« VorigeDoorgaan »
delude the public or has succeeded in deluding himself. Whichever be the truth, delusion is the prevalent atmosphere of the whole affair; and the animus of the writer is shown by the fact that he appears throughout as a sort of malevolent and malicious Mr Dick, who cannot draft his own memorial without for ever dragging in the King Charles's Head of Admiral Peary. The book is published by the Polar Publishing Company of New York, apparently a company created ad hoc. It is difficult to believe that any firm of established reputation would have issued such unwarrantable attacks upon Admiral Peary as this work contains; and it says much for the recovery of self-control in that gallant explorer that he has had the strength of mind to ignore these charges and refrain from giving the author further notoriety by bringing him into a court of law.
The attack on Peary strikes an impartial reader as the real object of the book, though the avowed purpose is to prove that Dr Cook reached the Pole. The attack fails on account of its very intensity. For example, after referring to the fact that theft is unknown among Eskimo, he adds:
'Unknown, yes, save when white men without honor, without respect for property or the ethics of humanity, which the Eskimos instinctively have, invade their region and rob them and fellow-explorers with the brazenness of middle-aged buccaneers' (p. 446).
He is indeed reluctant to say the worst about his enemy. 'Although Mr Peary did not scruple to lie about me, I still hesitate to tell the truth about him.' But he does not hesitate to insinuate what he would have us believe the truth to be.
'In the white, frozen North a tragedy was enacted which would bring tears to the hearts of all who possess human tenderness and kindness. This has never been written. To write it would still further reveal the ruthlessness, the selfishness, the cruelty of the man who tried to ruin me. Yet here I prefer the charity of silence' (pp. 519, 520).
On the opposite page is a photograph of an Eskimo woman with a baby on her back, and beneath is the title "The Mother of Seals" and her deserted child.' In short, Milton's Satan and Goethe's Mephistopheles between
them could hardly have conceived and carried out the manifold and wide-spread iniquities imputed to 'the brutally selfish, brutally unscrupulous' rival, assisted by his clique of honour-blind boosters.' After pretty completely overcoming the hesitation to which we referred above, and describing Peary's enormities in some forty pages, Dr Cook concludes, I have been compelled to extreme measures of truth-telling that are abhorrent to me.' That, at least, we can well believe. Peary, it is true, lost his temper when he returned looking for crowns to fall,' and found that they were falling in wreaths of roses on Cook; but no one can wonder at it, for he knew then all that Cook has now revealed to us of his animosity against Peary. We know that it is universally recognised that, whatever may be his faults of taste, Peary is a man of high character and honourable conduct; and the malignant and unjustifiable attack made upon him recoils upon his assailant.
Before we go on to consider graver matters, we cannot help calling attention to the style in which the book is written, and to the ignorance or misuse of the English language which it displays. In the making of this book,' says the author, 'I was relieved of much of the routine editorial work by Mr T. Everett Harry. By his ceaseless study of the subject and his rearrangement of material, a book of better literary workmanship has been made.' What its earlier embryonic condition must have been staggers the imagination, for even after all Mr Harry's care the literary workmanship not unfrequently suggests the collaboration of a learned Babu, or that of the author of the famous Portuguese guide.
Let us take a few examples of Dr Cook's-or is it Mr Harry's?-English as she is spoke.' When in a state of starvation, the author writes, "We were blinded to everything except the dictates of our palates' (p. 368). At the Pole, 'Time was a negative problem' (290); and in its neighbourhood, 'over the horizon, mirages displayed celestial hysterics' (p. 317). A little later, With a magnificent cardinal flame, the sun rose, gibbered in the sky, and sank behind the southern cliffs on November 3' (p. 408). Again, 'The coast-line here is paradoxically curious, for, although the coast exceeds but barely more than 200 miles of latitude, it presents in reality a sea
line of about 4000 miles' (p. 46). Our author is apt to revel in metaphor; referring to Peary, he says, 'I felt sure that the hand which did the besmearing was silhouetted against the blackness of its making.' And here is a gem of journalistic Americanese: the never-to-be-forgotten days of the enervating chill of zero's lowest at -83° F.' (p. 181). Finally, take the following piece of unreserved autobiography (p. 26):
'My boyhood was not happy. As a tiny child I was discontented, and from the earliest days of consciousness I felt the burden of two things which accompanied me through later life an innate and abnormal desire for exploration, then the manifestation of my yearning, and the constant struggle to make ends meet, that sting of poverty which, while it tantalises one with its horrid grind, sometimes drives men by reason of the strength developed in overcoming its concomitant obstacles to some extraordinary accomplishment.'
