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Letters From High Latitudes by The Marquess of Dufferin (Lord Dufferin)

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its surface. Perceiving a little boat floating on the
loch not far from the spot where we had observed this
phenomenon, we pulled towards it, and ascertained that
the Lapp officer in charge was actually intent on stalking
the peripatetic school--to use a technical expression--whose
evolutions had so much astonished us. The great object
of the sportsman is to judge by their last appearance
what part of the water the fish are likely to select for
the scene of their next promenade. Directly he has
determined this in his own mind, he rows noiselessly to
the spot, and, as soon as they show themselves, hooks
them with a landing-net into his boat.

By this time it had become a doubtful point whether it
would not be as little trouble to row on to Alten as to
return to the schooner, so we determined to go on.
Unfortunately we turned down a wrong fiord, and after a
long pull, about two o'clock in the morning had the
satisfaction of finding ourselves in a cul-de-sac. To
add to our discomfort, clouds of mosquitoes with the
bodies of behemoths and the stings of dragons, had
collected from all quarters of the heavens to make a prey
of us. In vain we struggled--strove to knock them down
with the oars,--plunged our heads under the water,--smacked
our faces with frantic violence; on they came in myriads,
until I thought our bleaching bones would alone remain
to indicate our fate. At last Sigurdr espied a log but
on the shore, where we might at least find some one to
put us into the right road again; but on looking in at
the open door, we only saw a Lapland gentleman fast
asleep. Awaking at our approach he started to his feet,
and though nothing could be more gracefully conciliatory
than the bow with which I opened the conversation, I
regret to say that after staring wildly round for a few
minutes, the aboriginal bolted straight away in the most
unpolite manner and left us to our fate. There was nothing
for it but patiently to turn back, and try some other
opening. This time we were more successful, and about
three o'clock A.M. had the satisfaction of landing at
one of the wharves attached to the copper mines of
Kaafiord. We came upon a lovely scene. It was as light
and warm as a summer's noon in England; upon a broad
plateau, carved by nature out of the side of the grey
limestone, stood a bright shining house in the middle of
a plot of rich English-looking garden. On one side lay
the narrow fiord, on every other rose an amphitheatre of
fir-clad mountains. The door of the house was open, so
were many of the windows--even those on the ground-floor,
and from the road where we stood we could see the books
on the library shelves. A swing and some gymnastic
appliances on the lawn told us that there were children.
Altogether, I thought I had never seen such a charming
picture of silent comfort and security. Perhaps the barren
prospects we had been accustomed to made the little oasis
before us look more cheerful than we might otherwise have
thought it.

The question now arose, what was to be done? My principal
reason for coming to Alten was to buy some salt provisions
and Lapland dresses; but dolls and junk were scarcely a
sufficient pretext for knocking up a quiet family at
three o'clock in the morning. It is true, I happened to
have a letter for Mr. T--, written by a mutual friend,
who had expressly told me that--arrive when I might at
Alten,--the more unceremoniously I walked in and took
possession of the first unoccupied bed I stumbled on,
the better Mr. T-- would be pleased; but British punctilio
would not allow me to act on the recommendation, though
we were sorely tried. In the meantime the mosquitoes had
become more intolerable than ever. At last, half mad with
irritation, I set off straight up the side of the nearest
mountain, in hopes of attaining a zone too high for them
to inhabit; and, poising myself upon its topmost pinnacle,
I drew my handkerchief over my head--I was already without
coat and waistcoat--and remained the rest of the morning
"mopping and mowing" at the world beneath my feet.

About six o'clock, like a phantom in a dream, the little
schooner came stealing round the misty headland, and
anchored at the foot of the rocks below. Returning
immediately on board, we bathed, dressed, and found repose
from all our troubles. Not long after, a message from
Mr. T--, in answer to a card I had sent up to the
house as soon as the household gave signs of being
astir--invited us to breakfast; and about half-past nine
we presented ourselves at his hospitable door. The
reception I met with was exactly what the gentlemen who
had given me the letter of introduction had led me to
expect; and so eager did Mr. T-- seem to make us
comfortable, that I did not dare to tell him how we had
been prowling about his house the greater part of the
previous night, lest he should knock me down on the spot
for not having knocked him up. The appearance of the
inside of the house quite corresponded with what we had
anticipated from the soigne air of everything about its
exterior. Books, maps, pictures, a number of astronomical
instruments, geological specimens, and a magnificent
assortment of fishing-rods, betrayed the habits of the
practical, well-educated, business-loving English gentlemen
who inhabited it; and as he showed me the various articles
of interest in his study, most heartily did I congratulate
myself on the lucky chance which had brought me into
contact with so desirable an acquaintance.

All this time we had seen nothing of the lady of the
house; and I was just beginning to speculate as to whether
that crowning ornament could be wanting to this pleasant
home, when the door at the further end of the room suddenly
opened, and there glided out into the sunshine--"The
White Lady of Avenel." A fairer apparition I have seldom
seen,--stately, pale, and fragile as a lily--blond hair,
that rippled round a forehead of ivory--a cheek of waxen
purity on which the fitful colour went and came--not
with the flush of southern blood, or flower-bloom of
English beauty,--but rather with a cool radiance, as of
"northern streamers" on the snows of her native hills,--
eyes of a dusky blue, and lips of that rare tint which
lines the conch-shell. Such was the Chatelaine of
Kaafiord,--as perfect a type of Norse beauty as ever my
Saga lore had conjured up! Frithiof's Ingeborg herself
seemed to stand before me. A few minutes afterwards, two
little fair-haired maidens, like twin snowdrops, stole
into the room; and the sweet home picture was complete.

The rest of the day has been a continued fete. In vain
after having transacted my business, I pleaded the turning
of the tide, and our anxiety to get away to sea; nothing
would serve our kind entertainer but that we should stay
to dinner; and his was one of those strong energetic
wills it is difficult to resist.

In the afternoon, the Hammerfest steamer called in from
the southward, and by her came two fair sisters of our
hostess from their father's home in one of the Loffodens
which overlook the famous Maelstrom. The stories about
the violence of the whirlpool Mr. T-- assures me are
ridiculously exaggerated. On ordinary occasions the site
of the supposed vortex is perfectly unruffled, and it is
only when a strong weather tide is running that any
unusual movements in the water can be observed; even then
the disturbance does not amount to much more than a rather
troublesome race. "Often and often, when she was a girl,
had his wife and her sisters sailed over its fabulous
crater in an open boat." But in this wild romantic country,
with its sparse population, rugged mountains, and gloomy
fiords, very ordinary matters become invested with a
character of awe and mystery quite foreign to the atmosphere
of our own matter-of-fact world; and many of the Norwegians
are as prone to superstition as the poor little Lapp
pagans who dwell among them.

No later than a few years ago, in the very fiord we had
passed on our way to Alten, when an unfortunate boat got
cast away during the night on some rocks at a little
distance from the shore, the inhabitants, startled by
the cries of distress which reached them in the morning
twilight, hurried down in a body to the sea-side,--not
to afford assistance,--but to open a volley of musketry
on the drowning mariners; being fully persuaded that the
stranded boat, with its torn sails, was no other than
the Kracken or Great Sea-Serpent flapping its dusky wings:
and when, at last, one of the crew succeeded in swimming
ashore in spite of waves and bullets,--the whole society
turned and fled!

And now, again good-bye. We are just going up to dine
with Mr. T--; and after dinner, or at least as soon as
the tide turns, we get under way--Northward Ho! (as Mr.
Kingsley would say) in right good earnest this time!



Throndhjem, Aug. 22nd, 1856.

We have won our laurels, after all! We have landed in
Spitzbergen--almost at its most northern extremity; and
the little "Foam" has sailed to within 630 miles of the
Pole; that is to say, within 100 miles as far north as
any ship has ever succeeded in getting.

I think my last letter left us enjoying the pleasant
hospitalities of Kaafiord.

The genial quiet of that last evening in Norway was
certainly a strange preface to the scenes we have since
witnessed. So warm was it, that when dinner was over, we
all went out into the garden, and had tea in the open
air; the ladies without either bonnets or shawls, merely
plucking a little branch of willow to brush away the
mosquitoes; and so the evening wore away in alternate
intervals of chat and song. At midnight, seawards again
began to swirl the tide, and we rose to go,--not without
having first paid a visit to the room where the little
daughters of the house lay folded in sleep. Then descending
to the beach, laden with flowers and kind wishes waved
to us by white handkerchiefs held in still whiter hands,
we rowed on board; up went the napping sails, and dipping
her ensign in token of adieu--the schooner glided swiftly
on between the walls of rock, until an intervening crag
shut out from our sight the friendly group that had come
forth to bid us "Good speed." In another twenty-four
hours we had threaded our way back through the intricate
fiords; and leaving Hammerfest three or four miles on
the starboard hand, on the evening of the 28th of July,
we passed out between the islands of Soroe and Bolsvoe
into the open sea.

My intention was to go first to Bear Island, and ascertain
for myself in what direction the ice was lying to the
southward of Spitzbergen.

Bear--or Cherie Island, is a diamond-shaped island, about
ten miles long, composed of secondary rocks--principally
sandstone and limestone-lying about 280 miles due north
of the North Cape. It was originally discovered by Barentz,
the 9th of June, 1596, on the occasion of his last and
fatal voyage. Already had he commanded two expeditions
sent forth by the United Provinces to discover a north-east
passage to that dream-land--Cathay; and each time, after
penetrating to the eastward of Nova Zembla, he had been
foiled by the impenetrable line of ice. On this occasion
he adopted the bolder and more northerly courses which
brought him to Bear Island. Thence, plunging into the
mists of the frozen sea, he ultimately sighted the western
mountains of Spitzbergen. Unable to proceed further in
that direction, Barentz retraced his steps, and again
passing in sight of Bear Island, proceeded in a south-east
direction to Nova Zembla, where his ships got entangled
in the ice, and he subsequently perished.

Towards the close of the sixteenth century, in spite of
repeated failures, one endeavour after another was made
to penetrate to India across these fatal waters.

