In diplomacy, momentous decisions are often made not in the heat of battle or even argument but over the dinner table, at celebrations, in nooks and corners, by men (in 1874, it was all men) dressed formally and immaculately. The appearance belies the raging undercurrent, the years of meeting, negotiating, the successes and failures, the vested interests.
King Christian IX arrives in Iceland, not as a conqueror but as an absent and distant king. Iceland has not suffered conquest and war but centuries of neglect and exploitation. It has been seen by the Danes as little more than colony from which some profit might be extracted. However, unlike the natives of South America, they are not enslaved to work in the gold mines. There are no gold mines. There are, for a time, sulphur mines but economics means they are abandoned. There are no diamonds, rubies, no minerals, no vast forests that can be used for buildings ships, no exotic spices. There is fish. There is wool. There is meat pickled and smoked. There are horses. None of the products are in great demand, nor does the size of the population mean that what products there are, mostly woolen goods, can be produced in vast amounts. 
There is no mechanization. Everything is done individually by hand.
Iceland and Icelanders are more than anything, a curiosity. Unknown largely, enough off the beaten track that foreigners who want to visit need to rent or buy a yacht, man it, provision it, sail into unpredictable and often fierce weather.
With no wood suitable for building, no lime for mortar, so little fuel that houses don’t have stoves, Icelanders have taken to building houses from layered rock and turf. There are no great cathedrals, no vast public buildings, no great residences. There are farm houses, some as good as those of a well-to-do Scottish farmer, others no more than hovels where people live as if they are underground.
None of this keeps Icelanders from wanting their independence back. They agitate for the right to their own government. They negotiate, they argue, they wear down the opposition of the few people who make themselves wealthy on the current system.
When, at last, King Christian IX comes to Iceland for the first time to bring them a constitution in 1874, there are festivities. The people put on the best show they can manage.
Bayard Taylor, an American reporter, describes one of the major events that is held in the open after the King has been feted at a banquet in Reykjavik.
“The road which was so broad and smooth that it must have been specially made for the festival, now   crossed a long hollow in the stony soil, and climbed a hill opposite, nearly a mile away, where flags and tents, and a moving multitude announced the location of Austurvelli. The broad, rounded summit of the hill had been laboriously cleared of stones, and furnished a space where four or five thousand people could have been accommodated; but not more than two thousand were present. There were a a rostrum for speeches, a tent for the King, another ten which suggested a possibility of refreshments—and that was all. But the elevation, slight as it was commanded a singularly bleak and sublime panoramic view. On all sides the eye overlooked great spaces of sailless sea or barren shore, until, fifty miles away, ranges of dark volcanic hills inclosed the horizon. The level evening sunshine fell coldly across the vast view, the wind blew sharp and keen from the north, and, with every allowance for the tough constitutions of the Icelandic people, I could not see how much festivity was to be extracted from the place, time and temperature.
“Nothing was done, of course, until the King’s arrival….In Iceland nothing is done without singing, and it is the most attractive feature of the celebration thus far. The song was followed by speeches from the rostrum, chiefly greetings to the people, winding up with sentiments and cheers. Admiral Lagercrantz spoke for Sweden, Rolfsen, the author, for Norway (and his eloquence awoke a real enthusiasm), and then various others followed, the admirable male choir of Rejkiavik (sic) interrupting the speeches with national songs.”
It is one thing to say we celebrate June 17 at the statue of Jon Sigurdsson on the Legislative Grounds. Hip hooray. But have you ever wondered what it must have been like in Iceland on this momentous occasion? 
Did you imagine the cleared hilltop, the flags, the tents, the stage, the dignitaries. These are our ancestors participating, listening, discussing observing. This is what this important event was like for them.
Terrible weather. Cold wind. Rain. As usual. They partied anyway. And why shouldn’t they? There weren’t a lot of reasons to celebrate. These events would give them something to talk about all through the next winter and for many years after that. Who came, what they said, how they behaved would be described and analyzed. After all this time, the King had come, he’d been friendly, outgoing, pleasant, talking to Icelanders of different social classes, shaking hands. He’d brought and left behind a constitution.
