List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
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basin. The usual subterranean thunders had already
commenced. A violent agitation was disturbing the centre
of the pool. Suddenly a dome of water lifted itself up
to the height of eight or ten feet,--then burst, and
fell; immediately after which a shining liquid column,
or rather a sheaf of columns wreathed in robes of vapour,
sprung into the air, and in a succession of jerking leaps,
each higher than the last, flung their silver crests
against the sky. For a few minutes the fountain held its
own, then all at once appeared to lose its ascending
energy.  The unstable waters faltered, drooped, fell,
"like a broken purpose," back upon themselves, and were
immediately sucked down into the recesses of their pipe.

The spectacle was certainly magnificent; but no description
can give any idea of its most striking features. The
enormous wealth of water, its vitality, its hidden
power,--the illimitable breadth of sunlit vapour, rolling
out in exhaustless profusion,--all combined to make one
feel the stupendous energy of nature's slightest movements.

And yet I do not believe the exhibition was so fine as
some that have been seen: from the first burst upwards
to the moment the last jet retreated into the pipe, was
no more than a space of seven or eight minutes, and at
no moment did the crown of the column reach higher than
sixty or seventy feet above the surface of the basin.
Now, early travellers talk of three hundred feet, which
must, of course, be fabulous; but many trustworthy persons
have judged the eruptions at two hundred feet, while
well-authenticated accounts--when the elevation of the
jet has been actually measured--make it to have attained
a height of upwards of one hundred feet.

With regard to the internal machinery by which these
waterworks are set in motion, I will only say that the
most received theory seems to be that which supposes the
existence of a chamber in the heated earth, almost, but
not quite, filled with water, and communicating with the
upper air by means of a pipe, whose lower orifice, instead
of being in the roof, is at the side of the cavern, and
BELOW the surface of the subterranean pond. The water
kept by the surrounding furnaces at boiling point,
generates of course a continuous supply of steam, for
which some vent must be obtained; as it cannot escape by
the funnel, the lower mouth of which is under water, it
squeezes itself up within the arching roof, until at
last, compressed beyond all endurance, it strains against
the rock, and pushing down the intervening waters with
its broad, strong back, forces them below the level of
the funnel, and dispersing part, and driving part before
it, rushes forth in triumph to the upper air. The fountains,
therefore, that we see mounting to the sky during an
eruption, are nothing but the superincumbent mass of
waters in the pipe driven up in confusion before the
steam at the moment it obtains its liberation. [Footnote:
Professor Bunsen has lately announced a chemical theory,
which I believe has been received with favour by the
scientific world. He points to the fact that water, after
being long subjected to heat, loses much of the air
contained in it, has the cohesion of its molecules much
increased, and requires a higher temperature to bring it
to boil; at which moment the production of vapour becomes
so great, and so instantaneous, as to cause explosion.
The bursting of furnace boilers is often attributable to
this cause. Now, the water at the bottom of the well of
the Great Geysir is found to be of constantly increasing
temperature up to the moment of an eruption, when on one
occasion it was as high as 261 degrees.  Fahrenheit.
Professor Bunsen's idea is, that on reaching some unknown
point above that temperature, ebullition takes place,
vapour is suddenly generated in enormous quantity, and
an eruption of the superior column of water is the

The accompanying sketch may perhaps help you to understand
my meaning.

[Figure: fig-p074.gif]

The last gulp of water had disappeared down the funnel.
We were standing at the bottom of the now empty basin,
gazing into each other's faces with joyous astonishment,
when suddenly we perceived a horseman come frantically
galloping round the base of the neighbouring hill towards
us.  The state of the case was only too evident. He had
seen the masses of vapour rising round the fountain, and
guessing "what was UP", had strained every nerve to arrive
in time.  As there was no mutual friend present to
introduce us to each other,--of course under ordinary
circumstances I should have wrapped myself in that reserve
which is the birthright of every Briton, and pretended
never even to have noticed his arrival; but the sight we
had just seen had quite upset my nerves,--and I confess,
with shame, that I so far compromised myself, as to
inaugurate a conversation with the stranger. In extenuation
of my conduct, I must be allowed to add, that the newcomer
was not a fellow-countryman, but of the French tongue,
and of the naval profession.

