Letters From High Latitudes
The Marquess of Dufferin (Lord Dufferin)

Part 3 out of 5

we went across the spacious Brieda Fiord, at the rate of
nine or ten knots an hour, reeling and bounding at the
heels of the steamer, which seemed scarcely to feel how
uneven was the surface across which we were speeding.
Down dropped Snaefell beneath the sea, and dim before
us, clad in evening haze, rose the shadowy steeps of
Bardestrand. The north-west division of Iceland consists
of one huge peninsula, spread out upon the sea like a
human hand, the fingers just reaching over the Arctic
circle; while up between them run the gloomy fiords,
sometimes to the length of twenty, thirty, and even forty
miles. Anything more grand and mysterious than the
appearance of their solemn portals, as we passed across
from bluff to bluff, it is impossible to conceive. Each
might have served as a separate entrance to some poet's
hell--so drear and fatal seemed the vista one's eye just
caught receding between the endless ranks of precipice
and pyramid.

There is something, moreover, particularly mystical in
the effect of the grey, dreamy atmosphere of an arctic
night, through whose uncertain medium mountain and headland
loom as impalpable as the frontiers of a demon world,
and as I kept gazing at the glimmering peaks, and monstrous
crags, and shattered stratifications, heaped up along
the coast in cyclopean disorder, I understood how natural
it was that the Scandinavian mythology, of whose mysteries
the Icelanders were ever the natural guardians and
interpreters, should have assumed that broad, massive
simplicity which is its most beautiful characteristic.
Amid the rugged features of such a country the refinements
of Paganism would have been dwarfed into insignificance.
How out of place would seem a Jove with his beard in
ringlets--a trim Apollo--a sleek Bacchus--an ambrosial
Venus--a slim Diana, and all their attendant groups of
Oreads and Cupids--amid the ocean mists, and icebound
torrents, the flame-scarred mountains, and four months'
night--of a land which the opposing forces of heat and
cold have selected for a battle-field!

The undeveloped reasoning faculty is prone to attach an
undue value and meaning to the forms of things, and the
infancy of a nation's mind is always more ready to worship
the MANIFESTATIONS of a Power, than to look beyond them
for a cause. Was it not natural then that these northerns,
dwelling in daily communion with this grand Nature, should
fancy they could perceive a mysterious and independent
energy in her operations, and at last come to confound
the moral contest man feels within him, with the physical
strife he finds around him, to see in the returning
sun--fostering into renewed existence the winter-stifled
world--even more than a TYPE of that spiritual consciousness
which alone can make the dead heart stir; to discover
even more than an ANALOGY between the reign of cold,
darkness, and desolation, and the still blanker ruin of
a sin-perverted soul? But in that iron clime, amid such
awful associations, the conflict going on was too
terrible--the contending powers too visibly in presence
of each other, for the practical, conscientious Norse
mind to be content with the puny godships of a Roman
Olympus. Nectar, Sensuality, and Inextinguishable Laughter
were elements of felicity too mean for the nobler atmosphere
of their Walhalla; and to those active temperaments and
healthy minds,--invigorated and solemnized by the massive
mould of the scenery around them,--Strength, Courage,
Endurance, and above all Self-sacrifice--naturally seemed
more essential attributes of divinity than mere elegance
and beauty. And we must remember that whilst the vigorous
imagination of the north was delighting itself in creating
a stately dreamland, where it strove to blend, in a grand
world-picture--always harmonious, though not always
consistent--the influences which sustain both the physical
and moral system of its universe, an undercurrent of
sober Gothic common sense induced it--as a kind of protest
against the too material interpretation of the symbolism
it had employed--to wind up its religious scheme by
sweeping into the chaos of oblivion all the glorious
fabric it had evoked, and proclaiming--in the place of
the transient gods and perishable heaven of its
Asgaard--that One undivided Deity, at whose approach the
pillars of Walhalla were to fall, and Odin and his peers
to perish, with all the subtle machinery of their existence;
while man--himself immortal--was summoned to receive at
the hands of the Eternal All-Father the sentence that
waited upon his deeds. It is true this purer system
belonged only to the early ages. As in the case of every
false religion, the symbolism of the Scandinavian mythology
lost with each succeeding generation something of its
transparency, and at last degenerated into a gross
superstition. But traces still remained, even down to
the times of Christian ascendency, of the deep,
philosophical spirit in which it had been originally
conceived; and through its homely imagery there ran a
vein of tender humour, such as still characterises the
warm-hearted, laughter-loving northern races. Of this
mixture of philosophy and fun, the following story is no
bad specimen. [Footnote: The story of Thor's journey
has been translated from the Edda both by the Howitts
and Mr. Thorpe.]

Once on a time the two OEsir, Thor, the Thunder god, and
his brother Lopt, attended by a servant, determined to
go eastward to Jotunheim, the land of the giants, in
search of adventures. Crossing over a great water, they
came to a desolate plain, at whose further end, tossing
and waving in the wind, rose the tree tops of a great
forest. After journeying for many hours along its dusty
labyrinths, they began to be anxious about a resting-place
for the night. "At last, Lopt perceived a very spacious
house, on one side of which was an entrance as wide as
the house itself, and there they took up their
night-quarters. At midnight they perceived a great
earthquake; the ground reeled under them and the house

"Then up rose Thor and called to his companions. They
sought about, and found a side building to the right,
into which they went. Thor placed himself at the door;
the rest went and sat down further in, and were very much

"Thor kept his hammer in his hand, ready to defend them.
Then they heard a terrible noise and roaring. As it
began to dawn, Thor went out, and saw a man lying in the
wood not far from them; he was by no means small, and he
slept and snored loudly. Then Thor understood what the
noise was which they heard in the night. He buckled on
his belt of power, by which he increased his divine
strength. At the same instant the man awoke, and rose
up. It is said that Thor was so much astonished that he
did not dare to slay him with his hammer, but inquired
his name. He called himself Skrymer. 'Thy name,' said
he, 'I need not ask, for I know that thou art Asar-Thor.
But what hast thou done with my glove?'

"Skrymer stooped and took up his glove, and Thor saw that
it was the house in which they had passed the night, and
that the out-building was the thumb."

Here follow incidents which do not differ widely from
certain passages in the history of Jack the Giant Killer.
Thor makes three several attempts to knock out the easy-
going giant's brains during a slumber, in which he is
represented as "snoring outrageously,"--and after each
blow of the Thunder god's hammer, Skrymer merely wakes
up--strokes his beard--and complains of feeling some
trifling inconvenience, such as a dropped acorn on his
head, a fallen leaf, or a little moss shaken from the
boughs. Finally, he takes leave of them,--points out
the way to Utgard Loke's palace, advises them not to give
themselves airs at his court,--as unbecoming "such little
fellows" as they were, and disappears in the wood;
"and"--as the old chronicler slyly adds--"it is not said
whether the OEsir wished ever to see him again."

They then journey on till noon, till they come to a vast
palace, where a multitude of men, of whom the greater
number were immensely large, sat on two benches. "After
this they advanced into the presence of the king, Utgard
Loke, and saluted him. He scarcely deigned to give a
look, and said smiling: 'It is late to inquire after true
tidings from a great distance, but is it not Thor that
I see? Yet you are really bigger than I imagined. What
are the exploits that you can perform? For no one is
tolerated amongst us who cannot distinguish himself by
some art or accomplishment.'

"'Then,' said Lopt, 'I understand an art of which I am
prepared to give proof, and that is, that no one here
can dispose of his food as I can.' Then answered Utgard
Loke: 'Truly this IS an art, if thou canst achieve it;
which we will now see.' He called from the bench a man
named Loge to contend with Lopt. They set a trough in
the middle of the hall, filled with meat. Lopt placed
himself at one end and Loge at the other. Both ate the
best they could, and they met in the middle of the trough.
Lopt had picked the meat from the bones, but Loge had
eaten meat, bones, and trough altogether. All agreed Lopt
was beaten. Then asked Utgard Loke what art the young
man (Thor's attendant) understood? Thjalfe answered, that
he would run a race with any one that Utgard Loke would
appoint. There was a very good race ground on a level
field. Utgard Loke called a young man named Huge, and
bade him run with Thjalfe. Thjalfe runs his best, at
three several attempts--according to received Saga
customs,--but is of course beaten in the race.

"Then asked Utgard Loke of Thor, what were the feats that
he would attempt corresponding to the fame that went
abroad of him? Thor answered that he thought he could
beat any one at drinking. Utgard Loke said, 'Very good,'
and bade his cup-bearer bring out the horn from which
his courtiers were accustomed to drink. Immediately
appeared the cup-bearer, and placed the horn in Thor's
hand. Utgard Loke then said, 'that to empty that horn
at one pull was well done; some drained it at twice; but
that he was a wretched drinker who could not finish it
at the third draught.' Thor looked at the horn, and
thought that it was not large, though it was tolerably
long. He was very thirsty, lifted it to his mouth, and
was very happy at the thought of so good a draught. When
he could drink no more, he took the horn from his mouth,
and saw, to his astonishment, that there was little less
in it than before. Utgard Loke said: 'Well hast thou
drunk, yet not much. I should never have believed but
that Asar-Thor could have drunk more; however, of this
I am confident, thou wilt empty it at the second time.'
He drank again; but when he took away the horn from his
mouth, it seemed to him that it had sunk less this time
than the first; yet the horn might now be carried without

"Then said Utgard Loke: 'How is this, Thor? If thou dost
not reserve thyself purposely for the third draught,
thine honour must be lost; how canst thou be regarded as
a great man, as the Aesir look upon thee, if thou dost
not distinguish thyself in other ways more than thou hast
done in this?'

"Then was Thor angry, put the horn to his mouth, drank
with all his might, and strained himself to the utmost;
and when he looked into the horn it was now somewhat
lessened. He gave up the horn, and would not drink any
more. 'Now,' said Utgard Loke, 'now is it clear that thy
strength is not so great as we supposed. Wilt thou try
some other game, for we see that thou canst not succeed
in this?' Thor answered: 'I will now try something else,
but I wonder who, amongst the Aesir, would call that a
little drink! What play will you propose?'

"Utgard Loke answered: 'Young men think it mere play to
lift my cat from the ground; and I would never have
proposed this to Aesir Thor, if I did not perceive that
thou art a much less man than I had thought thee.'
Thereupon sprang an uncommonly great grey cat upon the
floor. Thor advanced, took the cat round the body, and
lifted it up. The cat bent its back in the same degree
as Thor lifted, and when Thor had lifted one of its feet
from the ground, and was not able to lift it any higher,
said Utgard Loke: 'The game has terminated just as I
expected. The cat is very great, and Thor is low and
small, compared with the great men who are here with us.'

