Page images
PDF
EPUB

the latter made without salt, with on the whey and superfluous moisture pressed out, in which state it will keep for fifteen & twenty years, acquiring in the interim a degree of rancidity which is hot unpleasant to an Icelandic palate. During the time of the prevalency of the Pöpish religion”, a large building was appropriated, at each df the episcopal sees, for the purpose of laying by a storedf this butter, which was pieked 'down in chests, each thirty or forty feet long, by four or five feet deep, and was thence distributed among the most necessitous of the natives in seasons of famine ‘ār scarcity. Milk is converted into Syra, or sour whey, which is preserved in casks, ‘till it has undergone the process of fermeilstation before it is used as a beverage. The ‘same mixed with water is called Blanda. "Striuger is whey boiled to the consistency of curd; and Shiur the same from which the fiquid has been expressed. The flesh bf either sheep 'or bullocks and rye bread are only brought to the table of the superior class of people. Birds of various kinds,

[ocr errors]

especially water-fowl and the larger inha- . bitants of the deep, are of course but occasionally procured and cannot be taken into account, while speaking of the general mode of subsistence of the Icelanders, any more than the native vegetable productions which are occasionally prepared for food; such as the Angelica Archangelica, Cochlearice, Rumices, and Dryas octopetala, with Lichens and Fuci of two or three kinds. The Lichen islandicus alone is sometimes eaten in considerable quantity; but more is gathered for exportation.

Of the amount of the population of Iceland in early times I am ignorant, except as far as some sort of estimate may be made from what is mentioned by Arngrim Jonas*, that four hundred people paid tribute in the year 1090; but in this number neither women, children, nor poor were included. In the fourteenth century a dreadful malady*}called the sorte dod,' or black death, is reported to have swept away almost. every «}t

* Arngrim Jonae Brev. Comment, de Islands,
f Horrebow.

habitant from off the island; so that, comprehensive as are the annals of Iceland, this circumstance is omitted in them, and it is thence inferred that no person of ability survived to record it. The years 1697, 1698, and 1699 were remarkable for the mortality. caused by famine, and the year 1707 for the destruction of twenty thousand inhabitants by the small-pox; yet in 1753 Horrebow estimates the population at eighty thousand, and Von Troil in 1772 at sixty thousand; but, in consequence of the tremendous eruption of Skaptar-Jökul in 1783 and other unfortunate events, the number is now reduced to forty-eight thousand. Independently of the destructive effects of volcanoes, disease, and famine, which so often ravage the island, the quantity of those who die in their infancy for want of proper nourishment is extreme. It is remarked" that Barderstrand Syssel in . the year 1749 contained three thousand inhabitants, but that in the short space of thirteen years (in 1762) this amount was diminished to two thousand one hundred and seventy-five. From the poverty of this district the want of necessary nutriment for

* Voyage en Islande.
h

young children is increased, and two-thirds:. of the number born are supposed to perish in the cradle. It seldom happens that ont^ of twelve or fifteen children, which thewomen sometimes produce, one-half of them live, and more commonly only two or three . are brought up to manhood, though most of. those survive that are preserved through their, first or second year. What makes this period; so peculiarly fatal, is the custom that pre-. vails among the women of not suckling their infants at all, or at most only for a few days,. after which they feed them with cow's milk, which is taken through a quill with a piece of rag fastened to one end for the sake qf softness to the mouth *. !, ..ji

... . .:

The Icelanders in general do not attain to.

an advanced period of life, though many live

to the age of seventy and enjoy a good state

* A similar method of feeding infants is mentioned by Linnaeus, in his Lachesis Lapponica. When he was in Lyckstle Lapland, he says, "1 remarked that all the women hereabouts feed their infants by means of a horn, nor do they take the trouble of boiling the milk which they thus administer, so that, no wonder the children have worms. I could not help being astonished that these peasants did not suckle. their children", i). i. p. 178.

of health; but this is among the higher class of people. The nutriment of the poor arid their manner of living is unfavorable to longevity, independently of the dreadful cutaneous diseases to which they are subject. Scurvy, leprosy, and elephantiasis are flo> where, perhaps, more prevalent; and they are likewise, according to Von Troil, peculiarly afflicted with St. Anthony's fire, the jaundice, pleurisy, and lowness of spirits.

•" The climate of Iceland is not so settled as that of equal latitudes upon continents. In the winter the inhabitants are exposed to frequent and sudden thaws, and in the middle of summer almost as much so to snow, frost, and cold, so severe as effectually to prevent all cultivation. The year 1809 was particularly unfavorable: I recollect that in the early part of that summer Fahrenheit's thermometer varied in the course of the day from about 41° to 45°, seldom rising to 50°, and only once to 6o°. Mr. Savigniac, however, assured me, that at Reikevig one day the thermometer, exposed to the sun, rose to 100°. In the beginning of August there were severe frosts, and much

« PreviousContinue »