List Of Contents | Contents of Letters From High Latitudes, by Lord Dufferin
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them, the Company presented Mr. Wyse on his return with
a gold watch, and the chain he wears so gloriously outside
the silk tartan waistcoat.

And now, good-bye. I hear the click-click of the chain
as they heave the anchor; I am rather tired and exhausted
with all the worry of the last two months, and shall be
heartily glad to get to sea, where fresh air will set me
up again, I hope, in a few days. My next letter will be
from Iceland; and, please God, before I see English land
again, I hope to have many a story to tell you of the
islands that are washed by the chill waters of the Arctic



Reykjavik, Iceland, June 21, 1856.

We have landed in Thule! When, in parting, you moaned so
at the thought of not being able to hear of our safe
arrival, I knew there would be an opportunity of writing
to you almost immediately after reaching Iceland; but I
said nothing about it at the time, lest something should
delay this letter, and you be left to imagine all kinds
of doleful reasons for its non-appearance. We anchored
in Reykjavik harbour this afternoon (Saturday). H.M.S.
"Coquette" sails for England on Monday; so that within
a week you will get this.

For the last ten days we have been leading the life of
the "Flying Dutchman." Never do I remember to have had
such a dusting: foul winds, gales, and calms--or rather
breathing spaces, which the gale took occasionally to
muster up fresh energies for a blow--with a heavy head
sea, that prevented our sailing even when we got aslant.
On the afternoon of the day we quitted Stornaway, I got
a notion how it was going to be; the sun went angrily
down behind a bank of solid grey cloud, and by the time
we were up with the Butt of Lewis, the whole sky was in
tatters, and the mercury nowhere, with a heavy swell from
the north-west.

As, two years before, I had spent a week in trying to
beat through the Roost of Sumburgh under double-reefed
trysails, I was at home in the weather; and guessing we
were in for it, sent down the topmasts, stowed the boats
on board, handed the foresail, rove the ridge-ropes, and
reefed all down. By midnight it blew a gale, which
continued without intermission until the day we sighted
Iceland; sometimes increasing to a hurricane, but broken
now and then by sudden lulls, which used to leave us for
a couple of hours at a time tumbling about on the top of
the great Atlantic rollers--or Spanish waves, as they
are called--until I thought the ship would roll the masts
out of her. Why they should be called Spanish waves, no
one seems to know; but I had always heard the seas were
heavier here than in any other part of the world, and
certainly they did not belie their character.  The little
ship behaved beautifully, and many a vessel twice her
size would have been less comfortable. Indeed, few people
can have any notion of the cosiness of a yacht's cabin
under such circumstances. After having remained for
several hours on deck, in the presence of the tempest,--
peering through the darkness at those black liquid walls
of water, mounting above you in ceaseless agitation, or
tumbling over in cataracts of gleaming foam,--the wind
roaring through the rigging,--timbers creaking as if the
ship would break its heart,--the spray and rain beating
in your face,--everything around in tumult,--suddenly
to descend into the quiet of a snug, well-lighted little
cabin, with the firelight dancing on the white rosebud
chintz, the well-furnished book-shelves, and all the
innumerable nick-nacks that decorate its walls,--little
Edith's portrait looking so serene,--everything about
you as bright and fresh as a lady's boudoir in May
Fair,--the certainty of being a good three hundred miles
from any troublesome shore,--all combine to inspire a
feeling of comfort and security difficult to describe.

These pleasures, indeed, for the first days of our voyage,
the Icelander had pretty much to himself. I was laid up
with a severe bout of illness I had long felt coming on,
and Fitz was sea-sick. I must say, however, I never saw
any one behave with more pluck and resolution; and when
we return, the first thing you do must be to thank him
for his kindness to me on that occasion. Though himself
almost prostrate, he looked after me as indefatigably as
if he had already found his sea legs; and, sitting down
on the cabin floor, with a basin on one side of him, and
a pestle and mortar on the other, used to manufacture my
pills, between the paroxysms of his malady, with a decorous
pertinacity that could not be too much admired.

