Sidor som bilder

The climate, as might be expected, is exceedingly unsteady; but Dr. Henderson did not consider the winter which he spent in Iceland as more severe than in the south of Scandinavia ; and was surprized to find the temperature of the atmosphere, not only less severe than that of the preceding winter in Denmark, but equal to that of the mildest which he had passed either in Denmark or Sweden.

* In the month of November, the mercury in Fahrenheit's thermometer did not sink lower than 20°, and it was nearly as often above the freezing point as below it. On the 6th of December, with clear weather and a light breeze from the east-north-east, it sunk to. 8° 30', after which, especially towards the end of the year, the weather became re- . markably mild, and continued in this state till near the middle of January; the thermometer for the most part between 349 and 40°. On the 10th and 11th of January it fell as low as 15° 30, but rose again in a short time, and continued much more frequently above than below the point of congelation till the 7th of March, when we had a strong wind from the N. N. W., and the mercury, which had stood the preceding day between 30° and 34°, sunk in the morning to 9° 30', at noon to 8°, and at nine o'clock in the evening it fell as low as 4° 30', which was the strongest degree of frost we had the whole winter. The following evening it was at 6o; on the 9th it rose to 10°; on the 10th to 19°; and so on till the 13th, when it got again to 32°, and continued for the most part above it the whole of the month. On the 12th of April it fell to 19°, but otherwise kept varying belween 32° and 52o. About the middle of May the atmosphere grew colder, occasioned most probably by the approach of some masses of Greenland ice, and on the 18th and several of the following days the mercury was at 29°?-pp. 352, 353.

These masses of Greenland ice' sometimes fill all the bays or firths, more especially those on the northern coast. In this calamitous visitation the weather becomes more unsettled; fogs, and a cold chilling atmosphere spread over the whole island, the little vegetation that may exist is totally destroyed, and the cattle perish from hunger—yet we are gravely assured that the presence of ice does not produce cold !* a doctrine that may, perhaps, surprize the simple Icelander, but will, we suspect, contribute little to his comfort. Did the author of this notable discovery never hear of seanien anticipating their approach to islands of ice, from the diminished temperature, long before they could be seen if not, we must then take the liberty of informing him, with Horatio, that

* The correctness of the writer's conclusions may be estimated from the accuracy with which his premises are stated. It may be shown that, under the Pole, the action of the solar light is, at the time of the solstice, under the Pole, one fourth part greater than at the equator, and sufficient, in the course of a day, to melt a sheet of ice an inch and a half thick.-(Ed, Rev. No. LIX, p. 11.) . It may be proved by experiment that, under the Pole itselt, the power of the sun at the solstice could, in the space of a week, melt a stra. tum of five inches of ice' (ib. p. 17.)—which can only mean (if, indeed, it means any thing) that the power of the sun is to the action of the solar light, as 5 to 101, or that 2 and 1 are the same thinga under the Pole.

V 3

• There

* There are more things in heaven and earth and sea,

Than are dreamt of in his philosophy.* Such is the physical sketch of that island, to which its first discoverer, Nadodd, in the ninth century, gave the appropriate name of Snæland, (the land of snow,) which was afterwards changed by Floki, a Norwegian pirate, like his predecessor, to that of Iceland (as some say) from a spirit of contradiction; his two companions, Heriolt and Thorolf, being so well satisfied with its appearance and productions, that the former depicted it as'a most delightful country;' and the latter, to convey an idea of its richness and fertility, asserted that butter dropped from every plant:'-it might, in fact, do so without making butter remarkably plentiful in Iceland.

We shall now take a concise view of the condition and character of the inhabitants of this extraordinary island. As its original settlers were voluntary exiles, who abandoned Norway from a dread of the tyranny of the ruling prince, the form of government adopted in their new abode was just the reverse of that which they had fled from; and its suitableness to the circumstances of the people may be inferred from its long continuance of nearly four hundred years.