After a very long time, there was, at last, hope. That, in itself, was worth celebrating.
This visit was the culmination of many years of discussion, arguments, persuasion, agitation, not violence, no bombs, not bullets, not slaughter, and the agreements that had been come to were now being implemented with banquets, with speeches, song and poetry. Would that song and poetry could celebrate the separation of those geographic entities that do not want to be joined. Would that both sides could join in.  Would that Croat and Serb, Southern and Northern Irish, Chinese and Tibetans, all could follow the Icelandic-Danish solution.


In 1874, the Danish king, Christian IX, visited Iceland for the first time. He brought with him a constitution for the Icelanders. It was not a document giving them independence but it was a beginning that would eventually lead to Iceland’s independence from Denmark.
Iceland was originally settled when Norwegian farmers fled the rule of King Harald. These were not Vikings set out to conquer but farmers who didn’t want to have to swear allegiance to this ambitious king who was consolidating small areas under his rule. These settlers brought cows, sheep, horses, families, slaves. They wanted land and independence. For a time they had that. However, because of internal conflict and bloodshed, a treaty was signed in 1262 with Norway and the descendants of those who had risked everything to escape Norway’s rule voluntarily placed themselves in a union with Norway that, in essence, made them subject to Norway.
In 1380 the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway were united and, since Iceland was considered part of Norway, Iceland came under Denmark’s control. The Danes had no need of Iceland’s exports but were able to exploit Iceland for whatever value they could find. The result was hundreds of years of exploitation and poverty.
June 17 is celebrated because it is the birthday of Jon Sigurðsson. While many people worked to obtain Iceland´s indpendence, Jon was considered the leader of the independence movement.
There were many stages to the gaining of independence. However, the king´s visit in 1874 was the critical first step. The king still held the power of a veto over the decisions made in Iceland. However,he had come to Iceland. He´d stood on Icelandic soil. He´d met the people. He´d gone to see the wonder of the Great Geyser and even though the Great Geyser was unimpressed by royalty and didn´t spout, the king had still camped there in the midst of the blasted wilderness. He dined at Thingveller and met Iceland´s upper class, the well-to-do farmers. Perhaps the most telling detail of the king’s visit was that n neither he nor his son could speak Icelandic. The king could not speak to his subjects unless they spoke Danish.
Change is often a slow process. The constitution was revised in 1903. A minister of Icelandic affairs who was to live in the capital city, Reykjavik, was appointed. In 1918 Iceland was recognized at the Kingdom of Iceland. In 1944, Iceland was recognized as a fully independent country.
On this June 17, think on this process. The agitation for independence and self-rule began well before the visit of Christian IX. The process went on for 70 years. With not a shot fired. With no  houses blown up. With no children murdered. This is utterly remarkable, not just on the side of the Icelanders but, also, on the side of the Danes. Think on Libya, on Syria, on the French Revolution, on Ireland, on Ethiopia, on the disintegration of Jugoslavia, on, on, on.
Let us celebrate June 17th in 2012 with prayers for all those vocal and silent Icelanders who were determined to have independence but let us also let us pray for those in Denmark who listened, who thought, who agreed and negotiated in good faith. Let us give thanks for the violence that did not occur, the deaths that did not happen.
Praying seems to be out of fashion today. But science won’t give thanks to those Icelanders and Danes who, over a long period, gave the world a lesson that was and is badly needed. Ask the dead in Homs how they would have valued a dialogue, a conversation, an argument, a dispute in words, in a framework where murdering children was not an option. ]
Celebrate Jon Sigurðsson for the world is desperately in need of more Jon Sigurðssons. But celebrate more than Jon Sigurðsson. Celebrate what, in human history, was a remarkable event, so remarkable that it has left nations friends instead of enemies.

At Last, In Iceland, 1900

And so, your wooden boxes for the horses are ready, your fishing equipment is packed, also your shotgun and shells. You’ve got flannel shirts, some woollen underclothing, a good stout mackintosh. You’ve a bottle of that good Scotch whiskey the guidebook recommends.
