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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 15/August 1879/Editor's Table

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 15‎ | August 1879



THE unknown spaces of the earth's surface are being rapidly narrowed by the enterprise of indefatigable explorers. Some considerable patches remain that have not been penetrated, but their collective area is relatively small. There is a large region in the interior of Australia that has not been traversed, owing to the absence of water and vegetation. Central Africa is the field where the geographical discoverer has recently made his most brilliant conquests, both by narrowing the outline of the unknown region, and by the importance of the knowledge that has been gained. Less than half a century ago inner Africa was supposed to be in a great measure an arid and unproductive desert; but the explorations of Livingstone and Stanley have proved it to be well watered, fertile, and densely populated. There has been less success with Arctic exploration, though it has been vigorously pushed for the last fifty years. Latitude 83° 26' is the northernmost point hitherto reached by any explorer. This leaves an unpenetrated blank surrounding the north pole which at the narrowest point is about 800 miles across. There is little promise of any commercial utility that can come from getting access to this frigid region, but it is enough that it is a mystery which the whole civilized world has determined, if possible, to clear up, and in doing this the rivalries of national enterprise have been called into active play.

It is fortunate for geographical progress that the proprietor of the "New York Herald," Mr. James Gordon Bennett, not altogether satisfied with the excitements of yacht-racing, has developed an ambition in the direction of exploring unknown tracts of the earth's surface. He has spent a good deal of money on mid-Africa with highly satisfactory results, and now turns the princely revenues of his newspaper into a channel for the promotion of Arctic research. It is an expensive business, as the cost of Arctic expeditions has increased from $30,000, three hundred years ago, to $4,166,665 for the Franklin expeditions of 1848–’54. Mr. Bennett, after furnishing the necessary funds, and preparing the expedition, has made it a national affair by requesting the United States Government to take charge of it. By act of Congress it has been put in control of naval officers, and is cared for by the Navy Department. Besides these peculiarities of the project, it is novel as being the first Arctic expedition fitted out from the west coast of the continent, and which proposes to push forward to the north pole by the way of Behring Strait. According to Lieutenant De Long, commander of the Jeannette, which carries the exploring party, no vessel has penetrated farther north by this route than latitude 71°. Beyond that parallel the explorers will encounter a hitherto unobserved region.

A new element comes into play in this venture which has been thus far regarded by Arctic navigators as one of peril. In the other routes that have been taken to reach the pole the currents set downward, so that if the adventurers have to abandon their ship and take to the ice they have a chance of being brought back, as was marvelously exemplified by the ride of Tyson's party. But on the Pacific side there is a current of water known as the Kuro Shiwo, or Japanese Warm-Stream, a branch of which is known to enter the Arctic Sea through Bearing Strait, and is believed to emerge on the other side through Baffin's Bay. The drift of ice on this side is consequently northward, and the danger is that it will cut off the retreat in case of accident to the ship by which the party is compelled to take to the ice.

Of course the object of the expedition is to reach the north pole, but, even if it fails, there are subsidiary objects also to be accomplished. It may be expected, at any rate, that the unknown Arctic area will be reduced in dimensions, and there will be the opportunity of scientific observations in places as yet unexplored. The magnetic conditions north of the magnetic pole will be examined. There will be geological and mineralogical observations, and information collected with reference to the fauna and flora of the Arctic regions. Systematic attention will also be given to meteorology, in the hope of getting further data for elucidating the laws of storms.

The scientists of the Western coasts, as is very natural, have taken a deep interest in this first Arctic expedition from their side, and that has so many special features of importance. A meeting of the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco was convened June 16th, for the special purpose of giving a reception to Lieutenant De Long and the staff of the Bennett expedition. A paper on Arctic exploration was read by Dr. A. B. Stout, and remarks were made upon various connected topics by gentlemen present. Lieutenant De Long spoke, but only to say that he had very little to say in regard to what they were going to do. They did not sufficiently know themselves, and hoped to be better qualified to talk satisfactorily upon their return. Mr. Charles Wolcott Brooks made some interesting observations regarding the ethnological possibilities of the Arctic regions which we here subjoin: "In offering his word of kind encouragement, he remarked that men who use obstacles as steppingstones to success are apt to win; and he but expressed the universal desire of all ethnologists that Lieutenant De Long and his brave comrades should overcome every barrier that the Frost King might impose as an obstacle to their success. As ethnologists, we all feel great interest in the existence of an Arctic Continent, and earnestly desire to know if it is, or can be, inhabited. In a world governed by mathematical law, whose every atom is geometrically correct, and subject to mathematical proof, we may reasonably judge of the unknown by what we can see, cautiously using the great law of analogy as our guide. If we should judge of the ultimate atom, or the most distant orb in space, we may study for that purpose some object around us, or our globe taken as a whole. He who has watched the organization of crystalline forms under electric currents has seen the operation of the same law which has formed the solid part of the earth we live on. In its early and plastic condition it was a sphere like the dew-drop, but, with the constant currents of organizing magnetism, it has assumed a crystalline form, and to-day its solid exterior, were its oceans emptied and removed, would present the polyhedron. If we carefully examine the almost universal features of all land known to us, we find a prevailing form wherever we turn. Each territorial area of magnitude seems to have an appendage trending southward. Thus, south of the large continent of North America, we find that leg-of-mutton or pend d'oreille form of South America. Beneath Europe rests a similar shaped area of land in the continent of Africa, and south of Asia is Australia and the Polynesian or Spice Islands. The same relative position of land is general among many island groups, and all peninsulas seem also to point southward, such as Kamtchatka, Alaska, Lower California, Florida, Nova Scotia, Hindostan, etc., and all such forms have larger bodies of land to their north. Now, if we apply this rule, by turning the north pole of a globe toward us, we readily see at a glance that Greenland, which is known to us, may bear to an unknown Arctic Continent the same relation that South America does to North America, or Africa to Europe. Hence it is perfectly logical to infer, by the great analogy of nature, that an Arctic Continent exists beneath the north pole, extending three and a half to four degrees south from the northern axis of the world. As previous Arctic expeditions have advanced to 83° 26' north latitude—or within 394 miles of the pole—the distance thence to such a continent would not exceed 150 to 180 miles. This intervening space, however, is quite difficult to traverse, as it is represented to present a very rough surface. If the sea, during the height of a gale, when waves run mountains-high, were instantly frozen, it would present much the appearance here encountered. Now, for ethnologists, the question is, Can an Arctic Continent be inhabited, should one exist? This may be met by the already expressed surmise that the latitude of 78° is about the point of lowest mean temperature. The earth is about thirty seven miles more in diameter at the equator than from pole to pole, having enlarged at one point and flattened at another, because of its revolving motion. Now, it is well known that lower temperatures are encountered as we ascend great altitudes, and the depression at the poles may, by lessening the distance of the surface from the earth's center, afford a warmer temperature, which will enable the hardy Esquimaux, Ainos, or some hyperborean race, to exist upon an Arctic Continent. Should such prove to be the case, and our good friends discover any races there to us unknown, we shall look to them to resurrect us a specimen skull of some departed inhabitant."



