Imágenes de página

rope, from the extremity of Scotland to the shores of Sicily. During the first half of the ninth century, they conquered the Orkneys, the Shetland and Western Isles-obtained possession of Ireland-plundered England and France-and extended their ravages to Italy. In 876, the Northmen, or Normands, extorted from the weakness of the French king the cession of the fine province of Neustria, where they quietly settled: while another party of these fierce invaders had occupied the fertile coast of Esthonia, on the south side of the Baltic.

But the visits of those intrepid navigators were not confined to the richer countries of the South. They carried ravens with them, for the purpose of discovering distant land, by the direction of the flight of those powerful and sagacious birds. In 861, Nadodd, a roving pirate, in one of his voyages in the northern seas, happened to be cast away on an island which he called Snowland. Three years afterwards, Gardar and Flocke, two Swedes, visited it; and having found a great quantity of drift ice collected on the north side of it, they gave it the name of Iceland, which it still bears. But in 874, Ingolf and Leif, two famous Norwegian adventurers, carried a colony to this inhospitable region, the latter having enriched it with the booty which he had ravaged from England. Other emigrants, whom the disorders of the times drove successively from home, resorted in crowds to the new settlement, which became very considerable in the space of a few years.

Iceland itself was able, after the progress of about a century, to send out likewise her colonies. Thorwald, a proud and opulent Norwegian chief, who had been lately banished thither from the court for some murder committed by him at home, soon died in exile, leaving his wealth and his restless spirit to his son Eric Raude, or the Red. This youth, actuated by the same vengeful passions, killed one of his neighbours in a combat, and was obliged to withdraw himself from Iceland for the space of three years. In 982, Eric sailed in quest of adventure and discovery. Instructed by the reports of former navigators, he directed his course towards the south-west; and, after a quick run, he descried two lofty mountains, the one covered with snow and the other cased with ice, which he called Huitserken, and Blaaserken, or the white shirt, and the blue shirt; and soon reached a headland which he doubled; and having entered a spacious creek, he spent the winter on a pleasant adjacent island. In the following season, pursuing his discoveries, he explored the Continent, and was delighted by the freshness and verdure of its coast. Contrasting this new country with the dark rocks of Iceland, he bestowed on it the flattering

appellation of Greenland; and on his return, invited settlers to join him, by circulating the most glowing and exaggerated descriptions. With 25 vessels, he sailed back again; but of these only 14 reached their destination. This colony was soon augmented, by the arrival of other adventurers, not only from Iceland, but from the Orkneys and other islands planted by the Norwegians. In the year 999, Leif, a son of Eric Raude, having visited the court of Norway, was induced, by the zealous and earnest solicitation of King Olaf Tryggeson, to embrace the Christian faith; and, carrying with him some monks, he found, through their ministry, no great difficulty in persuading his father and the rest of the settlers to forsake the rites of paganism.

The first colony having extended itself along the coast to a wide firth, another settlement beyond that boundary was established farther towards the west. The former, called Oestre Bygd, or the Eastern Settlement, is said to have included in its most flourishing state, twelve parishes and two convents; and the latter termed Vestre Bygd, or the Western Settlement, contained four parishes. It should be observed, however, that all such estimates are merely relative. A church in Norway is, even at present, only a small wooden booth; and the villages of that remote and sterile country would hardly pass for hamlets in England. The colonists of Greenland were compelled to lead a life of hardship and severe privations. They dwelt in hovels surrounded by mountains of perpetual ice; they never tasted bread, but subsisted on the fish which they caught, joined to a little milk obtained from their starving cows; and, with seal-skins and the tusks of the walrus, they purchased from the traders who occasionally visited them, the wood required for fuel and the construction of their huts.

Such is the abridged narrative of the discovery and occupationof Greenland, as given by Snorre Sturleson, who composed his chronicle between the years 1212 and 1215. But a learnedDanish writer, on the authority of a Papal Bull, granting, in 834, to Archbishop Ansgarius, permission to convert the northern heathens, carries the antiquity of Greenland much higher, and refers the date of its first settlement to the year 770. This document, however, is no doubt a forgery or interpolation of the monks, who, during the dark ages, commonly practised such pious frauds, to aggrandize the power and wealth of the Church.

Combining together the different circumstances, it seems clear, therefore, that the original colony of Greenland began about the southern promontory, near Cape Farewell, and stretched along the coast in a north-westerly direction. Farther north,. and

probably as high as the latitude of 63°, the second settlement was formed. For some centuries, both of them maintained a sort of commercial intercourse with Norway; but this trade be came afterwards very much reduced, in consequence of its being seized as an exclusive privilege of the Danish court. About the year 1376, the natives of the country, or Esquinaux invaders, whom the Norwegian settlers had in contempt called Skrællings or Dwarfs, attacked the western colony, which now claimed the assistance of its elder brother. The scanty population, however, was enfeebled by such repeated alarms; and that dreadful pestilence, termed the Black Death, which raged over Europe from the year 1402 to 1404, at last extended its ravages to Greenland, and nearly completed its destruction. In fertile regions, the waste of the human species is always quickly repaired; but poor and barren countries can seldom recover from the depression of such severe calamities. The colonies which occupied Greenland appear to have languished near one hundred years afterwards, till they became finally extinct about the commencement of the sixteenth century.

