Icelandic Journals: Notes on 1871 Journey

by Gary Aho

Monday, July 10, 1871

Chlorodyne

This patent medicine, well-known in Victorian times, contained laudanum, chloroform, and cannabis, and it was touted as a cure not just for insomnia, but for neuralgia, and other ailments.  (Rossetti once recommended it to Janey.)

‘where Kari stayed with David . . . in the avenging of Njal’

That Morris uses an incident from Njals Saga, the greatest of the Family Sagas, to mark this remote Orkney island is significant.  It was these sagas that first drew Morris’s attention to Iceland, and on both trips there he visits the most important saga locales.  His comments on them, on the ways that geography influences character and plot, are among the high points in these Journals and should rank among the best critiques we have of these 13th century narratives. Here Morris adds a footnote citing the first English translation of the Njala, by Sir George Webbe Dasent (1817-96).  Its full title gives a better sense of the scope of Dasent’s book:  The Story of Burnt Njal or Life in Iceland at the End of the Tenth Century.  From the Icelandic of the Njals Saga.  With an Introduction, Maps and Plates.  The Introduction stretches to 204 pages, the Appendix and Index another 100 pages.  It is a massive work, imposing and authoritative, and it’s easy to understand the kudos that Andrew Wawn showers upon Dasent in his comprehensive book, Vikings and Victorians: Inventing the Old North in 19th Century Britain (Cambridge:  D.S. Brewer, 2000). See its 6th chapter, ‘George Dasent and Burnt Njal,’ pp. 142-82.  Many British travellers to Iceland had Dasent’s 1861 translation in their duffel;  if Morris had it along, he doesn’t mention it.