After a good walk I returned to M. Fridrikssen's house, where I found my uncle already in his host's company.
INTERESTING CONVERSATIONS WITH ICELANDIC SAVANTS
Dinner was ready. Professor Liedenbrock devoured his portion voraciously, for his compulsory fast on board had converted his stomach into a vast unfathomable gulf. There was nothing remarkable in the meal itself; but the hospitality of our host, more Danish than Icelandic, reminded me of the heroes of old. It was evident that we were more at home than he was himself.
The conversation was carried on in the vernacular tongue, which my uncle mixed with German and M. Fridrikssen with Latin for my benefit. It turned upon scientific questions as befits philosophers; but Professor Liedenbrock was excessively reserved, and at every sentence spoke to me with his eyes, enjoining the most absolute silence upon our plans.
In the first place M. Fridrikssen wanted to know what success my uncle had had at the library.
"Your library! why there is nothing but a few tattered books upon almost deserted shelves."
"Indeed!" replied M. Fridrikssen, "why we possess eight thousand volumes, many of them valuable and scarce, works in the old Scandinavian language, and we have all the novelties that Copenhagen sends us every year."
"Where do you keep your eight thousand volumes? For my part -"
"Oh, M. Liedenbrock, they are all over the country. In this icy region we are fond of study. There is not a farmer nor a fisherman that cannot read and does not read. Our principle is, that books, instead of growing mouldy behind an iron grating, should be worn out under the eyes of many readers. Therefore, these volumes are passed from one to another, read over and over, referred to again and again; and it often happens that they find their way back to their shelves only after an absence of a year or two."
"And in the meantime," said my uncle rather spitefully, "strangers --"
"Well, what would you have? Foreigners have their libraries at home, and the first essential for labouring people is that they should be educated. I repeat to you the love of reading runs in Icelandic blood. In 1816 we founded a prosperous literary society; learned strangers think themselves honoured in becoming members of it. It publishes books which educate our fellow-countrymen, and do the country great service. If you will consent to be a corresponding member, Herr Liedenbrock, you will be giving us great pleasure."
My uncle, who had already joined about a hundred learned societies, accepted with a grace which evidently touched M. Fridrikssen.
"Now," said he, "will you be kind enough to tell me what books you hoped to find in our library and I may perhaps enable you to consult them?"
My uncle's eyes and mine met. He hesitated. This direct question went to the root of the matter. But after a moment's reflection he decided on speaking.
"Monsieur Fridrikssen, I wished to know if amongst your ancient books you possessed any of the works of Arne Saknussemm?"
"Arne Saknussemm!" replied the Rejkiavik professor. "You mean that learned sixteenth century savant, a naturalist, a chemist, and a traveller?"
"One of the glories of Icelandic literature and science?"
"That's the man."
"An illustrious man anywhere!"
"And whose courage was equal to his genius!"
"I see that you know him well."
My uncle was bathed in delight at hearing his hero thus described. He feasted his eyes upon M. Fridrikssen's face.
"Well," he cried, "where are his works?"
"His works, we have them not."
"What - not in Iceland?"
"They are neither in Iceland nor anywhere else."
"Why is that?"
"Because Arne Saknussemm was persecuted for heresy, and in 1573 his books were burned by the hands of the common hangman."
"Very good! Excellent!" cried my uncle, to the great scandal of the professor of natural history.
"What!" he cried.
"Yes, yes; now it is all clear, now it is all unravelle