The American Monthly Review of Reviews,1898 (continuation of Wellman article)


[Pages 179-181]

[The reasons which occur to eminent scientists and explorers, Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, General Greely, Commodore Melville, U. S. N., Professor Todd, of Amherst, Professor Gore, of Columbian University, and Professor Brewer, of Yale, whose opinions Mr. Walter Wellman has obtained for the REVIEW OF REVIEWS, in support of the position taken by him in the foregoing pages.]

WHAT is the use of arctic exploration ? One might as well ask, Of what use is science ? When man ceases to wish to know and to conquer every foot of the earth which was given to him to live upon and to rule, then will the decadence of the race begin. Of itself that mathematical point which marks the northern termination of the axis of our earth is of no more importance than any other point within the unknown polar area ; but it is of much more importance that this particular point be reached, because there clings about it in the imagination of all mankind such fascination that till the pole is discovered all arctic research must be affected, if not overshadowed, by the yearning to attain it. For this reason I want the [page 180] pole discovered, and it ought to be discovered that we may get it out of the way and leave a clear field for pure scientific exploration. I believe the pole will be reached within a very few years, and that it can be attained by the methods proposed by your American explorers. I shall not be surprised if either Lieutenant Peary or Walter Wellman gains the honor of unfurling the Stars and Stripes at that spot which for centuries has been the object of man's adventurous and resolute attack.

Arctic exploration has contributed generously to the material interests of mankind and to the sum of human knowledge. In polar lands some of the rarest secrets of nature have been disclosed to scientific voyagers. Contributions to all sciences have been levied from the air, the earth, the ocean, and even the universe. Within the arctic circle have been located and determined the poles of the triple magnetic forces. Study of the varying phases of barometric pressures in the far north has given the world a better understanding of the climates of northern America, Europe, and Asia. Soundings of the sea, serial temperatures, and hydrographic surveys in the arctics have given birth to that most satisfactory and important theory of a vertical interoceanic circulation. A handful of dried arctic plants enabled a botanist to forecast the general character of unknown lands, and in fossil plants from the north another scientist has read the story of tremendous climate changes that metamorphosed the face of the earth. The peculiar tides of the arctics have added to our store of information concerning the influence exerted by the stellar worlds upon our own. To the ice-clad zones science is now turning for a solution of the problem of glaciation of our lower latitudes.

I am asked the question, Why should arctic exploration be continued ? For every reason that is good and noble ; for the benefit of our fellow-men ; that the explorer and the investigator may, through trial and suffering if need be, contribute to the world's knowledge, which is power, wealth, and happiness.
Is there a better school of heoric endeavor for our youth than the arctic zone ? It is something to stand where the foot of man has never trod. It is something to do that which has defied the energy of the race for the last three hundred years. It is something to have the consciousness that you are adding your modicum of knowledge to the world's store.
It is entirely different with the ice-ranger who skirts along the mere edge of the great unknown area and ekes out a precarious existence with the filthy natives that he may return to civilization and peddle out his experiences in penny lectures for his monetary profit and for the pleasure of the gaping multitude.

Surrounding the north pole, 3,000,000 square miles of our globe remain still unexplored. Addition to our knowledge of these unknown regions is of high importance in three distinct lines. of human activity : (a) Geographic exploration ; (b) commercial profit; (c) scientific research. Argument against polar exploitation along any of these lines often betrays simple ignorance of the facts. For the past two centuries the arctic yield of commercial products has exceeded $5,000,000 annually, and the available wealth of this northern world is by no means exhausted.
Greely extended our knowledge to 83 degrees 24 minutes ; Nansen to 86 degrees 14 minutes only as far from the pole itself as Boston from Philadelphia or St. Louis from Chicago. Who else will help geographers to draw a complete map of the polar zone embraced between these two high parallels ?
But since international circumpolar stations were first established, the wide import of scientific research in polar wilds has made it perfectly clear that the " frozen north" is a really prominent factor in solving useful problems in the physics of the globe. The meteorology of our United States to-day ; perfection of theories of the earth's magnetism, requisite in conducting surveys and navigating ships ; origin and development of terrestrial fauna and flora ; secular variation of climate ; behavior of ocean currents--all these are fields of practical investigation in which the phenomena of both arctic and antarctic worlds play a very significant role. Indeed, a knowledge of these phenomena, as yet far from thorough, is a prime essential to that complete [page 181] unfolding of Nature, her laws and processes, which is the ultimate aim of scientific inquiry.
Within a few brief years the poles will be won-both of them. The absorbing question is no longer why reach them ? but how can we best get there and safely return ?