"Then said Thor: 'Little as you call me, I challenge any
one to wrestle with me, for now I am angry.' Utgard Loke
answered, looking round upon the benches: 'I see no one
here who would not deem it play to wrestle with thee:
but let us call hither the old Ella, my nurse; with her
shall Thor prove his strength, if he will. She has given
many one a fall who appeared far stronger than Thor is.
On this there entered the hall an old woman, and Utgard
Loke said she would wrestle with Thor. In short, the
contest went so, that the more Thor exerted himself, the
firmer she stood, and now began the old woman to exert
herself, and Thor to give way, and severe struggles
followed. It was not long before Thor was brought down
on one knee. Then Utgard Loke stepped forward, bade them
cease the struggle, and said that Thor should attempt
nothing more at his court. It was now drawing towards
night; Utgard Loke showed Thor and his companions their
lodging, where they were well accommodated.

"As soon as it was light the next morning, up rose Thor
and his companions, dressed themselves, and prepared to
set out. Then came Utgard Loke, and ordered the table to
be set, where there wanted no good provisions, either
meat or drink. When they had breakfasted, they set out
on their way. Utgard Loke accompanied them out of the
castle, but at parting he asked Thor how the journey had
gone off, whether he had found any man more mighty than
himself? Thor answered, that the enterprise had brought
him much dishonour, it was not to be denied, and that he
must esteem himself a man of no account, which much
mortified him.

"Utgard Loke replied: 'Now will I tell thee the truth,
since thou art out of my castle, where, so long as I live
and reign, thou shalt never re-enter; and whither, believe
me, thou hadst never come if I had known before what
might thou possessest, and that thou wouldst so nearly
plunge us into great trouble. False appearances have I
created for thee, so that the first time when thou mettest
the man in the wood it was I; and when thou wouldst open
the provision-sack, I had laced it together with an iron
band, so that thou couldst not find the means to undo
it. After that thou struckest at me three times with the
hammer. The first stroke was the weakest, and it had been
my death had it hit me. Thou sawest by my castle a rock,
with three deep square holes, of which one was very deep:
those were the marks of thy hammer. The rock I placed in
the way of the blow, without thy perceiving it.

"'So also in the games, when thou contendedst with my
courtiers. When Lopt made his essay, the fact was this:
he was very hungry, and ate voraciously; but he who was
called Loge, was FIRE, which consumed the trough as well
as the meat. And Huge (mind) was my THOUGHT with which
Thjalfe ran a race, and it was impossible for him to
match it in speed. When thou drankest from the horn, and
thoughtest that its contents grew no less, it was,
notwithstanding, a great marvel, such as I never believed
could have taken place. The one end of the horn stood in
the sea, which thou didst not perceive; and when thou
comest to the shore thou wilt see how much the ocean has
diminished by what thou hast drunk. MEN WILL CALL IT THE

"'Further,' said he, 'most remarkable did it seem to me
that thou liftedst the cat, and in truth all became
terrified when they saw that thou liftedst one of its
feet from the ground. For it was no cat, as it seemed
unto thee, but the great serpent that lies coiled round
the world. Scarcely had he length that his tail and head
might reach the earth, and thou liftedst him so high up
that it was but a little way to heaven. That was a
marvellous wrestling that thou wrestledst with Ella (old
age), for never has there been any one, nor shall there
ever be, let him approach what great age he will, that
Ella shall not overcome.

"'Now we must part, and it is best for us on both sides
that you do not often come to me; but if it should so
happen, I shall defend my castle with such other arts
that you shall not be able to effect anything against

"When Thor heard this discourse he grasped his hammer
and lifted it into the air, but as he was about to strike
he saw Utgard Loke nowhere. Then he turned back to the
castle to destroy it, and he saw only a beautiful and
wide plain, but no castle."

So ends the story of Thor's journey to Jotunheim.

It was now just upon the stroke of midnight. Ever since
leaving England, as each four-and-twenty hours we climbed
up nearer to the pole, the belt of dusk dividing day from
day had been growing narrower and narrower, until having
nearly reached the Arctic circle, this,--the last night
we were to traverse,--had dwindled to a thread of shadow.
Only another half-dozen leagues more, and we would stand
on the threshold of a four months' day! For the few
preceding hours clouds had completely covered the heavens,
except where a clear interval of sky, that lay along the
northern horizon, promised a glowing stage for the sun's
last obsequies. But like the heroes of old he had veiled
his face to die, and it was not until he dropped down to
the sea that the whole hemisphere overflowed with glory
and the gilded pageant concerted for his funeral gathered
in slow procession round his grave; reminding one of
those tardy honours paid to some great prince of song,
who--left during life to languish in a garret--is buried
by nobles in Westminster Abbey. A few minutes more the
last fiery segment had disappeared beneath the purple
horizon, and all was over.

"The king is dead--the king is dead--the king is dead!
Long live the king!" And up from the sea that had just
entombed his sire, rose the young monarch of a new day;
while the courtier clouds, in their ruby robes, turned
faces still aglow with the favours of their dead lord,
to borrow brighter blazonry from the smile of a new

A fairer or a stranger spectacle than the last Arctic
sunset cannot well be conceived: Evening and Morning--like
kinsmen whose hearts some baseless feud has kept asunder
--clasping hands across the shadow of the vanished night.

You must forgive me if sometimes I become a little
magniloquent;--for really, amid the grandeur of that
fresh primaeval world, it was almost impossible to prevent
one's imagination from absorbing a dash of the local
colouring. We seemed to have suddenly waked up among
the colossal scenery of Keats' Hyperion. The pulses of
young Titans beat within our veins. Time itself,--no
longer frittered down into paltry divisions,--had assumed
a more majestic aspect. We had the appetite of giants--was
it unnatural we should also adopt "the large utterance
of the early gods?"

As the "Reine Hortense" could not carry coals sufficient
for the entire voyage we had set out upon, it had been
arranged that the steamer "Saxon" should accompany her
as a tender, and the Onunder Fiord, on the north-west
coast of the island, had been appointed as the place of
rendezvous. Suddenly wheeling round therefore to the
right we quitted the open sea, and dived down a long grey
lane of water that ran on as far as the eye could reach
between two lofty ranges of porphyry and amygdaloid. The
conformation of these mountains was most curious: it
looked as if the whole district was the effect of some
prodigious crystallization, so geometrical was the outline
of each particular hill, sometimes rising cube-like, or
pentagonal, but more generally built up into a perfect
pyramid, with stairs mounting in equal gradations to the
summit. Here and there the cone of the pyramid would be
shaven off, leaving it flat-topped like a Babylonian
altar or Mexican teocalli; and as the sun's level
rays,--shooting across above our heads in golden rafters
from ridge to ridge,--smote brighter on some loftier peak
behind, you might almost fancy you beheld the blaze of
sacrificial fires. The peculiar symmetrical appearance
of these rocks arises from the fact of their being built
up in layers of trap, alternating with Neptunian beds;
the disintegrating action of snow and frost on the more
exposed strata having gradually carved their sides into
flights of terraces.

It is in these Neptunian beds that the famous surturbrand
is found, a species of bituminous timber, black and
shining like pitch coal; but whether belonging to the
common carboniferous system, or formed from ancient
drift-wood, is still a point of dispute among the learned.
In this neighbourhood considerable quantities both of
zerlite and chabasite are also found, but, generally
speaking, Iceland is less rich in minerals than one would
suppose; opal, calcedony, amethyst, malachite, obsidian,
agate, and feldspar, being the principal. Of sulphur the
supply is inexhaustible.

After steaming down for several hours between these
terraced hills, we at last reached the extremity of the
fiord, where we found the "Saxon" looking like a black
sea-dragon coiled up at the bottom of his den. Up fluttered
a signal to the mast-head of the corvette, and blowing
off her steam, she wore round upon her heel, to watch
the effects of her summons. As if roused by the challenge
of an intruder, the sleepy monster seemed suddenly to
bestir itself, and then pouring out volumes of sulphureous
breath, set out with many an angry snort in pursuit of
the rash troubler of its solitude. At least, such I am
sure might have been the notion of the poor peasant
inhabitants of two or three cottages I saw scattered here
and there along the loch, as, startled from their sleep,
they listened to the stertorous breathing of the long
snake-like ships, and watched them glide past with magic
motion along the glassy surface of the water. Of course
the novelty and excitement of all we had been witnessing
had put sleep and bedtime quite out of our thoughts: but
it was already six o'clock in the morning; it would
require a considerable time to get out of the fiord, and
in a few hours after we should be within the Arctic
circle, so that if we were to have any sleep at all--now
was the time. Acting on these considerations, we all
three turned in; and for the next half-dozen hours I lay
dreaming of a great funeral among barren mountains, where
white bears in peers' robes were the pall-bearers, and
a sea-dragon chief-mourner. When we came on deck again,
the northern extremity of Iceland lay leagues away on
our starboard quarter, faintly swimming through the haze;
up overhead blazed the white sun, and below glittered
the level sea, like a pale blue disc netted in silver
lace. I seldom remember a brighter day; the thermometer
was at 72 degrees, and it really felt more as if we were
crossing the line than entering the frigid zone.

Animated by that joyous inspiration which induces them
to make a fete of everything, the French officers, it
appeared, wished to organize a kind of carnival to
inaugurate their arrival in Arctic waters, and by means
of a piece of chalk and a huge black board displayed from
the hurricane-deck of the "Reine Hortense," an inquiry
was made as to what suggestion I might have to offer in
furtherance of this laudable object. With that poverty
of invention and love of spirits which characterise my
nation, I am obliged to confess that, after deep reflection,
I was only able to answer, "Grog." But seeing an extra
flag or two was being run up at each masthead of the
Frenchman, the lucky idea occurred to me to dress the
"Foam" in all her colours. The schooner's toilette
accomplished, I went on board the "Reine Hortense," and
you cannot imagine anything more fragile, graceful, or
coquettish, than her appearance from the deck of the
corvette,--as she curtsied and swayed herself on the
bosom of the almost imperceptible swell, or flirted up
the water with her curving bows. She really looked like
a living little lady.

But from all such complacent reveries I was soon awakened
by the sound of a deep voice, proceeding apparently from
the very bottom of the sea, which hailed the ship in the
most authoritative manner, and imperiously demanded her
name, where she was going, whom she carried, and whence
she came: to all which questions, a young lieutenant,
standing with his hat off at the gangway, politely
responded. Apparently satisfied on these points, our
invisible interlocutor then announced his intention of
coming on board. All the officers of the ship collected
on the poop to receive him.

