« PreviousContinue »
speak of the present state of the island in its political relations, and conclude.
The ship in which Mr. Hooker sailed was a merchant adventurer, provided with a licence and a letter of marque, belonging to Mr. Phelps, a London merchant, who was himself on board. In consequence of some restrictions imposed by the governor, in violation, as Mr. Phelps conceived, of a previous agreement, and certainly as much to the injury of the Icelanders as of the English trader, that gentleman thought it necessary to avail himself of his letter of marque, by virtue of which he landed a dozen men, made the governor prisoner, and carried him on board his ship. Having thus subverted the Danish government, he found it necessary to establish some regular authority till his own government should determine in what manner to act; and this led to what is called the Islandic Revolution, the most singular and innocent event which was ever dignified with such an appellation. A Dane had gone out with Mr. Phelps, by name Jorgen Jorgensen, who had served in the British navy, and imbibed, according to his own words, together with his knowledge of nautical affairs, the principles, and prejudices of Englishmen. In 1806, at the age of 25, he returned to Copenhagen, where, by his open hatred of the conduct of the French, he made himself many enemies. War broke out between this country and Denmark. Jorgensen, in consequence of a decree calling upon all persons to serve, took the command of a privateer, in which he was made prisoner, and being landed at Yarmouth was set at large upon his parole. This he did not conceive sufficient to prevent him from going a voyage in a British ship, engaged on British pursuits, and with the intention of returning to England.
Mr. Phelps and his privy council determined that Jorgensen should, for the present, assume the chief command, because, not being a subject of Great Britain, he was not responsible to it for his actions. The accident of bis being a Dane, which was rather of more consequence, seems not to have been taken into their consideration, and to have been readily overlooked by himself. He therefore issued a proclamation declaring that all Danish authority in Iceland was at an end, and all Danish property confiscated. By a second proclamatiour he decreed that Iceland should be independent of Denmark, and that a republican constitution should be established similar to thạt under which the country had flourished till it united itself with Norway. The representatives of the people were to be assembled to form their new government, and till that could be done the existing authorities were to continue. A few persons expressed, in private, their objection to the measure of declaring the island independeut, upon the ground that it did not
produce food for its inhabitants; but the Icelanders in general were ill affected towards Denmark. It is not surprising, therefore, that they readily submitted to a revolution which would, they hoped, secure to them the protection of England, and open an intercourse with that country. None of the principal magistrates resigned their situations. The bishop and the clergy professed their satisfaction at the new ord r of things, and their willingness to support it, and exhorted all classes of persons to do the same. Many of the people caine forward to offer their services as soldiers to Jorgensen. Search was made for arms, and about twenty old fowling pieces were found; there were also a few swords and pistols, with which eight men were equipped; and these, being dressed in green uniforms and mounted, scoured the country, intimidated the Danes, and crushed a conspiracy which was formed for seizing the English ship and restoring the Danish authority. Encouraged by the support of the army of Iceland, Jorgensen issued another proclamation, that the soldiery had chosen him to be their leader, and styling himself his Excellency the Protector of Iceland, Commander-in-Chief by sea and land. He abolished the great seal of the country, substituting bis own till the representatives of the people should fix upon one, and hoisted a new flag upon the government-house bearing three split stock-fish upon a field azure. His orders for the seizure of Danish property were readily executed; and Mr. Phelps, acting under his Excellency the Protector, began to put the harbour of Reikiavik into a state of defence. For this purpose, he and his ship's crew, with the assistance of the natives, erected a battery, which they named Fort Phelps, and mounted it with six guns, which had been sent from Denmark 140 years before, and were now dug up from the sand, where they had lain buried.
Jorgensen entered upon his government with enthusiasm : he made a journey across the country to its most northern parts ; wherever he went he was welcomed by the people as their deliverer; they crowded about him to relate the impositions to which the Danes had subjected them, and to assure him of their satisfaction in being freed from their tyranny. He declared it lawful for Icelander to proceed from place to place, and trade wherever he pleased, without a passport; he announced his intention of sending an ambassador to his British Majesty to conclude peace; made a decree that none but Icelanders should fill public employments; and promised to the people a state of happiness which they had never before known. One circunstance which occurred under his government is too characteristic to be omitted. A poor peasant, in hopes of obtaining his share in this promised state of felicity, presented a petition to him, of which the following is a translation by his Excellency the Protector himself.
A PETITION FROM BIARNE THORLEVSEN
Sheweth that, in the year 1805, my wife, Thorunn Gunnlaugdatter, was sentenced to two years' labour in the Icelandic workhouse, only for the simple thing of stealing a sheep, which, besides, was nothing at all to me. The separation, which took place accordingly, occasioned that I was compelled to take a young girl as my housekeeper, who otherwise much recommended herself by her ability and fidelity. The consequence of these circumstances was, that the girl produced two little girls, after each other, whose father I amn. We were then separated by order of the magistrates ; and in this manner must the education of two innocents, but, at the same time, right handsome little girls, remain neglected, unless she as mother, in conjunction with me as father, is not hindered from following the irresistible dictates of nature, in the care and education of the children. But this cannot be done if we are not allowed to marry, and I humbly beg Mr. Bishop Videlin's declaration ; so much the more so as I am convinced of the justice of my cause. I also commit my life and worldly happiness to your Excellency's gracious consideration, with the confidence and attachment of a subject.
BIARNE THORLEVSEN. This petition was referred to the bishop, who accordingly inquired into the affair, and finding that the wife was not so fond of her husband as of her neighbour's mutton, and wished to be separated from him, pronounced a divorce accordingly, and Thorlevsen was thus enabled to marry his housekeeper.
