Icelandic Journals: Notes on 1871 Journey

by Gary Aho

Tuesday, July 12, 1871

‘a shoal of porpoises’
We have two earlier versions of this ‘very common sea-sight’ that so pleased Morris.  Here’s the first, from the Notebooks now in the British Library:  ‘the only amusement the desolate gray sea gave us was a shoal of porpoises that came leaping after the ship in the funniest manner and made me howl with laughter and their strength was beautiful to see.’  (BL, Additional MS:  45,319A, p. 17).  The second is in a letter Morris wrote to his daughters from Reykjavik a few days later, where the sea creatures are set in a sort of mini-narrative:  ‘we had a good voyage, and I was not very sick:  one day we saw porpoises a long way off and when they saw the ship, they swam after it as fast as they could, jumping out of the water so that you could see them all:  they soon came up with the ship and played about her; it made me laugh so, because they looked like oiled pigs.’  (Kelvin, Volume one, p. 145).  Morris’s final take on the porpoises, in the text prepared for Georgie and thus in CW, seems bland by comparison.