Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, Transmitted to Congress, With the Annual Message of the President, December 7, 1874
to Mr. Fish.
Copenhagen , August 20, 1874. (Received September 9.)
Sir: I have the honor to send you, herewith inclosed, an account of the festivities connected with the one-thousandth anniversary of the settlement of Iceland, in which His Majesty the King of Denmark took a prominent part. The said account contains, also, a synopsis of the leading features of the constitution granted to Iceland by the King of Denmark, which constitution went into effect on the first day of this month.
The said account was taken from the London Times of August 17, 1874.
I am, &c.,
Concerning the one-thousandth anniversary of the settlement of Iceland. (From the London Times of August 7, 1874.)
[From an occasional correspondent.]
I write to-day under difficulties, for we have had a mighty tossing to go through on our onward progress since we left Faroe last Monday at 4 o’clock in the morning. Having glided along a perfectly calm, almost satin sea, for some hours, unmistakable indications of a rising south-southwest wind began to manifest themselves, and before long these manifestations had found a final realization in a tolerably stiff gale, accompanied by a sea such as only the North Atlantic can roll up when the wind has traveled on for a long time. But the gallant little steamer pushed onward, upward, northward, through a succession of alternate glooms of passing fogs and brightening lifts on the horizon. Late on the 28th the West men’s Isles (Vesmanneyjar) broke suddenly through i the general dimness and uncertainty of the view, with their jagged sky-line and abrupt precipices. Having in vain attempted for an hour to rouse the inhabitants, for the purpose of being piloted into the harbor, we put to sea again, and early the following morning we found ourselves hurled by gale and a terrific sea along the mountain-range tapering off into the Reykjanes. We anchored in the bay of Reykjavik shortly after 4 o’clock to-day, and soon found ourselves in the shingly streets of the capital of Iceland. The name of the place means Reekwick or Steambay, and is derived from some hot springs in the neighborhood. Every house in the place is built in the gable-; style of architecture, if such manner of house-building deserves indeed such an artistic-sounding name. The shore is lined with the store-houses of the merchants, each of whom is a seller of everything for which he can find market in the country, with the exception of medicines, which are sold by monopoly, under the supervision of the state. Some of these stores aspire to a certain degree of loftiness—loftiness for Iceland, mind—and have their facades, painted in various degrees of dull shades, when not simply covered over with tar, turned sea-ward, with their one or two rows of small square windows, admitting light on the principle of saving, and air on the principle of resistance. The foreshore is traversed by some half-dozen “bridges “or piers, at which landing is effected in boats from the ships lying in the roads. As you land and enter the capital yon find that it is regularly built, along straightly laid out streets, with open gutters on either side of the main road, directly under the windows of the houses which line the streets, the windows, in the majority of cases, being so low that you can see into and through the houses as you pass on.
There are public buildings in Reykjavik, but not many; such are the college, the public library, the cathedral, the hospital, the printing-press—a national property—the governor’s residence, and the jail. The most important in size is the college—a square, uninteresting building of wood, brick, and lime, already tottering to its fall in the twenty-ninth year of its existence. The cathedral, another modern building of a nondescript sort of style of architecture, stands also on the verge of its collapse, the building having been completed in the same year as that of the college. It appears the builders of these edifices were not aware that mixing salt sea-sand with the mortar [Page 371] must necessarily destroy them in a short time, nor that, unless means were adopted for arresting the capillary attraction, the humidity ascending from the damp soil of un-drained Reykjavik must necessarily accelerate the destruction at an incalculably rapid rate. The fate of these buildings seems likely to be shared very soon by the lately-erected public library, a stone structure in the immediate vicinity of the college, which already has accumulated in the porous stone of which the walls are made such an amount of damp that the walls in winter grow alternately rimy and dripping according to the changes of the atmosphere from thaw to frost, or the reverse. This building was erected only a few years ago out of funds bequeathed for the purpose by the late Mr. Kellsall, of London, who is also reported to have bequeathed his library to Iceland at the same time. His money has come to hand; his books are probably still on the way. The residence of the governor, in common with, many other institutions of the world, traces its history back to humble origin, having served as a house of correction, until it was found that the country was barren of criminal, as, indeed, of any other productiveness, and the edifice arose from its aimless humility to do service for a higher purpose. This year it will be elevated into the rank of a royal residence for the first time in its history.
