iDA PFEIFFER'S 10IIENEY TO ICELAND..
Kaplan: PFmrefEn is the German lady who is rather celebrated for Pinking a journey round the world without any particular object beyond a love of travelling. The same motive, on her re- turn from " putting a girdle round the globe," induced her to un- dertake a summer 'Voyage to Iceland, including excursions in Norway and Sweden on her way back. These travels, with jour- nies from Vienna to the sea and back again, form the matter of the volume before us.
The interest of the book lies in Iceland; and that interest is owing to the singularity and novelty of the field of observation, rather than to anything striking in the observations them- selves. The travels in Germany are exceedingly trivial ; in Nor- way, Madame Pfeiffer only made a call ; and though her stay in Sweden was longer, she tells nothing but what had been told already. In Iceland, the natural phienomena are remarkable,, and the social state singular enough. Hardened lava currents, boiling springs, and evidences of slumbering volcanoes, meet the traveller at every turn : the variety rather than the relief to those wonders of volcanic action are bogs and marshes, left in a state of nature, or very poorly cultivated. Madame Pfeiffer had deluded herself with the idea of finding a virtuous, educated, happy, and above all a hospitable people, placed as they are "far amid the me- lancholy main," and removed from all the sophistications of an extreme civilization. These expectations were doomed to dis- appointment. Without money or money's worth, no attentions from Icelanders. They are worse than the worst barbarians our traveller encountered in her circumnavigation. Her guides in- variably cheated her, or left her in the lurch for a more profitable job ; there is a tacit combination among the people to plunder every stranger in the article of horse-flesh, managed this wise : riding is the mode of locomotion ; but horses must be bought, not hired ; and when the stranger is about to leave the country, nobody will give him anything like what he paid, satisfied that be cannot carry away his bargain. The gentry or respectables will only entertain when they have satisfied themselves that there will be entertainments in return. A gentleman's yacht, the French frigate which annually goes to Iceland, ostensibly on business connected with the fisheries, and spends a good deal of money, may be delighted with the hospitality of the Icelanders ; but when it was ascertained that Madame Pfeiffer was not of the Amphi- tryon class, she was neglected by the notabilities. Even the priests and farmers, who in Iceland are compelled, as in other thinly-peopled and little-frequented districts, to play the part of hosts, by no means think the honour or the traveller's news equiva- lent to the entertainment.
"The hospitality for which the Icelanders are so celebrated, has been greatly overrated, in my opinion, as I do not consider them entitled to much credit on that score.. It is true that the priests and peasants will readily re- ceive any traveller from Europe, and entertain him to the best of their abili- ties. But they are well aware that neither adventurers nor beggars are likely to intrude upon them, and feel pretty sure that they will be well paid for their trouble. The compensation I offered on such occasions was always received, without the least hesitation, by peasant and priest ; though I must mention, to the credit of the latter, that I found them universally obliging and disposed to be of use : they always appeared perfectly contented with my presents, and their demands, when I employed their horses on any of my excursions, were very moderate. Not so with the peasants ; whose charges were exorbitant in those parts of the country where a traveller is rarely seen."
In fact, but for the natural wonders and novelty of the scenery, the peculiar state of society, and the singularity of a season where the sun hardly sets, our traveller would have been sadly disap-
pointed in her excursion. It may be added, that no one should at- tempt to follow in her footsteps who cannot rough it on a sea- voyage in a trading vessel, and on shore in confined rooms or in churches, besides putting up with coarse fare, hard riding, bad roads, dirt, insects, and general discomfort. Madame Pfeiffer is satisfied with her trip ; but it is more than many would be. The great feature of Iceland is its natural phtenomena. These our tourist considers to have been somewhat exaggerated, but they are still remarkable. This is a striking scene. "My attention was still riveted on the lake and the dark barren hills which enclose it, when soddenly and as if by enchantment a chasm opened i at my feet, into whose depths it was impossible to look without a shudder. Weber's Freisehtitz involuntarily occurred to my mind. To add to the wonders of this prospect, you approach the abyss from this side without the least suspicion that such a gulf exists between the Tallies beyond ana your- self. The chasm, which is not more than thirty or forty feet in width, is several hundred feet deep ; and we were compelled to descend its steep and dangerous sides by a narrow path leading over the fragments of lava. My uneasiness increased as we went down and could see the colossal masses, in the shape of pillars or columns, tottering loosely on the brink of the preci- pice above our heads, threatening death and annihilation at any moment. Mute and anxious, we crept along in breathless haste, scarcely venturing to raise our eyes, much less to give vent to the least expression of alarm, for fear of starting the avalanche of stone, of whose impetuous force we could form some idea by the shattered rocks around us. The echo is very remark-
• journey to Iceland; and Travels in Sweden and Norway. By Ida Pfeiffer. From the German, by Charlotte Fenimore Cooper. Pub:shod by Bentley.
able, and gives back the faintest whisper with perfect distinctness. Our horses scrambled down the sides of the precipice after we had safely reached the bottom, and from thence they looked as if they were hanging to a straight wall.
