II. Biographical Sketch of Jónas Hallgrímsson

7. Iceland (1839-1842)

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On 31 May 1839, while Jónas was still at sea, Bishop Steingrímur Jónsson was writing him a letter of recommendation in which he called him "a poetic genius" (et poetisk geni) and said he had given proof of his skill in both Icelandic and Danish (4E34).

Jónas arrived in Akureyri on 18 June. His agenda in Iceland was a full one and increased in length as time went on. In addition to promoting the "Description of Iceland" and prodding reluctant or lazy pastors to produce their parish descriptions, he undertook extensive travel during the summers, since he soon came to realize that descriptions of parishes and administrative districts (sóknar- og sýslulýsingar) would be useless to him without first-hand knowledge of the areas being described (2E30). He was also obliged to do geological research on behalf of his mentor Forchhammer and to collect specimens for Forchhammer and Reinhardt. Another task was collecting antiquities and investigating runic inscriptions on behalf of Finnur Magnússon (1781-1847), nephew of Eggert Ólafsson and doyen of Icelandic scholars in Copenhagen: vice-president of the Royal Northern Text Society78 and — more important for Jónas — president of the Copenhagen Division of the Literary Society. Finally Jónas was under obligation to the Danish Finance Office (Rentukammer), from which he had received a grant, to assist two Danish scientists, Japetus Steenstrup (1813-1897) and J. C. Schythe (1814-1877), to investigate natural resources in Iceland that might be exploited commercially, especially the sulfur in the region of Lake Mývatn.79 (Unfortunately the two Danes arrived in Iceland too late in the summer of 1839 for any joint work to be done along these lines.)

Jónas's own research during the summer of 1839 was confined to north central Iceland, the area between Skagafjörður and Lake Mývatn. He wrote Konráð on 11 July:

I've travelled around all of Eyjafjörður, not just the settled areas but the mountains and tributary valleys, too, as well as Öxnadalur and Hörgárdalur with all their twists and turns, visible and invisible. (2E20)

During the last two weeks of July, while Jónas was staying with Rev. Jón Þorsteinsson at Reykjahlíð (near Mývatn), a romantic relationship is said to have developed between him and the pastor's seventeen-year-old daughter Hólmfríður (1821-1915). "Jónas's memory was sacred to Hólmfríður," reported a friend, who also quoted Hólmfríður as saying: "But it wasn't thought to be a particularly bright idea, in those days, to get involved with Jónas Hallgrímsson" (ÁBT59-60).

In August he suffered a severe chill while riding from Skagafjörður to Eyjafjörður in bad weather over a difficult and seldom-travelled mountain pass. He wrote Konráð in October:

Have you heard the story about how I came down off Nýjabær Mountain soaked to the skin? And how two sisters — both named Dýrleif — dried my clothes, but I got desperately sick anyway of "acute exposure" and didn't know whether I was going to die or not and composed a hymn of repentance? Since then I've been sweating like a pooch. (2E37-8)

He had to abandon his plans to visit the West Fjords, instead spending three weeks in bed at Steinsstaðir ("headquarters," he calls it [2E29]), then proceeding to Reykjavík for the winter. He wrote Forchhammer: "It is extremely important for me to confer with Mr. Gunnlaugsson the schoolmaster, who is surveying the country and has already travelled through most of the interior, which is terra incognita for me and others" (2E35-6). In Reykjavík he had a relapse and spent most of the winter in bed, seriously ill, probably with some form of pneumonia (4E42). "Even worse" (according to Hannes Hafstein) "was the fact that this illness had such an effect on his mental constitution that he sank into a state of extreme depression and apathy, not even having the energy to seek out medical advice or people who would take adequate care of him" (BXXVI). Steenstrup, who had studied medicine, visited him in his sickness (thus earning Jónas's undying gratitude) and wrote Forchhammer that

the illness is a circulatory disorder that "perpetually threatens him with violent death" (as he puts it). It makes him so constantly weak that he doesn't dare get up and move about and can't even bear talking for more than a quarter of an hour at a time without inducing another attack. It's natural that in these circumstances — and in his desperate financial straits — his state of mind is pretty bleak. (410n3).