According to the guide book–remember it is the year 1900–“pack saddles, guides, and ponies can be hired, the usual charge for a pony and a saddle being 2 kroner per diem, and that for a guide from 4 to 6 kroner per diem, the kroner being equivalent to about 1 shilling 1 pence. Guides and tents can be hired at the capital—Reykjavik. It may be well to mention, however, that tents for those who wish them are usually obtainable from most of the farmers. This saves the trouble and expense transporting them about the country.”
Now, that surprised me. I, for one, didn’t realize that tourism had become such an established business from 1875 to 1900 that farmers kept tents for hire. That didn’t fit in with my impression of Iceland. Interestingly, the short, recommended tour is the same tour that people take today, except today, they go on buses instead of on horseback. The writer recommends Thingveller, Geysir, Mt. Hekla, Gulfoss.
After suggesting that tents can be rented from the farmers, the author cavils a bit and says that while the local people used to charge very little, as Iceland has become more of a tourist attraction, the prices have gone up. Also, most farms only have one tent and that is often old and dilapidated.
The author also suggests that the tourist make certain that he’s got a firm agreement about the price of hay. In this, he’s simply repeating what travelers have commented on since the 1700s. Hay is precious. Some farmers will charge whatever they think they can get for it.
Conditions in Iceland have changed enough that he can say that a night’s lodging “is obtainable almost everywhere throughout the country at the higher class farms, where the best room in the house is invariably reserved for the use of tourists.”
For tourists only visiting Thingveller and the Geysir, there is lots of accommodation. However, for people going farther afield, they have to be careful about their numbers. A party of two can “depend wholly on the farms and parsonages for quarters, and mainly for provisions. At all of the better class farms, there is an abundance of excellent coffee, milk, pancakes, butter, rye bread, smoked, salted, or fresh mutton, and fish…with a few preserved provisions and biscuits, travellers will not fare badly. Of course, at a little expense, another pony can be freighted with say one hundred weight of tinned luxuries and a case or two of wine.”
“The usual charge for a night’s lodging at a farmhouse, with supper and breakfast, varies from 2 to 3 kroner….the daily expense of two tourists travelling together with one guide and their ponies amounts to rather less than 1 pound per day each.” The day of providing shelter and food for travelers without charge but with the giving of a gift, a gift that was often refused, has passed. At one time, a farmer might have one foreigner as a guest in a lifetime. Now, the explorers, the members of Royal Societies, scientists, have been replaced by the curiosity seekers.
Our good Icelandic entrepreneur, Thorgrimur adds a note that nowadays, pasturage for the horses is usually 16 to 20 ore per head, and saddles are charged at 60 ore per day, except when ponies are hired by the month when saddles are free.”
In spite of the much better accommodation, traveling by horse is still hard, the weather unpredictable. Therefore it is recommended that the traveler bring good stout sea-boots, reaching up the thighs and a light pair of porpoise hide shooting-boots for ordinary wear. A good stout macintosh is indispensable and should be made of waterproofed tweed.
The writer emphasizes that everything has to be packed into the wooden boxes made for horse travel. The test of both the packing and the boxes is once they are packed, to roll them down a lengthy flight of stairs.
Reykjavik he praises. “It is pleasantly situated on the shore of a shallow bay on the north of a headland. Seen from a vessel in the harbour, the town has rather a colonial appearance, with its white painted wooden stores built round the curve of the shore with their little jetties stretching far out into the harbour….the streets are broad, and cleanly kept, and the drying of fish is mainly confined to the shore.”
“The chief buildings, none of which can boast of any architectural beauty, are the Cathedral, the Senate, the College, Hospital, Government House, the Antiquarian Museum, and a Free Library.”
“There are two  hotels and a few boarding-houses, in all of which charges are very moderate; a number of stores where everything required by the Icelanders is sold from a needle to an anchor; a post office, two booksellers, a number of silversmiths, printers, harness-makers, photographers, one druggist, a hatter, and several handy-craftsmen.”
This change is absolutely remarkable. In 25 years, Reykjavik has grown, people have been able to break free from the clutches of the farms. They have begun to have professions and trades. Heavens, there is even a road. The author says, “What strikes the stranger most is the almost entire absence of wheeled vehicles, though now that a good road has been made between Reykjavik and Thingvellir, a few vehicles and bicycles are to be seen.” A good road. This is like a miracle. With good roads being built, everything will change.
It has only been 26 years since Christian IX visited and gave the Icelanders their constitution. The picture of Iceland then, given by Bayard Taylor and Samuel Kneeland, or a few years before that, by Richard Burton, was of a populace locked into a rural, agricultural fiefdom which beggared everyone but Danish merchants and a few select farmers. Douglas Scott is giving would-be travelers a picture of a country that while still exotic is changing, is entering a new age.
(With quotes and notes from Sportsman’s and Tourist’s Handbook to Iceland by Douglas Hill Scott)

Reykjavik in 1874

I don’t think most people, including me, have had any idea of what it was like to have the Danish king come to Iceland for the first time in history. It’s easy to say, Christian IX went to Iceland but kings don’t just go somewhere. They are kings. There must be some pomp and ceremony.
Reykjavik, in 1874 was still a small town. There were about two thousand people, I believe. The important people were mostly Danish officials. However, there were some Icelanders with social stature. The country was desperately poor. Yet, they wanted to be good hosts, to behave in a way of which they could be proud.
In this third episode, the king’s ship has arrived, the king has come ashore, and, now, the action shifted to the Governor’s house. Here were Icelanders dressed their best, ready to associate with royalty. Taylor captures the scene in Reykjavik. The women in their picturesque dresses, the men in their dark clothes, the street full of horses for everyone had come to Reykjavik by horse. To travel any distance required not one horse but a number of horses. There will have been horses everywhere.
Taylor and his friends go visiting. He describes these visits and also comments on the Icelanders and the way they deport themselves. He compliments Reykjavik, giving it a good character. It’s been spruced up for this regal visit.
So, here is Taylor. Read his descriptions and imagine that you are there, standing on the street, going visiting.  
“The Bishop, Committee, and other officials waited at the bottom of the garden, until summoned by a chamberlain in a red coat, when they too disappeared behind the Governor’s door. I now turned to inspect the crowd, and found to my surprise that the women were much more picturesque figures than the men. Many of them wore square bodices of some dark color, a gown with many pleats about the waist, with bright blue or red aprons. Nearly all had a flat cap–
or, rather, a circular piece of black cloth—on the top of the head, with a long black tassel on one side, hanging from a silver or gilded cylindrical ring, an inch or two in length. These rings are precisely like those which the women of Cairo wear over the nose, to hold the veil in its place. Some of the girls had their hair braided, but many wore it loose; and I saw one maiden whose magnificent pale yellow mane suggested a descent from Brynhilde.
“The men showed only two colors—the brown of their wadmal coats and trowsers and the ruddy tan of their faces. Few of them are handsome, and their faces are grave and undemonstrative; but they inspire confidence by the simple strength expressed in the steady blue eye and the firm set of the lips. There were plenty of tawny or piebald ponies with manes like lions, in the streets. I suppose many healths must have been drunk during the day, for the old Norse habit still flourishes here; but I saw only one man who was somewhat unsteady on his legs, while he managed to keep his face sober.
“In the afternoon, under the guidance of Herr Magnusson, we made a number of visits. Bishop Pjeturson first received us, and with a gentle, refined courtesy becoming his station. Conversation was carried on in French with himself, in English with his son, and in Danish with his wife. A bottle of champagne was produced, and the kind hosts touched glasses with us, in welcome to Iceland. We explained our object in coming, told of the interest felt by our countrymen in this rare historical anniversary, and claimed kinship of blood on the score of the
early relationship of Goth and Saxon, and our own later infusion of the Norman element. There is no Icelander—no Scandinavian, indeed—but knows and is proud of the race from which he is descended.
