Origin of an Arctic Colony
To the Editor of the European Magazine.
I have found some difficulty in arranging the information mentioned in my last letter respecting the origin of an arctic colony; but am now assisted by my learned friend Dr. Blinkensop, who thought it his duty to submit the documents first to one of his Majesty’s ministers, as the fragment of verse which I have already communicated seemed to contain a valuable hint regarding a secret mode of escape from St. Helena. The islander from whom we collected this tradition could have had no acquaintance with Teutonic or Scandinavian literature; therefore its remarkable coincidence with those tales which our ancestors derived from their northern neighbours, must either give them the weight of truth, or convince us that fiction is alike in all countries, from the days of Charlemagne to those of the shoemaker Hans Sachs, whose 6840 poems are not yet forgotten.
“Why have I not a garden of lilies?” said the beautiful Florice, as she returned from a visit to her sister, whose garden of roses extended seven miles in length, guarded by a giant of courage so superlative, that he caught the wolves “in the woods, and hung them over the walls by their tails.” It was the festival of St. John, always kept on the day of the summer solstice, and Florice went to the bank of the nearest stream to gather a water-lily; for it is said, the seed of a flower plucked on that day will multiply into millions. The edge of the rivulet failed under her feet as she bent to take the flower, and a young stranger who had been sleeping among the sedges sprang forward to save her. Then taking one of the largest and most beautiful of the lilies, he said, “My name is Blanchefleur—I beg you to keep this memorial of me.” Florice went to her bower, and instead of planting his gift in her garden, placed it under her pillow. In the morning it had changed into a maiden’s coronet; not one of those which resemble a bandeau of plaited horse-hair dyed, nor one of those diadems of spangled cloth, shaped as a crescent before and tied with a ribbon behind, which the ladies of Engelland wore in ancient days; but such a garland of lilies as is still consecrated in Christian churches to Our Lady, and is part of a maiden’s funeral-ornaments. But her bower was no longer in her father’s land; it was surrounded by a sea to which there seemed no boundary, except a sky as clear and blue as her own beautiful eyes. Blanchefleur stood by her side, not in the simple attire of a wandering forester, but in a mantle of woven pearls and sandals of cygnet’s down. “You have accepted,” said he, “the eternal pledge of my faith, and I am your devoted husband; but this island must be your residence, and I dare not admit any human visitors to divert you. Take, however, this wreath of lilies; and whatever amusement you desire shall appear before you when you place it on your head. All that I require of you is to think of me once in every hour when I am absent.”
Florice looked round the isle on which her bower was situated, and perceived it was entirely covered by a garden of lilies; and the bed on which she had been wafted seemed transformed into a couch of silver tissue, supported on ivory feet, and covered with a canopy of dove’s feathers. She was charmed with the elegance of her bridal abode, and the beauty of its master; but after a stay of seven days, he departed, begging her to render herself happy till his return. The Lady of Engelland knew there were many islands round her native country in which demons and giants still resided; and she thought this might be the celebrated one where, as the grammarian Demetrius tells us, the great Kronos is kept by the giant Briareus. But though she feared her husband might be an Ettin, or giant in disguise, she reconciled herself to her fate, and began to admire his gifts as the ladies of Engelland are wont. Two days passed pleasantly in her solitude, for the bed which had brought her there had still under its pillow the legend of the “Hero Hogen,” which she had been studying; and its seventy-seven thousand verses amused her till the third night; when, in the languor of loneliness, she put the wreath of lilies on her head, and wished to see a tournament, such as was fought in the days of King Arthur and his son Child Rowland. Immediately a cluster of lilies in her garden changed into the pavilion and gilded barriers of a tilting-field, and a troop of guards no taller than half an ell arranged themselves in gorgeous liveries. The tourney lasted till the moon rose, when all the squires and knights sunk upon the earth, and she saw only a heap of dead lilies. But Florice could find no amusement in her own thoughts, and she continued to desire fresh spectacles and pageants till her garden was exhausted. When she found the wreath of her husband had lost its power to create diversion, and obey her wishes, she waited for his arrival in a sullen humour, and reproached him with its failure. “Florice,” said Blanchefleur, “had you desired to see a representation of King Arthur’s pilgrimage to rescue Guinevra, or the sufferings of the gentle and chaste Una, or the adventures of our good Alfred, the flowers would have bloomed again; but they perish for ever when they are employed in idle and frivolous pageants. Florice made no reply, and her husband departed once more, without renewing the magic power of her bridal coronet. She read the Book of Heroes again, and it reminded her that a fair and afflicted damsel like herself had found amusement by playing with a ball. She had one of yellow silk, which she diverted herself with rolling before her till it suddenly leaped into the sea. She had scarcely time to shed tears for its loss, before a small arm, decorated with a gold bracelet, rose above the surface of the water, and restored it. At the same time a boat came gently towards the shore, full of roses, and steered by one of the loveliest forms she had ever imagined. “Be not fearful, beautiful Florice!” said her new visitor—“I am one of the mermaids that visit all solitary vessels and forsaken islands. We dwelt once in India, next among the Goths, and afterwards in Greece. Above a hundred of us were known to Plato, and the elder Pliny saw almost as many on the coasts of Gaul. The crow lives nine times the flourishing age of man; the stag four times the age of the crow; the raven thrice the age of the stag: the phœnix nine times as long as the raven; but we live ten times the age of the phœnix, and I myself have yet 291,000 years to exist!”