He revived to some degree only with the coming of spring. This episode marked the onset of the serious lung ailment that would plague him for the rest of his life, contributing to his early death in 1845, and also the onset of the tendency to severe seasonal depression80 that would haunt his remaining winters and cause him to plead earnestly for the return of the spring sun:

Come then, oh sun! and conquer
cruel, delusive night!
Eye of the Godhead! grant us
boundless blessings of light!
Radiant gage of our glory,
guide your creatures! impart
brightness of mind and banish
this heaviness of heart.

Komdu, dagsljósið dýra,
dimmuna hrektu brott;
komdu, heimsaugað hýra,
helgan sýndu þess vott,
að ætíð gjörir gott,
skilninginn minn að skýra,
skepnunni þinni stýra;
ég þoli ekki þetta dott.81

That same spring of 1840 Jónas began to be harassed by a woman named Þóra Torfadóttir — 46 years old, recently widowed, and the mother of two children — who became infatuated with him and made his life miserable (as he saw it) for the next two years. In 1842 he wrote an angry letter to Stefán Gunnlaugsson, the city magistrate, complaining that the police were not doing anything to protect him from this woman's unwanted attentions.

You know this old woman, she's called Þóra — crazy, I think, and with a bad case of the hots [brókarsótt] for me. She lies in wait for me day and night, indoors and outdoors, so I have no peace and it's like living in hell. I swear on my honor — and I'll swear by God, too, if I need to — that I have never in word or deed given her any encouragement to behave this way. I've been told that when I was lying ill, she dreamed I would be restored to health "and become her husband." As you can see, this is perfectly intolerable. For a while she was leaving me alone. But now she has started up again and is becoming more than unbearable. I'm going to need to board up my window so I don't have to spend all day looking into those disgraceful old whore's eyes of hers.82 (2E136)

In the spring of 1840, with health slowly returning, Jónas began to compile a description of the parishes in Iceland, based on documents in the archive of the bishopric (GR23, 26). This work was undertaken in connection with the larger "Description of Iceland" project. In June, still not completely recovered, he set off with Steenstrup on an 83-day research trek that took them from Krísuvík in the southwest, via Geysir, Þingvellir, and Borgarfjörður, all the way north to Rekavík in the remote West Fjords. "I have no doubt," Bishop Steingrímur Jónsson wrote Jón Sigurðsson in August, "that these two intelligent, observant, and well-informed men are going to learn a good deal, and impart it to others" (GR23). But the trip was not easy. Hannes Hafstein writes: "They had many difficulties to contend with. No reliable map of [the interior of] the country existed, so they frequently had to interrupt their travels and climb to the top of mountains and high hills in order to orientate themselves" (BXXVI). Steenstrup probably took the lead in this, since Jónas was still so weak that he found it hard to do much climbing. Þorvaldur Thoroddsen was told many years later by an old man in Aðalvík "that Jónas stayed in the tent most of the time, while Steenstrup climbed the cliffs and rocks like a cat" (410). When the two scientists were staying for three nights in July with Rev. Ólafur Johnsen at Breiðabólsstaður (Skógarströnd), he found Jónas "disposed to take it easy and somewhat apathetic and not at all helpful when asked about the seventy questions" in the Literary Society's questionnaire (GR24). In September Steenstrup returned to Denmark and in October Jónas — after an additional scientific sortie in Árnessýsla — returned to Reykjavík for the winter. One result of their joint summer travels was the cementing of a close personal friendship between Steenstrup and Jónas (whom Steenstrup liked to refer to as "the Sulfur Master" [5DCLV]). In October Jónas wrote Finnur Magnússon: "There's no part of the country I haven't visited now, except for the east — and that's a pretty big area!" (2E54).

