A Visit to Iceland and the Scandinavian North Translated from German
Madame Ida Pfeiffer

Part 2 out of 5

fortune. But, alas, tempests and snow-storms too often overtake the
unfortunate boatmen! The sea is lashed into foam, and mighty waves
overwhelm boats and fishermen together, and they perish inevitably.
It is seldom that the father of a family embarks in the same boat
with his sons. They divide themselves among different parties, in
order that, if one boat founder, the whole family may not be

I found the cottages of the peasants at Reikjavik smaller, and in
every respect worse provided, than those at Havenfiord. This seems,
however, to be entirely owing to the indolence of the peasants
themselves; for stones are to be had in abundance, and every man is
his own builder. The cows and sheep live through the winter in a
wretched den, built either in the cottage itself or in its immediate
neighbourhood. The horses pass the whole year under the canopy of
heaven, and must find their own provender. Occasionally only the
peasant will shovel away the snow from a little spot, to assist the
poor animals in searching for the grass or moss concealed beneath.
It is then left to the horses to finish clearing away the snow with
their feet. It may easily be imagined that this mode of treatment
tends to render them very hardy; but the wonder is, how the poor
creatures manage to exist through the winter on such spare diet, and
to be strong and fit for work late in the spring and in summer.
These horses are so entirely unused to being fed with oats, that
they will refuse them when offered; they are not even fond of hay.

As I arrived in Iceland during the early spring, I had an
opportunity of seeing the horses and sheep in their winter garments.
The horses seemed to be covered, not with hair, but with a thick
woolly coat; their manes and tails are very long, and of surprising
thickness. At the end of May or the beginning of June the tail and
mane are docked and thinned, their woolly coat falls of itself, and
they then look smooth enough. The sheep have also a very thick coat
during the winter. It is not the custom to shear them, but at the
beginning of June the wool is picked off piece by piece with the
hand. A sheep treated in this way sometimes presents a very comical
appearance, being perfectly naked on one side, while on the other it
is still covered with wool.

The horses and cows are considerably smaller than those of our
country. No one need journey so far north, however, to see stunted
cattle. Already, in Galicia, the cows and horses of the peasants
are not a whit larger or stronger than those in Iceland. The
Icelandic cows are further remarkable only for their peculiarly
small horns; the sheep are also smaller than ours.

Every peasant keeps horses. The mode of feeding them is, as already
shewn, very simple; the distances are long, the roads bad, and large
rivers, moorlands, and swamps must frequently be passed; so every
one rides, both men, women, and children. The use of carriages is
as totally unknown throughout the island as in Syria.

The immediate vicinity of Reikjavik is pretty enough. Some of the
townspeople go to much trouble and expense in sometimes collecting
and sometimes breaking the stones around their dwellings. With the
little ground thus obtained they mix turf, ashes, and manure, until
at length a soil is formed on which something will grow. But this
is such a gigantic undertaking, that the little culture bestowed on
the spots wholly neglected by nature cannot be wondered at. Herr
Bernhoft shewed me a small meadow which he had leased for thirty
years, at an annual rent of thirty kreutzers. In order, however, to
transform the land he bought into a meadow, which yields winter
fodder for only one cow, it was necessary to expend more than 150
florins, besides much personal labour and pains. The rate of wages
for peasants is very high when compared with the limited wants of
these people: they receive thirty or forty kreutzers per diem, and
during the hay-harvest as much as a florin.

For a long distance round the town the ground consists of stones,
turf, and swamps. The latter are mostly covered with hundreds upon
hundreds of great and small mounds of firm ground. By jumping from
one of these mounds to the next, the entire swamp may be crossed,
not only without danger, but dry-footed.

In spite of all this, one of these swamps put me in a position of
much difficulty and embarrassment during one of my solitary
excursions. I was sauntering quietly along, when suddenly a little
butterfly fluttered past me. It was the first I had seen in this
country, and my eagerness to catch it was proportionately great. I
hastened after it; thought neither of swamp nor of danger, and in
the heat of the chase did not observe that the mounds became every
moment fewer and farther between. Soon I found myself in the middle
of the swamp, and could neither advance nor retreat. Not a human
being could I descry; the very animals were far from me; and this
circumstance confirmed me as to the dangerous nature of the ground.
Nothing remained for me but to fix my eyes upon one point of the
landscape, and to step out boldly towards it. I was often obliged
to hazard two or three steps into the swamp itself, in order to gain
the next acclivity, upon which I would then stand triumphantly, to
determine my farther progress. So long as I could distinguish
traces of horses' hoofs, I had no fear; but even these soon
disappeared, and I stood there alone in the morass. I could not
remain for ever on my tower of observation, and had no resource but
to take to the swamp once more. I must confess that I experienced a
very uncomfortable feeling of apprehension when my foot sank
suddenly into the soft mud; but when I found that it did not rise
higher than the ankles, my courage returned; I stepped out boldly,
and was fortunate enough to escape with the fright and a thorough

The most arduous posts in the country are those of the medical men
and clergymen. Their sphere of action is very enlarged,
particularly that of the medical man, whose practice sometimes
extends over a distance of eighty to a hundred miles. When we add
to this the severity of the winter, which lasts for seven or eight
months, it seems marvellous that any one can be found to fill such a

In winter the peasants often come with shovels, pickaxes, and horses
to fetch the doctor. They then go before him, and hastily repair
the worst part of the road; while the doctor rides sometimes on one
horse, sometimes on another, that they may not sink under the
fatigue. And thus the procession travels for many, many miles,
through night and fog, through storm and snow, for on the doctor's
promptitude life and death often hang. When he then returns, quite
benumbed, and half dead with cold, to the bosom of his family, in
the expectation of rest and refreshment, and to rejoice with his
friends over the dangers and hardships he has escaped, the poor
doctor is frequently compelled to set off at once on a new and
important journey, before he has even had time to greet the dear
ones at home.

Sometimes he is sent for by sea, where the danger is still greater
on the storm-tost element.

Though the salary of the medical men is not at all proportionate to
the hardships they are called upon to undergo, it is still far
better than that of the priests.

The smallest livings bring in six to eight florins annually, the
richest 200 florins. Besides this, the government supplies for each
priest a house, often not much better than a peasant's cottage, a
few meadows, and some cattle. The peasants are also required to
give certain small contributions in the way of hay, wool, fish, &c.
The greater number of priests are so poor, that they and their
families dress exactly like the peasants, from whom they can
scarcely be distinguished. The clergyman's wife looks after the
cattle, and milks cows and ewes like a maid-servant; while her
husband proceeds to the meadow, and mows the grass with the
labourer. The intercourse of the pastor is wholly confined to the
society of peasants; and this constitutes the chief element of that
"patriarchal life" which so many travellers describe as charming. I
should like to know which of them would wish to lead such a life!

The poor priest has, besides, frequently to officiate in two, three,
or even four districts, distant from four to twelve miles from his
residence. Every Sunday he must do duty at one or other of these
districts, taking them in turn, so that divine service is only
performed at each place once in every three or four weeks. The
journeys of the priest, however, are not considered quite so
necessary as those of the doctor; for if the weather is very bad on
Sundays, particularly during the winter, he can omit visiting the
most distant places. This is done the more readily, as but few of
the peasants would be at church; all who lived at a distance
remaining at home.

The Sysselmann (an officer similar to that of the sheriff of a
county) is the best off. He has a good salary with little to do,
and in some places enjoys in addition the "strand-right," which is
at times no inconsiderable privilege, from the quantity of drift
timber washed ashore from the American continent.

Fishing and the chase are open to all, with the exception of the
salmon-fisheries in the rivers; these are farmed by the government.
Eider-ducks may not be shot, under penalty of a fine. There is no
military service, for throughout the whole island no soldiers are
required. Even Reikjavik itself boasts only two police-officers.

Commerce is also free; but the islanders possess so little
commercial spirit, that even if they had the necessary capital, they
would never embark in speculation.

The whole commerce of Iceland thus lies in the hands of Danish
merchants, who send their ships to the island every year, and have
established factories in the different ports where the retail trade
is carried on.

These ships bring every thing to Iceland, corn, wood, wines,
manufactured goods, and colonial produce, &c. The imports are free,
for it would not pay the government to establish offices, and give
servants salaries to collect duties upon the small amount of produce
required for the island. Wine, and in fact all colonial produce,
are therefore much cheaper than in other countries.

The exports consist of fish, particularly salted cod, fish-roe,
tallow, train-oil, eider-down, and feathers of other birds, almost
equal to eider-down in softness, sheep's wool, and pickled or salted
lamb. With the exception of the articles just enumerated, the
Icelanders possess nothing; thirteen years ago, when Herr Knudson
established a bakehouse, {31} he was compelled to bring from
Copenhagen, not only the builder, but even the materials for
building, stones, lime, &c.; for although the island abounds with
masses of stone, there are none which can be used for building an
oven, or which can be burnt into lime: every thing is of lava.

Two or three cottages situated near each other are here dignified by
the name of a "place." These places, as well as the separate
cottages, are mostly built on little acclivities, surrounded by
meadows. The meadows are often fenced in with walls of stone or
earth, two or three feet in height, to prevent the cows, sheep, and
horses from trespassing upon them to graze. The grass of these
meadows is made into hay, and laid up as a winter provision for the

I did not hear many complaints of the severity of the cold in
winter; the temperature seldom sinks to twenty degrees below zero;
the sea is sometimes frozen, but only a few feet from the shore.
The snowstorms and tempests, however, are often so violent, that it
is almost impossible to leave the house. Daylight lasts only for
five or six hours, and to supply its place the poor Icelanders have
only the northern light, which is said to illumine the long nights
with a brilliancy truly marvellous.

The summer I passed in Iceland was one of the finest the inhabitants
had known for years. During the month of June the thermometer often
rose at noon to twenty degrees. The inhabitants found this heat so
insupportable, that they complained of being unable to work or to go
on messages during the day-time. On such warm days they would only
begin their hay-making in the evening, and continued their work half
the night.

The changes in the weather are very remarkable. Twenty degrees of
heat on one day would be followed by rain on the next, with a
temperature of only five degrees; and on the 5th of June, at eight
o'clock in the morning, the thermometer stood at one degree below
zero. It is also curious that thunderstorms happen in Iceland in
winter, and are said never to occur during the summer.

From the 16th or 18th of June to the end of the month there is no
night. The sun appears only to retire for a short time behind a
mountain, and forms sunset and morning-dawn at the same time. As on
one side the last beam fades away, the orb of day re-appears at the
opposite one with redoubled splendour.

During my stay in Iceland, from the 15th of May to the 29th of July,
I never retired to rest before eleven o'clock at night, and never
required a candle. In May, and also in the latter portion of the
month of July, there was twilight for an hour or two, but it never
became quite dark. Even during the last days of my stay, I could
read until half-past ten o'clock. At first it appeared strange to
me to go to bed in broad daylight; but I soon accustomed myself to
it, and when eleven o'clock came, no sunlight was powerful enough to
cheat me of my sleep. I found much pleasure in walking at night, at
past ten o'clock, not in the pale moonshine, but in the broad blaze
of the sun.

