Page images

5. Saga. Thithriks Konungs af Bern, ed. Unger. 1853. 6. Islendinga Sögur, second vol. only. 1829-30. 7. Njáls Saga, ed. Ol. Olavius. 1772. 8. Vatns doela Saga, ed. Sveinn Skúlason. 1858. 9. Bragtha-Magus Saga, ed. Gunnlaug Thortharson. 1858. 10. Rimur af Gunnari à Hlitharenda. 1860. 11. Hrafnkels Saga, in MS. 12. Asmundar Saga, in MS. 13. Króka-Refs Saga, copied from the printed edition of Marcusson. 14. Latin moral maxims, in MS. 15. Lovsamling for Island, ed. Stephensen. 1853-55. Besides these there were some old numbers of newspapers and odd parts of the Transactions of Althing. Iceland is subject to Denmark. It is now divided into three Governamts instead of four, as in olden times. These amts are "*" subdivided into twenty-three sysla—eight in the South Amt, eight in the West Amt, and seven in the South and East Amt. They are again subdivided into 169 hreppar. Over two of the amts is placed an amt-man, who is subject to the governor-general, under whose special jurisdiction is the third amt. The former resides near Akureyri, at Fredriksgaf, the latter at Reykjavík. Each sysel is presided over by a syselman, to whom are answerable the magistrates of the hreppar. Other officials are the landvogt or sheriff, who controls the financial arrangements of the country, a justice, and two assistants, before whom go all criminal cases. Natives cannot go to law with each other until their complaints have come before certain umpires, of whom are the bishop and dean of Reykjavík, ea officio. The interests of the people are invested in Althingmen, or members of the national parliament, which sits at Reykjavík. This assembly is administrative, not legislative. The syselmen are bound to give out proclamations and notices, also to forward to head-quarters registers of births, deaths, and marriages, which they receive from the magistrates of the hreppar. The governor-general, the landvogt, the amtmen, the chief justice, and the syselmen, are appointed by the Danish crown, but the rest of the officials receive their nomination from the governor. The ecclesiastical division of Iceland was formerly into two bishoprics, those of Hólar and Skalholt. At present, there is but one bishop, whose cathedral is at the capital. The island

is portioned into archdeaconries (prósasta-kalla) and parishes

(presta-kalla). The clergy are appointed by the crown, subject to the consent of the bishop. The island is further divided into medical districts, of which there are six: one medical officer is stationed at Reykjavík, a second in the Vatnsdal, a third in Akureyri, a fourth in the west, a fifth in the south, and the sixth in the Westmann Islands. so. The population of Iceland is 68,000, scattered thinly through the fjords and along the rivers, only gathered into settlements at Reykjavík, which contains 1,400 souls, and Akureyri 800. Smaller villages, clusters of poor cottages, around two or three merchants' stores, are at Isafjord and Eskifjord. Elsewhere the people are widely separated, an arrangement necessitated by the scantiness of pasture for their cattle. The places marked on the map must not be taken for towns and villages; with the exception of the localities specified above, they stand for single houses; and any one who wishes to know the number of farms in Iceland, may ascertain it with precision, by counting the specks on Gunnlaugson's map. The usual age for Icelanders to marry is from twenty-five to thirty. In 1858, 3 men committed suicide, 65 were drowned, 17 perished by other accidents, and 1,939 died of disease. Death is most common among children. In the same year died 489 children between the ages of one and five; 68 between the ages of five and ten. The most healthy period of life is from fifteen to twenty, during which only eleven died. Fifteen old people lived to ages between ninety and ninetyfive, and five between ninety-five and a hundred. In 1858, there were 487 marriages; the ages of the parties were as follow :—

[ocr errors]

The number of children born in a year is about 2,940. The proportion of illegitimate children to those born in wedlock is 15 per cent. Of 2,937 children, only 48 were born of mothers


under twenty, of these 23 were legitimate, and 25 illegitimate;
458 had mothers from twenty to twenty-five; 933, of which 764
were legitimate, 169 base-born, were born of mothers between
twenty-five and thirty; the mothers of 703 new-born children
were from thirty to thirty-five; those of 549 from thirty-five to
forty; those of 221 from forty to forty-five; those, finally, of 25
from forty-five to fifty.
About 2,020 people die in a year, so that the annual increase
of population is 920. Fewer deaths occur in February, which
is the coldest month, and they are most frequent during the

warmest month—July. In February, about 128 people die, and .