Much regret is expressed at the sad end of the late descendant of the Napoleons and heir-apparent to the throne of France; and much sympathy has also been awakened for the exiled and widowed mother now made childless. The bereaved woman is entitled to the same sympathetic consideration as any other poor widow who has lost an only child; for, though in her case there may be a peculiar bitterness in the crushing of ambitious hopes, she has yet the mitigations of royal condolence, and the assurance that her griefs are shared by sympathetic multitudes. As for the dead Prince, we might say that his premature cutting off is just as deplorable as the killing of other young soldiers in the common fortunes of war.

But is this quite true? At any rate, if it is a blessed thing to lay down one's life for one's country, is not the amiable young Prince to be deemed fortunate, for certainly his death is the greatest boon that it would be possible for the French nation now to receive? Again, according to the code of military honor, he is to be congratulated in having lost his life in war, whether his country benefited or lost by it; and especially so as the other Napoleons have died peacefully and ingloriously in their beds, while it has been reserved for the last of the line to perish, if not on the field of battle, at least by violence and in war. Belonging to a race of adventurers, he fitly died as an adventurer; and, although the manner of his going was not very dignified, history will still be able to say that one Bonaparte was sacrificed to the vocation to which they were all devoted.

There is, however, one aspect of this transaction that may be referred to as an illustration of the selfish brutality of the common ethics of war. When the military system is arraigned as the great anomaly of civilization, and war as the most stupendous curse of humanity, we are told that nations must defend themselves, and that war is therefore a necessary evil, to be avoided whenever possible, and always mitigated to the utmost in its sufferings and its horrible waste of life. And yet when men go into it in cold blood as a business, regardless of its justice, and purely for the promotion of a selfish ambition, their conduct still meets with unbounded applause. It is said to be to the credit of the young Prince that he generously offered his services to England to fight the Zulus; but what business had this young Frenchman with the Zulu war? What had these distant Africans ever done, that he should desire to join in the work of killing them? He not only mixed up with what was none of his concern, but he espoused the cause of the wanton aggressor, for a greater outrage was never perpetrated than this British invasion of the Zulu people. But it is in accordance with military traditions and usages for ambitious men to seize any opportunity of making their mark. The Count of Paris came over to have a hand in our own glorious civil war, took sides, and went into the business of killing Southerners for the noble purpose of acquiring military prestige that might commend him to the French, and thus increase his chances of being accepted for the throne of that nation. The Prince Imperial "went to war" for the same purpose, that he might make a military name, and thus improve his chances of getting control of the French army at some future crisis, and play the despot like his predecessors. He followed a detestable practice for a villainous purpose, and got his just reward.



Under this title, Mr. John Fiske, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, formerly lecturer on Philosophy in Harvard University, has prepared a course of popular lectures which will be found worthy the attention of such associations as can appreciate first-rate intellectual work. Mr. Fiske is author of the "Cosmic Philosophy," and a thorough student of the modern tendencies of thought. He gave these lectures in Boston not long ago, and they made so excellent an impression that he was called to repeat them in London, and left early in June for that purpose. Mr. Fiske is well prepared by his philosophical and historical studies to give to the problem he has taken up an original and independent treatment. Familiar with the principles of social evolution, and having given much attention to the study of races, and to ethnological interactions in the progress of modern society, he is well prepared to handle the large and complex questions involved in the settlement of America, the organization of colonial institutions, the establishment of the American Republic, and the development of free government on this continent. The prospectus of this course of lectures is before us, and it is rich in topics that must deeply interest all thoughtful Americans. These are the sort of lectures that deserve encouragement and are worth working for.

The senior editor of this magazine also proposes to betake himself somewhat to his old business of lecturing during the coming season. For particulars address E. L. Youmans, office of "The Popular Science Monthly," New York.