Letters From High Latitudes
The Marquess of Dufferin (Lord Dufferin)
Part 5 out of 5
sides bristling with armed men; "and when they saw her,
none spoke, all knew it to be indeed the 'Serpent,'--and
they went to their ships to arm for the fight." As soon as
Olaf and his forces had been enticed into the narrow
passage, the united fleets of the three allies pour out of the
Sound; his people beg Olaf to hold on his way and not
risk battle with such a superior force; but the King replied,
high on the quarter-deck where he stood, "Strike the
sails! I never fled from battle: let God dispose of my life,
but flight I will never take!" He then orders the warhorns
to sound, for all his ships to close up to each other.
"Then," says Ulf the Red, captain of the forecastle, "if
the 'Long Serpent' is to lie so much a-head of the other
vessels, we shall have hot work of it here on the forecastle."
The King replies, "I did not think I had a forecastle
man afraid, as well as red." [Footnote: There is a play
on these two words in the Icelandic, "Raudau oc Ragan."]
Says Ulf, "Defend thou the quarter-deck, as _I_ shall
The King had a bow in his hands; he laid an arrow on the
string, and made as if he aimed at Ulf.
Ulf said, "Shoot another way, King, where it is more
needful,--my work is thy gain."
Then the King asks, "Who is the chief of the force right
opposite to us?" He is answered, "Svend of Denmark, with
Olaf replies, "We are not afraid of these soft Danes!
Who are the troops on the right?"
They answer, "Olaf of Sweden, and his forces."
"Better it were," replies the King, "for these Swedes to
be sitting at home, killing their sacrifices, than
venturing under the weapons of the 'Long Serpent.' But
who owns the large ships on the larboard side of the
"That is Jarl Eric, son of Hacon," say they.
The King says, "He has reason for meeting us; we may
expect hard blows from these men; they are Norsemen like
The fierce conflict raged for many hours. It went hard
with the "soft Danes," and idolatrous Swedes, as Olaf
had foreseen: after a short struggle they turn and fly.
But Jarl Eric in his large ship the "Iron Beard" is more
than a match for Olafs lighter vessels. One by one their
decks are deluged with blood, their brave defenders swept
into the sea; one by one they are cut adrift and sent
loose with the tide. And now at last the "Iron Beard"
lies side by side with the "Long Serpent," and it is
indeed "hot work" both on forecastle and quarter-deck.
"Einar Tambarskelvar, one of the sharpest of bowmen,
stood by the mast, and shot with his bow." His arrow hits
the tiller-end, just over the Earl's head, and buries
itself up to the shaft in the wood. "Who shot that bolt?"
says the Jarl. Another flies between his hand and side,
and enters the stuffing of the chief's stool. Then said
the Jarl to a man named Fin, "Shoot that tall archer by
the mast!" Fin shoots; the arrow hits the middle of
Einar's bow as he is in the act of drawing it, and the
bow is split in two.
"What is that," cried King Olaf, "that broke with such
"NORWAY, King, from thy hands!" cried Einar.
"No! not so much as that," says the King; "take my bow,
and shoot,"--flinging the bow to him.
Einar took the bow, and drew it over the head of the
arrow. "Too weak, too weak," said he, "for the bow of a
mighty King!" and throwing the bow aside, "he took sword
and buckler, and fought valiantly."
But Olaf's hour is come. Many slain lie around him, many
that have fallen by his hand, more that have fallen at
his side. The thinned ranks on board the "Iron Beard"
are constantly replenished by fresh combatants from other
vessels, even by the Swedes and soft Danes, now "strong,
upon the stronger side,"--while Olaf, cut off from succour,
stands almost alone upon the "Serpent's" deck, made
slippery by his people's blood. The jarl had laid out
boats to intercept all who might escape from the ship;
but escape is not in the King's thoughts. He casts one
look around him, glances at his sword--broken like Einar's
bow--draws a deep breath, and, holding his shield above
his head, springs overboard. A shout--a rush! who shall
first grasp that noble prisoner? Back, slaves! the shield
that has brought him scathless through a hundred fights,
shall yet shelter him from dishonour.
Countless hands are stretched to snatch him back to
worthless life, but the shield alone floats on the swirl
of the wave;--King Olaf has sunk beneath it.
Perhaps you have already had enough of my Saga lore; but
with that grey cathedral full in sight, I cannot but
dedicate a few lines to another Olaf, king and warrior
like the last, but to whom after times have accorded a
yet higher title.
Saint Olaf's--Saint Olave, as we call him--early history
savours little of the odour of sanctity, but has rather
that "ancient and fish-like smell" which characterised
the doings of the Vikings, his ancestors. But those were
days when honour rather than disgrace attached to the
ideas of booty and plunder, especially in an enemy's
country; it was a "spoiling of the Egyptians" sanctioned
by custom, and even permitted by the Church, which did
not disdain occasionally to share in the profits of a
successful cruise, when presented in the decent form of
silver candlesticks and other ecclesiastical gauds. As
to the ancient historian, he mentions these matters as
a thing of course. "Here the King landed, burnt, and
ravaged;" "there the Jarl gained much booty;" "this
summer, they took a cruise in the Baltic, to gather
property," etc., much as a modern biographer would speak
of a gentleman's successful railroad speculations, his
taking shares in a coal mine, or coming into a "nice
little thing in the Long Annuities." Nevertheless, there
is something significant of his future vocation, in a
speech which Olaf makes to his assembled friends and
relations, imparting to them his design of endeavouring
to regain possession of the throne: "I and my men have
nothing for our support save what we captured in war,
FOR WHICH WE HAVE HAZARDED BOTH LIFE AND SOUL; for many
an innocent man have we deprived of his property, and
some of their lives, and foreigners are now sitting in
the possessions of my fathers." One sees here a faint
glimmer of the Saint's nimbus, over the helmet of the
Viking, a dawning perception of the "rights of property,"
which, no doubt, must have startled his hearers into the
most ardent conservative zeal for the good old marauding
But though years elapsed, and fortunes changed, before
this dim light of the early Church became that scorching
and devouring flame which, later, spread terror and
confusion among the haunts of the still lingering ancient
gods, an earnest sense of duty seems to have been ever
present with him. If it cannot be denied that he shared
the errors of other proselytizing monarchs, and put down
Paganism with a stern and bloody hand, no merely personal
injury ever weighed with him. How grand is his reply to
those who advise him to ravage with fire and sword the
rebellious district of Throndhjem, as he had formerly
punished numbers of his subjects who had rejected
Christianity:--"We had then GOD'S honour to defend; but
this treason against their sovereign is a much less
grievous crime; it is more in my power to spare those
who have dealt ill with me, than those whom God hated."
