Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 59.djvu/606

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



In the minds of most men the name of Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld is connected with the voyage of the Vega, and with that only. That is a good title to fame, for his circumnavigation of the Old World, the forcing of the northeast passage, attempted in vain for over three centuries, was an exploit worthy to rank with those of Vasco di Gama and Maghelhaëns. But Nordenskiöld was a good deal more than a great explorer, and whatever he might have accomplished he would always have remained a singularly interesting character.

The doer of some striking deed soars for a space to the zenith of popular favor, and his fall is often the greater when ousted by the next darling of the public. But Nordenskiöld, from the day he entered Sweden, banished from his native Finland by the Russian government for an over-pointed after-dinner speech which he declined to withdraw, to the day when he died full of honors from all nations, was ever a hero of the Swedes, the one man whose features and fame were known in every village of the land. Fifteen years after the return of the Vega I crossed Sweden in his company. The lake steamer on which we set foot was speedily dressed with flags from stem to stern; as we paced the railway platform, folk turned to point him out to their children; an apothecary into whose shop we stepped drew us into his parlor to point with pride to a medallion of the hero hung in the place of honor; even a drive with him through the streets of Stockholm, where his presence was familiar, was not without embarrassment. Those who knew Nordenskiöld can understand this easily. He impressed the popular imagination like some grand mysterious figure of the Middle Ages. Rarely did man so combine the profound research of the student with the decisive energy of the geographical explorer, the remote and even fantastic speculations of the philosopher with the business-like ability of a prudent organizer, the absent-minded reverie and complete absorption of the recluse with the wide sympathies and practical readiness of a liberal politician. These broad outlines of his character were obvious to all, and manifest too in his outer person. The deep-set far-away eyes and the furrowed forehead above the shaggy eyebrows proclaimed him a seer of visions and a diver into nature's secrets, while the hard lines of the mouth and prominent underlip told of an obstinate patience joined to a fiery Viking temper; the bowed shoulders of the bookworm, voracious of fusty manuscripts in the dark recesses of a library, were belied by the firm elastic tread of the sailor and mountaineer.

The things he did and the things he said were striking in themselves, but they were the outcome of his yet more striking personality. People talked of Nordenskiöld's luck. He had the luck of all who lay the foundations of their plans deep, who make every preparation suggested by learning and experience, who know how to wait for the fitting moment, and who have the boldness to go ahead unswervingly when the opening appears. It was the exhaustive detail of his plans for the northeast passage that awoke the admiration, and gained the support, of King and people; it was by forethought, and not only by daring, that he brought the Vega and her consorts