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The Great Geysir.

From "Letters from High Latitudes".
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As our principal object in coming so far was to see an eruption of the Great Geysir (In English geyser is the mote usual form, but the Icelandic geysir (meaning "gusher") is also used), it was of course necessary we should wait his pleasure; in fact, our movements entirely depended upon his. For the next two or three days, therefore, like pilgrims round some ancient shrine, we patiently kept watch; but he scarcely deigned to vouchsafe us the slightest manifestation of his latent energies. Two or three times the cannonading we had heard immediately after our arrival recommenced - and once an eruption to the height of about ten feet occurred; but so brief was its duration, that by the time we were on the spot, although the tent was not eighty yards distant, all was over. As after every effort of the fountain the water in the basin mysteriously ebbs back into the funnel, this performance, though unsatisfactory in itself, gave us an opportunity of approaching the mouth of the pipe, and looking down into its scalded gullet. In an hour afterwards, the basin was brimful as ever.

Tethered down by our curiosity to a particular spot for an indefinite period, we had to while away the hours as best we could. We played chess, collected specimens, photographed the encampment, the guides, the ponies, and one or two astonished natives. Every now and then we went out shooting over the neighbouring flats, and once I ventured on a longer expedition among the mountains to our left. The views I got were beautiful - ridge rising beyond ridge in eternal silence, like gigantic ocean waves, whose tumult has been suddenly frozen into stone; - but the dread of the Geysir going off during my absence made me almost too fidgety to enjoy them. The weather luckily remained beautiful, with the exception of one little spell of rain, which came to make us all the more grateful for the sunshine - and we fed like princes. Independently of the game, duck, plover, ptarmigan, and bittern, with which our guns supplied us, a young lamb was always in the larder - not to mention reindeer tongues, skier - a kind of sour curds, excellent when well made - milk, cheese whose taste and nature baffle description; biscuit and bread, sent us as a free gift by the lady of a neighbouring farm. In fact, so noble is Icelandic hospitality, that I really believe there was nothing within fifty miles round we might not have obtained for the asking, had we desired it.

We had now been keeping watch for three days over the Geysir, in languid expectation of the eruption which was to set us free. All the morning of the fourth day I had been playing chess with Sigurdr; Fitzgerald was photographing, Wilson was in the act of announcing luncheon, when a cry from the guides made us start to our feet, and with one common impulse rush towards the basin. The usual subterranean thunders had already commenced. A violent agitation was disturbing the centre of the pool. Suddenly a dome of water lifted itself up to the height of eight or ten feet-then burst, and fell; immediately after which a shining liquid column, or rather a sheaf of columns wreathed in robes of vapour, sprung into the air,, and in a succession of jerking leaps, each higher than the last, flung their silver crests against the sky. For a few minutes the fountain held its own, then all at once appeared to lose its ascending energy. The unstable waters faltered, drooped, fell, "like a broken purpose," back upon themselves, and were immediately sucked down into the recesses of their pipe.

The spectacle was certainly magnificent; but no description can give any idea of its most striking features. The enormous wealth of water, its vitality, its hidden power - the illimitable breadth of sunlit vapour, rolling out in exhaustless profusion - all combined to make one feel the stupendous energy of nature's slightest movements.

And yet I do not believe the exhibition was so fine as some that have been seen: from the first burst upwards to the moment the last jet retreated into the pipe was no more than a space of seven or eight minutes, and at no moment did the crown of the column reach higher than sixty or seventy feet above the surface of the basin. Now, early travellers talk of three hundred feet, which must, of course, be fabulous; but many trustworthy persons have judged the eruptions at two hundred feet, while well-authenticated accounts - when the elevation of the jet has been actually measured-make it to have attained a height of upwards of one hundred feet.

With regard to the internal machinery by which these waterworks are set in motion, I will only say that the most received theory seems to be that which supposes the existence of a chamber in the heated earth, almost, but not quite, filled with water, and communicating with the upper air by means of a pipe, whose lower orifice, instead of being in the roof, is at the side of the cavern, and below the surface of the subterranean pond. The water kept by the surrounding furnaces at boiling-point, generates of course a continuous supply of steam, for which some vent must be obtained; as it cannot escape by the funnel - the lower mouth of which is under water - it squeezes itself up within the arching roof, until at last, compressed beyond all endurance, it strains against the rock, and pushing down the intervening waters with its broad, strong back, forces them below the level of the funnel, and dispersing part and, driving part before it, rushes forth in triumph to the upper air. The fountains, therefore, that we see mounting to the sky during an eruption are nothing but the superincumbent mass of waters in the pipe driven up in confusion before the steam at the moment it obtains its liberation.

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Pictures for The Great Geysir.

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