, are frequently seen
in the meadows; and the Icelander is never so happy as when he has
succeeded in shooting a raven. This, however, is no easy task, as no
bird is more cautious, and its eyes are as sharp as those of the eagle.
Of all Icelandic birds, the raven breeds the earliest, laying about the
middle of March its five or six pale-green eggs, spotted with brown, in
the inaccessible crevices of rocks. Towards the end of June, Preyer
saw many young ravens grown to a good size, and but little inferior to
the old ones in cunning.

In the gloomy Scandinavian mythology the raven occupies a rank equal to
that of the eagle in the more cheerful fables of ancient Greece. It was
dedicated to Odin, who, as the traditional history of Iceland informs
us, had two ravens, which were let loose every morning to gather
tidings of what was going on in the world, and which on returning in
the evening perched upon Odin’s shoulders to whisper the news in his
ear; the name of one was _Hugin_, or spirit; of the other, _Mumin_,
or memory. Even now many superstitious notions remain attached to the
raven; for the Icelanders believe this bird to be not only acquainted
with what is going on at a distance, but also with what is to happen in
future, and are convinced that it foretells when any of the family is
about to die, by perching on the roof of the house, or wheeling round
in the air with a continual cry, varying its voice in a singular and
melodious manner.

The white-tailed sea-eagle is not uncommon in Iceland, where he stands
in evil repute as a kidnapper of lambs and eider-ducks. He is sometimes
found dead in the nets of the fishermen; for, pouncing upon a haddock
or salmon, he gets entangled in the meshes, and is unable to extricate
himself. The skins of the bird, which seems to attain a larger size
than in Great Britain, most likely from being less disturbed by man,
are sold at Reykjavik and Akureyre for from three to six rix-dollars.

[Illustration: 50. THE JYRFALCON.]

The jyrfalcon (_Falco gyrfalco_), generally considered as the boldest
and most beautiful of the falcon tribe, has its head-quarters in
Iceland. As long as the noble sport of falconry was in fashion, for
which it was highly esteemed, the trade in falcons was worth from 2000
to 3000 rix-dollars annually to the islanders, and even now high prices
are paid for it by English amateurs.

The rarest bird of Iceland, if not entirely extinct, is the Giant-auk,
or Geirfugl. The last pair was caught about seventeen years ago near
the Geirfuglaskers, a group of solitary rocks to the south of the
Westman Isles, its only known habitat besides some similar cliffs
on the north-eastern coast. Since that time it is said to have been
seen by some fishermen; but this testimony is extremely doubtful, and
the question of its existence can only be solved by a visit to the
Geirfuglaskers themselves--an undertaking which, if practicable at all,
is attended with extreme difficulty and danger, as these rocks are
completely isolated in the sea, which even in calm weather breaks with
such violence against their abrupt declivities that for years it must
be absolutely impossible to approach them.

In 1858 two English naturalists determined at least to make the
attempt, and settled for a season in a small hamlet on the neighboring
coast, eager to seize the first opportunity for storming the
Geirfugl’s stronghold. They waited for several months, but in vain,
the stormy summer being more than usually unfavorable for their
undertaking; and they were equally unsuccessful in the north, whither
they had sent an Icelandic student specially instructed for the
purpose. The giant-auk is three feet high, and has a black bill four
inches and a quarter long, both mandibles being crossed obliquely with
several ridges and furrows. Its wings are mere stumps, like those of
the Antarctic penguins. Thirty pounds have been paid for its egg, which
is larger than that of any other European bird; and there is no knowing
the price the Zoological Society would pay for a live bird, if this
truly “rara avis” could still be found.

[Illustration: 51. THE GIANT-AUK.]

The waters of Iceland abound with excellent fish, which not only
supply the islanders with a great part of their food and furnish them
with one of their chief articles of exportation, but also attract a
number of foreign seamen. Thus about 300 French, Dutch, and Belgian
fishing-sloops, manned with crews amounting in all to 7000 men,
annually make their appearance on the southern and western coasts of
Iceland, particularly those of the Guldbringe Syssel, or gold-bringing
country: thus named, not from any evidence of the precious metal, but
from the golden cod-harvests reaped on its shores. Between thirty and
forty English fishing-smacks yearly visit the northern coast. When they
have obtained a good cargo they run to Shetland to discharge it, and
return again for more.

The Icelandic fishing-season, which begins in February and ends in
June, occupies one-half of the male inhabitants of the island, who come
flocking to the west, even from the remotest districts of the north
and east, to partake of the rich harvest of the seas. Many thus travel
for more than 200 miles in the midst of winter, while the storm howls
over the naked waste, and the pale sun scarcely dispels for a few hours
the darkness of the night. In every hut where they tarry on the road
they are welcome, and have but rarely to pay for their entertainment,
for hospitality is still reckoned a duty in Iceland. On reaching the
fishing-station, an agreement is soon made with the proprietor of a
boat. They usually engage to assist in fishing from February 12 to May
12, and receive in return a share of the fish which they help to catch,
besides forty pounds of flour and a daily allowance of sour curds, or
“skier.”

All the men belonging to a boat generally live in the same damp and
narrow hut. At daybreak they launch forth, to brave for many hours the
inclemencies of the weather and the sea, and while engaged in their
hard day’s work their sole refreshment is the chewing of tobacco or a
mouthful of skier. On returning to their comfortless hut, their supper
consists of the fishes of inferior quality they may have caught, or
of the heads of the cod or ling, which are too valuable for their own
consumption. These are split open and hung upon lines, or exposed on
the shore to the cold wind and the hot sun; this renders them perfectly
hard, and they keep good for years. In this dried state the cod is
called stockfish. About the middle of May the migratory fishermen
return to their homes, leaving their fish which are not yet quite
dry to the care of the fishermen dwelling on the spot. Towards the
middle of June, when the horses have so far recovered from their long
winter’s fast as to be able to bear a load, they come back to fetch
their stockfish, which they convey either to their own homes for the
consumption of their own families, or to the nearest port for the
purpose of bartering it against other articles. Haddocks, flatfish, and
herrings are also very abundant in the Icelandic seas; and along the
northern and north-western coasts the basking shark is largely fished
for all the summer. Strong hooks baited with mussels or pieces of fish,
and attached to chains anchored at a short distance from the shore,
serve for the capture of this monster, which is scarcely, if at all,
inferior in size to the white shark, though not nearly so formidable,
as it rarely attacks man. The skin serves for making sandals; the
coarse flesh is eaten by the islanders, whom necessity has taught not
to be over-nice in their food; and the liver, the most valuable part,
is stewed for the sake of its oil.

“We had observed,” says Mr. Shepherd, “that the horrible smell which
infested Jsa-fjordr varied in intensity as we approached or receded
from a certain black-looking building at the northern end of the town.
On investigating this building, we discovered that the seat of the
smell was to be found in a mass of putrid sharks’ livers, part of which
were undergoing a process of stewing in a huge copper. It was a noisome
green mass, fearful to contemplate. The place was endurable only for a
few seconds; yet dirty-looking men stirred up the mass with long poles,
and seemed to enjoy the reeking vapors.”

The salmon of Iceland, which formerly remained undisturbed by the
phlegmatic inhabitants, are now caught in large numbers for the
British market. A small river bearing the significant name of Laxaa,
or Salmon River, has been rented for the trifling sum of £100 a year
by an English company, which sends every spring its agents to the spot
well provided with the best fishing apparatus. The captured fish are
immediately boiled, and hermetically packed in tin boxes, so that they
can be eaten in London almost as fresh as if they had just been caught.

The mineral kingdom contributes but little to the prosperity of
Iceland. It affords neither metals, nor precious stones, nor rock-salt,
nor coal; for the seams of “surturbrand”, or “lignite”, found here and
there, are too unimportant to be worked. The solfataras of Krisuvik
and Husavik, though extremely interesting to the geologist, likewise
furnish sulphur in too impure a condition or too thinly scattered to
afford any prospect of being worked with success, not to mention the
vast expense of transport over the almost impassable lava-tracks that
separate them from the nearest ports. In 1839–40, when, in consequence
of the monopoly granted by the Neapolitan Government to a French
company, sulphur had risen to more than three times its usual price,
Mr. Knudsen, an enterprising Danish merchant, undertook to work the
mines of Krisuvik, but even then it would not answer.

In 1859, a London company, founded by Mr. Bushby,--who having explored
the sulphur districts, had raised great expectations on what he
considered their dormant wealth,--renewed the attempt, but after a
year’s trial it was abandoned as perfectly hopeless. The “solfataras of
Iceland”, says Professor Sartorius of Waltershausen, “can not compete
with those of Sicily, where more sulphur is wantonly wasted and trodden
under foot than all Iceland possesses. While the “Namars” of the north,
which are far richer than those of Krisuvik, annually furnish scarcely
more than ten tons, the sulphur mines of Sicily produce at least
50,000, and, if necessary, could easily export double the quantity.”

As coal is too expensive a fuel for any but the rich in the small
sea-port towns, and peat, though no doubt abundantly scattered over the
island, is dug only in a few places, the majority of the people make
use of singular substitutes. The commonest is dried cow’s and sheep’s
dung; but many a poor fisherman lacks even this “spicy” material, and
is fain to use the bones of animals, the skeletons of fishes or dried
sea-birds, which, with a stoical contempt for his olfactory organs, he
burns, feathers and all. There is, however, no want of fuel in those
privileged spots where drift-wood is found, and here the lava hearth
of the islander cheerfully blazes either with the pine conveyed to him
by the kindly Polar currents from the Siberian forests, or with some
tropical trunk, wafted by the Gulf Stream over the Atlantic to his
northern home.



[Illustration: 52. CATHEDRAL AT REYKJAVIK.]


CHAPTER VI.

HISTORY OF ICELAND.

  Discovery of the Island by Naddodr in 861.--Gardar.--Floki of
    the Ravens.--Ingolfr and Leif.--Ulfliot the Lawgiver.--The
    Althing.--Thingvalla.--Introduction of Christianity into the
    Island.--Frederick the Saxon and Thorwold the Traveller.--
    Thangbrand.--Golden Age of Icelandic Literature.--Snorri
    Sturleson.--The Island submits to Hakon, King of Norway, in
    1254.--Long Series of Calamities.--Great Eruption of the Skapta
    Jökul in 1783.--Commercial Monopoly.--Better Times in Prospect.


The Norse vikings were, as is well known, the boldest of navigators.
They possessed neither the sextant nor the compass; they had neither
charts nor chronometers to guide them; but trusting solely to fortune,
and to their own indomitable courage, they fearlessly launched forth
into the vast ocean. Many of these intrepid corsairs were no doubt lost
on their adventurous expeditions, but frequently a favorable chance
rewarded their temerity, either with some rich booty or some more
glorious discovery.

Thus in the year 861, Naddodr, a Norwegian pirate, while sailing from
his native coast to the Faeroe Islands, was drifted by contrary winds
far to the north. For several days no land was visible--nothing but
an interminable waste of waters; when suddenly the snow-clad mountains
of Iceland were seen to rise above the mists of the ocean. Soon after
Naddodr landed with part of his crew, but discovered no traces of
man in the desert country. The viking tarried but a short time on
this unpromising coast, on which he bestowed the appropriate name of
Snowland.

Three years later, Gardar, another northern freebooter, while sailing
to the Hebrides, was likewise driven by stormy weather to Iceland.
He was the first circumnavigator of the island, which he called,
after himself, Gardar’s holm, or the island of Gardar. On his return
to his native port, he gave his countrymen so flattering an account
of the newly-discovered land, that Floki, a famous viking, resolved
to settle there. Trusting to the augury of birds, Floki took with
him three ravens to direct him on his way. Having sailed a certain
distance beyond the Faeroe Islands, he gave liberty to one of them,
which immediately returned to the land. Proceeding onward, he loosed
the second, which, after circling for a few minutes round the ship,
again settled on its cage, as if terrified by the boundless expanse of
the sea. The third bird, on obtaining his liberty a few days later,
proved at length a faithful pilot, and flying direct to the north,
conducted Floki to Iceland. As the sea-king entered the broad bay which
is bounded on the left by the huge Snäfells Jökul, and on the right
by the bold promontory of the Guldbringe Syssel, Faxa, one of his
companions, remarked that a land with such noble features must needs be
of considerable extent. To reward him for this remark, which flattered
the vanity or the ambition of his leader, the bay was immediately
named Faxa Fiord, as it is still called to the present day. The new
colonists, attracted by the abundance of fish they found in the bay,
built their huts on the borders of a small outlet, still bearing the
name of Rafna Fiord, or the Raven’s Frith; but as they neglected to
make hay for the winter, the horses and cattle they had brought with
them died of want. Disappointed in his expectations, Floki returned
home in the second year, and, as might naturally have been expected
from an unsuccessful settler, gave his countrymen but a dismal account
of Iceland, as he definitely named it.

Yet, in spite of his forbidding description, the political disturbances
which took place about this time in Norway led to the final
colonization of the island. Harold Haarfager, or the Fair-haired,
a Scandinavian yarl, having by violence and a successful policy
reduced all his brother-yarls to subjection, first consolidated their
independent domains into one realm, and made himself absolute master
of the whole country. Many of his former equals submitted to his yoke;
but others, animated by that unconquerable love of liberty innate in
men who for many generations have known no superior, preferred seeking
a new home across the ocean to an ignominious vassalage under the
detested Harold. Ingolfr and his cousin Leif were the first of these
high-minded nobles that emigrated (869–870) to Iceland.

On approaching the southern coast, Ingolfr cast the sacred pillars
belonging to his former dwelling into the water, and vowed to establish
himself on the spot to which they should be wafted by the waves. His
pious intentions were for the time frustrated, as a sudden squall
separated him from his penates, and forced him to locate himself
on a neighboring promontory, which to this day bears the name of
Ingolfrshofde. Here he sojourned three years, until the followers he
had sent out in quest of the missing pillars at length brought him
the joyful news that they had been found on the beach of the present
site of Reykjavik, whither, in obedience to what he supposed to be the
divine summons, he instantly removed. Ingolfr’s friend and relative
Leif was shortly after assassinated by some Irish slaves whom he had
captured in a predatory descent on the Hibernian coast. The surviving
chieftain deplored the loss of his kinsman, lamenting “that so valiant
a man should fall by such villains,” but found consolation by killing
the murderers and annexing the lands of their victim. When, in course
of time, he himself felt his end approaching, he requested to be buried
on a hill overlooking the fiord, that from that elevated site his
spirit might have a better view of the land of which he was the first
inhabitant.

Such are the chronicles related in the “Landnama Bok,” or “Book of
Occupation,” one of the earliest records of Icelandic history.

Ingolfr and his companions were soon followed by other emigrants
desirous of escaping from the tyranny of Harold Haarfager, who at
first favored a movement that removed far beyond the sea so many of
his turbulent opponents, but subsequently, alarmed at the drain of
population, or desirous of profiting by the exodus, levied a fine
of four ounces of silver on all who left his dominions to settle in
Iceland. Yet such were the attractions which the island at that time
presented, that, in spite of all obstacles, not half a century elapsed
before all its inhabitable parts were occupied, not only by Norwegians,
but also by settlers from Denmark and Sweden, Scotland and Ireland.

The Norwegians brought with them their language and idolatry, their
customs and historical records, which the other colonists, but few in
numbers, were compelled to adopt. At first the udal, or free land-hold
system of their own country, was in vigor, but every leader of a
band of emigrants being chosen, by force of circumstances, as the
acknowledged chief of the district occupied by himself and companions,
speedily paved the way for a demi-feudal system of vassalage and
subservience. As the arrival of new settlers rendered the possession
of the land more valuable, endless contests between these petty chiefs
arose for the better pastures and fisheries. To put an end to this
state of anarchy, so injurious to the common weal, Ulfliot the Wise was
commissioned to frame a code of laws, which the Icelanders, by a single
simultaneous and peaceful effort, accepted as their future constitution.

The island was now divided into four provinces and twelve districts.
Each district had its own judge, and its own popular “Thing,” or
assembly; but the national will was embodied and represented by the
“Althing,” or supreme parliament of Iceland, which annually met at
Thingvalla, under an elective president, or “Logmathurman,” the chief
magistrate of this northern republic.

On the banks of the river Oxeraa, where the rapid stream, after forming
a magnificent cascade, rushes into the lake of Thingvalla, lies the
spot where, for many a century, freemen met to debate, while despotic
barbarians still reigned over the milder regions of Europe. Isolated
on all sides by deep volcanic chasms, which some great revolution of
nature has rent in the vast lava-field around, and embosomed in a
wide circle of black precipitous hills, the situation of Thingvalla is
extremely romantic, but the naked dark-colored rocks, and the traces
of subterranean fire visible on every side, impart a stern melancholy
to the scene. The lake, the largest sheet of water in the island, is
about thirty miles in circumference; its boundaries have undergone
many changes, especially during the earthquakes of the past century,
when its northern margin collapsed, while the opposite one was raised.
The depth of its crystal waters is very great, and in its centre rise
two small crater-islands, the result of some unknown eruption. The
mountains on its south bank have a picturesque appearance, and large
volumes of steam issuing from several hot sources on their sides prove
that, though all be tranquil now, the volcanic fires are not extinct.
Only a few traces of the ancient Althing are left--three small mounds,
where sat in state the chiefs and judges of the land--for as the
assembly used to pitch their tents on the borders of the stream, and
the deliberations were held in the open air, there are no imposing
ruins to bear witness to a glorious past. But though all architectural
pomp be absent, the scene hallowed by the recollections of a thousand
years is one of deep interest to the traveller. The great features of
nature are the same as when the freemen of Iceland assembled to settle
the affairs of their little world; but the raven now croaks where the
orator appealed to the reason or the passions of his audience, and
the sheep of the neighboring pastor crop undisturbed the grass of
desecrated Thingvalla.

[Illustration: 53. THINGVALLA, LÖGBERG, AND ALMANNAGJA.]

Mr. Ross Browne thus describes the scene: “After a slight repast I
walked out to take a look at the Lögberg, or Rock of Laws, which is
situated about half a mile from the church. This is, perhaps, of all
the objects of historical association in Iceland, the most interesting.
It was here the judges tried criminals, pronounced judgments, and
executed their stern decrees. On a small plateau of lava, separated
from the general mass by a profound abyss on every side, save a narrow
neck barely wide enough for a foothold, the famous “Thing” assembled
once a year, and, secured from intrusion in their deliberations by the
terrible chasm around, passed laws for the weal or woe of the people.
It was only necessary to guard the causeway by which they entered; all
other sides were well protected by the encircling moat, which varies
from thirty to forty feet in width, and is half filled with water. The
total depth to the bottom, which is distinctly visible through the
crystal pool, must be sixty or seventy feet. Into this yawning abyss
the unhappy criminals were cast, with stones around their necks, and
many a long day did they lie beneath the water, a ghastly spectacle for
the crowd that peered at them over the precipice. All was now as silent
as the grave. Eight centuries had passed, and yet the strange scenes
that had taken place here were vividly before me. I could imagine the
gathering crowds, the rising hum of voices; the pause, the shriek, and
plunge; the low murmur of horror, and then the stern warning of the
lawgivers and the gradual dispersing of the multitude. The dimensions
of the plateau are four or five hundred feet in length by an average
of sixty or eighty in width. The surface is now covered with a fine
coating of sod and grass, and furnishes good pasturage for the sheep
belonging to the pastor.”

Christianity was first preached in Iceland about the year 981,
by Friedrich, a Saxon bishop, to whom Thorwald the traveller, an
Icelander, acted as interpreter. Thorwald having been treated with
great severity by his father, Kodran, had fled to Denmark, where he
had been converted by Friedrich. He returned with the pious bishop to
his paternal home, where the solemn service of the Christians made
some impression on Kodran, but still the obstinate pagan could not be
prevailed upon to renounce his ancient gods. “He must believe,” said
he, “the word of his own priest, who was wont to give him excellent
advice.” “Well, then,” replied Thorwald, “this venerable man whom I
have brought to thy dwelling is weak and infirm, while thy well-fed
priest is full of vigor. Wilt thou believe in the power of our God
if the bishop drives him hence?” Friedrich now cast a few drops of
holy water on the priest, which immediately burnt deep holes into his
skin, so that he fled, uttering dreadful curses. After this convincing
proof, Kodran adopted the Christian faith. But persuasion and miracles
acted too slowly for the fiery Thorwald, who would willingly have
converted all Iceland at once with fire and sword. His sermons were
imprecations, and the least contradiction roused him to fury. Unable to
bear so irascible an associate, the good bishop Friedrich, giving up
his missionary labors, returned to Saxony. As to Thorwald, his restless
disposition led him to far-distant lands. He visited Greece and Syria,
Jerusalem and Constantinople, and ultimately founded a convent in
Russia, where he died in the odor of sanctity.

Soon after Thangbrand was sent by the Norwegian king, Olaf Truggeson,
as missionary to Iceland. His method of conversion appears to have
been very like that of his erratic predecessor; for while he held the
cross in one hand, he grasped the sword with the other. “Thangbrand,”
says an ancient chronicler, “was a passionate, ungovernable person, and
a great manslayer, but a good scholar and clever. He was two years in
Iceland, and was the death of three men before he left it.”

Other missionaries of a more evangelical character took his place, and
proved by their success that mild reasoning is frequently a far more
effectual means of persuasion than brutal violence. They made a great
number of proselytes, and the whole island was now divided into two
factions ready to appeal to the sword for the triumph of Christ or of
Odin. But before coming to this dreadful extremity, the voice of reason
was heard, and the contending parties agreed to submit the question to
the decision of the Althing.

The assembly met, and the momentous debate was proceeding, when
suddenly a loud crash of subterranean thunder was heard, and the
earth shook under their feet. “Listen!” exclaimed a follower of Odin,
“and beware of the anger of our gods: they will consume us with their
fires, if we venture to question their authority.” The Christian party
hesitated; but their confidence was soon restored by the presence of
mind of their chief orator, Thorgeir, who, pointing to the lava-fields
around, asked with whom the gods were angry when these rocks were
melted: a burst of eloquence which at once decided the question in
favor of the Cross.

The new faith brought with it a new spirit of intellectual development,
which attained its highest splendor in the twelfth century. Classical
studies were pursued with the utmost zeal, and learned Icelanders
travelled to Germany and France to extend their knowledge in the
schools of Paris or Cologne. The Icelandic bards, or scalds, were
renowned throughout all Scandinavia; they frequented the courts of
Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, and were everywhere received with the
highest honors.

The historians, or sagamen, of Iceland were no less renowned than its
scalds. They became the annalists of the whole Scandinavian world,
and the simplicity and truth by which their works are distinguished
fully justify their high reputation. Among the many remarkable men who
at that time graced the literature of the Arctic isle, Sämund Frode,
the learned author of the “Voluspa” (a work on the ancient Icelandic
mythology) and the “Havamal” (a general chronicle of events from the
beginning of the world); Are Thorgilson, whose “Landnama Bok” relates
with the utmost accuracy the annals of his native land; and Gissur,
who about the year 1180 described his voyages to the distant Orient,
deserve to be particularly mentioned; but great above all in genius and
fame was Snorri Sturleson, the Herodotus of the North, whose eventful
life and tragic end would well deserve to be recounted at greater
length.

Gifted with the rarest talents, and chief of the most powerful family
of the island, Snorri was elected in 1215 to the high office of
Logmathurman; but disgusting his sturdy countrymen by his excessive
haughtiness, he was obliged to retire to the court of Hakon, king of
Norway. During this exile he collected the materials for his justly
celebrated “Heimskringla,” or Chronicle of the Kings of Norway.
Returning home in 1221, he was again named Logmathurman; but as he
endeavored to pave the way for the annexation of his native country to
the Norwegian realm, his foreign intrigues caused a rising against his
authority, and he was once more compelled to take refuge in Norway.
Here he remained several years, until the triumph of his own faction
allowed him to return to his family estate at Reikholt, where he was
murdered on a dark September night in the year 1241. Thus perished the
most remarkable man Iceland ever has produced. The republic itself did
not long survive his fall; for, weary of the interminable feuds of
their chiefs, the people voluntarily submitted to Hakon in 1254, and
the middle of the thirteenth century was signalized by the transfer of
the island to the Norwegian crown, after three hundred and forty years
of a turbulent but glorious independence.

From that time the political history of the Icelanders offers but
little interest. With their annexation to a European monarchy perished
the vigor, restlessness, and activity which had characterized their
forefathers; and though the Althing still met at Thingvalla, the
national spirit had fled. It was still further subdued by a long chain
of calamities--plagues, famines, volcanic eruptions, and piratical
invasions--which, following each other in rapid succession, devastated
the land and decimated its unfortunate inhabitants.

In 1402 that terrible plague, the memory of which is still preserved
under the name of the “Black Death,” carried off nearly two-thirds of
the whole population, and was followed by such an inclement winter that
nine-tenths of the cattle in the island died. The miseries of a people
suffering from pestilence and famine were aggravated by the English
fishermen, who, in spite of the remonstrances of the Danish government,
frequented the defenseless coast in considerable numbers, and were in
fact little better than the old sea-robbers who first colonized the
island, plundering and burning on the main, and holding the wealthy
inhabitants to ransom. Their predatory incursions were frequently
repeated during the seventeenth century, and even the distant
Mediterranean sent its Algerine pirates to add to the calamities of
Iceland.

The eighteenth century was ushered in by the small-pox, which carried
off sixteen thousand of the inhabitants. In the middle of the
century--severe winters following in rapid succession--vast numbers
of cattle died, inducing a famine that again swept away ten thousand
inhabitants.

Since the first colonization of Iceland, its numerous volcanoes had
frequently brought ruin upon whole districts--twenty-five times had
Hecla, eleven times Kötlugiá, six times Trölladyngja, five times
Oraefa, vomited forth their torrents of molten stone, without counting
a number of submarine volcanic explosions, or where the plain was
suddenly rent and flames and ashes burst out of the earth; but the
eruption of Skaptar Jökul in 1783 was the most frightful visitation
ever known to have desolated the island. The preceding winter and
spring had been unusually mild, and the islanders looked forward to a
prosperous summer; but in the beginning of June repeated tremblings
of the earth, increasing in violence from day to day, announced that
the subterranean powers that had long been slumbering under the icy
mantle of the Skaptar were ready to awake. All the neighboring peasants
abandoned their huts and erected tents in the open field, anxiously
awaiting the result of these terrific warnings. On the 9th, immense
pillars of smoke collected over the hill country toward the north,
and, rolling down in a southerly direction, covered the whole district
of Sitha with darkness. Loud subterranean thunders followed in rapid
succession, and innumerable fire-spouts were seen leaping and flaring
through the dense canopy of smoke and ashes that enveloped the land.
The heat raging in the interior of the volcano melted enormous masses
of ice and snow, which caused the river Skapta to rise to a prodigious
height; but on the 11th torrents of fire usurped the place of water,
for a vast lava-stream breaking forth from the mountains, flowed down
in a southerly direction, until reaching the river, a tremendous
conflict arose between the two hostile elements. Though the channel
was six hundred feet deep and two hundred feet wide, the lava-flood
pouring down one fiery wave after another into the yawning abyss,
ultimately gained the victory, and, blocking up the stream, overflowed
its banks. Crossing the low country of Medalland, it poured into a
great lake, which after a few days was likewise completely filled up,
and having divided into two streams, the unexhausted torrent again
poured on, overflowing in one direction some ancient lava-fields, and
in another re-entering the channel of the Skapta and leaping down
the lofty cataract of Stapafoss. But this was not all, for while one
lava-flood had chosen the Skapta for its bed, another, descending in
a different direction, was working similar ruin along the banks of
the Hverfisfliot. Whether the same crater gave birth to both, it is
impossible to say, as even the extent of the lava-flow can only be
measured from the spot where it entered the inhabited districts. The
stream which followed the direction of Skapta is calculated to have
been about fifty miles in length by twelve or fifteen at its greatest
breadth; that which rolled down the Hverfisfliot, at forty miles in
length by seven in breadth.

Where it was inclosed between the precipitous banks of the Skapta, the
lava is five or six hundred feet thick, but as soon as it spread out
into the plain its depth never exceeded one hundred feet. The eruption
of sand, ashes, pumice, and lava continued till the end of August, when
at length the vast subterranean tumult subsided.

But its direful effects were felt for a long time after, not only in
its immediate vicinity, but over the whole of Iceland, and added many
a mournful page to her long annals of sorrow. For a whole year a dun
canopy of cinder-laden clouds hung over the unhappy island. Sand and
ashes, carried to an enormous height into the atmosphere, spread far
and wide, and overwhelmed thousands of acres of fertile pasturage. The
Faeroes, the Shetlands, and the Orkneys were deluged with volcanic dust
which perceptibly contaminated even the skies of England and Holland.
Mephitic vapors obscured the rays of the sun, and the sulphurous
exhalations tainted both the grass of the field and the waters of the
lake, the river, and the sea, so that not only the cattle died by
thousands, but the fish also perished in their poisoned element. The
unhealthy air, and the want of food--for hunger at last drove them to
have recourse to untanned hides and old leather--gave rise to a disease
resembling scurvy among the unfortunate Icelanders. The head and limbs
began to swell, the bones seemed to be distending. Dreadful cramps
forced the patient to strange contortions. The gums loosened, the
decomposed blood oozed from the mouth and the ulcerous skin, and a few
days of torment and prostration were followed by death.

In many a secluded vale whole families were swept away, and those that
escaped the scourge had hardly strength sufficient to bury the dead.

So great was the ruin caused by this one eruption that in the short
space of two years no less than 9336 men, 28,000 horses, 11,461 cattle,
and 190,000 sheep--a large proportion of the wealth and population of
the island--were swept away.

After this dreadful catastrophe followed a long period of volcanic
rest, for the next eruption of the Eyjafialla did not take place before
1821. A twelfth eruption of Kötlugja occurred in 1823, the twenty-sixth
of Hecla in 1845–46; and ultimately the thirteenth of Kötlugja in 1860.
Since then there has been repose; but who knows what future disasters
may be preparing beneath those icy ridges and fields of snow of Skapta
and his frowning compeers, where no human foot has ever wandered, or
how soon they may awaken their dormant thunders?

Besides the sufferings caused by the elements, the curse of monopoly
weighed for many a long year upon the miserable Icelanders. The Danish
kings, to whom on the amalgamation of the three Scandinavian monarchies
the allegiance of the people of Iceland was passively transferred,
considered their poor dependency as a private domain, to be farmed
out to the highest bidder. In the 16th century the Hanseatic Towns
purchased the exclusive privilege of trading with Iceland; and in 1594
a Danish company was favored with the monopoly, for which it had to pay
the paltry sum of 16 rix-dollars for each of the ports of the island.

In the year 1862 a new company paid 4000 dollars for the Icelandic
monopoly; but at the expiration of the contract, each of the ports
were farmed out to the highest bidder--a financial improvement which
raised the revenue to 16,000 dollars a year, and ultimately to 22,000.
The incalculable misery produced by the eruption of the Skapta had at
least the beneficial consequence that it somewhat loosened the bonds
of monopoly, as it now became free to every Danish merchant to trade
with the island; but it is only since April, 1855, that the last
restrictions have fallen and the ports of Iceland been opened to the
merchants of all nations. It is to be hoped that the beneficial effects
of free trade will gradually heal the wounds caused by centuries of
neglect and misfortune; but great progress must be made before Iceland
can attain the degree of prosperity which she enjoyed in the times of
her independence.

Then she had above a hundred thousand inhabitants, now she has scarcely
half that number; then she had many rich and powerful families, now
mediocrity or poverty is the universal lot; then she was renowned all
over the North as the seat of learning and the cradle of literature,
now, were it not for her remarkable physical features, no traveller
would ever think of landing on her rugged shores.



[Illustration: 54. REYKJAVIK, THE CAPITAL OF ICELAND.]


CHAPTER VII.

THE ICELANDERS.

  Skalholt.--Reykjavik.--The Fair.--The Peasant and the Merchant.--
    A Clergyman in his Cups.--Hay-making.--The Icelander’s Hut.--
    Churches.--Poverty of the Clergy.--Jon Thorlaksen.--The
    Seminary of Reykjavik.--Beneficial Influence of the Clergy.--
    Home Education.--The Icelander’s Winter’s Evening.--Taste for
    Literature.--The Language.--The Public Library at Reykjavik.--
    The Icelandic Literary Society.--Icelandic Newspapers.--
    Longevity.--Leprosy.--Travelling in Iceland.--Fording the
    Rivers.--Crossing of the Skeidara by Mr. Holland.--A Night’s
    Bivouac.


Next to Thingvalla, there is no place in Iceland so replete with
historical interest as Skalholt, its ancient capital. Here in the
eleventh century was founded the first school in the island; here
was the seat of its first bishops; here flourished a succession of
great orators, historians, and poets; Isleif, the oldest chronicler
of the North; Gissur, who in the beginning of the twelfth century had
visited all the countries of Europe and spoke all their languages;
the philologian Thorlak, and Finnur Johnson, the learned author of
the “Ecclesiastical History of Iceland.” The Cathedral of Skalholt
was renowned far and wide for its size, and in the year 1100, Latin,
poetry, music, and rhetoric, the four liberal arts, were taught in its
school, more than they were at that time in many of the large European
cities. As a proof how early the study of the ancients flourished in
Skalholt, we find it recorded that in the twelfth century a bishop once
caught a scholar reading Ovid’s “Art of Love;” and as the story relates
that the venerable pastor flew into a violent passion at the sight of
the unholy book, we may without injustice conclude that he must have
read it himself in some of his leisure hours, to know its character so
well.

Of all its past glories, Skalholt has retained nothing but its name.
The school and the bishopric have been removed, the old church has
disappeared, and been replaced by a small wooden building, in which
divine service is held once a month; three cottages contain all the
inhabitants of the once celebrated city, and the extensive churchyard
is the only memorial of its former importance. Close by are the ruins
of the old school-house, and on the spot where the bishop resided a
peasant has erected his miserable hovel.

But the ever-changing tide of human affairs has not bereft the now
lonely place of its natural charms, for the meadow-lands of Skalholt
are beautifully imbedded in an undulating range of hills, overlooking
the junction of the Bruara and Huita, and backed by a magnificent
theatre of mountains, among which Hecla and the Eyjafialla are the most
prominent.

Reykjavik, the present capital of the island, has risen into importance
at the expense both of Skalholt and Thingvalla. At the beginning of the
present century the courts of justice were transferred from the ancient
seat of legislature to the new metropolis, and in 1797 the bishoprics
of Hoolum and Skalholt, united into one, had their seats likewise
transferred to Reykjavik. The ancient school of Skalholt, after having
first migrated to Bessestadt, has also been obliged to follow the
centralizing tendency, so powerful in our times, and now contributes to
the rising fortunes of the small sea-port town.

But in spite of all these accessions, the first aspect of Reykjavik
by no means corresponds to our ideas of a capital. “The town,”
says Lord Dufferin, “consists of a collection of wooden sheds,
one story high--rising here and there into a gable end of greater
pretensions--built along the lava-track, and flanked at either end by
a suburb of turf huts. On every side of it extends a desolate plain of
lava that once must have boiled up red-hot from some distant gateway
of hell, and fallen hissing into the sea. No tree or bush relieves
the dreariness of the landscape, and the mountains are too distant to
serve as a background to the buildings; but before the door of each
merchant’s house facing the sea there flies a gay little pennon; and
as you walk along the silent streets, whose dust no carriage-wheel
has ever desecrated, the rows of flower-pots that peep out of the
windows, between curtains of white muslin, at once convince you that,
notwithstanding their unpretending appearance, within each dwelling
reign the elegance and comfort of a woman-tended home.”

[Illustration: 55. GOVERNOR’S RESIDENCE, REYKJAVIK.]

Twenty years since, Reykjavik was no better than a wretched
fishing-village, now it already numbers 1400 inhabitants, and
free-trade promises it a still greater increase for the future. It owes
its prosperity chiefly to its excellent port, and to the abundance of
fish-banks in its neighborhood, which have induced the Danish merchants
to make it their principal settlement. Most of them, however, merely
visit it in summer like birds of passage, arriving in May with small
cargoes of foreign goods, and leaving it again in August, after having
disposed of their wares. Thus Reykjavik must be lonely and dreary
enough in winter, when no trade animates its port, and no traveller
stays at its solitary inn; but the joy of the inhabitants is all the
greater when the return of spring re-opens their intercourse with the
rest of the world, and the delight may be imagined with which they hail
the first ship that brings them the long-expected news from Europe,
and perhaps some wealthy tourist, eager to admire the wonders of the
Geysirs.

The most busy time of the town is, however, the beginning of July,
when the annual fair attracts a great number of fishermen and peasants
within its walls. From a distance of forty and fifty leagues around,
they come with long trains of pack-horses; their stock-fish slung
freely across the animals’ backs, their more damageable articles close
pressed and packed in boxes or skin bags.

The greater part of the trade in this and other small sea-ports--such
as Akreyri, Hafnafjord, Eyrarbacki, Berufjord, Vapnafjord, Isafjord,
Grafaros, Budenstadt, which, taken all together, do not equal Reykjavik
in traffic and population--is carried on by barter.[2]

Sometimes the Icelander desires to be paid in specie for part of
his produce, but then he is obliged to bargain for a long time with
the merchant, who of course derives a double profit by an exchange
of goods, and is loth to part with his hard cash. The dollars thus
acquired are either melted down, and worked into silver massive
girdles, which in point of execution as well as design are said, on
good authority,[3] to be equal to any thing of the kind fashioned
by English jewellers, or else deposited in a strong-box, as taxes
and wages are all paid in produce, and no Icelander ever thinks of
investing his money in stocks, shares, or debentures.

He is, however, by no means so ignorant of mercantile affairs as to
strike at once a bargain with the Danish traders. Pitching his tent
before the town, he first pays a visit to all the merchants of the
place. After carefully noting their several offers (for as each of them
invariably treats him to a dram, he with some justice mistrusts his
memory), he returns to his caravan and makes his calculations as well
as his somewhat confused brain allows him. If he is accompanied by his
wife, her opinion of course is decisive, and the following morning he
repairs with all his goods to the merchant who has succeeded in gaining
his confidence.

After the business has been concluded, the peasant empties one glass to
the merchant’s health, another to a happy meeting next year, a third to
the king, a fourth because three have been drunk already. At length,
after many embraces and protestations of eternal friendship, he takes
his leave of the merchant. Fortunately there is no thief to be found in
all Iceland; but in consequence of these repeated libations, one parcel
has not been well packed, another negligently attached to the horse,
and thus it happens that the poor peasant’s track is not unfrequently
marked with sugar, coffee-beans, salt, or flour, and that when he
reaches home, he finds some valuable article or other missing.

It would, however, be doing the Icelanders an injustice to regard them
as generally intemperate; for though within the last twelve years
the population has increased only ten per cent., and the importation
of brandy thirty, yet the whole quantity of spirits consumed in
the island amounts to less than three bottles per annum for each
individual, and, of this allowance, the people of Reykjavik and of
the other small sea-ports have more than their share, while many of
the clergy and peasantry in the remoter districts hardly ever taste
spirituous liquors. Dr. Hooker mentions the extraordinary effect which
a small portion of rum produced on the good old incumbent of Middalr,
whose stomach had been accustomed only to a milk-diet and a little
coffee. “He begged me,” says the doctor,[4] “to give him some rum to
bathe his wife’s breast; but having applied a portion of it to that
purpose, he drank the rest without being at all aware of its strength,
which, however, had no other effect than in causing this clerical
blacksmith,[5] with his lame hip, to dance in the most ridiculous
manner in front of the house. The scene afforded a great source of
merriment to all his family except his old wife, who was very desirous
of getting him to bed, while he was no less anxious that she should
join him in the dance.”

Dr. Hooker justly remarks that this very circumstance is a convincing
proof how unaccustomed this priest was to spirituous liquors, as the
quantity taken could not have exceeded a wine-glass full.

After his visit to the fair, the peasant sets about hay-making, which
is to him the great business of the year, for he is most anxious to
secure winter fodder for his cattle, on which his whole prosperity
depends. The few potatoes and turnips about the size of marbles, or the
cabbage and parsley, which he may chance to cultivate, are not worth
mentioning; grass is the chief, nay, the only produce of his farm, and
that Heaven may grant clear sunshiny days for hay-making is now his
daily prayer.

Every person capable of wielding a scythe or rake is pressed into the
work. The best hay is cut from the “tún,” a sort of paddock comprising
the lands adjoining the farm-house, and the only part of his grounds on
which the peasant bestows any attention, for, in spite of the paramount
importance of his pasture-land, he does but little for its improvement,
and a meadow is rarely seen, where the useless or less nutritious herbs
are not at least as abundant as those of a better quality. The “tún” is
encircled by a turf or stone wall, and is seldom more than ten acres
in extent, and generally not more than two or three. Its surface is
usually a series of closely-packed mounds, like graves, most unpleasant
to walk over, the gutter, in some places, being two feet in depth
between the mounds. After having finished with the “tún,” the farmer
subjects to a process of cutting all the broken hillsides and boggy
undrained swamps that lie near his dwelling. The blades of the scythes
are very short. It would be impossible to use a long-bladed scythe,
owing to the unevenness of the ground.

The cutting and making of hay is carried on, when the weather will
permit, through all the twenty-four hours of the day. When the hay
is made it is tied in bundles by cords and thongs, and carried away
by ponies to the earthen houses prepared for it, which are similar
to and adjoin those in which the cattle are stalled. “It is a very
curious sight,” says Mr. Shepherd, “to see a string of hay-laden ponies
returning home. Each pony’s halter is made fast to the tail of the
preceding one, and the little animals are so enveloped in their burdens
that nothing but their hoofs and the connecting ropes are visible,
and they look as though a dozen huge haycocks, feeling themselves
sufficiently made, were crawling off to their resting-places.”

When the harvest is finished the farmer treats his family and laborers
to a substantial supper, consisting of mutton, and a soup of milk and
flour; and although the serious and taciturn Icelander has perhaps of
all men the least taste for music and dancing, yet these simple feasts
are distinguished by a placid serenity, no less pleasing than the more
boisterous mirth displayed at a southern vintage.

Almost all labor out-of-doors now ceases for the rest of the year. A
thick mantle of snow soon covers mountain and vale, meadow and moor;
with every returning day, the sun pays the cold earth a decreasing
visit, until, finally, he hardly appears above the horizon at noon;
the wintry storm howls over the waste, and for months the life of the
Icelander is confined to his hut, which frequently is but a few degrees
better than that of the filthy Lap.

Its lower part is built of rude stones to about the height of four
feet, and between each row layers of turf are placed with great
regularity, to serve instead of mortar, and keep out the wind. A
roof of such wood as can be procured rests upon these walls, and is
covered with turf and sods. On one side (generally facing the south)
are several gable ends and doors, each surmounted with a weather-cock.
These are the entrances to the dwelling-house proper, to the smithy,
store-room, cow-shed, etc. A long narrow passage, dark as pitch, and
redolent of unsavory odors, leads to the several apartments, which are
separated from each other by thick walls of turf, each having also its
own roof, so that the peasant’s dwelling is in fact a conglomeration of
low huts, which sometimes receive their light through small windows in
the front, but more frequently through holes in the roof, covered with
a piece of glass or skin. The floors are of stamped earth; the hearth
is made of a few stones clumsily piled together; a cask or barrel, with
the two ends knocked out, answers the purpose of a chimney, or else the
smoke is allowed to escape through a mere hole in the roof.

[Illustration: 56. ICELANDIC HOUSES.]

The thick turf walls, the dirty floor, the personal uncleanliness of
the inhabitants, all contribute to the pollution of the atmosphere. No
piece of furniture seems ever to have been cleaned since it was first
put into use; all is disorder and confusion. Ventilation is utterly
impossible, and the whole family, frequently consisting of twenty
persons or more, sleep in the same dormitory, as well as any strangers
who may happen to drop in. On either side of this apartment are bunks
three or four feet in width, on which the sleepers range themselves.

Such are in general the dwellings of the farmers and clergy, for but
very few of the more wealthy inhabitants live in any way according
to our notions of comfort, while the cots of the poor fisherman are
so wretched that one can hardly believe them to be tenanted by human
beings.

The farm-houses are frequently isolated, and, on account of their
grass-covered roofs and their low construction, are not easily
distinguished from the neighboring pasture-grounds; where four or five
of them are congregated in a grassy plain, they are dignified with the
name of a village, and become the residence of a Hrepstior, or parish
constable.

Then also a church is seldom wanting, which however is distinguished
from the low huts around merely by the cross planted on its roof. An
Icelandic house of prayer is generally from eight to ten feet wide, and
from eighteen to twenty-four long; but of this about eight feet are
devoted to the altar, which is divided off by a partition stretching
across the church, and against which stands the pulpit. A small wooden
chest or cupboard, placed at the end of the building, between two very
small square windows not larger than a common-sized pane of glass,
constitutes the communion-table, over which is generally a miserable
representation of the Lord’s Supper painted on wood. The height of
the walls, which are wainscoted, is about six feet, and from them
large wooden beams stretch across from side to side. On these beams
are placed in great disorder a quantity of old Bibles, psalters, and
fragments of dirty manuscripts. The interior of the roof, the rafters
of which rest on the walls, is also lined with wood. On the right of
the door, under which one is obliged to stoop considerably on entering,
is suspended a bell, large enough to make an intolerable noise in
so small a space. A few benches on each side the aisle, so crowded
together as almost to touch one another, and affording accommodation
to thirty or forty persons when squeezed very tight, leave room for a
narrow passage.

These churches, besides their proper use, are also made to answer the
purpose of the caravanseras of the East, by affording a night’s lodging
to foreign tourists. They are indeed neither free from dirt, nor from
bad smells; but the stranger is still far better off than in the
intolerable atmosphere of a peasant’s hut.

Mr. Ross Browne thus describes the church and parsonage at Thingvalla;
“The church is of modern construction, and, like all I saw in the
interior, is made of wood, painted a dark color, and roofed with boards
covered with sheets of tarred canvas. It is a very primitive little
affair, only one story high, and not more than fifteen by twenty
feet in dimensions. From the date on the weather-cock it appears to
have been built in 1858. The congregation is supplied by the few
sheep-ranches in the neighborhood, consisting at most of half a dozen
families. These unpretending little churches are to be seen in the
vicinity of every settlement throughout the whole island. Simple and
homely as they are, they speak well for the pious character of the
people.

“The pastor of Thingvalla and his family reside in a group of
sod-covered huts close by the church. These cheerless little hovels are
really a curiosity, none of them being over ten or fifteen feet high,
and all huddled together without the slightest regard to latitude or
longitude, like a parcel of sheep in a storm. Some have windows in the
roof, and some have chimneys; grass and weeds grow all over them, and
crooked by-ways and dark alleys run among them and through them. At
the base they are walled up with big lumps of lava, and two of them
have board fronts, painted black, while the remainder are patched up
with turf and rubbish of all sorts, very much in the style of a stork’s
nest. A low stone wall encircles the premises, but seems to be of
little use as a barrier against the encroachments of live-stock, being
broken up in gaps every few yards. In front of the group some attempt
has been made at a pavement, which, however, must have been abandoned
soon after the work was commenced. It is now littered all over with old
tubs, pots, dish-cloths, and other articles of domestic use.

[Illustration: 57. CHURCH AT THINGVALLA.]

“The interior of this strange abode is even more complicated than one
would be led to expect from the exterior. Passing through a dilapidated
doorway in one of the smaller cabins, which you would hardly suppose
to be the main entrance, you find yourself in a long dark passage-way,
built of rough stone, and roofed with wooden rafters and brushwood
covered with sod. The sides are ornamented with pegs stuck in the
crevices between the stones, upon which hang saddles, bridles,
horse-shoes, bunches of herbs, dried fish, and various articles of
cast-off clothing, including old shoes and sheepskins. Wide or narrow,
straight or crooked, to suit the sinuosities of the different cabins
into which it forms the entrance, it seems to have been originally
located upon the track of a blind boa-constrictor. The best room,
or rather house--for every room is a house--is set apart for the
accommodation of travellers. Another cabin is occupied by some members
of the pastor’s family, who bundle about like a lot of rabbits. The
kitchen is also the dog-kennel, and occasionally the sheep-house. A
pile of stones in one corner of it, upon which a few twigs or scraps of
sheep-manure serve to make the fire, constitute the cooking apartment.
The floor consists of the original lava-bed, and artificial puddles
composed of slops and offal of diverse unctuous kinds. Smoke fills
all the cavities in the air not already occupied by foul odors, and
the beams, and posts, and rickety old bits of furniture are dyed to
the core with the dense and variegated atmosphere around them. This is
a fair specimen of the whole establishment, with the exception of the
travellers’ room. The beds in these cabins are the chief articles of
luxury.”

The poverty of the clergy corresponds with the meanness of their
churches. The best living in the island is that of Breide’-Bolstadr,
where the nominal stipend amounts to 180 specie dollars, or about £40
a year; and Mr. Holland states that the average livings do not amount
to more than £10 for each parish in the island. The clergymen must
therefore depend almost entirely for subsistence on their glebe land,
and a small pittance to which they are entitled for the few baptisms,
marriages, and funerals that occur among their parishioners. The
bishop himself has only 2000 rix-dollars, or £200, a year, a miserable
pittance to make a decent appearance, and to exercise hospitality to
the clergy who visit Reykjavik from distant parts.

[Illustration: 58. THE PASTOR’S HOUSE, THINGVALLA.]

It can not be wondered at that pastors thus miserably paid are
generally obliged to perform the hardest work of day laborers to
preserve their families from starving, and that their external
appearance corresponds less with the dignity of their office than with
their penury. Besides hay-making and tending the cattle, they may be
frequently seen leading a train of pack-horses from a fishing-station
to their distant hut. They are all blacksmiths also from necessity, and
the best shoers of horses on the island. The feet of an Iceland horse
would be cut to pieces over the sharp rock and lava, if not well shod.
The great resort of the peasantry is the church; and should any of the
numerous horses have lost a shoe, or be likely to do so, the priest
puts on his apron, lights his little charcoal fire in his smithy (one
of which is always attached to every parsonage), and sets the animal on
his legs again. The task of getting the necessary charcoal is not the
least of his labors, for whatever the distance may be to the nearest
thicket of dwarf-birch, he must go thither to burn the wood, and to
bring it home when charred across his horse’s back. His hut is scarcely
better than that of the meanest fisherman; a bed, a rickety table, a
few chairs, and a chest or two, are all his furniture. This is, as long
as he lives, the condition of the Icelandic clergyman, and learning,
virtue, and even genius are but too frequently buried under this
squalid poverty.

But few of my readers have probably ever heard of the poet Jon
Thorlakson, but who can withhold the tribute of his admiration from the
poor priest of Backa, who with a fixed income of less than £6 a year,
and condemned to all the drudgery which I have described, finished at
seventy years of age a translation of Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” having
previously translated Pope’s “Essay on Man.”

[Illustration: 59. THE PASTOR OF THINGVALLA.]

Three of the first books only of the “Paradise Lost” were printed by
the Icelandic Literary Society, when it was dissolved in 1796, and to
print the rest at his own expense was of course impossible. In a few
Icelandic verses, Thorlakson touchingly alludes to his penury:--“Ever
since I came into this world I have been wedded to Poverty, who has now
hugged me to her bosom these seventy winters, all but two; and whether
we shall ever be separated here below is only known to Him who joined
us together.”

As if Providence had intended to teach the old man that we must hope to
the last, he soon after received the unexpected visit of Mr. Henderson,
an agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society, who thus relates his
interview:

“Like most of his brethren at this season of the year, we found him
in the meadow assisting his people in hay-making. On hearing of our
arrival, he made all the haste home which his age and infirmity would
allow, and bidding us welcome to his lowly abode, ushered us into the
humble apartment where he translated my countrymen into Icelandic. The
door is not quite four feet in height, and the room may be about eight
feet in length by six in breadth. At the inner end is the poet’s bed,
and close to the door, over against a small window, not exceeding two
feet square, is a table where he commits to paper the effusions of his
Muse. On my telling him that my countrymen would not have forgiven me,
nor could I have forgiven myself, had I passed through this part of
the island without paying him a visit, he replied that the translation
of Milton had yielded him many a pleasant hour, and often given him
occasion to think of England.”

This visit was followed by agreeable consequences for the venerable
bard. The Literary Fund soon afterwards sent him a present of £30, a
modest sum according to our ideas, but a mine of wealth in the eyes
of the poor Icelandic priest. His life, however, was now near its
close, as it is stated in a short view “Of the Origin, Progress, and
Operations of the Society,” dated March 3d, 1821, that “the poet of
Iceland is now in his grave; but it is satisfactory to know that the
attention, in this instance, of a foreign and remote society to his
gains and his fortunes was highly gratifying to his feelings, and
contributed not immaterially to the comfort of his concluding days.”

He wrote a letter in very elegant Latin, expressing his heartfelt
gratitude for the kindness and generosity of the Society, so accordant
with the character of the British nation, and accompanied it with a MS.
copy of his translation. The latter was first printed in Iceland in
1828, but his own original poems did not appear before 1842.

The school where most of the Icelandic clergymen, so poor and yet
generally so respectable in their poverty, are educated, is that of
Reykjavik, as few only enjoy stipends which enable them to study at
Copenhagen. There they live several years under a milder sky, they
become acquainted with the splendor of a large capital, and thus it
might be supposed that the idea of returning to the dreary wastes of
their own land must be intolerable. Yet this is their ardent desire,
and, like banished exiles, they long for their beloved Iceland, where
privation and penury await them.

In no Christian country, perhaps with the sole exception of Lapland,
are the clergy so poor as in Iceland, but in none do they exert a more
beneficial influence.

Though the island has but the one public school at Reykjavik, yet
perhaps in no country is elementary education more generally diffused.
Every mother teaches her children to read and write, and a peasant,
after providing for the wants of his family by the labor of his hands,
loses no opportunity, in his leisure hours, of inculcating a sound
morality. In these praiseworthy efforts the parents are supported by
the pastor.

He who, judging from the sordid condition of an Icelandic hut, might
imagine its inhabitants to be no better than savages, would soon change
his opinion were he introduced on a winter evening into the low,
ill-ventilated room where the family of a peasant or a small landholder
is assembled. Vainly would he seek a single idler in the whole company.
The women and girls spin or knit; the men and boys are all busy
mending their agricultural implements and household utensils, or else
chiselling or cutting with admirable skill ornaments or snuff-boxes in
silver, ivory, or wood. By the dubious light of a tallow lamp, just
making obscurity visible, sits one of the family, who reads with a loud
voice an old “saga” or chronicle, or maybe the newest number of the
“Northurfari,” an Iceland literary almanac, published during the last
few years by Mr. Gisle Brinjulfsson. Sometimes poems or whole sagas are
repeated from memory, and there are even itinerant story-tellers, who,
like the troubadours and trouvères of the Middle Ages, wander from one
farm to another, and thus gain a scanty livelihood. In this manner the
deeds of the ancient Icelanders remain fixed in the memory of their
descendants, and Snorre Sturleson, Sämund, Frodi, and Eric Rauda are
unforgotten. Nine centuries have elapsed; but every Icelander still
knows the names of the proud yarls who first peopled the fiords of the
island; and the exploits of the brave vikings who spread terror and
desolation along all the coasts of Europe still fill the hearts of the
peaceful islanders of our days with a glow of patriotic pride.

Where education is so general, one may naturally expect to find a
high degree of intellectual cultivation among the clergy, the public
functionaries, and the wealthier part of the population. Their
classical knowledge is one of the first things that strike the stranger
with astonishment. He sees men whose appearance too frequently denotes
an abject poverty conversant with the great authors of antiquity, and
keenly alive to their beauties. Travelling to the Geysirs, he is not
seldom accosted in Latin by his guide, and stopping at a farm, his host
greets him in the same language.

I have specially named Jon Thorlakson, but Iceland has produced and
still produces many other men who, without the hope of any other reward
but that which proceeds from the pure love of literature, devote their
days and nights to laborious studies, and live with Virgil and Homer
under the sunny skies of Italy and Greece. In the study of the modern
languages, the Icelanders are as far advanced as can be expected from
their limited intercourse with the rest of the world.

The English language, in which they find so many words of their own and
so many borrowed from the Latin, is cultivated by many of the clergy.
The German they find still more easy; and as all the Scandinavian
languages proceed from the same root, they have no difficulty in
understanding the Danish and the Norwegian tongues. Of all the modern
languages or dialects which have sprung from the ancient Norse, spoken
a thousand years ago all over Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, none has
undergone fewer changes than the Icelandic. In the sea-ports it is
mixed up with many Danish words and phrases, but in the interior of the
island it is still spoken as it was in the times of Ingolfr and Eric
the Red, and in the whole island there is no fisherman or day laborer
who does not perfectly understand the oldest writings.

It may easily be imagined that among a people so fond of literature,
books must be in great request. Too poor to be constantly increasing
their small collections of modern publications, or of old “sagas”
or chronicles, by new acquisitions, one assists the other. When the
peasant goes on Sundays to church, he takes a few volumes with him,
ready to lend his treasures to his neighbors, and, on his part, selects
from among those which they have brought for the same purpose. When he
is particularly pleased with a work, he has it copied at home, and it
may be here remarked that the Icelanders are frequently most excellent
calligraphists.

The foundation of a public library at Reykjavik in 1821, at the
instigation of the learned Professor Rafn of Copenhagen, was a great
boon to the people. It is said to contain about 12,000 volumes,
which are kept under the roof of the cathedral. Books are freely
lent for months, or even for a whole year, to the inhabitants of
remote districts. This liberality is, of course, attended with some
inconvenience, but it has the inestimable advantage of rendering a
number of good works accessible to numerous families too poor to
purchase them.

Another excellent institution is the New Icelandic Literary Society,
founded in 1816. It has two seats, one in Copenhagen, the other in
Reykjavik, and its chief object is the publication of useful works in
the language of the country. Besides an annual grant of 100 specie
dollars (£24) awarded to it by the Danish Government, its income is
confined to the yearly contributions of its members,[6] and with this
scanty means it has already published many excellent works.

Though remote from the busy scenes of the world, Iceland has three
newspapers, the _Thyodtholfr_ and the _Islendingur_, which appear at
Reykjavik, and the _Northri_, which is published at Akreyri, on the
borders of the Polar Ocean. The Islendingur is said to contain many
excellent articles, but it would sorely task the patience of those who
are accustomed to the regular enjoyment of the “Times” at breakfast; as
it sometimes appears but once in three weeks, and then again, as if to
make up for lost time, twice in eight days.

In spite of their ill-ventilated dwellings and the hardships entailed
upon them by the severity of the climate, the Icelanders frequently
attain a good old age. Of the 2019 persons who died in 1858, 25 had
passed the age of ninety, and of these 20 belonged to the fair sex.
The mortality among the children is, however, very considerable; 993,
or nearly one-half of the entire number having died before the age of
five in the year above-mentioned. Cutaneous affections are very common
among Icelanders, as may easily be supposed from their sordid woollen
apparel and the uncleanliness of their huts; and the northern leprosy,
or “likthra,” is constantly seeking out its victims among them. This
dreadful disease, which is also found among the fishermen in Norway,
in Greenland, in the Faeroes, in Lapland, and, in short, wherever the
same mode of life exists, begins with a swelling of the hands and feet.
The hair falls off; the senses become obtuse. Tumors appear on the arms
and legs, and on the face, which soon loses the semblance of humanity.
Severe pains shoot through the joints, an eruption covers the whole
body, and finally changes into open sores, ending with death. He whom
the leprosy has once attacked is doomed, for it mocks all the efforts
of medical art. Fortunately the victims of this shocking complaint
are rather objects of pity than of disgust, and as it is not supposed
to be contagious, they are not so cruelly forsaken by their relations
as their fellow-sufferers in the East. In the hut of the priest of
Thingvalla, Marmier saw a leper busy grinding corn. Some of the poorest
and most helpless of these unfortunate creatures find a refuge in four
small hospitals, where they are provided for at the public expense.

Since a regular steam-boat communication has been opened between
Iceland, Denmark, and Scotland, the number of tourists desirous of
viewing the matchless natural wonders of the island has considerably
increased. But travelling in the island itself is still attended with
considerable difficulties and no trifling expense, to say nothing of
the want of all comforts; so that most of its visitors are content
with a trip to Thingvalla and the Geysir, which are but a couple of
days’ journey from Reykjavik, and very few, like Mr. Holland, make
the entire circuit of the island, or, like Mr. Shepherd, plunge into
the _terra incognita_ of its north-western peninsula. The only mode
of travelling is on horseback, as there are no roads, and therefore
no carriages in Iceland. The distances between the places are too
great, the rivers are too furious, and the bogs too extensive to allow
of a walking tour being made. Even the tourist with the most modest
pretensions requires at least two riding horses for himself, two for
his guide, and two packhorses; and when a larger company travels, it
always forms a cavalcade of from twenty to thirty horses, tied head
to tail, the chief guide mounted on the first and leading the string,
the other accelerating its motions by gesticulation, sundry oaths, and
the timely application of the whip. The way, or the path, lies either
over beds of lava, so rugged that the horses are allowed to pick their
way, or over boggy ground, where it is equally necessary to avoid those
places into which the animals might sink up to their belly, but which,
when left to themselves, they are remarkably skillful in detecting.
With the solitary exception of a few planks thrown across the Bruera,
and a kind of swing bridge, or _kláfr_, contrived for passing the rapid
Jökulsa, there are no bridges over the rivers, so that the only way to
get across is to ride through them--a feat which, considering the usual
velocity of their current, is not seldom attended with considerable
danger, as will be seen by the following account of the crossing of the
Skeidara by Mr. Holland.

[Illustration: 60. BRIDGE RIVER, ICELAND.]

“Our guide,” says this intrepid traveller, “urged on his horse through
the stream, and led the way towards the mid-channel. We followed in his
wake, and soon were all stemming the impetuous and swollen torrent.
In the course of our journey we had before this crossed a good many
rivers more or less deep, but all of them had been mere child’s play
compared to that which we were now fording. The angry water rose high
against our horses’ sides, at times almost coming over the tops of
their shoulders. The spray from their broken crests was dashed up into
our faces. The stream was so swift that it was impossible to follow the
individual waves as they rushed past us, and it almost made us dizzy
to look down at it. Now, if ever, is the time for firm hand or rein,
sure seat, and steady eye; not only is the stream so strong, but the
bottom is full of large stones, that the horse can not see through the
murky waters; if he should fall, the torrent will sweep you down to the
sea--its white breakers are plainly visible as they run along the shore
at scarcely a mile’s distance, and they lap the beach as if they waited
for their prey. Happily, they will be disappointed. Swimming would be
of no use, but an Icelandic water-horse seldom makes a blunder or a
false step. Not the least of the risks we ran in crossing the Skeidara
was from the masses of ice carried down by the stream from the Jökul,
many of them being large enough to knock a horse over.

“Fortunately we found much less ice in the centre and swiftest part of
the river, where we where able to see and avoid it, than in the side
channels. How the horses were able to stand against such a stream was
marvellous; they could not do so unless they were constantly in the
habit of crossing swift rivers. The Icelanders who live in this part of
the island keep horses known for their qualities in fording difficult
rivers, and they never venture to cross a dangerous stream unless
mounted on a tried water-horse. The action of the Icelandic horses when
crossing a swift river is very peculiar. They lean all their weight
against the stream, so as to resist it as much as possible, and move
onward with a peculiar side-step. This motion is not agreeable. It
feels as if your horse were marking time without gaining ground, and
the progress made being really very slow, the shore from which you
started seems to recede from you, whilst that for which you are making
appears as far as ever.

“When we reached the middle of the stream, the roar of the waters was
so great that we could scarcely make our voices audible to one another;
they were overpowered by the crunching sound of the ice, and the
bumping of large stones against the bottom. Up to this point a diagonal
line, rather down stream, had been cautiously followed; but when we
came to the middle, we turned our horses’ heads a little against the
stream. As we thus altered our course, the long line of baggage-horses
appeared to be swung round altogether, as if swept off their legs. None
of them, however, broke away, and they continued their advance without
accident, and at length we all reached the shore in safety.”

[Illustration: 61. ICELANDIC BOG.]

After a day’s journey in Iceland, rest, as may well be supposed, is
highly acceptable. Instead of passing the night in the peasant’s hut,
the traveller, when no church is at hand, generally prefers pitching
his tent near a running stream on a grassy plain; but sometimes, in
consequence of the great distance from one habitable place to another,
he is obliged to encamp in the midst of a bog where the poor horses
find either bad herbs, scarcely fit to satisfy their hunger, or no
food at all. After they have been unloaded, their fore legs are bound
together above their hoofs, so as to prevent them straying too far,
while their masters arrange themselves in the tent as comfortably as
they can.



[Illustration: 62. COAST OF ICELAND.]


CHAPTER VIII.

THE WESTMAN ISLANDS.

  The Westmans.--Their extreme Difficulty of Access.--How they
    became peopled.--Heimaey.--Kaufstathir and Ofanleyte.--
    Sheep-hoisting.--Egg-gathering.--Dreadful Mortality among
    the Children.--The Ginklofi.--Gentleman John.--The Algerine
    Pirates.--Dreadful Sufferings of the Islanders.


Rising abruptly from the sea to a height of 916 feet, the small Westman
Islands are no less picturesque than difficult of access. Many a
traveller while sailing along the south coast of Iceland has admired
their towering rock-walls, but no modern tourist has ever landed there.
For so stormy a sea rolls between them and the mainland, and so violent
are the currents, which the slightest wind brings forth in the narrow
channels of the archipelago, that a landing can be effected only when
the weather is perfectly calm. The Drifanda foss, a cascade on the
opposite mainland, rushing from the brow of the Eyafyalla range in
a column of some 800 or 900 feet in height, is a sort of barometer,
which decides whether a boat can put off with a prospect of gaining
the Westmans. In stormy weather the wind eddying among the cliffs
converts the fall, though considerable, into a cloud of spray, which
is dissipated in the atmosphere, so that no cascade is visible from
the beach. In calm weather the column is intact, and if it remains so
two days in succession, then the sea is usually calm enough to allow
boats to land, and they venture out. As the Icelanders, through stormy
weather, are frequently cut off from Europe, so the inhabitants of
the Westmans are still more frequently cut off from Iceland, and it
is seldom more than once a year that the mails are landed direct.
The _few_ letters from Denmark (for the correspondence is in all
probability not very active) are landed in Iceland at Reykjavik,
and thence forwarded to the islands by boat, as chance may offer,
for, during the whole winter and the greater part of the summer,
communication is impossible. It will now be understood why tourists are
so little inclined to visit the Westmans, despite the magnificence of
their coast scenery, for who has the patience to tarry in a miserable
hut on the opposite mainland till the cascade informs him that they
are accessible, or is inclined to run the risk of being detained by a
sudden change of the weather for weeks or even months on these solitary
rocks?

Mr. Ross Browne thus describes the general aspect of the coast of
Iceland: “Nothing could surpass the desolate grandeur of the coast as
we approached the point of Reykjaness. It was of an almost infernal
blackness. The whole country seemed uptorn, rifted, shattered, and
scattered about in a vast chaos of ruin. Huge cliffs of lava split down
to their bases toppled over the surf. Rocks of every conceivable shape,
scorched and blasted with fire, wrested from the main and hurled into
the sea, battled with the waves, their black scraggy points piercing
the mist like giant hands upthrown to smite or sink in a fierce
death-struggle. The wild havoc wrought in the conflict of elements
was appalling. Birds screamed over the fearful wreck of matter. The
surf from the inrolling waves broke against the charred and shattered
desert of ruin with a terrific roar. Columns of spray shot up over the
blackened fragments of lava, while in every opening the lashed waters,
discolored by the collision, seethed and surged as in a huge caldron.”

[Illustration: 63. WESTMAN ISLES.]

Of the Westman Islands, he says: “Towards noon we made the Westman
Isles, a small rocky group some ten miles distant from the main island.
A fishing and trading establishment, owned by a company of Danes, is
located on one of these islands. The _Arcturus_ touches twice a year
to deliver and receive a mail. On the occasion of our visit, a boat
came out with a hardy-looking crew of Danes to receive the mail-bag.
It was doubtless a matter of great rejoicing to them to obtain news
from home. I had barely time to make a rough outline of the islands as
we lay off the settlement. The chief interest attached to the Westman
group is, that it is supposed to have been visited by Columbus in
1477, fifteen years prior to his voyage of discovery to the shores of
America.”

The puffin, or the screeching sea-mew, seem the only inhabitants for
which nature has fitted the Westmans, and yet they have a history which
leads us back to the times when Iceland itself first became known to
man.

About 875, a few years after Ingolfr followed his household gods to
Reykjavik, a Norwegian pirate, perchance one of the associates of that
historical personage, landed on the coast of Ireland, attacked with
fire and sword the defenseless population, captured forty or fifty
persons, men, women, and children, and carried them off as slaves.
The passage must have been any thing but pleasant, for it gave the
Hibernians such a foretaste of the wretchedness that awaited them in
Iceland, their future abode, that, taking courage from despair, they
rose on their captors, threw them overboard, and went ashore on the
first land they met with.

A day of rare serenity must have witnessed their arrival on the
Westmans, a spot which of all others seemed most unlikely to become
their home. Why they remained there, is a secret of the past; most
likely they had no other alternative, and freedom on a rock was, at all
events, better than slavery under a cruel viking.

Thus these weather-beaten islets were first peopled by men from the
west, whence they derive their name, and it is supposed that the
present inhabitants are the descendants of those children of Erin. No
one will be inclined to envy them the heritage bequeathed to them by
their fathers.

The Westmans are fourteen in number; but of these only one, called
Heimaey, or Home Island, is inhabited. It is fifteen miles from the
coast of Iceland, and forty-five from Hecla. Though larger than all
the others put together, its entire surface is not more than ten
square miles. It is almost surrounded with high basaltic cliffs, and
an otherwise iron-bound shore; its interior is covered with black
ashy-looking cones, bearing undoubted evidence of volcanic action;
in fact, the harbor, which lies on its north-east side, and is only
accessible to small craft, is formed out of an old crater, into which
the sea has worn an entrance. The inhabitants are located in two
villages; Kaufstathir, on a little grassy knoll near the landing-place,
and Ofanleyte, on the grassy platform of the island. Only three of the
other islets produce any vegetation or pasturage, and it is said that
on one of these the sheep are hoisted with a rope out of the boats by
an islander, who, at the risk of his neck, has climbed to the top of
the precipitous rock. The others are mere naked cliffs or basaltic
pillars, the abode of innumerable sea-birds, which, when accessible,
are a precious resource to the islanders. For, as may well be supposed,
the scanty grass lands afford nourishment but to a few cows and sheep;
and as the unruly waters too often prevent their fishing-boats from
putting to sea, they depend in a great measure for their subsistence
upon the sea-birds, in whose capture they exhibit wonderful courage
and skill. In the egg-season they go to the top of the cliff, and,
putting a rope round a man’s waist, let him down the side of the
perpendicular rock, one, two, or three hundred feet; on arriving at the
long, narrow, horizontal shelves, he proceeds to fill a large bag with
the brittle treasures deposited by the birds. When his bag is full,
he and his eggs are drawn to the top by his companions. If the rope
breaks, or is cut off by the sharp corners of the rock, which, however,
happens but seldom, nothing can save the luckless fowler, who is either
precipitated into the sea, or dashed to pieces on the rocks below.

[Illustration: 64. HOME OF SEA-BIRDS.]

At a later period in the season they go and get the young birds, and
then they have often desperate battles with the old ones, who will
not give up fighting for their offspring till their necks are broken,
or their brains knocked out with a club. Where the cliffs are not
accessible from the top, they go round the bottom in boats, and show a
wonderful agility and daring in scaling the most terrible precipices.

In summer they get the eggs and the fresh meat of the young birds,
which they also salt for the winter. The feathers form their chief
article of export, besides dried and salted codfish, and with these
they procure their few necessaries and luxuries, consisting principally
of clothing, tobacco and snuff, spirits, fish-hooks and lines, and
salt. As there is no peat on these islands, nor dried fish-bones in
sufficient quantity, they also make use of the tough old sea-birds as
fuel. For this purpose they split them open, and dry them on the rocks.

The Westmans form a separate Syssel, or county, and they have a church,
and usually two clergymen. Their church was rebuilt of stone, at the
expense of the Danish Government, in 1774, and is said to be one of the
best in Iceland. Unfortunately the two clergymen to whom the spiritual
care of the islanders is confided seem to have but a very indifferent
flock, for their neighbors on the mainland give rather a bad character
to the inhabitants of Heimaey, describing them as great sluggards and
drunkards.

The population, which was formerly more considerable, amounts to
about 200 souls, but even this is more than might be expected from
the dreadful mortality which reigns among the children. The eggs and
the oily flesh of sea-birds furnish a miserable food for infants,
particularly when weaned, as is here customary, at a very early age;
but the poor islanders have nothing else to give them, except some
fish, and a very insufficient quantity of cow’s or sheep’s milk.
This unhealthy diet, along with the boisterous air, gives rise to an
incurable infantile disease, called Ginklofi (_tetanus_). Its first
symptoms are squinting and rolling of the eyes, the muscles of the back
are seized with incipient cramps and become stiff. After a day or two
lock-jaw takes place, the back is bent like a bow, either backward or
forward. The lock-jaw prevents swallowing, and the cramps become more
frequent and prolonged until death closes the scene. The same disease
is said to decimate the children on St. Kilda in consequence of a
similar mode of life.

The only means of preserving the infants of Heimaey from the Ginklofi,
is to send them as soon as possible to the mainland to be reared, and
thus a long continuance of bad weather is a death-warrant to many.

Who would suppose that the Westman Islanders, doubly guarded by their
poverty and almost inaccessible cliffs, could ever have become the prey
of freebooters? and yet they have been twice attacked and pillaged, and
well-nigh exterminated by sea-rovers.

I have already mentioned, in a previous chapter, that before the
discovery of the banks of Newfoundland, the English cod-fishers used
to resort in great numbers to the coasts of Iceland, where some of
them--now and then--appeared also in the more questionable character
of corsairs. One of these worthies, who, like Paul Clifford, or
Captain Macheath, so effectually united the _suaviter in modo_ with
the _fortiter in re_, as to have merited the name of “Gentleman John,”
came to the Westmans in 1614 and set the church on fire, after having
previously removed the little that was worth taking. After this exploit
he returned to Great Britain, but King James I. had him hung, and
ordered the church ornaments which he had robbed to be restored to the
poor islanders. It was, however, written in the book of fate that they
were not to enjoy them long, for in 1627, a vessel of Algerine pirates,
after plundering several places on the eastern and southern coasts of
Iceland, fell like a thunderbolt on Heimaey. These miscreants, compared
with whom John was a “gentleman” indeed, cut down every man who
ventured to oppose them, plundered and burnt the new-built church, and
every hovel of the place, and carried away about 400 prisoners--men,
women, and children. One of the two clergymen of the island, Jon
Torsteinson, was murdered at the time. This learned and pious man had
translated the Psalms of David and the Book of Genesis into Icelandic
verse, and is spoken of as the “martyr” in the history of the land. The
other clergyman, Olaf Egilson, with his wife and children, and the
rest of the prisoners, was sold into slavery in Algiers. The account
of his sufferings and privations, which he wrote in the Icelandic
language, was afterwards translated and published in Danish.

It was not until 1636, nine years after their capture, that the
unfortunate Heimaeyers were released, and then only by being ransomed
by the King of Denmark. Such was the misery they had endured from their
barbarous taskmasters, that only thirty-seven of the whole number
survived, and of these but thirteen lived to return to their native
island.



[Illustration: 65. FISHING IN NORWAY.]


CHAPTER IX.

FROM DRONTHEIM TO THE NORTH CAPE.

  Mild Climate of the Norwegian Coast.--Its Causes.--The Norwegian
    Peasant.--Norwegian Constitution.--Romantic coast Scenery.--
    Drontheim.--Greiffenfeld Holme and Väre.--The Sea-eagle.--The
    Herring-fisheries.--The Lofoten Islands.--The Cod-fisheries.--
    Wretched Condition of the Fishermen.--Tromsö--Altenfiord.--The
    Copper Mines.--Hammerfest the most northern Town in the World.--
    The North Cape.


Of all the lands situated either within or near the Arctic Circle none
enjoys a more temperate climate than the Norwegian coast. Here, and
nowhere else throughout the northern world, the birch and the fir-tree
climb the mountain-slopes to a height of 700 or 800 feet above the
level of the sea, as far as the 70th degree of latitude; here we still
find a flourishing agriculture in the interior of the Malanger Fjord in
69°. On the opposite side of the Polar Ocean extends the inaccessible
ice belt of East Greenland; Spitzbergen and Nova Zembla are not 400
miles distant from Talvig and Hammerfest, and yet these ports are never
blocked with ice, and even in the depth of winter remain constantly
open to navigation. What are the causes which in this favored region
banish the usual rigors of the Arctic zone? How comes it that the
winter even at the North Cape (mean temperature +22°) is much less
severe than at Quebec (mean temperature +14°), which is situated 25° of
latitude nearer to the equator?

The high mountain chains which separate Norway from Sweden and Finland,
and keep off the eastern gales issuing from the Siberian wastes, while
its coasts lie open to the mild south-westerly winds of the Atlantic,
no doubt account in some measure for the comparative mildness of
its climate; but the main cause of this phenomenon must no doubt be
sought for in the sea. Flowing into the Atlantic Ocean between Florida
and Cuba, the warm Gulf Stream traverses the sea from west to east,
and although about the middle of its course it partly turns to the
south, yet a considerable portion of its waters flows onward to the
north-east, and streaming through the wide portal between Iceland and
Great Britain, eventually reaches the coasts of Norway. Of course its
warmth diminishes as it advances to the north, but this is imparted to
the winds that sweep over it, and thus it not merely brings the seeds
of tropical plants from Equatorial America to the coasts of Norway, but
also the far more important advantages of a milder temperature.

The soil of Norway is generally rocky and sterile, but the sea amply
makes up for the deficiencies of the land, and with the produce of
their fisheries, of their forests, and their mines, the inhabitants are
able to purchase the few foreign articles which they require. Though
poor, and not seldom obliged to reap the gifts of nature amidst a
thousand hardships and dangers, they envy no other nation upon earth.

The Norwegian peasant is a free man on the scanty bit of ground
which he has inherited from his fathers, and he has all the virtues
of a freeman--an open character, a mind clear of every falsehood, a
hospitable heart for the stranger. His religious feelings are deep and
sincere, and the Bible is to be found in every hut. He is said to be
indolent and phlegmatic, but when necessity urges he sets vigorously
to work, and never ceases till his task is done. His courage and his
patriotism are abundantly proved by a history of a thousand years.

Norway owes her present prosperity chiefly to her liberal constitution.
The press is completely free, and the power of the king extremely
limited. All privileges and hereditary titles are abolished. The
Parliament, or the “Storthing,” which assembles every three years,
consists of the “Odelthing,” or Upper House, and of the “Logthing,”
or Legislative Assembly. Every new law requires the royal sanction;
but if the Storthing has voted it in three successive sittings, it is
definitively adopted in spite of the royal veto. Public education is
admirably cared for. There is an elementary school in every village,
and where the population is too thinly scattered, the schoolmaster
may truly be said to be abroad, as he wanders from farm to farm, so
that the most distant families have the benefit of his instruction.
Every town has its public library, and in many districts the peasants
annually contribute a dollar towards a collection of books, which,
under the care of the priest, is lent out to all subscribers. No
Norwegian is confirmed who does not know how to read, and no Norwegian
is allowed to marry who has not been confirmed. He who attains his
twentieth year without having been confirmed has to fear the House
of Correction. Thus ignorance is punished as a crime in Norway, an
excellent example for far richer and more powerful nations.

The population of Norway amounts to about 1,350,000, but these are very
unequally distributed; for while the southern province of Aggerhuus has
513,000 inhabitants on a surface of 35,200 square miles, Nordland has
only 59,000 on 16,325, and Finmark, the most northern province of the
land, but 38,000 on 29,925, or hardly more than one inhabitant to every
square mile. But even this scanty population is immense when compared
with that of Eastern Siberia or of the Hudson’s Bay territories, and
entirely owes its existence to the mildness of the climate and the open
sea, which at all seasons affords its produce to the fisherman.

[Illustration: 66. NORWEGIAN FARM.]

It is difficult to imagine a more secluded, solitary life than that
of the “bonders,” or peasant proprietors, along the northern coasts
of Norway. The farms, confined to the small patches of more fruitful
ground scattered along the fjords, at the foot or on the sides of
the naked mountains, are frequently many miles distant from their
neighbors, and the stormy winter cuts off all communication between
them. Thus every family, reduced to its own resources, forms as it were
a small commonwealth, which has but little to do with the external
world, and is obliged to rely for its happiness on internal harmony,
and a moderate competency. Strangers seldom invade their solitude, for
they are far from the ordinary tracks of the tourist, and yet a journey
from Drontheim to Hammerfest and the North Cape affords many objects of
interest well worthy of a visit. The only mode of communication is by
sea, for the land is everywhere intersected by deep fjords, bounded by
one continuous chain of precipitous cliffs and rocks, varying from one
thousand to four thousand feet in height. Formerly, even the sea-voyage
was attended with considerable difficulties, for the miserable “yoegt,”
or Scandinavian sloop, the only means of conveyance at the disposal
of the traveller, required at the best of times at least a month
to perform the voyage from Drontheim to Hammerfest, and in case of
stormy weather, or contrary wind, had often to wait for weeks in some
intermediate port. Now, however, a steamer leaves the port of Drontheim
every week, and conveys the traveller in five or six days to the remote
northern terminus of his journey.

[Illustration: 67. STEAMING ALONG THE COAST.]

Innumerable isles of every size, from a few yards in diameter to as
many miles, stud the line of coast, and between these and the mainland
the steamer ploughs its way. Sometimes the channel is as narrow as
the bed of a river, at others it expands into a mighty lake, and the
ever-varying forms of the isles, of the fjords, and of the mountains,
constantly open new and magnificent prospects to the view. One grand
colossal picture follows upon another, but unfortunately few or none
show the presence of man. From time to time only some fishing-boat
makes its appearance on the sea, or some wooden farm-house rises on
the solitary beach. On advancing farther to the north, the aspect of
nature becomes more and more stern, vegetation diminishes, man is more
rarely seen, and the traveller feels as if he were on the point of
entering the gloomy regions of perpetual death.

With the sole exception of Archangel, Drontheim is the most populous
and important town situated in so high a latitude as 63° 24´. Although
the cradle of ancient Scandinavian history, and the residence of a
long line of kings, it looks as if it had been built but yesterday, as
its wooden houses have frequently been destroyed by fire. The choir
of its magnificent cathedral, built in the eleventh century, and once
the resort of innumerable pilgrims who came flocking to the shrine
of St. Olave from all Scandinavia, is the only remaining memorial of
the old Tronyem of the Norse annalists and scalds. The modern town
has a most pleasing and agreeable appearance, and the lively colors
with which the houses are painted harmonize with the prosperity of
its inhabitants, which is due in a great measure to its thriving
fisheries, and to the rich iron and copper mines in its neighborhood.
The tall chimneys of many smelting-huts, iron foundries, and other
manufactories, bear evidence that modern industry has found its way
to the ancient capital of Norway. In point of picturesque beauty, the
bay, on a peninsula of which the town is situated, does not yield to
that of Naples. Up and down, in every direction, appear the villas of
the merchant, and ships of all burden riding at anchor in the bay, and
boats passing and repassing. In a small island of the bay, fronting the
town, is the celebrated castle of Munkholm, where in former times many
a prisoner of state has bewailed the loss of his liberty. Here, among
others, Greiffenfeld, who had risen from obscurity to the rank of an
all-powerful minister, was incarcerated for eighteen years (1680–98).

[Illustration: 68. THE PUFFIN.]

At Hildringen, where the potato is still cultivated with success,
and barley ripens every four or five years, begins the province
of Nordland, which extends from 65° to 69° 30´ N. lat. The mostly
uninhabited isles along the coast are called “Holme,” when rising like
steep rocks out of the water, and “Väre” when flat and but little
elevated above the level of the sea. The latter are the breeding-places
of numberless sea-fowls, whose eggs yield a welcome harvest to the
inhabitants of the neighboring mainland or of the larger islands. A
well-stocked egg-vär is a valuable addition to a farm, and descends
from father to son, along with the pasture-grounds and the herds of
the paternal land. When the proprietor comes to plunder the nests,
the birds remain quiet, for they know by experience that only the
superfluous eggs are to be removed. But not unfrequently strangers
land, and leave not a single egg behind. Then all the birds, several
thousands at once, rise from their nests and fill the air with their
doleful cries. If such disasters occur repeatedly they lose courage,
and, abandoning the scene of their misfortunes, retire to another vär.
Most of these birds are sea-gulls (_Maasfugl_, or _Maage_), their eggs
are large, and of a not disagreeable taste. The island of Lovunnen is
the favorite breeding-place of the puffin, which is highly esteemed on
account of its feathers. This silly bird is very easily caught. The
fowler lets down an iron hook, or sends a dog trained on purpose into
the narrow clefts or holes of the rock, where the puffins sit crowded
together. The first bird being pulled out, the next one bites and
lays hold of his tail, and thus in succession, till the whole family,
clinging together like a chain, is dragged to light.

This rocky coast is also much frequented by the sea-eagle, who is very
much feared over the whole province, as he not only carries away lambs
and other small animals, but even assails and not seldom overpowers the
Norwegian oxen. His mode of attack is so singular that if Von Buch had
not heard it so positively and so circumstantially related in various
places, situated at great distances from each other, he would willingly
have doubted its truth. The eagle darts down into the waves, and then
rolls about with his wet plumage on the beach until his wings are quite
covered with sand. Then he once more rises into the air and hovers over
his intended victim. Swooping down close to him, he claps his wings,
flings the sand into the eyes of the unfortunate brute, and thoroughly
scares it by repeated blows of his pinions. The blinded ox rushes away
to avoid the eagle’s attacks, until he is completely exhausted or
tumbles down some precipitous cliff.

The sea-coast from Alsten to Rodoë, which is crossed by the Arctic
Circle, is particularly rich in herrings, as it furnishes more than
one-half of the fish exported to Bergen.

