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LITTELL'S LIVING AGE.—No. 298.—2 FEBRUARY, 1850.
From the United Service Magazine. We are, therefore, inclined to look upon these THE RECENT ARCTIC EXPEDITIONS. expeditions as the instruments of solution of a
mere problem in geography, and as the means Illi robur et aes triplex Circa pectus erai, qui fragilem truci
of promoting and improving our physical science, Commisit pelago ratem
rather than as likely to produce any practica. Primus.
advantage in the arts of life. Qui dubiis ausus committere flatibus alnum
At an early period, the very obscure notions Quas Natura negat, præbuit Arte vias.
entertained of the form of the northern extremity The great problem of the North-west Passage of the American continent, led to some chimerical has, from an early period in this country, been a views upon this subject ; but when Cabot Verazfavorite subject of research ; and has, ever since zani and Cortereal established the continuity of the discovery of America, and the full develop the American coast, from the Gulf of Mexico to ment of Britain's maritime greatness, been zeal- the borders of the Arctic Circle, the problem ously and steadily pursued. Among the most assumed a new form, and it no longer seemed the prominent of her navigators, who have exercised easy and specious undertaking that it had formerly their talents and exhausted their energies in this appeared. However, a more correct view of the arduous undertaking, are to be found names of difficulties to be encountered by no means diminthe highest order ; men canonized in the calendar ished the interest in the question; and perhaps of science, and standing in the foremost rank of the difficulty attending it, and the dangers which those who have contributed, by their exertions, to beset its accomplishment, in no small degree conthe advancement of civilization, and the promotion spired with the greatness of the objects to which of the welfare of mankind.
it related, to make it attractive in the eyes of a If we, however, look to the solution of this people, with whose nature such enterprises are problem as the means of promoting any mere congenial. physical advantage, we are inclined to think that Regarding, therefore, the problem of the Norththe gain would be trifling and unimportant; west Passage as a matter of science, and allowing saving, so far as it may conduce to the advantage it little weight as a practical object of commercial of science, by the knowledge which necessarily navigation, we are inclined to consider it as by no results from the scientific labors of the persons means barren of great moral consequences, and as engaged in the undertaking. If a correct knowl-befitting the character of a great maritime nation. edge of the physical structure of the earth is of If we were to appreciate the value of geographical any importance, then surely we are indebted to discovery generally, by the amount of physical Arctic navigators, who have contributed so much benefit it confers upon the species, we should find to our knowledge upon the subject. A modern perhaps that it holds but a low place in the scale chart of the Arctic Regions is a very different of the arts of life. The discovery of America, thing from the earlier geographical delineations of and of the modern passage to India, have added this portion of the globe ; and our present knowl- little to the condition of the mere physical man. edge of the formation of the northern shore of Men are by no means more virtuous, and probably the American continent, must not be compared in no degree happier, because they command the with our information upon the same subject fifty spices of India or the tobacco of America. The years since.
wants of man are rather relative, than absolute ; Yet, we must confess, that as a mere physical the luxuries of India would never have been covproblem, we are inclined to attach much less eted, had they never been enjoyed. But the disimportance to the North-west Passage than some covery of America, and the facility of reaching others; and, considering it in a commercial point India, were events which conferred immense advanof view, we think it hardly promises any real tages upon mankind. Society has gradually but benefit to society; for in the high latitudes, where steadily been exalted in the scale of being, not alone it can be sought, it would necessarily, if because these discoveries in navigation have pamattained, be precarious and uncertain, and depend-pered the fastidious appetite with costly viands, or ent upon a thousand accidents, over which man modified and changed the culinary propensities of can have no control. It is impossible to deny to man; but because his moral nature has thereby the problem all the interest which attaches to been more fully developed — because his energies romance ; the reaching of the centre of motion on have thereby found fresh food for employment, the earth's surface, the actual observation of its and his functions and capabilities more ample ideal axis of rotation, are objects which cannot means of use and exercise. The opening of a fail to engage the interest of the curious, and pro- new world awoke a fresh source of dormant energy voke the inquiry of the learned.