It was a much more difficult task to accustom myself to the diet.
The baker's wife was fully competent to superintend the cooking
according to the Danish and Icelandic schools of the art; but
unfortunately these modes of cookery differ widely from ours. One
thing only was good, the morning cup of coffee with cream, with
which the most accomplished gourmand could have found no fault:
since my departure from Iceland I have not found such coffee. I
could have wished for some of my dear Viennese friends to breakfast
with me. The cream was so thick, that I at first thought my hostess
had misunderstood me, and brought me curds. The butter made from
the milk of Icelandic cows and ewes did not look very inviting, and
was as white as lard, but the taste was good. The Icelanders,
however, find the taste not sufficiently "piquant," and generally
qualify it with train-oil. Altogether, train-oil plays a very
prominent part in the Icelandic kitchen; the peasant considers it a
most delicious article, and thinks nothing of devouring a quantity
of it without bread, or indeed any thing else. {32}

I did not at all relish the diet at dinner; this meal consisted of
two dishes, namely, boiled fish, with vinegar and melted butter
instead of oil, and boiled potatoes. Unfortunately I am no admirer
of fish, and now this was my daily food. Ah, how I longed for beef-
soup, a piece of meat, and vegetables, in vain! As long as I
remained in Iceland, I was compelled quite to give up my German
system of diet.

After a time I got on well enough with the boiled fish and potatoes,
but I could not manage the delicacies of the island. Worthy Madame
Bernhoft, it was so kindly meant on her part; and it was surely not
her fault that the system of cookery in Iceland is different from
ours; but I could not bring myself to like the Icelandic delicacies.
They were of different kinds, consisting sometimes of fishes, hard-
boiled eggs, and potatoes chopped up together, covered with a thick
brown sauce, and seasoned with pepper, sugar, and vinegar; at
others, of potatoes baked in butter and sugar. Another delicacy was
cabbage chopped very small, rendered very thin by the addition of
water, and sweetened with sugar; the accompanying dish was a piece
of cured lamb, which had a very unpleasant "pickled" flavour.

On Sundays we sometimes had "Prothe Grutze," properly a Scandinavian
dish, composed of fine sago boiled to a jelly, with currant-juice or
red wine, and eaten with cream or sugar. Tapfen, a kind of soft
cheese, is also sometimes eaten with cream and sugar.

In the months of June and July the diet improved materially. We
could often procure splendid salmon, sometimes roast lamb, and now
and then birds, among which latter dainties the snipes were
particularly good. In the evening came butter, cheese, cold fish,
smoked lamb, and eggs of eider-ducks, which are coarser than hen's
eggs. In time I became so accustomed to this kind of food, that I
no longer missed either soup or beef, and felt uncommonly well.

My drink was always clear fresh water; the gentlemen began their
dinner with a small glass of brandy, and during the meal all drank
beer of Herr Bernhoft's own brewing, which was very good. On
Sundays, a bottle of port or Bordeaux sometimes made its appearance
at our table; and as we fared at Herr Bernhoft's, so it was the
custom in the houses of all the merchants and officials.

At Reikjavik I had an opportunity of witnessing a great religious
ceremony. Three candidates of theology were raised to the
ministerial office. Though the whole community here is Lutheran,
the ceremonies differ in many respects from those of the continent
of Europe, and I will therefore give a short sketch of what I saw.
The solemnity began at noon, and lasted till four o'clock. I
noticed at once that all the people covered their faces for a moment
on entering the church, the men with their hats, and the women with
their handkerchiefs. Most of the congregation sat with their faces
turned towards the altar; but this rule had its exceptions. The
vestments of the priests were the same as those worn by our
clergymen, and the commencement of the service also closely
resembled the ritual of our own Church; but soon this resemblance
ceased. The bishop stepped up to the altar with the candidates, and
performed certain ceremonies; then one would mount the pulpit and
read part of a sermon, or sing a psalm, while the other clergymen
sat round on chairs, and appeared to listen; then a second and a
third ascended the pulpit, and afterwards another sermon was
preached from the altar, and another psalm sung; then a sermon was
again read from the pulpit. While ceremonies were performed at the
altar, the sacerdotal garments were often put on and taken off
again. I frequently thought the service was coming to a close, but
it always began afresh, and lasted, as I said before, until four
o'clock. The number of forms surprised me greatly, as the ritual of
the Lutheran Church is in general exceedingly simple.

On this occasion a considerable number of the country people were
assembled, and I had thus a good opportunity of noticing their
costumes. The dresses worn by the women and girls are all made of
coarse black woollen stuffs. The dress consists of a long skirt, a
spencer, and a coloured apron. On their heads they wear a man's
nightcap of black cloth, the point turned downwards, and terminating
in a large tassel of wool or silk, which hangs down to the shoulder.
Their hair is unbound, and reaches only to the shoulder: some of
the women wear it slightly curled. I involuntarily thought of the
poetical descriptions of the northern romancers, who grow
enthusiastic in praise of ideal "angels' heads with golden tresses."
The hair is certainly worn in this manner here, and our poets may
have borrowed their descriptions from the Scandinavians. But the
beautiful faces which are said to beam forth from among those golden
locks exist only in the poet's vivid imagination.

Ornamental additions to the costume are very rare. In the whole
assembly I only noticed four women who were dressed differently from
the others. The cords which fastened their spencers, and also their
girdles, were ornamented with a garland worked in silver thread.
Their skirts were of fine black cloth, and decorated with a border
of coloured silk a few inches broad. Round their necks they wore a
kind of stiff collar of black velvet with a border of silver thread,
and on their heads a black silk handkerchief with a very strange
addition. This appendage consisted of a half-moon fastened to the
back of the head, and extending five or six inches above the
forehead. It was covered with white lawn arranged in folds; its
breadth at the back of the head did not exceed an inch and a half,
but in front it widened to five or six inches.

The men, I found, were clothed almost like our peasants. They wore
small-clothes of dark cloth, jackets and waistcoats, felt hats, or
fur caps; and instead of boots a kind of shoe of ox-hide, sheep, or
seal-skin, bound to the feet by a leather strap. The women, and
even the children of the officials, all wear shoes of this

It was very seldom that I met people so wretchedly and poorly clad
as we find them but too often in the large continental towns. I
never saw any one without good warm shoes and stockings.

The better classes, such as merchants, officials, &c. are dressed in
the French style, and rather fashionably. There is no lack of silk
and other costly stuffs. Some of these are brought from England,
but the greater part come from Denmark.

On the king's birthday, which is kept every year at the house of the
Stiftsamtmann, the festivities are said to be very grand; on this
occasion the matrons appear arrayed in silk, and the maidens in
white jaconet; the rooms are lighted with wax tapers.

Some speculative genius or other has also established a sort of club
in Reikjavik. He has, namely, hired a couple of rooms, where the
townspeople meet of an evening to discuss "tea-water," bread and
butter, and sometimes even a bottle of wine or a bowl of punch. In
winter the proprietor gives balls in these apartments, charging 20
kr. for each ticket of admission. Here the town grandees and the
handicraftsmen, in fact all who choose to come, assemble; and the
ball is said to be conducted in a very republican spirit. The
shoemaker leads forth the wife of the Stiftsamtmann to the dance,
while that official himself has perhaps chosen the wife or daughter
of the shoemaker or baker for his partner. The refreshments consist
of "tea-water" and bread and butter, and the room is lighted with
tallow candles. The music, consisting of a kind of three-stringed
violin and a pipe, is said to be exquisitely horrible.

In summer the dignitaries make frequent excursions on horse-back;
and on these occasions great care is taken that there be no lack of
provisions. Commonly each person contributes a share: some bring
wine, others cake; others, again, coffee, and so on. The ladies use
fine English side-saddles, and wear elegant riding-habits, and
pretty felt hats with green veils. These jaunts, however, are
confined to Reikjavik; for, as I have already observed, there is,
with the exception of this town, no place in Iceland containing more
than two or three stores and some half-dozen cottages.

To my great surprise, I found no less than six square piano-fortes
belonging to different families in Reikjavik, and heard waltzes by
our favourite composers, besides variations of Herz, and some pieces
of Liszt, Wilmers, and Thalberg. But such playing! I do not think
that these talented composers would have recognised their own works.

In conclusion, I must offer a few remarks relative to the travelling
in this country.

The best time to choose for this purpose is from the middle of June
to the end of August at latest. Until June the rivers are so
swollen and turbulent, by reason of the melting snows, as to render
it very dangerous to ride through them. The traveller must also
pass over many a field of snow not yet melted by the sun, and
frequently concealing chasms and masses of lava; and this is
attended with danger almost as great. At every footstep the
traveller sinks into the snow; and he may thank his lucky stars if
the whole rotten surface does not give way. In September the
violent storms of wind and rain commence, and heavy falls of snow
may be expected from day to day.

A tent, provisions, cooking utensils, pillows, bed-clothes, and warm
garments, are highly necessary for the wayfarer's comfort. This
paraphernalia would have been too expensive for me to buy, and I was
unprovided with any thing of the kind; consequently I was forced to
endure the most dreadful hardships and toil, and was frequently
obliged to ride an immense distance to reach a little church or a
cottage, which would afford me shelter for the night. My sole food
for eight or ten days together was often bread and cheese; and I
generally passed the night upon a chest or a bench, where the cold
would often prevent my closing my eyes all night.

It is advisable to be provided with a waterproof cloak and a
sailor's tarpaulin hat, as a defence against the rain, which
frequently falls. An umbrella would be totally useless, as the rain
is generally accompanied by a storm, or, at any rate, by a strong
wind; when we add to this, that it is necessary in some places to
ride quickly, it will easily be seen that holding an umbrella open
is a thing not to be thought of.

Altogether I found the travelling in this country attended with far
more hardship than in the East. For my part, I found the dreadful
storms of wind, the piercing air, the frequent rain, and the cold,
much less endurable than the Oriental heat, which never gave me
either cracked lips or caused scales to appear on my face. In
Iceland my lips began to bleed on the fifth day; and afterwards the
skin came off my face in scales, as if I had had the scrofula.
Another source of great discomfort is to be found in the long
riding-habit. It is requisite to be very warmly clad; and the heavy
skirts, often dripping with rain, coil themselves round the feet of
the wearer in such a manner, as to render her exceedingly awkward
either in mounting or dismounting. The worst hardship of all,
however, is the being obliged to halt to rest the horses in a meadow
during the rain. The long skirts suck up the water from the damp
grass, and the wearer has often literally not a dry stitch in all
her garments.

Heat and cold appear in this country to affect strangers in a
remarkable degree. The cold seemed to me more piercing, and the
heat more oppressive in Iceland, than when the thermometer stood at
the same points in my native land.

In summer the roads are marvellously good, so that one can generally
ride at a pretty quick pace. They are, however, impracticable for
vehicles, partly because they are too narrow, and partly also on
account of some very bad places which must occasionally be
encountered. On the whole island not a single carriage is to be

The road is only dangerous when it leads through swamps and moors,
or over fields of lava. Among these fields, such as are covered
with white moss are peculiarly to be feared, for the moss frequently
conceals very dangerous holes, into which the horse can easily
stumble. In ascending and descending the hills very formidable
spots sometimes oppose the traveller's progress. The road is at
times so hidden among swamps and bogs, that not a trace of it is to
be distinguished, and I could only wonder how my guide always
succeeded in regaining the right path. One could almost suppose
that on these dangerous paths both horse and man are guided by a
kind of instinct.