In respect of the capital invested, the cod-fishery must be regarded
as the most important of the Norwegian deep-sea fisheries, but in
the number of hands employed, the herring-fishery takes precedence.
The number of men actually engaged in the latter is not less than
60,000, and considerably more than double that number are directly or
indirectly interested in the result of their operations. The herrings
taken in 1866 filled 750,000 barrels, each weighing 224 lbs., the
largest catch ever taken on the Norwegian coast, at least in recent
years. As the movements of the fish are extremely erratic, large shoals
being found one year in a part of the coast where none will be seen
the year following, the fishermen are forced to move from place to
place, and formerly the herrings frequently escaped altogether for want
of hands to capture them. Now this difficulty is in a great measure
removed. Telegraph stations are erected at different places on the
coast, from which the movements of the shoals are carefully watched;
and field telegraphs are kept in readiness to be joined on to the main
line, so as to summon the fishermen from every part of the country on
the first appearance of the fish at any new point. The best time for
the herring-fishery is from January to March, and in 1866, 200,000
barrels, or more than one-fourth of the total catch, were caught
between February 11th and 14th.

At the northern extremity of the province of Nordland, between 68° and
69° N. lat., are situated the Lofoten Islands, or Vesteraalen Oerne,
which are separated from the mainland by the Vestfjord. This broad arm
of the sea is remarkable both for its violent currents and whirlpools,
among which the Maelstrom has attained a world-wide celebrity, and
also from its being the most northerly limit where the oyster has been
found. But it is chiefly as the resort of the cod that the Vestfjord
is of the highest importance, not only to Nordland, but to the whole
of Norway. No less than 6000 boats from all parts of the coast, manned
probably by more than half of the whole adult male population of
Nordland, annually assemble at Vaage, on the island of Ost Vaagoe, and
besides these, more than 300 yoegts, or larger fishing-sloops, from
Bergen, Christiansand, and Molde, appear upon the scene. The banks of
Newfoundland hardly occupy more hands than the fishing-grounds of the
Vestfjord, which, after the lapse of a thousand years, continue as
prolific as ever;[7] nor is there an instance known of its having ever
disappointed the fisherman’s hopes. In Harold Haarfagr’s times, Vaage
was already renowned for its fisheries, and several yarls had settled
in this northern district, to reap the rich harvest of the seas. At
a later period, under the reign of Saint Olave (1020), the annual
Parliament of Nordland was held at Vaage, and, in 1120, the benevolent
King Eystein, brother of Sigurd the Crusader, caused a church to be
erected here in honor of his saintly predecessor, along with a number
of huts, to serve as a shelter to the poor fishermen, a deed which he
himself prized more highly than all his chivalrous brother’s warlike
exploits in the East, for “these men,” said he, “will still remember in
distant times that a King Eystein once lived in Norway.”

The reason why the fish never cease visiting this part of the coast is
that the Lofoten Isles inclose, as it were, an inland or mediterranean
sea, which only communicates with the ocean by several narrow channels
between the islands, and where the fish find the necessary protection
against stormy weather. They assemble on three or four banks well
known to the fishermen, seldom arriving before the middle of January,
and rarely later than towards the end of February. They remain in
the sheltered fjord no longer than is necessary for spawning, and in
April have all retired to the deeper waters, so that the whole of the
fishing season does not last longer than a couple of months. The fish
are either caught by hooks and lines, or more frequently in large
nets about twenty fathoms long and seven or eight feet broad, buoyed
with pieces of light wood, and lested with stones, so as to maintain
a vertical position when let down in the water. The fish, swimming
with impetuous speed, darts into the meshes, which effectually bar
his retreat. The nets are always spread in the evening, and hauled
up in the morning; for as long as it is daylight, the fish sees and
avoids them, even at a depth of sixty or eighty fathoms. A single haul
of the net frequently fills half the boat, and the heavy fish would
undoubtedly tear the meshes if they were not immediately struck with
iron hooks, and flung into the boat as soon as they are dragged to the
surface.

Claus Niels Sliningen, a merchant of Borgund, first introduced the
use of these nets in the year 1685, an innovation which more than
doubled the total produce of the fisheries. But (as with all useful
inventions) loud complaints were raised against him in Norway, and as
late as 1762 no nets were allowed at Drontheim, “to prevent the ruin
of the poor people who had not the capital to provide themselves with
them.”

[Illustration: 69. THE DOVREFJELD.]

The life of a fisherman is everywhere full of privations and dangers,
but nowhere more so than at the Lofoten Islands. Here, after toiling
on the stormy sea for many hours, he has nothing but the miserable
shelter of a damp, filthy, over-crowded hut, which affords him neither
the rest nor the warmth needed after his fatiguing day’s work. Even
the iron-framed sons of the North are frequently unable to resist
such continuous hardships, and bring home with them the seeds of
contagion and death. Malignant fevers have frequently decimated the
population of Norway, and their origin may generally be traced to
the fishing-grounds. “The Arab and the Persian,” says Leopold von
Buch, “build caravanseras for the wayfarers through the desert; the
inhabitants of the Alps have founded ‘hospices’ on the summits of the
mountain passes; and the Norwegian has erected houses of refuge on
Dovrefjeld, but none for the fishermen of Lofoten. Near Rodoë there
is a large hospital for the sick of Nordland; would it not be as well
to build houses in Lofoten, so as not to crowd the hospitals and
churchyards?” This was written at the beginning of the present century,
but the poor fishermen are still as neglected as ever, for a more
recent traveller, Marmier, beheld with pity the wretched huts in which
they spend three winter months far from their families.

In the channel between Hvalö and the mainland lies, in 69° 45´ N. lat.,
the small island of Tromsö, where about fifty years since only a few
fishermen resided, whose huts have gradually expanded into a thriving
little town of about 3000 inhabitants, along the shore opposite the
mainland. Its staple exports are dried and salted cod, and train-oil.
The livers of the cod are put in open barrels and placed in the sun,
and the melted portion which rises to the surface is skimmed off, being
the purest oil. The coarse refuse is boiled in great iron pots by the
side of the sea, and yields the common “train-oil.” The muscular matter
which remains is collected into barrels and exported as a powerful
manure; some of it is sent to England.

The town consists mainly of one long straggling street, following
the windings of the shore, and has a picturesque appearance from the
harbor. The houses are all of wood painted with lively colors, and the
roofs, mostly covered with grass, diversified with bright clusters of
yellow and white flowers, look pretty in summer. Tromsö has a Latin
school, and even boasts of a newspaper, the _Tromsö Tidende et Blan
for Nordland og Finmarken_ (“The Tromsö Gazette, a paper for Nordland
and Finmark”). This paper is published twice a week; and as only one
mail arrives at Tromsö every three weeks, the foreign news is given
by instalments, spreading over six successive numbers, until a fresh
dispatch arrives.

The island of Tromsö is beautifully situated, being on all sides
environed by mountains, so that it seems to lie in the midst of a
huge salt lake. Its surface rises in gentle slopes to a tolerable
elevation, and no other Arctic isle contains richer pasturage, or
dwarf plantations of greater luxuriance. Many meadows are yellow with
buttercups and picturesque underwood, and the heathy hills are covered
with shrubs, bearing bright berries of many hues. The pride of the
Tromsöites in their island and town, and their profound attachment to
it, are remarkable. No Swiss can be more enthusiastically bound to his
mountains and vales, than they are to their circumscribed domain.

To the north of Tromsö lies the broad and deep Altenfjord, whose
borders are studded with numerous dwellings, and where the botanist
meets with a vegetation that may well raise his astonishment in so
high a latitude. Here the common birch-tree grows 1450 feet, and the
_Vaccinium myrtillus_ 2030 feet above the level of the sea; the dwarf
birch (_Betula nana_) still vegetates at a height of 2740 feet, and the
Arctic willow is even found as high as 3500 feet, up to the limits of
perennial snow.

Alten is moreover celebrated through its copper-mines. A piece of
ore having been found by a Lap-woman in the year 1825, accidentally
fell into the hands of Mr. Crowe, an English merchant in Hammerfest.
This gentleman immediately took measures for obtaining a privilege
from Government for the working of the mines, and all preliminaries
being arranged, set off for London, where he founded a company, with a
capital of £75,000. When Marmier visited the Altenfjord in 1842, more
than 1100 workmen were employed in these _most northerly mining-works_
of the world, and not seldom more than ten English vessels at a time
were busy unloading coals at Kaafjord for the smelting of the ores.
New copper-works had recently been opened on the opposite side of the
bay at Raipass, and since then the establishment has considerably
increased.

Hammerfest, the capital of Finmark, situated on the west side of the
island of Hvalö, in 70° 39´ 15´´, is the most _northern_ town in the
world. Half a century since, it had but 44 inhabitants; at present its
population amounts to 1200. As at Tromsö, very many of the houses,
forming one long street winding round the shore, have grass sown on
their roofs, which gives the latter the appearance of little plots
of meadows. With us the expression, “he sleeps with grass above his
head,” is equivalent to saying “he is in his grave;” but here it may
only mean that he sleeps beneath the verdant roof of his daily home.
Many large warehouses are built on piles projecting into the water,
with landing-quays before them; and numerous ranges of open sheds are
filled with reindeer skins, wolf and bear skins, walrus tusks, reindeer
horns, train-oil, and dried fish, ready for exportation. The chief home
traffic of Hammerfest consists in barter with the Laps, who exchange
their reindeer skins for brandy, tobacco, hardware, and cloth. Some
enterprising merchants annually fit out vessels for walrus and seal
hunting at Spitzbergen and Bear Island, but the principal trade is
with Archangel, and is carried on entirely in “lodjes,” or White Sea
ships, with three single upright masts, each hoisting a huge try-sail.
These vessels supply Hammerfest with Russian rye, meal, candles, etc.,
and receive stock-fish and train-oil in exchange. Sometimes, also, an
English ship arrives with a supply of coals.

The fishing-grounds off the coast of Finmark, whose produce forms the
staple article of the merchants of Hammerfest, are scarcely inferior
in importance to those of Lofoten, the number of cod taken here in
1866 amounting to 15,000,000. A great part of the fish is purchased
by the Russians as it comes out of the water. Of the prepared cod,
Spain takes the largest quantity, as in 1865 upwards of 44,000,000
lbs. of clip-fish (nearly the whole yield for the year) was consigned
to that country. Of the dried variety, 10,000,000 lbs. were exported
to the Mediterranean, and upwards of 4,000,000 lbs. more to Italy.
Sweden and Holland come next in order, the supply in each case being
over 5,000,000 lbs. Great Britain takes scarcely any stock-fish, but
1,500,000 lbs. of clip-fish, and the large export to the West Indies is
almost entirely composed of the latter article.

The winter, though long and dark, has no terrors for the jolly
Hammerfesters, for all the traders and shopkeepers form a united
aristocracy, and rarely a night passes without a feast, a dance, and
a drinking-bout. The day when the sun re-appears is one of general
rejoicing; the first who sees the great luminary proclaims it with
a loud voice, and every body rushes into the street to exchange
congratulations with his neighbors. The island of Hvalö has a most
dreary, sterile aspect, and considerable masses of snow fill the
ravines even in summer. The birch, however, is still found growing 620
feet above the sea, but the fir has disappeared.

It may well be supposed that no stranger has ever sojourned in this
interesting place, the farthest outpost of civilization towards the
Pole, without visiting, or at least attempting to visit, the far-famed
North Cape, situated about sixty miles from Hammerfest, on the island
of Magerö, where a few Norwegians live in earthen huts, and still
manage to rear a few heads of cattle. The voyage to this magnificent
headland, which fronts the sea with a steep rock-wall nearly a
thousand feet high, is frequently difficult and precarious, nor can it
be scaled without considerable fatigue; but the view from the summit
amply rewards the trouble, and it is no small satisfaction to stand on
the brink of the most northern promontory of Europe.

“It is impossible,” says Mr. W. Hurton, “adequately to describe the
emotion experienced by me as I stepped up to the dizzy verge. I
only know that I devoutly returned thanks to the Almighty for thus
permitting me to realize one darling dream of my boyhood. Despite the
wind, which here blew violently and bitterly cold, I sat down, and
wrapping my cloak around me, long contemplated the spectacle of Nature
in one of her sublimest aspects. I was truly alone. Not a living object
was in sight; beneath my feet was the boundless expanse of ocean, with
a sail or two on its bosom at an immense distance; above me was the
canopy of heaven, flecked with fleecy cloudlets; the sun was luridly
gleaming over a broad belt of blood-red mist; the only sounds were the
whistling of the wandering winds and the occasional plaintive scream of
the hovering sea-fowl. The only living creature which came near me was
a bee, which hummed merrily by. What did the busy insect seek there?
Not a blade of grass grew, and the only vegetable matter on this point
was a cluster of withered moss at the very edge of the awful precipice,
and this I gathered, at considerable risk, as a memorial of the visit.”



[Illustration: 70. MIDNIGHT SUN OFF SPITZBERGEN.]


CHAPTER X.

SPITZBERGEN--BEAR ISLAND--JAN MEYEN.

  The west Coast of Spitzbergen.--Ascension of a Mountain by Dr.
    Scoresby.--His Excursion along the Coast.--A stranded Whale.--
    Magdalena Bay.--Multitudes of Sea-birds.--Animal Life.--Midnight
    Silence.--Glaciers.--A dangerous Neighborhood.--Interior
    Plateau.--Flora of Spitzbergen.--Its Similarity with that of
    the Alps above the Snow-line.--Reindeer.--The hyperborean
    Ptarmigan.--Fishes.--Coal.--Drift-wood.--Discovery of
    Spitzbergen by Barentz, Heemskerk, and Ryp.--Brilliant Period of
    the Whale-fishery.--Coffins.--Eight English Sailors winter in
    Spitzbergen, 1630.--Melancholy Death of some Dutch Volunteers.--
    Russian Hunters.--Their Mode of wintering in Spitzbergen.--
    Scharostin.--Walrus-ships from Hammerfest and Tromsö.--Bear
    or Cherie Island.--Bennet.--Enormous Slaughter of Walruses.--
    Mildness of its Climate.--Mount Misery.--Adventurous Boat-voyage
    of some Norwegian Sailors.--Jan Meyen.--Beerenberg.


The archipelago of Spitzbergen consists of five large islands: West
Spitzbergen, North-east Land, Stans Foreland, Barentz Land, Prince
Charles Foreland; and of a vast number of smaller ones, scattered
around their coasts. Its surface is about equal to that of two-thirds
of Scotland; its most southern point (76° 30´ N. lat.) lies nearer
to the Pole than Melville Island; and Ross Islet, at its northern
extremity (80° 49´ N. lat.), looks out upon the unknown ocean, which
perhaps extends without interruption as far as the Straits of Bering.

Of all the Arctic countries that have hitherto been discovered,
Grinnell Land and Washington alone lie nearer to the Pole; but
while these ice-blocked regions can only be reached with the utmost
difficulty, the western and north-western coasts of Spitzbergen,
exposed to the mild south-westerly winds, and to the influence of the
Gulf Stream, are frequently visited, not only by walrus-hunters and
Arctic explorers, but by amateur travellers and sportsmen.

The eastern coasts are far less accessible, and in parts have never
yet been accurately explored. As far as they are known, they are not
so bold and indented as the western and north-western coasts, which,
projecting in mighty capes or opening a passage to deep fjords, have
been gnawed into every variety of fantastic form by the corroding
power of an eternal winter, and justify, by their endless succession
of jagged spikes and break-neck acclivities, the name of Spitzbergen,
which its first Dutch discoverers gave to this land of “serrated peaks.”

The mountains on the west coast are very steep, many of them
inaccessible, and most of them dangerous to climb, either from the
smooth hard snow with which they are encrusted even in summer, or from
the looseness of the disintegrated stones which cover the parts denuded
by the sun, and give way under the slightest pressure of the foot.

More than one daring seaman has paid dearly for his temerity in
venturing to scale these treacherous heights. The supercargo, or owner,
of the very first Dutch whaler that visited Spitzbergen (1612) broke
his neck in attempting to climb a steep mountain in Prince Charles
Foreland, and Barentz very nearly lost several of his men under
similar circumstances. Dr. Scoresby, who in the course of his whaling
expeditions touched at Spitzbergen no less than seventeen times, was
more successful in scaling a mountain 3000 feet high, near Mitre Cape,
though the approach to the summit was by a ridge so narrow that he
could only advance by sitting astride upon its edge. But the panorama
which he beheld, after having attained his object, amply repaid him
for the danger and fatigue of clambering for several hours over loose
stones, which at every step rolled with fearful rapidity into the abyss
beneath.

“The prospect,” says the distinguished naturalist, “was most extensive
and grand. A fine sheltered bay was seen to the east of us; an arm
of the same on the north-east; and the sea, whose glassy surface
was unruffled by a breeze, formed an immense expanse on the west;
the icebergs, rearing their proud crests almost to the tops of the
mountains between which they were lodged, and defying the power of the
solar beams, were scattered in various directions about the sea-coast
and in the adjoining bays. Beds of snow and ice, filling extensive
hollows and giving an enamelled coat to adjoining valleys, one of
which, commencing at the foot of the mountain where we stood, extended
in a continued line towards the north as far as the eye could reach;
mountain rising above mountain, until by distance they dwindled into
insignificance; the whole contrasted by a cloudless canopy of deepest
azure, and enlightened by the rays of a blazing sun, and the effect
aided by a feeling of danger--seated, as we were, on the pinnacle of
a rock, almost surrounded by tremendous precipices; all united to
constitute a picture singularly sublime.

“Our descent we found really a very hazardous, and in some instances a
painful undertaking. Every movement was a work of deliberation. Having,
by much care and with some anxiety, made good our descent to the top of
the secondary hills, we took our way down one of the steepest banks,
and slid forward with great facility in a sitting posture. Towards
the foot of the hill an expanse of snow stretched across the line of
descent. This being loose and soft, we entered upon it without fear,
but on reaching the middle of it, we came to a surface of solid ice,
perhaps a hundred yards across, over which we launched with astonishing
velocity, but happily escaped without injury. The men, whom we left
below, viewed this latter movement with astonishment and fear.”

After this perilous descent, Scoresby continued his excursion on the
flat land next the sea, where he found scattered here and there many
skulls and other bones of sea-horses, whales, narwhals, foxes, and
seals. Two Russian lodges, formed of logs of pine, with a third in
ruins, were also seen; the former, from a quantity of fresh chips about
them and other appearances, gave evidence of having been recently
inhabited. These huts were built upon a ridge of shingle adjoining the
sea. Among the boulders heaped upon the shore, numerous sea-birds had
built their nests or laid their eggs, which they defended with loud
cries and determined courage against the attacks of gulls. The only
insect he perceived was a small green fly, but the water along the
coast was filled with medusæ and shrimps. The strong north-west winds
had covered the strand with large heaps of _Fucus vesiculosus_ and
_Laminaria saccharina_, the same which the storms also cast out upon
our shores.

The view of this high northern life was extremely interesting, but Dr.
Scoresby was still further rewarded by the discovery of a dead whale,
found stranded on the beach, which, though much swollen and not a
little putrid, proved a prize worth at least £400. By a harpoon found
in its body, it appeared to have been struck by some of the fishers on
the Elbe, and having escaped from them, it had probably stranded itself
on the spot where it was found. When the first incision was made, the
oil gushed forth like a fountain. It was a slow and laborious work to
transport the blubber to the ship, which on account of the dangerous
nature of the coast was obliged to remain two miles off at sea. After
five boat-loads had safely been brought on board, the wind suddenly
changed, so that the ship was driven far out to sea, and the boat
reached her with great difficulty.

Of the numerous fjords of Spitzbergen, once the busy resort of
whole fleets of whalers, and now but rarely visited by man, none
has been more accurately described by modern Arctic voyagers than
the magnificent harbor of Magdalena Bay. Here the Dorothea and the
Trent anchored in 1818, on their way to the North Pole; here also the
French naturalists, who had been sent out in the corvette La Recherche
(1835–36) to explore the high northern latitudes, sojourned for several
weeks.

The number of the sea-birds is truly astonishing. On the ledges of a
high rock at the head of the bay Beechey saw the little auks (_Arctica
alle_) extend in an uninterrupted line full three miles in length, and
so closely congregated that about thirty fell at a single shot. He
estimated their numbers at about 4,000,000. When they took flight they
darkened the air; and at the distance of four miles their chorus could
distinctly be heard.

[Illustration: 71. MAGDALENA BAY, SPITZBERGEN.]

On a fine summer’s day, the bellowing of the walruses and the hoarse
bark of the seals are mingled with the shrill notes of the auks,
divers, and gulls. Although all these tones produce a by no means
harmonious concert, yet they have a pleasing effect, as denoting the
happy feelings of so many creatures. When the sun verges to the pole,
every animal becomes mute, and a silence broken only by the bursting
of a glacier reigns over the whole bay--a remarkable contrast to the
tropical regions, where Nature enjoys her repose during the noonday
heat, and it is only after sunset that life awakens in the forest and
the field.

Four glaciers reach down this noble inlet: one, called the Wagon
Way, is 7000 feet across at its terminal cliff, which is 300 feet
high, presenting a magnificent wall of ice. But the whole scene is
constructed on so colossal a scale that it is only on a near approach
that the glaciers of Magdalena Bay appear in all their imposing
grandeur. In clear weather the joint effect of the ice under the water,
and the reflection of the glacier-wall above, causes a remarkable
optical delusion. The water assumes a milk-white color, the seals
appear to gambol in a thick cream-like liquid, and the error only
becomes apparent when, on leaning over the side of the boat, the
spectator looks down into the transparent depth below.

It is extremely dangerous to approach these cliffs of ice, as every now
and then large blocks detach themselves from the mass, and frequently
even a concussion of the air is enough to make them fall.

During the busy period of Spitzbergen history, when its bay used to
be frequented by whalers who anchored under the glacier-walls, these
ice-avalanches often had disastrous consequences. Thus, in the year
1619, an English ship was driven by a storm into Bell Sound. While it
was passing under a precipice of ice, a prodigious mass came thundering
down upon it, broke the masts, and threw the ship so violently upon one
side that the captain and part of the crew were swept into the sea. The
captain escaped unhurt, but two sailors were killed and several others
wounded.

One day a gun was fired from a boat of the Trent when about half a mile
from one of the glaciers of Magdalena Bay. Immediately after the report
of the musket, a noise resembling thunder was heard in the direction
of the ice-stream, and in a few seconds more an enormous mass detached
itself from its front, and fell into the sea. The men in the boat,
supposing themselves to be beyond the reach of its influence, were
tranquilly contemplating the magnificent sight, when suddenly a large
wave came sweeping over the bay, and cast their little shallop to a
distance of ninety-six feet upon the beach.

Another time, when Franklin and Beechey had approached one of these
ice-walls, a huge fragment suddenly slid from its side, and fell with
a crash into the sea. At first the detached mass entirely disappeared
under the waters, casting up clouds of spray, but soon after it shot
up again at least 100 feet above the surface, and then kept rocking
several minutes to and fro. When at length the tumult subsided, the
block was found to measure no less than 1500 feet in circumference; it
projected 60 feet above the water, and its weight was calculated at
more than 400,000 tons.

Besides the glaciers of Magdalena Bay, Spitzbergen has many others that
protrude their crystal walls down to the water’s edge; and yet but few
icebergs, and the largest not to be compared with the productions of
Baffin’s Bay, are drifted from the shores of Spitzbergen into the open
sea. The reason is that the glaciers usually terminate where the sea
is shallow, so that no very large mass if dislodged can float away, and
they are at the same time so frequently dismembered by heavy swells
that they can not attain any great size.

The interior of Spitzbergen has never been explored. According to the
Swedish naturalists,[8] who climbed many of the highest mountains in
various parts of the coast, all the central regions of the archipelago
form a level ice-plateau, interrupted only here and there by denuded
rocks, projecting like islands from the crystal sea in which they are
imbedded. The height of this plateau above the level of the ocean
is in general from 1500 to 2000 feet, and from its frozen solitudes
descend the various glaciers above described. During the summer months,
the radiation of the sun at Spitzbergen is always very intense, the
thermometer in some sheltered situations not seldom rising at noon
to 62°, 67°, or even 73°. Even at midnight, at the very peak of the
high mountain ascended by Scoresby, the power of the sun produced a
temperature several degrees above the freezing-point, and occasioned
the discharge of streams of water from the snow-capped summit.
Hence, though even in the three warmest months the temperature of
Spitzbergen does not average more that 34½°, yet in the more southern
aspects, and particularly where the warmth of the sun is absorbed and
radiated by black rock-walls, the mountains are not seldom bared at an
elevation nearly equal to that of the snow-line of Norway, and various
Alpine plants and grasses frequently flourish, not only in sheltered
situations at the foot of the hills, but even to a considerable height,
wherever the disintegrated rocks lodge and form a tolerably good soil.

The Flora of Spitzbergen consists of about ninety-three species of
flowering or phenogamous plants, which generally grow in isolated
tufts or patches; but the mosses which carpet the moist lowlands, and
the still more hardy lichens, which invest the rocks with their thin
crusts or scurfs as far as the last limits of vegetation, are much
more numerous. Some of the plants of Spitzbergen are also found on
the Alps beyond the snow-line, at elevations of from 9000 to 10,000
feet above the level of the sea. According to Mr. Martins, nothing can
give a better idea of Spitzbergen than the vast circus of _névé_, in
the centre of which rises the triangular rock known to the visitors
of Chamonny as the Jardin or the Courtil. Let the tourist, placed on
this spot at a time when the sun rises but little above the horizon, or
better still, when wreaths of mist hang over the neighboring mountains,
fancy the sea bathing the foot of the amphitheatre of which he
occupies the centre, and he has a complete Spitzbergen prospect before
him. Supposing him to be a botanist, the sight of the _Ranunculus
glacialis_, _Cerastium alpinum_, _Arenaria biflora_, and _Erigeron
uniflorus_ will still further increase the illusion.

The only esculent plant of Spitzbergen is the _Cochlearia fenestrata_,
which here loses its acrid principles, and can be eaten as a salad. The
grasses which Keilhau found growing near some Russian huts in Stans
Foreland are during the summer a precious resource for the reindeer,
which, though extremely shy, make their appearance from time to time
in every part of the land from the Seven Islands to South Cape, and
are more abundant than could have been expected. The Polar bears
are probably their only native enemies on these islands, and their
fleetness furnishes them with ample means of escape from a pursuer so
clumsy on land. Lord Mulgrave’s crew killed fifty deer on Vogelsang,
a noted hunting-place, and on Sir Edward Parry’s polar expedition
about seventy deer were shot in Treurenberg Bay by inexperienced
deer-stalkers, and without the aid of dogs. During the winter these
large herbivora live on the Icelandic moss which they scent under the
snow, but it may well be asked where they find shelter in a naked
wilderness without a single tree. In May and June they are so thin as
scarcely to be eatable, but in July they begin to get fat, and then
their flesh would everywhere be reckoned a delicacy.

Besides the reindeer, the only land-quadrupeds of Spitzbergen are the
Polar bear, the Arctic fox, and a small field-mouse, which in summer
has a mottled, and in winter a white fur.

Of the birds, the hyperborean ptarmigan (_Lagopus hyperborea_), which
easily procures its food under the snow, undoubtedly winters in
Spitzbergen, and probably also the lesser red-pole, which perhaps finds
grass seeds enough for its subsistence during the long polar nights,
while the snow-bunting (_Plectrophanes nivalis_), and the twenty
species of water-fowl and waders that frequent the shores of the high
northern archipelago during the summer, all migrate southward when the
long summer’s day verges to its end.

Until very lately the Spitzbergen waters were supposed to be poor in
fishes, though the numerous finbacks, which towards the end of summer
frequent the southern and south-western coasts, and, unlike the large
smooth-back whales, chiefly live on herrings, as well as the troops of
salmon-loving white dolphin seen about the estuaries of the rivers,
sufficiently proved the contrary, not to mention the herds of seals,
and the hosts of ichthyophagous sea-birds that breed on every rocky
ledge of the archipelago. Phipps and Scoresby mention only three or
four species of fishes occurring in the seas of Spitzbergen, while the
Swedish naturalist Malmgren, the first who seems to have paid real
attention to this interesting branch of zoology, collected no less than
twenty-three species in 1861 and 1864. The northern shark (_Scymnus
microcephalus_) is so abundant that of late its fishery has proved
highly remunerative. The first ship which was fitted out for this
purpose in 1863 by Hilbert Pettersen, of Tromsö, returned from Bell
and Ice Sounds with a full cargo of sharks’ livers, and in 1865 the
same enterprising merchant sent out no less than five shark-ships to
Spitzbergen. The cod, the common herring, the shell-fish, the halibut
have likewise been caught in the waters of the archipelago, and there
is every reason to believe that their fishery, which has hitherto been
entirely neglected, might be pursued with great success.

The mineral riches of Spitzbergen are, of course, but little known.
Coal of an excellent quality, which might easily be worked, as it
nearly crops out on the surface at a short distance from the sea,
has, however, been discovered lately by Mr. Blomstrand in King’s
Bay, and similar strata exist in various parts of Bell Sound and
Ice Sound. Large quantities of drift-wood, probably from the large
Siberian rivers, are deposited by the currents, particularly on the
north coasts of North-east Land, and on the southern coasts of Stans
Foreland. In English Bay Lord Dufferin saw innumerable logs of unhewn
timber, mingled with which lay pieces of broken spars, an oar, a boat’s
flagstaff, and a few shattered fragments of some long-lost vessel’s
planking.

Most probably the Norwegians had their attention directed at a very
early period to the existence of a land lying to the north of Finmarken
by the troops of migratory birds which they saw flying northward in
spring, and by the casual visits of sea-bears, which the drift-ice
carried to the south. There can be no doubt that they were the first
discoverers of Spitzbergen, but their history contains no positive
records of the fact, and it was not before the sixteenth century that
Europe first became acquainted with that desolate archipelago. Sir Hugh
Willoughby may possibly have seen it in 1559, but it is certain that
on June 19, 1596, Barentz, Heemskerke, and Ryp, who had sailed in two
ships from Amsterdam to discover the north-eastern passage to India,
landed on its western coast, and gave it the name it bears to the
present day. In the year 1607 it was visited by the unfortunate Henry
Hudson, and four years later the first English whalers were fitted out
by the Russia Company in London to fish in the bays of Spitzbergen, or
East Greenland, as it was at that time called, being supposed to be
the eastern prolongation of that vast island. Here our countrymen met
with Dutchmen, Norwegians, and Biscayans from Bayonne and the ports of
Northern Spain, and commercial rivalry soon led to the usual quarrels.
In the year 1613 James I. granted the Russia Company a patent, giving
them the exclusive right to fish in the Spitzbergen waters, and seven
ships of war were sent out to enforce their pretensions. The Dutch,
the Norwegians, and the Biscayans were driven away; a cross with the
name of the King of England was erected on the shore, and Spitzbergen
received the name of “King James his Newland.” This triumph, however,
was but of short duration, and after a struggle, in which none of the
combatants gained any decisive advantage, all parties came at last
to an amicable agreement. The English received for their share the
best stations on the south-western coast, along with English Bay and
Magdalena Bay. The Dutch were obliged to retreat to the north, and
chose Amsterdam Island, with Smeerenberg Bay, as the seat of their
operations. The Danes or Norwegians established their head-quarters on
Dane’s Island; the Hamburgers, who also came in for their share, in
Hamburg Bay; and the French or Biscayans on the north coast, in Red
Bay. At present a right or smooth-backed whale rarely shows itself
in the Spitzbergen waters, but at that time it was so abundant that
frequently no less than forty whalers used to anchor in a single bay,
and send out their boats to kill these cetaceans, who came there
for the purpose of casting their young in the sheltered friths and
channels. The fat of the captured whales was immediately boiled in
large kettles on the shore, and the bays of Spitzbergen presented a
most animated spectacle during the summer season.

Numerous coffins--an underground burial being impossible in this
frost-hardened earth--still bear witness to those busy times, and also
to the great mortality among the fishermen, caused doubtless by their
intemperate habits. They are particularly abundant at Smeerenberg,
where Admiral Beechey saw upwards of one thousand of them; boards
with English inscriptions were erected over a few, but the greater
number were Dutch, and had been deposited in the eighteenth century.
Some coffins having been opened, the corpses were found in a state of
perfect preservation, and even the woollen caps and stockings of the
mariners, who might perhaps have rested for more than a century _on_
this cold earth, were still apparently as new as if they had been but
recently put on.

[Illustration: 72. BURIAL IN SPITZBERGEN.]

In the seventeenth century the English and the Dutch made several
attempts to establish permanent settlements in Spitzbergen. The Russia
Company tried to engage volunteers by the promise of a liberal pay,
and as none came forward, a free pardon was offered to criminals
who would undertake to winter in Bell Sound. A few wretches, tired
of confinement, accepted the proposal, but when the fleet was about
to depart, and they saw the gloomy hills, and felt the howling
north-eastern gales, their hearts failed them, and they entreated the
captain who had charge of them to take them back to London and let them
be hanged. Their request to be taken back was complied with, but the
company generously interceded for them, and obtained their pardon.

Some time after, in the year 1630, an English whaler landed eight men
in Bell Sound to hunt reindeer. They remained on shore during the
night, but meanwhile a storm had arisen, and on the following morning
their ship had vanished out of sight. It was towards the end of
August, and they had no hope of rescue at this advanced period of the
year.

Their despair may be imagined, but they soon recovered their courage,
and wisely determined to make preparations for the impending winter,
instead of losing time in useless lamentations. Their first care was to
lay in a stock of food, and in a short time they had killed nineteen
reindeer and four bears. Fortunately they found in Bell Sound the
necessary materials for the erection of a hut. A large shed fifty feet
long and thirty-eight broad had been built as a workshop for the men
of the Russia Company, and they very judiciously constructed their
small hut of stones and thick planks within this inclosed space. They
thus gained a better protection against the icy wind and room for
exercise during stormy weather, one of the best preservatives against
the scurvy. They made their beds and winter dresses of the skins of the
animals they had killed, sewing them together with needles made of bone
splinters, and using disentangled rope-ends as thread.

[Illustration: 73. ARCTIC FOX.]

Their hut was ready by September 12, and to preserve their supply of
meat as long as possible, they lived four days of the week on the offal
of whales’ fat which lay scattered about in great plenty. From October
26 to February 15 they saw no sun, and from the 13th to the 31st of
December no twilight. The new year began with excessive cold: every
piece of metal they touched stuck to their fingers like glue, and their
skin became blistered when exposed to the air. The re-appearance of the
sun was as a resurrection from death. To increase their joy, they saw
two bears on the ice, one of which they killed, but they found, what
has since been frequently experienced by others, that the liver of
the animal has poisonous qualities, or is at least very unwholesome,
for, after eating it, they were all attacked with a kind of eruptive
fever, and their skin peeled off. Towards the middle of March their
provisions were well-nigh exhausted, but the Polar bears appearing more
frequently, replenished their stock. Soon also the migratory birds
arrived from the south, the foxes crept out of their burrows, and many
were caught in traps. On June 5 the ice began to break up, and on the
following morning one-half of the bay was open. A gale forced them to
seek the shelter of their hut. There, seated round the fire, they spoke
of their approaching delivery, when suddenly a loud halloo was heard.
They immediately rushed out into the open air, and hardly believed
their eyesight, for they were greeted by their comrades of the previous
summer, and saw their own well-known ship at anchor in the bay. Thus
were these brave-hearted men rescued after a ten months’ exile in the
latitude of 77°.

The possibility of wintering in Spitzbergen having thus been proved,
some volunteers belonging to the Dutch fleet were induced by certain
emoluments to attempt the same enterprise on Amsterdam Island; but,
less fortunate than their predecessors, they all fell victims to the
scurvy. A diary which they left behind recorded the touching history of
their sufferings. “Four of us,” these were its last words, “are still
alive, stretched out flat upon the floor, and might still be able to
eat if one of us had but the strength to rise and fetch some food and
fuel, but we are all so weak, and every movement is so painful, that we
are incapable of stirring. We constantly pray to God soon to release us
from our sufferings, and truly we can not live much longer without food
and warmth. None of us is able to help the others, and each must bear
his burden as well as he can.”

Since that time both the English and the Dutch have given up the idea
of forming permanent settlements in Spitzbergen, but scarcely a year
passes that some Russians and Norwegians do not winter in that high
northern land. As far back as the seventeenth century, the former used
to send out their clumsy but strongly-built “lodjes” of from 60 to 160
tons from the ports of Archangel, Mesen, Onega, Kola, and other places
bordering the White Sea, to chase the various animals of Spitzbergen,
the reindeer, the seal, the beluga, but chiefly the walrus, the most
valuable of all. These vessels leave home in July, or as soon as
the navigation of the White Sea opens, and as the shortness of the
season hardly allows them to return in the same year, they pass the
winter in some sheltered bay. Their first care on landing is to erect
a large cross on the shore, a ceremony they repeat on leaving, and
such is their religious faith that under the protection of that holy
symbol they mock all the terrors of the Arctic winter. Near the place
where their vessels are laid up, they build a large hut from twenty
to twenty-five feet square, which is used as a station and magazine;
but the huts used by the men who go in quest of skins, and which are
erected at distances of from ten to fifty versts along the shore, are
only seven or eight feet square. The smaller huts are usually occupied
by two or three men, who take care to provide themselves from the
store-house with the necessary provisions for the winter. Scoresby
visited several of these huts, some constructed of logs, others of
deal two inches in thickness. They are of the same kind as those used
by the peasants in Russia, and, being taken out in pieces, are erected
with but little trouble in the most convenient situation. The stoves
are built with bricks, or with clay found in the country. During
the stay of the hunters, they employ themselves in killing seals or
walruses in the water, and bears, foxes, deer, or whatever else they
meet with on land. Each ship is furnished with provisions for eighteen
months, consisting of rye flour for bread, oatmeal, barley-meal, peas,
salt beef, salt cod, and salt halibut, together with curdled milk,
honey, and linseed oil; besides which, they enjoy the flesh of the
animals which they kill. Their drink consists chiefly of _quas_, a
national beverage made from rye flour and water; malt or spirituous
liquors being entirely forbidden, to prevent drunkenness, as, when they
were allowed it, they drank so immoderately that their work was often
altogether neglected. Their fuel for the most part is brought with them
from Russia, and drift-wood is used for the same purpose.

The hunters, seldom travelling far in winter, make their short
excursions on foot on snow-skates, and draw their food after them on
hand-sledges. Not seldom they are overtaken by terrific snowstorms,
which force them to throw themselves flat upon the ground, and
sometimes even cost them their lives. Their best preservation
against the scurvy is bodily exercise; they also use the _Cochlearia
fenestrata_, which grows wild in the country, either eating it without
any preparation, or drinking the liquor prepared from it by infusion in
water. Yet, in spite of all their precautions, they often fall a prey
to this terrible scourge. In the year 1771, Mr. Steward, of Whitby,
landed in King’s Bay to gather drift-wood, and found a Russian hut.
After having vainly called for admittance, they opened it, and found a
corpse stretched out on the ground, its face covered with green mould.
Most likely the unfortunate man, having buried all his comrades, had,
as the last survivor, found no one to perform the same kind office
for himself. Generally the Russian hunters, after spending the winter
in Spitzbergen, return home in the following August or September; but
their stop is often prolonged during several years; and Scharostin,
a venerable Russian, who died in 1826 in Ice Sound, is deservedly
remarkable for having spent no less than thirty-two winters of his long
life in that high northern land, where he once remained during fifteen
consecutive years. Surely this man ought to have been crowned king of
Spitzbergen--

    On a throne of rocks, in a robe of clouds,
    With a diadem of snow!

Every year, at the beginning of summer, about a dozen vessels leave the
ports of Hammerfest and Tromsö for Spitzbergen. Formerly it was a very
common thing for them to procure three cargoes of walrus and seals in
a season, and less than two full cargoes was considered very bad luck
indeed; now, however, it is a rare thing to get more than one cargo in
a season, and many vessels return home after four months’ absence only
half full. Yet, in spite of this diminution, the numbers of walruses
still existing in that country are very considerable, particularly on
the northern banks and skerries, which are only accessible in open
seasons, or perhaps once in every three or four summers, when the
persecuted animals get a little time to breed and replenish their
numbers.

[Illustration: 74. CHASE OF THE WALRUS.]

About midway between Hammerfest and Spitzbergen lies Bear Island,
originally discovered by Barentz on June 9, 1596. Seven years later,
Stephen Bennet, a shipmaster in the service of the Muscovy Company,
while on a voyage of discovery in a north-easterly direction, likewise
saw Bear Island on August 16. Ignorant of its previous discovery by
Barentz, he called it Cherie Island, after Sir Francis Cherie, a member
of the company, and to this day both names are used.

Bennet found some walruses on its desert shores, and returned in the
following year with a vessel fitted out by a merchant of the name of
Welden, to wage war with these sea-monsters. His first operations
were not very successful. Of a herd of at least a thousand walruses,
he killed no more than fifteen, and a later attack upon an equally
enormous troop raised the entire number of his victims to no more than
fifty. Their tusks alone were brought away, and along with some loose
ones collected on the beach formed the chief produce of the expedition.
At first the unwieldy creatures were fired at, but as the bullets made
no great impression on their thick hides, grapeshot was now discharged
into their eyes, and the blinded animals were finally killed with axes.

In the following year Welden himself proceeded to Bear Island, and the
art of walrus-killing gradually improving by practice, this second
expedition proved far more profitable than the first. Care had also
been taken to provide large kettles and the necessary fuel to boil
their fat on the spot, so that besides the tusks a quantity of oil was
gained. In 1606 Bennet again appeared on the field of action, and the
dexterity of the walrus-hunters had now become so great that in less
than six hours they killed more than 700, which yielded twenty-two
tons of oil. During the following voyage, Welden, who seems to have
acted in partnership with Bennet, each taking his turn, killed no less
than 1000 walruses in seven hours. Thus Bear Island proved a mine of
wealth to these enterprising men, and though the walruses are not now
so abundant as in the good old times, yet they are still sufficiently
numerous to attract the attention of speculators. Every year several
expeditions proceed to its shores from the Russian and Norwegian ports,
and generally some men pass the winter in huts erected on its northern
and south-eastern coasts.

Considering its high northern latitude of 75°, the climate of Bear
Island is uncommonly mild. According to the reports of some Norwegian
walrus-hunters, who remained there from 1824 to 1826, the cold was so
moderate during the first winter that, until the middle of November,
the snow which fell in the night melted during the daytime. It rained
at Christmas, and seventy walruses were killed during Christmas week
by the light of the moon and that of the Aurora. Even in February the
weather was so mild that the men were able to work in the open air
under the same latitude as Melville Island, where mercury is a solid
body during five months of the year. The cold did not become intense
before March, and attained its maximum in April, when the sea froze
fast round the island, and the white bears appeared which had been
absent during the whole winter. The second winter was more severe than
the first, but even then the sea remained open until the middle of
November--evidently in consequence of the prevailing south-westerly
winds. The greater part of Bear Island is a desolate plateau raised
about 100 or 200 feet above the sea. Along its western shores rises
a group of three mountains, supposed to be about 200 feet high, and
towards the south it terminates in a solitary hill to which the first
discoverers gave the appropriate name of Mount Misery. At the northern
foot of this terrace-shaped elevation the plateau is considerably
depressed, and forms a kind of oasis, where grass (_Poa pratensis_),
enlivened with violet cardamines and white polygonums and saxifragas,
grows to half a yard in height. The general character of the small
island is, however, a monotony of stone and morass, with here and there
a patch of snow, while the coasts have been worn by the action of the
waves into a variety of fantastic shapes, bordered in some parts by a
flat narrow strand, the favorite resort of the walrus, and in others
affording convenient breeding-places to hosts of sea-birds. In Coal
Bay, four parallel seams of coal, about equidistant from each other,
are visible on the vertical rock-walls, but they are too thin to be of
any practical use.

[Illustration: 75. A GLIMPSE OF JAN MEYEN’S ISLAND.]

Bear Island has no harbors, and is consequently a rather dangerous
place to visit. During the first expedition sent out from Hammerfest,
it happened that some of the men who had been landed were abandoned
by their ship, which was to have cruised along the coast while they
were hunting on shore. But the current, the wind, and a dense fog so
confused the ignorant captain that, leaving them to their fate, he
at once returned to Hammerfest. When the men became aware of their
dreadful situation, they determined to leave the island in their
boat, and taking with them a quantity of young walrus flesh, they
luckily reached Northkyn after a voyage of eight days. It seems almost
incredible that these same people immediately after revisited Bear
Island in the same ship, and were again obliged to return to Norway in
the same boat. The ship had anchored in the open bay of North Haven,
and having taken in its cargo, consisting of 180 walruses, which had
all been killed in a few days, was about to leave, when a storm arose,
which cast her ashore and broke her to pieces. The Russians had built
some huts in the neighborhood, and the provisions might probably have
been saved, but rather than winter in the island the crew resolved to
venture home again in the boat. This was so small that one-half of
them were obliged to lie down on the bottom while the others rowed;
the autumn was already far advanced, and they encountered so savage a
storm that an English ship they fell in with at the North Cape vainly
endeavored to take them on board. After a ten days’ voyage, however,
they safely arrived at Magerö, thus proving the truth of the old saying
that “Fortune favors the bold.” The distance from Bear Island to North
Cape is about sixty nautical miles.

       *       *       *       *       *

In a straight line between Spitzbergen and Iceland lies Jan Meyen,
which, exposed to the cold Greenland current, almost perpetually
veiled with mists, and surrounded by drift ice, would scarcely ever be
disturbed in its dreary solitude but for the numerous walrus and seal
herds that frequent its shores. The ice-bears and the wild sea-birds
are its only inhabitants; once some Dutchmen attempted to winter there,
but the scurvy swept them all away. Its most remarkable features are
the volcano Esk and the huge mountain Beerenberg, towering to the
height of 6870 feet, with seven enormous glaciers sweeping down its
sides into the sea.



CHAPTER XI.

NOVA ZEMBLA.

  The Sea of Kara.--Loschkin.--Rosmysslow.--Lütke.--Krotow.--
    Pachtussow.--Sails along the eastern Coast of the Southern
    Island to Matoschkin Schar.--His second Voyage and Death.--
    Meteorological Observations of Ziwolka.--The cold Summer of Nova
    Zembla.--Von Baer’s scientific Voyage to Nova Zembla.--His
    Adventures in Matoschkin Schar.--Storm in Kostin Schar.--Sea Bath
    and votive Cross.--Botanical Observations.--A natural Garden.--
    Solitude and Silence.--A Bird Bazar.--Hunting Expeditions of the
    Russians to Nova Zembla.


The sea of Kara, bounded on the west by Nova Zembla, and on the east
by the vast peninsula of Tajmurland, is one of the most inhospitable
parts of the inhospitable Polar Ocean. For all the ice which the
east-westerly marine currents drift during the summer along the
Siberian coasts accumulates in that immense land-locked bay, and almost
constantly blocks the gate of Kara, as the straits have been named that
separate Nova Zembla from the island of Waigatz.

The rivers Jenissei and Obi, which remain frozen over until late in
June, likewise discharge their vast masses of ice into the gulf of
Kara, so that we can not wonder that the eastern coast of Nova Zembla,
fronting a sea which opposes almost insuperable obstacles to the Arctic
navigator, has remained almost totally unknown until 1833, while the
western coast, exposed to the Gulf Stream, and bathed, in summer at
least, by a vast open ocean, has long been traced in all its chief
outlines on the map.

The walrus-hunter Loschkin is indeed said to have sailed along the
whole eastern coast of Nova Zembla in the last century, but we have
no authentic records of his voyage, and at a later period Rosmysslow,
who, penetrating through Mathew’s Straits, or Matoschkin Schar, found
Nova Zembla to consist of two large islands, investigated but a small
part of those unknown shores. From 1819 to 1824 the Russian Government
sent out no less than five expeditions to the sea of Kara; the famous
circumnavigator Admiral Lütke endeavored no less than four times to
advance along the eastern coast of Nova Zembla, but all these efforts
proved fruitless against the superior power of a stormy and ice-blocked
sea. Yet in spite of these repeated failures, two enterprising
men--Klokow, a chief inspector of forests, and Brandt, a rich merchant
of Archangel--fitted out three ships in 1832 for the purpose of solving
the mysteries of the sea of Kara.

One of these vessels, commanded by Lieutenant Krotow, was to penetrate
through Mathew’s Straits, and, having reached their eastern outlet, to
sail thence across the sea to the mouth of the Obi and the Jenissei;
but nothing more was heard of the ill-fated ship after her first
separation from her companions at Kanin Nos.

The second ship, which was to sail along the western coast of Nova
Zembla, and, if possible, to round its northern extremity, was more
fortunate, for though it never reached that point, it returned home
with a rich cargo of walrus-teeth.

The third ship, finally, under Pachtussow’s command, was to penetrate
through the gate of Kara, and from thence to proceed along the eastern
coast. When Pachtussow, according to his instructions, had reached the
straits, all his efforts to effect a passage proved ineffectual. It was
in vain he more than once steered to the east; the stormy weather and
large masses of drift ice constantly threw him back, the short summer
approached its end, and thus he was obliged to put off all further
attempts to the next year, and to settle for the winter in Rocky Bay
within the gate of Kara. A small hut was built out of the drift-wood
found on the spot, and joined by means of a gallery of sail-cloth to
a bathing-room, that indispensable comfort of a Russian. The laying
of traps, in which many Arctic foxes were caught, and the carrying of
the wood, which had sometimes to be fetched from a distance of ten
versts, occupied the crew during fair weather. In April a party under
Pachtussow’s command set out for the purpose of exploring the western
coast. On this expedition they were overtaken on the twenty-fourth
day of the month by a terrible snowstorm, which obliged them to throw
themselves flat upon the ground to avoid being swept away by the
wind. They remained three days without food under the snow, as it was
impossible for them to reach the dépôt of provisions buried a few
versts off.

On June 24 the gate of Kara was at length open, and Pachtussow would
gladly have sailed through the passage, but his ship was fast in the
ice. He therefore resolved, in order to make the best use of his time,
to examine the eastern coast in a boat, and reached in this manner the
small Sawina River, where he found a wooden cross with the date of
1742. Most likely it had been placed there by Loschkin, his predecessor
on the path of discovery. He now returned with his boat to the ship,
which, after an imprisonment of 297 days, was at length, July 11, able
to leave the bay.

On Stadolski Island, near Cape Menschikoff, they found a wretched hut,
which proved that they were not the first to penetrate into these
deserts. But the hut was tenantless, and a number of human bones were
strewn over the ground. One of Pachtussow’s companions now related that
in 1822 a Samojede, named Mawei, had gone with his wife and children
to Nova Zembla, and had never returned. On gathering the bones, they
were found to compose the skeletons of two children and of a woman, but
no remains could be discovered of the man. Most likely the unfortunate
savage had been surprised by a snowstorm, or had fallen a prey to a
hungry ice-bear, on one of his excursions, and his family, deprived of
their support, had died of hunger in the hut.

On July 19 they reached the river Stawinen, and on the 21st Lütke’s
Bay, where a number of white dolphins and seals of an unknown species
were found. Here contrary winds arrested the progress of the navigators
during eighteen days. On August 13 Pachtussow entered Matoschkin Schar,
and reached its western mouth on the 19th. Thus he succeeded at least
in circumnavigating the southern island, which no one had achieved
before him, and as his exhausted provisions did not allow him to spend
a second winter in Nova Zembla, he resolved to return at once to
Archangel. But contrary winds drove him to the island of Kolgujew, and
thence to the mouth of the Petschora, where, on September 3, a dreadful
storm at length shattered his crazy vessel. The crew found refuge in a
hut, but this also was filled by the water; so that they had to wade
several versts before they could reach the dry land.

Pachtussow now travelled by way of Archangel and Onega to St.
Petersburg, where he communicated the results of his journey to the
Minister of Marine, who gave him a most flattering reception, well
merited by his ability and courage. The success he had already obtained
encouraged the hope that a second expedition would be able to complete
the undertaking, and consequently, by an imperial order, the schooner
Krotow and a transport were fitted out, with which Pachtussow once more
sailed from the port of Archangel on August 5. His instructions were
to winter in Mathew’s Straits, and thence to attempt in the following
summer the exploration of the eastern coast of the northern island.
The winter hut he built at the western entrance of the straits was
ready for his reception by October 20. It was of stately dimensions,
for a Nova Zembla residence--25 feet long, 21 broad, 8 feet high in
the centre, 5 at the sides, and consisted of two compartments, one
for the officers and the other for the crew. They found the cold very
endurable, but were rather incommoded by the smoke, which did not
always find a ready passage through the opening in the roof. Sometimes
the snow accumulated in such masses, or the storm raged so furiously
round the hut, that they could not leave it for eight days running, and
frequently the hole in the roof had to serve them for a door.

Eleven white bears were killed about the hut during the winter; one
on the roof, another in the passage. Pachtussow, well aware that
occupation is the best remedy against melancholy, kept his crew in
constant activity. They were obliged to fetch wood from distances of
ten or eleven versts, not seldom during a cold of -36°, which, thanks
to their thick fur dresses, they bore remarkably well, particularly as
a temperature lower than -25° never occurred, unless during perfectly
calm weather. He also made them lay fox-traps at considerable distances
from the hut, and amused them with shooting at a mark and gymnastic
exercises. By this means he succeeded in preserving their health, and
warding off the attacks of the scurvy.

As early as April the indefatigable Pachtussow fitted out two
sledge-parties, for the exploration of the eastern coast. The one,
consisting of seven men, he commanded in person; the other was led by
the steersman Ziwolka. Both parties travelled in company as far as
the eastern entrance of the straits, where one of the huts in which
Rosmysslow had wintered seventy years before was still found in a good
condition.

Pachtussow now returned for the purpose of accurately surveying the
straits, while Ziwolka proceeded along the east coast, with a small
tent and provisions for a month. All his men had Samojede dresses, but
they were already so hardened that they did not wear the upper coat
with the hood even during the night, although snow-storms not seldom
occurred. Once their boots were frozen so hard that they could not pull
them off before they had been previously thawed, and as drift-wood was
nowhere to be found, they were obliged to burn the poles of their
tent, and to keep their feet over the fire until the leather became
soft. On May 18, the thirty-fourth day of his journey, Ziwolka returned
to his commander, after having explored the east coast northward to a
distance of 150 versts.

Meanwhile Pachtussow had been busy building a boat eighteen feet long,
with which he intended to proceed along the western coast to the
northern extremity of the island, and, the elements permitting, to
return to the straits along its eastern shores. About the beginning
of June the migratory birds made their appearance, and introduced a
very agreeable change in the monotonous fare of the navigators, who, a
few weeks later, enjoyed the sight of blooming flowers, and gathered
antiscorbutic herbs in large quantities.

Thus the high northern land had assumed its most friendly aspect, and
looked as cheerfully as it possibly could, when, on July 11, Pachtussow
and Ziwolka set out for the north with the boat and the transport, the
schooner being left behind in the straits with the surgeon and a few
invalids. At first the wind and weather favored their course, but on
July 21 the boat was smashed between two pieces of ice, so that they
had hardly time to escape upon the land with the nautical instruments,
a sack of flour, and some butter.

In this unpleasant situation they were obliged to remain for
thirteen days, until at last a walrus-hunter appeared, who took the
shipwrecked explorers on board, and brought them safely back to their
winter-quarters on August 22.

Thus this first attempt ended in complete disappointment, and the
season was already too far advanced to permit of its renewal. Yet
Pachtussow, resolving with praiseworthy zeal to make the most of the
last days of the short summer, set out again on August 26 for the
eastern entrance of the straits, and proceeded along the coast, until
he was stopped by the ice at some distance beyond the small islands
which bear his name.

Convinced of the fruitlessness of all further efforts, Pachtussow bade
adieu with a sorrowful heart to the coast, which still stretched out
before him in undiscovered mystery, and sailed back again to Archangel
on September 20. Soon after his return he fell ill, and four weeks
later his mourning friends carried him to his grave.

The Arctic Ocean is so capricious that in the following year the
walrus-hunter Issakow, of Kem, who had no discoveries in view, was able
to round without difficulty the north-eastern extremity of Nova Zembla,
but, fearful of encountering the dangers of that dreadful coast, he
almost immediately returned.

During the two winters he spent in Nova Zembla, the steersman Ziwolka
had daily consulted the thermometer, and the result of his observations
gave to the western entrance of Mathew’s Straits a mean annual
temperature of +17°.

Thus Nova Zembla is colder than the west coast of Spitzbergen, which,
although still farther to the north, is more favorably situated with
regard to the winds and currents, and from five to ten degrees warmer
than the high northern parts of Siberia and continental America, which
sustain a comparatively numerous population, while Nova Zembla is
uninhabited. Hence this want, and the circumstance that the vegetation
of these islands scarcely rises a span above the ground, while the
forest region still penetrates far within the confines of the colder
continental regions above mentioned, are to be ascribed not to the
low mean annual temperature of Nova Zembla, but to the unfavorable
distribution of warmth over the various seasons of the year. For
although high Northern Siberia and America have a _far colder_ winter,
they enjoy a _considerably warmer_ summer, and this it is which in
the higher latitudes determines the existence or the development of
life on the dry land. During the winter the organic world is partly
sheltered under the snow, or else it migrates, or it produces within
itself sufficient warmth to defy the cold--and thus a few degrees more
or less at that time of the year are of no material consequence, while
the warmth of summer is absolutely indispensable to awaken life and
determine its development.

The comparatively _mild winter_ of Nova Zembla (no less than
thirty-three degrees warmer than that of Jakutsk) is therefore of but
little benefit to vegetable life, which on the other hand suffers
considerably from a summer inferior even to that of Melville Island
and Boothia Felix. A coast where the sun, in spite of a day of several
months’ continuance, generates so small a quantity of heat, and where
yet some vegetation is able to flourish, must necessarily be well
worthy the attention of botanists, or rather of all those who take
an interest in the geographical distribution of plants. For if in
the primitive forests of Brazil the naturalist admires the effects
of a tropical sun and an excessive humidity in producing the utmost
exuberance of vegetation, it is no less interesting for him to observe
how Flora under the most adverse circumstances still wages a successful
war against death and destruction.

Thus a few years after Pachtussow’s expedition, the desire to explore
a land so remarkable in a botanical point of view, and to gather new
fruits for science in the wilderness, induced Herr von Baer, though
already advanced in years, to undertake the journey to Nova Zembla.

Accompanied by two younger naturalists, Mr. Lehmann and Mr. Röder, the
celebrated Petersburg academician arrived on July 29, 1837, at the
western entrance of Mathew’s Straits, sailed through them the next day
in a boat, and reached the sea of Kara, where he admired a prodigious
number of jelly-fishes (_Pleurobrachia pileus_) swimming about in
the ice-cold waters, and displaying a marvellous beauty of coloring
in their ciliated ribs. This excursion might, however, have had very
disagreeable consequences, for a dreadful storm, blowing from the west,
prevented their boat from returning, and forced them to pass the night
with some walrus-hunters, whom they had the good-fortune to meet with.
On the following day the storm abated, so that the return could be
attempted; they were, however, obliged to land on a small island in
the Beluga Bay, where, wet to the skin, and their limbs shaking with
cold, they fortunately found a refuge in the ruins of a hut in which
Rosmysslow had wintered in 1767. Meanwhile the wind had veered to
the east, accompanied by a very disagreeable cold rain, which on the
mountains took the form of snow; they were now, however, able to make
use of their sail, and arrived late at night at the spot where their
ship lay at anchor, completely wet, but in good health and spirits.

“We could esteem ourselves happy,” says Von Baer, “in having paid so
slight a penalty for neglecting the precaution, so necessary to all
travellers in Nova Zembla, of providing for a week when you set out for
a day’s excursion.”

On August 4, after a thorough botanical examination of the straits, the
party proceeded along the west coast. The wind, blowing from the north,
brought them to the Kostin Schar, a maze of passages between numerous
islets, where the walrus-hunters in Nova Zembla chiefly assemble.

On August 9 an excursion was made up the river Nechwatowa, where they
rested in a hut which had been erected by some fisherman employed
in catching “golzi,” or Arctic salmon. On returning to the ship, a
dreadful storm arose from the north-east, which lasted nine days, and,
very fortunately for the botanists, caught them in the Kostin Schar,
and not on the high sea. Although they were anchored in a sheltered
bay, the waves frequently swept over the deck of their vessel, and
compelled them to remain all the time in their small, low cabin. Only
once they made an attempt to land, but the wind was so strong that they
could hardly stand. Their situation was rendered still more terrible
and anxious, as part of the crew which had been sent out hunting before
the storm began had not yet returned.

When at last the storm ceased, winter seemed about to begin in good
earnest. Every night ice formed in the river, and the land was covered
with snow, which had surprised the scanty vegetation in its full
bloom. At length the hunters returned, after having endured terrible
hardships, and now preparations were made for a definitive departure.
A general bath was taken, without which no anchorage in Nova Zembla
is ever left, and, according to ancient custom, a votive cross was
likewise erected on the strand, as a memorial of the expedition.

On August 28 the anchors were weighed, but they were soon dropped
again in the Schar, to examine on a small island the vegetable and
animal products of the land and of the shore. The former offered but
few objects of interest, but they were astonished at the exuberance of
marine life. After having been detained by a thick fog in this place
for several days, they at length sailed towards the White Sea, where
they were obliged by contrary winds to run into Tri Ostrowa. Dreary and
desolate as the tundras at this extreme point of Lapland had appeared
to them on their journey outward, they were now charmed with their
green slopes, a sight of which they had been deprived in Nova Zembla.

On September 11 they at length reached the port of Archangel, with the
agreeable prospect of passing the winter in a comfortable study at St.
Petersburg instead of spending it, like Barentz and his associates, as
might easily have happened, in a wretched hut beyond the 70th degree of
northern latitude.

Having thus briefly sketched Von Baer’s adventures, I will now notice
some of the most interesting scientific results of his journey.

The rocky west coast of Nova Zembla has about the same appearance
as the analogous part of Spitzbergen, for here also the mountains,
particularly in the northern island, rise abruptly to a height of
three or four thousand feet from the sea, while the eastern coast
is generally flat. In both countries, angular blocks of stone,
precipitated from the summits, cover the sides of the hills, and
frequently make it impossible to ascend them. In fact, no rock, however
hard or finely grained, is able to withstand the effects of a climate
where the summer is so wet and the winter so severe. Nowhere in Nova
Zembla is a grass-covered spot to be found deserving the name of a
meadow. Even the foliaceous lichens, which grow so luxuriantly in
Lapland, have here a stunted appearance; but, as Von Baer remarks, this
is owing less to the climate than to the nature of the soil, as plants
of this description thrive best on chalky ground. The crustaceous
lichens, however, cover the blocks of augite and porphyry with a motley
vesture, and the dingy carpet with which _Dryas octopetala_ invests
here and there the dry slopes, formed of rocky detritus, reminds one of
the tundras of Lapland.

The scanty vegetable covering which this only true social plant of
Nova Zembla affords is, however, but an inch thick, and can easily be
detached like a cap from the rock beneath.

On a clayey ground in moist and low situations, the mosses afford a
protection to the polar willow (_Salix polaris_), which raises but two
leaves and a catkin over the surface of its covering.

Even the most sparing sheet of humus has great difficulty to form
in Nova Zembla, as in a great number of the plants which grow there
the discolored leaf dries on the stalk, and is then swept away by
the winds, so that the land would appear still more naked if many
plants, such as the snow ranunculus (_Ranunculus nivalis_), were not
so extremely abstemious as to require no humus at all, but merely a
rocky crevice or some loose gravel capable of retaining moisture in its
interstices.

But even in Nova Zembla there are some more favored spots. Thus when
Von Baer landed at the foot of a high slate mountain fronting the
south-west, and reflecting the rays of the sun, he was astonished and
delighted to see a gay mixture of purple silenes, golden ranunculuses,
peach-colored parryas, white cerastias, and blue palemones, and was
particularly pleased at finding the well-known forget-me-not among the
ornaments of this Arctic pasture. Between these various flowers the
soil was everywhere visible, for the dicotyledonous plants of the high
latitudes produce no more foliage than is necessary to set off the
colors of the blossoms, and have generally more flowers than leaves.

The entire vegetation of the island is confined to the superficial
layer of the soil and to the lower stratum of the air. Even those
plants which in warm climates have a descending or vertical root have
here a horizontal one, and none, whether grasses or shrubs, grow higher
than a span above the ground.

In the polar willow, a single pair of leaves sits on a stem about as
thick as a straw, although the whole plant forms an extensive shrub
with numerous ramifications. Another species of willow (_Salix lanata_)
attains the considerable height of a span, and is a perfect giant among
the Nova Zembla plants, for the thick subterranean trunk sometimes
measures two inches in diameter, and can be laid bare for a length of
ten or twelve feet without finding the end. Thus in this country the
forests are more _in_ than _above_ the earth.

This horizontal development of vegetation is caused by the sun
principally heating the superficial sheet of earth, which imparts its
warmth to the stratum of air immediately above it, and thus confines
the plants within the narrow limits which best suit their growth.
Hence also the influence of position on vegetation is so great that,
while a plain open to the winds is a complete desert, a gentle mountain
slope not seldom resembles a garden.

The absence of all trees or shrubs, or even of all vigorous herbage,
imparts a character of the deepest solitude to the Nova Zembla
landscape, and inspires even the rough sailor with a kind of religious
awe. “It is,” says Von Baer, “as if the dawn of creation had but
just begun, and life were still to be called into existence.” The
universal silence is but rarely broken by the noise of an animal. But
neither the cry of the sea-mew, wheeling in the air, nor the rustling
of the lemming in the stunted herbage are able to animate the scene.
No voice is heard in calm weather. The rare land-birds are silent as
well as the insects, which are comparatively still fewer in number.
This tranquillity of nature, particularly during serene days, reminds
the spectator of the quiet of the grave; and the lemmings seem like
phantoms as they glide noiselessly from burrow to burrow. In our fields
even a slight motion of the air becomes visible in the foliage of the
trees or in the waving of the corn; here the low plants are so stiff
and immovable that one might suppose them to be painted. The rare
sand-bee (_Andrena_), which on sunny days and in warm places flies
about with languid wings, has scarcely the spirit to hum, and the flies
and gnats, though more frequent, are equally feeble and inoffensive.

As a proof of the rarity of insects in Nova Zembla, Von Baer mentions
that not a single larva was to be found in a dead walrus which had been
lying at least fourteen days on the shore. The hackneyed phrase of our
funeral sermons can not therefore be applied to these high latitudes,
where even above the earth the decay of bodies is extremely slow.

However poor the vegetation of Nova Zembla may be, it still suffices to
nourish a number of lemmings, which live on leaves, stems, and buds,
but not on roots. The slopes of the mountains are often undermined in
all directions by their burrows. Next to these lemmings, the Arctic
foxes are the most numerous quadrupeds, as they find plenty of food in
the above-mentioned little rodents, as well as in the young birds, and
in the bodies of the marine animals which are cast ashore by the tides.
White bears are scarcely ever seen during the summer, and the reindeer
seems to have decreased in numbers, at least on the west coast, where
they are frequently shot by the Russian morse-hunters.

The hosts of sea-birds in some parts of the coast prove that the
waters are far more prolific than the land. The foolish guillemots
(_Uria troile_), closely congregated in rows, one above the other, on
the narrow ledges of vertical rock-walls, make the black stone appear
striped with white. Such a breeding-place is called by the Russians a
bazar. On the summit of isolated cliffs, and suffering no other bird
in his vicinity, nestles the large gray sea-mew (_Larus glaucus_), to
whom the Dutch whale-catchers have given the name of “burghermaster.”
While the ice-bear is monarch of the land animals, this gull appears as
the sovereign lord of all the sea-birds around, and no guillemot would
venture to dispute the possession of a dainty morsel claimed by the
imperious burghermaster.

This abundance of the sea has also attracted man to the desert shores
of Nova Zembla. Long before Barentz made Western Europe acquainted
with the existence of Nova Zembla (1594–96), the land was known to
the Russians as a valuable hunting or fishing ground; for the Dutch
discoverer met with a large number of their vessels on its coast.
Burrough, who visited the port of Kola in 1556, in search of the
unfortunate Willoughby, and thence sailed as far as the mouth of the
Petschora, likewise saw in the gulf of Kola no less than thirty lodjes,
all destined for walrus-hunting in Nova Zembla.

Whether, before the Russians, the adventurous Norsemen ever visited
these desolate islands, is unknown, but so much is certain, that ever
since the times of Barentz the expeditions of the Muscovites to its
western coast have been uninterruptedly continued. As is the case with
all fishing speculations, their success very much depends upon chance.
The year 1834 was very lucrative, so that in the following season about
eighty ships, with at least 1000 men on board, sailed for Nova Zembla
from the ports of the White Sea, but this time the results were so
unsatisfactory that in 1836 scarce half the number were fitted out. In
1837 no more than twenty vessels were employed, and Von Baer relates
that but one of them which penetrated into the sea of Kara made a
considerable profit, while all the rest, with but few exceptions, did
not pay one-half of their expenses.

The most valuable animals are the walrus and the white dolphin, or
beluga. Among the seals, the _Phoca albigena_ of Pallas distinguishes
itself by its size, the thickness of its skin, and its quantity of
fat; _Phoca grœnlandica_ and _Phoca hispida_ rank next in estimation.
The Greenland whale never extends his excursions to the waters of Nova
Zembla, but the fin-back and the grampus are frequently seen.

The Alpine salmon (_Salmo alpinus_), which towards autumn ascends into
the mountain-lakes, is caught in incredible numbers; and, finally, the
bean-goose (_Anser segetum_) breeds so frequently, at least upon the
southern island, that the gathering of its quill-feathers is an object
of some importance.



CHAPTER XII.

THE LAPPS.

  Their ancient History and Conversion to Christianity.--Self-denial
    and Poverty of the Lapland Clergy.--Their singular Mode of
    Preaching.--Gross Superstition of the Lapps.--The Evil Spirit
    of the Woods.--The Lapland Witches.--Physical Constitution of
    the Lapps.--Their Dress.--The Fjälllappars.--Their Dwellings.--
    Store-houses.--Reindeer Pens.--Milking the Reindeer.--
    Migration.--The Lapland Dog.--Skiders, or Skates.--The Sledge,
    or Pulka.--Natural Beauties of Lapland.--Attachment of the Lapps
    to their Country.--Bear-hunting.--Wolf-hunting.--Mode of Living
    of the wealthy Lapps.--How they kill the Reindeer.--Visiting the
    Fair.--Mammon Worship.--Treasure-hiding.--“Tabak, or Braende.”--
    Affectionate Disposition of the Lapps.--The Skogslapp.--The
    Fisherlapp.


The nation of the Lapps spreads over the northern parts of Scandinavia
and Finland from about the 63d degree of latitude to the confines of
the Polar Ocean; but their number, hardly amounting to more than twenty
thousand, bears no proportion to the extent of the vast regions in
which they are found. Although now subject to the crowns of Russia,
Sweden, and Norway, they anciently possessed the whole Scandinavian
peninsula, until the sons of Odin drove them farther and farther to
the north, and, taking possession of the coasts and valleys, left
them nothing but the bleak mountain and the desolate tundra. In the
thirteenth century, under the reign of Magnus Ladislas, King of Sweden,
their subjugation was completed by the Birkarls, a race dwelling on
the borders of the Bothnian Gulf. These Birkarls had to pay the crown
a slight tribute, which they wrung more than a hundred-fold from the
Lapps, until at length Gustavus I. granted the persecuted savages
the protection of more equitable laws, and sent missionaries among
them to relieve them at the same time from the yoke of their ancient
superstitions. In 1600 Charles IX. ordered churches to be built in
their country, and, some years after, his son and successor, the
celebrated Gustavus Adolphus, founded a school for the Lapps at Pitea,
and ordered several elementary works to be translated into their
language. In the year 1602, Christian IV., King of Denmark and Norway,
while on a visit to the province of Finmark, was so incensed at the
gross idolatry of the Lapps that he ordered their priests or sorcerers
to be persecuted with bloody severity. A worthy clergyman, Eric Bredal,
of Drontheim, used means more consonant with the spirit of the Gospel,
and, having instructed several young Lapps, sent them back again as
missionaries to their families. These interpreters of a purer faith
were, however, received as apostates and traitors by their suspicious
countrymen, and cruelly murdered, most likely at the instigation of
the sorcerers. In 1707 Frederic IV. founded the Finmark mission,
and in 1716 Thomas Westen, a man of rare zeal and perseverance,
preached the Gospel in the wildest districts of the province. Other
missionaries and teachers followed his example, and at length succeeded
in converting the Lapps, and in some measure conquering their ancient
barbarism. Nothing can be more admirable than the self-denial and
heroic fortitude of these ministers of Christ, for to renounce all that
is precious in the eyes of the world to follow nomads little better
than savages through the wilds of an Arctic country surely requires a
courage not inferior to that of the soldier

    Who seeks preferment at the cannon’s mouth.

The Lapland schoolmaster enjoys an annual salary of twenty-five
dollars, and receives besides half a dollar for every child instructed.
But the priest is not much better off, as his stipend amounts to no
more than thirty dollars in money, and to about 150 dollars in produce.
Among this miserably paid clergy there are, as in Iceland, men worthy
of a better lot. The famous Löstadius was priest at Karesuando,
seventy-five leagues from Tromsö, the nearest town, and a hundred
leagues from Tornea. His family lived upon rye bread and fishes, and
but rarely tasted reindeer flesh. Chamisso mentions another Lapland
priest who had spent seven years in his parish, which lay beyond the
limits of the forest region. In the summer he was completely isolated,
as then the Lapps wandered with their herds to the cool shores of the
icy sea; and in the winter, when the moon afforded light, he travelled
about in his sledge, frequently bivouacking at the temperature of
freezing mercury, to visit his Lapps. During all that time his solitude
had been but twice broken by civilized man; a brother had come to see
him, and a botanist had strayed to his dwelling. He well knew how to
appreciate the pleasure of such meetings, but neither this pleasure
nor any other, he said, was equal to that of seeing the sun rise again
above the horizon after the long winter’s night.

It is a singular custom that the pastors preaching to the Lapps deliver
their harangues in a tone of voice as elevated as if their audience,
instead of being assembled in a small chapel, were stationed upon the
top of a distant mountain, and labor as if they were going to burst a
bloodvessel. Dr. Clarke, who listened to one of these sermons, which
lasted one hour and twenty minutes, ventured to ask the reason of the
very loud tone of voice used in preaching. The minister said he was
aware that it must appear extraordinary to a stranger, but that, if
he were to address the Laplanders in a lower key, they would consider
him as a feeble and impotent missionary, wholly unfit for his office,
and would never come to church; that the merit and abilities of the
preacher, like that of many a popular politician, are always estimated
by the strength and power of his lungs.

Though the Lapps (thanks to the efforts of their spiritual guides)
hardly even remember by name the gods of their fathers--Aija, Akka,
Tuona--they still pay a secret homage to the Saidas, or idols of wood
or stone, to whom they were accustomed to sacrifice the bones and horns
of the reindeer. They are in fact an extremely superstitious race,
faithfully believing in ghosts, witchcraft, and above all in Stallo, or
Troller, the evil spirit of the woods.

Many of them, when about to go hunting, throw a stick into the air, and
then take their way in the direction to which it points. The appearance
of the Aurora borealis fills them with terror, as they believe it to be
a sign of divine wrath, and generally shout and howl during the whole
duration of the grand phenomenon, which their ignorance connects with
their own petty existence.

The pretended gift of being able to predict future events is common
among the Laplanders. The sorcerers fall into a magic sleep, during
which their soul wanders. In this state, like the somnambules of more
polished nations, they reveal things to come or see what passes at a
distance. Men and women affect the power of fortune-telling by the
common trick of palmistry, or by the inspection of a cup of liquor;
and this, to insure the greatest possible certainty, must be a cup of
brandy, which at once explains the whole business of the prophecy.
The Lapland witches pretended, or perhaps still pretend, to the power
of stilling the wind or causing the rain to cease, and such was their
reputation that English seamen trading to Archangel made it a point to
land and buy a wind from these poor creatures.

The Lapps are a dwarfish race. On an average, the men do not exceed
five feet in height, many not even reaching four, and the women
are considerably less. Most of them are, however, very robust, the
circumference of their chest nearly equalling their height. Their
complexion is more or less tawny and copper-colored, their hair dark,
straight, and lank, its dangling masses adding much to the wildness
of their aspect. They have very little beard, and as its want is
considered a beauty, the young men carefully eradicate the scanty
supply given them by nature.

Their dark piercing eyes are generally deep sunk in their heads, widely
separated from each other, and, like those of the Tartars or Chinese,
obliquely slit towards the temples. The cheek-bones are high, the
mouth pinched close, but wide, the nose flat. The eyes are generally
sore, either in consequence of the biting smoke of their huts or of
the refraction from the snow, so that a Lapp seldom attains a high
age without becoming blind. Their countenances generally present
a repulsive combination of stolidity, low cunning, and obstinacy.
Hogguer, who dwelt several months among them, and saw during this time
at least 800 Lapps, found not twenty who were not decidedly ugly;
and Dr. Clarke says that many of them, when more advanced in years,
might, if exhibited in a menagerie of wild beasts, be considered as the
long-lost link between man and ape.

Their legs are extremely thick and clumsy, but their hands are as small
and finely shaped as those of any aristocrat. The reason for this
is that from generation to generation they never perform any manual
labor, and the very trifling work which they do is necessarily of the
lightest kind. Their limbs are singularly flexible, easily falling
into any posture, like all the Oriental nations, and their hands are
constantly occupied in the beginning of conversation with filling a
short tobacco-pipe, the head being turned over one shoulder to the
person addressed. Such are the traits by which the whole tribe is
distinguished from the other inhabitants of Europe, and in which they
differ from the other natives of the land in which they live.

The summer garb of the men consists of the “poesk,” a sort of tunic,
generally made of a very coarse light-colored woollen cloth, reaching
to the knees, and fastened round the waist with a belt or girdle. Their
woollen caps are shaped precisely like a night-cap, or a Turkish
fez, with a red tassel and red worsted band round the rim, for they
are fond of lively hues strongly contrasted. Their boots or shoes
are made of the raw skin of the reindeer, with the hair outward, and
have a peaked shape. Though these shoes are very thin, and the Lapp
wears no stockings, yet he is never annoyed by the cold or by striking
against stones, as he stuffs them with the broad leaves of the _Carex
vesicaria_, or cyperus grass, which he cuts in summer and dries. This
he first combs and rubs in his hands, and then places it in such a
manner that it covers not only his feet but his legs also, and, being
thus guarded, he is quite secure against the intense cold. With this
grass, which is an admirable non-conductor of heat, he likewise stuffs
his gloves in order to preserve his hands. But as it wards off the cold
in winter, so in summer it keeps the feet cool, and is consequently
used at all seasons. The women’s apparel differs very little from that
of the other sex, but their girdles are more ornamented with rings
and chains. In winter both sexes are so packed up in skins as to look
more like bears than human beings, and, when squatting according to
the fashion of their country, exhibit a mound of furs, with the head
resting upon the top of it.

According to their different mode of life, the Lapps may be aptly
subdivided into Fjälllappars, or Mountain Lapps; Skogslappars, or Wood
Lapps; and Fisherlapps.

The Fjälllappars, who form the greater and most characteristic part
of the nation, lead an exclusively pastoral life, and are constantly
wandering with their herds of reindeer from place to place, for the
lichen which forms the chief food of these animals during the greater
part of the year is soon cropped from the niggard soil, and requires
years for its reproduction. For this reason, also, this people do not
herd together, and never more than three or four families pitch their
huts, or tuguria, upon the same spot. Of course the dwelling of the
nomad Lapp harmonizes with his vagrant habits; a rude tent, which can
easily be taken to pieces, and as easily erected, is all he requires
to shelter his family and chattels. It consists of flexible stems of
trees, placed together in a conical form, like a stack of poles for
hops, and covered in the summer with a coarse cloth, in winter with
additional skins, to be better fenced against the inclemencies of the
climate. To form the entrance, a part of the hanging, about eighteen
inches wide at the bottom, and terminating upward in a point, is made
to turn back as upon hinges. The hearth, consisting of several large
stones, is in the centre, and in the roof immediately above it is a
square opening for the escape of smoke and the admission of rain,
snow, and air. All the light which the den receives when the door is
closed comes from this hole. The diameter of one of these conical
huts generally measures at its base no more than six feet; its whole
circumference, of course, does not exceed eighteen feet, and its
extreme height may be about ten feet. The floor is very nearly covered
with reindeer skins, on which the inmates squat during the day and
sleep at nights, contracting their limbs together and huddling round
their hearth, so that each individual of this pigmy race occupies
scarcely more space than a dog. On the side of the tent are suspended
a number of pots, wooden bowls, and other household utensils; and a
small chest contains the holiday apparel of the family. Such are the
dwellings of those among the Laplanders who are called wealthy, and who
sometimes possess very considerable property.

Near the tent is the dairy or store-house of the establishment. It
consists of nothing more than a shelf or platform, raised between two
trees, so as to be out of the reach of the dogs or wolves. The means of
ascent to this treasury of curds, cheese, and dried reindeer flesh, is
simply a tree stripped of its branches, but presenting at every foot or
so knobs, which serve the same purpose as staves on a ladder, the tree
being obliquely reared against the platform.

Another characteristic feature of a Lapp encampment is found in the
inclosures in which the reindeer are penned during the night or for
the purpose of milking. These are circus-like open places, each of a
diameter of about one hundred and fifty feet, and are formed by stumps
of trees and poles set upright on the ground, and linked together
by horizontal poles. Against the latter are reared birch poles and
branches of trees, varying from six to ten feet in height, without
the slightest attempt at neatness, the whole being as rude as well
can be--a sufficient security against the wolves being all that its
builders desire. The milking of a herd of reindeer presents a most
animated scene. When they have been driven within the inclosure, and
all outlets are secured, a Lapp, selecting a long thong or cord, takes
a turn of both ends round his left hand, and then gathers what sailors
call the bight in loose folds, held in his right. He now singles out a
reindeer, and throws the bight with unerring aim over the antlers of
the victim. Sometimes the latter makes no resistance, but in general
the moment it feels the touch of the thong it breaks away from the
spot, and is only secured by the most strenuous exertions. Every
minute may be seen an unusually powerful deer furiously dragging a
Lapp round and round the inclosure, and sometimes it fairly overcomes
the restraint of the thong, and leaves its antagonist prostrate on the
sod. This part of the scene is highly exciting, and it is impossible
not to admire the trained skill evinced by all the Lapps, women as
well as men. The resistance of the deer being overcome, the Lapp takes
a dexterous hitch of the thong round his muzzle and head, and then
fastens him to the trunk of a prostrate tree, many of which have been
brought within the level inclosure for that especial purpose. Men and
women are indiscriminately engaged both in singling out milch reins
and in milking them. Every one is fully occupied, for even the little
children are practising the throwing of the lasso, in which they evince
great dexterity, although their strength is insufficient to hold the
smallest doe.

When the pasture in the neighborhood is fully exhausted, which
generally takes place in about a fortnight, the encampment is broken
up, to be erected again on some other spot. In less than half an
hour the tent is taken to pieces, and packed with all the household
furniture upon the backs of reindeer, who by long training acquire
the capacity of serving as beasts of burden. On the journey they are
bound together, five and five, with thongs of leather, and led by the
women over the mountains, while the father of the family precedes the
march to select a proper place for the new encampment, and his sons or
servants follow with the remainder of the herd.

Towards the end of spring the Lapps descend from the mountains to the
sea. When they approach its borders, the reindeer, sniffing the sea air
from a distance, rush tumultuously to the fjord, where they take long
draughts of the salted water. This, as the Lapps believe, is essential
to their health. As the summer advances, and the snow melts, they
ascend higher and higher into the mountains. At the approach of winter
they retreat into the woods, where, with the assistance of their dogs
and servants, they have enough to do to keep off the attacks of the
wolves. The reindeer dog is about the size of a Scotch terrier, but
his head bears a wonderful resemblance to that of the lynx. His color
varies considerably, but the hair is always long and shaggy. Invaluable
as are his services, he is nevertheless treated with great cruelty.

For their winter journeys the Lapps use sledges or skates. One of their
skates, or “skiders,” is usually as long as the person who wears it;
the other is about a foot shorter. The feet stand in the middle, and
to them the skates are fastened by thongs or withes. The skiders are
made of fir-wood, and covered with the skins of young reindeer, which
obstruct a retrograde movement by acting like bristles against the
snow--the roots pointing towards the fore part of the skate, and thus
preventing their slipping back. With these skiders, the Lapp flies like
a bird over the snow, now scaling the mountains by a tortuous ascent,
and now darting down into the valley:

    Ocior cervis et agente nimbos
                 Ocior Euro.

Such is the rapidity of his course that he will overtake the swiftest
wild beasts; and so violent the exercise that, during the most rigorous
season of the year, when earnestly engaged in the chase, he will divest
himself of his furs. A long pole with a round ball of wood near the
end, to prevent its piercing too deep in the snow, serves to stop the
skater’s course when he wishes to rest. The Laplander is no less expert
in the use of the sledge, or “pulka,” which is made in the form of a
small boat with a convex bottom, that it may slide all the more easily
over the snow; the prow is sharp and pointed, but the sledge is flat
behind. The traveller is swathed in this carriage like an infant in a
cradle, with a stick in his hand to steer the vessel, and disengage it
from the stones or stumps of trees which it may chance to encounter
in the route. He must also balance the sledge with his body, to avoid
the danger of being overturned. The traces by which this carriage is
fastened to the reindeer are fixed to a collar about the animal’s
neck, and run down over the breast between the fore and hind legs, to
be connected with the prow of the sledge; the reins managed by the
traveller are tied to the horns, and the trappings are furnished with
little bells, the sound of which the animal likes. With this draught at
his tail, the reindeer will travel sixty or seventy English miles in a
day; often persevering fifty miles without intermission, and without
taking any refreshment, except occasionally moistening his mouth
with the snow. His Lapland driver knows how to find his way through
the wilderness with a surprising certainty; here a rock, there a
fir-tree, is impressed as a landmark on his faithful memory, and thus,
like the best pilot, he steers his sledge to the distant end of his
journey. Frequently the Aurora lights him on his way, illumining the
snow-covered landscape with a magic brilliancy, and investing every
object with a dream-like, supernatural beauty.