In a few seconds more, amid the din of the most unearthly
music, and surrounded by a bevy of hideous monsters, a
white-bearded, spectacled personage-clad in bear-skin,
with a cocked hat over his left ear-presented himself in
the gangway, and handing to the officers of the watch an
enormous board, on which was written


by way of visiting card, proceeded to walk aft, and take
the sun's altitude with what, as far as I could make out,
seemed to be a plumber's wooden triangle. This preliminary
operation having been completed, there then began a
regular riot all over the ship. The yards were suddenly
manned with red devils, black monkeys, and every kind of
grotesque monster, while the whole ship's company, officers
and men promiscuously mingled, danced the cancan upon
deck. In order that the warmth of the day should not make
us forget that we had arrived in his dominions, the Arctic
father had stationed certain of his familiars in the
tops, who at stated intervals flung down showers of hard
peas, as typical of hail, while the powdering of each
other's faces with handfuls of flour could not fail to
remind everybody on board that we had reached the latitude
of snow. At the commencement of this noisy festival I
found myself standing on the hurricane deck, next to,
one of the grave savants attached to the expedition, who
seemed to contem-plate the antics that were being played
at his feet with that sad smile of indulgence with which
Wisdom sometimes deigns to commiserate the gaiety of
Folly. Suddenly he disappeared from beside me, and the
next that I saw or heard of him--he was hard at work
pirouetting on the deck below with a red-tailed demon,
and exhibiting in his steps a "verve" and a graceful
audacity which at Paris would have certainly obtained
for him the honours of expulsion at the hands of the
municipal authorities. The entertainment of the day
concluded with a discourse delivered out of a wind-sail
by the chaplain attached to the person of the Pere
Arctique, which was afterwards washed down by a cauldron
full of grog, served out in bumpers to the several actors
in this unwonted ceremonial. As the Prince had been good
enough to invite us to dinner, instead of returning to
the schooner I spent the intermediate hour in pacing the
quarter-deck with Baron de la Ronciere,--the naval
commander entrusted with the charge of the expedition.
Like all the smartest officers in the French navy, he
speaks English beautifully, and I shall ever remember
with gratitude the cordiality with which he welcomed me
on board his ship, and the thoughtful consideration of
his arrangements for the little schooner which he had
taken in tow. At five o'clock dinner was announced, and
I question if so sumptuous a banquet has ever been served
up before in that outlandish part of the world, embellished
as it was by selections from the best operas played by
the corps d'orchestre which had accompanied the Prince
from Paris. During the pauses of the music the conversation
naturally turned on the strange lands we were about to
visit, and the best mode of spifflicating the white bears
who were probably already shaking in their snow shoes:
but alas! while we were in the very act of exulting in
our supremacy over these new domains, the stiffened finger
of the Ice king was tracing in frozen characters a "Mene,
mene, tekel upharsin" on the plate glass of the cabin
windows. During the last half-hour the thermometer had
been gradually falling, until it was nearly down to 32
degrees; a dense penetrating fog enveloped both the
vessels--(the "Saxon" had long since dropped out of
sight), flakes of snow began floating slowly down, and
a gelid breeze from the north-west told too plainly that
we had reached the frontiers of the solid ice, though we
were still a good hundred miles distant from the American
shore. Although at any other time the terrible climate
we had dived into would have been very depressing, under
present circumstances I think the change rather tended
to raise our spirits, perhaps because the idea of fog
and ice in the month of June seemed so completely to
uncockneyfy us. At all events there was no doubt now we
had got into les mers glaciales, as our French friends
called them, and, whatever else might be in store for
us, there was sure henceforth to be no lack of novelty
and excitement.

By this time it was already well on in the evening, so
having agreed with Monsieur de la Ronciere on a code of
signals in case of fogs, and that a jack hoisted at the
mizen of the "Reine Hortense," or at the fore of the
schooner, should be an intimation of a desire of one or
other to cast off, we got into the boat and were dropped
down alongside our own ship. Ever since leaving Iceland
the steamer had been heading east-north-east by compass,
but during the whole of the ensuing night she shaped a
south-east course; the thick mist rendering it unwise to
stand on any longer in the direction of the banquise, as
they call the outer edge of the belt that hems in Eastern
Greenland. About three A.M. it cleared up a little. By
breakfast time the sun re-appeared, and we could see five
or six miles ahead of the vessel. It was shortly after
this, that as I was standing in the main rigging peering
out over the smooth blue surface of the sea, a white
twinkling point of light suddenly caught my eye about a
couple of miles off on the port bow, which a telescope
soon resolved into a solitary isle of ice, dancing and
dipping in the sunlight. As you may suppose, the news
brought everybody upon deck, and when almost immediately
afterwards a string of other pieces, glittering like a
diamond necklace, hove in sight, the excitement was

Here at all events was honest blue saltwater frozen solid,
and when, as we proceeded, the scattered fragments
thickened, and passed like silver argosies on either
hand, until at last we found oumelves enveloped in an
innumerable fleet of bergs,--it seemed as if we could
never be weary of admiring a sight so strange and beautiful.
It was rather in form and colour than in size that these
ice islets were remarkable; anything approaching to a
real iceberg we neither saw, nor are we likely to see.
In fact, the lofty ice mountains that wander like vagrant
islands along the coast of America, seldom or never come
to the eastward or northward of Cape Farewell. They
consist of land ice, and are all generated among bays
and straits within Baffin's Bay, and first enter the
Atlantic a good deal to the southward of Iceland; whereas
the Polar ice, among which we have been knocking about,
is field ice, and--except when packed one ledge above
the other, by great pressure--is comparatively flat. I
do not think I saw any pieces that were piled up higher
than thirty or thirty-five feet above the sea-level,
although at a little distance through the mist they may
have loomed much loftier.

In quaintness of form, and in brilliancy of colours,
these wonderful masses surpassed everything I had imagined;
and we found endless amusement in watching their fantastic

At one time it was a knight on horseback, clad in sapphire
mail, a white plume above his casque. Or a cathedral
window with shafts of chrysophras, new powdered by a
snow-storm. Or a smooth sheer cliff of lapis lazuli; or
a Banyan tree, with roots descending from its branches,
and a foliage as delicate as the efflorescence of molten
metal; or a fairy dragon, that breasted the water in
scales of emerald; or anything else that your fancy chose
to conjure up. After a little time, the mist again
descended on the scene, and dulled each glittering form
to a shapeless mass of white; while in spite of all our
endeavours to keep upon our northerly course, we were
constantly compelled to turn and wind about in every
direction--sometimes standing on for several hours at a
stretch to the southward and eastward. These perpetual
embarrassments became at length very wearying, and in
order to relieve the tedium of our progress I requested
the Doctor to remove one of my teeth. This he did with
the greatest ability--a wrench to starboard,--another
to port, and up it flew through the cabin sky-light.

During the whole of that afternoon and the following
night we made but little Northing at all, and the next
day the ice seemed more pertinaciously in our way than
ever; neither could we relieve the monotony of the hours
by conversing with each other on the black boards, as
the mist was too thick for us too distinguish from on
board one ship anything that was passing on the deck of
the other. Notwithstanding the great care and skill with
which the steamer threaded her way among the loose floes,
it was impossible sometimes to prevent fragments of ice
striking us with considerable violence on the bows; and
as we lay in bed at night, I confess that until we got
accustomed to the noise, it was by no means a pleasant
thing to hear the pieces angrily scraping along the ship's
sides--within two inches of our ears. On the evening of
the fourth day it came on to blow pretty hard, and at
midnight it had freshened to half a gale; but by dint of
standing well away to the eastward we had succeeded in
reaching comparatively open water, and I had gone to bed
in great hopes that at all events the breeze would brush
off the fog, and enable us to see our way a little more
clearly the next morning.

At five o'clock A.M. the officer of the watch jumped down
into my cabin, and awoke me with the news--"That the
Frenchman was a-saying summat on his black board!" Feeling
by the motion that a very heavy sea must have been knocked
up during the night, I began to be afraid that something
must have gone wrong with the towing-gear, or that a
hawser might have become entangled in the corvette's
screw--which was the catastrophe of which I had always
been most apprehensive; so slipping on a pair of fur
boots, which I carefully kept by the bedside in case of
an emergency, and throwing a cloak over--

"Le simple appareil
D'une beaute qu'on vient d'arracher au sommeil,"

I caught hold of a telescope, and tumbled up on deck.
Anything more bitter and disagreeable than the icy blast,
which caught me round the waist as I emerged from the
companion I never remember. With both hands occupied in
levelling the telescope, I could not keep the wind from
blowing the loose wrap quite off my shoulders, and except
for the name of the thing, I might just as well have been
standing in my shirt. Indeed, I was so irresistibly struck
with my own resemblance to a coloured print I remember
in youthful days,--representing that celebrated character
"Puss in Boots," with a purple robe of honour streaming
far behind him on the wind, to express the velocity of
his magical progress--that I laughed aloud while I shivered
in the blast. What with the spray and mist, moreover, it
was a good ten minutes before I could make out the writing,
and when at last I did spell out the letters, their
meaning was not very inspiriting: "Nous retournons a
Reykjavik!" So evidently they had given it up as a bad
job, and had come to the conclusion that the island was
inaccessible. Yet it seemed very hard to have to turn
back, after coming so far! We had already made upwards
of three hundred miles since leaving Iceland: it could
not be much above one hundred and twenty or one hundred
and thirty more to Jan Mayen; and although things looked
unpromising, there still seemed such a chance of success,
that I could not find it in my heart to give in; so,
having run up a jack at the fore--all writing on our
board was out of the question, we were so deluged with
spray--I jumped down to wake Fitzgerald and Sigurdr, and
tell them we were going to cast off, in case they had
any letters to send home. In the meantime, I scribbled
a line of thanks and good wishes to M. de la Ronciere,
and another to you, and guyed it with our mails on board
the corvette--in a milk can.

In the meantime all was bustle on board our decks, and
I think every one was heartily pleased at the thoughts
of getting the little schooner again under canvas. A
couple of reefs were hauled down in the mainsail and
staysail, and everything got ready for making sail.

"Is all clear for'ard for slipping, Mr. Wyse?"

"Ay, ay, Sir; all clear!"

"Let go the tow-ropes!"

"All gone, Sir!"