Socially speaking, the capital of Iceland consists of three main elements, the civil and ecclesiastical functionaries, the mercantile community, and the so-called Tómthússmenn (i. e. empty-house men,) people who cultivate no grass and, consequently, keep no cow. The absence of the cow from an Icelandic household constitutes its “emptiness.” A fourth class might, perhaps, deserve mention, namely, the class of the poor, which is here pretty numerous, the support of whom falls very heavily on the community at large. The class of the civil functionaries is made up of the governor, Land-shöfdingi, the governor of the West and East, who receives the title of Amtmadr (from German Amt) yfir Sadr og Vestramti, the mayor (bœjarfógeti,) the so-called Landsskrifari, or official secretary to the governor; the postmaster, the Landfogesi, or public accountant, and several others of minor prominence in the administrative community. The ecclesiastical element is represented by the bishop, the learned Right Rev. Dr. Pjetursson, the head master of the Theological Seminary; Mr. Melsted, a layman, strange to say, and his three assistant masters, and the dean of the cathedral. A sort of intermediate link between the civil functionaries and the ecclesiastical representatives is formed by the college masters, at the head of whom the learned Jon Thorkelsson has lately been placed by the government of Denmark. These men, together with the resident students and graduates, form the literary aristocracy of Reykjavik. The commercial community plays a part in the social life of the place far beyond that which its education and literary attainments would elsewhere entitle it to. The fact is that this is the wealthy class of the town, and finds by its wealth the way to the fore, which otherwise would be barred to it. The greater number of these people are Danes; but their number and influence, though still considerable, are fast waning here as elsewhere, before the national co-operative associations, which of late years have sprung up over the country, with a view to wrenching the trade of the island out of the hands of the Danes. The attempt promises to be successful, and will in that case have a wonderfully improving effect upon the country generally, as all the moneys which are now drawn out of the country by the Danish merchants at Copenhagen will find circulation and employment in the country itself, and thereby will largely contribute to the awakening of the yet dormant spirit of enterprise in these latitudes. The class of the Tómtliússmenn is, generally speaking, the fishing class; it outnumbers all the other classes put together, and supplies exclusively the paupers of the place. The habitations of these empty-house men are mostly sod-thatched cots with a wooden gable, facing the road in front of them, through which a door lends access to the interior, where, on the ground, is found the kitchen, the pantry, and the guest-stove or guest-chamber, while an ascent is effected aloft by a ladder to the dormitory of the family, which is generally divided into two portions, with a partition of deal-panelling between; man and wife, and sometimes children, occupying one portion, and the servants the other. Air is invariably admitted in a far too miserly measure, and the space allowed for breathing inside these houses is calculated to cripple life in its tender stages and to breed fever and pestilence. It speaks volumes for the purity and vitality of the Icelandic atmosphere that these habitations should be tenanted by a generally able-bodied and tolerably healthy population. The main reason for this is, no doubt, that these “empty houses” are built on the two eminences which from east and west rise above the low dale in which the heart of the town is situated, the substratum, moreover, being lava heaped together more or less loosely, so that water runs not only rapidly down the hillsides, but also rapidly through the soil. Reykjavik presents by no means the aspect of a community spending a life of an unbroken and misty dullness. There are evening parties here of not unfrequent occurrence, although generally arranged on the principle of social exclusiveness, and family dances and public balls generally enliven the long nights of winter. Private theatricals, too, form a large item in the midwinter pastimes, and are open to the public at a low rate of payment, and are, as I need not add, eagerly sought and attended.[Page 372]
In summer the life is more or less one of change and excitement in various degrees owing to the growing influx of foreign tourists and other visitors, as well as the common custom of utilizing every fair Sabbath for social excursions on horseback into the country, and complaints are sometimes heard of these excursions being more numerously attended than the cathedral church.