But a notion has very generally prevailed, that only the western settlement of Greenland had perished, while the eastern was merely secluded from communication with the rest of the world by a vast barrier of ice at length accumulated on its shores. The only question lately entertained was, whether these ill-fated colonists have survived the catastrophe, or have been suddenly entombed in ice and snow, as the unhappy citizens of Herculaneum were anciently involved in a dense shower of volcanic ashes. Tremendous stories are told of the east side of Greenland being now tenanted by giants and stalking ghosts. For more than a century past, the court of Denmark has, at different times, despatched ships to search after its lost colony, which, evidently under the impression of superstitious awe, found it impossible to penetrate on that enchanted coast farther than Cape Discord, in the latitude of 61°. But, in favourable seasons, small boats can, without much difficulty, creep along the shore to a much higher parallel. If any settlers had ever occupied the narrow bays, they might surely have escaped, either in their canoes or in sledges.

The supposed existence of a colony on the east side of Greenland is clearly a fable, originating in a misapprehension of the import of the designations applied severally to the two settlements. The one, first made, lay no doubt to the east, as well as to the south of the other; but the ships which resorted from Norway held a westerly course for them both. Between them, a mutual intercourse appears likewise to have been maintained,

which surely could not have taken place, had they been divided by a chain of lofty and impassable mountains covered with eternal snow. Traces of those ancient settlements are besides observed even at present, scattered along the western shores of Greenland, as low down as the latitude of 61°, though not corresponding altogether with the poetical descriptions of the Ice landic Sagas. Except the very slight remains of a church, the only vestiges now remaining consist of low naked walls, which had served as pens for sheltering the cattle.

It may be safely affirmed, that the settlements which, during the last hundred years, the Danes have been forming at various points on the west side of Greenland, are more numerous and thriving than those which existed at any former period. They consist of twenty-one colonies, stretching over an extent of 800 miles. The first establishment is only a single family, occupying Bear Island, a little to the east of Cape Farewell. Ten other hamlets, composed chiefly of Moravians, are planted at different points, from the latitude of 60° to that of 68°. Three: settlements are distributed round Disco Bay, about the lati-: tude of 69°; and seven more have been extended thence as far as the latitude of 73°. But the remoter settlers are a depraved and degenerate race, consisting of Danish convicts and their progeny by the Equimaux women, or aboriginal Greenlanders. The whole population of those settlements, including the natives themselves, does not exceed seven thousand; and the annual amount of their trade with Copenhagen, both in exports and imports, is only about 30,000l. Sterling.

So far, therefore, from the population having been extirpated by the increased severity of the climate, the truth appears to be, that the present establishments on the coast of Greenland extend ten degrees farther north than the ancient settlements at their most flourishing period. This advance of the colonies has been owing, no doubt, to the increased activity of the whale fisheries, and to the circumstance of these having been lately carried with success into Davis's Strait. But there is nothing certainly in their history which betrays any radical or permanent change in the climate of the Arctic regions. The same continent of ice still remains during the far greater part of the year, to bar the access of the navigator to the Pole.

It was before observed, that icebergs are always formed in the bays of a rocky and indented coast. But these huge masses are seen floating only in Davis's Strait, and are very seldom met with in the eastern Greenland sea, which is yet so much incumbered with the saline drift ice. It seems probable, therefore, that this sea extends, without any interruption of islands or continent, from Spitzbergen northwards, perhaps even be

yond the Pole. As the cold increases but very little in advancing to the higher latitudes, the vast expanse of ice which generally covers that basin, may be nearly dissolved at the close of every summer. If the intrepid navigator, therefore, could seize the short and quivering interval, he might perhaps push onwards to the Pole itself. But there, we conceive, he would be obliged to winter; nor could he expect, with the slightest degree of probability, to escape, till the following season should release him from his frozen chains. What may be the fate which awaits our Polar Expedition, it is rather painful to surmise, and is, at all events, hazardous to conjecture. The chances of success, we must say, appear to us to be exposed to a fearful odds. Yet, if it should reach only the latitude of 85°, it will have surpassed all that is well authenticated in the history of former attempts.

The bold plan suggested by Mr Scoresby, for approaching to the Pole over the icy continent, though liable to very serious and formidable objections, affords perhaps, after all, the only tolerable prospect of accomplishing the design. Adopting the mode which the Russian hunters have employed with such advantage in exploring the frozen sea from Nova Zembla to the shores of Kamtschatka, he proposes to pass the winter in the island of Spitzbergen, and, starting in the spring with sledges drawn by dogs, to pursue a direct journey of 6 or 700 miles to the Pole. He might then expect to find a continuous sheet of ice stretching through his whole track. This ice, being little exposed to irregular currents, would likewise, it seems probable, be on the whole smooth and level: Or, if any hillocks should occur on its surface, they could probably be surmounted, or at least avoided by the sledges. The successful traveller would, before the ice broke up, have sufficient time to return to his former quarters.

But to undertake such a perilous journey, would require exalted enthusiasm, and the most unshaken and determined resolution. If an observatory could be planted at the Pole, we might expect to have some interesting experiments on the vibration of the pendulum, and on the direction and intensity of the magnetic forces. This, however, is obviously impracticable; and the most prosperous explorer, therefore, would probably reap no scientific harvest, and earn little but the glory of having performed that which no mortal before him had ever achieved. he indulged more flattering expectations, he would, in all likelihood, be grievously disappointed. The appearance of the heavens would still be nearly the same as at Spitzbergen; and, even if the traveller passed over the magnetic pole itself, the needle, so far from suddenly reverting, would most probably


« AnteriorContinuar »