in man, the sphere of his existence became exOCXCVIII. LIVING AGE. VOL. XXIV.
panded, his moral stature was exalted, and his services ought to have secured. Thus, previously mental horizon extended beyond its ancient limits. to the expedition of Sir John Ross, in 1818, all Thus is it with this long-vexed problem of the the world ran mad upon a great Polar Basin ; as, North-west Passage, which has perhaps done for in the days of Captain Cook, the fireside travelgeography and navigation what alchemy accom- lers had agreed upon a great polar continent. plished for chemical science, or what the vain Captain Cook disappointed the enthusiasts of his search for the philosopher's stone and perpetual day, as Captain Sir John Ross and his associates motion effected for medicine and mechanics. subsequently did in theirs, by failing to realize Though the problem itself may never be entirely all the idle dreams and silly theories of tea-table solved, and although nothing that has been accom- voyagers and “ Quarterly Reviewers.” Captain plished leads us to hope that we are nearer attain-Cook and Sir John Ross were each unfortunate in ing our object, still it has already rewarded its their day and generation, the one found only ice followers with important benefits. Naval energy where the learned had hoped and expected to find has received a series of impulses which will not land; and the other found land, where it had long fail in due season to produce ample fruits; the been previously settled that he ought to find spirit of enterprise has been awakened, and the water. love of knowledge and adventure has been dissem- It is then scarcely to be wondered at, that the inated. Men have been taught to struggle with addition to our physical knowledge has not been the stern and severe dangers of a Boreal winter, so great as the several expensive expeditions had and to regard with an unflinching and dauntless led us to expect ; and it is really wonderful to spirit, the storms, the snows, and appalling dan contemplate how very little has been done in two gers of the North. Regarding, then, this prob- centuries of generations actively engaged in solvlem as a problem of science, rather than of social ing the problem. The accumulated experience life, it is to be regretted that the Board of Admi- which has been recorded from time to time, proves rally have not always, in the organization of these that the Polar seas have remained in much the expeditions, paid sufficient attention to the selec- same state for a series of ages. The great bartion of persons competent to conduct those scien- riers may now and then partially shift their cific inquiries which are expected to arise, and position, but they soon return to their original which are supposed to form an essential element limits, and repel, with obstinate pertinacity, all in the composition of such undertakings. approaches of the navigator.
It is too much to anticipate in the commander The search for a North-west Passage first of such an expedition, the possession of all those assumed something like a serious aspect in the varied accomplishments which are necessary for reign of Elizabeth, but as it was unable to inspire making it useful and beneficial. Whatever degree that princess with the hope of any solid and imof accomplishment he may possess in his own mediate advantage, it did not sufficiently engage profession, it is unreasonable to expect in him a ca- her sympathies, or operate upon her interest, to pacity to decide delicate questions of science, alto- induce her to bestow upon it either care or treasgether out of the sphere and practice of his vocation. ure. The ordinary calls upon his attention and upon the The renowned Frobisher succeeded, after fifduties of command are so frequent, so important teen years of vain solicitation, in obtaining the and engrossing, that it is impossible he can find means of equipping two miserable barks, of only leisure to divide with his professional calling the twenty-five tons each. With these inadequate practical pursuits of science, requiring by them- means, he exposed himself, in 1576, to all the selves an exclusive attention. If more regard had horrors of a Polar climate, and to the dangers and been paid to this part of the subject, the various tempests of the northern deep.