It was perhaps well that I could not continue in bed after 5 o’clock this morning, as I have had an opportunity of witnessing alone and undisturbed the loyal solicitude wherewith these unsophisticated subjects of King Christian IX mean to welcome him to-day. In every direction hands are busy removing from the not over-cleanly streets of Reykjavik whatever eyesores may possibly meet the casual glance of the sovereign. The gutters are cleaned out and the refuse removed to such a distance that pollution of the sweet air of the place is impossible. Flag-staffs are being arranged, now attached to the house-tops, now slantingly thrust out of open windows. The pier where His Majesty is to land is decorated with red cloth under foot, and festoons are hung on either side of it supported on poles, and terminating in what is meant to represent a gate of honor. The festoons are made of homely herbs, chiefly heather of various kinds, interspersed here and there with tiny Alpine flowers, which give a delicate relief to the heavy heather-bloom. Altogether, these festoons are very tastefully arranged and knit in quite an artistic manner. The gate of honor represents a canopy resting on bare wooden poles and terminating in a red cushion at the top supporting a crown. To the right of the pier is erected a stand for the fair sex, where, as they are not expected to cheer His Majesty, it being considered an unladylike proceeding, they are to wave him their welcome with white handkerchiefs. A watchman is already stationed on an eminence above Reykjavik at the so-called college-beacon, whose business is to give the signal when His Majesty is sighted for the ships in the harbor to decorate. The harbor itself presents an unusually festive appearance. There is a German man-of-war sent specially for the occasion; a Swedish, under the command of Admiral Lagerkrautz; a Norwegian, with a deputation on board of Norwegian students, littérateurs, and poets, the latter two sent by order of King Oscar of Sweden. Then there are two French men-of-war and a Danish gunboat, besides a goodly variety of other craft of various sizes. Shortly before 1 o’clock the Jylland passed through the assembled men-of-war, from the manned yards of which there re-echoed a loud and long hurrah. As soon as she had dropped anchor, Governor Finsen went on board to pay a visit to His Majesty, and soon returned with the message that he would land punctually at 2 p.m.
At 2 o’clock precisely the first king who ever set foot on Iceland stepped ashore in the person of His present Majesty of Denmark. On the pier he was received by the corporation of the town of Reykjavik and by the public functionaries resident in the town. He had expressed a wish to the governor that he might not receive an address, but the short address here following was presented:
“Most Gracious King: At the moment Your Majesty steps ashore in Iceland—the first king who, during the thousand years this country has been inhabited, has set its foot on its soil—I may be “permitted, in the name of the whole country, and especially in the name of the town of Reykjavik, to bid Your Majesty a cordial welcome.
“Most Gracious King: Iceland is a poor country, considering the scarcity of its inhabitants and the condition of their material comforts; but if regard be had to the memories of the past thousand years, then Iceland is a wealthy country, and it abounds no less in loyal faith and love to Your Majesty. Our millennial festivity, therefore, becomes double glorious, both, by Your Majesty’s presence and participation therein and by the free constitution wherewith it has pleased Your Majesty to inaugurate this jubilee; and thereby the feast has become not only one of memories but one of joy and hope; joy at seeing our beloved ruler among us; hope of a vigorous and happy development of the intellectual and material forces of Iceland.
“Most Gracious King: By these two events Your Majesty has created for yourself in the history of Iceland a memory which will never fade away, but will be faithfully cherished in a grateful recollection as long as this country exists. Every Icelander meets Your Majesty, therefore, with jubilant ‘welcome,’ and prays Almighty God to let his blessing descend abundantly over Your Majesty and your royal house.
“Long live our beloved King, His Majesty King Christian IX.”
To this address His Majesty replied, to the effect that there had never existed a doubt as to the sincerity of the attachment of the Icelanders to their sovereign. It was to him a matter of great joy to find himself amid his faithful Icelanders, and he hoped the constitution he had brought with him would prove a powerful aid toward what he had especially at heart—the intellectual and material development of his beloved Icelandic subjects.