The first English vessel that sailed on the disastrous
quest was the "Bona Esperanza." in the last year of King
Edward VI. Her commander was Sir Hugh Willoughby, and we
have still extant a copy of the instructions drawn up by
Sebastian Cabot--the Grand Pilot of England, for his
guidance. Nothing can be more pious than the spirit in
which this ancient document is conceived; expressly
enjoining that morning and evening prayers should be
offered on board every ship attached to the expedition,
and that neither dicing, carding, tabling, nor other
devilish devices--were to be permitted. Here and there
were clauses of a more questionable morality,--recommending
that natives of strange lands be "enticed on board, and
made drunk with your beer and wine; for then you shall
know the secrets of their hearts." The whole concluding
with an exhortation to all on board to take especial heed
to the devices of "certain creatures, with men's heads,
and the tails of fishes, who swim with bows and arrows
about the fiords and bays, and live on human flesh."

On the 11th of May the ill-starred expedition got under
way from Deptford, and saluting the king, who was then
lying sick at Greenwich, put to sea. By the 30th of July
the little fleet--three vessels in all--had come up
abreast of the Loffoden islands, but a gale coming on,
the "Esperanza" was separated from the consorts.
Ward-huus--a little harbour to the east of the North
Cape-had been appointed as the place of rendezvous in
case of such an event, but unfortunately, Sir Hugh overshot
the mark, and wasted all the precious autumn time in
blundering amid the ice to the eastward. At last, winter
set in, and they were obliged to run for a port in Lapland.
Here, removed from all human aid, they were frozen to
death. A year afterwards, the ill-fated ships were
discovered by some Russian sailors, and an unfinished
journal proved that Sir Hugh and many of his companions
were still alive in January, 1554.

The next voyage of discovery in a north-east direction
was sent out by Sir Francis Cherie, alderman of London,
in 1603. After proceeding as far east as Ward-huus and
Kela, the "Godspeed" pushed north into the ocean, and on
the 16th of August fell in with Bear Island. Unaware of
its previous discovery by Barentz, Stephen Bennet--who
commanded the expedition--christened the island Cherie
Island, in honour of his patron, and to this day the two
names are used almost indiscriminately.

In 1607, Henry Hudson was despatched by the Muscovy
Company, with orders to sail, if possible, right across
the pole. Although perpetually baffled by the ice, Hudson
at last succeeded in reaching the north-west extremity
of Spitzbergen, but finding his further progress arrested
by an impenetrable barrier of fixed ice, he was forced
to return. A few years later, Jonas Poole--having been
sent in the same direction, instead of prosecuting any
discoveries, wisely set himself to killing the sea-horses
that frequent the Arctic ice-fields, and in lieu of
tidings of new lands--brought back a valuable cargo of
walrus tusks. In 1615, Fotherby started with the intention
of renewing the attempt to sail across the north pole,
but after encountering many dangers he also was forced
to return. It was during the course of his homeward voyage
that he fell in with the island of Jan Mayen. Soon
afterwards, the discovery by Hudson and Davis, of the
seas and straits to which they have given their names,
diverted the attention of the public from all thoughts
of a north-east passage, and the Spitzbergen waters were
only frequented by ships engaged in the fisheries. The
gradual disappearance of the whale, and the discovery of
more profitable fishing stations on the west coast of
Greenland, subsequently abolished the sole attraction
for human being which this inhospitable region ever
possessed, and of late years, I understand, the Spitzbergen
seas have remained as lonely and unvisited as they were
before the first adventurer invaded their solitude.

Twice only, since the time of Fotherby, has any attempt
been made to reach the pole on a north-east course. In
1773, Captain Phipps, afterwards Lord Mulgrave, sailed
in the "Carcass" towards Spitzbergen, but he never reached
a higher latitude than 81 degrees. It was in this expedition
that Nelson made his first voyage, and had that famous
encounter with the bear. The next and last endeavour was
undertaken by Parry, in 1827. Unable to get his ship even
as far north as Phipps had gone, he determined to leave
her in a harbour in Spitzbergen, and push across the sea
in boats and sledges. The uneven nature of the surface
over which they had to travel, caused their progress
northward to be very slow, and very laborious. The ice
too, beneath their feet, was not itself immovable, and
at last they perceived they were making the kind of
progress a criminal makes upon the treadmill,--the floes
over which they were journeying drifting to the southward
faster than they walked north; so that at the end of a
long day's march of ten miles, they found themselves four
miles further from their destination than at its
commencement. Disgusted with so Irish a manoeuvre, Parry
determined to return, though not until he had almost
reached the 83rd parallel, a higher latitude than any to
which man is known to have penetrated. Arctic authorities
are still of opinion, that Parry's plan for reaching the
pole might prove successful, if the expedition were to
set out earlier in the season, ere the intervening field
of ice is cast adrift by the approach of summer.

Our own run to Bear Island was very rapid. On getting
outside the islands, a fair fresh wind sprung up, and we
went spinning along for two nights and two days as merrily
as possible, under a double-reefed mainsail and staysail,
on a due north course. On the third day we began to see
some land birds, and a few hours afterwards, the loom of
the island itself; but it had already begun to get
fearfully cold, and our thermometer, which I consulted
every two hours, plainly indicated that we were approaching
ice. My only hope was that, at all events, the southern
extremity of the island might be disengaged; for I was
very anxious to land, in order to examine some coal-beds
which are said to exist in the upper strata of the
sandstone formation. This expectation was doomed to
complete disappointment. Before we had got within six
miles of the shore, it became evident that the report of
the Hammerfest Sea-horseman was too true.

Between us and the land there extended an impenetrable
barrier of packed ice, running due east and west, as far
as the eye could reach.

[Figure: fig-p162.gif]

What was now to be done? If a continuous field of ice
lay 150 miles off the southern coast of Spitzbergen, what
would be the chance of getting to the land by going
further north? Now that we had received ocular proof of
the veracity of the Hammerfest skipper in this first
particular, was it likely that we should have the luck
to find the remainder of his story untrue? According to
the track he had jotted down for me on the chart, the
ice in front stretched right away west in an unbroken
line, to the wall of ice which we had seen running to
the north, from the upper end of Jan Mayen. Only a week
had elapsed since he had actually ascertained the
impracticability of reaching a higher latitude,--what
likelihood could there be of a channel having been opened
up to the northward during so short an interval? Such
was the series of insoluble problems by which I posed
myself, as we stood vainly smacking our lips at the
island, which lay so tantalizingly beyond our reach.

Still, unpromising as the aspect of things might appear,
it would not do to throw a chance away; so I determined
to put the schooner round on the other tack, and run
westwards along the edge of the ice, until we found
ourselves again in the Greenland sea. Bidding, therefore,
a last adieu to Mount Misery, as its first discoverers
very appropriately christened one of the higher hills in
Bear Island, we suffered it to melt back into a fog,--out
of which, indeed, no part of the land had ever more than
partially emerged,--and with no very sanguine expectations
as to the result, sailed west away towards Greenland.
During the next four-and-twenty hours we ran along the
edge of the ice, in nearly a due westerly direction,
without observing the slightest indication of anything
approaching to an opening towards the North. It was weary
work, scanning that seemingly interminable barrier, and
listening to the melancholy roar of waters on its icy

At last, after having come about 140 miles since leaving
Bear Island,--the long, white, wave-lashed line suddenly
ran down into a low point, and then trended back with a
decided inclination to the North. Here, at all events,
was an improvement; instead of our continuing to steer
W. by S., or at most W. by N., the schooner would often
lay as high up as N.W., and even N.W. by N. Evidently
the action of the Gulf Stream was beginning to tell, and
our spirits rose in proportion. In a few more hours,
however, this cheering prospect was interrupted by a
fresh line of ice being reported, not only ahead, but as
far as the eye could reach on the port bow; so again the
schooner's head was put to the westward, and the old
story recommenced. And now the flank of the second barrier
was turned, and we were able to edge up a few hours to
the northward; but only to be again confronted by another
line, more interminable, apparently, than the last. But
why should I weary you with the detail of our various
manoeuvres during the ensuing days? They were too tedious
and disheartening at the time, for me to look back upon
them with any pleasure. Suffice it to say, that by dint
of sailing north whenever the ice would permit us, and
sailing west when we could not sail north, we found
ourselves on the 2nd of August, in the latitude of the
southern extremity of Spitzbergen, though divided from
the land by about fifty miles of ice. All this while the
weather had been pretty good, foggy and cold enough, but
with a fine stiff breeze that rattled us along at a good
rate whenever we did get a chance of making any Northing.
But lately it had come on to blow very hard, the cold
became quite piercing, and what was worse--in every
direction round the whole circuit of the horizon, except
along its southern segment,--a blaze of iceblink illuminated
the sky. A more discouraging spectacle could not have
met our eyes. The iceblink is a luminous appearance,
reflected on the heavens from the fields of ice that
still lie sunk beneath the horizon; it was, therefore on
this occasion an unmistakable indication of the encumbered
state of the sea in front of us.

I had turned in for a few hours of rest, and release from
the monotonous sense of disappointment, and was already
lost in a dream of deep bewildering bays of ice, and
gulfs whose shifting shores offered to the eye every
possible combination of uncomfortable scenery, without
possible issue,--when "a voice in my dreaming ear"
shouted "LAND!" and I awoke to its reality. I need not
tell you in what double quick time I tumbled up the
companion, or with what greediness I feasted my eyes on
that longed-for view,--the only sight--as I then thought--we
were ever destined to enjoy of the mountains of Spitzbergen!

The whole heaven was overcast with a dark mantle of
tempestuous clouds, that stretched down in umbrella-like
points towards the horizon, leaving a clear space between
their edge and the sea, illuminated by the sinister
brilliancy of the iceblink. In an easterly direction,
this belt of unclouded atmosphere was etherealized to an
indescribable transparency, and up into it there gradually
grew--above the dingy line of starboard ice--a forest of
thin lilac peaks, so faint, so pale, that had it not been
for the gem-like distinctness of their outline, one could
have deemed them as unsubstantial as the spires of
fairy-land. The beautiful vision proved only too transient;
in one short half hour mist and cloud had blotted it all
out, while a fresh barrier of ice compelled us to turn
our backs on the very land we were striving to reach.

Although we were certainly upwards of sixty miles distant
from the land when the Spitzbergen hills were first
observed, the intervening space seemed infinitely less;
but in these high latitudes the eye is constantly liable
to be deceived in the estimate it forms of distances.
Often, from some change suddenly taking place in the
state of the atmosphere, the land you approach will appear
even to RECEDE; and on one occasion, an honest skipper--one
of the most valiant and enterprising mariners of his
day--actually turned back, because, after sailing for
several hours with a fair wind towards the land, and
finding himself no nearer to it than at first, he concluded
that some loadstone rock beneath the sea must have
attracted the keel of his ship, and kept her stationary.