Travelling is more expensive in Iceland than any where else,
particularly when one person travels alone, and must bear all the
expense of the baggage, the guide, ferries, &c. Horses are not let
out on hire, they must be bought. They are, however, very cheap; a
pack-horse costs from eighteen to twenty-four florins, and a riding-
horse from forty to fifty florins. To travel with any idea of
comfort it is necessary to have several pack-horses, for they must
not be heavily laden; and an additional servant must likewise be
hired, as the guide only looks after the saddle-horses, and, at
most, one or two of the pack-horses. If the traveller, at the
conclusion of the journey, wishes to sell the horses, such a
wretchedly low price is offered, that it is just as well to give
them away at once. This is a proof of the fact that men are every
where alike ready to follow up their advantage. These people are
well aware that the horses must be left behind at any rate, and
therefore they will not bid for them. I must confess that I found
the character of the Icelanders in every respect below the estimate
I had previously formed of it, and still further below the standard
given in books.

In spite of their scanty food, the Icelandic horses have a
marvellous power of endurance; they can often travel from thirty-
five to forty miles per diem for several consecutive days. But the
only difficulty is to keep the horse moving. The Icelanders have a
habit of continually kicking their heels against the poor beast's
sides; and the horse at last gets so accustomed to this mode of
treatment, that it will hardly go if the stimulus be discontinued.
In passing the bad pieces of road it is necessary to keep the bridle
tight in hand, or the horse will stumble frequently. This and the
continual urging forward of the horse render riding very fatiguing.

Not a little consideration is certainly required before undertaking
a journey into the far north; but nothing frightened me,--and even
in the midst of the greatest dangers and hardships I did not for one
moment regret my undertaking, and would not have relinquished it
under any consideration.

I made excursions to every part of Iceland, and am thus enabled to
place before my readers, in regular order, the chief curiosities of
this remarkable country. I will commence with the immediate
neighbourhood of Reikjavik.


May 25th.

Stiftsamtmann von H- was today kind enough to pay me a visit, and to
invite me to join his party for a ride to the great lake Vatne. I
gladly accepted the invitation, for, according to the description
given by the Stiftsamtmann, I hoped to behold a very Eden, and
rejoiced at the prospect of observing the recreations of the higher
classes, and at the same time gaining many acquisitions in specimens
of plants, butterflies, and beetles. I resolved also to test the
capabilities of the Icelandic horses more thoroughly than I had been
able to do during my first ride from Havenfiord to Reikjavik, as I
had been obliged on that occasion to ride at a foot-pace, on account
of my old guide.

The hour of starting was fixed for two o'clock. Accustomed as I am
to strict punctuality, I was ready long before the appointed time,
and at two o'clock was about to hasten to the place of rendezvous,
when my hostess informed me I had plenty of time, for Herr von H-
was still at dinner. Instead of meeting at two o'clock, we did not
assemble until three, and even then another quarter of an hour
elapsed before the cavalcade started. Oh, Syrian notions of
punctuality and dispatch! Here, almost at the very antipodes, did I
once more greet ye.

The party consisted of the nobility and the town dignitaries. Among
the former class may be reckoned Stiftsamtmann von H- and his lady;
a privy councillor, Herr von B-, who had been sent from Copenhagen
to attend the "Allthing" (political assembly); and a Danish baron,
who had accompanied the councillor. I noticed among the town
dignitaries the daughter and wife of the apothecary, and the
daughters of some merchants resident here.

Our road lay through fields of lava, swamps, and very poor grassy
patches, in a great valley, swelling here and there into gentle
acclivities, and shut in on three sides by several rows of
mountains, towering upwards in the most diversified shapes. In the
far distance rose several jokuls or glaciers, seeming to look
proudly down upon the mountains, as though they asked, "Why would ye
draw men's eyes upon you, where we glisten in our silver sheen?" In
the season of the year at which I beheld them, the glaciers were
still very beautiful; not only their summits, but their entire
surface, as far as visible, being covered with snow. The fourth
side of the valley through which we travelled was washed by the
ocean, which melted as it were into the horizon in immeasurable
distance. The coast was dotted with small bays, having the
appearance of so many lakes.

As the road was good, we could generally ride forward at a brisk
pace. Occasionally, however, we met with small tracts on which the
Icelandic horse could exercise its sagacity and address. My horse
was careful and free from vice; it carried me securely over masses
of stone and chasms in the rocks, but I cannot describe the
suffering its trot caused me. It is said that riding is most
beneficial to those who suffer from liver-complaints. This may be
the case; but I should suppose that any one who rode upon an
Icelandic horse, with an Icelandic side-saddle, every day for the
space of four weeks, would find, at the expiration of that time, her
liver shaken to a pulp, and no part of it remaining.

All the rest of the party had good English saddles, mine alone was
of Icelandic origin. It consisted of a chair, with a board for the
back. The rider was obliged to sit crooked upon the horse, and it
was impossible to keep a firm seat. With much difficulty I trotted
after the others, for my horse would not be induced to break into a

At length, after a ride of an hour and a half, we reached a valley.
In the midst of a tolerably green meadow I descried what was, for
Iceland, a farm of considerable dimensions, and not far from this
farm was a very small lake. I did not dare to ask if this was the
GREAT lake Vatne, or if this was the delicious prospect I had been
promised, for my question would have been taken for irony. I could
not refrain from wonder when Herr von H- began praising the
landscape as exquisite, and farther declaring the effect of the lake
to be bewitching. I was obliged, for politeness' sake, to
acquiesce, and leave them in the supposition that I had never seen a
larger lake nor a finer prospect.

We now made a halt, and the whole party encamped in the meadow.
While the preparations for a social meal were going on, I proceeded
to satisfy my curiosity.

The peasant's house first attracted my attention. I found it to
consist of one large chamber, and two of smaller size, besides a
storeroom and extensive stables, from which I judged that the
proprietor was rich in cattle. I afterwards learnt that he owned
fifty sheep, eight cows, and five horses, and was looked upon as one
of the richest farmers in the neighbourhood. The kitchen was
situated at the extreme end of the building, and was furnished with
a chimney that seemed intended only as a protection against rain and
snow, for the smoke dispersed itself throughout the whole kitchen,
drying the fish which hung from the ceiling, and slowly making its
exit through an air-hole.

The large apartment boasted a wooden bookshelf, containing about
forty volumes. Some of these I turned over, and in spite of my
limited knowledge of the Danish language, could make out enough to
discover that they were chiefly on religious subjects. But the
farmer seemed also to love poetry; among the works of this class in
his library, I noticed Kleist, Muller, and even Homer's Odyssey. I
could make nothing of the Icelandic books; but on inquiring their
contents, I was told that they all treated of religious matters.

After inspecting these, I walked out into the meadow to search for
flowers and herbs. Flowers I found but few, as it was not the right
time of the year for them; my search for herbs was more successful,
and I even found some wild clover. I saw neither beetles nor
butterflies; but, to my no small surprise, heard the humming of two
wild bees, one of which I was fortunate enough to catch, and took
home to preserve in spirits of wine.

On rejoining my party, I found them encamped in the meadow around a
table, which had in the meantime been spread with butter, cheese,
bread, cake, roast lamb, raisins and almonds, a few oranges, and
wine. Neither chairs nor benches were to be had, for even wealthy
peasants only possess planks nailed to the walls of their rooms; so
we all sat down upon the grass, and did ample justice to the capital
coffee which made the commencement of the meal. Laughter and jokes
predominated to such an extent, that I could have fancied myself
among impulsive Italians instead of cold Northmen.

There was no lack of wit; but to-day I was unfortunately its butt.
And what was my fault?--only my stupid modesty. The conversation
was carried on in the Danish language; some members of our party
spoke French and others German, but I purposely abstained from
availing myself of their acquirements, in order not to disturb the
hilarity of the conversation. I sat silently among them, and was
perfectly contented in listening to their merriment. But my
behaviour was set down as proceeding from stupidity, and I soon
gathered from their discourse that they were comparing me to the
"stone guest" in Mozart's Don Giovanni. If these kind people had
only surmised the true reason of my keeping silence, they would
perhaps have thanked me for doing so.

As we sat at our meal, I heard a voice in the farmhouse singing an
Icelandic song. At a distance it resembled the humming of bees; on
a nearer approach it sounded monotonous, drawling, and melancholy.

While we were preparing for our departure, the farmer, his wife, and
the servants approached, and shook each of us by the hand. This is
the usual mode of saluting such HIGH people as we numbered among our
party. The true national salutation is a hearty kiss.

On my arrival at home the effect of the strong coffee soon began to
manifest itself. I could not sleep at all, and had thus ample
leisure to make accurate observations as to the length of the day
and of the twilight. Until eleven o'clock at night I could read
ordinary print in my room. From eleven till one o'clock it was
dusk, but never so dark as to prevent my reading in the open air.
In my room, too, I could distinguish the smallest objects, and even
tell the time by my watch. At one o'clock I could again read in my


The little island of Vidoe, four miles distant from Reikjavik, is
described by most travellers as the chief resort of the eider-duck.
I visited the island on the 8th of June, but was disappointed in my
expectations. I certainly saw many of these birds on the
declivities and in the chasms of the rocks, sitting quietly on their
nests, but nothing approaching the thousands I had been led to
expect. On the whole, I may perhaps have seen from one hundred to a
hundred and fifty nests.

The most remarkable circumstance connected with the eider-ducks is
their tameness during the period of incubation. I had always
regarded as myths the stories told about them in this respect, and
should do so still had I not convinced myself of the truth of these
assertions by laying hands upon the ducks myself. I could go quite
up to them and caress them, and even then they would not often leave
their nests. Some few birds, indeed, did so when I wished to touch
them; but they did not fly up, but contented themselves with coolly
walking a few paces away from the nest, and there sitting quietly
down until I had departed. But those which already had live young,
beat out boldly with their wings when I approached, struck at me
with their bills, and allowed themselves to be taken up bodily
rather than leave the nest. They are about the size of our ducks;
their eggs are of a greenish grey, rather larger than hen's eggs,
and taste very well. Altogether they lay about eleven eggs. The
finest down is that with which they line their nests at first; it is
of a dark grey colour. The Icelanders take away this down, and the
first nest of eggs. The poor bird now robs herself once more of a
quantity of down (which is, however, not of so fine a quality as the
first), and again lays eggs. For the second time every thing is
taken from her; and not until she has a third time lined the nest
with her down is the eider-duck left in peace. The down of the
second, and that of the third quality especially, are much lighter
than that of the first. I also was sufficiently cruel to take a few
eggs and some down out of several of the nests. {34}

I did not witness the dangerous operation of collecting this down
from between the clefts of rocks and from unapproachable precipices,
where people are let down, or to which they are drawn up, by ropes,
at peril of their lives. There are, however, none of these break-
neck places in the neighbourhood of Reikjavik.