After this reply had been delivered, the governor introduced the official assembly on the pier, whereupon His Majesty walked up towards the assembled crowds and was greeted by a loud Icelandic cry from the multitude, “Long live our King Christian IX,” while the women wafted unsparingly their white kerchiefs, thus giving a sparkling [Page 373] kind of effect to the welcome, which was really a very enthusiastic one for Iceland. His Majesty was now escorted on foot, preceded by the mayor of Reykjavik, to the place where he had intimated it was his pleasure to reside during his stay in the country, and as he approached the gate another crowd, apparently as numerous as that which had greeted him at the pier, received him with repeated and hearty cheers, to which he graciously bowed his pleasure. Approaching the door, he was met by Mrs. Finsen, who in a very homely but exceedingly graceful manner came down the steps leading up the terrace to the entrance and bade her Sovereign and guest “many times welcome.” Immediately on entering the house His Majesty gave audience to the public functionaries and the corporation of Reykjavik, whereupon the official and formal proceedings of the day came to an end.
His Majesty is accompanied by his son, Prince Waldemas, and several distinguished persons, such as Chamberlain Baron Holten, Adjutant Hedemann, Mr. Klein, who is to be minister for Iceland from next Saturday (August 1;) Professor Steenstrup, the antiquarian; Professor Sorensen, a famous Danish sea-painter; the young poet, Carl Andersen, who acts as interpreter to His Majesty, and several others. Among the distinguished Danes not of the royal suite who have come to witness the proceedings, I may mention the learned Dr. Rosenberg, a phenomenon among his people, as being the only one who has had the courage persistently to advocate the cause of Iceland against Denmark, and Mr. Kaufman, a young poet who has brought Iceland on this occasion the best poetical greeting it has received from Denmark. Of the Norwegian deputation i will content myself with mentioning Mr. Kildal, Mr. Rolfson, Mr. Janson, the poet, and Mr. Storm, who has lately obtained the gold medal of the Royal Society of Sciences of Copenhagen for a work on the sources of Snorri Sturluson’s Heimshringla. These Norwegians are all men of ability, Mr. Kildal and Mr. Rolfson particularly having won great names among the people for fiery eloquence as Janson has for poetry. I should become too much of a mechanical chronicler if I were to enumerate the number of people who have come here on this occasion as representatives of foreign journalism. But as a curiosity I cannot refrain from mentioning that a Russian paper of St. Petersburg and a Hungarian paper of Buda-Pesth have sent each a correspondent here.
To-day a great change is made, theoretically at least, in the relations between Iceland and Denmark. Iceland ranks now among the constitutional entities of political Europe, The constitution which was promulgated on the 5th of January last comes, or rather has come, into force to-day, according to the provisions of its last paragraph. It was, perhaps, wise of the advisers of the King not to introduce it with any pomp or ceremony this morning, for that ceremony would have thrown a damper on all the succeeding ceremonies, which have in reality, nothing to do with the constitutional change. It is not necessary here to go through the history of the long struggle which preceded the eventual grant of the constitution. On the part of the King the grant becomes an act of gracious generosity; for it is a well-known fact that the King has never thrown himself in the way of the wishes of his Icelandic subjects in this matter. The question has never met with any resistance from the dynasty, but only from the national liberal party in Denmark, whose object it has been all along to make the Icelanders the subjects of the Danish subjects of their King. There has been so much said about the liberty granted by this constitution that I cannot do better than give an accurate précis of the more important of its provisions, in order to let the reader judge for himself.