The next five days were spent in a continual struggle
with the ice. On referring to our log, I see nothing but
a repetition of the same monotonous observations.

"July 31st.--Wind W. by S.--Courses sundry to clear ice."

"Ice very thick."

"These twenty-four hours picking our way through ice."

"August 1st.--Wind W.--courses variable--foggy--continually
among ice these twenty-four hours."

And in Fitz's diary, the discouraging state of the weather
is still more pithily expressed:--

"August 2nd.--Head wind--sailing westward--large hummocks
of ice ahead, and on port bow, i.e. to the westward--hope
we may be able to push through. In evening, ice gets
thicker; we still hold on--fog comes on--ice getting
thicker--wind freshens--we can get no farther--ice impass-
able, no room to tack--struck the ice several times--
obliged to sail S. and W.--things look very shady."

Sometimes we were on the point of despairing altogether,
then a plausible opening would show itself as if leading
towards the land, and we would be tempted to run down it
until we found the field become so closely packed, that
it was with great difficulty we could get the vessel
round,--and only then at the expense of collisions, which
made the little craft shiver from stem to stern. Then a
fog would come on--so thick, you could almost cut it
like a cheese, and thus render the sailing among the
loose ice very critical indeed then it would fall dead
calm, and leave us, hours together, muffled in mist, with
no other employment than chess or hopscotch. It was during
one of those intervals of quiet that I executed the
annexed work of art, which is intended to represent
Sigurdr, in the act of meditating a complicated gambit
for the Doctor's benefit.

About this period Wilson culminated. Ever since leaving
Bear Island he had been keeping a carnival of grief in
the pantry, until the cook became almost half-witted by
reason of his Jeremiads. Yet I must not give you the
impression that the poor fellow was the least wanting in
PLUCK--far from it. Surely it requires the highest order
of courage to anticipate every species of disaster every
moment of the day, and yet to meet the impending fate
like a man--as he did. Was it his fault that fate was
not equally ready to meet him? HIS share of the business
was always done: he was ever prepared for the worst; but
the most critical circumstances never disturbed the
gravity of his carriage, and the fact of our being destined
to go to the bottom before tea-time would not have caused
him to lay out the dinner-table a whit less symmetrically.
Still, I own, the style of his service was slightly
depressing. He laid out my clean shirt of a morning as
if it had been a shroud; and cleaned my boots as though
for a man ON HIS LAST LEGS. The fact is, he was imaginative
and atrabilious,--contemplating life through a medium of
the colour of his own complexion.

This was the cheerful kind of report he used invariably
to bring me of a morning. Coming to the side of my cot
with the air of a man announcing the stroke of doomsday,
he used to say, or rather, TOLL--

"Seven o'clock, my Lord!"

"Very well; how's the wind?"

"Dead ahead, my Lord--DEAD!"

"How many points is she off her course?"

"Four points, my Lord--full four points!" (Four points
being as much as she could be.)

"Is it pretty clear? eh! Wilson?"

"--Can't see your hand, my Lord!--can't see your hand!"

"Much ice in sight?"

"--Ice all round, my Lord--ice a-all ro-ound!"--and so
exit, sighing deeply over my trousers.

Yet it was immediately after one of these unpromising
announcements, that for the first time matters began to
look a little brighter. The preceding four-and-twenty
hours we had remained enveloped in a cold and dismal fog.
But on coming on deck, I found the sky had already begun
to clear; and although there was ice as far as the eye
could see on either side of us, in front a narrow passage
showed itself across a patch of loose ice into what seemed
a freer sea beyond. The only consideration was--whether
we could be certain of finding our way out again, should
it turn out that the open water we saw was only a basin
without any exit in any other direction. The chance was
too tempting to throw away; so the little schooner
gallantly pushed her way through the intervening neck of
ice where the floes seemed to be least huddled up together,
and in half an hour afterwards found herself running up
along the edge of the starboard ice, almost in a due
northerly direction. And here I must take occasion to
say that, during the whole of this rather anxious time,
my master--Mr. Wyse--conducted himself in a most admirable
manner. Vigilant, cool, and attentive, he handled the
vessel most skilfully, and never seemed to lose his
presence of mind in any emergency. It is true the silk
tartan still coruscated on Sabbaths, but its brilliant
hues were quite a relief to the colourless scenes which
surrounded us, and the dangling chain now only served to
remind me of what firm dependence I could place upon its

Soon after, the sun came out, the mist entirely disappeared,
and again on the starboard hand shone a vision of the
land; this time not in the sharp peaks and spires we had
first seen, but in a chain of pale blue egg-shaped islands,
floating in the air a long way above the horizon. This
peculiar appearance was the result of extreme refraction,
for, later in the day, we had an opportunity of watching
the oval cloud-like forms gradually harden into the same
pink tapering spikes which originally caused the island
to be called Spitzbergen: nay, so clear did it become,
that even the shadows on the hills became quite distinct,
and we could easily trace the outlines of the enormous
glaciers--sometimes ten or fifteen miles broad--that fill
up every valley along the shore. Towards evening the
line of coast again vanished into the distance, and our
rising hopes received an almost intolerable disappointment
by the appearance of a long line of ice right ahead,
running to the westward, apparently, as far as the eye
could reach. To add to our disgust, the wind flew right
round into the North, and increasing to a gale, brought
down upon us--not one of the usual thick arctic mists to
which we were accustomed, but a dark, yellowish brown
fog, that rolled along the surface of the water in twisted
columns, and irregular masses of vapour, as dense as coal
smoke. We had now almost reached the eightieth parallel
of north latitude, and still an impenetrable sheet of
ice, extending fifty or sixty miles westward from the
shore, rendered all hopes of reaching the land out of
the question. Our expectation of finding the north-west
extremity of the island disengaged from ice by the action
of the currents was--at all events for this
season--evidently doomed to disappointment. We were
already almost in the latitude of Amsterdam Island--which
is actually its north-west point--and the coast seemed
more encumbered than ever. No whaler had ever succeeded
in getting more than about 120 miles further north than
we ourselves had already come; and to entangle ourselves
any further in the ice--unless it were with the certainty
of reaching land--would be sheer folly. The only thing
to be done was to turn back. Accordingly, to this course
I determined at last to resign myself, if, after standing
on for twelve hours longer, nothing should turn up to
improve the present aspect of affairs. It was now eleven
o'clock; P. M. Fitz and Sigurdr went to bed, while I
remained on deck to see what the night might bring forth.
It blew great guns, and the cold was perfectly intolerable;
billow upon billow of black fog came sweeping down between
the sea and sky, as if it were going to swallow up the
whole universe; while the midnight sun--now completely
blotted out--now faintly struggling through the ragged
breaches of the mist--threw down from time to time an
unearthly red-brown glare on the waste of roaring waters.

For the whole of that night did we continue beating up
along the edge of the ice, in the teeth of a whole gale
of wind; at last, about nine o'clock in the morning,--but
two short hours before the moment at which it had been
agreed we should bear up, and abandon the attempt,--we
came up with a long low point of ice, that had stretched
further to the Westward than any we had yet doubled; and
there, beyond, lay an open sea!--open not only to the
Northward and Westward, but also to the Eastward! You
can imagine my excitement." Turn the hands up, Mr. Wyse!"
"'Bout ship!" "Down with the helm!" "Helm a-lee!" Up
comes the schooner's head to the wind, the sails flapping
with the noise of thunder--blocks rattling against the
deck, as if they wanted to knock their brains out--ropes
dancing about in galvanised coils, like mad serpents--and
everything to an inexperienced eye in inextricable
confusion; till gradually she pays off on the other
tack--the sails stiffen into deal-boards--the staysail
sheet is let go--and heeling over on the opposite side.
Again she darts forward over the sea like an arrow from
the bow. "Stand by to make sail!" "Out all reefs!" I
could have carried sail to sink a man-of-war!--and away
the little ship went, playing leapfrog over the heavy
seas, and staggering under her canvas, as if giddy with
the same joyful excitement which made my own heart thump
so loudly.

In another hour the sun came out, the fog cleared away,
and about noon--up again, above the horizon, grow the
pale lilac peaks, warming into a rosier tint as we
approach. Ice still stretches toward the land on the
starboard side; but we don't care for it now--the schooner's
head is pointing E. and by S. At one o'clock we sight
Amsterdam Island, about thirty miles on the port bow;
then came the "seven ice-hills"--as seven enormous glaciers
are called--that roll into the sea between lofty ridges
of gneiss and mica slate, a little to the northward of
Prince Charles's Foreland. Clearer and more defined grows
the outline of the mountains, some coming forward while
others recede; their rosy tints appear less even, fading
here and there into pale yellows and greys; veins of
shadow score the steep sides of the hills; the articulations
of the rocks become visible; and now, at last, we glide
under the limestone peaks of Mitre Cape, past the marble
arches of King's Bay on the one side, and the pinnacle
of the Vogel Hook on the other, into the quiet channel
that separates the Foreland from the main.

