Part 2 out of 5
quays with the object of finding out the next vessel to sail.
I was yet in hopes that there would be no means of getting to
Iceland. But there was no such luck. A small Danish schooner, the
_Valkyria_, was to set sail for Rejkiavik on the 2nd of June. The
captain, M. Bjarne, was on board. His intending passenger was so
joyful that he almost squeezed his hands till they ached. That good
man was rather surprised at his energy. To him it seemed a very
simple thing to go to Iceland, as that was his business; but to my
uncle it was sublime. The worthy captain took advantage of his
enthusiasm to charge double fares; but we did not trouble ourselves
about mere trifles. .
"You must be on board on Tuesday, at seven in the morning," said
Captain Bjarne, after having pocketed more dollars than were his due.
Then we thanked M. Thomsen for his kindness, "and we returned to the
"It's all right, it's all right," my uncle repeated. "How fortunate
we are to have found this boat ready for sailing. Now let us have
some breakfast and go about the town."
We went first to Kongens-nye-Torw, an irregular square in which are
two innocent-looking guns, which need not alarm any one. Close by, at
No. 5, there was a French "restaurant," kept by a cook of the name of
Vincent, where we had an ample breakfast for four marks each (2_s_.
Then I took a childish pleasure in exploring the city; my uncle let
me take him with me, but he took notice of nothing, neither the
insignificant king's palace, nor the pretty seventeenth century
bridge, which spans the canal before the museum, nor that immense
cenotaph of Thorwaldsen's, adorned with horrible mural painting, and
containing within it a collection of the sculptor's works, nor in a
fine park the toylike chateau of Rosenberg, nor the beautiful
renaissance edifice of the Exchange, nor its spire composed of the
twisted tails of four bronze dragons, nor the great windmill on the
ramparts, whose huge arms dilated in the sea breeze like the sails of
What delicious walks we should have had together, my pretty
Virlandaise and I, along the harbour where the two-deckers and the
frigate slept peaceably by the red roofing of the warehouse, by the
green banks of the strait, through the deep shades of the trees
amongst which the fort is half concealed, where the guns are
thrusting out their black throats between branches of alder and
But, alas! Gr�uben was far away; and I never hoped to see her again.
But if my uncle felt no attraction towards these romantic scenes he
was very much struck with the aspect of a certain church spire
situated in the island of Amak, which forms the south-west quarter of
I was ordered to direct my feet that way; I embarked on a small
steamer which plies on the canals, and in a few minutes she touched
the quay of the dockyard.
After crossing a few narrow streets where some convicts, in trousers
half yellow and half grey, were at work under the orders of the
gangers, we arrived at the Vor Frelsers Kirk. There was nothing
remarkable about the church; but there was a reason why its tall
spire had attracted the Professor's attention. Starting from the top
of the tower, an external staircase wound around the spire, the
spirals circling up into the sky.
"Let us get to the top," said my uncle.
"I shall be dizzy," I said.
"The more reason why we should go up; we must get used to it."
"Come, I tell you; don't waste our time."
I had to obey. A keeper who lived at the other end of the street
handed us the key, and the ascent began.
My uncle went ahead with a light step. I followed him not without
alarm, for my head was very apt to feel dizzy; I possessed neither
the equilibrium of an eagle nor his fearless nature.
As long as we were protected on the inside of the winding staircase
up the tower, all was well enough; but after toiling up a hundred and
fifty steps the fresh air came to salute my face, and we were on the
leads of the tower. There the aerial staircase began its gyrations,
only guarded by a thin iron rail, and the narrowing steps seemed to
ascend into infinite space!
"Never shall I be able to do it," I said.
"Don't be a coward; come up, sir"; said my uncle with the coldest
I had to follow, clutching at every step. The keen air made me giddy;
I felt the spire rocking with every gust of wind; my knees began to
fail; soon I was crawling on my knees, then creeping on my stomach; I
closed my eyes; I seemed to be lost in space.
At last I reached the apex, with the assistance of my uncle dragging
me up by the collar.
"Look down!" he cried. "Look down well! You must take a lesson
I opened my eyes. I saw houses squashed flat as if they had all
fallen down from the skies; a smoke fog seemed to drown them. Over my
head ragged clouds were drifting past, and by an optical inversion
they seemed stationary, while the steeple, the ball and I were all
spinning along with fantastic speed. Far away on one side was the
green country, on the other the sea sparkled, bathed in sunlight. The
Sound stretched away to Elsinore, dotted with a few white sails, like
sea-gulls' wings; and in the misty east and away to the north-east
lay outstretched the faintly-shadowed shores of Sweden. All this
immensity of space whirled and wavered, fluctuating beneath my eyes.
But I was compelled to rise, to stand up, to look. My first lesson in
dizziness lasted an hour. When I got permission to come down and feel
the solid street pavements I was afflicted with severe lumbago.
"To-morrow we will do it again," said the Professor.
And it was so; for five days in succession, I was obliged to undergo
this anti-vertiginous exercise; and whether I would or not, I made
some improvement in the art of "lofty contemplations."
ICELAND! BUT WHAT NEXT?
The day for our departure arrived. The day before it our kind friend
M. Thomsen brought us letters of introduction to Count Trampe, the
Governor of Iceland, M. Picturssen, the bishop's suffragan, and M.
Finsen, mayor of Rejkiavik. My uncle expressed his gratitude by
tremendous compressions of both his hands.
On the 2nd, at six in the evening, all our precious baggage being
safely on board the _Valkyria,_ the captain took us into a very
"Is the wind favourable?" my uncle asked.
"Excellent," replied Captain Bjarne; "a sou'-easter. We shall pass
down the Sound full speed, with all sails set."
In a few minutes the schooner, under her mizen, brigantine, topsail,
and topgallant sail, loosed from her moorings and made full sail
through the straits. In an hour the capital of Denmark seemed to sink
below the distant waves, and the _Valkyria_ was skirting the coast by
Elsinore. In my nervous frame of mind I expected to see the ghost of
Hamlet wandering on the legendary castle terrace.
"Sublime madman!" I said, "no doubt you would approve of our
expedition. Perhaps you would keep us company to the centre of the
globe, to find the solution of your eternal doubts."
But there was no ghostly shape upon the ancient walls. Indeed, the
castle is much younger than the heroic prince of Denmark. It now
answers the purpose of a sumptuous lodge for the doorkeeper of the
straits of the Sound, before which every year there pass fifteen
thousand ships of all nations.
The castle of Kronsberg soon disappeared in the mist, as well as the
tower of Helsingborg, built on the Swedish coast, and the schooner
passed lightly on her way urged by the breezes of the Cattegat.
The _Valkyria_ was a splendid sailer, but on a sailing vessel you can
place no dependence. She was taking to Rejkiavik coal, household
goods, earthenware, woollen clothing, and a cargo of wheat. The crew
consisted of five men, all Danes.
"How long will the passage take?" my uncle asked.
"Ten days," the captain replied, "if we don't meet a nor'-wester in
passing the Faroes."
"But are you not subject to considerable delays?"
"No, M. Liedenbrock, don't be uneasy, we shall get there in very good
At evening the schooner doubled the Skaw at the northern point of
Denmark, in the night passed the Skager Rack, skirted Norway by Cape
Lindness, and entered the North Sea.
In two days more we sighted the coast of Scotland near Peterhead,,and
the _Valkyria_ turned her lead towards the Faroe Islands, passing
between the Orkneys and Shetlands.
Soon the schooner encountered the great Atlantic swell; she had to
tack against the north wind, and reached the Faroes only with some
difficulty. On the 8th the captain made out Myganness, the
southernmost of these islands, and from that moment took a straight
course for Cape Portland, the most southerly point of Iceland.
The passage was marked by nothing unusual. I bore the troubles of the
sea pretty well; my uncle, to his own intense disgust, and his
greater shame, was ill all through the voyage.
He therefore was unable to converse with the captain about Sn�fell,
the way to get to it, the facilities for transport, he was obliged to
put off these inquiries until his arrival, and spent all his time at
full length in his cabin, of which the timbers creaked and shook with
every pitch she took. It must be confessed he was not undeserving of
On the 11th we reached Cape Portland. The clear open weather gave us
a good view of Myrdals jokul, which overhangs it. The cape is merely
a low hill with steep sides, standing lonely by the beach.
The _Valkyria_ kept at some distance from the coast, taking a
westerly course amidst great shoals of whales and sharks. Soon we
came in sight of an enormous perforated rock, through which the sea
dashed furiously. The Westman islets seemed to rise out of the ocean
like a group of rocks in a liquid plain. From that time the schooner
took a wide berth and swept at a great distance round Cape
Rejkianess, which forms the western point of Iceland.
The rough sea prevented my uncle from coming on deck to admire these
shattered and surf-beaten coasts.
Forty-eight hours after, coming out of a storm which forced the
schooner to scud under bare poles, we sighted east of us the beacon
on Cape Skagen, where dangerous rocks extend far away seaward. An
Icelandic pilot came on board, and in three hours the _Valkyria_
dropped her anchor before Rejkiavik, in Faxa Bay.
The Professor at last emerged from his cabin, rather pale and
wretched-looking, but still full of enthusiasm, and with ardent
satisfaction shining in his eyes.
The population of the town, wonderfully interested in the arrival of
a vessel from which every one expected something, formed in groups
upon the quay.
