Make your own free website on

List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

the other side of the house, of casks of claret brought
up into the dining-room, the door locked, and the key
thrown out of the window? With such antecedents to sustain
me, I ought to be able to hold my own against the staunchest
toper in Iceland! So, with a devil glittering in my left
eye, I winked defiance right and left, and away we went
at it again for another five-and-forty minutes. At last
their fire slackened: I had partially quelled both the
Governor and the Rector, and still survived.  It is true
I did not feel comfortable; but it was in the neighbourhood
of my waistcoat, not my head, I suffered. "I am not well,
but I will not out," I soliloquized, with Lepidus [footnote:
Antony and Cleopatra.]-- (Greek) "Sos moi ro prepov," I
would have added, had I dared.  Still the neck of the
banquet was broken--Fitzgerald's chair was not yet
empty,--could we hold out perhaps a quarter of an hour
longer, our reputation was established; guess then my
horror, when the Icelandic Doctor, shouting his favourite
dogma, by way of battle cry, "Si trigintis guttis, morbum
curare velis, erras," gave the signal for an unexpected
onslaught, and the twenty guests poured down on me in
succession. I really thought I should have run away from
the house; but the true family blood, I suppose, began
to show itself, and with a calmness almost frightful, I
received them one by one.

After this began the public toasts.

Although up to this time I had kept a certain portion of
my wits about me, the subsequent hours of the entertainment
became henceforth developed in a dreamy mystery. I can
perfectly recall the look of the sheaf of glasses that
stood before me, six in number; I could draw the pattern
of each remember feeling a lazy wonder they should always
be full, though I did nothing but empty them,--and at
last solved the phenomenon by concluding I had become a
kind of Danaid, whose punishment, not whose sentence,
had been reversed: then suddenly I felt as if I were
disembodied,--a distant spectator of my own performances,
and of the feast at which my person remained seated. The
voices of my host, of the "Rector, of the Chief Justice,
became thin and low, as though they reached me through
a whispering tube; and when I rose to speak, it was as
to an audience in another sphere, and in a language of
another state of being: yet, however unintelligible to
myself, I must have been in some sort understood, for at
the end of each sentence, cheers, faint as the roar of
waters on a far-off strand, floated towards me; and if
I am to believe a report of the proceedings subsequently
shown us, I must have become polyglot in my cups. According
to that report it seems the Governor threw off (I wonder
he did not do something else), with the Queen's health
in French: to which I responded in the same language.
Then the Rector, in English, proposed my health, under
the circumstances a cruel mockery,--but to which, ill as
I was, I responded very gallantly by drinking to the
beaux yeux of the Countess. Then somebody else drank
success to Great Britain, and I see it was followed by
really a very learned discourse by Lord D., in honour of
the ancient Icelanders; during which he alluded to their
discovery of America, and Columbus' visit. Then came a
couple of speeches in Icelandic, after which the Bishop,
in a magnificent Latin oration of some twenty minutes,
a second time proposes my health; to which, utterly at
my wits' end, I had the audacity to reply in the same
language. As it is fit so great an effort of oratory
should not perish, I send you some of its choicest

"Viri illustres," I began, "insolitus ut sum ad publicum
loquendum, ego propero respondere ad complimentum quod
recte reverendus prelaticus mihi fecit, in proponendo
meam salutem: et supplico vos credere quod multum
gratificatus et flattificatus sum honore tam distincto.

"Bibere, viri illustres, res est, quae in omnibus terris,
'domum venit ad hominum negotia et pectora:'

[Footnote: As the happiness of these quotations seemed
to produce a very pleasing effect on my auditors, I
subjoin a translation of them for the benefit of the

1. "Comes home to men's business and bosoms."
    --Paterfamilias, Times.

2. "A long pull, a strong pull, and a pull all
    together."--Nelson at the Nile.

3. "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin."
    --Jeremy Bentham.

4. Apothegm by the late Lord Mountcoffeehouse.

5. "Love rules the court, the camp, the grove."
   --Venerable Bede.]

(1) requirit 'haustum longum, haustum fortem, et haustum
omnes simul:' (2) ut canit Poeta, 'unum tactum Naturae
totum orben facit consanguineum,' (3) et hominis Natura
est--bibere (4).

"Viri illustres, alterum est sentimentum equaliter
universale:  terra communis super quam septentrionales
et meridionales, eadem enthusiasma convenire possunt:
est necesse quod id nominarem? Ad pulchrum sexum devotio!