This document, which purports to regulate only home affairs, is divided into seven chapters. Chapter 1, sections 1 to 13, deals with the relation between the King and the government on one side and the legislative assembly, the althing, on the other. Paragraph 1 provides that the legislative power rests with the King and the althing, the executive power with the King, and the judicial power with the judges. Iceland has no voice in imperial questions, while it is not represented at the Rigsdag at Copenhagen, and consequently pays nothing toward imperial expenditure. 2. The King has supreme power in all home affairs, with such restrictions as are provided in this constitution, and executes that power through the minister for Iceland. The highest power in Iceland is to be given to the governor, (Landshöfdingi,) who is appointed by the King. 3. The minister is to be responsible for the constitution being faithfully observed. The althing, on its part, has to call the minister to account, according to rules to be framed hereafter. If the althing have reason to complain of the manner in which the governor brings his power to bear, the King decides, should the althing demand it, in each particular case, whether and how he may be called to account for his acts. 4. The King grants all such offices as he has granted hitherto. This may be altered by law. No one is to be appointed to a public office in Iceland unless he be a Danish subject by birth and have the requisite knowledge of the language. Every functionary is to take oath to the constitution. 5. The King summons the althing to a session every other year. Without special royal consent the session may not last longer than six weeks at a time. 6. The King can summon an extraordinary [Page 374] session of the althing when he pleases, and decides how long such a session is to last. 7. The King can prorogue the regular althing for a certain time, but never longer than four weeks, unless the althing consent to it, and never more than once a year. 8. The King can dissolve the althing, in which case new elections shall be called within two months from the date of dissolution, and the althing be summoned for the next year following the dissolution. 9. The King can order draughts of bills and resolutions to be laid before the althing. 10. The consent of the King is requisite before any resolution of the althing can acquire the force of law. The King takes care that the laws be promulgated and obeyed. If the King have not sanctioned a draught of a bill passed by the althing before the next regular session of the althing, it is thereby annulled. 11. When especial need requires, the King can issue ad interim laws between two regular sessions of the althing. Such laws may not, however, conflict with the constitution, and in all cases they must be laid before the next althing. 12. The King has the power of reprieve and of general amnesty. 13. The King grants, directly or through the proper officials, privileges and exemptions from the law, according to the rules by which such questions have been regulated heretofore.
According to Chapter II, sections 14–18, as to the constitution and composition of the althing, thirty deputies are to be elected by the nation, and six chosen by the King. The number of the deputies elected by the people may be altered by law. The election of the deputies is generally valid for a period of six years, the commission of those chosen by the King to remain unaffected in case of dissolution. If a deputy die or a seat be otherwise vacated, the commission of the new member is to last only for the remainder of the period for which the althing then sitting is elected.
These royal commissioners have given very keen offense to the Icelanders, who are intensely loyal, and take the provision as an affront. Remonstrances have already appeared in print against this particular measure, and loud protestations to the effect that no royal functionary could be got to sit in the name of the King more loyal than any of the national deputies chosen at random. The effect will only be to create bad blood by creating an artificial opposition, the object of which could not be to defend any royal or dynastic interests, which require no defense in Iceland, but to back up a Danish minister in anti-national and Danizing tendencies.
This particular provision is borrowed from the Danish constitution of 1849. In Denmark, where it is well known the people are leavened through and through by republican elements, it may be necessary; but for the Icelanders, an aristocratic community throughout, and, like all people who have a compact historical tradition, strongly conservative in a national direction, the provision is, politically speaking, entirely off the mark, and mischievous from every point of view considered. 15. The althing is divided into two houses, the upper and lower. In the upper house twelve members have seats; in the lower, twenty-four. These numbers, however, may be altered by law. 16. The (six) king-chosen deputies have all seats in the upper house; the other six are chosen out of the number of the national deputies by the whole althing (both houses joined) for the whole period to which the elected althing extends. If a seat of a national deputy be vacant in the upper house during the period to which the althing has been elected, then, when the electoral district has returned its member, both houses of the althing meet in order to elect a deputy to the vacated seat in the upper house. Seventeen and eighteen regulate the franchise and define the civil conditions of those who are eligible to the althing; but they introduce no new regulations beyond those in force already.
