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List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
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LETTERS FROM HIGH LATITUDES

Being some account of a voyage in 1856 of the schooner yacht "Foam"
to Iceland, Jan Meyen, and Spitzbergen.

By the Marquess of Dufferin Sometime Governor-General of the Dominion
of Canada and afterwards Viceroy of India.




LETTER I.

PROTESILAUS STUMBLES ON THE THRESHOLD


Glasgow, Monday, June 2, 1856.

Our start has not been prosperous. Yesterday evening, on
passing Carlisle, a telegraphic message was put into my
hand, announcing the fact of the "Foam" having been
obliged to put into Holyhead, in consequence of the sudden
illness of my Master. As the success of our expedition
entirely depends on our getting off before the season is
further advanced, you can understand how disagreeable it
is to have received this check at its very outset. As
yet, of course, I know nothing of the nature of the
illness with which he has been seized. However, I have
ordered the schooner to proceed at once to Oban, and I
have sent back the Doctor to Holyhead to overhaul the
sick man. It is rather early in the day for him to enter
upon the exercise of his functions.


LETTER II.

THE ICELANDER--A MODERN SIR PATRICK SPENS

Greenock, Tuesday, June 3, 1856

I found the Icelander awaiting my arrival here,--pacing
up and down the coffee-room like a Polar bear.

At first he was a little shy, and, not having yet had
much opportunity of practising his English, it was some
time before I could set him perfectly at his ease. He
has something so frank and honest in his face and bearing,
that I am certain he will turn out a pleasant companion.
There being no hatred so intense as that which you feel
towards a disagreeable shipmate, this assurance has
relieved me of a great anxiety, and I already feel I
shall hereafter reckon Sigurdr (pronounced Segurthur),
the son of Jonas, among the number of my best friends.

As most educated English people firmly believe the
Icelanders to be a "Squawmuck," blubber-eating,
seal-skin-clad race, I think it right to tell you that
Sigurdr is apparelled in good broadcloth, and all the
inconveniences of civilization, his costume culminating
in the orthodox chimney-pot of the nineteenth century.
He is about twenty-seven, very intelligent-looking,
and--all women would think--lovely to behold.  A high
forehead, straight, delicate features, dark blue eyes,
auburn hair and beard, and the complexion of--Lady S--d!
His early life was passed in Iceland; but he is now
residing at Copenhagen as a law student. Through the
introduction of a mutual friend, he has been induced to
come with me, and do us the honours of his native land.

   "O whar will I get a skeely skipper,
    To sail this gude ship o' mine?'

Such, alas! has been the burden of my song for these last
four-and-twenty hours, as I have sat in the Tontine Tower,
drinking the bad port wine, for, after spending a fortune
in telegraphic messages to Holyhead, it has been decided
that B-- cannot come on, and I have been forced to rig up
a Glasgow merchant skipper into a jury sailing-master.

Any such arrangement is, at the best, unsatisfactory,
but to abandon the cruise is the only alternative. However,
considering I had but a few hours to look about me, I
have been more fortunate than might have been expected.
I have had the luck to stumble on a young fellow, very
highly recommended by the Captain of the Port. He returned
just a fortnight ago from a trip to Australia, and having
since married a wife, is naturally anxious not to lose
this opportunity of going to sea again for a few months.

I start to-morrow for Oban, via Inverary, which I wish
to show to my Icelander. At Oban I join the schooner,
and proceed to Stornaway, in the Hebrides, whither the
undomestic Mr. Ebenezer Wyse (a descendant, probably, of
some Westland Covenanter) is to follow me by the steamer.


LETTER III.

LOCH GOIL--THE SAGA OF CLAN CAMPBELL

Oban, June 5, 1856

I have seldom enjoyed anything so much as our journey
yesterday. Getting clear at last of the smells, smoke,
noise, and squalor of Greenock, to plunge into the very
heart of the Highland hills, robed as they were in the
sunshine of a beautiful summer day, was enough to make
one beside oneself with delight, and the Icelander enjoyed
it as much as I did.  Having crossed the Clyde, alive
with innumerable vessels, its waves dancing and sparkling
in the sunlight, we suddenly shot into the still and
solemn Loch Goil, whose waters, dark with mountain shadows,
seemed almost to belong to a different element from that
of the yellow, rushing, ship-laden river we had left. In
fact, in the space of ten minutes we had got into another
world, centuries remote from the steaming, weaving,
delving Britain, south of Clyde.

After a sail of about three hours, we reached the head
of the loch, and then took coach along the worst mountain
road in Europe, towards the country of the world-invading
Campbells. A steady pull of three hours more, up a wild
bare glen, brought us to the top of the mica-slate ridge
which pens up Loch Fyne, on its western side, and disclosed
what I have always thought the loveliest scene in Scotland.