Florice was filled with awe and delight: for she did not believe that these merladies were seen only in dreams, or caused by the reflection of vapours, as profane witlings have said that giants and fairies may be found near the Lake Morgana, and on the cloudy mountain called the Broken. Therefore she asked the name of her beautiful visitor, and the motive of her visit. The sea-maid answered, “My name is Fenia, and I govern the quern stone and the well of youth. Odin once commanded me to grind a ship-load of salt for his great-grandson Frothi, the sovereign of gold. The ship sunk, and from that hour the sea has been salt.” Florice enquired if the sovereign of gold still lived; and Fenia answered, smiling, “He heard you lament your dreary solitude, and sent me with these roses to supply the place of those withered lilies in your garden. When they begin to fade, a single leaf thrown into the sea will bring my boat again.” Florice hesitated, for she still loved her husband; but she accepted a rose-bud, hoping to conceal it in her bosom, and the mermaid sank with her boat like a bird of the waters. The lady of the isle no longer felt the coldness of lingering lassitude, but her fancy was possessed with eager and anxious wishes. The blush of the rose-bud was fixed in her cheek when Blanchefleur returned, and enquired the meaning of her restless and fretful melancholy. She answered angrily, that she desired to know the purpose of his mysterious absences, and the motive which induced him to imprison her. Blanchefleur sighed, and, making no reply, led her to the edge of the shore. “If you have courage,” said he, “to accompany me beyond the invisible extent of this sea, and to reside where the prow of the sailor and the foot of the traveller have never entered, we will go together; but if the quiet of this island is odious, how will darkness, frost, and eternal silence be endured?” Florice saw the discretion of seeming content, and determined to avail herself of his absence. When she was alone at the close of the next eve, she threw a rose-leaf into the sea, and saw the mermaid’s boat ascending, not with a freight of roses, but a yellow dwarf, whose head carried a chest or basket of gold dust, which he poured at her feet. The mermaid caught her in her arms, and throwing the coronet of lilies from her brow, sunk with her into the ocean.