Three voyages expeditions, which have been fitted out since were devoted by this dauntless and accomplished 1818, would have yielded a more ample and val- seaman, to the beating about Hudson's Bay, before uable harvest.
he discovered the main entrance into that sea. Another disadvantage under which these expe- What with the inadequate means at his disposal, ditions have ever labored, is, that their projectors the frail character of the craft upon which he was have not always adopted that philosophical method dependent, combined with the disadvantages of the which can alone guard us from the consequences imperfect state of navigation in this early age of of error, prejudice, or haste. Ingenuity and im- science, we are not to be surprised that he was agination have created favorite theories and pet the victim of a series of painful disasters—that he hypotheses, and have expected from the phenom- became entangled in the narrow channels perpelena of nature a submissive acquiescence ; su that ually filled with masses of floating ice, and gained the results of an expedition were anticipated, and no step towards the fulfilment of his object. But in drawn upon the chart in London, before the ships those days there were in England enthusiasts, as left their moorings at Gravesend. The result of at present, though they were not susceptible of all this was, that in the cases where these idle the same impressions, and their sympathies were theories and unstable hypotheses were not con- not excited by the same agents. It booted little firmed by actual observation, the navigators failed to Queen Elizabeth, or her court, whether the to ensure that amount of consideration, gratitude, Pole was ornamented with a basin or a continent and reward, which their arduous and meritorious |—the courtiers of those days were little engaged in speculating upon circumvolving currents, or that he for the first time entered the sea, which other fanciful notions, which interest the elderly has since been known by his name, though it has gentlemen and idle spinsters of modern times. In ever since been improperly designated a bay. those days all dreams were lulled in the pleasant This happened in his last and fatal voyage in anticipations of a discovery which they believed 1610, when the ingratitude of a youth, who owed involved the summit of human happiness; and him filial duty and gratitude, cost him his life. nothing short of the attainment of an El Dorado This young man, whom Hudson had rescued from could sufficiently engage the attention of the court an impending destruction, and educated in his own to induce it to bestow its patronage upon a mari- profession, with the care and solicitude of a time enterprise. About this period some glitter- parent, seduced his crew to mutiny-an event ing mineral had been brought from the north, which we believe is not singular in these expediwhich was idly supposed to contain gold. What tions. Hudson was thrust from his ship, and the love of science found it impossible to accom- abandoned on the inhospitable and desolate shores plish, the lust of gold easily effected ; and the which preserve his name, and where he no doubt queen, who had been impenetrable to the solicita- found a solitary grave. God's vengeance speedily tions of science, easily yielded to the allurements overtook the chief perpetrators of this great of gain. She now was induced to furnish a tall ship crime; they fell into the hands of savages, and of one hundred tons for a second voyage ; and a perished miserably ; some few escaped, who third expedition was furnished with eleven ships, brought home the ship, and though they avoided which contained the materials for establishing a the retributive sword of human justice, by their permanent colony in the promised land. This voy- assertion that they had been merely passive and age, however, terminated in bitter disappointment; reluctant spectators of the crime, they nevertheless the vessels were dispersed or lost, the idea of a failed to satisfy the doubts which filled the public settlement abandoned, and little was preserved mind. from the wreck of the expedition, which had for- The discovery of Hudson tended to fan the merly raised the most extravagant hopes and popular zeal, and to engage public curiosity and expectations in the court and country. The spirit adventure. In the following year, Sir Thomas of discovery did not soon regain its former elas- Button entered Hudson's Bay, and pushing directly ticity ; public expectation had been raised to more across its broad expanse, believed himself in full than an ordinary level, and the disappointment career to the South Sea. He recorded his disapconsequent upon the failure had produced an pointment in the name which he gave to the barunusual degree of depression. But the spirit of rier of coast that checked his advance : he named discovery only slumbered ; it awakened again in it “Hope Checked,” and returned, after spending 1586, when a company of merchants sent out Da- the winter in the inhospitable scene of his labors. vis, who commanded three successive expeditions The attention of the navigators was now turned with much ability and discretion. Davis pen- in another direction—they resolved to examine etrated through the broad strait, which still pre- and investigate thoroughly the sea entered by serves his name; and in his third voyage he suc. Davis, and of which, as yet, no limits had been ceeded in reaching its widest expanse, where discovered. This task was entrusted to Baffin, appeared an open sea stretching to the westward. who was deemed at this time the most accomHe returned, but was unable any longer to sustain plished seaman of his day.
