How the “Mastiffs” Went to Iceland.

The Mastiff was a yacht owned by John Burns (Lord Inverclyde) who took a group of men aboard his yacht on a trip to the Faroes and Iceland in 1878. Trollope wrote this story of the voyage and published it privately in the same year. Although hardly Polar, Iceland is certainly an interesting exemplar of the print culture of the North. Rather sardonic account of summer trip to Iceland in 1878 aboard the Mastiff, Trollope calling the passengers the Mastiffs.

p. 4: On the quarter-deck, at the head of the companion-stairs, there is a little snuggery which had been fitted up as a library and boudoir, capable of containing ten or a dozen persons. It was supposed to be Mrs. Burns’s [the owner’s wife] peculiar property where she might summon her ladies around her and occasionally admit the visit of a favourite verile visitor. Such was the idea when we started on the Saturday evening; before Monday afternoon was over it was taken possession of as a smoking-room by, I regret to say, a large portion of the gentlemen, who regarded it as a convenient spot for the comfortable consumption of tobacco and whisky and water….

p. 21-22 , on their visit to Reykjavik: The real condition of a people, as to happiness and civilization, may very generally be told from the state of education among them. Everybody, almost everybody, in Iceland can read. I quote as follows from Sir George Mackenzie’s work on the country, published as long ago as 1811, when education was much less rife in the world at large than it is now;–“By the super-intendance of the priests and the long-established habits of the people, a regular system of domestic education is obtained.”… “The instruction of his children”—that is the ordinary Icelander, — “forms one of his stated occupations; and while the earthen hut which he inhabits is almost buried by the snows of winter, and darkness and desolation are spread universally around, the light of an oil lamp illumines the page from which he reads to his family the lessons of knowledge, wisdom, and virtue.” He goes on to say that by an old law of the land the clergy are empowered to prevent a marriage when the betrothed female is unable to read. The strictness of this latter rule we in England would not be prepared to recommend; but the feeling, the desire for and practice of education from which it emanates, tells us of a condition of things which even yet we ought to envy in parts of Great Britain. The amount of reading which certainly does prevail throughout Iceland is marvelous. There is hardly in the island what can be called an upper class. There is no rich body, as there is with us, for whose special advantage luxurious schools and aristocratic universities can be maintained. But there is a thoroughly good college at Reykjavik, with a rector and professors, at which a sound classical education is given; and there are now also minor schools. The result is to be seen in the general intelligence of the people. “Macbeth” has been translated into Icelandic, and published at Reykjavik, which would not have been done unless there had been some one there to read “Macbeth.” There are five newspapers published in the island, two of them at Reykjavik. J. B. caused some hymns to be printed at a day’s notice, in order that they might be sung at Divine service aboard the Mastiff. The work was excellently done.