« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
darkened the atmosphere. The clergyman of Flatey, the best inhabited of them, has two parishes, one on the mainland, which renders his official duties perhaps the most perilous as well as the most laborious of any in the Icelandic church; yet such is the miserable pittance which he receives, that he is obliged to follow other occupations for the maintenance of his family, and has the reputation of being the best seal catcher on the island.
On crossing Arnarfiord, we are entertained with some idle stories about the cunning of foxes, which have frequently been repeated, without being the more true on that account. Near Briamslæk, on the northern shore of the Breidafiord, and in a ravine of the mountain behind the parsonage, a more worthy object engaged Dr. Henderson's attention. It was one of the most interesting displays of surturbrand to be met with in the island.' Sir George Mackenzie could procure no satisfactory account of the situation in which surturbrand occurs; some said it was found on rocks, others in alluvial soil; Olafsen and Povelsen say it is found in both, but their description,' says Sir George, cannot be relied on; and we may look on this substance as one of the interesting objects that remain to be investigated in this remarkable country: Dr. Henderson's account is therefore the more important as being drawn up from ocular inspection.
Compared with others in the vicinity, the mountain is but of inconsiderable height, not appearing to rise to an elevation of more than 600 feet. A torrent from the rising hills behind has cut its way through the different horizontal strata of which it is composed, so that a cleft presents itself between forty and fifty yards in depth. The east side of this cleft is entirely covered with debris, except at some particular spots, where rugged masses of a yellowish tuffa tower above the surface; but the west side is more perpendicular, and consists of ten or twelve strata of surturbrand, lava, basalt, tuffa, and indurated clay, successively piled above each other. The surturbrund is undermost, and occupies four layers which are separated from each other by intermediate beds of soft sand-stone or clay. These layers are of unequal thickness, from a foot and a half to three feet, and run to the length of about thirty yards, when they disappear in the debris. They differ also in quality; the two lowest exhibiting the most perfect specimens of mineralized wood, free from all foreign admixture, of a jet black; and such pieces as have been exposed to the sun shine with great lustre, and are very splintery in their fracture. The numerous knots, roots, &c. and the annual circles observable in the ends of the trunks or branches, removed every doubt of the vegetable origin of this curious substance. The only changes it has undergone are induration aud compression; having been impregnated with bituminous sap, and flattened by the enormous weight of the superincumbent rocks. Some few branches stretch at times across the bed, but in general they all lie parallel with one another, and are frequently pressed together, so as to form a solid mass. The third stratum is not
so pure, being mixed with a considerable portion of ferruginous matter; grey externally, but black in the fracture, has no lustre, and is much heavier than the former, yet possesses evident traits of its vegetable character. The fourth or uppermost stratum consists of what the Icelanders call steinbrand, or coal, from which it differs only in the absence of the gloss, and its containing a quantity of earthy matter. It still retains some faint marks of wood.
Remarkable as the appearance of this rock-wood undoubtedly is, a still more surprising phenomenon makes its appearance between the second and third strata, viz. a bed of dark grey schistus, about four inches in thickness, that admits of being divided into numerous thin plates, many of which possess the tenuity of the finest writing paper, and discovers on both sides the most beautiful and accurate impressions of leaves, with all their ramifications of nerves, ribs, and fibres, in the best state of preservation. The whole of the schistose body is, in fact, nothing but an accumulation of leaves closely pressed together, and partially interlaid with a fine alluvial clay. It is also worthy of notice, that when you separate any of the leaves from the mass, they are uniformly of a greyish or brown colour on the surface, and black on'the opposite side. Most of those on the specimens now before me are of the common poplar, (populus tremula,) and some of them, in the judgment of an eminent botanical gentleman,* appear to be of the populus takkamahaka. A few birch and willow leaves are also observable, but very small in size: whereas many of the poplar leaves are upwards of three inches in breadth.' -vol. ii. pp. 114-116. There are only three ways,
in which surtur, brand can be supposed to originate ;—first, by the overturning and entombing of large forests, which may have existed on the island at a remote period. Secondly, by an accumulation of drift-timber from the Missouri, (this is quite new to us,) or from the northern coasts of Siberia. Or, lastly, 'it
in a former world. It is not for us to decide whether any and which of these speculations of the Doctor be the true one; the last predominates in his own mind, though, for fear of offending pious ears, he thinks it necessary to explain what is meant by a former world.' This may be right; but he might surely have suppressed, without prejudice to his work, the hypothesis concerning the forests that grew on the sunk continent that now supports the Atlantic.'