“Our next call was on Herr Thorberg, Governor of the Southern Syssel (District) of Iceland. Madame Thorberg spoke English with fluency and elegance,—in fact, we have discovered that the Rejkiavik ladies generally speak English and the gentlemen French. Then we visited, in turn, the Professor of Theology, the Dean, and the Rector of the University. The latter gentleman had heard of the collection of volumes for Iceland made in America—mainly through the efforts of Prof. Willard Fiske of Cornell University,—but stated that, with the exception of a case of
publications of the Smithsonian Institute, nothing of it had yet arrived. The duplicate volumes, when they come, are to be sent to Akureyri, the northern capital.
“It was stretching the hospitality of the gentlemen almost too far to visit them toward the close of a day so important and exciting for them; but nothing could exceed the genial warmth and kindliness of our reception. I notice something of the same quiet dignity, which is a characteristic of the upper classes, also among the common people. It must be a chief feature of the Gothic blood, for it exists in the same form in Spain and some provinces of Sweden. Such men
will take your pay and serve you faithfully, but you must never forget to treat them as equals. The impression which the Icelanders have made upon me, thus far, is unexpectedly agreeable. I am convinced that I should find the ways of the people easy to adopt, and that, once adopting (or at least respecting) them, I should encounter none but friends all over the island.
“As for Rejkiavik, it is far from being the dark, dirty, malodorous town which certain English and German travellers describe. The streets are broad and clean, the houses exceedingly cosy and pleasant, the turf of the greenest, the circle of the fiord and mountains truly grand, and only the absence of any tree suggests its high latitude.”

The Danish King Arrives

 Mrs. Finsen, the Danish Governor’s wife
Bayard Taylor was a famous American travel writer. He wrote articles and travel books and gave public lectures. He had just been in Egypt when his paper instructed him to go to Iceland to attend the visit of Christian IX. It would be the first visit of a king to Iceland and was particularly symbolic because after hundreds of years, Iceland was being granted a constitution. The first step toward regaining her independence was being taken. Americans who were soon to celebrate their hundred year anniversary of independence were particularly interested in political events in Iceland.
A group of seven men, one English, one Icelandic and five American, were able to obtain the use of the Albion with its crew to make the trip from Scotland to Iceland. In all, the boat would  carry twenty crew and seven passengers. Since the boat was not a passenger ship, the travellers had to sign on as crew members, even though as Taylor says, it was simply a convenient fiction.
One of the travellers was S. Kneeland, a medical doctor. After the voyage, he wrote a book about this historic event. As a doctor, he was a trained observer but he was not the travel writer that Taylor was. Taylor knew that to get the attention of his audience, he needed to be specific, to report details that would make scenes come alive.
Talor describes the Reykjavik of 1874 this way. “As soon as our steamer was fairly moored last evening we got into the boats and went ashore. There is a beach three or four hundred yards long, with several wooden jetties running down into the water, the rise of the tide here being seventeen feet. There was quite a little crowd waiting to receive us, and our friend Magnusson no sooner landed than he was recognized and heartily embraced by both ladies and gentlemen.”
Travellers in the past had often described Reykjavik as dirty, smelly and unimpressive. Whether the city had gradually improved or a great effort had been made to clean it up, Taylor has nothing but praise for it.
“Smooth, tolerably Broad streets of volcanic sand and gravel, with flagged sidewalks ; square wooden houses, which seemed stately in comparison with those of Thorshavn ; merchant’s store-houses, without signs, yet generally thronged with people ; little gardens of cauliflower, radishes, and turnips; white curtains, pots of geranium, mignonnette, and roses in the windows.
“Flags floated from all the larger buildings, and a new jetty, with a crimson canopy, was in preparation for the royal landing.
