Imágenes de páginas

been out on the mountains all the summer. A small allowance of an inferior kind of hay, made from a very coarse wild meadow grass, is afforded to the sheep, to supply the deficiency of what they can find, on being turned out during the day time, with boys sometimes to scrape away the snow for them.

The first stages of this second progress were enlivened by the appearance and the comparative luxuries of several line farm-establishments, at one of which was the rare spectacle of a water-mill for grinding corn, there being very few but handmills on the island; at another, was the only printing-office in Iceland, and that, unhappily, unemployed, owing to the offence justly taken some years before, at the irreligious and acrimonious quality of its productions.

A stratum of Surturbrand, or mineralized wood, boiling springs, volcanic spiracles like huge cbimnies, left the traveller's mind no chance of slumbering on his Journey, or subsiding to the quiet state of perception appropriate to an ordinary scene of the earth's appearances: aud he was soon again to be in sympathy with fire, among the cones, aud craters, and vast lavas of the Skardsheidi, the Hytardal, and another volcano, rising in neighbourhood and rivalry to one another. The emotions of the former year were revived in contemplating, from the summit of one of the cones, the majestic assemblage; emotions with which there was no difficulty in harmonizing those which were excited by the screaming of a party of eagles, by a psalm sung in a volcanic cavern, and by a delightful example of domestic worship, in the family of the pastor of one of these wild districts. In fact, there is nothing that can harmonize so many emotions, preserving at the same time the full tone of each, as piety.

In the scries of commanding objects, the next in order, rising insulated in the midst of a wide plain, almost entirely deluged with lava, was 'the grand circular crater of Elldborg,' a denomination signifying 'the Fortress of Fire.' To judge by both the description and the drawing, this must be one of the most striking spectacles on the island. A large conical eminence, rising for the most part with a beautiful regularity, terminates, all round, in a nearly perpendicular wall, of 'dark 'vitrified lava,' eighty feet high, and giving the idea of an enormous fortification, forming a crown to the whole top of the bill. With laudable perseverance of difficult labour, this grand fabric was scaled by Dr. H. and several clergymen, who, though residing not far off, had probably never been so ambitious before. They circumambulated the slight and treacherous rim, of 1800 feet in circumference, and descended to the obstructed aperture at the bottom of a basin two hundred feet deep, once the dreadful caldron which threw out the deluge of fire. The view from this magnificent rampart included some

more of those portentous red cones, which had so long been to our observer the types of irresistible and destructive power. A much larger volcanic eminence, named Buda-Klettur, and the basaltic wonders of Stappen, kept in exercise the never-exhausted feelings of curiosity and admiration, during part of the progress towards the magnificent Snaefell-Yokul. 'J'liis mountain was at first dimly seen, early in the morning, at a great distance, ' communicating a dunnish hue to the * surrounding atmosphere;

• but in a short time it began to assume a more lively aspect, and continued to brighten till the sun was fully risen, when it shone forth in all its splendor, glistening with a dazzling lustre as it received his beams, and towering to an elevation of near five thousand feet above the level of the sea.'

The ascent to the icy summit of this noble mountain, was an enterprise which Dr. H. and a Danish gentleman, who accompanied him, were gravely dissuaded by the good people of the neighbourhood from attempting; with an assurance of its impracticability, and a warning of the presumptuous temerity involved in the very design.

I * They regard the mountain with a kind of superstitious veneration; and find it difficult to divest their minds of the idea that it is still haunted by Rardr, the tutelary divinity of the Yokul, who will not fail to avenge himself on all that have the audacity to defile, with mortal breath, the pure and ethereal atmosphere of his lofty abode.'

At the return of the adventurers, it was difficult to make these simple people believe that the exploit had actually been accomplished, as in the case of the similar achievement of Messrs. Bright and Holland, of Sir G. Mackenzie's party, who had however, been prevented by an impassable chasm, from attaining quitethe pinnacle of the summit. To reach this point, Dr. H. had to tread the brink of a precipice of more than 2000 feet deep, and nearly perpendicular, forming the one side of an awful chasm. A mist shrouded the base and vicinity of the mountain; but the distant prospect was of sublime expansion. Our Author encountered in his ascent none of those fissures in the snow and ice, which former adventurers had found so incommodious and dangerous. The difference in his favour is ascribed to the earliness of the season, which had not allowed time for the melting of the snow drifted over those chasms, but which therefore exposed him, possibly, to the unseen and treacherous danger, that one of these frail vaultings of snow should break under him.

The peninsula of Snaefelness has a population much out of proportion to that of the general state of the inhabited parts of the island, owing to its being so eligible for fishing stations. And, owing at once to the numbers and the occupation, the

[ocr errors]

moral condition of this one Syssel, as reported by Dr. H., make* a grievous approach to that of some five hundred districts ot the British Isles. It is, any where in the world, a pernicioiu ttiin? for many human beings to exist near together; and U* employment of fishing being the only one in the hamlets of tbu peninsula, abandons the people, in the intervals occasioned br stormy weather, to idleness, drunkenness, and the usually and naturally attendant vices, repressed in some res]>ects, bat aggravated in others, by extreme poverty.

The Traveller acknowledges to have felt no small alarm »: one spot on this part of the coast; a very narrow pass, over most rugged and difficult ground, between the sea on one sidt, and stupendous overhanging precipices on the other, with v*«t projecting masses of rocks, apparently threatening every iastam to fall, and often actually fulfilling the menace, to the destruction of numbers of adventurous passengers. The evidence oi some such disruptions having thundered down within a few preceding hours, gave a lively stimulus to his fears, the signs of which, however, lie was bound to repress in consideration of his company: two young ladies of the friendly family of a Danish administrator, who happened to be not at home, would pay their guest the compliment of attending him some distance, in company with the clergyman of the station, who was to be bis guide; and they performed the service with an easy defiance of the terrors of the pass; of which, nevertheless, the dangers are so really imminent, that many of the natives prefer a lone circuitous route to avoid it. In the morning of the following day, Dr. II. was roused from his repose in his tent, (he very seldom slept within any house,) by a prodigious sound, apparently from a cause very near him.