On 6 October the Reykjavík Division of the Literary Society agreed to Jónas's proposal that arrangements should be made for keeping weather records throughout Iceland — an important aspect of the larger "Description of Iceland" project. That same month Jónas made another unsuccessful bid to become a clergyman,83 and a third (and final) try the following January.84 It is possible that his growing (and no doubt wildly exaggerated) reputation as a dangerous freethinker — and alcoholic — stood in the way of ever getting preferment of this kind.85

Over the winter of 1840-1 Jónas lived in Reykjavík, working on a number of projects "of a strictly scientific nature," he wrote the Finance Office, "mainly in the field of zoology, since the Icelandic winter is not suitable for geological research" (2E255). He also wrote two plays, The King's Island and The Bookseller, both now lost.86 He told Steenstrup that if he wanted to read The Bookseller — and wouldn't find it too exhausting to plow through the Icelandic — he could get a copy from Brynjólfur or Konráð. "It's a jolly farce, a piece written for my friends in order to let them know there's still a little of the 'old humor' left in me" (2E65). (Incidentally, the long letter to Steenstrup [2E60-5] that concludes with this passage gives a particularly good overview of the many projects Jónas had in hand at this time.) Later in March we get our first hint that he is working on the "Lay of Hulda," his longest and most ambitious poem, an elegy on his great predecessor Eggert Ólafsson.

On 17 May Jónas's old friend and colleague Tómas Sæmundsson died. Jónas composed both a memorial sketch to be read at his funeral and a distinguished poetic elegy. The first stanza of the latter suggests the momentous issues that were raised for Jónas by the early deaths of so many relatives and friends. Tómas died at the age of 33; Jónas was in Reykjavík when he got the word.

"Dead. And gone." What news! It gives
a grievous wrench to all the nation.
Faith is my font of consolation:
I do not doubt my friend still lives.
Otherwise all God's gifts would seem —
the ageless skies, the world's perfection,
the Son's victorious resurrection —
an open grave, an evil dream.

"Dáinn, horfinn" — harmafregn!
hvílíkt orð mig dynur yfir!
En eg veit að látinn lifir;
það er huggun harmi gegn.
Hvað væri annars guðleg gjöf,
geimur heims og lífið þjóða,
hvað væri sigur sonarins góða?
illur draumur, opin gröf.87

In early July, after some runological and archaeological work in the neighborhood of Reykjavík, Jónas went back to Krísuvík, which he had visited with Steenstrup the previous summer.

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Great jet of steam, Krísuvík.

Cauldron of boiling mud, Krísuvík.

On 5 July he wrote Steenstrup the following letter, interesting for a number of reasons:

With this letter, my dear Steenstrup! you'll receive a specimen bottle which is supposed to contain some live land snails from Núpshlíð.

Yesterday in Krísuvík I became so ill from the sulfur fumes and bad water that I thought I was going to die a miserable death in "The Heap" [Jónas's name for his tent]. So I suddenly resolved to do something heroic and ride — "dead or alive" — to Núpshlíð.

No sooner said than done. You can imagine how difficult the ride to the west end of Móháls was for me, when I tell you that at the beginning of the trip I actually had to be helped onto horseback!

Anyway — I get to Núpshlíð. I throw myself down in the grass — how delicious it is! — and one of the first things I notice is some really thriving Helix nemoralis (?), growing there in the heather in exactly the same spot I had read — in my dear Eggert — that he found it growing, 86 years ago. What a wonderful man! You can rely on him absolutely, once you truly get to know him.

Well, by now I was so much better that I wasn't even conscious of my indisposition any longer, but searched and searched and found every different kind of land snail I had ever seen anywhere in Iceland — and maybe one or two besides! (2E70-1)

Jónas's letters to Steenstrup — of which this is a good example — are among the best he ever wrote, lively, full of genuine warmth and genuine humor, free of the obligatory solemn toadying that characterizes his letters to men like Finnur Magnússon and Forchhammer, and also of the schoolboy foolishness that so often passed for wit among former Bessastaðir chums.

Bjarni Thorarensen was in Reykjavík that summer for a meeting, and he and Jónas spent some time in each other's company. "The two poets got on well together," Hannes Hafstein reports,

and it was at this time that Bjarni is supposed to have clapped Jónas on the shoulder and said, "When I die, Jónas my friend, you'll be our one and only national poet." He invited Jónas to spend the winter with him at Möðruvellir and Jónas accepted the invitation — though things were not destined to work out that way. (BXXX-XXXI)

In August Jónas set off on his summer research travels, riding first to Þingvellir.