That child was certainly the father of this man, and the 'extraordinary accomplishment' is before us. It is at the best what Tennyson called 'confessions of a secondrate sensitive mind.' We do not question that Dr Cook has a great capacity for suffering or that he has suffered much. The pangs of jealousy, the stings of ambition, and the strenuous fight with a terrible climate and other hardships were enough to make him acutely miserable. Whether he reached the North Pole or not, whether he was capable of finding his positions or not, we have no reason to doubt that he spent two years in the far north, living on horrible food and in constant association with people who, whatever their many excellences, were very disagreeable companions for a white man of civilised habits. But what was the result of these privations? Did he reach the goal of his ambitions, those ambitions which he describes with some eloquence in the following passage (p. 64);
'As we sped over the magical waters, the wild golden air electric about me, I believe I felt an ecstasy of desire such as mystics achieved from fasting and prayer. It was the surge of an ambition which began to grow mightily within me, which I felt no obstacle could withstand, and which, later, I believe carried me forward with its wings of faith when my body well-nigh refused to move.'
The wings of faith are indeed mighty, but, before our own are moved to follow Dr Cook in his course of triumph, we are bound to ask for his credentials. Defects of style are doubtless compatible with honesty; and, though the attack on Admiral Peary betrays a rancour and a disregard for truth and justice which throw grave discredit on the whole story, it is not enough in itself to disprove Dr Cook's 'Attainment of the Pole.' Let us apply other tests. And first, what of his general accuracy of statement and scientific knowledge? Some light may be thrown on these points by the following passages: 'Out of the inky water a walrus lifted its head. I saw its long, white, spiral ivory tusk and two phosphorescent eyes' (p. 124). What he saw was clearly a narwhal, not a walrus; and to show that this was not a mere slip of the pen, he repeats the mistake on the next page. His knowledge of physiological processes may be inferred from the observation that With us sugar in the process of digestion turns into fat, and fat into body fuel'; and his knowledge of elementary anatomy from the remark (p. 275) that under a strong light the iris was reduced to a mere pin-hole.' When the thermometer stood at 68° F., Burning but three pounds of oil all night, the almost liquid air was reduced to a normal temperature of freezing point.' Now, air liquefies at a temperature below -200° F. Strange things happen in northern latitudes, but few stranger can have happened than when Dr Cook saw, among a group of ptarmigan, 'two singing capons cooing notes of love to a shy chick' (p. 338). Like Joshua, he can do what he likes with the heavenly bodies. Having told us, at a certain stage of his journey, that the 'perpetual sun' gave light and colour but little warmth, he continues, The sun rose into zones of fire and set in burning fields of ice' (p. 261). At his bidding mountains miraculously rise to unheardof heights. As we crossed the big bay to the east of Cape Sparbo, our eyes were fixed on the two huge Archæn (sic) rocks which made remarkable landmarks, rising suddenly to an altitude of about 18,000 feet' (p. 378). We cannot help recalling some little miscalculations as to the altitudes which he claimed to have reached on Mount McKinley. On his return to civilisation, the welcome which he received evidently turned his head.
'An entire day,' he says (p. 473), ' was spent autographing photographs for members of the royal family'; and a little later (p. 496) he 'shook hands until the flesh of one finger was actually worn through to the bone.' After such experiences our sense of wonder becomes exhausted.
It is not remarks of this kind that we require in such a story as this, but accurate observations of scientific fact. These are strangely lacking. A general vagueness of description mars the whole narrative of the alleged attainment of the Pole and the return to civilisation. Dr Cook cannot tell the date of his return to Annoatok or that of his arrival at Upernivik (which he persistently misspells Upernavik'), nor even that of the sailing of the ship which brought him home. Though he lived for more than a year alone with the two young Eskimo, E-tuki-shook and Ah-we-lah, we learn nothing of their separate characters; they were, in description, as in their photographs, mere skin-clad shadows indistinguishable the one from the other. The dogs also are simply abstractions of dogs; the names of none of them are mentioned, and no dog stands out beyond its fellows. We learn that the Eskimo were timorous about travelling far on the seaice out of reach of land; therefore Dr Cook assured them that various cloud-banks or mirages which accompanied them towards the Pole were real land. Hence, he explains, they asserted quite truly according to their lights that he was never more than 'two sleeps' away from land. Only it is to be noted that he did not mention the innocent fraud he practised on his savage friends until they had told Peary about the 'two sleeps.'
In the narrative telegraphed from Lerwick Dr Cook says, referring apparently to the dates between April 16 and 21, 'good astronomical observations were daily secured to fix advancing stages.' In the book a lucky series' of observations is referred to at this time, and a few of them are quoted and the workings shown. Had these been produced at once on Dr Cook's return it would have been valuable evidence, for he did not know enough of astronomical observations to invent them; but after the lapse of two years they prove nothing. The author allows that Dunkle and Loose did work out just such a set of figures, for which he paid them, though he says he did not use their work.