Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

things they full upon a table against their breast, but both ways are very toilsome, and attended with great trouble.' These however are neither the most curious nor the most awkward of their operations. The same author tells us tható in fulling breeches the people often put them on and rock themselves about, by which means they contract a habit of perpetually rocking and moving their limbs, though they have nothing on them that wants milling.' Our recent travellers have not informed us whether it is still the custom for every man to be bis own fulling mill; if it be, we should think that peculiarity of gesture must have been noticed, which would bave entitled Horrebow to class the Icelanders of his time among the wagtails. In the Feroe Isles the women perform the work of fulling by treading the cloth in a tub; in this manner a girl can full twenty pair of hose in four or five hours.

The children, as is the case every where in Europe except in England, look like little men and women. The ordinary dress of the women is not unlike one of the most convenient and becoming fashions of our own country. The full dress is showy but not inelegant; the bridal dress is still more showy. The head dress would have shocked Latimer as much as the velvet power' from Turkey, which he called a vengeance devil. It is shaped like a large flat horn, rising from a sort of turban and bending forward. What would the good bishop have said to such a fashion as this? he who would have a wife remember St. Paul, whenever she put on her cap, and call to mind her subjection to her husband? Yet though the Iceland wife exalts her horn in this manner, subjection to the more worthy gender is practically acknowledged; and to the great discomfort of our English travellers, the ladies of a family wait at table upon their guests. They have another custom, of which the travellers complain still more feelingly; that of returning thanks by an embrace and a kiss. Mr. Hooker describes a ludicrous scene arising from this custom, in which the man was more fortunate than the master. He obtained leave, in one of his excursions, to have his dinner dressed in the Priest's house, near which he had pitched his tents; his man, Jacob, a very interesting personage, whose untimely end forms a most unwelcome conclusion to his eventful history, was the cook. Jacob was longer than usual about his business, and Mr. Hooker being impatient, made his way through smoke and darkness into what he calls the cooking-room, a kitchen being too dignified an appellation for such a den. Here he discovered Jacob sitting on the ground, with two or three filthy women about him, regarding his operations, and marvelling at his frying-pan, in which he was dressing some sliced fish, on a fire kindled on the bare earth, between his legs. Close by him was a pretty girl, who had won Jacob's attention so much that every now and then he

presented

presented her with a slice of the fish, and she, in return forevery piece, rose up, took him round the neck and kissed him. Her expression of gratitude was so much to Jacob's taste, that this bait would have drawn all the fish out of the frying-pan, if his master had not arrived in time to remind him that he wished to have a slice or two saved for himself. Mr. Hooker's ill fortune led him, before he left the house, to present a snuff box to the mistress, a little dirty ugly old woman, by no means free from cutaneous disorder. The old lady imagined that he only meant to give her the snuff; but when she was made to understand that the box also was included in the gift, she instantly repaid him with an embrace; from which, he says, he extricated himself with all possible haste, and ran to wash himself in the nearest stream.

The morals of the Icelanders are libelled by that German who was worthy to become lion's food;—and by Anderson, whose calumnies upon this head are contradicted by Horrebow, with more mildness than such misrepresentations deserve. The Danes indeed, who like the other nothern nations have aped the manners of the French, and are now paying the price of their predilection for that corrupt and treacherous people, have imported their immoralities into Reikiavik, and materially injured those with whom they habitually associate. Sir G. Mackenzie says, that women who lived in open adultery were received into company, and even noticed by the bishop, with as much familiarity as if their characters had been blameless. This contagion is confined to Reikiavik, and even there, he says, considering the loose lives of the Danes, it is astonishing how little progress it has made. They set the natives an example of irreligion as well as licentiousness, for none of them attend the church; but the Icelanders are a religious people, and every where, except in the capital, they preserve the purity of their manners as well as their faith. There is an equality in the country which is favourable to morals. The servants are considered as nearly on a level with the children of the house. In America, these helpers, as they call themselves, display their sense of independence by being insolent. An English lady at New York rang the bell for tea; and after some time repeated the summons, that her visitors might not be kept waiting: farther delay provoked a louder call; upon which the angry American waiting-maid put her head in at the door and exclaimed, the more you ring, the more I wont come.' In Iceland the equality is natural, and therefore unobtrusive; the servants are generally orphans, or the children of very poor farmers: they partake in the recreations as well as the labour of the family; whilst spinning, knitting and sowing are going on in their long winter darkness, some one reads aloud the old tales and histories which their ancestors produced, not more for the honour than for

the

the blessing of Iceland. Scarcely a farm house is without some of these books, which they exchange with each other at church, the only opportunity they have of meeting; and thus the literary wealth of every parish continually circulates. The servants, being thus associated with the family, not unfrequently marry their master's children; this is, indeed, so usual, that a poor farmer sends his son or his daughter to serve in the house of one more affluent, in hopes that such a connection may be formed.

The law of inheritance is favourable to this equality. No entails are allowed; the property of the aeceased is divided in equal portions among the sons, the eldest having the privilege of chusing his share. The daughters have each half a son's portion; the widow half the estate. Were the law of primogeniture established, it might promote the improvement of the country by favouring the accumulation of property; but a wise legislator would pause before be ventured, for this consideration, to change a system which has been certainly found favourable to virtue and happiness. The poor laws are remarkable. Every householder is compelled to receive his relations who cannot support themselves, to the fourth degree of kindred. The travellers say nothing of the moral effect of this system, which, perhaps, they had little opportunity or time to observe ; but it is an interesting subject of inquiry. The house. holder who has no kinsmen that require his assistance, must contribute to the support of the poor, either by taking into his family some orphan or aged person, or by paying an annual rate proportioned to his property. This tax falls heavily: a landholder who pays only two or three rix-dollars to the revenue, is not unfrequently called upon for forty, fifty, or even sixty, towards the maintenance of the poor in his district, if he does not chuse to receive any of them into his family. These poor laws are strictly enforced by the hreppstioré of every parish.

