Letters from High Latitudes

In the summer of 1856, Frederick, Lord Dufferin — Frederick Temple Hamilton Temple Blackwood, Marquess of Dufferin and Ava to be exact — ventured to the Arctic on the schooner yacht Foam. He would go on to become Governor General of Canada 1872-1878, British ambassador to both St. Petersburg and Constantinople, and Viceroy of India. But in 1856, at age thirty, he was an aristocratic adventurer, and sailed the Foam, captained by Ebenezer Wyse, to Iceland, Norway, Jan Mayen and Spitzbergen.

Lord Dufferin’s book, Letters from High Latitudes, Being Some Account of a Voyage in 1856 in the Schooner Yacht ‘Foam’ to Iceland, Jan Mayen and Spitzbergen, first published in 1856, was republished in “The World’s Classics” in 1910. This is the copy I have and have just finished reading. Duff’s book contains “descriptive passages of extraordinary power and occasional bursts of genuine eloquence.” (His mother was a grandaughter of Richard Brinsley Sheridan.) He writes with both humor and poetry, with an eye for landscape, and an ear for saga and folk-lore. Here are just a couple examples of his talent:

“The panorama of the bay of Faxa Fiord is magnificent — with a width of fifty mile from horn to horn, the one running down into a rocky ridge of pumice,

BB1 Sod Huts Glaumbaer North West IMG_0359

the other towering to the height of five thousand feet in a pyramid of eternal snow, while round the intervening semicircle crowd the peaks of a hundred noble mountains. As you approach the shore, you are very much reminded of the west coast of Scotland, except that everything is more intense — the atmosphere clearer, the light more vivid, the air more bracing, the hills steeper, loftier, more tormented, as the French say, and more gaunt; while between their base and the sea stretches a dirty greenish slope, patched with houses which themselves, both roof and walls, are of a mouldy green, as if some long-since inhabited country had been fished up out of the bottom of the sea.

The effects of light and shadow are the purest I ever saw, the contrasts of colour most astonishing — one square front of a mountain jutting out in a blaze of gold against the flank of another, dyed of the darkest purple, while up against the azure sky beyond rise peaks of glittering snow and ice.”

“On the left lay a long rampart of green hills, opening up every now and then into Scottish glens and gorges, while from their root to the horizon stretched a vast breadth of meadow-land, watered by two or three rivers, that wound, and twisted, and coiled about, like blue serpents. Here and there, white volumes of vapour, that rose in endless wreaths from the ground, told of mighty cauldrons at work beneath that moist cool verdent carpet; while large silvery lakes, and flat-topped isolated hills, relieved the monotony of the level land, and carried on the eye to where the three snowy peaks of Mount Hecla shone cold and clear against the sky.”

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  • Copyright © 2011-16, Dianne Ebertt Beeaff. All Rights Reserved.
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