The same hard measure which he meted to others he applied
to his own actions: witness that curiously characteristic
scene, when, sitting in his high seat, at table, lost in
thought, he begins unconsciously to cut splinters from
a piece of fir-wood which he held in his hand. The table
servant, seeing what the King was about, says to him,
(mark the respectful periphrasis!) "IT IS MONDAY, SIRE,
TO-MORROW." The King looks at him, and it came into his
mind what he was doing on a Sunday. He sweeps up the
shavings he had made, sets fire to them, and lets them
burn on his naked hand; "showing thereby that he would
hold fast by God's law, and not trespass without
But whatever human weaknesses may have mingled with the
pure ore of this noble character, whatever barbarities
may have stained his career, they are forgotten in the
pathetic close of his martial story.
His subjects,--alienated by the sternness with which he
administers his own severely religious laws, or corrupted
by the bribes of Canute, king of Denmark and England,
are fallen from their allegiance. The brave, single-hearted
monarch is marching against the rebellious Bonders, at
the head of a handful of foreign troops, and such as
remained faithful among his own people. On the eve of
that last battle, on which he stakes throne and life, he
intrusts a large sum of money to a Bonder, to be laid
out "on churches, priests, and alms-men, as gifts for
the souls of such as may fall in battle AGAINST
HIMSELF,"--strong in the conviction of the righteousness
of his cause, and the assured salvation of such as upheld
He makes a glorious end. Forsaken by many whom he had
loved and served,--yet forgiving and excusing them;
rejecting the aid of all who denied that holy Faith which
had become the absorbing interest of his life,--but
surrounded by a faithful few, who share his fate; "in
the lost battle, borne down by the flying"--he falls,
transpierced by many wounds, and the last words on his
fervent lips are prayer to God. [Footnote: The exact date
of the battle of Sticklestad is known: an eclipse of the
sun occurred while it was going on.]
Surely there was a gallant saint and soldier. Yet he was
not the only one who bore himself nobly on that day.
Here is another episode of that same fatal fight.
A certain Thormod is one of the Scalds (or Poets) in King
Olaf's army. The night before the battle he sings a
spirited song at the King's request, who gives him a gold
ring from his finger in token of his approval. Thormod
thanks him for the gift, and says, "It is my prayer,
Sire, that we shall never part, either in life or death."
When the King receives his death-wound Thormod is near
him,--but, wounded himself, and so weak and weary that
in a desperate onslaught by the King's men,--nicknamed
"Dag's storm,"--HE ONLY STOOD BY HIS COMRADE IN THE
RANKS, ALTHOUGH HE COULD DO NOTHING.
The noise of the battle has ceased; the King is lying
dead where he fell. The very man who had dealt him his
death-wound has laid the body straight out on the ground,
and spread a cloak over it. "And when he wiped the blood
from the face it was very beautiful, and there was red
in the cheeks, as if he only slept."
Thormod, who had received a second wound as he stood in
the ranks--(an arrow in his side, which he breaks off at
the shaft),--wanders away towards a large barn, where
other wounded men have taken refuge. Entering with his
drawn sword in his hand, he meets one of the Bonders
coming out, who says, "It is very bad there, with howling
and screaming; and a great shame it is, that brisk young
fellows cannot bear their wounds. The King's men may have
done bravely to-day, but truly they bear their wounds
Thormod asks what his name is, and if he was in the
battle. Kimbe was his name, and he had been "with the
Bonders, which was the best side." "And hast thou been
in the battle too?" asks he of Thormod.
Thormod replies, "I was with them that had the best."
"Art thou wounded?" says Kimbe.
"Not much to signify," says Thormod.
Kimbe sees the gold ring, and says, "Thou art a King's
man: give me thy gold ring, and I will hide thee."
Thormod replies, "Take the ring if thou canst get it;
_I_ HAVE LOST THAT WHICH IS MORE WORTH."
Kimbe stretches out his hand to seize the ring; but
Thormod, swinging his sword, cuts off his hand; "and it
is related, that Kimbe behaved no better under his wound
than those he had just been blaming."
Thormod then enters the house where the wounded men are
lying, and seats himself in silence by the door.