I made another excursion to a very short distance (two miles) from
Reikjavik, in the company of Herr Bernhoft and his daughter, to the
Laxselv (salmon river) to witness the salmon-fishing, which takes
place every week from the middle of June to the middle of August.
It is conducted in a very simple manner. The fish come up the river
in the spawning season; the stream is then dammed up with several
walls of stone loosely piled to the height of some three feet; and
the retreat of the fish to the sea is thus cut off. When the day
arrives on which the salmon are to be caught, a net is spread behind
each of these walls. Three or four such dams are erected at
intervals, of from eighty to a hundred paces, so that even if the
fishes escape one barrier, they are generally caught at the next.
The water is now made to run off as much as possible; the poor
salmon dart to and fro, becoming every moment more and more aware of
the sinking of the water, and crowd to the weirs, cutting themselves
by contact with the sharp stones of which they are built. This is
the deepest part of the water; and it is soon so thronged with fish,
that men, stationed in readiness, can seize them in their hands and
fling them ashore.

The salmon possess remarkable swiftness and strength. The fisherman
is obliged to take them quickly by the head and tail, and to throw
them ashore, when they are immediately caught by other men, who
fling them still farther from the water. If this is not done with
great quickness and care, many of the fishes escape. It is
wonderful how these creatures can struggle themselves free, and leap
into the air. The fishermen are obliged to wear woollen mittens, or
they would be quite unable to hold the smooth salmon. At every
day's fishing, from five hundred to a thousand fish are taken, each
weighing from five to fifteen pounds. On the day when I was present
eight hundred were killed. This salmon-stream is farmed by a
merchant of Reikjavik.

The fishermen receive very liberal pay,--in fact, one-half of the
fish taken. And yet they are dissatisfied, and show so little
gratitude, as seldom to finish their work properly. So, for
instance, they only brought the share of the merchant to the harbour
of Reikjavik, and were far too lazy to carry the salmon from the
boat to the warehouse, a distance certainly not more than sixty or
seventy paces from the shore. They sent a message to their
employer, bidding him "send some fresh hands, for they were much too
tired." Of course, in a case like this, all remonstrance is

As in the rest of the world, so also in Iceland, every occasion that
offers is seized upon for a feast or a merry-making. The day on
which I witnessed the salmon-fishing happened to be one of the few
fine days that occur during a summer in Iceland. It was therefore
unanimously concluded by several merchants, that the day and the
salmon-fishing should be celebrated by a dejeuner a la fourchette.
Every one contributed something, and a plentiful and elegant
breakfast was soon arranged, which quite resembled an entertainment
of the kind in our country; this one circumstance excepted, that we
were obliged to seat ourselves on the ground, by reason of a
scarcity of tables and benches. Spanish and French wines, as well
as cold punch, were there in plenty, and the greatest hilarity

I made a fourth excursion, but to a very inconsiderable distance,--
in fact, only a mile and a half from Reikjavik. It was to see a hot
and slightly sulphurous spring, which falls into a river of cold
water. By this lucky meeting of extremes, water can be obtained at
any temperature, from the boiling almost to the freezing point. The
townspeople take advantage of this good opportunity in two ways, for
bathing and for washing clothes. The latter is undoubtedly the more
important purpose of application, and a hut has been erected, in
order to shield the poor people from wind and rain while they are at
work. Formerly this hut was furnished with a good door and with
glazed windows, and the key was kept at an appointed place in the
town, whence any one might fetch it. But the servants and peasant
girls were soon too lazy to go for the key; they burst open the
lock, and smashed the windows, so that now the hut has a very
ruinous appearance, and affords but little protection against the
weather. How much alike mankind are every where, and how seldom
they do right, except when it gives them no trouble, and then,
unfortunately, there is not much merit to be ascribed to them, as
their doing right is merely the result of a lucky chance! Many
people also bring fish and potatoes, which they have only to lay in
the hot water, and in a short time both are completely cooked.

This spring is but little used for the purpose of bathing; at most
perhaps by a few children and peasants. Its medicinal virtues, if
it possesses any, are completely unknown.


The 4th of June was fixed for my departure. I had only to pack up
some bread and cheese, sugar and coffee, then the horses were
saddled, and at seven o'clock the journey was happily commenced. I
was alone with my guide, who, like the rest of his class, could not
be considered as a very favourable specimen of humanity. He was
very lazy, exceedingly self-interested, and singularly loath to
devote any part of his attention either to me or to the horses,
preferring to concentrate it upon brandy, an article which can
unfortunately be procured throughout the whole country.

I had already seen the district between Reikjavik and Havenfiord at
my first arrival in Iceland. At the present advanced season of the
year it wore a less gloomy aspect: strawberry-plants and violets,--
the former, however, without blossoms, and the latter inodorous,--
were springing up between the blocks of lava, together with
beautiful ferns eight or ten inches high. In spite of the trifling
distance, I noticed, as a rule, that vegetation was here more
luxuriant than at Reikjavik; for at the latter place I had found no
strawberry-plants, and the violets were not yet in blossom. This
difference in the vegetation is, I think, to be ascribed to the high
walls of lava existing in great abundance round Havenfiord; they
protect the tender plants and ferns from the piercing winds. I
noticed that both the grass and the plants before mentioned throve
capitally in the little hollows formed by masses of lava.

A couple of miles beyond Havenfiord I saw the first birch-trees,
which, however, did not exceed two or three feet in height, also
some bilberry-plants. A number of little butterflies, all of one
colour, and, as it seemed to me, of the same species, fluttered
among the shrubs and plants.

The manifold forms and varied outline of the lava-fields present a
remarkable and really a marvellous appearance. Short as this
journey is--for ten hours are amply sufficient for the trip to
Krisuvik,--it presents innumerable features for contemplation. I
could only gaze and wonder. I forgot every thing around me, felt
neither cold nor storm, and let my horse pick his way as slowly as
he chose, so that I had once almost become separated from my guide.

One of the most considerable of the streams of lava lay in a
spacious broad valley. The lava-stream itself, about two miles
long, and of a considerable breadth, traversing the whole of the
plain, seemed to have been called into existence by magic, as there
was no mountain to be seen in the neighbourhood from which it could
have emerged. It appeared to be the covering of an immense crater,
formed, not of separate stones and blocks, but of a single and
slightly porous mass of rock ten or twelve feet thick, broken here
and there by clefts about a foot in breadth.

Another, and a still larger valley, many miles in circumference, was
filled with masses of lava shaped like waves, reminding the beholder
of a petrified sea. From the midst rose a high black mountain,
contrasting beautifully with the surrounding masses of light-grey
lava. At first I supposed the lava must have streamed forth from
this mountain, but soon found that the latter was perfectly smooth
on all sides, and terminated in a sharp peak. The remaining
mountains which shut in the valley were also perfectly closed, and I
looked in vain for any trace of a crater.

We now reached a small lake, and soon afterwards arrived at a larger
one, called Kleinfarvatne. Both were hemmed in by mountains, which
frequently rose abruptly from the waters, leaving no room for the
passage of the horses. We were obliged sometimes to climb the
mountains by fearfully dizzy paths; at others to scramble downwards,
almost clinging to the face of the rock. At some points we were
even compelled to dismount from our horses, and scramble forward on
our hands and knees. In a word, these dangerous points, which
extended over a space of about seven miles, were certainly quite as
bad as any I had encountered in Syria; if any thing, they were even
more formidable.

I was, however, assured that I should have no more such places to
encounter during all my further journeys in Iceland, and this
information quite reconciled me to the roads in this country. For
the rest, the path was generally tolerably safe even during this
tour, which continually led me across fields of lava.

A journey of some eight-and-twenty miles brought us at length into a
friendly valley; clouds of smoke, both small and great, were soon
discovered rising from the surrounding heights, and also from the
valley itself; these were the sulphur-springs and sulphur-mountains.

I could hardly restrain my impatience while we traversed the couple
of miles which separated us from Krisuvik. A few small lakes were
still to be crossed; and at length, at six o'clock in the evening,
we reached our destination.

With the exception of a morsel of bread and cheese, I had eaten
nothing since the morning; still I could not spare time to make
coffee, but at once dismounted, summoned my guide, and commenced my
pilgrimage to the smoking mountains. At the outset our way lay
across swampy places and meadow lands; but soon we had to climb the
mountains themselves, a task rendered extremely difficult by the
elastic, yielding soil, in which every footstep imprinted itself
deeply, suggesting to the traveller the unpleasant possibility of
his sinking through,--a contingency rendered any thing but agreeable
by the neighbourhood of the boiling springs. At length I gained the
summit, and saw around me numerous basins filled with boiling water,
while on all sides, from hill and valley, columns of vapour rose out
of numberless clefts in the rocks. From a cleft in one rock in
particular a mighty column of vapour whirled into the air. On the
windward side I could approach this place very closely. The ground
was only lukewarm in some places, and I could hold my hand for
several moments to the gaps from which steam issued. No trace of a
crater was to be seen. The bubbling and hissing of the steam, added
to the noise of the wind, occasioned such a deafening clamour, that
I was very glad to feel firmer ground beneath my feet, and to leave
the place in haste. It really seemed as if the interior of the
mountain had been a boiling caldron. The prospect from these
mountains is very fine. Numerous valleys and mountains innumerable
offered themselves to my view, and I could even discern the isolated
black rock past which I had ridden five or six hours previously.

I now commenced my descent into the valley; at a few hundred paces
the bubbling and hissing were already inaudible. I supposed that I
had seen every thing worthy of notice; but much that was remarkable
still remained. I particularly noticed a basin some five or six
feet in diameter, filled with boiling mud. This mud has quite the
appearance of fine clay dissolved in water; its colour was a light

From another basin, hardly two feet in diameter, a mighty column of
steam shot continually into the air with so much force and noise
that I started back half stunned, and could have fancied the vault
of heaven would burst. This basin is situated in a corner of the
valley, closely shut in on three sides by hills. In the
neighbourhood many hot springs gushed forth; but I saw no columns of
water, and my guide assured me that such a phenomenon was never
witnessed here.

There is more danger in passing these spots than even in traversing
the mountains. In spite of the greatest precautions, I frequently
sank in above the ankles, and would then draw back with a start, and
find my foot covered with hot mud. From the place where I had
broken through, steam and hot mud, or boiling water, rose into the

Though my guide, who walked before me, carefully probed the ground
with his stick, he several times sank through half-way to the knee.
These men are, however, so much accustomed to contingencies of this
kind that they take little account of them. My guide would quietly
repair to the next spring and cleanse his clothes from mud. As I
was covered with it to above the ankles, I thought it best to follow
his example.

For excursions like these it is best to come provided with a few
boards, five or six feet in length, with which to cover the most
dangerous places.

At nine o'clock in the evening, but yet in the full glare of the
sun, we arrived at Krisuvik. I now took time to look at this place,
which I found to consist of a small church and a few miserable huts.

I crept into one of these dens; it was so dark that a considerable
time elapsed before I could distinguish objects, the light was only
admitted through a very small aperture. I found in this hut a few
persons who were suffering from the eruption called "lepra," a
disease but too commonly met with in Iceland. Their hands and faces
were completely covered with this eruption; if it spreads over the
whole body the patient languishes slowly away, and is lost without

Churches are in this country not only used for purposes of public
worship, but also serve as magazines for provisions, clothes, &c.,
and as inns for travellers. I do not suppose that a parallel
instance of desecration could be met with even among the most
uncivilised nations. I was assured, indeed, that these abuses were
about to be remedied. A reform of this kind ought to have been
carried out long ago; and even now the matter seems to remain an
open point; for wherever I came the church was placed at my disposal
for the night, and every where I found a store of fish, tallow, and
other equally odoriferous substances.

