Icelandic Journals: Notes on 1871 Journey

Tuesday, July 18, 1871

'I confess it was with pride'
Morris comments several times—it becomes an interesting and often humorous theme in the IJ—on his prowess as camp cook. Morris had practiced for this job before leaving England. Mackail says that 'the Burne-Jones children long remembered vividly how Morris came one day and built a little hearth in their garden with loose bricks, over which he cooked a stew in the manner of some pirate or backwoodsman in a story-book' (Life, vol. 1, pp. 241-42). Since Mackail had married one of those children, he speaks here with easy authority.

'Magnusson knew and embraced'
Morris could not have had a better guide round the saga steads of Iceland, for Magnusson knew the prominent folk at every site, as well as all pertinent saga lore. Morris adds a footnote here re the relatively few Icelanders they saw on the road. They were busy with farm work, and many were at the Althing, the Icelandic parliament, then in session in Reykjavik. Jon Sigurdsson (see note at July 15) was presiding at these parliamentary meetings. His work there would lead to an Icelandic constitution in 1874, only a few years off. Morris always skirts political commentary in the IJ.

'great joy of my fellow travellers'
Once again Morris invites Georgie to join in his mates' laughter at his ineptitudes. At the outset of the trek, he loses, first, his 'tin panniken' (a mess-kit), and then one of his slippers.

Hekla
The highest and most famous of Iceland's approximately 150 active volcanos, Hekla has spouted smoke and lava many times since the first recorded eruption in 1104. There were major eruptions in 1300, 1510, 1693, 1766, 1845, and 1947, each of them destroying farms, often creating famine conditions for many Icelanders. The eruption of 1845 lasted for seven months, that of 1947 for thirteen months. Long believed to be one of two entries to Hell (Stromboli was the other), Hekla was not climbed until 1750. But in the 19th century, after the advent of the steamboat and the rise of tourism, many visitors had an ascent of Hekla on their itinerary. Richard Burton was scornful of the supposed difficulties of the climb. See my article, 'Iceland on the Brain.'

'trading station at Eyrarbakki'
The Morris party stopped at several such stations as they made their way around the island. They never stayed in an Icelandic stead. The stations were relatively clean, roomy, well-stocked. They were part of the Danish monopoly that helped keep Icelandic farmers in fairly severe poverty.