My uncle left in haste his floating prison, or rather hospital. But
before quitting the deck of the schooner he dragged me forward, and
pointing with outstretched finger north of the bay at a distant
mountain terminating in a double peak, a pair of cones covered with
perpetual snow, he cried:
Then recommending me, by an impressive gesture, to keep silence, he
went into the boat which awaited him. I followed, and presently we
were treading the soil of Iceland.
The first man we saw was a good-looking fellow enough, in a general's
uniform. Yet he was not a general but a magistrate, the Governor of
the island, M. le Baron Trampe himself. The Professor was soon aware
of the presence he was in. He delivered him his letters from
Copenhagen, and then followed a short conversation in the Danish
language, the purport of which I was quite ignorant of, and for a
very good reason. But the result of this first conversation was, that
Baron Trampe placed himself entirely at the service of Professor
My uncle was just as courteously received by the mayor, M. Finsen,
whose appearance was as military, and disposition and office as
pacific, as the Governor's.
As for the bishop's suffragan, M. Picturssen, he was at that moment
engaged on an episcopal visitation in the north. For the time we must
be resigned to wait for the honour of being presented to him. But M.
Fridrikssen, professor of natural sciences at the school of
Rejkiavik, was a delightful man, and his friendship became very
precious to me. This modest philosopher spoke only Danish and Latin.
He came to proffer me his good offices in the language of Horace, and
I felt that we were made to understand each other. In fact he was the
only person in Iceland with whom I could converse at all.
This good-natured gentleman made over to us two of the three rooms
which his house contained, and we were soon installed in it with all
our luggage, the abundance of which rather astonished the good people
"Well, Axel," said my uncle, "we are getting on, and now the worst is
"The worst!" I said, astonished.
"To be sure, now we have nothing to do but go down."
"Oh, if that is all, you are quite right; but after all, when we have
gone down, we shall have to get up again, I suppose?"
"Oh I don't trouble myself about that. Come, there's no time to lose;
I am going to the library. Perhaps there is some manuscript of
Saknussemm's there, and I should be glad to consult it."
"Well, while you are there I will go into the town. Won't you?"
"Oh, that is very uninteresting to me. It is not what is upon this
island, but what is underneath, that interests me."
I went out, and wandered wherever chance took me.
It would not be easy to lose your way in Rejkiavik. I was therefore
under no necessity to inquire the road, which exposes one to mistakes
when the only medium of intercourse is gesture.
The town extends along a low and marshy level, between two hills. An
immense bed of lava bounds it on one side, and falls gently towards
the sea. On the other extends the vast bay of Faxa, shut in at the
north by the enormous glacier of the Sn�fell, and of which the
_Valkyria_ was for the time the only occupant. Usually the English
and French conservators of fisheries moor in this bay, but just then
they were cruising about the western coasts of the island.
The longest of the only two streets that Rejkiavik possesses was
parallel with the beach. Here live the merchants and traders, in
wooden cabins made of red planks set horizontally; the other street,
running west, ends at the little lake between the house of the bishop
and other non-commercial people.
I had soon explored these melancholy ways; here and there I got a
glimpse of faded turf, looking like a worn-out bit of carpet, or some
appearance of a kitchen garden, the sparse vegetables of which
(potatoes, cabbages, and lettuces), would have figured appropriately
upon a Lilliputian table. A few sickly wallflowers were trying to
enjoy the air and sunshine.
About the middle of the tin-commercial street I found the public
cemetery, inclosed with a mud wall, and where there seemed plenty of
Then a few steps brought me to the Governor's house, a but compared
with the town hall of Hamburg, a palace in comparison with the cabins
of the Icelandic population.
Between the little lake and the town the church is built in the
Protestant style, of calcined stones extracted out of the volcanoes
by their own labour and at their own expense; in high westerly winds
it was manifest that the red tiles of the roof would be scattered in
the air, to the great danger of the faithful worshippers.
On a neighbouring hill I perceived the national school, where, as I
was informed later by our host, were taught Hebrew, English, French,
and Danish, four languages of which, with shame I confess it, I don't
know a single word; after an examination I should have had to stand
last of the forty scholars educated at this little college, and I
should have been held unworthy to sleep along with them in one of
those little double closets, where more delicate youths would have
died of suffocation the very first night.
In three hours I had seen not only the town but its environs. The
general aspect was wonderfully dull. No trees, and scarcely any
vegetation. Everywhere bare rocks, signs of volcanic action. The
Icelandic buts are made of earth and turf, and the walls slope
inward; they rather resemble roofs placed on the ground. But then
these roofs are meadows of comparative fertility. Thanks to the
internal heat, the grass grows on them to some degree of perfection.
It is carefully mown in the hay season; if it were not, the horses
would come to pasture on these green abodes.
In my excursion I met but few people. On returning to the main street
I found the greater part of the population busied in drying, salting,
and putting on board codfish, their chief export. The men looked like
robust but heavy, blond Germans with pensive eyes, conscious of being
far removed from their fellow creatures, poor exiles relegated to
this land of ice, poor creatures who should have been Esquimaux,
since nature had condemned them to live only just outside the arctic
circle! In vain did I try to detect a smile upon their lips;
sometimes by a spasmodic and involuntary contraction of the muscles
they seemed to laugh, but they never smiled.
Their costume consisted of a coarse jacket of black woollen cloth
called in Scandinavian lands a 'vadmel,' a hat with a very broad
brim, trousers with a narrow edge of red, and a bit of leather rolled
round the foot for shoes.
The women looked as sad and as resigned as the men; their faces were
agreeable but expressionless, and they wore gowns and petticoats of
dark 'vadmel'; as maidens, they wore over their braided hair a little
knitted brown cap; when married, they put around their heads a
coloured handkerchief, crowned with a peak of white linen.
After a good walk I returned to M. Fridrikssen's house, where I found
my uncle already in his host's company.
INTERESTING CONVERSATIONS WITH ICELANDIC SAVANTS
Dinner was ready. Professor Liedenbrock devoured his portion
voraciously, for his compulsory fast on board had converted his
stomach into a vast unfathomable gulf. There was nothing remarkable
in the meal itself; but the hospitality of our host, more Danish than
Icelandic, reminded me of the heroes of old. It was evident that we
were more at home than he was himself.
The conversation was carried on in the vernacular tongue, which my
uncle mixed with German and M. Fridrikssen with Latin for my benefit.
It turned upon scientific questions as befits philosophers; but
Professor Liedenbrock was excessively reserved, and at every sentence
spoke to me with his eyes, enjoining the most absolute silence upon
In the first place M. Fridrikssen wanted to know what success my
uncle had had at the library.
"Your library! why there is nothing but a few tattered books upon
almost deserted shelves."
"Indeed!" replied M. Fridrikssen, "why we possess eight thousand
volumes, many of them valuable and scarce, works in the old
Scandinavian language, and we have all the novelties that Copenhagen
sends us every year."
"Where do you keep your eight thousand volumes? For my part -"
"Oh, M. Liedenbrock, they are all over the country. In this icy
region we are fond of study. There is not a farmer nor a fisherman
that cannot read and does not read. Our principle is, that books,
instead of growing mouldy behind an iron grating, should be worn out
under the eyes of many readers. Therefore, these volumes are passed
from one to another, read over and over, referred to again and again;
and it often happens that they find their way back to their shelves
only after an absence of a year or two."
"And in the meantime," said my uncle rather spitefully, "strangers --"
"Well, what would you have? Foreigners have their libraries at home,
and the first essential for labouring people is that they should be
educated. I repeat to you the love of reading runs in Icelandic
blood. In 1816 we founded a prosperous literary society; learned
strangers think themselves honoured in becoming members of it. It
publishes books which educate our fellow-countrymen, and do the
country great service. If you will consent to be a corresponding
member, Herr Liedenbrock, you will be giving us great pleasure."
My uncle, who had already joined about a hundred learned societies,
accepted with a grace which evidently touched M. Fridrikssen.
"Now," said he, "will you be kind enough to tell me what books you
hoped to find in our library and I may perhaps enable you to consult
My uncle's eyes and mine met. He hesitated. This direct question went
to the root of the matter. But after a moment's reflection he decided
"Monsieur Fridrikssen, I wished to know if amongst your ancient books
you possessed any of the works of Arne Saknussemm?"
"Arne Saknussemm!" replied the Rejkiavik professor. "You mean that
learned sixteenth century savant, a naturalist, a chemist, and a
"One of the glories of Icelandic literature and science?"
"That's the man."
"An illustrious man anywhere!"
"And whose courage was equal to his genius!"
"I see that you know him well."
My uncle was bathed in delight at hearing his hero thus described. He
feasted his eyes upon M. Fridrikssen's face.
"Well," he cried, "where are his works?"
"His works, we have them not."
"What - not in Iceland?"
"They are neither in Iceland nor anywhere else."
"Why is that?"
"Because Arne Saknussemm was persecuted for heresy, and in 1573 his
books were burned by the hands of the common hangman."
"Very good! Excellent!" cried my uncle, to the great scandal of the
professor of natural history.
"What!" he cried.
"Yes, yes; now it is all clear, now it is all unravelled; and I see
why Saknussemm, put into the Index Expurgatorius, and compelled to
hide the discoveries made by his genius, was obliged to bury in an
incomprehensible cryptogram the secret -"
"What secret?" asked M. Fridrikssen, starting.
"Oh, just a secret which -" my uncle stammered.
"Have you some private document in your possession?" asked our host.
"No; I was only supposing a case."