* The existence and constitution of the Icelandic republic exhibit an interesting phenomenon in the history of man. We here behold a number of free and independent settlers, many of whom had been accustomed to rule in their native country, establishing a government on principles of the most perfect liberty, and, with the most consummate skill, enacting laws which were admirably adapted to the peculiar circumstances of the nation. Unintimidated by any foreign power, guided solely by their own natural genius, and uninfluenced by any other principle than the love of liberty, security, and independence, they combined their interests and their energies in support of a political system, at once calculated to protect the rights of individuals, and inspire the community at large with sentiments of exalted patriotism.'- Int. p. 24.

In the year 1261 their liberties were somewhat abridged by becoming tributaries to their original country; but they expressly stipulated that they should be allowed to retain their ancient laws and privileges, and that they should be exempt from all taxes. In 1387 they were transferred to Denmark, but no alteration took place; nor are we aware of any material change in their internal polity from that period till the year 1800, when the Althing, or general assembly of the island was abrogated, and a supreme court,

* Sir George Mackenzie has given the register of the thermometer, and remarks on the weather, furnished by Mr. Fell in the winter of 1810, when the Greenland ice beset nearly two-thirds of the whole island, and the consequence was one of the most dreadful winters that was ever known; and get, though the gales of wind were terrible, and snow and hail fell in abundance, the mercury never descended lower than 6°, and but

zero, a point to which it has descended in England. It exhibits, however,' as Sir George observes, ! a dismal picture of an Icelandic winter, and rouses the most lively feelings of compassion for the condition of the inhabitants of so desolate a region.'




tied up

tonsisting of a chief justice, two assessors, and a secretary, substituted in its room,

from which an appeal lies to the high court in Denmark. In ancient times the punishment for murder was hanging; for child-murder, drowning; and for witchcraft, burning. At present the only punishment inflicted on the island is fine, imprison: ment, and whipping ; if a capital crime should occur, which is extremely rare, they are obliged to sevd the criminal to Denmark to suffer the sentence of the law, as no person could be found on the whole island to carry it into execution. When Sir Joseph Banks was in Iceland in 1772, the clergyman of Thingvalla, then fifty years


told him that he remembered in his youth the execution of a woman for the murder of an illegitimate child. She was drowned in a part of the river, under a cascade. •The criminal was

in a sack which came over her head, and reached as far down as the middle of her legs, a rope was then fastened to her, and held by an executioner on the opposite bank; after standing an hour in that situation, she was pulled into the water, and kept under with a pole till she was dead.'*

The original settlers not only constructed temples, and instituted the same rites to Thor which prevailed in their native country, but carried over with them the wood of their Norwegian temples, and the very

earth on which their altars had stood. Little more, however, than a century had elapsed from the first colonization of the island before several attempts were made froin Norway to introduce the Christian religion among its inhabitants, but with indifferent success. At last, in the year 1000, two exiles of the names of Hialti and Gissur returned to Iceland with the full determination of advocating the cause of Christianity,' even at the risk of life. They proceeded to the general assembly then sitting, accompanied by seven men dressed in sacerdotal garments, and carrying large crosses in their hands. While engaged in pointing out the superiority of Christianity to paganism, intelligence was brought to the assembly that a neighbouring mountain was vomiting out flames, which the heathen immediately ascribed to the wrath of the deities at the attempt to subvert the ancient faith. 'Can it be matter of surprize,' they exclaimed, that the gods should be angry at such speeches as those we have just heard ! One of the pagans however, Snorro Goda by name, from a conviction perhaps of the truth of what he had heard, pertinently replied, 'What then was the cause of the anger of the gods when the very lava on which we now stand was burning ?’t From this time it was agreed that paganism should be abolished, and the religion of Christ adopted in its stead. All

Sir J. Bankes's MS. Journal. t.Quid igitur excanduerunt dii, cum scopulus cui nunc insistimus conflagravit ?' Olufsen und Povelsen, from the Kristni-Saga. U4


that was stipulated for, on the part of the idolaters, was, that those who chose might worship their gods in private, eat horse-flesh, and expose infants. There was some difficulty with regard to the rite of baptism, from a reluctance of the natives to be plunged into cold water, but this was got over by immersing them in one of the hot springs. Monks and convents now began to abound, and a yearly tribute was exacted from the people by the see of Rome. The religion remained catholic till the year.1540, when the doctrines of the Reformation were introduced, and continue to the present day,

