Page images

whilst I was in bed, or undergoing the process of becoming presentable, and this, considering my innate modesty, was sufficiently harrowing to the feelings. On the evening of July 1st, Grimr and I parted from our friends, as they proposed spending some time in Watnsdalr, shooting and fishing. We left behind us every thing that we could possibly spare, and rode to Svinavatn, where we intended sleeping. We passed an inconsiderable hot spring at a farm called Reykr, below a singular conical mountain, and traversing the bogs which surrounded the beautiful Swine-lake, reached the little church of Svínavatn at ten o’clock. The wind had been piercingly cold all day, rolling up from the Arctic Ocean without any break. Giljá, with its pretty brawling stream, dancing and foaming through a chasm, had stirred my heart with real emotion. It had been the home of that Thorwald, who was the first to introduce Christianity into his native land, and who, I believe, is the original of Fouque's hero in the exquisite romance, “Thiodolf, the Icelander.” Many a time, doubtless, had the boy scrambled up that gill, leaping its rocks, and plunging into its vitriol-green pools, till the time came for him to travel. His tenderness of heart had amused, as well as gained the love of all who met him while he was still heathen ; in viking expeditions he had freed his captives, and with his prize-money had ransomed prisoners. Whilst abroad he was converted to the true faith, and, full of zeal, he persuaded a certain Saxon bishop, Fredrick, to accompany him to his native isle. The first winter was spent at Giljá, in converting Thorwald's parents; after which, a mission tour was undertaken, but with poor results, the bishop preaching in his own tongue, and Thorwald interpreting what he said. The young man incurred the anger of his companion, by killing a person who had made some insulting verses on them, likening the bishop to an old woman, and Thorwald to her baby; and finally the two parted company. Fredrick and Thorwald, dissatisfied with the progress that was made, deserted Iceland, and the youth is believed to have visited Constantinople, and died in a monastery. This mission bore fruits, though they were not visible at first ; it unsettled the minds of the heathen, it gave them ideas which were new to them, it inspired doubts in their minds as to the truth of their ancestral faith, and prepared the way for the missions of Thangbrand and Gissur the white, and the general conversion of the island. We rode from Hnausir to Svinavatn at an amble, breaking into an occasional trot. This increase in speed was hailed by Grímr with an exultant shout of, “Now we are going like dee-vils | " If this pace was diabolical, what must he have thought of the rate at which we scoured the country beyond Akureyril Svínavatn church is interesting, as it contains a curious diptych with mediaeval figures in four compartments, painted on a gold ground, in the style of the fifteenth century; the subjects are— First, in the top compartment on the right, The Annunciation. Second, below this, The Nativity. Third, on the left, The Resurrection. Fourth, on the left below, The Last Judgment. An Icelandic church is both externally and internally much like a barn; its plan is a parallelogram, with its eastern and western faces occupied by wooden gables surmounted by weathercocks; the sides are flanked with walls of turf, so thick as to resemble aisles. The roof is made of wood covered with turf, on which grass and buttercups grow in profusion, and are most attractive to the ponies. On one occasion little “Bottle-brush,” my favourite riding pony, walked from me, whilst I was sketching, and proceeded to escalade the church; I had to bring it down by the bridle when the creature was half-way up to the roof-tree. These grass-grown roofs afford a valuable hint to the natives that the land would produce threefold if properly drained. The church bells are usually suspended in the lychgate, which gives access to the graveyard. The yard is surrounded by a high turf wall, covered with a profusion of grass; indeed, the soil is ready enough to produce herbage if relieved of the chilling influence of the water, which turns all grass-land into cold morass. The church is the general receptacle of the farmers' clothes, saddles, and wool, which are stowed among the rafters. Bibles, sermon-books, and hymnals, are also stacked, out of the damp, along the cross-beams. The nave is filled with open benches, but the Thing-man, or M.P., has a pew opposite the pulpit, in an Athal-kirkja, or Mother-church. The pulpit is modern, and is usually adorned with coarse paintings of apostles, evangelists, or Icelandic imaginings of tropical flowers. The screen extends to the rafters, and is painted; it is a lattice or palisade, more or less carved and coloured ; within it, a seat runs round the four sides of the choir, interrupted only by the altar-rails and the rood-screen door. On this the men sit during service, whilst the women are accommodated in the nave. Hanging from a nail in the chancel is a large brass pan, something like an alms-dish, only deeper: this is the font. These basins are often exceedingly handsome, and are of German or Danish workmanship. That of Svínavatn represents Adam and Eve, on either side of the tree, in a garden of lilies and roses. Curled round the tree is the serpent, with a crowned female face, and long hair. Around the bowl is the motto, in old German,—“Ich bart geluk alzeit" (“I bear luck always!”) repeated five times. A lantern without glass, frequently painted and gilt, is also hung in most chancels, or stands beside the richly-coloured box, serving as aumbry. When there is no such box, the altars are made to open, and disclose a shelf on which stand the Eucharistic vessels, together with the case of wafers for communion, each wafer stamped with a crucifix and SS. Mary and John. Below the shelf are heaped the vestments of priest and altar, the former consisting of alb and chasuble, the latter of frontal. These, with exception, of course, of the alb, are of various colours. The chasuble has a gold cross on the back, and is of a debased shape. The altars are of wood, not movable, nor at all resembling the tables which are the disgrace of many English village churches. I never saw an Icelandic place of worship in a neglected condition; its appropriate Christian symbols always give it a look of dignity, notwithstanding its poverty. The altars are furnished with crucifix or painting, and with two or more candlesticks of brass or copper. The churches are lighted by two windows at the east end, and two at the west; these are closed with shutters during the week. My lodging at the farm was none of the best. The guest-room was miserable indeed. Three yellow smeared panes, and a gap for the fourth, stuffed with an old peaked cap, hardly lighted a chamber with a damp earthen floor, deep in fish skins and bones, with nodes of rock sticking up about two feet above the surface. A table under the window, numerous trunks painted green with staring pink flowers on them, or not painted at all, piles of clothes fit for rag-fair, a locker in the wall, fashioned to hold a bed, but with the floor overhead broken through, so that the eye looked up into a garret full of refuse ; a host very old, and ingrained with filth, his white hair luminous against his dingy skin; one, whose sedentary habits had utterly obliterated that screen which society draws between man and the outer world,—and you have a picture of my lodging and host. The old gentleman brought me a MS. account of the Holy Land, translated from the German by a bishop, in 1615, and probably in his handwriting. I did not purchase it, as the book was borrowed, and of no particular interest. Till late at night I amused myself with filling in some watercolour sketches, as the bed looked most uninviting, and it required a struggle before one could resolve on plunging into its densely populated recesses. As I drew, the old man watched me, and assured me that it afforded him “mikit gaman,” or great pleasure. “Gaman,” fun, is cognate with our slang expression, “gammon " Other of our vulgar terms are closely allied to the Icelandic; thus, “gaby,” a fool, is related to the verb “ath gaba,” to make a fool of ; and the New Testament speaks of Herod, as seeing that, “Hann war gabbathur af Witringunum,” he was made a gaby of by the wise men.” Next morning I found that a horse which had strained its foot in the bogs on the preceding day, was too lame to move, and I was obliged to leave him with a farmer from whom I purchased another horse. This worthy man, a connection of Grímr, took charge of my horse for a month, and, on my return, would take nothing for its keep. My breakfast consisted of stock-fish, and cold mutton boiled a twelvemonth before, the fat of which was well nigh putrid. It was cut into junks and covered with hair and dirt.

