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We had heard at Melr and Hvammr confirmation of the report that Skapta was in eruption, and the appearance of these coppery pillars in the direction of that mountain led us to believe that the volcano was in full activity. We watched the red bursts of what seemed to be smoke rise up in curling eddies, and then dissolve into a cloud which completely obscured the mountains over which it was carried. We were mistaken, however, in supposing that these red pillars arose from the Skapta. They were in fact caused by the wind sweeping down the gullies of the Jökulls, and carrying up the sand which lay in the deserts between them. Of course one can only form a rough approximation of the height of these pillars from where I stood; but estimating Hlöthufell at 2,500 feet above the sand district, and the Biskupstungna desert whence the columns rose at thirty-seven miles distant from me, I being twenty-six miles from Hlothufell, I suppose the altitude of the sand column to have been 2,308 yards, as it appeared to rise at the least as high again as the Jökull. We baited at Brunnum, where we had slept on our way north, and I had a delightful bathe in the ice-cold lake. Towards evening we reached Skogkottr, branching off from the Thingvellir track below Armannsfell. A gleam from the setting sun kindled up the long cinder range of Tindarskaggi, the tooth-like peaks of Klukku-tindar, and the precipitous Hrafna biarg, or Raven's Castle. The bed of the valley, which is two or three miles wide, was bathed in the deepest purple gloom, out of which rose the tilted slabs of curdled lava. To our great delight, we met at Skogkottr with Martin and the Yankee, who had come from Skoradalsvatn, where they had been spending a week in fishing. They were full of the appearance of a skrimsl, a half fabulous monster, which is said to inhabit some of the Icelandic lakes, but which has generally been considered the offspring of the imagination. It so happened that my two friends had arrived at the lake only the day after the monster had been seen disporting itself on the surface, and they had been able to obtain some curious information with regard to it. One morning, the farmer and his household had observed something unusual in the lake, and presently they were able to descry a large head like that of a seal rising above the water, behind this appeared a back or hump, and after an interval of water, a second hump. The creature moved slowly, and seemed to be enjoying itself in the sun.
The following account of the skrimsl has been sent me by one of the party who visited Skoradalsvatn. “The skrimsl measures forty-six feet long; the head and neck are six feet, the body twenty-two feet, and the tail eighteen feet long, according to the estimate of the farmers on the shores of the lake. The monster was seen the day before we arrived at Grund, by the farmer of the place. His story and description of the fish were so very remarkable, that we instituted inquiries, which resulted in our hunting out several individuals who had seen the monster. On one occasion it was observed by three farmers who reside on the banks of the lake, two of whom I met and questioned on the subject. One of these men produced a sketch of the creature, which he had made whilst it was floating and playing on the surface of the water for half an hour.
“I should have been inclined to set the whole story down as a myth, were it not that the accounts of all witnesses tallied with remarkable minuteness, and that the monster is said to have been seen not in one portion of the lake only but at different points. The annexed sketch is taken from the drawing alluded to.”
the skiri MSL.
I beg to call the attention of the reader to the remarkable coincidence between the description of the creature seen in the Skoradalsvatn with that of one or more observed in the Lagarfjót, which is on the farther side of Iceland, as given in the following accounts. In the Icelandic Annals there is mention of the appearance of a similar monster during the summer of 1345, in these words,-‘‘There appeared a wonderful thing in the Lagarfjót, which is believed to have been a living animal. At some times it seemed like a great island, and at others, there appeared humps several hundred fathoms apart, with water between them. No one knows the dimensions of the creature, for none saw its head or tail, consequently there is no certainty as to what it was.” There is a curious description of the animal given in Jón Arnason's Thjóth-Sögur, Vol. I., taken from the accounts of eye-witnesses. The skrimsl is there said to have appeared in the same lake during the years 1749–1750. It was seen by Peter the lawyer and two other men; they described it as having been the size of a large vessel, and to have been moving rapidly. These men, after having watched it for some time, came at dusk to Arneithar-stede, where they mentioned what they had seen. Whilst they were speaking the monster rose to the surface, in front of the farm, and seemed to be thirty or forty fathoms long with a large hump on its back. One of the men present believed that he could distinguish a line or filament from behind the animal, as though there were a tail submerged. All the farm people without exception, at Arneithar-stede, saw the creature. After this, the inhabitants of Hrafngerthi saw three humps rise out of the water, and remain above it all day, with a hundred fathoms of water between each. One morning Hans Wium was at Arneithar-stede with the priests Hjörleif, Magnús and Grímr, when they observed rising out of the water jets like those thrown up by a whale, when blowing off. After
that the monster seemed to have advanced to the lake head,
and was there observed by several persons. It again appeared in 1819. Dr. Hjaltalin, at Reykjavik, told me that for many years he had believed the story of the skrimsl to be a fable, till he had been shown a mass of skeleton and monstrous bones which had been washed up on the beach of the Lagarfjöt; these bones, he said, were very different from those of the whale, and he was unable to identify them with the bones of any marine animal frequenting the northern Sea.S. The Grimsey fishermen are very positive that the skrimsl frequents the shores of their lone isle, and that it comes ashore and leaves traces on the turf where it has reposed. It is said that a skrimsl haunts the Thorska-fjord, and is often dangerous to vessels, as it swims at them, staves them in and sinks them. It is frequently seen in that frith, rocking on the surface of the water, like a large boat floating keel uppermost. Now that I am on the subject of monsters, let me give the reader an account of a merman, which was found on the north-west coast in the belly of a shark. Wernhard Guthmund's son, priest of Ottrár dale, gives the following description of it:— “The lower part of the animal was entirely eaten away, whilst the upper part, from the epigastric and hypogastric region, was in some places partially eaten, in others completely devoured. The sternum, or breast bone, was perfect. This animal appeared to be about the size of a boy of eight or nine years old, and its head was formed like that of a man. The anterior surface of the occiput was very protuberant, and the nape of the neck had a considerable indentation or sinking. The alae of the ears were very large, and extended a good way back. It had front teeth, which were long and pointed, as were also the larger teeth. The eyes were lustreless, and resembled those of a cod fish. It had on its head long, black, coarse hair, very similar to the Fucus filiformis; this hair hung over the shoulders. Its forehead was large and round. The skin above the eyelids was much wrinkled, scanty, and of a bright olive colour, which was indeed the tint of the whole body. The chin was cloven, the shoulders were high, and the neck uncommonly short. The arms were of their natural size, and each hand had a thumb and fore fingers covered with flesh. Its breast was formed exactly like that of a man, and there were to be seen on it something like nipples. The back was also like that of a man; the ribs were very cartilaginous. In places where the skin had been rubbed off, a black coarse flesh was seen, very similar to that of the seal. The animal, after having been exposed about a week on the shore, was again thrown into the sea.” In the Korungs-Skuggsjá, or King's mirror, an Icelandic or Norse work of the twelfth century, is the following description of a mermaid:— “A monster is seen also near Greenland, which people call the Margygr. This creature appears like a woman as far down as the waist, with breast and bosom like a woman, long hands, and soft hair; the neck and head in all respects like those of a human being. The hands seem to people to be long, and the fingers not to be parted, but united by a web like that on the feet of water birds. From the waist downwards, this monster resembles a fish, with scales, tail and fins. This prodigy, along with that already mentioned (the Hafstramba), is believed to show itself especially before heavy storms. The habit of this creature is to dive frequently and rise again to the surface with fishes in its hands. When sailors see it playing with the fish, or throwing them towards the ship, they fear that they are doomed to lose several of the crew; but when it eats the fish, or turning from the vessel flings them away from her, then the sailors take it as a good omen that they will not suffer loss in the impending storm. This monster has a very horrible face, with broad brow and piercing eyes, a wide mouth and double chin.” The Landnama speaks of a marmennill, or merman, having been caught off the island of Grimsey. The Icelandic annals £relate that a marqugr was seen off the East Friths in 1805, and I329. With regard to the appearance of the merfolk in other countries, I may state that one was fished up on the coast of Suffolk in 1187, and was kept by the governor for six months.