Baffin the enthusiasm which had been cooled down to reached the northern shore at a very high latitude, freezing point by three successive failures. The and made the complete circuit of the sea, which oracles of those days were not more reasonable has since been called Baffin's Bay. He however than modern patrons and amateurs of arduous voy- thought that it was encircled by an unbroken conages ;—they exclaimed, This Davis hath made tinuity of coast, in which there was no passage three voyages; why hath he not found the pas- into any sea beyond. Lancaster Sound escaped sage?" Davis could never answer this question his vigilance ; at this point his patience seems to to the satisfaction of his querists, and it was in have been exhausted, and his energies had been vain that he solicited the means of a fourth equip- so sorely taxed, that he now began to despair. ment.
He bestowed but a cursory view upon the entrance To Davis succeeded a man of extraordinary and into the Polar Sea, which two centuries afterwell-merited fame. Hudson came to his work wards also eluded the too superficial observation with an established renown, as a seaman and sci- of Sir John Ross. Baffin returned home under entific explorer, which had a marvellous tendency the impression, which he communicated to his to reïllumine the lamp that a series of disasters had countrymen, that the passage sought for had no well-nigh extinguished. The name of Hudson real existence. Thus terminated what may be arrested the quivering flame, and adventurers were deemed the last of the early series of attempts at found to equip an expedition, of which he took North-western discovery ; the public had so frethe command. He, first of all, sought a passage quently been doomed to disappointment, that they by the East along the North of Asia, from thence were well prepared to receive and adopt the opinacross the Pole; and, in the event of these fail-ion of Baffin. ing, he was to try the old route by the West. But England had not been permitted to enjoy a
It was in the prosecution of the latter project, monopoly of the hopes and glory of discovery ;
Spain, warmly impressed and actuated by the knowledge subsequently to the efforts of Cook and spirit of enterprise, after she became mistress of his immediate successors. Knight, an officer of Mexico, was not indifferent to the hope which the Hudson's Bay Company, was entrusted with then generally influenced the public mind. Cortes the formation of an expedition, which started upon entered with extreme ardor into these schemes of its perilous mission, but never returned. Subdiscovery, and was preëminently endowed with a sequently to this event the hopes of a successful disposition to engage in the boldest undertakings. solution of the problem became daily less sanHe published his expectation of finding, in the guine, in proportion as the real character of the unknown regions lying between America and navigation about the Polar regions was better India, kingdoms of extraordinary wealth. understood ; however, the Admiralty sent out
His enthusiasm led him to indulge in the most Captain Middleton, an enterprising officer, of disextravagant visions, and he promised the most tinguished merit, to explore the great opening to ridiculous results of discovery. He undertook to the north of Hudson's Bay, known as the “ Welmake Charles V. the master of the world, and come.” Middleton's expedition, however, proved this monarch seems to have been so blinded by unsuccessful ; his course was arrested by a frozen the flattering picture drawn by the sanguine ad-strait, through which a current seemed to flow from venturer, that he gave his fullest sanction to his the Atlantic. Upon the return of Middleton, a fierce projects ; though Cortes was left to defray the controversy arose and divided public opinion upon expenses of these costly undertakings. Several the subject of his expedition. He was denounced expeditions were fitted out under the superintend-by his surgeon and clerk ; and a Mr. Dobbs, who ence of Cortes, but none of them ever succeeded was the instigator of the expedition, proclaimed in penetrating beyond the rocky shores of Cali- him a traitor to his country, and as one bribed to fornia, which then yielded but a few pearls, and counteract the object which it had been his duty were inhabited by a thinly-scattered race of naked to further and attain. We thus see that controsavages. Successive dreams of gold and disap- versies between pen and ink travellers, and those pointed hopes continued to amuse and mortify the who actually and corporeally unite the ends of the public mind.