"Amor regit palatium, castra, lucum: (5) Dubito sub quo
capite vestram jucundam civitatem numerare debeam.
Palatium? non Regem! Castra? non milites! lucum? non
ullam arborem habetis! Tamen Cupido vos dominat haud
aliter quam alios,--et virginum Islandarum pulchritudo,
per omnes regiones cognita est.

"Bibamus salutem earum, et confusionem ad omnes bacularios:
speramus quod eae carae et benedictae creaturae invenient
tot maritos quot velint,--quod geminos quottanis habeant,
et quod earum filiae, maternum exemplum sequentes, gentem
Islandicam perpetuent in saecula saeculorum."

The last words mechanically rolled out, in the same "ore
rotundo" with which the poor old Dean of Christchurch
used to finish his Gloria, etc. in the Cathedral.

Then followed more speeches,--a great chinking of glasses,
--a Babel of conversation,--a kind of dance round the
table, where we successively gave each alternate hand,
as in the last figure of the Lancers,--a hearty embrace
from the Governor,--and finally,--silence, daylight, and
fresh air, as we stumbled forth into the street.

Now what was to be done? To go to bed was impossible.
It was eleven o'clock by our watches, and as bright as
noon.  Fitz said it was twenty-two o'clock; but by this
time he had reached that point of enlargement of the
mind, and development of the visual organs, which is
expressed by the term "seeing double,"--though he now
pretends he was only reckoning time in the Venetian
manner. We were in the position of three fast young men
about Reykjavik, determined to make a night of it, but
without the wherewithal.  There were neither knockers to
steal, nor watchmen to bonnet.  At last we remembered
that the apothecary's wife had a conversazione, to which
she had kindly invited us; and accordingly, off we went
to her house. Here we found a number of French officers,
a piano, and a young lady; in consequence of which the
drum soon became a ball. Finally, it was proposed we
should dance a reel; the second lieutenant of the "Artemise"
had once seen one when his ship was riding out a gale in
the Clyde;--the little lady had frequently studied a
picture of the Highland fling on the outside of a copy
of Scotch music;--I could dance a jig--the set was
complete, all we wanted was the music. Luckily the lady
of the house knew the song of "Annie Laurie,"--played
fast it made an excellent reel tune. As you may suppose,
all succeeded admirably; we nearly died of laughing, and
I only wish Lord Breadalbane had been by to see.

At one in the morning, our danseuse retiring to rest,
the ball necessarily terminated; but the Governor's dinner
still forbidding bed, we determined on a sail in the
cutter to some islands about three-quarters of a mile
out to sea; and I do not think I shall ever forget the
delicious sensation of lying down lazily in the
stern-sheets, and listening to the rippling of the water
against the bows of the boat, as she glided away towards
them. The dreamy, misty landscape,--each headland silently
sleeping in the unearthly light,--Snoefell, from whose
far-off peaks the midnight sun, though lost to us, had
never faded,--the Plutonic crags that stood around, so
gaunt and weird,--the quaint fresh life I had been lately
leading,--all combined to promise such an existence of
novelty and excitement in that strange Arctic region on
the threshold of which we were now pausing, that I could
not sufficiently congratulate myself on our good fortune.
Soon, however, the grating of our keel upon the strand
disturbed my reflections, and by the time I had
unaccountably stepped up to my knees in the water, I was
thoroughly awake, and in a condition to explore the
island. It seemed to be about three-quarters of a mile
long, not very broad, and a complete rabbit-warren; in
fact, I could not walk a dozen yards without tripping up
in the numerous burrows by which the ground was honeycombed:
at last, on turning a corner, we suddenly came on a dozen
rabbits, gravely sitting at the mouths of their holes.
They were quite white, without ears, and with scarlet
noses. I made several desperate attempts to catch some
of these singular animals, but though one or two allowed
me to come pretty near, just as I thought my prize was
secure, in some unaccountable manner--it made unto itself
wings, and literally flew away! Moreover, if my eyesight
did not share the peculiar development which affected
that of the Doctor's, I should say that these rabbits
flew in PAIRS. Red-nosed, winged rabbits! I had never
heard or read of the species; and I naturally grew
enthusiastic in the chase, hoping to bring home a choice
specimen to astonish our English naturalists. With some
difficulty we managed to catch one or two, which had run
into their holes instead of flying away.  They bit and
scratched like tiger-cats, and screamed like parrots;
indeed, on a nearer inspection, I am obliged to confess
that they assumed the appearance of birds, [Footnote:
The Puffin (Alca arctica). In Icelandic, Soe papagoie;
In Scotland, Priest; and in Cornwall, Pope.] which may
perhaps account for their powers of flight. A slight
confusion still remains in my mind as to the real nature

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: