Images de page
PDF
ePub

were sur

our present situation as speedily as possible, that we might repass the chasm before we were involved in mist. Our first object, however, was to examine the state of the magnetic needle, which Olafson in his travels asserts to be put into great agitation at the summit of this mountain, and no longer to retain its polarity. What may be the case a hundred feet higher, we cannot aflirm; but at the point we reached, the needle was quite stationary, and, as far as we could judge, perfectly true. We then noted an observation of the thermometer, which we prized to find scarcely so low as the freezing point; and after an application to the brandy bottle, began with great care to retrace the footsteps of our ascent. We found re-crossing the chasm a work of no small danger; for whenever we stuck our poles into the snow bridge, they went directly through. The first person, therefore, who crossed, thrust his pole deep into the lower part of the wall, thus affording a point of support for the feet of those who followed; Mr. Holland, however, who was the second in passing over, had, notwithstanding, a narrow escape, for his foot actually broke through the bridge of snow, and it was with difficulty he rescued himself from falling into the chasm beneath. We were scarcely all safe on the lower side of the chasm, when the mist surrounding us, made it extremely difficult to keep the track by which we had ascended the mountain.'--pp. 178 to 181.

Even without these risks, travelling in Iceland is attended with sufficient danger. Sometimes the way lies over a mass of lava broken into innumerable pieces, in the act of cooling, and full of chasms, from which the force of the air beneath has exploded fragments of all forms and sizes. In one place Mr. Hooker was half an hour in proceeding two or three hundred yards among this rugged lava; where a false step would have precipitated him to certain death. In this place, which is near Thingvalla, numbers of lives have been lost; but when our countryman was lamenting this, the good priest, who was in his company, checked him, by saying it was God's will that it should be so. I know not,' he says, 'whether it arises from a peculiar resignation to the will and providence of God, produced by real piety, or whether it is ascribable to the effect of climate and to the poverty and distress which attend upon the whole life of the Icelanders, that they seem to feel less for the calamities of themselves or of whatever surrounds them than is the case with the natives of other countries. Gloomy and cheerless countries will always give a correspondent tinge to the character of the inhabitants ; but in Iceland there is something more than cheerlessness and gloom: the most portentous and terrific operations of nature have given to this forlorn region horrors peculiar to itself. • We travelled,' says Mr. Hooker, continually among the great masses of rock that lie strewed in the wildest possible disorder about the chasms which they once served to fill up, and frequently as we went on, were deceived by the inaginary sight of houses in

this solitude, which, on a nearer approach, proved to be only huge rocks torn from their situation by the shock of an earthquake, or some terrible convulsion of nature.'

Dreadful, however, as this scenery is, it forms, as it were, only the entrance to the more terrific regions to which the travellers were bound. From a deep hollow of the sulphur mountain they saw a profusion of vapour arise, and heard a confused noise of boiling and splashing, mingled with the roaring of steam, 28 it forced its way through narrow crevices in the rock. The whole side of the mountain, as far as they could see, was covered with sulphur and clay of a white or yellowish colour. In many places the sulphur was so hot that they could scarcely handle it; and wherever it was removed, steam instantly arose. Over this Stygian crust they ventured, in imminent danger of sinking into the scalding mass.

Jets of steam, and fountains of boiling mud, are found in this dreadful district. We may believe Sir G. Mackenzie when he says that the sensations of, a man even of firm nerves,

standing upon

treacherous ground over an abyss, where fire and brimstone are in incessant action, enveloped in thick vapours, and his ears stunned with thundering noise, -can only be well conceived by those who have experienced them. Mr. Bright was at one time in great danger, and suffered considerable pain from one of his legs sinking into the hot clay. Mr. Hooker, in one of his excursions, was in still greater peril; in endeavouring to avoid the suffocating exhalations from a sulphur spring, near which he was gathering some specimens of the mineral productions of the place, he sunk up to his knees in a semiliquid mass of hot sulphur ; but instantly throwing himself at full length upon the ground, he reached a more solid spot with his hands, and was able to drag himself from this scalding bog.