"Oh, very well," answered M. Fridrikssen, who was kind enough not to
pursue the subject when he had noticed the embarrassment of his
friend. "I hope you will not leave our island until you have seen
some of its mineralogical wealth."
"Certainly," replied my uncle; "but I am rather late; or have not
others been here before me?"
"Yes, Herr Liedenbrock; the labours of MM. Olafsen and Povelsen,
pursued by order of the king, the researches of Tro�l the scientific
mission of MM. Gaimard and Robert on the French corvette _La
Recherche,_  and lately the observations of scientific men who
came in the _Reine Hortense,_ have added materially to our knowledge
of Iceland. But I assure you there is plenty left."
"Do you think so?" said my uncle, pretending to look very modest, and
trying to hide the curiosity was flashing out of his eyes.
"Oh, yes; how many mountains, glaciers, and volcanoes there are to
study, which are as yet but imperfectly known! Then, without going
any further, that mountain in the horizon. That is Sn�fell."
"Ah!" said my uncle, as coolly as he was able, "is that Sn�fell?"
"Yes; one of the most curious volcanoes, and the crater of which has
scarcely ever been visited."
"Is it extinct?"
"Oh, yes; more than five hundred years."
"Well," replied my uncle, who was frantically locking his legs
together to keep himself from jumping up in the air, "that is where I
mean to begin my geological studies, there on that Seffel - Fessel -
what do you call it?"
"Sn�fell," replied the excellent M. Fridrikssen.
This part of the conversation was in Latin; I had understood every
word of it, and I could hardly conceal my amusement at seeing my
uncle trying to keep down the excitement and satisfaction which were
brimming over in every limb and every feature. He tried hard to put
on an innocent little expression of simplicity; but it looked like a
 _Recherche_ was sent out in 1835 by Admiral Duperr� to learn the
fate of the lost expedition of M. de Blosseville in the _Lilloise_
which has never been heard of.
"Yes," said he, "your words decide me. We will try to scale that
Sn�fell; perhaps even we may pursue our studies in its crater!"
"I am very sorry," said M. Fridrikssen, "that my engagements will not
allow me to absent myself, or I would have accompanied you myself
with both pleasure and profit."
"Oh, no, no!" replied my uncle with great animation, "we would not
disturb any one for the world, M. Fridrikssen. Still, I thank you
with all my heart: the company of such a talented man would have been
very serviceable, but the duties of your profession -"
I am glad to think that our host, in the innocence of his Icelandic
soul, was blind to the transparent artifices of my uncle.
"I very much approve of your beginning with that volcano, M.
Liedenbrock. You will gather a harvest of interesting observations.
But, tell me, how do you expect to get to the peninsula of Sn�fell?"
"By sea, crossing the bay. That's the most direct way."
"No doubt; but it is impossible."
"Because we don't possess a single boat at Rejkiavik."
"You don't mean to say so?"
"You will have to go by land, following the shore. It will be longer,
but more interesting."
"Very well, then; and now I shall have to see about a guide."
"I have one to offer you."
"A safe, intelligent man."
"Yes; an inhabitant of that peninsula He is an eiderdown hunter, and
very clever. He speaks Danish perfectly."
"When can I see him?"
"To-morrow, if you like."
"Why not to-day?"
"Because he won't be here till to-morrow."
"To-morrow, then," added my uncle with a sigh.
This momentous conversation ended in a few minutes with warm
acknowledgments paid by the German to the Icelandic Professor. At
this dinner my uncle had just elicited important facts, amongst
others, the history of Saknussemm, the reason of the mysterious
document, that his host would not accompany him in his expedition,
and that the very next day a guide would be waiting upon him.
A GUIDE FOUND TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
In the evening I took a short walk on the beach and returned at night
to my plank-bed, where I slept soundly all night.
When I awoke I heard my uncle talking at a great rate in the next
room. I immediately dressed and joined him.
He was conversing in the Danish language with a tall man, of robust
build. This fine fellow must have been possessed of great strength.
His eyes, set in a large and ingenuous face, seemed to me very
intelligent; they were of a dreamy sea-blue. Long hair, which would
have been called red even in England, fell in long meshes upon his
broad shoulders. The movements of this native were lithe and supple;
but he made little use of his arms in speaking, like a man who knew
nothing or cared nothing about the language of gestures. His whole
appearance bespoke perfect calmness and self-possession, not
indolence but tranquillity. It was felt at once that he would be
beholden to nobody, that he worked for his own convenience, and that
nothing in this world could astonish or disturb his philosophic
I caught the shades of this Icelander's character by the way in which
he listened to the impassioned flow of words which fell from the
Professor. He stood with arms crossed, perfectly unmoved by my
uncle's incessant gesticulations. A negative was expressed by a slow
movement of the head from left to right, an affirmative by a slight
bend, so slight that his long hair scarcely moved. He carried economy
of motion even to parsimony.
Certainly I should never have dreamt in looking at this man that he
was a hunter; he did not look likely to frighten his game, nor did he
seem as if he would even get near it. But the mystery was explained
when M. Fridrikssen informed me that this tranquil personage was only
a hunter of the eider duck, whose under plumage constitutes the chief
wealth of the island. This is the celebrated eider down, and it
requires no great rapidity of movement to get it.
Early in summer the female, a very pretty bird, goes to build her
nest among the rocks of the fiords with which the coast is fringed.
After building the nest she feathers it with down plucked from her
own breast. Immediately the hunter, or rather the trader, comes and
robs the nest, and the female recommences her work. This goes on as
long as she has any down left. When she has stripped herself bare the
male takes his turn to pluck himself. But as the coarse and hard
plumage of the male has no commercial value, the hunter does not take
the trouble to rob the nest of this; the female therefore lays her
eggs in the spoils of her mate, the young are hatched, and next year
the harvest begins again.
Now, as the eider duck does not select steep cliffs for her nest, but
rather the smooth terraced rocks which slope to the sea, the
Icelandic hunter might exercise his calling without any inconvenient
exertion. He was a farmer who was not obliged either to sow or reap
his harvest, but merely to gather it in.
This grave, phlegmatic, and silent individual was called Hans Bjelke;
and he came recommended by M. Fridrikssen. He was our future guide.
His manners were a singular contrast with my uncle's.
Nevertheless, they soon came to understand each other. Neither looked
at the amount of the payment: the one was ready to accept whatever
was offered; the other was ready to give whatever was demanded. Never
was bargain more readily concluded.
The result of the treaty was, that Hans engaged on his part to
conduct us to the village of Stapi, on the south shore of the Sn�fell
peninsula, at the very foot of the volcano. By land this would be
about twenty-two miles, to be done, said my uncle, in two days.
But when he learnt that the Danish mile was 24,000 feet long, he was
obliged to modify his calculations and allow seven or eight days for
Four horses were to be placed at our disposal - two to carry him and
me, two for the baggage. Hams, as was his custom, would go on foot.
He knew all that part of the coast perfectly, and promised to take us
the shortest way.
His engagement was not to terminate with our arrival at Stapi; he was
to continue in my uncle's service for the whole period of his
scientific researches, for the remuneration of three rixdales a week
(about twelve shillings), but it was an express article of the
covenant that his wages should be counted out to him every Saturday
at six o'clock in the evening, which, according to him, was one
indispensable part of the engagement.
The start was fixed for the 16th of June. My uncle wanted to pay the
hunter a portion in advance, but he refused with one word:
"_Efter,_" said he.
"After," said the Professor for my edification.
The treaty concluded, Hans silently withdrew.
"A famous fellow," cried my uncle; "but he little thinks of the
marvellous part he has to play in the future."
"So he is to go with us as far as --"
"As far as the centre of the earth, Axel."
Forty-eight hours were left before our departure; to my great regret
I had to employ them in preparations; for all our ingenuity was
required to pack every article to the best advantage; instruments
here, arms there, tools in this package, provisions in that: four
sets of packages in all.
The instruments were:
1. An Eigel's centigrade thermometer, graduated up to 150 degrees
(302 degrees Fahr.), which seemed to me too much or too little. Too
much if the internal heat was to rise so high, for in this case we
should be baked, not enough to measure the temperature of springs or
any matter in a state of fusion.
2. An aneroid barometer, to indicate extreme pressures of the
atmosphere. An ordinary barometer would not have answered the
purpose, as the pressure would increase during our descent to a point
which the mercurial barometer  would not register.
3. A chronometer, made by Boissonnas, jun., of Geneva, accurately set
to the meridian of Hamburg.
4. Two compasses, viz., a common compass and a dipping needle.
5. A night glass.
6. Two of Ruhmkorff's apparatus, which, by means of an electric
current, supplied a safe and handy portable light 
The arms consisted of two of Purdy's rifles and two brace of pistols.
But what did we want arms for? We had neither savages nor wild beasts
to fear, I supposed. But my uncle seemed to believe in his arsenal as
in his instruments, and more especially in a considerable quantity of
gun cotton, which is unaffected by moisture, and the explosive force
of which exceeds that of gunpowder.
 In M. Verne's book a 'manometer' is the instrument used, of which
very little is known. In a complete list of philosophical instruments
the translator cannot find the name. As he is assured by a first-rate
instrument maker, Chadburn, of Liverpool, that an aneroid can be
constructed to measure any depth, he has thought it best to furnish
the adventurous professor with this more familiar instrument. The
'manometer' is generally known as a pressure gauge. - TRANS.
