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List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
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supervened on the extinction of the republic.

It is to these same spirited chroniclers that we are
indebted for the preservation of two of the most remarkable
facts in the history of the world: the colonization of
Greenland by Europeans in the 10th century, and the
discovery of America by the Icelanders at the commencement
of the 11th.

The story is rather curious.

Shortly after the arrival of the first settlers in Iceland,
a mariner of the name of Eric the Red discovers a country
away to the west, which, in consequence of its fruitful
appearance, he calls Greenland. In the course of a few
years the new land has become so thickly inhabited that
it is necessary to erect the district into an episcopal
see; and at last, in 1448, we have a brief of Pope Nicolas
"granting to his beloved children of Greenland, in
consideration of their having erected many sacred buildings
and a splendid cathedral,"--a new bishop and a fresh
supply of priests.  At the commencement, however, of the
next century, this colony of Greenland, with its bishops,
priests and people, its one hundred and ninety townships,
its cathedral, its churches, its monasteries, suddenly
fades into oblivion, like the fabric of a dream. The
memory of its existence perishes, and the allusions made
to it in the old Scandinavian Sagas gradually come to be
considered poetical inventions or pious frauds. At last,
after a lapse of four hundred years, some Danish
missionaries set out to convert the Esquimaux; and there,
far within Davis' Straits, are discovered vestiges of
the ancient settlement,--remains of houses, paths, walls,
churches, tombstones, and inscriptions. [Footnote: On
one tombstone there was written in Runic, "Vigdis M. D.
Hvilir Her; Glwde Gude Sal Hennar." "Vigdessa rests here;
God gladden her soul." But the most interesting of these
inscriptions is one discovered, in 1824, in an island in
Baffin's Bay, in latitude 72 degrees 55', as it shows
how boldly these Northmen must have penetrated into
regions supposed to have been unvisited by man before
the voyages of our modern navigators:--"Erling Sighvatson
and Biomo Thordarson, and Eindrid Oddson, on Saturday
before Ascension-week, raised these marks and cleared
ground, 1135:" This date of Ascension-week implies that
these three men wintered here, which must lead us to
imagine that at that time, seven hundred years ago, the
climate was less inclement than it is now.]

What could have been the calamity which suddenly annihilated
this Christian people, it is impossible to say; whether
they were massacred by some warlike tribe of natives, or
swept off to the last man by the terrible pestilence of
1349, called "The Black Death," or,--most horrible
conjecture of all,--beleaguered by vast masses of ice
setting down from the Polar Sea along the eastern coast
of Greenland, and thus miserably frozen, we are never
likely to know--so utterly did they perish, so mysterious
has been their doom.

On the other hand, certain traditions, with regard to
the discovery of a vast continent by their forefathers
away in the south-west, seems never entirely to have died
out of the memory of the Icelanders; and in the month of
February, 1477, there arrives at Reykjavik, in a barque
belonging to the port of Bristol, a certain long-visaged,
grey-eyed Genoese mariner, who was observed to take an
amazing interest in hunting up whatever was known on the
subject.  Whether Columbus--for it was no less a personage
than he--really learned anything to confirm him in his
noble resolutions, is uncertain; but we have still extant
an historical manuscript, written at all events before
the year 1395, that is to say, one hundred years prior
to Columbus' voyage, which contains a minute account of
how a certain person named Lief, while sailing over to
Greenland, was driven out of his course by contrary winds,
until he found himself off an extensive and unknown coast,
which increased in beauty and fertility as he descended
south, and how, in consequence of the representation Lief
made on his return, successive expeditions were undertaken
in the same direction. On two occasions their wives seem
to have accompanied the adventurers; of one ship's company
the skipper was a lady:  while two parties even wintered
in the new land, built houses, and prepared to colonize.
For some reason, however, the intention was abandoned;
and in process of time these early voyages came to be
considered as aprocryphal as the Phoenician
circumnavigation of Africa in the time of Pharaoh Necho.

It is quite uncertain how low a latitude in America the
Northmen ever reached; but from the description given of
the scenery, products, and inhabitants,--from the mildness
of the weather,--and from the length of the day on the
21st of December,--it is conjectured they could not have
descended much farther than Newfoundland, Nova Scotia,
or, at most, the coast of Massachusetts. [Footnote: There
is a certain piece of rock on the Taunton river, in
Massachusetts, called the Deighton Stone, on which are
to be seen rude configurations, for a long time supposed
to be a Runic inscription executed by these Scandinavian
voyagers; but there can be now no longer any doubt of
this inscription, such as it is, being of Indian execution.]