The little chapel at Krisuvik is only twenty-two feet long by ten
broad; on my arrival it was hastily prepared for my reception.
Saddles, ropes, clothes, hats, and other articles which lay
scattered about, were hastily flung into a corner; mattresses and
some nice soft pillows soon appeared, and a very tolerable bed was
prepared for me on a large chest in which the vestments of the
priest, the coverings of the altar, &c., were deposited. I would
willingly have locked myself in, eaten my frugal supper, and
afterwards written a few pages of my diary before retiring to rest;
but this was out of the question. The entire population of the
village turned out to see me, old and young hastened to the church,
and stood round in a circle and gazed at me.

Irksome as this curiosity was, I was obliged to endure it patiently,
for I could not have sent these good people away without seriously
offending them; so I began quietly to unpack my little portmanteau,
and proceeded to boil my coffee over a spirit-lamp. A whispering
consultation immediately began; they seemed particularly struck by
my mode of preparing coffee, and followed every one of my movements
with eager eyes. My frugal meal dispatched, I resolved to try the
patience of my audience, and, taking out my journal, began to write.
For a few minutes they remained quiet, then they began to whisper
one to another, "She writes, she writes," and this was repeated
numberless times. There was no sign of any disposition to depart; I
believe I could have sat there till doomsday, and failed to tire my
audience out. At length, after this scene had lasted a full hour, I
could stand it no longer, and was fain to request my amiable
visitors to retire, as I wished to go to bed.

My sleep that night was none of the sweetest. A certain feeling of
discomfort always attaches to the fact of sleeping in a church
alone, in the midst of a grave-yard. Besides this, on the night in
question such a dreadful storm arose that the wooden walls creaked
and groaned as though their foundations were giving way. The cold
was also rather severe, my thermometer inside the church shewing
only two degrees above zero. I was truly thankful when approaching
day brought with it the welcome hour of departure.

June 5th.

The heavy sleepiness and extreme indolence of an Icelandic guide
render departure before seven o'clock in the morning a thing not to
be thought of. This is, however, of little consequence, as there is
no night in Iceland at this time of year.

Although the distance was materially increased by returning to
Reikjavik by way of Grundivik and Keblevik, I chose this route in
order to pass through the wildest of the inhabited tracts in

The first stage, from Krisuvik to Grundivik, a distance of twelve to
fourteen miles, lay through fields of lava, consisting mostly of
small blocks of stone and fragments, filling the valley so
completely that not a single green spot remained. I here met with
masses of lava which presented an appearance of singular beauty.
They were black mounds, ten or twelve feet in height, piled upon
each other in the most varied forms, their bases covered with a
broad band of whitish-coloured moss, while the tops were broken into
peaks and cones of the most fantastic shapes. These lava-streams
seem to date from a recent period, as the masses are somewhat scaly
and glazed.

Grundivik, a little village of a few wretched cottages, lies like an
oasis in this desert of lava.

My guide wished to remain here, asserting that there was no place
between this and Keblevik where I could pass the night, and that it
would be impossible for our horses, exhausted as they were with
yesterday's march, to carry us to Keblevik that night. The true
reason of this suggestion was that he wished to prolong the journey
for another day.

Luckily I had a good map with me, and by dint of consulting it could
calculate distances with tolerable accuracy; it was also my custom
before starting on a journey to make particular inquiries as to how
I should arrange the daily stages.

So I insisted upon proceeding at once; and soon we were wending our
way through fields of lava towards Stad, a small village six or
seven miles distant from Grundivik.

On the way I noticed a mountain of most singular appearance. In
colour it closely resembled iron; its sides were perfectly smooth
and shining, and streaks of the colour of yellow ochre traversed it
here and there.

Stad is the residence of a priest. Contrary to the assertions of my
guide, I found this place far more cheerful and habitable than
Grundivik. Whilst our horses were resting, the priest paid me a
visit, and conducted me, not, as I anticipated, into his house, but
into the church. Chairs and stools were quickly brought there, and
my host introduced his wife and children to me, after which we
partook of coffee, bread and cheese, &c. On the rail surrounding
the altar hung the clothes of the priest and his family, differing
little in texture and make from those of the peasants.

The priest appeared to be a very intelligent, well-read man. I
could speak the Danish language pretty fluently, and was therefore
able to converse with him on various subjects. On hearing that I
had already been in Palestine, he put a number of questions to me,
from which I could plainly see that he was alike well acquainted
with geography, history, natural science, &c. He accompanied me
several miles on my road, and we chatted away the time very

The distance between Krisuvik and Keblevik is about forty-two miles.
The road lies through a most dreary landscape, among vast desert
plains, frequently twenty-five to thirty miles in circumference,
entirely divested of all traces of vegetation, and covered
throughout their extreme area by masses of lava--gloomy monuments of
volcanic agency. And yet here, at the very heart of the
subterranean fire, I saw only a single mountain, the summit of which
had fallen in, and presented the appearance of a crater. The rest
were all completely closed, terminating sometimes in a beautiful
round top, and sometimes in sharp peaks; in other instances they
formed long narrow chains.

Who can tell whence these all-destroying masses of lava have poured
forth, or how many hundred years they have lain in these petrified

Keblevik lies on the sea-coast; but the harbour is insecure, so that
ships remain here at anchor only so long as is absolutely necessary;
there are frequently only two or three ships in the harbour.

A few wooden houses, two of which belong to Herr Knudson, and some
peasants' cottages, are the only buildings in this little village.
I was hospitably received, and rested from the toils of the day at
the house of Herr Siverson, Herr Knudson's manager.

On the following day (June 6th) I had a long ride to Reikjavik,
thirty-six good miles, mostly through fields of lava.

The whole tract of country from Grundivik almost to Havenfiord is
called "The lava-fields of Reikianes."

Tired and almost benumbed with cold, I arrived in the evening at
Reikjavik, with no other wish than to retire to rest as fast as

In these three days I had ridden 114 miles, besides enduring much
from cold, storms, and rain. To my great surprise, the roads had
generally been good; there were, however, many places highly
dangerous and difficult.

But what mattered these fatigues, forgotten, as they were, after a
single night's rest? What were they in comparison to the unutterably
beautiful and marvellous phenomena of the north, which will remain
ever present to my imagination so long as memory shall be spared me?

The distances of this excursion were: From Reikjavik to Krisuvik,
37 miles; from Krisuvik to Keblevik, 39 miles; from Keblevik to
Reikjavik, 38 miles: total, 114 miles.


As the weather continued fine, I wished to lose no time in
continuing my wanderings. I had next to make a tour of some 560
miles; it was therefore necessary that I should take an extra horse,
partly that it might carry my few packages, consisting of a pillow,
some rye-bread, cheese, coffee, and sugar, but chiefly that I might
be enabled to change horses every day, as one horse would not have
been equal to the fatigue of so long a journey.

My former guide could not accompany me on my present journey, as he
was unacquainted with most of the roads. My kind protectors, Herr
Knudson and Herr Bernhoft, were obliging enough to provide another
guide for me; a difficult task, as it is a rare occurrence to find
an Icelander who understands the Danish language, and who happens to
be sober when his services are required. At length a peasant was
found who suited our purpose; but he considered two florins per diem
too little pay, so I was obliged to give an additional zwanziger.
On the other hand, it was arranged that the guide should also take
two horses, in order that he might change every day.

The 16th of June was fixed for the commencement of our journey.
From the very first day my guide did not shew himself in an amiable
point of view. On the morning of our departure his saddle had to be
patched together, and instead of coming with two horses, he appeared
with only one. He certainly promised to buy a second when we should
have proceeded some miles, adding that it would be cheaper to buy
one at a little distance from the "capital." I at once suspected
this was merely an excuse of the guide's, and that he wished thereby
to avoid having the care of four horses. The event proved I was
right; not a single horse could be found that suited, and so my poor
little animal had to carry the guide's baggage in addition to my

Loading the pack-horses is a business of some difficulty, and is
conducted in the following manner: sundry large pieces of dried
turf are laid upon the horse's back, but not fastened; over these is
buckled a round piece of wood, furnished with two or three pegs. To
these pegs the chests and packages are suspended. If the weight is
not quite equally balanced, it is necessary to stop and repack
frequently, for the whole load at once gets askew.

The trunks used in this country are massively constructed of wood,
covered with a rough hide, and strengthened on all sides with nails,
as though they were intended to last an eternity. The poor horses
have a considerable weight to bear in empty boxes alone, so that
very little real luggage can be taken. The weight which a horse has
to carry during a long journey should never exceed 150lbs.

It is impossible to remember how many times our baggage had to be
repacked during a day's journey. The great pieces of turf would
never stay in their places, and every moment something was wrong.
Nothing less than a miracle, however, can prevail on an Icelander to
depart from his regular routine. His ancestors packed in such and
such a manner, and so he must pack also. {35}

We had a journey of above forty miles before us the first day, and
yet, on account of the damaged saddle, we could not start before
eight o'clock in the morning.

The first twelve or fourteen miles of our journey lay through the
great valley in which Reikjavik is situated; the valley contains
many low hills, some of which we had to climb. Several rivers,
chief among which was the Laxselv, opposed our progress, but at this
season of the year they could be crossed on horseback without
danger. Nearly all the valleys through which we passed to-day were
covered with lava, but nevertheless offered many beautiful spots.

Many of the hills we passed seemed to me to be extinct volcanoes;
the whole upper portion was covered with colossal slabs of lava, as
though the crater had been choked up with them. Lava of the same
description and colour, but in smaller pieces, lay strewed around.

For the first twelve or fourteen miles the sea is visible from the
brow of every successive hill. The country is also pretty generally
inhabited; but afterwards a distance of nearly thirty miles is
passed, on which there is not a human habitation. The traveller
journeys from one valley into another, and in the midst of these
hill-girt deserts sees a single small hut, erected for the
convenience of those who, in the winter, cannot accomplish the long
distance in one day, and must take up their quarters for the night
in the valley. No one must, however, rashly hope to find here a
human being in the shape of a host. The little house is quite
uninhabited, and consists only of a single apartment with four naked
walls. The visitor must depend on the accommodation he carries with

The plains through which we travelled to-day were covered throughout
with one and the same kind of lava. It occurs in masses, and also
in smaller stones, is not very porous, of a light grey colour, and
mixed, in many instances, with sand or earth.

Some miles from Thingvalla we entered a valley, the soil of which is
fine, but nevertheless only sparingly covered with grass, and full
of little acclivities, mostly clothed with delicate moss. I have no
doubt that the indolence of the inhabitants alone prevents them from
materially improving many a piece of ground. The worst soil is that
in the neighbourhood of Reikjavik; yet there we see many a garden,
and many a piece of meadow-land, wrung, as it were, from the barren
earth by labour and pains. Why should not the same thing be done
here--the more so as nature has already accomplished the preliminary

Thingvalla, our resting-place for to-night, is situated on a lake of
the same name, and only becomes visible when the traveller is close
upon it. The lake is rather considerable, being almost three miles
in length, and at some parts certainly more than two miles in
breadth; it contains two small islands,--Sandey and Nesey.

My whole attention was still riveted by the lake and its naked and
gloomy circle of mountains, when suddenly, as if by magic, I found
myself standing on the brink of a chasm, into which I could scarcely
look without a shudder; involuntarily I thought of Weber's
Freyschutz and the "Wolf's Hollow." {36}

The scene is the more startling from the circumstance that the
traveller approaching Thingvalla in a certain direction sees only
the plains beyond this chasm, and has no idea of its existence. It
was a fissure some five or six fathoms broad, but several hundred
feet in depth; and we were forced to descend by a small, steep,
dangerous path, across large fragments of lava. Colossal blocks of
stone, threatening the unhappy wanderer with death and destruction,
hang loosely, in the form of pyramids and of broken columns, from
the lofty walls of lava, which encircle the whole long ravine in the
form of a gallery. Speechless, and in anxious suspense, we descend
a part of this chasm, hardly daring to look up, much less to give
utterance to a single sound, lest the vibration should bring down
one of these avalanches of stone, to the terrific force of which the
rocky fragments scattered around bear ample testimony. The
distinctness with which echo repeats the softest sound and the
lightest footfall is truly wonderful.

The appearance presented by the horses, which are allowed to come
down the ravine after their masters have descended, is most
peculiar. One could fancy they were clinging to the walls of rock.

This ravine is known by the name of Almanagiau. Its entire length
is about a mile, but a small portion only can be traversed; the rest
is blocked up by masses of lava heaped one upon the other. On the
right hand, the rocky wall opens, and forms an outlet, over
formidable masses of lava, into the beautiful valley of Thingvalla.
I could have fancied I wandered through the depths of a crater,
which had piled around itself these stupendous barriers during a
mighty eruption in times long gone by.

The valley of Thingvalla is considered one of the most beautiful in
Iceland. It contains many meadows, forming, as it were, a place of
refuge for the inhabitants, and enabling them to keep many head of
cattle. The Icelanders consider this little green valley the finest
spot in the world. Not far from the opening of the ravine, on the
farther bank of the river Oxer, lies the little village of
Thingvalla, consisting of three or four cottages and a small chapel.
A few scattered farms and cottages are situated in the

Thingvalla was once one of the most important places in Iceland; the
stranger is still shewn the meadow, not far from the village, on
which the Allthing (general assembly) was held annually in the open
air. Here the people and their leaders met, pitching their tents
after the manner of nomads. Here it was also that many an opinion
and many a decree were enforced by the weight of steel.

The chiefs appeared, ostensibly for peace, at the head of their
tribe; yet many of them returned not again, but beneath the sword-
stroke of their enemies obtained that peace which no man seeketh,
but which all men find.

On one side the valley is skirted by the lake, on the other it is
bounded by lofty mountains, some of them still partly covered with
snow. Not far from the entrance of the ravine, the river Oxer
rushes over a wall of rock of considerable height, forming a
beautiful waterfall.

It was still fine clear daylight when I reached Thingvalla, and the
sky rose pure and cloudless over the far distance. It seemed
therefore the more singular to me to see a few clouds skimming over
the surface of the mountains, now shrouding a part of them in
vapour, now wreathing themselves round their summits, now vanishing
entirely, to reappear again at a different point.

This is a phenomenon frequently observed in Iceland during the
finest days, and one I had often noticed in the neighbourhood of
Reikjavik. Under a clear and cloudless sky, a light mist would
appear on the brow of a mountain,--in a moment it would increase to
a large cloud, and after remaining stationary for a time, it
frequently vanished suddenly, or soared slowly away. However often
it may be repeated, this appearance cannot fail to interest the

Herr Beck, the clergyman at Thingvalla, offered me the shelter of
his hut for the night; as the building, however, did not look much
more promising than the peasants' cottages by which it was
surrounded, I preferred quartering myself in the church, permission
to do so being but too easily obtained on all occasions. This
chapel is not much larger than that at Krisuvik, and stands at some
distance from the few surrounding cottages. This was perhaps the
reason why I was not incommoded by visitors. I had already
conquered any superstitious fears derived from the proximity of my
silent neighbours in the churchyard, and passed the night quietly on
one of the wooden chests of which I found several scattered about.
Habit is certainly every thing; after a few nights of gloomy
solitude one thinks no more about the matter.

June 17th.

Our journey of to-day was more formidable than that of yesterday. I
was assured that Reikholt (also called Reikiadal) was almost fifty
miles distant. Distances cannot always be accurately measured by
the map; impassable barriers, only to be avoided by circuitous
routes, often oppose the traveller's progress. This was the case
with us to-day. To judge from the map, the distance from Thingvalla
to Reikholt seemed less by a great deal than that from Reikjavik to
Thingvalla, and yet we were full fourteen hours accomplishing it--
two hours longer than on our yesterday's journey.

So long as our way lay through the valley of Thingvalla there was no
lack of variety. At one time there was an arm of the river Oxer to
cross, at another we traversed a cheerful meadow; sometimes we even
passed through little shrubberies,--that is to say, according to the
Icelandic acceptation of the term. In my country these lovely
shrubberies would have been cleared away as useless underwood. The
trees trail along the ground, seldom attaining a height of more than
two feet. When one of these puny stems reaches four feet in height,
it is considered a gigantic tree. The greater portion of these
miniature forests grow on the lava with which the valley is covered.

The formation of the lava here assumes a new character. Up to this
point it has mostly appeared either in large masses or in streams
lying in strata one above the other; but here the lava covered the
greater portion of the ground in the form of immense flat slabs or
blocks of rock, often split in a vertical direction. I saw long
fissures of eight or ten feet in breadth, and from ten to fifteen
feet in depth. In these clefts the flowers blossom earlier, and the
fern grows taller and more luxuriantly, than in the boisterous upper

After the valley of Thingvalla has been passed the journey becomes
very monotonous. The district beyond is wholly uninhabited, and we
travelled many miles without seeing a single cottage. From one
desert valley we passed into another; all were alike covered with
light-grey or yellowish lava, and at intervals also with fine sand,
in which the horses sunk deeply at every step. The mountains
surrounding these valleys were none of the highest, and it was
seldom that a jokul or glacier shone forth from among them. The
mountains had a certain polished appearance, their sides being
perfectly smooth and shining. In some instances, however, masses of
lava formed beautiful groups, bearing a great resemblance to ruins
of ancient buildings, and standing out in peculiarly fine relief
from the smooth walls.

These mountains are of different colours; they are black or brown,
grey or yellow, &c.; and the different shades of these colours are
displayed with marvellous effect in the brilliant sunshine.

Nine hours of uninterrupted riding brought us into a large tract of
moorland, very scantily covered with moss. Yet this was the first
and only grazing-place to be met with in all the long distance from
Thingvalla. We therefore made a halt of two hours, to let our poor
horses pick a scanty meal. Large swarms of minute gnats, which
seemed to fly into our eyes, nose, and mouth, annoyed us dreadfully
during our stay in this place.

On this moor there was also a small lake; and here I saw for the
first time a small flock of swans. Unfortunately these creatures
are so very timid, that the most cautious approach of a human being
causes them to rise with the speed of lightning into the air. I was
therefore obliged perforce to be content with a distant view of
these proud birds. They always keep in pairs, and the largest flock
I saw did not consist of more than four such pairs.

Since my first arrival in Iceland I had considered the inhabitants
an indolent race of people; to-day I was strengthened in my opinion
by the following slight circumstance. The moorland on which we
halted to rest was separated from the adjoining fields of lava by a
narrow ditch filled with water. Across this ditch a few stones and
slabs had been laid, to form a kind of bridge. Now this bridge was
so full of holes that the horses could not tell where to plant their
feet, and refused obstinately to cross it, so that in the end we
were obliged to dismount and lead them across. We had scarcely
passed this place, and sat down to rest, when a caravan of fifteen
horses, laden with planks, dried fish, &c. arrived at the bridge.
Of course the poor creatures observed the dangerous ground, and
could only be driven by hard blows to advance. Hardly twenty paces
off there were stones in abundance; but rather than devote a few
minutes to filling up the holes, these lazy people beat their horses
cruelly, and exposed them to the risk of breaking their legs. I
pitied the poor animals, which would be compelled to recross the
bridge, so heartily, that, after they are gone, I devoted a part of
my resting-time to collecting stones and filling up the holes,--a
business which scarcely occupied me a quarter of an hour.

It is interesting to notice how the horses know by instinct the
dangerous spots in the stony wastes, and in the moors and swamps.
On approaching these places they bend their heads towards the earth,
and look sharply round on all sides. If they cannot discover a firm
resting-place for the feet, they stop at once, and cannot be urged
forward without many blows.

After a halt of two hours we continued our journey, which again led
us across fields of lava. At past nine o'clock in the evening we
reached an elevated plain, after traversing which for half an hour
we saw stretched at our feet the valley of Reikholt or Reikiadal; it
is fourteen to seventeen miles long, of a good breadth, and girt
round by a row of mountains, among which several jokuls sparkle in
their icy garments.

A sunset seen in the sublime wildness of Icelandic scenery has a
peculiarly beautiful effect. Over these vast plains, divested of
trees or shrubs, covered with dark lava, and shut in by mountains
almost of a sable hue, the parting sun sheds an almost magical
radiance. The peaks of the mountains shine in the bright parting
rays, the jokuls are shrouded in the most delicate roseate hue,
while the lower parts of the mountains lie in deep shadow, and frown
darkly on the valleys, which resemble a sheet of dark blue water,
with an atmosphere of a bluish-red colour floating above it. The
most impressive feature of all is the profound silence and solitude;
not a sound can be heard, not a living creature is to be seen; every
thing appears dead. Throughout the broad valleys not a town nor a
village, no, not even a solitary house or a tree or shrub, varies
the prospect. The eye wanders over the vast desert, and finds not
one familiar object on which it can rest.

To-night, as at past eleven o'clock we reached the elevated plain, I
saw a sunset which I shall never forget. The sun disappeared behind
the mountains, and in its stead a gorgeous ruddy gleam lighted up
hill and valley and glacier. It was long ere I could turn away my
eyes from the glittering heights, and yet the valley also offered
much that was striking and beautiful.

Throughout almost its entire length this valley formed a meadow,
from the extremities of which columns of smoke and boiling springs
burst forth. The mists had almost evaporated, and the atmosphere
was bright and clear, more transparent even than I had seen it in
any other country. I now for the first time noticed, that in the
valley itself the radiance was almost as clear as the light of day,
so that the most minute objects could be plainly distinguished.
This was, however, extremely necessary, for steep and dangerous
paths lead over masses of lava into the valley. On one side ran a
little river, forming many picturesque waterfalls, some of them
above thirty feet in height.