 Ruhmkorff's apparatus consists of a Bunsen pile worked with
bichromate of potash, which makes no smell; an induction coil carries
the electricity generated by the pile into communication with a
lantern of peculiar construction; in this lantern there is a spiral
glass tube from which the air has been excluded, and in which remains
only a residuum of carbonic acid gas or of nitrogen. When the
apparatus is put in action this gas becomes luminous, producing a
white steady light. The pile and coil are placed in a leathern bag
which the traveller carries over his shoulders; the lantern outside
of the bag throws sufficient light into deep darkness; it enables one
to venture without fear of explosions into the midst of the most
inflammable gases, and is not extinguished even in the deepest
waters. M. Ruhmkorff is a learned and most ingenious man of science;
his great discovery is his induction coil, which produces a powerful
stream of electricity. He obtained in 1864 the quinquennial prize of
50,000 franc reserved by the French government for the most ingenious
application of electricity.
The tools comprised two pickaxes, two spades, a silk ropeladder,
three iron-tipped sticks, a hatchet, a hammer, a dozen wedges and
iron spikes, and a long knotted rope. Now this was a large load, for
the ladder was 300 feet long.
And there were provisions too: this was not a large parcel, but it
was comforting to know that of essence of beef and biscuits there
were six months' consumption. Spirits were the only liquid, and of
water we took none; but we had flasks, and my uncle depended on
springs from which to fill them. Whatever objections I hazarded as to
their quality, temperature, and even absence, remained ineffectual.
To complete the exact inventory of all our travelling accompaniments,
I must not forget a pocket medicine chest, containing blunt scissors,
splints for broken limbs, a piece of tape of unbleached linen,
bandages and compresses, lint, a lancet for bleeding, all dreadful
articles to take with one. Then there was a row of phials containing
dextrine, alcoholic ether, liquid acetate of lead, vinegar, and
ammonia drugs which afforded me no comfort. Finally, all the articles
needful to supply Ruhmkorff's apparatus.
My uncle did not forget- a supply of tobacco, coarse grained powder,
and amadou, nor a leathern belt in which he carried a sufficient
quantity of gold, silver, and paper money. Six pairs of boots and
shoes, made waterproof with a composition of indiarubber and naphtha,
were packed amongst the tools.
"Clothed, shod, and equipped like this," said my uncle, "there is no
telling how far we may go."
The 14th was wholly spent in arranging all our different articles. In
the evening we dined with Baron Tramps; the mayor of Rejkiavik, and
Dr. Hyaltalin, the first medical man of the place, being of the
party. M. Fridrikssen was not there. I learned afterwards that he and
the Governor disagreed upon some question of administration, and did
not speak to each other. I therefore knew not a single word of all
that was said at this semi-official dinner; but I could not help
noticing that my uncle talked the whole time.
On the 15th our preparations were all made. Our host gave the
Professor very great pleasure by presenting him with a map of Iceland
far more complete than that of Hendersen. It was the map of M. Olaf
Nikolas Olsen, in the proportion of 1 to 480,000 of the actual size
of the island, and published by the Icelandic Literary Society. It
was a precious document for a mineralogist.
Our last evening was spent in intimate conversation with M.
Fridrikssen, with whom I felt the liveliest sympathy; then, after the
talk, succeeded, for me, at any rate, a disturbed and restless night.
At five in the morning I was awoke by the neighing and pawing of four
horses under my window. I dressed hastily and came down into the
street. Hans was finishing our packing, almost as it were without
moving a limb; and yet he did his work cleverly. My uncle made more
noise than execution, and the guide seemed to pay very little
attention to his energetic directions.
At six o'clock our preparations were over. M. Fridrikssen shook hands
with us. My uncle thanked him heartily for his extreme kindness. I
constructed a few fine Latin sentences to express my cordial
farewell. Then we bestrode our steeds and with his last adieu M.
Fridrikssen treated me to a line of Virgil eminently applicable to
such uncertain wanderers as we were likely to be:
"Et quacumque viam dedent fortuna sequamur."
"Therever fortune clears a way,
Thither our ready footsteps stray."
A BARREN LAND
We had started under a sky overcast but calm. There was no fear of
heat, none of disastrous rain. It was just the weather for tourists.
The pleasure of riding on horseback over an unknown country made me
easy to be pleased at our first start. I threw myself wholly into the
pleasure of the trip, and enjoyed the feeling of freedom and
satisfied desire. I was beginning to take a real share in the
"Besides," I said to myself, "where's the risk? Here we are
travelling all through a most interesting country! We are about to
climb a very remarkable mountain; at the worst we are going to
scramble down an extinct crater. It is evident that Saknussemm did
nothing more than this. As for a passage leading to the centre of the
globe, it is mere rubbish! perfectly impossible! Very well, then; let
us get all the good we can out of this expedition, and don't let us
haggle about the chances."
This reasoning having settled my mind, we got out of Rejkiavik.
Hans moved steadily on, keeping ahead of us at an even, smooth, and
rapid pace. The baggage horses followed him without giving any
trouble. Then came my uncle and myself, looking not so very
ill-mounted on our small but hardy animals.
Iceland is one of the largest islands in Europe. Its surface is
14,000 square miles, and it contains but 16,000 inhabitants.
Geographers have divided it into four quarters, and we were crossing
diagonally the south-west quarter, called the 'Sudvester Fjordungr.'
On leaving Rejkiavik Hans took us by the seashore. We passed lean
pastures which were trying very hard, but in vain, to look green;
yellow came out best. The rugged peaks of the trachyte rocks
presented faint outlines on the eastern horizon; at times a few
patches of snow, concentrating the vague light, glittered upon the
slopes of the distant mountains; certain peaks, boldly uprising,
passed through the grey clouds, and reappeared above the moving
mists, like breakers emerging in the heavens.
Often these chains of barren rocks made a dip towards the sea, and
encroached upon the scanty pasturage: but there was always enough
room to pass. Besides, our horses instinctively chose the easiest
places without ever slackening their pace. My uncle was refused even
the satisfaction of stirring up his beast with whip or voice. He had
no excuse for being impatient. I could not help smiling to see so
tall a man on so small a pony, and as his long legs nearly touched
the ground he looked like a six-legged centaur.
"Good horse! good horse!" he kept saying. "You will see, Axel, that
there is no more sagacious animal than the Icelandic horse. He is
stopped by neither snow, nor storm, nor impassable roads, nor rocks,
glaciers, or anything. He is courageous, sober, and surefooted. He
never makes a false step, never shies. If there is a river or fiord
to cross (and we shall meet with many) you will see him plunge in at
once, just as if he were amphibious, and gain the opposite bank. But
we must not hurry him; we must let him have his way, and we shall get
on at the rate of thirty miles a day."
"We may; but how about our guide?"
"Oh, never mind him. People like him get over the ground without a
thought. There is so little action in this man that he will never get
tired; and besides, if he wants it, he shall have my horse. I shall
get cramped if I don't have- a little action. The arms are all right,
but the legs want exercise."
We were advancing at a rapid pace. The country was already almost a
desert. Here and there was a lonely farm, called a bo�r built either
of wood, or of sods, or of pieces of lava, looking like a poor beggar
by the wayside. These ruinous huts seemed to solicit charity from
passers-by; and on very small provocation we should have given alms
for the relief of the poor inmates. In this country there were no
roads and paths, and the poor vegetation, however slow, would soon
efface the rare travellers' footsteps.
Yet this part of the province, at a very small distance from the
capital, is reckoned among the inhabited and cultivated portions of
Iceland. What, then, must other tracts be, more desert than this
desert? In the first half mile we had not seen one farmer standing
before his cabin door, nor one shepherd tending a flock less wild
than himself, nothing but a few cows and sheep left to themselves.
What then would be those convulsed regions upon which we were
advancing, regions subject to the dire phenomena of eruptions, the
offspring of volcanic explosions and subterranean convulsions?
We were to know them before long, but on consulting Olsen's map, I
saw that they would be avoided by winding along the seashore. In
fact, the great plutonic action is confined to the central portion of
the island; there, rocks of the trappean and volcanic class,
including trachyte, basalt, and tuffs and agglomerates associated
with streams of lava, have made this a land of supernatural horrors.
I had no idea of the spectacle which was awaiting us in the peninsula
of Sn�fell, where these ruins of a fiery nature have formed a
In two hours from Rejkiavik we arrived at the burgh of Gufunes,
called Aolkirkja, or principal church. There was nothing remarkable
here but a few houses, scarcely enough for a German hamlet.
Hans stopped here half an hour. He shared with us our frugal
breakfast; answering my uncle's questions about the road and our
resting place that night with merely yes or no, except when he said
I consulted the map to see where Gard�r was. I saw there was a small
town of that name on the banks of the Hvalfiord, four miles from
Rejkiavik. I showed it to my uncle.
"Four miles only!" he exclaimed; "four miles out of twenty-eight.
What a nice little walk!"
He was about to make an observation to the guide, who without
answering resumed his place at the head, and went on his way.
Three hours later, still treading on the colourless grass of the
pasture land, we had to work round the Kolla fiord, a longer way but
an easier one than across that inlet. We soon entered into a
'pingsta�r' or parish called Ejulberg, from whose steeple twelve
o'clock would have struck, if Icelandic churches were rich enough to
possess clocks. But they are like the parishioners who have no
watches and do without.
There our horses were baited; then taking the narrow path to left
between a chain of hills and the sea, they carried us to our next
stage, the aolkirkja of Brant�r and one mile farther on, to Saurbo�r
'Annexia,' a chapel of ease built on the south shore of the Hvalfiord.
