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List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
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etc. in the face of a new acquaintance, without any
misgivings. On this occasion I thought it more prudent
to let Sigurdr make the necessary arrangements for our
journey, and in a few minutes I had the satisfaction of
learning that I had become the proprietor of twenty-six
horses, as many bridles and pack-saddles, and three

There being no roads in Iceland, all the traffic of the
country is conducted by means of horses, along the bridle-
tracks which centuries of travel have worn in the lava
plains.  As but little hay is to be had, the winter is
a season of fasting for all cattle, and it is not until
spring is well advanced, and the horses have had time to
grow a little fat on the young grass, that you can go a
journey. I was a good deal taken aback when the number
of my stud was announced to me, but it appears that what
with the photographic apparatus, which I am anxious to
take, and our tent, it would be impossible to do with
fewer animals. The price of each pony is very moderate,
and I am told I shall have no difficulty in disposing of
all of them, at the conclusion of our expedition.

These preliminaries happily concluded, Mr. J-- invited
us into his house, where his wife and daughter--a sunshiny
young lady of eighteen--were waiting to receive us. As
Latin here was quite useless, we had to entrust Sigurdr
with all the pretty things we desired to convey to our
entertainers, but it is my firm opinion that that gentleman
took a dirty advantage of us, and intercepting the choicest
flowers of our eloquence, appropriated them to the
advancement of his own interests. However, such expressions
of respectful admiration as he suffered to reach their
destination were received very graciously, and rewarded
with a shower of smiles.

The next few days were spent in making short expeditions
in the neighbourhood, in preparing our baggage-train,
and in paying visits. It would be too long for me to
enumerate all the marks of kindness and hospitality I
received during this short period. Suffice it to say,
that I had the satisfaction of making many very interesting
acquaintances, of beholding a great number of very pretty
faces, and of partaking of an innumerable quantity of
luncheons. In fact, to break bread, or, more correctly
speaking, to crack a bottle with the master of the house,
is as essential an element of a morning call as the making
a bow or shaking hands, and to refuse to take off your
glass would be as great an incivility as to decline taking
off your hat. From earliest times, as the grand old ballad
of the King of Thule tells us, a beaker was considered
the fittest token a lady could present to her true-love--

  Dem fterbend feine Buble
  Einen goldnen Becher gab.

And in one of the most ancient Eddaic songs it is written,
"Drink, Runes, must thou know, if thou wilt maintain thy
power over the maiden thou lovest. Thou shalt score them
on the drinking-horn, on the back of thy hand, and the
word NAUD" (NEED--necessity) "on thy nail." Moreover,
when it is remembered that the ladies of the house
themselves minister on these occasions, it will be easily
understood that all flinching is out of the question.
What is a man to do, when a wicked little golden-haired
maiden insists on pouring him out a bumper, and dumb show
is his only means of remonstrance? Why, of course, if
death were in the cup, he must make her a leg, and drain
it to the bottom, as I did.  In conclusion, I am bound
to add that, notwithstanding the bacchanalian character
prevailing in these visits, I derived from them much
interesting and useful information, and I have invariably
found the gentlemen to whom I have been presented persons
of education and refinement, combined with a happy,
healthy, jovial temperament, that invests their conversation
with a peculiar charm.

At this moment people are in a great state of excitement
at the expected arrival of H.I.H. Prince Napoleon, and
two days ago a large full-rigged ship came in laden with
coal for his use. The day after we left Stornaway, we
had seen her scudding away before the gale on a due west
course, and guessed she was bound for Iceland, and running
down the longitude, but as we arrived here four days
before her, our course seems to have been a better one.
The only other ship here is the French frigate "Artemise,"
Commodore Dumas, by whom I have been treated with the
greatest kindness and civility.

On Saturday we went to Vedey, a beautiful little green
island where the eider ducks breed, and build nests with
the soft under-down plucked from their own bosoms. After
the little ones are hatched, and their birthplaces
deserted, the nests are gathered, cleaned, and stuffed
into pillow-cases, for pretty ladies in Europe to lay
their soft, warm cheeks upon, and sleep the sleep of the
innocent, while long-legged, broad-shouldered Englishmen
protrude from between them at German inns, like the ham
from a sandwich, and cannot sleep, however innocent.