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There he had a chance to reflect on the perversity of his countrymen in refusing to reestablish the Alþing at its ancient site. He wrote Bjarni Thorarensen, somewhat in the spirit of Heine's Reisebilder (see Ísf499):

Last night I found myself standing at Þingvellir, exactly where I had stood four years ago. The sun was sinking down behind the west rim of Almanna Gorge, beautiful and blazing and totally flawless, and it seemed to me as if the glory of the ancient Greeks — or the Poles — was about to vanish from the earth.

I strolled over to the Law Rock. The minister's ewes were all still lying there (mind you, this is not a piece of fiction). But I wasn't about to give a speech to this convocation of sheep, even though I half wanted to — if I thought there had been any chance of the ewes understanding me!

At this point the Devil appeared on the other side of Flosi's Gulch. He heaved up a big boulder and threw it into the depths, then cocked his head and listened to it sink.

"Deeper and deeper," said the Devil. "It isn't going to come up again, ever."

On the slope to the west a crowd of people was standing. They were wearing cattle-collars and were tethered to the rocks — otherwise they would have sneaked away and escaped from Þingvellir. The Devil walked over to them where they stood straining at their collars and opened up their skulls — though they were totally unaware of this. He scooped up a fistful from each skull and examined it.

"Hmm," said the D. "Nothing but little pebbles in these fishheads. And only two apiece."

I was so startled to see mankind's Ancient Enemy shaking his head over our superabundance of folly, that I turned away and started gathering moss from the rocks. Salomon Drejer the botanist had asked me for some of this moss.88 (2E73-4)

After leaving Þingvellir Jónas investigated the extinct shield volcano Skjaldbreiður twenty-five kilometers to its northeast, which he celebrated in his important geological/patriotic poem "Mount Broadshield." He then headed west and proceeded around the Snæfell Peninsula with a copy of Eyrbyggja saga more or less constantly in hand. One of the poems he composed that summer, "The Style of the Times," was suggested by his reading in the saga, and two others ("At an Old Grave, 1841" and "Water Music") were inspired by other incidents that occurred during his travels.

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On 28 or 29 August, in Húnavatnssýsla, he learned of the sudden death of Bjarni Thorarensen, and later that same day, on horseback, composed a very fine elegy ("Bjarni Thorarensen").89 Later still, in a different mood, he threw off the little poem "Bjarni, Goodbye," which parodies the religiosity of the formal elegy. Death was much on Jónas's mind, this year, as witnessed by the elegies already mentioned and two others on Rev. Stefán Pálsson and Rev. Þorsteinn Helgason, all of them spontaneous poems (i.e., not commissioned by relatives).

In October he concluded a letter to Professor Reinhardt:

My travels this past summer have proved extremely fruitful for the geologist I fancy myself to be (though it's another question entirely how much better off the world is going to find itself thanks to all my splendid ideas and scintillating observations! Well, I don't doubt the archaeologists, at least, will acknowledge my immortal contribution.)

The only thing I have to fret about is the state of Steenstrup's health and the trivial fact that tomorrow I'm going to starve to death. Literally and factually. Considering all this, I'm getting ready to set myself up a monument in the skeleton of a great grey seal.

Forgive me, dear Councillor! for the tone which — I now perceive — this letter is beginning to take on. (All on its own, of course. Me, I'm not responsible.) (2E110).

