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THE

QUARTERLY REVIEW.

JULY, 1818.

Art. I.-Iceland; or the Journal of a Residence in that Island,

during the Years 1814 and 1815, containing Observations on the Natural Phenomena, History, Literature, and Antiquities of the Island; and the Religion, Character, Manners, and Customs of its inhabitants. By Ebenezer Henderson, Doctor in Philosophy, Member of the Royal Society of Gottenburgh, &c. Illustrated with a Map and Engravings. 2 vols. 8vo.

Edinburgh. ICELAND, situated on the confines of the habitable part of our

globe, completely refutes the notion, at one time so boldly asserted, that a mild climate and a clear atmosphere were essential to the full developement of the human faculties; for we find that here, without any of the soft and genial air, and the bright and azure skies of Greece and Italy, the human intellect always has been, and continues to be, cultivated with zeal and success—that even here, the Muses have not disdained to pay their frequent visits, nor have their votaries courted them in vain. It was on this desolate and dreary spot, amidst the conterminous regions of frost and fire, under dense clouds and chilling mists, that the Scalds sang their tales of other times, as we find them collected in the Edda; that the historians composed their Sagas, and the legislators a code of laws, the spirit and principle of which continue to the present day. In other nations, the cultivation of letters has usually followed wealth and luxury; in Iceland, they flourished in the midst of poverty and distress. The time too when these exertions were made is not the least singular part of the history-at a period when the darkest ignorance was spread over the European world. Whether therefore we are disposed to examine the natural phenomena which this island exhibits, or the singular character of the people by whom it is inhabited—whether we direct our attention to the physical or moral circumstances existing on this spot of land, heaved up,

to all appearance, by the operation of fire from the depth of the frozen ocean, we may venture to assert that Iceland will be found to stand alone and without a parallel.

With regard to many of the natural phenomena, as well as to the character of the people, we are probably in possession of more accurate information than of most other distant countries. It has been visited at various times, and described by men of known talent VOL. XIX. NO. XXXVIII.

38

and erudition; the names of Sir Joseph Banks, the venerable President of the Royal Society, of Van Troil, Sir John Stanley, Mr. Hooker, Sir George Mackenzie, Doctor Holland, and Mr. Bright, need only be mentioned to establish this fact. But the journeys and the observations of these gentlemen were confined to particular parts of the island, and nearly to the same parts. In this respect Dr. Henderson has gone far beyond them all. He has visited every corner of the island, and is the first, at least of our countrymen, who has crossed the central desert, skirted the northern and eastern coasts, and passed a winter among the natives ; and although he may occasionally have borrowed the language of his predecessors in describing objects which were seen by himself, his book will be found to contain much new matter, both in morals and physics. In his character of a missionary he was necessarily led to mix more intimately with the natives, and to study more closely their moraland religious dispositions, than one who visits the island merely as a naturalist, or for the sake of gratifying his curiosity. Dr. Henderson is besides a well-informed, sensible, pious man, little, if at all, tainted by those narrow-minded prejudices and superstitions with which most of the missionaries are imbued; and though occasionally somewhat credulous, yet generally viewing things correctly, and describing them as they exist. If we were disposed to object to any parts of his narrative, it would be those in which he endeavours to find allusions in the appearances and customs of Iceland, to those of oriental nations; or takes occasion to apply scripture usages and phrases to times and circumstances where they sometimes so ill accord as to become, not merely incongruous, but ridiculous. These, however, are but slight blemishes, where so much sound and substantial matter prevails.

It was our intention to separate the natural from the moral phenomena, and to take a connected and condensed view of each; but on second thoughts, it occurred to us that such a plan would not do that justice to Dr. Henderson's book to which it is so well entitled. We shall therefore accompany him in his peregrinations round the island; first, however, glancing in a general way at the present state of Iceland; which may prevent interruption, by exempting us from the necessity of explanation as we proceed on the journey.