Jorgensen's reign was terminated by the arrival of the Honourable Alexander Jones, Captain of the Talbot sloop of war, who, upon the representations of the Danish merchants, thought it incumbent upon him to send both the Danish governor and Jorgensen to England, restoring the former authorities under the Stiftamptmann Stephenson, till the pleasure of the British government should be known. By his orders the new flag was struck, the battery destroyed, the guns taken off the island, and the confiscated property restored. Jorgensen, soon after his arrival in England, was sent on board the hulks for having broken his parole: after remaining in this confinement twelve months, he was placed in a comparative state of liberty at Reading; where he amuses himself with writing books, in one of which, by way of recommending himself to the English gentleman to whom it is dedicated, he says he is descended in a direct line from those ancient and warlike tribes who trampled on Rome and Britain. The Dane needed not have reminded us of this; for our arrears to his ancestors have been paid off at Copenhagen. “Should you,' he says in an address to the reader, “happen to be one of those reptiles who pleasantly enough style themselves critics, and who, without giving the world any thing of their own,
apply apply their worthless talents in pulling to pieces other men's writings, then I frankly confess I expect no mercy from you. But, lest you should be conceited enough to think that any thing you could
say would give me the least uneasiness, I must now inform you I am not of a humour to treat you with the least respect, and that censure from such a person as you would be more welcome to me than your dull praise.'
But Mr. Jorgensen comes before us not in his literary character, but as the usurper, according to Sir George Mackenzie and Captain Jones's Icelandic eulogist, or, as he would have it, and, we verily believe, the Icelandic people also, his Excellency the Protector of Iceland; and if this capacity we should most cordially approve of all that he did, had he been an Icelander himself, or any thing but a Dane. Being a Dane, there can be no excuse for his hostility against Denmark. Sir G. Mackenzie charges Mr. Hooker with partiality to Jorgensen; but, as we think, without sufficient foundation; because, while his own statement is decidedly in favour of the measures of his friend Mr. Phelps, he gives, upon every point, the counter statement of the Danish governor. And surely Sir George, who went to Iceland with letters from Count Trampe, the governor, who inhabited his house at Reikiavik, and who dedicates bis work to him, is quite as likely to be biassed by his acquaintance with that gentleman, as Mr. Hooker by his knowledge of the spirit and personal qualities of Jorgensen.
Before these transactions, a privateer had the barbarity to plunder these poor islanders ; similar depredations had been committed by Baron Hompesch under the British flag, upon one of the Feroe islands. In consequence of these circumstances and of the representations of Sir Joseph Banks, whose name is honoured by the Icelanders as it deserves, (for by his interference such of their countrymen as were prisoners, have been released and supplied with money till they could find means of returning to their own country,) an order in council was issued February 7th, 1810, declaring that the Feroe islands and Iceland, and the settlements on the coast of Greenland should be exempt from all hostilities on the part of England, and permitted to trade with London or Leith; and that the people when resident in his Majesty's dominions, should be considered as stranger-friends, and in no case treated as alien-enemies. A way has thus been opened for bettering the condition of Iceland, provided,' says Mr. Hooker, the Danish government has compassion enough upon the most injured of its subjects to permit the humane intentions of his Majesty's ministers to be carried into effect; but should this not be the case, (and such seenis more than probable from the late decrees of Denmark, strictly prohibiting on pain of death, all intercourse with
the British,) then will the state of the nation be more wretched than ever, unless England should no longer hesitate about the adoption of a step to which every native Icelander looks forward as the greatest blessing that can befal his country, and which to England herself would be productive of various advantages, the taking possession of Iceland and holding it among her dependencies.'
In this opinion Sir G. Mackenzie, differing as he does from Mr. Hooker concerning the revolution, entirely coincides, being convinced that the only effectual mode of relieving the Icelanders, is to annex the island to the British dominions. Fish and oil, he says, might immediately be obtained to any amount; the quan tity of hides and tallow might soon become considerable; and roads, which increased industry might soon provide, would render the exportation of sulphur an important branch of trade. But it is not to the commercial interests of Great Britain that we would appeal. A people whose history is more innocent than that of any other nation under heaven, inhabiting the most forlorn of all countries, poor but yet contented, and amid their privations, cultivated by letters to a degree which might make wealthier countries asliamed; are at this moment exposed to the severest sufferings of want, because they are dependent upon Denmark, and Denmark is at war with Great Britain. Their industry is suspended, because it is rendered useless; the revenues which supported their schools are cut off, and unless some speedy and effectual relief be afforded there is less danger of their falling into barbarism, than of their extinction as a people : for they labour under all the diseases which are produced by unwholesome diet; and of the children a very small proportion live through their infancy for want of proper food. .
To remedy these evils nothing more is required than to take them under the protection of Great Britain, and let them govern themselves. A tenderness toward the court of Copenhagen is all that can prevent this, and how has that court deserved it at our hands ? Is it for its edicts denouncing death against any of its subjects who shall be detected in trading with England ? for its execution of the burning decrees ? for its treatment of Romaña and of those Spaniards who, being less fortunate than their noble leader, are still lying in Danish prisons ? Is it for its assent to the treaty of Tilsit, or its share in the armed neutralities? Or must we go back to those old obligations in the days of the Vikingr, of which Mr. Jorgensen has so happily reminded us, and through respect to the memory of Sweyn and Canute, give as little offence as possible to their successors ?
If ever there was a country deserving the admiration and gratitude of the world, it is Great Britain at this momentous time. And if the historian whose task it may be to record her struggles and her