Page images



[ocr errors]
[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]



Sketch Map of Reykjavík

Plan and Elevation of a Farm

Nicolásagja -

Great Northern Diver

Kitchen at Withimyri

Mountains in Öxnadalr -

Runic Stave at Grenjatharstathr

Uxahver: the Second Spring -

Boiling Mud Chaldron, Námar-hlith .

Dettifoss - -

Diagram of Triptych, Hólar

Skagasjord . - -

Carved Stone in Mithfjord

Icelandic Magical Characters

Tunguhver - -

Runic Tombstone at Reykholt

The Skrimsl - - -

Bird's-eye View of the Geysir District

Gyr-Falcon - - - -


to face 166



- 208







... 109

. 163

. 167

. 194

. 197

. 211

. 217

. 287

. 246

. 299

. 299

. 840

. 848

. 846

. 358

. 898

[ocr errors]

My object in visiting Iceland was twofold. I purposed examining scenes famous in Saga, and filling a portfolio with water-colour sketches.

The reader must bear this in mind, otherwise he may be disappointed at finding in these pages little new matter of scientific interest.

The landscape painter will thank me for having opened to him a new field for his pencil; and the antiquarian will be glad to obtain an insight into the habits and customs of Icelanders in the tenth

and eleventh centuries.

My illustrations faithfully represent the character of the country, though they necessarily fail in render

ing the wild beauty of colouring. I invariably submitted them to my guide, and found that he at once recognized the spots, so that I am satisfied with their fidelity. Some of the panoramic views have unavoidably suffered in being contracted to the compass of the book, but if the reader will imagine them to be pulled out like bits of india-rubber he will obtain a correct notion of the scenes. I refer to the panoramas on

Plates I. and XIV.

My specimens of the Sagas have been selected with a view towards illustrating the voyages, quarrels, litigations, and superstitions of the ancient Icelanders.

It must be remembered that the Sagas from which I draw my extracts are not mere popular tales; they are downright history. To quote the words of our highest English authority on the subject when speaking of the Njala, but which apply equally to the Gretla, Aigla, Bandamanna Saga, Vatnsdoela Saga, &c.:—“We may be sure that as soon as each event recorded in the Saga occurred it was told and talked about as matter of history; and when at last the whole story was unfolded and took shape, and centred round Njal, that it was handed down from father to son as truthfully and faithfully as could ever be the case with any public' or notorious matter in local history. But it is not on Njala alone that we have to rely for our evidence of its genuineness. There are many other Sagas relating to the same period, and handed down in like manner, in which the actors in our Saga are incidentally mentioned by name, and in which the deeds recorded of them are corroborated. They are mentioned also in songs and annals, the latter being the earliest written records which belong to the history of the island, while the former were more easily remembered, from the construction of the verse. Much passes for history in other lands on far slighter grounds, and many a story in Thucydides or Tacitus, or even in Clarendon or Hume, is believed on evidence not one-tenth part so trustworthy as that which supports the narratives of these Icelandic story-tellers of the eleventh century. That with occurrences of undoubted truth, and minute particularity as to time and place, as to dates and distance, are intermingled wild superstitions on several occasions, will startle no reader of the smallest judgment. All ages, our own not excepted, have their superstitions; and to suppose that a story told in the eleventh century, when phantoms, and ghosts, and wraiths, were implicitly believed in, and when dreams, and warnings, and tokens, were part of every man's creed, should be wanting in these marks of genuineness, is simply to require that one great proof of its truthfulness should be wanting, and that, in order to suit the spirit of our age, it should lack something which was part and parcel of popular belief in the age to which it belonged.””

I do not mean to say that all Sagas are of equal authority; some are mythological, others fabulous or romantic ; but there is no difficulty whatever in distinguishing fact from fiction in these works of a bygone age.

I give these specimens of the Sagas to the world with great diffidence, as I am by no means a proficient in the Icelandic tongue. I have worked at it for three or four years, and have arrived at the conclusion that both language and literature require the devotion of a lifetime for their proper mastery. The language is full of obscure idioms, and to these there is no tolerable dictionary. That of Bjorn Haldorson, which is the only lexicon, is out of print and rare, so that I had considerable difficulty in procuring a copy.

I have not hesitated to make a few very trifling alterations in the stories (they consist chiefly in names) for the advantage of the reader.

I have used a few antiquated and provincial words in my versions of the Sagas, where such words closely resembled the Icelandic. The principal of these

* Burnt Njal, vol. i. 6.

« PreviousContinue »