Occupying then the door of my tent--by way of vantage
ground, as soon as the stranger was come within earshot,
I lifted up my voice, and cried in a style of Arabian
familiarity, "O thou that ridest so furiously,--weary
and disappointed one,--turn in, I pray thee, into the
tent of thy servant, and eat bread, and drink wine, that
thy soul may becomforted." To which he answered and said,
"Man,--dweller in sulphureous places,--I will not eat
bread, nor drink wine, neither will I enter into thy
tent, until I have measured out a resting-place for my
Lord the Prince."

At this interesting moment our acquaintance was interrupted
by the appearance of two other horsemen--the one a painter,
the other a geologist--attached to the expedition of
Prince Napoleon. They informed us that His Imperial
Highness had reached Reykjavik two days after we had
left, that he had encamped last night at Thingvalla, and
might be expected here in about four hours: they themselves
having come on in advance to prepare for his arrival. My
first care was to order coffee for the tired Frenchmen;
and then--feeling that long residence having given us
a kind of proprietorship in the Geysirs, we were bound
to do the honours of the place to the approaching band
of travellers,--I summoned the cook, and enlarging in a
long speech on the gravity of the occasion, gave orders
that he should make a holocaust of all the remaining
game, and get under way a plum-pudding, whose dimensions
should do himself and England credit. A long table having
been erected within the tent, Sigurdr started on a
plundering expedition to the neighbouring farm, Fitzgerald
undertook the ordering of the feast, while I rode on my
pony across the morass, in hopes of being able to shoot
a few additional plover. In a couple of hours afterwards,
just as I was stalking a duck that lay innocently basking
on the bosom of the river, a cloud of horsemen swept
round the base of the distant mountain, and returning
home, I found the encampment I had left so deserted--alive
and populous with as merry a group of Frenchmen as it
might ever be one's fortune to fall in with.  Of course
they were dressed in every variety of costumes, long
boots, picturesque brigand-looking hats, with here and
there a sprinkling of Scotch caps from Aberdeen; but--
whatever might be the head-dress, underneath you might
be sure to find a kindly, cheery face. My old friend
Count Trampe, who had accompanied the expedition, at once
presented me to the Prince, who was engaged in sounding
the depth of the pipe of the Great Geysir,--and encouraged
by the gracious reception which His Imperial Highness
accorded me, I ventured to inform him that "there was a
poor banquet toward," of which I trusted he--and as many
of his officers as the table could hold--would condescend
to partake. After a little hesitation,--caused, I presume,
by fear of our being put to inconvenience,--he was kind
enough to signify his acceptance of my proposal, and in
a few minutes afterwards with a cordial frankness I fully
appreciated, allowed me to have the satisfaction of
receiving him as a guest within my tent.

Although I never had the pleasure of seeing Prince Napoleon
before, I should have known him among a thousand, from
his remarkable likeness to his uncle, the first Emperor.
A stronger resemblance, I conceive, could scarcely exist
between two persons. The same delicate, sharply cut
features, thin refined mouth, and firm determined jaw.
The Prince's frame, however, is built altogether on a
larger scale, and his eyes, instead of being of a cold
piercing blue--are soft and brown, with quite a different

Though of course a little Barmicidal, the dinner went
off very well, as every dinner must do where such merry
companions are the convives. We had some difficulty about
stowing away the legs of a tall philosopher, and to each
knife three individuals were told off; but the birds were
not badly cooked, and the plum-pudding arrived in time
to convert a questionable success into an undoubted

On rising from table, each one strolled away in whatever
direction his particular taste suggested. The painter to
sketch; the geologist to break stones; the philosopher
to moralize, I presume,--at least, he lighted a cigar,--and
the rest to superintend the erection of the tents which
had just arrived.

In an hour afterwards, sleep--though not altogether
silence--for loud and strong rose the choral service
intoned to Morpheus from every side--reigned supreme over
the encampment, whose canvas habitations, huddled together
on the desolated plateau, looked almost Crimean. This
last notion, I suppose, must have mingled with my dreams,
for not long afterwards I found myself in full swing
towards a Russian battery, that banged and bellowed, and
cannonaded about my ears in a fashion frightful to hear.
Apparently I was serving in the French attack, for clear
and shrill above the tempest rose the cry, "Alerte!
alerte! aux armes, Monseigneur! aux armes!" The ground
shook, volumes of smoke rose before my eyes, and completely

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