I strained my eyes in vain to discover any where, in this great
valley, a little church, which, if it only offered me a hard bench
for a couch, would at any rate afford me a shelter from the sharp
night-wind; for it is really no joke to ride for fifteen hours, with
nothing to eat but bread and cheese, and then not even to have the
pleasant prospect of a hotel a la villa de Londres or de Paris.
Alas, my wishes were far more modest. I expected no porter at the
gate to give the signal of my arrival, no waiter, and no
chambermaid; I only desired a little spot in the neighbourhood of
the dear departed Icelanders. I was suddenly recalled from these
happy delusions by the voice of the guide, who cried out: "Here we
are at our destination for to-night." I looked joyfully round;
alas! I could only see a few of those cottages which are never
observed until you almost hit your nose against one of them, as the
grass-covered walls can hardly be distinguished from the surrounding

It was already midnight. We stopped, and turned our horses loose,
to seek supper and rest in the nearest meadow. Our lot was a less
fortunate one. The inhabitants were already buried in deep
slumbers, from which even the barking set up by the dogs at our
approach failed to arouse them. A cup of coffee would certainly
have been very acceptable to me; yet I was loath to rouse any one
merely for this. A piece of bread satisfied my hunger, and a
draught of water from the nearest spring tasted most deliciously
with it. After concluding my frugal meal, I sought out a corner
beside a cottage, where I was partially sheltered from the too-
familiar wind; and wrapping my cloak around me, lay down on the
ground, having wished myself, with all my heart, a good night's rest
and pleasant dreams, in the broad daylight, {37} under the canopy of
heaven. Just dropping off to sleep, I was surprised by a mild rain,
which, of course, at once put to flight every idea of repose. Thus,
after all, I was obliged to wake some one up, to obtain the shelter
of a roof.

The best room, i.e. the store-room, was thrown open for my
accommodation, and a small wooden bedstead placed at my disposal.
Chambers of this kind are luckily found wherever two or three
cottages lie contiguous to each other; they are certainly far from
inviting, as dried fish, train-oil, tallow, and many other articles
of the same description combine to produce a most unsavoury
atmosphere. Yet they are infinitely preferable to the dwellings of
the peasants, which, by the by, are the most filthy dens that can be
imagined. Besides being redolent of every description of bad odour,
these cottages are infested with vermin to a degree which can
certainly not be surpassed, except in the dwellings of the
Greenlanders and Laplanders.

June 18th.

Yesterday we had been forced to put upon our poor horses a wearisome
distance of more than fifty miles, as the last forty miles led us
through desert and uninhabited places, boasting not even a single
cottage. To-day, however, our steeds had a light duty to perform,
for we only proceeded seven miles to the little village of
Reikiadal, where I halted to-day, in order to visit the celebrated

The inconsiderable village called Reikiadal, consisting only of a
church and a few cottages, is situated amidst pleasant meadows.
Altogether this valley is rich in beautiful meadow-lands;
consequently one sees many scattered homesteads and cottages, with
fine herds of sheep, and a tolerable number of horses; cows are less

The church at Reikiadal is among the neatest and most roomy of those
which came under my observation. The dwelling of the priest too,
though only a turf-covered cottage, is large enough for the comfort
of the occupants. This parish extends over a considerable area, and
is not thinly inhabited.

My first care on my arrival was to beg the clergyman, Herr Jonas
Jonason, to procure for me, as expeditiously as possible, fresh
horses and a guide, in order that I might visit the springs. He
promised to provide me with both within half an hour; and yet it was
not until three hours had been wasted, that, with infinite pains, I
saw my wish fulfilled. Throughout my stay in Iceland, nothing
annoyed me more than the slowness and unconcern displayed by the
inhabitants in all their undertakings. Every wish and every request
occupies a long time in its fulfilment. Had I not been continually
at the good pastor's side, I believe I should scarcely have attained
my object. At length every thing was ready, and the pastor himself
was kind enough to be my guide.

We rode about four miles through this beautiful vale, and in this
short distance were compelled at least six times to cross the river
Sidumule, which rolls its most tortuous course through the entire
valley. At length the first spring was reached; it emerges from a
rock about six feet in height, standing in the midst of a moor. The
upper cavity of the natural reservoir, in which the water
continually boils and seethes, is between two and three feet in
diameter. This spring never stops; the jet of water rises two, and
sometimes even four feet high, and is about eighteen inches thick.
It is possible to increase the volume of the jet for a few seconds,
by throwing large stones or lumps of earth into the opening, and
thus stirring up the spring. The stones are cast forcibly forth,
and the lumps of earth, dissolved by the action of the water, impart
to the latter a dingy colour.

Whoever has seen the jet of water at Carlsbad, in Bohemia, can well
imagine the appearance of this spring, which closely resembles that
of Carlsbad. {38}

In the immediate neighbourhood of the spring is an abyss, in which
water is continually seething, but never rises into the air. At a
little distance, on a high rock, rising out of the river Sidumule,
not far from the shore, are other springs. They are three in
number, each at a short distance from the next, and occupy nearly
the entire upper surface of the rock. Lower down we find a
reservoir of boiling water; and at the foot of the rock, and on the
nearest shore, are many more hot springs; but most of these are
inconsiderable. Many of these hot springs emerge almost from the
cold river itself.

The chief group, however, lies still farther off, on a rock which
may be about twenty feet in height, and fifty in length. It is
called Tunga Huer, and rises from the midst of a moor. On this rock
there are no less than sixteen springs, some emerging from its base,
others rather above the middle, but none from the top of the rock.

The construction of the basins and the height and diameter of the
jets were precisely similar to those I have already described. All
these sixteen springs are so near each other that they do not even
occupy two sides of the rock. It is impossible to form an idea of
the magnificence of this singular spectacle, which becomes really
fairy-like, if the beholder have the courage to climb the rock
itself, a proceeding of some danger, though of little difficulty.
The upper stratum of the rock is soft and warm, presenting almost
the appearance of mud thickened with sand and small stones. Every
footstep leaves a trace behind it, and the visitor has continually
before his eyes the fear of breaking through, and falling into a hot
spring hidden from view by a thin covering. The good pastor walked
in advance of me, with a stick, and probed the dangerous surface as
much as possible. I was loath to stay behind, and suddenly we found
ourselves at the summit of the rock. Here we could take in, at one
view, the sixteen springs gushing from both its sides. If the view
from below had been most interesting and singular, how shall I
describe its appearance as seen from above? Sixteen jets of water
seen at one glance, sixteen reservoirs, in all their diversity of
form and construction, opening at once beneath the feet of the
beholder, seemed almost too wonderful a sight. Forgetting all
pusillanimous feelings, I stood and honoured the Creator in these
his marvellous works. For a long time I stood, and could not tire
of gazing into the abysses from whose darkness the masses of white
and foaming water sprung hissing into the air, to fall again, and
hasten in quiet union towards the neighbouring river. The good
pastor found it necessary to remind me several times that our
position here was neither of the safest nor of the most comfortable,
and that it was therefore high time to abandon it. I had ceased to
think of the insecurity of the ground we trod, and scarcely noticed
the mighty clouds of hot vapour which frequently surrounded and
threatened to suffocate us, obliging us to step suddenly back with
wetted faces. It was fortunate that these waters contain but a very
small quantity of brimstone, otherwise we could scarcely have long
maintained our elevated position.

The rock from which these springs rise is formed of a reddish mass,
and the bed of the river into which the water flows is also
completely covered with little stones of the same colour.

On our way back we noticed, near a cottage, another remarkable
phenomenon. It was a basin, in whose depths the water boils and
bubbles violently; and near this basin are two unsightly holes, from
which columns of smoke periodically rise with a great noise. Whilst
this is going on, the basin fills itself more and more with water,
but never so much as to overflow, or to force a jet of water into
the air; then the steam and the noise cease in both cavities, and
the water in the reservoir sinks several feet.

This strange phenomenon generally lasts about a minute, and is
repeated so regularly, that a bet could almost be made, that the
rising and falling of the water, and the increased and lessened
noise of the steam, shall be seen and heard sixty or sixty-five
times within an hour.

In communication with this basin is another, situate at a distance
of about a hundred paces in a small hollow, and filled like the
former with boiling water. As the water in the upper basin
gradually sinks, and ceases to seethe, it begins to rise in the
lower one, and is at length forced two or three feet into the air;
then it falls again, and thus the phenomenon is continually repeated
in the upper and the lower basin alternately.

At the upper spring there is also a vapour-bath. This is formed by
a small chamber situate hard by the basin, built of stones and
roofed with turf. It is further provided with a small and narrow
entrance, which cannot be passed in an upright position. The floor
is composed of stone slabs, probably covering a hot spring, for they
are very warm. The person wishing to use this bath betakes himself
to this room, and carefully closes every cranny; a suffocating heat,
which induces violent perspiration over the whole frame, is thus
generated. The people, however, seldom avail themselves of this

On my return I had still to visit a basin with a jet of water, in a
fine meadow near the church; a low wall of stone has been erected
round this spring to prevent the cattle from scalding themselves if
they should approach too near in the ardour of grazing. Some eighty
paces off is to be seen the wool-bath erected by Snorri Sturluson.
It consists of a stone basin three or four feet in depth, and
eighteen or twenty in diameter. The approach is by a few steps
leading to a low stone bench, which runs round the basin. The water
is obtained from the neighbouring spring, but is of so high a
temperature that it is impossible to bathe without previously
cooling it. The bath stands in the open air, and no traces are left
of the building which once covered it. It is now used for clothes
and sheep's wool.

I had now seen all the interesting springs on this side of the
valley. Some columns of vapour, which may be observed from the
opposite end of the valley, proceed from thermal springs, that offer
no remarkable feature save their heat.

On our return the priest took me to the churchyard, which lay at
some distance from his dwelling, and showed me the principal graves.
Though I thought the sight very impressive, it was not calculated to
invigorate me, when I considered that I must pass the approaching
night alone in the church, amidst these resting-places of the

The mound above each grave is very high, and the greater part of
them are surmounted by a kind of wooden coffin, which at first sight
conveys the impression that the dead person is above ground. I
could not shake off a feeling of discomfort; and such is the power
of prejudice, that--I acknowledge my weakness--I was even induced to
beg that the priest would remove one of the covers. Though I knew
full well that the dead man was slumbering deep in the earth, and
not in this coffin, I felt a shudder pass over me as the lid was
removed, and I saw--as the priest had assured me I should do--merely
a tombstone with the usual inscription, which this coffin-like
covering is intended to protect against the rude storms of the

Close beside the entrance to the church is the mound beneath which
rest the bones of Snorri Sturluson, the celebrated poet; {39} over
this grave stands a small runic stone of the length of the mound
itself. This stone is said to have once been completely covered
with runic characters; but all trace of these has been swept away by
the storms of five hundred winters, against which the tomb had no
protecting coffin. The stone, too, is split throughout its entire
length into two pieces. The mound above the grave is often renewed,
so that the beholder could often fancy he saw a new-made grave. I
picked all the buttercups I could find growing on the grave, and
preserved them carefully in a book. Perhaps I may be able to give
pleasure to several of my countrywomen by offering them a floweret
from the grave of the greatest of Icelandic poets.

June 19th.

In order to pursue my journey without interruption, I hired fresh
horses, and allowed my own, which were rather fatigued, to accompany
us unloaded. My object in this further excursion was to visit the
very remarkable cavern of Surthellir, distant a good thirty-three
miles from this place. The clergyman was again kind enough to make
the necessary arrangements for me, and even to act as my Mentor on
the journey.