Chapter III, sections 19 to 41, defines the legislative functions and co-operation of the two houses. 19. The regular althing shall meet the first working-day in July every other year, unless the King has previously fixed some other day for the meeting. 20. The place of meeting shall be Reykjavik. Under peculiar circumstances the King may fix upon another spot for the meeting. 21. Each chamber has a right to propose and pass draughts of bills; as either also has a right to send an address to the King. 22. Either house has a right, during the session of the althing, to appoint commissions in order to investigate matters of general interest. Either house can enable such commissions to demand information, by word of mouth or in writing, as they choose, both from public functionaries and private individuals. 23. No tax may be imposed, altered, or removed, except by law. No loan compulsory on the nation may be made, nor any national property be sold or transferred, unless sanction be given thereto by law. 24. No item of expenditure may be paid unless it be authorized in the general or the extraordinary budget. 25. As soon as the regular althing meets, a budget for the next biennial finance period shall be laid before it. Among the income shall be entered both the fixed contribution and the sinking contribution, which, according to the law regulating the position of Iceland in the realm, of the 2d of January, 1871, sections 5 and 6, is paid toward the home affairs of Iceland, yet in such a manner that the expenditure out of this contribution toward the highest public functionaries in the country and the royal commissary at the althing takes precedence of every other expenditure from the same. The draught of the budget to be laid always first before the lower house. The sting of this paragraph will not be understood by outsiders without an explanation. [Page 375] The “contribution “here mentioned is the sum which the legislative assembly of Denmark at last paid over to Iceland from the sums which the latter claimed out of the Danish treasury as belonging to Iceland by absolute right. When it was impossible to dispute this right any longer, Denmark settled to pay one-fourth of what Iceland claimed, and a sinking-fund beside, and then passed an arbitrary law, which provided that by this arrangement the whole financial dispute was at an end—a law against which the althing has formally protested as not binding except for Denmark. Now, in order to choose some convenient name for this long-withheld payment, it is called a “contribution,” and considered in this constitutional instrument as belonging to Denmark. Hence the primary object of it is to defray the emoluments of those who are supposed to stand in the most tender relations to that country—not to the King, necessarily, at all. It is strange almost beyond conception that disingenuous considerations of this kind should be allowed by any legislator to enter into such a momentously-important document as the constitution of a people’s rights and liberties. 26. Either house elects an auditor, who is to be paid for his work. 27. No draught of a bill can be finally passed until it has been read three times in either house. 28. When a draught of a bill has been passed in one house, it shall be laid before the other in the form in which it was passed. If it then receive any alterations, it passes, with these, back to the house it came from. If alterations be still made, it goes back to the house it came from last. And if at this stage no agreement can be effected, both chambers form one house, wherein the affair is finally passed after’ one debate. But in order that a decision thus arrived at by the althing be lawful, it is requisite that two-thirds of the members of each house be present at the sitting and take part in the voting, in which case a simple majority rules the decision in the voting of each individual paragraph; but in order that a draught of a bill—saving the budget—be finally passed in toto, it is requisite that at least two-thirds of the votes given be in favor of the draught of the bill. Consequently, since two-thirds of each house must be present at the final debate on a hard-contested bill, it will always be perfectly legal and perfectly easy for any four members of the upper house, by their absence, to destroy utterly the legislative power of the country in such cases. 29. The althing decides itself as to the legality of the election of its members. 30. Every new member shall take his oath to the constitution immediately on his election being declared valid. 31. The members are only bound by their own conviction, but by no rules from their electors. Public functionaries are eligible to the althing, but must, if they accept the election, see that their offices are taken charge of while they are away, in such manner as may be satisfactory to the government. 32. During the session of the althing no member can be taken up for debt unless the chamber to which he belongs sanction the process; nor may he be put in prison, nor may a lawsuit be instituted against him, unless he has been taken in a criminal act. No member can be called to account out of the althing for language used in debate unless the house to which he belongs permit it. 33. If a member, lawfully elected, fall under such circumstances as carry with them forfeiture of eligibility, the right entailed by the election ceases thereby. 34. The governor shall have the right, in consequence of his official position, to take a seat in the althing and speak as often as he chooses, obeying, however, the rules of the house—an exceedingly unconstitutional provision, and one against which protests have been uttered already. It is, however, improved upon by an additional clause, according to which the government reserves for itself a right to commission a person to meet with the governor in the althing ex latere, ostensibly to supply the althing with such reports and information as it may demand from the governor, but in reality the clause is inserted with a view to furnishing a Danish governor with an interpreter. In other words, it is constitutionally declared that the office is not to be trusted to an Icelander. 35 to 41 are of no special interest.