But to return to more material matters.

Yesterday--no--the day before--in fact I forget the date
of the day--I don't believe it had one--all I know is,
I have not been in bed since,--we dined at the Governor's;--
though dinner is too modest a term to apply to the

The invitation was for four o'clock, and at half-past
three we pulled ashore in the gig; I, innocent that I
was, in a well-fitting white waistcoat.

The Government House, like all the others, is built of
wood, on the top of a hillock; the only accession of
dignity it can boast being a little bit of mangy
kitchen-garden that hangs down in front to the road, like
a soiled apron. There was no lock, handle, bell, or
knocker to the door, but immediately on our approach, a
servant presented himself, and ushered us into the room
where Count Trampe was waiting to welcome us. After having
been presented to his wife, we proceeded to shake hands
with the other guests, most of whom I already knew; and
I was glad to find that, at all events in Iceland, people
do not consider it necessary to pass the ten minutes
which precede the announcement of dinner, as if they had
assembled to assist at the opening of their entertainer's
will, instead of his oysters. The company consisted of
the chief dignitaries of the island, including the Bishop,
the Chief justice, etc. etc., some of them in uniform,
and all with holiday faces. As soon as the door was
opened, Count Trampe tucked me under his arm--two other
gentlemen did the same to my two companions--and we
streamed into the dining-room. The table was very prettily
arranged with flowers, plate, and a forest of glasses.
Fitzgerald and I were placed on either side of our host,
the other guests, in due order, beyond. On my left sat
the Rector, and opposite, next to Fitz, the chief physician
of the island.  Then began a series of transactions of
which I have no distinct recollection; in fact, the events
of the next five hours recur to me in as great disarray
as reappear the vestiges of a country that has been
disfigured by some deluge. If I give you anything like
a connected account of what passed, you must thank
Sigurdr's more solid temperament; for the Doctor looked
quite foolish when I asked him--tried to feel my
pulse--could not find it--and then wrote the following
prescription, which I believe to be nothing more than an
invoice of the number of bottles he himself disposed of.

[Footnote: Copy of Dr. F.'s prescription :--
   vin: claret:    iii btls.
   vin: champ:     iv btls.
   vin: sherr:     1/2 btl.
   vin: Rheni:     ii btls.
   aqua vitae      viii gls.
   trigint: poc: aegrot: cap: quotid:
        C. E. F.
Reik: die Martis, Junii 27.]

I gather, then, from evidence--internal and otherwise--
that the dinner was excellent, and that we were helped
in Benjamite proportions; but as before the soup was
finished I was already hard at work hob-nobbing with my
two neighbours, it is not to be expected I should remember
the bill of fare.

With the peculiar manners used in Scandinavian skoal-
drinking I was already well acquainted. In the nice
conduct of a wine-glass I knew that I excelled, and having
an hereditary horror of heel-taps, I prepared with a firm
heart to respond to the friendly provocations of my host.
I only wish you could have seen how his kind face beamed
with approval when I chinked my first bumper against his,
and having emptied it at a draught, turned it towards
him bottom upwards, with the orthodox twist. Soon, however,
things began to look more serious even than I had expected.
I knew well that to refuse a toast, or to half empty your
glass, was considered churlish. I had come determined to
accept my host's hospitality as cordially as it was
offered. I was willing, at a pinch, to payer de ma
personne; should he not be content with seeing me at his
table, I was ready, if need were, to remain UNDER it!
but at the rate we were then going it seemed probable
this consummation would take place before the second
course: so, after having exchanged a dozen rounds of
sherry and champagne with my two neighbours, I pretended
not to observe that my glass had been refilled; and, like
the sea-captain, who, slipping from between his two
opponents, left them to blaze away at each other the long
night through,--withdrew from the combat. But it would
not do; with untasted bumpers, and dejected faces, they
politely waited until I should give the signal for a
renewal of HOSTilities, as they well deserved to be
called.  Then there came over me a horrid, wicked feeling.
What if I should endeavour to floor the Governor, and so
literally turn the tables on him! It is true I had lived
for five-and-twenty years without touching wine,--but
was not I my great-grandfather's great-grandson, and an
Irish peer to boot? Were there not traditions, too, on

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