« PreviousContinue »
last night, I will sketch it in its day colours, now that the mountain tops are unveiled. If the reader will take the map and my panorama (Plate I. fig. 2), whilst he reads my description, and compare them together, he will obtain a pretty clear notion of the scene.
To the left is the broad-based Armanns fell, now snowtopped, extending over a considerable area, and backed by the white peaks of Sülur. Turning the eye towards the middle of the plain, we see the opening of an extensive valley, or rather a portion of the plain, hemmed in between the skirts of Armanns fell and a fringe of cinder mountains ending in Hrafna-björg, the Raven's Fortress. A line at the foot of this range, is the ragged edge of the Raven's rift. Above the extremity of the valley rises the snowy dome of Skjaldbreith, soft and beautiful, yet treacherous, for that white heap poured forth the lava which fills the plain and forms the lake bed. Skjaldbreith is about fourteen miles distant from the point at which I stand. The eye next reaches the lake, and gets an extended view over it to Burfell and Hengill. The cone in the lake is Sand-ey, a dry, dusty heap of erupted volcanic matter. On a height at no great distance from the lake, near the spot where the Oxerá leaves the Gjá, is the Hill of Laws, situated between two rifts, the Nikolāsa and Flossa chasms, so called because into one plunged a Syselman deeply involved in lawsuits and not seeing his way out of them, and over the other leaped a death-doomed criminal. In a line with the Hill of Laws, just above the mouth of the river, is Thingvalla church, built of wood and tarred all over. Thingvellir is interesting, not only on account of its scenery, but also because of its intimate connection with the history of Iceland. About sixty years after the colonization of the island, a code of laws was drawn up for its government, and for the settlement of disputes, by Ulflićt, a man of royal descent. His brother, Grimr Goatshoe, after investigating the whole island, decided upon Thingvellir as the most fitting site for the grand annual Parliament, or Thing, to meet. It was eligible on three grounds; first it was the point of junction of the tracks which crossed the deserts of the interior; secondly, it was well provided with wood, forage for the horses, and water; and lastly, it could be got for nothing, as the land was confiscated, on account of its possessor having committed murder. For his trouble in finding out the best spot for Althing, the great meeting, Grímr Goatshoe was paid a penny by every householder in the island, but he handed over the sum as a contribution to the temples of the gods. The time of assembly was fixed, at first, for the middle of June, but in 999 it was postponed a week later. After Iceland had lost its independence, Althing met still later, the opening being advanced to the 29th June, the festival of SS. Peter and Paul, and subsequently to the 3rd or 5th of July. Althing continued to meet on the old spot till 1800, when it was abolished. On its restoration in 1845, it was removed to Reykjavik. Althing was presided over by a lawgiver, “whose bounden duty it was to recite publicly the whole law within the space to which the tenure of his office was limited. To him, too, all who were in need of a legal opinion, or of information as to what was and was not law, had a right to turn during the meeting of Althing. To him a sort of presidency or precedence at the Althing was conceded; but with a care which marks how jealously the young Republic guarded itself against bestowing too great power on its chief officer, he was expressly excluded from all share in the executive ; and his tenure of office was restricted to three years, though he might be re-elected at the end of that period.” " Here ends all I am going to say about natural Scenery and historical incident connected with Thingvöllum, being the sixteenth such description existing in print. We spent Saturday and Sunday at Thingvöllum (I have put this name in the right case, though travellers generally use the genitive, but I shall not treat other names thus). We sketched, fished, and shot—learned a little of the Icelandic culinary art, too, from the smoke-dried servant of Pastor Simon Beck, and taught her a little about English cookery in return. As the good priest had nothing to give us, and the proceeds of our fishery amounted to one trout, we stood a fair chance of being starved, and the servant-maid expressed her Concern for us in vehement terms. “Bless your heart, old lady 1" said Mr. Briggs; “there is everything needful for making a capital soup scattered broad
cast over the country.” Then turning to me, “It is an old joke, Padre I indeed, I fear quite a Joe Miller, yet, I'll be bound, it is new to the Icelanders.” Then he called to the servant to bring him two lava blocks of such a size as would go into the saucepan, as he intended to make broth out of them. The woman stared, and pulled out a couple of the stones which formed the hearth. “They will do capitally, put them into the pot!” The woman placed them carefully where he desired. “Now then,” said he, “let them simmer gently; take care that they are not hard-boiled, nor burned at all; stir, stir away, never be afraid of stirring, it extracts the flavour ! ” With the utmost gravity, the servant complied, and kept the spoon revolving in the pot, whilst Mr. Briggs held his nose over the steam. “They are doing nicely; have you any salt 2 ” “Jájál" answered she, and she handed him over a bagful. He poured some in, and let her continue the stirring. “Any flour in the house ?” asked my portly friend. “Jájà l’’ and she handed him a mug full of rye-meal. Presently he brought in a couple of tins of Fortnum and Mason's preserved vegetables, and emptied them in with the stones. “It smells good l " said the poor woman with great solemnity; “and this is hraun-Süppi (lava-broth) | Wonderful, wonderful l’’ “We'll give it a little extra relish,” observed Mr. Briggs, throwing in some slices of concentrated soup. “Now, old woman what do you say to my cooking 2 ” The servant put her fingers into the pot, then sucked them, and put them in again. “Mikit gott (very good) l’” she muttered, in a sad state of bewilderment; “and all this comes from lava-stones, too ! Wonderful, wonderfull ‘’ “Now for a bowl ' " called he, and proceeded to pour out the fluid contents of the saucepan. The smoke-dried servant bore the bowl to the guest room, and we did ample justice to the excellent stone-broth. A few words on the food of Icelanders, The meals in an Icelandic house are three,_breakfast, dinner, and supper; but the young lady of the house brings the visitor, before he rises in the morning, a cup of coffee, which is sweetened with sugar-candy, the lump of candy being placed in the mouth, and the beverage sucked past it. How far this indulgence is extended to the household I hardly know. The main staple of food is stock-fish. Cod is never eaten fresh, it is prepared in a peculiar manner; the spinal bone as far down as to the third vertebra from the vent is removed, an operation which causes the fish to dry speedily. It is also cleansed from all the blood it may contain, and thus acquires a white colour; some experienced fishermen are so particular on this point that they gut the fish the instant they are caught. The cod is then exposed to the wind and dried to the consistency of leather, after which it is eaten with butter. “The bladder of the fish contains yellow, viscous matter, which forms an agreeable, wholesome, and nourishing dish, and is used instead of isinglass.”* Salmon is cut into flakes and hung in the kitchen to be smoked; it thus acquires an unpleasant smell and taste from the fumes of the sheep's-dung fire. Lake fish are, however, boiled shortly after they are caught, and are very delicious eating. Shark's flesh requires to be buried for six months before it loses its rankness and becomes fit for table. The only meat eaten in Iceland is mutton, and this generally boiled. The most common way in which it is prepared, is to boil it, then subject it to pressure sufficient to expel all moisture, cut it into junks, lay it by, without salt, and keep it often for twelve months. It is brought to a visitor as a delicacy, but it is with difficulty that he can swallow it, as it is covered with hair and dirt. When we bought a sheep