The New York Times, August 9, 1885, p.11:|
ICELAND AND ITS PEOPLEA COUNTRY FORMED BY VOLCANIC UPHEAVAL.
PRIMITIVE LIFE OF THE INHABITANTS—
FOND OF READING, AND SPEAKING MANY LANGUAGES.
REYKJAVIK, Iceland, July 17.—Iceland owes its existence entirely to volcanic upheaval and has ever been one of the most active volcanic regions of the globe. It is situated in the North Atlantic Ocean, just south of the arctic circle, which it touches, and geographically beongs to the Western Hemisphere, though the circumstances of its discovery and the political changes that took place during the ensuing centuries cast its lot with the Old World.
Its shape is that of an irregular ellipse, with a greater axis of 250 miles and a lesser one of 175 miles, extending nearly northeast and southwest. Two capes reach far out from its western coast, and a large triangular peninsula on the northwest joins the mainland by one of its angles. Its outline, on all except the southern side, is very irregular, being deeply indented by the narrow fijords that are so characteristic of these and Norwegian coasts.
In area the island is about 40,000 square miles, or somewhat smaller than the States of Maine and Ohio, but nine-tenths of this entirely uninhabited...
The farms and villages of Iceland are all contained in a narrow belt that runs around the island, and are situated in the valleys between the mountain chains that radiate from the high land of the interior and extend far into the sea. Within this inhabitable ring the island is one vast desert, a huge tableland that has for ages been the trysting place of nature's most violent forces.
Riven and torn and tossed—the earthquake, glacier, and volcano have united to produce a scene that cannot be equaled. For an extent of 20,000 [square] miles there is utter desolation, inhabited by no human being. From this tableland again rise mountains and volcanoes, singly or in groups, while the snowy domes of the Jökulls (pronounced Yae'kull, and meaning a mountain eternally covered with snow,) tower high over them all.
Every century sees changes in this interior. Hills rise where before there were valleys, boiling springs disappear or burst forth where they had not previously been known, and in the mountain sides or on the plain huge chasms open with reverberating reports and belch forth seas of molten lava.
In the southwestern part of the island, about 60 miles from Reykjavik, stands Hecla, a comparatively small, though very active volcano. Further to the eastward is the terrible Vatna Jökull stretching its glacier arms and riven cliffs over the surrounding country—4,000 miles of ice resting upon a nest of volcanoes that, perhaps, are only waiting the time when they shall, as before, open their huge throats and gashed sides and spread destruction over sea and land, suffocating many birds, animals and men with their noxious gases, destroying the fishes inthe sea, and sending the waters of the rivers hissing and screaming into the air before the approach of the fiery flood. The two most violent eruptions on record have occurred from this group, and several times have they spread ashes and sand over the farms that lay within the course of the wind and over the seas for hundreds of miles.
Perhaps no country has been more accurately mapped than Iceland. The Danish Government, under whose rule the island has been since the fourteenth century, seems to have paid particular attention to surveying its coasts and interior, and the result is one of the most faithfully executed maps in existence.
Every rock and fijord about the coast, each village, farm, and bridle path, and even the glaciers and chasms, to the smallest line in the mountain sides, are put down with an almost microscopic minuteness and a regard for accuracy and detail...
The Vatna Jökull alone remains a blank to mar the beauty of the whole. Defying all attempts at ascent or exploration, it always has been, and ever will be, represented by only the vaguest outlines, unless it again breaks forth with more terrible violence, changing the character of its formation, and perhaps killing many persons whom it is patiently luring into a sense of security by years of silence.
From the name and situation, one might expect to find Iceland a cold, desolate country, shrouded much of the time in snow and bordered like the east coast of its neighbor, Greenland, with almost impenetrable fields of ice. The Gulf Stream, however, plays an important part in modifying and equalizing the climate, and though the Summers are somewhat cooler and shorter, the Winters are far milder than in some parts of our own country. Quite a difference exists between the southern and northern parts of the island; but if we trace the isothermal or line of mean temperature, equal to that of Akurey'ri on the north coast, we will find it leading us far south in other countries that boast a far more salubrious climate...