As the people go in and out, one of them casts a look at
Thormod, and says, "Why art thou so dead pale? Art thou
wounded?" He answers carelessly, with a half-jesting
rhyme; then rises and stands awhile by the fire. A woman,
who is attending on those who are hurt, bids him "go out,
and bring in firewood from the door." He returns with
the wood, and the girl then looking him in the face,
says, "Dreadfully pale is this man;" and asks to see his
wounds. She examines his wound in his side, and feels
that the iron of the arrow is still there; she then takes
a pair of tongs and tries to pull it out, "but it sat
too fast, and as the wound was swelled, little of it
stood out to lay hold of." Thormod bids her "cut deep
enough to reach the iron, and then to give him the tongs,
and let him pull." She did as he bade. He takes the ring
from his hand, and gives it to the girl, saying, "It is
a good man's gift! King Olaf gave it to me this morning."
Then Thormod took the tongs and pulled the iron out. The
arrow-head was barbed, and on it there hung some morsels
of flesh. When he saw that he said, "THE KING HAS FED US
WELL! I am fat, even at the heart-roots!" And so saying,
he leant back, and died. [Footnote: When a man was wounded
in the abdomen, it was the habit of the Norse leeches to
give him an onion to eat; by this means they learnt
whether the weapon had perforated the viscera.]
Stout, faithful heart! if they gave you no place in your
master's stately tomb, there is room for you by his side
I have at last received--I need not say how joyfully--two
letters from you; one addressed to Hammerfest. I had
begun to think that some Norwegian warlock had bewitched
the post-bags, in the approved old ballad fashion, to
prevent their rendering up my dues; for when the packet
of letters addressed to the "Foam" was brought on board,
immediately after our arrival, I alone got nothing. From
Sigurdr and the Doctor to the cabin-boy, every face was
beaming over "news from home!" while I was left to walk
the deck, with my hands in my pockets, pretending not to
care. But the spell is broken now, and I retract my evil
thoughts of the warlock and you.
Yesterday, we made an excursion as far as Lade, saw a
waterfall, which is one of the lions of this neighbourhood
(but a very mitigated lion, which "roars you as soft as
any sucking dove"), and returned in the evening to attend
a ball given to celebrate the visit of the Crown Prince.
At Lade, I confess I could think of nothing but "the
great Jarl" Hacon, the counsellor, and maker of kings,
king himself in all but the name, for he ruled over the
western sea-board of Norway, while Olaf Tryggvesson was
yet a wanderer and exile. He is certainly one of the most
picturesque figures of these Norwegian dramas; what with
his rude wit, his personal bravery, and that hereditary
beauty of his race for which he was conspicuous above
the rest. His very errors, great as they were, have a
dash and prestige about them, which in that rude time
must have dazzled men's eyes, and especially WOMEN'S, as
his story proves. It was his sudden passion for the
beautiful Gudrun Lyrgia (the "Sun of Lunde," as she was
called), which precipitated the avenging fate which years
of heart-burnings and discontent among his subjects had
been preparing. Gudrun's husband incites the Bonders to
throw off the yoke of the licentious despot,--Olaf
Tryggvesson is proclaimed king,--and the "great Jarl of
Lade" is now a fugitive in the land he so lately ruled,
accompanied by a single thrall, named Karker.
In this extremity, Jarl Hacon applies for aid to Thora
of Rimmol, a lady whom he had once dearly loved; she is
faithful in adversity to the friend of happier days, and
conceals the Jarl and his companion in a hole dug for
this purpose, in the swine-stye, and covered over with
wood and litter; as the only spot likely to elude the
hot search of his enemies. Olaf and the Bonders seek for
him in Thora's house, but in vain; and finally, Olaf,
standing on the very stone against which the swine-stye
is built, promises wealth and honours to him who shall
bring him the Jarl of Lade's head. The scene which follows
is related by the Icelandic historian with Dante's tragic
There was a little daylight in their hiding-place, and
the Jarl and Karker both hear the words of Olaf.
"Why art thou so pale?" says the Jarl," and now again as
black as earth? Thou dost not mean to betray me?"
"By no means," said Karker.
"We were born on the same night," said the Jarl, "and
the time will not be long between our deaths."
When night came, the Jarl kept himself awake,--but Karker
slept;--a troubled sleep. The Jarl awoke him, and asked
of what he was dreaming. He answered, "I was at Lade,
and Olaf was laying a gold ring about my neck."
The Jarl said, "It will be a RED ring about thy neck, if
he catches thee: from me thou shalt enjoy all that is
good,--therefore, betray me not!"
Then they both kept themselves awake; "THE ONE, AS IT
WERE, WATCHING UPON THE OTHER." But towards day, the Jarl
dropped asleep, and in his unquiet slumber he drew his
heels under him, and raised his neck as if going to rise,
"and shrieked fearfully." On this, Karker, "dreadfully
alarmed," drew a knife from his belt, stuck it into the
Jarl's throat, and cut off his head. Late in the day he
came to Lade, brought the Jarl's head to Olaf, and told
It is a comfort to know that "the red ring" was laid
round the traitor's neck: Olaf caused him to be beheaded.
What a picture that is, in the swine-stye, those two
haggard faces, travel-stained and worn with want of rest,
watching each other with hot, sleepless eyes through the
half darkness, and how true to nature is the nightmare
of the miserable Jarl!
It was on my return from Lade, that I found your letters;
and that I might enjoy them without interruption, I
carried them off to the churchyard--(such a beautiful
place!)--to read in peace and quiet. The churchyard was
NOT "populous with young men, striving to be alone," as
Tom Hood describes it to have been in a certain sentimental
parish; so I enjoyed the seclusion I anticipated.