The next day, being Sunday, I read prayers on board,
and then went for a short time to the cathedral church,--
the only stone building in Reykjavik. It is a moderate-sized,
unpretending place, capable of holding three or four
hundred persons, erected in very ancient times, but lately
restored. The Icelanders are of the Lutheran religion,
and a Lutheran clergyman, in a black gown, etc., with a ruff
round his neck, such as our bishops are painted in about
the time of James the First, was preaching a sermon. It
was the first time I had heard Icelandic spoken continuously,
and it struck me as a singularly sweet caressing language,
although I disliked the particular cadence, amounting almost
to a chant, with which each sentence ended.

As in every church where prayers have been offered up
since the world began, the majority of the congregation
were women, some few dressed in bonnets, and the rest in
the national black silk skull-cap, set jauntily on one
side of the head, with a long black tassel hanging down
to the shoulder, or else in a quaint mitre of white linen,
of which a drawing alone could give you an idea, the
remainder of an Icelandic lady's costume, when not
superseded by Paris fashions, consists of a black bodice
fastened in front with silver clasps, over which is drawn
a cloth jacket, ornamented with a multitude of silver
buttons; round the neck goes a stiff ruff of velvet,
figured with silver lace, and a silver belt, often
beautifully chased, binds the long dark wadmal petticoat
round the waist. Sometimes the ornaments are of gold
instead of silver, and very costly.

Before dismissing his people, the preacher descended from
the pulpit, and putting on a splendid cope of crimson
velvet (in which some bishop had in ages past been
murdered), turned his back to the congregation, and
chanted some Latin sentences in good round Roman style.
Though still retaining in their ceremonies a few vestiges
of the old religion, though altars, candles, pictures,
and crucifixes yet remain in many of their churches, the
Icelanders are staunch Protestants, and, by all accounts,
the most devout, innocent pure-hearted people in the
world. Crime, theft, debauchery, cruelty, are unknown
amongst them; they have neither prison, gallows, soldiers,
nor police; and in the manner of the lives they lead
among their secluded valleys, there is something of a
patriarchal simplicity, that reminds one of the Old World
princes, of whom it has been said, that they were "upright
and perfect, eschewing evil, and in their hearts no

The law with regard to marriage, however, is sufficiently
peculiar. When, from some unhappy incompatibility of
temper, a married couple live so miserably together as
to render life insupportable, it is competent for them
to apply to the Danish Governor of the island for a
divorce. If, after the lapse of three years from the date
of the application, both are still of the same mind, and
equally eager to be free, the divorce is granted, and
each is at liberty to marry again.

The next day it had been arranged that we were to take
an experimental trip on our new ponies, under the guidance
of the learned and jovial Rector of the College.
Unfortunately the weather was dull and rainy, but we were
determined to enioy ourselves in spite of everything,
and a pleasanter ride I have seldom had. The steed Sigurdr
had purchased for me was a long-tailed, hog-maned, shaggy,
cow-houghed creature, thirteen hands high, of a bright
yellow colour, with admirable action, and sure-footed
enough to walk downstairs backwards. The Doctor was not
less well mounted; in fact, the Icelandic pony is quite
a peculiar race, much stronger, faster, and better bred
than the Highland shelty, and descended probably from
pure-blooded sires that scoured the steppes of Asia, long
before Odin and his paladins had peopled the valleys of

The first few miles of our ride lay across an undulating
plain of dolorite, to a farm situated at the head of an
inlet of the sea. At a distance, the farm-steading looked
like a little oasis of green, amid the grey stony slopes
that surrounded it, and on a nearer approach not unlike
the vestiges of a Celtic earthwork, with the tumulus of
a hero or two in the centre, but the mounds turned out
to be nothing more than the grass roofs of the house and
offices, and the banks and dykes but circumvallations
round the plot of most carefully cleaned meadow, called
the "tun," which always surrounds every Icelandic farm.
This word "tun" is evidently identical with our own Irish
"TOWN-LAND," the Cornish "TOWN," and the Scotch
"TOON,"--terms which, in their local signification, do
not mean a congregation of streets and buildings, but
the yard, and spaces of grass immediately adjoining a
single house, just as in German we have "tzaun," and in
the Dutch "tuyn," a garden.

Turning to the right, round the head of a little bay, we
passed within forty yards of an enormous eagle, seated
on a crag; but we had no rifle, and all he did was to
rise heavily into the air, flap his wings like a barn-door
fowl, and plump lazily down twenty yards farther off.

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