Though we were only three strong, we departed with a retinue of
seven horses, and for nearly ten miles rode back the same way by
which I had come from Reikholt on the preceding morning; then we
turned off to the left, and crossing hills and acclivities, reached
other valleys, which were partly traversed by beautiful streams of
lava, and partly interspersed with forests--FORESTS, as I have
already said, according to Icelandic notions. The separate stems
were certainly slightly higher than those in the valley of

At Kalmannstunga we left the spare horses, and took with us a man to
serve as guide in the cavern, from which we were now still some
seven miles distant. The great valley in which this cavern lies is
reckoned among the most remarkable in Iceland. It is a most perfect
picture of volcanic devastation. The most beautiful masses of lava,
in the most varied and picturesque forms, occupy the whole
immeasurable valley. Lava is to be seen there in a rough glassy
state, forming exquisite flames and arabesques; and in immense
slabs, lying sometimes scattered, sometimes piled in strata one
above the other, as though they had been cast there by a flood.
Among these, again, lie mighty isolated streams, which must have
been frozen in the midst of their course. From the different
colours of the lava, and their transitions from light grey to black,
we can judge of the eruptions which have taken place at different
periods. The mountains surrounding this valley are mostly of a
sombre hue; some are even black, forming a striking contrast to the
neighbouring jokuls, which, in their large expanse, present the
appearance almost of a sea of ice. I found one of these jokuls of a
remarkable size; its shining expanse extended far down into the
valley, and its upper surface was almost immeasurable.

The other mountains were all smooth, as though polished by art; in
the foreground I only noticed one which was covered with wonderful
forms of dried lava. A deathlike silence weighed on the whole
country round, on hill and on valley alike. Every thing seemed
dead, all round was barren and desert, so that the effect was truly
Icelandic. The greater portion of Iceland might be with justice
designated the "Northern Desert."

The cavern of Surthellir lies on a slightly elevated extended plain,
where it would certainly not be sought for, as we are accustomed to
see natural phenomena of this description only in the bowels of
rocks. It is, therefore, with no little surprise that the traveller
sees suddenly opening before him a large round basin about fifteen
fathoms in diameter, and four in depth. It was with a feeling of
awe that I looked downwards on the countless blocks of rock piled
one upon the other, extending on one side to the edge of the hollow,
across which the road led to the dark ravines farther on.

We were compelled to scramble forward on our hands and knees, until
we reached a long broad passage, which led us at first imperceptibly
downwards, and then ran underneath the plain, which formed a rocky
cavern above our heads. I estimated the different heights of this
roof at not less than from eighteen to sixty feet; but it seldom
reached a greater elevation than the latter. Both roof and walls
are in some places very pointed and rough: a circumstance to be
ascribed to the stalactites which adhere to them, without, however,
forming figures or long sharp points.

From this principal path several smaller ones lead far into the
interior of this stony region; but they do not communicate with each
other, and one is compelled to return from each side-path into the
main road. Some of these by-paths are short, narrow, and low;
others, on the contrary, are long, broad, and lofty.

In one of the most retired of these by-paths I was shewn a great
number of bones, which, I was told, were those of slaughtered sheep
and other animals. I could gather, from the account given by the
priest of the legend concerning them, that, in days of yore, this
cave was the resort of a mighty band of robbers. This must have
been a long, long time ago, as this is related as a legend or a

For my part, I could not tell what robbers had to do in Iceland.
Pirates had often come to the island; but for these gentry this
cavern was too far from the sea. I cannot even imagine beasts of
prey to have been there; for the whole country round about is desert
and uninhabited, so that they could have found nothing to prey upon.
In fact, I turned over in my mind every probability, and can only
say that it appeared to me a most remarkable circumstance to find in
this desert place, so far from any living thing, a number of bones,
which, moreover, looked as fresh as if the poor animals to whom they
once belonged had been eaten but a short time ago. Unfortunately I
could obtain no satisfactory information on this point.

It is difficult to imagine any thing more laborious than to wander
about in this cavern. As the road had shewed itself at the entrance
of the cavern, so it continued throughout its whole extent. The
path consisted entirely of loose fragments of lava heaped one upon
the other, over which we had to clamber with great labour. None of
us could afford to help the others; each one was fully occupied with
himself. There was not a single spot to be seen on which we could
have stood without holding fast at the same time with our hands. We
were sometimes obliged to seat ourselves on a stone, and so to slide
down; at others, to take hands and pull one another to the top of
high blocks of stone.

We came to several immense basins, or craters, which opened above
our heads, but were inaccessible, the sides being too steep for us
to climb. The light which entered through these openings was
scarcely enough to illumine the principal path, much less the
numerous by-paths.

At Kalmannstunga I had endeavoured to procure torches, but was
obliged to consider myself fortunate in getting a few tapers. It is
necessary to provide oneself with torches at Reikjavik.

The parts of the cavern beneath the open craters were still covered
with a considerable quantity of snow, by which our progress was
rendered very dangerous. We frequently sunk in, and at other times
caught our feet between the stones, so that we could scarcely
maintain our balance. In the by-paths situated near these openings
an icy rind had formed itself, which was now covered with water.
Farther on, the ice had melted; but it was generally very dirty, as
a stratum of sand mixed with water lay there in place of the stones.
The chief path alone was covered with blocks of lava; in the smaller
paths I found only strata of sand and small pieces of lava.

The magical illumination produced by the sun's rays shining through
one of these craters into the cavern produced a splendid effect.
The sun shone perpendicularly through the opening, spread a dazzling
radiance over the snow, and diffused a pale delicate light around
us. The effect of this point of dazzling light was the more
remarkable from its contrasting strongly with the two dark chasms,
from the first of which we had emerged to continue our journey
through the obscurity of the second.

This subterranean labyrinth is said to extend in different
directions for many miles. We explored a portion of the chief path
and several by-paths, and after a march of two hours returned
heartily tired to the upper world. We then rested a quarter of an
hour, and afterwards returned at a good round pace to Kalmannstunga.

Unfortunately I do not possess sufficient geognostic knowledge to be
able to set this cavern down as an extinct volcano. But in
travelling in a country where every hill and mountain, every thing
around, in fact, consists of lava, even the uninitiated in science
seeks to discover the openings whence these immense masses have
poured. The stranger curiously regards the top of each mountain,
thinking every where to behold a crater, but both hill and dale
appear smooth and closed. With what joy then does he hail the
thought of having discovered, in this cavern, something to throw
light upon the sources of these things! I, at least, fancied myself
walking on the hearth of an extinct volcano; for all I saw, from the
masses of stone piled beneath my feet and the immense basin above my
head, were both of lava. If I am right in my conjecture, I do not
know; I only speak according to my notions and my views.

I was obliged to pass this night in a cottage. Kalmannstunga
contains three such cottages, but no chapel. Luckily I found one of
these houses somewhat larger and more cleanly than its neighbours;
it could almost come under the denomination of a farm. The
occupants, too, had been employed during my ride to the cavern in
cleansing the best chamber, and preparing it, as far as possible,
for my reception. The room in question was eleven feet long by
seven broad; the window was so small and so covered with dirt that,
although the sun was shining in its full glory, I could scarcely see
to write. The walls, and even the floor, were boarded--a great
piece of luxury in a country where wood is so scarce. The furniture
consisted of a broad bedstead, two chests of drawers, and a small
table. Chairs and benches are a kind of terra incognita in the
dwellings of the Icelandic peasantry; besides, I do not know where
such articles could be stowed in a room of such dimensions as that
which I occupied.

My hostess, the widow of a wealthy peasant, introduced to me her
four children, who were very handsome, and very neatly dressed. I
begged the good mother to tell me the names of the young ones, so
that I might at least know a few Icelandic names. She appeared much
flattered at my request, and gave me the names as follows:
Sigrudur, Gudrun, Ingebor, and Lars.

I should have felt tolerably comfortable in my present quarters,
accustomed as I am to bear privations of all kinds with
indifference, if they would but have left me in peace. But the
reader may fancy my horror when the whole population, not only of
the cottage itself, but also of the neighbouring dwellings, made
their appearance, and, planting themselves partly in my chamber and
partly at the door, held me in a far closer state of siege than even
at Krisuvik. I was, it appeared, quite a novel phenomenon in the
eyes of these good people, and so they came one and all and stared
at me; the women and children were, in particular, most unpleasantly
familiar; they felt my dress, and the little ones laid their dirty
little countenances in my lap. Added to this, the confined
atmosphere from the number of persons present, their lamentable want
of cleanliness, and their filthy habit of spitting, &c., all
combined to form a most dreadful whole. During these visits I did
more penance than by the longest fasts; and fasting, too, was an
exercise I seldom escaped, as I could touch few Icelandic dishes.
The cookery of the Icelandic peasants is wholly confined to the
preparation of dried fish, with which they eat fermented milk that
has often been kept for months; on very rare occasions they have a
preparation of barley-meal, which is eaten with flat bread baked
from Icelandic moss ground fine.

I could not but wonder at the fact that most of these people
expected to find me acquainted with a number of things generally
studied only by men; they seemed to have a notion that in foreign
parts women should be as learned as men. So, for instance, the
priests always inquired if I spoke Latin, and seemed much surprised
on finding that I was unacquainted with the language. The common
people requested my advice as to the mode of treating divers
complaints; and once, in the course of one of my solitary wanderings
about Reikjavik, on my entering a cottage, they brought before me a
being whom I should scarcely have recognised as belonging to the
same species as myself, so fearfully was he disfigured by the
eruption called "lepra." Not only the face, but the whole body also
was covered with it; the patient was quite emaciated, and some parts
of his body were covered with sores. For a surgeon this might have
been an interesting sight, but I turned away in disgust.

But let us turn from this picture. I would rather tell of the
angel's face I saw in Kalmannstunga. It was a girl, ten or twelve
years of age, beautiful and lovely beyond description, so that I
wished I had been a painter. How gladly would I have taken home
with me to my own land, if only on canvass, the delicate face, with
its roguish dimples and speaking eyes! But perhaps it is better as
it is; the picture might by some unlucky chance have fallen into the
hands of some too-susceptible youth, who, like Don Sylvio de
Rosalva, in Wieland's Comical Romance, would immediately have
proceeded to travel through half the world to find the original of
this enchanting portrait. His spirit of inquiry would scarcely have
carried him to Iceland, as such an apparition would never be
suspected to exist in such a country, and thus the unhappy youth
would be doomed to endless wandering.

June 20th.

The distance from Kalmannstunga to Thingvalla is fifty-two miles,
and the journey is certainly one of the most dreary and fatiguing of
all that can be made in Iceland. The traveller passes from one
desert valley into another; he is always surrounded by high
mountains and still higher glaciers, and wherever he turns his eyes,
nature seems torpid and dead. A feeling of anxious discomfort
seizes upon the wanderer, he hastens with redoubled speed through
the far-stretched deserts, and eagerly ascends the mountains piled
up before him, in the hope that better things lie beyond. It is in
vain; he only sees the same solitudes, the same deserts, the same


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