Iceland abounds also with bogs of the common kind; less terrific indeed, but hardly less dangerous. Through these tracts a horse is the surest guide: he seems, Sir G. Mackenzie says, to know precisely where he may place his foot in safety. When in doubt, he feels the ground with his foot before he attempts to place his whole weight upon it; and if he is convinced that there is danger, nothing will induce him to set a step forward. The travellers were told that they should find the road through one of these bogs not so bad, because a bridge had been constructed there for the accommodation of travellers. This proved however to be nothing more than a deep ditch, with loose sharp stones at the bottom, along which they past in a string.

The great objects of curiosity in this extraordinary country are the Geysers. There are few countries without warm springs, but the Geysers are phenomena peculiar to Iceland. Of these we will

give as full an account as the limits of a journal will allow, and as far as possible in the travellers own words.

On approaching the place, it appeared that a mount had been formed of irregular, rough looking depositions, upon the ancient regular strata, whose origin has been similar. The slope of the latter has caused the mount to spread more on the east side, and the recent depositions of the water may be traced till they coincide with them. The perpendicular height of the mount is about seven feet, measured from the highest part of the surface of the old depositions. From these the matter composing the inount may be readily distinguished, on the west side, where a disruption has taken place. On the top of this mount is a bason, which we found to extend fifty-six feet in one direction, and forty-six in another.

At a quarter before three o'clock in the afternoon, when we arrived on the spot, we found the bason full of hot water, a little of which was running over. Having satisfied my curiosity at this time, I went with

rest of the party to examine some other places whence we saw vapour ascending. Above the Great Geyser at a short distance, is a large irregular opening, the beauties of which it is hardly possible to describe. The water which filled it was as clear as crystal, and perfectly still, though nearly at the boiling point. Through it we saw white incrustations forming a variety of figures and cavities, to a great depth; and carrying the eye into a vast and dark abyss, over which the incrustations formed a dome of no great thickness; a circumstance which, though not of itself agreeable, contributed much to the effect of this awful scene.

. Having examined several other cavities, I returned 10 the Geyser in order to collect specimens of the incrustations on the mount. I selected a fine mass close to the water on the brink of the bason, and had not struck many blows with my hammer, when I heard a sound like the distant discharge of a piece of ordnance, and the ground shook under me. The sound was repeated irregularly, and rapidly; and I had just given the alarm to my companions, who were at a little distance, when the water, after heaving several times, suddenly rose in a large column, accompanied by clouds of steam, from the middle of the bason, to the height of ten or twelve feet. The column seemed as if it burst, and sinking down it produced a wave which caused the water to overflow the bason in considerable quantity. The water having reached my feet, I was under the necessity of retreating, but I kept my eye fixed on what was going on. After the first propulsion, the water was thrown up again to the height of about fifteen feet. There was now a succession of jets to the number of eighteen, none of which appeared to me to exceed fifty feet in height; they lasted about five minutes. Though the wind blew strongly, yet the clouds of vapour were so dense, that after the first two jets, I could only see the highest part of the spray, and some of it that was occasionally thrown out sideways. After the last jet, which was the most furious, the water suddenly left the bason, and sunk into a pipe in the centre. The heat of the bottom of the bason soon made it dry, and the wind blew aside the vapour almost im

mediately

6

mediately after the spouting ceased. We lost no time in entering the bason to examine the pipe, into which the water had sunk about ten feet, and appeared to be rising slowly. The diameter of the pipe, or rather pit, is ten feet, but near the top it widens to sixteen feet. The section, which is taken across the longest diameter of the bason, gives a distinct idea of the whole structure of the external part of this wonderful apparatus. The perpendicular depth of the bason is three feet; that of the pipe being somewhat more than sixty feet, though there may be some inaccessible hollows which extend to a much greater depth,

After the water bad descended into the pipe, there was no appearance of any vapour issuing from it, till it had reached the mouth, when a little was visible. Even when the bason was full, the quantity of vapour was far from being so great as might have been expected to proceed from so large a surface of hot water. At five minutes before six o'clock it boiled a little, and continued to do so at intervals. Having thrown a stone into the water while it was perfectly still, I observed that an ebullition immediately took place till the stone reached the bottom. I then requested all the party to provide themselves with large stones, and to throw them into the pipe, on a signal I should give, when the water was still. When the stones were thrown in a violent ebullition instantly followed; and this escape of steam on agitation, may serve to assist a theory of the phenomena.