* I add a few more examples to show what light is thrown on their derivation by this language.

Brag (to boast), Icel. brags, rumour, renown.

Chap, Icel. kappi, a fighting man, a hero.

Dandy, Icel. Daindi, anything good; dāndis mašr, a worthy fellow. The word has certainly changed its signification considerably.

Duffer (a stupid fellow), Icel. dosi, laziness, from the verb dofua, to be dull and stupid.

Fluke (a chance), Icel. flur, of a sudden, used similarly, derived from the verb fljúga, to fly.

Fellow, Icel. flag, a comrade, literally one who goes shares in money.

To go the whole hog. This I believe to be, to do all in one stroke—hog to be the Icel. hogg. The Icelanders similarly speak of doing something “mé hoggi,” all at once.

Lagged (outlawed), a contraction for titlaq, outlaw.

Land-lubber. In the early part of last century the word was spelt loper; land-loper was a vagabond who begged in the attire of a sailor, and the sea phrase, land-lubber, was synonymous. Icel., land-hlaupr, one who runs on land.

Ninny-hammer (a silly fellow). The old Norse used einn-hammar to signify a man in his right senses; with the negative particle nei before it, it would have a contrary meaning, and may have originated our word. One who was not einn-hammar was possessed, and capable of becoming a weirwolf, or going into fits of madness on the smallest provocation.

Ransack, Icel. ransacka, has the same meaning.

Skulk, Icel. skelk, fear, from the verb skélka, to frighten, related to skjölsa, to tremble. - -

Skittles is derived from a verb skjóta, to shoot, whence the adjective skjött, speedy; similarly, the word brittle is formed from a verb brjóta, to break; fog

from a verb fjúka, to drive with the wind.

« PreviousContinue »