And down went the heavy hawsers into the sea, up fluttered
the staysail,--then--poising for a moment on the waves
with the startled hesitation of a bird suddenly set
free,--the little creature spread her wings, thrice dipped
her ensign in token of adieu--receiving in return a hearty
cheer from the French crew--and glided like a phantom
into the North, while the "Reine Hortense" puffed back
to Iceland. [Footnote: It subsequently appeared that
the "Saxon," on the second day after leaving Onunder
Fiord, had unfortunately knocked a hole in her bottom
against the ice, and was obliged to run ashore in a
sinking state. In consequence of never having been rejoined
by her tender, the "Reine Hortense" found herself short
of coals; and as the encumbered state of the sea rendered
it already very unlikely that any access would be found
open to the island, M. de la Ronciere very properly judged
it advisable to turn back. He re-entered the Reykjavik
harbour without so much as a shovelful of coals left on

Ten minutes more, and we were the only denizens of that
misty sea. I confess I felt excessively sorry to have
lost the society of such joyous companions; they had
received us always with such merry good nature; the Prince
had shown himself so gracious and considerate, and he
was surrounded by a staff of such clever, well-informed
persons, that it was with the deepest regret I watched
the fog close round the magnificent corvette, and bury
her--and all whom she contained--within its bosom. Our
own situation, too, was not altogether without causing
me a little anxiety. We had not seen the sun for two
days; it was very thick, with a heavy sea, and dodging
about as we had been among the ice, at the heels of the
steamer, our dead reckoning was not very much to be
depended upon. The best plan I thought would be to stretch
away at once clear of the ice, then run up into the
latitude of Jan Mayen, and--as soon as we should have
reached the parallel of its northern extremity--bear down
on the land. If there was any access at all to the island,
it was very evident it would be on its northern or eastern
side; and now that we were alone, to keep on knocking up
through a hundred miles or so of ice in a thick fog, in
our fragile schooner, would have been out of the question.

The ship's course, therefore, having been shaped in
accordance with this view, I stole back into bed and
resumed my violated slumbers. Towards mid-day the weather
began to moderate, and by four o'clock we were skimming
along on a smooth sea, with all sails set. This state of
prosperity continued for the next twenty-four hours; we
had made about eighty knots since parting company with
the Frenchman, and it was now time to run down West and
pick up the land. Luckily the sky was pretty clear, and
as we sailed on through open water I really began to
think our prospects very brilliant. But about three
o'clock on the second day, specks of ice began to flicker
here and there on the horizon, then larger bulks came
floating by in forms as picturesque as ever--(one, I
particularly remember, a human hand thrust up out of the
water with outstretched forefinger, as if to warn us
against proceeding farther), until at last the whole sea
became clouded with hummocks that seemed to gather on
our path in magical multiplicity.

Up to this time we had seen nothing of the island, yet
I knew we must be within a very few miles of it; and now,
to make things quite pleasant, there descended upon us
a thicker fog than I should have thought the atmosphere
capable of sustaining; it seemed to hang in solid festoons
from the masts and spars. To say that you could not see
your hand, ceased almost to be any longer figurative;
even the ice was hid--except those fragments immediately
adjacent, whose ghastly brilliancy the mist itself could
not quite extinguish, as they glimmered round the vessel
like a circle of luminous phantoms. The perfect stillness
of the sea and sky added very much to the solemnity of
the scene; almost every breath of wind had fallen, scarcely
a ripple tinkled against the copper sheathing, as the
solitary little schooner glided along at the rate of half
a knot or so an hour, and the only sound we heard was
the distant wash of waters, but whether on a great shore,
or along a belt of solid ice, it was impossible to say.
In such weather, as the original discoverers of Jan Mayen
said under similar circumstances,--"it was easier to hear
land than to see it." Thus, hour after hour passed by
and brought no change. Fitz and Sigurdr--who had begun
quite to disbelieve in the existence of the island--went
to bed, while I remained pacing up and down the deck,
anxiously questioning each quarter of the grey canopy
that enveloped us. At last, about four in the morning,
I fancied some change was going to take place; the heavy
wreaths of vapour seemed to be imperceptibly separating,
and in a few minutes more the solid roof of grey suddenly
split asunder, and I beheld through the gap--thousands
of feet over--head, as if suspended in the crystal sky--a
cone of illuminated snow.

[Figure: fig-p121.gif]

You can imagine my delight. It was really that of an
anchorite catching a glimpse of the seventh heaven. There
at last was the long-sought-for mountain actually tumbling
down upon our heads. Columbus could not have been more
pleased when, after nights of watching, he saw the first
fires of a new hemisphere dance upon the water; nor,
indeed, scarcely less disappointed at their sudden
disappearance than I was, when, after having gone below
to wake Sigurdr, and tell him we had seen bona fide
terra-firma, I found, on returning upon deck, that the
roof of mist had closed again, and shut out all trace of
the transient vision. However, I had got a clutch of the
island, and no slight matter should make me let go my
hold. In the meantime there was nothing for it but to
wait patiently until the curtain lifted; and no child
ever stared more eagerly at a green drop-scene in
expectation of "the realm of dazzling splendour" promised
in the bill, than I did at the motionless grey folds that
hung round us. At last the hour of liberation came: a
purer light seemed gradually to penetrate the atmosphere,
brown turned to grey, and grey to white, and white to
transparent blue, until the lost horizon entirely
reappeared, except where in one direction an impenetrable
veil of haze still hung suspended from the zenith to the
sea. Behind that veil I knew must lie Jan Mayen.

A few minutes more, and slowly, silently, in a manner
you could take no count of, its dusky hem first deepened
to a violet tinge, then gradually lifting, displayed a
long line of coast--in reality but the roots of
Beerenberg--dyed of the darkest purple; while, obedient
to a common impulse, the clouds that wrapped its summit
gently disengaged themselves, and left the mountain
standing in all the magnificence of his 6,870 feet,
girdled by a single zone of pearly vapour, from underneath
whose floating folds seven enormous glaciers rolled down
into the sea! Nature seemed to have turned scene-shifter,
so artfully were the phases of this glorious spectacle
successively developed.

Although--by reason of our having hit upon its side
instead of its narrow end--the outline of Mount Beerenberg
appeared to us more like a sugar-loaf than a spire--broader
at the base and rounder at the top than I had imagined,--
in size, colour, and effect, it far surpassed anything
I had anticipated. The glaciers were quite an unexpected
element of beauty. Imagine a mighty river of as great a
volume as the Thames--started down the side of a mountain,--
bursting over every impediment,--whirled into a thousand
eddies,--tumbling and raging on from ledge to ledge in
quivering cataracts of foam,--then suddenly struck rigid
by a power so instantaneous in its action, that even the
froth and fleeting wreaths of spray have stiffened into
the immutability of sculpture. Unless you had seen it,
it would be almost impossible to conceive the strangeness
of the contrast between the actual tranquillity of these
silent crystal rivers and the violent descending energy
impressed upon their exterior. You must remember, too,
all this is upon a scale of such prodigious magnitude,
that when we succeeded subsequently in approaching the
spot--where with a leap like that of Niagara one of these
glaciers plunges down into the sea--the eye, no longer
able to take in its fluvial character, was content to
rest in simple astonishment at what then appeared a lucent
precipice of grey-green ice, rising to the height of
several hundred feet above the masts of the vessel.

As soon as we had got a little over our first feelings
of astonishment at the panorama thus suddenly revealed
to us by the lifting of the fog, I began to consider what
would be the best way of getting to the anchorage on the
west--or Greenland side of the island. We were still
seven or eight miles from the shore, and the northern
extremity of the island, round which we should have to
pass, lay about five leagues off, bearing West by North,
while between us and the land stretched a continuous
breadth of floating ice. The hummocks, however, seemed
to be pretty loose with openings here and there, so that
with careful sailing I thought we might pass through,
and perhaps on the farther side of the island come into
a freer sea. Alas! after having with some difficulty
wound along until we were almost abreast of the cape, we
were stopped dead short by a solid rampart of fixed ice,
which in one direction leant upon the land, and in the
other ran away as far as the eye could reach into the
dusky North. Thus hopelessly cut off from all access to
the western and better anchorage, it only remained to
put about, and--running down along the land--attempt to
reach a kind of open roadstead on the eastern side, a
little to the south of the volcano described by Dr.
Scoresby but in this endeavour also we were doomed to be
disappointed; for after sailing some considerable distance
through a field of ice, which kept getting more closely
packed as we pushed further into it, we came upon another
barrier equally impenetrable, that stretched away from
the island toward the Southward and Eastward. Under these
circumstances, the only thing to be done was to get back
to where the ice was looser, and attempt a landing wherever
a favourable opening presented itself. But even to
extricate ourselves from our present position, was now
no longer of such easy performance. Within the last hour
the wind had shifted into the North-West; that is to say,
it was now blowing right down the path along which we
had picked our way; in order to return, therefore, it
would be necessary to work the ship to windward through
a sea as thickly crammed with ice as a lady's boudoir is
with furniture. Moreover, it had become evident, from
the obvious closing of the open spaces, that some
considerable pressure was acting upon the outside of the
field; but whether originating in a current or the change
of wind, or another field being driven down upon it, I
could not tell: Be that as it might, out we must
get,--unless we wanted to be cracked like a walnut-shell
between the drifting ice and trio solid belt to leeward;
so sending a steady hand to the helm,--for these unusual
phenomena had begun to make some of my people lose their
heads a little, no one on board having ever seen a bit
of ice before,--I stationed myself in the bows, while
Mr. Wyse conned the vessel from the square yard. Then
there began one of the prettiest and most exciting pieces
of nautical manoeuvring that can be imagined. Every single
soul on board was summoned upon deck; to all, their
several stations and duties were assigned--always excepting
the cook, who was merely directed to make himself generally
useful. As soon as everybody was ready, down went the
helm,--about came the ship,--and the critical part of
the business commenced. Of course, in order to wind and
twist the schooner in and out among the devious channels
left between the hummocks, it was necessary she should
have considerable way on her; at the same time so narrow
were some of the passages, and so sharp their turnings,
that unless she had been the most handy vessel in the
world, she would have had a very narrow squeak for it.
I never saw anything so beautiful as her behaviour. Had
she been a living creature, she could not have dodged,
and wound, and doubled, with more conscious cunning and
dexterity; and it was quite amusing to hear the endearing
way in which the people spoke to her, each time the nimble
creature contrived to elude some more than usually
threatening tongue of ice. Once or twice, in spite of
all our exertions, it was impossible to save her from a
collision; all that remained to be done, as soon as it
became evident she could not clear some particular floe,
or go about in time to avoid it, was to haul the staysail
sheet a-weather in order to deaden her way as much as
possible, and--putting the helm down--let her go right
at it, so that she should receive the blow on her stem,
and not on the bluff of the bow; while all hands, armed
with spars and fenders, rushed forward to ease off the
shock. And here I feel it just to pay a tribute of
admiration to the cook, who on these occasions never
failed to exhibit an immense amount of misdirected energy,
breaking--I remember--at the same moment, both the cabin
sky-light, and an oar, in single combat with a large berg
that was doing no particular harm to us, but against
which he seemed suddenly to have conceived a violent
spite. Luckily a considerable quantity of snow overlaid
the ice, which, acting as a buffer, in some measure
mitigated the violence of the concussion; while the very
fragility of her build diminishing the momentum, proved
in the end the little schooner's greatest security.
Nevertheless, I must confess that more than once, while
leaning forward in expectation of the scrunch I knew must
come, I have caught myself half murmuring to the fair
face that seemed to gaze so serenely at the cold white
mass we were approaching: "O Lady, is it not now fit thou
shouldest befriend the good ship of which thou art the

At last, after having received two or three pretty severe
bumps,--though the loss of a little copper was the only
damage they entailed,--we made our way back to the northern
end of the island, where the pack was looser, and we had
at all events a little more breathing room.