"The name of this pass is Almanagiau. It a about a quarter of a mile in length, but is impassable for part of the distance, being choked by enormous blocks of lava. The rocks are parted towards the right, and form an outlet leading over a rough road to the beautiful broad valley of Thingvalla. It struck me, while wandering through the chasm, that it must be the depths of a crater, whose own boundless fury had raised the high walls around it, which must have been the work of ages."
Heck is an impressive view ; bearing some general resemblanoe to the frozen region of Pandemonium in Paradise Lost. At the Geiser there is more action, though the explosions are only oc- casional, and require to be watched for. " I now rode on to the Geiser without meeting any further impediment; though this great object of my eager curiosity was concealed from my eyes by a. prominent hill, till I was within half a mile of the spot where it lay. At last the mighty columns of steam were in sight ; and, approaching to about eighty paces from the principal cauldron, we baited, not venturing to advance any farther without a guide. A who had followed us from one of the neighbouring huts, now stepped forward, and perceiving my hesi- tation, he took me by the hand and constituted himself at once my cicerone. Unfortunately, it was Sunday ; and he had indulged himself so freely in his fondness for the brandy-bottle that his gait was far from steady: but I could not pause to consider the risk, and, without waiting to ascertain that he was sufficiently conscious to remember the dangers of the place, I oonfided myself to his directions ; my Reikjaviek guide being of opinion that I might trust him, and promising to accompany us, to interpret his Iceland gibberish into Danish.
" He led me to the edge of the basin, which lies on a gentle elevation of about ten feet. The diameter of the basin is about thirty feet, and that of the cauldron six or seven. Both were full to the brim with water as clear as orystal, which was slightly boiling. In this state the neighbourhood is very dangerous, as they might overflow and empty themselves at any.mo- ment ; and we therefore left the spot at once and visited the different springs.
" My new friend pointed out to me those which I might approach with- out fear, and warned me against the others. We then returned to the Geiser, where he left me in order to make some preparations for my accommodation; having first furniebed me with some rules to enable me to know when an explosion might be expected.
" For fear of missing an explosion, it is customary to watch during the whole night. An occasional vigil would present no great difficulty to many travellers, but for me it was a serious undertaking.. However, there was no remedy ; for an Iceland peasant is not to be depended upon, and few of them would be roused by an outbreak of Heels itself. " I sat either beneath my tent or in front of it, listening with stretched attention for the signs I had been told to expect. Towards midnight—the hour for spirits--I heard a few dull sounds, like those of a distant cannon; and rushing from the tent, I waited for the subterranean rumblings and th trembling and splitting of the earth, which, according to the books I had read, were the forerunners of an eruption. I could hardly defend myself from a paroxysm of fear ;—it is no slight thing to be alone at midnight in such a scene. And many of my friends will perhaps remember how often I. told them before my departure, that if my courage failed me anywhere during my travels in Iceland, it would be when I spent a solitary night at the Geiser.
" The low rumblings were repeated thirteen times at very short intervals ; the basin overflowed after each noise, and nearly emptied itself of its waters; the sounds appearing to proceed from their violent ebullition rather than from any subterranean commotion. In a minute and a half the whole was over. The waters no longer overflowed the basin and cauldron, which re- mained nearly full; and, disappointed in every respect, I returned to in tent. This phmnomenoa was repeated every two or three hours; but I heard nothing further during my first watch, nor all the next day and
night. * *
At last, after waiting till the second day of my sojourn at the Geiser, the long-desired explosion took place, on the 27th of June, at half-past nine in the morning. The peasant, who came twice a day to inquire if I had yet seen an eruption, was with me when the first dull sounds which announced the event were heard, We hurried to the spot, and as the waters boiled over as usual, and the noise died away, I thought I was doomed to disappoint- ment again ; but the last tones were just expiring when the explosion sud- denly took place. I have really no words to do justice to this magnificent spectacle, which once to behold in a lifetime is enough. " It infinitely surpassed all my expectations. The waters were spouted with great power and volume ; column rising above column, as if each were bent on outstripping the others. After I had recovered in some degree from my first astonishment, I looked round at the tent—how small, how di- minutive it seemed, compared to those pillars of water ! And yet it was nearly twenty feet high : it was lying rather lower, it is true, than the basin of the Geiser ; but tent might have been piled on tent—yes, by my reckon- ing, which may not have been perfectly accurate, however—five jets, one
above the other, would not have reached the elevation of theets, the largest of which I think I can affirm, without any exaggeration, to have risen at least to the height of a hundred feet, and to have been three or four feet in diameter.
" Fortunately, I had looked at my watch when the first rumbling was heard, for I should certainly have forgotten to do so during the explosion; and by the calculation I made when it was over, I found that it lasted nearly four minutes—the actual outbreak occupying more than half that time.
" When this wonderful scene was ended, the peasant went with me to ex- amine the basin and cauldron : we could approach very near them without the least danger but there was nothing further to be seen. The waters had entirely disappeared from the basin ; into which we entered, and walked close up to the cauldron, where they had also sunk to the depth of seven or eight feet, though they were still boiling and bubbling with great violence." Many sketches of scenery and manners relating to Iceland will be found in the volume, to repay perusal ; but not above half the book has much interest. All that does not relate to that island, or to the means of getting there, might have been advantageously omitted.