But even without the aid of this mysterious coruscation, Lapland is
rich in grand and picturesque features, and has all the romance of
the mountain and the forest. In summer countless rivulets meander
through valleys of alpine verdure, and broad pellucid rivers rush down
the slopes in thundering cataracts, embracing islands clothed with
pine-trees of incomparable dignity and grace. Whoever has grown up in
scenes like these, and been accustomed from infancy to the uncontrolled
freedom of the nomad state, receives impressions never to be erased;
and thus we can not wonder that the wild Laplander believes his country
to be a terrestrial paradise, and feels nowhere happy but at home.

In the year 1819 a Scotch gentleman attempted to acclimatize the
reindeer in Scotland, and induced two young Laplanders to accompany
the herd which he had bought for that purpose. The reindeer soon
perished, and the Laplanders would have died of nostalgia if they
had not been sent home by the first opportunity. Prince Jablonowsky,
a Polish nobleman, who travelled about thirty years since through a
part of Russian Lapland, took a Lapp girl with him to St. Petersburg.
He gave her a superior education, and she was well treated in every
respect. She made rapid progress, and seemed to be perfectly reconciled
to her new home. About two years after her arrival, it happened that a
Russian gentleman, who possessed extensive estates near the capital,
bought a small herd of reindeer, which arrived under the guidance of
a Lapp family. As it was winter-time, and these people had brought
with them their tents, their sledges, and their snow-shoes, they
soon became objects of curiosity, and crowds of fashionable visitors
flocked to their encampment; among others, the good-natured prince,
who imprudently conducted his pupil, the young Lapland girl, to
see her countrymen, an interview which he supposed would give her
great pleasure. But from that moment she became an altered being;
she lost her spirits and her appetite, and, in spite of every care
and attention, her health declined from day to day. One morning she
disappeared, and it was found on inquiry that she had returned to her
family, where she remained ever after.

Another very remarkable instance of the Laplanders’ love of their
country is related by Hogström. During the war of Gustavus III. with
Russia, a young Laplander enlisted in a regiment which was passing
through Tornea. He served in several campaigns as a common soldier, was
made a sergeant in consequence of his good conduct and courage; and
having given himself the greatest trouble to improve his education and
acquire military knowledge, at length, after twenty years of service,
attained the rank of captain in the Swedish army. After this long time
spent in the civilized world, and having become accustomed to all its
enjoyments and comforts, he felt a strong desire to revisit his family
and his country. Scarcely had he seen his native mountains, and spent a
few days among his countrymen and the reindeer, than he at once quitted
the service, and resumed the nomad life of his youth.

The Laplander’s chief desire is for peace and tranquillity. Exposed
to all the privations of a vagrant life, and to every inclemency of
weather, he endures the greatest hardships with equanimity, desiring
only not to be disturbed in the enjoyment of the little that is
his--not to be interfered with in his old customs and habits.

Yet this same peaceful Laplander, who has so easily submitted to a
foreign yoke, is one of the boldest hunters, and not only pursues the
elk or the wild reindeer, but engages in single combat with the bear.
Like all the other Arctic nations of Russia and Siberia, he has strange
notions about this animal, which in his opinion is the most cunning and
gifted of all created beings. Thus he supposes that the bear knows and
hears all that is said about him, and for this reason he takes good
care never to speak of him disrespectfully. It may seem strange that
he should venture to slay an animal which ranks so high in his esteem;
but the temptation is too strong, as its flesh has an excellent flavor,
and its fur, though not near so valuable as that of the American black
bear, is still worth from fifteen to twenty dollars.

At the beginning of winter, the bear, as is well known, retires either
into a rocky cave, or under a cover of branches, leaves, and moss,
and remains there without food, and plunged in sleep until the next
spring recalls him to a more active existence. After the first fall
of snow, the Lapp hunters go into the forest and look out for traces
of the bear. Having found them, they carefully mark the spot, and
returning after a few weeks disturb the slumbering brute, and excite
him to an attack. It is not considered honorable to shoot him while
sleeping; and in many parts of Lapland the hunter who would kill a
bear with any other weapon but a lance would be universally despised.
Hogguer accompanied two Lapps, well-armed with axes and stout lances
with barbed points, on one of these bear-hunts. When about a hundred
paces from the lair the company halted, while one of the Lapps advanced
shouting, telling his comrades to make as much noise as they could.
When about twenty paces from the cavern, he stood still and flung
several stones into it. For some time all was quiet, so that Hogguer
began to fear that the lair was deserted, when suddenly an angry growl
was heard. The hunters now redoubled their clamor, until slowly, like
an honest citizen disturbed in his noonday slumbers, the bear came out
of his cavern. But this tranquillity did not last long, for the brute,
as soon as he perceived his nearest enemy, uttered a short roar and
rushed upon him. The Lapp coolly awaited the onset with his lance in
rest, until the bear, coming quite near, raised himself on his haunches
and began to strike at him with his fore paws. The hunter bent down to
avoid the strokes, and then suddenly rising, with a sure eye and with
all his might, plunged his lance into the heart of the bear. During
this short conflict the Lapp had received a slight wound on the hand,
but the marks of the bear’s teeth were found deeply impressed upon the
iron of the lance. According to an ancient custom, the wives of the
hunters assemble in the hut of one of them; and as soon as they hear
the returning sportsmen, begin chanting or howling a song in praise of
the bear. When the men, laden with the skin and flesh of the animal,
approach, they are received by the women with opprobrious epithets,
and forbidden ingress through the door; so that they are obliged to
make a hole in the wall, through which they enter with their spoils.
This comedy, which is meant to pacify the manes of the victim, is
still acted, though not so frequently as formerly; but the custom of
begging the bear’s pardon with many tears is completely out of date.
The animal’s interment, however, still takes place with all the ancient
honors and ceremonies. After having been skinned, and its flesh cut
off, the body is buried in anatomical order--the head first, then the
neck, the fore paw, etc. This is done from a belief in the resurrection
of the bear, who having been decently buried, will, it is hoped, allow
himself to be killed a second time by the same Lapp; while a neglect
of the honors due to him would exasperate the whole race of bears, and
cause them to wreak a bloody vengeance on the disrespectful hunter.

The wolf is treated with much less ceremony. Many a wealthy Lapp,
the owner of a thousand reindeer, has been reduced to poverty by the
ravages of this savage beast, which is constantly prowling about the
herds. Hence one of the first questions they put to each other when
they meet is, “Lekor rauhe?” “Is it peace?”--which means nothing more
than, “Have the wolves molested you?” Such is their detestation of
these animals that they believe them to be creatures of the devil,
contaminating all that touches them while alive. Thus they will never
shoot a wolf, as the gun that killed him would ever after be accursed.

At the first alarm that wolves have appeared, the neighbors assemble,
and the chase begins. For miles they pursue him over hills and valleys
on their “skiders,” and kill him with clubs, which they afterwards
burn. They will not even defile themselves with skinning him, but
leave his hide to the Finnish or Russian colonists, who, being less
scrupulous or superstitious, make a warm cloak of it, or sell it for a
few dollars at the fair.

Among the Fjall Lapps there are many rich owners of 1000 or 1500
reindeer, 300 of which fully suffice for the maintenance of a family.
In this case the owner is able to kill as many as are necessary for
providing his household with food and raiment, while the sale of the
superfluous skins and horns enables him to purchase cloth, flour,
hardware, and other necessary articles--not to forget the tobacco or
the brandy in which he delights. The price of the entire carcass of a
reindeer, skin and all, varies from one to three dollars Norsk (four
shillings and sixpence to thirteen shillings and sixpence). A fine
skin will always sell for one dollar in any part of the North. It will
thus be seen that a Lapp possessing a herd of 500 or 1000 deer is
virtually a capitalist in every sense of the word, far richer than the
vast majority of his Norwegian, Swedish, or Russian fellow-subjects,
although they all affect to look upon him with supreme contempt.

The daily food of the mountain Laplanders consists of the fattest
reindeer venison, which they boil, and eat with the broth in which
it has been cooked. Their summer diet consists of cheese and
reindeer-milk. The rich also eat bread baked upon hot iron plates.

Their mode of killing the reindeer is the method used by the butchers
in the South of Italy--the most ancient and best method of slaying
cattle, because it is attended with the least pain to the animal, and
the greatest profit to its possessor. They thrust a sharp-pointed
knife into the back part of the head between the horns, so as to
divide the spinal marrow from the brain. The beast instantly drops,
and dies without a groan or struggle. As soon as it falls, and appears
to be dead, the Laplander plunges the knife dexterously behind the
off-shoulder into the heart; then opening the animal, its blood is
found in the stomach, and ladled out into a pot. Boiled with fat and
flour, it is a favorite dish.

An important epoch in the life of the Fjall Lapp is his annual visit to
one of the winter fairs held in the chief towns or villages which the
more industrious Swedes, Norwegians, or Fins have founded on the coasts
here and there, or in the well-watered valleys of his fatherland, and
which he attends frequently from an immense distance. After a slight
duty to Government has been paid, business begins; but as every bargain
is ratified with a full glass of brandy, his thoughts get confused
before the day is half over--a circumstance which the cunning merchant
does not fail to turn to account. On awaking the next morning, the
vexation of the nomad at his bad bargains is so much the greater, as
no people are more avowed mammon-worshippers than the Lapps, or more
inclined to sing, with our Burns:--

    O wae on the siller, it is sae prevailin’!

Their sole object seems to be the amassing of treasure for the
sole purpose of hoarding it. The avarice of a Lapp is gratified in
collecting a number of silver vessels or pieces of silver coin; and
being unable to carry this treasure with him on his journeys, he buries
the whole, not even making his wife acquainted with the secret of its
deposit, so that when he dies the members of his family are often
unable to discover where he has hidden it. Some of the Lapps possess a
hundred-weight of silver, and those who own 1500 or 1000 reindeer have
much more; in short, an astonishing quantity of specie is dispersed
among them. Silver plate, when offered to them for sale, must be in a
polished state, or they will not buy it; for such is their ignorance,
that when the metal, by being kept buried, becomes tarnished, they
conceive that its value is impaired, and exchange it for other silver,
which being repolished, they believe to be new. The merchants derive
great benefit from this traffic.

Brandy and tobacco are the chief luxuries of the Lapps. The
tobacco-pipe is never laid aside except during meals; it is even used
by the women, who also swallow spirits as greedily as the men; in fact,
both sexes will almost part with life itself for the gratification of
dram-drinking. If you walk up to a Lapp, uncouthly squatted before his
tent, his very first salutation is made by stretching forth a tawny
hand and demanding, in a whining tone, “Tabak” or “Braendi.” Dr. Clarke
relates an amusing instance of their propensity for spirituous liquors.
On his very first visit to one of their tents, he gave the father of
the family about a pint of brandy, thinking he would husband it with
great care, as he had seen him place it behind him upon his bed near
the skirting of the tent. The daughter now entered, and begged for a
taste of the brandy, as she had lost her share by being absent. The
old man made no answer, but when the request was repeated, he slyly
crept round the outside of the tent until he came to the spot where the
brandy was, when, thrusting his arm beneath the skirting, he drew it
out, and swallowed the whole contents of the bottle at a draught.

The practice of dram-drinking is so general that mothers pour the
horrid dose down the throats of their infants. Their christenings and
funerals become mere pretexts for indulging in brandy. But their mild
and pacific disposition shows itself in their drunkenness, which is
manifested only in howling, jumping, and laughing, and in a craving
for more drams with hysteric screams until they fall senseless on the
ground--while at the same time they will suffer kicks, cuffs, blows,
and provocations of any kind without the smallest irascibility. When
sober they are as gentle as lambs, and the softness of their language,
added to their effeminate shrill tone of voice, remarkably corresponds
with their placable disposition. An amiable trait in the character of
the Lapp is the warmth of his affection towards his wife, his children,
and his dependents. Nothing can exceed the cordiality of their mutual
greetings after separations, and it is to be feared that but few
married men in England could match the Lapp husband who assured Castrén
that during thirty years of wedlock no worse word had passed between
himself and his wife than “Loddad-sham,” or “My little bird.”

In spite of his fatiguing life, and the insufficient shelter afforded
him by his hut, the Fjall Lapp is generally vigorous and healthy, and
not seldom lives to a hundred years age. Continual exercise in the open
air braces his constitution, his warm clothing protects him against
the cold of winter, and his generous meat diet maintains his strength.
To prevent the scurvy, he eats the berries of the _Empetrum nigrum_ or
_Rubus chamæmorus_, and mixes the stems of the Angelica among his food.
But his chief remedy against this and every other bodily evil is warm
reindeer-blood, which he drinks with delight as a universal panacea.

The Skogs Lapp, or Forest Lapp, occupies an intermediate grade
between the Fjall Lapp and the Fisher Lapp, as fishing is his summer
occupation, and hunting and the tending of his reindeer that of the
winter months. His herds not being so numerous as those of the Fjall
Lapp, he is not driven to constant migration to procure them food; but
they require more care than his divided pursuits allow him to bestow
upon them, and hence he inevitably descends to the condition of the
Fisher Lapp. Lästadius describes his life as one of the happiest on
earth--as a constant change between the agreeable pastime of fishing
and the noble amusement of the chase. He is not, like the Mountain
Lapp, exposed to all the severity of the Arctic winter, nor so poor as
the Fisher Lapp. He is often heard to sing under the green canopy of
the firs.

The villages of the Fisher Lapps--as they are found, for instance, on
the banks of Lake Enara--afford a by no means pleasing spectacle.

About the miserable huts, which are shapeless masses of mingled earth,
stones, and branches of trees, and scarcely equal to the dwellings of
the wretched Fuegians, heaps of stinking fish and other offal taint
the air with their pestilential odors. When a stranger approaches,
the inmates come pouring out of their narrow doorway so covered with
dirt and vermin as to make him recoil with disgust. Not in the least
ashamed, however, of their appearance, they approach the stranger and
shake his hand according to the code of Lapp politeness. After this
preliminary, he may expect the following questions: “Is peace in the
land? How is the emperor, the bishop, and the captain of the district?”
The more inquisitive of the filthy troop then ask after the home of the
stranger, and being told that it is beyond the mountains, they further
inquire if he comes from the land where tobacco grows. For as our
imagination loves to wander to the sunny regions,

    Where the citron and olive are fairest of fruit,
    And the voice of the nightingale never is mute;

so the fancy of the Lapp conceives no greater paradise than that which
produces the weed that, along with the brandy-bottle, affords him his
highest luxury.



CHAPTER XIII.

MATTHIAS ALEXANDER CASTRÉN.

  His Birthplace and first Studies.--Journey in Lapland, 1838.--
    The Iwalojoki.--The Lake of Enara.--The Pastor of Utzjoki.--
    From Rowaniémi to Kemi.--Second Voyage, 1841–44.--Storm on the
    White Sea.--Return to Archangel.--The Tundras of the European
    Samojedes.--Mesen.--Universal Drunkenness.--Sledge Journey to
    Pustosersk.--A Samojede Teacher.--Tundra Storms.--Abandoned
    and alone in the Wilderness.--Pustosersk.--Our Traveller’s
    Persecutions at Ustsylmsk and Ishemsk.--The Uusa.--Crossing
    the Ural.--Obdorsk.--Second Siberian Journey, 1845–48.--
    Overflowing of the Obi.--Surgut.--Krasnojarsk.--Agreeable
    Surprise.--Turuchansk.--Voyage down the Jenissei.--Castrén’s
    Study at Plachina.--From Dudinka to Tolstoi Noss.--Frozen Feet.--
    Return Voyage to the South.--Frozen fast on the Jenissei.--
    Wonderful Preservation.--Journey across the Chinese Frontiers,
    and to Transbaikalia.--Return to Finland.--Professorship at
    Helsingfors.--Death of Castrén, 1855.


Matthias Alexander Castrén, whose interesting journeys form the subject
of the present chapter, was born in the year 1813, at Rowanièmi, a
Finland village situated about forty miles from the head of the Gulf
of Bothnia, immediately under the Arctic Circle; so that, of all
men who have attained celebrity, probably none can boast of a more
northern birthplace. While still a scholar at the Alexander’s College
of Helsingfors, he resolved to devote his life to the study of the
nations of Finnish origin (Fins, Laplanders, Samojedes, Ostjaks, etc.);
and as books gave but an insufficient account of them, each passing
year strengthened his desire to visit these tribes in their own haunts,
and to learn from themselves their languages, their habits, and their
history.

We may imagine, therefore, the joy of the enthusiastic student, whom
poverty alone had hitherto prevented from carrying out the schemes of
his youth, when Dr. Ehrström, a friend and medical fellow-student,
proposed to take him as a companion, free of expense, on a tour in
Lapland. No artist that ever crossed the Alps on his way to sunny Italy
could feel happier than Castrén at the prospect of plunging into the
wildernesses of the Arctic zone.

On June 25, 1838, the friends set out, and arrived on the 30th at the
small town of Muonioniska, where they remained six weeks--a delay
which Castrén put to good account in learning the Lapp language from a
native catechist. At length the decreasing sun warned the travellers
that it was high time to continue their journey, if they wished to
see more of Lapland before the winter set in; and after having, with
great difficulty, crossed the mountain ridge which forms the water-shed
between the Gulf of Bothnia and the Polar Sea, they embarked on the
romantic Iwalojoki, where for three days and nights the rushing waters
roared around them. In spite of these dangerous rapids, they were
obliged to trust themselves to the stream, which every now and then
threatened to dash their frail boat to pieces against the rocks. Armed
with long oars, they were continually at work during the daytime to
guard against this peril; the nights were spent near a large fire
kindled in the open air, without any shelter against the rain and wind.

The Iwalo River is, during the greater part of its course, encased
between high rocks; but a few miles before it discharges itself into
the large Lake of Enara, its valley improves into a fine grassy plain.
Small islands covered with trees divide the waters, which now flow more
tranquilly; soon also traces of culture appear, and the astonished
traveller finds in the village of Kyrö, not wretched Lapland huts,
but well-built houses of Finnish settlers, with green meadows and
cornfields.

The beautiful Lake of Enara, sixty miles long and forty miles broad, is
so thickly studded with islands that they have never yet been counted.
After the travellers had spent a few days among the Fisher Lapps who
sojourn on its borders, they proceeded northward to Utzjoki, the limit
of their expedition, and one of the centres of Lapland civilization,
as it boasts of a church, which is served by a man of high character
and of no little ability. On accepting his charge, this self-denying
priest had performed the journey from Tornea in the depth of winter,
accompanied by a young wife and a female relation of the latter,
fifteen years of age. He had found the parsonage, vacated by his
predecessor, a wretched building, distant some fifteen miles from the
nearest Lapp habitation. After establishing himself and his family in
this dreary tenement, he had returned from a pastoral excursion to find
his home destroyed by a fire, from which its inmates had escaped with
the loss of all that they possessed. A miserable hut, built for the
temporary shelter of the Lapps who resorted thither for divine service,
afforded the family a refuge for the winter. He had since contrived to
build himself another dwelling, in which our party found him, after
five years’ residence, the father of a family, and the chief of a happy
household. Gladly would the travellers have remained some time longer
under his hospitable roof, but the birds of passage were moving to the
south, warning them to follow their example.

Thus they set out, on August 15, for their homeward voyage, which
proved no less difficult and laborious than the former. At length,
after wandering through deserts and swamps--frequently wet to the skin,
and often without food for many hours--they arrived at Rowanièmi, where
they embarked on the Kemi River.

“With conflicting feelings,” says Castrén, “I descended its stream;
for every cataract was not only well-known to me from the days of my
earliest childhood, but the cataracts were even the only acquaintances
which death had left me in the place of my birth. Along with the
mournful impressions which the loss of beloved relations made upon my
mind, it was delightful to renew my intercourse with the rapid stream
and its waterfalls--those boisterous playfellows, which had often
brought me into peril when a boy. Now, as before, it was a pleasant
sport to me to be hurried along by their tumultuous waters, and to
be wetted by their spray. The boatmen often tried to persuade me to
land before passing the most dangerous waterfalls, and declared that
they could not be answerable for my safety. But, in spite of all their
remonstrances, I remained in the boat, nor had I reason to repent of my
boldness, for He who is the steersman of all boats granted us a safe
arrival at Kemi, where our Lapland journey terminated.”[9]

In 1841 Castrén published a metrical translation, into the Swedish
language, of the “Kalewala,” a cycle of the oldest poems of the
Fins; and at the end of the same year proceeded on his first great
journey to the land of the European Samoïedes, and from thence across
the northern Ural Mountains to Siberia. In the famous convent of
Solovetskoi, situated on a small island in the White Sea, he hoped to
find a friendly teacher of the Samoïede language in the Archimandrite
Wenjamin, who had labored as a missionary among that savage people,
but the churlish dignitary jealously refused him all assistance; and
as the tundras of the Samoïedes are only accessible during the winter,
he resolved to turn the interval to account by a journey among the
Terski Lapps, who inhabit the western shores of the White Sea. With
this view, in an evil hour of the 27th June, 1842, though suffering
at this time from illness severe enough to have detained any less
persevering traveller, he embarked at Archangel in a large corn-laden
vessel, with a reasonable prospect of being landed at Tri Ostrowa in
some twenty-four hours; but a dead calm detained him eight days, during
which he had no choice but to endure the horrible stench of Russian
sea-stores in the cabin or the scorching sun on deck. At length a
favorable wind arose, and after a few hours’ sailing nothing was to be
seen but water and sky. Soon the Terski coast came in view, with its
white ice-capped shore, and Castrén hoped soon to be released from his
floating prison, when suddenly the wind changed, and, increasing to a
storm, threatened to dash them on the cliffs of the Solovetskoi Islands.

“Both the captain and the ship’s company began to despair of their
lives; and prayers having been resorted to in vain, to conjure the
danger, general drunkenness was the next resource. The captain, finding
his own brandy too weak to procure the stupefaction he desired, left me
no peace till I had given him a bottle of rum. After having by degrees
emptied its contents, he at length obtained his end, and fell asleep
in the cabin. The crew, following his example, dropped down one by one
into their cribs, and the ship was left without guidance to the mercy
of the winds and waves. I alone remained on deck, and gloomily awaited
the decisive moment. But I soon discovered that the wind was veering
to the east, and, awaking the captain from his drunken lethargy, sent
him on deck, and took possession of his bed. Exhausted by the dreadful
scenes of the day, I soon fell into a deep slumber; and when I awoke
the following morning, I found myself again on the eastern coast of the
White Sea, at the foot of a high sheltering rock-wall.”

Continued bad weather and increasing illness now forced Castrén to give
up his projected visit to the Lapps, and when he returned to Archangel,
both his health and his purse were in a sad condition. He had but
fifteen roubles in his pocket, but fortunately found some Samoïede
beggars still poorer than himself, one of whom, for the reward of an
occasional glass of brandy, consented to become at once his host, his
servant, and his private tutor in the Samoïede language. In the hut
and society of this savage he passed the remainder of the summer, his
health improved, and soon also his finances changed wonderfully for
the better--the Government of Finland having granted him a thousand
silver roubles for the prosecution of his travels. With a light heart
he continued his linguistic studies until the end of November, when he
started with renewed enthusiasm for the land of the European Samoïedes.
These immense tundras extend from the White Sea to the Ural Mountains,
and are bounded on the north by the Polar Sea, and on the south by the
region of forests, which here reaches as high as the latitudes of 66°
and 67°.

The large river Petschora divides these dreary wastes into two unequal
halves, whose scanty population, as may easily be imagined, is sunk in
the deepest barbarism. It consists of nomadic Samoïedes, and of a few
Russians, who inhabit some miserable settlements along the great stream
and its tributary rivers.

To bury himself for a whole year in these melancholy deserts, Castrén
left Archangel in November, 1842. As far as Mesen, 345 versts north
of Archangel, the scanty population is Russ and Christian. At Mesen
civilization ceases, and farther north the Samoïede retains for
the most part, with his primitive habits and language, his heathen
faith--having, in fact, borrowed nothing from occasional intercourse
with civilized man but the means and practice of drunkenness. Castrén’s
first care, on his arrival at Mesen, was to look for a Samoïede
interpreter and teacher; but he was as unsuccessful here as at Somsha,
a village some forty versts farther on, where drunkenness was the order
of the day. He took the most temperate person he could find in all
Somsha into his service, but even this moderate man would, according
to our ideas, have been accounted a perfect drunkard. He now resolved
to try the fair sex, and engaged a female teacher, but she also could
not remain sober. At length a man was introduced to him as the most
learned person of the tundra, and at first it seemed as if he had at
length found what he wanted; but after a few hours the Samoïede began
to get tired of his numerous questions, and declared himself ill. He
threw himself upon the floor, wailed and lamented, and begged Castrén
to have pity on him, until at length the incensed philologist turned
him out-of-doors. Soon after he found him lying dead drunk in the snow
before the “Elephant and Castle” of the place.

Thus obliged to look for instruction elsewhere, Castrén resolved to
travel, in the middle of winter, to the Russian village of Pustosersk,
at the mouth of the Petschora, where the fair annually attracts a
number of Samoïedes. During this sledge-journey of 700 versts, he had
to rest sometimes in the open air on the storm-beaten tundra, and
sometimes in the rickety tent of the Samoïede, or in the scarcely less
wretched hut of the Russian colonist--where the snow penetrated through
the crevices of the wall, where the flame of the light flickered in
the wind, and a thick cloak of wolf-skin afforded the only protection
against the piercing cold of the Arctic winter.

For this arduous tour, two sledges, with four reindeer attached to
each, were employed--the traveller’s sledge, which was covered, being
attached to an uncovered one occupied by the guide. The Kanin Tundra
stretched out before them, as they flew along, almost as naked as the
sea, of which they saw the margin in the east; and had not the wind
here and there driven away the snow which Heaven in its mercy strews
over this gloomy land, they might have been in doubt on which element
they were travelling. Daily, from time to time, some dwarf firs made
their appearance, or clumps of low willows, which generally denote the
presence of some little brook slowly winding through the flat tundra.

The village of Ness, on the north coast, was the first halting-place,
and here Castrén flattered himself he had at length found what his
heart desired, in the person of a Samoïede teacher who knew Russian,
and was gifted with a clearer head than is usually possessed by his
race.

“The man was conscious of his superiority, and while acting as a
professor looked down with contempt upon his weaker brethren. Once,
some other Samoïedes venturing to correct one of his translations, he
commanded them to be silent, telling them they were not learned. I
tried by all possible means to secure the services of this Samoïede
phenomenon. I spoke kindly with him, I paid him well, gave him every
day his allowance of brandy, and never once forbade him to get drunk
when he felt inclined to do so. Yet, in spite of all my endeavors to
please, he felt unhappy, and sighed for the liberty of the tundra.
‘Thou art kind, and I love thee,’ said he one day to me, ‘but I can not
endure confinement. Be therefore merciful, and give me my freedom.’

“I now increased his daily pay and his rations of brandy, sent for his
wife and child, treated his wife also with brandy, and did all I could
to dispel the melancholy of the Samoïede. By these means I induced him
to remain a few days longer with me.

“While I was constantly occupying him, the wife was busy sewing
Samoïede dresses, and sometimes assisted her husband in his
translations. I often heard her sighing deeply, and having asked for
the reason, she burst into tears, and answered that she grieved for
her husband, who was thus imprisoned in a room. ‘Thy husband,’ was my
reply, ‘is not worse off than thyself. Tell me, what do you think of
your own position?’ ‘I do not think of myself--I am sorrowful for my
husband,’ was her ingenuous reply. At length both the husband and the
wife begged me so earnestly to set them at liberty that I allowed them
to depart.”

On the way from Pjoscha to Pustosersk, after Castrén had once more
vainly endeavored to discover that _rara avis_, a Samoïede teacher,
he became thoroughly acquainted with the January snow-storms of the
tundra: “The wind arose about noon, and blew so violently that we
could not see the reindeer before our sledges. The roof of my vehicle,
which at first had afforded me some protection, was soon carried away
by the gale. Anxious about my fate, I questioned my guides, whenever
they stopped to brush off the snow which had accumulated upon me, and
received the invariable answer, ‘We do not know where we are, and see
nothing.’ We proceeded step by step, now following one direction,
now another, until at length we reached a river well known to the
guides. The leader of the first sledge hurried his reindeer down the
precipitous bank, and drove away upon the ice to seek a more convenient
descent; but as he did not return, the other guide likewise left me
to look after his companion, and thus I was kept waiting for several
hours on the tundra, without knowing where my guides had gone to.

“At first I did not even know that they had left me, and when I became
aware of the fact, I thought that they had abandoned me to my fate. I
will not attempt to describe my sensations; but my bodily condition
was such, that when the cold increased with the approach of night, I
was seized with a violent fever. I thought my last hour was come, and
prepared for my journey to another world.”

The re-appearance of the guides relieved Castrén of his anxiety, and
when the little party reached some Samoïede huts, the eldest of the
guides knelt down at the side of our traveller’s sledge and expressed
his joy in a prayer to God, begging Castrén to join him in his
thanksgivings, “for He, and not I, has this night saved thee.”

The next morning, as the weather seemed to improve, and the road (along
the Indiga River) to the next Russian settlement was easy to find,
Castrén resolved to pursue his journey. “But the storm once more arose,
and became so dreadfully violent that I could neither breathe nor
keep my eyes open against the wind. The roaring of the gale stupefied
my senses. The moist snow wetted me during the day, and the night
converted it into ice. Half frozen, I arrived after midnight at the
settlement. The fatigues of the journey had been such that I could
scarcely stand; I had almost lost my consciousness, and my sight had
suffered so much from the wind that I repeatedly ran with my forehead
against the wall. The roaring of the storm continually resounded in my
ears for many hours after.”

A few days later Castrén arrived at Pustosersk, undoubtedly one of
the dreariest places in the world. With scarcely a trace of arboreal
vegetation, the eye, during the greater part of the year, rests on an
interminable waste of snow, where the cold winds are almost perpetually
raging. The storms are so violent as not seldom to carry away the roofs
of the huts, and to prevent the wretched inhabitants from fetching
water and fuel. In this Northern Eden our indefatigable ethnologist
tarried several months, as it afforded him an excellent opportunity
for continuing his studies of the language, manners, and religion of
the Samoïedes, who come to the fair of Pustosersk during the winter,
to barter their reindeer skins for flour and other commodities, and at
the same time to indulge in their favorite beverage--brandy. At length
the Samoïedes retired, the busy season of the place was evidently at an
end, and Castrén, having no further inducement to remain at Pustosersk,
left it for the village of Ustsylmsk, situated 150 versts higher up the
Petschora, where he hoped still to find some straggling Samoïedes. The
road to Ustsylmsk leads through so desolate a region, that, according
to the priests of the neighborhood, it can not have been originally
created by God with the rest of the world, but must have been formed
after the Deluge. Near Ustsylmsk (65° 30´ N. lat.) the country
improves, as most of the northern trees grow about the place; but,
unfortunately, a similar praise can not be awarded to its inhabitants,
whom Castrén found to be the most brutal and obstinate Raskolniks (or
sectarians) he had ever seen. Without in the least caring for the Ten
Commandments, and indulging in every vice, these absurd fanatics
fancied themselves better than the rest of mankind, because they made
the sign of the cross with the thumb and the two last fingers, and
stood for hours together before an image in stupid contemplation. Our
homeless traveller soon became the object of their persecutions; they
called him “wizard,” “a poisoner of rivers and wells,” and insulted
him during his walks. At length they even attempted to take his life,
so that he thought best to retreat to Ishemsk, on the Ishma, a hundred
versts farther to the south. But, unfortunately, his bad reputation
had preceded him, and although the Isprawnik (or parish official) and
his wife warmly took his part, the people continued to regard him with
suspicion.

Towards the end of June Castrén ascended the Petschora and its chief
tributary, the Uusa, as far as the village of Kolwa, where he spent the
remainder of the summer, deeply buried as usual in Samoïede studies.
Beyond Kolwa, which he left on September 16 for Obdorsk, there is not a
single settlement along the Uusa and its tributaries.

As he ascended the river, the meadows on its low banks appeared colored
with the gray tints of autumn. Sometimes a wild animal started from
its lair, but no vestige of man was to be seen. Countless flocks of
wild ducks and geese passed over the traveller’s head, on their way
southward.

After many a tedious delay, caused by storms and contrary winds,
Castrén reached (on September 27) a wretched hut, about forty versts
from the Ural, where he was obliged to wait a whole month, with
fourteen other persons, until the snow-track over the mountains became
practicable for sledges.

The total want of every comfort, the bad company, the perpetual rain,
and the dreary aspect of the country, made his prolonged stay in this
miserable tenement almost unbearable. At length, on October 25, he was
able to depart, and on November 3 he saw the Ural Mountains raising
their snow-capped summits to the skies. “The weather is mild,” said
his Samoïede driver, “and thou art fortunate, but the Ural can be
very different.” He then described the dreadful storms that rage over
the boundary-chain which separates Europe from Asia, and how they
precipitate stones and rocks from the mountain-tops.

This time the dreaded pass was crossed in safety, and on November 9,
1843, Castrén arrived at Obdorsk, on the Obi, exhausted in strength
and shattered in health, but yet delighted to find himself in Asia,
the land of his early dreams. Obdorsk--the most northerly colony in
Western Siberia, and, as may easily be imagined, utterly deficient in
all that can be interesting to an ordinary traveller--was as much as a
university to the zealous student, for several thousands of Samoïedes
and Ostiaks congregate to its fair from hundreds of versts around.

No better place could possibly be found for the prosecution of his
researches; but the deplorable condition of his health did not allow
him to remain as long as he would have desired at this fountain-head of
knowledge. He was thus obliged to leave for Tobolsk, and to return in
March, 1844, by the shortest road to Finland.

In the following summer (1845) we again find him on the banks of the
Irtysch and the Obi, plunged in Ostiak studies with renewed energy and
enthusiasm. After having sojourned for several weeks at Toropkowa, a
small island at the confluence of these two mighty streams, he ascended
the Obi in July as far as Surgut, where he arrived in the beginning of
August.

In consequence of the overflowing of its waters, the river had spread
into a boundless lake, whose monotony was only relieved, from time to
time, by some small wooded island or some inundated village. The rising
of the stream had spread misery far and wide, for many Ostiak families
had been obliged to abandon their huts, and to seek a refuge in the
forests. Those who had horses and cows had the greatest difficulty
to keep them alive; and as all the meadows were under water, and the
autumn, with its night-frosts, was already approaching, there was
scarcely any hope of making hay for the winter.

As Castrén proceeded on his journey, the low banks of the river rose
above the waters, and appeared in all their wild and gloomy desolation.
The number of inhabitants along the Obi is utterly insignificant
when compared with the wide extent of the country; and as hunting
and fishing are their chief occupations, nothing is done to subdue
the wilderness. The weary eye sees but a dull succession of moors,
willow bushes, dry heaths, and firs on the higher grounds. Near every
flourishing tree stands another bearing the marks of decay. The young
grass is hemmed in its growth by that of the previous year, which even
in July gives the meadow a dull ash-gray color. Cranes, wild ducks, and
geese are almost the only living creatures to be seen. From Siljarski
to Surgut, a distance of 200 versts, there are but three Russian
villages; and the Ostiaks, who form the main part of the population,
generally live along the tributary rivers, or erect their summer huts
on the smaller arms of the Obi, where they can make a better use of
their very imperfect fishing implements than on the principal stream.

Surgut, once a fortress, and the chief town of the Cossack conquerors
of Siberia, is now reduced to a few miserable huts, scattered among the
ruins of repeated conflagrations.

Here Castrén remained till September 24, occupied with the study
of the various dialects of the neighboring Ostiak tribes, and then
ascended the Obi as far as Narym, a distance of 800 versts. Most of
the fishermen had already retired from the banks of the river, and a
death-like stillness, rarely interrupted by an Ostiak boat rapidly
shooting through the stream, reigned over its waters.

Fortunately the weather was fine, at least during the first days of the
journey; and the green river-banks, the birds singing in the trees,
and the sunbeams glancing over the wide mirror of the Obi, somewhat
enlivened the monotony of the scene.

After having enjoyed at Narym a _remarkably mild_ Siberian winter, as
_no crows had been frozen to death_, and having increased his knowledge
of the Ostiak dialects, Castrén proceeded in the following spring,
by way of Tomsk, to Krasnojarsk, on the Jenissei, where he arrived
in April, 1846, and was welcomed in a most agreeable and unexpected
manner. It will be remembered that during his stay at Ishemsk, in the
tundra of the Samoïedes, he found warm-hearted friends and protectors
against the insane bigotry of the Raskolniks in the Isprawnik and his
young and amiable wife. Of the latter it might truly be said that
she was like a flower born to blush unseen in the desert. Remarkably
eloquent, she was no less talented in expressing her thoughts by
writing; and yet she was only the daughter of a serf who had been
exiled to Krasnojarsk, and had spent a great part of a small property,
acquired by industry and economy, in the education of his gifted
daughter. The Isprawnik, a young Pole of insinuating manners, having
gained her affections, she had accompanied him to Ishemsk as his wife.

From what Castrén had told her three years since about his future
plans, she knew that he would probably arrive about this time at
Krasnojarsk, and had written a letter, which reached its destination
only a few hours before him. It was to her father, earnestly begging
him to pay every attention to the homeless stranger. The feelings of
Castrén may easily be imagined when the old man knocked at his door,
and brought him these friendly greetings from a distance of 6000
versts.[10]

But his stay at Krasnojarsk was not of long duration, for he was
impatient to proceed northward, for the purpose of becoming acquainted
with the tribes dwelling along the Jenissei, after having studied their
brethren of the Obi. From June till the end of July, his literary
pursuits detained him at Turuchansk, where, in the vicinity of the
Arctic Circle, he had much to suffer from the heat and the mosquitoes.
In the beginning of August the signs of approaching winter made
their appearance, the cold north wind swept away the leaves from the
trees, the fishermen retired to the woods, and the ducks and geese
prepared to migrate to the south. And now Castrén also took leave of
Turuchansk--not however, like the birds, for a more sunny region, but
to bury himself still deeper in the northern wilds of the Jenissei.
Below Turuchansk the river begins to flow so languidly, that when the
wind is contrary, the boat must be dragged along by dogs, and advances
no more than from five to ten versts during a whole day. Thus the
traveller has full time to notice the willows on the left bank, and
the firs on the right; the ice-blocks, surviving memorials of the last
winter, which the spring inundations have left here and there on the
banks of the vast stream; and the countless troops of wild birds that
fly with loud clamor over his head.

About 365 versts below Turuchansk is situated Plachina, the
fishing-station of a small tribe of Samoïedes, among whom Castrén
tarried three weeks. He had taken possession of the _best_ of the
three huts of which the place consisted, but even this would have been
perfectly intolerable to any one but our zealous ethnologist. Into his
study the daylight penetrated so sparingly through a small hole in the
wall, that he was often obliged to write by the light of a resinous
torch in the middle of the day.

The flame flickering in the wind, which blew through a thousand
crevices, affected his eyes no less severely than the smoke, which
at the same time rendered respiration difficult. Although the roof
had been repaired, yet during every strong rain--and it rained
almost perpetually--he was obliged to pack up his papers, and to
protect himself from the wet as if he had been in the open air. From
this delightful residence, Castrén, still pursuing his study of the
Samoïede dialects, proceeded down the river to Dudinka, and finally,
in November, to Tolstoi Noss, whose pleasant climate may be judged
of by the fact that it is situated in the latitude of 71°. This last
voyage was performed in a “balok,” or close sledge, covered with
reindeer skins. The tediousness of being conveyed like a corpse in a
dark and narrow box, induced him to exchange the “balok” for an open
sledge; but the freezing of his feet, of his fingers, and of part
of his face, soon caused him to repent of his temerity. As soon as
this accident was discovered at the next station, Castrén crept back
again into his prison, and was heartily glad when, after a nine days’
confinement, he at length arrived at Tolstoi Noss, which he found
to consist of four wretched huts. Here again he spent several weeks
studying by torchlight, for the sun had made his last appearance in
November, and the day was reduced to a faint glimmering at noon. In
January we find him on his return-voyage to Turuchansk, a place which,
though not very charming in itself, appeared delightful to Castrén
after a six months’ residence in the tundras beyond the Arctic Circle.

Turuchansk can boast at least of seeing some daylight at all seasons
of the year, and this may be enjoyed even within-doors, for Turuchansk
possesses no less than four houses with glass windows. Longing to
reach this comparatively sunny place, Castrén, against his usual
custom, resolved to travel day and night without stopping, but his
impatience well-nigh proved fatal to him. His Samoïede guide had not
perceived in the dark that the waters of the Jenissei, over which they
were travelling, had oozed through fissures in the ice, and inundated
the surface of the river far and wide. Thus he drove into the water,
which of course was rapidly congealing; the reindeer were unable to
drag the sledge back again upon the land, and Castrén stuck fast on
the river, with the agreeable prospect of being frozen to death. From
this imminent danger he was rescued by a wonderful circumstance.
Letters having arrived from the Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg, a
courier had been dispatched from Turuchansk to convey them to Castrén.
This courier fortunately reached him while he was in this perilous
situation, helped him on land, and conducted him to a Samoïede hut,
where he was able to warm his stiffened limbs.

After such a journey, we can not wonder that, on arriving at
Turuchansk, he was so tormented with rheumatism and toothache as to
be obliged to rest there several days. With sore joints and an aching
body, he slowly proceeded to Jeniseisk, where he arrived on April 3,
1847, in a wretched state of health, which however had not interrupted
his Ostiak studies on the way. I rapidly glance over his subsequent
travels, as they are but a repetition of the same privations and the
same hardships, all cheerfully sustained for the love of knowledge.
Having somewhat recruited his strength at Jeniseisk, he crossed the
Sajan Mountains to visit some Samoïedes beyond the Russian frontier--a
journey which, besides the usual fatigues, involved the additional risk
of being arrested as a spy by the Chinese authorities; and the year
after he visited Transbaikalia, to make inquiries among the Buriat
priests about the ancient history of Siberia.

Having thus accomplished his task, and thoroughly investigated the
wild nations of the Finnish race from the confines of the Arctic Sea
to the Altai--a task which cost him his health, and the best part of
his energies--he longed to breathe the air of his native country. But
neither the pleasures of home, nor a professorship at the University
of Helsingfors, richly earned by almost super-human exertions, were
able to arrest the germs of disease, which journeys such as these could
scarcely fail to plant even in his originally robust constitution.
After lingering some years, he died in 1855, universally lamented by
his countrymen, who justly mourned his early death as a national loss.



[Illustration: 76. A SAMOÏEDE PRIEST.]


CHAPTER XIV.

THE SAMOÏEDES.

  Their Barbarism.--Num, or Jilibeambaertje.--Shamanism.--Samoïede
    Idols.--Sjadæi.--Hahe.--The Tadebtsios, or Spirits.--The
    Tadibes, or Sorcerers.--Their Dress.--Their Invocations.--Their
    conjuring Tricks.--Reverence paid to the Dead.--A Samoïede
    Oath.--Appearance of the Samoïedes.--Their Dress.--A Samoïede
    Belle.--Character of the Samoïedes.--Their decreasing Numbers.--
    Traditions of ancient Heroes.


The Samoïedes, the neighbors of the Laplanders, are still farther
removed from civilized society, and plunged in even deeper barbarism.
The wildest tundras and woods of Northern Russia and Western Siberia
are the home of the Samoïede. With his reindeer herds he wanders over
the naked wastes, from the eastern coast of the White Sea to the
banks of the Chatanga, or hunts in the boundless forests between the
Obi and the Jenissei. His intercourse with the Russians is confined
to his annual visit at the fairs of such miserable settlements as
Obdorsk and Pustosersk, where, far from improving by their company,
he but too often becomes the prey of their avarice, and learns to
know them merely as cheats and oppressors. Protestant missionaries
have long since brought instruction to the Laplander’s hut, but the
majority of the less fortunate Samoïedes still adhere to the gross
superstitions of their fathers. They believe in a Supreme Being--Num,
or Jilibeambaertje--who resides in the air, and, like the Jupiter of
old, sends down thunder and lightning, rain and snow; and as a proof
that something of a poetic fancy is to be found even among the most
savage nations, they call the rainbow “the hem of his garment.” As this
deity, however, is too far removed from them to leave them any hope of
gaining his favor, they never think of offering him either prayer or
sacrifice. But, besides Num, there are a great many inferior spirits,
or idols, who directly interfere in human concerns--capricious beings,
who allow themselves to be influenced by offerings, or yield to magical
incantations; and to these, therefore, the Samoïede has recourse when
he feels the necessity of invoking the aid or averting the wrath of a
higher Power.

The chief of all Samoïede idols is in the island of Waygatz--a cold
and melancholy Delos--where it was already found by old Barentz. This
idol is a mere block of stone, with its head tapering to a point. It
has thus been fashioned, not by a mortal artist, but by a play of
nature. After this original the Samoïedes have formed many idols of
stone or wood of various sizes, which they call “Sjadæi,” from their
possessing a human physiognomy (_sja_). These idols they dress in
reindeer skins, and ornament them with all sorts of colored rags.
But a resemblance to the human form is not the necessary attribute
of a Samoïede idol; any irregularly-shaped stone or tree may be thus
distinguished. If the object is small, the savage carries it every
where about with him, carefully wrapped up; if too cumbersome to be
transported, it is reserved as a kind of national deity. As with the
Ostiaks, each Samoïede tribe has in its train a peculiar sledge--the
Hahengan--in which the household idols (or Hahe) are placed. One of
these Penates protects the reindeer, another watches over the health of
his worshippers, a third is the guardian of their connubial happiness,
a fourth takes care to fill their nets with fish. Whenever his services
are required, the Hahe is taken from his repository, and erected in the
tent or on the pasture-ground, in the wood or on the river’s bank. His
mouth is then smeared with oil or blood, and a dish with fish or flesh
is set before him, in the full expectation that his good offices will
amply repay the savory repast. When his aid is no longer necessary, he
is put aside without any further ceremony, and as little noticed as the
Madonna of the Neapolitan fisherman after the storm has ceased.

The Hahe, or idols, are very convenient objects of reverence to the
Samoïede, as he can consult them, or ask their assistance, without
being initiated in the secrets of magic; while the Tadebtsios, or
invisible spirits, which everywhere hover about in the air, and are
more inclined to injure than to benefit man, can only be invoked by a
Tadibe, or sorcerer, who, like the Cumæan Sibyl, works himself into a
state of ecstatic frenzy. When his services are required, the first
care of the Tadibe is to invest himself with his magical mantle--a
kind of shirt made of reindeer leather, and hemmed with red cloth. The
seams are covered in a similar manner, and the shoulders are decorated
with epaulettes of the same gaudy material. A piece of red cloth veils
the eyes and face--for the Tadibe requires no external organs of sight
to penetrate into the world of spirits--and a plate of polished metal
shines upon his breast.

Thus accoutred, the Tadibe seizes his magical drum, whose sounds summon
the spirits to his will. Its form is round, it has but one bottom, made
of reindeer skin, and is more or less decorated with brass rings and
other ornaments, according to the wealth or poverty of its possessor.
During the ceremony of invocation, the Tadibe is generally assisted by
a disciple, more or less initiated in the magic art. They either sit
down, or walk about in a circle. The chief sorcerer beats the drum, at
first slowly, then with increasing violence, singing at the same time
a few words to a mystic melody. The disciple immediately falls in, and
both repeat the same monotonous chant.

At length the spirits appear, and the consultation is supposed to
begin; the Tadibe from time to time remaining silent, as if listening
to their answers, and but gently beating his drum, while the assistant
continues to sing. Finally, this mute conversation ceases, the song
changes into a wild howling, the drum is violently struck, the eye of
the Tadibe glows with a strange fire, foam issues from his lips--when
suddenly the uproar ceases, and the oracular sentence is pronounced.
The Tadibes are consulted not only for the purpose of recovering a
strange reindeer, or to preserve the herd from a contagious disorder,
or to obtain success in fishing; the Samoïede, when a prey to illness,
seeks no other medical advice; and the sorcerer’s drum either scares
away the malevolent spirits that cause the malady, or summons others to
the assistance of his patient.

The office of Tadibe is generally hereditary, but individuals gifted
by nature with excitable nerves and an ardent imagination not seldom
desire to be initiated in these supernatural communications. No one can
teach the candidate. His morbid fancy is worked upon by solitude, the
contemplation of the gloomy aspect of nature, long vigils, fasts, the
use of narcotics and stimulants, until he becomes persuaded that he too
has seen the apparitions which he has heard of from his boyhood. He is
then received as a Tadibe with many ceremonies, which are held in the
silence of the night, and invested with the magic drum. Thus the Tadibe
partly believes in the visions and fancies of his own overheated brain.
Besides dealing with the invisible world, he does not neglect the
usual arts of an expert conjuror, and knows by this means to increase
his influence over his simple-minded countrymen. One of his commonest
tricks is similar to that which has been practised with so much success
by the Brothers Davenport. He sits down, with his hands and feet
bound, on a reindeer skin stretched out upon the floor, and, the light
being removed, begins to summon the ministering spirits to his aid.
Strange unearthly noises now begin to be heard--bears growl, snakes
hiss, squirrels rustle about the hut. At length the tumult ceases, the
audience anxiously awaits the end of the spectacle, when suddenly the
Tadibe, freed from his bonds, steps into the hut--no one doubting that
the spirits have set him free.

As barbarous as the poor wretches who submit to his guidance, the
Tadibe is incapable of improving their moral condition, and has no wish
to do so. Under various names--Schamans among the Tungusi, Angekoks
among the Esquimaux, medicine-men among the Crees and Chepewyans,
etc.--we find similar magicians or impostors assuming a spiritual
dictatorship over all the Arctic nations of the Old and the New World,
wherever their authority has not been broken by Christianity or
Buddhism; and this dreary faith still extends its influence over at
least half a million of souls, from the White Sea to the extremity of
Asia, and from the Pacific to Hudson’s Bay.

Like the Ostiaks and other Siberian tribes, the Samoïedes honor the
memory of the dead by sacrifices and other ceremonies. They believe
that their deceased friends have still the same wants, and pursue the
same occupations, as when in the land of the living; and thus they
place in or about their graves a sledge, a spear, a cooking-pot, a
knife, an axe, etc., to assist them in procuring and preparing their
food. At the funeral, and for several years afterwards, the relations
sacrifice reindeer over the grave. When a person of note, a prince, a
Starschina, the proprietor of numerous herds of reindeer, dies (for
even among the miserable Samoïedes we find the social distinctions of
rich and poor), the nearest relations make an image, which is placed
in the tent of the deceased, and enjoys the respect paid to him during
his lifetime. At every meal the image is placed in his former seat, and
every evening it is undressed and laid down in his bed. During three
years the image is thus honored, and then buried; for by this time the
body is supposed to be decayed, and to have lost all sensation of the
past. The souls of the Tadibes, and of those who have died a violent
death, alone enjoy the privilege of immortality, and after their
terrestrial life hover about in the air as unsubstantial spirits.

Yet in spite of this privilege, and of the savory morsels that fall to
their share at every sacrificial feast, or of the presents received
for their services, the Tadibes are very unhappy beings. The ecstatic
condition into which they so frequently work themselves shatters their
nerves and darkens their mind. Wild looks, bloodshot eyes, an uncertain
gait, and a shy manner, are among the effects of this periodical
excitement.

Like the Ostiaks, the Samoïedes consider the taking of an oath as an
action of the highest religious importance. When a crime has been
secretly committed against a Samoïede, he has the right to demand an
oath from the suspected person.

If no wooden or stone Hahe is at hand, he manufactures one of earth
or snow, leads his opponent to the image, sacrifices a dog, breaks
the image, and then addresses him with the following words:--“If thou
hast committed this crime, then must thou perish like this dog.” The
ill consequences of perjury are so much dreaded by the Samoïedes--who,
though they have but very faint ideas of a future state, firmly believe
that crime will be punished in this life, murder with violent death,
or robbery by losses of reindeer--that the true criminal, when called
upon to swear, hardly ever submits to the ceremony, but rather at once
confesses his guilt and pays the penalty.

The most effectual security for an oath is that it should be solemnized
over the snout of a bear--an animal which is highly revered by all
the Siberian tribes, from the Kamchatkans to the Samoïedes, as well
as by the Laplanders. Like the Laplanders, they believe that the bear
conceals under his shaggy coat a human shape with more than human
wisdom, and speak of him in terms of the highest reverence. Like the
Lapps also, when occasion offers, they will drive an arrow or a bullet
through his skin; but they preface the attack with so many compliments
that they feel sure of disarming his anger.

The appearance of the Samoïedes is as wild as the country which they
inhabit. The dwarfish stature of the Ostiak, or the Lapp, thick lips,
small eyes, a low forehead, a broad nose so much flattened that the
end is nearly upon a level with the bone of the upper jaw (which is
strong and greatly elevated), raven-black shaggy hair, a thin beard,
and a yellow-brown complexion, are their characteristic features, and
in general they do nothing to improve a form which has but little
natural beauty to boast of. The Samoïede is satisfied if his heavy
reindeer dress affords him protection against the cold and rain, and
cares little if it be dirty or ill-cut; some dandies, however, wear
furs trimmed with cloth of a gaudy color. The women, as long as they
are unmarried, take some pains with their persons; and when a Samoïede
girl, with her small and lively black eyes, appears in her reindeer
jacket tightly fitting round the waist, and trimmed with dog-skin,
in her scarlet moccasins, and her long black tresses ornamented with
pieces of brass or tin, she may well tempt some rich admirer to offer a
whole herd of reindeer for her hand. For among the Samoïedes no father
ever thinks of bestowing a portion on his daughter: on the contrary, he
expects from the bridegroom an equivalent for the services which he is
about to lose by her marriage. The consequence of this degrading custom
is that the husband treats his consort like a slave, or as an inferior
being. A Samoïede, who had murdered his wife, was quite surprised at
being summoned before a court of justice for what he considered a
trifling offense; “he had honestly paid for her,” he said, “and could
surely do what he liked with his own.”

The senses and faculties of the Samoïedes correspond to their mode of
life as nomads and hunters. They have a piercing eye, delicate hearing,
and a steady hand: they shoot an arrow with great accuracy, and are
swift runners. On the other hand, they have a gross taste, generally
consuming their fish or their reindeer flesh raw; and their smell is so
weak that they appear quite insensible to the putrefying odors arising
from the scrapings of skins, stinking fish, and other offal which is
allowed to accumulate in and about their huts.

The Samoïede is good-natured, melancholy, and phlegmatic. He has,
indeed, but indistinct notions of right and wrong, of good and evil;
but he possesses a grateful heart, and is ready to divide his last
morsel with his friend. Cruelty, revenge, the darker crimes that
pollute so many of the savage tribes of the tropical zone, are foreign
to his character. Constantly at war with a dreadful climate, a prey to
ignorance and poverty, he regards most of the things of this life with
supreme indifference. A good meal is of course a matter of importance
in his eyes; but even the want of a meal he will bear with stoical
apathy, when it can only be gained by exertion, for he sets a still
higher value on repose and sleep.

A common trait in the character of all Samoïedes is the gloomy view
which they take of life and its concerns; their internal world is as
cheerless as that which surrounds them. True men of ice and snow, they
relinquish, without a murmur, a life which they can hardly love, as it
imposes upon them many privations, and affords them but few pleasures
in return.

They are suspicious, like all oppressed nations that have much to
suffer from their more crafty or energetic neighbors. Obstinately
attached to their old customs, they are opposed to all innovations; and
they have been so often deceived by the Russians, that they may well be
pardoned if they look with a mistrustful eye upon all benefits coming
from that source.

The wealth of the Samoïedes consists in the possession of herds of
reindeer, and P. von Krusenstern, in 1845, calculated the number owned
by the Samoïedes of the Lower Petschora, near Pustosersk, at 40,000
head--a much smaller number than what they formerly had, owing to a
succession of misfortunes. The Russian settlers along that immense
stream and its tributaries gradually obtain possession of their best
pasture-grounds, and force them to recede within narrower and narrower
limits. Thus many have been reduced to the wretched condition of the
Arctic fisherman, or have been compelled to exchange their ancient
independence for a life of submission to the will of an imperious
master.

The entire number of the European and Asiatic Samoïedes is estimated
at no more than about 10,000, and this number, small as it is when
compared to the vast territory over which they roam, is still
decreasing from year to year. Before their subjugation by the Russians,
the Samoïedes were frequently at war with their neighbors, the Ostiaks,
the Woguls, and the Tartars, and the rude poems which celebrate the
deeds of the heroes of old are still sung in the tents of their
peaceful descendants. The _minstrel_, or _troubadour_--if I may be
allowed to use these names while speaking of the rudest of mankind--is
seated in the centre of the hut, while the audience squat around. His
gesticulations endeavor to express his sympathy with his hero. His
body trembles, his voice quivers, and during the more pathetic parts
of his story, tears start to his eyes, and he covers his face with his
left hand, while the right, holding an arrow, directs its point to the
ground. The audience generally keep silence, but their groans accompany
the hero’s death; or when he soars upon an eagle to the clouds, and
thus escapes the malice of his enemies, they express their delight by a
triumphant shout.



[Illustration: 77. BANKS OF THE IRTYSCH.]


CHAPTER XV.

THE OSTIAKS.

  What is the Obi?--Inundations.--An Ostiak summer Yourt.--Poverty
    of the Ostiak Fishermen.--A winter Yourt.--Attachment of the
    Ostiaks to their ancient Customs.--An Ostiak Prince.--Archery.--
    Appearance and Character of the Ostiaks.--The Fair of Obdorsk.


What is the Obi?--“One of the most melancholy rivers on earth,” say the
few European travellers who have ever seen it roll its turbid waters
through the wilderness, “its monotonous banks a dreary succession of
swamps and dismal pine-forests, and hardly a living creature to be
seen, but cranes, wild ducks, and geese.” If you address the same
question to one of the few Russians who have settled on its banks, he
answers, with a devout mien, “Obi is our mother;” but if you ask the
Ostiak, he bursts forth, in a laconic but energetic phrase, “Obi is the
god whom we honor above all our other gods.”

To him the Obi is a source of life. With its salmon and sturgeon he
pays his taxes and debts, and buys his few luxuries; while the fishes
of inferior quality which get entangled in his net he keeps for his
own consumption and that of his faithful dog, eating them mostly raw,
so that the perch not seldom feels his teeth as soon as it is pulled
out of the water. In spring, when the Obi and its tributaries burst
their bonds of ice, and the floods sweep over the plains, the Ostiak is
frequently driven into the woods, where he finds but little to appease
his hunger; at length, however, the waters subside, the flat banks
of the river appear above their surface, and the savage erects his
summer hut close to its stream. This hovel has generally a quadrangular
form, low walls, and a high pointed roof, made of willow-branches
covered with large pieces of bark. These, having first been softened by
boiling, are sewn together, so as to form large mats or carpets, easily
rolled up and transported. The hearth, a mere hole inclosed by a few
stones, is in the centre, and the smoke escapes through an aperture at
the top. Close to the hut there is also, generally, a small store-house
erected on high poles, as in Lapland; for the provisions must be
secured against the attacks of the glutton, the wolf, or the owner’s
dogs.

Although the Obi and its tributaries--the Irtysch, the Wach, the
Wasjugan--abundantly provide for the wants of the Ostiaks, yet those
who are exclusively fishermen vegetate in a state of the greatest
poverty, in indolence, drunkenness, and vice. The wily Russian settlers
have got them completely in their power, by advancing them goods on
credit, and thus securing the produce of their fisheries from year
to year. During the whole summer Russian speculators from Obdorsk,
Beresow, and Tobolsk sail about on the Obi, to receive from their
Ostiak debtors the salmon and sturgeon which they have caught, or
to fish on their own account, which, as having better nets and more
assistance, they do with much greater success than the poor savages.

The Russian Government has, indeed, confirmed the Ostiaks in the
possession of almost all the land and water in the territories of the
Lower Obi and Irtysch, but the Russian traders find means to monopolize
the best part of the fisheries; for ignorance and stupidity, in spite
of all laws in their favor, are nowhere a match for mercantile cunning.

At the beginning of winter the Ostiaks retire into the woods, where
they find at least some protection against the Arctic blasts, and are
busy hunting the sable or the squirrel; but as fishing affords them at
all times their chief food, they take care to establish their winter
huts on some eminence above the reach of the spring inundations, near
some small river, which, through holes made in the ice, affords their
nets and anglers a precarious supply. Their winter yourt is somewhat
more solidly constructed than their summer residence, as it is not
removed every year. It is low and small, and its walls are plastered
with clay. Light is admitted through a piece of ice inserted in the
wall or on the roof. In the better sort of huts, the space along one
or several of the walls is hung with mats made of sedges, and here the
family sits or sleeps. Sometimes a small antechamber serves to hang
up the clothes, or is used as a repository for household utensils.
Besides those who live solely upon fishes and birds of passage, there
are other Ostiaks who possess reindeer herds, and wander in summer to
the border of the Polar sea, where they also catch seals and fish. When
winter approaches, they slowly return to the woods. Finally, in the
more southerly districts, there are some Ostiaks who, having entirely
adopted the Russian mode of life, cultivate the soil, keep cattle, or
earn their livelihood as carriers.

In general, however, the Ostiak, like the Samoïede, obstinately
withstands all innovations, and remains true to the customs of his
forefathers. He has been so often deceived by the Russians that he is
loth to receive the gifts of civilization from their hands. He fears
that if his children learn to read and write, they will no longer be
satisfied to live like their parents, and that the school will deprive
him of the support of his age. He is no less obstinately attached to
the religion of his fathers, which in all essential points is identical
with that of the Samoïedes. In some of the southern districts, along
the Irtysch, at Surgut, he has indeed been baptized, and hangs up
the image of a saint in his hut, as his Russian pope or priest has
instructed him to do; but his Christianity extends no farther. Along
the tributaries of the Obi, and below Obdorsk, he is still plunged in
Schamanism.

Like the Samoïedes, the Ostiaks, whose entire number amounts to about
25,000, are subdivided into tribes, reminding one of the Highland
clans. Each tribe consists of a number of families, of a common
descent, and sometimes comprising many hundred individuals, who,
however distantly related, consider it a duty to assist each other in
distress. The fortunate fisherman divides the spoils of the day with
his less fortunate clansman, who hardly thanks him for a gift which he
considers as his due. In cases of dispute the Starschina, or elder,
acts as a judge; if, however, the parties are not satisfied with
his verdict, they appeal to the higher authority of the hereditary
chieftain or prince--a title which has been conferred by the Empress
Catherine II. on the Ostiak magnates, who, from time immemorial, have
been considered as the heads of their tribes. These princes are, of
course, subordinate to the Russian officials, and bound to appear,
with the Starschinas, at the fairs of Beresow or Obdorsk, as they are
answerable for the quantity and quality of the various sorts of furs
which the Ostiaks are obliged to pay as a tribute to Government. Their
dignity is hereditary, and, in default of male descendants, passes to
the nearest male relation. It must, however, not be supposed that these
princes are distinguished from the other Ostiaks by their riches or a
more splendid appearance; for their mode of life differs in no way from
that of their inferiors in rank, and, like them, they are obliged to
fish or to hunt for their daily subsistence.

On entering the hut of one of these dignitaries, Castrén found him
in a ragged jacket, while the princess had no other robe of state
but a shirt. The prince, having liberally helped himself from
the brandy-bottle which the traveller offered him, became very
communicative, and complained of the sufferings and cares of the past
winter. He had exerted himself to the utmost, but without success.
Far from giving way to indolence in his turf-hut, he had been out
hunting in the forest, after the first snow-fall, but rarely pitching
his bark-tent, and frequently sleeping in the open air. Yet, in spite
of all his exertions, he had often not been able to shoot a single
ptarmigan. His stores of meal and frozen fishes were soon exhausted,
and sometimes the princely family had been reduced to eat the flesh of
wolves.

The Ostiaks are excellent archers, and, like all the other hunting
tribes of Siberia, use variously constructed arrows for the different
objects of their chase. Smaller shafts, with a knob of wood at the end,
are destined for the squirrels and other small animals whose fur it is
desirable not to injure; while large arrows, with strong triangular
iron points, bring down the wolf, the bear, and sometimes the fugitive
exile. For, to prevent the escape of criminals sentenced to banishment
in Siberia, the Russian Government allows the Ostiaks to shoot any
unknown person, not belonging to their race, whom they may meet with
on their territory. Although well aware of this danger, several exiles
have attempted to escape to Archangel along the border of the Arctic
sea; but they either died of hunger, or were devoured by wild beasts,
or shot by the Ostiaks. There is but one instance known of an exile
who, after spending a whole year on the journey, at length reached the
abodes of civilized man, and he was pardoned in consideration of the
dreadful sufferings he had undergone.

The Ostiaks are generally of a small stature, and most of them are
dark-complexioned, with raven-black hair like the Samoïedes; some of
them, however, have a fairer skin and light-colored hair. They have
neither the oblique eyes nor the broad projecting cheek-bones of the
Mongols and Tungus, but bear a greater resemblance to the Finnish,
Samoïede, and Turkish cast of countenance. They are a good-natured,
indolent, honest race; and though they are extremely dirty, yet
their smoky huts are not more filthy than those of the Norwegian or
Icelandic fisherman. As among the Samoïedes, the women are in a very
degraded condition, the father always giving his daughter in marriage
to the highest bidder. The price is very different, and rises or falls
according to the circumstances of the parent; for while the rich man
asks fifty reindeer for his child, the poor fisherman is glad to part
with his daughter for a few squirrel-skins and dried sturgeon.

[Illustration: 78. GROUP OF KIRGHIS.]

Before taking leave of the Ostiaks, we will still tarry a moment at
the small town of Obdorsk, which may be considered as the capital of
their country, and entirely owes its existence to the trade carried
on between them and the Russians. Formerly the merchants from Beresow
and Tobolsk used merely to visit the spot, but the difficulties of the
journey soon compelled them to establish permanent dwellings in that
dreary region. A certain number of exiles serves to increase the scanty
population, which consists of a strange medley of various nations,
among whom Castrén found a Calmuck, a Kirghis, and a Polish cook, who
bitterly complained that he had but few opportunities of showing his
skill in a town where people lived _à la_ Ostiak. In fact, most of the
Russian inhabitants of the place have in so far adopted the Ostiak
mode of life, as to deem the cooking of their victuals superfluous.
When Castrén, on his arrival at Obdorsk, paid a visit to a Tobolsk
merchant, who had been for some time settled in the place, he found the
whole family lying on the floor, regaling on raw fish, and the most
civilized person he met with told him that he had tasted neither boiled
nor roast flesh or fish for half a year. Yet fine shawls and dresses,
and now no doubt the crinoline and the chignon, are found amidst all
this barbarism. Edifices with the least pretensions to architectural
beauty it would of course be vain to look for in Obdorsk. The houses
of the better sort of Russian settlers are two-storied, or consisting
of a ground-floor and garrets; but as they are built of wood, and are
by no means wind-tight, the half-famished Ostiaks, who have settled in
the town, are probably more comfortably housed in their low turf-huts
than the prosperous Russian inhabitants of the place. The latter make
it their chief occupation to cheat the Ostiaks in every possible way;
some of them, however, add to this profitable, if not praiseworthy
occupation, the keeping of reindeer herds, or even of cows and sheep.

The fair lasts from the beginning of winter to February, and during
this time the Ostiaks who assemble at Obdorsk pitch their bark-tents
about the town. With their arrival a new life begins to stir in the
wretched place. Groups of the wild sons and daughters of the tundra,
clothed in heavy skins, make their appearance, and stroll slowly
through the streets, admiring the high wooden houses, which to them
seem palaces. But nothing is to be seen of the animation and activity
which usually characterize a fair. Concealing some costly fur under his
wide skin mantle, the savage pays his cautious visit to the trader, and
makes his bargain amidst copious libations of brandy. He is well aware
that this underhand way of dealing is detrimental to his interests;
that his timorous disposition shrinks from public sales, and frequently
he is not even in the situation to profit by competition; for among
the thousands that flock to the fair, there are but very few who do
not owe to the traders of Obdorsk much more than they possess, or
can ever hope to repay. Woe to the poor Ostiak whose creditor should
find him dealing with some other trader!--for the seizure of all his
movable property, of his tent and household utensils, would be the
least punishment which the wretch turned adrift into the naked desert
would have to expect. The fair is not opened before Government has
received the furs which are due to it, or at least a guarantee for
the amount from the merchants of the place. Then the magazines of the
traders gradually fill with furs--with clothes of reindeer skin ready
made, with feathers, reindeer flesh, frozen sturgeon, mammoth tusks,
etc. For these goods the Ostiaks receive flour, baked bread, tobacco,
pots, kettles, knives, needles, brass buttons and rings, glass pearls,
and other trifling articles. An open trade in spirits is not allowed;
but brandy may be sold as a medicine, and thus many an Ostiak takes
advantage of the fair for undergoing a cure the reverse of that which
is recommended by hydropathic doctors.

Towards the end of February, when the Ostiaks have retired into the
woods--where they hunt or tend their reindeer herds until the opening
of the fishing-season recalls them to the Obi--the trader prepares
for his journey to Irbit, where he hopes to dispose of his furs at an
enormous profit, and Obdorsk is once more left until the following
winter to its death-like solitude.



[Illustration: 79. TAGILSK.]


CHAPTER XVI.

CONQUEST OF SIBERIA BY THE RUSSIANS--THEIR VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY
ALONG THE SHORES OF THE POLAR SEA.

  Ivan the Terrible.--Strogonoff.--Yermak, the Robber and
    Conqueror.--His Expeditions to Siberia.--Battle of Tobolsk.--
    Yermak’s Death.--Progress of the Russians to Ochotsk.--Semen
    Deshnew.--Condition of the Siberian Natives under the Russian
    Yoke.--Voyages of Discovery in the Reign of the Empress Anna.--
    Prontschischtschew.--Chariton and Demetrius Laptew.--An Arctic
    Heroine.--Schalaurow.--Discoveries in the Sea of Bering and in
    the Pacific Ocean.--The Lächow Islands.--Fossil Ivory.--New
    Siberia.--The wooden Mountains.--The past Ages of Siberia.


In the beginning of the thirteenth century, the now huge Empire of
Russia was confined to part of her present European possessions, and
divided into several independent principalities, the scene of disunion
and almost perpetual warfare. Thus when the country was invaded, in
1236, by the Tartars, under Baaty Khan, a grandson of the famous Gengis
Khan, it fell an easy prey to its conquerors. The miseries of a foreign
yoke, aggravated by intestine discord, lasted about 250 years, until
Ivan Wasiljewitsch I. (1462–1505) became the deliverer of his country,
and laid the foundations of her future greatness. This able prince
subdued, in 1470, the _Great Novgorod_, a city until then so powerful
as to have maintained its independence, both against the Russian grand
princes and the Tartar khans; and, ten years later, he not only threw
off the yoke of the Khans of Khipsack, but destroyed their empire. The
conquest of Constantinople by the Turks placed the spiritual diadem of
the ancient Cæsars on his head, and caused him, as chief of the Greek
orthodox Church, to exchange his old title of Grand Prince for the more
significant and imposing one of Czar.

His grandson, Ivan Wasiljewitsch II., a cruel but energetic monarch,
conquered Kasan in 1552, and thus completely and permanently overthrew
the dominion of the Tartars. Two years later he subdued Astrakhan, and
planted the Greek cross on the borders of the Caspian Sea, where until
then only the Crescent had been seen.

In spite of the inhuman cruelty that disgraced his character,
and earned for him the name of _Terrible_, Ivan sought, like his
illustrious successor, Peter the Great, to introduce the arts and
sciences of Western Europe into his barbarous realm, and to improve the
Russian manufactures by encouraging German artists and mechanics to
settle in the country. It was in his reign that Chancellor discovered
the passage from England to the White Sea, and Ivan gladly seized the
opportunity thus afforded. Soon after this the port of Archangel was
built, and thus a new seat was opened to civilization at the northern
extremity of Europe.

After the conquest of Kasan, several Russians settled in that province;
among others, a merchant of the name of Strogonoff, who established
some salt-works on the banks of the Kama, and opened a trade with the
natives. Among these he noticed some strangers, and having heard that
they came from a country ruled by a Tartar Khan, who resided in a
capital called Sibir, he sent some of his people into their land. These
agents returned with the finest sable skins, which they had purchased
for a trifling sum; and Strogonoff, not so covetous as to wish to keep
all the advantage of his discovery to himself, immediately informed
the Government of the new trade he had opened. He was rewarded with
the gift of considerable estates at the confluence of the Kama and
Tschinsova, and his descendants, the Counts Strogonoff, are, as is well
known, reckoned among the richest of the Russian nobility.

Soon after Ivan sent some troops to Siberia, whose prince, Jediger,
acknowledged his supremacy, and promised to pay him an annual tribute
of a thousand sable skins. But this connection was not of long
duration, for a few years after Jediger was defeated by another Tartar
prince, named Kutchum Khan; and thus, after Russian influence had taken
the first step to establish itself beyond the Ural, it once more became
doubtful whether Northern Asia was to be Christian or Mohammedan. The
question was soon after decided by a fugitive robber.

The conquests of Ivan on the Caspian Sea had called into life a
considerable trade with Bokhara and Persia, which, however, was greatly
disturbed by the depredations of the Don Cossacks, who made it their
practice to plunder the caravans. But Ivan, not the man to be trifled
with by a horde of freebooters, immediately sent out a body of troops
against the Don Cossacks, who, not venturing to meet them, sought their
safety in flight. At the head of the fugitives, whose number amounted
to no less than 6000 men, was Yermak Timodajeff, a man who, like Cortez
or Pizarro, was destined to lay a new empire at the feet of his master.
But while the troops of the Czar were following his track, Yermak
was not yet dreaming of future conquests; his only aim was to escape
the executioner; and he considered himself extremely fortunate when,
leaving his pursuers far behind, he at length arrived on the estates
of Strogonoff. Here he was well received--better, no doubt, than if
he had come single-handed and defenseless; and Strogonoff having made
him acquainted with Siberian affairs, he at once resolved to try
his fortunes on this new scene of action. As the tyranny of Kutchum
Khan had rendered him odious to his subjects, he hoped it would be
an easy task to overthrow his power; the prospect of a rich booty of
sable skins was also extremely attractive; and, finally, there could
be no doubt that the greatest dangers were in his rear, and that any
choice was better than to fall into the hands of Ivan the Terrible.
Strogonoff, on his part, had excellent reasons for encouraging the
adventure. If it succeeded, a considerable part of the profits was
likely to fall to his share; if not, he at least was rid of his
unbidden guest.

Thus Yermak, in the summer of 1578, advanced with his Cossacks along
the banks of the Tschinsova into Siberia. But, either from a want
of knowledge of the country, or from not having taken the necessary
precautions, he was overtaken by winter before he could make any
progress; and when spring appeared, famine compelled him to return
to his old quarters, where, as may easily be imagined, his reception
was none of the most cordial. But, far from losing courage from this
first disappointment, Yermak was firmly resolved to persevere. He had
gained experience--his self-confidence was steeled by adversity; and
when Strogonoff attempted to refuse him further assistance, he pointed
to his Cossacks with the air of a man who has the means of enforcing
obedience to his orders. This time Yermak took better measures for
insuring success; he compelled Strogonoff to furnish him with an ample
supply of provisions and ammunition, and in the June of the following
year we again find him, with his faithful Cossacks, on the march to
Siberia. But such were the impediments which the pathless swamps and
forests, the severity of the climate, and the hostility of the natives
opposed to his progress, that towards the end of 1580 his force (now
reduced to 1500 men) had reached no farther than the banks of the Tara.
The subsequent advance of this little band was a constant succession of
hardships and skirmishes, which caused it to melt away like snow in the
sunshine; so that scarcely 500 remained when, at the confluence of the
Tobol and the Irtysch, they at length reached the camp of Kutchum Khan,
whose overwhelming numbers seemed to mock their audacity.

But Yermak felt as little fear at sight of the innumerable tents of the
Tartar host, as the wolf when meeting a herd of sheep. He knew that
his Cossacks, armed with their matchlocks, had long since disdained
to count their enemies, and, fully determined to conquer or to die,
he gave the order to attack. A dreadful battle ensued, for though the
Tartars only fought with their bows and arrows, yet they were no less
brave than their adversaries, and their vast superiority of numbers
made up for the inferior quality of their weapons. The struggle was
long doubtful--the Tartars repeating attack upon attack like the waves
of a storm-tide, and the Cossacks receiving their assaults as firmly
and immovably as rocks; until, finally, the hordes of Kutchum Khan gave
way to their stubborn obstinacy, and his camp and all its treasures
fell into the hands of the conquerors.

The subsequent conduct of Yermak proved that he had all the qualities
of a general and a statesman, and that his talents were not unequal to
his fortunes. Without losing a single moment, he, immediately after
this decisive battle, sent part of his small band to occupy the capital
of the vanquished Kutchum, for he well knew that a victory is but half
gained if one delays to reap its fruits. The Cossacks found the place
evacuated, and soon after Yermak made his triumphal entry into Sibir.
His weakness now became a source of strength, for, daunted by the
wonderful success of this handful of strangers, the people far and wide
came to render him homage. The Ostiaks of the Soswa freely consented
to yield an annual tribute of 280 sable skins, and other tribes of the
same nation, who were more backward in their submission, were compelled
by his menaces to pay him a tax, or _jassak_, of eleven skins for every
archer.

It was not without reason that Yermak thus sought to collect as many
of these valuable furs as he possibly could, for his aim was to obtain
from Ivan a pardon of his former delinquencies, by presenting him
with the richest spoils of his victories, and he well knew that it
would be impossible for him to maintain his conquests without further
assistance from the Czar. Great was Ivan’s astonishment when an envoy
of the fugitive robber brought him the welcome gift of 2400 sable
skins, and informed him that Yermak had added a new province to his
realm. He at once comprehended that the hero who with small means had
achieved such great successes, was the fittest man to consolidate or
enlarge his acquisitions; he consequently not only pardoned all his
former offenses, but confirmed him in the dignity of governor and
commander-in-chief in the countries which he had subdued. Thus Yermak’s
envoy, having been received with the greatest distinction at Moscow,
returned to his fortunate master with a robe of honor which had been
worn by the Czar himself, and the still more welcome intelligence that
re-enforcements were on the march to join him.

Meanwhile Yermak had continued to advance into the valley of the
Obi beyond its confluence with the Irtysch; and when at length his
force was augmented by the arrival of 500 Russians, he pursued his
expeditions with increasing audacity. On his return from one of these
forays, he encamped on a small island in the Irtysch. The night was
dark and rainy, and the Russians, fatigued by their march, relied
too much upon the badness of the weather or the terror of their
name. But Kutchum Khan, having been informed by his spies of their
want of vigilance, crossed a ford in the river, and falling upon the
unsuspecting Russians, killed them all except one single soldier,
who brought the fatal intelligence to Sibir. Yermak, when he saw his
warriors fall around him like grass before the scythe, without losing
his presence of mind for a moment, cut his way through the Tartars, and
endeavored to save himself in a boat. But in the medley he fell into
the water and was drowned.

By the orders of Kutchum, the body of the hero was exposed to every
indignity which the rage of a barbarian can think of; but after this
first explosion of impotent fury, his followers, feeling ashamed of
the ignoble conduct of their chief, buried his remains with princely
pomp, and ascribed miraculous powers to the grave in which they were
deposited. The Russians have also erected a monument to Yermak in the
town of Tobolsk, which was built on the very spot where he gained his
first decisive victory over Kutchum. It is inscribed with the dates
of that memorable event, and of the unfortunate day when he found his
death in the floods of the Irtysch. His real monument, however, is all
Siberia from the Ural to the Pacific; for as long as the Russian nation
continues to exist, it will remember the name of Yermak Timodajeff. The
value of the man became at once apparent after his death, for scarcely
had the news of the disaster arrived, when the Russians immediately
evacuated Sibir, and left the country. But they well knew that this
retreat was to be but temporary, and that the present ebb of their
fortunes would soon be followed by a fresh tide of success. After a
few years they once more returned, as the definitive masters of the
country. Their first settlement was Tjumen, on the Tara, and before
the end of 1587 Tobolsk was founded. They had, indeed, still many a
conflict with the Woguls and Tartars, but every effort of the natives
to shake off the yoke proved fruitless.

As gold had been the all-powerful magnet which led the Spaniards from
Hispaniola to Mexico and Peru, so a small fur-bearing animal (the
sable) attracted the Cossacks farther and farther to the east; and
although the possession of fire-arms gave them an immense advantage
over the wild inhabitants of Siberia, yet it is as astonishing with
what trifling means they subdued whole nations, and perhaps history
affords no other example of such a vast extent of territory having been
conquered by so small a number of adventurers.

As they advanced, small wooden forts (or _ostrogs_) were built in
suitable places, and became in their turn the starting-posts for new
expeditions. The following dates give the best proof of the uncommon
rapidity with which the tide of conquest rolled onward to the east.
Tomsk was founded in 1604; and the ostrog Jeniseisk, where the
neighboring nomads brought their sable skins to market, in 1621. The
snow-shoes of the Tunguse, which they sometimes saw ornamented with
this costly fur, induced the Cossacks to follow their hordes, of which
many had come from the middle and inferior Tunguska, and thus, in
1630, Wassiljew reached the banks of the Lena. In 1636 Jelissei Busa
was commissioned to ascend that mighty river, and to impose _jassak_
on all the natives of those quarters. He reached the western mouth
of the Lena, and after navigating the sea for twenty-four hours came
to the Olekma, which he ascended. In 1638 he discovered the Tana, on
whose banks he spent another winter; and in 1639, resuming his voyage
eastward by sea, he reached the Tchendoma, and wintering for two years
among the Jukahirs, made them also tributary to Russia.

In that same year another party of Cossacks crossed the Altai
Mountains, and, traversing forests and swamps, arrived at the coasts of
the inhospitable Sea of Ochotsk; while a third expedition discovered
the Amoor, and built a strong ostrog, called Albasin, on its left
bank. The report soon spread that the river rolled over gold-sand, and
colonists came flocking to the spot, both to collect these treasures,
and to enjoy the fruits of a milder climate and of a more fruitful
soil. But the Chinese destroyed the fort in 1680, and carried the
garrison prisoners to Peking.

Albasin was soon after rebuilt; but as Russia at that time had no
inclination to engage in constant quarrels with the Celestial Empire
about the possession of a remote desert, all its pretensions to
the Amoor were given up by the treaty of Nertschinsk (1689). This
agreement, however, like so many others, was doomed to last no longer
than it pleased the more powerful of the contracting parties to
keep it, and came to nothing as soon as the possession of the Amoor
territory became an object of importance, and the increasing weakness
of China was no longer able to dispute its possession. Thus, when
Count Nicholas Mourawieff was appointed Governor-general of Eastern
Siberia in 1847, one of his first cares was to appropriate or annex the
Amoor. He immediately sent a surveying expedition to the mouth of the
river, where, in 1851, regardless of the remonstrances of the Chinese
Government, he ordered the stations of Nicolayevsk and Mariinsk to be
built; and in 1854 he himself sailed down the Amoor, with a numerous
flotilla of boats and rafts, for the purpose of personally opening this
new channel of intercourse with the Pacific. Other expeditions soon
followed, and the Chinese, finding resistance hopeless, ceded to Russia
in the year 1858, by the treaty of Aigun, the left bank of the Amoor as
far as the influx of the Ussuri, and both its banks below the latter
river. Thus the Czar found some consolation for the losses of the
Crimean campaign in the acquisition of a vast territory in the distant
East, which, though at present a mere wilderness, may in time become a
flourishing colony.

[Illustration: 80. THE BEACH AT NICOLAYEVSK.]

In 1644, a few years after the discovery of the Amoor, the Cossack
Michael Staduchin formed a winter establishment on the delta of the
Kolyma, which has expanded into the town of Nishnei-Kolymsk, and
afterwards navigated the sea eastward to Cape Schelagskoi, which may be
considered as the north-eastern cape of Siberia.

[Illustration: 81. ON THE AMOOR.]

In 1648 Semen Deschnew sailed from the Kolyma with the intention of
reaching the Anadyr by sea, and by this remarkable voyage--which no
one else, either before or after him, has ever performed--_discovered_
and passed through the strait, which properly should bear his name,
instead of Bering’s, who, sailing from Kamchatka northward in 1728, did
not go beyond East Cape, being satisfied with the westerly trending
of the cape beyond the promontory. Some of Deschnew’s companions
subsequently reached Kamchatka, and were put to death by the people of
that peninsula, which was conquered, in 1699, by Atlassoff, a Cossack
officer who came from Jakutsk.

After having thus rapidly glanced at the progress of the Russian
dominion from the Ural to the Sea of Ochotsk, it may not be
uninteresting to inquire whether the natives had reason to bless the
arrival of their new masters, or to curse the day when they were first
made to understand the meaning of the word _jassak_, or tribute.
Unfortunately, history tells us that, while the conquerors of Siberia
were fully as bold and persevering as the companions of Cortez and
Pizarro, they also equalled them in avarice and cruelty. Under their
iron yoke whole nations, such as the Schelagi, Aniujili, and Omoki,
melted away; others, as the Woguls, Jukahires, Koriaks, and Itälmenes,
were reduced to a scanty remnant.

The history of the subjugation of the Itälmenes, or natives of
Kamchatka, as described by Steller, may suffice to show how the
Cossacks made and how they abused their conquests.

[Illustration: 82. VILLAGE ON THE AMOOR.]