I was much struck by the loving care and ornament bestowed
on the graves; some were literally loaded with flowers,
and even those which bore the date of a long past sorrow
had each its own blooming crown, or fresh nosegay. These
good Throndhjemers must have much of what the French call
la religion des souvenirs, a religion in which we English
(as a nation) are singularly deficient. I suppose no
people in Europe are so little addicted to the keeping
of sentimental anniversaries as we are; I make an exception
with regard to our living friends' birthdays, which we
are ever tenderly ready to cultivate, when called on;
turtle, venison, and champagne, being pleasant investments
for the affections. But time and business do not admit
of a faithful adherence to more sombre reminiscences; a
busy gentleman "on 'Change" cannot conveniently shut
himself up, on his "lost Araminta's natal-day," nor will
a railroad committee allow of his running down by the
10.25 A.M., to shed a tear over that neat tablet in the
new Willow-cum-Hatband Cemetery. He is necessarily content
to regret his Araminta in the gross, and to omit the
petty details of a too pedantic sorrow.
The fact is, we are an eminently practical people, and
are easily taught to accept "the irrevocable," if not
without regret, at least with a philosophy which repudiates
all superfluous methods of showing it. DECENT is the
usual and appropriate term applied to our churchyard
solemnities, and we are not only "content to dwell in
decencies for ever," but to die, and be buried in them.
The cathedral loses a little of its poetical physiognomy
on a near approach. Modern restoration has done something
to spoil the outside, and modern refinement a good deal
to degrade the interior with pews and partitions; but it
is a very fine building, and worthy of its metropolitan
dignity. I am told that the very church built by Magnus
the Good,--son of Saint Olave--over his father's remains,
and finished by his uncle Harald Hardrada, is, or rather
was, included in the walls of the cathedral; and though
successive catastrophes by fire have perhaps left but
little of the original building standing, I like to think
that some of these huge stones were lifted to their place
under the eyes of Harald The Stern. It was on the eve of
his last fatal expedition against our own Harold of
England that the shrine of St. Olave was opened by the
king, who, having clipped the hair and nails of the dead
saint (most probably as relics, efficacious for the
protection of himself and followers), then locked the
shrine, and threw the keys into the Nid. Its secrets from
that day were respected until the profane hands of Lutheran
Danes carried it bodily away, with all the gold and silver
chalices, and jewelled pyxes, which, by kingly gifts and
piratical offerings, had accumulated for centuries in
He must have been a fine, resolute fellow, that Harald
the Stern, although, in spite of much church-building
and a certain amount of Pagan-persecuting, his character
did not in any way emulate that of his saintly brother.
The early part of his history reads like a fairy tale,
and is a favourite subject for Scald songs; more especially
his romantic adventures in the East,--
"Well worthy of the golden prime
Of good Haroun Alraschid."
where Saracens flee like chaff upon the wind before him,
and impregnable Sicilian castles fall into his power by
impossible feats of arms, or incredible stratagems. A
Greek empress, "the mature Zoe," as Gibbon calls her,
falls in love with him, and her husband, Constantine
Monomachus, puts him in prison; but Saint Olaf still
protects his mauvais sujet of a brother, and inspires "a
lady of distinction" with the successful idea of helping
Harald out of his inaccessible tower by the prosaic
expedient of a ladder of ropes. A boom, however, across
the harbour's mouth still prevents the escape of his
vessel. The Sea-king is not to be so easily baffled.
Moving all his ballast, arms, and men, into the afterpart
of the ship, until her stem slants up out of the sea, he
rows straight at the iron chain. The ship leaps almost
half-way over. The weight being then immediately transferred
to the fore-part, she slips down into the water on the
other side,--having topped the fence like an Irish hunter.
A second galley breaks her back in the attempt. After
some questionable acts of vengeance on the Greek court,
Harald and his bold Vaeringers go fighting and plundering
their way through the Bosphorus and Black Sea back to
Novogorod, where the first part of the romance terminates,
as it should, by his marriage with the object of his
secret attachment, Elisof, the daughter of the Russian
Hardrada's story darkens towards the end, as most of the
tales of that stirring time are apt to do. His death on
English ground is so striking, that you must have patience
with one other short Saga; it will give you the battle
of Stanford Bridge from the Norse point of view.
The expedition against Harold of England commences ill;
dreams and omens affright the fleet; one man dreams he
sees a raven sitting on the stern of each vessel; another
sees the fair English coast;
"But glancing shields
Hide the green fields;"
and other fearful phenomena mar the beautiful vision.
Harald himself dreams that he is back again at Nidaros,
and that his brother Olaf meets him with a prophecy of
ruin and death. The bold Norsemen are not to be daunted
by these auguries, and their first successes on the
English coast seem to justify their persistence. But on
a certain beautiful Monday in September (A.D. 1066,
according to the Saxon Chronicle), part of his army being
encamped at Stanford Bridge, "Hardrada, HAVING TAKEN
BREAKFAST, ordered the trumpets to sound for going on
shore;" but he left half his force behind, to guard the
ships: and his men, anticipating no resistance from the
castle, which had already surrendered, "went on shore
(the weather being hot), with only their helmets, shields,
and spears, and girt with swords; some had bows and
arrows,--and all were very merry." On nearing the castle,
they see "a cloud of dust as from horses' feet, and under
it shining shields and bright armour." English Harold's
army is before them. Hardrada sends back to his ship for
succour, and sets up his banner, "Land Ravager," undismayed
by the inequality of his force, and their comparatively
unarmed condition. The men on each side are drawn up in
battle array, and the two kings in presence; each gazes
eagerly to discover his noble foe among the multitude.
Harald Hardrada's black horse stumbles and falls; "the
King got up in haste, and said, 'A fall is lucky for a
The English King said to the Northmen who were with
him, "Do you know the stout man who fell from his horse,
with the blue kirtle, and beautiful helmet?"
"That is the Norwegian King," said they.