The surturbrand is chiefly used by the natives for the smithy: but being very hard and susceptible of a high polish, it is also employed for tables and other ornamental articles of household furniture. From a specimen seen by Sir George Mackenzie, he concluded it to be oak; but Professor Bergman, from two pieces sent to him by Von Troil says, I can almost affirm, with perfect certainty,
* Professor Hornemann of Copenhagen.
that the largest is of the pinus abies. Neither oak, pine,* nor poplar, however, were ever known to grow in Iceland.
Something very similar to the surturbrand has recently been discovered on the flat isthmus of the Cape of Good Hope, about ten miles from the shore of Table Bay. The Dutch fancy it to be the remains of ships; but have not yet decided whether they are some of those which fetched peacocks for Solomon, or Chinese junks which brought the Hottentots to the Cape, or, as the more serious part of the colony suppose, the remains of Noah's ark. Some specimens of this fossil wood, exhibited at Sir Joseph Banks's, had very much the appearance of Bovey coal; other pieces had the grain of the wood perfectly distinct and resembling that of cedar.
Once more Dr. Henderson makes a rapid journey to the very northern extremity of the island, and a more rapid return to the southward; but as there is a want of agreement between his chart and his text, it is no easy matter to trace his movements. We find him, however, considerably to the southward of Bæ on the Hrutafiord, when, on the night of the 23d of June, the king of day, like a vast globe of fire, stretched his sceptre over the realms of night;' that is to say, in plain language, for we do not greatly admire the purity of the Doctor's metaphor, the sun did not set: we are told indeed, that he remained in the same degree of altitude above the horizon for half an hour. Now as Bæ is in latitude 65@ 30', and the whole body of the sun was above the horizon for half an hour, the refraction must have been prodigious, unless indeed Dr. Henderson viewed it from a higher mountain than we suspect to be in that quarter of the island. Here also the singing of swans on the neighbouring lakes added to the novelty of the scene. The Icelandic swan sings or whistles while in full health and vigour, and does not, like the swan of Cajster, or rather of the poets, reserve his melody for his own dirge. Its sound,' says Pennant, is whoogh, whoogh, very loud and shrill, but not disagreeable, when heard far above one's head, and modulated by the winds. The natives of Iceland compare it to the notes of a violin: in fact, they hear it at the end of their long and gloomy winter, when the return of the bird announces the return of summer; every sound must be therefore melodious which presages the speedy thaw, and the release from their tedious confinement.'
Our traveller's next station is Baula, a conical mountain 3000 feet in height, the lower part of which is of white-coloured basalt, scattered about in the wildest disorder. Dr. Henderson regrets that this mountain was not examined by Sir Geo. Mackenzie and his party, as it is incontestibly, in his opinion, the most remarkable * Mr. Hooker heard of one pine, (pinus sylvestris,) but did not see it.
mountain on the island. So think the natives ; for as none have yet been able to reach its summit, it is fabled that there is to be found on it a beautiful country, constantly green, and abounding in trees, inhabited by a dwarfish race of men, whose sole employment is the care of their fine flocks of sheep.'*
From Baula our traveller proceeded to Reykiadal, or the Valley of Smoke,' justly so named from the numerous columns of vapour which its hot springs incessantly send forth. One of these springs is described as remarkable for the resemblance of its operations to those of a steam-engine. In this valley Dr. Henderson was nearly suffocated with hot and dense vapours. At the distance of only a few yards before me,' he says, “roared not fewer than sixteen boiling caldrons, the contents of which raised in broken heights were splashed about the margins, and ran with great impetuosity in numberless streamlets down the precipice on which the springs are situated.'