The other taxes are light, and do not suffice for the civil establishment of the island. The sysselmen collect them in kind, and are required to pay the amount in inoney to the lavdfoged or treasurer; they therefore dispose of the produce to the merchants, taking the chance of loss or gain, and retaining a third as their salary, a proportion not more than adequate to the trouble and responsibility of their office. The commerce of the island has been exempt from all duties since 1787. This exemption was, perhaps, granted in consequence of the dreadful state to which Iceiand was reduced, in 1783, by volcanic eruptions more tremendous than any which had ever been recorded in its annals. The trade had long been declining. From the beginning of the last century, till the year 1776, it was in the hands of a chartered company, by whose monopoly the Icelanders were greatly oppressed. It was then nominally VOL. VII. NO. XIII.

vestod

vested in the king, and carried on with a fund of four millions of dollars, which the government provided. At the end of ten years the stock of every kind was sold, and it was found that the capital had diminished more than an eighth part. The remainder was then vested in commissioners, who were empowered to lend money at four per cent. to those who would embark in the trade of Iceland, which was freed from imposts for twenty years. At the end of that time, the exemption was prolonged for five years; but the state of its trade will come more properly under consideration in treating of the existing circumstances of the country.

Fish and oil are the chief articles of export: besides these, however, the Icelanders export wool, coarse woollen goods, skins and feathers. The eiderdown is one of their most valuable commodities; it sells for twelve shillings a pound, and, in consequence of the benefit which is thus derived from the eider ducks, a severe penalty is inflicted upon arry person who kills one. Both Mr. Hooker and Sir G. Mackenzie saw these birds

upon

the little island of Vedoe, one of the most fertile spots appertaining to Iceland, and the residence of the former Stiftainptman Stephenson, who, as a special mark of distinction, still retains that title. On the other uninhabited islets they form their rude nests among the old and half decayed sea weeds which the storms have cast high on the beach ; but here, where their down and eggs afford the stiftamptman a considerable revenue, the birds seemed to be sensible of the protection under which they lived, and built their nests on the garden-wall, on the roofs, in the houses, and even in the chapel. Every little hollow between the rocks was occupied by them, and even the ground between the landing-place and the governor's house so strewn with their nests, that it required some caution to avoid treading on them. The old gentleman had also fitted the smooth sloping side of a hill for their accommodation, by cutting two rows of holes, in every one of which there was a nest. The sound which the eider birds utter, is described as very like the cooing of doves. They line the nest with down from their own breasts, and there is a sufficient quantity laid round it to cover the eggs when they go to feed, which is generally at low water. The nest is stript of its lining twice, and sometimes a third time; when the duck has exhausted her own down, the drake supplies what is wanting. If the down be taken from the dead bird, it has no longer that elasticity which renders it so valuable During the brooding season all cats and dogs are banished from this little island. One year a sox got over upon the ice, to the great alarm both of the ducks and the governor: another fox was brought over, and fastened by a string near the invader's haunts, and Reynard, in spite of his cunning, fell into the snare; he liad a great taste for eider duck, but none for solitude, and,

venturing

venturing toward this companion, came within reach of the hunter's gun.

The Icelanders take their toll of the contents of the nest, as well as of its lining, and, for their own eating, they prefer those eggs in which the bird is formed. Sir G. Mackenzie says, that as soon as the young birds leave the shell, the duck takes them on her back, swims out to a considerable distance, then dives, and leaves them to exert their power of swimming: as soon as they have learnt the use of their feet in this way, she returns and becomes their guide. This is curious, because the common duck requires no other teaching than that of instinct. It is well known how anxiously a hen who has reared a brood of ducklings, follows them to the water edge, and endeavours, in vain, to withhold them from venturing where she cannot follow. The old birds, whom the spell of duty no longer fixes to their nests, take once more to the seas, and, in a few weeks, the whole race depart, going where no navigator has yet followed them: when the brooding season returns, their unerring guide brings them again to their safe nursery.

Horrebow says that they very rarely build on the main land, though, in some places, they have been enticed to venture there, when the people send away their cattle and dogs, and take especial care to keep them from being disturbed. He says, also, that the inhabitants make little islands on purpose to invite them.

If the Icelanders were heathens, the sea would be the natural object of their worship, for the benefits which they derive from it. Fuller, in a strain of fanciful analogies, remarks in how many things the sea resembles the land; but he has not noticed that provident dispensation by which the sea is made most prolific in those regions where the shores are most destitute. “Tell me,' says this quaint but delightful writer, tell me, ye naturalists, who sounded the first march and retreat to the tide “ hither shalt thou come and no further?” When the winds are not only wild in a storm, but even stark mad in a hurricane, who is it that restores them again to their wits and brings them asleep in a calm ? Who made the mighty whales, who swim in a sea of water, and have a sea of oil swimming in them?' We will add the rest of the passage for the sake of its piety and feeling, as well as its singularity. Was not God the first shipwright, and all vessels on the water descended from the loins, or rather the ribs, of Noah's ark; or else who durst be so bold, with a few crooked boards nailed together, a stick standing upright, avd a rag tied to it, to adventure into the ocean? How first fell the loadstone in love with the north, rather affecting that cold climate than the pleasant east, or fruitful south or west? Or how came that stone to know more than men, and find the way to the land in a mist? Iu most of these things men take sanctuary at

occulta

« VorigeDoorgaan »