“Finding that I had a letter to the Danish Governor, Finsen, Mr. Thomsen accompanied me to the Government House, a white mansion on a knoll which slopes down bright and green to a little canal, connecting the harbor with a lake behind the town. In the official chamber I found a courteous gentleman in uniform, who regretted that his Majesty’s coming would lessen his power to show the desirable amount of attention to our party. He volunteered, however, to secure us good places for the services in the Cathedral, next Sunday; and this was really all we needed. Coming forth from the presence, I followed the tracks of my friends, and presently found them
at the house of Dr. Jon Hjaltalin, editor of the Saemundur Frodi, a strong, ruddy-cheeked, gray-haired son of the North, in whose welcome there was no uncertain sound. He spoke English readily, gave evidence of much and various knowledge, and seemed rejoiced to meet his journalistic brethren of other lands. We had a most agreeable visit of half an hour, and then returned through the main street, seeking the house of Sheriff Thorshenson. I asked a man who was mending the street whether he spoke Danish; he shook his head but called another workman,
who at once guided us to the Sheriffs door, and when I offered him a piece of money, laughed as if it were a good joke, and ran away.
“The royal pier sloped down to a platform, between a double row of Danish flags hung with green garlands. The gentlemen stood on this platform, and none of their addresses or the replies
There to were audible at a distance of thirty feet. A small crowd of people, gathered on the sand at the edge of the water, cheered with some heartiness, but the main body of the people, about two thousand in number, kept silent, as they heard nothing. In ten minutes all was over: the Governor came up the pier, followed by the King and Prince, -both walking rapidly and looking very cheerful and amiable. They were received with a cheer which was evidently genuine.
“After the King’s suite came the chief officials, the bishop in velvet and satin, a snowy Elizabethan ruff, and a high hat, the clergyman, and the members of the native committee—the latter strong, ruddy, farmer looking men, whose white gloves did not harmonize with their heavy brown coats. There were about forty persons in all, and the whole crowd fell in behind them as they advanced toward the Governor’s residence.
“The door of the Governor’s house opened and Madame Finsen appeared, dressed in a simple black silk, without any ornaments. She descended the steps of the first garden terrace, curtsied at the right moment to the royal guest, a little less deeply to the Prince, and accompanied them to
the door. This sounds like a very simple matter ; but not many ladies would have accomplished it with such admirable grace, tact, and self-possession.
“All Rejkiavik was looking on ; the sun flashed out as if on purpose to light up this little episode, and thus the first landing of a Danish king on the soil of Iceland came to an end.”
(Notes and quotes from Egypt and Iceland in the year 1874, Bayard Taylor)

1874 The King of Denmark Visits

Bayard Taylor was a famous American travel writer and lecturer. He was in Egypt when he received notice from his employer that he should immediately go to Iceland to cover the visit of Christian IX. The king’s visit and Iceland receiving its constitution was that important.
Look at the illustration accompanying this article. Imagine the contrast between Egypt in 1874–palm trees, sand, heat, blue skies, warm ocean—and then Iceland. In this five part series, you’ll read about Taylor and his journey to join the Icelanders as the king of Denmark gives them their constitution.
 He first travels to London, England. He finds London much changed since he visited six years previously.  There is so little coal smoke that “the dome of St. Paul’s can be seen six miles away, with new thoroughfares cut through the narrow and tangled old alleys, and gay suburbs planted wherever you remember a field or common, the city seems to have become a soberer Paris. The embankment along the Thames, with its spacious drive, its trees and gardens.”
In Iceland, conditions are dire. It’s 1874 and Iceland is still suffering the effects of disastrous weather, volcanic calamity, oppressive Danish trade laws and its own rigid adherence to the past.
Meanwhile, Taylor says, he travelled four hundred and one miles from England to Scotland in less than ten hours by rail but complains that there are no sleeping cars and baggage isn’t checked in.
In Edinburgh he is joined by his travelling companions and Herr Hjaltalin. The Edinburgh and London Shipping Company has offered the use of their steam yacht, the Albion, to make this historic journey.
On the Albion, they first make their way to the Orkneys, then the Shetlands and, finally, the Faroes (the sheep islands).
“On approaching Thorshavn, two Danish men-of-war showed themselves through the mist. The royal standard floating at the stern showed that we had overtaken His Majesty Christian IX., on his way to Iceland. It was nearly nine o’clock, and cloud and twilight combined dimmed the picture of the town; yet its roofs of grassy turf were so bespangled with the white cross of Denmark on its red field, that the effect was something like that of an illumination. Our boats were lowered as soon as the anchor held, and we made for the shore. There are one or two small and rude landing-places, and at one of them a group of friendly
Faroese assisted us to get ashore.