Fortunately the day is passing when the scientist must assume an apologetic attitude while trying to extend the boundaries of knowledge, nor is he any longer discouraged by the utilitarian's question, What is the good of it ? He readily calls to mind the fact that except in rare instances practice has paused for theory and that the artisan's hand has been freed by the savant's brain. His meat and drink is ofttimes the consciousness that one item of ignorance dispelled is like a grain of sand removed from the most delicate mechanism-one particle of knowledge diffused is a lubricant that may facilitate the movements in the vast cycle of sciences from the center to the periphery. And not seldom is sufficient reward found in the conviction that he who makes a contribution to science benefits the human race. furnishes a stimulus whose action is above conception, and plants a seed whose fruit may nourish coming ages.
As long as the specialist works under normal conditions no suggestion is made that his work may be useless. The chemist can spend a decade searching for a new element, and if argon be discovered his years of labor are forgotten ; the navigator may strive to map the currents of the ocean, and when success crowns his efforts mariners are quick to profit thereby. But as soon as one starts into the dreary north and braves its dangers, thousands echo the cry, What is the good of it ? Besides the encouragement it gives to the spirit of investigation, there are results to be achieved that are worth all the ventures our hardy men are making in pushing northward.
There is a little factor-ellipticity-that enters into every computation of earth areas or directions. With an incorrect value for this quantity, which depends upon the figure of the earth, no boundary line can be run with precision, maps will be uncertain, shoals and dangers cannot be plotted with accuracy, and navigation has another risk added to its long array. In the determination of the figure of the earth the extreme north has so far practically no voice. The single arc, that of Lapland, is so marred by errors that its use makes the entire solution unreliable. The need for a northern arc is so keenly felt that at this time steps are taking for the measurement of a short arc in Spitzbergen. But owing to the difficulties in the way of such a large undertaking no one knows when it may be accomplished.
Thanks to the ingenuity of Mendenhall, a small pendulum about nine inches long can give us the most valuable data for the determination of the all-important ellipticity, and nowhere can such decisive data be sought as near the pole. Wherever a weight of a few hundred pounds be carried this instrument and accessories can be taken, and every station occupied in high latitudes will contribute immeasurably toward solving the problem in question.
If a polar expedition can show how a party can approach the pole and do nothing more, it will give the information which some geodesist will soon use to his profit, and if in addition it should make it possible for pendulum observations to be made as far north as Franz Joseph's Land, it will confer a lasting boon upon the geographers of the land and through them benefit all mankind.

What is the use of trying to reach the north pole ? is the question that surprises me more than any other one that I hear so frequently asked. In the Dark Ages such a question might have been expected, or rather if asked would have been in harmony with the spirit of those times. But now, so near the end of the nineteenth century and in this age of progress, it seems so foreign to the spirit of our times that it never fails to surprise me.
We, in our civilization and enlightenment, enjoy a vastly greater amount of material comforts and intellectual pleasures than our predecessors did. This is chiefly due to the increase in our knowledge of nature-to what we call science.
No one appears to question the general fact that scientific investigation and geographical exploration have been the great stimulus, if not, indeed, the chief cause, of the great intellectual activity of the present day among the peoples of our civilization. In these days of steam and electricity no one questions the fact that the growth of science has been the great factor in making our material progress possible. Science has turned the tide of intellectual activity into new channels, has given direction to new mental work, has created new tastes, and has enormously [page 182] added to our intellectual pleasures as well as to our material comforts.
Most of those who ask the question allow that if they were assured that valuable gold mines were located there or that unusually profitable investments could there be placed, the question would be answered.
But should the search for a gold mine be prosecuted with more zeal than the search for nature's laws ? Scientific research and geographical exploration is a search for knowledge. The study of pure science, irrespective of its practical application, is an intellectual pleasure and a modern phase of mental culture. The brilliant and useful applications have followed, not preceded, pure research, and the research does not stop along those lines where immediate practical use is not obvious. The intellectual enlightenment of the explorer is his reward ; he leads and the material applications follow as a natural result.
Through the study of nature educated people have come to love nature and to have a pleasure in natural phenomena to an extent our ancestors never dreamed of.
As an illustration of this, consider the attitude of educated people toward mountains. All down the ages to modern times educated people took no pleasure in mountain scenery. No one climbed mountains to enjoy the view from their summits. On the other hand, mountains were feared and shunned. Their dark forests were a terror, the haunts of demons, their caves the abode of dragons until science came. Problems of nature could be solved amid their desolation that were imperatively hidden on the fertile plains.
The botanist, the geologist, the explorer chased the demons away and drove the dragons to their dens ; and now multitudes of cultured people yearly flock to them to enjoy their beauty and absorb inspiration from their sublimity. Where our ancestors feared the mysterious terrors we seek the known beauties ; where they shunned the awful we enjoy the sublime. The demon-haunted forests have become gay with summer cottages, and mountaineering has become a coveted pastime.
So it will be with the polar regions: more dim cult to reach only because Nature there more strongly guards her sublimities for the few who will appreciate them. The experience of the last fifty years shows that the sublimities of the polar regions are even more fascinating than scenery of milder climes. It has become proverbial that who has beheld their grandeur always wishes to return.
May the day never come when the spirit of adventure be lost, the investigation of the unknown on our globe excite no further interest, and the contemplation of nature under aspects new to us cease to give pleasure.
Problems of nature that cannot be solved elsewhere await solution in the arctic regions. If the burning thirst for knowledge is quenched before these problems are solved, then the decadence of the race will have begun.

Picture of man and dogs in snowstorm

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