[Figure: fig-p170.gif]

It was at one o'clock in the morning of the 6th of August,
1856, that after having been eleven days at sea, we came
to an anchor in the silent haven of English Bay,

And now, how shall I give you an idea of the wonderful
panorama in the midst of which we found ourselves? I
think, perhaps, its most striking feature was the stillness,
and deadness, and impassibility of this new world: ice,
and rock, and water surrounded us; not a sound of any
kind interrupted the silence; the sea did not break upon
the shore; no bird or any living thing was visible; the
midnight sun, by this time muffled in a transparent mist,
shed an awful, mysterious lustre on glacier and mountain;
no atom of vegetation gave token of the earth's vitality:
an universal numbness and dumbness seemed to pervade the
solitude. I suppose in scarcely any other part of the
world is this appearance of deadness so strikingly
exhibited. On the stillest summer day in England, there
is always perceptible an under-tone of life thrilling
through the atmosphere; and though no breeze should stir
a single leaf, yet--in default of motion--there is always
a sense of growth; but here not so much as a blade of
grass was to be seen on the sides of the bald excoriated
hills. Primeval rocks and eternal ice constitute the

The anchorage where we had brought up is the best to be
found, with the exception perhaps of Magdalena Bay, along
the whole west coast of Spitzbergen; indeed it is almost
the only one where you are not liable to have the ice
set in upon you at a moment's notice. Ice Sound, Bell
Sound, Horn Sound--the other harbours along the west
coast--are all liable to be beset by drift-ice during
the course of a single night, even though no vestige of
it may have been in sight four-and-twenty hours before;
and many a good ship has been inextricably imprisoned in
the very harbour to which she had fled for refuge. This
bay is completely landlocked, being protected on its open
side by Prince Charles's Foreland, a long island lying
parallel with the mainland. Down towards either horn
run two ranges of schistose rocks, about 1,500 feet high,
their sides almost precipitous, and the topmost ridge as
sharp as a knife, and jagged as a saw; the intervening
space is entirely filled up by an enormous glacier,
which,--descending with one continuous incline from the
head of a valley on the right, and sweeping like a torrent
round the roots of an isolated clump of hills in the
centre--rolls at last into the sea. The length of the
glacial river from the spot where it apparently first
originated, could not have been less than thirty, or
thirty-five miles, or its greatest breadth less than nine
or ten; but so completely did it fill up the higher end
of the valley, that it was as much as you could do to
distinguish the further mountains peeping up above its
surface. The height of the precipice where it fell into
the sea, I should judge to have been about 120 feet.

On the left a still more extraordinary sight presented
itself. A kind of baby glacier actually hung suspended
half way on the hill side, like a tear in the act of
rolling down the furrowed cheek of the mountain.

I have tried to convey to you a notion of the falling
impetus impressed on the surface of the Jan Mayen ice
rivers; but in this case so unaccountable did it seem
that the over-hanging mass of ice should not continue to
thunder down upon its course, that one's natural impulse
was to shrink from crossing the path along which a
breath--a sound--might precipitate the suspended avalanche
into the valley. Though, perhaps, pretty exact in outline
and general effect, the sketch I have made of this
wonderful scene, will never convey to you a correct notion
of the enormous scale of the distances, and size of its
various features. These glaciers are the principal
characteristic of the scenery in Spitzbergen; the bottom
of every valley in every part of the island, is occupied
and generally completely filled by them, enabling one in
some measure to realize the look of England during her
glacial period, when Snowdon was still being slowly lifted
towards the clouds, and every valley in Wales was brimful
of ice. But the glaciers in English Bay are by no means
the largest in the island. We ourselves got a view--though
a very distant one--of ice rivers which must have been
more extensive; and Dr. Scoresby mentions several which
actually measured forty or fifty miles in length, and
nine or ten in breadth; while the precipice formed by
their fall into the sea, was sometimes upwards of 400 or
500 feet high. Nothing is more dangerous than to approach
these cliffs of ice. Every now and then huge masses detach
themselves from the face of the crystal steep, and topple
over into the water; and woe be to the unfortunate ship
which might happen to be passing below. Scoresby himself
actually witnessed a mass of ice, the size of a cathedral,
thunder down into the sea from a height of 400 feet;
frequently during our stay at Spitzbergen we ourselves
observed specimens of these ice avalanches; and scarcely
an hour passed without the solemn silence of the bay
being disturbed by the thunderous boom resulting from
similar catastrophes occurring in adjacent valleys.

As soon as we had thoroughly taken in the strange features
of the scene around us, we all turned in for a night's
rest. I was dog tired, as much with anxiety as want of
sleep; for in continuing to push on to the northward in
spite of the ice, I naturally could not help feeling that
if any accident occurred, the responsibility would rest
with me; and although I do not believe that we were at
any time in any real danger, yet from our inexperience
in the peculiarities of arctic navigation, I think the
coolest judgment would have been liable to occasional
misgivings as to what might arise from possible
contingencies. Now, however, all was right; the result
had justified our anticipations; we had reached the so
longed-for goal; and as I stowed myself snugly away in
the hollow of my cot, I could not help heartily
congratulating myself that--for that night at all events--
there was no danger of the ship knocking a hole in her
bottom against some hummock which the lookout had been
too sleepy to observe; and that Wilson could not come in
the next morning and announce "ice all round, a-all
ro-ound!" In a quarter of an hour afterwards, all was
still on board the "Foam;" and the lonely little ship
lay floating on the glassy bosom of the sea, apparently
as inanimate as the landscape.

My feelings on awakening next morning were very pleasant;
something like what one used to feel the first morning
after one's return from school, on seeing pink curtains
glistening round one's head, instead of the dirty-white
boards of a turned-up bedstead. When Wilson came in with
my hot water, I could not help triumphantly remarking to
him,--"Well, Wilson, you see we've got to Spitzbergen,
after all!" But Wilson was not a man to be driven from
his convictions by facts; he only smiled grimly, with a
look which meant--"Would we were safe back again!" Poor
Wilson! he would have gone only half way with Bacon in
his famous Apothegm; he would willingly "commit the
Beginnings of all actions to Argus with his hundred eyes,
and the Ends"--to Centipede, with his hundred legs.
"First to watch, and then to speed"--away! would have
been his pithy emendation.

Immediately after breakfast we pulled to the shore,
carrying in the gig with us the photographic apparatus,
tents, guns, ammunition, and the goat. Poor old thing!
she had suffered dreadfully from sea-sickness, and I
thought a run ashore might do her good. On the left-hand
side of the bay, between the foot of the mountain and
the sea, there ran a low flat belt of black moss, about
half a mile broad; and as this appeared the only point
in the neighbourhood likely to offer any attraction to
reindeer, it was on this side that I determined to land.
My chief reason for having run into English Bay rather
than Magdalena Bay was because we had been told at
Hammerfest that it was the more likely place of the two
for deer; and as we were sadly in want of fresh meat this
advantage quite decided us in our choice. As soon,
therefore, as we had superintended the erection of the
tent, and set Wilson hard at work cleaning the glasses
for the photographs, we slung our rifles on our backs,
and set off in search of deer. But in vain did I peer
through my telescope across the dingy flat in front; not
a vestige of a horn was to be seen, although in several
places we came upon impressions of their track. At last
our confidence in the reports of their great plenty became
considerably diminished. Still the walk was very refreshing
after our confinement on board; and although the thermometer
was below freezing, the cold only made the exercise more
pleasant. A little to the northward I observed, lying on
the sea-shore, innumerable logs of driftwood. This wood
is floated all the way from America by the Gulf Stream,
and as I walked from one huge bole to another, I could
not help wondering in what primeval forest each had grown,
what chance had originally cast them on the waters, and
piloted them to this desert shore. Mingled with this
fringe of unhewn timber that lined the beach lay waifs
and strays of a more sinister kind; pieces of broken
spars, an oar, a boat's flagstaff, and a few shattered
fragments of some long-lost vessel's planking. Here and
there, too, we would come upon skulls of walrus, ribs
and shoulder-blades of bears, brought possibly by the
ice in winter. Turning again from the sea, we resumed
our search for deer; but two or three hours' more very
stiff walking produced no better luck. Suddenly a cry
from Fitz, who had wandered a little to the right, brought
us helter-skelter to the spot where was standing. But it
was not a stag he had called us to come and look upon.
Half imbedded in the black moss at his feet, there lay
a grey deal coffin falling almost to pieces with age;
the lid was gone--blown off probably by the wind--and
within were stretched the bleaching bones of a human
skeleton. A rude cross at the head of the grave still
stood partially upright, and a half obliterated Dutch
inscription preserved a record of the dead man's name
and age.

OB 2 JUNE 1758 AET 44.

[Figure: fig-p174.gif]

It was evidently some poor whaler of the last century to
whom his companions had given the only burial possible
in this frost-hardened earth, which even the summer sun
has no force to penetrate beyond a couple of inches, and
which will not afford to man the shallowest grave. A
bleak resting-place for that hundred years' slumber, I
thought, as I gazed on the dead mariner's remains!--

"I was snowed over with snow,
And beaten with rains,
And drenched with the dews;
Dead have I long been,"--

--murmured the Vala to Odin in Nifelheim,--and whispers
of a similar import seemed to rise up from the lidless
coffin before us. It was no brother mortal that lay at
our feet, softly folded in the embraces of "Mother Earth,"
but a poor scarecrow, gibbeted for ages on this bare
rock, like a dead Prometheus; the vulture, frost, gnawing
for ever on his bleaching relics, and yet eternally
preserving them!

On another part of the coast we found two other corpses
yet more scantily sepulchred, without so much as a cross
to mark their resting-place. Even in the palmy days of
the whale-fisheries, it was the practice of the Dutch
and English sailors to leave the wooden coffins in which
they had placed their comrades' remains, exposed upon
the shore; and I have been told by an eye-witness, that
in Magdalena Bay there are to be seen, even to this day,
the bodies of men who died upwards of 250 years ago, in
such complete preservation that, when you pour hot water
on the icy coating which encases them, you can actually
see the unchanged features of the dead, through the
transparent incrustation.

As soon as Fitz had gathered a few of the little flowering
mosses that grew inside the coffin, we proceeded on our
way, leaving poor Jacob Moor--like his great namesake--alone
in his glory.