It had become very cold--so cold, indeed, that Mr. Wyse
--no longer able to keep a clutch of the rigging--had a
severe tumble from the yard on which he was standing.
The wind was freshening, and the ice was evidently still
in motion; but although very anxious to get back again
into open water, we thought it would not do to go away
without landing, even if it were only for an hour. So
having laid the schooner right under the cliff, and
putting into the gig our own discarded figure-head, a
white ensign, a flag-staff; and a tin biscuit-box,
containing a paper on which I had hastily written the
schooner's name, the date of her arrival, and the names
of all those who sailed on board,--we pulled ashore. A
ribbon of beach not more than fifteen yards wide, composed
of iron-sand, augite, and pyroxene, running along under
the basaltic precipice--upwards of a thousand feet
high--which serves as a kind of plinth to the mountain,
was the only standing room this part of the coast afforded.
With considerable difficulty, and after a good hour's
climb, we succeeded in dragging the figure-head we had
brought ashore with us, up a sloping patch of snow, which
lay in a crevice of the cliff, and thence a little higher,
to a natural pedestal formed by a broken shaft of rock;
where--after having tied the tin box round her neck,
and duly planted the white ensign of St. George beside
her,--we left the superseded damsel, somewhat grimly
smiling across the frozen ocean at her feet, until some
Bacchus of a bear should come to relieve the loneliness
of my wooden Ariadne.

On descending to the water's edge, we walked some little
distance along the beach without observing anything very
remarkable, unless it were the network of vertical and
horizontal dikes of basalt which shot in every direction
through the scoriae and conglomerate of which the cliff
seemed to be composed. Innumerable sea-birds sat in the
crevices and ledges of the uneven surface, or flew about
us with such confiding curiosity, that by reaching out
my hand I could touch their wings as they poised themselves
in the air alongside. There was one old sober-sides with
whom I passed a good ten minutes tete-a-tete, trying who
could stare the other out of countenance.

It was now high time to be off. As soon then as we had
collected some geological specimens, and duly christened
the little cove, at the bottom of which we had landed,
"Clandeboye Creek,"--we walked back to the gig. But--so
rapidly was the ice drifting down upon the island,--we
found it had already become doubtful whether we should
not have to carry the boat over the patch which--during
the couple of hours we had spent on shore--had almost
cut her off from access to the water. If this was the
case with the gig, it was very evident the quicker we
got the schooner out to sea again the better. So immediately
we returned on board, having first fired a gun in token
of adieu to the desolate land we should never again set
foot on, the ship was put about, and our task of working
out towards the open water recommenced. As this operation
was likely to require some time, directly breakfast was
over, (it was now about eleven o'clock A.M.,) and after
a vain attempt had been made to take a photograph of the
mountain, which the mist was again beginning to envelope,
I turned in to take a nap, which I rather needed,--fully
expecting that by the time I awoke we should be beginning
to get pretty clear of the pack. On coming on deck,
however, four hours later, although we had reached away
a considerable distance from the land, and had even passed
the spot, where, the day before, the sea was almost
free,--the floes seemed closer than ever; and, what was
worse, from the mast-head not a vestige of open water
was to be discovered. On every side, as far as the eye
could reach, there stretched over the sea one cold white
canopy of ice.

The prospect of being beset, in so slightly built a craft,
was--to say the least--unpleasant; it looked very much
as if fresh packs were driving down upon us from the very
direction in which we were trying to push out, yet it
had become a matter of doubt which course it would be
best to steer. To remain stationary was out of the
question; the pace at which the fields drift is sometimes
very rapid, [Footnote: Dr. Scoresby states that the
invariable tendency of fields of ice is to drift
south-westward, and that the strange effects produced by
their occasional rapid motions, is one of the most striking
objects the Polar Seas present, and certainly the most
terrific. They frequently acquire a rotary motion, whereby
their circumference attains a velocity of several miles
an hour; and it is scarcely possible to conceive the
consequences produced by a body, exceeding ten thousand
million tons in weight, coming in contact with another
under such circumstances. The strongest ship is but an
insignificant impediment between two fields in motion.
Numbers of whale vessels have thus been destroyed; some
have been thrown upon the ice; some have had their hulls
completely torn open, or divided in two, and others have
been overrun by the ice, and buried beneath its heaped
fragments.] and the first nip would settle the poor little
schooner's business for ever. At the same time, it was
quite possible that any progress we succeeded in making,
instead of tending towards her liberation, might perhaps
be only getting her deeper into the scrape. One thing
was very certain,--Northing or Southing might be an even
chance, but whatever EASTING we could make must be to
the good; so I determined to choose whichever vein seemed
to have most Easterly direction in it. Two or three
openings of this sort from time to time presented
themselves; but in every case, after following them a
certain distance, they proved to be but CUL-DE-SACS, and
we had to return discomfited. My great hope was in a
change of wind. It was already blowing very fresh from
the northward and eastward; and if it would but shift a
few points, in all probability the ice would loosen as
rapidly as it had collected. In the meantime, the only
thing to do was to keep a sharp look-out, sail the vessel
carefully, and take advantage of every chance of getting
to the eastward.

It now grew colder than ever,--the distant land was almost
hid with fog,--tattered dingy clouds came crowding over
the heavens,--while Wilson moved uneasily about the deck,
with the air of Cassandra at the conflagration of Troy.
It was Sunday, the 14th of July, and I had a momentary
fancy that I could hear the sweet church bells in England
pealing across the cold white flats which surrounded us.
At last, about five o'clock P.M., the wind shifted a
point or two, then flew round into the south-east. Not
long after, just as I had expected, the ice evidently
began to loosen,--a promising opening was reported from
the mast-head a mile or so away on the port-bow, and by
nine o'clock we were spanking along, at the rate of eight
knots an hour, under a double-reefed mainsail and
staysail--down a continually widening channel, between
two wave-lashed ridges of drift ice. Before midnight, we
had regained the open sea, and were standing away

"to Norroway,
To Norroway, over the faem."

In the forenoon I had been too busy to have our usual
Sunday church; but as soon as we were pretty clear of
the ice I managed to have a short service in the cabin.

Of our run to Hammerfest I have nothing particular to
say. The distance is eight hundred miles, and we did it
in eight days. On the whole, the weather was pretty fair,
though cold, and often foggy. One day indeed was perfectly
lovely,--the one before we made the coast of Lapland,
--without a cloud to be seen for the space of twenty-four
hours; giving me an opportunity of watching the sun
performing his complete circle overhead, and taking a
meridian altitude at midnight. We were then in 70 degrees
25' North latitude; i.e., almost as far north as the
North Cape; yet the thermometer had been up to 80 degrees
during the afternoon.

Shortly afterwards the fog came on again, and next morning
it was blowing very hard from the eastward. This was the
more disagreeable, as it is always very difficult, under
the most favourable circumstances, to find one's way into
any harbour along this coast, fenced off, as it is, from
the ocean by a complicated outwork of lofty islands,
which, in their turn, are hemmed in by nests of sunken
rock, sown as thick as peas, for miles to seaward. There
are no pilots until you are within the islands, and no
longer want them,--no lighthouses or beacons of any sort;
and all that you have to go by is the shape of the
hill-tops; but as, on the clearest day, the outlines of
the mountains have about as much variety as the teeth of
a saw, and as on a cloudy day, which happens about seven
times a week, you see nothing but the line of their dark
roots,--the unfortunate mariner, who goes poking about
for the narrow passage which is to lead him between the
islands,--at the BACK of one of which a pilot is waiting
for him,--will, in all probability, have already placed
his vessel in a position to render that functionary's
further attendance a work of supererogation. At least,
I know it was as much surprise as pleasure that I
experienced, when, after having with many misgivings
ventured to slip through an opening in the monotonous
barricade of mountains, we found it was the right channel
to our port. If the king of all the Goths would only
stick up a lighthouse here and there along the edge of
his Arctic seaboard, he would save many an honest fellow
a heart-ache.

[Figure: fig-p130.gif]

I must now finish this long letter.

Hammerfest is scarcely worthy of my wasting paper on it.
When I tell you that it is the most northerly town in
Europe, I think I have mentioned its only remarkable
characteristic. It stands on the edge of an enormous
sheet of water, completely landlocked by three islands,
and consists of a congregation of wooden houses, plastered
up against a steep mountain; some of which being built
on piles, give the notion of the place having slipped
down off the hill half-way into the sea. Its population
is so and so,--its chief exports this and that; for all
which, see Mr. Murray's "Handbook," where you will find
all such matters much more clearly and correctly set down
than I am likely to state them. At all events, it produces
milk, cream--NOT butter--salad, and bad potatoes; which
is what we are most interested in at present. To think
that you should be all revelling this very moment in
green-peas and cauliflowers! I hope you don't forget your
grace before dinner. I will write to you again before
setting sail for Spitzbergen.



I have received a copy of the "Moniteur" of the 31st
July, containing so graphic an account of the voyage of
the "Reine Hortense" towards Jan Mayen, and of the
catastrophe to her tender the "Saxon,"--in consequence
of which the corvette was compelled to abandon her voyage
to the Northward,--that I must forward it to you.


"Voyage of Discovery along the Banquise, north of Iceland,

"It fell to the lot of an officer of the French navy, M.
Jules de Blosseville, to attempt to explore those distant
parts, and to shed an interest over them, both by his
discoveries and by his tragical and premature end.

In the spring of 1833, on the breaking up of a frost,
'La Lilloise,' under the command of that brave officer,
succeeded in passing through the Banquise, nearly up to
latitude 69 degrees, and in surveying about thirty leagues
of coast to the south of that latitude. After having
returned to her anchorage off the coast of Iceland, he
sailed again in July for a second attempt. From that time
nothing has been heard of 'La Lillouse.'

The following year the 'Bordelaise' was sent to look for
the 'Lilloise,' but found the whole north of Iceland
blocked up by ice-fields; and returned, having been
stopped in the latitude of the North Cape.

