Farthest North; Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration of the Ship "Fram" 1893-96: Volume 1

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Publisher
Harper
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Published on
Dec 31, 1898
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Pages
679
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Language
English
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"If Outside magazine had been around during the first turn of the century, Fridtjof Nansen would have been its No. 1 cover boy."—The Chicago Sun-Times In September of 1893, Norwegian zoologist Fridtjof Nansen and crew manned the schooner Fram, intending to drift, frozen in the Arctic pack-ice, to the North Pole. When it became clear that they would miss the pole, Nansen and companion Hjalmar Johansen struck off by themselves. Racing the shrinking pack-ice, they attempted, by dog-sled, to go "farthest north." They survived a winter in a moss hut eating walruses and polar bears, and the public assumed they were dead. In the spring of 1896, after three years of trekking, and having made it to within four degrees of the pole, they returned to safety. Nansen's narrative stands with the best writing on polar exploration. 20 b/w photographs.

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IN the beginning the world appeared to mankind like a fairy tale; everything that lay beyond the circle of familiar experience was a shifting cloudland of the fancy, a playground for all the fabled beings of mythology; but in the farthest distance, towards the west and north, was the region of darkness and mists, where sea, land and sky were merged into a congealed mass—and at the end of all gaped the immeasurable mouth of the abyss, the awful void of space.

Out of this fairy world, in course of time, the calm and sober lines of the northern landscape appeared. With unspeakable labour the eye of man has forced its way gradually towards the north, over mountains and forests, and tundra, onward through the mists along the vacant shores of the polar sea—the vast stillness, where so much struggle and suffering, so many bitter failures, so many proud victories, have vanished without a trace, muffled beneath the mantle of snow.

When our thoughts go back through the ages in a waking dream, an endless procession passes before us—like a single mighty epic of the human mind’s power of devotion to an idea, right or wrong—a procession of struggling, frost-covered figures in heavy clothes, some erect and powerful, others weak and bent so that they can scarcely drag themselves along before the sledges, many of them emaciated and dying of hunger, cold and scurvy; but all looking out before them towards the unknown, beyond the sunset, where the goal of their struggle is to be found.

We see a Pytheas, intelligent and courageous, steering northward from the Pillars of Hercules for the discovery of Britain and Northern Europe; we see hardy Vikings, with an Ottar, a Leif Ericson at their head, sailing in undecked boats across the ocean into ice and tempest and clearing the mists from an unseen world; we see a Davis, a Baffin forcing their way to the north-west and opening up new routes, while a Hudson, unconquered by ice and winter, finds a lonely grave on a deserted shore, a victim of shabby pilfering. We see the bright form of a Parry surpassing all as he forces himself on; a Nordenskiöld, broad-shouldered and confident, leading the way to new visions; a Toll mysteriously disappearing in the drifting ice. We see men driven to despair, shooting and eating each other; but at the same time we see noble figures, like a De Long, trying to save their journals from destruction, until they sink and die.

Midway in the procession comes a long file of a hundred and thirty men hauling heavy boats and sledges back to the south, but they are falling in their tracks; one after another they lie there, marking the line of route with their corpses—they are Franklin’s men.

IN the beginning the world appeared to mankind like a fairy tale; everything that lay beyond the circle of familiar experience was a shifting cloudland of the fancy, a playground for all the fabled beings of mythology; but in the farthest distance, towards the west and north, was the region of darkness and mists, where sea, land and sky were merged into a congealed mass—and at the end of all gaped the immeasurable mouth of the abyss, the awful void of space.

Out of this fairy world, in course of time, the calm and sober lines of the northern landscape appeared. With unspeakable labour the eye of man has forced its way gradually towards the north, over mountains and forests, and tundra, onward through the mists along the vacant shores of the polar sea—the vast stillness, where so much struggle and suffering, so many bitter failures, so many proud victories, have vanished without a trace, muffled beneath the mantle of snow.

When our thoughts go back through the ages in a waking dream, an endless procession passes before us—like a single mighty epic of the human mind’s power of devotion to an idea, right or wrong—a procession of struggling, frost-covered figures in heavy clothes, some erect and powerful, others weak and bent so that they can scarcely drag themselves along before the sledges, many of them emaciated and dying of hunger, cold and scurvy; but all looking out before them towards the unknown, beyond the sunset, where the goal of their struggle is to be found.

We see a Pytheas, intelligent and courageous, steering northward from the Pillars of Hercules for the discovery of Britain and Northern Europe; we see hardy Vikings, with an Ottar, a Leif Ericson at their head, sailing in undecked boats across the ocean into ice and tempest and clearing the mists from an unseen world; we see a Davis, a Baffin forcing their way to the north-west and opening up new routes, while a Hudson, unconquered by ice and winter, finds a lonely grave on a deserted shore, a victim of shabby pilfering. We see the bright form of a Parry surpassing all as he forces himself on; a Nordenskiöld, broad-shouldered and confident, leading the way to new visions; a Toll mysteriously disappearing in the drifting ice. We see men driven to despair, shooting and eating each other; but at the same time we see noble figures, like a De Long, trying to save their journals from destruction, until they sink and die.

Midway in the procession comes a long file of a hundred and thirty men hauling heavy boats and sledges back to the south, but they are falling in their tracks; one after another they lie there, marking the line of route with their corpses—they are Franklin’s men.

Greenland is in a peculiar manner associated with Norway and with the Norwegians. Our forefathers were the first Europeans who found their way to its shores. In their open vessels the old Vikings made their daring voyages, through tempests and drift-ice, to this distant land of snows, settled there throughout several centuries, and added it to the domain of the Norwegian crown.

After the memory of its existence had practically passed away, it was again one of our countrymen who, on behalf of a Norwegian company, founded the second European settlement of the country.

It is poor, this land of the Eskimo, which we have taken from him; it has neither timber nor gold to offer us—it is naked, lonely, like no other land inhabited of man. But in all its naked poverty, how beautiful it is! If Norway is glorious, Greenland is in truth no less so. When one has once seen it, how dear to him is its recollection! I do not know if others feel as I do, but for me it is touched with all the dream-like beauty of the fairyland of my childish imagination. It seems as though I there found our own Norwegian scenery repeated in still nobler, purer forms.

It is strong and wild, this Nature, like a saga of antiquity carven in ice and stone, yet with moods of lyric delicacy and refinement. It is like cold steel with the shimmering colours of a sunlit cloud playing through it.

When I see glaciers and ice-mountains, my thoughts fly to Greenland where the glaciers are vaster than anywhere else, where the ice-mountains jut into a sea covered with icebergs and drift-ice. When I hear loud encomiums on the progress of our society, its great men and their great deeds, my thoughts revert to the boundless snow-fields stretching white and serene in an unbroken sweep from sea to sea, high over what have once been fruitful valleys and mountains. Some day, perhaps, a similar snow-field will cover us all.

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