List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
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oil, whale blubber, fox skins, eider-down, feathers, and
Icelandic moss.  During the last few years the exports
of the island have amounted to about 1,200,000 lbs. of
wool and 500,000 pairs of stockings and mittens. Although
Iceland is one-fifth larger than Ireland, its population
consists of only about 60,000 persons, scattered along
the habitable ring which runs round between the central
desert and the sea; of the whole area of 38,000 square
miles it is calculated that not more than one-eighth part
is occupied, the remaining 33,000 square miles consisting
of naked mountains of ice, or valleys desolated by lava
or volcanic ashes. Even Reykjavik itself cannot boast of
more than 700 or 800 inhabitants.

During winter time the men are chiefly employed in tending
cattle, picking wool, manufacturing ropes, bridles,
saddles, and building boats. The fishing season commences
in spring; in 1853 there were as many as 3,500 boats
engaged upon the water. As summer advances--turf-cutting
and hay-making begins; while the autumn months are
principally devoted to the repairing of their houses,
manuring the grass lands, and killing and curing of sheep
for exportation, as well as for their own use during the
winter. The woman-kind of a family occupy themselves
throughout the year in washing, carding, and spinning
wool, in knitting gloves and stockings, and in weaving
frieze and flannel for their own wear.

The ordinary food of a well-to-do Icelandic family consists
of dried fish, butter, sour whey kept till fermentation
takes place, curds, and skier--a very peculiar cheese
unlike any I ever tasted,--a little mutton, and rye bread.
As might be expected, this meagre fare is not very
conducive to health; scurvy, leprosy, elephantiasis, and
all cutaneous disorders, are very common, while the
practice of mothers to leave off nursing their children
at the end of three days, feeding them with cows' milk
instead, results in a frightful mortality among the

Land is held either in fee-simple, or let by the Crown
to tenants on what may almost be considered perpetual
leases.  The rent is calculated partly on the number of
acres occupied, partly on the head of cattle the farm is
fit to support, and is paid in kind, either in fish or
farm produce. Tenants in easy circumstances generally
employ two or three labourers, who--in addition to their
board and lodging--receive from ten to twelve dollars a
year of wages. No property can be entailed, and if any
one dies intestate, what he leaves is distributed among
his children--in equal shares to the sons, in half shares
to the daughters.

The public revenue arising from Crown lands, commercial
charges, and a small tax on the transference of property,
amounts to about 3,000 pounds; the expenditure for
education, officers' salaries (the Governor has about
400 pounds a year), ecclesiastical establishments, etc.,
exceeds 6,000 pounds a year; so that the island is
certainly not a self-supporting institution.

The clergy are paid by tithes; their stipends are
exceedingly small, generally not averaging more than six
or seven pounds sterling per annum; their chief dependence
being upon their farms. Like St. Dunstan, they are
invariably excellent blacksmiths.

As we approached Reykjavik, for the first time during
the whole journey we began to have some little trouble
with the relay of ponies in front. Whether it was that
they were tired, or that they had arrived in a district
where they had been accustomed to roam at large, I cannot
tell; but every ten minutes, during the last six or seven
miles, one or other of them kept starting aside into the
rocky plain, across which the narrow bridle-road was
carried, and cost us many a weary chase before we could
drive them into the track again.  At last, though not
till I had been violently hugged, kissed, and nearly
pulled off my horse by an enthusiastic and rather tipsy
farmer, who mistook me for the Prince, we galloped, about
five o'clock, triumphantly into the town, without an
accident having occurred to man or horse during the whole
course of the expedition--always excepting one tremendous
fall sustained by Wilson. It was on the evening of the
day we left the Geysirs. We were all galloping in single
file down the lava pathway, when suddenly I heard a cry
behind me, and then the noise as of a descending avalanche.
On turning round, behold! both Wilson and his pony lay
stretched upon the ground, the first some yards in advance
of the other. The poor fellow evidently thought he was
killed; for he neither spoke nor stirred, but lay looking
up at me, with blank, beady eyes as I approached to his
assistance. On further investigation, neither of the
sufferers proved to be a bit the worse.