It was now four o'clock, and we had gone four Icelandic miles, or
twenty-four English miles.
In that place the fiord was at least three English miles wide; the
waves rolled with a rushing din upon the sharp-pointed rocks; this
inlet was confined between walls of rock, precipices crowned by sharp
peaks 2,000 feet high, and remarkable for the brown strata which
separated the beds of reddish tuff. However much I might respect the
intelligence of our quadrupeds, I hardly cared to put it to the test
by trusting myself to it on horseback across an arm of the sea.
If they are as intelligent as they are said to be, I thought, they
won't try it. In any case, I will tax my intelligence to direct
But my uncle would not wait. He spurred on to the edge. His steed
lowered his head to examine the nearest waves and stopped. My uncle,
who had an instinct of his own, too, applied pressure, and was again
refused by the animal significantly shaking his head. Then followed
strong language, and the whip; but the brute answered these arguments
with kicks and endeavours to throw his rider. At last the clever
little pony, with a bend of his knees, started from under the
Professor's legs, and left him standing upon two boulders on the
shore just like the colossus of Rhodes.
"Confounded brute!" cried the unhorsed horseman, suddenly degraded
into a pedestrian, just as ashamed as a cavalry officer degraded to a
"_F�rja,_" said the guide, touching his shoulder.
"What! a boat?"
"_Der,_" replied Hans, pointing to one.
"Yes," I cried; "there is a boat."
"Why did not you say so then? Well, let us go on."
"_Tidvatten,_" said the guide.
"What is he saying?"
"He says tide," said my uncle, translating the Danish word.
"No doubt we must wait for the tide."
"_F�rbida,_" said my uncle.
"_Ja,_" replied Hans.
My uncle stamped with his foot, while the horses went on to the boat.
I perfectly understood the necessity of abiding a particular moment
of the tide to undertake the crossing of the fiord, when, the sea
having reached its greatest height, it should be slack water. Then
the ebb and flow have no sensible effect, and the boat does not risk
being carried either to the bottom or out to sea.
That favourable moment arrived only with six o'clock; when my uncle,
myself, the guide, two other passengers and the four horses, trusted
ourselves to a somewhat fragile raft. Accustomed as I was to the
swift and sure steamers on the Elbe, I found the oars of the rowers
rather a slow means of propulsion. It took us more than an hour to
cross the fiord; but the passage was effected without any mishap.
In another half hour we had reached the aolkirkja of Gard�r
HOSPITALITY UNDER THE ARCTIC CIRCLE
It ought to have been night-time, but under the 65th parallel there
was nothing surprising in the nocturnal polar light. In Iceland
during the months of June and July the sun does not set.
But the temperature was much lower. I was cold and more hungry than
cold. Welcome was the sight of the bo�r which was hospitably opened
to receive us.
It was a peasant's house, but in point of hospitality it was equal to
a king's. On our arrival the master came with outstretched hands, and
without more ceremony he beckoned us to follow him.
To accompany him down the long, narrow, dark passage, would have been
impossible. Therefore, we followed, as he bid us. The building was
constructed of roughly squared timbers, with rooms on both sides,
four in number, all opening out into the one passage: these were the
kitchen, the weaving shop, the badstofa, or family sleeping-room, and
the visitors' room, which was the best of all. My uncle, whose height
had not been thought of in building the house, of course hit his head
several times against the beams that projected from the ceilings.
We were introduced into our apartment, a large room with a floor of
earth stamped hard down, and lighted by a window, the panes of which
were formed of sheep's bladder, not admitting too much light. The
sleeping accommodation consisted of dry litter, thrown into two
wooden frames painted red, and ornamented with Icelandic sentences. I
was hardly expecting so much comfort; the only discomfort proceeded
from the strong odour of dried fish, hung meat, and sour milk, of
which my nose made bitter complaints.
When we had laid aside our travelling wraps the voice of the host was
heard inviting us to the kitchen, the only room where a fire was
lighted even in the severest cold.
My uncle lost no time in obeying the friendly call, nor was I slack
The kitchen chimney was constructed on the ancient pattern; in the
middle of the room was a stone for a hearth, over it in the roof a
hole to let the smoke escape. The kitchen was also a dining-room.
At our entrance the host, as if he had never seen us, greeted us with
the word "_S�llvertu,_" which means "be happy," and came and kissed
us on the cheek.
After him his wife pronounced the same words, accompanied with the
same ceremonial; then the two placing their hands upon their hearts,
inclined profoundly before us.
I hasten to inform the reader that this Icelandic lady was the mother
of nineteen children, all, big and little, swarming in the midst of
the dense wreaths of smoke with which the fire on the hearth filled
the chamber. Every moment I noticed a fair-haired and rather
melancholy face peeping out of the rolling volumes of smoke - they
were a perfect cluster of unwashed angels.
My uncle and I treated this little tribe with kindness; and in a very
short time we each had three or four of these brats on our shoulders,
as many on our laps, and the rest between our knees. Those who could
speak kept repeating "_S�llvertu,_" in every conceivable tone; those
that could not speak made up for that want by shrill cries.
This concert was brought to a close by the announcement of dinner. At
that moment our hunter returned, who had been seeing his horses
provided for; that is to say, he had economically let them loose in
the fields, where the poor beasts had to content themselves with the
scanty moss they could pull off the rocks and a few meagre sea weeds,
and the next day they would not fail to come of themselves and resume
the labours of the previous day.
"_S�llvertu,_" said Hans.
Then calmly, automatically, and dispassionately he kissed the host,
the hostess, and their nineteen children.
This ceremony over, we sat at table, twenty-four in number, and
therefore one upon another. The luckiest had only two urchins upon
But silence reigned in all this little world at the arrival of the
soup, and the national taciturnity resumed its empire even over the
children. The host served out to us a soup made of lichen and by no
means unpleasant, then an immense piece of dried fish floating in
butter rancid with twenty years' keeping, and, therefore, according
to Icelandic gastronomy, much preferable to fresh butter. Along with
this, we had 'skye,' a sort of clotted milk, with biscuits, and a
liquid prepared from juniper berries; for beverage we had a thin milk
mixed with water, called in this country 'blanda.' It is not for me
to decide whether this diet is wholesome or not; all I can say is,
that I was desperately hungry, and that at dessert I swallowed to the
very last gulp of a thick broth made from buckwheat.
As soon as the meal was over the children disappeared, and their
elders gathered round the peat fire, which also burnt such
miscellaneous fuel as briars, cow-dung, and fishbones. After this
little pinch of warmth the different groups retired to their
respective rooms. Our hostess hospitably offered us her assistance in
undressing, according to Icelandic usage; but on our gracefully
declining, she insisted no longer, and I was able at last to curl
myself up in my mossy bed.
At five next morning we bade our host farewell, my uncle with
difficulty persuading him to accept a proper remuneration; and Hans
signalled the start.
At a hundred yards from Gard�r the soil began to change its aspect;
it became boggy and less favourable to progress. On our right the
chain of mountains was indefinitely prolonged like an immense system
of natural fortifications, of which we were following the
counter-scarp or lesser steep; often we were met by streams, which we
had to ford with great care, not to wet our packages.
The desert became wider and more hideous; yet from time to time we
seemed to descry a human figure that fled at our approach, sometimes
a sharp turn would bring us suddenly within a short distance of one
of these spectres, and I was filled with loathing at the sight of a
huge deformed head, the skin shining and hairless, and repulsive
sores visible through the gaps in the poor creature's wretched rags.
The unhappy being forbore to approach us and offer his misshapen
hand. He fled away, but not before Hans had saluted him with the
"_Spetelsk,_" said he.
"A leper!" my uncle repeated.
This word produced a repulsive effect. The horrible disease of
leprosy is too common in Iceland; it is not contagious, but
hereditary, and lepers are forbidden to marry.
These apparitions were not cheerful, and did not throw any charm over
the less and less attractive landscapes. The last tufts of grass had
disappeared from beneath our feet. Not a tree was to be seen, unless
we except a few dwarf birches as low as brushwood. Not an animal but
a few wandering ponies that their owners would not feed. Sometimes we
could see a hawk balancing himself on his wings under the grey cloud,
and then darting away south with rapid flight. I felt melancholy
under this savage aspect of nature, and my thoughts went away to the
cheerful scenes I had left in the far south.
We had to cross a few narrow fiords, and at last quite a wide gulf;
the tide, then high, allowed us to pass over without delay, and to
reach the hamlet of Alftanes, one mile beyond.
That evening, after having forded two rivers full of trout and pike,
called Alfa and Heta, we were obliged to spend the night in a
deserted building worthy to be haunted by all the elfins of
Scandinavia. The ice king certainly held court here, and gave us all
night long samples of what he could do.
No particular event marked the next day. Bogs, dead levels,
melancholy desert tracks, wherever we travelled. By nightfall we had
accomplished half our journey, and we lay at Kr�solbt.
On the 19th of June, for about a mile, that is an Icelandic mile, we
walked upon hardened lava; this ground is called in the country
'hraun'; the writhen surface presented the appearance of distorted,
twisted cables, sometimes stretched in length, sometimes contorted
together; an immense torrent, once liquid, now solid, ran from the
nearest mountains, now extinct volcanoes, but the ruins around
revealed the violence of the past eruptions. Yet here and there were
a few jets of steam from hot springs.
We had no time to watch these phenomena; we had to proceed on our
way. Soon at the foot of the mountains the boggy land reappeared,
intersected by little lakes. Our route now lay westward; we had
turned the great bay of Faxa, and the twin peaks of Sn�fell rose
white into the cloudy sky at the distance of at least five miles.