Turning to the right, we scrambled up the spur of one of
the mountains on the eastern side of the plain, and thence
dived down among the lateral valleys that run up between
them. Although by this means we opened up quite a new
system of hills, and basins, and gullies, the general
scenery did not change its characteristics. All
vegetation--if the black moss deserves such a name--ceases
when you ascend twenty feet above the level of the sea,
and the sides of the mountains become nothing but steep
slopes of schist, split and crumbled into an even surface
by the frost. Every step we took unfolded a fresh succession
of these jagged spikes and break-neck acclivities, in an
unending variety of quaint configuration. Mountain climbing
has never been a hobby of mine, so I was not tempted to
play the part of Excelsior on any of these hill sides;
but for those who love such exercise a fairer or a more
dangerous opportunity of distinguishing themselves could
not be imagined. The supercargo or owner of the very
first Dutch ship that ever came to Spitzbergen, broke
his neck in attempting to climb a hill in Prince Charles's
Foreland. Barentz very nearly lost several of his men
under similar circumstances; and when Scoresby succeeded
in making the ascent of another hill near Horn Sound, it
was owing to his having taken the precaution of marking
each upward step in chalk, that he was ever able to get
down again. The prospect from the summit, the approach
to which was by a ridge so narrow that he sat astride
upon its edge, seems amply to have repaid the exertion;
and I do not think I can give you a better idea of the
general effect of Spitzbergen scenery, than by quoting
his striking description of the panorama he beheld:--

"The prospect was most extensive and grand. A fine
sheltered bay was seen to the east of us, an arm of the
same on the north-east, and the sea, whose glassy surface
was unruffled by a breeze, formed an immense expanse on
the west; the icebergs rearing their proud crests almost
to the tops of mountains between which they were lodged,
and defying the power of the solar beams, were scattered
in various directions about the sea-coast and in the
adjoining bays. Beds of snow and ice filling extensive
hollows, and giving an enamelled coat to adjoining valleys,
one of which commencing at the foot of the mountain where
we stood extended in a continued line towards the north,
as far as the eye could reach--mountain rising above
mountain, until by distance they dwindled into
insignificancy--the whole contrasted by a cloudless canopy
of deepest azure, and enlightened by the rays of a blazing
sun, and the effect aided by a feeling of danger, seated
as we were on the pinnacle of a rock almost surrounded
by tremendous precipices,--all united to constitute a
picture singularly sublime.

"Our descent we found really a very hazardous, and in
some instances a painful undertaking. Every movement
was a work of deliberation. Having by much care, and
with some anxiety, made good our descent to the top of
the secondary hills, we took our way down one of the
steepest banks, and slid forward with great facility in a
sitting posture. Towards the foot of the hill, an expanse
of snow stretched across the line of descent. This being
loose and soft, we entered upon it without fear; but on
reaching the middle of it, we came to a surface of solid
ice, perhaps a hundred yards across, over which we launched
with astonishing velocity, but happily escaped without
injury. The men whom we left below, viewed this latter
movement with astonishment and fear."

So universally does this strange land bristle with peaks
and needles of stone, that the views we ourselves obtained
--though perhaps from a lower elevation, and certainly
without the risk--scarcely yielded either in extent or
picturesque grandeur to the scene described by Dr.

Having pretty well overrun the country to the northward,
without coming on any more satisfactory signs of deer
than their hoof-prints in the moss, we returned on board.
The next day--but I need not weary you with a journal of
our daily proceedings, for, however interesting each
moment of our stay in Spitzbergen was to ourselves--as
much perhaps from a vague expectation of what we might
see, as from anything we actually did see--a minute
account of every walk we took, and every bone we picked
up, or every human skeleton we came upon, would probably
only make you wonder why on earth we should have wished
to come so far to see so little. Suffice it to say that
we explored the neighbourhood in the three directions
left open to us by the mountains, that we climbed the
two most accessible of the adjacent hills, wandered along
the margin of the glaciers, rowed across to the opposite
side of the bay, descended a certain distance along the
sea-coast, and in fact exhausted all the lions of the

During the whole period of our stay in Spitzbergen, we
had enjoyed unclouded sunshine. The nights were even
brighter than the days, and afforded Fitz an opportunity
of taking some photographic views by the light of a
MIDNIGHT sun. The cold was never very intense, though
the thermometer remained below freezing, but about four
o'clock every evening, the salt-water bay in which the
schooner lay was veneered over with a pellicle of ice
one-eighth of an inch in thickness, and so elastic, that
even when the sea beneath was considerably agitated, its
surface remained unbroken, the smooth, round waves taking
the appearance of billows of oil. If such is the effect
produced by the slightest modification of the sun's power,
in the month of August,--you can imagine what must be
the result of his total disappearance beneath the horizon.
The winter is, in fact, unendurable. Even in the height
of summer, the moisture inherent in the atmosphere is
often frozen into innumerable particles, so minute as to
assume the appearance of an impalpable mist. Occasionally
persons have wintered on the island, but unless the
greatest precautions have been taken for their preservation,
the consequences have been almost invariably fatal. About
the same period as when the party of Dutch sailors were
left at Jan Mayen, a similar experiment was tried in
Spitzbergen. At the former place it was scurvy, rather
than cold, which destroyed the poor wretches left there
to fight it out with winter; at Spitzbergen, as well as
could be gathered from their journal, it appeared that
they had perished from the intolerable severity of the
climate,--and the contorted attitudes in which their
bodies were found lying, too plainly indicated the amount
of agony they had suffered. No description can give an
adequate idea of the intense rigour of the six months'
winter in this part of the world. Stones crack with the
noise of thunder; in a crowded hut the breath of its
occupants will fall in flakes of snow; wine and spirits
turn to ice; the snow burns like caustic; if iron touches
the flesh, it brings the skin away with it; the soles of
your stockings may be burnt off your feet, before you
feel the slightest warmth from the fire; linen taken out
of boiling water, instantly stiffens to the consistency
of a wooden board; and heated stones will not prevent
the sheets of the bed from freezing. If these are the
effects of the climate within an air-tight, fire-warmed,
crowded hut--what must they be among the dark, storm-lashed
mountain-peaks outside?

It was now time to think of going south again; we had
spent many more days on the voyage to Spitzbergen than
I had expected, and I was continually haunted by the
dread of your becoming anxious at not hearing from us.
It was a great disappointment to be obliged to return
without having got any deer; but your peace of mind was
of more consequence to me than a ship-load of horns, and
accordingly we decided on not remaining more than another
day in our present berth leaving it still an open question
whether we should not run up to Magdalena Bay, if the
weather proved very inviting, the last thing before
quitting for ever the Spitzbergen shores.

We had killed nothing as yet, except a few eider ducks,
and one or two ice-birds--the most graceful winged
creatures I have ever seen, with immensely long pinions,
and plumage of spotless white. Although enormous seals
from time to time used to lift their wise, grave faces
above the water, with the dignity of sea-gods, none of
us had any very great inclination to slay such rational
human-looking creatures, and--with the exception of
these and a white fish, a species of whale--no other
living thing had been visible. On the very morning,
however, of the day settled for our departure, Fitz came
down from a solitary expedition up a hill with the news
of his having seen some ptarmigan. Having taken a rifle
with him instead of a gun, he had not been able to shoot
more than one, which he had brought back in triumph as
proof of the authenticity of his report, but the extreme
juvenility of his victim hardly permitted us to identify
the species; the hole made by the bullet being about the
same size as the bird. Nevertheless, the slightest prospect
of obtaining a supply of fresh meat was enough to reconcile
us to any amount of exertion; therefore, on the strength
of the pinch of feathers which Fitz kept gravely assuring
us was the game he had bagged, we seized our guns--I took
a rifle in case of a possible bear--and set our faces
toward the hill. After a good hour's pull we reached
the shoulder which Fitz had indicated as the scene of
his exploit, but a patch of snow was the only thing
visible. Suddenly I saw Sigurdr, who was remarkably
sharp-sighted, run rapidly in the direction of the snow,
and bringing his gun up to his shoulder, point it--as
well as I could distinguish--at his own toes. When the
smoke of the shot had cleared away, I fully expected to
see the Icelander prostrate; but he was already reloading
with the greatest expedition. Determined to prevent the
repetition of so dreadful an attempt at self-destruction,
I rushed to the spot. Guess then my relief when the bloody
body of a ptarmigan--driven by so point blank a discharge
a couple of feet into the snow--was triumphantly dragged
forth by instalments from the sepulchre which it had
received contemporaneously with its death wound, and thus
happily accounted for Sigurdr's extraordinary proceeding.
At the same moment I perceived two or three dozen other
birds, brothers and sisters of the defunct, calmly
strutting about under our very noses. By this time Sigurdr
had reloaded, Fitz had also come up, and a regular massacre
began. Retiring to a distance--for it was the case of
Mahomet and the mountain reversed--the two sportsmen
opened fire upon the innocent community, and in a few
seconds sixteen corpses strewed the ground.

Scarcely had they finished off the last survivor of this
Niobean family, when we were startled by the distant
report of a volley of musketry, fired in the direction
of the schooner. I could not conceive what had happened.
Had a mutiny taken place? Was Mr. Wyse re-enacting, with
a less docile ship's company, the pistol scene on board
the Glasgow steamer? Again resounded the rattle of the
firing. At all events, there was no time to be lost in
getting back, so, tying up the birds in three bundles,
we flung ourselves down into the gully by which we had
ascended, and leaping on from stone to stone, to the
infinite danger of our limbs and necks, rolled rather
than ran down the hill. On rounding the lower wall of
the curve which hitherto had hid what was passing from
our eyes, the first I observed was Wilson breasting up
the hill, evidently in a state of the greatest agitation.
As soon as he thought himself within earshot, he stopped
dead short, and, making a speaking-trumpet with his
hands, shrieked, rather than shouted, "If you please, my
Lord!"--(as I have already said, Wilson never forgot les
convenances)--"If you please, my Lord, there's a
b-e-a-a-a-a-r!" prolonging the last word into a polysyllable
of fearful import. Concluding by the enthusiasm he was
exhibiting, that the animal in question was at his
heels,--hidden from us probably by the inequality of the
ground,--I cocked my rifle, and prepared to roll him over
the moment he should appear in sight. But what was my
disappointment, when, on looking towards the schooner,
my eye caught sight of our three boats fastened in a row,
and towing behind them a white floating object, which my
glass only too surely resolved the next minute into the
dead bear!

On descending to the shore, I learned the whole story.
As Mr. Wyse was pacing the deck, his attention was suddenly
attracted by a white speck in the water, swimming across
from Prince Charles's Foreland,--the long island which
lies over against English Bay. When first observed, the
creature, whatever it might be, was about a mile and a
half off,--the width of the channel between the island
and the main being about five miles. Some said it was a
bird, others a whale, and the cook suggested a mermaid.
When the fact was ascertained that it was a BONA FIDE
bear, a gun was fired as a signal for us to return; but
it was evident that unless at once intercepted, Bruin
would get ashore. Mr. Wyse, therefore, very properly
determined to make sure of him. This was a matter of no
difficulty: the poor beast showed very little fight. His
first impulse was to swim away from the boat; and even
after he had been wounded, he only turned round once or
twice upon his pursuers. The honour of having given him
his death wound rests between the steward and Mr. Wyse;
both contend for it. The evidence is conflicting, as at
least half-a-dozen mortal wounds were found in the animal's
body; each maybe considered to have had a share in his
death. Mr. Grant rests his claim principally upon the
fact of his having put two bullets in my new rifle--
which must have greatly improved the bore of that
instrument. On the strength of this precaution, he now
wears as an ornament about his person one of the bullets
extracted from the gizzard of our prize.