English Harold replied, "A great man, and of stately
appearance is he; but I think his luck has left him."
And now twenty gallant English knights ride out of their
ranks to parley with the Northmen. One advances beyond
the rest and asks if Earl Toste, the brother of English
Harold (who has banded with his enemy against him), is
with the army.
The Earl himself proudly answers, "It is not to be denied
that you will find him here."
The Saxon says, "Thy brother, Harold, sends his salutation,
and offers thee the third part of his kingdom, if thou
wilt be reconciled and submit to him."
The Earl replies, at the suggestion of the Norse King,
"What will my brother the King give to Harald Hardrada
for his trouble?"
"He will give him," says the Knight, "SEVEN FEET OF
ENGLISH GROUND, OR AS MUCH MORE AS HE MAY BE TALLER THAN
"Then," says the Earl, "let the English King, my brother,
make ready for battle, for it never shall be said that
Earl Toste broke faith with his friends when they came
with him to fight west here in England."
When the knights rode off, King Harald Hardrada asked
the Earl, "Who was the man who spoke so well?"
The Earl replied, "That knight was Harold of England."
The stern Norwegian King regrets that his enemy had
escaped from his hands, owing to his ignorance of this
fact; but even in his first burst of disappointment, the
noble Norse nature speaks in generous admiration of his
foe, saying to the people about him, "That was but a
little man, yet he sat firmly in his stirrups."
The fierce, but unequal combat is soon at an end, and
when tardy succour arrives from the ships, Harald Hardrada
is lying on his face, with the deadly arrow in his throat,
never to see Nidaros again. Seven feet of English earth,
and no more, has the strong arm and fiery spirit conquered.
But enough of these gallant fellows; I must carry you
off to a much pleasanter scene of action. After a very
agreeable dinner with Mr. K--, who has been most kind to
us, we adjourned to the ball. The room was large and well
lighted--plenty of pretty faces adorned it;--the floor
was smooth, and the scrape of the fiddles had a festive
accent so extremely inspiriting, that I besought Mr. K--
to present me to one of the fair personages whose tiny
feet were already tapping the floor with impatience at
their own inactivity.
I was led up in due form to a very pretty lady, and heard
my own name, followed by a singular sound purporting to
be that of my charming partner, Madame Hghelghghagllaghem.
For the pronunciation of this polysyllabic cognomen, I
can only give you a few plain instructions; commence it
with a slight cough, continue with a gurgling in the
throat, and finish with the first convulsive movement of
a sneeze, imparting to the whole operation a delicate
nasal twang. If the result is not something approaching
to the sound required, you must relinquish all hope of
achieving it, as I did. Luckily, my business was to dance,
and not to apostrophize the lady; and accordingly, when
the waltz struck up, I hastened to claim, in the dumbest
show, the honour of her hand. Although my dancing
qualifications have rather rusted during the last two or
three years, I remembered that the time was not so very
far distant when even the fair Mademoiselle E-- had
graciously pronounced me to be a very tolerable waltzer,
"for an Englishman," and I led my partner to the circle
already formed with the "air capable" which the object
of such praise is entitled to assume. There was a certain
languid rhythm in the air they were playing which rather
offended my ears, but I suspected nothing until, observing
the few couples who had already descended into the arena,
I became aware that they were twirling about with all
the antiquated grace of "la valse a trois temps." Of
course my partner would be no exception to the general
rule! nobody had ever danced anything else at Throndhjem
from the days of Odin downwards; and I had never so much
as attempted it. What was to be done? I could not explain
the state of the case to Madame Hghelghghagllaghem; she
could not understand English, nor I speak Norse. My brain
reeled with anxiety to find some solution of the difficulty,
or some excuse for rushing from her presence. What if I
were taken with a sudden bleeding at the nose, or had an
apoplectic fit on the spot? Either case would necessitate
my being carried decently out, and consigned to oblivion,
which would have been a comfort under the circumstances.
There was nothing for it but the courage of despair; so,
casting reflection to the winds and my arm round her
waist, I suddenly whisked her off her legs, and dashed
madly down the room, "a deux temps." At the first perception
that something unusual was going on, she gave such an
eldritch scream, that the whole society suddenly came to
a standstill. I thought it best to assume an aspect of
innocent composure and conscious rectitude; which had
its effect, for though the lady began with a certain
degree of hysterical animation to describe her wrongs,
she finished with a hearty laugh, in which the company
cordially joined, and I delicately chimed in. For the
rest of the dance she seemed to resign herself to her
fate, and floated through space, under my guidance, with
all the ABANDON of Francesca di Rimini, in Scheffer's
The Crown Prince is a tall, fine-looking person; he was
very gracious, and asked many questions about my voyage.
At night there was a general illumination, to which the
"Foam" contributed some blue lights.
We got under way early this morning, and without a
pilot--as we had entered--made our way out to sea again.
I left Throndhjem with regret, not for its own sake, for
in spite of balls and illuminations I should think the
pleasures of a stay there would not be deliriously
exciting; but this whole district is so intimately
associated in my mind with all the brilliant episodes of
ancient Norwegian History, that I feel as if I were taking
leave of all those noble Haralds, and Olafs, and Hacons,
among whom I have been living in such pleasant intimacy
for some time past.
While we are dropping down the coast, I may as well employ
the time in giving you a rapid sketch of the commencement
of this fine Norse people, though the story "remonte
jusqu'a la nuit des temps," and has something of the
vague magnificence of your own M'Donnell genealogy, ending
a long list of great potentates, with "somebody, who was
the son of somebody else, who was the son of Scotha, who
was the daughter of Pharaoh!"