The cook, and the rest of the party, did not arrive till
about midnight; but I make no doubt that when that able
and spirited individual did at length reascend the side
of the schooner, his cheek must have burned with pride
at the reflection, that during the short period of his
absence on shore he had added to his other accomplishments
that of becoming a most finished cavalier. I do not mean
by that to imply that he was at all DONE. Although we
had enjoyed our trip so much, I was not sorry to find
myself on board. The descent again, after our gipsy life,
into the coquettish little cabin, with its books and dear
home faces, quite penetrated me with that feeling of snug
content of which I believe Englishmen alone are susceptible.

I have now to relate to you a most painful occurrence
which has taken place during my absence at the Geysirs;--
no less a catastrophe, in fact, than a mutiny among my
hitherto most exemplary ship's company. I suppose they,
too, had occasion to bear witness to the proverbial
hospitality of Iceland; salt junk, and the innocuous
cates which generally compose ship-board rations, could
never have produced such an emergency. Suffice it to say,
that "Dyspepsia and her fatal train" having taken hold
of them, in a desperate hour they determined on a desperate
deed,--and rushing aft in a body, demanded of my faithful
steward, not only access to the penetralia of the absent
Doctor's cupboard, but that he himself should administer
to them whatever medicaments he could come by. In vain
Mr. Grant threw himself across the cabin-door. Remonstrance
was useless; my horny-handed lambs were inexorable--unless
he acceded to their demands, they threatened to report
him when I returned! The Doctor's sanctuary was thrown
open, and all its sweets--if such they may be called--were
rifled. A huge box of pills, the first that came to
hand--they happened to be calomel--was served out, share
and share alike, with concomitant vials of wrath, of
rhubarb and senna; and it was not until the last drop of
castor oil had been carefully licked up that the marauders
suffered their unwilling accomplice to retire to the
fastnesses of his pantry.

An avenging Nemesis, however, hovered over the violated
shrine of Esculapius. By the time I returned the exigencies
of justice had been more than satisfied, and the outrage
already atoned for. The rebellious HANDS were become most
penitent STOMACHS; and fresh from the Oriental associations
suggested by our last day's ride, I involuntarily dismissed
the disconsolate culprits, with the Asiatic form of
condonation: "Mashallah, you have made your faces white!
Go in peace!"

During our expedition to the interior, the harbour of
Reykjavik had become populous with new arrivals. First
of all, there was my old friend, the "Reine Hortense,"
the Emperor's yacht, a magnificent screw corvette of
1,100 tons.  I had last parted with her three years ago
in the Baltic, after she had towed me for eighty miles
on our way from Bomarsund to Stockholm. Then there were
two English screw steamers, of about 700 tons each, taken
up by the French Government as tenders to the yacht; not
to mention a Spanish brig, and one or two other foreigners,
which, together with the frigate, the barque, and the
vessels we had found here on our first arrival, made the
usually deserted bay look quite lively. Until this year
no steamers had ever cockneyfied its secluded waters.

This morning, directly after breakfast, I went on board
the "Reine Hortense" to pay my respects to Prince Napoleon;
and H.I.H. has just done me the honour of coming to
inspect the "Foam." When I was first presented to him at
the Geysirs, he asked me what my plans might be; and on
my mentioning my resolution of sailing to the North, he
most kindly proposed that I should come with him West to
Greenland instead. My anxiety, however, to reach, if it
were possible, Jan Mayen and Spitzbergen, prevented my
accepting this most tempting offer; but in the meantime,
H.I.H. has, it seems, himself determined to come to Jan
Mayen, and he is kind enough to say that if I can get
ready for a start by six o'clock to-morrow morning, the
"Reine Hortense" shall take me in tow. To profit by this
proposal would of course entail the giving up my plan of
riding across the interior of Iceland, which I should be
very loth to do; at the same time, the season is so far
advanced, the mischances of our first start from England
have thrown us so far behind in our programme, that it
would seem almost a pity to neglect such an opportunity
of overrunning the time that has been lost; and after
all, these Polar islands, which so few have visited, are
what I am chiefly bent on seeing. Before I close this
letter the thing will have been settled one way or another;
for I am to have the honour of dining with the Prince
this evening, and between this and then I shall have made
up my mind. After dinner there is to be a ball on board
the frigate, to which all the rank, fashion, and beauty
of Reykjavik have been invited.

   3 A.M.

I give up seeing the rest of Iceland, and go North at
once. It has cost me a struggle to come to this conclusion,
but on the whole I think it will be better. Ten or fifteen
days of summer-time become very precious in these latitudes,
and are worth a sacrifice. At this moment we have just

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