As a voyage to the Danish colonies on the western coast
of Greenland formed part of the scheme of our arctic
navigation, we were aware at our departure from Paris,
that it was our business to make ourselves well acquainted
with the southern part of the ice-field, from Reykjavik
to Cape Farewell. But while we were touching at Peterhead,
the principal port for the fitting of vessels destined
for the seal fishery, the Prince, and M. de la Ronciere,
Commander of 'La Reine Hortense,' gathered--from
conversations with the fishermen just returned from their
spring expedition--some important information on the
actual state of the ice. They learnt from them that
navigation was completely free this year round the whole
of Iceland; that the ice-field resting on Jan Mayen
Island, and surrounding it to a distance of about twenty
leagues, extended down the south-west along the coast of
Greenland, but without blocking up the channel which
separates that coast from that of Iceland. These unhoped-for
circumstances opened a new field to our explorations, by
allowing us to survey all that part of the Banquise which
extends to the north of Iceland, thus forming a continuation
to the observations made by the 'Recherche,' and to those
which we ourselves intended to make during our voyage to
Greenland. The temptation was too great for the Prince;
and Commander de la Ronciere was not a man to allow an
opportunity to escape for executing a project which
presented itself to him with the character of daring and

But the difficulties of the enterprise were serious, and
of such a nature that no one but a sailor experienced in
navigation is capable of appreciating. The 'Reine Hortense'
is a charming pleasure-boat, but she offers very few of
the requisites for a long voyage, and she was destitute
of all the special equipment indispensable for a long
sojourn in the ice. There was room but for six days'
coals, and for three weeks' water: As to the sails, one
may say the masts of the corvette are merely for show,
and that without steam it would be impossible to reckon
on her making any way regularly and uninterruptedly. Add
to this, that she is built of iron,--that is to say, an
iron sheet of about two centimbtres thick constitutes
all her planking,--and that her deck--divided into twelve
great panels, is so weak that it has been thought incapable
of carrying guns proportioned to her tonnage. Those who
have seen the massive vessels of the fishermen of Peterhead,
their enormous outside planking, their bracings and
fastenings in wood and in iron, and their internal knees
and stancheons, may form an idea from such
precautions--imposed by long experience of the nature of
the dangers that the shock--or even the pressure of the
ice--may cause to a ship in the latitudes that we were
going to explore.

The 'Cocyte' had also been placed at the disposal of
H.I.H. Prince Napoleon. This vessel which arrived at
Reykjavik the same day that we did, the 30th of June--is
a steam schooner, with paddles, standing the sea well,
carying coals for twelve days, but with a deplorably slow
rate of speed.

We found besides at Reykjavik the war transport 'La
Perdrix' and two English merchant steamers, the 'Tasmania
and the 'Saxon,' freighted by the Admiralty to take to
Iceland coals necessary for our voyage to Greenland.
These five vessels, with the frigate 'Artemise,' which
performed he duties of guardship, formed the largest
squadron which had ever assembled in the harbour of the
capital of Iceland.

Unfortunately, these varied and numerous elements had
nothing in common, and Commodore de la Ronciere soon saw
that extraneous help would afford us no additional
security; and, in short, that the 'Refine Bortense'--
obliged to go fast--as her short supplies would not allow
long voyages, had to reckon on herself alone. However,
the [English] captain of the 'Saxon' expressing a great
desire to visit these northern parts, and displaying on
this subject a sort of national vanity, besides promising
an average speed of seven knots an hour, it was decided
that--at all events, that vessel should start alone with
the 'Refine Hortense,' whose supply of coals it would be
able to replenish, in the event--a doubtful one, it is
true--of our making the coast of Jan Mayen's Island, and
finding a good anchorage. The 'Reine Hortense' had--by
the help of a supplementary load on deck--a supply of
coals for eight days; and immediately on starting, the
crew as well as the passengers, were to be put on a
measured allowance of water.

A few hours before getting under way, the expedition was
completed by the junction of a new companion, quite
unexpected. We found in Reykjavik harbour a yacht belonging
to Lord Dufferin. The Prince, seeing his great desire to
visit the neighbourhood of Jan Mayen, offered to take
his schooner in tow of the 'Reine Hortense.' It was a
fortunate accident for a seeker of maritime adventures;
and an hour afterwards, the proposition having been
eagerly accepted, the Englishman was attached by two long
cables to the stern of our corvette.

On the 7th of July, 1856, at two o'clock in the morning,
after a ball given by Commander de Mas on board the
'Artemise,'--the 'Reine Hortense,' with the English
schooner in tow, left Reykjavik harbour, directing her
course along the west coast of Iceland, towards
Onundarfiord, where we were to join the 'Saxon' which
had left a few hours before us. At nine o'clock, the
three vessels, steering east-north-east, doubled the
point of Cape North. At noon our observation of the
latitude placed us about 67 degrees. We had just crossed
the Arctic circle. The temperature was that of a fine
spring day, 10 degrees centigrade (50 degrees Farenh.).

The 'Reine Hortense' diminished her speed. A rope thrown
across one of the towing-ropes enabled Lord Dufferin to
haul one of his boats to our corvette. He himself came
to dine with us, and to be present at the ceremony of
crossing the polar circle. As to the 'Saxon,' M. de la
Ronciere perceived by this time that the worthy Englishman
had presumed too much on his power. The 'Saxon' was
evidently incapable of following us. The captain, therefore,
made her a signal that she was to take her own course,
to try and reach Jan Mayen; and if she could not succeed,
to direct her course on Onundarfiord, and there to wait
for us. The English vessel fell rapidly astern, her hull
disappeared, then her sails, and in the evening every
trace of her smoke had faded from the horizon.

In the evening, the temperature grew gradually colder;
that of the water underwent a more rapid and significant
change. At twelve at night it was only three degrees
centig. (about 37 degrees Fahr.). At that moment the
vessel plunged into a bank of fog, the intensity of which
we were enabled to ascertain, from the continuance of
daylight in these latitudes at this time of the year.
There are tokens that leave no room to doubt that we are
approaching the solid ice. True enough:--at two o'clock
in the morning the officer on watch sees close to the
ship a herd of seals, inhabitants of the field ice. A
few minutes later the fog clears up suddenly; a ray of
sunshine gilds the surface of the sea; lighting up millions
of patches of sparkling white, extending to the farthest
limit of the horizon. These are the detached hummocks
which precede and announce the field ice; they increase
in size and in number as we proceed. At three o'clock in
the afternoon we find ourselves in front of a large pack
which blocks up the sea before us. We are obliged to
change our course to extricate ourselves from the ice
that surrounds us. This is an evolution requiring on
the part of the commander the greatest precision of eye,
and a perfect knowledge of his ship. The 'Reine Hortense,'
going half speed, with all the officers and the crew on
deck, glides along between the blocks of ice, some of
which she seems almost to touch, and the smallest of
which would sink her instantly if a collision took place.
Another danger, which it is almost impossible to guard
against, threatens a vessel in those trying moments. If
a piece of ice gets under the screw, it will be inevitably
smashed like glass, and the consequences of such an
accident might be fatal.

The little English schooner follows us bravely; bounding
in our track, and avoiding only by a constant watchfulness
and incessant attention to the helm the icebergs that we
have cleared.

But the difficulties of this navigation are nothing in
clear weather, as compared to what they are in a fog.
Then, notwithstanding the slowness of the speed, it
requires as much luck as skill to avoid collisions. Thus
it happened that after having escaped the ice a first
time, and having steered E.N.E., we found ourselves
suddenly, towards two o'clock of that same day (the 9th),
not further than a quarter of a mile from the field ice
which the fog had hidden from us. Generally speaking,
the Banquise that we coasted along for three days, and
that we traced with the greatest care for nearly a hundred
leagues, presented to us an irregular line of margin,
running from W.S.W. to E.N.E., and thrusting forward
toward the south-capes and promontories of various sizes,
and serrated like the teeth of a saw. Every time that we
bore up for E.N.E., we soon found ourselves in one of
the gulfs of ice formed by the indentations of the
Banquise. It was only by steering to the S.W. that we
got free from the floating icebergs, to resume our former
course as soon as the sea was clear.

The further we advanced to the northward, the thicker
became the fog and more intense the cold (two degrees
centig, below zero); and snow whirled round in squalls
of wind, and fell in large flakes on the deck. The ice
began to present a new aspect, and to assume those
fantastic and terrible forms and colours, which painters
have made familiar to us. At one time it assumed the
appearance of mountain-peaks covered with snow, furrowed
with valleys of green and blue; more frequently they
appeared like a wide flat plateau, as high as the ship's
deck, against which the sea rolled with fury, hollowing
its edges into gulfs, or breaking them into perpendicular
cliffs or caverns, into which the sea rushed in clouds
of foam.

We often passed close by a herd of seals, which-stretched
on these floating islands, followed the ship with a stupid
and puzzled look. We were forcibly struck with the contrast
between the fictitious world in which we lived on board
the ship, and the terrible realities of nature that
surrounded us. Lounging in an elegant saloon, at the
corner of a clear and sparkling fire, amidst a thousand
objects of the arts and luxuries of home, we might have
believed that we had not changed our residence, or our
habits, or our enjoyments. One of Strauss's waltzes, or
Schubert's melodies--played on the piano by the
band-master--completed the illusion; and yet we had only
to rub off the thin incrustation of frozen vapour that
covered the panes of the windows, to look out upon the
gigantic and terrible forms of the icebergs dashed against
each other by a black and broken sea, and the whole
panorama of Polar nature, its awful risks, and its sinister

Meanwhile, we progressed but very slowly. On the 10th of
July we were still far from the meridian of Jan Mayen,
when we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by a fog,
and at the bottom of one of the bays formed by the field
ice. We tacked immediately, and put the ship about, but
the wind had accumulated the ice behind us. At a distance
the circle that enclosed us seemed compact and without
egress. We considered this as the most critical moment
of our expedition. Having tried this icy barrier at
several points, we found a narrow and tortuous channel,
into which we ventured; and it was not till after an hour
of anxieties that we got a view of the open sea, and of
a passage into it. From this moment we were able to
coast along the Banquise without interruption.

On the 11th of July at 6 A.M. we reached, at last, the
meridian of Jan Mayen, at about eighteen leagues' distance
[Footnote: I think there must be some mistake here; when
we parted company with the "Reine Hortense," we were
still upwards of 100 miles distant from the southern
extremity of Jan Mayen.] from the southern part of that
island, but we saw the ice-field stretching out before
us as far as the eye could reach; hence it became evident
that Jan Mayen was blocked up by the ice, at least along
its south coast. To ascertain whether it might still be
accessible from the north, it would have been necessary
to have attempted a circuit to the eastward, the possible
extent of which could not be estimated; moreover, we had
consumed half our coals, and had lost all hope of being
rejoined by the 'Saxon.' Thus forced to give up any
further attempts in that direction, Commodore de la
Ronciere, having got the ship clear of the floating ice,
took a W.S.W. course, in the direction of Reykjavik.