In bygone ages, beyond the Scythian plains and the fens
of the Tanais, in that land of the morning, to which
neither Grecian letters nor Roman arms had ever penetrated,
there was a great city called Asgaard. Of its founder,
of its history, we know nothing; but looming through the
mists of antiquity we can discern an heroic figure, whose
superior attainments won for him the lordship of his own
generation, and divine honours from those that succeeded.
Whether moved by an irresistible impulse, or impelled by
more powerful neighbours, it is impossible to say; but
certain it is that at some period, not perhaps very long
before the Christian era, under the guidance of this
personage, a sun-nurtured people moved across the face
of Europe, in a north-westerly direction, and after
leaving settlements along the southern shores of the
Baltic, finally established themselves in the forests
and valleys of what has come to be called the Scandinavian
Peninsula. That children of the South should have sought
out so inclement a habitation may excite surprise; but
it must always be remembered that they were, probably,
a comparatively scanty congregation, and that the unoccupied
valleys of Norway and Sweden, teeming with fish and game,
and rich in iron, were a preferable region to lands only
to be colonised after they had been conquered.
Thus, under the leadership of Odin and his twelve Paladins,
--to whom a grateful posterity afterwards conceded thrones
in the halls of their chief's Valhalla,--the new emigrants
spread themselves along the margin of the out-ocean, and
round about the gloomy fiords, and up and down the deep
valleys that fall away at right angles from the backbone,
or keel, as the seafaring population soon learnt to call
the flat, snow-capped ridge that runs down the centre of
Amid the rude but not ungenial influences of its bracing
climate, was gradually fostered that gallant race which
was destined to give an imperial dynasty to Russia, a
nobility to England, and conquerors to every sea-board
Upon the occupation of their new home, the ascendency of
that mysterious hero, under whose auspices the settlement
was conducted, appears to have remained more firmly
established than ever, not only over the mass of the
people, but also over the twelve subordinate chiefs who
accompanied him; there never seems to have been the
slightest attempt to question his authority, and, though
afterwards themselves elevated into an order of celestial
beings, every tradition which has descended is careful
to maintain his human and divine supremacy. Through the
obscurity, the exaggeration, and the ridiculous fables,
with which his real existence has been overloaded, we
can still see that this man evidently possessed a genius
as superior to his contemporaries, as has ever given to
any child of man the ascendency over his generation. In
the simple language of the old chronicler, we are told,
"that his countenance was so beautiful that, when sitting
among his friends, the spirits of all were exhilarated
by it; that when he spoke, all were persuaded; that when
he went forth to meet his enemies, none could withstand
him." Though subsequently made a god by the superstitious
people he had benefited, his death seems to have been
noble and religious. He summoned his friends around his
pillow, intimated a belief in the immortality of his
soul, and his hope that hereafter they should meet again
in Paradise. "Then," we are told, "began the belief in
Odin, and their calling upon him."
On the settlement of the country, the land was divided
and subdivided into lots--some as small as fifty acres--and
each proprietor held his share--as their descendants do
to this day--by udal right; that is, not as a fief of
the Crown, or of any superior lord, but in absolute,
inalienable possession, by the same udal right as the
kings wore their crowns, to be transmitted, under the
same title, to their descendants unto all generations.
These landed proprietors were called the Bonders, and
formed the chief strength of the realm. It was they,
their friends and servants, or thralls, who constituted
the army. Without their consent the king could do nothing.
On stated occasions they met together, in solemn assembly,
or Thing, (i.e. Parliament,) as it was called, for the
transaction of public business, the administration of
justice, the allotment of the scatt, or taxes.
Without a solemn induction at the Ore or Great Thing,
even the most legitimately-descended sovereign could not
mount the throne, and to that august assembly an appeal
might ever lie against his authority.
To these Things, and to the Norse invasion that implanted
them, and not to the Wittenagemotts of the Latinised
Saxons, must be referred the existence of those Parliaments
which are the boast of Englishmen.
Noiselessly and gradually did a belief in liberty, and
an unconquerable love of independence, grow up among that
simple people. No feudal despots oppressed the unprotected,
for all were noble and udal born; no standing armies
enabled the Crown to set popular opinion at defiance,
for the swords of the Bonders sufficed to guard the realm;
no military barons usurped an illegitimate authority,
for the nature of the soil forbade the erection of feudal
fortresses. Over the rest of Europe despotism rose up
rank under the tutelage of a corrupt religion; while,
year after year, amid the savage scenery of its Scandinavian
nursery, that great race was maturing whose genial
heartiness was destined to invigorate the sickly
civilization of the Saxon with inexhaustible energy, and
preserve to the world, even in the nineteenth century,
one glorious example of a free European people.
COPENHAGEN--BERGEN--THE BLACK DEATH--SIGURDR--HOMEWARDS.
Copenhagen, Sept. 12th, 1856.
Our adventures since the date of my last letter have not
been of an exciting character. We had fine weather and
prosperous winds down the coast, and stayed a day at
Christiansund, and another at Bergen. But though the
novelty of the cruise had ceased since our arrival in
lower latitudes, there was always a certain raciness and
oddity in the incidents of our coasting voyage; such
as--waking in the morning, and finding the schooner
brought up under the lee of a wooden house, or--riding
out a foul wind with your hawser rove through an iron
ring in the sheer side of a mountain,--which took from
the comparative flatness of daily life on board.