Iceland is situated in the northern Atlantic, between the parallels 63° 30' and the Arctic circle, and between the meridians of 13° 15°, and 24° 4', being in mean length, from east to west, about 280, and in mean breadth, from north to south, 210 miles. Its coasts are every where much indented with deep bays and inlets, called fiords or firths : its superficial contents, however, may be estimated at 40,000 square miles, and its population, which from its registers is pretty well ascertained, at 48,000; or about 1} persons to every square mile. There is reason to believe that the average population was formerly above 60,000; but it never recovered the loss it sustained by famive from 1753 to 1759, which carried off 10,000 persons, and the more dreadful scourge of 1707, when the small pox destroyed 16,000 persons. Vast numbers since that period have perished by this fatal disease ; but the general introduction of vaccination has happily of late years arrested its progress. With the exception of Reykiavik on the southern coast, which may contain about 500 inhabitants, and half a dozen other places along the different coasts, called villages, which consist of three or four houses and a church, the population is scattered over the plains and the valleys, in insulated farm-houses, from some of which the nearest farm is at the distance of eight or ten miles. The central parts are nearly, if not wholly, uninbabited. The interior of Iceland, says Sir George Mackenzie, an extent of, perhaps, not less than forty thousand square miles,* is a dreary, inhospitable waste, without a single human habitation, and almost entirely unknown to the natives themselves. The general surface and appearance of the country are thus described by Dr. Henderson.

• The opinion that this island owes its formation to the operations of submarine volcanoes, is not only contirmed by analogical reasonings deduced from the appearances presented by other islands, which are confessedly of volcanic origin, but gains ground in proportion to the progress of a closer and more accurate investigation of the geological phenomena which every part of it exhibits to the view of the naturalist. In no quarter of the globe do we find crowded within the same extent of surface such a number of ignivomous mountains, so many boiling springs, or such immense tracts of lava, as here arrest the attention of the traveller. The general aspect of the country is the most rugged and dreary imaginable. On every side appear marks of confusion and devastation, or the tremendous sources of these evils in the yawning craters of huge and menacing volcanoes. Nor is the mind of a spectator relieved from the disagreeable emotions arising from reflection on the subterraneous fires which are raging beneath him, by a temporary survey of the huge mountains of perpetual ice by whicb he is surrounded. These very masses, which naturally exclude the most distant idea of heat, contain in their bosom the fuel of conflagration, and are frequently seen to emit smoke and flames, and pour down upon the plains immense foods of boiling mud and water, or red-hot torrents of devouring lava.'-- Introduction, pp. 1, 2.

Every hill almost is a volcano; but, besides the immense number of smaller cones and craters, there are, at least, thirty of more remarkable appearance, of which nine have been a state of activity in the course of the last century. Streams of brown lava, denuded of all vegetation, vast chasms, from some or other of which

Twenty thousand is much nearer the truth : 40,000 being the extent of the whole island.

volumes of smoke are perpetually ascending, with multitudes of hot springs, occur in every part of the island. Many of these springs,' says Dr. Henderson, throw up large columns of boiling water, ac-, companied by immense volumes of steam, to an almost incredible height into the atmosphere, and present to the eye of the traveller some of the grandest scenes to be met with on the face of the globe.' Of these springs there are eight or ten, not perhaps of equal magnificence with the well known Geysers, though scarcely less remarkable; some throwing up jets of thick boiling mud, and others, of black sulphureous vapour.

In the midst of this region of fire are not fewer than twelve or fourteen mountains, whose summits are covered with eternal ice and snow. In the language of the country these mountains are termed Yökuls, which may not improperly be translated Glaciers. Their heights vary from three to six thousand feet above the level of the sea ; and some of them are occasionally disturbed by internal fires.

It is in the valleys between the inferior hills, and on the plains which the streams of lava have spared, that the cottages of the peasants are generally found, and that a scanty herbage for three or four months in the year affords a miserable subsistence to a few horses, cattle and sheep, and sometimes a little hay for the winter. In years of extreme scarcity, the poor animals are fed with dried fish cut small, and with various kinds of sea weed collected on the shores. Olafsen and Povelsen assure us, that on the island of Brie. dafiord the cattle have been kept alive by feeding them with dry turf. It is said that the Norwegians, on their first arrival, found extensive forests growing on Iceland, and this account is somewhat warranted by the trees occasionally dug out of the peat bogs; such trees, however, are rare, and none have been discovered exceeding a foot in diameter: at the present day there is probably not a tree in a growing state on the whole island that measures ten inches. Dr. Henderson, indeed, says, that among the remains of the forest of Hals, on the northern coast, are stumps of birch that measure two feet in diameter: but we doubt the correctness of this statement; it should unquestionably be, in circumference. The forest, as it is called, of Borgafiord, on the western coast, is the proudest in the whole island, and its largest birches are eleven or twelve feet high, and measure at the base from five to six inches in diameter. * It is also supposed that grain was once produced on the island; but the present race have met with no encouragement to persevere in their attempts to cultivate it.

A few greens and potatoes are occasionally raised, but even these do not always succeed.

# Hooker's Journal of a Tour in Iceland.

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