Strangely enough, too, his state of unhappiness lasted
a few days longer than the eight-and-forty hours which
are generally sufficient to set people on their feet
again. I tried to console him by representing what an
occasion it was for observing the phenomena of sea-sickness
from a scientific point of view; and I must say he set
to work most conscientiously to discover some remedy.
Brandy, prussic acid, opium, champagne, ginger, mutton-
chops, and tumblers of salt-water, were successively
exhibited; but, I regret to say, after a few minutes,
each in turn re-exhibited itself with monotonous
punctuality. Indeed, at one time we thought he would
never get over it; and the following conversation, which
I overheard one morning between him and my servant, did
not brighten his hopes of recovery.

This person's name is Wilson, and of all men I ever met
he is the most desponding. Whatever is to be done, he is
sure to see a lion in the path. Life in his eyes is a
perpetual filling of leaky buckets, and a rolling of
stones up hill. He is amazed when the bucket holds water,
or the stone perches on the summit. He professes but a
limited belief in his star,--and success with him is
almost a disappointment.  His countenance corresponds
with the prevailing character of his thoughts, always
hopelessly chapfallen; his voice is as of the tomb. He
brushes my clothes, lays the cloth, opens the champagne,
with the air of one advancing to his execution.  I have
never seen him smile but once, when he came to report to
me that a sea had nearly swept his colleague, the steward,
overboard. The son of a gardener at Chiswick, he first
took to horticulture; then emigrated as a settler to the
Cape, where he acquired his present complexion, which is
of a grass-green; and finally served as a steward on
board an Australian steam-packet.

Thinking to draw consolation from his professional
experiences, I heard Fitz's voice, now very weak, say in
a tone of coaxing cheerfulness,--

"Well, Wilson, I suppose this kind of thing does not last

The Voice, as of the tomb. "I don't know, Sir."

Fitz.--"But you must have often seen passengers sick."

The Voice.--"Often, Sir; very sick."

Fitz.--"Well; and on an average, how soon did they

The Voice.--"Some of them didn't recover, Sir."

Fitz.--"Well, but those that did?"

The Voice.--"I know'd a clergyman and his wife as were,
ill all the voyage; five months, Sir."

Fitz.--(Quite silent.)

The Voice; now become sepulchral.--"They sometimes dies,


Before the end of the voyage, however, this Job's comforter
himself fell ill, and the Doctor amply revenged himself
by prescribing for him.

Shortly after this, a very melancholy occurrence took
place. I had observed for some days past, as we proceeded
north, and the nights became shorter, that the cock we
shipped at Stornaway had become quite bewildered on the
subject of that meteorological phenomenon called the Dawn
of Day. In fact, I doubt whether he ever slept for more
than five minutes at a stretch, without waking up in a
state of nervous agitation, lest it should be cock-crow.
At last, when night ceased altogether, his constitution
could no longer stand the shock. He crowed once or twice
sarcastically, then went melancholy mad: finally, taking
a calenture, he cackled lowly (probably of green fields),
and leaping overboard, drowned himself. The mysterious
manner in which every day a fresh member of his harem
used to disappear, may also have preyed upon his spirits.

At last, on the morning of the eighth day, we began to
look out for land. The weather had greatly improved during
the night; and, for the first time since leaving the
Hebrides, the sun had got the better of the clouds, and
driven them in confusion before his face. The sea, losing
its dead leaden colour, had become quite crisp and
burnished, darkling into a deep sapphire blue against
the horizon; beyond which, at about nine o'clock, there
suddenly shot up towards the zenith, a pale, gold aureole,
such as precedes the appearance of the good fairy at a
pantomime farce; then, gradually lifting its huge back
above the water, rose a silver pyramid of snow, which I
knew must be the cone of an ice mountain, miles away in
the interior of the island.  From the moment we got hold
of the land, our cruise, as you may suppose, doubled in
interest. Unfortunately, however, the fair morning did
not keep its promise; about one o'clock, the glittering
mountain vanished in mist; the sky again became like an
inverted pewter cup, and we had to return for two more
days to our old practice of threshing to windward. So
provoked was I at this relapse of the weather, that,
perceiving a whale blowing convenient, I could not help
suggesting to Sigurdr, son of Jonas, that it was an
occasion for observing the traditions of his family; but
he excused himself on the plea of their having become

The mountain we had seen in the morning was the south-east
extremity of the island, the very landfall made by one
of its first discoverers. [Footnote: There is in Strabo
an account of a voyage made by a citizen of the Greek
colony of Marseilles, in the time of Alexander the Great,
through the Pillars of Hercules, along the coasts of
France and Spain, up the English Channel, and so across

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