Page images

about the lava, as well as the depth and nature of this latter beneath the surface of the ground, and they farther confirmed me in the opinion which I have stated above, that the volcano was to be considered as arising from a partial eruption, and not from any internal and universal ignition of the earth.

Height of the The height, to which the lava< heaps of lava rise in the level country, is in some parts very considerable; particularly at Skalarfiall, where they have reached up to the rocks that project from the south side of the mountain: yet, nevertheless, were we to calculate its extreme height on the plains at an hundred feet (and even this is not quite a fourth part of what has been stated *), I am still persuaded we should greatly exceed the reality.


It has been already noticed in its proper place, that, after the first breaking out of

* See Holme's Account of the Fire, p. 19, where the height of the lava is estimated at seventy fathoms, or four hundred and twenty feet.

State of the weather the fire, a great quantity of

after the Jstof June, . . . , ...

1783. ashes, sand, and sulphureous dust was thrown over the adjacent districts, particularly those of Siden and Fliotshverfet. The long continuance of westerly winds, too, drove the sand-bank away from Skaptartungen to the places just named; and the vast quantity of burning sand falling around scorched up all the grass in the fields about Fliotshverfet to such a degree, that there were no means of support for the cattle, and the inhabitants fled from all the farms in this district, excepting the most easterly one, called Nupstad, which, together with the neighboring farm of Raudaberg, remained uninjured by the hot ashes. It is an undoubted certainty, that, if Providence should be pleased to grant better seasons to Iceland than the present, not only the parsonage of Kalfafell, with the cottage of Kalfafellskot, appertaining to it, but also the farm-houses of Nupar, Mariubacki, and Hvoll, will, in a very few years, be restored to their former condition; especially as the lava itself has not reached them. We may then reckon the number of farm-houses damaged at twenty-five, instead of twenty-nine (see Vol n. p

§ xx.), and make the whole amount, including those totally destroyed, to be thirtythree. It will easily be conceived, that, in proportion as the air became more and more filled with ashes, sand, sulphur-dust, and the smoke and aqueous vapors arising from the burnt districts, it must likewise become more fetid and unwholesome; and, indeed, even intolerable to those who were afflicted with the asthma, who, at such a time, could scarcely draw their breath. The presence too, in the atmosphere, of this mass of extraneous particles, obstructed in some measure the light and warmth of the sun, and caused to prevail, even at the height of summer, a most piercing and unnatural cold; in addition to which, what was still more unseasonable, a heavy fall of snow took place on the 11th and 21st of June. It was however soon melted. Almost all the new eruptions were accompanied by showers of hailstones, of an extraordinary size, equalling that of a sparrow's egg. These caused much damage and destruction to the grass, and nearly killed both men and cattle; but the mischief occasioned even by these was trifling, in comparison of what was caused by the heavy rains *, which, mixing with the sand, ashes, and sulphur, that had before fallen in immense quantity, incrusted the fields with a kind of black coat, somewhat similar to ink, but thicker, which poisoned the grass, and rendered the water stinking and unfit for use. Even the rain itself, in descending, became impregnated with sulphur and ashes, which sorely affected the eyes, caused a giddiness in the head, and was attended with pain as often as it fell on the naked body. The sun, from the impurity of the

* " During one of the heavy falls of rain," it is stated by Holm that, " there was observed, at Drontheim and at other places in Norway, and also at Ferjoe, an uncommon fall of sharp and salt rain, which was so penetrating, that it totally destroyed the leaves of the trees, and every vegetable it fell upon, by scorching them up and causing them to wither. At Ferroe, there fell a considerable quantity of ashes, sand, pumice, and brimstone, which covered the whole surface of the ground, whenever the wind blew from Iceland; and the distance between these two places, is at least eighty (Danish) miles. Ships that were sailing between Copenhagen and Norway, were frequently covered with ashes and brimstone, which stuck to the sails, masts, and decks, besmearing them all over with a black and pitchy matter."

air, lost his splendor, and was shorn of his beams: indeed, it was very seldom that he was at all visible; and, when he was so, he appeared as a ball of glowing metal. The smoke covered the whole face of the island * for weeks and months together, so that seamen could not get sight of the coast

* This dismal atmosphere was not confined to Iceland; an obscurity in the air, and an unusual redness of the sun, were remarked also in England. In a copy of Horrebow's History of Iceland, now before me, is the following marginal note written by Mr. Sparrow of Worlingham Hall, a gentleman to whom I am happy in thus having the opportunity of acknowledging the obligations I feel myself under, for the ready access he has granted me to his invaluable library, and especially for the use of some scarce works relative to Icelandic History.—'' An eruption of Hecla (as it was for a long time supposed to be) broke out again in the spring of the year 1783. In the month of May, of that year, I was in Holland, where the sun appeared for a great length of time to be enveloped and obscured in a thick dry mist; the cause of which was not then known. About the end of the year, two very large and luminous meteors astonished the world; they took a south-westerly direction, and were seen, apparently at the same elevation, and nearly at the same point of time, in the eastern parts of England, and the southern parts of Europe. They were remarked about seven or eight o'clock in the evening, within.

« PreviousContinue »