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List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
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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.


LETTER XIII.

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
Walrus.

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
Death."

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
city.

   THE BLACK DEATH OF BERGEN.

      I.

   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!

      II.

   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!

      III.

   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,

      IV.

   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.

      V.

   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

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