All this time, Wilson was at the tent, busily occupied
in taking photographs. As soon as the bear was observed,
a signal was made to him from the ship, to warn him of
the visitor he might shortly expect on shore. Naturally
concluding that the bear would in all probability make
for the tent as soon as he reached land, it became a
subject of consideration with him what course he should
pursue. Weapons he had none, unless the chemicals he was
using might be so regarded. Should he try the influence
of chloroform on his enemy; or launch the whole photographic
apparatus at his grisly head, and take to his heels?
Thought is rapid, but the bear's progress seemed equally
expeditious; it was necessary to arrive at some speedy
conclusion. To fly--was to desert his post and leave
the camp in possession of the spoiler; life and honour
were equally dear to him. Suddenly a bright idea struck

At the time the goat had been disembarked to take her
pleasure on TERRA FIRMA, our crow's-nest barrel had been
landed with her. At this moment it was standing unoccupied
by the side of the tent. By creeping into it, and turning
its mouth downward on the ground, Wilson perceived that
he should convert it into a tower of strength for himself
against the enemy, while its legitimate occupant, becoming
at once a victim to the bear's voracity, would probably
prevent the monster from investigating too curiously its
contents. It was quite a pity that the interposition of
the boats prevented his putting this ingenious plan into
execution. He had been regularly done out of a situation,
in which the most poignant agony of mind and dreary
anticipations would have been absolutely required of him.
He pictured the scene to himself; he lying fermenting in
the barrel, like a curious vintage; the bear sniffing
querulously round it, perhaps cracking it like a cocoa-nut,
or extracting him like a periwinkle! Of these chances he
had been deprived by the interference of the crew. Friends
are often injudiciously meddling.

Although I felt a little vexation that one of us should
not have had the honour of slaying the bear in single
combat, which would certainly have been for the benefit
of his skin, the unexpected luck of having got one at
all, made us quite forget our personal disappointment.
As for my people, they were beside themselves with delight.
To have killed a polar bear was a great thing, but to
eat him would be a greater. If artistically dealt with,
his carcase would probably cut up into a supply of fresh
meat for many days. One of the hands appened to be a
butcher. Whenever I wanted anything a little out of the
way to be done on board, I was sure to find that it
happened to be the specialite of some one of the ship's
company. In the course of a few hours, the late bear was
converted into a row of the most tempting morsels of
beef, hung about the rigging. Instead of in flags, the
ship was dressed in joints. In the meantime it so happened
that the fox, having stolen a piece of offal, was in a
few minutes afterwards seized with convulsions. I had
already given orders that the bear's liver should be
thrown overboard, as being, if not poisonous, at all
events very unwholesome. The seizure of the fox, coupled
with this injunction, brought about a complete revolution
in the men's minds, with regard to the delicacies they
had been so daintily preparing for themselves. Silently,
one by one, the pieces were untied and thrown into the
sea: I do not think a mouthful of bear was eaten on board
the "Foam." I never heard whether it was in consequence
of any prognostics of Wilson's that this act of self-denial
was put into practice. I observed, however, that for some
days after the slaughter and dismemberment of the bear,
my ship's company presented an unaccountably sleek
appearance. As for the steward, his head and whiskers
seemed carved out of black marble: a varnished boot would
not have looked half so bright: I could have seen to
shave myself in his black hair. I conclude, therefore,
that the ingenious cook must, at all events, have succeeded
in manufacturing a supply of genuine bear's grease, of
which they had largely availed themselves.

The bagging of the bear had so gloriously crowned our
visit to Spitzbergen, that our disappointment about the
deer was no longer thought of; it was therefore with
light hearts, and most complete satisfaction, that we
prepared for departure.

Maid Marian had already carved on a flat stone an
inscription, in Roman letters, recording the visit of
the "Foam" to English Bay, and a cairn having been erected
to receive it, the tablet was solemnly lifted to its
resting-place. Underneath I placed a tin box, containing
a memorandum similar to that left at Jan Mayen, as well
as a printed dinner invitation from Lady --, which I
happened to have on board. Having planted a boat's flag
beside the rude monument, and brought on board with us
a load of driftwood, to serve hereafter as Christmas
yule-logs, we bade an eternal adieu to the silent hills
around us; and weighing anchor, stood out to sea. For
some hours a lack of wind still left us hanging about
the shore, in the midst of a grave society of seals; but
soon after, a gentle breeze sprang up in the south, and
about three o'clock on Friday, the 11th of August, we
again found ourselves spanking along before a six-knot
breeze, over the pale green sea.

In considering the course on which I should take the
vessel home, it appeared to me that in all probability
we should have been much less pestered by the ice on our
way to Spitzbergen, if, instead of hugging the easterly
ice, we had kept more away to the westward; I determined
therefore--as soon as we got clear of the land--to stand
right over to the Greenland shore, on a due west course,
and not to attempt to make any southing, until we should
have struck the Greenland ice. The length of our tether
in that direction being ascertained, we could then judge
of the width of the channel down which we were to beat,
for it was still blowing pretty fresh from the southward.

Up to the evening of the day on which we quitted English
Bay, the weather had been most beautiful; calm, sunshiny,
dry, and pleasant. Within a few hours of our getting
under weigh, a great change had taken place, and by
midnight it had become as foggy and disagreeable as ever.
The sea was pretty clear. During the few days we had been
on shore, the northerly current had brushed away the
great angular field of ice which had lain off the shore,
in a northwest direction; so that instead of being obliged
to run up very nearly to the 80th parallel, in order to
round it, we were enabled to sail to the westward at
once. During the course of the night, we came upon one
or two wandering patches of drift ice, but so loosely
packed that we had no difficulty in pushing through them.
About four o'clock in the morning, a long line of close
ice was reported right a-head, stretching south as far
as the eye could reach. We had come about eighty miles
since leaving Spitzbergen. The usual boundary of the
Greenland ice in summer runs, according to Scoresby,
along the second parallel of west longitude. This we had
already crossed, so that it was to be presumed the
barricade we saw before us was a frontier of the fixed
ice. In accordance, therefore, with my predetermined
plan, we now began working to the southward, and the
result fully justified my expectations.

The sea became comparatively clear, as far as could be
seen from the deck of the vessel, although small vagrant
patches of ice that we came up with occasionally--as well
as the temperature of the air and the sea--continued to
indicate the proximity of larger bodies on either side
of us.

It was a curious sensation with which we had gradually
learnt to contemplate this inseparable companion: it had
become a part of our daily existence, an element, a thing
without which the general aspect of the universe would
be irregular and incomplete. It was the first thing we
thought of in the morning, the last thing we spoke of at
night. It glittered and grinned maliciously at us in the
sunshine; it winked mysteriously through the stifling
fog; it stretched itself like a prostrate giant, with
huge, portentous shoulders and shadowy limbs, right across
our course; or danced gleefully in broken groups in the
little schooner's wake. There was no getting rid of it,
or forgetting it, and if at night we sometimes returned
in dreams to the green summer world--to the fervent
harvest fields of England, and heard "the murmurs of
innumerous bees," or the song of larks on thymy
uplands--thump! bump! splash! gra-a-ate!--came the sudden
reminder of our friend on the starboard bow; and then
sometimes a scurry on deck, and a general "scrimmage" of
the whole society, in endeavours to prevent more serious
collisions. Moreover, I could not say, with your old
French friend, that "Familiar'ty breeds despise." The
more we saw of it, the less we liked it; its cold presence
sent a chilly sense of discouragement to the heart, and
I had daily to struggle with an ardent desire to throw
a boot at Wilson's head, every time his sepulchral voice
announced the "Ice ALL ROUND!"

It was not until the 14th of August, five days after
quitting Spitzbergen, that we lost sight of it altogether.
From that moment the temperature of the sea steadily
rose, and we felt that we were sailing back again into
the pleasant summer.

A sad event which occurred soon after, in some measure
marred our enjoyment of the change. Ever since she had
left Hammerfest, it had become too evident that a sea-going
life did not agree with the goat. Even the run on shore
at Spitzbergen had not sufficed to repair her shattered
constitution, and the bad weather we had had ever since
completed its ruin. It was certain that the butcher was
the only doctor who could now cure her. In spite, therefore,
of the distress it occasioned Maid Marian, I was compelled
to issue orders for her execution. Sigurdr was the only
person who regarded the TRAGICAL event with indifference,
nay, almost with delight. Ever since we had commenced
sailing in a southerly direction, we had been obliged to
beat, but during the last four-and-twenty hours the wind
kept dodging us every time we tacked, as a nervous
pedestrian sets to you sometimes on a narrow trottoir.
This spell of ill-luck the Icelander heathenishly thought
would only be removed by a sacrifice to Rhin, the goddess
of the sea, in which light he trusted she would look upon
the goat's body when it came to be thrown overboard.

Whether the change which followed upon the consignment
of her remains to the deep really resulted from such an
influence, I am not prepared to say. The weather immediately
thereafter certainly DID change. First the wind dropped
altogether, but though the calm lasted several hours,
the sea strangely enough appeared to become all the
rougher, tossing and tumbling restlessly UP AND DOWN--(not
over and over as in a gale)--like a sick man on a fever
bed; the impulse to the waves seeming to proceed from
all four quarters of the world at once. Then, like jurymen
with a verdict of death upon their lips, the heavy,
ominous clouds slowly passed into the north-west.

A dead stillness followed--a breathless pause--until, at
some mysterious signal, the solemn voice of the storm
hurtled over the deep. Luckily we were quite ready for
it; the gale came from the right quarter, and the fiercer
it blew the better. For the next three days and three
nights it was a scurry over the sea such as I never had
before; nine or ten knots an hour was the very least we
ever went, and 240 miles was the average distance we made
every four-and-twenty hours.