in July 205. The diseases most prevalent in Iceland are those of the skin, occasioned by want of cleanliness and proper nourishment. Diarrhoea is very prevalent in the spring. Typhus and smallpox have swept the country. Leprosy is by no means uncommon: it is very prevalent in Grimsey and the Westmann Islands, taking the form of elephantiasis. In Catholic times there were hospitals in the island for the reception of the poor sufferers; but after the Reformation, charity declined, and the hospitals fell into disuse. Consumption is unknown. Reykjavík would be a good place for patients in the first stage, as the air is remarkably pure, and charged with ozone. A young man in, as I fancied, the last stage of consumption, came out with me in the steamer Arcturus. I left him at Reykjavík, expecting never again to see him alive. On my return to the capital, I was astonished to find him almost completely restored : he had regained his flesh, recovered his colour, and lost his wearing cough. The natives of Iceland are tall and slender, remarkable for the brightness of their complexion, and the profusion of their hair. This is generally light brown, but occasionally red or black. The hair of the children is white, but it darkens with age. The eyes are, in almost all cases, blue or grey: those of the women are bright and beautiful. The girls have graceful figures, which appear to advantage, as they hold themselves very upright, both when walking and sitting. Their features are not regular, but soft and pleasing. In character, the people are phlegmatic, conservative to a fault, and desperately indolent. They have a peculiar knack of doing what has to be done in the clumsiest manner imaginable. When, for instance, it is requisite that a box should be corded, a native looks at it for a few minutes to discover how it can be most inconveniently and uncouthly tied up; he then slowly sets himself to work on it,


Characteristics of

the people.

after the fashion he has excogitated. The Icelanders may possibly employ themselves during the winter, but they certainly do nothing during the summer. I have not had the felicity of seeing a native do any real work. To accomplish a task, he takes as many days as an English labourer would take hours. The trade of Iceland is carried on exclusively by the Danes. Once in the year the Icelanders journey either to Reykjavík, Akureyri, or to one of the merchant stations, to barter their wool and eider-down for rye-meal, crockery, coffee, and timber. Each merchant possesses a vessel which cruises around the coast during the summer, running up the fjords, and anchoring at a station. The peasants come to the ship in boats, bringing with them their articles for barter, and purchasing at the merchant's store, which is supplied with shop counter on the quarter-deck or in the hold. History of Iceland was accidentally discovered by Naddothr, a Norwe* gian viking or pirate, in 860, whilst on a voyage to the Faroe Isles. Naddothr satisfied himself, by a casual survey from the top of a hill on the east coast, that the land was too dreary to be inviting, and he called it Snjá-land. Four years later, a Swede, hight Garthr, circumnavigated the island, and gave it the appellation of Garthar-holm. Flokki, another adventurer, was the third on the track; he explored the south and west of the island, and called it by the name which it now bears. This discovery took place just before the period when Harald Hårfagr made himself paramount in Norway, by crushing all the petty kings, and reducing the nobles to submission. Those who resisted such treatment fled the country, and directed their course to the new land. Ingolfr and Hjörleifr were the first to sail, and landed in Iceland in the year 870. They were followed by large bands of emigrants, who rapidly colonized the fjords and vales of the dreary island, bringing with them their thralls, cattle, household goods, and traditions. These settlers did not, however, find the island totally uninhabited ; a few Culdee anchorites had already planted themselves on the coasts, and it is probable that the Irish fishermen were already acquainted with the island. The Islendinga bók or Scheda of Ari Fröth, written about the year 1120, and the earliest monument of Icelandic literature, says that, at the time of the influx from Norway, the island was inhabited by Christian people whom the new comers called Papar; these eventually deserted the island, as they did not wish to live among heathens. They left Irish books, bells, and croziers behind them, whence it was concluded that the


Papar were natives of Ireland. The same story is repeated in the Landmama bók, and it is strongly corroborated by the ear parte statement of an Irish monk, Dilcuil, who wrote about the year 825. He says that he had spoken with priests who had visited the remote island of Thule, that it lay far away in the north, and that between it and Britain was a cluster of islets (evidently the Faroes), some only separated by narrow straits; that these islets were thronged with countless sheep and sea-birds, and that they had been inhabited for upwards of a hundred years by Irish hermits, but that these had at last been driven away by Norwegian rovers. The details which the monk gives of the solstice, the length of the summer day and winter night, leave no room for doubt that, by Thule, he referred to Iceland. In corroboration of these testimonies we find several names of places in the island, bearing Irish names, such as Patreksfjord, Papey, and Papyli, and Erlendr-ey. After the settlement by the Norse, the island was visited by Scotch and Irish, who occasionally chose it for a place of abode. Gaelic and Erse prisoners were taken by the vikings, and brought as thralls to the new country, so that a certain infusion of foreign blood remains in Iceland. This accounts for the introduction of such names as Njál, Kormak, Kjartan, and Erlendr, or “the Irishman.” For sixty years there was a continual influx of settlers, and, at the beginning of the tenth century, the country was as fully peopled as it has ever since been. In 930 a code of laws was adopted, by which the new nation was to be governed. An annual meeting of the bonders was fixed for midsummer, on the extensive plain of Thingvalla, at which all were expected to attend for the purposes of litigation, adjustment of quarrels, and general legislation. This gathering was called Althing, and continued to be held regularly until 1800, when it was abolished. In 1845 it was restored : it sits, however, no longer in the midst of the glories of Thingvalla, but in a whitewashed room at Reykjavík. Christianity was accepted as the national religion in 1000, at this annual assembly. The island was afterwards divided into two bishoprics, those of Hólar and Skalholt. The bishops were elected by Althing, and even the saints were canonized by popular acclamation. Clerical celibacy was never enforced, and few of the distinctive dogmas of Rome, or her “pious opinions, which are not articles of faith,” received much support. With the introduction of the Church, came the knowledge of Latin letters, and, from the twelfth century to the fourteenth, most


« PreviousContinue »