There does not probably exist a more meritorious set of men than the clergy of Iceland, nor any who are so wretchedly paid for their clerical functions. The richest living,' says Dr. Henderson,' does not produce two hundred rix-dollars, twenty and thirty rix-dollars are the whole of the stipend annexed to many of the parishes, and there are some in which it is even as low as five.' The bishoprics of Skalholt and Holum were united in the year 1797, and an episcopal see was erected at Reykiavik for the whole island. They have one archdeacon, eighteen provosts or deans, one hundred and eighty-four parish livings, and more than three hundred churches : what these are may be collected from the brief description of the first that occurred to Dr. Henderson—that of Moss Fell. The church is built of wood, has a coat of turf around the sides, and the roof consists of the same material. It has only two small windows at the east end, and a skylight to the south ; and the whole structure does not exceed thirteen feet in length and nine in breadth.'—(p. 26). As the clergy could not possibly subsist on the scanty provision allowed them, they have, each, their sheep and cattle farms, and perform all kinds of manual labour, such as shoeing horses, mowing grass, cutting peat, &c. Their own concerns however are very rarely allowed to interfere with their clerical duties, in the discharge of which they are laudably punctual, and particularly attentive to the moral and religious education of their young parishioners. Every clergyman keeps a register of the age, condition, character, conduct, and abisity of every person within his parish, for the inspection of the dean at his annual visitation.

The good effects of this pastoral care are most sensibly felt by all who have visited this interesting island. In the midst of the physical horrors with which they are surrounded, steeped,' as they are,

în poverty to the very lips,' the general state of mental cultivation, and the diffusion of knowledge among the inhabitants, have no parallel in any nation even in Europe: nor is this owing altogether to the attention of the clergy, or to the institution of public schools; for there is but one on the island; yet it is exceedingly rare,' says Dr. Henderson, to meet with a boy or girl, who has attained the


age of nine or ten years, that cannot read and write with ease. Domestic education is most rigidly attended to; and it is no uncom+ mon thing to hear youths repeat passages from the Greek and Latin authors, who have never been farther than a few miles from the place where they were born; nor do I scarcely ever recollect entering a hut, where I did not find some individual or another capable of entering into a conversation with me, on topics which would be reckoned altogether above the understandings of people in the same rank of society in other countries of Europe. Of the state of general intelligence and information, a striking instance was afforded in a peasant, on the very northernmost part of the island, to whom our author read the letter of the King of Persia to Sir Gore Ousely relative to the Persian New Testament. • Having mentioned that it was dated in the year 1229, a little boy, who was standing behind us, observed, that " it must be a very old letter"_“ No my lad,"replied the peasant, turning to him, "You must recollect that letter is not written according to our computation; it is dated agreeably to the Hegirah.”—vol. ii. p. 222.

The Icelanders are a very moral and religious people, and punctual in the performance of both public and private exercises of devotion; and this,' says Sir George Mackenzie, even amidst the numerous obstacles, which are afforded by the nature of the country, and the climate under which they live. The Sabbath scene at an Icelandic church is indeed one of the most singular and interesting kind. The little edifice, constructed of wood and turf, is situated perhaps amid the rugged ruins of a stream of lava, or beneath mountains which are covered with never melting snows; in a spot where the mind almost sinks under the silence and desolation of surrounding nature. Here the Icelanders assemble to perform the duties of their religion. A group of male and female peasants may be seen gathered about the church, waiting the arrival of their pastor; all habited in their best attire, after the manner of the country; their children with them; and the horses, which brought them from their respective homes, grazing quietly around the little assembly. The arrival of a new-comer is welcomed by every one with a kiss of salutation; and the pleasures of social intercourse, so rarely enjoyed by the Icelanders, are happily connected with the occasion which summons them to the discharge of their religious duties. The priest makes his appearance among them as a friend: he salutes individually each member of his flock, and stoops down to give his almost parental kiss to the little ones, who are to grow up under bis pastoral charge. These offices of kindness performed, they all go together into the house of prayer.'

• Their predominant character,' Dr. Henderson says, 'is that of unsuspecting frankness, pious contentment, and a steady liveliness of


« FöregåendeFortsätt »