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On the Gold Bringe Syssel, or large promontory on the south-west coast of Iceland, is a small hamlet of huts, once inhabited by exiles from the coast of Norway. A boat was found about nine hundred years ago upon this coast, with neither oar nor sail, but with the half-dead body of a fair woman laid beside a chest. Thurida, whose name has been rendered famous in songs recording the love of the great Biorn, who visited the North Pole for her sake, was still young and beautiful at that period, and strove to revive the female stranger. No persuasion could induce her to explain by what means she came to a country so remote, though she seemed to comprehend the language of its inhabitants. She called herself a native of the Hebrides, offered to assist in the labours of the field and loom, and desired no recompense but peaceable permission to reside there for one year. Thurida took her to her own hut, and by degrees conceived great friendship for her unknown guest, whose meekness and beauty were remarkable, though she had lost her left eye. One evening, after they had visited the Helgafels, or holy mount where the altar and silver ring are deposited, Thurida imposed an oath of secrecy on the fair woman, and entreated her aid in a grievous emergency. Unknown to her brother Snorro, she was on the point of giving birth to a babe whose existence would be odious to its savage uncle; but by the compassionate aid of the stranger, both the mother and her offspring might be preserved from his fury. The fair woman promised fidelity, and received the infant into a mantle of white fur, which she took from her chest, and deposited in the hollow of a rock lined with the feathers of Icelandic birds. She visited it often in secrecy and darkness, feeding it with the tenderest care, and hoping to repay, by her bounty to her foster-child, the kindness which had saved her life when wrecked on this desolate coast. But Thurida had seen the chest from whence the mantle had been taken, and coveted the remainder of its contents. Chance conducted the Pontiff Snorro to the track of a wolf, which he pursued till it brought him to the recess where, wrapped in down and beautiful as the god Amor, he discovered his sleeping nephew. Charmed by its loveliness, and touched to see the she-wolf administering milk to it, the high-priest brought home the babe, and placed it in his sister’s lap. Thurida, watchful of the golden opportunity, accused the stranger of sorcery, and urged him to demand the coffer which contained her treasures. The unknown replied, “I am a wife, but not the mother of the babe. My name is Florice, and I have called him Wolfelin, because wolves have been more merciful than his mother; but the chest is full of gold dust, and he who opens it shall lose his right foot and his left eye.” Snorro seized her hands, and put her forth from his hut into the midst of the torrent of snow-dust which fell from the mountains, calling on Thor to exterminate a sorceress and her son.
Florice carried the babe wrapped in its mantle in her bosom, while the she-wolf walked by her side till they reached a round hill with a door of broad stones in the centre. The wolf breathed on it thrice, and at the third breath it opened, and they entered. Florice walked through a long gallery, where the air was soft and warm as a May-evening. The light was a silver twilight, but it came neither from windows nor lamps, but from the walls and roof, which were of clear transparent rock, crusted with bright stones. Two folding doors opened into a spacious hall, whose richness and brilliance no tongue can tell. It seemed to extend the whole length and height of the hill. The pillars were so lofty and so large, that the pillars of a church are no more to be compared to them than a hillock to Benlomond. They were of gold and silver fretted with wreaths of flowers composed of coloured jewels. And the key-stones of the arches above, instead of coats of arms or other devices, were ornamented with clusters of diamonds in the same manner. From the middle of the roof where the principal arches met, was hung, by a gold chain, an immense lamp of one hollowed pearl, perfectly transparent, in which was suspended a large carbuncle that turned continually round, and shed over the hall a clear mild light like the setting-sun’s. Under a canopy at the farther end, on a gorgeous sopha, sat her sister, the Lady of the Garden of Roses, “combing her yellow hair with a silver comb.” She embraced her sister with great joy, and entreated to know by what chance she had been brought from their dear native country, Engelland, to a land so wild and distant. “Sister,” said Rhodalind, “the yellow dwarf who governs all the surface of the earth, and all the riches of its interior, has built his palace in this hill. He tempted me to become his wife, and to exchange my garden of roses for his treasures: but I have no living companion, and every day I am compelled to look upon an altar of blazing diamonds which ends in a poisonous vapour. Still I live, and shall live for ages, unless you will aid me to return to Engelland.”—“Alas!” replied Florice, “I came I know not how to this forlorn island, and have an orphan-babe in my arms which I cannot forsake. How shall we be rendered invisible?” And as she spoke she looked round her for the friendly wolf, which had disappeared, but a wreath of lilies lay on the place where it had stood. Florice placed it on her head, and the babe became invisible; but when she looked into a mirror made of a large diamond, which hung before her, she perceived that her whole person and attire were changed. She was now a green dwarf, with emerald eyes and hair of a varying and brilliant hue, like the crest of the mocking-bird. Rhodalind embraced her rapturously: “You are now,” she said, “the perfect likeness of my husband’s brother. There are four of his family—the yellow dwarf is the eldest and most powerful; Men call him Chrysos, or the Gold King, and you see the splendor of his habitation. His father Odin named him Frothi, and bathed him in a dragon’s blood, which has made him impenetrable in every part, except one he will not name. The Blue Dwarf governs the sylphs and inhabitants of the purer element; and seldom leaves the sky to visit his brother’s abode, which changes his colour to an earthly green. The Black Brother dwells in cities, and his subjects labour for him in volcanoes and hidden flames, except when an earthquake sends them abroad to rejoice. The youngest brother is unknown to me, and they say his mansion is in the whirlpool where all the oceans of the universe meet. Sister, dearest sister! I am the hundredth mortal wife that the yellow dwarf has stolen from our world. There is in one of the chambers of this palace a linden tree, whose branches seem loaded with singing-birds. But this tree is made of gold, and its trunk is filled with organ-pipes that create the delicious melody we hear; and those whom it lulls to sleep must wake no more. Since my entrance into this splendid prison, I have never dared to sleep, lest I should be added to the number of unhappy wives whose ashes fill the diamond caskets you see round us.”