When Atlassoff, with only sixteen men, came to the river of Kamchatka,
the Itälmene chieftain inquired, through a Koriak interpreter, what
they wanted, and whence they came; and received for answer that the
powerful sovereign, to whom the whole land belonged, had sent them to
levy the tribute which they owed him as his subjects. The chieftain was
naturally astonished at this information, and offering the strangers
a present of costly furs, he requested them to leave the country, and
not to repeat their visit. But the Cossacks thought proper to remain,
and built a small wooden fort, Verchnei Ostrog, whence they fell on the
neighboring villages, robbing or destroying all they could lay hands
upon. Exasperated by these acts, the Itälmenes resolved to attack the
fort; but as the wary Cossacks had kept up a friendly intercourse with
some of them, and had moreover ingratiated themselves with the women,
the plans of their enemies were always revealed to them in proper time,
and led to a still greater tyranny. At length the savages appeared
before the ostrog in such overwhelming numbers that the Cossacks began
to lose courage; yet by their superior tactics they finally managed
to gain a complete victory, and those who escaped their bullets were
either drowned or taken prisoners, and then put to death in the most
cruel manner.

[Illustration: 83. KORIAK YOURT.]

Convinced that a lasting security was impossible as long as the natives
retained their numbers, the Cossacks lost no opportunity of goading
them to revolt, and then butchering as many of them as they could.
Thus, in less than forty years, the Kamchatkans were reduced to a
twelfth part of their original numbers; and the Cossacks, having made a
solitude, called it peace.

In former times the nomads of the North used freely to wander with
their reindeer herds over the tundra, but after the conquest they were
loaded with taxes, and confined to certain districts. The consequence
was that their reindeer gradually perished, and that a great number of
wandering herdsmen were now compelled to adopt a fisherman’s life--a
change fatal to many.

It would, however, be unjust to accuse the Russian Government of having
willfully sought the ruin of the aboriginal tribes; on the contrary, it
has constantly endeavored to protect them against the exactions of the
Cossacks, and in order to secure their existence, has even granted them
the exclusive possession of the districts assigned to them. Thus the
Ostiaks and Samoïedes, the Koriaks and the Jakuts, have their own land,
their own rivers, forests, and tundri. But if it is a common saying in
European Russia “that heaven is high, and the Czar distant,” it may
easily be imagined that beyond the Ural the weak indigenous tribes
found the law but a very inefficient barrier against the rapacity of
their conquerors.

Thus, in spite of the Government, the _jassak_ was not unfrequently
raised, under various pretenses, to six or ten times its original
amount; and the natives were, besides, obliged to bring the best of
their produce, from considerable distances, to the ostrog.

Nor could the Government prevent the accumulation of usurious debts,
nor the leasing of the best pasturages or fishing-stations for a
trifling sum quite out of proportion to their value; so that the
natives no longer had the means of feeding their herds, and sank deeper
and deeper into poverty.

And if we consider, finally, of what elements Yermak’s band was
originally composed, we can easily conceive that, under such masters,
the lot of the Siberian natives was by no means to be envied.

       *       *       *       *       *

The year 1734 opens a new epoch in the history of Siberian discoveries.
Until then they had been merely undertaken for purposes of traffic;
bold Cossacks and Promyschlenniki (or fur-hunters) had gradually
extended their excursions to the Sea of Bering; but now, for the first
time, scientific expeditions were sent out, for the more accurate
investigation of the northern coasts of Siberia.

Prontschischtschew, who sailed westward from the Lena to circumnavigate
the icy capes of Taimurland, was accompanied by his youthful wife, who
wintered with him at the Olenek, in 72° 54´ of latitude, and in the
following summer took part in his fruitless endeavors to double those
most northerly points of Asia. He died in consequence of the fatigues
he had to undergo, and a few days after she followed him to the grave.
A similar example of female devotion is not to be met with in the
annals of Arctic discovery.

After Prontschischtschew’s death, Lieutenant Chariton Laptew was
appointed to carry out the project in which the former had failed.
Having been repulsed by the drift-ice, he was obliged to winter on the
Chatanga (1739–40); but renewed the attempt in the following summer,
which however exposed him to still severer trials. The vessel was
wrecked in the ice; the crew reached the shore with difficulty, and
many of them perished from fatigue and famine before the rivers were
sufficiently frozen to enable the feeble survivors to return to their
former winter-station at Chatanga. Notwithstanding the hardships which
he and his party had endured, Laptew prosecuted the survey of the
promontory in the following spring.

Setting out with a sledge-party across the Tundra on April 24, 1741,
he reached Taimur Lake on the 30th; and following the Taimur River, as
it flows from the lake, ascertained its mouth to be situated in lat.
75° 36´ N. On August 29 he safely returned to Jeniseisk, after one of
the most difficult voyages ever performed by man. The resolution with
which he overcame difficulties, and his perseverance amid the severest
distresses, entitle him to a high rank among Arctic discoverers.

While Chariton Laptew was thus gaining distinction in the wilds
of Taimurland, his brother, Dimitri Laptew, was busy extending
geographical knowledge to the east of the Lena. He doubled the
_Sviatoi-noss_, wintered on the banks of the Indigirka, surveyed the
Bear Islands, passed a second winter on the borders of the Kolyma, and
in a fourth season extended his survey of the coast to the Baranow
Rock, which he vainly endeavored to double during two successive
summers. After having passed seven years on the coasts of the Polar
Ocean, he returned to Jakutsk in 1743.

Fourteen years later, Schalaurow, a merchant of Jakutsk, who sailed
from the Jana in a vessel built at his own expense, at length
succeeded in doubling the Baranow Rock, and proceeded eastward as
far as Cape Schelagskoi, which prevented his farther progress. After
twice wintering on the dreary Kolyma, he resolved, with admirable
perseverance, to make a third attempt, but his crew would no longer
follow him. From a second sea-journey, which he undertook in 1764 to
that cape, he did not return. “His unfortunate death is the more to be
lamented,” says Wrangell, “as he sacrificed his property and life to a
disinterested aim, and united intelligence and energy in a remarkable
degree.” On his map, the whole coast from the Jana to Cape Schelagskoi
is marked, with an accuracy which does him the greatest honor. In 1785
Billings and Sarytchew were equally unsuccessful in the endeavor to
sail round the cape which had defeated all Schalaurow’s endeavors; nor
has the voyage been accomplished to the present day.

[Illustration: 84. KAMCHATKA SABLES]

As the sable had gradually led the Russian fur-hunters to Kamchatka,
so the still more valuable sea-otter gave the chief impulse to the
discovery of the Aleutic chain and the opposite continent of America.
When Atlassow and his band arrived at Kamchatka by the end of the
seventeenth century, they found the sea-otter abounding on its coasts;
but the fur-hunters chased it so eagerly that, before the middle of the
eighteenth century, they had entirely extirpated it in that country.
On Bering’s second voyage of discovery (1741–42), it was again found
in considerable numbers. Tschirigow is said to have brought back 900
skins, and on Bering’s Island 700 sea-otters--whose skins, according
to present prices, would be worth about £20,000--were killed almost
without trouble. These facts, of course, encouraged the merchants of
Jakutsk and Irkutsk to undertake new expeditions.

Generally, several of them formed an association, which fitted out
some hardly seaworthy vessel at Ochotsk, where also the captain and
the crew, consisting of fur-hunters and other adventurers, were hired.
The expenses of such an expedition amounted to the considerable sum
of about 30,000 roubles, as pack-horses had to transport a great part
of the necessary outfit all the distance from Jakutsk, and the vessel
generally remained four or five years on the voyage. Passing through
one of the Kurile Straits, these expeditions sailed at first along the
east coast of Kamchatka, bartering sables and sea-otters for reindeer
skins and other articles; and as the precious furs became more rare,
ventured out farther into the Eastern Ocean. Thus Michael Nowodsikoff
discovered the Western Aleuts in 1745; Paikoff the Fox Islands in 1759;
Adrian Tolstych almost all the islands of the central group, which
still bear his name, in 1760; Stephen Glottoff the island of Kadiak in
1763, and Krenitzin the peninsula of Aljaska in 1768. When we consider
the scanty resources of these Russian navigators, the bad condition of
their miserable barks, their own imperfect nautical knowledge, and the
inhospitable nature of the seas which they traversed, we can not but
admire their intrepidity.

In the Polar Sea there are neither sables nor otters, and thus the
islands lying to the north of Siberia might have remained unknown
till the present day, if the search after mammoth-teeth had not, in a
similar manner, led to their discovery.

In March, 1770, while a merchant of the name of Lächow was busy
collecting fossil ivory about Cape Sviatoinoss, he saw a large herd of
deer coming over the ice from the north. Resolute and courageous, he
at once resolved to follow their tracks, and after a sledge-journey
of seventy versts, he came to an island, and twenty versts farther
reached a second island, at which, owing to the roughness of the ice,
his excursion terminated. He saw enough, however, of the richness of
the two islands in mammoth-teeth, to show him that another visit would
be a valuable speculation; and on making his report to the Russian
Government, he obtained an exclusive privilege to dig for mammoth-bones
on the islands which he had discovered, and to which his name had been
given. In the summer of 1773 he consequently returned, and ascertained
the existence of a third island, much larger than the others,
mountainous, and having its coasts covered with drift-wood. He then
went back to the first island, wintered there, and returned to Ustjansk
in spring with a valuable cargo of mammoth-tusks.

There hardly exists a more remarkable article of commerce than these
remains of an extinct animal. In North Siberia, along the Obi, the
Jenissei, the Lena, and their tributaries, from lat. 58° to 70°, or
along the shores of the Polar Ocean as far as the American side of
Bering Strait, the remains of a species of elephant are found imbedded
in the frozen soil, or become exposed, by the annual thawing and
crumbling of the river-banks. Dozens of tusks are frequently found
together, but the most astonishing deposit of mammoth-bones occurs in
the Lächow Islands, where, in some localities, they are accumulated
in such quantities as to form the chief substance of the soil. Year
after year the tusk-hunters work every summer at the cliffs, without
producing any sensible diminution of the stock. The solidly-frozen
matrix in which the bones lie thaws to a certain extent annually,
allowing the tusks to drop out or to be quarried. In 1821, 20,000 lbs.
of the fossil ivory were procured from the island of New Siberia.

The ice in which the mammoth remains are imbedded sometimes preserves
their entire bodies, in spite of the countless ages which must have
elapsed since they walked on earth. In 1799 the carcass of a mammoth
was discovered so fresh that the dogs ate the flesh for two summers.
The skeleton is preserved at St. Petersburg, and specimens of the
woolly hair--proving that the climate of Siberia, though then no doubt
much milder than at present, still required the protection of a warm
and shaggy coat--were presented to the chief museums of Europe.

The remains of a rhinoceros, very similar to the Indian species, are
likewise found in great numbers along the shores, or on the steep
and sandy river-banks of Northern Siberia, along with those of fossil
species of the horse, the musk-ox, and the bison, which have now
totally forsaken the Arctic wilds.

The Archipelago of New Siberia, situated to the north of the Lächow
Islands, was discovered by Sirowatsky in 1806, and since then
scientifically explored by Hedenström in 1808, and Anjou in 1823.
These islands are remarkable no less for the numerous bones of horses,
buffaloes, oxen, and sheep scattered over their desolate shores, than
for the vast quantities of fossil-wood imbedded in their soil. The
hills, which rise to a considerable altitude, consist of horizontal
beds of sandstone, alternating with bituminous beams or trunks of
trees. On ascending them, fossilized charcoal is everywhere met with,
incrusted with an ash-colored matter, which is so hard that it can
scarcely be scraped off with a knife. On the summit there is a long
row of beams resembling the former, but fixed perpendicularly in the
sandstone. The ends, which project from seven to ten inches, are for
the most part broken, and the whole has the appearance of a ruinous
dike. Thus a robust forest vegetation once flourished where now only
hardy lichens can be seen; and many herbivorous animals feasted on
grasses where now the reindeer finds but a scanty supply of moss, and
the polar bear is the sole lord of the dreary waste.



[Illustration: 85. TARTAR ENCAMPMENT.]


CHAPTER XVII.

SIBERIA--FUR-TRADE AND GOLD-DIGGINGS.

  Siberia.--Its immense Extent and Capabilities.--The Exiles.--
    Mentschikoff.--Dolgorouky.--Münich.--The Criminals.--The free
    Siberian Peasant.--Extremes of Heat and Cold.--Fur-bearing
    Animals.--The Sable.--The Ermine.--The Siberian Weasel.--The
    Sea-otter.--The black Fox.--The Lynx.--The Squirrel.--The
    varying Hare.--The Suslik.--Importance of the Fur-trade for the
    Northern Provinces of the Russian Empire.--The Gold-diggings
    of Eastern Siberia.--The Taiga.--Expenses and Difficulties of
    searching Expeditions.--Costs of Produce, and enormous Profits of
    successful Speculators.--Their senseless Extravagance.--First
    Discovery of Gold in the Ural Mountains.--Jakowlew and Demidow.--
    Nishne-Tagilsk.


Siberia is at least thirty times more extensive than Great Britain
and Ireland, but its scanty population forms a miserable contrast to
its enormous size. Containing scarcely three millions of inhabitants,
it is comparatively three hundred times less peopled than the
British Islands. This small population is, moreover, very unequally
distributed, consisting chiefly of Russians and Tartars, who have
settled in the south or in the milder west, along the rivers and the
principal thoroughfares which lead from the territory of one large
stream to the other. In the northern and eastern districts, as far
as they are occupied, the settlements are likewise almost entirely
confined to the river-banks; and thus the greater part of the enormous
forest-lands, and of the interminable tundras, are either entirely
uninhabited by man, or visited only by the huntsman, the gold-digger,
or the migratory savage.

And yet Siberia has not been so niggardly treated by Nature as not to
be able to sustain a far more considerable population. In the south
there are thousands of square miles fit for cultivation; the numbers
of the herds and flocks might be increased a hundred-fold, and even
the climate would become milder after the labor of man had subdued
the chilling influences of the forest and the swamp. But it is easier
to express than to realize the wish to see Siberia more populous,
for its reputation is hardly such as to tempt the free colonists to
settle within its limits; and thus the Russian Government, which would
willingly see its more temperate regions covered with flourishing towns
and villages, can only expect an increase of population from the slow
growth of time, aided by the annual influx of the involuntary emigrants
which it sends across the Ural to the East.

Many a celebrated personage has already been doomed to trace this
melancholy path, particularly during the last century, when the
all-powerful favorite of one period was not seldom doomed to exile by
the next palace revolution. This fate befell, among others, the famous
Prince Mentschikoff. In a covered cart, and in the dress of a peasant,
the confidential minister of Peter the Great, the man who for years had
ruled the vast Russian Empire, was conveyed into perpetual banishment.
His dwelling was now a simple hut, and the spade of the laborer
replaced the pen of the statesman. Domestic misfortunes aggravated
his cruel lot. His wife died from the fatigues of the journey; one of
his daughters soon after fell a victim to the smallpox; his two other
children, who were attacked by the same malady, recovered. He himself
died in the year 1729, and was buried near his daughter at Beresow, the
seat of his exile. Like Cardinal Wolsey, after his fall he remembered
God, whom he had forgotten during the swelling tide of his prosperity.
He considered his punishment as a blessing, which showed him the way
to everlasting happiness. He built a chapel, assisting in its erection
with his own hands, and after the services gave instruction to the
congregation. The inhabitants of Beresow still honor his memory, and
revere him as a saint. They were confirmed in this belief by the
circumstance that his body, having been disinterred in 1821, was found
in a state of perfect preservation, after a lapse of ninety-two years.

One day, as his daughter walked through the village, she was accosted
by a peasant from the window of a hut. This peasant was Prince
Dolgorouky, her father’s enemy--the man who had caused his banishment,
and was now, in his turn, doomed to taste the bitterness of exile. Soon
after the princess and her brother were pardoned by the Empress Anna,
and Dolgorouky took possession of their hut. Young Mentschikoff was
finally reinstated in all the honors and riches of his father, and from
him descends, in a direct line, the famous defender of Sebastopol.

Marshal Münich, the favorite of the Empress Anna, was doomed, in his
sixtieth year, to a Siberian exile, when Elizabeth ascended the throne.
His prison consisted of three rooms--one for his guards or jailers, the
second for their kitchen, the third for his own use. A wall twenty feet
high prevented him from enjoying the view even of the sky. The man who
had once governed Russia had but half a rouble daily to spend; but the
love of his wife--who, although fifty-five years old, had the courage
and the self-denial to accompany him in his banishment--alleviated
the sorrows of his exile. The venerable couple spent twenty-one years
in Siberia, and on their return from exile, fifty-two children,
grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, were assembled to meet them at
Moscow. The revolution which placed Catherine the Second on the throne
had nearly once more doomed the octogenarian statesman to banishment,
but he fortunately weathered the storm, and died as governor of St.
Petersburg.

In this century, also, many an unfortunate exile, guiltless at least
of ignoble crimes, has been doomed to wander to Siberia. There many a
soldier of the _grande armée_ has ended his life; there still lives
many a patriotic Pole, banished for having loved his country “not
wisely but too well;” there also the conspirators who marked with so
bloody an episode the accession of Nicholas, have had time to reflect
on the dangers of plotting against the Czar.

Most of the Siberian exiles are, however, common criminals--such as
in our country would be hung or transported, or sentenced to the
treadmill: the assassin, the robber--to Siberia; the smuggler on the
frontier, whose free-trade principles injure the imperial exchequer--to
Siberia; even the vagabond who is caught roaming, and can give no
satisfactory account of his doings and intentions, receives a fresh
passport--to Siberia.

Thus the annual number of the exiles amounts to about 12,000, who,
according to the gravity of their offenses, are sent farther and
farther eastward. On an average, every week sees a transport of about
300 of these “unfortunates,” as they are termed by popular compassion,
pass through Tobolsk. About one-sixth are immediately pardoned, and
the others sorted. Murderers and burglars are sent to the mines of
Nertschinsk, after having been treated in Russia, before they set out
on their travels, with fifty lashes of the knout. In former times
their nostrils used to be torn off, a barbarity which is now no longer
practised.

According to Sir George Simpson’s “Narrative of a Journey Round the
World” (1847), Siberia is the best penitentiary in the world. Every
exile who is not considered bad enough for the mines--those black
abysses, at whose entrance, as at that of Dante’s hell, all hope must
be left behind--receives a piece of land, a hut, a horse, two cows, the
necessary agricultural implements, and provisions for a year. The first
three years he has no taxes to pay, and, during the following ten, only
the half of the usual assessment. Thus, if he choose to exert himself,
he has every reason to hope for an improvement in his condition, and at
the same time fear contributes to keep him in the right path; for he
well knows that his first trespass would infallibly conduct him to the
mines, a by no means agreeable prospect. Under the influence of these
stimulants, many an exile attains a degree of prosperity which would
have been quite beyond his reach had he remained in European Russia.

Hofmann gives a less favorable account of the Siberian exiles. In his
opinion, the prosperity and civilization of the country has no greater
obstacle than the mass of criminals sent to swell its population. In
the province of Tomsk, which seems to be richly stocked with culprits
of the worst description, all the wagoners belong to this class. They
endeavored to excite his compassion by hypocrisy. “It was the will of
God!” is their standing phrase, to which they tried to give a greater
emphasis by turning up the whites of their eyes. But, in spite of this
pious resignation to the Divine will, Hofmann never met with a worse
set of drunkards, liars, and thieves.

[Illustration: 86. SIBERIAN PEASANT.]

As to the free Siberian peasant, who is generally of exile extraction,
all travellers are agreed in his praise. “As soon as one crosses the
Ural,” says Wrangell, “one is surprised by the extreme friendliness and
good-nature of the inhabitants, as much as by the rich vegetation, the
well-cultivated fields, and the excellent state of the roads in the
southern part of the government of Tobolsk. Our luggage could be left
without a guard in the open air. ‘Ne-boss!’ ‘Fear not!’ was the answer
when we expressed some apprehension; ‘there are no thieves among us.’
This may appear strange, but it must be remembered that the Tomsk
wagoners, described above, are located far more to the east, and that
every exiled criminal has his prescribed circuit, the bounds of which
he may not pass without incurring the penalty of being sent to the
mines.

According to Professor Hansteen, the Siberian peasants are the finest
men of all Russia, with constitutions of iron. With a sheepskin over
their shirt, and their thin linen trowsers, they bid defiance to a cold
of 30° and more. They have nothing of the dirty avarice of the European
Russian boor; they have as much land as they choose for cultivation,
and the soil furnishes all they require for their nourishment and
clothing. Their cleanliness is exemplary. Within the last thirty
years the gold-diggings have somewhat spoilt this state of primitive
simplicity, yet even Hofmann allows that the West-Siberian peasant has
retained much of the honesty and hospitality for which he was justly
celebrated.

Besides agriculture, mining, fishing, and hunting, the carriage of
merchandise is one of the chief occupations of the Siberians, and
probably, in proportion to the population, no other country employs so
large a number of wagoners and carriers. The enormous masses of copper,
lead, iron, and silver produced by the Altai and the Nertschinsk
mountains, have to be conveyed from an immense distance to the Russian
markets. The gold from the East-Siberian diggings is indeed easier to
transport, but the provisions required by the thousands of workmen
employed during the summer in working the auriferous sands, have to be
brought to them, frequently from a distance of many hundred versts.

The millions of furs, from the squirrel to the bear, likewise require
considerable means of transport; and, finally, the highly important
caravan-trade with China conveys thousands of bales of tea from Kiachta
to Irbit. Siberia has indeed many navigable rivers, but a glance at
the map shows us at once that they are so situated as to afford far
less facilities to commerce than would be the case in a more temperate
climate. They all flow northward into an inhospitable sea, which is
forever closed to navigation, and are themselves ice-bound during the
greater part of the year. Enormous distances separate them from each
other, and there are no navigable canals to unite them.

On some of the larger rivers steam-boats have indeed been introduced,
and railroads are _talked of_; but there can be no doubt that, for many
a year to come, the cart and the sledge will continue to be the chief
means of transport in a country which, in consequence of its peculiar
geographical position, is even in its more southern parts exposed to
all the rigors of an Arctic winter.

Thus at Jakutsk (62° N. lat.), which is situated but six degrees
farther to the north than Edinburgh (55° 58´), the mean temperature of
the coldest month is -40°, and mercury a solid body during one-sixth
part of the year; while at Irkutsk (52° 16´ N. lat.), situated but
little farther to the north than Oxford (51° 46´), the thermometer
frequently falls to -30°, or even -40°; temperatures which are of
course quite unheard of on the banks of the Isis. For these dreadful
winters in the heart of Siberia, and under comparatively low degrees of
latitude, there are various causes. The land is, in the first place,
an immense plain slanting to the north; moreover, it is situated at
such a distance from the Atlantic, that beyond the Ural the western
sea-winds, which bring warmth to our winters, assume the character
of cold land-winds; and, finally, it merges in the south into the
high Mongolian plateau, which, situated 4000 feet above the level of
the sea, has of course but little warmth to impart to it in winter;
so that, from whatever side the wind may blow at that season, it
constantly conveys cold. But in summer the scene undergoes a total
change. Under the influence of the sun circling for months round the
North Pole, floods of warmth are poured into Central Siberia, and
rapidly cause the thermometer to rise; no neighboring sea refreshes
the air with a cooling breeze; whether the wind come from the heated
Mongolian deserts, or sweep over the Siberian plains, it imbibes warmth
on every side. Thus the terrible winter of Jakutsk is followed by an
equally _immoderate_ summer (58° 3´), so that rye and barley are able
to ripen on a soil which a few feet below the surface is perpetually
frozen.

[Illustration: 87. IRKUTSK.]

The boundless woods of Siberia harbor a number of fur-bearing animals
whose skins form one of the chief products of the country. Among these
persecuted denizens of the forest, the sable (_Martes zibellina_),
which closely resembles the pine-marten (_Martes abietum_) in shape and
size, deserves to be particularly noticed, both for the beauty of its
pelt, and its importance in the fur-trade. Sleeping by day, the sable
hunts his prey by night; but though he chiefly relishes animal food,
such as hares, young birds, mice, and eggs, he also feeds on berries,
and the tasteful seeds of the _Pinus cembra_. His favorite abode is
near the banks of some river, in holes of the earth, or beneath the
roots of trees. Incessant persecution has gradually driven him into
the most inaccessible forests; the days are no more when the Tunguse
hunter willingly gave for a copper kettle as many sable skins as it
would hold, or when the Kamchatkan trapper, could easily catch seventy
or eighty sables in one winter; but Von Baer still estimates the annual
produce of all Siberia at 45,000 skins. The finest are caught in the
forests between the Lena and the Eastern Sea, but Kamchatka furnishes
the greater number. A skin of the finest quality is worth about forty
roubles on the spot, and at least twice as much in St. Petersburg
or Moscow, particularly when the hair is long, close, and of a deep
blackish-brown, with a thick brown underwool. Skins with long dark hair
tipped with white are highly esteemed, but still more so those which
are entirely black--a color to which the Russians give the preference,
while the Chinese have no objection to reddish tints. In consequence of
this difference of taste, the sables from the Obi, which are generally
larger but of a lighter color, are sent to Kiachta, while the darker
skins, from Eastern Siberia, are directed to St. Petersburg and Leipsic.

The chase of the sable is attended with many hardships and dangers.
The skins are in the highest perfection at the commencement of the
winter; accordingly, towards the end of October, the hunters assemble
in small companies, and proceed along the rivers in boats, or travel
in sledges to the place of rendezvous--taking with them provisions
for three or four months. In the deep and solitary forest they erect
their huts, made of branches of trees, and bank up the snow round them,
as a further protection against the piercing wind. They now roam and
seek everywhere for the traces of the sable, and lay traps or snares
for his destruction. These are generally pitfalls, with loose boards
placed over them, baited with fish or flesh; fire-arms or cross-bows
are more rarely used, as they damage the skins. The traps must be
frequently visited, and even then the hunter often finds that a fox
has preceded him, and left but a few worthless remnants of the sable
in the snare. Or sometimes a snow-storm overtakes him, and then his
care must be to save his own life. Thus sable-hunting is a continual
chain of disappointments and perils, and at the end of the season it is
frequently found that the expenses are hardly paid. Until now the sable
has been but rarely tamed. One kept in the palace of the Arch-bishop of
Tobolsk was so perfectly domesticated, that it was allowed to stroll
about the town as it liked. It was an arch-enemy of cats, raising
itself furiously on its hind-legs as soon as it saw one, and showing
the greatest desire to fight it.

In former times the ermine (_Mustela erminea_) ranked next to the sable
as the most valuable fur-bearing animal of the Siberian woods; at
present the skin is worth no more than from five to eight silver kopeks
at Tobolsk, so that the whole produce of its chase hardly amounts to
200,000 roubles. This little animal resembles in its general appearance
the weasel, but is considerably larger, as it attains a length of from
twelve to fourteen inches. Its color, which is reddish-brown in summer,
becomes milk-white during the winter in the northern regions, with
the exception of the tip of the tail, which always remains black. Its
habits likewise greatly resemble those of the weasel; it is equally
alert in all its movements, and equally courageous in defending itself
when attacked. It lives on birds, poultry, rats, rabbits, leverets, and
all kinds of smaller animals, and will not hesitate to attack a prey
of much greater size than itself. Although various species of ermine
are distributed over the whole forest region of the north, yet Siberia
produces the finest skins. The largest come from the Kolyma, or are
brought to the fair of Ostrownoje by the Tchutchi, who obtain them from
the coldest regions of America.

The Siberian weasel (_Viverra siberica_), which is much smaller than
the ermine, is likewise hunted for its soft and perfectly snow-white
winter dress--the tip of the tail not being black, as in the latter.

The sea-otter, or kalan (_Enhydris lutris_), the most valuable of all
the Russian fur-bearing animals, as 110 silver roubles is the average
price of a single skin, is nearly related to the weasel tribe. The
enormous value set upon the glossy, jet-black, soft, and thick fur of
the kalan sufficiently explains how the Russian hunters have followed
his traces from Kamchatka to America, and almost entirely extirpated
him on many of the coasts and islands of Bering’s Sea and the Northern
Pacific, where he formerly abounded. His habits very much resemble
those of the seal; he haunts sea-washed rocks, lives mostly in the
water, and loves to bask in the sun. His hind feet have a membrane
skirting the outside of the exterior toe, like that of a goose, and
the elongated form of his flexible body enables him to swim with the
greatest celerity. The love of the sea-otters for their young is so
great that they reckon their own lives as nothing to protect them
from danger; and Steller, who had more opportunities than any other
naturalist for observing their habits, affirms that, when deprived of
their offspring, their grief is so strong that in less than a fortnight
they waste away to skeletons. On their flight they carry their young
in their mouths, or drive them along before them. If they succeed in
reaching the sea, they begin to mock their baffled pursuer, and express
their joy by a variety of antics. Sometimes they raise themselves
upright in the water, rising and falling with the waves, or holding
a fore paw over their eyes, as if to look sharply at him; or they
throw themselves on their back, rubbing their breast with their fore
paws; or cast their young into the water, and catch them again, like a
mother playing with her infant. The sea-otter not only surpasses the
fish-otter by the beauty of his fur, but also in size, as he attains
a length of from three to four feet, exclusive of the tail. His food
consists of small fishes, molluscs, and crustaceous animals, whose hard
calcareous covering his broad grinders are well adapted to crush.

Next to the sea-otter, the black fox, whose skin is of a rich and
shining black or deep brown color, with the longer or exterior hairs of
a silvery-white, furnishes the most costly of all the Siberian furs.
The average price of a single skin amounts to 60 or 70 silver roubles,
and rich amateurs will willingly pay 300 roubles, or even more, for
those of first-rate quality. The skin of the Siberian red fox, which
ranks next in value, is worth no more than 20 roubles; the steel-gray
winter dress of the Siberian crossed fox (thus named from the black
cross on his shoulders), from 10 to 12 roubles; and that of the Arctic
fox, though very warm and close, no more than 6 or 8.

The bear family likewise furnishes many skins to the Siberian furrier.
That of the young brown bear (_Ursus arctos_) is highly esteemed for
the trimming of pelisses; but that of the older animal has little
value, and is used, like that of the polar bear, as a rug or a
foot-cloth in sledges.

The lynx is highly prized for its very thick, soft, rust-colored winter
dress, striped with darker brown. It attains the size of the wolf,
and is distinguished from all other members of the cat tribe, by the
pencils of long black hair which tip its erect and pointed ears. It
loves to lie in ambush for the passing reindeer or elk, on some thick
branch at a considerable distance from the ground. With one prodigious
bound it leaps upon the back of its victim, strikes its talons into its
flesh, and opens with its sharp teeth the arteries of its neck.

Though singly of but little value, as a thousand of its skins are
worth no more than one sea-otter, the squirrel plays in reality a
far more important part in the Siberian fur-trade than any of the
before-mentioned animals, as the total value of the gray peltry which
it furnishes to trade is at least seven times greater than that of
the sable. Four millions of gray squirrel skins are, on an average,
annually exported to China, from two to three millions to Europe, and
the home consumption of the Russian Empire is beyond all doubt still
more considerable, as it is the fur most commonly used by the middle
classes. The European squirrels are of inferior value, as the hair of
their winter dress is still a mixture of red and gray; in the territory
of the Petschora, the gray first becomes predominant, and increases
in beauty on advancing towards the east. The squirrels are caught in
snares or traps, or shot with blunted arrows. Among the fur-bearing
animals of Siberia, we have further to notice the varying hare, whose
winter dress is entirely white, except the tips of the ears, which
are black; the Baikal hare; the ground-squirrel, whose fur has fine
longitudinal dark-brown stripes, alternating with four light-yellow
ones; and the suslik, a species of marmot, whose brown fur, with white
spots and stripes, fetches a high price in China. It occurs over all
Siberia as far as Kamchatka. Its burrows are frequently nine feet deep;
this, however, does not prevent its being dug out by the hunters, who
likewise entrap it in spring when it awakes from its winter sleep.

Summing together the total amount of the Russian fur-trade, Von Baer
estimates the value of the skins annually brought to the market by
the Russian American Fur Company at half a million of silver roubles,
the produce of European Russia at a million and a half, and that of
Siberia at three millions. As agriculture decreases on advancing to the
north, the chase of the fur-bearing animals increases in importance.
Thus, in the most northern governments of European Russia--Wjatka,
Wologda, Olonez, and Archangel--it is one of the chief occupations of
the inhabitants. In Olonez about four hundred bears are killed every
year, and the immense forests of Wologda furnish from one hundred to
two hundred black foxes, three hundred bears, and three millions of
squirrels.

Although the sable and the sea-otter are not so numerous as in former
times, yet, upon the whole, the Russian fur-trade is in a very
flourishing condition; nor is there any fear of its decreasing, as the
less valuable skins--such as those of the squirrels and hares, which
from their numbers weigh most heavily in the balance of trade--are
furnished by rodents, which multiply very rapidly, and find an
inexhaustible supply of food in the forests and pasture-grounds of
Siberia.

The chase of the fur-bearing animals affords the North-Siberian
nomads--such as the Ostiaks, Jakuts, Tungusi, and Samoïedes--the only
means of procuring the foreign articles they require; hence it taxes
all their ingenuity, and takes up a great deal of their time. On the
river-banks and in the forests they lay innumerable snares and traps,
all so nicely adapted to the size, strength, and peculiar habits of
the various creatures they are intended to capture, that it would be
almost impossible to improve them. An industrious Jakut will lay about
five hundred various traps as soon as the first snow has fallen; these
he visits about five or six times in the course of the winter, and
generally finds some animal or other in every eighth or tenth snare.

The produce of his chase he brings to the nearest fair, where the
tax-gatherer is waiting for the jassak, which is now generally paid in
money (five paper roubles = four shillings). With the remainder of his
gains he purchases iron kettles, red cloth for hemming his garments,
powder and shot, rye-meal, glass pearls, tobacco, and brandy--which,
though forbidden to be sold publicly, is richly supplied to him in
private--and then retires to his native wilds. From the smaller fairs,
the furs are sent by the Russian merchants to the larger staple places,
such as Jakutsk, Nertschinsk, Tobolsk, Kiachta, Irbit, Nishne-Novgorod,
and finally St. Petersburg and Moscow; for by repeatedly sorting and
matching the size and color of the skins, their value is increased.

About thirty years ago firs were still the chief export article of
Siberia--to China, European Russia, and Western Europe--but since then
the discovery of its rich auriferous deposits has made gold its most
important produce. The precious metal is found on the western slopes of
the Ural chain and in West Siberia; but the most productive diggings
are situated in East Siberia, where they give occupation to many
thousands of workmen, and riches to a few successful speculators.

The vast territory drained by the Upper Jenissei and its tributaries,
the Superior and the Middle Tunguska, consists for the greater part
of a dismal and swampy primeval forest, which scarcely thirty years
since was almost totally unknown. A few wretched nomads and fur-hunters
were the only inhabitants of the Taiga--as those sylvan deserts are
called--and squirrel skins seemed all they were ever likely to produce.
A journey through the Taiga is said to be one of the most fatiguing and
tedious tours which it is possible to make. Up-hill and down-hill, a
narrow path leads over a swampy ground, into which the horses sink up
to their knees. The rider is scarcely less harassed than the patient
animal which carries him over this unstable soil. No bird enlivens the
solitary forest with its song; the moaning of the wind in the crowns of
the trees alone interrupts the gloomy silence. The eternal sameness of
the scene--day after day one constant succession of everlasting larches
and fir-trees--is as wearying to the mind as the almost impassable road
to the body.

But suddenly the sound of the axe or the creaking of the water-wheel is
heard; the forest opens, a long row of huts extends along the banks of
a rivulet, and hundreds of workmen are seen moving about as industrious
as a hive of bees. What is the cause of all this activity--of this
sudden change from a death-like quiet to a feverish life? These are the
gold-fields; the sands of these swampy grounds are mixed, like those
of the Pactolus, with gold, and their fortunate possessors would not
exchange them for the finest meadows, cornfields, or vineyards.

Fedor Popow, a hunter of the province of Tomsk, is said to have been
the first discoverer of gold in Siberia; and Government having granted
permission to private persons to search for the precious metal, a few
enterprising men directed their attention to the wild spurs of the
Sajan Mountains. A brilliant success rewarded their endeavors. In
the year 1836 an exploring-party, sent out by a merchant named Jakin
Resanow, discovered a rich deposit of auriferous sand near the banks of
the Great Birussa; and in 1839–40, similar deposits were found along
several of the tributaries of the Upper Tunguska, and still farther to
the north, on the Oktolyk, a rivulet that flows into the Pit.

The expenses of a searching-party amount, on an average, to 3000
silver roubles (£600); and as very often no gold whatever is found,
these hazardous explorations not seldom put both the purse and the
perseverance of their undertakers to a severe trial. Thus Nikita
Maesnikow had spent no less than 260,000 silver roubles (£52,000) in
fruitless researches, when he at length discovered the rich gold-field
on the Peskin, which, as we shall presently see, amply remunerated him
for his previous losses.

Of the difficulties which await the gold-searchers, a faint idea may
be formed, on considering that the whole of the auriferous region,
which far surpasses in size most of the European kingdoms, consists of
one vast forest like that above described. Patches of grass-land on
which horses can feed are of very rare occurrence, and damp moss is
the only bed the Taiga affords. As the gold-searchers are very often
at work some hundreds of versts from the nearest village, they are
obliged to carry all their provisions along with them. Their clothes
are almost constantly wet, from their sleeping in the damp forest, from
the frequent rains to which they are exposed, and from their toiling
in the swampy ground. Scarcely have they dug a few feet deep when
the pit fills with water, which they are obliged to pump out as fast
as it gathers, and thus standing up to their knees in the mud, they
work on until they reach the solid rock, for then only can they be
certain that no auriferous layer has been neglected in their search.
When we consider, moreover, that all this labor is very often totally
useless, their perseverance can not but be admired; nor is it to be
wondered at that exploring-parties have sometimes encamped on the
site of rich gold-deposits without examining the spot, their patience
having been exhausted by repeated failures in the vicinity. When the
winter, with its deep snowfalls, suddenly breaks in upon the searchers,
their hardships become dreadful. The frost and want of food kill their
horses, their utensils have to be left behind; and dragging their most
indispensable provisions along with them on small sledges, they are
not seldom obliged to wade for weeks through the deep snow before they
reach some inhabited place.

But even the severity of a Siberian winter does not prevent the sending
out of exploring-parties. Such winter explorations are only fitted out
for the more accurate examination of _very_ swampy auriferous grounds
that have been discovered in the previous year, and where it is less
difficult to work in the frozen soil than to contend with the water in
summer. A winter-party travels without horses, the workmen themselves
transporting all that they require on light sledges. They are obliged
to break up the obdurate soil with pickaxes, and the sand thus loosened
has to be thawed and washed in warm water. After their day’s work, they
spend the night in huts made of the branches of trees, where they sleep
on the hard ground. It requires the iron constitution of a Siberian
to bear such hardships, to which many fall a prey, in spite of their
vigorous health.

A gold-deposit having been found, the fortunate discoverer obtains
the grant of a lot of ground, 100 sashens (600 feet) broad, and 2500
sashens (or 5 versts) long. Two adjoining lots are never granted to the
same person, but a subsequent purchase or amalgamation is permitted.
At first Government was satisfied with a moderate tax of 15 per cent.
of the produce; subsequently, however, this was doubled, until within
the last few years, when, the gold production having been found to
decrease, the primitive impost was returned to, or even reduced to 5
per cent. for the less productive mines. Besides this tax, from four
to eight gold roubles per pound of gold, according to the richness of
the diggings, have to be paid for police expenses. Only a twelve years’
lease is granted, after which the digging reverts to the crown, and
a new lease has to be purchased. As the severe climate of the Taiga
limits the working-time to four months (from May to September), the
period of the concession is thus in reality not more than four years.

The first care of the lessee is, of course, to collect the necessary
provisions and working apparatus. The distant steppe of the Kirghese
furnishes him with dried or salted meat; his iron utensils he purchases
in the factories of the Ural; the fairs of Irbit and Nishne-Novgorod
supply him with every other article; and rye-meal and fishes he easily
obtains from the Siberian peasants or traders. By water and by land,
all these various stores have to be transported in summer to the
_residence_ or establishment of the gold-digger on the border of the
Taiga. The transport through the Taiga itself takes place during the
winter, on sledges, at a very great cost; and the expense is still more
increased if time has been lost through inattention, as then all that
may still be wanting has to be conveyed to the spot on the backs of
horses.

Most of the men that are hired for working in the diggings are
exiles--the remainder generally free peasants, who have been reduced
in their circumstances by misfortunes or misconduct. The procuring of
the necessary workmen is an affair of no small trouble and expense.
Before every summer campaign the agents of the gold-diggers travel
about the country like recruiting-sergeants, and after giving many
fair words and some hand-money, they take the passport of the man
engaged as a security for his appearance. But although a passport is
an indispensable document in Siberia, yet it not seldom happens that
the workman finds means to obtain a new one under some other name, and,
engaging himself to a new master, defrauds the first of his hand-money.

It may be easily imagined that, as the workmen only consist of the
refuse of society, the greatest discipline is necessary to keep
them in order. The system of a secret police, so cherished by all
arbitrary governments, is here extended to its utmost limits; scarcely
has a suspicious word fallen among the workmen, when the director is
immediately informed of it, and takes his measures accordingly. Every
man knows that he is watched, and is himself a spy upon his companions.

Hofmann relates an instance of a plot singularly nipped in the bud. In
one of the gold-diggings on the Noiba, the workmen, at the instigation
of an under-overseer, had refused to perform a task assigned to them.
It was to be feared that the spirit of insubordination would gain
ground, and extend over all the neighboring diggings. The director,
consequently, sent at once for military assistance; this, however,
proved to be unnecessary, for when the Cossacks arrived at the Noiba, a
thunder-storm arose, and at the very moment they came riding up to the
digging a flash of lightning killed the ringleader in the midst of the
mutineers. As soon as the men recovered from the first shock of their
surprise and terror, they all exclaimed, “This is the judgment of God!”
and, without any further hesitation, at once returned to their duty.

Besides free rations, the ordinary wages of a common workman are 15
roubles banco, or 12 shillings a month, but more experienced hands
receive 50 or even 60 roubles. The pay dates from the day when the
workman makes his appearance at the residence, and thenceforward,
also, his rations are served out to him. They consist of a pound of
fresh or salt meat, or an equivalent portion of fish on fasting-days,
cabbage and groats for soup, besides fresh rye-bread and _quas_
(the favorite national beverage) _ad libitum_. The whole number of
workmen employed in a gold-digging subdivide themselves into separate
societies, or artells. Each of these elects a chief, or head-man, to
whom the provisions for his artell are weighed out, and to whom all the
other common interests are intrusted. The sale of spirituous liquor is
strictly forbidden, for its use would render it impossible to maintain
order; and, according to law, no gin-shop is allowed to be opened
within 60 versts of a digging.

The pay and the liberal rations received would alone be insufficient
to allure workmen to the diggings, for, as we have seen, the voyage
there and back is extremely irksome, and the labor very fatiguing. An
excellent plan has consequently been devised for their encouragement.
The contract of each workman distinctly specifies the quantity of
his daily work, consisting of a certain number of wheelbarrows of
sand--from 100 to 120, according to the distance from the spot where
it is dug to the place where it is washed out--each reckoned at three
pouds,[11] which one party has to fill, another to convey to the
wash-stands, and a third to wash.

The task is generally completed by noon, or early in the afternoon.
For the labor they perform during the rest of the day, or on Sundays
and holidays, they receive an extra pay of two or three roubles for
every solotnik of gold they wash. Every evening the workmen come with
the produce of their free labor to the office, the gold is weighed in
their presence, and the artell credited for the amount of its share.
This free-work is as advantageous for the masters as the laborers. The
former enjoy a net profit of eight or ten roubles per solotnik, and all
the working expenses are of course put to the charge of the contract
labor; and the latter earn a great deal of money, according to their
industry or good-luck, for when fortune favors an artell, its share may
amount to a considerable sum. During Hofmann’s stay at the Birussa,
each workman of a certain artell earned in one afternoon 72 roubles,
and the Sunday’s work of another of these associations gave to each
of its members 105 roubles, or £4. The artisans--who, though employed
in a gold-mine, are not engaged in digging or washing the auriferous
sand--are also rewarded from time to time by a day’s free-labor
in places which are known to be rich. On one of these occasions a
Cossack on the Oktolyk received 300 roubles for his share of the gold
that was washed out of 49 wheelbarrows of sand. These of course are
extraordinary cases, but they show how much a workman _may_ gain; and
being of course exaggerated by report, are the chief inducements which
attract the workmen, and keep them to their duty.

If the free-labor is unproductive, many of the workmen desert or give
up free-labor altogether, and in both cases the master is a loser. To
prevent this, it is customary, in many of the diggings, to pay the
workmen a fixed sum for their extra work.

At the end of the season the workmen are paid off, and receive
provisions for their home-journey. Generally, the produce of their
summer’s labor is spent, in the first villages they reach, in drinking
and gambling; so that, to be able to return to their families, they are
obliged to bind themselves anew for the next season, and to receive
hand-money from the agent, who, knowing their weakness, is generally
on the spot to take advantage of it. After spending a long winter full
of want and privations, they return to the Taiga in spring, and thus,
through their own folly, their life is spent in constant misery and
hard labor.

During the winter the digging is deserted, except by an under-overseer
and a few workmen, who make the necessary preparations for the next
campaign, receive and warehouse the provisions as they arrive,
and guard the property against thieves or wanton destruction. The
upper-overseer or director, meanwhile, is fully occupied at the
residence in forwarding the provisions and stores that have arrived
there during the summer to the mine, in making the necessary purchases
for the next year, in sending his agents about the country to engage
new workmen; and thus the winter is, in fact, his busiest time. With
the last sledge transport he returns to the digging, to receive the
workmen as they arrive, and to see that all is ready for the summer.
As his situation is one of great trust and responsibility, he enjoys a
considerable salary. Maesnikow, for instance, paid his chief director
40,000 roubles a year; and 6000 or 8000 roubles, besides free station,
and a percentage of the gold produced, is the ordinary emolument.

It is thus evident that the expenses of a Siberian gold-mine are
enormous, but when fortune favors the undertaker he is amply rewarded
for his outlay; an annual produce of 10, 15, or 20 pouds of gold is
by no means uncommon. In the year 1845, 458 workmen employed in the
gold-mine of Mariinsk, belonging to Messrs. Golubdow and Kusnezow,
produced 81 pouds 19⅓ lbs. of the much-coveted metal; in the year
1843 the mine of Olginsk, belonging to Lieutenant Malewinsky, yielded
82 pouds 37¼ lbs.; and in 1844, the labor of 1014 workmen, employed
in the mine of Kresdowosdwishensk, belonging to Messrs. Kusnezow and
Schtschegolow, produced no less than 87 pouds 14 lbs. of gold. But even
Kresdowosdwishensk has been distanced by the mine of Spasky, situated
near the sources of the Peskin, which, in the year 1842, yielded its
fortunate possessor, the above-mentioned Counsellor Nikita Maesnikow
(one of the few men who were already extremely rich before the Siberian
auriferous deposits were discovered), the enormous quantity of 100
pouds of gold! From 1840 to 1845, Maesnikow extracted from this mine
no less than 348 pouds 6 lbs. of gold, worth 4,135,174 silver roubles,
or about £640,000. Still more recently, in 1860, the Gawrilow mine,
belonging to the house of Rjasanow, produced 102½ pouds of pure gold.

But in Siberia, as elsewhere, mining operations are frequently doomed
to end in disappointment, particularly if the space destined to
be worked in the following summer has not been carefully examined
beforehand, as the ore is often very unequally distributed. A
speculator, having discovered a gold-mine, examined four or five
samples of the sand, which gave a highly satisfactory result. Delighted
with his good-fortune, he made his arrangements on a grand scale, and
collected provisions for 500 workmen; but when operations began, it was
found that he had, unfortunately, hit upon a small patch of auriferous
sand, the vicinity of which was totally void of gold, so that his 500
workmen produced no more than a few pounds of ore, and he lost at least
£10,000 by his adventure.

The entire gold produce of East Siberia amounted, in 1845, to 848 pouds
36 lbs., and in 1856 to about 1100 pouds; but latterly, in consequence
of the increasing wages and dearness of provisions, which has caused
many of the less productive mines to be abandoned, it has somewhat
diminished. In 1860, 31,796 men, 919 women, and 8751 horses and oxen,
were employed in the Siberian gold-mines.

As may easily be imagined, the discovery of these sources of wealth
in the desert has caused a great revolution in the social state of
Siberia. The riches so suddenly acquired by a few favorites of fortune,
have raised luxury to an unexampled height, and encouraged a senseless
prodigality. Some _sterlets_[12] having been offered for 300 roubles
to a miner suddenly raised from penury to wealth, “Fool!” said the
upstart, with the superb mien of a conquering hero, to the fish-dealer,
“wilt thou sell me these excellent sterlets so cheap? Here are a
thousand roubles; go, and say that thou hast dealt with _me_!”

The small town of Krasnojarsk, romantically situated on the Jenissei,
is the chief seat of the rich miners. Here may be seen the choicest
toilettes, the most showy equipages, and champagne (which in Siberia
costs at least £1 a bottle) is the daily beverage of the gold
aristocracy. Unfortunately, Krasnojarsk had, until very recently, not
a single bookseller’s shop to boast of; and while thousands were
lavished on vanity and sensual enjoyments, not a rouble was devoted to
the improvement of the mind.

Less rich in gold than the province of Jeniseisk, but richer in copper
and iron, and above all in platina, is the Ural, where mining industry
was first introduced by Peter the Great, in the last years of the
seventeenth century, and has since acquired a colossal development.
Though gold was discovered in the Uralian province of Permia as early
as 1745, yet its production on a large scale is of more modern date. In
the year 1816 the whole quantity of gold furnished by the Ural amounted
only to 5 pouds 35 lbs., while in 1834 it had increased to 405 pouds.

The discovery of the precious metals on the estates of the large
mine-proprietors of the Ural, who already before that time were
among the wealthiest men of the empire, has increased their riches
to an enormous extent, and given a European celebrity to the names
of Jakowlew and Demidoff. Werch Issetsk and Werchne Tagilsk, in the
province of Permia, belonging to the Jakowlew family, have an extent of
more than three millions of acres, with a population of 11,000 souls.
Besides iron and copper, their chief produce, these estates yielded, in
1834, 58 pouds of gold.

Nishne-Tagilsk, belonging, since 1725, to the Demidoffs, is a still
more magnificent possession; for it may truly be said, that perhaps
nowhere in the world are greater mineral riches congregated in one
spot than here, where, besides vast quantities of iron and copper, the
washing of the sands produced, in 1834 no less than 29 pouds of gold,
and 113 pouds 3 lbs. of platina. The estate extends over four millions
of acres, and its population, in 1834, amounted to 20,000 souls.

The town of Nishne-Tagilsk has about 15,000 inhabitants, and Helmersen
(“Travels in the Ural”) praises the Demidoffs for their zeal in
carrying the civilization of Europe to the wilds of the Ural. In an
excellent elementary school, 150 boys are clothed, fed, and educated
at their expense. Those pupils who distinguish themselves by their
abilities are then sent to a higher school, such as the Demidoff Lyceum
in Jaroslaw, or the University of Moscow, and after the termination
of their studies obtain a situation on the estates of the family. The
palace of the Demidoffs has a fine collection of paintings by the first
Italian masters; but it is seldom if ever inhabited by the proprietors,
who prefer Florence and Paris to the Ural. The founder of the family
was an eminent gunsmith of the town of Tula, whose abilities gained him
the favor of Peter the Great, and the gift of the mines on which the
colossal fortune of his descendants has been raised.



CHAPTER XVIII.

MIDDENDORFF’S ADVENTURES IN TAIMURLAND.

  For what Purpose was Middendorff’s Voyage to Taimurland undertaken?--
    Difficulties and Obstacles.--Expedition down the Taimur River
    to the Polar Sea.--Storm on Taimur Lake.--Loss of the Boat.--
    Middendorff ill and alone in 75° N. Lat.--Saved by a grateful
    Samoïede.--Climate and Vegetation of Taimurland.


On following the contours of the Siberian coast, we find to the east
of Nova Zembla a vast tract of territory projecting towards the Pole,
and extending its promontories far into the icy sea. This country--
which, from its principal river, may be called Taimurland--is the most
northern, and, I need hardly add, the most inhospitable part of the Old
World. The last huts of the Russian fishermen are situated about the
mouth of the Jenissei, but the whole territory of the Taimur River,
and the regions traversed by the lower course of the Chatanga and the
Päsina, are completely uninhabited.

Even along the upper course of these two last-named rivers, the
population is exceedingly scanty and scattered; and the few Samoïedes
who migrate during the summer to the banks of the Taimur, gladly leave
them at the approach of winter, the cold of which no thermometer has
ever measured. As may easily be imagined, Taimurland has but few
attractions for the trader or the fur-hunter, but for the naturalist it
is by no means without interest.

We have seen in a former chapter how Von Baer, prompted by the
disinterested love of science, travelled to Nova Zembla to examine
the productions of a _cold insular_ summer beyond the 70th degree of
latitude. The instructive results of his journey rendered it doubly
desirable to obtain information about the effects of summer in a
_continental_ climate, situated if possible still farther to the
north; and as no region could be better suited to this purpose than
the interior of the broad mass of Taimurland, the Academy of Sciences
of St. Petersburg resolved to send thither a scientific expedition.
Fortunately for the success of the undertaking, Von Middendorff, the
eminent naturalist, whose offer of service was gladly accepted, was
in every respect the right man in the right place; for to the most
untiring scientific zeal, and an unwavering determination, he joined
a physical strength and a manual dexterity rarely found united with
learning. In the Lapland moors he had learned to bivouac for nights
together, while chasing the waterfowl, and on foot he was able to tire
the best-trained walrus-hunter. He understood how to construct a boat,
and to steer it with his own hand, and every beast or bird was doomed
that came within reach of his unerring ball. In one word, no traveller
ever plunged into the Arctic wilds more independent of baggage,
followers, or the means of transport.

On April 4 we find Middendorff, accompanied by Mr. Brandt, a Danish
forester, and a single servant, on the ice of the Jenissei between
Turuchansk and Dudino. Here his companions were attacked by measles;
but as it was high time to reach the Chatanga before the melting
of the snow, the patients were carefully packed up in boxes lined
with skins, and the whole party--whose numbers, meanwhile, had been
increased by the addition of a topographer and of three Cossacks--
emerged from the region of forests on April 13, having to face a cold
of -36°, and a storm that almost overturned their sledges. With Tunguse
guides they traversed the tundra in a north-easterly direction as
far as the Päsina, and thence passing on from one Samoïede horde to
another, at length reached Koronnoie Filippowskoi (71° 5´ lat.) on the
Boganida, an affluent of the Cheta, which is itself a tributary of the
Chatanga. Here a halt was made, partly because all the party except
Middendorff were by this time attacked with the reigning epidemic,
and partly to wait for the Samoïedes, whom they intended to join on
their summer migration to the north. During this interval Middendorff
made an excursion to the Chatanga, for the purpose of gathering
information about the voyage down that river, and to make the necessary
preparations. In the village of Chatangsk, however, he found nearly all
the inhabitants suffering from the measles; and as no assistance was to
be expected from them, he resolved to alter his route, and to proceed
as soon as possible to the River Taimur, which would in all probability
afford him the best means for penetrating to the extreme confines of
continental Asia. As this most _northerly_ river of the Old World lies
far beyond the boundaries of arboreal growth, a boat-frame of twelve
feet on the keel had to be made at Koronnoie before setting out. Brandt
was left behind with part of the company, to make a prolonged series of
meteorological observations, and to gather as complete a collection as
possible of the animals and plants of the country, while Middendorff
started on his adventurous tour (May 19) with sixty-eight reindeer,
under the guidance of a few Samoïedes on their progress to the north,
and accompanied only by the topographer, an interpreter, and two
Cossacks. The difficulties of this journey, since a boat-frame, fuel,
provisions, physical instruments, apparatuses for the preservation
of objects of natural history, forming altogether a load for many
sledges, had to be transported along with the travellers, would have
been great at all times, but were now considerably increased by the
epidemic having also seized the tribe of Samoïedes which Middendorff
expected to find near the small River Nowaia, and which was to guide
him farther on to the Taimur. At length, after a search of three days,
he found the remnant of the horde, which had been decimated and reduced
to a deplorable condition by the epidemic. In vain he sought for the
well-known faces of the chief personages of the horde, with whom he
had negotiated on the Boganida--“they were all dead.” Of thirty-five
persons, one only was completely healthy; a second could hardly crawl
about; but the others lay prostrate in their tents, coughing and
groaning under their skin coverings. Leaving seven corpses on the road,
they had advanced by slow journeys to join Middendorff, until they
broke down, so that instead of receiving aid at their hands, he was now
obliged to help them in their distress--an assistance which they amply
repaid, as we shall see in the sequel.

Unfortunately the illness had prevented the Samoïede women from
sewing together, as they had promised, the skins that were necessary
to complete the covering of the travellers’ tent, so that they had
much to suffer during a violent snow-storm, which raged from May 27
to 30. Thus after another long delay and an irreparable loss of time,
considering the extreme shortness of the summer, Middendorff was not
able to start from the Nowaia before May 31. The softening of the snow
rendered the advance of the sledges extremely difficult, so that it
was not before June 14 that he reached the Taimur at a considerable
distance above the point where the river discharges its waters into the
lake. Encamping on a steep declivity of its bank, Middendorff now set
about building his boat. On June 30 the ice on the river began to break
up, and on July 5 the navigation of the stream was free. By the light
of the midnight sun the boat was launched, and christened “The Tundra,”
to commemorate the difficulties of its construction in the deserts
of 74° N. lat. Constant north winds retarded the voyage down the
river and over the lake, beyond which the Taimur, traversing a hilly
country, is inclosed within steep and picturesque rocks. The increasing
rapidity of the stream now favored the travellers, and the storms were
less troublesome between the mighty rock-walls; but unfortunately
Middendorff, instead of being able, as he had expected, to fill his
nets with fish as he advanced, and to establish dépôts for his return
journey, found himself obliged to consume the provisions he had taken
with him in the boat. On August 6 the first night-frost took place, and
from that time was regularly repeated. Yet in spite of these warnings,
Middendorff continued his journey down the river, and reached the sea
on August 24, in 76° N. lat. But now it was high time to return.

“The fear of leaving my undertaking half unfinished,” says Middendorff,
“had hitherto encouraged me to persevere. The great distance from
any human habitation, the rapid stream, against which we had now to
contend, and the advanced season, with its approaching dark nights and
frosts, made our return an imperative necessity, and I could have but
little reliance on our remaining strength. The insufficient food and
the fatigues of our journey, often prolonged to extreme exhaustion,
had reduced our vigor, and we all began to feel the effects of our
frequent wading through cold water, when, as often happened, our boat
had grounded upon a shallow, or when the flat mud-banks of the river
gave us no other alternative for reaching the dry land. It was now also
the second month since we had not slept under a tent, having all the
time passed the nights behind a screen erected on the oars of the boat,
as a shelter against the wind. Provided with a good load of drift-wood,
collected on the shore of the Polar Ocean, we began our return voyage
on August 26. The borders of the river were already incrusted with ice.
Wading became extremely irksome, the river having meanwhile fallen
above six feet, and the shallows frequently forcing us to step into the
water and pull the boat along.

“Fortunately the wind remained favorable, and thus by rowing to the
utmost of our strength, and with the assistance of the broad sails of
our ‘Tundra,’ we surmounted two rapids which, encased between abrupt
rocks, seemed to defy our utmost efforts.

“On the 31st, a malicious gust of wind, bursting out of a narrow gorge,
threw our boat against the rocks and broke the rudder. The frost and
wet, together with the shortness of our provisions, tried us sorely.
Not a day passed without sleet and snow.

“On September 5, while endeavoring to double during a violent storm a
rocky island at the northern extremity of Lake Taimur, one wave after
another dashed into the boat, which I could only save by letting her
run upon a sand-bank. The violent wind, with a temperature of only +27°
at noon, covered our clothes with solid ice-crusts. We were obliged to
halt four days till the storm ceased; our nets and my double-barrelled
gun proved daily more and more unsuccessful, so that hunger combined
with cold to render our situation almost intolerable. On the 8th, while
on the lookout for ptarmigan, I saw through my telescope a long stripe
of silver stretching over the lake, and, returning to my comrades,
informed them that we must absolutely set off again the next morning,
regardless of wind and weather.

“On the following day the ominous indications of the telescope rendered
it necessary to approach the more open west side of the lake; which I
followed until stopped by the ice, along whose borders I then sailed in
order to reach the river, which must still be open. Meanwhile the wind
had completely fallen, and, to our astonishment, we saw the water in
our wake cover itself with a thin crust of ice as soon as we passed.
The danger of freezing fast in the middle of the lake was evident.”

Unfortunately, while endeavoring to reach the river, the boat was
crushed between two ice floes, and was with great difficulty dragged on
shore. The only chance of rescue now was to meet with some Samoïedes on
the upper course of the river, for these nomads never wander northward
beyond the southern extremity of the lake, and from this our travellers
were still at a great distance.

“We made a large hand-sledge,” continues Middendorff, “and set off
without loss of time on the 10th, in spite of the rainy weather, which
had completely dissolved the sparing snow upon the hills. The sharp
stones cut into our sledge-runners like knives, and after having
scarcely made three versts, the vehicle fell to pieces. The bad weather
forced us to stop for the night. The fatigues of our boat-journey, the
want of proper food, and mental anxiety, had for several weeks been
undermining my health: a total want of sleep destroyed the remainder of
my strength, so that, early on the 11th, I felt myself quite unable to
proceed.”

In this extremity Middendorff adopted with heroic self-denial the best
and only means for his own preservation and that of his comrades. If,
by departing without loss of time, they were fortunate enough to reach
the Samoïedes before these nomads had left the Taimur country for the
south, he also might be rescued; if they found them very late, they
at least might expect to save their lives; if the Samoïedes could not
be found, then of course the whole party was doomed. Thus Middendorff
resolved to separate at once from his comrades. A remnant of flesh
extract, reserved for extreme cases, was divided into five equal
portions; the naturalist’s dog, the faithful companion of all his
previous journeys, was killed, though reduced to a mere skeleton, and
his scanty flesh similarly distributed among the party. The blood and
a soup made of the bones served for the parting repast. Thus of his
own free-will, the winter having already set in, Middendorff, ill and
exhausted, remained quite alone in the icy desert, behind a sheltering
rock, in 75° N. lat., several hundred versts from all human dwellings,
almost without fuel, and with a miserable supply of food. The three
first days he was still able to move. He saw the lake cover itself
completely with ice, and the last birds depart for the south. Then his
strength utterly failed him, and for the next three days he was unable
to stir. When he was again able to move, he felt an excessive thirst.
He crawled to the lake, broke the ice, and the water refreshed him.
But he was not yet free from disease, and this was fortunate, as want
of appetite did not make him feel the necessity of food. Now followed
a succession of terrible snow-storms, which completely imprisoned the
solitary traveller, but at the same time afforded him a better shelter
against the wind.

“My companions,” he writes in a letter to a relation, “had now left
me twelve days; human assistance could no longer be expected; I was
convinced that I had only myself to rely upon, that I was doomed, and
as good as numbered with, the dead. And yet my courage did not forsake
me. Like our squirrels, I turned myself according to the changes of
the wind. During the long sleepless nights fancy opened her domains,
and I forgot even hunger and thirst. Then Boreas broke roaring out of
the gullies as if he intended to sweep me away into the skies, and
in a short time I was covered with a comfortable snow-mantle. Thus I
lay three days, thinking of wretches who had been immured alive, and
grown mad in their dreadful prison. An overwhelming fear of insanity
befell me--it oppressed my heart--it became insupportable. In vain I
attempted to cast it off--my weakened brain could grasp no other idea.
And now suddenly--like a ray of light from heaven--the saving thought
flashed upon me.

“My last pieces of wood were quickly lighted--some water was thawed
and warmed--I poured into it the spirits from a flask containing a
specimen of natural history, and drank. A new life seemed to awaken
in me; my thoughts returned again to my family, to the happy days I
had spent with the friends of my youth. Soon I fell into a profound
sleep--how long it lasted I know not--but on awakening I felt like
another man, and my breast was filled with gratitude. Appetite returned
with recovery, and I was reduced to eat leather and birch-bark, when
a ptarmigan fortunately came within reach of my gun. Having thus
obtained some food for the journey, I resolved, although still very
feeble, to set out and seek the provisions we had buried. Packing some
articles of dress, my gun and ammunition, my journal, etc., on my small
hand-sledge, I proceeded slowly, and frequently resting. At noon I saw,
on a well-known declivity of the hills, three black spots which I had
not previously noticed, and as they changed their position, I at once
altered my route to join them. We approached each other--and, judge
of my delight, it was Trischun, the Samoïede chieftain, whom I had
previously assisted in the prevailing epidemic, and who now, guided by
one of my companions, had set out with three sledges to seek me. Eager
to serve his benefactor, the grateful savage had made his reindeer
wander without food over a space of 150 versts where no moss grew.

“I now heard that my companions had fortunately reached the Samoïedes
four days after our separation; but the dreadful snow-storms had
prevented the nomads from coming sooner to my assistance, and had even
forced them twice to retrace their steps.

“On September 30 the Samoïedes brought me to my tent, and on October
9 we bade the Taimur an eternal farewell. After five months we hailed
with delight, on October 20, the verge of the forest, and on the
following day we reached the smoky hut on the Boganida, where we had
left our friends.”

Having thus accompanied Middendorff on his adventurous wanderings
through Taimuria, I will now give a brief account of his observations
on the climate and natural productions of this northern land.

The remark of Saussure that the difference of temperature between light
and shade is greatest in summer, and in the high latitudes, was fully
confirmed by Middendorff. While the thermometer marked -37° in the
shade, the hillsides exposed to the sun were dripping with wet, and
towards the end of June, though the mean temperature of the air was
still below the freezing-point of water, the snow had already entirely
disappeared on the sunny side of the Taimur River. Torrents came
brawling down the hills; the swollen rivers rose forty or sixty feet
above their winter level, and carried their icy covering along with
them to the sea.

On August 3, in the very middle of the short Taimurian summer, in 74°
15´ of latitude, Middendorff hunted butterflies under the shelter of
a hill, bare-footed and in light under-clothes. The thermometer rose
in the sun to +68°, and close to the ground to +86°, while at a short
distance on a spot exposed to the north-eastern air-current it fell at
once to +27°.

The moisture of the air was very remarkable. In May thick snow-fogs
almost perpetually obscured the atmosphere, so that it was impossible
to ascertain the position of the sun. It appeared only in the evening,
or about midnight, and then regularly a perpendicular column of
luminous whiteness descended from its orb to the earth, and, widening
as it approached the horizon, took the form and the appearance of a
colossal lamp-flame, such as the latter appears when seen through the
mists of a vapor bath. From the same cause parhelia and halos were very
frequent.

During the daytime the snow-fogs, in perpetual motion, either entirely
veiled the nearest objects, or magnified their size, or exhibited them
in a dancing motion. In June the snow-fog became a vapor-fog, which
daily from time to time precipitated its surplus of moisture in form
of a light rain, but even then the nights, particularly after eleven
o’clock, were mostly serene.

Experience proved, contrary to Arago’s opinion, that thunder-storms
take place within the Arctic zone. The perpetual motion of the air was
very remarkable. The sun had merely to disappear behind a cloud to
produce at once a gust of wind. Towards the end of August, the southern
and the northern air-currents, like two contending giants, began to
strive for the mastery, until finally the storms raged with extreme
violence. But in these treeless deserts their fury finds nothing to
destroy.

It is impossible to form any thing like a correct estimate of the
quantity of snow which annually falls in the highest latitudes. So
much is certain that it can not be small, to judge by the violence
and swelling of the rivers in spring. The summits of the hills,
and the declivities exposed to the reigning winds, are constantly
deprived of snow, which, however, fills up the bottom of the valleys
to a considerable height. Great was Middendorff’s astonishment, while
travelling over the tundra at the end of winter, to find it covered
with no more than two inches, or at the very utmost half a foot,
of snow; the dried stems of the Arctic plants everywhere peeping
forth above its surface. This was the natural consequence of the
north-easterly storms, which, sweeping over the naked plain, carry
the snow along with them, and form the snow-waves, the compass of the
northern nomads.

It is extremely probable that, on advancing towards the pole, the
fall of snow gradually diminishes, as in the Alps, where its quantity
likewise decreases on ascending above a certain height.

On measuring the thickness of the ice, Middendorff was very much
surprised to find it nowhere, both in the lakes and on the river,
thicker than eight feet, and sometimes only four and a half; its
thickness being constantly proportionate to the quantity of snow with
which it was covered. At first he could hardly believe that this simple
covering could afford so efficacious a protection against the extreme
cold of winter in the 74th degree of latitude, but the fact is well
known to the Samoïedes, who, whenever they require water, always make
the hole where the snow lies deepest.

The tundras of Taimuria were found to consist principally of arid
plateaux and undulating heights, where the vegetation can not conceal
the boulders and the sand of which the crust of the earth is formed.

The withered tips of the grasses scarcely differ in color from the
dirty yellow-brown moss, and the green of the lower part of the stalks
appears as through a veil. Nothing can be of a more dreary monotony
than this vegetation when spread over a wide surface; but in the hardly
perceptible depressions of the plains where the spring water is able to
collect, a fresher green gains the upper hand, the stalks are not only
longer, but stand closer together, and the grass, growing to a height
of three or even four inches, usurps the place of the moss. Here and
there small patches of _Dryas octopetala_, or _Cassiope tetragona_,
and much more rarely a dwarf ranunculus, diversify the dingy carpet,
yet without being able to relieve its wearisome character. But very
different, and indeed truly surprising, is the aspect of the slopes
which, facing the Taimur lake or river, are protected against the late
and early frosts. Here considerable patches of ground are covered with
a lively green, intermingled with gayly-colored flowers, such as the
brilliant yellow Sieversia, the elegant Oxytropis, the blue and white
Saxifragas, the red _Armeria alpina_, and a beautiful new species
of Delphinium. All these various flowers are not dwarfs of stunted
growth, for Polemones, Sisymbrias, Polygonums, and Papavers above a
foot high decorate the slopes, and Middendorff found an islet in the
Taimur covered like a field with a Senecio, of which some of the most
conspicuous specimens were more than a foot and a half high, and bore
no less than forty flowers above an inch in diameter.

The progress of vegetation is uncommonly rapid, so that, as Middendorff
remarks, if any one wishes to see the grass grow, he must travel to
the Taimur. Scarcely do the first leaves peep forth when the blossoms
also appear, as if, conscious of the early approach of autumn, they
felt the necessity of bringing their seeds to a rapid maturity under
this wintry sky.

With regard to the animal creation, the general law of polar uniformity
was fully confirmed in Taimurland. The same lemmings were found which
people the whole north of Asia and America, and as high as 75° N. lat.
they found the traces of the snow-hare, which inhabits the complete
circle of the Arctic regions of the globe. The Arctic fox, everywhere
at home in the treeless wastes, is here also pursued by the northern
glutton; and following the herds of the reindeer, the wolves, and
the Samoïedes, roams up and down the tundra. The ptarmigan, which in
Scandinavia and on Melville Island feeds on berries and buds, appears
also as a summer visitor at the mouth of the Taimur in 75° 4´ N. lat.,
and the ivory gull of the northern European seas likewise builds its
nest on the rocks of that distant shore.

The more vigorous vegetation on the sheltered declivities of the
Taimur provides food for a comparatively greater number of insects
than is found on the coasts of Nova Zembla. Bees, hornets, and three
different species of butterflies, buzzed or hovered round the flowers,
and caterpillars could be gathered by dozens on the tundra, but their
mortal enemies had pursued them even here; and ichneumon flies crept
out of most of them. Two spiders, several flies, gnats, and tipulæ, a
curculio, and half a dozen carabi completed Middendorff’s entomological
list, to which, no doubt, further researches would have considerably
added.

Thus, at the northern extremity of Asia, as in every other part of the
world, the naturalist finds the confirmation of the general law that,
where the means of life are given, life is sure to come forth.



CHAPTER XIX.

THE JAKUTS.

  Their energetic Nationality.--Their Descent.--Their gloomy
    Character.--Summer and Winter Dwellings.--The Jakut Horse.--
    Incredible Powers of Endurance of the Jakuts.--Their Sharpness
    of Vision.--Surprising local Memory.--Their manual Dexterity.--
    Leather, Poniards, Carpets.--Jakut Gluttons.--Superstitious Fear
    of the Mountain-spirit Ljeschei.--Offerings of Horse-hair.--
    Improvised Songs.--The River Jakut.


The Jakuts are a remarkably energetic race, for though subject to the
Muscovite yoke, they not only successfully maintain their language
and manners, but even impose their own tongue and customs upon the
Russians who have settled in their country. Thus in Jakutsk, or the
“capital of the Jakuts,” as with not a little of national pride and
self-complacency they style that dreary city, their language is much
more frequently spoken than the Russian, for almost all the artisans
are Jakuts, and even the rich fur-merchant has not seldom a Jakut wife,
as no Russian now disdains an alliance with one of that nation.

At Amginskoie, an originally Russian settlement, Middendorff found the
greatest difficulty in procuring a guide able to speak the Russian
language, and all the Tunguse whom he met with between Jakutsk and
Ochotsk understood and spoke Jakut, which is thus the dominant language
from the basin of the Lena to the extreme eastern confines of Siberia.
In truth, no Russian workman can compete with the Jakuts, whose cunning
and effrontery would make it difficult even for a Jew to prosper among
them.

Though of a Mongolian physiognomy, their language, which is said to be
intelligible at Constantinople, distinctly points to a Turk extraction,
and their traditions speak of their original seats as situated on the
Baikal and Angora, whence, retreating before more powerful hordes, they
advanced to the Lena, where in their turn they dispossessed the weaker
tribes which they found in possession of the country. At present their
chief abode is along the banks of that immense river, which they occupy
at least as far southward as the Aldan. Eastward they are found on the
Kolyma, and westward as far as the Jenissei. Their total number amounts
to about 200,000, and they form the chief part of the population of the
vast but almost desert province of Jakutsk.

They are essentially a pastoral people, and their chief wealth consists
in horses and cattle, though the northern portion of their nation is
reduced to the reindeer and the dog. Besides the breeding of horses,
the Russian fur-trade has developed an industrial form of the hunter’s
state, so that among the Jakuts property accumulates, and we have a
higher civilization than will be found elsewhere in the same latitude,
Iceland, Finland, and Norway alone excepted. Of an unsocial and
reserved disposition, they prefer a solitary settlement, but at the
same time they are very hospitable, and give the stranger who claims
their assistance a friendly welcome. Villages consisting of several
huts, or yourts, are rare, and found only between Jakutsk and the
Aldan, where the population is somewhat denser. Beyond the Werchojansk
ridge the solitary huts are frequently several hundred versts apart, so
that the nearest neighbors sometimes do not see each other for years.

In summer the Jakut herdsmen live in _urossy_, light conical tents
fixed on poles and covered with birch rind, and during the whole season
they are perpetually employed in making hay for the long winter.

In 62° N. lat., and in a climate of an almost unparalleled severity,
the rearing of their cattle causes them far more trouble than is the
case with any other pastoral people. Their supply of hay is frequently
exhausted before the end of the winter, and from March to May their
oxen must generally be content with willow and birch twigs or saplings.

[Illustration: 88. A JAKUT VILLAGE.]

At the beginning of the cold season the Jackut exchanges his summer
tent for his warm winter residence, or yourt, a hut built of beams or
logs, in the form of a truncated pyramid, and thickly covered with
turf and clay. Plates of ice serve as windows, and are replaced by
fish-bladders or paper steeped in oil, as soon as the thaw begins. The
earthen floor, for it is but rarely boarded, is generally sunk two or
three feet below the surface of the ground. The seats and sleeping
berths are ranged along the sides, and the centre is occupied by the
_tschuwal_, or hearth, the smoke of which finds its exit through
an aperture in the roof. Clothes and arms are suspended from the
walls, and the whole premises exhibit a sad picture of disorder and
filth. Near the yourt are stables for the cows, but when the cold
is very severe, these useful animals are received into the family
room. As for the horses, they remain night and day without a shelter,
at a temperature when mercury freezes, and are obliged to feed on
the withered autumnal grass which they find under the snow. These
creatures, whose powers of endurance are almost incredible, change
their hair in summer like the other quadrupeds of the Arctic regions.
They keep their strength, though travelling perhaps for months through
the wilderness without any other food than the parched, half-rotten
grass met with on the way. They retain their teeth to old age, and
remain young much longer than our horses. “He who thinks of improving
the Jakut horse,” says Von Middendorff, “aims at something like
perfection. Fancy the worst conceivable roads, and for nourishment
the bark of the larch and willow, with hard grass-stalks instead of
oats; or merely travel on the post-road to Jakutsk, and see the horses
that have just run forty versts without stopping, and are covered with
perspiration and foam, eating their hay in the open air without the
slightest covering, at a temperature of -40°.”

But the Jakut himself is no less hardened against the cold than his
faithful horse. “On December 9,” says Wrangell, “we bivouacked round
a fire, at a temperature of -28°, on an open pasture-ground, which
afforded no shelter against the northern blast. Here I had an excellent
opportunity for admiring the unparalleled powers of endurance of our
Jakut attendants. On the longest winter journey they take neither
tents nor extra covering along with them, not even one of the larger
fur-dresses. While travelling, the Jakut contents himself with his
usual dress; in this he generally sleeps in the open air; a horse rug
stretched out upon the snow is his bed, a wooden saddle his pillow.
With the same fur jacket, which serves him by daytime as a dress, and
which he pulls off when he lies down for the night, he decks his back
and shoulders, while the front part of his body is turned towards the
fire almost without any covering. He then stops his nose and ears with
small pieces of skin, and covers his face so as to leave but a small
opening for breathing--these are all the precautions he takes against
the severest cold. Even in Siberia the Jakuts are called ‘men of iron.’
Often have I seen them sleeping at a temperature of -4° in the open
air, near an extinguished bivouac fire, and with a thick ice-rind
covering their almost unprotected body.”

Most of the Jakuts have an incredible sharpness of vision. One of them
told Lieutenant Anjou, pointing to the planet Jupiter, that he had
often seen yonder blue star devour a smaller one, and then after a time
cast it out again.[13] Their local memory is no less astonishing; a
pool of water, a large stone, a solitary bush imprints itself deeply
into their remembrance, and guides them after a lapse of years through
the boundless wilderness. In manual dexterity they surpass all other
Siberian nations, and some of their articles, such as their poniards
and their leather, might figure with credit in any European exhibition.
Long before the Russian conquest they made use of the iron ore on the
Wilui to manufacture their own knives and axes, which, either from the
excellence of the material or of the workmanship, rarely break, even
in the severest cold--a perfection which the best Sheffield ware does
not attain. Since time immemorial they have been acquainted with the
art of striking fire with flint and steel, an invention unknown even to
the ancient Greeks and Romans. Their leather is perfectly water-tight,
and the women make carpets of white and colored skins, which are even
exported to Europe. It is almost superfluous to mention that a people
so capable of bearing hardships, so sharp-witted, and so eager for gain
as the Jakuts must needs pursue the fur-bearing animals with which
their forests abound with untiring zeal and a wonderful dexterity.

The horse renders the Jakut services not less important than those of
the reindeer to the Samoïede or the Lapp. Besides using it for carrying
or riding, the Jakut makes articles of dress out of its skin, and
fishing-nets of its hair; boiled horse-meat is his favorite food, and
sour mare’s milk, or _kumyss_, his chief beverage. Of the latter he
also makes a thick porridge, or _salamat_, by mixing it with rye-flour,
or the inner rind of the larch or fir tree, to which he frequently
adds dried fish and berries, and, to render it perfect, a quantity of
rancid fat, of which he is immoderately fond. He is in fact a gross
feeder, and some professional gluttons are capable of consuming such
astonishing masses as to shame the appetite even of an Esquimaux.
During his stay at Jakutsk, Sir George Simpson put the abilities of two
distinguished artists to the test, by setting two pouds of boiled beef
and a poud of melted butter before them. Each of them got a poud of
meat for his share; the butter they were allowed to ladle out and drink
_ad libitum_. The one was old and experienced, the other young and full
of zeal. At first the latter had the advantage. “His teeth are good,”
said the elder champion, “but with the assistance of my saint (crossing
himself), I will soon come up to him.”

When about half of their task was finished, Sir George left his noble
guests to the care and inspection of his secretary, but when he
returned a few hours after, he was informed that all was consumed,
while the champions, stretched out on the floor, confirmed the
secretary’s report, and expressed their thanks for the exorbitant
meal they had enjoyed by respectfully kissing the ground. After one
of these disgusting feats, the gorged gluttons generally remain for
three or four days plunged in a torpid state like boa snakes, without
eating or drinking, and are frequently rolled about on the ground to
promote digestion. It may also be noticed, as a proof of the low state
of intellectual culture among the Jakuts, that at every wedding among
the richer class two professed virtuosi in the art of gormandizing are
regularly invited for the entertainment of the guests. One of them is
treated at the bridegroom’s expense, the other at that of the bride,
and the party whose champion gains the victory considers it as a good
omen for the future.

The Jakuts, besides being a pre-eminently pastoral people, are also the
universal carriers to the east of the Lena. For beyond Jakutsk, the
only roads are narrow paths leading through swamps, dense forests, or
tangled bushes, so that the horse affords the only means of reaching
the more even and lower countries where reindeer or dogs can be
attached to sledges. Without the Jakut and his horse, the Russian
would never have been able to penetrate to the Sea of Ochotsk, and
from thence to the Aleutian chain; but for him, they never would have
settled on the Kolyma, nor have opened a commercial intercourse with
the Tchuktchi and the western Esquimaux.

Before the possession of the Amoor had opened a new road to commerce,
thousands of pack-horses used annually to cross the Stanowoi hills on
the way to Ochotsk; and when we consider the dreadful hardships of the
journey, we can not wonder that the road was more thickly strewn with
the skeletons of fallen horses than the caravan routes through the
desert with the bones of famished camels. But the Jakut fears neither
the icy cold of the bivouac nor the pangs of hunger, which, in spite
of his wolfish voracity, he is able to support with stoical fortitude.
He fears neither the storm on the naked hill, nor the gloom of the
forest, nor the depth of the morass; and, bidding defiance to every
thing else, fears only the invisible power of “Ljeschei,” the spirit
of the mountain and the wood. The traveller wonders when he sees on
an eminence crowned with firs an old tree from whose branches hang
bunches of horse-hair. The Jakut who leads the caravan soon explains
the mystery. He dismounts, and plucking a few hairs from the mane of
his horse, attaches them with a great show of respect to a branch, as
an offering to propitiate the favor of Ljeschei on the journey. Even
those Jakuts who pass for Christians still pay this mark of respect to
the dethroned divinity of their fathers; and there can be no doubt that
they still retain the old belief in Schamanism, and an abject fear of
all sorts of evil spirits.

While travelling they sing almost perpetually melancholy tunes,
corresponding with the habitual gloom of their national character. The
text has more variety and poetry, and generally celebrates the beauties
of nature, the stately growth of the pine, the murmuring of the brook,
or the grandeur of the mountain. The singers are mostly improvisatores,
and to conciliate the favor of Ljeschei, they praise the desert through
which they pass as if it were a paradise.

Like the impoverished Samoïede or Lapp, the indigent Jakut, who
possesses neither cattle nor horses, settles near some stream. His only
domestic animal is his dog, who carries the fish on a light sledge
from the river-bank to his hut, or follows him into the woods on his
hunting expeditions. With the skins of fur-bearing animals he pays his
_jassak_, and is glad if the surplus allows him to indulge from time to
time in the luxury of a pipe of Circassian tobacco.



CHAPTER XX.

WRANGELL.

  His distinguished Services as an Arctic Explorer.--From
    Petersburg to Jakutsk in 1820.--Trade of Jakutsk.--From
    Jakutsk to Nishne-Kolymsk.--The Badarany.--Dreadful Climate of
    Nishne-Kolymsk.--Summer Plagues.--Vegetation.--Animal Life.--
    Reindeer-hunting.--Famine.--Inundations.--The Siberian Dog.--
    First Journeys over the Ice of the Polar Sea, and Exploration of
    the Coast beyond Cape Shelagskoi in 1821.--Dreadful Dangers and
    Hardships.--Matiuschkin’s Sledge-journey over the Polar Sea in
    1822.--Last Adventures on the Polar Sea.--A Run for Life.--
    Return to St. Petersburg.


The expeditions which had been sent out during the reign of the Empress
Anna for the exploration of the Arctic shores of Eastern Siberia, had
performed their task so badly as to leave them still almost totally
unknown. To fill up this blank in geography, the Emperor Alexander
ordered two new expeditions to be fitted out in 1820 for the purpose of
accurately ascertaining the limits of these extreme frontiers of his
immense empire. Of the one which, under Lieutenant Anjou, commenced
its operations from the mouth of the Jana, and comprised within its
range New Siberia and the other islands of the Lächow group, but
little has been communicated to the public, all his papers having
been accidentally burned; but the travels of Lieutenant von Wrangell,
the commander of the second expedition, have obtained a world-wide
celebrity. Starting from the mouths of the Kolyma, he not only
rectified the errors of the coast-line of Siberia, from the Indigirka
in the west to Koliutschin Island in the east, but more than once
ventured in a sledge upon the Polar Ocean, in the hopes of discovering
a large country supposed to be situated to the northward of Kotelnoi
and New Siberia.

Wrangell left St. Petersburg on March 23, 1820, and experiencing in
his journey of 3500 miles repeated alternations of spring and winter,
arrived at Irkutsk, where the gardens were in full flower, on May 20.

After a month’s rest, a short journey brought him to the banks of the
Lena, on which he embarked on June 27, to descend to Jakutsk, which
he reached on July 27. This small town of 4000 inhabitants bears the
gloomy stamp of the frigid north, for though it has a few good houses,
its dwellings chiefly consist of the winter yourts of the Jakuts, with
turf-covered roofs, doors of skins, and windows of talc or ice. The
only “sight” of this dreary place is the old ruinous ostrog or wooden
fort built by the Cossacks, the conquerors of the country, in 1647.
Jakutsk is the centre of the interior trade of Siberia. To this place
are brought, in enormous quantities, furs of all kinds, walrus-teeth,
and mammoth-tusks, from distances of many thousand versts, to an amount
of half a million pounds.