At Saurbæ our author met with an object of a different nature to excite his admiration, in the person of an old clergyman of seventy-four years of age, living on a small farm capable only of affording pasture to a few sheep and cattle, with a stipend of about thirty rix-dollars a year. “A man,' says our author, who had read more of his Hebrew Bible than hundreds of the more opulent clergy in Great Britain ; and what was more surprising, did not commence the study of the original language of the Old Testament, till he had reached his sixtieth year.'—Justly does our author observe, that' to whatever part of this surprising island the traveller may turn, he is sure to meet with some phenomenon or other, either of a physical or moral nature.' On the 29th of Jane he returned, for the second time, to Reykiavik.
Once more this indefatigable traveller set out, on the 18th of July, for the northern extremity of the island, to complete the object of his mission. In this journey he visited the remarkable cavern of Surtshellir, formed by a crust of lava, measuring about 40 feet in height, by 50 in breadth, and extending to the length of 4804 feet, containing within it many beautiful stalactites, vast quantities of ice and snow, and in some places water. The Doctor gives a minute account of this subterranean cavern, in which he spent four hours;—when he left this chilly vault and came into the open sunshine, the transition, he says, was
6 alınost the same as if one bad suddenly exchanged a Greenland winter for an African summer.' We regret that we can only find room for that part
of the description which opens upon the central desert.
We now entered the aperture at the opposite end, and almost instantaneously found ourselves enveloped in thicker darkness than ever, but * Hooker's Tour in Iceland, p. 244.
met with neither water nor stones. The floor was covered with a thick coating of ice, and dipped so rapidly, that, finding it impossible to keep our feet, we sat down, and slid forward by our own weight. On holding the torches close to the ice, we could discover its thickness to seven or eight feet, clear as crystal. It was not long till we reached a spot, the grandeur of which amply rewarded all our toil: and would have done so, though we had travelled an hundred times the distance to see it. The roof and sides of the cave were decorated with the most superb icicles, crystallized in every possible form, many of which rivalled in minúteness the finest zeolites; while, from the icy floor, rose pillars of the same substance, assuming all the curious and phantastic shapes imaginable, mocking the proudest specimens of art, and counterfeiting many well-known objects of animated nature. Many of them were upwards of four feet high, generally sharpened at the extremity, and about two feet in thickness. A more brilliant scene perhaps never presented itself to the human eye, nor was it easy for us to divest ourselves of the idea that we actually beheld one of the fairy scenes depicted in eastern fable. The light of the torches rendered it peculiarly enchanting.'-vol. ii. pp. 195, 196.
We must here (though much remains on which we could dwell with pleasure) close our account of these interesting volumes, which we venture to say will be found productive of a very high degree of instruction as well as amusement, by all who have any relish for the grand and awful scenes of nature, or for the honest and artless simplicity, now so rarely found, of an uncorrupted race of people.
We had nearly overlooked the Appendix. It contains (besides a translation of a spirited Icelandic Ode on the Bible Society) an · Historical View of the Icelandic Translations of the Scriptures,' compiled with great diligence; and an · Inquiry into the Nature and Characteristic Features of Icelandic Poetry,' which evinces not only good taste, but an acquaintance with the subject never attained before, we believe, by any of our countrymen.
ART. II.-Women; or, Pour et Contre. A Tale. By the Author
of · Bertram. 3 vols. Edinburgh. 1818. A HASTY reader might wonder what could induce an author to
take up a style of composition which appears to unite the extremes of vulgarity and heroics, of poverty and pedantry—to spoil a very ordinary story by extraordinary exertions, and to throw away thoughts and language, which would furnish out another Bertram, upon the ephemera of a circulating library. We have however discovered, or believe that we have discovered, that the work is not quite what it appears, nor the reverend author altogether so weak and inconsistent as he seems to be at first sight. He aspires (according to our view of the subject) to convey instruction through the