The horses did their duty well, no difficulties stopped them in their
steady career. I was getting tired; but my uncle was as firm and
straight as he was at our first start. I could not help admiring his
persistency, as well as the hunter's, who treated our expedition like
a mere promenade.
June 20. At six p.m. we reached B�dir, a village on the sea shore;
and the guide there claiming his due, my uncle settled with him. It
was Hans' own family, that is, his uncles and cousins, who gave us
hospitality; we were kindly received, and without taxing too much the
goodness of these folks, I would willingly have tarried here to
recruit after my fatigues. But my uncle, who wanted no recruiting,
would not hear of it, and the next morning we had to bestride our
The soil told of the neighbourhood of the mountain, whose granite
foundations rose from the earth like the knotted roots of some huge
oak. We were rounding the immense base of the volcano. The Professor
hardly took his eyes off it. He tossed up his arms and seemed to defy
it, and to declare, "There stands the giant that I shall conquer."
After about four hours' walking the horses stopped of their own
accord at the door of the priest's house at Stapi.
BUT ARCTICS CAN BE INHOSPITABLE, TOO
Stapi is a village consisting of about thirty huts, built of lava, at
the south side of the base of the volcano. It extends along the inner
edge of a small fiord, inclosed between basaltic walls of the
Basalt is a brownish rock of igneous origin. It assumes regular
forms, the arrangement of which is often very surprising. Here nature
had done her work geometrically, with square and compass and plummet.
Everywhere else her art consists alone in throwing down huge masses
together in disorder. You see cones imperfectly formed, irregular
pyramids, with a fantastic disarrangement of lines; but here, as if
to exhibit an example of regularity, though in advance of the very
earliest architects, she has created a severely simple order of
architecture, never surpassed either by the splendours of Babylon or
the wonders of Greece.
I had heard of the Giant's Causeway in Ireland, and Fingal's Cave in
Staffa, one of the Hebrides; but I had never yet seen a basaltic
At Stapi I beheld this phenomenon in all its beauty.
The wall that confined the fiord, like all the coast of the
peninsula, was composed of a series of vertical columns thirty feet
high. These straight shafts, of fair proportions, supported an
architrave of horizontal slabs, the overhanging portion of which
formed a semi-arch over the sea. At. intervals, under this natural
shelter, there spread out vaulted entrances in beautiful curves, into
which the waves came dashing with foam and spray. A few shafts of
basalt, torn from their hold by the fury of tempests, lay along the
soil like remains of an ancient temple, in ruins for ever fresh, and
over which centuries passed without leaving a trace of age upon them.
This was our last stage upon the earth. Hans had exhibited great
intelligence, and it gave me some little comfort to think then that
he was not going to leave us.
On arriving at the door of the rector's house, which was not
different from the others, I saw a man shoeing a horse, hammer in
hand, and with a leathern apron on.
"_S�llvertu,_" said the hunter.
"_God dag,_" said the blacksmith in good Danish.
"_Kyrkoherde,_" said Hans, turning round to my uncle.
"The rector," repeated the Professor. "It seems, Axel, that this good
man is the rector."
Our guide in the meanwhile was making the 'kyrkoherde' aware of the
position of things; when the latter, suspending his labours for a
moment, uttered a sound no doubt understood between horses and
farriers, and immediately a tall and ugly hag appeared from the hut.
She must have been six feet at the least. I was in great alarm lest
she should treat me to the Icelandic kiss; but there was no occasion
to fear, nor did she do the honours at all too gracefully.
The visitors' room seemed to me the worst in the whole cabin. It was
close, dirty, and evil smelling. But we had to be content. The rector
did not to go in for antique hospitality. Very far from it. Before
the day was over I saw that we had to do with a blacksmith, a
fisherman, a hunter, a joiner, but not at all with a minister of the
Gospel. To be sure, it was a week-day; perhaps on a Sunday he made
I don't mean to say anything against these poor priests, who after
all are very wretched. They receive from the Danish Government a
ridiculously small pittance, and they get from the parish the fourth
part of the tithe, which does not come to sixty marks a year (about
�4). Hence the necessity to work for their livelihood; but after
fishing, hunting, and shoeing horses for any length of time, one soon
gets into the ways and manners of fishermen, hunters, and farriers,
and other rather rude and uncultivated people; and that evening I
found out that temperance was not among the virtues that
distinguished my host.
My uncle soon discovered what sort of a man he had to do with;
instead of a good and learned man he found a rude and coarse peasant.
He therefore resolved to commence the grand expedition at once, and
to leave this inhospitable parsonage. He cared nothing about fatigue,
and resolved to spend some days upon the mountain.
The preparations for our departure were therefore made the very day
after our arrival at Stapi. Hans hired the services of three
Icelanders to do the duty of the horses in the transport of the
burdens; but as soon as we had arrived at the crater these natives
were to turn back and leave us to our own devices. This was to be
My uncle now took the opportunity to explain to Hans that it was his
intention to explore the interior of the volcano to its farthest
Hans merely nodded. There or elsewhere, down in the bowels of the
earth, or anywhere on the surface, all was alike to him. For my own
part the incidents of the journey had hitherto kept me amused, and
made me forgetful of coming evils; but now my fears again were
beginning to get the better of me. But what could I do? The place to
resist the Professor would have been Hamburg, not the foot of Sn�fell.
One thought, above all others, harassed and alarmed me; it was one
calculated to shake firmer nerves than mine.
Now, thought I, here we are, about to climb Sn�fell. Very good. We
will explore the crater. Very good, too, others have done as much
without dying for it. But that is not all. If there is a way to
penetrate into the very bowels of the island, if that ill-advised
Saknussemm has told a true tale, we shall lose our way amidst the
deep subterranean passages of this volcano. Now, there is no proof
that Sn�fell is extinct. Who can assure us that an eruption is not
brewing at this very moment? Does it follow that because the monster
has slept since 1229 he must therefore never awake again? And if he
wakes up presently, where shall we be?
It was worth while debating this question, and I did debate it. I
could not sleep for dreaming about eruptions. Now, the part of
ejected scoriae and ashes seemed to my mind a very rough one to act.
So, at last, when I could hold out no longer, I resolved to lay the
case before my uncle, as prudently and as cautiously as possible,
just under the form of an almost impossible hypothesis.
I went to him. I communicated my fears to him, and drew back a step
to give him room for the explosion which I knew must follow. But I
"I was thinking of that," he replied with great simplicity.
What could those words mean? - Was he actually going to listen to
reason? Was he contemplating the abandonment of his plans? This was
too good to be true.
After a few moments' silence, during which I dared not question him,
"I was thinking of that. Ever since we arrived at Stapi I have been
occupied with the important question you have just opened, for we
must not be guilty of imprudence."
"No, indeed!" I replied with forcible emphasis.
"For six hundred years Sn�fell has been dumb; but he may speak again.
Now, eruptions are always preceded by certain well-known phenomena. I
have therefore examined the natives, I have studied external
appearances, and I can assure you, Axel, that there will be no
At this positive affirmation I stood amazed and speechless.
"You don't doubt my word?" said my uncle. "Well, follow me."
I obeyed like an automaton. Coming out from the priest's house, the
Professor took a straight road, which, through an opening in the
basaltic wall, led away from the sea. We were soon in the open
country, if one may give that name to a vast extent of mounds of
volcanic products. This tract seemed crushed under a rain of enormous
ejected rocks of trap, basalt, granite, and all kinds of igneous
Here and there I could see puffs and jets of steam curling up into
the air, called in Icelandic 'reykir,' issuing from thermal springs,
and indicating by their motion the volcanic energy underneath. This
seemed to justify my fears: But I fell from the height of my new-born
hopes when my uncle said:
"You see all these volumes of steam, Axel; well, they demonstrate
that we have nothing to fear from the fury of a volcanic eruption."
"Am I to believe that?" I cried.
"Understand this clearly," added the Professor. "At the approach of
an eruption these jets would redouble their activity, but disappear
altogether during the period of the eruption. For the elastic fluids,
being no longer under pressure, go off by way of the crater instead
of escaping by their usual passages through the fissures in the soil.
Therefore, if these vapours remain in their usual condition, if they
display no augmentation of force, and if you add to this the
observation that the wind and rain are not ceasing and being replaced
by a still and heavy atmosphere, then you may affirm that no eruption
'No more; that is sufficient. When science has uttered her voice, let
babblers hold their peace.'
I returned to the parsonage, very crestfallen. My uncle had beaten me
with the weapons of science. Still I had one hope left, and this was,
that when we had reached the bottom of the crater it would be
impossible, for want of a passage, to go deeper, in spite of all the
Saknussemm's in Iceland.
I spent that whole night in one constant nightmare; in the heart of a
volcano, and from the deepest depths of the earth I saw myself tossed
up amongst the interplanetary spaces under the form of an eruptive
The next day, June 23, Hans was awaiting us with his companions
carrying provisions, tools, and instruments; two iron pointed sticks,
two rifles, and two shot belts were for my uncle and myself. Hans, as
a cautious man, had added to our luggage a leathern bottle full of
water, which, with that in our flasks, would ensure us a supply of
water for eight days.
It was nine in the morning. The priest and his tall Meg�ra were
awaiting us at the door. We supposed they were standing there to bid
us a kind farewell. But the farewell was put in the unexpected form
of a heavy bill, in which everything was charged, even to the very
air we breathed in the pastoral house, infected as it was. This
worthy couple were fleecing us just as a Swiss innkeeper might have
done, and estimated their imperfect hospitality at the highest price.