Anything grander and more exciting than the sight of the
sea under these circumstances you cannot imagine. The
vessel herself remains very steady; when you are below
you scarcely know you are not in port. But on raising
your head above the companion the first sight which meets
your eye is an upright wall of black water, towering,
you hardly know how many feet, into the air over the
stern. Like a lion walking on its hind legs, it comes
straight at you, roaring and shaking its white mane with
fury-it overtakes the vessel--the upright shiny face
curves inwards--the white mane seems to hang above your
very head; but ere it topples over, the nimble little
ship has already slipped from underneath. You hear the
disappointed jaws of the sea-monster snap angrily
together,--the schooner disdainfully kicks up her heel--and
raging and bubbling up on either side the quarter, the
unpausing wave sweeps on, and you see its round back far
ahead, gradually swelling upwards, as it gathers strength
and volume for a new effort.

We had now got considerably to the southward of North
Cape. We had already seen several ships, and you would
hardly imagine with what childish delight my people hailed
these symptoms of having again reached more "Christian
latitudes," as they called them.

I had always intended, ever since my conversation with
Mr. T. about the Malstrom, to have called in at Loffoden
Islands on our way south, and ascertain for myself the
real truth about this famous vortex. To have blotted such
a bugbear out of the map of Europe, if its existence
really was a myth, would at all events have rendered our
cruise not altogether fruitless. But, since leaving
Spitzbergen, we had never once seen the sun, and to
attempt to make so dangerous a coast in a gale of wind
and a thick mist, with no more certain knowledge of the
ship's position than our dead reckoning afforded, was
out of the question, so about one o'clock in the morning,
the weather giving no signs of improvement, the course
I had shaped in the direction of the island was altered,
and we stood away again to the southward. This manoeuvre
was not unobserved by Wilson, but he mistook its meaning.
Having, I suppose, overheard us talking at dinner about
the Malstrom, he now concluded the supreme hour had
arrived. He did not exactly comprehend the terms we used,
but had gathered that the spot was one fraught with
danger. Concluding from the change made in the vessel's
course that we were proceeding towards the dreadful
locality, he gave himself up to despair, and lay tossing
in his hammock in sleepless anxiety. At last the load of
his forebodings was greater than he could bear, he gets
up, steals into the Doctor's cabin, wakes him up, and
standing over him--as the messenger of ill tidings once
stood over Priam--whispers, "SIR!" "What is it?" says
Fitz, thinking, perhaps, some one was ill. "Do you know
where we are going?" "Why, to Throndhjem," answered Fitz.
"We were going to Throndhjem," rejoins Wilson, "but we
ain't now--the vessel's course was altered two hours ago.
Oh, Sir! we are going to Whirlpool-to WHIRL-RL-POOO-L!
Sir!" in a quaver of consternation,--and so glides back
to bed like a phantom, leaving the Doctor utterly unable
to divine the occasion of his visit.

The whole of the next day the gale continued. We had now
sailed back into night; it became therefore a question
how far it would be advisable to carry on during the
ensuing hours of darkness, considering how uncertain we
were as to our real position. As I think I have already
described to you, the west coast of Norway is very
dangerous; a continuous sheet of sunken rocks lies out
along its entire edge for eight or ten miles to sea.
There are no lighthouses to warn the mariner off; and if
we were wrong in our reckoning, as we might very well
be, it was possible we might stumble on the land sooner
than we expected. I knew the proper course would be to
lie to quietly until we could take an observation; but
time was so valuable, and I was so fearful you would be
getting anxious. The night was pretty clear. High mountains,
such as we were expecting to make, would be seen, even
at night, several miles off. According to our log we
were still 150 miles off the land, and, however inaccurate
our calculation might be, the error could not be of such
magnitude as that amounted to. To throw away so fair a
wind seemed such a pity, especially as it might be days
before the sun appeared; we had already been at sea about
a fortnight without a sight of him, and his appearance
at all during the summer is not an act DE RIGUEUR in this
part of the world; we might spend yet another fortnight
in lying to, and then after all have to poke our way
blindfold to the coast; at all events it would be soon
enough to lie to the next night. Such were the
considerations, which--after an anxious consultation with
Mr. Wyse in the cabin, and much fingering of the
charts,--determined me to carry on during the night.

Nevertheless, I confess I was very uneasy, Though I went
to bed and fell asleep--for at sea nothing prevents that
process--my slumbers were constantly agitated by the most
vivid dreams that I ever remember to have had. Dreams
of an arrival in England, and your coming down to meet
us, and all the pleasure I had in recounting our adventures
to you; then suddenly your face seemed to fade away
beneath a veil of angry grey surge that broke over low,
sharp-pointed rocks; and the next moment there resounded
over the ship that cry which has been the preface to so
many a disaster--the ring of which, none who have ever
heard it are likely to forget--"Breakers ahead!"

In a moment I was on deck, dressed--for it is always best
to dress,--and there, sure enough, right ahead, about a
mile and a half off, through the mist, which had come on
very thick, I could distinguish the upward shooting fluff
of seas shattering against rocks. No land was to be seen,
but the line of breakers every instant became more evident;
at the pace we were going, in seven or eight minutes we
should be upon them. Now, thought I to myself, we shall
see whether a stout heart beats beneath the silk tartan!
The result covered that brilliant garment with glory and
salt water. To tack was impossible, we could only wear,--and
to wear in such a sea was no very pleasant operation.
But the little ship seemed to know what she was about,
as well as any of us: up went the helm, round came the
schooner into the trough of the sea,--high over her
quarter toppled an enormous sea, built up of I know not
how many tons of water, and hung over the deck,--by some
unaccountable wriggle, an instant ere it thundered down
she had twisted her stern on one side, and the waves
passed underneath. In another minute her head was to
the sea, the mainsail was eased over, and all danger was

What was now to be done? That the land we had seen was
the coast of Norway I could not believe. Wrong as our
dead reckoning evidently was, it could not be so wrong
as that. Yet only one other supposition was possible,
viz., that we had not come so far south as we imagined,
and that we had stumbled upon Roost--a little rocky island
that lies about twenty miles to the southward of the
Loffoden Islands. Whether this conjecture was correct
or not, did not much matter; to go straight away to sea,
and lie to until we could get an observation, was the
only thing to be done. Away then we went, struggling
against a tremendous sea for a good nine hours, until we
judged ourselves to be seventy or eighty miles from where
we had sighted the breakers,--when we lay to, not in
the best of tempers. The next morning, not only was it
blowing as hard as ever, but all chance of getting a
sight that day seemed also out of the question. I could
have eaten my head with impatience. However, as it is
best never to throw a chance away, about half-past eleven
o'clock, though the sky resembled an even sheet of lead,
I got my sextant ready, and told Mr. Wyse to do the same.

Now, out of tenderness for your feminine ignorance I must
state, that in order to take an observation, it is
necessary to get a sight of the sun at a particular moment
of the day: this moment is noon. When, therefore, twelve
o'clock came, and one could not so much as guess in what
quarter of the heavens he might be lying perdu, you may
suppose I almost despaired. Ten minutes passed. It was
evident we were doomed to remain, kicking our heels for
another four-and-twenty hours where we were. No!--yes!--no!
By Phoebus! there he is! A faint spongy spot of brightness
gleamed through the grey roof overhead. The indistinct
outline grew a little clearer; one-half of him, though
still behind a cloud, hardened into a sharp edge. Up went
the sextant. "52.43!" (or whatever it was) I shouted to
Mr. Wyse. "52.41, my Lord!" cried he, in return; there
was only the discrepancy of a mile between us. We had
got the altitude; the sun might go to bed for good and
all now, we did not care,--we knew our position to an
inch. There had been an error of something like forty
miles in our dead reckoning, in consequence--as I afterwards
found--of a current that sets to the northward, along
the west coast of Norway, with a velocity varying from
one to three miles an hour. The island upon which we had
so nearly run WAS Roost. We were still nearly 200 miles
from our port. "Turn the hands up! Make sail!" and away
we went again in the same course as before, at the rate
of ten knots an hour.

"The girls at home have got hold of the tow-rope, I think,
my Lord," said Mr. Wyse, as we bounded along over the
thundering seas.

[Figure: fig-p192.gif]

By three o'clock next day we were up with Vigten, and
now a very nasty piece of navigation began. In order to
make the northern entrance of the Throndhjem Fiord, you
have first to find your way into what is called the Froh
Havet,--a kind of oblong basin about sixteen miles long,
formed by a ledge of low rocks running parallel with the
mainland, at a distance of ten miles to seaward. Though
the space between this outer boundary and the coast is
so wide, in consequence of the network of sunken rocks
which stuffs it up, the passage by which a vessel can
enter is very narrow, and the only landmark to enable
you to find the channel is the head one of the string of
outer islets. As this rock is about the size of a
dining-table, perfectly flat, and rising only a few feet
above the level of the sea, to attempt to make it is like
looking for a needle in a bottle of hay. It was already
beginning to grow very late and dark by the time we had
come up with the spot where it ought to have been, but
not a vestige of such a thing had turned up. Should we
not sight it in a quarter of an hour, we must go to sea
again, and lie to for the night,--a very unpleasant
alternative for any one so impatient as I was to reach
a port. Just as I was going to give the order, Fitz--who
was certainly the Lynceus of the ship's company--espied
its black back just peeping up above the tumbling water
on our starboard bow. We had hit it off to a yard!

In another half-hour we were stealing down in quiet water
towards the entrance of the fiord. All this time not a
rag of a pilot had appeared, and it was without any such
functionary that the schooner swept up next morning
between the wooded, grain-laden slopes of the beautiful
loch, to Throndhjem--the capital of the ancient sea-kings
of Norway.



Off Munkholm, Aug. 27, 1856.

Throndhjem (pronounced Tronyem) looked very pretty and
picturesque, with its red-roofed wooden houses sparkling
in the sunshine, its many windows filled with flowers,
its bright fiord covered with vessels gaily dressed in
flags, in honour of the Crown Prince's first visit to
the ancient capital of the Norwegian realm. Tall,
pretentious warehouses crowded down to the water's edge,
like bullies at a public show elbowing to the foremost
rank, orderly streets stretched in quiet rows at right
angles with each other, and pretty villas with green
cinctures sloped away towards the hills. In the midst
rose the king's palace, the largest wooden edifice in
Europe, while the old grey cathedral--stately and grand,
in spite of the slow destruction of the elements, the
mutilations of man's hands, or his yet more degrading
rough-cast and stucco reparations--still towered above
the perishable wooden buildings at his feet, with the
solemn pride which befits the shrine of a royal saint.