Perhaps the queerest incident was a visit paid us at
Christiansund. As I was walking the deck I saw a boat
coming off, with a gentleman on board; she was soon
alongside the schooner, and as I was gazing down on this
individual, and wondering what he wanted, I saw him
suddenly lift his feet lightly over the gunwale and plunge
them into the water, boots and all. After cooling his
heels in this way for a minute or so, he laid hold of
the side ropes and gracefully swung himself on deck. Upon
this, Sigurdr, who always acted interpreter on such
occasions, advanced towards him, and a colloquy followed,
which terminated rather abruptly in Sigurdr walking aft,
and the web-footed stranger ducking down into his boat
again. It was not till some hours later that the indignant
Sigurdr explained the meaning of the visit. Although not
a naval character, this gentleman certainly came into
the category of men "who do business in great waters,"
his BUSINESS being to negotiate a loan; in short, to ask
me to lend him 100 pounds. There must have been something
very innocent and confiding in "the cut of our jib" to
encourage his boarding us on such an errand; or perhaps
it was the old marauding, toll-taking spirit coming out
strong in him: the politer influences of the nineteenth
century toning down the ancient Viking into a sort of a
cross between Paul Jones and Jeremy Diddler. The seas
which his ancestors once swept with their galleys, he
now sweeps with his telescope, and with as keen an eye
to the MAIN chance as any of his predecessors displayed.
The feet-washing ceremony was evidently a propitiatory
homage to the purity of my quarter-deck.
Bergen, with its pale-faced houses grouped on the brink
of the fiord, like invalids at a German Spa, though
picturesque in its way, with a cathedral of its own, and
plenty of churches, looked rather tame and spiritless
after the warmer colouring of Throndhjem; moreover it
wanted novelty to me, as I called in there two years ago
on my return from the Baltic. It was on that occasion
that I became possessed of my ever-to-be-lamented infant
No one, personally unacquainted with that "most delicate
monster," can have any idea of his attaching qualities.
I own that his figure was not strictly symmetrical, that
he had a roll in his gait, suggestive of heavy seas, that
he would not have looked well in your boudoir; but he
never seemed out of place on my quarter-deck, and every
man on board loved him as a brother. With what a languid
grace he would wallow and roll in the water, when we
chucked him overboard; and paddle and splash, and make
himself thoroughly cool and comfortable, and then come
and "beg to be taken up," like a fat baby, and allow the
rope to be slipped round his extensive waist, and come
up--sleek and dripping--among us again with a contented
grunt, as much as to say, "Well, after all, there's no
place like HOME!" How he would compose himself to placid
slumber in every possible inconvenient place, with his
head on the binnacle (especially when careful steering
was a matter of moment), or across the companion entrance,
or the cabin skylight, or on the shaggy back of "Sailor,"
the Newfoundland, who positively abhorred him. But how
touching it was to see him waddle up and down the deck
after Mr. Wyse, whom he evidently regarded in a maternal
point of view--begging for milk with the most expressive
snorts and grunts, and embarrassing my good-natured master
by demonstrative appeals to his fostering offices!
I shall never forget Mr. Wyse's countenance that day in
Ullapool Bay, when he tried to command his feelings
sufficiently to acquaint me with the creature's death,
which he announced in this graphic sentence, "Ah, my
Lord!--the poor thing!--TOES UP AT LAST!"
Bergen is not as neat and orderly in its architectural
arrangements as Drontheim; a great part of the city is
a confused network of narrow streets and alleys, much
resembling, I should think, its early inconveniences, in
the days of Olaf Kyrre. This close and stifling system
of street building must have ensured fatal odds against
the chances of life in some of those world-devastating
plagues that characterised past ages. Bergen was, in
fact, nearly depopulated by that terrible pestilence
which, in 1349, ravaged the North of Europe, and whose
memory is still preserved under the name of "The Black
I have been tempted to enclose you a sort of ballad,
which was composed while looking on the very scene of
this disastrous event; its only merit consists in its
local inspiration, and in its conveying a true relation
of the manner in which the plague entered the doomed
THE BLACK DEATH OF BERGEN.
What can ail the Bergen Burghers
That they leave their stoups of wine?
Flinging up the hill like jagers,
At the hour they're wont to dine!
See, the shifting groups are fringing
Rock and ridge with gay attire,
Bright as Northern streamers tinging
Peak and crag with fitful fire!
Towards the cliff their steps are bending,
Westward turns their eager gaze,
Whence a stately ship ascending,
Slowly cleaves the golden haze.
Landward floats the apparition--
"Is it, CAN it be the same?"
Frantic cries of recognition
Shout a long-lost vessel's name!
Years ago had she departed--
Castled poop and gilded stern;
Weeping women, broken-hearted,
Long had waited her return.
When the midnight sun wheeled downwards,
But to kiss the ocean's verge--
When the noonday sun, a moment
Peeped above the Wintry surge,
Childless mothers, orphaned daughters,
From the seaward-facing crag,
Vainly searched the vacant waters
For that unreturning flag!
But, suspense and tears are ended,
Lo! it floats upon the breeze!
Ne'er from eager hearts ascended
Thankful prayers as warm as these.
See the good ship proudly rounding
That last point that blocks the view;
"Strange! no answering cheer resounding
From the long home-parted crew!"
Past the harbour's stony gateway,
Onwards borne by sucking tides,
Tho' the light wind faileth--straightway
Into port she safely glides.
Swift, as by good angels carried,
Right and left the news has spread.
Wives long widowed-yet scarce married--
Brides that never hoped to wed,
From a hundred pathways meeting
Crowd along the narrow quay,
Maddened by the hope of meeting
Those long counted cast away.
Soon a crowd of small boats flutter
O'er the intervening space,
Bearing hearts too full to utter
Thoughts that flush the eager face!
See young Eric foremost gaining--
(For a father's love athirst!)