My uncle paid without a remark: a man who is starting for the centre
of the earth need not be particular about a few rix dollars.
This point being settled, Hans gave the signal, and we soon left
Stapi behind us.
SN�FELL AT LAST
Sn�fell is 5,000 feet high. Its double cone forms the limit of a
trachytic belt which stands out distinctly in the mountain system of
the island. From our starting point we could see the two peaks boldly
projected against the dark grey sky; I could see an enormous cap of
snow coming low down upon the giant's brow.
We walked in single file, headed by the hunter, who ascended by
narrow tracks, where two could not have gone abreast. There was
therefore no room for conversation.
After we had passed the basaltic wall of the fiord of Stapi we passed
over a vegetable fibrous peat bog, left from the ancient vegetation
of this peninsula. The vast quantity of this unworked fuel would be
sufficient to warm the whole population of Iceland for a century;
this vast turbary measured in certain ravines had in many places a
depth of seventy feet, and presented layers of carbonized remains of
vegetation alternating with thinner layers of tufaceous pumice.
As a true nephew of the Professor Liedenbrock, and in spite of my
dismal prospects, I could not help observing with interest the
mineralogical curiosities which lay about me as in a vast museum, and
I constructed for myself a complete geological account of Iceland.
This most curious island has evidently been projected from the bottom
of the sea at a comparatively recent date. Possibly, it may still be
subject to gradual elevation. If this is the case, its origin may
well be attributed to subterranean fires. Therefore, in this case,
the theory of Sir Humphry Davy, Saknussemm's document, and my uncle's
theories would all go off in smoke. This hypothesis led me to examine
with more attention the appearance of the surface, and I soon arrived
at a conclusion as to the nature of the forces which presided at its
Iceland, which is entirely devoid of alluvial soil, is wholly
composed of volcanic tufa, that is to say, an agglomeration of porous
rocks and stones. Before the volcanoes broke out it consisted of trap
rocks slowly upraised to the level of the sea by the action of
central forces. The internal fires had not yet forced their way
But at a later period a wide chasm formed diagonally from south-west
to north-east, through which was gradually forced out the trachyte
which was to form a mountain chain. No violence accompanied this
change; the matter thrown out was in vast quantities, and the liquid
material oozing out from the abysses of the earth slowly spread in
extensive plains or in hillocky masses. To this period belong the
felspar, syenites, and porphyries.
But with the help of this outflow the thickness of the crust of the
island increased materially, and therefore also its powers of
resistance. It may easily be conceived what vast quantities of
elastic gases, what masses of molten matter accumulated beneath its
solid surface whilst no exit was practicable after the cooling of the
trachytic crust. Therefore a time would come when the elastic and
explosive forces of the imprisoned gases would upheave this ponderous
cover and drive out for themselves openings through tall chimneys.
Hence then the volcano would distend and lift up the crust, and then
burst through a crater suddenly formed at the summit or thinnest part
of the volcano.
To the eruption succeeded other volcanic phenomena. Through the
outlets now made first escaped the ejected basalt of which the plain
we had just left presented such marvellous specimens. We were moving
over grey rocks of dense and massive formation, which in cooling had
formed into hexagonal prisms. Everywhere around us we saw truncated
cones, formerly so many fiery mouths.
After the exhaustion of the basalt, the volcano, the power of which
grew by the extinction of the lesser craters, supplied an egress to
lava, ashes, and scoriae, of which I could see lengthened screes
streaming down the sides of the mountain like flowing hair.
Such was the succession of phenomena which produced Iceland, all
arising from the action of internal fire; and to suppose that the
mass within did not still exist in a state of liquid incandescence
was absurd; and nothing could surpass the absurdity of fancying that
it was possible to reach the earth's centre.
So I felt a little comforted as we advanced to the assault of Sn�fell.
The way was growing more and more arduous, the ascent steeper and
steeper; the loose fragments of rock trembled beneath us, and the
utmost care was needed to avoid dangerous falls.
Hans went on as quietly as if he were on level ground; sometimes he
disappeared altogether behind the huge blocks, then a shrill whistle
would direct us on our way to him. Sometimes he would halt, pick up a
few bits of stone, build them up into a recognisable form, and thus
made landmarks to guide us in our way back. A very wise precaution in
itself, but, as things turned out, quite useless.
Three hours' fatiguing march had only brought us to the base of the
mountain. There Hans bid us come to a halt, and a hasty breakfast was
served out. My uncle swallowed two mouthfuls at a time to get on
faster. But, whether he liked it or not, this was a rest as well as a
breakfast hour and he had to wait till it pleased our guide to move
on, which came to pass in an hour. The three Icelanders, just as
taciturn as their comrade the hunted, never spoke, and ate their
breakfasts in silence.
We were now beginning to scale the steep sides of Sn�fell. Its snowy
summit, by an optical illusion not unfrequent in mountains, seemed
close to us, and yet how many weary hours it took to reach it! The
stones, adhering by no soil or fibrous roots of vegetation, rolled
away from under our feet, and rushed down the precipice below with
the swiftness of an avalanche.
At some places the flanks of the mountain formed an angle with the
horizon of at least 36 degrees; it was impossible to climb them, and
these stony cliffs had to be tacked round, not without great
difficulty. Then we helped each other with our sticks.
I must admit that my uncle kept as close to me as he could; he never
lost sight of me, and in many straits his arm furnished me with a
powerful support. He himself seemed to possess an instinct for
equilibrium, for he never stumbled. The Icelanders, though burdened
with our loads, climbed with the agility of mountaineers.
To judge by the distant appearance of the summit of Sn�fell, it would
have seemed too steep to ascend on our side. Fortunately, after an
hour of fatigue and athletic exercises, in the midst of the vast
surface of snow presented by the hollow between the two peaks, a kind
of staircase appeared unexpectedly which greatly facilitated our
ascent. It was formed by one of those torrents of stones flung up by
the eruptions, called 'sting' by the Icelanders. If this torrent had
not been arrested in its fall by the formation of the sides of the
mountain, it would have gone on to the sea and formed more islands.
Such as it was, it did us good service. The steepness increased, but
these stone steps allowed us to rise with facility, and even with
such rapidity that, having rested for a moment while my companions
continued their ascent, I perceived them already reduced by distance
to microscopic dimensions.
At seven we had ascended the two thousand steps of this grand
staircase, and we had attained a bulge in the mountain, a kind of bed
on which rested the cone proper of the crater.
Three thousand two hundred feet below us stretched the sea. We had
passed the limit of perpetual snow, which, on account of the moisture
of the climate, is at a greater elevation in Iceland than the high
latitude would give reason to suppose. The cold was excessively keen.
The wind was blowing violently. I was exhausted. The Professor saw
that my limbs were refusing to perform their office, and in spite of
his impatience he decided on stopping. He therefore spoke to the
hunter, who shook his head, saying:
"It seems we must go higher," said my uncle.
Then he asked Hans for his reason.
"_Mistour,_" replied the guide.
"_Ja Mistour,_" said one of the Icelanders in a tone of alarm.
"What does that word mean?" I asked uneasily.
"Look!" said my uncle.
I looked down upon the plain. An immense column of pulverized pumice,
sand and dust was rising with a whirling circular motion like a
waterspout; the wind was lashing it on to that side of Sn�fell where
we were holding on; this dense veil, hung across the sun, threw a
deep shadow over the mountain. If that huge revolving pillar sloped
down, it would involve us in its whirling eddies. This phenomenon,
which is not unfrequent when the wind blows from the glaciers, is
called in Icelandic 'mistour.'
"_Hastigt! hastigt!_" cried our guide.
Without knowing Danish I understood at once that we must follow Hans
at the top of our speed. He began to circle round the cone of the
crater, but in a diagonal direction so as to facilitate our progress.
Presently the dust storm fell upon the mountain, which quivered under
the shock; the loose stones, caught with the irresistible blasts of
wind, flew about in a perfect hail as in an eruption. Happily we were
on the opposite side, and sheltered from all harm. But for the
precaution of our guide, our mangled bodies, torn and pounded into
fragments, would have been carried afar like the ruins hurled along
by some unknown meteor.
Yet Hans did not think it prudent to spend the night upon the sides
of the cone. We continued our zigzag climb. The fifteen hundred
remaining feet took us five hours to clear; the circuitous route, the
diagonal and the counter marches, must have measured at least three
leagues. I could stand it no longer. I was yielding to the effects of
hunger and cold. The rarefied air scarcely gave play to the action of
At last, at eleven in the sunlight night, the summit of Sn�fell was
reached, and before going in for shelter into the crater I had time
to observe the midnight sun, at his lowest point, gilding with his
pale rays the island that slept at my feet.
BOLDLY DOWN THE CRATER
Supper was rapidly devoured, and the little company housed themselves
as best they could. The bed was hard, the shelter not very
substantial, and our position an anxious one, at five thousand feet
above the sea level. Yet I slept particularly well; it was one of the
best nights I had ever had, and I did not even dream.
Next morning we awoke half frozen by the sharp keen air, but with the
light of a splendid sun. I rose from my granite bed and went out to
enjoy the magnificent spectacle that lay unrolled before me.
I stood on the very summit of the southernmost of Sn�fell's peaks.
