Icelandic Journals: Notes on 1871 Journey

Saturday, July 22, 1871

'Danish, which as a true-born Icelander, he hates of course,'
Morris usually avoids anti-Danish sentiments, though he must certainly have encountered them often on the journey, since he was travelling with Magnusson, good friend to Jon Sigurdsson, then at the Althing arguing against Danish rule, the Danish monopolies in charge of trade, and the like. See above: 'most noteworthy . . .' under Friday, July 14.

'just like the hell-mouths in 13th century illuminations'
Morris was rapidly becoming an expert on such manuscripts and the early printed books that followed them. And the party is now close to Hekla, Iceland's most famous volcano, and regarded throughout the middle ages as the actual entrance to Hell. A famous early map shows Hekla vomiting flames and smoke. See map on Illustrations page.

'that was Thorsmark'
Now Jon leads them into this fabled wilderness, the residence of outlaws, giants, and all manner of fierce 'landvaettir.' [land spirits] Morris's descriptions of Thorsmark in the next few pages are sharp and fine, to my mind as evocative and important as his earlier reactions to the Faroes. See above: 'best sight of the Faroes' under Tuesday, July 11.

'Its over the Thorsmark wilderness that Eyjafjallajokull looms. This mountain made international head-lines in April, 2010, when ash-laden clouds from an erupting volcano beneath one of its glaciers closed down jet travel across the Atlantic.'

'I felt cowed . . . a feeling of exaltation too, . . . how people under all disadvantages should find their imaginations kindle amid such scenes.'
Many British travellers have attempted to describe Thorsmark's twisted cliffs and deep caves, its massive glaciers, its rushing and roaring waters everywhere; none have done it better than Morris in these pages. He manages to 'kindle' our imaginations as well.

'no work houses or lunatic asylums'
As in England, or in other more developed European countries. A place where a political point might have been made, regarding pre-capitalist fellowship, or the like, but Morris, unlike some of his recent biographers, does not draw such lessons, in these journals, from what he encountered in Iceland.

'Faulkner has no genius for cookery.'
Morris was proud of his own role as the expedition's cook, and here he is also joshing Faulkner, who had shot 'at a venture,' the dismal birds that provide the main course. He has his primary audience, Georgiana, in mind, knowing she would appreciate such remarks. 'Magnusson, writing forty years later, has a different audience in mind when he adds the footnote with the scientific name of the birds. Such notes seem pedantic, quite unlike Morris's, which are often playful and ironic. We get a sense of why Cockerell told May Morris—who had enlisted Magnusson's aid with the Icelandic texts in the Collected Works—that the Icelander could be 'tiresome.' See my Introduction to Three Northern Love Stories.