I cannot tell you with what eagerness I drank in all the
features of this lovely scene; at least, such features
as Time can hardly alter--the glancing river, from whence
the city's ancient name of Nidaros, or "mouth of the
Nid," is derived,--the rocky island of Munkholm, the
bluff of Lade,--the land-locked fiord and its pleasant
hills, beyond whose grey stony ridges I knew must lie
the fatal battle-field of Sticklestad. Every spot to me
was full of interest,--but an interest noways connected
with the neat green villas, the rectangular streets, and
the obtrusive warehouses. These signs of a modern humdrum
prosperity seemed to melt away before my eyes as I gazed
from the schooner's deck, and the accessories of an elder
time came to furnish the landscape,--the clumsy merchantmen
lazily swaying with the tide, darkened into armed galleys
with their rows of glittering shields,--the snug,
bourgeois-looking town shrank into the quaint proportions
of the huddled ancient Nidaros,--and the old marauding
days, with their shadowy line of grand old pirate kings,
rose up with welcome vividness before my mind.

What picture shall I try to conjure from the past, to
live in your fancy, as it does in mine?

Let the setting be these very hills,--flooded by this
same cold, steely sunshine. In the midst stands a stalwart
form, in quaint but regal attire. Hot blood deepens the
colour of his sun-bronzed cheek; an iron purpose gleams
in his earnest eyes, like the flash of a drawn sword; a
circlet of gold binds the massive brow, and from beneath
it stream to below his waist thick masses of hair, of
that dusky red which glows like the heart of a furnace
in the sunlight, but deepens earth-brown in the shadow.
By his side stands a fair woman; her demure and heavy-lidded
eyes are seldom lifted from the earth, which yet they
seem to scorn, but the king's eyes rest on her, and many
looks are turned towards him. A multitude is present,
moved by one great event, swayed by a thousand
passions,--some with garrulous throats full of base
adulation and an unworthy joy,--some pale, self-scorning,
with averted looks, and hands that twitch instinctively
at their idle daggers, then drop hopeless, harmless at
their sides.

The king is Harald Haarfager, "of the fair hair," the
woman is proud and beautiful Gyda, whose former scorn
for him, in the days when he was nothing but the petty
chief of a few barren mountains, provoked that strange
wild vow of his, "That he would never clip or comb his
locks till he could woo her as sole king of Norway."

Among the crowd are those who have bartered, for ease,
and wealth, and empty titles born of the king's
breath--their ancient Udal rights, their Bonder privileges;
others have sunk their proud hearts to bear the yoke of
the stronger hand, yet gaze with yearning looks on the
misty horizon that opens between the hills. A dark speck
mars that shadowy line. Thought follows across the space.
It is a ship. Its sides are long, and black, and low;
but high in front rises the prow, fashioned into the
semblance of a gigantic golden dragon, against whose
gleaming breast the divided waters angrily flash and
gurgle. Along the top sides of the deck are hung a row
of shining shields, in alternate breadths of red and
white, like the variegated scales of a sea-monster, whilst
its gilded tail curls aft over the head of the steersman.
From either flank projects a bank of some thirty oars,
that look, as they smite the ocean with even beat, like
the legs on which the reptile crawls over its surface.
One stately mast of pine serves to carry a square sail
made of cloth, brilliant with stripes of red, white, and

And who are they who navigate this strange, barbaric
vessel?--why leave they the sheltering fiords of their
beloved Norway? They are the noblest hearts of that noble
land--freemen, who value freedom,--who have abandoned
all rather than call Harald master, and now seek a new
home even among the desolate crags of Iceland, rather
than submit to the tyranny of a usurper.

"Rorb--ober Gud! wenn nur bie Geelen gluben!"

Another picture, and a sadder story; but the scene is
now a wide dun moor, on the slope of a seaward hill; the
autumn evening is closing in, but a shadow darker than
that of evening broods over the desolate plain,--the
shadow of DEATH. Groups of armed men, with stern sorrow
in their looks, are standing round a rude couch, hastily
formed of fir branches. An old man lies there--dying.
His ear is dulled even to the shout of victory; the mists
of an endless night are gathering in his eyes; but there
is passion yet in the quivering lip, and triumph on the
high-resolved brow; and the gesture of his hand has kingly
power still. Let me tell his saga, like the bards of that
old time.



All was over: day was ending
As the foeman turned and fled.
Gloomy red
Glowed the angry sun descending;
While round Hacon's dying bed,
Tears and songs of triumph blending,
Told how fast the conqueror bled


"Raise me," said the King. We raised him--
Not to ease his desperate pain;
That were vain!
"Strong our foe was--but we faced him
Show me that red field again."
Then, with reverent hands, we placed him
High above the bloody plain.


Silent gazed he; mute we waited,
Kneeling round-a faithful few,
Staunch and true,--
Whilst above, with thunder freighted,
Wild the boisterous north wind blew,
And the carrion-bird, unsated,
On slant wing around us flew.


Sudden, on our startled hearing,
Came the low-breathed, stern command--
"Lo! ye stand?
Linger not, the night is nearing;
Bear me downwards to the strand,
Where my ships are idly steering
Off and on, in sight of land."


Every whispered word obeying,
Swift we bore him down the steep,
O'er the deep,
Up the tall ship's side, low swaying
To the storm-wind's powerful sweep,
And--his dead companions laying
Round him,--we had time to weep.


But the King said--"Peace! bring hither
Spoil and weapons--battle-strown,
Make no moan;
Leave me and my dead together,
Light my torch, and then--begone."
But we murmured, each to other,
"Can we leave him thus alone?"


Angrily the King replieth;
Flash the awful eyes again,
With disdain--
"Call him not alone who lieth
Low amidst such noble slain;
Call him not alone who dieth
Side by side with gallant men."


Slowly, sadly, we departed:
Reached again that desolate shore,
Trod by him, the brave true-hearted--
Dying in that dark ship's core!
Sadder keel from land ne'er parted,
Nobler freight none ever bore!


There we lingered, seaward gazing,
Watching o'er that living tomb,
Through the gloom--
Gloom! which awful light is chasing--
Blood-red flames the surge illume!
Lo! King Hacon's ship is blazing;
'Tis the hero's self-sought doom.


Right before the wild wind driving,
Madly plunging--stung by fire--
No help nigh her--
Lo! the ship has ceased her striving!
Mount the red flames higher--higher!
Till--on ocean's verge arriving,
Sudden sinks the Viking's pyre--
Hacon's gone!

Let me call one more heroic phantom from Norway's romantic

A kingly presence, stately and tall; his shield held high
above his head--a broken sword in his right hand. Olaf
Tryggvesson! Founder of Nidaros;--that cold Northern Sea
has rolled for many centuries above your noble head, and
yet not chilled the battle heat upon your brow, nor
staunched the blood that trickles down your iron glove,
from hidden, untold wounds, which the tender hand of
Thyri shall never heal!

To such ardent souls it is indeed given "to live for
ever" (the for ever of this world); for is it not "Life"
to keep a hold on OUR affections, when their own passions
are at rest,--to influence our actions (however
indirectly)--when action is at an end for them? Who shall
say how much of modern heroism may owe its laurels to
that first throb of fiery sympathy which young hearts
feel at the relation of deeds such as Olaf Tryggvesson's?

The forms of those old Greeks and Romans whom we are
taught to reverence, may project taller shadows on the
world's stage; but though the scene be narrow here, and
light be wanting, the interest is not less intense, nor
are the passions less awful that inspired these ruder

There is an individuality in the Icelandic historian's
description of King Olaf that wins one's interest--at
first as in an acquaintance--and rivets it at last as in
a personal friend. The old Chronicle lingers with such
loving minuteness over his attaching qualities, his
social, generous nature, his gaiety and "frolicsomeness;"
even his finical taste in dress, and his evident proneness
to fall too hastily in love, have a value in the portrait,
as contrasting with the gloomy colours in which the story
sinks at last. The warm, impulsive spirit speaks in every
action of his life, from the hour when--a young child,
in exile--he strikes his axe into the skull of his
foster-father's murderer, to the last grand scene near
Svalderoe. You trace it in his absorbing grief for the
death of Geyra, the wife of his youth; the saga says,
"he had no pleasure in Vinland after it," and then naively
observes, "he therefore provided himself with war-ships,
and went a-plundering," one of his first achievements
being to go and pull down London Bridge. This peculiar
kind of "distraction" (as the French call it) seems to
have had the desired effect, as is evident in the romantic
incident of his second marriage, when the Irish Princess
Gyda chooses him--apparently an obscure stranger--to be
her husband, out of a hundred wealthy and well-born
aspirants to her hand. But neither Gyda's love, nor the
rude splendours of her father's court, can make Olaf
forgetful of his claims upon the throne of Norway--the
inheritance of his father; and when that object of his
just ambition is attained, and he is proclaimed King by
general election of the Bonders, as his ancestor Harald
Haarfager had been, his character deepens in earnestness
as the sphere of his duties is enlarged. All the energies
of his ardent nature are put forth in the endeavour to
convert his subjects to the true Faith. As he himself
expresses it, "he would bring it to this,--that all
Norway should be Christian or die!" In the same spirit
he meets his heretic and rebellious subjects at the Thing
of Lade, and boldly replies, when they require him to
sacrifice to the false gods, "If I turn with you to offer
sacrifice, then shall it be the greatest sacrifice that
can be made; I will not offer slaves, nor malefactors to
your gods,--I will sacrifice men;--and they shall be the
noblest men among you!" It was soon after this that he
despatched the exemplary Thangbrand to Iceland.

With a front not less determined does he face his country's
foes. The king of Sweden, and Svend "of the forked beard,"
king of Denmark, have combined against him. With them
is joined the Norse jarl, Eric, the son of Hacon. Olaf
Tryggvesson is sailing homewards with a fleet of seventy
ships,--himself commanding the famous "Long Serpent,"
the largest ship built in Norway. His enemies are lying
in wait for him behind the islands.

Nothing can be more dramatic than the description of
the sailing of this gallant fleet--(piloted by the treacherous
Earl Sigwald)--within sight of the ambushed Danes and
Swedes, who watch from their hiding-place the beautiful
procession of hostile vessels, mistaking each in turn for the
"Long Serpent," and as often undeceived by a new and yet
more stately apparition. She appears at length, her dragon
prow glittering in the sunshine, all canvas spread, her

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