Chapter IV, sections 42 to 44. Regulations for the judiciary powers.
Chapter V, sections 45 to 47. Regulations for the state church, the Evangelical Lutheran, and for religious denominations.
Chapter VI, sections 48 to 60. Various constitutional provisions relating to the freedom of the subject, the sanctity of home and private property, free exercise of industry, poor-law, elementary education, freedom of the press, freedom of association and assembly, rights of municipal government, taxation, and privileges which go with nobility, titles, and high position, all of which are to cease henceforth.
Chapter VII, section 31. Propositions with a view to altering or adding to this present constitution may be moved in an ordinary or extraordinary sitting of the althing at will. If such a proposition receive the due majority in both houses, the althing shall be dissolved forthwith and new elections called out. If the newly-elected althing give its consent to the proposition unamended, and if it obtain the royal sanction, it comes into force as part and parcel of the constitutional law. (32. This constitution comes into force on toe 1st of August, 1874.
It is easy for any one who knows what political freedom is to realize for himself how far this is a liberal constitution or not. Most thinking politicians will regret that so slight an amount of reliance on the good faith of the Icelanders should be embodied [Page 376] in it. Bat slender as its liberality is, it opens to the people a new school in politics, and even the experience which that school must necessarily bring to the benefit of the nation is always worth something.
This was not probably, but absolutely, the most solemn Sunday that this hyperborean people has seen for a thousand years. Harbor and town had put on an extra festive appearance. Every ship in the roads was decorated; every house ashore was decorated; every individual one met was decorated. At half past 10 the ceremony in the church was to begin, and, by virtue of the distinguished friends in whose company I made the trip to Iceland, I had a reserved seat set apart for myself and them in the cathedral, where eye and ear could best enjoy what passed during the solemnity. On approaching the cathedral a goodly number of mariners had been stationed outside to greet the sovereign. The crowd was very thick, but devoutly silent. We threaded our way through it and presented our tickets to the police stationed at the door, and were respectfully bidden to proceed to our allotted pew in the northern aisle. Sitting here silently and reviewing the scene, I bad an opportunity of paying a close regard to the exceedingly tasteful decorations of the decrepit cathedral. Had I not been in it the day before and seen the ruinous state of the cemented walls, I could not have believed but that I was in a new church erected for the occasion. All along the front of the aisle galleries green festoons of thickly interwoven heather and Alpine herbage passed from column to column, supported by branched candlesticks from which wax tapers threw a subdued glare amid the bright daylight inside. The governor’s pew, made royal for the occasion, was decorated in cloth and flowers in a manner for the taste arid elegance of which I could not have given Reykjavik the credit had I not seen it myself. In like manner the apse, the altar, and the chancel were all bedecked with flowers and folded drapery, and the whole cathedral could only give one uniform impression—that of devotion to the august guest of the occasion. The service being an extraordinary one, (there were three services this day, whereas otherwise there is only one on ordinary Sundays,) the rite observed was an extraordinary one too, and the hymns sung were all specially composed for the occasion by the senior master of the theological college of Reykjavik, Mr. Helgi Hálfdanarson, with the exception of one which had been written by the poet Mattias Jochumsson, and set to music by a young Icelandic musician, Mr. Sveinbjörnsson, of Edinburgh, and declared even by Swedish connoisseurs to be a masterly composition of its kind. The choir of male and female voices mixed was singularly impressive, and every foreigner to whom I spoke coming out bore witness to the exceeding devotional and tender character of the singing, and the corresponding behavior of the congregation. The sermon was preached by the Right Reverend Bishop P. Pjetursson, while the dean of the cathedral, Mr. Sveinson, officiated at the altar.