Florice had no time to reply, for Chrysos entered, and shewed in his own palace all the hideousness of his person. The head of this monstrous dwarf was an ell broad, his eyes yellow, his nose shaped like the horn of a ram; his hair rough as gum and white as a swan; his mouth of enormous width, and his ears like those of an ass. But his mantle was made of white silk brought from Arabia, embroidered with gems, and his vesture of the rarest ermine, covered by a surcoat woven of the feathers of scarlet birds from Morocco and Lybia. On his head he wore the magical tarn-cap of unmatched power in Elfland, studded with gold; and the brilliant richness of his dress increased his horrible ugliness. Florice shuddered as he took her hand, mistaking her for the Green Dwarf, and exclaimed, “Ha, my good Brother! this visit is rightly timed. I have found for thee a bride of more beauty than my Rhodalind, and a boat of flowers has tempted her from her husband’s land to mine. Wait till the morning comes, and Florice of Engelland shall be thine.”—“How can that be certain,” replied Florice, “when she has with her the coronet of lilies which her husband gave as the token of his love and fidelity?”—“There is no token of love,” said the yellow dwarf, “which a woman would not exchange for the gold bracelet which I offered. Since the days of our great-grandfather Odin, I have seen twelve thousand brides wear that coronet, and as many times I have seen it changed into a heap of dead lilies.”—“Can it be thought,” said Florice, “that the lady of Engelland will love me in this green attire, and in this hideous land of cold and desolation?”—“No,” answered the Gold King, laughing—“but my palace furnishes ornaments to decorate a bridegroom. Take my tarn-cap and my silken mantle; and when the evening star shines, our youngest brother’s boat will come to this shore. The lady Florice dwells with the high-priest’s sister, and will follow thee as she followed the mermaid in my boat of flowers.”—The pretended Green Dwarf paused awhile, and answered, “I have a fancy for thy vest, brother, to conceal my deformed shoulders.”—“No part of my apparel should be denied to thee, except this,” said the sovereign of the gold mines; “but when Odin strove to make me invulnerable, a rose-leaf lay near my heart, and on that spot I am penetrable by a woman’s hand; therefore I cannot give thee the armour that defends it.”—Florice said no more, and the yellow dwarf clapping his hands, summoned all his gnomes to prepare a feast for his brother. Fruits of all kinds were spread in shells of pearl laid on tables supported by peacocks, whose outspread wings were composed of precious stones. He knew his brother would taste nothing except the dew gathered from Persian roses, and a cup was brought which had been filled from the gardens of Shirauz. At length the yellow dwarf sank on the rich couch prepared for him in a deep sleep; and his wife, lifting the mail of plaited gold from his breast, saw the print of a rose-leaf on the part which admitted a wound. She would have pierced it with his own poignard, but Florice would not permit a deed of treachery. She only took the cap and mantle he had offered, and placing them on her sister, they passed unresisted through all the marble doors of his palace. But when they had reached the last, Florice remembered the infant she had left sleeping unseen in her enemy’s chamber. Her sister would have prevented her return; but she replied, “I will not abandon the innocent and the helpless.” Chrysos was still asleep, and she brought the babe safely away in its mantle. When they reached the coast, a boat was seen moored among the rocks, without oar or sail; but a gold bracelet and a few roses lay on the edge. Heedless of her sister’s safety, and eager only to secure her own, Rhodalind leaped into this deceitful boat, which instantly disappeared. Florice looked in despair at the dark waters, when another boat, transparent as crystal, and steered by a White Dwarf of the most diminutive stature, touched the shore. His face shone in the moon-beams like the smallest leaf of a lily, and his cloak seemed as light and thin as if it had been woven of the May-fly’s wings. Florice placed the sleeping babe’s mantle on the helm, hoping that the touch of a creature so innocent would dissolve the work of an evil spirit, but the boat remained unchanged, and the helmsman spoke in a voice as soft as the music of a reed tuned by the south-wind. “Enter, Florice—my boat is framed of air and light, and will convey no freight except innocence and beauty. The Green Serpent Midgard, whose folds encircle the world, has received your sister, and conveyed her to the burning mountain of this island, where the Black Dwarf will avenge her treachery to his brother. But the presence of this innocent babe will smooth our way through the waters.”