Far below at our feet, and stretching away on either hand
among the mountains, lay the blue waters of the lake.

On its other side, encompassed by a level belt of
pasture-land and corn-fields, the white little town of
Inverary glittered like a gem on the sea-shore, while to
the right, amid lawns and gardens, and gleaming banks of
wood, that hung down into the water, rose the dark towers
of the Castle, the whole environed by an amphitheatre of
tumbled porphyry hills, beyond whose fir-crowned crags
rose the bare blue mountain-tops of Lorn.

It was a perfect picture of peace and seclusion, and I
confess I had great pride in being able to show my
companion so fair a specimen of one of our lordly island
homes--the birthplace of a race of nobles whose names
sparkle down the page of their country's history as
conspicuously as the golden letters in an illuminated
missal.

While descending towards the strand, I tried to amuse
Sigurdr with a sketch of the fortunes of the great house
of Argyll.

I told him how in ancient days three warriors came from
Green Ierne, to dwell in the wild glens of Cowal and
Lochow,--how one of them, the swart Breachdan, all for
the love of blue-eyed Eila, swam the Gulf, once with a
clew of thread, then with a hempen rope, last with an
iron chain, but this time, alas! the returning tide sucks
down the over-tasked hero into its swirling vortex,--how
Diarmid O' Duin, i.e.  son of "the Brown," slew with his
own hand the mighty boar, whose head still scowls over
the escutcheon of the Campbells,--how in later times,
while the murdered Duncan's son, afterwards the great
Malcolm Canmore, was yet an exile at the court of his
Northumbrian uncle, ere Birnam wood had marched to
Dunsinane, the first Campbell i.e.  Campus-bellus,
Beau-champ, a Norman knight and nephew of the Conqueror,
having won the hand of the lady Eva, sole heiress of the
race of Diarmid, became master of the lands and lordships
of Argyll,--how six generations later--each of them
notable in their day--the valiant Sir Colin created for
his posterity a title prouder than any within a sovereign's
power to bestow, which no forfeiture could attaint, no
act of parliament recall; for though he cease to be Duke
or Earl, the head of the Clan Campbell will still remain
Mac Calan More,--and how at last the same Sir Colin fell
at the String of Cowal, beneath the sword of that fierce
lord, whose granddaughter was destined to bind the honours
of his own heirless house round the coronet of his slain
foeman's descendant;--how Sir Neill at Bannockburn fought
side by side with the Bruce whose sister he had married;
how Colin, the first Earl, wooed and won the Lady Isabel,
sprung from the race of Somerled, Lord of the Isles, thus
adding the galleys of Lorn to the blazonry of Argyll;--
how the next Earl died at Flodden, and his successor
fought not less disastrously at Pinkie;--how Archibald,
fifth Earl, whose wife was at supper with the Queen, her
half-sister, when Rizzio was murdered, fell on the field
of Langside, smitten not by the hand of the enemy, but
by the finger of God; how Colin, Earl and boy-General at
fifteen, was dragged away by force, with tears in his
eyes, from the unhappy skirmish at Glenlivit, where his
brave Highlanders were being swept down by the artillery
of Huntley and Errol,--destined to regild his spurs in
future years on the soil of Spain.

Then I told him of the Great Rebellion, and how, amid
the tumult of the next fifty years, the Grim Marquis--
Gillespie Grumach, as his squint caused him to be called--
Montrose's fatal foe, staked life and fortunes in the
deadly game engaged in by the fierce spirits of that
generation, and losing, paid the forfeit with his head,
as calmly as became a brave and noble gentleman, leaving
an example, which his son--already twice rescued from
the scaffold, once by a daughter of the ever-gallant
house of Lindsay, again a prisoner, and a rebel, because
four years too soon to be a patriot--as nobly imitated;--
how, at last, the clouds of misfortune cleared away, and
honours clustered where only merit had been before; the
martyr's aureole, almost become hereditary, being replaced
in the next generation by a ducal coronet, itself to be
regilt in its turn with a less sinister lustre by him--

    "The State's whole thunder born to wield,
     And shake alike the senate and the field;"

who baffled Walpole in the cabinet, and conquered with
Marlborough at Ramilies, Oudenarde, and Malplaquet;--
and, last,--how at that present moment, even while we
were speaking, the heir to all these noble reminiscences,
the young chief of this princely line, had already won,
at the age of twenty-nine, by the manly vigour of his
intellect and his hereditary independence of character,
the confidence of his fellow-countrymen, and a seat at
the council board of his sovereign.

Having thus duly indoctrinated Sigurdr with the Sagas of

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