The instant the 'Reine Hortense' assumed this new course,
a telegraphic signal--as had been previously arranged--
acquainted Lord Dufferin with our determinations. Almost
immediately, the young Lord sent on board us a tin box,
with two letters, one for his mother, and one for our
commander. In the latter he stated that--finding himself
clear of the ice, and master of his own movements--he
preferred continuing his voyage alone, uncertain whether
he should at once push for Norway, or return to Scotland.
[Footnote: I was purposely vague as to my plans, lest
you might learn we still intended to go on.] The two
ropes that united the vessels were then cast off, a
farewell hurrah was given, and in a moment the English
schooner was lost in the fog.

Our return to Reykjavik afforded no incident worth notice;
the 'Reine Hortense,' keeping her course outside the ice,
encountered no impediment, except from the intense fogs,
which forced her--from the impossibility of ascertaining
her position--to lie to, and anchor off the cape during
part of the day and night of the 13th.

On the morning of the 14th, as we were getting out at
the Dyre Fiord, where we had anchored, we met--to our
great astonishment--the 'Cocyte' proceeding northward.
Her commander, Sonnart, informed us that on the evening
of the 12th, the 'Saxon'--in consequence of the injuries
she had received, had been forced back to Reykjavik. She
had hardly reached the ice on the 9th, when she came into
collision with it; five of her timbers had been stove
in, and an enormous leak had followed. Becoming
water-logged, she was run ashore, the first tine at
Onundarfiord, and again in Reykjavik roads, whither she
had been brought with the greatest difficulty."



July 27th, Alten.

This letter ought to be an Eclogue, so pastoral a life
have we been leading lately among these pleasant Nordland
valleys. Perhaps it is only the unusual sight of meadows,
trees and flowers, after the barren sea, and still more
barren lands we have been accustomed to, that invests
this neighbourhood with such a smiling character. Be that
as it may, the change has been too grateful not to have
made us seriously reflect on our condition; and we have
at last determined that not even the envious ocean shall
for the future cut us off from the pleasures of a shepherd
life. Henceforth, the boatswain is no longer to be the
only swain on board! We have purchased an ancient goat--a
nanny-goat--so we may be able to go a-milking upon
occasion. Mr. Webster, late of her Majesty's Foot-guards,
carpenter, etc., takes brevet-rank as dairy-maid; and
our venerable passenger is at this moment being inducted
into a sumptuous barrel [Footnote: The cask in question
was bought in order to be rigged up eventually into a
crow's-nest, as soon as we should again find ourselves
among the ice.] which I have had fitted up for her
reception abaft the binnacle. A spacious meadow of
sweet-scented hay has been laid down in a neighbouring
corner for her further accommodation; and the Doctor is
tuning up his flageolet, in order to complete the bucolic
character of the scene. The only personage amongst us at
all disconcerted by these arrangements is the little
white fox which has come with us from Iceland. Whether
he considers the admission on board of so domestic an
animal to be a reflection on his own wild Viking habits,
I cannot say; but there is no impertinence--even to the
nibbling of her beard when she is asleep--of which he is
not guilty towards the poor old thing, who passes the
greater part of her mornings in gravely butting at her
irreverent tormentor.

[Figure: fig-p142.gif]

But I must relate our last week's proceedings in a more
orderly manner.

As soon as the anchor was let go in Hammerfest harbour,
we went ashore; and having first ascertained that the
existence of a post does not necessarily imply letters,
we turned away, a little disappointed, to examine the
metropolis of Finmark. A nearer inspection did not improve
the impression its first appearance had made upon us;
and the odour of rancid cod-liver oil, which seemed
indiscriminately to proceed from every building in the
town, including the church, has irretrievably confirmed
us in our prejudices. Nevertheless, henceforth the place
will have one redeeming association connected with it,
which I am bound to mention. It was in the streets of
Hammerfest that I first set eyes on a Laplander. Turning
round the corner of one of the ill-built houses, we
suddenly ran over a diminutive little personage in a
white woollen tunic, bordered with red and yellow stripes,
green trousers, fastened round the ankles, and reindeer
boots, curving up at the toes like Turkish slippers. On
her head--for notwithstanding the trousers, she turned
out to be a lady--was perched a gay parti-coloured cap,
fitting close round the face, and running up at the back
into an overarching peak of red cloth. Within this peak
was crammed--as I afterwards learnt--a piece of hollow
wood, weighing about a quarter of a pound, into which is
fitted the wearer's back hair; so that perhaps, after
all, there does exist a more in, convenient coiffure than
a Paris bonnet.

Hardly had we taken off our hats, and bowed a thousand
apologies for our unintentional rudeness to the fair
inhabitant of the green trousers, before a couple of Lapp
gentlemen hove in sight. They were dressed pretty much
like their companion, except that an ordinary red night-cap
replaced the queer helmet worn by the lady; and the knife
and sporran fastened to their belts, instead of being
suspended in front as hers were, hung down against their
hips. Their tunics, too, may have been a trifle shorter.
None of the three were beautiful. High cheek-bones, short
noses, oblique Mongol eyes, no eyelashes, and enormous
mouths, composed a cast of features which their burnt-sienna
complexion, and hair like ill-got-in hay did not much
enhance. The expression of their countenances was not
unintelligent; and there was a merry, half-timid,
half-cunning twinkle in their eyes, which reminded me a
little of faces I had met with in the more neglected
districts of Ireland. Some ethnologists, indeed, are
inclined to reckon the Laplanders as a branch of the
Celtic family. Others, again, maintain them to be Ugrians;
while a few pretend to discover a relationship between
the Lapp language and the dialects of the Australian
savages, and similar outsiders of the human family;
alleging that as successive stocks bubbled up from the
central birthplace of mankind in Asia, the earlier and
inferior races were gradually driven outwards in concentric
circles, like the rings produced by the throwing of a
stone into a pond; and that consequently, those who dwell
in the uttermost ends of the earth are, ipso facto, first

This relationship with the Polynesian Niggers, the native
genealogists would probably scout with indignation, being
perfectly persuaded of the extreme gentility of their
descent. Their only knowledge of the patriarch Noah is
as a personage who derives his principal claim to notoriety
from having been the first Lapp. Their acquaintance with
any sacred history--nay, with Christianity at all--is
very limited. It was not until after the thirteenth
century that an attempt was made to convert them; and
although Charles the Fourth and Gustavus ordered portions
of Scripture to be translated in Lappish, to this very
day a great proportion of the race are pagans; and even
the most illuminated amongst them remain slaves to the
grossest superstition. When a couple is to be married,
if a priest happens to be in the way, they will send for
him perhaps out of complaisance; but otherwise, the young
lady's papa merely strikes a flint and steel together,
and the ceremony is not less irrevocably completed. When
they die, a hatchet and a flint and steel are invariably
buried with the defunct, in case he should find himself
chilly on his long journey--an unnecessary precaution,
many of the orthodox would consider, on the part of such
lax religionists. When they go boar-hunting--the most
important business in their lives--it is a sorcerer, with
no other defence than his incantations, who marches at
the head of the procession. In the internal arrangements
of their tents, it is not a room to themselves, but a
door to themselves, that they assign to their womankind;
for woe betide the hunter if a woman has crossed the
threshold over which he sallies to the chase; and for
three days after the slaughter of his prey he must live
apart from the female portion of his family in order to
appease the evil deity whose familiar he is supposed to
have destroyed. It would be endless to recount the
innumerable occasions upon which the ancient rites of
Jumala are still interpolated among the Christian
observances they profess to have adopted.

Their manner of life I had scarcely any opportunities of
observing. Our Consul kindly undertook to take us to one
of their encampments; but they flit so often from place
to place, it is very difficult to light upon them. Here
and there, as we cruised about among the fiords, blue
wreaths of smoke rising from some little green nook among
the rocks would betray their temporary place of abode;
but I never got a near view of a regular settlement.

In the summer-time they live in canvas tents: during
winter, when the snow is on the ground, the forest Lapps
build huts in the branches of trees, and so roost like
birds. The principal tent is of an hexagonal form, with
a fire in the centre, whose smoke rises through a hole
in the roof. The gentlemen and ladies occupy different
sides of the same apartment; but a long pole laid along
the ground midway between them symbolizes an ideal
partition, which I dare say is in the end as effectual
a defence as lath and plaster prove in more civilized
countries. At all events, the ladies have a doorway quite
to themselves, which, doubtless, they consider a far
greater privilege than the seclusion of a separate boudoir.
Hunting and fishing are the principal employments of the
Lapp tribes; and to slay a bear is the most honourable
exploit a Lapp hero can achieve. The flesh of the
slaughtered beast becomes the property--not of the man
who killed him, but of him who discovered his trail, and
the skin is hung up on a pole, for the wives of all who
took part in the expedition to shoot at with their eyes
bandaged. Fortunate is she whose arrow pierces the
trophy,--not only does it become her prize, but, in the
eyes of the whole settlement, her husband is looked upon
thence forth as the most fortunate of men. As long as
the chase is going on, the women are not allowed to stir
abroad; but as soon as the party have safely brought home
their booty, the whole female population issue from the
tents, and having deliberately chewed some bark of a
species of alder, they spit the red juice into their
husband's faces, typifying thereby the bear's blood which
has been shed in the honourable encounter.

Although the forests, the rivers, and the sea supply them
in a great measure with their food, it is upon the reindeer
that the Laplander is dependent for every other comfort
in life. The reindeer is his estate, his horse, his cow,
his companion, and friend. He has twenty-two different
names for him. His coat, trousers, and shoes are made of
reindeer's skin, stitched with thread manufactured from
the nerves and sinews of the reindeer. Reindeer milk is
the most important item in his diet. Out of reindeer
horns are made almost all the utensils used in his domestic
economy; and it is the reindeer that carries his baggage,
and drags his sledge. But the beauty of this animal is
by no means on a par with his various moral and physical
endowments. His antlers, indeed, are magnificent, branching
back to the length of three or four feet; but his body
is poor, and his limbs thick and ungainly; neither is
his pace quite so rapid as is generally supposed. The
Laplanders count distances by the number of horizons they
have traversed; and if a reindeer changes the horizon
three times during the twenty-four hours, it is thought
a good day's work. Moreover, so just an appreciation has
the creature of what is due to his own great merit, that
if his owner seeks to tax him beyond his strength, he
not only becomes restive, but sometimes actually turns
upon the inconsiderate Jehu who has over-driven him.
When, therefore, a Lapp is in a great hurry, instead of
taking to his sledge, he puts on a pair of skates exactly
twice as long as his own body, and so flies on the wings
of the wind.