The commercial sphere of the Jakutsk merchants is of an immense extent.
During a cold of ten and twenty degrees they set out for the Lächow
Isles, for the fair of Ostrownoje, for Ochotsk, or Kjachta. Jakutsk
merchants were the first who ventured in crazy ships across the Sea
of Kamchatka, and discovered the island of Kadjiak, eighty degrees of
longitude from their home.

On September 12 Wrangell left Jakutsk, where regular travelling ends,
as from thence to Kolymsk, and generally throughout Northern Siberia,
there are no beaten roads. The utmost that can be looked for are foot
or horse tracks leading through morasses or tangled forests, and over
rocks and mountains. Travellers proceed on horseback through the hilly
country, and, on reaching the plains, use sledges drawn either by
reindeer or dogs.

In this manner Wrangell crossed from the basin of the Lena to that
of the Yana, never experiencing a higher temperature than +2°, and
frequently enduring a cold of more than -12°, during the journey
over the intervening hills, and then turning eastward, traversed the
Badarany, a completely uninhabited desert, chiefly consisting of
swamps. These Badarany never entirely dry up, even after the longest
summer-drought. At that time a solid crust is formed, through which the
horses frequently break, but they are preserved from totally sinking
in the mire by the perpetually frozen underground. Nothing can be more
dismal and dreary than the Badarany. As far as the eye reaches, nothing
is to be seen but a covering of dingy moss, relieved here and there
on some more elevated spots by wretched specimens of dwarf-larches.
The winter is the only season for traversing this treacherous waste,
but woe to the traveller should he be overtaken by a snow-storm, as
for miles and miles there is no shelter to be found but that of some
ruinous powarni, or post-station.

At length, fifty-two days after leaving Jakutsk, Wrangell arrived
on November 2 at Nishne-Kolymsk, the appointed head-quarters of the
expedition, where he was welcomed with a cold of -40°, or 72° below the
freezing-point of water.

Even in Siberia the climate of this place is ill-reputed for its
severity, which is as much due to its unfavorable position as to its
high latitude (68° N.). The town stands on a low swampy island of the
Kolyma, having on the west the barren tundra, and on the north the
Arctic Ocean, so that the almost constant north-west winds have full
scope for their violence, and cause frequent snow-storms even in summer.

The mean temperature of the whole year is only +14°. The river at
Nishne-Kolymsk freezes early in September, but lower down, where the
current is less rapid, loaded horses can sometimes cross on the ice as
early as August 20, nor does the ice ever melt before June.

Although the sun remains fifty-two days above the horizon, the light,
obscured by almost perpetual mists, is accompanied with little heat,
and the solar disc, compressed by refraction into an elliptical form,
may be looked at with the naked eye without inconvenience. In spite of
the constant light, the common order of the parts of the day is plainly
discernible. When the sun sinks down to the horizon, all nature is
mute; but when, after a few hours, it rises in the skies, every thing
awakens, the few little birds break out in feeble twitter, and the
shrivelled flowers venture to open their petals.

Although winter and summer are in reality the only seasons, yet the
inhabitants fancy they have spring when about noon the rays of the sun
begin to make themselves felt, which generally takes place about the
middle of March, but this so-called spring has frequent night-frosts
of twenty degrees. Their autumn is reckoned from the time when the
rivers begin to freeze over, that is, from the first days of September,
when a cold of thirty degrees is already by no means uncommon. As may
easily be supposed in a climate like this, the vegetation of summer is
scarcely more than a struggle for existence.

In the latter end of May the stunted willow-bushes put out little
wrinkled leaves, and those banks which slope towards the south become
clothed with a semi-verdant hue; in June the temperature at noon
attains 72°; the flowers show themselves, and the berry-bearing plants
blossom, when sometimes an icy blast from the sea destroys the bloom.
The air is clearest in July, and the temperature is usually mild,
but then a new plague arises for the torment of man. Millions and
millions of mosquitoes issue from the swamps of the tundra, and compel
the inhabitants to seek refuge in the dense and pungent smoke of the
“dymokury,” or large heaps of fallen leaves and damp wood, which are
kindled near the dwellings and on the pasture-grounds, as the only
means of keeping off those abominable insects.

These tormentors, however, are not without use, for they compel the
reindeer to migrate from the forests to the sea-shore and the ice, thus
exposing them to the attack of the hunters, and they also prevent the
horses from straying in the plains, and wandering beyond the protection
of the smoke.

Scarcely is the mosquito plague at an end, when the dense autumn fogs
rising from the sea spoil the enjoyment of the last mild hours which
precede the nine months’ winter. In January the cold increases to -45°;
breathing then becomes difficult; the wild reindeer, the indigenous
inhabitant of the Polar region, withdraws to the thickest part of the
forest, and stands there motionless, as if deprived of life.

With the 22d November begins a night of thirty-eight days, relieved
in some degree by the strong refraction and the white of the snow, as
well as by the moon and the aurora. On the 28th December the first pale
glimmering of dawn appears, which even at noon does not obscure the
stars. With the re-appearance of the sun the cold increases, and is
most intense in February and March at the rising of the sun. Even in
winter completely clear days are very rare, as the cold sea-wind covers
the land with mists and fogs.

The character of the vegetation corresponds with that of the climate.
Moss, stunted grass, dwarfish willow-shrubs, are all that the place
produces. The neighboring valleys of the Aniuj, protected by mountains
against the sea-wind, have a somewhat richer flora, for here grow
berry-bearing plants, the birch, the poplar, absinthe, thyme, and the
low-creeping cedar. This poverty, however, of the vegetable world is
strongly contrasted with the profusion of animal life over these shores
and on the Polar Sea. Reindeer, elks, bears, foxes, sables, and gray
squirrels fill the upland forests, while stone-foxes burrow in the
low grounds. Enormous flights of swans, geese, and ducks arrive in
spring, and seek deserts where they may moult and build their nests in
safety. Eagles, owls, and gulls pursue their prey along the sea-coast;
ptarmigan run in troops among the bushes; little snipes are busy
among the brooks. In the morasses the crows gather round the huts of
the natives; and when the sun shines in spring, the traveller may
even sometimes hear the note of the finch, and in autumn that of the
thrush. But the landscape remains dreary and dead; all denotes that
here the limits of the habitable earth are passed, and one asks with
astonishment what could induce human beings to take up their abode in
so comfortless a region?

In the district of Kolymsk, which surpasses in size many a European
kingdom, the population, at the time of Wrangell’s visit, consisted
of 325 Russians, 1034 Jakuts, and 1139 Jukahires of the male sex, of
whom 2173 had to pay the _jassak_, consisting of 803 fox and 28 sable
skins, worth 6704 roubles, besides which they were taxed to the amount
of 10,847 roubles in money. Thus the Russian double-eagle made, and no
doubt still makes, the poor people of Kolymsk pay rather dear for the
honor of living under the protection of its talons.

The Cossacks, in virtue of their descent from the original conquerors
of the country, enjoy the enviable privilege of being tax free; they
are, however, obliged to render military service when required. They
form the small garrison of Nishne-Kolymsk, and every year twenty-five
of them repair to the fair of Ostrownoje, to keep the wild Tchuktchi
in check. The Russians are chiefly the descendants of fur-hunters or
of exiles; and though they have adopted the native clothing and mode
of life, they are still distinguishable by their more muscular frame.
The women, who are somewhat better-looking than the female Jakuts and
Jukahires, are fond of music, and their traditional songs dwell on
the beauties of nature--the rustling brook, the flowery mead, the
nightingale’s note--all things belonging to a world of which they have
no idea.

The dwellings of the Russians are hardly to be distinguished from the
yourts of the native tribes. They are made of drift-wood, and, as
may easily be imagined, are very small and low. The interstices are
carefully stopped up with moss, and the outside is covered with a thick
layer of clay. An external mud wall rises to the height of the roof
to keep off the wind. In a hut like this Wrangell spent many a winter
month, but when the cold was very intense, he was not able to lay aside
any part of his fur clothing, though sitting close to a large fire.
When he wanted to write he had to keep the inkstand in hot water; and
at night, when the fire was allowed to go out for a short time, his
bedclothes were always covered with a thick snow-like rime.

The existence of the people of Kolymsk depends upon fishing and
hunting, in which they are assisted by their dogs. These faithful, but
cruelly-treated animals, are said to resemble the wolf, having long,
pointed, projecting noses, sharp and upright ears, and long bushy
tails. Their color is black, brown, reddish-brown, white, and spotted,
their howling that of a wolf. In summer they dig holes in the ground
for coolness, or lie in the water to escape the mosquitoes; in winter
they burrow in the snow, and lie curled up, with their noses covered
with their bushy tails. The preparation of these animals for a journey
must be carefully attended to; for a fortnight at least they should be
put on a small allowance of hard food, to convert their superfluous
fat into firm flesh; they must also be driven from ten to twenty miles
daily, after which they have been known to travel a hundred miles a
day without being injured by it. A team consists commonly of twelve
dogs, and it is of importance that they should be accustomed to draw
together. The quick and steady going of the team, as well as the safety
of the traveller, mainly depends on the docility and sagacity of the
foremost dog or leader. No pains are therefore spared in his education,
so that he may understand and obey his master’s orders, and prevent the
rest from starting off in pursuit of the stone-foxes or other animals
that may chance to cross their path. Their usual food is frozen fish,
and ten good herrings are said to be a proper daily allowance for each
dog while on duty. When not actively employed, they are obliged to
content themselves with offal, and towards spring, when the winter’s
provisions are generally exhausted, they suffer the keenest hunger.

This season is also a hard time for the wandering tribes of the
neighborhood. Then they flock to Nishne-Kolymsk, and to the other
Russian settlements on the Kolyma, but here also famine stares them in
the face. There is, indeed, a public corn magazine, but the price of
flour is raised by the cost of transport to such an exorbitant height,
as to be completely beyond the reach of the majority of the people.
Three such dreadful springs did Wrangell pass at Kolymsk, witnessing
scenes of misery never to be forgotten.

But when the distress of the people has reached its highest point,
relief is generally at hand. Troops of migratory birds come from the
south, and furnish some food for the despairing population. The supply
is increased in June, when the ice breaks on the Kolyma, for in spite
of the faultiness of the nets and the want of skill of the fishermen,
the river is the principal source of plenty during the summer, and
supplies, moreover, the chief provisions for the following winter. But
with these gifts the Kolyma brings the plague of inundations, so that
during the summer of 1822 Wrangell was obliged to spend a whole week on
the flat roof of his hut.

The chief resource of the Jukahires of the River Aniuj is the reindeer
chase, the success of which mainly decides whether famine or some
degree of comfort is to be their lot during the coming winter. The
passage of the reindeer takes place twice a year; in spring, when the
mosquitoes compel them to seek the sea-shore, where they feed on the
moss of the tundra, and in autumn, when the increasing cold forces them
to retire from the coast. The spring migration, which begins about
the middle of May, is not very profitable, partly because the animals
are meagre, and their furs in bad condition, and partly because it is
more difficult to kill them as they pass the frozen rivers. The chief
hunting is in August and September, when the herds, consisting each of
several thousand deer, return to the forests. They invariably cross the
river at a particular spot, where a flat sandy bank makes their landing
easier; and here they press more closely together, under the guidance
of the strongest animals of the herd.

The passage takes place after some hesitation, and in a few minutes the
river is covered with swimming reindeer. The hunters, hidden in creeks
or behind stones and bushes, now shoot forth in their small boats and
wound as many as they can. While they are thus busy, they run some risk
of being overturned in the turmoil, for the bucks defend themselves
with their horns, their teeth, and their hind legs, while the roes
generally attempt to spring with their fore feet upon the edge of the
boat. When the hunter is thus overset, his only chance of safety is
to cling to a strong animal, which safely brings him to the shore.
But the dexterity of the hunters renders such accidents rare. A good
hunter will kill a hundred reindeer and more in half an hour. In the
mean time the other boats seize the killed animals, which become their
property, while those that are merely wounded and swim ashore belong to
the hunters, who, in the midst of the tumult, where all their energies
are taxed to the utmost, direct their strokes in such a manner as only
severely to wound the larger animals. The noise of the horns striking
against each other, the waters tinged with blood, the cries of the
hunters, the snorting of the affrighted animals, form a scene not to be
described.

The people of the Aniuj were already suffering great distress when,
on September 12, 1821, the eagerly-expected reindeer herds made their
appearance on the right bank of the river. Never had such a multitude
been seen; they covered the hills, and their horns might have been
mistaken at a distance for a moving forest. In a short time numbers
of the Siberian tribes had assembled, ready to destroy them. But the
wary animals, alarmed by some circumstance or other, took another road,
and, leaving the banks of the river, vanished on the mountains. The
despair of the people may be imagined; some lamented aloud and wrung
their hands, others threw themselves upon the ground and scratched up
the snow, others stood motionless like statues--a dreadful image of
the universal misery. The later fishing-season likewise failed in this
deplorable year, and many hundreds died in the following winter.

While the men of Kolymsk are busily employed during the short summer in
hunting, fishing, and hay-making, the women wander over the country,
particularly in the mountains, to gather edible roots, aromatic
herbs, and berries of various kinds, which latter, however, do not
every year arrive at maturity. The berry-gathering here, like the
vintage elsewhere, is a time of merriment. The younger women and girls
go together in large parties, passing whole days and nights in the
open air. When the berries are collected, cold water is poured over
them, and they are preserved in a frozen state for a winter treat.
Social parties are not unknown at Kolymsk, and are perhaps not less
entertaining than in more refined communities. Floods of weak tea (for
the aromatic leaves “which cheer, but not inebriate,” are very dear at
Kolymsk) form the staple of the entertainment; and as sugar is also an
expensive article, every guest takes a lump of candy in his mouth, lets
the tea which he sips flow by, and then replaces it upon the saucer. It
would be considered very unmannerly were he to consume the whole piece,
which thus is able to do duty at more than one _soirée_. Next to tea,
brandy is a chief requisite of a Kolymsk party.

The busiest time at Kolymsk is in February, when the caravan from
Jakutsk arrives on its way to the fair of Ostrownoje. It consists of
about twenty merchants, each of whom leads from ten to forty sumpter
horses. This is the time not only for sale and purchase, but also
for hearing the last news from the provincial capital Jakutsk, and
receiving intelligence six months old from Moscow and St. Petersburg.

From this short account of Kolymsk life it may well be imagined what
a sensation it must have made in so secluded a place when Wrangell
arrived there in November, and informed the people that he was come to
spend the better part of the next three years among them.

The winter was passed in preparation for the next spring expeditions,
for during the long Arctic night the darkness prevents travelling, and
the snow acquires a peculiar hardness or sharpness from the extreme
cold, so that then four times the number of dogs would be needed. But
as in summer the thawing is likewise a hindrance, Wrangell had in
reality only about ten weeks every year, from March till the end of
May, for the accomplishment of his task.

As may easily be supposed, it was no easy matter to make the necessary
arrangements for an expedition requiring some hundreds of dogs, and
provisions for several weeks; but such was the energy displayed by
Wrangell and his colleagues, that on February 19, 1821, they were able
to start on their first journey over the ice of the Polar Sea, which
they reached on the 25th. Nine sledges, with the usual team of twelve
dogs to each, were provided for the present excursion, six of which
were to carry provisions and stores, to be distributed in different
dépôts, and then to return. The provisions for the dogs consisted of
2400 fresh herrings, and as much “jukola” as was equivalent to 8150
dried herrings. The increasing cold and the violence of the wind made
travelling very difficult. To guard the dogs from being frozen, the
drivers were obliged to put clothing on their bodies, and a kind of
boots on their feet, which greatly impeded their running. At times
the frost was so intense that the mercury congealed while Wrangell
was making his observations. He thus describes the manner in which he
passed the nights on the Polar Sea in his tent:--

“Between tea and supper the sledge-drivers went out to attend and
feed their dogs, which were always tied up for the night, lest they
should be tempted away by the scent of some wild animal. Meanwhile, we
were engaged in comparing our observations, and in laying down on the
map the ground which we had gone over in the course of the day; the
severe cold, and the smoke which usually filled the tent, sometimes
made this no easy task. Supper always consisted of a single dish of
fish or meat soup, which was boiled for us all in the same kettle,
out of which it was eaten. Soon after we had finished our meal, the
whole party lay down to sleep. On account of the cold we could not lay
aside any part of our travelling-dress, but we regularly changed our
boots and stockings every evening, and hung those we had taken off,
with our fur caps and gloves, on the tent-poles to dry. This is an
essential precaution, particularly in respect to stockings, for with
damp clothing there is the greatest risk of the part being frozen. We
always spread the bear-skins between the frozen ground and ourselves,
and the fur coverings over us, and, being well tired, we usually slept
very soundly. As long as all the sledge-drivers continued with us, we
were so crowded that we had to place ourselves like the spokes of a
wheel, with our feet towards the fire and our heads against the tent
wall. In the morning we generally rose at six, lit the fire, and washed
ourselves before it with fresh snow; we then took tea, and immediately
afterwards dinner (which was similar to the supper of the night
before). The tent was then struck, and every thing packed and stowed on
the sledges, and at nine we usually took our departure.”

The chief impediments to journeying on the ice were found to be the
hummocks, often eighty feet high, which lie in ridges at certain
distances, parallel perhaps to the shore. Along the line or lines
where the ice is periodically broken, it is forced by pressure and the
tossing of a tempestuous sea into those irregular ridges through which
Wrangell had sometimes to make a way with crowbars for half a mile. The
“polinyas,” or spaces of open water in the midst of the ice, offered
less hindrance, as they might be avoided; but in this neighborhood, and
sometimes even where no hole in the ice was visible, layers of salt
were met with, which cut the dogs’ feet, and at the same time increased
the labor of the draft, the sledges moving over the salt with as much
difficulty as they would over gravel.

In spite of all these hindrances, Wrangell extended his exploration
of the coast fifty versts beyond Cape Shelagskoi, where the want of
fuel and provisions compelled him to return. The dépôts which he had
made as he advanced, were found partly devoured by the stone-foxes and
gluttons, so that the party was compelled to fast during the two last
days of the journey. After an absence of three weeks Nishne-Kolymsk
appeared like a second Capua to Wrangell, but time being precious he
allowed himself but a few days’ rest, and started afresh, on March
26, for Cape Shelagskoi, with the intention of penetrating as far
as possible to the north on the ice of the Polar Sea. The caravan
consisted of twenty-two sledges, laden with fuel and provisions for
thirty days, including food for 240 dogs. So imposing a train had
certainly never been seen before in these desolate regions, for the
part of the coast between the Kolyma and Cape Shelagskoi is wholly
uninhabited; on one side the occasional excursions of the Russians
terminate at the Baranow rocks, and on the other the Tchuktchi do not
cross the larger Baranow River. The intervening eighty versts of coast
are never visited by either party, but considered as neutral ground. On
April 1 Wrangell reached the borders of the Polar Sea, and proceeding
northward to 71° 31´, found the thickness of the ice, which he measured
by means of a hole, to be about a foot, very rotten, and full of salt;
the soundings, twelve fathoms, with a bottom of soft green mud. The
wind increasing in violence, he heard the sound of the water beneath,
and felt the undulatory motion of the thin crust of ice.

“Our position,” says the bold explorer, “was at least an anxious
one; the more so as we could take no step to avoid the impending
danger. I believe few of our party slept, except the dogs, who alone
were unconscious of the great probability of the ice being broken up
by the force of the waves. Next day, the wind having fallen, I had
two of the best sledges emptied, and placed in them provisions for
twenty-four hours, with the boat and oars, some poles and boards, and
proceeded northward to examine the state of the ice; directing M. von
Matiuschkin, in case of danger, to retire with the whole party as far
as might be needful, without awaiting my return. After driving through
the thick brine with much difficulty for seven versts, we came to a
number of large fissures, which we passed with some trouble by the
aid of the boards which we had brought with us. At last the fissures
became so numerous and so wide that it was hard to say whether the
sea beneath us was really still covered by a connected coat of ice,
or only by a number of detached floating fragments, having everywhere
two or more feet of water between them. A single gust of wind would
have been sufficient to drive these fragments against each other,
and being already thoroughly saturated with water, they would have
sunk in a few minutes, leaving nothing but sea on the spot where we
were standing. It was manifestly useless to attempt going farther; we
hastened to rejoin our companions, and to seek with them a place of
greater security. Our most northern latitude was 71° 43´ at a distance
of 215 versts in a straight line from the lesser Baranow rock.” After
rejoining his companions, and while still on the frozen sea, so thick
a snow-storm came on that those in the hindmost sledge could not see
the leading ones. Unable either to pitch their tent or to light a fire,
they were exposed during the night to the whole fury of the storm, with
a temperature of +7°, without tea or soup, and with nothing to quench
their thirst or satisfy their hunger but a few mouthfuls of snow, a
little rye biscuit, and a half-spoilt fish. On April 28 they arrived
at Nishne-Kolymsk, after an absence of thirty-six days, during which
they had travelled above 800 miles with the same dogs, men and animals
having equally suffered from cold, hunger, and fatigue.

Neither discomfort, however, nor danger prevented Wrangell from
undertaking a third excursion in the following spring. He had great
difficulty in procuring the necessary dogs, a disease which raged among
them during the winter having carried off more than four-fifths of
these useful animals. At length his wants were supplied by the people
of the Indigirka, where the sickness had not extended, and on March 14,
1822, he again set out for the borders of the Polar Sea. During this
expedition a large extent of coast was accurately surveyed by Wrangell,
who sent out his worthy assistant Matiuschkin, with two companions,
in an unloaded sledge, to see if any farther advance could be made to
the north. Having accomplished ten versts, Matiuschkin was stopped by
the breaking up of the ice. Enormous masses, raised by the waves into
an almost vertical position, were driven against each other with a
dreadful crash, and pressed downward by the force of the billows to
re-appear again on the surface covered with the torn-up green mud which
here forms the bottom of the sea. It would tire the reader were I to
relate all the miseries of their return voyage; suffice it to say that,
worn out with hunger and fatigue, they reached Nishne-Kolymsk on May 5,
after an absence of fifty-seven days. Such sufferings and perils might
have excused all further attempts to discover the supposed land in
the Polar Sea, but nothing daunted by his repeated failures, Wrangell
determined on a fourth expedition in 1823, on which he resolved to
start from a more easterly point. On reaching the coast, the obstacles
were found still greater than on his previous visits to that fearful
sea. The weather was tempestuous, the ice thin and broken. It was
necessary at times to cross wide lanes of water on pieces of ice;
at times the thin ice bent beneath the weight of the sledges, which
were then saved only by the sagacity of the dogs, who, aware of the
danger, ran at their greatest speed until they found a solid footing.
At length, about sixty miles from shore, they arrived at the edge of an
immense break in the ice, extending east and west farther than the eye
could reach.

“We climbed one of the loftiest hummocks,” says Wrangell, “whence we
obtained an extensive view towards the north, and whence we beheld the
wide ocean spread before our gaze. It was a fearful and magnificent,
but to us a melancholy spectacle! Fragments of ice of enormous size
floated on the surface of the water, and were thrown by the waves
with awful violence against the edge of the ice-field on the farther
side of the channel before us. The collisions were so tremendous that
large masses were every instant broken away, and it was evident that
the portion of ice which still divided the channel from the open ocean
would soon be completely destroyed. Had we attempted to ferry ourselves
across upon one of the floating pieces of ice, we should not have
found firm footing upon our arrival. Even on our own side fresh lines
of water were continually forming, and extending in every direction
in the field of ice behind us. We could go no farther. With a painful
feeling of the impossibility of overcoming the obstacles which nature
opposed to us, our last hope vanished of discovering the land, which
we yet believed to exist. We saw ourselves compelled to renounce the
object for which we had striven through three years of hardships, toil,
and danger. We had done what honor and duty demanded; further attempts
would have been absolutely hopeless, and I decided to return.”

They turned, but already the track of their advance was scarcely
discernible, as new lanes of water had been formed, and fresh hummocks
raised by the sea. To add to their distress, a storm arose, which
threatened every moment to swallow up the ice island, on which they
hoped to cross a wide space of water which separated them from a firmer
ground.

“We had been three long hours in this position, and still the mass
of ice beneath us held together, when suddenly it was caught by
the storm, and hurled against a large field of ice; the crash was
terrific, and the mass beneath us was shattered into fragments. At
that dreadful moment, when escape seemed impossible, the impulse
of self-preservation, implanted in every living being, saved us.
Instinctively we all sprang at once on the sledges, and urged the dogs
to their full speed. They flew across the yielding fragments to the
field on which we had been stranded, and safely reached a part of it
of firmer character, on which were several hummocks, where the dogs
immediately ceased running, conscious, apparently, that the danger was
past. We were saved! We joyfully embraced each other, and united in
thanks to God for our preservation from such imminent peril.”

But their misfortunes did not end here; they were cut off from the
deposit of their provisions; they were 360 versts from their nearest
magazines, and the food for the dogs was now barely sufficient for
three days. Their joy may be imagined when, after a few versts’
travelling, they fell in with Matiuschkin and his party, bringing with
them an abundant supply of provisions of all kinds.

To leave nothing undone which could possibly be effected, Wrangell
advanced to the eastward along the coast, past Cape North, seen in
Cook’s last voyage, and proceeded as far as Koliutschin Island, where
he found some Tchuktchi, who had come over from Bering’s Straits to
trade.

With this journey terminated Wrangell’s labors on the coasts, or on
the surface of the Polar Sea, and, at the beginning of the following
winter, we find him taking a final leave of Nishne-Kolymsk. On January
10, 1824, he arrived at Jakutsk, and a few months later at Petersburg.
If we consider the difficulties he had to encounter, and his untiring
zeal and courage in the midst of privations and dangers, it is only
fair to admit that his name deserves to be ranked among the most
distinguished explorers of the Arctic world.



CHAPTER XXI.

THE TUNGUSI.

  Their Relationship to the Mantchou.--Dreadful Condition of the
    outcast Nomads.--Character of the Tungusi.--Their Outfit for the
    Chase.--Bear-hunting.--Dwellings.--Diet.--A Night’s Halt with
    Tungusi in the Forest.--Ochotsk.


Though both belonging to the same stock, the fate of the Tungusi and
Mantchou has been very different; for at the same time when the latter
conquered the vast Chinese Empire, the former, after having spread
over the greatest part of East Siberia, and driven before them the
Jakuts, the Jukahiri, the Tchuktchi, and many other aboriginal tribes,
were in their turn subjugated by the mightier Russians. In the year
1640 the Cossacks first encountered the Tungusi, and in 1644 the first
Mantchou emperor mounted the Chinese throne. The same race which here
imposes its yoke upon millions of subjects, there falls a prey to a
small number of adventurers. However strange the fact, it is, however,
easily explained, for the Chinese were worse armed and less disciplined
than the Mantchou, while the Tungusi had nothing but bows and arrows
to oppose to the Cossack fire-arms; and history (from Alexander the
Great to Sadowa) teaches us that victory constantly sides with the best
weapons.

In their intellectual development we find the same difference as in
their fortunes between the Mantchou and the Siberian Tungusi. Two
hundred and fifty years ago the former were still nomads, like their
northern kinsfolk, and could neither read nor write, and already they
have a rich literature, and their language is spoken at the court of
Peking; while the Tungusi, oppressed and sunk in poverty, are still as
ignorant as when they first encountered the Cossacks.

According to their occupations, and the various domestic animals
employed by them, they are distinguished by the names of Reindeer,
Horse, Dog, Forest, and River Tungusi; but although they are found from
the basins of the Upper, Middle, and Lower Tunguska to the western
shores of the Sea of Ochotsk, and from the Chinese frontiers and the
Baikal to the Polar Ocean, their whole number does not amount to more
than 30,000, and diminishes from year to year, in consequence of the
ravages of the small-pox and other epidemic disorders transmitted
to them by the Russians. Only a few rear horses and cattle, the
reindeer being generally their domestic animal; and the impoverished
Tunguse, who has been deprived of his herd by some contagious disorder
or the ravages of the wolves, lives as a fisherman on the borders
of a river, assisted by his dog, or retires into the forests as a
promyschlenik, or hunter. Of the miseries which here await him,
Wrangell relates a melancholy instance. In a solitary hut in one of
the dreariest wildernesses imaginable, he found a Tunguse and his
daughter. While the father, with his long snow-shoes, was pursuing a
reindeer for several days together, this unfortunate girl remained
alone and helpless in the hut--which even in summer afforded but an
imperfect shelter against the rain and wind--exposed to the cold, and
frequently to hunger, and without the least occupation. No wonder that
the impoverished Tungusi not seldom sink into cannibalism. Neither
the reindeer nor the dogs, nor the wives and children of their more
fortunate countrymen, are secure from the attacks and voracity of
these outcasts, who, in their turn, are treated like wild beasts, and
destroyed without mercy. A bartering trade is, however, carried on with
them, but only at a distance, and by signs; each party depositing its
goods, and following every motion of the other with a suspicious eye.

The Russian Government, anxious to relieve the misery of the
impoverished nomads, has given orders to settle them along the
river-banks, and to provide them with the necessary fishing implements;
but only extreme wretchedness can induce the Tunguse to relinquish
the free life of the forest. His careless temper, his ready wit, and
sprightly manner, distinguish him from the other Siberian tribes--the
gloomy Samoïede, the uncouth Ostiak, the reserved Jakut--but he is
said to be full of deceit and malice. His vanity shows itself in the
quantity of glass beads with which he decorates his dress of reindeer
leather, from his small Tartar cap to the tips of his shoes. When
chasing or travelling on his reindeer through the woods, he of course
lays aside most of his finery, and puts on large water-tight boots,
or sari, well greased with fat, to keep off the wet of the morass.
His hunting apparatus is extremely simple. A small axe, a kettle, a
leathern bag containing some dried fish, a dog, a short gun, or merely
a bow and a sling, is all he requires for his expeditions into the
forest. With the assistance of his long and narrow snow-shoes, he flies
over the dazzling plain, and protects his eyes, like the Jakut, with
a net made of black horse-hair. He never hesitates to attack the bear
single-handed, and generally masters him. The nomad Tunguse naturally
requires a movable dwelling. His tent is covered with leather, or large
pieces of pliable bark, which are easily rolled up and transported from
place to place. The yourt of the sedentary Tunguse resembles that of
the Jakut, and is so small that it can be very quickly and thoroughly
warmed by a fire kindled on the stone hearth in the centre. In his
food the Tunguse is by no means dainty. One of his favorite dishes
consists of the contents of a reindeer’s stomach mixed with wild
berries, and spread out in thin cakes on the rind of trees, to be dried
in the air or in the sun. Those who have settled on the Wiluj and in
the neighborhood of Nertschinsk, likewise consume large quantities of
brick tea, which they boil with fat and berries into a thick porridge,
and this unwholesome food adds no doubt to the yellowness of their
complexion.

But few of the Tungusi have been converted to Christianity, the
majority being still addicted to Shamanism. They do not like to bury
their dead, but place them, in their holiday dresses, in large chests,
which they hang up between two trees. The hunting apparatus of the
deceased is buried beneath the chest. No ceremonies are used on the
occasion, except when a Shaman happens to be in the neighborhood,
when a reindeer is sacrificed, on whose flesh the sorcerer and the
relations regale themselves, while the spirits to whom the animal is
supposed to be offered are obliged to content themselves with the smell
of the burnt fat. As among the Samoïedes or the Ostiaks, woman is a
marketable ware among the Tungusi. The father gives his daughter in
marriage for twenty or a hundred reindeer, or the bridegroom is obliged
to earn her hand by a long period of service.

In East Siberia the Tungusi divide with the Jakuts the task of
conveying goods or travellers through the forests, and afford the
stranger frequent opportunities for admiring their agility and
good-humor. On halting after a day’s journey, the reindeer are unpacked
in an instant, the saddles and the goods ranged orderly on the ground,
and the bridles collected and hung on branches of trees. The hungry
animals soon disappear in the thicket, where they are left to provide
for themselves. The men, who meanwhile have been busy with their axes,
drag a larch-tree or two to the place of encampment. The smaller
branches are lopped off and collected to serve as beds or seats upon
the snow, while the resinous wood of the larger trunks is soon kindled
into a lively fire. The kettle, filled with snow, is suspended from
a strong forked branch placed obliquely in the ground over the fire,
and in a few minutes the tea is ready--for the Tungusi proceed every
evening according to the same method, and are consequently as expert as
long and invariable practice can make them. Comfortably seated on his
reindeer saddle, the traveller may now amuse himself with the dances,
which the Tungusi accompany with an agreeable song; or if he choose to
witness their agility in athletic exercises, it only costs him a word
of encouragement, and a small donation of brandy. Two of the Tungusi
hold a rope, and swing it with all their might, so that it does not
touch the ground. Meanwhile a third Tunguse skips over the rope, picks
up a bow and arrow, spans the bow and shoots the arrow, without once
touching the rope. Some particularly bold and expert Tungusi will dance
over a sword which a person lying on his back on the ground is swinging
about with the greatest rapidity. Should our traveller be a friend of
chess, the Tungusi are equally at his service, as they are passionately
fond of this noblest of games, especially in the Kolymsk district. Like
all other Siberian nomads, they visit at least once a year the various
fairs which are held in the small towns scattered here and there
over their immense territory--such as Kirensk, Olekminsk, Bargusin,
Tschita, and Ochotsk, which, before the opening of the Amoor to trade,
was the chief port of East Siberia.

Ochotsk is one of the dreariest places imaginable; at least no
traveller who ever visited it has a word to say in its favor. Not a
single tree grows for miles and miles around, and the wretched huts of
which the town is composed lie in the midst of a swamp, which in summer
is a fruitful source of malaria and pestilence. The River Ochota, at
whose mouth Ochotsk is situated, does not break up before the end of
May, and the ice-masses continue to pass the town till the 15th or 20th
of June. Soon after begins the most unpleasant time of all the year,
or “buss” of the Siberians, characterized by thick fog and a perpetual
drizzling rain. The weather clears up in July, but as early as August
the night-frosts cover the earth with rime. Salmon, of which no less
than fourteen different species live in the Sea of Ochotsk, are the
only food which the neighborhood affords; all other necessaries of life
come from Jakutsk, and are of course enormously dear. Meat appears only
from time to time on the tables of the wealthier merchants, and bread
is an article of luxury. No wonder that the scurvy ravages every winter
a place so ill-provisioned, and that at the time when the first caravan
of pack-horses is expected to cross the Aldan Mountains, the people of
Ochotsk, unable to restrain their impatience, go out a long way to meet
it. As the former trade of the place has now no doubt been transferred
to the settlements on the Amoor, it may well be supposed that Ochotsk
has lost most of its former inhabitants, who can only be congratulated
on their change of residence.



[Illustration: 89. BERING’S MONUMENT AT PETROPAULOVSK.]


CHAPTER XXII.

GEORGE WILLIAM STELLER.

  His Birth.--Enters the Russian Service.--Scientific Journey
    to Kamchatka.--Accompanies Bering on his second Voyage of
    Discovery.--Lands on the Island of Kaiak.--Shameful Conduct of
    Bering.--Shipwreck on Bering Island.--Bering’s Death.--Return
    to Kamchatka.--Loss of Property.--Persecutions of the Siberian
    Authorities.--Frozen to Death at Tjumen.


George William Steller, one of the most distinguished naturalists of
the past century, was born at Winsheim, a small town in Franconia, in
the year 1709. After completing his studies at the universities of
Wittenberg and Halle, he turned his thoughts to Russia, which, since
the reforms of Czar Peter the Great, and the protection which that
monarch and his successors afforded to German learning, had become the
land of promise for all adventurous spirits.

Having been appointed surgeon in the Russian army, which at that time
was besieging Danzig, he went with a transport of wounded soldiers,
after the surrender of that town, to St. Petersburg, where he arrived
in 1734. Here his talents were soon appreciated; after a few years he
was named a member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, and sent by
Government, in 1738, to examine the natural productions of Kamchatka.
The ability and zeal with which he fulfilled this mission is proved
by the valuable collections which he sent to the Academy, and by his
numerous memoirs, which are still read with interest in the present day.

In 1741 he accompanied Bering on his second voyage of discovery,
the object of which was to determine the distance of America from
Kamchatka, and to ascertain the separation or the junction of both
continents in a higher latitude--a question which his first voyage
had left undecided. Nothing could be more agreeable to a man like
Steller, than the prospects held out to him by an expedition to
unknown regions; and we can easily imagine the delight with which the
naturalist embarked on board of the “Saint Peter,” commanded by Bering
in person. Accompanied by the “Saint Paul,” under Tschirigow, they
sailed on June 4 from the Bay of Avatscha.

The expedition had cost ten years of preparation, and brought misery
and ruin upon many of the wild Siberian tribes, for all that was
necessary for the outfit had to be conveyed by compulsory labor from
the interior of the continent over mountains and rivers, through dense
forests and pathless wilds, and it seemed from the very beginning of
the voyage as if the curses of the unfortunate natives clung to it.
Much valuable time had been lost, for the ships ought to have sailed at
least a month earlier, and Bering, who from illness constantly kept to
his cabin, was by no means a fit commander for a scientific expedition.

After a few days a dense fog separated the vessels, which were never
to meet again; and as the “St. Peter” held her course too much to the
south, the Aleutic chain remained undiscovered, and the first land
was only sighted after four weeks in the neighborhood of Bering’s
Bay. During the whole of this passage Steller had to endure all the
vexations which arrogant stupidity could inflict upon a man anxious to
do his duty. It was in vain that he repeatedly pointed out the signs
which indicated the presence of land not far to the north, in vain that
he entreated the commander to steer but one day in that direction. At
last, on July 15, the high mountains of America were seen to rise above
the horizon, and the vessel anchored on the 19th near to the small
island of Kaiak.

On the following day a boat was sent out to fetch some fresh water,
but it was with the utmost difficulty that Steller could obtain
permission to join the party. All assistance was obstinately denied
him, and accompanied by his only servant, a Cossack, he landed on
the unknown shore, eager to make the most of the short time allotted
him for his researches. He immediately directed his steps towards
the interior, and had scarcely walked a mile when he discovered the
hollowed trunk of a tree, in which, a few hours before, the savages
had boiled their meat with red-hot stones. He also found several pots
filled with esculent herbs, and a wooden instrument for making fire,
like those which are used by the inhabitants of Kamchatka. Hence he
conjectured that the aborigines of this part of the American coast must
be of the same origin as the Kamchatkans, and that both countries must
necessarily approach each other towards the north, as the inhabitants
could not possibly traverse such vast extents of ocean in their
rudely-constructed boats.

Pursuing his way, Steller now came to a path which led into a dense
and shady forest. Before entering, he strictly forbade his Cossack to
act without commands, in case of a hostile encounter. The Cossack had
a gun, with a knife and hatchet; Steller himself only a Jakut poniard,
which he had taken with him to dig out plants or stones. After half
an hour’s walking, they came to a place strewn with grass. This was
immediately removed, and a roof or platform discovered, consisting of
strips of bark laid upon poles and covered with stones. This platform
opened into a cellar containing a large quantity of smoked fishes, and
a few bundles of the inner bark of the larch or fir tree, which, in
case of necessity, serves as food throughout all Siberia. There were
also some arrows, dyed black and smoothed, of a size far superior to
those used in Kamchatka.

After Steller, in spite of the danger of being surprised by the
savages, had accurately examined the contents of the cellar, he sent
his Cossack back again to the place where the boatmen were watering.
He gave him specimens of the various articles which he had found,
ordering him to take them to Captain Bering, and to request that two
or three men might be sent to him for further assistance. In the mean
time, though quite alone, he continued his investigations of the
strange land, and having reached the summit of a hill, he saw smoke
rising from a forest at some distance. Overjoyed at the sight, for he
now could hope to meet with the natives and to complete his knowledge
of the island, he instantly returned to the landing-place with all the
eagerness of a man who has something important to communicate; and
as the boat was just about to leave, told the sailors to inform the
captain of his discovery, and to beg that the small pinnace, with a
detachment of armed men, might be sent out to him.

Meanwhile, exhausted with fatigue, he sat down on the beach, where he
described in his pocket-book some of the more delicate plants he had
collected, which he feared might speedily wither, and regaled himself
with the excellent water. After waiting for about an hour, he at length
received an answer from Bering, telling him to return immediately on
board, unless he chose to be left behind; and we can easily imagine the
indignation of the disappointed naturalist at this shameful command.

On the morning of July 21, Bering, contrary to his custom, appeared on
deck, ordered the anchors to be weighed, and gave directions to sail
back again on the same course. The continent he had discovered was
not even honored with a single visit, so that Steller could not help
telling the Russians they had merely come thus far for the purpose of
carrying American water to Asia. Any conscientious commander would have
continued to sail along the unknown shore, or, considering that the
season was already far advanced, would have determined to winter there,
and to pursue his discoveries next spring; but, unfortunately for
Bering and his companions, the course he adopted proved as disastrous
as it was dishonorable.

Three months long the ship was tossed about by contrary winds and
storms; the islands of the Aleutic chain, though frequently seen
through the mists, were but seldom visited; the scurvy broke out among
the dispirited, ill-fed crew, their misery increased from day to
day, and their joy may be imagined when at length, on November 5, a
land was seen which they firmly believed to be Kamchatka--though in
reality it was merely the desert of Bering’s Island, situated a hundred
miles from that peninsula. Even those who were nearly half dead crept
upon deck to enjoy the welcome sight; every one thanked God, and the
ignorant officer, convinced that they were at the entrance of the Bay
of Avatscha, even named the several mountains; but their mistake soon
became apparent when, on rounding a small promontory, some well-known
islets were missed. As they had no doubt, however, that the land was
really Kamchatka, and the bad weather and the small number of hands fit
to do duty rendering it difficult to reach the Gulf of Avatscha, it was
resolved to run into the bay that lay before them, and to send notice
from thence to Nishne-Kamchatsk of their safe arrival.

Steller was among the first to land, and probably the very first of
the party who discovered the mistake of the _excellent_ navigators to
whom the expedition had been intrusted. Sea-otters came swimming to
him from the land, and he well knew that these much-persecuted animals
had long since disappeared from the coast of Kamchatka. The number of
Arctic foxes, too, who showed no fear at his approach, and the sea-cows
gambolling in the water, were sure signs that the foot of man had not
often trodden this shore. Steller was also the first to set the good
example of making the best of a bad situation, instead of uselessly
bewailing his misfortunes. He began to erect a hut for the following
winter, and formed an association with several of the crew, who,
whatever might await them, promised to stand by each other.

During the following days the sick were gradually conveyed on shore.
Some of them died on board as soon as they were brought into the open
air, others in the boat, others as soon as they were landed. “On all
sides,” says Steller, in his interesting account of this ill-fated
voyage, “nothing was to be seen but misery. Before the dead could be
buried, they were mangled by the foxes, who even ventured to approach
the helpless invalids who were lying without cover on the beach. Some
of these wretched sufferers bitterly complained of the cold, others of
hunger and thirst--for many had their gums so swollen and ulcerated
with the scurvy as to be unable to eat.”

“On November 13,” continues the naturalist, “I went out hunting for
the first time with Messieurs Plenisner and Betge; we killed four
sea-otters, and did not return before night. We ate their flesh
thankfully, and prayed to God that He might continue to provide us with
this excellent food. The costly skins, on the other hand, were of no
value in our eyes; the only objects which we now esteemed were knives,
needles, thread, ropes, etc., on which before we had not bestowed a
thought. We all saw that rank, science, and other social distinctions
were now of no avail, and could not in any way contribute to our
preservation: we therefore resolved, before we were forced to do so
by necessity, to set to work at once. We introduced among us five a
community of goods, and regulated our housekeeping in such a manner
as not to be in want before the winter was over. Our three Cossacks
were obliged to obey our orders, when we had decided upon something in
common; but we began to treat them with greater politeness, calling
them by their names and surnames, and we soon found that Peter
Maximowitsch served us with more alacrity than formerly Petrucha (a
diminutive of Peter).

“_Nov._ 14.--The whole ship’s company was formed into three parties.
The one had to convey the sick and provisions from the ship; the second
brought wood; the third, consisting of a lame sailor and myself,
remained at home--the former busy making a sledge, while I acted
as cook. As our party was the first to organize a household, I also
performed the duty of bringing warm soup to some of our sick, until
they had so far recovered as to be able to help themselves.

“The barracks being this day ready to receive the sick, many of them
were transported under roof; but for want of room, they lay everywhere
on the ground, covered with rags and clothes. No one could assist the
other, and nothing was heard but lamentations and curses--the whole
affording so wretched a sight, as to make even the stoutest heart lose
courage. On November 15 all the sick were at length landed. We took one
of them, named Boris Sänd, into our hut, and by God’s help he recovered
within three months.

“The following days added to our misery, as the messengers we had
sent out brought us the intelligence that we were on a desert island,
without any communication with Kamchatka. We were also in constant fear
that the stormy weather might drive our ship out to sea, and along
with it all our provisions, and every hope of ever returning to our
homes. Sometimes it was impossible to get to the vessel for several
days together, so boisterous was the surge; and about ten or twelve
men, who had hitherto been able to work, now also fell ill. Want,
nakedness, frost, rain, illness, impatience, and despair, were our
daily companions.”

Fortunately the stormy sea drove the ship upon the strand, better than
it could probably have been done by human efforts. Successively many
of the scorbutic patients died, and on December 8 the unfortunate
commander of the expedition paid his debt to nature.

Titus Bering, by birth a Dane, had served thirty-six years with
distinction in the Russian navy, but age and infirmities had completely
damped his energies, and his death is a warning to all who enter upon
undertakings above their strength.

In the mean time the whole ship’s company had established itself for
the winter in five subterranean dwellings; the general health was
visibly improving, merely by means of the excellent water, and by the
fresh meat furnished by sea-otters, seals, and manatees; and the only
care now was to gain sufficient strength to be able to undertake the
work of deliverance in spring.

In April the shipwrecked mariners began to build a smaller ship out of
the timbers of the “St. Peter,” and, such was the alacrity with which
all hands set to work, that on August 13 they were able to set out.

“When we were all embarked,” says Steller, “we first perceived how
much we should be inconvenienced for want of room; the water-casks,
provisions, and baggage taking up so much space, that our forty-two men
(the three ship’s officers and myself were somewhat better off in the
cabin) could hardly creep between them and the deck. A great quantity
of the bedding and clothing had to be thrown overboard. Meanwhile we
saw the foxes sporting about our deserted huts, and greedily devouring
remnants of fat and meat.

“On the 14th, in the morning, we weighed anchor, and steered out of
the bay. The weather being beautiful, and the wind favorable, we were
all in good spirits, and, as we sailed along the island, pointed out to
each other the well-known mountains and valleys which we had frequently
visited in quest of game or for the purpose of reconnoitring. Towards
evening we were opposite the farthest point of the island, and on the
15th, the wind continuing favorable, we steered direct towards the
Bay of Avatscha. About midnight, however, we perceived, to our great
dismay, that the vessel began to fill with water from an unknown
leak, which, in consequence of the crowded and overloaded state of
the vessel, it was extremely difficult to find out. The pumps were
soon choked by the shavings left in the hold, and the danger rapidly
increased, as the wind was strong and the vessel badly built. The sails
were immediately taken in; some of the men removed the baggage to
look for the leak, others kept continually pouring out the water with
kettles, while others again cast all superfluous articles overboard.
At length, after the lightening of the ship, the carpenter succeeded
in stopping the leak, and thus we were once more saved from imminent
danger.... On the 17th we sighted Kamchatka, but as the wind was
contrary, we did not enter the harbor before the evening of the 27th.

“In spite of the joy we all felt at our deliverance, yet the news we
heard on our arrival awakened in us a host of conflicting emotions. We
had been given up for lost, and all our property had passed into other
hands, and been mostly carried away beyond hope of recovery. Hence joy
and sorrow alternated within a few moments in our minds, though we were
all so accustomed to privation and misery, as hardly to feel the extent
of our losses.”

In the year 1744 Steller was ordered to return to St. Petersburg; but
his candor had made him powerful enemies. Having reached Novgorod, and
rejoicing in the idea of once more mixing with the civilized world, he
was suddenly ordered to appear before the imperial court of justice
at Irkutsk, on the charge of having treacherously sold powder to the
enemies of Russia. Thus obliged to return once more into the depths
of Siberia, he was at length dismissed by his judges, after waiting a
whole year for their verdict.

Once more on his way to St. Petersburg, he had already reached Moscow,
when he was again summoned to appear without delay before the court of
Irkutsk. A journey to Siberia is, under all circumstances, an arduous
undertaking; what, then, must have been Steller’s feelings when,
instead of enjoying the repose he had so well merited, he saw himself
obliged to retrace his steps for the fourth time, for the purpose of
vindicating his conduct before a rascally tribunal? On a very cold day
his Cossack guards stopped to refresh themselves with some brandy at an
inn by the road-side, and Steller, who remained in the sledge waiting
for their return, fell asleep, and was frozen to death.

He lies buried near the town of Tjumen, and no monument apprises the
naturalist, whom the love of knowledge may lead into the Siberian
wilds, that his unfortunate predecessor was thus basely requited after
years of exertion in the interests of science.



[Illustration: 90. CHURCH AT PETROPAVLOSK.]


CHAPTER XXIII.

KAMCHATKA.

  Climate.--Fertility.--Luxuriant Vegetation.--Fish.--Sea-birds.--
    Kamchatkan Bird-catchers.--The Bay of Avatscha.--Petropavlosk.--
    The Kamchatkans.--Their physical and moral Qualities.--The
    _Fritillaria Sarrana_.--The Muchamor.--Bears.--Dogs.


The peninsula of Kamchatka, though numbering no more than 6000 or
7000 inhabitants, on a surface equalling Great Britain in extent,
has so many natural resources that it could easily maintain a far
greater number. The climate is much more temperate and uniform than
that of the interior of Siberia, being neither so excessively cold in
winter, nor so intensely hot in summer; and though the late and early
night-frosts, with the frequent fogs and rains, prevent the cultivation
of corn, the humid air produces a very luxuriant herbaceous vegetation.
Not only along the banks of the rivers and lakes, but in the forest
glades, the grass grows to a height of more than twelve feet, and many
of the Compositæ and Umbelliferæ attain a size so colossal that the
_Heraclium dulce_ and the _Senecio cannabifolius_ not seldom overtop
the rider on horseback. The pasture-grounds are so excellent that the
grass can generally be cut thrice during the short summer, and thus a
comparatively small extent of land affords the winter supply for all
the cattle of a hamlet. Though the cold winds prevent the growth of
trees along the coast, the more inland mountain slopes and valleys are
clothed with woods richly stocked with sables and squirrels.

No country in the world has a greater abundance of excellent fisheries.
In spring the salmon ascend the rivers in such amazing numbers, that
on plunging a dart into the stream one is almost sure to strike a
fish; and Steller affirms that the bears and dogs of Kamchatka catch
on the banks more fish with their paws and mouths than man in other
countries, with all his cunning devices of net or angle. As the various
birds of passage do not all wander at the same time to the north, so
also the various kinds of fishes migrate, some sooner, others later,
and consequently profusion reigns during the whole of the summer.
Ermann was astonished at this incalculable abundance of the Kamchatkan
rivers, for in one of them, when the water was only six inches deep, he
saw multitudes of Chaekos (_Slagocephalus_) as long as his arm partly
stranded on the banks, partly still endeavoring to ascend the shallow
stream. As the waters contain such an incredible multitude of fishes,
we can not wonder that the rocky coasts of the peninsula swarm with
sea-fowl, whose breeding and roosting places are as densely peopled
as any others in the world. At the entrance of the Avatscha Bay lies
a remarkable labyrinth of rocks, separated from each other by narrow
channels of water, like the intricate streets of an old-fashioned city.
The flood has everywhere scooped out picturesque cavities and passages
in these stupendous masses of stone, and the slightest wind causes the
waves to beat with terrific violence against their feet. Every ledge,
platform, and projection, every niche, hollow, and crevice is peopled
with sea-birds of strange and various forms. In the capture of these
birds the Kamchatkans display an intrepidity equal to that of the
islanders of St. Kilda or Feroe, and trust solely to their astonishing
agility in climbing. Barefooted, without ropes or any other assistance,
they venture down the steepest declivities, which are frequently only
accessible from the top, as the foaming breakers cut off all access
from below. The left arm clasps a basket, which they fill with eggs as
they advance, while the right hand grasps a short stick with an iron
hook to drag the birds from the crevices of the rock. When a bird is
caught, a dexterous grip wrings its neck, and it is then attached to
the girdle of the fowler. In this manner an expert climber will kill in
one day from seventy to eighty birds, and gather above a hundred eggs.

Thus the population of Kamchatka is quite out of proportion to the
riches of its pastures and waters. Its scanty inhabitants are moreover
concentrated on a few spots along the chief rivers and bays, so that
almost the whole peninsula is nothing but an uninhabited wilderness.

Before the conquest of the country by the Russians it had at least
twenty times its present population, but the cruelty of the Cossacks
and the ravages of the small-pox caused it to melt away almost as
rapidly as that of Cuba or Hayti after the arrival of the Spaniards. At
that time the sable and the sea-otter were considered of far greater
importance than man; and unfortunately Russia has too many deserts
to people, before she can think of repairing past errors and sparing
inhabitants for this remotest corner of her vast Asiatic empire.

As the peninsula is too distant from the highways of the world
to attract the tide of emigration, it is also seldom visited by
travellers. The few strangers, however, who have sailed along the
coasts, or made excursions into the interior of the country, speak with
enthusiasm of the boldness of its rocky promontories, the magnificence
of its bays and mountains, and only regret that during the greater part
of the year an Arctic winter veils the beauties of the landscape under
mists and snow.

Throughout its whole length Kamchatka is traversed by an Alpine chain
rising in some of its peaks to a height of 14,000 or 16,500 feet, and
numbering no less than 28 active volcanoes along with many others whose
fires are extinct. A land thus undermined with subterranean fires must
be possessed of many mineral riches, but as yet no one has ever thought
of seeking for them or putting them to use.

Owing to the great humidity of the climate and the quantities of rain
attracted by the mountains, Kamchatka abounds in springs. In the
lowlands they gush forth in such numbers as to render it very difficult
to travel any distance on foot or horseback, even in winter, as they
prevent the rivers from freezing. No doubt many a mineral spring--
cold, tepid, or warm--that would make the fortune of a German spa,
here flows unnoticed into the sea.

Kamchatka has many excellent harbors, and the magnificent Bay of
Avatscha would alone be able to afford room to all the navies of the
world. Its steep rocky shores are almost everywhere clothed with a
species of beech (_Betula Ermanni_), intermingled with luxuriant
grasses and herbs, and the higher slopes are generally covered with a
dense underwood of evergreens and shrubs of deciduous foliage, whose
changes of color in autumn tinge the landscape with yellow, red,
and brown tints. But the chief beauty of the Bay of Avatscha is the
prospect of the distant mountains, forming a splendid panorama of
fantastic peaks and volcanic cones, among which the Streloshnaja Sopka
towers pre-eminent to the height of 14,000 feet. Close to this giant,
but somewhat nearer to the coast, rises the active volcano of Avatscha,
which frequently covers the whole country with ashes.

The vast Bay of Avatscha forms several minor creeks: among others
the haven of St. Peter and Paul, one of the finest natural harbors
in the world, where the Russians have established the seat of their
government in the small town of Petropavlosk, which hardly numbers 500
inhabitants, but has acquired some celebrity from the unsuccessful
attack of the English and French forces in 1854.

Mr. Knox thus describes Petropavlosk: “To make a counterfeit
Petropavlosk, take a log village in the backwoods of a western state
in America, and place it near a little harbor, where the ground slopes
gently to the water. Arrange most of the houses along a single unpaved
street, and drop the rest in a higgledy-piggledy fashion on the sloping
hillside. All buildings must be but one story high, and those of the
poorer sort thatched with grass. The better class may have iron or
board roofs painted for preservation. The houses of the officials and
the foreign merchants may be commodious, and built of hewn timber, but
the doors of all must be low, and heavily constructed, to exclude the
winter cold. Every dwelling must contain a brick stove that presents a
side to each of two or three rooms. In winter this stove will maintain
a temperature of about 68 degrees in all the rooms it is intended to
warm.”

[Illustration: 91. PETROPAVLOSK.]

Besides some Jakut immigrants, the chief stock of the scanty
population of the country consists of the descendants of the primitive
Kamchatkans, who, in spite of frequent intermarriages with their
conquerors the Cossacks, have still retained many of their ancient
manners. They are of a small stature, but broad-shouldered, their
cheek-bones are prominent, their jaws uncommonly broad and projecting,
their noses small, their lips very full, their hair black. The color
of the men is dark brown, or sometimes yellow; the women have fairer
complexions, which they endeavor to preserve by means of bears’ guts,
stuck upon their faces in spring with fresh lime, so as not to be
burned by the sun. They also paint their cheeks with a sea-weed, which,
when rubbed upon them with fat, gives them a beautiful red color.

The Kamchatkans are a remarkably healthy race. Many of them attain
an age of seventy or eighty years, and are able to walk and to work
until their death. Their hair seldom turns gray before their sixtieth
year, and even the oldest men have a firm and elastic step. The weight
of their body is greater than that of the Jakuts, though the latter
live on milk and flesh, while fish is the almost exclusive food of
the Kamchatkans. The round tubercles of the _Fritillaria sarrana_, a
species of lily with a dark purple flower, likewise play an important
part in their diet, and serve them instead of bread and meal. “If
the fruits of the bread-fruit tree,” says Kittlitz--who has seen
both plants in the places of their growth--“are pre-eminent among
all others, as affording man a perfect substitute for bread, the
roots of the Sarrana, which are very similar in taste, rank perhaps
immediately after them. The collecting of these tubers in the meadows
is an important summer occupation of the women, and one which is rather
troublesome, as the plant never grows gregariously, so that each root
has to be sought and dug out separately with a knife. Fortunately the
wonderful activity of the Siberian field-vole facilitates the labor
of gathering the tubers. These remarkable animals burrow extensive
winter nests, with five or six store-houses, which they fill with
various roots, but chiefly with those of the Sarrana. To find these
subterranean treasures, the Kamchatkans use sticks with iron points,
which they strike into the earth. The contents of three of these nests
are as much as a man can carry on his back. A species of fungus,
called muchamor, affords a favorite stimulant. It is dried and eaten
raw. Besides its exhilarating effects, it is said to produce, like the
Peruvian Coca, a remarkable increase of strength, which lasts for a
considerable time.

Fishing and hunting supply all the wants of the Kamchatkans, for they
have not yet learned to profit in any degree worth mentioning by the
luxuriance of their meadow-lands. They pay their taxes and purchase
their foreign luxuries--meal and tea, tobacco and brandy--with furs.
The chase of the costly sea-otter (which from excessive persecution had
at one time almost become extinct) has latterly improved. Besides the
fur animals, they also hunt the reindeer, the argali, the wolf, and the
bear, whose skins supply them with clothing.

Bears abound in Kamchatka, as they find a never-failing supply of
fishes and berries, and Ermann assures us that they would long since
have extirpated the inhabitants, if (most probably on account of the
plenty in which they live) they were not of a more gentle disposition
than any others in the world. In spring they descend from the mountains
to the mouths of the rivers, to levy their tribute on the migratory
troops of the fishes, frequently eating only the heads. Toward autumn
they follow the fishes into the interior of the country as they ascend
the streams.

[Illustration: 92. DOGS FISHING.]

The most valuable domestic animal in Kamchatka is the dog, who has the
usual characters of the Esquimaux race. He lives exclusively on fish,
which he catches very dexterously. From spring to autumn he is allowed
to roam at liberty, no one troubling himself about him; but in October,
every proprietor collects his dogs, binds them to a post, and lets them
fast for a time, so as to deprive them of their superfluous fat, and
to render them more fit for running. During the winter they are fed
with dried fish every morning and evening, but while travelling they
get nothing to eat, even though they run for hours. Their strength is
wonderful. Generally no more than five of them are harnessed to a
sledge, and will drag with ease three full-grown persons, and sixty
pounds’ weight of luggage. When lightly laden, such a sledge will
travel from 30 to 40 versts in a day over bad roads and through the
deep snow; on even roads, from 80 to 140. The horse can never be used
for sledging, on account of the deep snow, into which it would sink,
and of the numerous rivers and sources, which are either never frozen,
or merely covered with a thin sheet of ice, unable to bear the weight
of so large an animal.

[Illustration: 93. DOG-TEAM.]

Travelling with dogs is, however, both dangerous and difficult. Instead
of the whip, the Kamchatkans use a crooked stick with iron rings,
which, by their jingling, give the leader of the team the necessary
signals. When the dogs do not sufficiently exert themselves, the
stick is cast among them to rouse them to greater speed; but then the
traveller must be dexterous enough to pick it up again while the
sledge shoots along. During a snow-storm the dogs keep their master
warm, and will lie quietly near him for hours, so that he has merely to
prevent the snow from covering him too deeply and suffocating him. The
dogs are also excellent weather prophets, for when, while resting, they
dig holes in the snow, a storm may with certainty be expected.

[Illustration: 94. DOGS TOWING BOATS.]

The sledge-dogs are trained to their future service at a very early
period. Soon after birth they are placed with their mother in a deep
pit, so as to see neither man nor beast, and, after having been weaned,
they are again condemned to solitary confinement in a pit. After six
months they are attached to a sledge with other older dogs, and, being
extremely shy, they run as fast as they can. On returning home, they
are again confined in their pit, where they remain until they are
perfectly trained, and able to perform a long journey. Then, but not
before, they are allowed their summer liberty. This severe education
completely sours their temper, and they constantly remain gloomy, shy,
quarrelsome, and suspicious.

To return to the Kamchatkans: travellers praise their good-nature,
their hospitality, and their natural wit. Of a sanguine disposition,
they are happy and content in their poverty, and have no cares for
the morrow. Being extremely indolent, they never work unless when
compelled. They readily adopt strange manners, and no doubt education
might produce valuable results in so pliable and sharp-witted a race.
Unfortunately the Russians and Cossacks who have settled among them
do not afford them the best examples. They have long since been
converted to the Greek Church, but it is supposed that baptism has not
fully effaced all traces of Shamanism. Formerly they had many gods,
the chief of whom was Kutka, the creator of heaven and earth. But far
from honoring Kutka, they continually ridiculed him, and made him the
constant butt of their satire. Kutka, however, had a wife, Chachy, who
was endowed with all the intelligence in which her spouse was supposed
to be deficient, and who, as is the case in many mortal housekeepings,
was constantly exerting her ingenuity in repairing the blunders of her
lord and master.



[Illustration: 95. FRAME-WORK OF TCHUKTCHI HOUSE.]


CHAPTER XXIV.

THE TCHUKTCHI.

  The Land of the Tchuktchi.--Their independent Spirit and commercial
    Enterprise.--Perpetual Migrations.--The Fair of Ostrownoje.--
    Visit in a Tchuktch Polog.--Races.--Tchuktch Bayaderes.--The
    Tennygk, or Reindeer Tchuktchi.--The Onkilon, or Sedentary
    Tchuktchi.--Their Mode of Life.


At the extreme north-eastern point of Asia, bounded by the Polar
Ocean on one side and the Sea of Bering on the other, lies the land
of the Tchuktchi. The few travellers who have ever visited that bleak
promontory describe it as one of the dreariest regions of the earth.
The climate is dreadfully cold, as may be expected in a country
confined between icy seas. Before July 20th there is no appearance
of summer, and winter already sets in about August 20th. The lower
grounds shelving to the north are intersected with numerous streams,
which, however, enjoy their liberty but a short time of the year;
the valleys are mostly swampy and filled with small lakes or ponds;
while on the bleak hill-slopes the Vaccinium and the dwarf birch or
willow sparingly vegetate under a carpet of mosses and lichens. The
eastern, north-eastern, and partly also the southern coasts abound
with walruses, sea-lions, and seals, while the reindeer, the argali,
the wolf, and the Arctic fox occupy the land. During the short summer,
geese, swans, ducks, and wading-birds frequent the marshy grounds;
but in winter the snow-owl and the raven alone remain, and constantly
follow the path of the nomadic inhabitants. In this desolate nook of
the Old World lives the only aboriginal people of North Asia which
has known how to maintain its liberty to the present day, and which,
proud of its independence, looks down with sovereign contempt upon its
relations, the Korjaks, who, without offering any resistance, have
yielded to the authority of Russia.

The rulers of Siberia have indeed confined the Tchuktchi within narrow
limits, but here at least they obey no foreign ruler, and wander,
unmolested by the stranger, with their numerous reindeer herds, over
the naked tundras. A natural distrust of their powerful neighbors has
rendered them long unwilling to enter into any commercial intercourse
with the Russians, and to meet them at the fair of Ostrownoje, a small
town, situated not far from their frontiers, on a small island of the
Aniuj, in 68° N. lat.

[Illustration: 96. TCHUKTCHI CANOE.]

This remotest trading-place of the Old World is not so unimportant as
might be supposed, from the sterile nature of the country, for the
Tchuktchi are not satisfied, like the indolent Lapps or Samoïedes,
with the produce of their reindeer herds, but strive to increase
their enjoyments or their property by an active trade. From the East
Cape of Asia, where, crossing Bering’s Straits in boats covered with
skins, they barter furs and walrus-teeth from the natives of America,
the Tchuktchi come with their goods and tents drawn on sledges to the
fair of Ostrownoje. Other sledges laden with lichens, the food of
the reindeer, follow in their train, as in their wanderings, however
circuitous, they not seldom pass through regions so stony and desert
as not even to afford these frugal animals the slightest repast. Thus
regulating their movements by the wants of their herds, they require
five or six months for a journey which, in a direct line, would not be
much longer than a thousand versts, and are almost constantly wandering
from place to place, though, as they always carry their dwellings
along with them, they at the same time never leave home. One of these
snail-like caravans generally consists of fifty or sixty families,
and one fair is scarcely at an end when they set off to make their
arrangements for the next.

Tobacco is the primum mobile of the trade which centres in Ostrownoje.
Their pipes are of a peculiar character, larger at the stem than the
bowl, which holds a very small quantity of tobacco. In smoking, they
swallow the fumes of the tobacco, and often, after six or eight whiffs,
fall back completely intoxicated for the time. The desire to procure
a few of its narcotic leaves induces the American Esquimaux, from the
Icy Cape to Bristol Bay, to send their produce from hand to hand as far
as the Gwosdew Islands in Bering’s Straits, where it is bartered for
the tobacco of the Tchuktchi, and these again principally resort to the
fair of Ostrownoje to purchase tobacco from the Russians. Generally the
Tchuktchi receive from the Americans as many skins for half a poud,
or eighteen pounds, of tobacco-leaves as they afterwards sell to the
Russians for two pouds of tobacco of the same quality. These cost the
Russian merchant about 160 roubles at the very utmost, while the skins
which he obtains in barter are worth at least 260 at Jakutsk, and are
more than double that sum at St. Petersburg.

[Illustration: 97. TCHUKTCHI PIPE.]

The furs of the Tchuktchi principally consist of black and silver-gray
foxes, stone-foxes, gluttons, lynxes, otters, beavers, and a fine
species of marten which does not occur in Siberia, and approaches the
sable in value. They also bring to the fair bear-skins, walrus-thongs
and teeth, sledge-runners of whale-ribs, and ready-made clothes of
reindeer skin. The American furs are generally packed in sacks of seal
skin, which are made in an ingenious manner by extracting the bones and
flesh through a small opening made in the abdomen.

The Russian traders on their part bring to the fair, besides tobacco,
ironware--particularly kettles and knives--for the Tchuktchi, and
tea, sugar, and various stuffs for their countrymen who have settled
along the Kolyma.

But Ostrownoje attracts not only Tchuktchi and Russians; a great
number of the Siberian tribes from a vast circuit of 1000 or 1500
versts--Jukahires, Lamutes, Tungusi, Tschuwanzi, Koriaks--also come
flocking in their sledges, drawn partly by dogs, partly by horses, for
the purpose of bartering their commodities against the goods of the
Tchuktchi. Fancy this barbarous assembly meeting every year during
the intense cold and short days of the beginning of March. Picture to
yourself the fantastic illumination of their red watch-fires blazing
under the starry firmament, or mingling their ruddy glare with the
Aurora flickering through the skies, and add to the strange sight the
hollow sound of the Shaman’s drum, and the howling of several hundreds
of hungry dogs, and you will surely confess that no fair has a more
original character than that of Ostrownoje. A government commissary,
assisted by some Cossacks, superintends the fair, and receives the
inconsiderable market-tax which the Tchuktchi pay to the Emperor.

All preliminaries having been arranged, the orthodox Russians repair to
the chapel for the purpose of hearing a solemn mass, after which, the
hoisting of a flag on the tower of the ostrog announces the opening of
the market. At this welcome sign, the Tchuktchi, completely armed with
spears, bows, and arrows, advance with their sledges, and form a wide
semicircle round the fort, while the Russians, and the other visitors
of the fair, ranged opposite to them, await in breathless silence the
tolling of the bell, which is to begin the active business of the day.
At the very first sound, each trader, grotesquely laden with packages
of tobacco, kettles, knives, or whatever else he supposes best able to
supply some want, or to strike some fancy of the Tchuktchi, rushes as
fast as he can towards the sledges, and in the jumble not seldom knocks
down a competitor, or is himself stretched at full length on the snow.
But, unmindful of the loss of cap and gloves, which he does not give
himself time to pick up, he starts afresh, to make up for the delay by
redoubled activity. Before he reaches the first Tchuktch, his eloquence
breaks forth in an interminable flow, and in a strange jargon of
Russian, Tchuktch, and Jakute, he praises the excellence of his tobacco
or the solidity of his kettles. The imperturbable gravity of the
Tchuktch forms a remarkable contrast with the greedy eagerness of the
Russian trader; without replying to his harangue, he merely shakes his
head if the other offers him too little for his goods, and never for an
instant loses his self-possession: while the Russian, in his hurry, not
seldom hands over two pouds of tobacco for one, or pockets a red fox
instead of a black one. Although the Tchuktch have no scales with them,
it is not easy to deceive them in the weight, for they know exactly
by the feeling of the hand whether a quarter of a pound is wanting
to the poud. The whole fair seldom lasts longer than three days, and
Ostrownoje, which must have but very few stationary inhabitants indeed
(as it is not even mentioned in statistical accounts, which cite towns
of seventeen souls), is soon after abandoned for many months to its
ultra-Siberian solitude.

But before we allow the Tchuktchi to retire to their deserts, we may
learn something more of their habits by accompanying Mr. Matiuschkin--
Wrangell’s companion--on a visit to the ladies of one of their first
chiefs. “We enter the outer tent, or ‘namet,’ consisting of tanned
reindeer skins supported on a slender frame-work. An opening at the
top to let out the smoke, and a kettle in the centre, announce that
antechamber and kitchen are here harmoniously blended into one. But
where are the inmates? Most probably in that large sack made of the
finest skins of reindeer calves, which occupies, near the kettle, the
centre of the ‘namet.’ To penetrate into this ‘sanctum sanctorum’ of
the Tchuktch household, we raise the loose flap which serves as a
door, creep on all fours through the opening, cautiously re-fasten the
flap by tucking it under the floor-skin, and find ourselves in the
reception or withdrawing room--the ‘polog.’ A snug box no doubt for a
cold climate, but rather low, as we can not stand upright in it, and
not quite so well ventilated as a sanitary commissioner would approve
of, as it has positively no opening for light or air. A suffocating
smoke meets us on entering, we rub our eyes, and when they have at
length got accustomed to the biting atmosphere, we perceive, by the
gloomy light of a train-oil lamp, the worthy family squatting on
the floor in a state of almost complete nudity. Without being in the
least embarrassed, Madame Leütt and her daughter receive us in their
primitive costume: but to show us that the Tchuktchi know how to
receive company, and to do honor to their guests, they immediately
insert strings of glass beads in their greasy hair. Their hospitality
equals their politeness; for, instead of a cold reception, a hot dish
of boiled reindeer-flesh, copiously irrigated with rancid train-oil by
the experienced hand of the mistress of the household, is soon after
smoking before us. Unfortunately our effeminate taste is not up to the
_haut goût_ of her culinary art, and while Mr. Leütt does ample justice
to the artistic talent of his spouse, by rapidly bolting down pieces as
large as a fist, we are hardly able to swallow a morsel.”

During his visit at Ostrownoje, Matiuschkin had a favorable opportunity
of becoming acquainted with the sports of the Tchuktchi, the
chieftain, Makomol, having set out prizes for a race. These consisted
of a valuable silver fox, a first-rate beaver skin, and two fine
walrus-teeth. Nothing can be more admirable than the fleetness of the
reindeer or the dexterity of their drivers; and the agility displayed
in the foot-race by the Tchuktchi, running at full speed, in their
heavy winter dresses, over a distance of fifteen versts, gives a
high idea of their muscular powers. After the races, the spectators
are treated to a grand choregraphic display. The Arctic bayaderes,
muffled from head to foot in their stiff skin garments, form a narrow
circle, slowly moving their feet backward and forward, and fiercely
gesticulating with their hands, whilst their faces are distorted into a
thousand horrible grimaces. The singing that accompanies the ballet has
no doubt its charm for native ears, but to strangers it seems no better
than a kind of grunt. The representation is closed by three first-rate
_artistes_ executing a particularly favorite dance. The faces of their
countrymen express the same intense admiration with which a European
dilettante follows the graceful pirouettes of a Taglioni, while the
Russian guests see only three greasy monsters alternately rushing
towards each other and starting back, until at length they stop from
sheer exhaustion. As a token of their satisfaction, the Russians regale
the fair performers with a cup of brandy and a roll of tobacco, and
both parties take leave of each other with mutual protestations of
satisfaction and friendship.

Though most of the Reindeer or nomadic Tchuktchi have been baptized,
yet Wrangell supposes the ceremony to have been a mere financial
speculation on their part, and is convinced that the power of the
Shamans is still as great as ever. An epidemic had carried off a great
number of persons, and also whole herds of reindeer. In vain the
Shamans had recourse to their usual conjurations, the plague continued.
They consulted together, and directed that one of their most respected
chiefs, named Kotschen, must be sacrificed, to appease the irritated
spirits. Kotschen was willing to submit to the sentence, but none could
be found to execute it, until his own son, prevailed on by his father’s
exhortations, and terrified by his threatened curse, plunged a knife
into his heart, and gave his body to the Shamans.

Polygamy is general among the Tchuktchi, and they change their wives
as often as they please. Still, though the women are certainly slaves,
they are allowed more influence, and are subjected to less labor than
among many savages. Among other heathenish and detestable customs, is
that of killing all deformed children, and all old people as soon as
they become unfit for the hardships and fatigues of a nomad life. Two
years before Wrangell’s arrival at Kolyma there was an instance of this
in the case of one of their richest chiefs. Waletka’s father became
infirm and tired of life, and was put to death at his own express
desire by some of his nearest relations.

Besides the wandering, or Reindeer Tchuktchi, who call themselves
Tennygk, there are others, dwelling in fixed habitations along the
borders of the sea at Bering’s Straits and the Gulf of Anadyr, who
differ considerably from the former in appearance and language. These
Onkilon, or stationary Tchuktchi, belong to the wide-spread Esquimaux
family, and, like most of their race, subsist by hunting the whale,
the walrus, and the seal. They live in a state of abject dependence
on the nomad Tchuktchi, and are poor, like all fishermen, while some
of the Tennygk chieftains possess several thousands of reindeer, and
are continually adding to their wealth by trade. Of course there is an
active exchange of commodities between the two; the Onkilon furnishing
thongs of walrus hide, walrus-teeth, train-oil, etc., and receiving
reindeer skins, or ready-made clothes of the same material, in return.

They live in small settlements or villages spread along the coast;
their huts, raised on frame-works of whale-rib and covered with skins,
resemble a large irregular cone reposing on its side, with the apex
directed to the north, and the base shelving abruptly to the south.
Here is the small opening, closed by a flap of loose skin, which serves
as a door, while the smoke escapes and the light enters through a round
hole in the roof. At the farther or northern end of this structure is a
second low square tent, covered with double reindeer skins, the polog,
which in winter serves both as the dining and bed room of the family.

The Onkilon catch seals in a kind of net made of leather straps, which
they spread out under the ice, and in which the animal entangles itself
with the head or flippers. When the walrus, which is particularly
abundant about Koliutschin Island, creeps on shore, they steal upon it
unawares, cut off its retreat, and kill it with their spears. Like the
Esquimaux, they use dogs to drag their sledges.

The number of the Tchuktchi is greater than one might expect to find
in so sterile a country. According to the Russian missionaries, there
were, some years back, 52 ulusses or villages of the Onkilon, with 1568
tents, and 10,000 inhabitants; and Wrangell tells us that the Tennygk
are at least twice as numerous, so that the entire population of the
land of the Tchuktchi may possibly amount to 30,000.



[Illustration: 98. AN ALEUT.]


CHAPTER XXV.

BERING SEA--THE RUSSIAN FUR COMPANY--THE ALEUTS.

  Bering Sea.--Unalaska.--The Pribilow Islands.--St. Matthew.--
    St. Laurence.--Bering’s Straits.--The Russian Fur Company.--
    The Aleuts.--Their Character.--Their Skill and Intrepidity
    in hunting the Sea-otter.--The Sea-bear.--Whale-chasing.--
    Walrus-slaughter.--The Sea-lion.


Bering Sea is extremely interesting in a geographical point of view,
as the temperature of its coasts and islands exhibits so striking a
contrast with that part of the Arctic Ocean which extends between
Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and Spitzbergen, and affords us the most
convincing proof of the benefits we owe to the Gulf Stream, and to
the mild south-westerly winds which sweep across the Atlantic. While
through the sea between Iceland and Scotland, a part of the warmth
generated in the tropical zone penetrates by means of marine and aërial
currents as far as Spitzbergen and the western coast of Nova Zembla,
the Sea of Bering is completely deprived of this advantage. The long
chain of mountainous islands which bounds it on the south serves as
a barrier against the mild influence of the Pacific, and instead of
warm streams mixing with its waters, many considerable rivers and deep
bays yearly discharge into it enormous masses of ice. Thus as soon as
the navigator enters Bering Sea he perceives at once a considerable
fall in the temperature, and finds himself suddenly transferred from
a temperate oceanic region to one of a decidedly Arctic character.
In spite, therefore, of their comparatively southerly position (for
the Straits of Bering do not even reach the Arctic Circle, and the
Andrianow Islands are ten degrees farther to the south than the
Feroës), those frigid waters are, with regard to climate, far less
favorably situated than the seas of Spitzbergen.

The same gradual differences of temperature and vegetation which we
find in Unalaska, the Pribilow Islands, St. Laurence, and the Straits
of Bering, within 10° of latitude, occur in the Shetland Islands,
Iceland, Bear Island, and Spitzbergen at distances of almost 20°; so
that in the Sea of Bering the increase of cold on advancing to the
north is about twice as rapid as in the waters between North Europe and
North America.

The long and narrow peninsula of Aliaska, which forms the south-eastern
boundary of this inhospitable sea, shows us its influence in a very
marked degree, for while the climate of the northern side of that
far-projecting land-tongue has a decidedly Arctic character, its
southern coasts fronting the Pacific enjoy a temperate climate. The
mountain-chain which, rising to a height of five or six thousand feet,
forms the backbone of the peninsula, serves as the boundary of two
distinct worlds, for while the northern slopes are bleak and treeless
like Iceland, the southern shores are covered from the water’s edge
with magnificent forests. While on the northern side the walrus extends
his excursions down to 56° 30´ N. lat., on the southern exposure the
hummingbird is seen to flit from flower to flower as high as 61°, the
most northerly point it is known to attain.

The Feroë Islands (64° N. lat.) have undoubtedly a no very agreeable
climate to boast of, but they may almost be said to enjoy Italian
skies when compared with Unalaska (54° N. lat.), the best known of the
Aleutian chain.

The Scandinavian archipelago is frequently obscured with fogs, but here
they are perpetual from April to the middle of July. From this time
till the end of September the weather improves, as then the southerly
winds drive the foggy region more to the north, and enable the sun to
shine during a few serene days upon the bleak shores of Unalaska. But
soon the Polar air-streams regain the supremacy, and a dismal veil
once more shrouds the melancholy island. Of Sitka, the chief town of
Aliaska, Mr. Whymper says: “It enjoys the unenviable position of being
about the most rainy place in the world. Rain ceases only when there
is a good prospect of snow.” Snow generally begins to fall early in
October, and snow-storms occur to the very end of May. There are years
in which it rains continually during the whole winter. In the Feroës
some service-trees are to be seen twelve feet high or more, while
nothing like a tree ever grew in Unalaska. The difference between the
temperatures of the summer and winter, which in the Feroës is confined
to very narrow limits, is much more considerable in Unalaska, though
here also the moderating influence of the sea makes itself felt. Thus
in summer the thermometer rarely rises above 66°, but on the other hand
in winter it still more rarely falls below -2°.

Of course no corn of any kind can possibly ripen in a climate like
this, but the damp and cool temperature favors the growth of herbs.
In the moist lowlands the stunted willow-bushes are stifled by the
luxuriant grasses; and even on the hills, the vegetation, which is
of a decidedly Alpine character, covers the earth up to the line of
perpetual snow; while several social plants, such as the _Lupinus
nootkeanus_ and the _Rhododendron kamtschadalicum_, decorate these
dismal regions with their brilliant color. The lively green of the
meadows reminds one of the valley of Urseren, so well known to all
Alpine tourists. The mosses and lichens begin already at Unalaska to
assume that predominance in the Flora which characterizes the frigid
zone.

[Illustration: 99. SITKA.]

A few degrees to the north of the Aleutian chain, which extends in a
long line from the promontory of Aliaska to Kamchatka, are situated
the Pribilow Islands, St. George and St. Paul, which are celebrated in
the history of the fur-trade, the former as the chief breeding-place of
the sea-bear, the latter as that of the sea-lion. Chamisso was struck
with their wintry aspect, for here no sheltered valleys and lowlands
promote, as at Unalaska, a more vigorous vegetation. The rounded backs
of the hills and the scattered rocks are covered with black and gray
lichens; and where the melting snows afford a sufficient moisture,
sphagnum, mosses, and a few weeds occupy the marshy ground. The frozen
earth has no springs, and yet these desolate islands have a more
southerly situation than the Orkneys, where barley grows to ripeness.
Before these islands were discovered by the Russians they had been
for ages the undisturbed home of the sea-birds and the large cetacean
seals. Under Russian superintendence, some Aleuts have now been settled
on both of them. The innumerable herds of sea-lions, which cover the
naked shores of St. George as far as the eye can reach, present a
strange sight. The guillemots have taken possession of the places
unoccupied by their families and fly fearlessly among them, or nestle
in the crevices of the wave-worn rock-walls, or between the large
boulders which form a bank along the strand.

Still farther to the north lies the uninhabited island of St. Matthew
(62° N. lat.). A settlement was once attempted; but as the animals
which had been reckoned upon for the winter supply of food departed,
the unfortunate colonists all died of hunger.

Fogs are so frequent about the island of St. Laurence that navigators
have often passed close by it (65° N. lat.) without seeing it. Chamisso
was surprised at the beauty and the numbers of its dwarfish flowering
herbs, which reminded him of the highlands of Switzerland, while the
neighboring St. Laurence Bay, in the land of the Tchuktchi, was the
image of wintry desolation. In July the lowlands were covered with
snow-fields, and the few plants bore the Alpine character in the most
marked degree. Under this inclement sky, the mountains, unprotected by
vegetation, rapidly fall into decay. Every winter splits the rocks, and
the summer torrents carry the fragments down to their feet. The ground
is everywhere covered with blocks of stone, unless where the sphagnum,
by the accumulation of its decomposed remains, has formed masses of
peat in the swampy lowlands.

On sailing through Bering’s Straits, the traveller may see, in clear
weather, both the Old and the New World. On both sides rise high
mountains, precipitously from the water’s edge in Asia, but separated
from the sea by a broad alluvial belt on the American side. The sea
is deepest on the Asiatic border, where the current, flowing from the
south with considerable rapidity, has also the greatest force. Here
also whales may be often seen, and large herds of walruses.

In former times the baidar of the Esquimaux was the only boat ever
seen in the straits, and since Semen Deshnew, who first sailed round
the eastern point of Asia, European navigators had but rarely passed
them to explore the seas beyond; but recently this remotest part of the
world has become the scene of an active whale-fishery.

[Illustration: 100. A BAIDAR.]

The shores of Bering Sea are naked and bleak, and the numerous
volcanoes of the Aleutian chain pour out their lava-streams over
unknown wildernesses. But the waters of the sea are teeming with life.
Gigantic algæ, such as are never seen in the torrid zone, form, round
the rocky coasts, vast submarine forests. A host of fishes, whales,
walruses, and seals, fill the sea and its shores, and innumerable
sea-birds occupy the cliffs. But these treasures of the ocean, which
for ages furnished the Aleuts and other wild tribes with the means
of existence, have also been the cause of their servitude. Had the
sea-otter not existed, the wild children of the soil might possibly
still be in possession of their ancient freedom; and but for the
sea-bear and the walrus, the whale and the seal, the banners of the
Czar would scarcely have met the flag of England on the continent of
America.

As the whole fur-trade of the Hudson’s Bay Territory is concentrated
in the hands of one mighty company, thus also one powerful association
enjoys the exclusive commerce of the eastern possession of Russia. The
regions under the authority of the Russian Fur Company[14] occupy an
immense space, as they comprise not only all the islands of Bering Sea,
but also the American coasts down to 55° N. lat. The extreme points of
this vast territory are situated at a greater distance from each other
than London from Tobolsk, but the importance of its trade bears no
proportion to its extent.

The company, which was founded in the year 1799, under the Emperor
Paul, had, in 1839, thirty-six hunting settlements on its own territory
(the Kurile Islands, the Aleutic chain, Aliaska, Bristol Bay, Cook’s
Inlet, Norton Sound, etc.), besides a chain of agencies from Ochotsk
to St. Petersburg. Its chief seat is New Archangel, on Sitka, one of
the many islands of King George III.’s Archipelago, first accurately
explored by Vancouver. The magnificent Bay of Norfolk, at the head of
which the small town is situated, greatly resembles a Norwegian fjord,
as we here find the same steep rock-walls bathing their precipitous
sides in the emerald waters, and clothed with dense pine forests
wherever a tree can grow.

