Conquering Iceland’s Mountains: The Alpine Club (Part 3)

“Turquoise Falls, Bruarfoss” © Jerome Berbigier

Continued from Part 2.

As it turned out, it was a British law student, William Lord Watts, who became the first man to truly answer Longman’s call and embark on some serious exploring. In the introduction to his book Across the Vatna Jökull; or, Scenes in Iceland; Being a Description of Hitherto Unknown Regions, Watts started by taking issue with the concerned British subject at home who saw the exploration of wilderness as a waste of “money, time, and labour,” or “utter folly,” explaining that everyone had a mania for something or other, and his own “may be to wander amongst unknown or unfrequented corners of the earth.” Calling for “a truce to critical stay-at-homes,” Watts advanced to the meat of his trip itself.

In his descriptions of his several expeditions, Watts usually employed a calm, scientific and lawyerly tone that make his bursts of romantic and athletic enthusiasm in certain scenes all the more exciting and believable. Nodding to his biggest audience, he also used some of the Continue reading

Conquering Iceland’s Mountains: The Alpine Club (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

If Longman’s unorthodox address is interesting as a sign of Iceland’s attractiveness to the middle-class British authentic-seeking traveller, the responses to his suggestions are even more so. In a May 18 article The Critic wrote a review of the Longman’s address that effectively summed up the perceived position of Iceland in the global context of travel and exploration. The author suggested that any adventurous Briton who had already “used up Ireland and Scotland” and “[did] not care to ascend Mont Blanc for the dozenth time” might turn to Iceland for their future travels, as it had spectacular scenery equal to Switzerland and critics were growing tired of “oft-repeated tales” in countries they knew intimately through so many books. The contributor continued by explaining that:

Aerial view of Iceland © Sarah Martinet

We do not ask the good-natured traveller to kill gorillas in Africa after Mr. Du Chaillu’s fashion, or hunt bisons on the American prairies with Mr. Grantley Berkeley. Our request is much more reasonable. Iceland may be reached by the expenditure of a single five-pound note: and in that uncockneyfied land a solitary Englishman may pay all his daily travelling expenses, including those which will be entailed on him by a retinue of three horses and a guide, for twenty shillings.

Continue reading

Conquering Iceland’s Mountains: The Alpine Club (Part 1)

Aerial view of Iceland © Sarah Martinet

It has been months since I’ve mentioned Iceland on the blog, partly because I was exhausted with the subject after completing my thesis in mid-April, but also because I’ve been occupied with less academic matters over the summer. Another reason for revisiting the topic is that over the summer I had the honor of learning that my thesis was added to the Kroch Library Rare and Manuscript Collections–hopefully somebody will find it useful eventually! Now that the volcanic dust has settled and the borrowed library books have been returned, I feel there are a couple facets of nineteenth-century British travel to Iceland left to explore here.

I’ve written about some of the qualities exhibited by British travelers to Iceland before, but Continue reading