In the gardens the turnips, carrots, and radishes are pushing their green tufts above the soil, the currant bushes are in full blossom, and the hardy rhubarb spreads its broad leaves to the sun. Besides potatoes and a few hotbed plants, these are almost the only "garden sass" we find in Icelandic regions. Mention is made in the sagas, or old historical stories, of corn and timber growing on the island, but these have long since disappeared, and other countries must now furnish all the wood and grain, together with many other comforts and luxuries of life.
With the exception of the priests (Lutheran) and a few merchants, the people are all farmers. Those who live near the sea, or one of the many fijords, combine several occupations, and thus gain a good livelihood, or even wealth.
The priests hold their position under the Government, and are paid from the public Treasury, but they generally add farming to their official duties. The merchants have their stores at one of the small villages about the coast, and carry a stock comprising almost everything. Sometimes they employ agents who travel through the country buying ponies, which they ship to Scotland, or perhaps they own a small vessel which coasts around the island buying oil and codfish.
The farmer obtains all the necessities of life from the land and waters around him. The rocks and turf are his building material, the bogs furnish inexhaustible supplies of peat for fuel, the rivers swarm with salmon during the Summer, and the sheep yield wool for his clothing. If near the sea, the almost domesticated elder duck contributes its eggs and down, the seals and sharks give oil for his light, and codfish are added to his Winter stores. Once a year he journeys to Reykjavik or one of the smaller villages and barters his produce for things that serve to make his isolated life more comfortable. Usually wool and elder down are the things brought. For these he is given credit by the merchant, and permitted to draw his yearly supply of goods, consisting of ryemeal, flour, coffee, sugar, calico, and lumber.
Upon the farms the houses, with very few exceptions, are clusters of low, turf-covered huts with gable ends, doors, and window frames of wood, and, if seen from a distance, are not easily recognized by the stranger. Sheep and even ponies frequently seen upon the roofs in quest of the grass that grows more luxuriantly there than in the pastures; but the interior of the houses is often made very comfortable by paneling and flooring with wood, painted, and sometimes nicely furnished.
Not having much to do at any season, nor caring to exert himself beyond his yearly necessities, the Icelander finds much time for reading, his favorite occupation. One who cannot both read and write is not to be found, and indeed, as a whole, they are one of the best educated peoples on the globe... A faculty for learning languages is certainly a trait of these people, as every day one meets persons who converse fluently in Danish and English, and perhaps German or French or even Latin...
At several places on the island there are well equipped printing offices. From these, every year, are turned out books, the workmanship of which, both in typography and binding, often surprises the visitor. At Reykjavik, four modest, but ably conducted newspapers appear regularly, two of them weekly and one each bi- and tri-monthly. At Akurey'ri we find two more, and at Seydisfjord, on the east coast, another, each appearing 30 times a year.
Centuries of suppression and monopoly of trade produced their effect upon these people, but of late years, and especially since the acquisition of the new Constitution in 1874, some of the old energy seems to be slowly reviving, and the country is beginning to show signs of commercial importance.
Of travelers the numbers are slowly increasing. Every steamer brings a few, attracted hither by the salmon fishing, the physical or social features of the country, or the novelty of a trip to Iceland.
For one who would view nature in her wildest forms and come in contact with a kind, hospitable people, there are few better places than this. With an interest in his fellow-men and a disposition not to base his impressions upon their worst features, let him come prepared to enjoy his stay, and when the time comes for leaving he will say, with others, that he does not gladly bid adieu.
see also: Greenland News - Norway - Canada - United Kingdom|
All of Iceland is
one time zone at GMT,
with no Daylight Savings time.
Settled by Norwegian and Celtic (Scottish and Irish) immigrants during the late 9th and 10th centuries A.D., Iceland boasts the world's oldest functioning legislative assembly, the Althing, established in 930.
Independent for over 300 years, Iceland was subsequently ruled by Norway and Denmark. Fallout from the Askja volcano of 1875 devastated the Icelandic economy and caused widespread famine. Over the next quarter century, 20% of the island's population emigrated, mostly to Canada and the US.
Limited home rule from Denmark was granted in 1874 and complete independence attained in 1944. Literacy, longevity, income, and social cohesion are first-rate by world standards.
CIA World Factbook: Iceland
Area of Iceland:
103,000 sq km
slightly smaller than Kentucky
Population of Iceland:
July 2007 estimate
Languages of Iceland:
Icelandic, English, Nordic languages,
German widely spoken
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