Several expeditions under Cabrillo earth by their labors and perseverance, are not a and Viscaino, were sent for the purpose of exam- novelty of the present day, but a phenomenon ining the North-west coast into the Atlantic. common to the race, which occasionally develops All these expeditions, however, failed of their itself in illustration of the truth, that it is much purpose ; the latitude of 40° only was reached ; easier to censure the labor of others, than to imioverwhelmed with fatigue, broken down by tate their energy, perseverance, and courage. anxiety, and sinking under the weight of accumu- The controversy, however, produced a beneficial lated sufferings, complicated with an aggravated effect, as it rekindled an extraordinary zeal upon form of scurvy, a disease which was then little subject which had latterly lost much of its understood, these intrepid voyagers were obliged interest in the public mind. A large sum of to return, without having effected the object of money was eagerly subscribed for fitting out a their pursuit.
fresh expedition, and Parliament voted £20,000 Up to this period, the most obscure ideas were to the crew who should achieve the discovery. entertained of the connection and relative position This expedition, on its return, in no way tended of the northern extremities of Asia and America ; to contradict the report of Middleton, and the and it was not until the exploratory labors of controversy which had been fomented to an Captain Cook raised the veil which was suspended unusual height subsided. over these remote regions, that anything approach- In 1769 a new light was thrown upon the subing to a clear idea of these two great continents ject by Mr. Hearne, who, following northward was entertained. By the light which was cast the course of a river, now bearing his name, upon the geography of these regions by Captain found the sea ; and Sir Alexander MacKenzie Cook, and his successor Captain Clerke, who par- afterwards proceeded in the same direction to a tially carried out the projects of the great navi-point 20° further west, where he tracked another gator, so prematurely suspended by his untimely river into the sea. and lamented fate, the great breadth of the north- Hitherto, geographers had considered the coast ern extremity of the continent of America became running northward from Behring's Straits, and evident, and thus diminished the hopes which had Hudson's and Baffin's Bays, all enclosed by land, hitherto been entertained of effecting a North- and constructed their maps under the impression west Passage. The northern extremity of Amer-than an unbroken mass of land reached towards the ica had been fancifully conceived to terminate in a Pole, and that all these were forever barred against cape, which being doubled, the navigator would the efforts of the navigator. The discoveries of Mr. have little difficulty in reaching China and Japan. Hearne and of Sir Alexander MacKenzie now, But it was now ascertained that a transit of about however, threw a new light upon the formation of three thousand miles must be effected between the the coast which they had explored, and rendered Atlantic and Pacific, a difficulty which made the it probable that the preconceived notion of an hope of a North-western Passage darker and more unbroken land stretching into the depths of the doubtful than ever.
Polar regions, was a mere creation of fancy, and Liule was added to our stock of geographical] that there might be a continuous ocean bounding
the northern coast of America, at a latitude which the answers which had been furnished by some did not necessarily preclude the hope of a prac- Russian hunters, to whom the corresponding ticable passage.
questions had been exhibited. These men are Such was the state of geographical knowledge accustomed to spend the whole of the year in at the end of the last century ; little or nothing Spitzbergen, and were, therefore, by experience, seems to have been effected for a lengthened competent to furnish valuable information upon period : still the spirit of inquiry lay dormant, the probability of travelling from that island to and only awaited the fitting stimulus to develop the Pole, in sledges drawn by reindeer. The its latent energies. Mr. Scoresby did much to reports of these hardy men were not of a characrevive the interest naturally attached to the sub- ter to raise very favorable expectations from a ject of the North-west Passage, which now project conducted by way of Spitzbergen ; their began again to attract a considerable share of accounts were discouraging in the last degree ; public notice and curiosity. In 1818, it was they represented the winter at Spitzbergen as alleged that the captains of ships employed in the not only severe, but boisterous; they stated that northern whale fishery, generally concurred in the snow fell to the depth of three to five feet ; representing the state of the Arctic Sea as sud- and that it drifted so much along the shore as denly become open and accessible to navigation. freqnently to block up all communication. Speculators upon the cause of this phenomenon It further appeared that the danger of being were as rife as blackberries. It was supposed surprised in these regions, and overwhelmed by that the great icy barrier, which had during so masses of snow, was so imminent, that the hunters many ages obstructed these inaccessible regions, never undertook long journeys over the ice, and had, by some revolution of our globe, been broken they reported their opinion, that they did not up and dispersed. This state of things seemed deem it practicable to convey loaded sledges over to point out the present moment as the proper the hilly and rough surface of these regions, by period for renewing the project of finding a North- the agency of reindeer or dogs. west Passage : repeated disappointments had de The contributions of Mr. Scoresby possessed prived the subject of much of its hopeful inter- more than ordinary claims to public attention and est, but the favorable reports of the whalers tended confidence, as emanating from a man peculiarly to reassure the public mind. The project was qualified to entertain correct notions upon the revived, and the daring scheme of penetrating to subject. An accurate and scientific observer of the Pole was seriously proposed and discussed. the phenomena of these Boreal regions, trained Mr. Daines Barrington, a person of distinguished from infancy to the navigation of the Arctic seas, learning and sanguine temperament, had contrib- it was scarcely possible to find a man possessing uted much to produce this favorable impression the varied accomplishments of Mr. Scoresby, upon the public mind; he had embraced with having the actual experience which he possessed ardor the possibility of reaching the Pole, and had upon the practical difficulties and peculiar characindustriously ventilated that opinion. In succes ter of Boreal navigation. sive papers published in the Transactions of the At the same time, a variety of favorable cirRoyal Society, he had not only condensed the cumstances, having a tendency to revive the slumnarratives of the early navigators, but attempted bering spirit of discovery, coöperated to direct to prove the reasonableness and possibility of the the public attention again to North-western rescheme. He showed that in certain favorable search ; it was believed by some, that important seasons the Arctic seas were left for several | changes in the physical condition of the earth weeks so free from obstruction, that navigators were then in operation, and that these changes might safely penetrate to a very high latitude. were gradually mollifying the extreme rigor of It is true that the Board of Admiralty had already the climate of the Polar regions. So great was been induced by the representations of Mr. Bar- the public credulity at the time, and so grossly rington to send out Captain Phipps-afterwards was it abused, that a paragraph appeared in a Lord Mulgrave—to explore these regions, and Scotch newspaper of the day, which related, that that this expedition had proved signally unsuc- a stupendous mountain of ice had been lately cessful, Captain Phipps having only succeeded in stranded on one of the Shetland Islands, and this reaching the latitude of 80° 30', when his ship absurd story was actually believed by some grave had become surrounded by a mass of ice, near persons, who onght to have known better. Spitzbergen, from which it had escaped with It had been known that for the last four hunextreme difficulty. But Mr. Daines Barrington dred years an extensive portion of the eastern was in no respect daunted by the untoward result coast of Old Greenland had been closed by an of Captain Phipps' expedition. Some obscure impenetrable barrier of ice, and with it the Nornotions having been entertained upon the subject wegian or Danish Colonies, which had been of congelation of sea-water, Mr. Barrington caused established there for a long period preceding the a number of experiments to be made upon the unfortunate catastrophe. Various attempts had subject by two seientific chemists, and the results been made from time to time to approach the of these experiments were collected in a small coast, with a view of ascertaining the fate of the volume, to which Colonel Beaufoy added a val- unhappy colonists. But all these humane efforts uable appendix. This part of the work contained had proved in vain, the ice being everywhere