A number of islets scattered over the surface of the bay add to the
beauty of the scene. The furs collected by the company are chiefly
those of sea-bears, sea-otters, foxes, beavers, bears, lynxes, American
martens, etc., and are partly furnished by the subjects of its own
territory (Aleuts, Kadjacks, Kenaïzes, Tchugatchi, Aliaskans), who
are compelled to hunt on its account, and partly obtained by barter
from the independent tribes of the mainland, or from the Hudson’s Bay
Company. The greater part is sent to Ochotsk or the Amoor, and from
thence through Siberia to St. Petersburg; the rest to the Chinese
ports, where the skins of the young sea-bear always find a ready market.

Of all the aboriginal tribes which inhabit the vast territory of
Russian America, the most worthy of notice is that of the Aleuts.
Less fortunate than their independent relatives, the Esquimaux of the
north--who in the midst of privations maintain an imperturbable gayety
of temper--these islanders have been effectually spirit-broken under a
foreign yoke. In 1817 the cruel treatment of their masters had reduced
them to about a thousand; since that time their number has somewhat
increased, the company having at length discovered that man is, after
all, the most valuable production of a land, and that if depopulation
increased still further, they would soon have no more hunters to supply
them with furs.

Every Aleut is bound, after his eighteenth year, to serve the company
_three years_; and this forced labor-tax does not seem at first sight
immoderate, but if we consider that the islanders, to whom every
foreign article is supplied from the warehouses of the company, are
invariably its debtors, we can not doubt that as long as the Aleut
is able to hunt, he is obliged to do so for the wages of a slave.
The Bishop Ivan Weniaminow, who resided ten years at Unalaska, draws
a picture of this people which exhibits evident marks of a long
servitude. They never quarrel among each other, and their patience is
exemplary. Nothing can surpass the fortitude with which they endure
pain. On the other hand, they never show excessive joy; it seems
impossible to raise their feelings to the pitch of delight. Even after
a long fast, a child never grasps with eagerness the proffered morsel,
nor does it on any occasion exhibit the mirth so natural to its age.

In hunting the marine animals, the Aleuts exhibit a wonderful skill
and intrepidity. To catch the sea-otter, they assemble in April or
May at an appointed spot, in their light skin boats, or baidars,
and choose one of their most respected chiefs for the leader of the
expedition, which generally numbers from fifty to a hundred boats.
Such hunting-parties are annually organized from the Kurile Islands to
Kadjack, and consequently extend their operations over a line of 3000
miles. On the first fine day the expedition sets out and proceeds to a
distance of about forty versts from the coast, when the baidars form
into a long line, leaving an interval of about 250 fathoms from boat
to boat, as far as a sea-otter diving out of the water can be seen, so
that a row of thirty baidars occupies a space of from ten to twelve
versts. When the number of the boats is greater, the intervals are
reduced. Every man now looks upon the sea with great attention. Nothing
escapes the eye of the Aleut; in the smallest black spot appearing but
one moment over the surface of the waters, he at once recognizes a
sea-otter. The baidar which first sees the animal rows rapidly towards
the spot where the creature dived, and now the Aleut, holding his oar
straight up in the air, remains motionless on the spot. Immediately
the whole squadron is on the move, and the long, straight line changes
into a wide circle, the centre of which is occupied by the baidar with
the raised oar. The otter, not being able to remain long under water,
reappears, and the nearest Aleut immediately greets him with an arrow.
This first attack is seldom mortal; very often the missile does not
even reach its mark, and the sea-otter instantly disappears. Again the
oar rises from the next baidar; again the circle forms, but this time
narrower than at first; the fatigued otter is obliged to come oftener
to the surface, arrows fly from all sides, and finally the animal,
killed by a mortal shot, or exhausted by repeated wounds, falls to the
share of the archer who has hit it nearest to the head. If several
otters appear at the same time, the boats form as many rings, provided
their number be sufficiently great.

The boldest of all hunters, the Aleuts of the Fox Islands, pursue the
sea-otter also in winter. If, during the summer chase, the rapidity and
regularity with which all the movements are performed, and the sure
eye and aim of the archers command the spectator’s admiration, this
winter chase gives him occasion to wonder at their courage. During
the severest winter-storms the otter shelters himself on the shore of
some small uninhabited island or on a solitary rock, and after having
carefully ascertained that no enemy is near, coils himself up and falls
asleep. While the storm still rages, two Aleuts approach the rock in
two single baidars from the leeward. The hunter in the foremost baidar
stands upright, a gun or a club in his hand, and waits in this position
till a wave brings him near to the summit of the rock. He now springs
on land, and while his companion takes care of the baidar, approaches
the sleeping otter and shoots it or kills it with his club. With the
assistance of his companion who has remained on the water, he springs
back into his baidar as soon as the crest of a wave brings it within
his reach.

The sea-bear is nearly as valuable as the sea-otter to the fur company,
as the woolly skin of the young animal is the only one of the whole
seal tribe which is reckoned among the finer peltry. The sea-bears are
chiefly killed on the Commodore and Pribilow islands, particularly on
St. Paul, where they are hunted by a certain number of Aleuts located
there under Russian superintendence. The chase begins in the latter
part of September, on a cold, foggy day, when the wind blows from the
side where the animals are assembled on the rocky shore. The boldest
huntsmen open the way, then follow the older people and the children,
and the chief personage of the band comes last, to be the better able
to direct and survey the movements of his men, who are all armed with
clubs. The main object is to cut off the herd as quickly as possible
from the sea. All the grown-up males and females are spared and allowed
to escape, but most of the young animals are sentenced to death. Those
which are only four months old (their furs being most highly prized)
are doomed without exception; while of the others that have attained an
age of one, two, or three years, only the males are killed. For several
days after the massacre, the mothers swim about the island, seeking and
loudly wailing for their young.

From October 5 St. Paul is gradually deserted by the sea-bears, who
then migrate to the south and re-appear towards the end of April, the
males arriving first. Each seeks the same spot on the shore which he
occupied during the preceding year, and lies down among the large
stone blocks with which the flat beach is covered. About the middle of
May the far more numerous females begin to make their appearance, and
the sea-bear families take full possession of the strand. Each male
is the sultan of a herd of females, varying in number according to
his size and strength; the weaker brethren contenting themselves with
half a dozen, while some of the sturdier and fiercer fellows preside
over harems 200 strong. Jealousy and intrusion frequently give rise
to terrible battles. The full-grown male sea-bear, who is about four
or five times larger than the female, grows to the length of eight
feet, and owes his name to his shaggy blackish fur, and not to his
disposition, which is far from being cruel or savage.

Armed with a short spear, a single Aleut does not hesitate to attack
the colossal whale. Approaching cautiously from behind in his baidar
until he reaches the head, he plunges his weapon into the animal’s
flank under the fore fin, and then retreats as fast as his oar can
carry him. If the spear has penetrated into the flesh, the whale is
doomed; it dies within the next two or three days, and the currents
and the waves drift the carcass to the next shore. Each spear has its
peculiar mark by which the owner is recognized. Sometimes the baidar
does not escape in time, and the whale, maddened by pain, furiously
lashes the water with his tail, and throws the baidar high up into
the air, or sinks it deep into the sea. The whale-fishers are highly
esteemed among the Aleuts, and their intrepidity and skill well deserve
the general admiration. Of course many of the whales are lost. In the
summer of 1831, 118 whales were wounded near Kadjack, of which only
forty-three were found. The others may have been wafted far out into
the sea to regale the sharks and sea-birds, or driven to more distant
shores, whose inhabitants no doubt gladly welcomed their landing.
Wrangell informs us that since 1833 the Russians have introduced the
use of the harpoon, and engaged some English harpooners to teach the
Aleuts a more profitable method of whale-catching, but we are not told
how the experiment has succeeded.

The company, besides purchasing a great quantity of walrus-teeth from
the Tchuktchi of the Bering’s Straits and Bristol Bay, send every year
a detachment of Aleuts to the north coast of Aliaska, where generally a
large number of young walruses, probably driven away by the older ones,
who prefer the vicinity of the polar ice, spend the summer months.

The walruses herd on the lowest edge of the coast which is within
reach of the spring tides. When the Aleuts prepare to attack the
animals, they take leave of each other as if they were going to face
death, being no less afraid of the tusks of the walruses than of the
awkwardness of their own companions. Armed with lances and heavy axes,
they stealthily approach the walruses, and having disposed their ranks,
suddenly fall upon them with loud shouts, and endeavor to drive them
from the sea, taking care that none of them escape into the water, as
in that case the rest would irresistibly follow and precipitate the
huntsmen along with them. As soon as the walruses have been driven
far enough up the strand, the Aleuts attack them with their lances,
striking at them in places where the hide is not so thick, and then
pressing with all their might against the spear, to render the wound
deep and deadly. The slaughtered animals tumble one over the other
and form large heaps, whilst the huntsmen, uttering furious shouts
and intoxicated with carnage, wade through the bloody mire. They then
cleave the jaws and extract the tusks, which are the chief objects of
the slaughter of several thousand walruses, since neither their flesh
nor their fat is made use of in the colony. The carcasses are left on
the shore to be washed away by the spring tides, which soon efface the
mark of the massacre, and in the following year the inexhaustible north
sends new victims to the coast.

Sir George Simpson, in his “Overland Journey round the World,” relates
that the bales of fur sent to Kiachta are covered with walrus hide; it
is then made to protect the tea-chests which find their way to Moscow,
and after all these wanderings, the far-travelled skin returns again
to New Archangel, where, cut into small pieces and stamped with the
company’s mark, it serves as a medium of exchange.

The skin of the sea-lion (_Otaria Stelleri_) has but little value in
the fur-trade, as its hair is short and coarse, but in many other
respects the unwieldy animal is of considerable use to the Aleut.
Its hide serves to cover his baidar; with the entrails he makes his
water-tight kamleika, a wide, long shirt which he puts on over his
dress to protect himself against the rain or the spray; the thick webs
of its flippers furnish excellent soles for his boots, and the bristles
of its lip figure as ornaments in his head-dress.



[Illustration: 101. FORT ST. MICHAEL.]


CHAPTER XXVI.

ALASKA.

  Purchase of Alaska by the United States.--The Russian American
    Telegraph Scheme.--Whymper’s Trip up the Yukon.--Dogs.--The
    Start.--Extempore Water-filter.--Snow-shoes.--The Frozen
    Yukon.--Under-ground Houses.--Life at Nulato.--Cold Weather.--
    Auroras.--Approach of Summer.--Breaking-up of the Ice.--Fort
    Yukon.--Furs.--Descent of the Yukon.--Value of Goods.--
    Arctic and Tropical Life.--Moose-hunting.--Deer-corrals.--Lip
    Ornaments.--Canoes.--Four-post Coffin.--The Kenaian Indians.--
    The Aleuts.--Value of Alaska.


In 1867 the Russian Government sold to the United States all of its
possessions in America, comprising an area of more than 500,000
square miles, equal in extent to France, Germany, and Great Britain,
stretching from 54° 40´ north latitude to the Arctic Ocean. The sum
paid was about seven and a quarter millions of dollars. In this
purchase is included Mount St. Elias, the highest peak in North
America, rising to a height of more than 18,000 feet, and one of
the loftiest single peaks on the globe. The real value of this new
acquisition was quite unknown to both buyer and seller. In the southern
part, and on the islands, there is considerable vegetation and forests
of large trees; and it is said that there is some mineral wealth. But
the greater part of the territory is essentially Arctic. It now bears
the designation of the Territory of Alaska, an abbreviation of Aliaska,
the name of the peninsula stretching into the North Pacific Ocean.

Little information has as yet been gained of this region. The most
important is the result of a journey up the River Yukon, performed in
1866 by Mr. Frederick Whymper, an artist connected with the Telegraph
Expedition. This telegraph enterprise was undertaken in the confident
expectation that the cables laid directly across the Atlantic would
fail, and that telegraphic communications between London and New
York must be mainly by land. The proposed line, starting from the
mouth of the Amoor, to which point it was already constructed, should
bend around the head of the Sea of Okotsch, thence run eastward and
northward through Kamchatka to the 63d degree of north latitude, then
cross the narrow Strait of Bering, and run southward through what was
then Russian America, British Columbia, Washington Territory, and
Oregon, to San Francisco; thence across the American continent to New
York. A dispatch from London to New York by this route would travel
something more than 25,000 miles, while the distance in a straight
line across the Atlantic was about 3000 miles. The company undertaking
this enterprise had surveyed a considerable part of the distance, and
expended some millions of dollars, when it was announced that the
Atlantic cable was a success, and the work was abandoned.

In the mean while Mr. Whymper undertook a trip up the great River
Yukon. This is essentially an Arctic river, though its mouth is far
southward of the Arctic Circle. It is probably the greatest of the
Arctic rivers, and in length and volume of water is exceeded by not
more than six rivers of the globe.

The party of which Mr. Whymper was one consisted of six Europeans and
three Indians. In October, 1865, they started from Unalachleet, on
Norton Sound. A trip of 200 miles would bring them to Nulato, a Russian
trading-post 700 miles from the mouth of the river, which here runs
almost parallel with the coast.

They were to travel on foot over frozen rivers and through deep snow.
To convey their supplies they had four sledges, each drawn by five
dogs. Such a team will draw about 350 pounds. The dogs of this region
are not of a good class. Mr. Whymper thinks they have in them quite as
much of the wolf as of the dog. Their usual food is fish; their regular
daily allowance in winter is a dried salmon a day: in summer they are
expected to fish for themselves. They will, however, eat almost any
thing, and, if they can get enough, will grow fat upon it. They even
took kindly to beans, provided they were boiled soft--a thing which
Kane could never induce his Esquimaux dogs to undertake.

They set out on the 27th of October at 11 o’clock--that is, just after
sunrise--the thermometer standing at 30° below freezing-point. Their
trip was begun a little too early, for the deep snow had not become
packed hard, and a bit of thaw would transform it into slush; and the
streams which they had to cross were not all frozen over. Fortunately,
they had a light skin boat, which not only stood them in good stead
now, but served them afterwards for more than a thousand miles of
winter travel. Whenever they came to a frozen stream, the Indians would
break a hole through the ice to get a draught of water. They always
filled up the hole with loose snow, through which they sucked the
water. This they said was to filter out the little red worms with which
they said the water was infested.

The travellers wore snow-shoes; the use of which, although
indispensable in going over the soft snow, is very fatiguing, obliging
the wearers to lift a dozen pounds of snow at every step. Sometimes
they had to break a path for the sledges. The men would go on ahead
for a space, then return and start on again, thus traversing the
distance three times. Often they could not accomplish more than ten
miles a day.

[Illustration: 102. THE FROZEN YUKON.]

At noon on the 11th of November, a fortnight after starting, they
caught in the distance a glimpse of a faint bluish streak, varying the
white monotony of the scene. This they knew marked the course of the
great river towards which they were tending. Pushing eagerly on, at
sunset they broke out of the woods, shot down a steep bank, and stood
on an immense plain of snow-covered ice. It was the Yukon, frozen
solidly over as far as the eye could reach, except that here and there
was a faint streak of open water. From bank to bank the distance was
more than a mile, and this they afterwards found was the normal breadth
of the river for seven hundred miles below, and a thousand miles above.
Not unfrequently it spread out into broad lagoons four or five miles
wide. The Yukon is one of the great rivers of the globe. In length and
volume of water it is exceeded only by the Amazon, the Mississippi,
and perhaps the Plata. It exceeds the Nile, the Ganges, the Volga, the
Amoor, and has affluents to which the Rhine and Rhone are but brooks.
It rises far within the British Possessions, and its head-waters almost
interlock with those of the Mackenzie, which empties into the Arctic
Ocean. A portage of only eighty miles intervenes between these rivers
at points where each is navigable for boats forty feet long, and
drawing two feet of water. Over this portage the Hudson’s Bay Company
transport upon men’s backs the goods for trading with the Indians on
the Upper Yukon. Mr. Whymper thinks that a flat-bottomed stern-wheel
steamer, like those used on the Upper Mississippi, could ascend the
Yukon for eighteen hundred miles, and tap the whole fur-bearing region.
But as the river is frozen solid for eight months out of the twelve,
the steamer could hardly make more than one trip a year.

[Illustration: 103. UNDER-GROUND HOUSE.]

The travellers stopped two days at the Indian winter village of Coltog.
The houses were built mainly under-ground. First, a little shanty is
put up, under which a hole like a well is dug; thence a branch like a
sewer runs some yards, along which one must crawl on hands and knees
to reach the proper dwelling, which is a square hole in the earth,
over which is raised a low dome-shaped roof, with a hole in the top
to let out the smoke of the fire, which is built directly underneath.
When the fire gets low the smoke-hole is covered with a skin, which
keeps in not only the heat but the manifold scents engendered by the
crowded occupancy. The slight heat from below makes the roof a favorite
trysting-place for the dogs, and every now and then one comes tumbling
down through the smoke-hole upon the fire below, adding the odor of
singed hair to those arising from stale fish, old skin garments, and
other unnamable abominations. Coltog is a rather favorable sample of an
Indian winter village in Alaska.

From Coltog the travellers proceeded up the river two days’ journey
to Nulato, the most northern and most inland of the Russian Company’s
fur-posts. It stands in latitude 65°, and longitude 158°, upon a level
slip of land bounded on two sides by the great river and one of its
main branches. Notwithstanding the high latitude, trees of considerable
size grow there, and during the brief summer the grass is luxuriant,
and berries abound. The post is a little fortress, surrounded by a
picket, which is closed at night to exclude the Indians, who camp
around in large numbers. The house appropriated to the travellers was
built of logs, forming one side of the little square. The windows were
of seal-gut instead of glass; and as there is during the winter only
two or three hours of daylight, the light was never any of the best.
By caulking the floor with moss, and carpeting it with skins, the main
room was kept comfortably warm, except near the floor. If one hung a
damp garment from the rafters it would steam at the top, while frozen
stiff at the bottom. The temperature at the roof was sometimes 65°,
while near the floor it was 4°. Water for daily use was hauled on a
sledge from the river. To get at it, they were obliged to break through
solid ice four feet thick. Nevertheless, the Indians contrive to catch
immense quantities of fish by constructing a weir of wicket-work, and
keeping holes open in the ice.

[Illustration: 104. FISH-TRAPS ON THE YUKON.]

Winter fairly set in soon after the party had taken up their abode at
Nulato. On the 2d of November the thermometer indicated the moderate
temperature of 2° above zero. It suddenly fell to 20° below zero, and
kept on steadily falling until the 5th of December, when it sunk to 58°
below zero, that is, ninety degrees below the freezing-point of water.
This was the coldest day, but there were during December and January
eleven days when the thermometer sunk below the freezing-point of
mercury. It is to be noted that after a certain point the human system
seems to take little additional note of the temperature as indicated by
the thermometer. When the mercury froze, 72° below the freezing-point
of water, it did not seem very cold, provided there was no wind;
while one day when the thermometer was 44° higher, we find this note:
“A north wind blew, and made us feel the cold very decidedly. It is
wonderful how searching the wind is in this northern climate; each
little seam, slit, or tear in your fur or woollen clothing makes you
aware of its existence, and one’s nose, ears, and angles generally are
the special sufferers.” One day when the thermometer stood at 10°, an
expedition started off for the coast: and once when it was at 32°,
a half-clad Indian came to the post with his child, no better clad,
bringing some game; he did not seem to think the day remarkably cold.
The shortest day of the winter was December 21, when the sun was an
hour and fifty minutes above the horizon.

[Illustration: 105. AURORA AT NULATO.]

During the winter Mr. Whymper made many capital sketches out-of-doors,
while the temperature was sixty degrees below freezing-point. Among
these is a remarkable aurora borealis on the 21st of December. It was
not the conventional arch, but a graceful, undulating, ever-changing
snake of pale electric light; evanescent colors, pale as those of a
lunar rainbow, ever and again flitting through it, and long streamers
and scintillations moving upward to the bright stars, which shone
distinctly through its hazy ethereal form. The night was beautifully
calm and clear; cold, but not intensely so, the thermometer standing at
+16°.

So passed the long winter months. Early in April there came signs of
summer--for in the Arctic regions there is properly no spring or
autumn. On the 9th flies made their appearance. Next day the willows
were seen budding. But for another fortnight the weather was variable.
On the 28th the first goose put in his appearance. But for another
fortnight the ice in the river remained unbroken. The first sign
of breaking up was on the 12th of May. That day mosquitoes showed
themselves. Next day came swallows and wild geese in abundance. Still
another fortnight, during which a steady stream of broken ice came
down, bearing with it whole trees torn up from the banks. On the 24th
of May the river was tolerably clear of ice.

[Illustration: 106. BREAKING UP OF THE ICE.]

The Russians had already got ready for a trading-excursion up the Yukon
to an Indian trading-place 240 miles above, the farthest point ever
visited by them. They had a huge skin boat, fitted with mast and sail,
manned by eight men, carrying, besides men and provisions, two tons of
goods. The Americans went with them, though meaning to go far beyond.
They had their own little boat, laden with six or seven hundred pounds
of stores of all kinds. The river was still full of ice and drift-wood.
A large tree would sometimes pass under the bow of the Russian boat,
and fairly lift it out of the water. These skin boats seem to be the
best of all for this kind of navigation. They give way without harm to
a blow which would break through a bark canoe.

One can scarcely conceive the rapidity with which summer comes on in
these regions. On the 27th of May the river was yet full of ice. Ten
days after they had to lie by during the noontide heat, the thermometer
standing at 80° in the shade.

The Americans reached Fort Yukon on the 9th of June, having, in
twenty-nine days, rowed and tracked six hundred miles. A few weeks
later, with the current in their favor, they descended the same space
in seven days. Fort Yukon lies a little within what was formerly
Russian America, and the Hudson’s Bay Company paid a small sum for the
privilege of its occupancy. Here the Americans remained a month, being
hospitably entertained. The fort had quite a civilized look. There were
freshly-plastered walls, glazed windows, open fireplaces, magazines,
store-houses, and a great fur-room. Camped around were Indians of
many tribes, locally designated as “Foolish Folks,” “Wood Folks,”
“Birch-bark Folks,” “Rat Folks,” “Hill Folks,” and the like. Some wore
their native costumes; others were tricked out in the odds and ends
of civilized attire. The fur-room was a rare sight. From the beams
hung marten-skins by the thousand, while the cheaper sorts were lying
in huge heaps on the floor. Skins are here the regular currency. The
beaver is the unit, estimated at about half a dollar. Two martens count
as one beaver, and so on by a recognized scale. Fox-skins are numerous.
The most valuable is that of the black fox, worth twenty times more
than any other. There is a story that an unlucky employé of the company
once bought the skin of a white fox, which the Indian seller had
cunningly dyed black, paying for it more pounds than he should have
paid shillings. The overplus was deducted from his salary.

[Illustration: 107. FORT YUKON.]

On the 8th of July the travellers started on their return journey,
under a salute from their hospitable hosts. They canoed down the river
day and night, only stopping two or three times a day to prepare their
tea and cook their fish. It was a holiday excursion, the current
sweeping them along at the rate of four miles an hour. Once, by aid of
rowing, they made forty-five miles in seven hours. They followed the
river clear to its mouth. For the seven hundred miles below Nulato,
near where they had struck the river on their upward journey, the
region is comparatively poor. It lies out of the way of traders; fish
are plenty and cheap enough. Five needles were considered a fair price
for a thirty-pound salmon; and, says Mr. Whymper, “tobacco went farther
than we had ever known it to do before.” On the 23d of July they
reached the mouth of the river, whence two days’ sailing up the coast
brought them to St. Michael’s. The whole voyage of 1300 miles between
Fort Yukon and St. Michael’s had taken fifteen and a half days. At
St. Michael’s they were told that the telegraphic enterprise had been
abandoned, and that all employed in it were to return to California.

[Illustration: 108. A DEER CORRAL.]

The result of this expedition adds considerably to our knowledge of
the Arctic regions. It confirms what has been told us by Richardson,
Kane, Hall, and all other Arctic explorers as to the superabundance
of animal life existing in certain seasons in the northern regions.
Strange as it may seem, tropical and semi-tropical countries are almost
bare of living creatures. Strain and his party wandered for weeks
through the thick forests of Central America, never seeing an animal,
and rarely a bird, and the river appeared to be almost destitute of
fish. But life abounds in the Arctic regions. The rivers swarm with
fish almost begging to be caught. The Kamchatdales have reindeer by the
thousand. Whymper and his friends, during their brief stay at Nulato,
bought the skins of eight hundred white hares with which to cover their
blankets; the Indians had used the flesh for food. Moose-meat, varied
by beaver, is the standing food of those who have got tired of salmon.
The delicacies are a moose’s nose and a beaver’s tail. So abundant are
the moose on the Yukon that the natives think it hardly worth while
to waste powder and shot in killing them. When an Indian in his canoe
comes upon a moose swimming in the water, he gives chase until the
creature is fatigued, and then stabs it to the heart with his knife.
They have also an ingenious way of corralling deer. They build a long
elliptical inclosure of stakes upon a trail made by the deer. Between
each pair of stakes is a slip-noose. A herd of deer is driven into this
inclosure; they try to run out between the stakes, get caught by the
nooses, and so fall a ready prey to the guns of the hunters.

[Illustration: 109. LIP ORNAMENTS.]

The native population of Alaska is estimated at about 60,000. From
the southern boundary up to Mount St. Elias and on the islands live
the Koloschians, estimated at 20,000. They are of middling stature,
of copper-colored complexion, with round faces, thick lips, and black
hair. The men wear various ornaments in their ears and noses; the
women, when young, insert a piece of ivory in a slit made in the
under lip, increasing it in size from year to year, until at last the
ornament gets to be four inches wide, projecting six inches from the
side of the face. The baidars or canoes of the Koloschians are dug out
of a single tree, and will carry from twelve to fifty persons. They are
usually propelled by paddles, though upon long voyages they are rigged
with two or more masts and sails of matting or canvas. They, and indeed
all of the tribes, do not bury their dead, but deposit their remains in
an oblong box raised upon posts, with the canoe and other possessions
of the deceased over the box.

[Illustration: 110. A BAIDAR.]

Next northward of the Koloschians come the Kenaians, who stretch
almost across the continent to Hudson’s Bay. Those living upon the
Yukon call them Co-yukons, that is, People of the Great River, “Yukon”
in their language signifying river. They are much feared by the
surrounding tribes, and have often given no little trouble to their
Russian masters. Many of these wear a bone ornament stuck through the
septum of the nose.

[Illustration: 111. FOUR-POST COFFIN.]

The Aleuts, who inhabit the Aleutian Islands are, to a considerable
extent, of mixed blood, Russian and Koloschian. They have advanced in
civilization far beyond any other of the Esquimaux race. Not a few of
them have received a fair education, and among the priests of the Greek
Church there are not a few who go through the service of the church
in the Greek language, with a full understanding of the words of the
service.

[Illustration: 112. TANANA INDIAN.]

Quite nine-tenths of the whole territory of Alaska is purely Arctic,
and is not only uninhabited but uninhabitable. The other tenth is now
sparsely inhabited, and there is little reason to suppose that the
population will ever be greatly beyond its present number. Except in
special cases, the possible population of a country is measured by
its agricultural capacity. Leaving out of view the extreme northern
parts of Alaska, the best accounts as yet accessible show that at St.
Michael’s lettuce, parsnips, and turnips can be raised by sowing them
in beds. At Fort Yukon potatoes not much larger than cherries can be
raised. At Sitka potatoes will grow a little larger. On some of the
islands the inhabitants can even venture upon barley. The forest-trees,
which flourish in isolated parts, will soon be exhausted, as far as any
profitable use of them is concerned. Fish and furs constitute almost
the sole value of Alaska. The fisheries are among the most valuable in
the world. The furs will soon be exhausted, unless prompt measures are
taken to prevent the capture of fur-bearing animals in the breeding
season.



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE ESQUIMAUX.

  Their wide Extension.--Climate of the Regions they inhabit.--Their
    physical Appearance.--Their Dress.--Snow Huts.--The Kayak, or
    the Baidar.--Hunting Apparatus and Weapons.--Enmity between the
    Esquimaux and the Red Indian.--The “Bloody Falls.”--Chase of the
    Reindeer.--Bird-catching.--Whale-hunting.--Various Stratagems
    employed to catch the Seal.--The “Keep-kuttuk.”--Bear-hunting.--
    Walrus-hunting.--Awaklok and Myouk.--The Esquimaux Dog.--Games
    and Sports.--Angekoks.--Moral Character.--Self-reliance.--
    Intelligence.--Iligliuk.--Commercial Eagerness of the
    Esquimaux.--Their Voracity.--Seasons of Distress.


Of all the uncivilized nations of the globe none range over a
wider space than the Esquimaux, whose various tribes extend from
Greenland and Labrador, over all the coasts of Arctic America, to the
Aleutic chain and the extreme north-eastern point of Asia. Many are
independent, others subject to the Russian, Danish, or British rule.
In Baffin’s Bay and Lancaster Sound they accost the whale-fisher; they
meet him in the Icy Sea beyond Bering’s Straits; and while their most
southerly tribes dwell as low as the latitude of Vienna, others sojourn
as high as the 80th degree of northern latitude, and probably roam even
still higher on the still undiscovered coasts beyond--a nearness to
the pole no other race is known to reach.

The old Scandinavian settlers in Greenland expressed their dislike for
them in the contemptuous name of Skraelingers (screamers or wretches);
the seamen of the Hudson’s Bay ships, who trade annually with the
natives of Northern Labrador and the Savage Islands, have long called
them “Seymos” or “Suckemos,” names evidently derived from the cries of
“Seymo,” or “Teymo,” with which they greet the arrival of the ships;
they speak of themselves simply as “Inuit,” or men.

With few exceptions the whole of the vast region they inhabit lies
beyond the extremest limits of forest growth, in the most desolate and
inhospitable countries of the globe. The rough winds of the Polar Sea
almost perpetually blow over their bleak domains, and thus only a few
plants of the hardest nature--lichens and mosses, grasses, saxifragas,
and willows--are able to subsist there, and to afford a scanty supply
of food to a few land animals and birds. Ill indeed would it fare with
the Esquimaux, if they were reduced to live upon the niggardly produce
of the soil; but the sea, with its cetaceans and fishes, amply provides
for their wants. Thus they are never found at any considerable distance
from the ocean, and they line a considerable part of the coasts of the
Arctic seas without ever visiting the interior.

It may easily be supposed that a race whose eastern branches have for
several centuries been under the influence of the Danes and English,
while in the extreme west it has long been forced to submit to Russian
tyranny, and whose central and northern tribes rarely come into contact
with Europeans, must show some variety in its manners and mode of
life, and that the same description is not applicable in all points
to the disciples of the Moravian brothers in Labrador or Greenland,
to the Greek-Catholic Aleuts, and to the far more numerous heathen
Esquimaux of continental America, or of the vast archipelago beyond
its northern shores. Upon the whole, however, it is curious to observe
how exactly, amidst all diversity of time and place, these people
have preserved unaltered their habits and manners. The broad, flat
face, widest just below the eyes, the forehead generally narrow and
tapering upward; the eyes narrow and more or less oblique; all indicate
a Mongol or Tartar type, differing greatly from the features of the
conterminous Red Indian tribes. Their complexion, when relieved from
smoke and dirt, also approaches more nearly to white than that of their
copper-colored neighbors. Most of the men are rather under the medium
English size, but they can not be said to be a dwarfish race. Thus
Simpson saw in Camden Bay three Esquimaux who measured from five feet
ten inches to six feet; and among the natives of Smith Strait, Kane, a
rather short man, met with one a foot taller than himself. The females,
however, are all comparatively short. The Esquimaux are all remarkably
broad-shouldered, and though their muscles are not so firm as those of
the European seamen, yet they surpass in bodily strength all the other
natives of America. In both sexes the hands and feet are remarkably
small and well-formed. From exercise in hunting the seal and walrus,
the muscles of the arms and back are much developed in the men, who are
moreover powerful wrestlers. When young, the Esquimaux looks cheerful
and good-humored, and the females exhibit, when laughing, a set of
very white teeth. Could they be induced to wash their faces, many of
these savage beauties would be found to possess a complexion scarcely
a shade darker than that of a deep brunette; but though disinclined
to ablutions, for which the severity of their climate may serve as an
excuse, they are far from neglecting the arts of the toilette.

Unlike the Hare Indian and Dog-Rib females, in whom the hard rule of
their lords and masters has obliterated every trace of female vanity,
the Esquimaux women tastefully plait their straight, black, and glossy
hair; and hence we may infer that greater deference is paid to them by
the men. They also generally tattoo their chin, forehead, and cheeks,
not, however, as in the South Sea Islands, with elaborate patterns, but
with a few simple lines, which have a not unpleasing effect.

From Bering’s Straits eastward as far as the Mackenzie, the males
pierce the lower lip near each angle of the mouth, and fill the
apertures with labrets of blue or green quartz, or of ivory resembling
buttons. Many also pierce the septum of the nose, and insert a
dentalium shell or ivory needle. Like the Red Indians, they are fond of
beads, but their most common ornament consists in strings of teeth of
the fox, wolf, or musk-ox--sometimes many hundreds in number--which
are either attached to the lower part of the jacket, or fastened as a
belt round the waist.

Their dress is admirably adapted to the severity of their climate. With
their two pair of breeches made of reindeer or seal skin, the outer one
having the hair outside and the inner one next the body, and their two
jackets--of which the upper one is provided with a great hood--with
their water-tight seal-skin boots, lined with the downy skins of birds,
and their enormous gloves, they bid defiance to the severest cold,
and even in the hardest weather pursue their occupations in the open
air whenever the moon is in the sky, or during the doubtful meridian
twilight. The women are perfect in the art of making water-tight
shirts, or “kamleikas,” of the entrails of the seal or walrus, which
in summer serve to replace their heavy skin jackets. They also sew
their boots so tight that not the slightest wet can penetrate, and with
a neatness of which the best shoemaker in Europe might be proud. The
dress of the two sexes is much alike, the outer jacket having a pointed
skirt before and behind, but that of the females is a little longer.
The women also wear larger hoods, in which they carry their children;
and sometimes (as in Labrador) the inner boot has in front a long,
pointed flap, to answer the same purpose.

The Esquimaux are equally expert in the construction of their huts. As
soon as the lengthening days induce the tribes about Cape Bathurst and
the mouth of the Mackenzie to move seaward on the ice to the seal-hunt,
a marvellous system of architecture comes into use, unknown among any
other American nations. The fine pure snow has by that time acquired,
under the action of the winds and frosts, sufficient coherence to form
an admirable light building material, which the Esquimaux skillfully
employ for the erection of most comfortable dome-shaped houses. A
circle is first traced on the smooth surface of the snow, and slabs for
raising the walls cut from within, so as to clear a space down to the
ice, which is to form the floor of the dwelling, and whose evenness
was previously ascertained by probing. The slabs for the dome are cut
from some neighboring spot. The crevices between the slabs are plugged
up, and the seams closed, by throwing a few shovelfuls of loose snow
over the fabric. Two men generally work together, and when the dome
is completed the one within cuts a low door and creeps out. The walls
being only three or four inches thick, admit a very agreeable light,
which serves for ordinary purposes; if more is required, a window of
transparent ice is introduced. The proper thickness of the walls is of
some importance; one of a few inches excludes the wind, yet keeps down
the damp so as to prevent dripping from the interior. The furniture
of this crystal hut is also formed of snow (the seats, the table, the
sleeping-places), and, when covered with skins, is very comfortable.
By means of antechambers and porches, with the opening turned to
leeward, warmth is insured, and social intercourse facilitated by
contiguous building, doors of communication, and covered passages. By
constant practice the Esquimaux can raise such huts almost as quickly
as we could pitch a tent. When M’Clintock for a few nails hired four
Esquimaux to build a hut for his party, they completed it in an hour,
though it was eight feet in diameter and five and a half feet high.

In spite of its fragile materials, this snow-house is durable, for the
wind has little effect on its dome-like form, and it resists the thaw
until the sun acquires a very considerable power. Of course a strong
fire could not possibly be made within, but such is not needed by the
Esquimaux. The train-oil lamp suffices to dry his wet clothes and
boots when he returns from hunting; and the crowding of the inmates
engenders a sufficiently high temperature to keep him warm. Having also
a decided predilection for raw flesh and fat, he requires no great
expenditure of fuel to cook his dinner. The lower part of his dwelling
being under the surface of the snow, likewise promotes its warmth.

But of whatever materials the hut of the Esquimaux may be constructed--
of snow, as I have just described, or, as is frequently the case, of
stones, or earth, or drift-wood--everywhere, from Bering’s Straits
to Smith Sound, it is equally well adapted to the climate and to
circumstances. Thus when Dr. Scoresby landed in 1822 on the eastern
coast of Greenland, he discovered some deserted Esquimaux huts, which
gave proof both of the severity of the climate, and of the ingenuity
evinced in counteracting its rigors. A horizontal tunnel about fifteen
feet long, and so low as to render it necessary to creep through on
hands and feet, opens with one end to the south, and leads through the
other into the interior of the hut. This rises but little above the
surface of the earth, and, as it is generally overgrown with moss or
grass, is scarcely to be distinguished from the neighboring soil. The
floor of the tunnel is frequently on a level with that of the hut, but
often also it is made to slant downward and upward, so that the colder,
and consequently heavier, air without is still more effectually kept
off from the warmer air within; and thus the Esquimaux, without ever
having studied physics, make a practical use of one of its fundamental
laws. But their most ingenious invention is unquestionably that of
the one-seated boat, the “kayak,” or the “baidar.” A light, long, and
narrow frame of wood, or seal or walrus bone, is covered water-tight
with seal-skin, leaving but one circular hole in the middle. In this
the Esquimaux sits with outstretched legs, and binds a sack (which is
formed of the intestines of the whale, or of the skins of young seals,
and fits in the opening) so tightly round his middle, that even in a
heavy sea not a drop of water can penetrate into the boat. Striking
with his light oar (which is paddled at each extremity) alternately
to the right and to the left, his spear or harpoon before him, and
maintaining his equilibrium with all the dexterity of a rope-dancer,
he flies like an arrow over the water; and should a wave upset him, he
knows how to right himself by the action of the paddle. The “oomiak,”
or women’s boat, likewise consists of a frame-work covered with
seal-skins, and is roomy enough to hold ten or twelve people, with
benches for the women who row or paddle. The mast supports a triangular
sail made of the entrails of seals, and easily distended by the wind.
The men would consider it beneath their dignity to row in one of these
omnibus boats; they leave this labor entirely to the women, who, to the
tact of a monotonous song, slowly propel the oomiak through the water.
Judging of foreign customs by their own, the Esquimaux between the
Mackenzie and Coppermine rivers made the strange mistake, as Sir John
Richardson relates, of supposing that the English sailors whom they saw
rowing in company were women. One of them even asked whether all white
females had beards.

The weapons of the Esquimaux, and their various fishing and hunting
implements, likewise show great ingenuity and skill. Their oars are
tastefully inlaid with walrus-teeth; they have several kinds of spears
or darts, adapted to the size of the various animals which they hunt;
and their elastic bows, strongly bound with strings of seal-gut, drive
a six-foot arrow with unerring certainty to a distant mark. To bring
down a larger animal, the shaft is armed with a sharp flint or a
pointed bone; if intended to strike a bird, it is smaller, and blunted.

The harpoons and lances used in killing whales or seals have long
shafts of wood or of the narwhal’s tooth, and the barbed point is so
constructed that, when the blow takes effect, it is left sticking
in the body of the animal, while the shaft attached to it by a
string is disengaged from the socket, and becomes a buoy of wood.
Seal-skins, blown up like bladders, are likewise used as buoys for the
whale-spears, being adroitly stripped from the animal so that all the
natural apertures are easily made air-tight.

With equal industry and skill the Esquimaux put to use almost every
part of the land and marine animals which they chase. Knives,
spear-points, and fish-hooks are made of the horns and bones of
the deer. The ribs of the whale are used in roofing huts or in the
construction of sledges, where drift-timber is scarce. Strong cord is
made from strips of seal-skin hide, and the sinews of musk-oxen and
deer furnish bow-strings, or cord to make nets or snares. In default of
drift-wood, the bones of the whale are employed for the construction of
their sledges, in pieces fitted to each other with neatness, and firmly
sewed together.

During the long confinement to their huts or “igloos” in the dark
winter months, the men execute some very fair figures in bone, and in
walrus or fossil ivory, besides making fish-hooks, knife-handles, and
other instruments neatly of these materials, or of metal or wood.

Thus in all these respects the Esquimaux are as superior to the Red
Indians as they are in strength and personal courage; and yet no
Norwegian can more utterly despise the filthy Lapp, and no orthodox
Mussulman look down with greater contempt upon a “giaour,” than the
Loucheux or Cheppewayan upon the Esquimaux, who in his eyes is no
better than a brute, and whom he approaches only to kill.

In his “Voyage to the Coppermine River” Hearne relates a dreadful
instance of this bloodthirsty hatred. The Indians who accompanied
him having heard that some Esquimaux had erected their summer huts
near the mouth of that river, were at once seized with a tiger-like
fury. Hearne, the only European of the party, had not the power to
restrain them, and he might as well have attempted to touch the heart
of an ice-bear as to move the murderous band to pity. As craftily and
noiselessly as serpents they drew nigh, and, when the midnight sun
verged on the horizon, with a dreadful yell they burst on the huts of
their unsuspecting victims. Not one of them escaped, and the monsters
delighted to prolong the misery of their death-struggle by repeated
wounds. An old woman had both her eyes torn out before she received
the mortal blow. A young girl fled to Hearne for protection, who used
every effort to save her, but in vain. In 1821 some human skulls lying
on the spot still bore testimony to this cruel slaughter, and the name
of the “Bloody Falls,” given by Hearne to the scene of the massacre,
will convey its memory to distant ages. No wonder that the hate of the
Esquimaux is no less intense, and that they also pursue the Indians,
wherever they can, with their spears and arrows, like wild beasts.

“Year after year,” says Sir John Richardson, “sees the Esquimaux on
the Polar coast of America occupied in a uniform circle of pursuits.
When the rivers open in spring, they proceed to the rapids and falls
to spear the salmon, which at that season come swimming stream upward.
At the same time, or earlier in more southern localities, they hunt
the reindeer, which drop their young on the coasts and islands while
the snow is only partially melted. Where the open country affords the
huntsman no opportunity of approaching his game unperceived, deep
pits are dug in the snowy ravines, and superficially covered with
snow-tablets. The wind soon effaces the traces of the human hand, and
thus many reindeer are snared.”

In summer the reindeer are killed partly by driving them from islands
or narrow necks of land into the sea, and then spearing them from
their kayaks, and partly by shooting them from behind heaps of stones
raised for the purpose of watching them, and imitating their peculiar
bellow or grunt. Among the various artifices which they employ for this
purpose, one of the most ingenious consists in two men walking directly
_from_ the deer they wish to kill, when the animal almost always
follows them. As soon as they arrive at a large stone, one of the men
hides behind it with his bow, while the other, continuing to walk on,
soon leads the deer within range of his companion’s arrows.

The multitudes of swans, ducks, and geese resorting to the morasses of
the northern coasts to breed, likewise aid in supplying the Esquimaux
with food during their short but busy summer of two months. For their
destruction a very ingenious instrument has been invented. Six or
eight small balls made of walrus-tooth and pierced in the middle are
separately attached to as many thongs of animal sinew, which are tied
together at the opposite end. When cast into the air the diverging
balls describe circles--like the spokes of a wheel--and woe to the
unfortunate bird that comes within their reach.

On the coasts frequented by whales, the month of August is devoted to
the pursuit of these animals; a successful chase insuring a comfortable
winter to a whole community. Their capture requires an association of
labor; hence along the coasts of the Polar Sea the Esquimaux unite
their huts into villages, for whose site a bold point of coast is
generally chosen, where the water is deep enough to float a whale.

When one of these huge creatures is seen lying on the water, a dozen
kayaks or more cautiously paddle up astern of him, till a single canoe,
preceding the rest, comes close to him on one quarter, so as to enable
the men to drive the spear into the animal with all the force of both
arms. This spear has a long line of thong and an inflated seal-skin
attached to it. The stricken whale immediately dives; but when he
re-appears after some time, all the canoes again paddle towards him,
some warning being given by the seal-skin buoy floating on the surface.
Each man being furnished like the first, they repeat the blow as often
as they find an opportunity, till perhaps every line has been thus
employed. After chasing him in this manner sometimes for half a day, he
is at length so wearied by the resistance of the buoys and exhausted
by loss of blood as to be obliged to rise more and more often to the
surface, and is finally killed and towed ashore.

Though in many parts seals are caught at every season of the year,
yet the great hunt takes place in spring, when they play in the open
lanes near the coasts, or come out on the ice to bask in the sun.
In spite of their wariness, they are no match for the Esquimaux,
who have carefully studied all their habits from infancy. Sometimes
the hunter approaches them by imitating their forms and motions so
perfectly that the poor animals are not undeceived until one of them
is struck with his lance; or else, by means of a white screen pushed
forward on a sledge, the hunter comes within range and picks out the
best-conditioned of the band. As the season draws near midsummer, the
seals are more approachable; their eyes being so congested by the glare
of the sun that they are sometimes nearly blind. In winter they are
assaulted while working at their breathing-holes or when coming up for
respiration.

If an Esquimaux has any reason to suppose that a seal is busy gnawing
beneath the ice, he immediately attaches himself to the place, and
seldom leaves it, even in the severest frost, till he has succeeded in
killing the animal. For this purpose he first builds a snow-wall about
four feet in height, to shelter him from the wind, and seating himself
under the lee of it, deposits his spears, lines, and other implements
upon several little forked sticks inserted into the snow, in order to
prevent the smallest noise being made in moving them when wanted. But
the most curious precaution consists in tying his own knees together
with a thong so securely as to prevent any rustling of his clothes,
which might otherwise alarm the animal. In this situation a man will
sit quietly sometimes for hours together, attentively listening to any
noise made by the seal, and sometimes using the “keep-kuttuk” in order
to ascertain whether the animal is still at work below. This simple
little instrument--which affords another striking proof of Esquimaux
ingenuity--is merely a slender rod of bone (as delicate as a fine
wire, that the seal may not see it), nicely rounded, and having a point
at one end and a knob at the other. It is inserted into the ice, and
the knob remaining above the surface, informs the fisherman by its
motion whether the seal is employed in making his hole; if not, it
remains undisturbed, and the attempt is given up in that place. When
the hunter supposes the hole to be nearly completed, he cautiously
lifts his spear (to which the line has been previously attached), and
as soon as the blowing of the seal is distinctly heard--and the ice
consequently very thin--he drives it into him with the force of both
arms, and then cuts away with his “panna,” or well-sharpened knife,
the remaining crust of ice, to enable him to repeat the wounds and
get him out. The “neituk” (_Phoca hispida_), being the smallest seal,
is held, while struggling, either simply by hand, or by putting the
line round a spear with the point stuck into the ice. For the “oguke”
(_Phoca barbata_), the line is passed round the man’s leg or arm; and
for a walrus, round his body, his feet being at the same time firmly
set against a hummock of ice, in which position these people can, from
habit, hold against a very heavy strain. A boy of fifteen is equal
to the killing of a “neituk,” but it requires a full-grown person
to master either of the larger animals. This sport is not without
the danger which adds to the excitement of success, particularly if
the creature struck by the hunter be a large seal or walrus; for woe
betide him if he does not instantly plant his feet firmly in the ice,
and throw himself in such a position that the strain on the line is
as nearly as possible brought into the direction of the length of the
spine of his back and axis of his lower limbs. A transverse pull from
one of these powerful animals would double him up across the air-hole,
and perhaps break his back; or if the opening be large, as it often
is when the spring is advanced, he would be dragged under water and
drowned.

As the Polar bear is as great a seal-hunter as the Esquimaux, one of
the usual methods employed by the latter to catch these bears is to
imitate the motions of the seal by lying flat on the ice until the
bear approaches sufficiently near to insure a good aim; but a gun is
necessary to practise this stratagem with success. Seeman (“Voyage
of the Herald”) mentions another ingenious mode of capturing the
bear by taking advantage of the well-known voracity of the animal,
which generally swallows its food without much mastication. A thick
and strong piece of whalebone, about four inches broad and two feet
long, is rolled up into a small compass, and carefully enveloped in
blubber, forming a round ball. It is then placed in the open air at a
low temperature, where it soon becomes hard and frozen. The natives,
armed with their knives, bows, and arrows, together with this frozen
bait, proceed in quest of the bear. As soon as the animal is seen, one
of the natives discharges an arrow at it; the monster, smarting from
this assault, chases the party, then in full retreat, until, meeting
with the frozen blubber dropped in his path, he greedily swallows it,
and continues the pursuit--doubtless fancying that there must be more
where that came from. The natural heat of the body soon causes the
blubber to thaw, when the whalebone, thus freed, springs back, and
frightfully lacerates the stomach. The writhing brute falls down in
helpless agony, and the Esquimaux, hurrying to the spot, soon put an
end to his sufferings.

The Esquimaux of Smith Sound hunt the bear with the assistance of
their dogs, which are carefully trained not to engage in contest
with the bear, but to retard his flight. While one engrosses his
attention ahead, a second attacks him in the rear, always alert, and
each protecting the other; and thus it rarely happens that they are
seriously injured, or that they fail to delay the animal until their
masters come up. If there be two hunters, the bear is killed easily;
for one makes a feint of thrusting a spear at the right side, and as
the animal turns with his arms towards the threatened attack, the left
is unprotected, and receives the death-wound. But if the hunter is
alone, he grasps the lance firmly in his hands, and provokes the animal
to pursue him by moving rapidly across its path, and then running
as if to escape. But hardly is its long, unwieldy body extended for
the chase, than, with a rapid jump, the hunter doubles on his track,
and runs back towards his first position. The bear is in the act of
turning after him again, when the lance is plunged into the left side
below the shoulder. So dexterously has this thrust to be made, that an
unpractised hunter has often to leave his spear in the side of his prey
and run for his life; but even then, if well-aided by the dogs, a cool,
skillful man seldom fails to kill his adversary.

While the seal, narwhal, and white whale furnish the staple food of
the more southern Greenlander, the walrus is the chief resource of the
Smith Sound Esquimaux. The manner of hunting this animal depends much
on the season of the year. In spring, or the breeding-season, when the
walrus is in his glory, he is taken in two ways. Sometimes he has risen
by the side of an iceberg, where the currents have worn away the floe,
or through a tide crack, and, enjoying the sunshine too long, finds
his retreat cut off by the freezing up of the opening; for like the
seal, the walrus can only work from below at his breathing-hole. When
thus caught, the Esquimaux, who with keen hunter-craft are scouring
the floes, scent him out by their dogs and spear him. Frequently the
female and her calf, accompanied by the grim-visaged father, are seen
surging, in loving trios, from crack to crack, and sporting in the
openings. While thus on their tour, they invite their vigilant enemies
to the second method of capture. This also is by the lance and harpoon;
but it often becomes a regular battle, the male gallantly fronting the
assault, and charging the hunters with furious bravery. In the fall,
when the pack is but partially closed, the walrus are found in numbers,
hanging around the neutral region of mixed ice and water, and, as this
becomes solid with the advance of winter, following it more and more to
the south.

The Esquimaux at this season approach them over the young ice, and
assail them in cracks and holes with harpoon and line. This fishery,
as the season grows colder, darker, and more tempestuous, is fearfully
hazardous. Kane relates how, during a time of famine, two of his
Esquimaux friends, Awaklok and Myouk, determined to seek the walrus
on the open ice. They succeeded in killing a large male, and were
returning to their village, when a north wind broke up the ice, and
they found themselves afloat. The impulse of a European would have
been to seek the land; but they knew that the drift was always most
dangerous on the coast, and urged their dogs towards the nearest
iceberg. They reached it after a struggle, and, by great efforts, made
good their landing, with their dogs and the half-butchered carcass of
the walrus. It was at the close of the last moonlight of December, and
a complete darkness settled around them. They tied the dogs down to
knobs of ice, to prevent their losing their foothold, and prostrated
themselves, to escape being blown off by the violence of the wind. At
first the sea broke over them, but they gained a higher level, and
built a sort of screen of ice. On the fifth night afterwards, so far
as they could judge, one of Myouk’s feet was frozen, and Awaklok lost
his great toe by frost bite. But they did not lose courage, and ate
their walrus-meat as they floated slowly to the south. It was towards
the close of the second moonlight, after a month’s imprisonment, such
as only these iron men could endure, that they found the berg had
grounded. They liberated their dogs as soon as the young ice could bear
their weight, and attaching long lines to them, which they cut from the
hide of the dead walrus, they succeeded in hauling themselves through
the water-space which always surrounds an iceberg, and reaching safe
ice. They returned to their village like men raised from the dead, to
meet a welcome, but to meet famine along with it.

In the form of their bodies, their short pricked ears, thick furry
coat, and bushy tail, the dogs of the Esquimaux so nearly resemble the
wolf of these regions, that when of a light or brindled color, they
may easily at a little distance be mistaken for that animal; but an
eye accustomed to both, perceives that the wolf always keeps his head
down and his tail between his legs in running, whereas the dogs almost
always carry their tails handsomely curled over the back. Their hair in
the winter is from three to four inches long; but besides this nature
furnishes them during this rigorous season with a thick under-coating
of close, soft wool, which enables them to brave the most inclement
weather. They do not bark, but have a long melancholy howl, like that
of the wolf. When drawing a sledge, they have a simple harness of deer
or seal skin going round the neck by one bight, and another for each of
the fore legs, with a single thong leading over the back, and attached
to the sledge as a trace. Though they appear at first sight to be
huddled together without regard to regularity, considerable attention
is really paid to their arrangement, particularly in the selection
of a dog of peculiar spirit and sagacity, who is allowed by a longer
trace to precede the rest as leader, and to whom, in turning to the
right or left, the driver usually addresses himself, using certain
words as the carters do with us. To these a good leader attends with
admirable precision (especially if his own name be repeated at the same
time), looking behind over his shoulder with great earnestness, as if
listening to the directions of the driver, who sits quite low on the
fore part of the sledge, his whip in hand, and his feet overhanging the
snow on one side.

On rough ground, as among hummocks of ice, the sledge would be
frequently overturned if the driver did not repeatedly get off, and, by
lifting or drawing it to one side, steer it clear of those obstacles.
At all times, indeed, except on a smooth and well-made road, he is
pretty constantly employed thus with his feet, and this, together with
his never-ceasing vociferations and frequent use of the whip, renders
the driving of one of these vehicles by no means a pleasant or easy
task.

“The whip,” says Kane, who from assiduous practice at length attained
a considerable proficiency in its use, “is six yards long, and the
handle but sixteen inches--a short lever to throw out such a length of
seal-hide. Learn to do it, however, with a masterly sweep, or else make
up your mind to forego driving sledges; for the dogs are guided solely
by the lash, and you must be able to hit not only any particular dog
of a team of twelve, but to accompany the feat also with a resounding
crack. After this you find that, to get your lash back, involves
another difficulty; for it is apt to entangle itself among the dogs and
lines, or to fasten itself cunningly round bits of ice, so as to drag
you head over heels into the snow. The secret by which this complicated
set of requirements is fulfilled consists in properly describing an
arc from the shoulder with a stiff elbow, giving the jerk to the
whip-handle from the hand and wrist alone. The lash trails behind
as you travel, and when thrown forward is allowed to extend itself
without an effort to bring it back. You wait patiently, after giving
the projectile impulse, until it unwinds its slow length, reaches the
end of its tether, and cracks to tell you that it is at its journey’s
end. Such a crack on the ear or fore foot of an unfortunate dog is
signalized by a howl quite unmistakable in its import.”

The mere labor of using this whip is such that the Esquimaux travel
in couples, one sledge after the other. The hinder dogs follow
mechanically, and thus require no whip; and the drivers change about so
as to rest each other.

In the summer, when the absence of snow prevents the use of sledges,
the dogs are still made useful, on journeys and hunting excursions, by
being employed to carry burdens in a kind of saddle-bags laid across
their shoulders. A stout dog thus accoutred will accompany his master
laden with a weight of about twenty or twenty-five pounds.

The scent of the Esquimaux dog is excellent, and this property is
turned to account in finding the seal-holes, which they will discover
entirely by the smell at a very great distance. The track of a single
deer upon the snow will in like manner set them off at full gallop at
least a quarter of a mile before they arrive at it, and with the same
alacrity they pursue the bear or the musk-ox. Indeed, the only animal
which they are not eager to chase is the wolf, of which they seem to
have an instinctive dread, giving notice at night of their approach to
the huts by a loud and continued howl.

In spite of their invaluable services, they are treated with great
severity by their masters, who never caress them, and, indeed, scarcely
ever take any notice of them except to punish them. But notwithstanding
this rough treatment, the attachment of the dogs to their masters is
very great, and this they display, after a short absence, by jumping up
and licking their faces all over with extreme delight.

It may be supposed that among so cheerful a people as the Esquimaux
there are many games or sports practised. One of their exhibitions
consists in making hideous faces by drawing both lips into the mouth,
poking forward the chin, squinting frightfully, occasionally shutting
one eye, and moving the head from side to side as if the neck had been
dislocated.

Another performance consists in repeating certain words with a
guttural tone resembling ventriloquism, staring at the same time in
such a manner as to make their eyes appear ready to burst out of their
sockets with the exertion. Two or more will sometimes stand up face
to face, and, with great quickness and regularity, respond to each
other, keeping such exact time that the sound appears to come from
one throat instead of several. They are fond of music, both vocal and
instrumental, but their singing is not much better than a howl.

The Esquimaux have neither magistrates nor laws, yet they are orderly
in their conduct towards each other. The constitution of their society
is patriarchal, but there is no recognition of mastership except such
as may be claimed by superior prowess. The rule of the head of a
family lasts only as long as he has vigor enough to secure success in
hunting. When his powers of mind and body are impaired by age, he at
once sinks in the social scale, associates with the women, and takes
his seat in the oomiak. They rarely quarrel among themselves, and
settle their disputes either by boxing, the parties sitting down and
striking blows alternately until one of them gives in, or before a
court of honor, where, after the accuser and the accused have richly
abused and ridiculed each other, the case is decided by the priests
or “angekoks.” These wonder-workers, who enjoy a great reputation as
sorcerers, soothsayers, or medicine-men, employ ventriloquism, swallow
knives, extract stones from various parts of their bodies, and use
other deceptions to impress their dupes with a high opinion of their
supernatural powers. Like the members of the learned professions
elsewhere, they have a certain language or jargon of their own, in
which they communicate with each other. The heathen Esquimaux do not
appear to have any idea of the existence of one Supreme Being, but
believe in a number of spirits, with whom on certain occasions the
angekoks pretend to hold mysterious intercourse. Even in Old Greenland
the influence and teachings of the missionaries have not entirely
obliterated the old superstitions, and the mysteries of the angekok,
though not openly recognized near the Danish settlements, still hold
their secret power over many a native who is professedly a Christian.

Captain Hall highly praises the good-nature of the Esquimaux; but in
their behavior to the old and infirm they betray the insensibility,
or rather inhumanity, commonly found among savage nations, frequently
abandoning them to their fate on their journeys, and allowing them to
perish in the wilderness.

Among themselves “Tiglikpok” (he is a thief) is a term of reproach, but
they steal without scruple from strangers, and are not ashamed when
detected, nor do they blush when reproved. Parry taxes them with want
of gratitude; and though they have no doubt rendered good services
to many of our Arctic navigators, yet sometimes, when they fancied
themselves the stronger party, they have not hesitated to attack or to
murder the strangers, and their good behavior can only be relied upon
as long as there is the power of enforcing it.

One of the most amiable traits of their character is the kindness with
which they treat their children, whose gentleness and docility are such
as to occasion their parents little trouble, and to render severity
towards them quite unnecessary. Even from their earliest infancy they
possess that quiet disposition, gentleness of demeanor, and uncommon
evenness of temper for which, in mature age, they are for the most part
distinguished. “They are just as fond of play,” says Parry, “as any
other young people, and of the same kind, only that while an English
child draws a cart of wood, an Esquimaux of the same age has a sledge
of whalebone; and for the superb baby-house of the former, the latter
builds a miniature hut of snow, and begs a lighted wick from her
mother’s lamp to illuminate the little dwelling.”

When not more than eight years old, the boys are taken by their fathers
on their sealing excursions, where they begin to learn their future
business; and even at that early age they are occasionally intrusted to
bring home a sledge and dogs from a distance of several miles over the
ice. At the age of eleven we see a boy with his water-tight boots, a
spear in his hand, and a small coil of line at his back, accompanying
the men to the fishery under every circumstance; and from this time his
services daily increase in value to the whole tribe.

In intelligence and susceptibility of civilization the Esquimaux are
far superior to the neighboring Indians. They have such a good idea of
the hydrography and bearings of the sea-coasts which they frequent as
to draw accurate charts of them. Thus Parry, in his second voyage, was
guided in his operations by the sketches of the talented Iligliuk; and
while Beechey was at Kotzebue Sound, the natives constructed a chart of
the coast upon the sand, first marking out the coast-line with a stick,
and regulating the distance by the day’s journey. The hills and ranges
of mountains were next shown by elevations of sand or stone, and the
islands represented by heaps of pebbles, their proportions being duly
attended to. When the mountains and islands were erected, the villages
and fishing-stations were marked by a number of sticks placed upright,
in imitation of those which are put up on the coast wherever these
people fix their abode. In this manner a complete hydrographical plan
was drawn from Cape Derby to Cape Krusenstern.

The Esquimaux have a decided predilection for commercial pursuits,
and undertake long voyages for the purposes of trade. Thus on the
continental line of coast west of the Mackenzie, the Point Barrow
Esquimaux proceed every summer, with sledges laden with whale or seal
oil, whalebone, walrus-tusks, thongs of walrus hide, and seal-skins,
to the Colville River, where they meet the Esquimaux from Kotzebue
Sound, who offer them in exchange articles procured from the Tchuktchi
in the previous summer, such as iron and copper kettles, knives,
tobacco, beads, and tin for making pipes. About ten days are spent in
bartering, dancing, and revelry, on the flat ground between the tents
of each party, pitched a bow-shot apart. The time is one of pleasant
excitement, and is passed nearly without sleep. About July 20 this
friendly meeting is at an end: the Kotzebue Sound Esquimaux ascend
the Colville on their way homeward, while those from Point Barrow
descend to the sea, to pursue their voyage eastward to Barter Reef,
where they obtain in traffic from the eastern Esquimaux various skins,
stone lamps, English knives, small white beads, and, lately, guns and
ammunition, which in the year following they exchange for the Kotzebue
Sound articles at the Colville, along with the produce of their own
sea-hunts.

In this manner, articles of Russian manufacture, originally purchased
at the fair of Ostrownoje by the Tchuktchi, or from the factors of the
Russian Fur Company on Sledge Island, in Bering’s Straits, find their
way from tribe to tribe along the American coast as far as Repulse
Bay, and compete among the tribes of the Mackenzie with articles from
Sheffield or Birmingham.

A hunter’s life is always precarious--a constant alternation between
abundance and want; and though the Esquimaux strikes many a seal,
white-fish, or walrus in the course of the year, yet these animals
do not abound at all seasons, and there are other causes, besides
improvidence, which soon exhaust the stores laid by in times of
abundance. Active exercise and constant exposure to cold are remarkable
promoters of atomic change in the human body, and a very large supply
of food is absolutely necessary to counterbalance the effects of a
rapid organic combustion. As a matter of curiosity, Parry once tried
how much an Esquimaux lad would, if freely supplied, consume in the
course of a day. The following articles were weighed before being given
to him: he was twenty hours in getting through them, and certainly did
not consider the quantity extraordinary.

                                                         lbs.  oz.
  Sea-horse flesh, hard frozen                             4    4
     ”        ”    boiled                                  4    4
  Bread and bread-dust                                     1   12
                                                          -------
                               Total of solids            10    4

  The fluids were in fair proportion, viz., rich gravy soup, 1¼
  pint; raw spirits, 3 wine-glasses; strong grog, 1 tumbler;
  water, 1 gallon 1 pint.[15]

Kane averages the Esquimaux ration in a season of plenty at eight or
ten pounds a day, with soup and water to the extent of half a gallon,
and finds in this excessive consumption--which is rather a necessity
of their peculiar life and organization than the result of gluttony--
the true explanation of the scarcity from which they frequently suffer.
In times of abundance they hunt indomitably without the loss of a day,
and stow away large quantities of meat. An excavation is made either
on the mainland--or, what is preferred, on an island inaccessible to
foxes--and the flesh is stacked inside and covered with heavy stones.
One such cache which Kane met on a small island contained the flesh of
ten walruses, and he knew of others equally large. But by their ancient
custom, all share with all; and as they migrate in numbers as their
necessities prompt, the tax on each particular settlement is not seldom
so excessive that even considerable stores are unable to withstand the
drain, and soon make way for pinching hunger, and even famine.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE FUR-TRADE OF THE HUDSON’S BAY TERRITORIES.

  The Coureur des Bois.--The Voyageur.--The Birch-bark Canoe.--
    The Canadian Fur-trade in the last Century.--The Hudson’s Bay
    Company.--Bloody Feuds between the North-west Company of Canada
    and the Hudson’s Bay Company.--Their Amalgamation into a new
    Company in 1821.--Reconstruction of the Hudson’s Bay Company in
    1863.--Forts or Houses.--The Attihawmeg.--Influence of the
    Company on its savage Dependents.--The Black Bear, or Baribal.--
    The Brown Bear.--The Grizzly Bear.--The Raccoon.--The American
    Glutton.--The Pine Marten.--The Pekan, or Woodshock.--The
    Chinga.--The Mink.--The Canadian Fish-otter.--The Crossed Fox.--
    The Black or Silvery Fox.--The Canadian Lynx, or Pishu.--The
    Ice-hare.--The Beaver.--The Musquash.


As the desire to reach India by the shortest road first made the
civilized world acquainted with the eastern coast of North America, so
the extension of the fur-trade has been the chief, or rather the only,
motive which originally led the footsteps of the white man from the
Canadian Lakes and the borders of Hudson’s Bay into the remote interior
of that vast continent.

The first European fur-traders in North America were French Canadians--
_coureurs des bois_--a fitting surname for men habituated to an Indian
forest-life. Three or four of these “irregular spirits” agreeing to
make an expedition into the backwoods would set out in their birch-bark
canoe, laden with goods received on trust from a merchant, for a voyage
of great danger and hardship, it might be of several years, into the
wilderness.

On their return the merchant who had given them credit of course
received the lion’s share of the skins gathered among the Hurons or
the Iroquois; the small portion left as a recompense for their own
labor was soon spent, as sailors spend their hard-earned wages on their
arrival in port; and then they started on some new adventure, until
finally old age, infirmities, or death prevented their revisiting the
forest.

The modern “_voyageur_,” who has usurped the place of the old
“_coureurs_,” is so like them in manners and mode of life, that to know
the one is to become acquainted with the other. In short, the voyageur
is merely a coureur subject to strict law and serving for a fixed pay;
while the coureur was a voyageur trading at his own risk and peril,
and acknowledging no control when once beyond the pale of European
colonization.

The camel is frequently called the “ship of the desert,” and with
equal justice the birch-bark canoe might be named the “camel of the
North American wilds.” For if we consider the rivers which, covering
the land like a net-work, are the only arteries of communication;
the frequent rapids and cataracts; the shallow waters flowing over a
stony ground whose sharp angles would infallibly cut to pieces any
boat made of wood; and finally the surrounding deserts, where, in
case of an accident, the traveller is left to his own resources, we
must come to the conclusion that in such a country no intercourse
could possibly be carried on without a boat made of materials at once
flexible and tough, and capable moreover of being easily repaired
without the aid of hammer and nails, of saw and plane. This invaluable
material is supplied by the rind of the paper-birch, a tree whose uses
in the Hudson’s Bay territories are almost as manifold as those of
the palm-trees of the tropical zone. Where the skins of animals are
rare, the pliant bark, peeled off in large pieces, serves to cover the
Indian’s tent. Carefully sewn together, and ornamented with the quills
of the porcupine, it is made into baskets, sacks, dishes, plates, and
drinking-cups, and in fact is, in one word, the chief material of which
the household articles of the Crees are formed. The wood serves for
the manufacture of oars, snow-shoes, and sledges; and in spring the
sap of the tree furnishes an agreeable beverage, which, by boiling,
may be inspissated into a sweet syrup. Beyond the Arctic Circle the
paper-birch is a rare and crooked tree, but it is met with as a shrub
as far as 69° N. lat. It grows to perfection on the northern shores of
Lake Superior, near Fort William, where the canoes of the Hudson’s Bay
Company are chiefly manufactured.

A birch-bark canoe is between thirty and forty feet long, and the rinds
of which it is built are sewn together with filaments of the root of
the Canadian fir. In case of a hole being knocked into it during the
journey, it can be patched like an old coat, and is then as good as
new. As it has a flat bottom, it does not sink deep into the water; and
the river must be almost dried up which could not carry such a boat.
The cargo is divided into bales or parcels of from 90 to 100 pounds;
and although it frequently amounts to more than four tons, yet the
canoe itself is so light that the crew can easily transport it upon
their shoulders. This crew generally consists of eight or ten men, two
of whom must be experienced boatmen, who receive double pay, and are
placed one at the helm, the other at the poop. When the wind is fair, a
sail is unfurled, and serves to lighten the toil.

The Canadian voyageur combines the light-heartedness of the Frenchman
with the apathy of the Indian, and his dress is also a mixture of
that of the Red-skins and of the European colonists. Frequently
he is himself a mixture of Gallic and Indian blood--a so-called
“bois-brûlé,” and in this case doubly light-hearted and unruly. With
his woollen blanket as a surcoat, his shirt of striped cotton, his
pantaloons of cloth, or his Indian stockings of leather, his moccasins
of deer-skin, and his sash of gaudily-dyed wool, in which his knife,
his tobacco-bag, and various other utensils are stuck, he stands high
in his own esteem. His language is a French jargon, richly interlarded
with Indian and English words--a jumble fit to drive a grammarian mad,
but which he thinks so euphonious that his tongue is scarcely ever at
rest. His supply of songs and anecdotes is inexhaustible, and he is
always ready for a dance. His politeness is exemplary: he never calls
his comrades otherwise than “mon frère,” and “mon cousin.” It is hardly
necessary to remark that he is able to handle his boat with the same
ease as an expert rider manages his horse.

When after a hard day’s work they rest for the night, the axe is
immediately at work in the nearest forest, and in less than ten minutes
the tent is erected and the kettle simmering on the fire. “While the
passengers--perhaps some chief trader on a voyage to some distant
fort, or a Back or a Richardson on his way to the Polar Ocean--are
warming or drying themselves, the indefatigable “voyageurs” drag the
unloaded canoe ashore, turn it over, and examine it carefully, either
to fasten again some loose stitches, or to paint over some damaged
part with fresh resin. Under the cover of their boat, which they turn
against the wind, and with a flaming fire in the foreground, they then
bid defiance to the weather. At one o’clock in the morning “Lève! lève!
lève!” is called; in half an hour the encampment is broken up, and
the boat reladen and launched. At eight in the morning a halt is made
for breakfast, for which three-quarters of an hour are allowed. About
two in the afternoon half an hour’s rest suffices for a cold dinner.
Eighteen hours’ work and six hours’ rest make out the day. The labor is
incredible; yet the “voyageur” not only supports it without a murmur,
but with the utmost cheerfulness. Such a life requires, of course, an
iron constitution. In rowing, the arms and breast of the “voyageur”
are exerted to the utmost; and in shallow places he drags the boat
after him, wading up to the knees and thighs in the water. Where he is
obliged to force his way against a rapid, the drag-rope must be pulled
over rocks and stumps of trees, through swamps and thickets; and at the
portages the cargo and the boat have to be carried over execrable roads
to the next navigable water. Then the “voyageur” takes upon his back
two packages, each weighing 90 pounds, and attached by a leathern belt
running over the forehead, that his hands may be free to clear the way;
and such portages sometimes occur ten or eleven times in one day.

For these toils of his wandering life he has many compensations, in
the keen appetite, the genial sensation of muscular strength, and the
flow of spirits engendered by labor in the pure and bracing air. Surely
many would rather breathe with the “voyageur” the fragrance of the pine
forest, or share his rest upon the borders of the stream, than lead the
monotonous life of an artisan, pent up in the impure atmosphere of a
city.

During the first period of the American fur-trade the “coureurs des
bois” used to set out on their adventurous expeditions from the village
“La Chine,” one of the oldest and most famous settlements in Canada,
whose name points to a time when the St. Lawrence was still supposed to
be the nearest way to China. How far some of them may have penetrated
into the interior of the continent is unknown; but so much is certain,
that their regular expeditions extended as far as the Saskatchewan,
2500 miles beyond the remotest European settlements. Several factories
or forts protected their interests on the banks of that noble river;
and the French would no doubt have extended their dominion to the Rocky
Mountains or to the Pacific if the conquest of Canada by England, in
1761, had not completely revolutionized the fur-trade. The change of
dominion laid it prostrate for several years, but our enterprising
countrymen soon opened a profitable intercourse with the Indian tribes
of the west, as their predecessors had done before them. Now, however,
the adventurous “coureur des bois,” who had entered the wilds as a
semi-independent trader, was obliged to serve in the pay of the British
merchant, and to follow him, as his “voyageur,” deeper and deeper into
the wilderness, until finally they reached on the Athabasca and the
Churchill River the Indian hunters who used to sell their skins in the
settlements of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

This company was founded in the year 1670 by a body of adventurers
and merchants under the patronage of Prince Rupert, second cousin
of Charles II. The charter obtained from the Crown was wonderfully
liberal, comprising not only the grant of the exclusive trade, but
also of full territorial possession to all perpetuity of the vast
lands within the watershed of Hudson’s Bay. The Company at once
established some forts along the shores of the great inland sea from
which it derived its name, and opened a very lucrative trade with the
Indians, so that it never ceased paying rich dividends to the fortunate
shareholders until towards the close of the last century, when, as I
have already mentioned, its prosperity began to be seriously affected
by the energetic competition of the Canadian fur-traders.

In spite of the flourishing state of its affairs, or rather because the
monopoly which it enjoyed allowed it to prosper without exertion, the
Company, as long as Canada remained in French hands, had conducted its
affairs in a very indolent manner, waiting for the Indians to bring
the produce of their chase to the Hudson’s Bay settlements, instead
of following them into the interior and stimulating them by offering
greater facilities for exchange.

For eighty years after its foundation the Company possessed no more
than four small forts on the shores of Hudson’s Bay; and only when the
encroachments of the Canadians at length roused it from its torpor,
did it resolve likewise to advance into the interior, and to establish
a fort on the eastern shore of Sturgeon Lake, in the year 1774. Up to
this time, with the exception of the voyage of discovery which Hearne
(1770–71) made under its auspices to the mouth of the Coppermine River,
it had done but little for the promotion of geographical discovery in
its vast territory.

Meanwhile the Canadian fur-traders had become so hateful to the Indians
that these savages formed a conspiracy for their total extirpation.

Fortunately for the white men, the small-pox broke out about this
time among the Redskins, and swept them away as the fire consumes the
parched grass of the prairies. Their unburied corpses were torn by the
wolves and wild dogs, and the survivors were too weak and dispirited
to be able to undertake any thing against the foreign intruders. The
Canadian fur-traders now also saw the necessity of combining their
efforts for their mutual benefit, instead of ruining each other by an
insane competition; and consequently formed, in 1783, a society which,
under the name of the North-west Company of Canada, at first consisted
of sixteen, later of twenty partners or shareholders, some of whom
lived in Canada, while the others were scattered among the various
stations in the interior. The whole Canadian fur-trade was now greatly
developed; for while previously each of the associates had blindly
striven to do as much harm as possible to his present partners, and
thus indirectly damaged his own interests, they now all vigorously
united to beat the rival Hudson’s Bay Company out of the field. The
agents of this North-west Company, in defiance of their charter, were
indefatigable in exploring the lakes and woods, the plains and the
mountains, for the purpose of establishing new trading-stations at all
convenient points.

The most celebrated of these pioneers of commerce, Alexander Mackenzie,
reached, in the year 1789, the mouth of the great river which bears his
name, and saw the white dolphins gambol about in the Arctic Sea. In a
second voyage he crossed the Rocky Mountains, and followed the course
of the Fraser River until it discharges its waters into the Georgian
Gulf opposite to Vancouver’s Island. Here he wrote with perishable
vermilion the following inscription on a rock-wall fronting the gulf:--

                              A. Mackenzie
                      arrived from Canada by land,
                             22 July, 1792.

The words were soon effaced by wind and weather, but the fame of the
explorer will last as long as the English language is spoken in America.

The energetic North-west Company thus ruled over the whole continent
from the Canadian Lakes to the Rocky Mountains, and in 1806 it even
crossed that barrier and established its forts on the northern
tributaries of the Columbia River. To the north it likewise extended
its operations, encroaching more and more upon the privileges of the
Hudson’s Bay Company, which, roused to energy, now also pushed on its
posts farther and farther into the interior, and established in 1812
a colony on the Red River to the south of Winipeg Lake, thus driving,
as it were, a sharp thorn into the side of its rival. But a power
like the North-west Company, which had no less than 50 agents, 70
interpreters, and 1120 voyageurs in its pay, and whose chief managers
used to appear at their annual meetings at Fort William, on the banks
of Lake Superior, with all the pomp and pride of feudal barons, was not
inclined to tolerate this encroachment; and thus, after many quarrels,
a regular war broke out between the two parties, which, after two
years’ duration, led to the expulsion of the Red River colonists and
the murder of their governor, Semple. This event took place in the
year 1816, and is but one episode of the bloody feuds which continued
to reign between the two rival companies until 1821. At first sight it
may seem strange that such acts of violence should take place between
British subjects and on British soil, but then we must consider that at
that time European law had little power in the American wilderness.

The dissensions of the fur-traders had most deplorable consequences
for the Redskins; for both companies, to swell the number of their
adherents, lavishly distributed spirituous liquors--a temptation which
no Indian can resist.

The whole of the hunting-grounds of the Saskatchewan and Athabasca
were but one scene of revelry and bloodshed. Already decimated by
the small-pox, the Indians now became the victims of drunkenness and
discord, and it was to be feared that if the war and its consequent
demoralization continued, the most important tribes would soon be
utterly swept away.

[Illustration: 113. WINTER HUT OF HUNTERS.]

The finances of the belligerent companies were in an equally deplorable
state; the produce of the chase diminished from year to year with the
increase of their expenditure; and thus the Hudson’s Bay Company,
which used to gratify its shareholders with dividends of 50 and 25 per
cent., was unable, from 1808 to 1814, to distribute a single shilling
among them. At length wisdom prevailed over passion, and the enemies
came to a resolution which, if taken from the very beginning, would
have saved them both a great deal of treasure and many crimes. Instead
of continuing to swing the tomahawk, they now smoked the calumet, and
amalgamated in 1821, under the name of the “Hudson’s Bay Company,” and
under the wing of the charter. The British Government, as a dowry to
the impoverished couple, presented them with a license of exclusive
trade throughout the whole of that territory which, under the name of
the Hudson’s Bay and North-west territories, extends from Labrador to
the Pacific, and from the Red River to the Polar Ocean. This license
was terminable in 21 years, but in 1838 it was renewed again for the
same period. The good effects of peace and union soon became apparent,
for after a few years the Company was enabled to pay half-yearly
dividends of five per cent., and the Indians, to whom brandy was now no
longer supplied unless as a medicine, enjoyed the advantages of a more
sober life.

About 1848 the Imperial Government, fearing that Vancouver’s Island
might be annexed by the United States, resolved to place it under the
management of the Hudson’s Bay Company. This was accordingly done in
1849. A license of exclusive trade and management was granted for ten
years, terminable therefore in 1859 (the time of expiration of the
similar license over the Indian territory).

These were the palmy days of the Hudson’s Bay Company. They held
Rupert’s Land by the royal charter, which was perpetual; they held
Vancouver’s Island and the whole Indian territory to the Pacific by
exclusive licenses, terminable in 1859; and thus maintained under their
sole sway about 4,000,000 square miles--a realm larger than the whole
of Europe.

For the ten years ending May 31, 1862, the average net annual profits
of the Company amounted to £81,000 on a paid-up capital of £400,000,
but a portion only of this income was distributed as dividend.

In 1863 the Company was reconstructed, with a capital of £2,000,000,
for the purpose of enlarging its operations--such as opening the
southern and more fruitful districts of the Saskatchewan or the
Winipeg to European colonization; but the northern, and by far the
larger portion of the vast domains over which, after the dismemberment
of British Columbia and the Stikine territory, it still holds sway,
have too severe a climate ever to be cultivated, and, unless their
mineral wealth be made available, must ever be what they are now--a
fur-bearing region of gloomy pine-forests, naked barren-grounds, lakes,
and morasses.

Over this vast extent of desert the Company has established about
150 trading-posts, called “_houses_,” or “_forts_,” which, however,
consist merely of a few magazines and dwelling-houses, protected by a
simple wall, stockade, or palisade sufficiently strong to resist any
sudden attack of the Indians. Among the tribes, with whom a friendly
intercourse has long subsisted, and whose fidelity may implicitly be
trusted, no guard is ever kept, and it is only in forts more recently
built in remote parts that precautions are taken.

[Illustration: 114. FORT EDMONTON, NORTH SASKATCHEWAN.]

These forts are always situated on the borders of a lake or river,
both for facility of transport and for the purpose of catching fish,
particularly the species of Coregonus, or white-fish, which, from its
importance to all the natives of Rupert’s Land between the great
Canada lakes and the Arctic Sea, the Crees call Attihawmeg, or the
“reindeer of the waters.” In many of the trading-posts it forms the
chief food of the white residents; and it is asserted that though
deprived of bread and vegetables, a man may live upon it for months or
even years without tiring. According to Sir John Richardson, no fish in
any country or sea excels the white-fish in flavor and wholesomeness,
and it is the most beneficial article of diet to the Red Indians
near the Arctic Circle, being obtained with more certainty than the
reindeer, and with less change of abode in summer and winter.

Each of the principal forts is the seat of a chief factor, or general
administrator of a district, and of a chief trader, who transacts the
business with the Indians.

Besides these principal functionaries--out of whom the governor is
chosen--the Company employed, in 1860, 5 surgeons, 87 clerks, 67
postmasters, 1200 permanent servants, and 500 voyageurs, besides
temporary employés of different ranks, so that the total number of
persons in its pay was at least 3000. Besides this little army of
immediate dependents, the whole male Indian population of its vast
territory, amounting to about 100,000 hunters and trappers, may be
considered as actively employed in the service of the Company. Armed
vessels, both sailing and steam, are employed on the north-west coast
to carry on the fur-trade with the warlike natives of that distant
region. More than twenty years ago this trade alone gave employment to
about 1000 men, occupying 21 permanent establishments, or engaged in
navigating five armed sailing vessels and one armed steamer, varying
from 100 to 300 tons in burden.

[Illustration: 115. TRADER’S CAMP.]

The influence of the Company over its savage dependents may justly be
called beneficial. Both from motives of humanity and self-interest,
every effort is made to civilize them. No expense is spared to preserve
them from the want into which their improvidence too often plunges
them; and the example of an inflexible straightforwardness serves to
gain their confidence. This moral preponderance, and the admiration
of the Indian for the superior knowledge and arts of the Europeans,
explain how a mere handful of white men, scattered over an enormous
territory, not only lead a life of perfect security, but exercise
an almost absolute power over a native population outnumbering them
at least several hundred times. The Indians have in course of time
acquired many new wants, and have thus become more and more dependent
on the white traders. The savage hunter is no longer the free,
self-dependent man, who, without any foreign assistance, was able to
make and manufacture, with his own hands, all the weapons and articles
needed for his maintenance. Without English firearms and fishing-gear,
without iron-ware and woollen blankets, he could no longer exist, and
the unfortunate tribe on which the Company should close its stores
would soon perish for want. “History,” says Professor Hind, “does
not furnish another example of an association of private individuals
exerting a powerful influence over so large an extent of the earth’s
surface, and administering their affairs with such consummate skill and
unwavering devotion to the original objects of their incorporation.”

The standard of exchange in all mercantile transactions with the
natives is a beaver skin, the relative value of which, as originally
established by the traders, differs considerably from the present
worth of the articles represented by it; but the Indians are averse to
change. They receive their principal outfit of clothing and ammunition
on credit in the autumn, to be repaid by their winter hunts; the amount
intrusted to each of the hunters varying with their reputations for
industry and skill.

The furs which, in the course of the year, are accumulated in the
various forts or trading-stations, are transported in the short time
during which the rivers and lakes are navigable, and in the manner
described at the beginning of the chapter, to York Factory, or Moose
Factory, on Hudson’s Bay, to Montreal or Vancouver, and shipped from
thence mostly to London. From the more distant posts in the interior,
the transport often requires several seasons; for travelling is
necessarily very slow when rapids and portages continually interrupt
navigation, and the long winter puts a stop to all intercourse whatever.

The goods from Europe, consisting (besides those mentioned above)
of printed cotton or silk handkerchiefs, or neck-cloths, of beads,
and the universal favorite tobacco, require at least as much time to
find their way into the distant interior; and thus the Company is not
seldom obliged to wait for four, five, or six years before it receives
its returns for the articles sent from London. It must, however, be
confessed, that it amply repays itself for the tediousness of delay,
for Dr. Armstrong was told by the Esquimaux of Cape Bathurst--a tribe
in the habit of trading with the Indians from the Mackenzie, who are
in direct communication with the Hudson’s Bay Company’s agents--that
for three silver-fox skins--which sometimes fetch as high a price
as twenty-five or thirty guineas apiece at the annual sale of the
Company--they had got from the traders cooking utensils which might be
worth eight shillings and sixpence!

The value of the skins annually imported into England by the Company
amounts to about £150,000 or £200,000. Besides, many of its furs are
bartered for Russian-American peltry, and a large quantity is exported
direct to China.