Over the winter of 1841-2 Jónas lodged at "Dillon's House" in Reykjavík. He pursued his scientific activities, building a collection of stuffed animals and mineral specimens that he hoped would form the nucleus of an Icelandic natural history collection. He was not well off financially and continued to be seriously worried about his health (BXXIX). In February he wrote Brynjólfur saying how important it was that he be awarded money to travel around the East Fjords during the coming summer. "It's absolutely essential that I get out east this summer — it's my final trip, and then I'll have seen the whole country" (2E133). Meanwhile he was putting the finishing touches to his Icelandic adaptation of the Danish astronomer G. F. Ursin's Popular Introduction to Astronomy (Populært Foredrag over Astronomien). He had been working on this for two years; it was published in May, dedicated to his old Bessastaðir teacher Björn Gunnlaugsson. It is a remarkable achievement, involving the coining of many new Icelandic words (nýyrði) to render the Graeco-Latin astronomical vocabulary of Ursin's Danish original. Jónas's book is "pure gold," Páll Melsteð wrote Jón Sigurðsson: "He's so damn good at inventing words" (BPM31).90 In March his old teacher Sveinbjörn Egilsson wrote Jón Sigurðsson: "No one is writing poetry here now except for J. Hallgrímsson, who does it well and beautifully. He seems to me to be our leading poet now that Bjarni is dead" (4E46).

In April, with the first signs of returning spring, Jónas was still anxiously waiting to hear whether he would be awarded funds to visit the East Fjords. Once he had accomplished that, he confided to God, he would be perfectly content to die:

The fragile flowers you rouse from sleep,
fragrant as hope on moor and steep,
the ocean breeze, the bright sunshine,
have been such faithful friends of mine.
For one more summer let me savor
scenes that enjoy all Nature's favor!
Then call me. Gladly — quickly too —
I'll climb the last dim steps to you.

Vorblómin, sem þú vekur öll
vonfögur nú um dal og fjöll,
og hafblá alda' og himinskin
hafa mig lengi átt að vin.
Leyfðu nú, drottinn! enn að una
eitt sumar mér við náttúruna;
kjallirðu þá, ég glaður get
gengið til þín hið dimma fet.91

In May, Jónas received three pieces of news from Denmark, two good and one bad. The good news came in a letter from Brynjólfur Pétursson, who was now an important official at the Finance Office:

I got to the office late today. . . . And the first thing to meet my eyes was a letter of award from the king. He gives Mr. Jónas Hallgrímsson 650 rixdollars from the rent-roll fund, 500 to be used for travel this coming summer and 150 to supplement his previous grant. (BPB15)

And that was only half the story.

There was a meeting of the Literary Society the other day. . . . [Finnur Magnússon] explained clearly and cogently how important it was to do something about the description of the country and that no one was more qualified than you to "lay the foundation." Afterward he suggested that the society offer you 200 dollars to return [to Copenhagen] this fall and stay the winter. No one opposed this. The only person who was tempted to do so [i.e., Brynjólfur himself], saying it was much too little (which is true!), was silenced by the suggestion that the Finance Office might supplement it. But whether this turns out to be true or not, I think you ought to come. (BPB16)

The bad news from Denmark was the death — at 29 — of Jónas's friend Salomon Drejer, the extraordinarily talented and productive young Danish botanist for whom he had gathered moss at Þingvellir the previous summer. When he learned of this, Jónas wrote (in Danish) one of the most profound and moving of his elegies, "On Receiving News of the Death of S. Drejer, M.A." In this poem Jónas describes his friend's strenuous pursuit of truth through the study of natural philosophy, pointing out that now — in heaven — Drejer knows the truth. Then Jónas, preoccupied as usual with death and what comes after it, is struck by the terrible thought that there may be no continuance of personality and individual identity on the other side of the grave:

Yet if your soul, at freedom in the skies,
should turn its gaze upon the stream of being
that flows forever and not recognize
it — and yourself — and know what it was seeing,
then (why not think the thought out to its end,
so bleak my soul rejects it as a liar!) —
then life's Lord could not be life's Father, Drejer,
and God could not be our God — or our friend.

On 8 July Jónas set out with nine horses and two attendants to study the geography and geology of the East Fjords. Páll Melsteð was annoyed by what he thought of as the expense and self-indulgence of Jónas's travelling arrangements (and indeed, Jónas had his moments of thinking — or wishing — that he was Paul Gaimard). Páll wrote Jón Sigurðsson on 1 August:

Jónas claims that out east, this summer, he is going to collect data for [Tómas Sæmundsson's] biography, but I have no confidence in him. He's so lazy. And very often he becomes so ill because of his irregular lifestyle that he just completely falls apart when you least expect it. At the moment he's gadding around somewhere out in Skaftafellssýsla, travelling as extravagantly as if he were a baron — foolishly and needlessly squandering all the money he was given. What gets me so mad about Jónas is that he himself is totally responsible for all his own misery. But then, his poetry is lovely. . . .