“There are no streets, properly speaking, but a multitude of irregular lines, winding and climbing among the houses, some roughly paved, some leading over the natural rock. The buildings are all of wood, tarred for better preservation, with roofs of birch bark, upon which is a sod a foot thick, always kept green and luxuriant by this moist, temperate air. The poorer dwellings, into which I glanced as we passed, are often but a single room, in which the whole family cooks, eats, and sleeps.
“Fields of grass, oats and potatoes, inclosed by stone walls, stretched for a mile or two back of the town.
“At eleven we went to church, a neat white building, large enough to accommodate five hundred persons. The people flocked in until all the seats were taken—sturdy, sun-burnt frames, women apparently as hardy as men.
“The bells chimed, not very musically ; the front door of the church—the portal of state—was unbolted, and finally Gov. Finsen, in full uniform, holding a white-plumed chapeau on his arm, entered, preceding the King. Christian IX. and Prince Waldemar followed, the latter in a plain morning suit of gray. The King must be near sixty years of age, but looks considerably younger. He has a good nose and chin, wears a heavy mustache, and would be quite handsome but for a lack of expression in the eyes. He walked quickly up the aisle, nodding to the right and left, and took his place near the altar, whereon (as is customary in the Lutheran Church of Denmark and Sweden) large wax candles were burning. Prince Waldemar is a ruddy, gray-eyed, stout young man of twenty-one. The Minister of Justice, Klein, a chamberlain or two, naval officers, Carl Andersen the poet, and others, about twenty in all, followed the royal personages, took their seats, and the service began.
“The people, I noticed, all saluted the King very respectfully, but with a simple, quiet dignity of their own. There was no running after him, no pressing to get near, no cheering, or any other token of special enthusiasm. Personally, I believe be is liked; but he represents a dynasty almost new, and possesses no traditions of loyalty. The Faroese have always been more liberally treated by Denmark than the Icelanders, and they have no important favors to ask at this season. This is, it is true, the first time a King of Denmark has visited the islands ; but it hardly has a further significance.
“Stromoe has a length of fifteen or twenty miles, but very little of the soil can be cultivated, and the population is mostly centered in the little coves where fishing boats can find shelter.
“There were many visitors to the royal frigate Jylland during the afternoon, including a number
of Faroese ladies, and, to judge from the tunes played by the band, there must have been much and lively dancing on deck. A dozen boat-loads of exceedingly merry human freight were carried to shore, and then the King followed, to pass another night at the Governor’s house.
“Their (the Faroese) lives are rude and hard, for high waves and furious currents in the fiords,
and windy hurricanes on the hills, limit even their possible labor, and the best fortune barely gives them enough barley, fish, and milk to live upon.
“Thorshavn lies in latitude 62° north, yet the Winter temperature never falls below 14 , rarely below 20 , and the sheep continue to pasture in the valleys. There were formerly forests of birch trees in sheltered parts, but they have long since been exterminated, and peat is used for fuel. A vein of coal has been discovered on one of the islands. Barley grows tolerably well, up to a height of about three hundred feet above the sea : beyond that line it will not ripen.
“The summits of the mountains, which are broad, flat table-lands from one to three thousand feet high, are swept by such furious gusts of wind that no vegetation can exist there. The earth and hardy herbage are torn from the rock, rolled up like a sheet of paper, and hurled far into the valleys.
“For the sum of three English shillings the obliging postmaster sent off a boat, at two in the morning, for our last letters, and then we got up steam for departure.
“The two frigates were to sail in the afternoon, and it was necessary that we should get the start
of them, in order to secure the simplest accommodations in Iceland. “
(With notes and quotes from Bayard Taylor’s Egypt and Iceland in the year 1874. A slightly different version of this series appeared in Logberg-Heimskringla. If you don’t have a subscription, you miss out on some good stuff.)