[Illustration: 116. SWAMP FORMED BY DESERTED BEAVER-DAM.]

After this brief account of one of the most remarkable mercantile
associations of any age, some remark on the chief fur-bearing animals
of the Hudson’s Bay territory may not be without interest. Among
these, the black bear, muskwa, or baribal (_Ursus americanus_), is
one of the most valuable, as his long hair--unlike that of the brown
or the white bear--is beautifully smooth and glossy. He inhabits
the forest regions of North America, but migrates according to the
seasons. In spring he seeks his food in the thickets along the banks
of the rivers or lakes; in summer he retreats into the forests; in
winter he either wanders farther to the south, or hollows out a kind
of lair beneath the root of an overthrown tree, where, as the cold is
more or less severe, he either finds a retreat after his excursions,
or hibernates buried in the snow. He feeds chiefly on berries, grain,
acorns, roots, eggs, and honey; though, when pressed by hunger, he
will attack other quadrupeds. He climbs upon trees or rocks with great
agility, and, being very watchful, is not easily got at in summer.
Sometimes, however, his caution brings about his destruction; for, from
fear of some possible danger, or at the slightest noise, he rises on
his hind legs to look over the bushes under which he lies concealed,
and thus offers a mark to the bullet of the hunter. In the winter, when
the snow betrays his traces, he is more easily shot, and his skin and
flesh are then also in the best condition. In spite of his apparent
clumsiness and stolidity, the muskwa is more alert than the brown bear,
whom he nearly approaches in size; he runs so fast that no man can
overtake him, and is an excellent swimmer and climber. When attacked,
he generally retreats as fast as possible into the forest; but if
escape is impossible, he turns furiously upon his pursuers, and becomes
exceedingly dangerous. Dogs alone are incapable of mastering him, as he
is always ready to receive them with a stroke of his fore paw; but they
are very useful in driving him up a tree, and thus giving the hunter
an opportunity of hitting him in the right spot. When in a state of
captivity, the baribal, in his mild and good-humored disposition, is
distinguished, from the brown and white bear. His fur is also much more
valuable than that of the brown bear.

It is not yet fully ascertained whether the American brown bear is
identical with that of Europe; the resemblance, however, is close. In
summer he wanders to the shores of the Polar Sea, and indulges more
frequently in animal food than the baribal. He is even said to attack
man when pressed by hunger; but all those whom Sir John Richardson met
with ran away as soon as they saw him.

As the grizzly bear (_Ursus ferox_) is found on the Rocky Mountains
up to the latitude of 61°, he undoubtedly deserves a place among the
sub-arctic animals. The skin of this most formidable of the ursine
race, who is about nine feet long, and is said to attain the weight of
eight hundred pounds, is but little prized in the fur-trade. He is the
undoubted monarch of his native wilds, for even the savage bison flies
at his approach.

Although the raccoon (_Procyon lotor_) is more commonly found in
Canada and the United States, yet he is also an inhabitant of the
Hudson’s Bay territories, where he is met with up to 56° N. lat. This
interesting little animal, which, like the bears, applies the sole of
its foot to the ground in walking, has an average length of two feet
from the nose to the tail, which is about ten inches long. Its color is
grayish-brown, with a dusky line running from the top of the head down
the middle of the face, and ending below the eyes. The tail is very
thickly covered with hair, and is annulated with several black bars on
a yellowish-white ground. Its face is very like that of the fox, whom
it equals in cunning, while its active and playful habits resemble
those of the monkey. Its favorite haunts are the woods, near streams
or lakes, for one of its most marked peculiarities, from which it has
received its specific name of _lotor_, or the washer, is its habit of
plunging its dry food into water before eating it. The raccoon devours
almost any thing that comes in his way--fruits and grain of all sorts,
birds’ nests, mice, grasshoppers, beetles: while the waters yield him
fishes, crabs, and oysters, which he is very expert in opening. His fur
forms no inconsiderable article of commerce, and is very fashionable
in Russia. In 1841, 111,316 raccoon skins were imported into St.
Petersburg, and more than half a million were stapled in Leipzig,
intended, no doubt, for smuggling across the frontier.

The fur of the American glutton, or wolverine, is much used for muffs
and linings; yet, from its being a notorious robber of their traps, the
animal is as much hated by the Indian hunters as the dog-fish by the
northern fishermen.

The Hudson’s Bay territories can not boast of the sable, but the
American pine marten (_Martes abietum_) is not much inferior in value,
as its dark-brown fur is remarkably fine, thick, and glossy. It
frequents the woody districts, where it preys on birds, and all the
smaller quadrupeds from the hare to the mouse. Even the squirrel is
incapable of escaping the pine marten, and after having vaulted and
climbed from tree to tree, sinks at last exhausted into its gripe.

The pekan, or woodshock (_Martes canadensis_), the largest of the
marten family, is also the one which most richly supplies the
fur-market. It is found over the whole of North America, and generally
lives in burrows near the banks of rivers, as it principally feeds on
the small quadrupeds that frequent the water.

Several species of ermine inhabit the Hudson’s Bay territories, but
their skins are of no great importance in the fur-trade. Like many
other species of the marten family, they eject, when irritated or
alarmed, a fluid of a fetid odor; but in this respect they are far
surpassed by the chinga (_Mephitis chinga_), whose secretion has so
intolerable a smell that the least quantity suffices to produce nausea
and a sense of suffocation. This animal is frequently found near
Hudson’s Bay, whence it extends farther to the north. In spite of the
formidable means of defense with which it has been armed by nature, it
is of use to man, for its black and white striped fur (which, as may
easily be supposed, never appears in the European market) provides the
Indians with coverings or tobacco-pouches. Before seizing the chinga,
they irritate it with a long switch until it has repeatedly emptied the
glands from which the noxious vapor issues; then suddenly springing
upon it, they hold it up by the tail and dispatch it.

The mink (_Vison americanus_), another member of the weasel family,
is one of the most important fur-bearing animals of the Hudson’s
Bay territories. It resembles the small European fish-otter (_Vison
lutreola_), but its skin is far more valuable--the brown hair with
which it is covered being much softer and thicker. As its toes are
connected by a small web, it is an excellent swimmer, and as formidable
to the salmon or trout in the water as to the hare on land.

The Canadian fish-otter (_Lutra canadensis_) far surpasses the European
species, both in size and in the beauty of its glossy brown skin. It
occurs as far northward as 66° or 67° lat., and is generally taken by
sinking a steel trap near the mouth of its burrow. It has the habit of
sliding or climbing to the top of a ridge of snow in winter, or of a
sloping moist bank in summer, where, lying on the belly, with the fore
feet bent backward, it gives itself with the hind legs an impulse which
sends it swiftly down the eminence. This schoolboy sport it continues
for a long time.

The red fox (_Vulpes fulvus_), which is found throughout the Hudson’s
Bay territories, has likewise a much finer fur than our common fox. It
is of a bright ferruginous red on the head, back, and sides; beneath
the chin it is white, while the throat and neck are of a dark gray, and
the under parts of the body, toward the tail, are of a very pale red.
The crossed fox (_Canis decussatus_), thus named from the black cross
on its shoulders, is still more valuable; its skin--the color of which
is a sort of gray, resulting from the mixture of black and white hair--
being worth four or five guineas. Peltry still more costly is furnished
by the black or silvery fox (_Canis argentatus_), whose copious and
beautiful fur is of a rich and shining black or deep brown color, with
the longer or exterior hairs of a silvery white. Unfortunately it is
of such rare occurrence that not more than four or five are annually
brought to a trading-post.

The Canada lynx, or pishu (_Lynx canadensis_), is smaller than the
European species, but has a finer fur, those skins being most valued
which approach to a pale or whitish color, and on which the spots are
most distinct. It chiefly feeds on the hare (_Lepus americanus_), which
is not much larger than a rabbit, and is found on the banks of the
Mackenzie as far north as 68° or 69°.

Still nearer to the Pole, the ice-hare (_Lepus glacialis_) ranges as
far as the Parry Islands (75° N. lat.), where it feeds on the arctic
willow, and other high northern plants. Its favorite resorts are the
stony districts, where it easily finds a refuge; in winter it burrows
in the snow. In summer its back is grayish white, but as the cold
increases, it becomes white, with the exception of the tips of the
ears, which remain constantly black.

Formerly the beaver (_Castor fiber_) was the most important of the
fur-bearing animals of the Hudson’s Bay territories. In the year 1743,
127,000 beaver skins were exported from Montreal to La Rochelle,
and 26,700 by the Hudson’s Bay Company to London. At present, the
exportation hardly amounts to one-third of this quantity. As the beaver
chiefly lives on the barks of the willow, the beech, and the poplar,
it is not found beyond the forest region; but along the banks of the
Mackenzie it reaches a very high latitude.

The musk-rat, ondatra or musquash (_Fiber zibethicus_)--which is
about the size of a small rabbit, and of a reddish-brown color--is
called by the Indians the younger brother of the beaver, as it has
similar instincts. Essentially a bank-haunting animal, it is never
to be seen at any great distance from the water, where it swims and
dives with consummate ease, aided greatly by the webs which connect
the hinder toes. It drives a large series of tunnels into the bank,
branching out in various directions, and having several entrances, all
of which open under the surface of the water. If the animal happens
to live upon a marshy and uniformly wet soil, it becomes a builder,
and lives in curiously-constructed huts, from three to four feet in
height, plastered with great neatness in the inside, and strengthened
externally with a kind of basket-work of rushes, carefully interlaced
together. The judgment of the animal shows itself in the selection
of the site, invariably choosing some ground above the reach of
inundation, or else raising its hut on an artificial foundation; for,
though obliged to reside near flat, submerged banks, where the soft
soil is full of nourishing roots, it requires a dry home to rest in.

In winter the musquash villages--for the huts are sometimes built
in such numbers together as to deserve that name--are generally
covered with thick snow, under which this rodent is able to procure
water, or to reach the provisions laid up in its storehouse. Thus it
lives in ease and plenty, for the marten is too averse to the water,
and the otter too bulky to penetrate into its tunnels. But when the
snow melts, and the huts of the musquash appear above the ground, the
Indian, taking in his hand a large four-barbed spear, steals up to the
house, and driving his weapon through the walls, is sure to pierce the
animals inside. Holding the spear firmly with one hand, he takes his
tomahawk from his belt, dashes the house to pieces, and secures the
inmates. Another method employed by the Indians to capture the musquash
is to block up the different entrances to their tunnels, and then to
intercept the animals as they try to escape. Sometimes the gun is used,
but not very frequently, as the musquash is so wary that it dives at
the least alarm, and darts into one of its holes. The trap, however,
is the ordinary means of destruction. The soft and glossy fur of the
musquash, though worth no more than from 6_d._ to 9_d._, is still a not
inconsiderable article of trade, as no less than half a million skins
are annually imported into England for hat-making; nor is there any
fear of the musquash being extirpated, in spite of its many enemies,
as it multiplies very fast, and is found near every swamp or lake with
grassy banks as far as the confines of the Polar Sea.



[Illustration: 117. HUNTING BISON IN THE SNOW.]


CHAPTER XXIX.

THE CREE INDIANS, OR EYTHINYUWUK.

  The various Tribes of the Crees.--Their Conquests and subsequent
    Defeat.--Their Wars with the Blackfeet.--Their Character.--
    Tattooing.--Their Dress.--Fondness for their Children.--The Cree
    Cradle.--Vapor Baths.--Games.--Their religious Ideas.--The Cree
    Tartarus and Elysium.


The various tribes of the Crees, or Eythinyuwuk, range from the Rocky
Mountains and the plains of the Saskatchewan to the swampy shores of
Hudson’s Bay. Towards the west and north they border on the Tinné,
towards the east and south, on the Ojibbeway or Sauteurs, who belong
like them to the great family of the Lenni-lenape Indians, and inhabit
the lands between Lake Winipeg and Lake Superior.

About sixty years since, at the time when Napoleon was deluging Europe
with blood, the Crees likewise played the part of conquerors, and
subdued even more extensive, though less valuable domains.

Provided with fire-arms, which at that time were unknown to their
northern and western neighbors, they advanced as far as the Arctic
Circle, imposing tribute on the various tribes of the Tinné. But
their triumphs were not more durable than those of the great European
conqueror.

The small-pox broke out among them and swept them away by thousands.
Meanwhile the Tinné tribes had remained untouched by this terrible
scourge; and as the agents of the Hudson’s Bay Company, advancing
farther and farther to the west and north, had likewise made them
acquainted with the use of fire-arms, they in their turn became the
aggressors, and drove the Crees before them. Their former conquerors
now partly migrated to the south, and leaving the forest region, where
they had hunted the reindeer and the elk, spread over the prairies of
the Saskatchewan, where they now pursued the herds of bison, sometimes
driving them over a precipice, or chasing them on foot through the
snow. But in their new abodes they became engaged in constant feuds
with their new neighbors the Assiniboins and Blackfeet, who of course
resented their intrusion.

The romance in which the manners and character of the Indians are
portrayed might lead us to attribute to these people a loftiness of
soul for which it would be vain to look in the present day, and which
without much skepticism we may assert they never really possessed.
Actions prompted only by the caprice of a barbarous people have been
considered as the results of refined sentiment; and savage cunning,
seen through the false medium of prejudice, assumed the nobler
proportions of a far-sighted policy. But though the history of the wars
of the Indians among themselves and with the Europeans affords but few
instances of heroism, it abounds in traits of revolting cruelty, and in
pictures of indescribable wretchedness.

[Illustration: 118. A HERD OF BISON.]

A large party of Blackfeet once made a successful foray in the
territory of the Crees. But meanwhile the latter surprised the camp
where the aggressors had left their wives and children; and thus, when
the Blackfeet returned to their tents, they found desolation and death
where they looked for a joyful welcome. In their despair they cast away
their arms and their booty, and retired to the mountains, where for
three days and nights they wailed and mourned.

[Illustration: 119. DRIVING BISON OVER A PRECIPICE.]

In the year 1840 a bloody war broke out between the Crees and the
Blackfeet, arising as in general from a very trifling cause. Peace was
at length concluded, but while the two nations were celebrating this
fortunate event with games and races, a Cree stole a ragged blanket,
and a new fight immediately began. Returning home, the Blackfeet met
a Cree chieftain, with two of his warriors, and killed them after a
short altercation. Soon after the Crees surprised and murdered some of
the Blackfeet, and thus the war raged more furiously than ever. Sir
George Simpson, who was travelling through the country at the time,
visited the hut of a Cree who had been wounded in the conflict at
the peace meeting. As in his flight he bent over his horse’s neck, a
ball had struck him on the right side, and remained sticking near the
articulation of the left shoulder. In this condition he had already
lain for three-and-thirty days, his left arm frightfully swollen, and
the rest of his body emaciated to a skeleton. Near the dying savage,
whose glassy eye and contracted features spoke of the dreadful pain of
which he disdained to speak, lay his child, reduced to skin and bones,
and expressing by a perpetual moaning the pangs of illness and hunger,
while most to be pitied perhaps of this wretched family was the wife
and mother, who seemed to be sinking under the double load of care and
fatigue. During the night the “medicine-man” was busy beating his magic
drum and driving away the evil spirits from the hut.

Although the Crees show great fortitude in enduring hunger and the
other evils incident to a hunter’s life, yet any unusual accident
dispirits them at once, and they seldom venture to meet their enemies
in open warfare, or even to surprise them, unless they have a great
advantage in point of numbers. Instances of personal bravery like that
of the Esquimaux are rare indeed among them. Superior in personal
appearance to the Tinné, they are less honest, and though perhaps
not so much given to falsehood as the Tinné, are more turbulent and
more prompt to invade the rights of their countrymen, as well as of
neighboring nations.

Tattooing is almost universal among them. The women are in general
content with having one or two lines drawn from the corners of the
mouth towards the angles of the lower jaw, but some of the men have
their bodies covered with lines and figures. It seems to be considered
by most rather as a proof of courage than an ornament, as the
operation is both painful and tedious. The lines on the face are formed
by dexterously running an awl under the cuticle, and then drawing a
cord, dipped in charcoal and water, through the canal thus formed. The
punctures on the body are made by needles of various sizes, set in a
frame. A number of hawk-bells attached to this frame serve, by their
noise, to cover the groans of the sufferer, and probably for the same
reason the process is accompanied with singing. An indelible stain is
produced by rubbing a little finely-powdered willow-charcoal into the
puncture. A half-breed, whose arm was amputated by Sir John Richardson,
declared that tatooing was not only the more painful operation of the
two, but rendered infinitely more difficult to bear by its tediousness,
having lasted, in his case, three days.

The Crees are also fond of painting their faces with vermilion and
charcoal. In general the dress of the male consists of a blanket thrown
over the shoulders, a leathern shirt or jacket, and a piece of cloth
tied round the middle. The women have in addition a long petticoat, and
both sexes wear a kind of wide hose, which, reaching from the ankle
to the middle of the thigh, are suspended by strings to the girdle.
These hose, or “Indian stockings,” are commonly ornamented with beads
or ribands, and from their convenience have been universally adopted
by the white residents, as an essential part of their winter-clothing.
Their shoes, or rather soft boots (for they tie round the ankle), are
made of dressed moose-skins; and during the winter they wrap several
pieces of blanket round their feet. They are fond of European articles
of dress, such as great-coats, shawls, and calicoes, which, however
showy they may be at first, are soon reduced to a very filthy condition
by their custom of greasing the face and hair with soft fat or marrow.
This practice they say preserves the skin soft, and protects it from
cold in the winter and the mosquitoes in summer; but it renders their
presence disagreeable to Europeans who may chance to be seated near
them in a close tent and near a hot fire.

[Illustration: 120. WATCHING FOR CREES.]

The Cree women are not in general treated harshly by their husbands:
a great part of the labor, however, falls to the lot of the wife. She
makes the hut, cooks, dresses the skins, and for the most part carries
the heaviest load; but when she is unable to perform her task, the
husband does not consider it beneath his dignity to assist her.

The Crees are extremely indulgent to their children. The father never
chastises them; and the mother, though more hasty in her temper, seldom
bestows a blow on a troublesome child.

The cradle in use among them is well adapted to their mode of life,
and is one of their neatest articles of furniture, being generally
ornamented with beads and bits of scarlet cloth, but it bears a very
strong resemblance in its form to a mummy-case. The infant is placed
in this bag, having its lower extremities wrapped up in soft sphagnum,
or bog-moss, and may be hung up in the tent or to the branch of a
tree, without the least danger of tumbling out; or, in a journey may
be suspended on the mother’s back by a band which crosses the forehead
so as to leave her hands free. The sphagnum forms a soft elastic bed,
which absorbs moisture very readily, and affords such a protection
from the winter cold that its place would be ill supplied by any other
material.

[Illustration: 121. A CREE VILLAGE.]

The ordinary wigwams, skin tents, or “lodges” of the Tinné and Crees
are exactly alike in form, being extended on poles set up in a conical
manner; but as a general rule the tents of the latter are more
commodious and more frequently supplied with a fresh lining of the
spray of the balsam-fir. They also occasionally erect a larger dwelling
of lattice-work, covered with birch-bark, in which forty men or more
can assemble for feasting, debating, or performing some of their
religious ceremonies. The entire nation of the Eythinyuwuk cultivate
oratory more than their northern neighbors, who express themselves more
simply and far less fluently.

Vapor baths are in common use with the Crees, and form one of the
chief remedies of their medicine-men. The operator shuts himself
up with his patient in the small sweating-house--in which red-hot
stones besprinkled with water, and having a few leaves of a species of
_prunus_ strewed around them, produce a damp atmosphere of a stifling
heat--and shampoos him, singing all the time a kind of hymn. As long
as the medicine-man can hold out, so long must the patient endure the
intense heat of the bath, and then, if the invalid be able to move,
they both plunge into the river. If the patient does not recover, he is
at least more speedily released from his sufferings by this powerful
remedy.

The Crees are a vain, fickle, improvident, indolent, and ludicrously
boastful race. They are also great gamblers, but, instead of cards
or dice, they play with the stones of a species of _prunus_. The
difficulty lies in guessing the number of stones which are tossed out
of a small wooden dish, and the hunters will spend whole nights at this
destructive sport, staking their most valuable articles. They have,
however, a much more manly amusement, termed the “cross,” although
they do not engage even in it without depositing considerable stakes.
An extensive meadow is chosen for this sport, and the articles staked
are tied to a post, or deposited in the custody of two old men. The
combatants being stripped and painted, and each provided with a kind of
racket, in shape resembling the letter P, with a handle about two feet
long, and a head loosely wrought with net-work, so as to form a shallow
bag, range themselves on different sides. A ball being now tossed up
in the middle, each party endeavors to drive it to their respective
goals, and much dexterity and agility is displayed in the contest. When
a nimble runner gets the ball in his _cross_, he sets off towards the
goal with the utmost speed, and is followed by the rest, who endeavor
to jostle him and shake it out, but, if hard pressed, he discharges it
with a jerk, to be forwarded by his own party or bandied back by their
opponents until the victory is decided by its passing the goal.

Neither the Esquimaux nor the Tinné have any visible objects of
worship, but the Crees carry with them small wooden figures rudely
carved, or merely the tops of a few willow-bushes tied together, as the
representatives of a malicious, or at least capricious being, called
Kepoochikann. Their most common petition to this being is for plenty of
food, but as they do not trust entirely to his favor, they endeavor at
the same time to propitiate the _animal_, an imaginary representative
of the whole race of larger quadrupeds that are objects of the chase.

Though often referring to the Kitche-manito, the “Great Spirit,” or
“Master of Life,” they do not believe that he cares for his creatures,
and consequently never think of praying to him. They have no legend
about the creation, but they speak of a deluge caused by an attempt of
the fish to drown Woesack-ootchacht, a kind of demi-god, with whom they
had quarrelled. Having constructed a raft, this being embarked with his
family and all kinds of birds and beasts. After the flood had continued
for some time, he ordered several waterfowl to dive to the bottom.
They were all drowned; but a musk-rat, dispatched on the same errand,
returned with a mouthful of mud, out of which Woesack-ootchacht,
imitating the mode in which the rats construct their houses, formed a
new earth. First a small conical hill of mud appeared above the water;
by-and-by, its base gradually spreading out, it became an extensive
bank, which the rays of the sun at length hardened into firm land.
Notwithstanding the power that Woesack-ootchacht here displayed, his
person is held in very little reverence by the Indians, who do not
think it worth while to make any effort to avert his wrath.

Like the Tinné, the Crees also have a Tartarus and an Elysium. The
souls of the departed are obliged to scramble with great labor up the
sides of a steep mountain, upon attaining the summit of which they
are rewarded with the prospect of an extensive plain abounding in all
sorts of game, and interspersed here and there with new tents pitched
in pleasant situations. While they are absorbed in the contemplation
of this delightful scene, they are descried by the inhabitants of the
happy land, who, clothed in new skin dresses, approach and welcome,
with every demonstration of kindness, those Indians who have led good
lives, but the bad Indians are told to return from whence they came,
and without more ceremony are hurled down the precipice.

As yet Christianity has made but little progress among the Indians of
British North America, its benefits being hitherto confined to the
Ojibbeways of Lake Huron, and to a small number of the Crees of the
Hudson’s Bay territory. The well-fed Sauteurs of the Winipeg are as
disinclined to be converted as the buffalo-hunters of the prairies.



CHAPTER XXX.

THE TINNÉ INDIANS.

  The various Tribes of the Tinné Indians.--The Dog-ribs.--
    Clothing.--The Hare Indians.--Degraded State of the Women.--
    Practical Socialists.--Character.--Cruelty to the Aged and Infirm.


The Tinné Indians, whose various tribes range from the Lower Mackenzie
to the Upper Saskatchewan, and from New Caledonia to the head of
Chesterfield Inlet, occupy a considerable part of the territories of
the Hudson’s Bay Company. To their race belong the Strongbows of the
Rocky Mountains; the Beaver Indians, between Peace River and the west
branch of the Mackenzie; the Red-knives, thus named from the copper
knives of which their native ores furnish the materials, and who roam
between the Great Fish River and the Coppermine; the Hare Indians, who
inhabit the thickly wooded district of the Mackenzie from Slave Lake
downward; the Dog-ribs, who occupy the inland country on the east from
Martin Lake to the Coppermine; the Athabascans, who frequent the Elk
and Slave Rivers, and many other tribes of inferior note.

The Tinné, in general, have more regular features than the Esquimaux,
and, taken on the whole, exhibit all the characteristics of the red
races dwelling farther south; but their utter disregard of cleanliness
and their abject behavior (for when in the company of white people
they exhibit the whine and air of inveterate mendicants) give them
a wretched appearance. Mackenzie, the first European who became
acquainted with the Dog-ribs, describes them as an ugly emaciated
tribe, covered with dirt and besmeared with grease from head to foot.
More than sixty years have passed since Mackenzie’s journey, but his
account of them is true to the present day. The women are even uglier
and more filthy than the men, for the latter at least paint their
unwashed faces and wear trinkets on festive occasions, while the
females leave even their hair without any other dressing than wiping
their greasy hands on the matted locks, when they have been rubbing
their bodies with marrow. The clothing of the men in summer consists
of reindeer leather dressed like shammy, which, when newly made, is
beautifully white and soft. “A shirt of this material,” says Sir
John Richardson, to whom we are indebted for the best account of the
various nations inhabiting the Hudson’s Bay territory, “cut evenly
below, reaches to the middle; the ends of a piece of cloth secured
to a waist-band hang down before and behind; the hose, or Indian
stockings, descend from the top of the thigh to the ankle, and a pair
of moccasins or shoes of the same soft leather with tops which fold
round the ankle, complete the costume. When the hunter is equipped for
the chase he wears, in addition, a stripe of white hare-skin, or of the
belly part of a deer-skin, in a bandana round the head, with his lank,
black elf-locks streaming from beneath; a shot-pouch suspended by an
embroidered belt, a fire-bag or tobacco-pouch tucked into the girdle,
and a long fowling-piece thrown carelessly across the arm, or balanced
on the back of the neck. The several articles here enumerated are
ornamented at the seams and hems with leather thongs wound round with
porcupine quills, or more or less embroidered with bead-work, according
to the industry of the wife or wives. One of the young men, even of the
slovenly Dog-ribs, when newly equipped, and tripping jauntily over the
mossy ground with an elastic step, displays his slim and not ungraceful
figure to advantage. But this fine dress once donned is neither laid
aside nor cleaned while it lasts, and soon acquires a dingy look, and
an odor which betrays its owner at some distance. In the camp a greasy
blanket of English manufacture is worn over the shoulders by day, and
forms with the clothes the bedding by night.”

In winter they clothe themselves with moose or reindeer skins,
retaining the hair, while a large robe of the same material is thrown
over the shoulders, and hangs down to the feet in place of the blanket.
The women’s dress resembles the men’s, but the skirt is somewhat
longer, and generally accompanied by a petticoat which reaches nearly
to the knee. The form of dress here described is common to the whole
Tinné nation, and also to the Crees, but the material varies with the
district. Thus moose-deer, red-deer, and bison leather are in use among
the more southern and western tribes, and the Hare Indians make their
skirts of the skins of the animal from which they derive their surname.
As this, however, is too tender to be used in the ordinary way, it
is torn into narrow strips, twisted slightly, and plaited or worked
into the required shape. Such is the closeness and fineness of the fur
that these hare-skin dresses are exceedingly warm, notwithstanding the
closeness of their texture.

The Hare Indian and Dog-rib women are certainly at the bottom of the
scale of humanity in North America. Not that they are treated with
cruelty, but that they are looked upon as inferior beings, and in this
belief they themselves acquiesce. In early infancy the boy discovers
that he may show any amount of arrogance towards his sisters, who, as
soon as they can walk, are harnessed to a sledge, while the tiny hunter
struts in his snow-shoes after the men and apes their contempt of the
women. All the work, except hunting and fishing, falls to their share;
yet they are in general not discontented with their lot.

It would be vain to look among the Dog-ribs for the stoicism popularly
attributed to the Indians, for they shrink from pain, shed tears
readily, and are very timorous; but all, young and old, enjoy a joke
heartily, and when young are lively and cheerful. When bands of their
nation meet each other after a long absence, they perform a kind of
dance. A piece of ground is cleared for the purpose, and the dance
frequently lasts for two or three days, the parties relieving each
other as they get tired. The two bands commence the dance with their
backs turned to each other, the individuals following one another in
Indian file, and holding the bow in the left hand and an arrow in the
right. They approach obliquely after many turns, and when the two bands
are closely back to back, they feign to see each other for the first
time, and the bow is instantly transferred to the right hand and the
arrow to the left, signifying that it is not their intention to use
them against their friends. Their dancing, which they accompany by a
chorus of groans, compared by Sir John Richardson to the deep sigh of
a pavior as he brings his rammer down upon the pavement, has not the
least pretensions to grace; their knees and body are half bent, and,
from their heavy stamping, they appear as if desirous of sinking into
the ground.

The Dog-ribs are practical socialists, and their wretched condition
results in a great measure from this cause. All may avail themselves
of the produce of a hunter’s energy or skill, and do not even leave
him the distribution of his own game. When it becomes known in a camp
that deer have been killed, the old men and women of each family sally
forth with their sledges and divide the quarry, leaving the owner
nothing but the ribs and tongue--all he can claim of right. Unable to
restrain their appetite, all the community feast in times of abundance,
however little many of the men (and there are not a few idle ones) may
have contributed to the common good. Taught by frequent sufferings,
the more active hunters frequently withdraw from the worthless drones,
leaving them at some fishing-station, where, with proper industry,
they may subsist comfortably. Fish-diet is, however, not agreeable to
their taste, and as soon as reports of a successful chase arrive, a
general movement to the hunting-ground ensues. If on their march the
craving multitude discover a hoard of meat, it is devoured on the spot;
but they are not always so fortunate. The deer and the hunters may
have gone off, and then they are obliged to retrace their steps, many
perishing by the way.

The Dog-ribs are not conspicuous for hospitality. When a stranger
enters a tent he receives no welcome and proffer of food, though he
may help himself from a piece of meat hanging on the wall or join
the repast. Though great liars, they do not steal the white man’s
property like the Esquimaux and Crees, and when visiting a fort, they
may be trusted in any of the rooms. As to their religious belief, the
majority of the nation recognize a Great Spirit, while others doubt his
existence, assigning as a reason their miserable condition. They are in
great fear of evil spirits, which, as they imagine, assume the forms
of the bear, wolf, and wolverine, and in the woods, waters, and desert
places they fancy they hear them howling in the winds or moaning by the
graves of the dead. They never make offerings to the Great Spirit, but
deprecate the wrath of an evil being by the promise of a sacrifice, or
by scattering a handful of deer-hair or a few feathers. They believe in
a state of future happiness or torment. The soul, after death, crosses
a broad river in a boat, and thus endeavors to reach the opposite
shore, which is adorned with all the beauties of paradise. If laden
with crime, the boat sinks under the weight, and the unfortunate soul,
immersed in water, strives in vain to reach the blissful abode from
which it is forever banished.

Formerly when a Tinné warrior died, it was customary for the family
to abandon every article they possessed, and betake themselves, in a
perfectly destitute condition, to the nearest body of their own people
or trading-post. The advice of traders is gradually breaking down this
absurd practice, which would alone suffice to keep this people in a
state of perpetual poverty. In other respects also, European influence
begins to make itself felt. Since 1846 Roman Catholic missionaries are
at work among the Chepewyans, and have taught many of their converts
to read and write. The Athabascans had formerly but a small breed
of dogs, now a stouter race has, in some respects, ameliorated the
condition of the females, and the introduction of the horse, which
has more recently taken place, holds out prospects of a still greater
improvement. The Tinné are as giddy and thoughtless as children. When
accompanied by a white man they will perform a long journey carefully,
but can not be depended upon to carry letters, however high the reward
may be that has been promised them on reaching their destination, as
the least whim suffices to make them forget their commission.

They are generally content with one wife at a time, and none but the
chiefs have more than two. The successful wrestler takes the wife of
his weaker countryman, who consoles himself for his loss by endeavoring
to find one weaker than himself.

Tender and affectionate parents, the Tinné are totally indifferent to
the sorrows of helpless age. During the stay of Sir George Back at
Fort Reliance, an old woman arrived there on Easter Sunday, clothed in
ragged reindeer skins, worn down to a skeleton, and grasping with both
her hands a stick to support her body, bent double by age and want.
The story of the poor creature was soon told. She had become a burden
to her family; her former services had all been forgotten, and she had
been told “that though she still seemed to live, she was in reality
dead, and must be abandoned to her fate. In the new fort she might find
assistance, for the white strangers were powerful medicine-men.” This
had happened a month before, and all this time she had slowly crept
along, appeasing her hunger with the berries she found here and there
on the way. When she reached the fort it was too late; she died a few
days after her arrival.



CHAPTER XXXI.

THE LOUCHEUX, OR KUTCHIN INDIANS.

  The Countries they inhabit.--Their Appearance and Dress.--Their
    Love of Finery.--Condition of the Women.--Strange Customs.--
    Character.--Feuds with the Esquimaux.--Their suspicious and
    timorous Lives.--Pounds for catching Reindeer.--Their Lodges.


On the banks of the Lower Mackenzie, to the west of Great Bear Lake, in
the territories drained by the Peel River and by the Upper Yukon, dwell
the Loucheux, or Kutchin Indians, whose language is totally different
from that of the other North American tribes, and whose customs and
manners also vary considerably from those of all their neighbors, both
Red-skins and Esquimaux.

They are an athletic and fine-looking people, with regular features
and a complexion of a lighter copper color than that of the other Red
Indians, so that many of their women would be reckoned handsome in any
country. The females tattoo their chins and use a black pigment when
they paint their faces, while the men employ both red and black on all
occasions of ceremony, and always to be ready, each carries a small
bag with red clay and black lead suspended to his neck. Most commonly
the eyes are encircled with black, a stripe of the same runs down the
middle of the nose, and a blotch is daubed on the upper part of each
cheek. The forehead is crossed by many narrow red stripes, and the skin
is streaked alternately with red and black.

The outer shirt of the Kutchin is made of the skins of fawn reindeer,
dressed with the hair on after the manner of the Hare, Dog-rib, and
other Chepewyan tribes, but resembles in form the analogous garment of
the Esquimaux, being furnished with peaked skirts, though of smaller
size. The men wear these skirts before and behind; the women have
larger back skirts, but none in front. In winter shirts of hare-skin
are worn, and the pantaloons of deer-skin have the fur next the skin.

None of the neighboring nations pay so much attention to personal
cleanliness, or are so studious in adorning their persons. A broad band
of beads is worn across the shoulders and breast of the shirt, and the
hinder part of the dress is fringed with tassels wound round with dyed
porcupine quills and strung with the silvery fruit of the oleaster
(_Elæagnus argentea_); a stripe of beads, strung in alternate red and
white squares, ornament the seams of the trowsers, and bands of beads
encircle the ankles. The poorer sort, or the less fortunate hunters,
who are unable to procure these costly trinkets in the same enviable
abundance as the rich, strive to wear at least a string of beads, and
look down with contemptuous pity upon the still more needy class, which
is reduced to adorn itself with porcupine quills only.

In consequence of this passionate fondness for beads, these ornaments
serve as a medium of exchange among the Kutchin, and Sir John
Richardson remarks that no such near approach to money has been
invented by the nations to the eastward of the Rocky Mountains. The
standard bead, and one of the most value, is a large one of white
enamel, manufactured in Italy only, and is with difficulty procured in
sufficient quantity to satisfy the demand, as beads are more prized
than English cloth and blankets.

Another article very much in request among the Kutchin is the large
ribbed dentalium shell which is collected in the archipelago between
Oregon and Cape Fairweather, and passes by trade from tribe to tribe
until it finds its way at length to the Yukon. With this shell they
adorn their mittens, and even attach it to their guns, which have been
lately introduced, and are in great demand. All men carry powder and
ball, whether they own a gun or not, and obtain for it a share of the
game.

The tribes on the Yukon tie their hair behind in a cue, or “chignon,”
and daub it with grease, and the down of geese and ducks, until, by
the repetition of the process continued from infancy, it swells to an
enormous thickness, so that the weight of the accumulated load of hair,
dirt, and ornaments causes the wearer to stoop forward habitually. The
tail-feathers of the eagle and fishing-hawk are stuck into the hair on
the back of the head, and are removed only when the owner retires to
sleep, or when he wishes to wave them to and fro in a dance.

The principal men have two or three wives each, while the bad hunters
are obliged to remain bachelors. A good wrestler, however, even though
poor, can always obtain a wife.

The women do all the drudgery in winter except cooking, and do not eat
till the husband is satisfied. In summer they labor little, except in
drying meat or fish for its preservation. The men alone paddle while
the women sit as passengers, and husbands even carry their wives to the
shore on their arms, that they may not wet their feet--an instance of
gallantry almost unparalleled in savage life. The Esquimaux women row
their own “oomiaks,” and the Chepewyan women assist the men in paddling
their canoes. On the whole, the social condition of the Kutchin women
is far superior to that of the Tinné women, but scarcely equal to that
of the Esquimaux dames.

They do not carry their children in their hoods or boots like the
Esquimaux, nor do they stuff them into a bag with moss like the Tinné
and Crees, but they place them in a seat of birch-bark, with a back
and sides like those of an armchair, and a pommel in front resembling
the peak of a Spanish saddle, by which they hang it from their back.
The child’s feet are bandaged to prevent them growing, small feet
being thought handsome, and consequently short unshapely feet are
characteristic of the people of both sexes. A more ridiculous or insane
custom can hardly be imagined among a nation of hunters.

The Kutchin are a lively, cheerful people, fond of dancing and singing,
in which they excel all other Indians; leaping, wrestling, and
other athletic exercises are likewise favorite amusements. They are
inveterate talkers. Every new-comer arriving at a trading-post makes a
long speech, which must not be interrupted. The belief in Shamanism is
still in full vigor among them.

Though a treacherous people, they have never yet imbrued their hands
in European blood, but there are frequent feuds among their various
tribes, by which one-half of the population of the banks of the
Yukon has been cut off within the last twenty years. From a constant
dread of ambuscade, they do not travel except in large parties; and
thus a perpetual feeling of insecurity embitters their lives, which
are already rendered sufficiently hard by the severity of an Arctic
climate. The agents of the Hudson’s Bay Company have endeavored by good
advice, and the distribution of large presents, to establish peace, but
have only met with partial success.

Like the Tinné, the Kutchin are in a state of perpetual warfare with
the Esquimaux; and though they always charge the latter with treachery,
yet there can be no doubt that the accusation might, with full justice,
be retorted upon themselves. One of the hostile encounters, mentioned
by Sir J. Richardson, deserves notice, on account of its resemblance
in some particulars to the meeting of Joab and Abner, recorded in the
Second Book of Samuel. A party of each of the two nations having met on
the banks of a river, the young men of both parties rose up as if for
a friendly dance. The stream glides peacefully along, the setting sun
gilds the pine forest and sparkles in the waters; all nature breathes
peace. But the Esquimaux having, according to their custom, concealed
their long knives in the sleeves of their deer-skin shirts, suddenly
draw them in one of the evolutions of the dance and plunge them into
their opponents. A general conflict ensues, in which the Kutchin,
thanks to their guns, ultimately prove victorious. “Another incident,”
says Sir John Richardson, “which occurred on the banks of the Yukon in
1845, gives us a farther insight into the suspicious and timorous lives
of these people. One night four strangers from the lower part of the
river arrived at the tent of an old man who was sick, and who had with
him only two sons, one of them a mere boy. The newcomers entered in a
friendly manner, and when the hour of repose came, lay down; but as
they did not sleep, the sons, suspecting from their conduct that they
meditated evil, feigned a desire of visiting their moose-deer snares.
They intimated their purpose aloud to their father and went out, taking
with them their bows and arrows. Instead, however, of continuing their
way into the wood, they stole back quietly to the tent, and listening
on the outside, discovered, as they fancied, from the conversation of
the strangers, that their father’s life was in danger. Knowing the
exact position of the inmates, they thereupon shot their arrows through
the skin covering of the tent and killed two of the strange Indians;
and the other two, in endeavoring to make their escape by the door,
shared the fate of their companions. This is spoken of in the tribe as
an exceedingly brave action.”

During the summer the Yukon Kutchin dry, for their winter use, the
white-fish (_Coregonus albus_), which they catch by planting stakes
across the smaller rivers and narrow parts of the lakes and closing the
openings with wicker-baskets. They take the moose-deer in snares, and
towards spring mostly resort to the mountains to hunt reindeer and lay
in a stock of dried venison. On the open pasture-grounds frequented
by this animal they construct large pounds. Two rows of posts firmly
planted in the ground, and united by the addition of strong horizontal
bars into a regular fence, extend their arms for nearly the length of
a mile in the form of a Roman V. The extremity of the avenue is closed
by stakes with sharp points sloping towards the entrance, on which the
reindeer, driven together and hotly pursued by the Indians, may impale
themselves in their desperate flight. The structure is erected with
great labor, as the timber has to be transported into the open country
from a considerable distance. Some of these may be a century old, and
they are the hereditary possession of the families or tribes by whom
they were originally constructed.

But in spite of all their contrivances and the use of fire-arms, the
Kutchin, whose numbers on the banks of the Yukon are estimated at about
a thousand men and boys able to hunt, are frequently reduced to great
distress. Hence the old and infirm are mercilessly left to their fate
when game is scarce, and famine makes itself felt. Attempts have been
vainly made to better the condition of the northern Indians by inducing
them to tame the reindeer. Their superstition is one of the obstacles
against this useful innovation, for they fear that were they to make
some of the reindeer their captives, the remainder would immediately
leave the country. “And why,” they add, “should we follow like slaves
a herd of tame animals, when the forest and the barren ground provide
us with the elk, the wild reindeer, and the musk-ox, and our rivers and
lakes are filled with fishes that cost us nothing but the trouble of
catching them?”

Each family possesses a deer-skin tent or lodge, which in summer, when
in quest of game, is rarely erected. The winter encampment is usually
in a grove of spruce-firs; the ground being cleared of snow, the skins,
which are prepared with the hair, are extended over flexible willow
poles which take a semicircular form. This hemispherical shape of
lodges is not altogether unknown among the Chepewyans and Crees, being
that generally adapted for their vapor baths, framed of willow poles,
but their dwelling-places are conical, as stiff poles are used for
their construction.

When the tent is erected the snow is packed on outside to half its
height, and it is lined equally high within with the young spray of
the spruce-fir, that the bodies of the inmates may not rest against
the cold wall. The doorway is filled up by a double fold of skin, and
the apartment has the closeness and warmth but not the elegance of the
Esquimaux snow hut, which it resembles in shape. Though only a very
small fire is kept in the centre of the lodge, yet the warmth is as
great as in a log-house. The provisions are stored on the outside under
fir branches and snow, and further protected from the dogs by sledges
being placed on top.



CHAPTER XXXII.

ARCTIC VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY, FROM THE CABOTS TO BAFFIN.

  First Scandinavian Discoverer of America.--The Cabots.--Willoughby
    and Chancellor (1553–1554).--Stephen Burrough (1556).--Frobisher
    (1576–1578).--Davis (1585–1587).--Barentz, Cornelis, and Brant
    (1594).--Wintering of the Dutch Navigators in Nova Zembla
    (1596–1597).--John Knight (1606).--Murdered by the Esquimaux.--
    Henry Hudson (1607–1609).--Baffin (1616).


Long before Columbus sailed from the port of Palos (1492) on that
ever-memorable voyage which changed the geography of the world,
the Scandinavians had already found the way to North America. From
Greenland, which was known to them as early as the ninth century, and
which they began to colonize in the year 985, they sailed farther to
the west, and gradually extended their discoveries from the coasts of
Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, to those of the present State
of Rhode Island, which, from the wild vines they there found growing in
abundance, they called the “good Vinland.”

But a long series of disasters destroyed their Greenland colonies about
the end of the fourteenth century, and as Scandinavia itself had at
that time but very little intercourse with the more civilized nations
of Southern Europe, it is not to be wondered at that, despite the
discoveries of Günnbjorn and Eric the Red, the great western continent
remained unknown to the world in general.

One of the first consequences of the achievements of Columbus was
the _rediscovery_ of the northern part of America, for the English
merchants longed to have a share of the commerce of India; and as the
Pope had assigned the eastern route to the Portuguese and the western
one to the Spaniards, they resolved to ascertain whether a third and
shorter way to the Spice Islands, or to the fabulous golden regions
of the east, might not be found by steering to the north-west. In
pursuance of these views John and Sebastian Cabot sailed in 1497 from
Bristol, at that time our first commercial port, and discovered the
whole American coast from Labrador to Virginia. They failed indeed in
the object of their mission, but they laid the first foundations of the
future colonial greatness of England.

A second voyage, in 1498, by Sebastian Cabot alone, without the
companionship of his father, had no important results, but in a third
voyage which he undertook in search of a north-west passage, at Henry
VIII.’s expense, in 1516 or 1517, it is tolerably certain that that
great navigator discovered the two straits which now bear the names of
Davis and Hudson.

The French expeditions of Verazzani (1523) and Jacques Cartier (1524),
however memorable in other respects, having been as unsuccessful as
those of Cortereal (1500) or Gomez (1524) in discovering the desired
north-western passage, Sebastian Cabot, who in 1549 was created Grand
Pilot of England, started in his old age another idea, which has become
almost equally momentous in the history of Arctic discovery--the
search for a north-eastern route to China. Accordingly, in the year
1553, a squadron of three small vessels, under the command of Sir
Hugh Willoughby, Chancellor, and Durfoorth, set sail from Ratcliffe,
with the vain hope of reaching India by sailing round North Asia, the
formation and vast extent of which were at that time totally unknown.

Off Senjan, an island on the Norwegian coast in lat. 69½°, the ships
parted company in a stormy night, never to meet again. Willoughby and
Durfoorth reached the coast of Nova Zembla, and ultimately sought a
harbor in Lapland on the west side of the entrance into the White Sea,
where the captain-general, officers, and crews of both ships were
miserably frozen to death, as some Russian fishermen ascertained in the
following spring. How long they sustained the severity of the weather
is not known, but the journals and a will found on board the “Admiral”
proved that Sir Hugh Willoughby and most of that ship’s company were
alive in January, 1554. They died the victims of inexperience; for
had they, as Sir John Richardson remarks, been skilled in hunting and
clothing themselves, and taken the precaution moreover of laying in at
the beginning of the winter a stock of mossy turf such as the country
produces for fuel, and above all had they secured a few of the very
many seals and belugæ which abounded in the sea around them, they might
have preserved their lives and passed an endurable winter.

Chancellor was either more fortunate or more skillful, for after having
long been buffeted about by stormy weather, he eventually reached
St. Nicholas, in the White Sea. From thence he proceeded overland to
Moscow, and delivered his credentials to the Czar, Ivan Vasilovitch,
from whom he obtained many privileges for the company of merchants
who had fitted out the expedition. In 1554 he returned to England,
and shortly afterwards was sent back to Russia by Queen Mary for the
purpose of negotiating a treaty of commerce between the two nations.
Having satisfactorily accomplished his mission, he once more set sail
from the White Sea, accompanied by a Muscovite ambassador. But this
time the return voyage was extremely unfortunate, for Chancellor,
after losing two of his vessels off the coast of Norway, was carried
by a violent tempest into the Bay of Pitsligo, in Scotland, where his
ship was wrecked. He endeavored to save the ambassador and himself
in a boat, but the small pinnace was upset; and although the Russian
safely reached the strand, the Englishman, after having escaped so many
dangers in the Arctic Ocean, was drowned within sight of his native
shores.

In 1556 the Muscovy Company fitted out the Serchthrift pinnace, under
the command of Stephen Burrough, for discovery towards the River Obi
and farther search for a north-east passage. This small vessel reached
the strait between Nova Zembla and Vaigats, called by the Russians the
Kara Gate, but the enormous masses of ice that came floating through
the channel compelled it to return.

In spite of these repeated disappointments, the desire to discover a
northern route to India was too great to allow an enterprising nation
like the English to abandon the scheme as hopeless.

Thus in the days of Elizabeth the question of the north-west passage
was again revived, and Martin Frobisher, who had solicited merchants
and nobles during fifteen years for means to undertake “_the only
great thing left undone in the world_,” sailed in the year 1576 with
three small vessels of 35, 30, and 10 tons, on no less an errand than
the circumnavigation of Northern America. The reader may smile at the
ignorance which encouraged such efforts, but he can not fail to admire
the iron-hearted man who ventured in such wretched nutshells to face
the Arctic seas. The expedition safely reached the coasts of Greenland
and Labrador, and brought home some glittering stones, the lustre of
which was erroneously attributed to gold. This belief so inflamed the
zeal for new expeditions to “Meta Incognita,” as Frobisher had named
the coasts he had discovered, that he found no difficulty in equipping
three ships of a much larger size, that they might be able to hold
more of the anticipated treasure. At the entrance of the straits which
still bear his name, he was prevented by the gales and drift-ice from
forcing a passage to the sea beyond, but having secured about 200 tons
of the supposed golden ore, the expedition was considered eminently
successful. A large squadron of fifteen vessels was consequently fitted
out in 1578 for a third voyage, and commissioned not only to bring back
an untold amount of treasure, but also to take out materials and men to
establish a colony on those desolate shores. But this grand expedition,
which sailed with such extravagant hopes, was to end in disappointment.
One of the largest vessels was crushed by an iceberg at the entrance
of the strait, and the others were so beaten about by storms and
obstructed by fogs that they were at length glad to return to England
without having done any thing for the advancement of geographical
knowledge. The utter worthlessness of the glittering stones having
meanwhile been discovered, Frobisher relinquished all further attempts
to push his fortunes in the northern regions, and sought new laurels
in a sunnier clime. He accompanied Drake to the West Indies, commanded
subsequently one of the largest vessels opposed to the Spanish Armada,
and ended his heroic life while attacking a small French fort in behalf
of Henry IV. during the war with the League.

The discovery of the North-western Passage was, however, still the
great enterprise of the day, and thus sundry London merchants again
“cast in their adventure,” and sent out John Davis, in 1585, with
his two ships, “Sunshine” and “Moonshine,” carrying, besides their
more necessary equipments, a band of music “to cheer and recreate the
spirits of the natives.” Davis arrived in sight of the south-western
coast of Greenland, where he saw a high mountain (Sukkertoppen)
towering like a cone of silver over the fog which veiled the dismal
shore. The voyagers were glad to turn from the gloomy scene, and to
steer through the open water to the north-west, where, on August
6, they discovered land in latitude 66° 40´ altogether free from
“the pesters of ice, and ankered in a very fair rode.” A friendly
understanding was established with the Esquimaux, and a lively traffic
opened, the natives eagerly giving their skins and furs for beads
and knives, until a brisk wind separated the strange visitants from
their simple-minded friends. The remainder of the season was spent in
exploring Cumberland Sound and the entrance to Frobisher’s and Hudson’s
Straits.

In the following year Davis undertook a second voyage to the
north-west, for which the “Sunshine” and “Moonshine” were again
engaged, with two other vessels. On June 29, 1586, he landed on the
coast of Greenland, in latitude 64°, and soon after steered to the
west. The enormous ice-floes which, as is well known, come drifting
from Baffin’s Bay until the season is far advanced, opposed his
progress. For some days he coasted these floating islands, when a fog
came on, during which ropes, sails, and cordage were alike fast frozen,
and the seamen, hopeless of accomplishing the passage, warned their
commander that “by his over-boldness he might cause their widows and
fatherless children to give him bitter curses.”

Touched by this appeal, Davis ordered two of his ships to return home,
and pushing on in the “Moonshine” with the boldest of his followers,
he reached the American shore, which he coasted from 67° to 57° of
latitude. Off the coast of Labrador two of his sailors were killed by
the natives, and September being ushered in by violent gales, he gave
up further attempts for the year, and returned to England.

On June 16, 1587, we once more find him on the coast of Greenland, in
his old tried bark the “Sunshine,” in company with the “Elizabeth” and
a pinnace. The supplies for this third voyage being furnished under
the express condition that the expenses should be lightened as much
as possible by fishing at all suitable times, the two larger ships
were stationed for the purpose near the part of the coast which they
had formerly visited, while Davis steered forward in the small and
ill-conditioned vessel which alone remained at his disposal. He first
sailed along the Greenland coast as far as 72° lat., where, having
fairly entered Baffin’s Bay, he named the point at which he touched
Sanderson’s Hope, in honor of his chief patron, and then steered to
the west, until he once more fell in with the ice-barrier which had
prevented his progress the year before. Time and perseverance, however,
overcame all obstacles, and by July 19 he had crossed to the opposite
side of the strait which bears his name. He then sailed for two days
up Cumberland Strait--which, it will be remembered, he discovered on
his first expedition--but believing this passage to be an inclosed
gulf, he returned, and again passing the entrance to Hudson’s Bay
without an effort to investigate it, repaired to the rendezvous
appointed for the two whaling-vessels to meet him on their way to
England. But who can paint his astonishment and consternation when he
found that his companions had sailed away, leaving him to find his
way home in his miserable pinnace, which, however, landed him safely
on his native shores? This was the last of the Arctic voyages of that
great navigator, for the spirit of the nation was chilled by his three
successive disappointments; and all the zeal with which he pleaded for
a fourth expedition proved fruitless.

He subsequently made five voyages to the East Indies, and was killed on
December 27, 1605, on the coast of Malacca, in a fight with the Malays.

Seven years after Davis’s last Arctic voyage the Dutch made their first
appearance on the scene of northern discovery. This persevering people
had just then succeeded in casting off the Spanish yoke, and was now
striving to gain, by the development of his maritime trade, a position
among the neighboring states, which the smallness of its territory
seemed to deny to it. All the known avenues to the treasures of the
south were at that time too well guarded by the fleets of Portugal and
Spain to admit of any rivalry; but if fortune favored them in finding
the yet unexplored northern passage to India, they might still hope to
secure a lion’s share in that most lucrative of trades.

Animated by this laudable spirit of enterprise, the merchants of
Amsterdam, Enkhuizen, and Middelburg fitted out in 1594 an expedition
in quest of the north-eastern passage, which they intrusted to the
command of Cornelius Corneliszoon, Brant Ysbrantzoon, and William
Barentz, one of the most experienced seamen of the day. The three
vessels sailed from the Texel on June 6, and having reached the coast
of Lapland, separated into two divisions; Barentz choosing the bolder
course of coasting the west side of Nova Zembla as far as the islands
of Orange, the most northerly points of the archipelago; while his less
adventurous comrades were contented to sail along the Russian coast
until they reached a strait, to which they gave the very appropriate
name of Vaigats, or “Wind-hole.” Forcing their way through the ice,
which almost constantly blocks up the entrance to the Kara Sea, they
saw, on rounding a promontory at the other end of the strait, a clear
expanse of blue open sea, stretching onward as far as the eye could
reach, while the continent trended away rapidly towards the south-east.
They now no longer doubted that they had sailed round the famous Cape
Tabin--a fabulous headland, which, according to Pliny (an indisputable
authority in those times of geographical ignorance), formed the
northern extremity of Asia, from whence the voyage was supposed to be
easy to its eastern and southern shores. Little did Brant and Cornelius
dream that within the Arctic Circle the Asiatic coast still stretched
120° to the east; and fully trusting their erroneous impressions, they
started in full sail for Holland, eager to bring to their countrymen
the news of their imaginary success. Off Russian Lapland they fell in
with Barentz, who, having arrived at the northern extremity of Nova
Zembla--a higher latitude than any navigator is recorded to have
reached before--had turned back before strong opposing winds and
floating ice, and the three vessels returned together to Texel.

Such were the hopes raised by the discovery of the imaginary Cape
Tabin that, losing sight of their habitual caution, the merchants of
Middelburg, Enkhuizen, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam immediately fitted
out a fleet of six ships, laden with all sorts of merchandise fit for
the Indian market. A little yacht was added, which was to accompany
the fleet as far as that promontory, and thence to return with the
good news that the squadron had been left steering with a favorable
wind right off to India. But, as may well be supposed, these sanguine
hopes, built on the unsubstantial fabric of a vision, were doomed to a
woful disappointment, for the “Wind-hole Strait,” doing full justice
to its name, did not allow the vessels to pass; and after fruitless
efforts to force their way through the ice-blocks which obstructed that
inhospitable channel, they returned crestfallen to the port whence they
had sailed a few months before with such brilliant expectations.

Although great disappointment was felt at this failure, the scheme of
sailing round Cape Tabin to India was, however, not abandoned by the
persevering Amsterdamers; and, on May 16, 1596, Heemskerk, Barentz,
and Cornelis Ryp once more started for the north-east. Bear Island and
Spitzbergen were discovered, whereupon the ships separated, Cornelis
and Heemskerk returning to Holland, while Barentz, slowly making his
way through the fog and ice, advanced to the most northern point of
Nova Zembla, the crew being encouraged by the tidings that from the
high cliffs of Orange Island clear open water had been seen to the
south-east. The effort to reach this inviting channel was frustrated
by the ice, which gathered about the ship as it lay near shore, and
gradually collecting under and around it, raised it far above the level
of the sea. All hope of return before the next summer now vanished, but
these brave sailors submitted with resignation to their fate, “though
much grieved,” says Gerrit de Veer, who was himself an eye-witness of
all the incidents he relates, “to live there all that cold winter,
which we knew would fall out to be extremely bitter.” Fortunately
a quantity of drift-wood was found on the strand, which served the
Dutchmen both for the construction of a small hut and for fuel.

As early as September the ground was frozen so hard that they tried
in vain to dig a grave for a dead comrade, and their cramped fingers
could hardly build the hut, which was the more necessary, as the
vessel, cracking under the pressure of the ice, gave signs of speedily
breaking up altogether. By the middle of October the rude dwelling was
completed, and though its accommodation was scanty, they were glad to
take up their abode in it at once. The best place by the central fire
was assigned to a sick comrade, while all the rest arranged their beds
as best they could on shelves which had been built round the walls. An
examination into the state of their provisions showed the necessity
of reducing their daily rations of bread, cheese, and wine, but by
setting traps they caught a good many Arctic foxes, which gave them an
occasional supply of fresh food. The sun had now entirely taken his
departure, and the long winter night of the 75° 43´ of latitude set
in, during which snowdrifts and impetuous winds confined them to their
miserable hut.

“We looked pitifully one upon the other,” says De Veer, “being in great
fear that if the extremity of the cold grew to be more and more, we
should all die there of cold, for that what fire soever we made would
not warm us.”

The ice was now two inches thick upon the walls, and even on the sides
of their sleeping cots and the very clothes they wore were whitened
with frost. Yet in the midst of all their sufferings these brave men
maintained cheerful hearts; and so great was their elasticity of spirit
that, remembering January 5 was Twelfth Eve, they resolved to celebrate
it as best they might. “And then,” says the old chronicler, “we prayed
our Maister that we might be merry that night, and said that we were
content to spend some of the wine that night which we had spared, and
which was our share (one glass) every second day, and whereof for
certaine days we had not dranke, and so that night we made merry and
drew for king. And therewith we had two pounds of meal, whereof we made
pancakes with oyle, and every man had a white biscuit which we sopt
in the wine. And so supposing that we were in our owne country and
amongst our friends, it comforted us well as if we had made a great
banquet in our owne house. And we also made trinkets, and our gunner
was king of Novaya Zemlya, which is at least 800 miles long and lyeth
between two seas.”

On January 24 the edge of the sun appeared above the horizon, and
the sight was a joyful one indeed. Now also the furious snow-storm
ceased, and though the severity of the cold continued unabated, they
were better able to brave the outer air and to recruit their strength
by exercise. With the return of daylight the bears came again about
the house, and some being shot, afforded a very seasonable supply of
grease, so that they were able to burn lamps and pass the time in
reading.

When summer returned it was found impossible to disengage the ice-bound
vessel, and the only hopes of escaping from this dreary prison now
rested on two small boats, in which they finally quitted the scene
of so much suffering on June 14, 1596. On the fourth day of their
voyage their barks became surrounded by enormous masses of floating
ice, which so crushed and injured them that the crews, giving up all
hope, took a solemn leave of each other. But in this desperate crisis
they owed their preservation to the presence of mind and agility of
De Veer, who, with a well-secured rope, leaped from one ice-block to
another till he reached a larger floe, on which first the sick, then
the stores, the crews, and finally the boats themselves were fairly
landed. Here they were obliged to remain while the boats underwent the
necessary repairs, and during this detention upon a floating ice raft
the gallant Barentz closed the eventful voyage of his life. He died as
he had lived, calmly and bravely, thinking less of himself than of the
welfare of his fellow-sufferers, for his last words were directions
as to the course in which they were to steer. His death was bitterly
mourned by the rough men under his command, and even the prospect of
a return to their homes could not console them for the loss of their
beloved leader. After a most tedious passage (for by July 28 they had
only reached the southern extremity of Nova Zembla) they at length, at
the end of August, arrived at Kola, in Russian Lapland, where, to their
glad surprise, they found their old comrade, John Cornelison Ryp, with
whom they returned to Amsterdam.

Meanwhile the spirit of discovery had once more recovered in England
from the chill thrown upon it by so many previous disappointments. In
1602, Weymouth, while attempting to sail up the promising inlet, now so
well-known as the entrance to Hudson’s Bay, was repulsed by a violent
storm, and in 1606 a melancholy issue awaited the next expedition to
the north-west, which sailed under the command of John Knight, a brave
and experienced sailor. Driven by stormy weather among the drift-ice
on the coast of Labrador, Knight was fain to take shelter in the first
cove that presented itself, and lost no time in ordering his damaged
ship of forty tons to be drawn high up on the dry sand beyond the tide
mark, where she might undergo the necessary repairs.

This position, however, not proving satisfactory, he manned his boat
next day, and while the rest of the crew were busy at work, sailed
across to the other side of the inlet to seek for some more convenient
anchorage. Leaving two men in charge of the boat, he landed with his
mate and three of his men to explore the strange coast. They climbed
the steep acclivity of the shore, lingered for a moment on the summit
of the cliffs, and before disappearing on the other side exchanged
greetings of farewell with their messmates in the boat, who little
imagined that it was a parting forever. Evening came on, and then
darkened into night; muskets were fired and trumpets sounded, but no
answer was made, and eleven o’clock arriving without any sign or signal
of the missing party, the men who had tarried on shore mournfully
returned to the ship with the dismal tidings of the loss of their brave
commander and his comrades.

During this melancholy night, passed in alternate lamentations and
plans for search and rescue, the ice had so accumulated in the channel
which the unfortunate Knight crossed the day before, that though the
boat was speedily rigged for the expedition, and the party who occupied
it were one and all uncontrollably eager to start, the morning light
convinced the most sanguine of the utter impossibility of forcing their
way across the gulf. Thus passed two wretched days of uncertainty,
rendered doubly miserable by the inactivity to which they were
condemned, when on the night of the second day the little encampment
was attacked by a large party of natives, whose hostility left no doubt
about the fate which had befallen their missing friends. A volley of
musketry soon dispersed the savages, but fearing future attacks, the
crew, now only eight in number, at once resolved to put to sea in their
crazy bark, which, though deprived of its rudder, and so leaky that the
pumps were obliged to be constantly at work, safely carried them to
Newfoundland.

In the year 1607 Henry Hudson made the first attempt to sail across
the North Pole, a plan started in 1527 by Robert Thorne, but not yet
acted upon by any one during the eighty years that had since passed.
He reached the east coast of Greenland in 73° of latitude, and then
proceeded to the northern extremity of Spitzbergen, but all his efforts
to launch forth into the unknown ocean beyond were baffled by the
ice-fields that opposed his progress.

In his next voyage (1608) he vainly tried for the north-east passage,
but his third voyage (1609), which he performed in the service of the
Dutch, led to the discovery of the magnificent river which still bears
his name, and at whose mouth the “Empire City” of the great American
republic has arisen.

In April, 1610, we find him setting sail on the last and most
celebrated of his voyages. In all but its commander, this expedition
was miserably inadequate to the object of its mission, for it consisted
only of one vessel of fifty-five tons provisioned for six months, and
manned by a crew who speedily proved themselves to be utterly unworthy
of their leader. On entering Hudson’s Straits, the large masses of ice
which encumbered the surface of the water and the thickness of the
constant fogs made them lose all courage, and they earnestly begged
their commander to return at once to England. But Hudson pressed on
until at last his little bark emerged into a vast open water rippling
and sparkling in the morning sunshine. Hudson’s Bay expanded before
him, and the enraptured discoverer was fully convinced that the
north-western route to India now lay open to the mariners of England.

It was the beginning of August, and the dastardly crew considering the
passage effected, urged an immediate return; but Hudson was determined
on completing the adventure, and wintering, if possible, on the
sunny shores of India. For three months he continued tracking the
south coasts of that vast northern Mediterranean, but all his hopes
of finding a new channel opening to the south proved vain, until at
length the ship was frozen in on November 10 in the south-east corner
of James’s Bay. A dreary winter awaited the ice-bound seamen, with
almost exhausted provisions, and unfortunately without that heroic
patience and concord which had sustained the courage of Barentz and his
companions under trials far more severe. But spring came at last, and
revived the spirits of their leader. His ship was once more afloat,
once more his fancy indulged in visions of the sunny East, when, as
he stepped on deck on the morning of June 21, his arms were suddenly
pinioned, and he found himself in the power of three of his men.

Inquiry, remonstrance, entreaty, command, all failed to draw a word
from the stubborn mutineers, and Hudson resigned himself bravely to
his fate, and, with the quiet dignity of a noble nature, looked on
calmly at the ominous preparations going forward. A small open boat
was in waiting, and into this Hudson--his hands being previously tied
behind his back--was lowered; some powder and shot and the carpenter’s
box came next, followed by the carpenter himself, John King, whose
name ought to be held in honorable remembrance, as he alone among the
crew remained true to his master. Six invalids were also forced into
the boat, which was then cut adrift, and the vessel sailed onward on
its homeward course. Nothing more was ever heard of Hudson; but the
ringleaders of that dark conspiracy soon paid a terrible penalty. Some
fell in a fight with the Esquimaux, and others died on the homeward
voyage, during which they suffered from the extremest famine.

The account of the great expanse of sea which had been reached gave new
vigor to the spirit of discovery, and new expeditions sallied forth
(Sir Thomas Button, 1612, Gibbons, 1614, Bylot, 1615), to seek along
the western shores of Hudson’s Bay the passage which was to open the
way to India. All efforts in this direction were of course doomed to
disappointment, but Baffin, who sailed in 1616, with directions to try
his fortune beyond Davis’s Straits, enriched geography with a new and
important conquest by sailing round the enormous bay which still bears
his name. During this voyage he discovered the entrances of Smith’s,
Jones’s, and Lancaster Sounds, without attempting to investigate these
broad highways to fields of later exploration. He believed them to be
mere inclosed gulfs, and this belief became so firmly grounded in the
public mind that two full centuries elapsed before any new attempt was
made to seek for a western passage in this direction, while Jens Munk,
a Dane, sent out in 1619 with two good vessels, under the patronage of
his king, Christian IV.; Fox and James (1631–1632), Knight and Barlow
(1719), Middleton (1741), Moor and Smith (1746), confined their efforts
to Hudson’s Bay, and, by their repeated disappointments, made all
expeditions in quest of a north-western passage appear well-nigh as
chimerical as those of the knight-errants of romance.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

ARCTIC VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY, FROM BAFFIN TO M’CLINTOCK.

  Buchan and Franklin.--Ross and Parry (1818).--Discovery of
    Melville Island.--Winter Harbor (1819–1820).--Franklin’s
    first land Journey.--Dreadful Sufferings.--Parry’s second
    Voyage (1821–1823).--Higliuk.--Lyon (1824).--Parry’s third
    Voyage (1824).--Franklin’s second land Journey to the Shores
    of the Polar Sea.--Beechey.--Parry’s sledge Journey towards
    the Pole.--Sir John Ross’s second Journey.--Five Years in the
    Arctic Ocean.--Back’s Discovery of Great Fish River.--Dease and
    Simpson (1837–1839).--Franklin and Crozier’s last Voyage (1845).--
    Searching Expeditions.--Richardson and Rae.--Sir James Ross.--
    Austin.--Penny.--De Haven.--Franklin’s first Winter-quarters
    discovered by Ommaney.--Kennedy and Bellot.--Inglefield.--Sir
    E. Belcher.--Kellett.--M’Clure’s Discovery of the North-west
    Passage.--Collinson.--Bellot’s Death.--Dr. Rae learns the Death
    of the Crews of the “Erebus” and “Terror.”--Sir Leopold M’Clintock.


The failure of Captain Phipps (afterwards Lord Mulgrave) in the
Spitzbergen seas (1773), and that of the illustrious Cook (1776), in
his attempt to circumnavigate the northern shores of America or Asia
by way of the Straits of Bering, entirely damped, for the next forty
years, the spirit of Arctic discovery; but hope revived when it became
known that Captain Scoresby, on a whaling expedition in the Greenland
seas (1806), had attained 81° 30´ N. lat., and thus approached the pole
to within 540 miles. No previous navigator had ever reached so far
to the north; an open sea lay temptingly before him, and the absence
of the ice-blink proved that for miles beyond the visible horizon no
ice-field or snow-covered land opposed his onward course; but as the
object of Scoresby’s voyage was strictly commercial, and he himself
answerable to the owners of his vessel, he felt obliged to sacrifice
his inclinations to his duty, and to steer again to the south.

During the Continental war, indeed, England had but little leisure
to prosecute discoveries in the Arctic Ocean; but not long after the
conclusion of peace, four stout vessels (1818) were sent out on that
mission by Government. Two of these, the “Dorothea,” Captain Buchan,
and the “Trent,” Commander Lieutenant John Franklin, were destined to
proceed northward by way of Spitzbergen, and to endeavor to cross the
Polar Sea. After unnumbered difficulties, the expedition was battling
with the ice to the north-west of that wintry archipelago, when, on
July 30, a sudden gale compelled the commander, as the only chance
of safety, to “take the ice”--that is, to thrust the ships into an
opening among the moving masses that could be perceived. In this very
hazardous operation, the “Dorothea”--having received so much injury
that she was in danger of sinking--was therefore turned homeward as
soon as the storm subsided, and the “Trent” of necessity accompanied
her.

The other two ships, which sailed in the same year, the “Isabella,”
commanded by Captain John Ross, and the “Alexander,” by Lieutenant
William Edward Parry, had been ordered to proceed up the middle of
Davis’s Strait to a high northern latitude, and then to stretch
across to the westward, in the hope of being able to pass the northern
extremity of America, and reach Bering’s Strait by that route. As
respects the purposes for which it was sent out, this expedition
likewise ended in disappointment; for though Ross defined more clearly
the Greenland coast to the north of the Danish possessions between
Cape Melville and Smith’s Sound, he was satisfied with making a very
cursory examination of all the great channels leading from Baffin’s
Bay into the Polar Sea. After sailing for some little distance up
Lancaster Sound, he was arrested by the atmospheric deception of a
range of mountains, extending right across the passage, and concluding
it useless to persevere, he at once--to the great astonishment and
mortification of his officers--abandoned a course which was to render
his successor illustrious. As may easily be imagined, the manner
in which Ross had conducted this expedition failed to satisfy the
authorities at home; and thus, in the following year, the “Hecla” and
“Griper” were commissioned for the purpose of exploring the sound,
whose entrance only had been seen by Baffin and Ross. The former ship
was placed under the Command of Parry, and the latter under that of
Lieutenant Matthew Liddon.

With this brilliant voyage, the epoch of modern discoveries in the
Arctic Ocean may properly be said to begin. Sailing right through
Lancaster Sound, over the site of Ross’s imaginary Croker Mountains,
Parry passed Barrow’s Strait, and after exploring Prince Regent
Inlet, whence the ice compelled him to return to the main channel,
he discovered Wellington Channel (August 22), and soon after had the
satisfaction of announcing to his men that, having reached 110° W.
long., they were entitled to the king’s bounty of £5000, secured by
order of council to “such of His Majesty’s subjects as might succeed
in penetrating thus far to the west within the Arctic Circle.” After
passing and naming Melville Island, a little progress was still made
westward; but the ice was now rapidly gathering, the vessels were soon
beset, and, after getting free with great difficulty, Parry was only
too glad to turn back and settle down in Winter Harbor. It was no easy
task to attain this dreary port, as a canal, two miles and a third in
length, had first to be cut through solid ice of seven inches average
thickness; yet such was the energy of the men that the herculean labor
was executed in three days. The two vessels were immediately unrigged,
the decks housed over, a heating apparatus arranged, and every thing
made as comfortable as possible. To relieve the monotony of the long
winter’s night, plays were acted every fortnight, a school established,
and a newspaper set on foot--certainly the first periodical ever
issued in so high a latitude. During the day the men were employed for
exercise in banking up the ships with snow or making excursions within
a certain distance; and when the weather forbade their leaving shelter,
they were obliged to run round the decks to the tune of a barrel-organ.

In January the cold became more and more intense. On the 12th it was
51° below zero in the open air, and on the 14th the thermometer fell
to 54°. On February 24 a fire broke out in a small house which had
been built near the ships, to serve as an observatory for Captain
Sabine, who accompanied the expedition as astronomer. All hands rushed
to the spot to endeavor to subdue the flames, but having only snow
to throw on it, it was found impossible to extinguish it. The snow,
however, covered the astronomical instruments, and secured them from
the fire. The thermometer was at the time 44° below zero, and the
faces of nearly the whole party grew white and frost-bitten after five
minutes’ exposure, so that the surgeon and two or three assistants
were busily employed in rubbing the faces of their comrades with snow,
while the latter were working might and main to extinguish the flames.
One poor fellow, in his anxiety to save the dipping-needle, carried
it out without putting on his gloves; his hands were so benumbed in
consequence, that when plunged into a basin of cold water it instantly
froze, from the intense coldness imparted to it, and it was found
necessary to resort, some time after, to the amputation of a part of
four fingers on one hand and three on the other.

February 3 was a memorable day--the sun being visible from the maintop
of the “Hecla,” from whence it was last seen on November 11. The
weather got considerably milder in March; on the 6th the thermometer
rose to zero, for the first time since December 17, and on April 30 it
stood at the freezing-point, which it had not done since September 12.

At length May appeared, bringing the long summer’s day of the high
northern latitudes; but as many a week must still pass before the
vessels could move out of their ice-bound harbor, Parry started on
June 1 to explore the interior of the island, which at this early
period of the season still wore a very dreary aspect. But such was
the rapidity of vegetation, that by the end of the month the land,
now completely clear of snow, was covered with the purple-colored
saxifrage in blossom, with mosses, and with sorrel, and the grass was
from two to three inches long. The pasturage appeared to be excellent
in the valleys, and, to judge by the numerous tracks of musk-oxen and
reindeer, there was no lack of animals to enjoy its abundance.

It was not before August 1 that the ships were released from their ten
months’ blockade in Winter Harbor, when Parry once more stood boldly
for the west; but no amount of skill or patience could penetrate
the obstinate masses of ice that blocked the passage, or insure the
safety of the vessels under the repeated shocks sustained from them.
Finding the barriers insuperable, he gave way, and steering homeward,
reached London on November 3, 1820, where, as may well be imagined, his
reception was most enthusiastic.

While Parry was engaged on this wonderful voyage, Lieutenant Franklin
and Dr. Richardson, accompanied by two midshipmen, George Back and
Robert Hood, and a sailor, John Hepburn, to whom were added during
the course of the journey a troop of Canadians and Indians, were
penetrating by land to the mouth of the Coppermine River for the
purpose of examining the unexplored shores of the Polar Sea to the
east. An idea of the difficulties of this undertaking may be formed,
when I mention that the travellers started from Fort York, Hudson’s
Bay, on August 30, 1819, and after a boat voyage of 700 miles up the
Saskatchewan arrived before winter at Fort Cumberland. The next winter
found them 700 miles farther on their journey, established during the
extreme cold at Fort Enterprise, as they called a log-house built
by them on Winter Lake, where they spent ten months, depending upon
fishing and the success of their Indian hunters. During the summer
of 1821 they accomplished the remaining 334 miles to the mouth of
the Coppermine, and on July 21 Franklin and his party embarked in
two birch-bark canoes on their voyage of exploration. In these frail
shallops they skirted the desolate coast of the American continent
555 miles to the east of the Coppermine as far as Point Turnagain,
when the rapid decrease of their provisions and the shattered state of
the canoes imperatively compelled their return (August 22). And now
began a dreadful land-journey of two months, accompanied by all the
horrors of cold, famine, and fatigue. An esculent lichen (tripe de
roche), with an occasional ptarmigan, formed their scanty food, but
on very many days even this poor supply could not be obtained, and
their appetites became ravenous. Sometimes they had the good-fortune
to pick up pieces of skin, and a few bones of deer which had been
devoured by the wolves in the previous spring. The bones were rendered
friable by burning, and now and then their old shoes were added to the
repast. On reaching the Coppermine, a raft had to be framed, a task
accomplished with the utmost difficulty by the exhausted party. One
or two of the Canadians had already fallen behind, and never rejoined
their comrades, and now Hood and three or four more of the party broke
down and could proceed no farther, Dr. Richardson kindly volunteering
to remain with them, while Back, with the most vigorous of the men,
pushed on to send succor from Fort Enterprise, and Franklin followed
more slowly with the others. On reaching the log house this last party
found that wretched tenement desolate, with no deposit of provisions
and no trace of the Indians whom they had expected to meet there.
“It would be impossible,” says Franklin, “to describe our sensations
after entering this miserable abode and discovering how we had been
neglected; the whole party shed tears, not so much for our own fate as
for that of our friends in the rear, whose lives depended entirely on
our sending immediate relief from this place.” Their only consolation
was a gleam of hope afforded them by a note from Back, stating that he
had reached the deserted hut two days before, and was going in search
of the Indians. The fortunate discovery of some cast-off deer-skins and
of a heap of acrid bones, a provision worthy of the place, sustained
their flickering life-flame, and after eighteen miserable days they
were joined by Dr. Richardson and Hepburn, the sole survivors of their
party, Lieutenant Hood, a young officer of great promise, having been
murdered by a treacherous Canadian, whom Richardson was afterwards
obliged to shoot through the head in self-defense.

“Upon entering the desolate dwelling,” says Richardson, “we had the
satisfaction of embracing Captain Franklin, but no words can convey an
idea of the filth and wretchedness that met our eyes on looking around.
Our own misery had stolen upon us by degrees, and we were accustomed to
the contemplation of each other’s emaciated figures; but the ghastly
countenances, dilated eyeballs, and sepulchral voices of Captain
Franklin and those with him were more than we could at first bear.”
At length, on November 7, when the few survivors of the ill-fated
expedition (for most of the voyagers died from sheer exhaustion) were
on the point of sinking under their sufferings, three Indians sent
by Back, whose exertions to procure them relief had been beyond all
praise, brought them the succor they had so long been waiting for. The
eagerness with which they feasted on dried meat and excellent tongues
may well be imagined; but severe pains in the stomach soon warned them
that after so long an abstinence they must be exceedingly careful in
the quantity of food taken. In a fortnight’s time they had sufficiently
recruited their strength to be able to join Back at Moose Deer Island,
and in the following year they returned to England.

Parry’s second voyage of discovery (1821–1823) was undertaken for
the purpose of ascertaining whether a communication might be found
between Regent’s Inlet and Rowe’s Welcome, or through Repulse Bay
and thence to the north-western shores of America. The first summer
(1821) was spent in the vain attempt of forcing a way through Frozen
Strait, Repulse Bay, the large masses of ice in these waters holding
the ships helplessly in their grasp, and often carrying them back in
a few days to the very spot which they had left a month before. Owing
to these rebuffs, the season came to an end while their enterprise
was yet scarcely begun, and the ships took up their quarters in an
open roadstead at Winter Island to the south of Melville Peninsula.
Besides the winter amusements and occupations of the first voyage,
the monotony of the winter was pleasantly broken during February by
friendly visits from a party of Esquimaux. Among these a young woman,
Higliuk, distinguished herself by her talents. Her love for music
amounted to a passion, and her quickness of comprehension was such
that she soon became an established interpreter between her own people
and the English. The nature of a map having been explained to her, she
readily sketched with chalk upon the deck the outlines of the adjoining
coast, and continuing it farther, delineated the whole eastern shore of
Melville Peninsula, rounding its northern extremity by a large island
and a strait of sufficient magnitude to afford a safe passage for the
ships. This information greatly encouraged the whole party, whose
sanguine anticipations already fancied the worst part of their voyage
overcome, and its truth was eagerly tested as soon as the ships could
once more be set afloat, which was not till July 2.

After running the greatest dangers from the ice, they at length reached
the small island of Igloolik, near the entrance of the channel, the
situation of which had been accurately laid down by the Esquimaux
woman. But all their efforts to force a passage through the narrow
strait proved vain, for after struggling sixty-five days to get
forward, they had only in that time reached forty miles to the westward
of Igloolik. The vessels were therefore again placed in winter-quarters
in a channel between Igloolik and the land; but having ascertained by
boat excursions the termination of the strait, Parry thought it so
promising for the ensuing summer that he at once named it the “Hecla
and Fury Strait.” But his hopes were once more doomed to disappointment
by the ice-obstructed channel, and he found it utterly impossible to
pass through it with his ships. His return to England with his crews in
health, after two winters in the high latitudes, was another triumph of
judgment and discipline.

In the following year two new expeditions set sail for Polar America.
Captain Lyon was sent out in the “Griper,” with orders to land at
Wager River off Repulse Bay, and thence to cross Melville Peninsula,
and proceed overland to Point Turnagain, where Franklin’s journey
ended. But a succession of dreadful storms so crippled the “Griper,”
while endeavoring to proceed onward up Rowe’s Welcome, that it became
necessary to return at once to England.

Such was the esteem and affection Parry had acquired among the
companions of his two former voyages, that when he took the command of
a third expedition, with the intention of seeking a passage through
Prince Regent’s Inlet, they all volunteered to accompany him. From
the middle of July till nearly the middle of September (1824), the
“Hecla” and the “Fury” had to contend with the enormous ice-masses of
Baffin’s Bay, which would infallibly have crushed vessels less stoutly
ribbed; and thus it was not before September 10 that they entered
Lancaster Sound, which they found clear of ice, except here and there a
solitary berg. But new ice now began to form, which, increasing daily
in thickness, beset the ship, and carried them once more back again
into Baffin’s Bay. By perseverance, however, and the aid of a strong
easterly breeze, Parry regained the lost ground, and on September 27
reached the entrance of Port Bowen, on the eastern shore of Prince
Regent’s Inlet, where he passed the winter. By July 19 the vessels
were again free, and Parry now sailed across the inlet to examine the
coast of North Somerset; but the floating ice so injured the “Fury”
that it was found necessary to abandon her. Her crew and valuables were
therefore received on board the “Hecla;” the provisions, stores, and
boats were landed, and safely housed on Fury Point, off North Somerset,
for the relief of any wandering Esquimaux, or future Arctic explorers
who might chance to visit the spot, and the crippled ship was given up
to the mercy of the relentless ice, while her companion made the best
of her way to England.

In spite of the dreadful sufferings of Franklin, Richardson, and
Back during their first land journey, we find these heroes once more
setting forth in 1825, determined to resume the survey of the Arctic
coasts of the American continent. A far more adequate preparation was
made for the necessities of their journey than before; and before
they settled down for the winter at “Fort Franklin,” on the shores
of Great Bear Lake, a journey of investigation down the Mackenzie
River to the sea had been brought to a successful end. As soon as the
ice broke in the following summer, they set out in four boats, and
separated at the point where the river divides into two main branches,
Franklin and Back proposing to survey the coast-line to the westward,
while Richardson set out in an easterly direction to the mouth of the
Coppermine River. Franklin arrived at the mouth of the Mackenzie on
July 7, where a large tribe of Esquimaux pillaged his boats, and it
was only by great prudence and forbearance that the whole party were
not massacred. A full month was now spent in the tedious survey of 374
miles of coast, as far as Return Reef, more than 1000 miles distant
from their winter-quarters on Great Bear Lake. The return journey to
Fort Franklin was safely accomplished, and they arrived at their house
on September 21, where they had the pleasure of finding Dr. Richardson
and Lieutenant Kendall, who, on their part, had reached the Coppermine,
thus connecting Sir John Franklin’s former discoveries to the eastward
in Coronation Gulf with those made by him on this occasion to the
westward of the Mackenzie. The cold during the second winter at Fort
Franklin was intense, the thermometer standing at one time at 58° below
zero; but the comfort they now enjoyed formed a most pleasing contrast
to the squalid misery of Fort Enterprise.

When Franklin left England to proceed on this expedition, his first
wife was then lying at the point of death, and indeed expired the day
after his departure. But with heroic fortitude she urged him to set out
on the very day appointed, entreating him, as he valued her peace and
his own glory, not to delay a moment on her account. His feelings may
be imagined when he raised on Garry Island a silk flag which she had
made and given him as a parting gift, with the instruction that he was
only to hoist it on reaching the Polar Sea.

While Parry and Franklin were thus severally employed in searching
for a western passage, a sea expedition under the command of Captain
Beechey had been sent to Bering’s Straits to co-operate with them,
so as to furnish provisions to the former and a conveyance home to
the latter--a task more easily planned than executed; and thus we
can not wonder that when the “Blossom” reached the appointed place
of rendezvous at Chamisso Island, in Kotzebue Sound (July 25, 1826),
she found neither Parry (who had long since returned to England) nor
Franklin. Yet the barge of the “Blossom”--which was dispatched to
the eastward under charge of Mr. Elson--narrowly missed meeting the
latter; for when she was stopped by the ice at Point Barrow, she was
only about 150 miles from Return Reef, the limit of his discoveries to
the westward of the Mackenzie.