—Florice placed herself in the boat, and sang the hymn to the Sea-King as her pilot steered. Yet her courage failed when they sunk into a fog so white and so vast as to confound both sight and hearing. “Is our home near?” she said; but the White Dwarf was no longer visible, and his voice even from the helm could not be heard. It seemed as if they had traversed a thousand miles before a blue bird came through the mist, and alighted on the helm. Then Florice perceived that a wall of ice, two hundred fathoms deep below the sea and half as many above it, hung over their course. “Our home is near,” said the white pilot, as he turned his boat under an arch which shone like a rainbow through the vapour. Arch after arch rose before them, till that vapour gathered in folds which hung as if they had been fleeces of silver over a hall built of diamonds. The floor was of pearl carpeted with lilies, and the boat as it approached it changed into a chariot drawn by swans. Florice looked for the dwarfish pilot, but she saw her husband Blanchefleur in the beauty of his youth. He placed her on the throne of his polar kingdom, and shewed her his secret gardens among a thousand hills of ice, where all the elves of Faery-land hold their revels. Her first born daughter married the son of Thurida and Biorn, and their children dwelt in the green valley of an ice-berg. The Elf-King of the North has vowed that none but the sons of Engelland shall unveil his throne, since none but a woman of Engelland was found worthy to share it.
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Here ends all that tradition has preserved of the first founders of this Arctic colony, and their descent from our ancestors is evinced by the exact resemblance their legend bears to those which the most distinguished poet of our sister kingdom has lately ushered into the modern world. The heroic songs of Denmark, collected by the orders of Sophia when storm-stayed at Knutstrup, whither she had gone to see Tycho Brahe’s observatory, abound in such wild tales of dwarfs, mermaids, and gardens of roses, as our Arctic islander has collected. And the romantic ballads lately translated from the Icelandic language, especially Ulrich and Annie, Child Axelvold, the Maiden and the Hasel, Stark Tiderich and Olger Danske, Ribolt and Guldborg, and Young Child Dyring, so strongly resemble our old favourites Lord Thomas, Gil Morice, the Hawthorn Tree, Chevy Chase, the Douglas Tragedy, and Young Lochinvar, that our new friends near the North Pole cannot surprise us by the near affinity they claim. And though this romantic history of their origin may not appear in the “Book of Heroes,” “the Nibelungen Lay,” or any other illustration of Northern Antiquities, it may claim a place among the legends dedicated to St. Julian, the patron-saint of travellers.
- Such bandeaus are still used in Livonia, and the snood in Scotland. ↩
- Probably King Arthur’s daughter, commonly called Prude Ellinor, or, in the corrupt Scotch ballads, Burd Ellen.—Prude implies gentle, as the Preux Chevalier of the Freach is similar to our “gentle knight.” ↩
- Hesiod’s Theog. and the Eddas. ↩
- The Eyrbiggia Saga, or Annals of Iceland in 1264, records a similar occurrence. ↩
- Sir George Mackenzie mentions a peninsular in Iceland once called the throne of the God Thor. Losing an eye is still supposed to be the penalty of peeping at fairy matters. ↩
- Vide “Northern Antiquities,” Edinburgh edition: Animals were often gifted with elfish powers, like the she-wolf’s. ↩
- This story is told in one of the Books of Heroes. Dwarfs, says the preface, were created to inhabit hollow hills, discover gold and gems, and distinguish good and bad. Their tarn-caps, or veils, made them invisible. Heroes were midway between dwarfs and giants. ↩
- See the Legend of Hughdietritch, in the Danish Book of Heroes. ↩
- The May-fly, or Marienwurmchen, makes a figure in Northern romance. ↩