Icelandic Journals: Notes on 1871 Journey

Saturday, July 15, 1871

'for the Geysirs with an English party'
Most tourists went directly from Reykjavik to these unusual and striking thermal pools and spoutings. The Morris party went directly into Njala country. They did stop at the Geysirs ten days later, but Morris was not happy about it. See his scornful comments in entries under July 25.

'the little beast'
As Morris's footnote here tells us, he shipped this horse back to England. May Morris, in her Introduction to the IJ, has a wonderful description of the little horse at Kelmscott, fat and contented though perhaps a bit lonely. And she adds, 'it was long a grief to us children to know that the fate of many of his fellows when sold to the Scottish dealers was to go down into the mines where they never saw daylight again.' (Introduction, pp. 28-9). Morris himself had made a similar point in a later entry, at Monday, July 25: 'They are bought principally for work in the coal mines; it seems rather too hard a fate for the spirited courageous little beasts.' It's interesting that he chose to omit this observation from the fair copy he sent to Georgiana. May's footnote on p. 61 brings it back into the record.

'a mocking stock, an abusing block'
Morris, playfully, and surely with Georgie in mind, often casts himself in such terms, as an ineffectual and over-weight bumbler, one who loses his gear and goes off to write in his journal while the others set up camp, and so forth. This is not the 'club-man persona' that Purkis detects in the IJ (The Icelandic Jaunt, p. 11).

'hidden and mysterious parcel in its bowels'
Morris's long and elaborate description of this parcel and of the wild hilarity of the companions when they discover its contents, a kind of mock-heroic narrative, seems a puzzling addition to a travel narrative, until we recall that Georgie would appreciate Morris's sense of the absurd, would be pleased to enter the circle of laughter. At any rate, Morris thought that was the case.

'most noteworthy of them was Jon Sigurdson'
There's a statue of this man in Parliament Square in the center of Reykjavik. Jon Sigurdsson (1811-79) organized and led Icelandic resistance to Danish rule, and his political work led in 1874 to a Constitution that granted Iceland partial independence. His birthday, June 17, is Iceland's Fourth of July, and Jon's picture graces Icelandic stamps and its 500 Krona banknote. That Morris would devote three lines to Jon, the most important and revered Icelander of the 19th century, and 40 lines to a carton of mis-sent scents seems rather unfortunate, but again we're reminded that Morris was writing for Georgie rather than posterity. Jon was the editor of the Icelandic journal, Ny Felagsrit, that published Morris's 'Iceland First Seen' ('I Landsyn vid Island') in 1872. See my note, above: 'the mainland, a terrible shore indeed,' under Wednesday, July 12.