In the year 1827 the indefatigable Parry undertook one of the most
extraordinary voyages ever performed by man; being no less than an
attempt to reach the North Pole by boat and sledge travelling over
the ice. His hopes of success were founded on Crosby’s authority,
who reports having seen ice-fields so free from either fissure or
hummock, that had they not been covered with snow, a coach might have
been driven many leagues over them in a direct line; but when Parry
reached the ice-fields to the north of Spitzbergen, he found them of
a very different nature, composed of loose, rugged masses, intermixed
with pools of water, which rendered travelling over them extremely
arduous and slow. The strong flat-bottomed boats, specially prepared
for an amphibious journey, with a runner attached to each side of
the keel, so as to adapt them for sledging, had thus frequently to
be laden and unladen, in order to be raised over the hummocks, and
repeated journeys backward and forward over the same ground were the
necessary consequence. Frequently the crew had to go on hands and knees
to secure a footing. Heavy showers of rain often rendered the surface
of the ice a mass of slush, and in some places the ice took the form
of sharp-pointed crystals, which cut the boots like penknives. But
in spite of all these obstacles, they toiled cheerfully on, until at
length, after thirty-five days of incessant drudgery, the discovery was
made that, while they were apparently advancing towards the pole, the
ice-field on which they were travelling was drifting to the south, and
thus rendering all their exertions fruitless. Yet, though disappointed
in his hope of planting his country’s standard on the northern axis of
the globe, Parry had the glory of reaching the highest authenticated
latitude ever yet attained (82° 40´ 30´´). On their return to the
“Hecla,” which awaited them under Captain Forester in Treurenberg Bay,
on the northern coast of Spitzbergen, the boats encountered a dreadful
storm on the open sea, which obliged them to bear up for Walden
Island--one of the most northerly rocks of the archipelago--where,
fortunately, a reserve supply of provisions had been deposited. “Every
thing belonging to us,” says Sir Edward Parry, “was now completely
drenched by the spray and snow; we had been fifty-six hours without
rest, and forty-eight at work in the boats, so that by the time they
were unloaded we had barely strength to haul them up on the rocks.
However, by dint of great exertion, we managed to get the boats above
the surf, after which, a hot supper, a blazing fire of drift-wood,
and a few hours’ quiet rest restored us.” He who laments over the
degeneracy of the human race, and supposes it to have been more
vigorous or endowed with greater powers of endurance in ancient times,
may perhaps come to a different opinion when reading of Parry and his
companions.

Thus ended the last of this great navigator’s Arctic voyages. Born in
the year 1790, of a family of seamen, Parry at an early age devoted
himself, heart and soul, to the profession in which his father had
grown old. In his twenty-eighth year he discovered Melville Island, and
his subsequent expedition confirmed the excellent reputation he had
acquired by his first brilliant success. From the years 1829 to 1834 we
find him in New South Wales, as Resident Commissioner of the Australian
Agricultural Company. In the year 1837 he was appointed to organize
the mail-packet service, then transferred to the Admiralty, and after
filling the post of Captain Superintendent of the Royal Naval Hospital
at Haslar, was finally appointed Governor of Greenwich Hospital. He
died in the summer of 1855 at Ems.

Ten years had elapsed since Captain John Ross’s first unsuccessful
voyage, when the veteran seaman, anxious to obliterate the reproach
of former failure by some worthy achievement, was enabled, through
the munificence of Sir Felix Booth, to accomplish his wishes. A
small Liverpool steamer, bearing the rather presumptuous name of
the “Victory,” was purchased for the voyage, a rather unfortunate
selection, for surely nothing can be more unpractical than paddle-boxes
among ice-blocks; but to make amends for this error, the commander
of the expedition was fortunate in being accompanied by his nephew,
Commander James Ross, who, with every quality of the seaman, united the
zeal of an able naturalist. He it was who, by his well-executed sledge
journeys, made the chief discoveries of the expedition; but the voyage
of the “Victory” is far less remarkable for successes achieved than for
its unexampled protraction during a period of five years.

The first season ended well. On August 10, 1829, the “Victory” entered
Prince Regent’s Inlet, and reached on the 13th the spot where Parry,
on his third voyage, had been obliged to abandon the “Fury.” The ship
itself had been swept away; but all her sails, stores, and provisions
on land were found untouched. The hermetically sealed tin canisters in
which the flour, meat, bread, wine, spirits, sugar, etc., were packed
had preserved them from the attacks of the white bears, and they were
found as good after four years as they had been on the day when the
“Fury” started on her voyage. It was to this discovery that the crew of
the “Victory” owed their subsequent preservation, for how else could
they have passed four winters in the Arctic wastes?

On August 15 Cape Garry was attained, the most southern point of the
inlet which Parry had reached on his third voyage. Fogs and drift-ice
greatly retarded the progress of the expedition, but Ross moved on,
though slowly, so that about the middle of September the map of the
northern regions was enriched by some 500 miles of newly-discovered
coast. But now, at the beginning of winter, the “Victory” was obliged
to take refuge in Felix Harbor, where the useless steam-engine was
thrown overboard as a nuisance, and the usual preparations made for
spending the cold season as pleasantly as possible.

The following spring (from May 17 to June 13) was employed by James
Ross on a sledge journey, which led to the discovery of King William’s
Sound and King William’s Land, and during which that courageous mariner
penetrated so far to the west that he had only ten days’ provisions--
scantily measured out--for a return voyage of 200 miles through an
empty wilderness.

After twelve months’ imprisonment, the “Victory” was released from the
ice on September 17, and proceeded once more on her discoveries. But
the period of her liberty was short, for, after advancing three miles
in one continual battle against the currents and the drift-ice, she
again froze fast on the 27th of the same month.

In the following spring we again see the indefatigable James Ross
extending the circle of his sledge excursions, and planting the British
flag on the site of the Northern Magnetic Pole--which, however, is
not invariably fixed to one spot, as was then believed, but moves from
place to place within the glacial zone.

On August 28, 1831, the “Victory”--after a second imprisonment of
eleven months--was warped into open water; but after spending a
whole month to advance four miles, she was encompassed by the ice on
September 27, and once more fettered in the dreary wilderness.

As there seemed no prospect of extricating her next summer, they
resolved to abandon her and travel over the ice to Fury Beach, there
to avail themselves of the boats, provisions, and stores, which would
assist them in reaching Davis’s Straits. Accordingly, on May 29, 1832,
the colors of the “Victory” were hoisted and nailed to the mast, and
after drinking a parting glass to the ship with the crew, and having
seen every man out in the evening, the captain took his own leave
of her. “It was the first vessel,” says Ross, “that I had ever been
obliged to abandon, after having served in thirty-six, during a period
of forty-two years. It was like the last parting with an old friend,
and I did not pass the point where she ceased to be visible without
stopping to take a sketch of this melancholy desert, rendered more
melancholy by the solitary, abandoned, helpless home of our past years,
fixed in immovable ice, till time should perform on her his usual work.”

After having, with incredible difficulty, reached Fury Beach, where,
thanks to the forethought of Sir Edward Parry, they fortunately found
a sufficient number of boats left for their purpose, and all the
provisions in good condition, they set out on August 1--a considerable
extent of open sea being visible--and after much buffeting among
the ice, reached the north of the inlet by the end of the month. But
here they were doomed to disappointment, for, after several fruitless
attempts to run along Barrow’s Strait, the ice obliged them to haul
their boats on shore and pitch their tents. Day after day they lingered
till the third week in September, but the strait continuing one
impenetrable mass of ice, it was unanimously agreed that their only
resource was to fall back again on the stores at Fury Beach, and there
spend a fourth long winter within the Arctic Circle. They were only
able to get half the distance in the boats, which were hauled on shore
in Batty Bay on September 24, and performed the rest of their journey
on foot, the provisions being dragged in sledges. On October 7 they
once more reached the canvas hut, dignified with the name of “Somerset
House,” which they had erected in July on the scene of the “Fury’s”
wreck, and which they had vainly hoped never to see again.

They now set about building a snow-wall four feet thick round their
dwelling, and strengthening the roof with spars, for the purpose of
covering it with snow, and by means of this shelter, and an additional
stove, made themselves tolerably comfortable, until the increasing
severity of the cold and the furious gales confined them within-doors,
and sorely tried their patience. Scurvy now began to appear, and
several of the men fell victims to the scourge. At the same time, cares
for the future darkened the gloom of their situation; for, should they
be disappointed in their hopes of escaping in the ensuing summer, their
failing strength and diminishing stores gave them but little hope of
surviving another year.

It may easily be imagined how anxiously the movements of the ice were
watched when the next season opened, and with what beating hearts they
embarked at Batty Bay on August 15. Making their way slowly among the
masses of ice with which the inlet was encumbered, they to their great
joy found, on the 17th, the wide expanse of Barrow’s Strait open to
navigation.

Pushing on with renewed spirits, Cape York soon lay behind them, and,
alternately rowing and sailing, on the night of the 25th they rested in
a good harbor on the eastern shore of Navy Board Inlet. At 4 o’clock on
the following morning they were roused from their slumber by the joyful
intelligence of a ship being in sight, and never did men more hurriedly
and energetically set out; but the elements were against them, and the
ship disappeared in the distant haze.

After a few hours’ suspense, the sight of another vessel lying to in a
calm relieved their despair. This time their exertions were successful,
and, strange to say, the ship which took them on board was the same
“Isabella”--now reduced to the rank of a private whaler--in which
Ross had made his first voyage to the Arctic Seas.

The seamen of the “Isabella” told him of his own death--of which all
England was persuaded--and could hardly believe that it was really
he and his party who now stood before them. But when all doubts were
cleared away, the rigging was instantly manned to do them honor, and
thundering cheers welcomed Ross and his gallant band on board! The
scene that now followed can not be better told than in Ross’s own words.

“Though we had not been supported by our names and characters, we
should not the less have claimed from charity the attentions that we
received; for never was seen a more miserable set of wretches. Unshaven
since I know not when, dirty, dressed in rags of wild beasts, and
starved to the very bones, our gaunt and grim looks, when contrasted
with those of the well-dressed and well-fed men around us, made us
all feel (I believe for the first time) what we really were, as well
as what we seemed to others. But the ludicrous soon took the place of
all other feelings; in such a crowd and such confusion, all serious
thought was impossible, while the new buoyancy of our spirits made us
abundantly willing to be amused by the scene which now opened. Every
man was hungry, and was to be fed; all were ragged, and were to be
clothed; there was not one to whom washing was not indispensable,
nor one whom his beard did not deprive of all human semblance. All,
every thing too, was to be done at once: it was washing, dressing,
shaving, eating, all intermingled: it was all the materials of each
jumbled together, while in the midst of all there were interminable
questions to be asked and answered on both sides; the adventures of
the ‘Victory,’ our own escapes, the politics of England, and the news,
which was now four years old. But all subsided into peace at last. The
sick were accommodated, the seamen disposed of, and all was done for us
which care and kindness could perform. Night at length brought quiet
and serious thoughts, and I trust there was not a man among us who did
not then express where it was due his gratitude for that interposition
which had raised us all from a despair which none could now forget,
and had brought us from the borders of a most distant grave to life,
and friends, and civilization. Long accustomed, however, to a cold bed
on the hard snow or the bare rocks, few could sleep amidst the comfort
of our new accommodations. I was myself compelled to leave the bed
which had been kindly assigned me, and take my abode in a chair for the
night; nor did it fare much better with the rest. It was for time to
reconcile us to this sudden and violent change, to break through what
had become habit, and to inure us once more to the usages of our former
days.”

The “Isabella” remained some time longer in Baffin’s Bay to prosecute
the fishery, and thus our Arctic voyagers did not return to England
before October 15, 1833, when they were received as men risen from
the grave. Wherever Ross appeared, he was met and escorted by a crowd
of sympathizers; orders, medals, and diplomas from foreign states and
learned societies rained down upon him. London, Liverpool, Bristol,
and Hull presented him with the freedom of their respective cities;
he received the honor of knighthood; and, though last, not least,
Parliament granted him £5000 as a remuneration for his pecuniary outlay
and privations.

It may easily be imagined that his long-protracted absence had not
been allowed to pass without awakening a strong desire to bring him
aid and assistance. Thus, when Captain (afterwards Rear-admiral Sir
George) Back, that noble Paladin of Arctic research, volunteered to
lead a land expedition in quest of Ross to the northern shore of
America, £4000 were immediately raised by public subscription to
defray expenses. While deep in the American wilds, Back was gratified
with the intelligence that the object of his search had safely arrived
in England; but, instead of returning home, the indefatigable explorer
resolved to trace the unknown course of the Thlu-it-scho, or Great Fish
River, down to the distant outlet where it pours its waters into the
Polar Seas.

It would take a volume to relate his adventures in this expedition, the
numberless falls, cascades, and rapids that obstructed his progress;
the storms and snow-drifts, the horrors of the deserts through which
he forced his way, until he finally (July 28) reached the mouth of
the Thlu-it-scho, or, rather, the broad estuary through which it
disembogues itself into the Polar Sea. His intention was to proceed to
Point Turnagain, but the obstacles were insurmountable, even by him.
For ten days the exploring party had a continuation of wet, chilly,
foggy weather, and the only vegetation (fern and moss) was so damp that
it would not burn; being thus without fuel, they had only during this
time one hot meal. Almost without water, without any means of warmth,
and sinking knee-deep as they proceeded on land, in the soft slush and
snow, no wonder that some of the best men, benumbed in their limbs,
and dispirited by the prospect before them, broke out for a moment in
murmuring at the hardness of their duty.

On August 15, seeing the impossibility of proceeding even a single
mile farther, Back assembled the men around him, and unfurling the
British flag, which was saluted with three cheers, he announced to
them his determination to return. The difficulties of the river were
of course doubled in the ascent, from having to go against the stream.
All the obstacles of rocks, rapids, sand-banks, and long portages had
to be faced. They found, as they went on, that many of the deposits
of provisions, on which they relied, had been destroyed by wolves.
After thus toiling on for six weeks, they were ultimately stopped by
one most formidable perpendicular fall, which obliged them to abandon
their boat; and proceeding on foot--each laden with a pack of about
75 lbs. weight--they ultimately arrived at their old habitation, Fort
Reliance, after an absence of nearly four months, exhausted and worn
out, but justly proud of having accomplished so difficult and dangerous
a voyage.

The Fish River has since been named Back’s River, in honor of its
discoverer; and surely no geographical distinction has ever been more
justly merited.

This indefatigable explorer had scarcely returned to England (Sept.
8, 1835), when he once more set out on his way to the Arctic regions;
but his ship, the “Terror,” was so disabled by the ice that she was
scarcely able to accomplish the return voyage across the Atlantic,
without allowing her to make any new discoveries.

The land expedition sent out by the Hudson’s Bay Company (1837–39),
under the direction of Peter Warren Dease, one of their chief factors,
and Mr. Thomas Simpson, proved far more successful. Descending the
Mackenzie to the sea, they surveyed, in July, 1837, that part of the
northern coast of America which had been left unexamined by Franklin
and Elson in 1825, from Return Reef to Cape Barrow.

Although it was the height of summer, the ground was found frozen
several inches below the surface, and the spray froze on the oars and
rigging of their boats, which the drift-ice along the shore ultimately
obliged them to leave behind.

As they went onward on foot, heavily laden, the frequent necessity of
wading up to the middle in the ice-cold water of the inlets, together
with the constant fogs and the sharp north wind, tried their powers
of endurance to the utmost; but Simpson, the hero of the expedition,
was not to be deterred by any thing short of absolute impossibility;
nor did he stop till he had reached Point Barrow. Indeed, no man could
be more fit than he to lead an expedition like this, for he had once
before travelled 2000 miles on foot in the middle of winter from York
Factory to Athabasca, walking sometimes not less than fifty miles in
one day, and without any protection against the cold but an ordinary
cloth mantle.

After wintering at Fort Confidence, on Great Bear Lake, the next
season was profitably employed in descending the Coppermine River,
and tracing nearly 140 miles of new coast beyond Cape Turnagain, the
limit of Franklin’s survey in 1821. The third season (1839) was still
more favored by fortune, for Simpson succeeded in discovering the
whole coast beyond Cape Turnagain as far as Castor and Pollux River
(August 20, 1839), on the eastern side of the vast arm of the sea which
receives the waters of the Great Fish River. On his return voyage, he
traced sixty miles of the south coast of King William’s Island, and
a considerable part of the high, bold shores of Victoria Land, and
reached Fort Confidence on September 24, after one of the longest and
most successful boat voyages ever performed in the Polar waters, having
traversed more than 1600 miles of sea.

Unfortunately he was not destined to reap the rewards of his labor,
for in the following year, while travelling from the Red River to
the Mississippi, where he intended to embark for England, he was
assassinated by his Indian guides; and thus died, in the thirty-sixth
year of his age, one of the best men that have ever served the cause of
science in the frozen north.

On May 26, 1845, Sir John Franklin, now in the sixtieth year of his
age, and Captain Crozier, sailed from England, to make a new attempt
at the north-west passage. Never did stouter vessels than the “Erebus”
and “Terror,” well-tried in the Antarctic Seas, carry a finer or more
ably commanded crew; never before had human foresight so strained all
her resources to insure success; and thus, when the commander’s last
dispatches from the Whalefish Islands, Baffin’s Bay (July 12), previous
to his sailing to Lancaster Sound, arrived in England no one doubted
but that he was about to add a new and brilliant chapter to the history
of Arctic discovery.

His return was confidently expected towards the end of 1847; but
when the winter passed and still no tidings came, the anxiety at his
prolonged absence became general, and the early part of 1848 witnessed
the beginning of a series of searching expeditions fitted out at the
public cost or by private munificence, on a scale exceeding all former
examples. The “Plover” and the “Herald” (1848) were sent to Bering’s
Straits to meet Franklin with supplies, should he succeed in getting
thither. In spring Sir John Richardson hurried to the shores of the
Polar Sea, anxious to find the traces of his lost friend. He was
accompanied by Dr. Rae, who had just returned from the memorable land
expedition (1846–47), during which, after crossing the isthmus which
joins Melville Peninsula to the mainland, he traced the shores of
Committee Bay and the east coast of Boothia as far as the Lord Mayor’s
Bay of Sir John Ross, thus proving that desolate land to be likewise a
vast peninsula.

But in vain did Rae and Richardson explore all the coasts between the
Mackenzie and the Coppermine. The desert remained mute; and Sir James
Ross (“Enterprise”) and Captain Bird (“Investigator”), who set sail in
June, 1848, three months after Dr. Richardson’s departure, and minutely
examined all the shores near Barrow Strait, proved equally unsuccessful.

Three years had now passed since Franklin had been expected home, and
even the most sanguine began to despair; but to remove all doubts,
it was resolved to explore once more all the gulfs and channels
of the Polar Sea. Thus in the year 1850 no less than twelve ships
sailed forth, some to Bering’s Straits, some to the sounds leading
from Baffin’s Bay.[16] Other expeditions followed in 1852 and 1853,
and though none of them succeeded in the object of their search, yet
they enriched the geography of the Arctic World with many interesting
discoveries, the most important of which I will now briefly mention.

Overcoming the ice of Baffin’s Bay by the aid of their powerful
steam-tugs, Austin, Ommaney, and Penny reached the entrance of
Lancaster Sound. Here they separated, and while the “Resolute” remained
behind to examine the neighborhood of Pond’s Bay, Ommaney found at
Cape Riley (North Devon) the first traces of the lost expedition.
He was soon joined by Ross, Austin, Penny, and the Americans, and
a minute investigation soon proved that Cape Spencer and Beechey
Island, at the entrance of Wellington Channel, had been the site of
Franklin’s first winter-quarters, distinctly marked by the remains of
a large storehouse, staves of casks, empty pemmican-tins, and, most
touching relic of all, a little garden shaped into a neat oval by
some flower-loving sailor, and filled with the few hardy plants which
that bleak clime can nourish. Meanwhile winter approached, and little
more could be done that season; so all the vessels which had entered
Barrow’s Strait now took up their winter-quarters at the southern
extremity of Cornwallis Land; with the exception of the “Prince
Albert,” which set sail for England before winter set in, and of the
Americans, who, perceiving the impolicy of so many ships pressing to
the westward on one parallel, turned back, but were soon shut up in the
pack-ice, which for eight long months kept them prisoners. The “Rescue”
and “Advance” were drifted backward and forward in Wellington Channel
until in December a terrific storm drove them into Barrow’s Strait,
and still farther on into Lancaster Sound. Several times during this
dreadful passage they were in danger from the ice opening round them
and closing suddenly again, and only escaped being “nipped” by their
small size and strong build, which enabled them to rise above the
opposing edges instead of being crushed between them. Even on their
arrival in Baffin’s Bay the ice did not release them from its hold, and
it was not till June 9, 1851, that they reached the Danish settlement
at Disco. After recruiting his exhausted crew, the gallant De Haven
determined to return and prosecute the search during the remainder of
the season; but the discouraging reports of the whalers induced him to
change his purpose, and the ships and crews reached New York at the
beginning of October, having passed through perils such as few have
endured and still fewer have lived to recount.

Meanwhile the English searching expeditions had not remained inactive.
As soon as spring came, well-organized sledge expeditions were
dispatched in all directions, but they all returned with the same
invariable tale of disappointment.

As soon as Wellington Channel opened, Penny boldly entered the
ice-lanes with a boat, and, after a series of adventures and
difficulties, penetrated up Queen’s Channel as far as Baring Island and
Cape Beecher, where, most reluctantly, he was compelled to turn back.

A fine open sea stretched invitingly away to the north, but his fragile
boat was ill-equipped for a voyage of discovery. Fully persuaded
that Franklin must have followed this route, he failed, however,
in convincing Captain Austin of the truth of his theory, and as,
without that officer’s co-operation, nothing could be effected, he was
compelled to follow the course pointed out by the Admiralty squadron,
which, after two ineffectual attempts to enter Smith’s and Jones’s
Sounds, returned to England.

The “Prince Albert” having brought home in 1850 the intelligence of
the discoveries at Beechey Island, it was resolved to prosecute the
search during the next season, and no time was lost to refit the little
vessel and send her once more on her noble errand, under the command
of William Kennedy (1851–52), to examine Prince Regent’s Inlet, on the
coast of North Somerset. Finding the passage obstructed by a barrier of
ice, Kennedy was obliged to take a temporary refuge in Port Bowen, on
the eastern shore of the inlet. As it was very undesirable, however,
to winter on the opposite coast to that along which lay their line
of search, Kennedy, with four of his men, crossed to Port Leopold,
amid masses of ice, to ascertain whether any documents had been left
at this point by previous searching parties. None having been found,
they prepared to return; but to their dismay they now found the inlet
so blocked with ice as to render it absolutely impossible to reach
the vessel either by boat or on foot. Darkness was fast closing round
them, the ice-floe on which they stood threatened every instant to
be shivered in fragments by the contending ice-blocks which crashed
furiously against it: unless they instantly returned to shore, any
moment might prove their last. A bitter cold night (September 10,
1851), with no shelter but their boat, under which each man in turn
took an hour’s rest--the others, fatigued as they were, seeking safety
in brisk exercise--was spent on this inhospitable shore, and on the
following morning they discovered that the ship had disappeared. The
drift-ice had carried her away, leaving Kennedy and his companions to
brave the winter as well as they could, and to endeavor in the spring
to rejoin their vessel, which must have drifted down the inlet, and was
most likely by this time imprisoned by the ice. Fortunately a dépôt
of provisions, left by Sir James Ross at Whaler Point, was tolerably
near, and finding all in good preservation, they began to fit up a
launch, which had been left at the same place as the stores, for a
temporary abode. Here they sat, on October 17, round a cheerful fire,
manufacturing winter garments and completely resigned to their lot,
when suddenly, to their inexpressible joy, they heard the sound of
well-known voices, and Lieutenant Bellot, the second in command of the
“Prince Albert,” appeared with a party of seven men. Twice before had
this gallant French volunteer made unavailing attempts to reach the
deserted party, who soon forgot their past misery as they accompanied
their friends back to the ship. In the following spring Kennedy and
Bellot explored North Somerset and Prince of Wales’ Land, traversing
with their sledge 1100 miles of desert, but without discovering the
least traces of Franklin or his comrades. Yet in spite of these
frequent disappointments the searching expeditions were not given over,
and as Wellington Channel and the sounds to the north of Baffin’s Bay
appeared to offer the best chances, the spring of 1852 witnessed the
departure of Sir Edward Belcher and Captain Inglefield[17] for those
still unknown regions.

The voyage of the latter proved one of the most successful in the
annals of Arctic navigation. Boldly pushing up Smith’s Sound, which had
hitherto baffled every research, Inglefield examined this noble channel
as far as 78° 30´; N. lat., when stormy weather drove him back. He next
attempted Jones’s Sound, and entered it sufficiently to see it expand
into a wide channel to the northward.

The squadron which sailed under the command of Sir Edward Belcher
was charged with the double mission of prosecuting the discoveries
in Wellington Channel, and of affording assistance to Collinson and
M’Clure, who, it will be remembered, had sailed in 1850 to Bering’s
Straits.

At Beechey Island, where the “North Star” was stationed as dépôt-ship,
the squadron separated, Belcher proceeding with the “Assistance” and
the “Pioneer” up Wellington Channel, while Kellett, with the “Resolute”
and “Intrepid,” steered to the west. Scarcely had the latter reached
his winter-quarters (September 7, 1852) at Dealy Island, on the south
coast of Melville Island, when parties were sent out to deposit
provisions at various points of the coast, for the sledge parties in
the ensuing spring.

The difficulties of transport over the broken surface of the desert
when denuded of snow may be estimated from the fact, that though the
distance from the north to the south coast of Melville Island is no
more than thirty-six miles in a direct line, Lieutenant M’Clintock
required no less than nineteen days to reach the Hecla and Griper Gulf.
Similar difficulties awaited Lieutenant Mecham on his way to Liddon
Gulf, but he was amply rewarded by finding at Winter Harbor dispatches
from M’Clure, showing that, in April, 1851, the “Investigator” was
lying in Mercy Bay, on the opposite side of Banks’s Strait, and that
consequently the north-west passage, the object of so many heroic
efforts, was at last discovered.

On March 9, 1853, the “Resolute” opened her spring campaign with
Lieutenant Pym’s sledge journey to Mercy Bay, to bring assistance to
M’Clure, or to follow his traces in case he should no longer be there.

A month later three other sledge expeditions left the ship. The one
under M’Clintock proceeded from the Hecla and Griper Gulf to the west,
and returned after one hundred and six days, having explored 1200 miles
of coast--a sledge journey without a parallel in the history of Arctic
research, though nearly equalled by the second party under Lieutenant
Mecham, which likewise started to the west from Liddon Gulf, and
travelled over a thousand miles in ninety-three days. The third party,
under Lieutenant Hamilton, which proceeded to the north-east towards
the rendezvous appointed by Sir Edward Belcher the preceding summer,
was the first that returned to the ship, but before its arrival another
party had found its way to the “Resolute”--pale, worn, emaciated
figures, slowly creeping along over the uneven ice. A stranger might
have been surprised at the thundering hurrahs which hailed the ragged
troop from a distance, or at the warm and cordial greetings which
welcomed them on deck, but no wonder that M’Clure and his heroic
crew were thus received by their fellow-seamen after a three years’
imprisonment in the ice of the Polar Sea.

On August 1, 1850, the “Investigator,” long since separated from her
consort, the “Enterprise,” had met the “Herald” and “Plover”[18] at
Cape Lisburne, beyond Bering’s Straits, and now plunged alone into
the unknown wildernesses of the Arctic Ocean. She reached the coast
of Banks’s Land on September 6, discovered Prince Albert Land on the
9th, and then sailed up Prince of Wales’ Strait, where, on October
9, she froze in for the winter. In the same month, however, a sledge
expedition was sent to the northern extremity of the strait, which
established the fact of its communication with Parry Sound and Barrow’s
Strait. In the following July the “Investigator,” though set free, was
prevented from penetrating into the sound by impassable barriers of
ice. Nothing now remained but to return to the southern extremity of
the strait, and then to advance along the west coast of Banks’s Land
to the north. This course was followed with tolerable ease till August
20, when the ship was driven between the ice and the beach a little
north of Prince Albert Cape. Here she lay in comparative safety till
the 29th, when the immense floe to which she was attached was raised
edgeways out of the water, from the pressure of surrounding ice, and
lifted perpendicularly some twenty-five feet. The slightest additional
pressure would have thrown the delicately-poised vessel entirely over,
but fortunately a large piece from underneath was rent away, and after
one or two frightful oscillations the floe righted itself and drifted
onward, bearing the ship unharmed upon its course.

During the succeeding month, every day brought its perils. Now forced
ashore by the pressure of the ice, now hurried along amidst its
inclosing masses, the adventurers, slowly working their way along the
north coast of Banks’s Land, at length found refuge in a harbor to
which the appropriate name of Mercy Bay was thankfully given. Here they
spent two winters--the intervening summer having failed to release the
ship. In the spring of 1853 Lieutenant Pym brought them the joyful news
that the “Resolute” was not far off. Such had been the adventures of
M’Clure up to the moment when Kellett welcomed him on board.

Meanwhile neither the sledge parties of the “Resolute,” nor those
which Sir Edward Belcher had sent out in all directions from his first
winter-quarters in Northumberland Sound (76° 52´ N. lat.), on the west
side of Grinnell Peninsula, had been able to discover the least traces
of Franklin. The winter (1853–54) passed, and in the following April
Lieutenant Mecham found in Prince of Wales’ Strait, and later on Ramsay
Island, at its southern outlet, documents from Collinson, bearing date
August 27, 1852, and giving full intelligence of his proceedings since
his separation from the “Investigator.” While M’Clure was achieving
in 1850 the discovery of the north-west passage, Collinson, having
arrived in Bering’s Straits later in the season, was unable to double
Point Barrow. In 1851, however, he succeeded in getting round that
projection, and pursuing the continental channel as easily as his
precursor had done, followed him through Prince of Wales’ Strait;
but, though he penetrated a few miles farther into Melville Sound, he
found no passage, and returning to the south end of the strait passed
the winter of 1851–52 in Walker Bay. Next summer he carried his ship
through Dolphin and Union Straits and Dease Strait to Cambridge Bay,
where he spent his second winter (1852–53). His sledge parties explored
the west side of Victoria Strait, but a deficiency of coals compelled
him to return the way he came, instead of attempting to force a passage
through the channel. He did not, however, get round Barrow Point on his
return without passing a third winter on the northern coast of America.

On returning to the “Resolute,” Lieutenant Mecham found all hands busy
preparing to leave the ship, Sir E. Belcher having given orders to
abandon her, as well as the “Assistance,” “Pioneer,” and “Intrepid,”
which had now been blocked up above a year in the ice, and had no
chance of escaping.

Thus the summer of 1854 witnessed the return to England of the “North
Star,” with all those brave crews which had spent so many unavailing
efforts, and in numerous boat and sledge excursions had explored so
many known and unknown coasts in search of Franklin; and thus also
M’Clure and his comrades, abandoning the “Investigator” in Mercy Bay,
returned home through Davis’s Straits, after having entered the
Polar Ocean at the Strait of Bering. He had, however, been preceded
by Lieutenant Cresswell and Mr. Wynniat, who, on an excursion to
Beechey Island in the summer of 1858, had there met with and joined the
“Phœnix,” Captain Inglefield, who, accompanied by his friend Lieutenant
Bellot, had conveyed provisions to Sir E. Belcher’s squadron, and
was about to return to England. During this expedition Bellot, whose
many excellent qualities had made him a universal favorite, was
unfortunately drowned by a fall into an ice-crevice during a sledge
excursion. A stone monument erected before Greenwich Hospital reminds
England of the gallant volunteer whose name is gloriously linked with
that of Franklin in Arctic history.

Years had thus passed without bringing any tidings of the “Erebus”
and “Terror” since the discovery of their first winter-quarters,
until at last, in the spring of 1854, Dr. Rae, of the Hudson’s Bay
Company, while engaged in the survey of the Boothian isthmus, fell
in with a party of Esquimaux, who informed him that in the spring
of 1850 some of their countrymen on King William’s Island had seen
a party of white men making their way to the mainland. None of them
could speak the Esquimaux language intelligibly, but by signs they
gave them to understand that their ships had been crushed by ice, and
that they were now going to where they expected to find deer to shoot.
At a later date of the same season, but before the breaking up of the
ice, the bodies of some thirty men were discovered on the continent a
day’s journey from Back’s Great Fish River, and five on an island near
it. Some of the bodies had been buried (probably those of the first
victims of famine), some were in a tent, others under the boat which
had been turned over to form a shelter, and several lay scattered
about in different directions. Of those found on the island, one was
supposed to have been an officer, as he had a telescope strapped over
his shoulder, and his double-barrelled gun lay underneath him. The
mutilated condition of several of the corpses and the contents of the
kettles left no doubt that our wretched countrymen had been driven to
the last resource of cannibalism, as a means of prolonging existence.
Some silver spoons and forks, a round silver plate, engraved “Sir
John Franklin, K.C.B.,” a star or order, with the motto, “Nec aspera
terrent,” which Dr. Rae purchased of the Esquimaux, corroborated the
truth of their narrative.

Thus it was now known how part of the unfortunate mariners had
perished, but the fate of the expedition was still enveloped in
mystery. What had become of the ships and of the greater part of their
crews? And was Franklin one of the party seen by the Esquimaux, or had
an earlier death shortened his sufferings?

To solve at least this mournful secret--for every hope that he might
still be alive had long since vanished--his noble widow resolved
to spend all her available means--since Government would no longer
prosecute the search--and with the assistance of her friends, but
mostly at her own expense, fitted out a small screw steamer, the “Fox,”
which the gallant M’Clintock, already distinguished in perilous Polar
voyages, volunteered to command. Another Arctic officer, Lieutenant
Hobson, likewise came forward to serve without pay.

At first it seemed as if all the elements had conspired against the
success of this work of piety, for in the summer of 1857 the floating
ice off Melville Bay, on the coast of Greenland, seized the “Fox,” and
after a dreary winter, various narrow escapes, and eight months of
imprisonment, carried her back nearly 1200 geographical miles, even to
63½° N. lat. in the Atlantic.

At length, on April 25, 1858, the “Fox” got free, and, having availed
herself of the scanty stores and provisions which the small Danish
settlement of Holstenburg afforded, sailed into Barrow Strait. Finding
Franklin Channel obstructed with ice, she then turned back, and
steaming up Prince Regent’s Inlet, arrived at the eastern opening of
Bellot’s Strait. Here the passage to the west was again found blocked
with ice, and after five ineffectual attempts to pass, the “Fox” at
length took up her winter-quarters in Port Kennedy, on the northern
side of the strait.

On his first sledge excursion in the following spring, M’Clintock met
at Cape Victoria, on the south-west coast of Boothia, with a party of
Esquimaux, who informed him that some years back a large ship had been
crushed by the ice out in the sea to the west of King William’s Island,
but that all the people landed safely.

Meeting with the same Esquimaux on April 20, he learned, after much
anxious inquiry, that besides the ship which had been seen to sink in
deep water, a second one had been forced on shore by the ice, where
they supposed it still remained, but much broken. They added that it
was in the fall of the year--that is, August or September--when the
ships were destroyed; that all the white people went away to the Great
Fish River, taking a boat or boats with them, and that in the following
winter their bones were found there.

These first indications of the fate of Franklin’s expedition were soon
followed by others. On May 7 M’Clintock heard from an old Esquimaux
woman on King William’s Island that many of the white men dropped by
the way as they went to the Great River; that some were buried, and
some were not. They did not themselves witness this, but discovered
their bodies during the winter following.

Visiting the shore along which the retreating crews must have marched,
he came, shortly after midnight of May 25, when slowly walking along
a gravel ridge near the beach, which the winds kept partially bare of
snow, upon a human skeleton, partly exposed, with here and there a few
fragments of clothing appearing through the snow.

“A most careful examination of the spot,” says M’Clintock, “was of
course made, the snow removed, and every scrap of clothing gathered up.
A pocket-book, which being frozen hard could not be examined on the
spot, afforded strong grounds for hope that some information might be
subsequently obtained respecting the owner, and the march of the lost
crews. The victim was a young man, slightly built, and perhaps above
the common height; the dress appeared to be that of a steward. The poor
man seems to have selected the bare ridge top, as affording the least
tiresome walking, and to have fallen upon his face in the position in
which we found him. It was a melancholy truth that the old woman spake
when she said, ‘They fell down and died as they walked along.’”

Meanwhile Lieutenant Hobson, who was exploring with another sledge
party the north-western coast of King William’s Land, had made the
still more important discovery of a record giving a laconic account of
the Franklin expedition up to the time when the ships were lost and
abandoned. It was found on May 6 in a large cairn at Point Victory.
It stated briefly that in 1845 the “Erebus” and “Terror” had ascended
Wellington Channel to lat. 77°, and returned by the west side of
Cornwallis Island to Beechey Island, where they spent the first
winter. In 1846 they proceeded to the south-west, through Peel Sound
and Franklin Sound, and eventually reached within twelve miles of
the north extremity of King William’s Land, when their progress was
arrested by the ice. Sir John Franklin died on June 11, 1847, having
completed--two months before his death--the sixty-first year of an
active, eventful, and honorable life. On April 22, 1848, the ships were
deserted, having been beset since September 12, 1846. The officers and
crew, consisting of 105 souls, under the command of Captain Crozier,
landed with the intention of starting for Back’s Fish River, which, as
we have seen, they were never destined to reach.

Quantities of clothing and articles of all kinds were found lying about
the cairn, as if these men, aware that they were retreating for their
lives, had then abandoned every thing which they considered superfluous.

Thus all doubts about Sir John Franklin’s fate were at length removed.
He at least had died on board his ship, and been spared the miserable
end of his comrades as they fell one by one in the dreary wilderness.

The two wrecks have disappeared without leaving a trace behind. A
single document, some coins and pieces of plate--this is all that
remains of the gallant ships which so hopefully sailed forth under one
of the noblest seamen that ever served in the navy of Great Britain.

It is a curious circumstance that Franklin’s ships perished within
sight of the headlands named Cape Franklin and Cape Jane Franklin by
their discoverer, Sir James Ross, eighteen years before.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

KANE AND HAYES.

  Kane sails up Smith’s Sound in the “Advance” (1853).--Winters in
    Rensselaer Bay.--Sledge Journey along the Coast of Greenland.--
    The Three-brother Turrets.--Tennyson’s Monument.--The Great
    Humboldt Glacier.--Dr. Hayes crosses Kennedy Channel.--Morton’s
    Discovery of Washington Land.--Mount Parry.--Kane resolves upon a
    second Wintering in Rensselaer Bay.--Departure and Return of Part
    of the Crew.--Sufferings of the Winter.--The Ship abandoned.--
    Boat Journey to Upernavik.--Kane’s Death in the Havana (1857).--
    Dr. Hayes’s Voyage in 1860.--He winters at Port Foulke.--Crosses
    Kennedy Channel.--Reaches Cape Union, the most northern known Land
    upon the Globe.--Koldewey.--Plans for future Voyages to the North
    Pole.


In point of dramatic interest, few of the Arctic expeditions can rival
the second and last voyage of Dr. Kane, which, to avoid interrupting
the narrative of the discovery of Franklin’s fate by Dr. Rae and Sir
James M’Clintock, I have refrained from mentioning in chronological
order.

Weak in body, but great in mind, this remarkable man, who had
accompanied the first Grinnell expedition in the capacity of surgeon,
sailed from Boston in 1853, as commander of the “Advance,” with a crew
of 17 officers and men, to which two Greenlanders were subsequently
added. His plan was to pass up Baffin’s Bay to its most northern
attainable point, and thence pressing on towards the pole as far as
boats or sledges could reach, to examine the coast-lines for vestiges
of Franklin.

Battling with storms and icebergs, he passed, on August 7, 1853, the
rocky portals of Smith’s Sound, Cape Isabella and Cape Alexander,
which had been discovered the year before by Inglefield; left Cape
Hatherton--the extreme point attained by that navigator--behind, and
after many narrow escapes from shipwreck, secured the “Advance” in
Rensselaer Bay, from which she Avas destined never to emerge. His diary
gives us a vivid account of the first winter he spent in this haven, in
lat. 78° 38´, almost as far to the north as the most northern extremity
of Spitzbergen, and in a far more rigorous climate.

“_Sept. 10_, +14° F.--The birds have left. The sea-swallows, which
abounded when we first reached here, and even the young burgomasters
that lingered after them, have all taken their departure for the south.
The long “night in which no man can work” is close at hand; in another
month we shall lose the sun. Astronomically, he should disappear
on October 24, if our horizon were free; but it is obstructed by a
mountain ridge; and, making all allowance for refraction, we can not
count on seeing him after the 10th.

“_Sept. 11._--The long staring day, which has clung to us for more
than two months, to the exclusion of the stars, has begun to intermit
its brightness. Even Aldebaran, the red eye of the bull, flared out
into familiar recollection as early as ten o’clock; and the heavens,
though still somewhat reddened by the gaudy tints of midnight, gave us
Capella and Arcturus, and even that lesser light of home memories, the
polar star. Stretching my neck to look uncomfortably at the indication
of our extreme northernness, it was hard to realize that he was not
directly overhead; and it made me sigh as I measured the few degrees of
distance that separated our zenith from the pole over which he hung.

“_Oct. 28._--The moon has reached her greatest northern declination of
about 25° 35´. She is a glorious object; sweeping around the heavens,
at the lowest part of her curve, she is still 14° above the horizon.
For eight days she has been making her circuit with nearly unvarying
brightness. It is one of those sparkling nights that bring back the
memory of sleigh-bells and songs, and glad communings of hearts in
lands that are far away.

“_Nov. 7._--The darkness is coming on with insidious steadiness,
and its advances can only be perceived by comparing one day with its
fellow of some time back. We still read the thermometer at noonday
without a light, and the black masses of the hills are plain for about
five hours, with their glaring patches of snow; but all the rest is
darkness. The stars of the sixth magnitude shine out at noonday. Except
upon the island of Spitzbergen, which has the advantages of an insular
climate, and tempered by ocean currents, no Christians have wintered in
so high a latitude as this.[19] They are Russian sailors who made the
encounter there--men inured to hardships and cold. Our darkness has
ninety days to run before we shall get back again even to the contested
twilight of to-day. Altogether our winter will have been sunless for
one hundred and forty days.

“_Nov. 9._--Wishing to get the altitude of the cliffs on the
south-west cape of our bay before the darkness set in thoroughly, I
started in time to reach them with my Newfoundlanders at noonday,
the thermometer indicating 23° below zero. Fireside astronomers can
hardly realize the difficulties in the way of observations at such
low temperatures. The breath, and even the warmth of the face and
body, cloud the sextant-arc and glasses with a fine hoar-frost. It is,
moreover, an unusual feat to measure a base-line in the snow at 55°
below freezing.

“_Nov. 21._--We have schemes innumerable to cheat the monotonous
solitude of our winter--a fancy ball; a newspaper,’The Ice Blink;’ a
fox-chase round the decks.

“_Dec. 15._--We have lost the last vestige of our midday twilight. We
can not see print, and hardly paper; the fingers can not be counted a
foot from the eyes. Noonday and midnight are alike; and, except a vague
glimmer in the sky that seems to define the hill outlines to the south,
we have nothing to tell us that this Arctic world of ours has a sun.
In the darkness, and consequent inaction, it is almost in vain that we
seek to create topics of thought, and, by a forced excitement, to ward
off the encroachments of disease.

“_Jan. 21._--First traces of returning light, the southern horizon
having for a short time a distinct orange tinge.

“_Feb. 21._--We have had the sun for some days silvering the ice
between the headlands of the bay, and to-day, towards noon, I started
out to be the first of my party to welcome him back. It was the
longest walk and toughest climb that I have had since our imprisonment,
and scurvy and general debility have made me ‘short o’ wind.’ But I
managed to attain my object. I saw him once more, and upon a projecting
crag nestled in the sunshine. It was like bathing in perfumed water.”

Thus this terrible winter night drew to its end, and the time came for
undertaking the sledge journeys, on which the success of the expedition
mainly depended. Unfortunately, of the nine magnificent Newfoundlanders
and the thirty-five Esquimaux dogs originally possessed by Kane, only
six had survived an epizootic malady which raged among them during the
winter: their number was, however, increased by some new purchases from
the Esquimaux who visited the ship at the beginning of April.

Thus scantily provided with the means of transport, Kane, though in a
very weak condition, set out on April 25, 1854, to force his way to the
north. He found the Greenland coast beyond Rensselaer Bay extremely
picturesque, the cliffs rising boldly from the shore-line to a height
of sometimes more than a thousand feet, and exhibiting every freak and
caprice of architectural ruin. In one spot the sloping rubbish at the
foot of the coast-wall led up, like an artificial causeway, to a gorge
that was streaming at noonday with the southern sun, while everywhere
else the rock stood out in the blackest shadow. Just at the edge of
this bright opening rose the dreamy semblance of a castle, flanked with
triple towers, completely isolated and defined. These were called the
“Three-brother Turrets.”

“Farther on, to the north of latitude 79°, a single cliff of
greenstone rears itself from a crumbled base of sandstone, like the
boldly-chiselled rampart of an ancient city. At its northern extremity,
at the brink of a deep ravine which has worn its way among the ruins,
there stands a solitary column or minaret tower, as sharply finished as
if it had been cast for the Place Vendôme. Yet the length of the shaft
alone is 480 feet, and it rises on a pedestal, itself 280 feet high.
I remember well the emotions of my party, as it first broke upon our
view. Cold and sick as I was, I brought back a sketch of it which may
have interest for the reader, though it scarcely suggests the imposing
dignity of this magnificent landmark. Those who are happily familiar
with the writings of Tennyson, and have communed with his spirit in the
solitudes of a wilderness, will apprehend the impulse that inscribed
the scene with his name.”

But no rock formation, however striking or impressive, equalled in
grandeur the magnificent glacier to which Kane has given the name of
Humboldt. Its solid glassy wall, diminishing to a well-pointed wedge in
the perspective, rises 300 feet above the water-level, with an unknown,
unfathomable depth below it and its curved face sixty miles in length--
from Cape Agassiz to Cape Forbes--vanishes into unknown space at not
more than a single day’s railroad travel from the pole.

In spite of the snow, which had so accumulated in drifts that the
travellers were forced to unload their sledges and carry forward the
cargo on their backs, beating a path for the dogs to follow in, Kane
came in sight of the Great Glacier on May 4; but this progress was
dearly earned, as it cost him the last remnant of his strength.

“I was seized with a sudden pain,” says the intrepid explorer, “and
fainted. My limbs became rigid, and certain obscure tetanoid symptoms
of our winter enemy, the scurvy, disclosed themselves. I was strapped
upon the sledge, and the march continued as usual, but my powers
diminished so rapidly that I could not resist the otherwise comfortable
temperature of 5° below zero. My left foot becoming frozen caused
a vexatious delay, and the same night it became evident that the
immovability of my limbs was due to dropsical effusion. On the 5th,
becoming delirious and fainting every time that I was taken from the
tent to the sledge, I succumbed entirely. My comrades would kindly
persuade me that, even had I continued sound, we could not have
proceeded on our journey. The snows were very heavy, and increasing as
we went; some of the drifts perfectly impassable, and the level floes
often four feet deep in yielding snow.

“The scurvy had already broken out among the men, with symptoms like
my own, and Morton, our strongest man, was beginning to give way. It
is the reverse of comfort to me that they shared my weakness. All
that I should remember with pleasurable feeling is that to my brave
companions, themselves scarcely able to travel, I owe my preservation.

“They carried me back by forced marches. I was taken into the brig on
the 14th, where for a week I lay fluctuating between life and death.
Dr. Hayes regards my attack as one of scurvy, complicated by typhoid
fever.”

Fortunately summer was now fast approaching, with his cheering sunbeams
and his genial warmth. The seals began to appear on the coast in large
numbers, and there was now no want of fresh meat, the chief panacea
against the scurvy. The snow-buntings returned to the ice-crusted
rocks, and the gulls and eider-ducks came winging their way to their
northern breeding-places.

Vegetation likewise sprang into life with marvellous rapidity, and the
green sloping banks not only refreshed the eye, but yielded juicy,
anti-scorbutic herbs.

Kane’s health slowly but steadily improved. He was, however, obliged to
give up all further sledge excursions for the season, and to leave the
execution of his plans to his more able-bodied companions.

Thus Dr. Hayes, crossing the sound in a north-easterly direction,
reached the opposite coast of Grinnell Land, which he surveyed as far
as Cape Frazer in lat. 70° 45´.

This journey was rendered uncommonly slow and tedious by the
excessively broken and rugged character of the ice. Deep cavities
filled with snow intervened between lines of hummocks frequently
exceeding twenty or thirty feet in height. Over these the sledge had to
be lifted by main strength, and it required the most painful efforts of
the whole party to liberate it from the snow between them. Dr. Hayes
returned on June 1, and a few days later Morton left the brig, to
survey the Greenland coast beyond the Great Glacier. The difficulties
were great, for, besides the usual impediments of hummocks, the
lateness of the season had in many places rendered the ice extremely
unsafe, or even entirely destroyed the ice-ledge along the shore. Thus
for the last days of his onward journey he was obliged to toil over
the rocks and along the beach of a sea which, like the familiar waters
of the south, dashed in waves at his feet. Morton and his companion
Hans, the Esquimaux, reached on June 26, 1854, Cape Constitution, a
bold headland, where the surf rolled furiously against high overhanging
cliffs, which it was found impossible to pass. Climbing from rock
to rock, in hopes of doubling the promontory, Morton stood at this
termination of his journey, and from a height of 300 feet looked out
upon a great waste of waters, stretching to the unknown north. Numerous
birds--sea-swallows, kittiwakes, brent-geese--mixed their discordant
notes with the novel music of dashing waves; and among the flowering
plants growing on the rocks was found a crucifer (_Hesperis pygmæa_),
the dried pods of which, still containing seed, had survived the wear
and tear of winter. From Cape Constitution the coast of Washington Land
trended to the east, but far to the north-west, beyond the open waters
of the channel, a peak, terminating a range of mountains similar in
their features to those of Spitzbergen, was seen towering to a height
of from 2500 to 3000 feet. This peak, the most remote northern land at
that time known upon our globe, received the name of Mount Parry.

Meanwhile the short summer was wearing on, and, as far as the eye could
reach, the ice remained inflexibly solid. It was evident that many days
must still elapse before the vessel could possibly be liberated--but
then most likely winter would almost have returned--a dismal prospect
for men who knew by experience the long fearful night of the 79° of
latitude, and who, broken in health and with very insufficient supplies
of provisions and fuel, were but ill armed for a second encounter. No
wonder that many of Kane’s companions thought it better to abandon the
vessel than to tarry any longer in those frozen solitudes.

But though it was horrible to look another winter in the face, the
resolution of Kane could not be shaken. On August 24, when the last
hope of seeing the vessel once more afloat had vanished, he called
the officers and crew together, and explained to them frankly the
considerations which determined him to remain. To abandon the vessel
earlier would have been unseemly, and to reach Upernavik so late in
the season was next to impossible. To such of them, however, as were
desirous of making the attempt, he freely gave his permission so to
do, assuring them of a brother’s welcome should they be driven back.
He then directed the roll to be called, and each man to answer for
himself. In result, eight out of the seventeen survivors of the party
resolved to stand by the brig. The others left on the 28th, with every
appliance which the narrow circumstances of the brig could furnish to
speed and guard them. When they disappeared among the hummocks, the
stern realities of their condition pressed themselves with double force
on those whom they left behind.

The reduced numbers of the party, the helplessness of many, the
waning efficiency of all, the impending winter, with its cold, dark
nights, the penury of their resources, the dreary sense of increased
isolation--all combined to depress them. But their energetic leader,
leaving them no time for these gloomy thoughts, set them actively to
work to make the best possible preparations they could for the long
cold night to come.

He had carefully studied the Esquimaux, and determined that their
form of habitations and their mode of diet, without their unthrift
and filth, were the safest and best that could be adopted. The deck
was well padded with moss and turf, so as to form a nearly cold-proof
covering, and, down below, a space some eighteen feet square--the
apartment of all uses--was inclosed and packed from floor to ceiling
with inner walls of the same non-conducting material. The floor itself,
after having been carefully caulked, was covered with Manilla oakum a
couple of inches deep and a canvas carpet. The entrance was from the
hold, by a low moss-lined tunnel, with as many doors and curtains to
close it up as ingenuity could devise. Large banks of snow were also
thrown up along the brig’s sides to keep off the cold wind.

All these labors in the open air wonderfully improved the health of
the exiles, and their strength increased from day to day. A friendly
intercourse was opened with the Esquimaux of the winter settlements of
Etah and Anoatok, distant some thirty and seventy miles from the ship,
who, for presents of needles, pins, and knives, engaged to furnish
walrus and fresh seal meat, and to show the white men where to find
the game. Common hunting-parties were organized, visits of courtesy
and necessity paid, and even some personal attachments established
deserving of the name. As long as the Americans remained prisoners of
the ice, they were indebted to their savage friends for invaluable
counsel in relation to their hunting expeditions, and in the joint hunt
they shared alike.

The Esquimaux gave them supplies of meat at critical periods, and they
were able to do as much for them. In one word, without the natives,
Kane and his companions would most likely have succumbed to the winter,
and the Esquimaux on their part learned to look on the strangers as
benefactors, and mourned their departure bitterly.

On December 12 the party which had abandoned the ship returned, having
been unable to penetrate to the south, and was received, as had been
promised, with a brotherly welcome. They had suffered bitterly from the
cold, want of food, and the fatigues of their march among the hummocks.

“The thermometer,” says Kane, “was at -50°; they were covered with
rime and snow, and were fainting with hunger. It was necessary to use
caution in taking them below; for, after an exposure of such fearful
intensity and duration as they had gone through, the warmth of the
cabin would have prostrated them completely. They had journeyed three
hundred and fifty miles; and their last run from the bay near Etah,
some seventy miles in a right line, was through the hummocks at this
appalling temperature. One by one they all came in and were housed.
Poor fellows! as they threw open their Esquimaux garments by the stove,
how they relished the scanty luxuries which we had to offer them! The
coffee, and the meat-biscuit soup, and the molasses, and the wheat
bread, even the salt pork, which our scurvy forbade the rest of us to
touch--how they relished it all! For more than two months they had
lived on frozen seal and walrus meat.”

Thus Kane, by his determination not to abandon the ship, proved the
saviour of all his comrades; for what would have become of them had he
been less firm in his resolution, or if his courage had failed him
during the trials of that dreadful winter?

“February closes,” says the heroic explorer; “thank God for the lapse
of its twenty-eight days! Should the thirty-one of the coming March
not drag us farther downward, we may hope for a successful close to
this dreary drama. By April 10 we should have seals; and when they
come, if we remain to welcome them, we can call ourselves saved. But
a fair review of our prospects tells me that I must look the lion
in the face. The scurvy is steadily gaining on us. I do my best to
sustain the more desperate cases, but as fast as I partially build up
one, another is stricken down. Of the six workers of our party, as I
counted them a month ago, two are unable to do out-door work, and the
remaining four divide the duty of the ship among them. Hans musters his
remaining energies to conduct the hunt. Petersen is his disheartened,
moping assistant. The other two, Bonsall and myself, have all the daily
offices of household and hospital. We chop five large sacks of ice,
cut six fathoms of eight-inch hawser into junks of a foot each, serve
out the meat when we have it, hack at the molasses, and hew out with
crowbar and axe the pork and dried apples; pass up the foul slop and
cleansings of our dormitory, and, in a word, cook, _scullionize_, and
attend the sick. Added to this, for five nights running I have kept
watch from 8 P.M. to 4 A.M., catching such naps as I could in the day
without changing my clothes, but carefully waking every hour to note
thermometers.”

With March came an increase of sufferings. Every man on board was
tainted with scurvy, and there were seldom more than three who could
assist in caring for the rest. The greater number were in their bunks,
absolutely unable to stir. Had Kane’s health given way, the whole
party, deprived of its leading spirit, must inevitably have perished.

To abandon the ship was now an absolute necessity, for a third winter
in Rensselaer Bay would have been certain death to all; but before
the boats could be transported to the open water, many preparations
had to be made, and most of the party were still too weak to move.
The interval was employed by Kane in an excursion with his faithful
Esquimaux to the Great Glacier.

At length on May 20, 1855, the entire ship’s company bade farewell to
the “Advance,” and set out slowly on their homeward journey. It was
in the soft, subdued light of a Sunday evening, June 17, that after
hauling their boats with much hard labor through the hummocks, they
stood beside the open sea-way. But fifty-six days had still to pass
before they could reach the port of Upernavik. Neither storms nor
drift-ice rendered this long boat-journey dangerous, but they had
to contend with famine, when they at length reached the open bay,
and found themselves in the full line of the great ice-drift to the
Atlantic, in boats so unseaworthy as to require constant bailing to
keep them afloat. Their strength had decreased to an alarming degree;
they breathed heavily; their feet were so swollen that they were
obliged to cut open their canvas boots; they were utterly unable to
sleep, and the rowing and bailing became hourly more difficult.

It was at this crisis of their fortunes that they saw a large seal
floating--as is the custom of these animals--on a small patch of
ice, and seemingly asleep. “Trembling with anxiety,” says Kane, “we
prepared to crawl down upon him. Petersen, with a large English rifle,
was stationed in the bow, and stockings were drawn over the oars as
mufflers. As we neared the animal, our excitement became so intense
that the men could hardly keep stroke. He was not asleep, for he reared
his head when we were almost within rifle-shot; and to this day I can
remember the hard, careworn, almost despairing expression of the men’s
thin faces as they saw him move; their lives depended on his capture. I
depressed my hand nervously, as a signal for Petersen to fire. M’Gary
hung upon his oar, and the boat slowly, but noiselessly surging ahead,
seemed to me within certain range. Looking at Petersen, I saw that the
poor fellow was paralyzed by his anxiety, trying vainly to obtain a
rest for his gun against the cut-water of the boat. The seal rose on
his fore flippers, gazed at us for a moment with frightened curiosity,
and coiled himself for a plunge. At that instant, simultaneously
with the crack of our rifle, he relaxed his long length on the ice,
and, at the very brink of the water, his head fell helpless to one
side. I would have ordered another shot, but no discipline could have
controlled the men. With a wild yell, each vociferating according to
his own impulse, they urged their boats upon the floes. A crowd of
hands seized the seal and bore him up to safer ice. The men seemed half
crazy. I had not realized how much we were reduced by absolute famine.
They ran over the floe, crying and laughing, and brandishing their
knives. It was not five minutes before every man was sucking his bloody
fingers, or mouthing long strips of raw blubber. Not an ounce of this
seal was lost.”

Within a day or two another seal was shot, and from that time forward
they had a full supply of food.

When Kane, after an absence of thirty months, returned on October 11,
1855, to New York, he was enthusiastically received. Well-deserved
honors of all sorts awaited him on both sides of the Atlantic; but
his health, originally weak, was completely broken by the trials of
his journey, and on February 16, 1857, he died at the Havana, in the
thirty-seventh year of his age. In him the United States lost one of
her noblest sons, a true hero, whose name will ever shine among the
most famous navigators of all times and of all nations.

In 1860, Dr. Hayes, who had accompanied Kane on his journey, once
more sailed from America for the purpose of completing the survey
of Kennedy’s Channel, and, if possible, of pushing on to the pole
itself. After several narrow escapes from ice-fields and icebergs,
his schooner, the “United States,” was at length compelled to take
up her winter-quarters at Port Foulke, on the Greenland coast, about
twenty miles in latitude to the south of Rensselaer Harbor. Thanks to
an abundant supply of fresh meat (for the neighborhood abounded with
reindeer), and also no doubt to the inexhaustible fund of good-humor
which prevailed in the ship’s company, they passed the winter without
suffering from the scurvy; but most of the dogs on which Dr. Hayes
relied for his sledge expeditions in the ensuing spring were destroyed
by the same epidemic which had been so fatal to the teams of Dr. Kane.
Fortunately some fresh dogs could be purchased and borrowed of the
friendly Esquimaux, and thus, early in April, 1861, Dr. Hayes left
the schooner, to plunge into the icy wilderness. Having previously
ascertained that an advance along the Greenland shore was utterly
impossible, he resolved to cross the sound, and to try his fortunes
along the coast of Grinnell Land. Of the difficulties which he had to
encounter his own words will give the best idea.

“By winding to the right and left, and by occasionally retracing our
steps when we had selected an impracticable route, we managed to get
over the first few miles without much embarrassment, but farther on
the tract was rough past description. I can compare it to nothing
but a promiscuous accumulation of rocks closely packed together and
piled up over a vast plain in great heaps and endless ridges, leaving
scarcely a foot of level surface. The interstices between these closely
accumulated ice-masses are filled up, to some extent, with drifted
snow. The reader will readily imagine the rest. He will see the sledges
winding through the tangled wilderness of broken ice-tables, the men
and dogs pulling and pushing up their respective loads. He will see
them clambering over the very summit of lofty ridges, through which
there is no opening, and again descending on the other side, the sledge
often plunging over a precipice, sometimes capsizing and frequently
breaking. Again he will see the party baffled in their attempt to cross
or find a pass, breaking a track with shovel and handspike, or again,
unable even with these appliances to accomplish their end, they retreat
to seek a better track; and they may be lucky enough to find a sort of
gap or gateway, upon the winding and uneven surface of which they will
make a mile or so with comparative ease. The snow-drifts are sometimes
a help, and sometimes a hinderance. Their surface is uniformly hard,
but not always firm to the foot. The crust frequently gives way, and
in a most tiresome and provoking manner. It will not quite bear the
weight, and the foot sinks at the very moment when the other is lifted.
But, worse than this, the chasms between the hummocks are frequently
bridged over with snow in such a manner as to leave a considerable
space at the bottom quite unfilled; and at the very moment when all
looks promising, down sinks one man to his middle, another to the neck,
another is buried out of sight; the sledge gives way, and to extricate
the whole from this unhappy predicament is probably the labor of hours.
It would be difficult to imagine any kind of labor more disheartening,
or which would sooner sap the energies of both men and animals. The
strength gave way gradually; and when, as often happened after a long
and hard day’s work, we could look back from our eminence and almost
fire a rifle-ball into our last snow-hut, it was truly discouraging.”

No wonder that after thus toiling on for twenty-five days they had not
yet reached half-way across the sound, and that they were all broken
down. But their bold leader was fully determined not to abandon his
enterprise while still the faintest hope of success remained, and,
sending the main party back to the schooner, he continued to plunge
into the hummocks with three picked companions--Jensen, M’Donald,
Knorr--and fourteen dogs. After fourteen days of almost superhuman
exertion the sound was at length crossed, and now began a scarcely
less harassing journey along the coast. On the fifth day Jensen, the
strongest man of the party, completely broke down, and leaving him to
the charge of M’Donald, Dr. Hayes now pushed on with Knorr alone,
until, on May 18, he reached the border of a deep bay, where farther
progress to the north was stopped by rotten ice and cracks. Right
before him, on the opposite side of the frith, rose Mount Parry, the
lofty peak first seen by Morton in 1854 from the shores of Washington
Land; and farther on, a noble headland, Cape Union--the most northern
known land upon the globe--stood in faint outline against the dark sky
of the open sea. Thus Dr. Hayes divides the honor of extreme northern
travel with Parry.

On July 12 the “United States” was released from her icy trammels, and
Dr. Hayes once more attempted to reach the opposite coast and continue
his discoveries in Grinnell Land, but the schooner was in too crippled
a state to force her way through the pack-ice which lay in her course,
and compelled her commander to return to Boston.

Thus ended this remarkable voyage; but having done so much, Dr. Hayes
is eager, and resolved, to do still more. Fully convinced by his own
experience that men may subsist in Smith’s Sound independent of support
from home, he proposes to establish a self-sustaining colony at Port
Foulke, which may be made the basis of an extended exploration. Without
any second party in the field to co-operate with him, and under the
most adverse circumstances, he, by dint of indomitable perseverance,
pushed his discoveries a hundred miles farther to the north and west
than his predecessors; and it is surely not over-sanguine to expect
that a party better provided with the means of travel may be able to
traverse the 480 miles at least which intervene between Mount Parry
and the pole. The open sea which both Morton and himself found beyond
Kennedy Channel gives fair promise of success to a strong vessel that
may reach it after having forced the ice-blocked passage of Smith’s
Sound, or, should this be impracticable, to a boat transported across
the sound and then launched upon its waters.

Captain Sherard Osborne, who is likewise a warm partisan of this route,
has been endeavoring to interest Government in its favor; but in the
opinion of other scientific authorities an easier passage seems open to
the navigator who may attempt to reach the pole by way of Spitzbergen.
To the east of this archipelago the Gulf Stream rolls its volume
of comparatively warm water far on to the north-east, and possibly
sweeps round the pole itself. It was to the north of Spitzbergen that
Parry reached the latitude of 82° 45´; and in 1837 the “Truelove,” of
Hull,[20] sailed through a perfectly open sea in 82° 30´ N., 15° E.,
and, had she continued her course, might possibly have reached the pole
as easily as the high latitude which she had already attained.

The distinguished geographer, Dr. Augustus Petermann, who warmly
advocates the route between Spitzbergen and Greenland, has, by dint
of perseverance, succeeded in collecting among his countrymen the
necessary funds for a reconnoitring voyage in this direction. Thanks
to his exertions, May 24, 1868, witnessed the departure of a small
ship of eighty tons, the “Germania,” Captain Koldewey, from the port
of Bergen, for Shannon Island (75° 14´ N. lat.), the highest point
on the east coast of Greenland attained by Sabine in 1823. Here the
attempt to explore the unknown Arctic seas beyond was to begin; but,
meeting with enormous masses of drift-ice on her repeated endeavors to
penetrate to the north-east, the “Germania” has been obliged to return,
after reaching the high latitude of 81° 5´, and accurately surveying a
small part of the Greenland coast hitherto but imperfectly explored. An
expedition on a more extensive scale is to renew the attempt in 1869.

A third route to the pole is no less strenuously recommended by M.
Gustave Lambert, a French hydrographer, who, having sailed through
Bering’s Strait in a whaler in 1865, is persuaded that this is
the right way to reach the problematical open North Sea, which,
once attained, promises a free passage to the navigator. Liberal
subscriptions have been raised in Paris for the accomplishment of his
plan, and an expedition under his command will most probably set out in
1869.

Thus, after so many illustrious navigators have vainly endeavored to
reach the pole, sanguine projectors are still as eager as ever to
attain the goal; nor is it probable that man will ever rest in his
efforts until every attainable region of the Arctic Ocean shall have
been fully explored.



CHAPTER XXXV.

NEWFOUNDLAND.

  Its desolate Aspect.--Forests.--Marshes.--Barrens.--Ponds.--
    Fur-bearing Animals.--Severity of Climate.--St. John’s.--
    Discovery of Newfoundland by the Scandinavians.--Sir Humphrey
    Gilbert.--Rivalry of the English and French.--Importance of
    the Fisheries.--The Banks of Newfoundland.--Mode of Fishing.--
    Throaters, Headers, Splitters, Salters, and Packers.--Fogs and
    Storms.--Seal-catching.


Generally veiled with mists, Newfoundland appears at first sight gloomy
and repulsive. Abrupt cliffs, showing here and there traces of a scanty
vegetation, rise steep and bare from the sea, and for miles and miles
the eye sees nothing but brown hills or higher mountains, desolate and
wild as they appeared in the eleventh century to the bold Norwegian
navigators who first landed on its desert shore. The waves of the ocean
have everywhere corroded the rocky coast into fantastic pinnacles or
excavated deep grottoes in its flanks. In one of these cavities the
action of the surge has produced a remarkable phenomenon, known under
the name of “The Spout.” In stormy weather the waves penetrate into
the hollow and force their way with a dreadful noise from an aperture
in the rock as a gigantic fountain visible at a distance of several
miles.[21]

The interior of the country corresponds with the forbidding appearance
of the coasts, and offers nothing but a succession of forests, marshes,
and barrens. The forests, if they may thus be called, generally grow on
the declivities of the hills or on the sides of the valleys, where the
superfluous waters find a natural drain. The trees consist for the most
part of fir, spruce, birch, pine, and juniper or larch; and in certain
districts the wych-hazel, the mountain-ash, the elder, the aspen, and
some others are found. The character of the timber varies greatly
according to the nature of the subsoil and the situation. In some
parts, more especially where the woods have been undisturbed by the
axe, trees of fair height and girth may be found; but most of the wood
is of stunted growth, consisting chiefly of fir-trees about twenty or
thirty feet high, and not more than three or four inches in diameter.
These commonly grow so closely together that their twigs and branches
interlace from top to bottom, while among them may be seen innumerable
old and rotten stumps and branches, or newly-fallen trees, which, with
the young shoots and brushwood, form a tangled and often impenetrable
thicket. The trees are often covered with lichens, and tufts of white
dry moss are entangled about the branches. Other green and softer
mosses spread over the ground, concealing alike the twisted roots of
the standing trees and the pointed stumps of those which have fallen,
the sharp edges or slippery surface of the numerous rocks and boulders,
and the holes and pitfalls between them. Every step through these woods
is consequently a matter of great toil and anxiety. In the heat of
summer, while the woods are so thick as to shut out every breath of
air, they are at the same time too low and too thinly leaved at top
to exclude the rays of the sun, the atmosphere being further rendered
close and stifling by the smell of the turpentine which exudes from the
trees.

Inclosed in these gloomy woods, large open tracts, called marshes,
are found covering the valleys and lower lands, and frequently also
at a considerable height above the sea on the undulating backs of the
mountains. These tracts are covered to a depth sometimes of several
feet with a green, soft, and spongy moss, bound together by straggling
grass and various marsh-plants. The surface abounds in hillocks and
holes, the tops of the hillocks having often dry crisp moss like
that on the trees. A boulder or small crag of rock occasionally
protrudes, covered with red or white lichens, and here and there is
a bank on which the moss has become dry and yellow. The contrast of
these colors with the dark velvety green of the wet moss frequently
gives a peculiarly rich appearance to the marshes, so that when seen
from a little distance they might easily be mistaken for luxuriant
meadow-grounds, but a closer inspection soon destroys the illusion,
and shows, instead of nutritious grass and aromatic flowers, nothing
but a carpet of useless cryptogamic plants. Except in long-continued
droughts or hard frosts, these marshes are so wet as to be unable
to bear the weight of a person walking over them. A march of three
miles, sinking at every step into the moss, sometimes knee-deep, and
always as far as the ankle, is, it may well be supposed, toilsome and
fatiguing, especially when, as must always be the case in attempting
to penetrate the country, a heavy load is carried on the shoulders.
This thick coating of moss is precisely like a great sponge spread
over the country, and becomes at the melting of the snow in the spring
thoroughly saturated with water, which it long retains, and which every
shower of rain continually renews.

The “barrens” of Newfoundland are those districts which occupy the
summits of the hills and ridges, and other elevated and exposed tracts.
They are covered with a thin and scrubby vegetation, consisting of
berry-bearing plants and dwarf bushes of various species, resembling
the moorlands of the north of England, and differing only in the kind
of vegetation and its scantier quantity. Bare patches of gravel and
boulders and crumbling fragments of rock are frequently met with upon
the barrens, and they are generally altogether destitute of vegetable
soil. But only on the barrens is it possible to explore the interior of
the country with any kind of ease or expedition. These different tracts
are none of them of any great extent; woods, marshes, and barrens
frequently alternating with each other in the course of a day’s journey.

Another remarkable feature of Newfoundland is the almost incredible
number of lakes of all sizes, all of which are indiscriminately called
ponds. They are scattered over the whole country, not only in the
valleys but on the higher lands; and even in the hollows of the summits
of the ridges and the very tops of the hills. They vary in size from
pools of fifty yards in diameter to lakes upward of thirty miles long
and four or five miles across. The number of those which exceed a
couple of miles in extent must on the whole amount to several hundreds,
while those of a smaller size are absolutely countless. It is supposed
that a full third of the surface of the island is covered by fresh
water, and this reckoning is rather below than above the mark. In a
country so abundantly provided with lakes or ponds, it seems strange to
find no navigable rivers. The undulating surface of the land, with its
abrupt hills and deep gullies, is, without all doubt, one cause of this
absence of larger streams.

Each pond or small set of ponds communicates with a valley of its own,
down which it sends an insignificant brook, which takes the nearest
course to the sea. The chief cause, however, both of the vast abundance
of ponds and the comparative scantiness of the brooks, is to be found
in the great coating of moss which spreads over the country, and
retains the water like a sponge, allowing it to drain off but slowly
and gradually.

The wilds of Newfoundland are tenanted by numerous fur-bearing animals,
affording a great source of gain to some of the fishermen, who in
winter turn furriers. Arctic foxes are here in all their variety.
Beavers, once nearly extirpated, but now unmolested owing to the low
value of their fur, are increasing in numbers. Brown bears are pretty
numerous, and Polar bears sometimes find their way to the northern
promontory of the island upon the ice which comes drifting down in
spring from Davis’s Straits. By way of contrast, in hot summers the
tropical humming-bird has been known to visit the southern shores of
Newfoundland. Reindeer are abundant, but unfortunately their enemies
the wolves have likewise increased in number, since the reward given by
the Colonial Government for their destruction has ceased to be paid.

Although in the same latitude as Central France and the south of
Germany, Newfoundland has a long and severe winter, owing to the two
vast streams of Arctic water, the Davis’s Straits and East Greenland
currents, which combine and run by its shores; and the summer, though
sometimes intensely hot, is so short and so frequently obscured by fogs
that, even were the soil less sterile, agriculture must necessarily
be confined to narrow limits. The little wheat and barley, cultivated
on the inside lands far above the sea-shore, is often cut green, and
carrots, turnips, potatoes, and cabbages are nearly all the esculent
vegetables which the land has been proved capable of producing.

Hence we can not wonder that the whole island, which is considerably
larger than Scotland, has only about 90,000 inhabitants, and even these
would have had no inducement to settle on so unpromising a soil if the
riches of the sea did not amply compensate for the deficiencies of the
land. Fish is the staple produce of Newfoundland, and the bulk of its
population consists of poor fishermen, who have established themselves
along the deep bays by which the coast is indented, and catch near the
coast vast quantities of cod, which they bring in and cure at their
leisure, in order to have it ready for the ships when they arrive. With
the outer world they have little communication, and a visit to St.
John’s, the capital of the island, forms an epoch in their solitary
lives.

This town lies at the head of a wide and secure bay, and consists of
a main street fronting the water, from which narrow, dirty lanes and
alleys branch out towards the land. The dingy, unpainted houses are
built of wood, the Government edifices only being constructed of brick
or stone. The long rows of fish-stages along the shore attract the
stranger’s attention, but he is still more astonished at the countless
gin and beer shops, which at once tell him he is in a place where
thirsty sailors and fishermen form the mass of the population. In the
winter St. John’s is comparatively deserted, as it then has no more
than about 10,000 inhabitants, but their number is doubled or trebled
during the fishing-season.

The island of Newfoundland, first seen and visited in the eleventh
century by the Norse colonists of Greenland, and then utterly
forgotten, was rediscovered in 1497 or 1498 by John and Sebastian Cabot.

The richness of its cod-fisheries soon attracted attention, and
fishermen from Spain, France, Portugal, and England annually visited
its banks. The best harbors along the coast were occupied by the first
comers in spring--a circumstance which gave rise to frequent quarrels.
To obviate this lawless state of affairs, Sir Humphrey Gilbert was
sent out by Queen Elizabeth in 1583 to take possession of the land.
He divided the coast about St. John’s into districts, and the British
settlers willingly agreed to pay a tax to Government in the expectation
of seeing their interests better protected. The new arrangement had a
beneficial effect on the trade of Newfoundland, for in 1615 more than
250 English vessels visited St. John’s, and gradually the whole of the
eastern coast of the island was occupied by English fishermen.

The French on their part colonized the north and south sides of the
island, and founded the town of Placentia, once a very considerable
place, but now reduced to insignificance. The rivalry of the French
was naturally a great source of jealousy to a nation ill-accustomed
to brook any foreign intrusion into its commercial interests. Thus,
after the war of the Spanish succession, Great Britain demanded and
obtained by the Treaty of Utrecht the sole possession of Newfoundland;
and Louis XIV., anxious for peace on any terms, willingly acceded to
this sacrifice, merely reserving for his subjects the right to dry on
the shores of the island the fish they had caught on the banks. By
the subsequent treaties of Paris the French were restricted to the
small islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, but not allowed to erect
fortifications of any kind.

Besides the English and the French, the Americans also have the right
to fish on the banks of Newfoundland; for when England acknowledged
the independence of the United States, a formal article of the treaty
of peace secured to the latter the fishing privileges which they had
previously enjoyed as colonies.

The value of the dry codfish alone exported every year from
Newfoundland is on an average about £400,000, while the total value of
the exported productions in fish, oil, and skins is upward of £700,000.
This, from a population of 80,000 or 90,000, proves that the people of
the island ought to be happy and prosperous; but unfortunately a system
of credit renders the bulk of the fishermen entirely dependent on the
merchants, and want of education is a further source of evil.

Though vast quantities of cod are taken along the shores of
Newfoundland, yet the most important fishery is carried on on the
banks at some distance from the island.

The Great Bank lies twenty leagues from the nearest point of land from
latitude 41° to 49°, and extends 300 miles in length and 75 in breadth.
To the east of this lies the False Bank; the next is styled the Green
Bank, about 240 miles long and 120 broad; then Banquero, about the
same size, with several other shoals of less note, all abounding with
fish, but chiefly with cod, the great magnet which sets whole fleets
in motion. In winter the cod retire to the deeper waters, but they
re-appear in March and April, when their pursuers hasten to the spot,
not only from the bays and coves of Newfoundland, but from Great
Britain, the United States, and France.

While fishing, each man has a space three feet and a half wide allotted
to him on deck, so as not to interfere with his neighbor. The lines
are from thirty to forty fathoms long--for the cod generally swims
at that depth. The chief baits used are the squid, a species of
cuttle-fish, and the capelin, a small salmon abounding on the North
American coasts. The herring and the launce, and a shell-fish called
clam, which is found in the belly of the cod, are likewise used. In
spring particularly the cod rushes so eagerly upon the bait, that in
the course of a single day a good fisherman is able to haul up four
hundred, one after another. This is no easy task, considering the size
of the fish, which on an average weighs fourteen pounds, but has been
taken four feet three inches long, and forty-six pounds in weight. When
a large fish, too heavy for the line, has been caught, the fisherman
calls on his neighbor, who strikes a hook attached to a long pole into
the fish, and then safely hauls it on board.

Mindful of the proverb which recommends us all to strike while the
iron is hot, the fishermen continue to catch cod for hours, until so
many are heaped on the deck that to make room it becomes necessary
to “dress them down.” This is done on long planks made to rest with
both ends on two casks, and thus forming a narrow table. First, each
man cuts out the tongues of the fish he has caught, as his wages are
reckoned by their number, and then the whole crew divide themselves
into _throaters_, _headers_, _splitters_, _salters_, and _packers_. The
throater begins the operation of “dressing” by drawing his knife across
the throat of the cod to the bone and ripping open the bowels. He then
passes it to the header, who with a strong wrench pulls off the head
and tears out the entrails, which he casts overboard, passing the fish
at the same time to the splitter, who with one cut lays it open from
head to tail, and almost in the twinkling of an eye with another cut
takes out the backbone. After separating the sounds, which are placed
with the tongues and packed in barrels as a delicacy, the backbone
follows the entrails overboard, while the fish at the same moment is
passed with the other hand to the salter. Such is the amazing quickness
of the operations of heading and splitting, that a good workman will
often decapitate and take out the entrails and backbone of six fish
in a minute. Every fisherman is supposed to know something of each
of these operations, and no rivals at cricket ever entered with more
ardor into their work than do some athletic champions for the palm of
“dressing down” after a “day’s catch.”

Generally the fog is so dense that one ship does not see the other,
although both may be so near that the crews distinctly hear each
other’s voices. Frequently one is hardly able to see to the distance of
a few feet, and the large drops of the condensed mist fall like rain
from the yards. During calm weather the aspect of the sea is so dismal
that it requires all the buoyant spirits of a seaman to resist its
depressing influence. For days the calm remains unbroken, and no sound
is heard but that of a fish darting out of the water, or the screech
of a sea-bird flitting over the sea. But sometimes a storm breaks
this awful silence of nature. At such times the fishing-ships, hidden
in mists, run the greatest danger of striking against each other,
although signal-lanterns and alarm-trumpets are used to give warning. A
tremendous wave bursting on the deck often strikes them with such force
as to sink them or dash them to pieces against the rocky coast. Thus
many a widow and orphan has a mournful tale to relate of the dangers of
the cod-fishery on the banks of Newfoundland.

In some parts of the coast where the water is sufficiently shallow the
codfish are now caught in sieves or nets. This operation requires more
capital to commence with than the mere boat and hooks and lines of the
common fishermen, and, like all improvements, met at first with much
opposition, on the plea that it must interfere with the interests of
the poorer class. It is obvious, however, that the use of the net is
advantageous to the trade at large, for shoals, or, as they are termed,
“schools,” of fish may sometimes be seen sweeping along shore, which
but for the net would escape altogether. Besides, there seems such an
incalculable abundance of the fish that there will always be enough to
hook, enough to jig, enough to net, and more than enough to go away.

“One calm July evening,” says Mr. Jukes,[22] “I was in a boat just
outside St. John’s harbor, when the sea was pretty still, and the fish
were ‘breaching,’ as it is termed. For several miles around us the
calm sea was alive with fish. They were sporting on the surface of
the water, flirting their tails occasionally into the air, and as far
as could be seen the water was rippled and broken by their movements.
Looking down into its clear depths, codfish under codfish of all sizes
appeared swimming about as if in sport. Some boats were fishing, but
not a bite could they get, the fish being already gorged with food. Had
the ground been shallow enough to use nets, the harbor might have been
filled with fish.”

Besides the cod-fishery, seal-catching is also carried on with
considerable success on the eastern coast, which intercepts many
immense fields and islands of ice as they move southward in the spring
from the Arctic Sea. The interior parts of these drifting shoals,
with the lakes or openings interspersed, remain unbroken, and on them
myriads of seals maybe found. In the month of March or April, as soon
as the ice-fields descend with the currents from Davis’s Straits,
many small ships, not only from the harbors of the east coast of
Newfoundland, but even from the distant Scotch ports, particularly
Aberdeen, put out to sea, and boldly plunge into all the openings of
the ice-fields to make war upon the seals. Armed with firelocks and
heavy bludgeons, the crews surprise the animals on the ice. In this
way thousands are killed yearly from the north, but their numbers have
latterly decreased, and the seal-catchers pay the penalty of their
heedless and indiscriminate slaughter.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

GREENLAND.

  A mysterious Region.--Ancient Scandinavian Colonists.--Their
    Decline and Fall.--Hans Egede.--His Trials and Success.--
    Foundation of Godthaab.--Herrenhuth Missionaries.--Lindenow.--
    The Scoresbys.--Clavering.--The Danish Settlements in
    Greenland.--The Greenland Esquimaux.--Seal-catching.--The White
    Dolphin.--The Narwhal.--Shark-fishery.--Fiskernasset.--Birds.--
    Reindeer-hunting.--Indigenous Plants.--Drift-wood.--Mineral
    Kingdom.--Mode of Life of the Greenland Esquimaux.--The Danes in
    Greenland.--Beautiful Scenery.--Ice Caves.


In many respects Greenland is one of the most remarkable countries
of the Arctic zone. The whole of the northern coast of continental
America from Cape Lisburne to Belle Isle Straits is known; the borders
of Siberia fronting the icy ocean have been thoroughly explored by
water and by land; the distance of Spitzbergen and Nova Zembla from
the pole has long since been determined; but how far Greenland may
reach to the north we know not--though nearly a thousand years have
passed since the Icelander Günnbjorn (970 A.D.) first saw its high
mountain coast, and in spite of all the attempts made since that time
to circumnavigate it. The interior of the island--or continent as it
may perhaps more justly be called, for it has a surface of at least
750,000 square miles, and is probably larger than Australia--is also
unknown; for of this vast extent of territory only the narrow shores
of the coast-line seemed to be inhabitable, or even accessible to
man. On penetrating into the deeper fjords, all the valleys are found
blocked with glaciers, which, on climbing the heights, are seen to
pass into a monotonous plateau of ice, or névé, which seems to cover
and conceal the whole interior. Thus, from its physical configuration,
Greenland may well be called a mysterious region; and, strange to say,
the history of the decline and fall of its first colonists is as little
known as its geography.

We have seen in a previous chapter that Iceland, so peaceful in the
present day, was peopled in the ninth century with a highly turbulent
race of jarls and vikings. One of these worthies, called Erik Rauda, or
the Red, having twice dyed his hands with blood, was banished by the
Althing (982) for a term of years, and resolved to pass the time of his
compulsory absence in exploring the land discovered by Günnbjorn. After
spending three years on its western coasts, he returned to Iceland,
and made so favorable a report of the new country, which--knowing the
advantages of a good name--he called Greenland, that in 986 he induced
a large body of colonists to sail with him and settle there. Other
emigrants followed, and in a few years all the habitable places of
Southern Greenland were occupied.

The colony, which soon after its foundation adopted the Christian
religion, was divided into two districts, or “bygds” (from the
Icelandic “byggia,” to inhabit), by an intervening tract of land named
Ubygd, the “uninhabitable” or “uninhabited.” The West Bygd reached from
lat. 66° down to 62°, and contained, in its best days, ninety farms
and four churches. South of it lay the desert, “Ubygd,” of seventy
geographical miles, terminated by the East Bygd, consisting of 190
farms, and having two towns, Gardar and Alba, one cathedral, and eleven
churches. The whole population may probably have amounted to 6000
souls. The country was governed by Icelandic laws, and the first of its
eighteen bishops, Arnold, was elected in 1121, the last being Endride
Andreason, who was consecrated in 1406. In spite of its poverty and
distance, Greenland was obliged to contribute its mite to the revenues
of the Papal chair, for we read in the ancient annalists that in 1326
its tribute, consisting of walrus-teeth, was sold by the Pope’s agent,
Bertram of Ortolis, to a merchant of Flanders for the sum of twelve
livres and fourteen sous.

The time, however, was now fast approaching when the Greenland colony
was not only to cease paying tithes and Peter’s pence, but to be swept
away. During the course of the fourteenth century it was visited by
one misfortune after another. The black death, which carried off
twenty-five millions of Europeans, did not spare its distant fjords
(1348–9); the Esquimaux harassed the survivors with repeated attacks,
killing some, and carrying away others cap