The range of the eye extended over the whole island. By an optical
law which obtains at all great heights, the shores seemed raised and
the centre depressed. It seemed as if one of Helbesmer's raised maps
lay at my feet. I could see deep valleys intersecting each other in
every direction, precipices like low walls, lakes reduced to ponds,
rivers abbreviated into streams. On my right were numberless glaciers
and innumerable peaks, some plumed with feathery clouds of smoke. The
undulating surface of these endless mountains, crested with sheets of
snow, reminded one of a stormy sea. If I looked westward, there the
ocean lay spread out in all its magnificence, like a mere
continuation of those flock-like summits. The eye could hardly tell
where the snowy ridges ended and the foaming waves began.
I was thus steeped in the marvellous ecstasy which all high summits
develop in the mind; and now without giddiness, for I was beginning
to be accustomed to these sublime aspects of nature. My dazzled eyes
were bathed in the bright flood of the solar rays. I was forgetting
where and who I was, to live the life of elves and sylphs, the
fanciful creation of Scandinavian superstitions. I felt intoxicated
with the sublime pleasure of lofty elevations without thinking of the
profound abysses into which I was shortly to be plunged. But I was
brought back to the realities of things by the arrival of Hans and
the Professor, who joined me on the summit.
My uncle pointed out to me in the far west a light steam or mist, a
semblance of land, which bounded the distant horizon of waters.
"Greenland!" said he.
"Greenland?" I cried.
"Yes; we are only thirty-five leagues from it; and during thaws the
white bears, borne by the ice fields from the north, are carried even
into Iceland. But never mind that. Here we are at the top of Sn�fell
and here are two peaks, one north and one south. Hans will tell us
the name of that on which we are now standing."
The question being put, Hans replied:
My uncle shot a triumphant glance at me.
"Now for the crater!" he cried.
The crater of Sn�fell resembled an inverted cone, the openingof which
might be half a league in diameter. Its depth appeared to be about
two thousand feet. Imagine the aspect of such a reservoir, brim full
and running over with liquid fire amid the rolling thunder. The
bottom of the funnel was about 250 feet in circuit, so that the
gentle slope allowed its lower brim to be reached without much
difficulty. Involuntarily I compared the whole crater to an enormous
erected mortar, and the comparison put me in a terrible fright.
"What madness," I thought, "to go down into a mortar, perhaps a
loaded mortar, to be shot up into the air at a moment's notice!"
But I did not try to back out of it. Hans with perfect coolness
resumed the lead, and I followed him without a word.
In order to facilitate the descent, Hans wound his way down the cone
by a spiral path. Our route lay amidst eruptive rocks, some of which,
shaken out of their loosened beds, rushed bounding down the abyss,
and in their fall awoke echoes remarkable for their loud and
In certain parts of the cone there were glaciers. Here Hans advanced
only with extreme precaution, sounding his way with his iron-pointed
pole, to discover any crevasses in it. At particularly dubious
passages we were obliged to connect ourselves with each other by a
long cord, in order that any man who missed his footing might be held
up by his companions. This solid formation was prudent, but did not
remove all danger.
Yet, notwithstanding the difficulties of the descent, down steeps
unknown to the guide, the journey was accomplished without accidents,
except the loss of a coil of rope, which escaped from the hands of an
Icelander, and took the shortest way to the bottom of the abyss.
At mid-day we arrived. I raised my head and saw straight above me the
upper aperture of the cone, framing a bit of sky of very small
circumference, but almost perfectly round. Just upon the edge
appeared the snowy peak of Saris, standing out sharp and clear
against endless space.
At the bottom of the crater were three chimneys, through which, in
its eruptions, Sn�fell had driven forth fire and lava from its
central furnace. Each of these chimneys was a hundred feet in
diameter. They gaped before us right in our path. I had not the
courage to look down either of them. But Professor Liedenbrock had
hastily surveyed all three; he was panting, running from one to the
other, gesticulating, and uttering incoherent expressions. Hans and
his comrades, seated upon loose lava rocks, looked at him with asmuch
wonder as they knew how to express, and perhaps taking him for an
Suddenly my uncle uttered a cry. I thought his foot must have slipped
and that he had fallen down one of the holes. But, no; I saw him,
with arms outstretched and legs straddling wide apart, erect before a
granite rock that stood in the centre of the crater, just like a
pedestal made ready to receive a statue of Pluto. He stood like a man
stupefied, but the stupefaction soon gave way to delirious rapture.
"Axel, Axel," he cried. "Come, come!"
I ran. Hans and the Icelanders never stirred.
"Look!" cried the Professor.
And, sharing his astonishment, but I think not his joy, I read on the
western face of the block, in Runic characters, half mouldered away
with lapse of ages, this thrice-accursed name:
[At this point a Runic text appears]
"Arne Saknussemm!" replied my uncle. "Do you yet doubt?"
I made no answer; and I returned in silence to my lava seat in a
state of utter speechless consternation. Here was crushing evidence.
How long I remained plunged in agonizing reflections I cannot tell;
all that I know is, that on raising my head again, I saw only my
uncle and Hans at the bottom of the crater. The Icelanders had been
dismissed, and they were now descending the outer slopes of Sn�fell
to return to Stapi.
Hans slept peaceably at the foot of a rock, in a lava bed, where he
had found a suitable couch for himself; but my uncle was pacing
around the bottom of the crater like a wild beast in a cage. I had
neither the wish nor the strength to rise, and following the guide's
example I went off into an unhappy slumber, fancying I could hear
ominous noises or feel tremblings within the recesses of the mountain.
Thus the first night in the crater passed away.
The next morning, a grey, heavy, cloudy sky seemed to droop over the
summit of the cone. I did not know this first from the appearances of
nature, but I found it out by my uncle's impetuous wrath.
I soon found out the cause, and hope dawned again in my heart. For
Of the three ways open before us, one had been taken by Saknussemm.
The indications of the learned Icelander hinted at in the cryptogram,
pointed to this fact that the shadow of Scartaris came to touch that
particular way during the latter days of the month of June.
That sharp peak might hence be considered as the gnomon of a vast sun
dial, the shadow projected from which on a certain day would point
out the road to the centre of the earth.
Now, no sun no shadow, and therefore no guide. Here was June 25. If
the sun was clouded for six days we must postpone our visit till next
My limited powers of description would fail, were I to attempt a
picture of the Professor's angry impatience. The day wore on, and no
shadow came to lay itself along the bottom of the crater. Hans did
not move from the spot he had selected; yet he must be asking himself
what were we waiting for, if he asked himself anything at all. My
uncle spoke not a word to me. His gaze, ever directed upwards, was
lost in the grey and misty space beyond.
On the 26th nothing yet. Rain mingled with snow was falling all day
long. Hans built a but of pieces of lava. I felt a malicious pleasure
in watching the thousand rills and cascades that came tumbling down
the sides of the cone, and the deafening continuous din awaked by
every stone against which they bounded.
My uncle's rage knew no bounds. It was enough to irritate a meeker
man than he; for it was foundering almost within the port.
But Heaven never sends unmixed grief, and for Professor Liedenbrock
there was a satisfaction in store proportioned to his desperate
The next day the sky was again overcast; but on the 29th of June, the
last day but one of the month, with the change of the moon came a
change of weather. The sun poured a flood of light down the crater.
Every hillock, every rock and stone, every projecting surface, had
its share of the beaming torrent, and threw its shadow on the ground.
Amongst them all, Scartaris laid down his sharp-pointed angular
shadow which began to move slowly in the opposite direction to that
of the radiant orb.
My uncle turned too, and followed it.
At noon, being at its least extent, it came and softly fell upon the
edge of the middle chimney.
"There it is! there it is!" shouted the Professor.
"Now for the centre of the globe!" he added in Danish.
I looked at Hans, to hear what he would say.
"_For�t!_" was his tranquil answer.
"Forward!" replied my uncle.
It was thirteen minutes past one.
Now began our real journey. Hitherto our toil had overcome all
difficulties, now difficulties would spring up at every step.
I had not yet ventured to look down the bottomless pit into which I
was about to take a plunge The supreme hour had come. I might now
either share in the enterprise or refuse to move forward. But I was
ashamed to recoil in the presence of the hunter. Hans accepted the
enterprise with such calmness, such indifference, such perfect
disregard of any possible danger that I blushed at the idea of being
less brave than he. If I had been alone I might have once more tried
the effect of argument; but in the presence of the guide I held my
peace; my heart flew back to my sweet Virlandaise, and I approached
the central chimney.
I have already mentioned that it was a hundred feet in diameter, and
three hundred feet round. I bent over a projecting rock and gazed
down. My hair stood on end with terror. The bewildering feeling of
vacuity laid hold upon me. I felt my centre of gravity shifting its
place, and giddiness mounting into my brain like drunkenness. There
is nothing more treacherous than this attraction down deep abysses. I
was just about to drop down, when a hand laid hold of me. It was that
of Hans. I suppose I had not taken as many lessons on gulf
exploration as I ought to have done in the Frelsers Kirk at
But, however short was my examination of this well, I had taken some
account of its conformation. Its almost perpendicular walls were
bristling with innumerable projections which would facilitate the
descent. But if there was no want of steps, still there was no rail.
A rope fastened to the edge of the aperture might have helped us
down. But how were we to unfasten it, when arrived at the other end?
My uncle employed a very simple expedient to obviate this difficulty.
He uncoiled a cord of the thickness of a finger, and four hundred
feet long; first he dropped half of it down, then he passed it round
a lava block that projected conveniently, and threw the other half