Every Laplander, however poor, has his dozen or two dozen
deer; and the flocks of a Lapp Croesus amount sometimes
to two thousand head. As soon as a young lady is born--after
having been duly rolled in the snow--she is dowered by
her father with a certain number of deer, which are
immediately branded with her initials, and thenceforth
kept apart as her especial property. In proportion as
they increase and multiply does her chance improve of
making a good match. Lapp courtships are conducted pretty
much in the same fashion as in other parts of the world.
The aspirant, as soon as he discovers that he has lost
his heart, goes off in search of a friend and a bottle
of brandy. The friend enters the tent, and opens
simultaneously--the brandy--and his business; while the
lover remains outside, engaged in hewing wood, or some
other menial employment. If, after the brandy and the
proposal have been duly discussed, the eloquence of his
friend prevails, he is himself called into the conclave,
and the young people are allowed to rub noses. The bride
then accepts from her suitor a present of a reindeer's
tongue, and the espousals are considered concluded. The
marriage does not take place for two or three years
afterwards; and during the interval the intended is
obliged to labour in the service of his father-in-law,
as diligently as Jacob served Laban for the sake of his
long-loved Rachel.

I cannot better conclude this summary of what I have been
able to learn about the honest Lapps, than by sending
you the tourist's stock specimen of a Lapp love-ditty.
The author is supposed to be hastening in his sledge
towards the home of his adored one:--

"Hasten, Kulnasatz! my little reindeer! long is the way,
and boundless are the marshes. Swift are we, and light
of foot, and soon we shall have come to whither we are
speeding. There shall I behold my fair one pacing.
Kulnasatz, my reindeer, look forth! look around! Dost
thou not see her somewhere--BATHING?"

As soon as we had thoroughly looked over the Lapp lady
and her companions, a process to which they submitted
with the greatest complacency, we proceeded to inspect
the other lions of the town; the church, the lazar-house,--
principally occupied by Lapps,--the stock fish
establishment, and the hotel. But a very few hours were
sufficient to exhaust the pleasures of Hammerfest; so
having bought an extra suit of jerseys for my people,
and laid in a supply of other necessaries, likely to be
useful in our cruise to Spitzbergen, we exchanged dinners
with the Consul, a transaction by which, I fear, he got
the worst of the bargain, and then got under way for this

The very day we left Hammerfest our hopes of being able
to get to Spitzbergen at all--received a tremendous shock.
We had just sat down to dinner, and I was helping the
Consul to fish, when in comes Wilson, his face, as usual,
upside down, and hisses something into the Doctor's ear.
Ever since the famous dialogue which had taken place
between them on the subject of sea-sickness, Wilson had
got to look upon Fitz as in some sort his legitimate
prey; and whenever the burden of his own misgivings became
greater than he could bear, it was to the Doctor that he
unbosomed himself. On this occasion, I guessed, by the
look of gloomy triumph in his eyes, that some great
calamity had occurred, and it turned out that the following
was the agreeable announcement he had been in such haste
to make: "Do you know, Sir?"--This was always the preface
to tidings unusually doleful. "No--what?" said the
Doctor, breathless. "Oh nothing, Sir; only two sloops
have just arrived, Sir, from Spitzbergen, Sir--where they
couldn't get, Sir;--such a precious lot of ice--two
hundred miles from the land-and, oh, Sir--they've come
back with all their bows stove in!" Now, immediately on
arriving at Hammerfest, my first care had been to inquire
how the ice was lying this year to the northward, and I
had certainly been told that the season was a very bad
one, and that most of the sloops that go every summer to
kill sea-horses (i.e., walrus) at Spitzbergen, being
unable to reach the land., had returned empty-handed;
but as three weeks of better weather had intervened since
their discomfiture, I had quite reassured myself with
the hope, that in the meantime the advance of the season
might have opened for us a passage to the island.

This news of Wilson's quite threw me on my back again.
The only consolation was, that probably it was not true;
so immediately after dinner we boarded the honest
Sea-horseman who was reported to have brought the dismal
intelligence. He turned out to be a very cheery intelligent
fellow of about five-and-thirty, six feet high, with a
dashing "devil-may-care" manner that completely imposed
upon me. Charts were got out, and the whole state of the
case laid before me in the clearest manner. Nothing could
be more unpromising. The sloop had quitted the ice but
eight-and-forty hours before making the Norway coast;
she had not been able even to reach Bear Island. Two
hundred miles of ice lay off the southern and western
coast of Spitzbergen--(the eastern side is always blocked
up with ice)--and then bent round in a continuous semicircle
towards Jan Mayen. That they had not failed for want of
exertion--the bows of his ships sufficiently testified.
As to OUR getting there it was out of the question. So
spake the Sea-horseman. On returning on board the "Foam"
I gave myself up to the most gloomy reflections. This,
then, was to be the result of all my preparations and
long-meditated schemes. What likelihood was there of
success, after so unfavourable a verdict? Ipse dixit,
equus marinus. It is true the horse-marines have hitherto
been considered a mythic corps, but my friend was too
substantial-looking for me to doubt his existence: and
unless I was to ride off on the proverbial credulity of
the other branch of that amphibious profession, I had no
reason to question his veracity. Nevertheless, I felt it
would not become a gentleman to turn back at the first
blush of discouragement. If it were possible to reach
Spitzbergen, I was determined to do so. I reflected that
every day that passed was telling in our favour. It was
not yet the end of July; even in these latitudes winter
does not commence much before September, and in the
meantime the tail of the Gulf Stream would still be
wearing a channel in the ice towards the pole; so, however
unpromising might be the prospect, I determined, at all
events, that we should go and see for ourselves how
matters really stood.

But I must explain to you why I so counted upon the
assistance of the Gulf Stream to help us through.

The entire configuration of the Arctic ice is determined
by the action of that mysterious current on its edges.
Several theories have been advanced to account for its
influence in so remote a region. I give you one which
appears to me reasonable. It is supposed, that in obedience
to that great law of Nature which seeks to establish
equilibrium in the temperature of fluids,--a vast body
of gelid water is continually mounting from the Antarctic,
to displace and regenerate the over-heated oceans of the
torrid zone. Bounding up against the west side of South
America, the ascending stream skirts the coasts of Chili
and Peru, and is then deflected in a westerly direction
across the Pacific Ocean, where it takes the name of the
Equatorial Current. Having completely encircled Australia,
it enters the Indian Sea, sweeps up round the Cape of
Good Hope, and, crossing the Atlantic, twists into the
Gulf of Mexico. Here its flagging energies are suddenly
accelerated in consequence of the narrow limits within
which it finds itself compressed. So marvellous does
the velocity of the current now become, so complete its
isolation from the deep sea bed it traverses, that by
the time it issues again into the Atlantic, its hitherto
diffused and loitering waters are suddenly concentrated
into what Lieutenant Maury has happily called--"a river
in the ocean," swifter and of greater volume than either
the Mississippi or the Amazon. Surging forth between the
interstices of the Bahamas, that stretch like a weir
across its mouth, it cleaves asunder the Atlantic. So
distinct is its individuality, that one side of a vessel
will be scoured by its warm indigo-coloured water, while
the other is floating in the pale, stagnant, weed-encumbered
brine of the Mar de Sargasso of the Spaniards. It is not
only by colour, by its temperature, by its motion, that
this (Greek) "ron Okeanuio" is distinguished; its very
surface is arched upwards some way above the ordinary
sea-level toward the centre, by the lateral pressure of
the elastic liquid banks between which it flows. Impregnated
with the warmth of tropic climes, the Gulf Stream-as it
has now come to be called,--then pours its genial floods
across the North Atlantic, laving the western coasts of
Britain, Ireland, and Norway, and investing each shore
it strikes upon, with a climate far milder than that
enjoyed by other lands situated in the same latitudes.
Arrived abreast of the North Cape, the impetus of the
current is in a great measure exhausted.

From causes similar (though of less efficacy, in consequence
of the smaller area occupied by water) to those which
originally gave birth to the ascending energy of the
Antarctic waters, a gelid current is also generated in
the Arctic Ocean, which, descending in a south-westerly
direction, encounters the already faltering Gulf Stream
in the space between Spitzbergen and Nova Zembla. A
contest for the mastery ensues, which is eventually
terminated by a compromise. The warmer stream, no longer
quite able to hold its own, splits into two branches,
the one squeezing itself round the North Cape, as far as
that Varangar Fiord which Russia is supposed so much to
covet, while the other is pushed up in a more northerly
direction along the west coast of Spitzbergen. But although
it has power to split up the Gulf Stream for a certain
distance, the Arctic current is ultimately unable to cut
across it, and the result is an accumulation of ice to
the south of Spitzbergen in the angle formed by the
bifurcation, as Mr. Grote would call it, of the warmer

It is quite possible, therefore, that the north-west
extremity of Spitzbergen may be comparatively clear,
while the whole of its southern coasts are enveloped in
belts of ice of enormous extent. It was on this contingency
that we built our hopes, and determined to prosecute our
voyage, in spite of the discouraging report of the Norse

About eight o'clock in the evening we got under way from
Hammerfest; unfortunately the wind almost immediately
after fell dead calm, and during the whole night we lay
"like a painted ship upon a painted ocean." At six o'clock
a little breeze sprang up, and when we came on deck at
breakfast time, the schooner was skimming at the rate of
five knots an hour over the level lanes of water, which
lie between the silver-grey ridges of gneiss and mica
slate that hem in the Nordland shore. The distance from
Hammerfest to Alten is about forty miles, along a zigzag
chain of fiords. It was six o'clock in the evening, and
we had already sailed two-and-thirty miles, when it again
fell almost calm. Impatient at the unexpected delay, and
tempted by the beauty of the evening,--which was indeed
most lovely, the moon hanging on one side right opposite
to the sun on the other, as in the picture of Joshua's
miracle,--Sigurdr, in an evil hour, proposed that we
should take a row in the dingy, until the midnight breeze
should spring up, and bring the schooner along with it.
Away we went, and so occupied did we become with admiring
the rocky precipices beneath which we were gliding, that
it was not until the white sails of the motionless schooner
had dwindled to a speck, that we became aware of the
distance we had come.

Our attention had been further diverted by the spectacle
of a tribe of fishes, whose habit it appeared to be--instead
of swimming like Christian fishes in a horizontal position
beneath the water--to walk upon their hind-legs along


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