< On drawing aside the curtain,' he says,' I found that a disruption had taken place in the face of a mountain at no great distance. The air was nearly darkened with the quantity of dust that was borne upwards by the wind, and immense masses of rock were hurled down, tearing the ground as they rolled along, and, giving a fresh impulse to the rocks and gravel that had already fallen, the whole rushed down with amazing velocity into the plain.'

It was somewhat fortunate that he should, for once, witness the actual occurrence of a striking phenomenon. It is possible that some cautious reader might otherwise be found to bint a suggestion of its being very strange that during a traverse of so many hundred leagues, during so many months, there shoud be no instance of the actual contemporary spectacle of one of any class of those mighty movements, with the memorials of which almost the whole region is described as covered. It might have been suspected that a fervid imagination has a little magnified their importance or their multitude*

Can these enumerated monumental results of the great agencies of Nature in past time, presented in close succession throughout the tour, be all really of so magnificent an order, if the traveller may at this time compass the whole island, and scarcely witness, excepting the Geysers, one present display of those agencies which he can describe as eminently grand? To such an insinuation, if such there were, it might be replied, that the tour of the whole island would not be likely to make the traveller the spectator of a greater number of transient, grand phenomena, than he would have witnessed in remaining stationary, for the same number of months, in any one spot where the great but slow agencies of Nature were in the course of producing such phenomena; as an object moving in a shower of hail or rain, would not receive a greater proportion of the falling element than if standing perfectly still the same length of time. Five or six months of travelling were thus but equivalent, with respect to the sight of contemporary mighty operations, to remaining so long fixed in any one of a hundred different spots of Iceland. Now, then, imagine the case that there had been a hundred observers placed during those months in these hundred stations, and that they had subsequently brought into one collective description all the magnificent transient phenomena they should have witnessed. If, on the average, each of them had to relate no more than two or three prodigious exhibitions, the whole assemblage would, nevertheless, form an amazing display of what had taken place within that short period. It would, by the rule laid down, contain a hundred times as many wonders, of present occurrence, as our Author witnessed in his whole tour. It would in fact contain a far greater proportion; since a very large part of his time was necessarily spent in passing over tracts where, from the nature of the place, nothing extraordinary was likely to happen, even in the course of many years; whereas, the hundred observers might all have remained stationary, during the whole time, in situations where the great operations of Nature, tending to great catastrophes, were evidently going on. But what a majestic picture would thus be furnished of the continual achievements of that agency, slowly productive of extraordinary phenomena as it may appear, in the descriptive narration of a single observer!

Nevertheless, it will strike every reader that time has wrought a very great change in the island with regard to the power of fixe. In this respect, it looks like the vast deserted metropolis of some ancient and fallen empire. In contemplating the unnumbered voleanos, and the immensity of lava and other vestiges of the rage and dominion of fire, it is inevitable to believe, that there have been times when eruptions and earth

Vol. X. N.S. R


quakes were of far more frequent occurrence than during the last few centuries, or in perhaps any age since the island was colonized; though since that period there have been twentythree recorded eruptions of Hekla. This appears to nave been the most active in maintaining the formidable sublimity of Iceland; but half a century has now elapsed since its la*t eruption. In some of the mountains whose extensive lavts proclaim their original character, Snaefell Yokul, for instance, the power of destruction has slumbered ever since the occupation of the island.

The observations at some spots on the southern shore of the Breidafiord, especially at Helgafell and the neighbourhood, give occasion to introduce some amusing reminiscences, historic*! and legendary, of the first rude pagan settlers in this part of the island. It retains the fame, and, as Dr. H. is satisfied, a substantial monument, of the residence and proceedings of Thorolf, a bold Norwegian nobleman, who took possession of the tract, a little before the end of the ninth century, and distinguished himself and the place by a fanatical devotion to the worship of Thor. This grim Moloch of the North was never sparing in his demands of human blood; and the report of the present existence of one of his most tributary altars,—that on which were sacrificed the culprits condemned in Thorolf'a public court of justice,—incited our Author to an active search in and around the spot indicated by ancient remains to have been a place of convocation: the following is the result.

'We fell in with an immense number of small square heights, which are evidently the ruins of the booths used by the people at the public assembly. We here instituted a strict search after the Blotttcinn, or Stone of Sacrifice, on which human victims were immolated to Thor; but sought in vain in the immediate vicinity of the booths, none of the stones in that quarter answering to the description which had been given of it. At last we descried'a large stone in the middle of a morass at some distance, which, thoughjough and unshapen, was determined to bathe identical "Stone of Fear," by the " horrid circle of Bramo," in the centra of which it is situate. The stones which form this circular range; appear also to be of a considerable size; but as they are now almost covered by the morass, it is impossible to ascertain their depth, except by digging. The circle itself is about twelve yards in diameter, and the stones are situated at short distances from each other. The Blot-tieinn is of an oblong shape, with a sharp summit, on which the backs of the victims were broken, that were offered as expiatory sacrifices, in order to appease the wrath of the offended deity, and purge the community from the obnoxiousness of guilt. Within the circle, called in Icelandic domkringr, sat the judges, before whom the accused, with their advocates and witnesses, were convened, while the spectators crowded around the outside of the range in order to hear the trial.'

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »