« PreviousContinue »
leaps from shelf to shelf of basalt, and then, bursting through a portal of crag, slipped calmly round a tongue of grassland, on which smoked a little byre. High above stood the purple battlements of Skúlafell, composed of fluted rocks ranged like the reeds in a Pan-pipe. A more perfect subject for a picture can hardly be conceived, yet I made no sketch, as I was far behind the rest of the party, having stopped to gather specimens of Saxifrage, and feared missing my way; but perhaps the main reason of my not drawing the noble scene before me was the expectation of returning by the same route, and having a second opportunity. Galloping after the party, I overtook it near a pretty upland farm, about which the dogs were making a deafening uproar, being alarmed at our appearance, and puzzled with the looks of Bob the Newfoundlander, whom they seemed to mistake for a young bear. They were particularly ill-disposed towards Grimr and myself for riding through the tün to the farm-door, and would hardly give over their noisy demonstrations of anger, when their master came out and ordered them off. The Icelandic dog (Canis familiaris Islandicus) has been already briefly described in the Introduction : its head is just like that of a fox; it is Small, has sharp eyes, short legs, a profusion of hair, a ruff round the neck, a tail curled over the back, and it is generally of a white, dappled, or tawny colour. In Iceland the different kinds of dogs are distinguished by different names. The sheep-dog is fjárhundr; the hound, veithihundr; the dog which can follow scent, rakkr; the poodle, lubbr; the house-dog, boarhundr; and the lap-dog, mióhundr. The farm, at the door of which Grímr and I reined up, is celebrated for its breed of dogs. The price of a puppy is about a dollar, but the traveller had better not purchase one, as it will not live in England. A skipper, who visited Iceland yearly, informed us that he had brought a dog with him to Leith on his return from every cruise, but that he had never been able to rear any, with the exception of a pup born on the voyage. The byre we now visited was a good specimen of Icelandic domestic architecture. From three sides it presented the appearance of a confused cluster of turf mounds. Among these two are conspicuous, one for having a chimney formed of a barrel with both ends knocked out, the other for being longer than all the rest, and for having two or three glass panes inserted at intervals in the turf. The former roof is that of the kitchen, the latter of the bathstófa, or sleeping apartment. On the fourth side of the house is the front, consisting of a series of wooden gables between thick turf walls. The woodcuts will explain the construction of an Icelandic house.
PLAN AND ELEVATION.
Looking at the front of the house, one observes five or *ore gables made of wood, painted red or black, wedged between turf walls from four to ten feet thick. The apex of * gable is seldom above twelve feet from the ground, very 8°nerally only eight, and is adorned with wooden horns, or weathercocks. Under the central gable is the door, around which are crooks upon which the stockings of the family are hung to dry on windy and sunny days. Passing through the **, one enters a long dark passage, too low for a person to stand upright in it, leading to a ladder which gives access to the bathstósa, or common eating, working, and sleeping apartment, marked A on the plan. This room is lighted by two or more glass panes, three inches square, inserted in the roof and sealed in so as never to be opened for the admission of pure air. The walls are lined with beds, and the end is divided off by a wooden mock-partition (never closed by a door) so as to form a compartment: here the father and mother of the family sleep, together with such visitors as cannot be accommodated in the guest chamber. In the bathstófa sleep all the people connected with the farm, two or even four in a bed, with the head of one at the feet of the other. The beds are lockers in the wall, lined with wood, and with wooden partitions between them. They are arranged along the room much like the berths in a cabin, or the cubilia in a catacomb. Each is supplied with mattress, feather bed or quilt, and home-woven counterpane. The Icelanders not only sleep in this room, but eat in it, making sofas of the beds, and tables of their knees. In it is spent the long dark winter, with no fire, and each inmate kept warm by animal heat alone. The stifling foulness of the atmosphere can hardly be conceived, and, indeed, is quite unendurable to English lungs. Gaimard, in his great work, gave two highly imaginative, but utterly inaccurate, representations of Icelandic interiors, with the natives seated around a blazing hearth, reading Sagas or playing the langspiel, a national instrument, and these illustrations have been, most unfortunately, reproduced in some English tourists' volumes. The fact is, Icelanders never have the opportunity of sitting round a fire, and the only place in the farm where there is one, is the kitchen, a small cell not capable of accommodating more than three or four persons at once, and unprovided with seats. Besides, the fire is made up of sheep's dung, which smoulders without giving out much heat till it is quickened up temporarily for roasting coffee with a little willow-root or brush-wood. The eld-husi, or kitchen (c), is lighted through the barrel which forms the chimney, and is totally unprovided with windows. As the chimney is in the roof ridge, and is not always over the fireplace, the acrid, offensive smoke has to make its way out as best it can, or penetrate every corner of the house, impregnating all articles of clothing with its disgusting odour. Every house is provided with a dark closet (D), in which are deposited the looms during the summer, together with various articles of lumber. The guest room (E) is the cleanest place in the house, and generally has boarded walls, but not unfrequently they are of turf like those of the other rooms, and I have often cleaned my knife and fork after a meal by driving them into the walls of my dining-room. The floor is sometimes boarded, but very commonly is simply the bare earth into which have been trampled fish skins and bones for many generations. This chamber has in it a bed and a table, also the chests containing the wardrobe of the family, and these serve as seats, for chairs there are none. Over the bed is the library of the house, deposited on a shelf let into the wall. Icelandic farms have only a ground floor, and a cramped attic above the dairy and guest room, in which one cannot stand upright, except precisely under the roof-tree; these attics are used either as store-rooms or as bed-chambers. To one unpleasant topic I fear that I must allude, so that no traveller may be left unprepared for what inevitably must befall him, if he makes an Icelandic tour, and lodges in the farmhouses. Man forms but an insignificant item among the countless tenants of a byre. If these same tenants were simply those whom kindly nature has endowed with such remarkable Springing capabilities, or even those which infest a seaside lodging and a Welsh inn, well; but other and more loathsome forms of life teem in the unwholesome recesses of the bathstósa, and it is quite hopeless for the traveller to think of avoiding them if once he enters a farm. Unlike the Icelanders of the genus homo, these horrible parasites are endowed with a predilection for novelty, and in a moment Scent out the blood of an Englishman, and come in eager hordes, from which he finds no escape till he reaches a boiling spring in which he can plunge his clothes and annihilate his tormentors wholesale. Curiously enough, the natives have a superstitious dread of killing one of these constant companions, and they will remove one which is particularly obnoxious, and lay it gently on the table, without for a moment thinking of depriving it of life. The ancient Finns made Anteretar, “the wash-tub,” their god of health, and Antermen, “the steam of the bath,” the preserveress of vigour; alas! the Icelanders have no such gods, or, at all events, never cultivate their worship. I believe they looked upon me as next door to a madman, for plunging into their ice-cold lakes and rivers; but I was compelled so to do, as the amount of water granted me for my ablutions in the morning was scanty. A bowl of milk was placed at my pillow overnight, and when the bowl was emptied in the morning, they brought it in half filled with water for my washing, together with a pocket-handkerchief for a towel, and this was to serve for my guide and myself I have already spoken of the tün, or meadow, around the farms; in it stands a turf shed for the hay. Adjoining the house is the cattle-shed, and, enclosed within high turf walls, is the garden, which is manured with the ash from the kitchen fire. In it are grown potatoes, carrots and angelica. It is remarkable, as mentioned in the Introduction, that, notwithstanding the damp of Iceland, the potato disease is quite unknown. May not this be owing to the mode of dressing 2 On the trampled ground in front of a house are emptied all the slops, and on it is cast the refuse which cannot be trodden into the floor within doors. There is neither order nor neatness in an Icelandic house: the porch is generally full of clothes, wash-tubs, rakes, turf-cutters, saddles, foxskins, and sacks of lichen, whilst the guest room is littered with brandy glasses, dresses, plates, and whips.