'Following the channel which has been formed by the water escaping from the great bason during the eruptions, we found some beautiful and delicate petrisactions. The leaves of birch and willow were seen converted into white stone, and in the most perfect state of preservation; every minute fibre being entire. Grass and rushes were in the same state, and also masses of peat, In order to preserve specimens so rare and elegant, we brought away large masses, and broke thein up after our return to Britain; by which means we have formed very rich col. lections; though many fine specimens were destroyed in carrying them to Reikiavik. "On the outside of the mount of the Geyser, the depositions, owing to the splashing of the water, are rough, and have been justly coinpared to the heads of cauliflowers. They are of a yellowishi brown colour, and are arranged round the mount somewhat like a circular flight of steps. The inside of the bason is comparatively smooth; and the matter forming it is more compact and dense than the exterior crust; and, when polished, is not devoid of beauty, being of a grey colour, mottled with black and white spots and streaks. The white incrustation formed by the water of the beautiful cavity before described, had taken a very curious form at the edge of the water, very much resembling the capital of a Gothic column. We were so rapacious here, that I believe we did not leave a single specimen which we could reach; and even scalded our fingers in our eagerness to obtain them. We found the process of petrifaction in all its stages; and procured some specimens in which the grass was yet alive and fresh, while the deposition of the silicious matter was going on around it. These were found in places at a little distance froin the cavity, where the water ruuning from it had become cold.'--pp. 214, 215, 219. VOL. VII. No. Xil.

These

[ocr errors]

These employments, delightful as they were, formed only the interlude of the grand spectacle. They pitched their tent about a hundred yards from the Great Geyser, and kept regular watch during the night. After two false alarms, they were roused to behold an explosion of the New Geyser : there was little water, but the force with which the steam escaped produced a white column of spray and vapour at least sixty feet high, accompanied with a tremendous noise. The second night they were more fortunate.

On lying down, we could not sleep more than a minute or two at a time; our anxiety causing us often to raise our heads to listen. At last the joyful sound struck my ears : and I started up with a shout, at the same moment when our guides, who were sleeping in their Iceland tent at a short distance opposite to us, jumped up in their shirts and hallooed to us. In an instant we were within sight of the Geyser; the discharges continuing, being more frequent and louder than before, and resembling the distant firing of artillery from a ship at sea. This happened at half past eleven o'clock; at which time, though the sky was cloudy, the light was more than sufficient for shewing the Geyser ; but it was of that degree of faintness which rendered a gloomy country still more dismal. Such a midnight scene as was now before us can seldom be witnessed. Here description fails altogether. The Geyser did not disappoint us, and seemed as if it was exerting itself to exhibit all its glory on the eve of our departure. It raged furiously, and threw up a succession of magnificent jets, the highest of which was at least ninety feet. At this time I took the sketch from which the engraving is made: but no drawing, no engraving, can possibly convey any idea of the noise and velocity of the jets, nor of the swift rolling of the clouds of vapour, which were hurled, one over another, with amazing rapidity-

p. 223.

Mr. Hooker's account is equally impressive. We must insert that part of it, which describes the bason of the Great Geyser, because it is a remarkable instance of successful description.

'A vast circular mound (of a substance which, I believe, was first ascertained to be siliceous by Professor Bergman) was elevated a considerable height above those that surrounded most of the other springs. It was of a brownish grey color, made rugged on its exterior, but more especially near the margin of the basin, by numerous hillocks of the same siliceous substance, varying in size; but generally about as large as a molehill, rough with minute tubercles, and covered all over with a most beautiful kind of efflorescence; so that the appearance of these hillocks has been aptly compared to that of the head of a cauliflower. On reaching the top of this siliceous mound, I looked into the perfectly circular basin, which gradually shelved down to the mouth of the pipe or crater in the centre, whence the water issued. This mouth lay about four or five feet below the edge of the basin, and proved, on my afterwards measuring it, to be as nearly as possible seventeen feet distant from it on every side; the greatest difference in the distance not being more than a foot. The inside was not rugged, like the outside ;

but

« PrécédentContinuer »