He ought to get out of Reykjavík, it's the worst place in the world for him. I'm afraid the "Description of Iceland" is going to be a fiasco if others beside him aren't involved in producing it. (BPM30-1)

And on 26 August, Páll wrote again, this time to report (among other things) on the activities of the Reykjavík Division of the Literary Society:

At the most recent meeting, the day before yesterday, it was agreed to let Jónas have 200 rixdollars, on condition that he return to Copenhagen in the fall and write the book under the wing — and the oversight — of you people there. I agree that's the best thing, since nothing is ever going to come of his work here in Reykjavík. (BPM34)

The expedition to the East Fjords

was difficult and fatiguing, beset with bad weather, very exhausting for Jónas. Most of the time he slept outdoors in his tent, unable to change into dry clothing, and his health deteriorated from day to day. He had to resort to drinking a lot of alcohol in order to be able to carry out his work. (BXXXIV)

In the course of his travels Jónas developed a serious foot infection and finally had to seek medical help from H. P. J. Beldring, the district medical officer at Brekka in Fljótsdalur. He spent three weeks with Beldring, recuperating, then proceeded to Eskifjörður, intending to sail from there to Denmark.

Bad weather held up the ship's departure for two weeks, and while he waited Jónas wrote letters to the friends in Copenhagen he had not seen for three and a half years. To Konráð:

Itching to voyage out, the very
instant the breezes cease to tarry —
I'll even swim, if necessary! —
I sail away to be with you.
Scoundrel! Scamp! "Pray for me, do!"
(And eastward, ocean camel! ferry
the eager bard in safety — surely!)
Pray for me! Hullabaloo and hurly-burly!

Ferðbúinn þegar fjallatinda-
foringinn mjúka leysir vinda —
og þótt eg jafnvel þyrfti að synda —
þýt eg af stað að hitta þig,
fantur! "bíddu nú fyrir mig,"
meðan ég er á haf að hrinda
hlunnadýrinu stóra,
ora róra óraróraróra! (2E144)92

He sailed from Eskifjörður on 27 October, arriving back in Copenhagen in mid-November.

Jónas's two brief tales, "The Girl in the Tower" and "The Dandelion and the Bee," as well as his moving autobiographical poem "The Pipit," were probably composed at roughly this period of his life, either before leaving Iceland or after returning to Denmark (the dating of all three pieces is uncertain.)

Once he was back in Copenhagen, he wrote the Finance Office to report on his summer travels of 1842:

With this trip (during which, toward the end, I pushed myself far beyond my strength) I conclude, for the time being, my research in Iceland.93 I have seen most of the country — many places hastily and superficially, others with detailed attention — and in this way I have gained as complete an overview as was possible for me, considering the present state of the science and the limited funds at my disposal. At any rate I have made such strides that I can now embark with complete confidence on the proposed description of Iceland's nature and geology, to which much of my time has been devoted. I have made many fresh discoveries in zoology, geology, mineralogy, and archaeology. Many questions have been resolved and a number of errors that have crept into the literature have been corrected. (2E261)

Konráð says:

By now he had made such progress in familiarizing himself with the country that hardly any man since the days of Eggert Ólafsson had gained as extensive and many-sided a knowledge of Iceland.94 But during these same years his health deteriorated so seriously that it never recovered, and this obviously contributed in a significant measure to his death. (9F3)

He had also made many enemies in Iceland with his touchy personality, outspoken political opinions, and "irregular lifestyle." Páll Melsteð, writing to Jón Sigurðsson in March 1843, says: "I'm inclined to think that a number of people here would have been just as happy if Jónas Hallgrímsson had died last fall" (BPM40). And according to Þorsteinn Gíslason, writing in 1903, stories were still circulating in eastern Iceland about how his unsavory reputation sometimes made him positively unwelcome:

They say that Jónas paid a visit to a certain parsonage out here in the east and had to pitch his tent at the bottom of the homefield. The pastor knew him and wanted to invite him to the farmhouse, but his wife refused. She had heard things about Jónas that made her think she didn't want him in her home. (JH9)

Hannes Hafstein writes: "The citizens of Reykjavík had little love for Jónas during these years, even thinking it 'disgraceful' to spend time with him or be known to be acquainted with him" (BXXVI). On the other hand, says Hannes, "he was generally admired by the populace at large. People did not know much about the natural sciences and therefore respected the 'student of nature,' as they called him. Folktales about him even started circulating: certain old ladies claimed that he possessed all kinds of arcane powers" (BXXVIII).

Jónas's own awareness of the mutterings going on behind his back is reflected in his remarks to Steenstrup about the reception of his elegy on Bjarni Thorarensen, and in his bitterly sarcastic poem addressed to a dog named Bósi:

Growl, my Bósi, never bite —
better heed this warning!
Or someone — turning snappish — might
smash your jaw some morning.

And never join the gibing pack
of "gentlefolk" that flatters
until a man has turned his back —
then tears his name to tatters.


78 Det Kongelige Oldskriftselskab, founded by Carl Christian Rafn in 1825. On this society and its activities see Aðalgeir Kristjánsson, "Carl Christian Rafn: Tveggja alda minning," in Ritmennt: Ársrit Landsbókasafns Íslands-Háskólabókasafns, I (1996), 22-52.

79 On these two men and their activities in Iceland, see 420-39.

80 I.e., what is known in Iceland as skammdegisþunglyndi ("heaviness of spirit that comes with the short winter days") and would be diagnosed today as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Jónas described his symptoms to Steenstrup in February 1843: "I haven't been able to work — at least what I call work. I haven't yet recovered completely from my debilitating sluggishness: the sleepiness, despondency, and apathy that have oppressed me during the short winter days" (2E149-50). Jónas is practically a textbook case of SAD (see Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D., Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder: What It Is and How to Overcome It [New York: The Guilford Press, 1993]).

In addition to being afflicted by SAD, Jónas seems to have been subject to extreme mood-swings.

81 This is the fourth stanza of "Hymn of Insomnia." Date: Early 1843? (Jónas mentioned the poem at a meeting of the Fjölnir Society on 4 March). Form: Four stanzas of eight three-stress lines with the rhyme scheme AbAbbAbA and the alliteration pattern 22121. The translation rhymes AbCbDeFe and has the alliteration pattern 211211. Manuscript: None surviving. First published: 1843 (6F16-7) under the title "Andvökusálmur."

82 Amused by what they heard about this sexual persecution of their ornithologist friend and poet, "the Icelanders in Copenhagen — perhaps Konráð — composed this verse:

Shampooed with cow piss, plump and sleek —
pampered! — behold our bird man,
now that he's nesting, well-groomed, chic,
next to his chick in Reykjavík.

Keitu freyddi froðan rík
fuglamanns úr höfði,
situr hann greiddur seims hjá brík
sorgum sneyddur í Reykjavík.

Jónas was not best pleased." These juicy details come from Benedikt Gröndal, who takes advantage of the gossipy occasion to add: "Some people say that Torfi (Þorgrímsson) the printer was a by-blow of Jónas's. But I don't know anything about that." (4BGR301n)

83 He applied for Hólmar in Reyðarfjörður, noting in his application that it is located "in the heart of the great mountains of eastern Iceland. This means that the parish would be an ideal residence for a natural scientist" (2E251).

84 This time he tried for Breiðabólsstaður on the Snæfell Peninsula, noting that it, too, would be convenient for his activities as a natural scientist and would give him a chance to try his hand at forest restoration. In March he told Konráð about his failure to get this living: "An eighty-year-old priest from out west in Hvammur — a man almost as fat as I am — snatched it from my grasp" (2E66).