At half-past 3 in the afternoon the people of Reykjavik assembled in the only square in Reykjavik, called Austrvöllr, or Eastfield, according to the programme of the committee of the Reykjavic festivities, for the purpose of marching in procession to the place called Oskjuhitd, about a mile and a half outside Reykjavik to the eastward, where the fête was to be held. The crowd could not have numbered less than 3,000 people at the least. As the procession moved on it was very interesting to see how eagerly every age strove to avail itself of the rare occurrence. Unfortunately the wind was boisterous; more unfortunately still, the committee had chosen the most exposed point to be found in the neighborhood of Reykjavik; and, most unfortunate of all, the space had been cleared of sward and stone, so that when the crowd arrived it stood in a cloud of dry dust, which in a very short time drove hundreds of the visitors away from the spot, and apparently destroyed, to a large extent, the popularity of the fete. I was too much interested in the proceedings to take any particular heed of either flying earth or dusty garments, and could not help paying my grateful compliments to the committee for their good taste in having fixed upon the finest point of view to be found round Reykjavik for the celebration of the rarest event in the history of the country. When friends and acquaintances had exchanged thoughts and sentiments for awhile, the proceedings began by the mayor of Reykjavik proposing a cheer for the King, who was not present as yet, which was cordially responded to by the assemblage; and then calling upon the senior master of Reykjavik College, Mr. Haldor Fridriksson, to memorialize the occasion by a speech on Iceland from the tribune. Mr. Fridriksson spoke at some length, but his speech was only a dry résumé of the more salient events in the history of the island, without, being relieved by one single reflection throughout. It appeared to me a singular, and not altogether insignificant, omission on the part of the speaker, that when he had abruptly finished his speech he descended from the tribune without calling for a cheer for his own country. The omission, however, was speedily mended by some one in the crowd crying out with a stentorian voice, “Long live Iceland free and happy,” a cry which was enthusiastically responded to. This speaker was followed by the head-master of the elementary school of Reykjavik, Mr. Helgi Helgasen, who, in an earnest and well-considered speech, proposed “The prosperity of [Page 377] Denmark and of every worthy Dane.” The speaker abstained from all political allusions, no doubt on purpose.
Shortly after 7 o’clock the King, who had been entertaining a company of natives and foreigners at dinner, arrived on the spot. By this time the wind had lulled down to an almost imperceptible breeze, and the peculiar blue which, after a dry windy day in Iceland settles upon and softens down distant mountain views, seemed now to envelope the whole horizon in a veil of slumbering peacefulness. As the King ascended the hill he was welcomed by what was meant to be a joyful royal salute, which terminated in all but fatal consequences. Some gunners from the Danish gunboat Fylla had volunteered to fire the royal salute. Six shots went off without anything happening, but the seventh carried off the hand of one of the gunners, and the eighth that of another, when the saluting ceremony came to an end. The misadventure did not come to the ear of the King till the festivity was all over. As soon as His Majesty made his appearance in the crowd he was received with greater enthusiasm than ever, and was conducted, together with his following, up to the tribune, where the former mayor of Reykjavik, Mr. A. Thorsteinson, received him with an eloquent extempore address, which was followed by Mr. Helgasen’s choir singing a poem written for the occasion by Mr. Jochumson. The King answered in an exceedingly appropriate speech, expressing his pride at finding himself in the midst of the people who could boast of such memories as the Icelandic people could. He regretted sincerely not to be able to commune with the people in their own language, the once common tongue of the whole North, He hoped the constitution he had brought with him would prove a happy event in the life of the people. He would always cherish in dear memory the loyalty and devotion of his Icelandish subjects, whose welfare and prosperity he took the opportunity of proposing. At these words immense cheering went through the crowd assembled on the top of the hill in the immediate neighborhood of His Majesty, and was taken up by what groups had assembled on the hill-slopes and were as yet but dimly cognizant of what was going on.
After a few more speeches and songs the festivity at Reykjavik came to an end. Tomorrow the King repairs to the Thingvalla fête, where I mean to be beforehand, as horses and luggage are all ready to start at eight to-morrow morning.