Every nerve and muscle straining,
But to touch the dear hand FIRST.
In the ship's green shadow rocking
Lies his little boat at last,
Wherefore is the warm heart knocking
At his side, so loud and fast?
"What strange aspect is she wearing,
Vessel once so taut and trim?
Shout!--MY heart has lost its daring;
Comrades, search!--MY eyes are dim."
Sad the search, and fearful finding!
On the deck lay parched and dry
Men--who in some burning, blinding
Clime--had laid them down to die!
Hands--prayer--clenched--that would not sever,
Eyes that stared against the sun,
Sights that haunt the soul for ever,
Poisoning life--till life is done!
Strength from fear doth Eric gather,
Wide the cabin door he threw--
Lo! the face of his dead father,
Stern and still, confronts his view!
Stately as in life he bore him,
Seated--motionless and grand,
On the blotted page before him
Lingers still the livid hand!
What sad entry was he making,
When the death-stroke fell at last?
"Is it then God's will, in taking
All, that I am left the last?
I have closed the cabin doorway,
That I may not see them die:--
Would our bones might rest in Norway,--
'Neath our own cool Northern sky!"
Then the ghastly log-book told them
How-in some accursed clime,
Where the breathless land-swell rolled them,
For an endless age of time--
Sudden broke the plague among them,
'Neath that sullen Tropic sun;
As if fiery scorpions stung them--
Died they raving, one by one!
--Told the vain and painful striving,
By shot-weighted shrouds to hide
(Last fond care), from those surviving,
What good comrade last had died;
Yet the ghastly things kept showing,
Waist deep in the unquiet grave--
To each other gravely bowing
On the slow swing of the wave!
Eric's boat is near the landing--
From that dark ship bring they aught?
In the stern sheets ONE is standing,
Though their eyes perceive him not;
But a curdling horror creepeth
Thro' their veins, with icy darts,
And each hurried oar-stroke keepeth
Time with their o'er-labouring hearts!
Heavy seems their boat returning,
Weighted with a world of care!
Oh, ye blind ones--none discerning
WHAT the spectral freight ye bear.
Glad they hear the sea-beach grating
Harsh beneath the small boat's stem--
Forth they leap, for no man waiting--
But the BLACK DEATH LANDS WITH THEM.
Viewless--soundless--stalks the spectre
Thro' the city chill and pale,
Which like bride, this morn, had decked her
For the advent of that sail.
Oft by Bergen women, mourning,
Shall the dismal tale be told,
Of that lost ship home returning,
With "THE BLACK DEATH" in her hold!
I would gladly dwell on the pleasures of my second visit
to Christiansund, which has a charm of its own, independent
of its interest as the spot from whence we really "start
for home." But though strange lands, and unknown or
indifferent people, are legitimate subjects for travellers'
tales, our FRIENDS and their pleasant homes are NOT; so
I shall keep all I have to say of gratitude to our
excellent and hospitable Consul, Mr. Morch, and of
admiration for his charming wife, until I can tell you
viva voce how much I wish that you also knew them.
And now, though fairly off from Norway, and on our homeward
way, it was a tedious business--what with fogs, calms,
and headwinds--working towards Copenhagen. We rounded
the Scaw in a thick mist, saw the remains of four ships
that had run aground upon it, and were nearly run into
ourselves by a clumsy merchantman, whom we had the relief
of being able to abuse in our native vernacular, and the
most racy sea-slang.
Those five last days were certainly the only tedious
period of the whole cruise. I suppose there is something
magnetic in the soil of one's own country, which may
account for that impatient desire to see it again, which
always grows, as the distance from it diminishes; if so,
London clay,--and its superstratum of foul, greasy,
gas-discoloured mud--began about this time to exercise
a tender influence upon me, which has been increasing
every hour since: it is just possible that the thoughts
of seeing you again may have some share in the matter.
Somebody (I think Fuller) says somewhere, that "every
one with whom you converse, and every place wherein you
tarry awhile, giveth somewhat to you, and taketh somewhat
away, either for evil or for good;" a startling
consideration for circumnavigators, and such like restless
spirits, but a comfortable thought, in some respects,
for voyagers to Polar regions, as (except seals and bears)
few things could suffer evil from us there; though for
our own parts, there were solemn and wholesome influences
enough "to be taken away" from those icy solitudes, if
one were but ready and willing to "stow" them.
To-morrow I leave Copenhagen, and my good Sigurdr, whose
companionship has been a constant source of enjoyment,
both to Fitz and myself, during the whole voyage; I trust
that I leave with him a friendly remembrance of our too
short connexion, and pleasant thoughts of the strange
places and things we have seen together; as I take away
with me a most affectionate memory of his frank and kindly
nature, his ready sympathy, and his imperturbable good
humour. From the day on which I shipped him--an entire
stranger--until this eve of our separation--as friends,
through scenes of occasional discomfort, and circumstances
which might sometimes have tried both temper and
spirits--shut up as we were for four months in the
necessarily close communion of life on board a vessel of
eighty tons,--there has never been the shadow of a cloud
between us; henceforth, the words "an Icelander" can
convey no cold or ungenial associations to my ears, and
however much my imagination has hitherto delighted in
the past history of that singular island, its Present
will always claim a deeper and warmer interest from me,
for Sigurdr's sake.
To-morrow Fitz and I start for Hamburg, and very soon
after--at least as soon as railroad and steamer can bring
me--I look for the joy of seeing your face again.
By the time this reaches Portsmouth, the "Foam" will have
perfomed a voyage of six thousand miles.
I have had a most happy time of it, but I fear my amusement
will have cost you many a weary hour of anxiety and suspense.
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