The seriousness (or rather lack of seriousness) with which Jónas contemplated the official side of his potential priestly duties is evidenced by some joking remarks in a letter to Brynjólfur (early 1842). He says he wants Brynjólfur to look into a matter for him with the Icelandic theologians in Copenhagen:

As you can no doubt imagine, I think about sacerdotal science from time to time, imagining to myself the questions my farmer parishioners might ask me and I might find it hard to answer. I've always thought the one about Malchus was the toughest and most potentially dangerous. You remember old Malchus? — Peter lopped his ear off and Christ repaired it. The question is: Did He just heal the stump? Or did He re-attach the ear Peter had cut off? Or did He make a new ear completely from scratch? (2E129)

85 Jónas had a very bad reputation in certain quarters in Iceland because of what Páll Melsteð called his "irregular lifestyle" (óreglulegt líferni) (BPM30). See further 5DCLVIII; also the commentaries to "Bjarni Thorarensen" and "Bósi" in the present collection.

86 They were probably "vaudevilles" in the style of J. L. Heiberg, whose work Jónas enjoyed.

87 Date: Late May/early June 1841. Form: Eight "double redondilla" stanzas (see Bbk58), each of them containing eight four-stress lines rhyming aBBacDDc. The first stanza (quoted here) shows the alliteration pattern 211211; the pattern in the other seven stanzas is different. Manuscript: KG 31 a III, in a letter to Konráð Gíslason written at Staðarstaður on the Snæfell Peninsula and dated 2 August 1841 (facsimile KJH84-8). The poem is without title in the manuscript. First published: 1847 (A229-32), apparently from the manuscript in question (see 1D344), under the title "Eftir Tómas Sæmundsson" ("In Memory of Tómas Sæmundsson").

88 Greeks and Poles are associated with each other — and with Iceland, in Jónas's mind — because of the heroic struggles of ancient Greece and modern Poland for independence. The big boulder in Jónas's anecdote is Iceland itself and the crowd of people are men who oppose re-establishing the Alþing at Þingvellir, but are chained to the spot by historical necessity.

89 This poem contains invidious remarks about people who want to reestablish the Alþing in Reykjavík instead of at Þingvellir, and these remarks annoyed many Icelanders. Jónas's old teacher and friend Einar H. Thorlacius wrote Finnur Magnússon:

I do not approve of the disparaging remarks about the people in the pro-Reykjavík party, many of whom are unquestionably intelligent and well-intentioned. This Jónas is a relative of mine, a promising poet and in most respects a very capable person — but not free from eccentricity and obstinacy. (4E45-6)

90 Jónas also created new Icelandic (and Danish) words in many other fields of science (see 4E59). For example, he was probably the first person to use the term "volcanic belt" (vulkansk bælte) to describe the geothermically active zone that runs through the center of Iceland (4E72-3).

91 This is the third stanza of "On the Morning of the First Day of Summer (1842)." Date: April 1842. Form: Three stanzas of eight four-stress lines, the first two rhyming aabbccdd, the third aabbCCdd, all with the alliteration pattern 2222. Manuscript: None surviving. First published: 1843 (6F14) under the title: "Á sumardagsmorguninn fyrsta. (1842)."

92 Date: 17 October 1842. Form: A single stanza of six four-stress lines + one three-stress line + one five-stress line, rhyming AAAbbACC and with the alliteration pattern 22121. Manuscript: KG 31 a III (no facsimile available). First published: 1847 (A202) under the title "Í bréfi til Kaupmannahafnar frá Eskifirði 17. okt. 1842."

93 For a summary, in Jónas's own words, of his research travels in Iceland, see "Fem Sommerreiser i Island" ("Five Summer Expeditions in Iceland") (3D267-78). There is a good synoptic account of Jónas's travels and geological findings in 47-16.

94 The contemporary historian of science Steindór Steindórsson agrees with this, saying that by the end of hs career Jónas's knowledge of Iceland was better than that of any of his contemporaries (Ín139). The geologist Sigurður Steinþórsson believes that Jónas would have been able, using Björn Gunnlaugsson's map as a base, to have drawn a geological map of Iceland far in advance of any other effort prior to Þorvaldur Thoroddsen's map of 1901. Indeed, Jónas and Steenstrup actually thought of producing such a map (4E80, 85).

Copyright © 1996-8 Dick Ringler. All rights reserved.

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