Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/September 1899/Scientific Literature

Scientific Literature.


In a stout volume[1] of nearly a thousand pages Mr. Jackson, the leader of the Jackson-Harmsworth Polar Expedition of 1894-'97, puts into permanent form the record of three years' observations made in Franz-Josef Land, a region beyond the eightieth parallel of latitude, which was accidentally made known to the world twenty years before by the drift of the Tegethoff, the ill-fated vessel of the Austrian expedition of Payer and Weyprecht. As such it is a substantial contribution to arctic literature, and from it much important detail will be obtained by those seeking further adventure in the quest for the pole, and a mass of material, geographic and otherwise, pertaining to the region which forms the subject of the work before us. The meteorological data, covering as they do a longer continuous period of observation in the extreme North than has heretofore been possible, and fittingly supplementing those recorded by Nansen for an almost equal period, will be specially prized by the scientist, even if the facts of the air are not considered to be the main object of arctic research. It is interesting to note, from the observations on temperature, that the lowest record was only -46° F., the extreme rigor, consequently, being only that of Dakota or Manitoba, and marking nearly fifty degrees above what has been observed a thousand miles farther to the south at Verkhoyansk, in Siberia. Nothing approaching the extreme cold (-72°) noted by Kane and by the Nares British Expedition of 1875-76 has thus been recorded by Nansen, Peary, or Jackson.

Mr. Jackson's claims to discovery lie mainly in the field of geography; for, while the observations on zoölogy, botany, and geology are by no means meager or lacking in originality, the results obtained have been largely anticipated by other investigators—notably Payer, Leigh Smith, and Nansen. In the domain of geography, however, there is a distinct contribution, and the author has missed no opportunity to add to the catalogue of geographical names by "rounding up," as it were, the numerous points which appeared new to him or were thought worthy of designation. This diligence in applying names, at times to points or places which are wholly insignificant and which could be followed with equal advantage or disadvantage on most of the known coast lines of either Europe or North America, can hardly be said to detract from the value of the discoveries actually made, although their publication, from advance letters received by Mr. Harmsworth's representative in London, has caused hostile comment and bitter controversy, even on the part of British geographers and scientists. Much of Mr. Jackson's work, it was contended, was directed to demolishing the work of Lieutenant Payer in the same region, and toward substituting names for those given, whether with a correct placing or not, by the Austrian commander—in itself a legitimate undertaking, but heralded out, it was claimed, to mask Mr. Jackson's own failure to accomplish the real task of his expedition—the finding of the north pole. Mr. Jackson has certainly very largely remodeled Payer's map of the archipelago, but the new map in no way discredits the attainments of his predecessor, even though showing up many and even glaring inaccuracies in the cartographical details published by him, for allowance must be made for the limitations under which the Austrian commander made his work. The vital points which have to be eliminated from the geography of Payer are: That Franz-Josef Land is a congeries of no very large islands, without continental extent northward, and that much that has been represented to be land is, in fact, water or ice, the appearance of land in the frozen North being frequently suggested by the vast gray and ill-defined ice masses which loom up in fog and mist, both as flat sheets and mountain buttresses.

It was the failure to find a northward continental extension to Franz-Josef Land, such as had been thought to possibly exist by Payer, which led Jackson to abandon all effort to advance upon the pole—a condition which appears, at this time, the more surprising seeing that two expeditions, those of Walter Wellmann and the Duke of Abruzzi, with all of Mr. Jackson's facts before them, have elected this same route as the one most calculated to bring about a successful issue, and certainly much can be said in favor of it. While the Franz-Josef Land route may not commend itself as the one best to be followed—and surely the open highway which from time to time appears north of Spitzbergen offers marked advantages for one without a land following—it still has its advantages in the point of high northern departure, and arctic authorities will fail to be impressed by the negative conditions which were obtained from it by the Harmsworth Expedition. Manifestly, Mr. Jackson had prepared himself for one form of journey only-—that of following the land, a singularly blind limitation, considered in the light of the little that was positively known of such land extension as the expedition had counted upon, and one that is disagreeably emphasized by the lavish expenditure of money that had been put to the expedition, and the personal confidence that had in some quarters been expressed in its success. Without wishing in any way to disparage or minimize the importance of Mr. Jackson's work, or to underestimate the hardships of any form of arctic exploration, one can not but feel surprised and in a measure disappointed that an expedition designed primarily for an advance upon the pole, which passed the better part of three years beyond the eightieth parallel of latitude, and whose members during this time did not know a single day of sickness—an almost unprecedented performance in arctic methods—should have found itself in a condition unable even to make an effort upon the "open." The recollection of Parry's performance in the frozen sea north of Spitzbergen in 1827, of Markham's advance in 1876, and of Peary's "treck" across the north of Greenland in 1892, emphasizes only more deeply this feeling of disappointment.

Mr. Jackson has made a very careful study of Franz-Josef Land, and has brought that region into a condition of knowledge similar to that which the different Peary expeditions have brought to the north of Greenland. His narrative is simple and direct, virtually a transcript of notebook and diary, without embellishment of any kind, and with a statement of facts and conditions such as they appeared almost at the instant of time of their occurrence. While indisputably impressing a truthfulness and reality, it can not be said that this method adds to the readableness of the book, which is overburdened with repetitions, frequently in identical words and sentences, to a useless and, one is tempted to say, most distressing extent. It is to be regretted that an explorer of the marked energy, routine, and persistence which are Mr. Jackson's qualities should have faltered in what by some travelers has been considered the most arduous part of their task—the proper preparation of a report—for surely it can not be conceived that a good purpose was subserved, either in a popular or scientific aspect, in the publication of wholly unimportant matter, over and over repeated, merely because it formed part of an official diary. The work is abundantly illustrated throughout with half-tone reproductions from photographs, taken by Jackson and his companions, that give a vivid reality to the journey which no amount of word-painting, even when so skillfully handled as by the present author, could prove a substitute for. Scientists will be gratified to know that supplemental reports, prepared by specialists in different departments, may be expected before long to fill out the full scientific aspects of the exploration.

On one point in connection with Mr. Jackson's discoveries the geographer, not less than the lay public, has the right to break straws with the author—that is, the method of naming the new points of land, water, and ice. Zoölogists and botanists have long been guilty of an absurd levity in the discharge of their obligations as namers of new species, and have burdened the vocabulary of animal and vegetable names with thousands of personalia which in no way called for perpetuation, and many of which were suggested only by way of ridicule or jest. So long, however, as these were dressed in Latin or Greek form and remained merely the possession of the scientific world there was little to complain of, and even the objections of the extreme sentimentalists might have been met by an appeal to the difficulty of obtaining or coining judicious or otherwise appropriate names. The case is different with the naming of places on the earth's surface, which at this day can be done with direct reference to euphony, to a certain appropriateness of dedication or appeal, and the intelligence of the student. A map of the world is intended for everybody, and not for a class of specialists, and its symbols are devised for readers of all classes. Maps of America have particularly suffered from irrelevant and commonplace designations, and only during recent years has the money value of names suggested radical changes, as in the case of many of the seaside resorts of the middle Atlantic coast. But, with all our indifferences and extravagances of even a half century ago—the period of Hog Hollows and Yuba Dams—a no cruder infraction of the logic of nomenclature can be found than in the coining of such names as "Cape Mary Harmsworth," "Cape Cecil Harmsworth," "Alfred Harmsworth Island," "Harold Harmsworth Straits," "Cape William Bruce," "Bruce Island," "Mabel [Bruce] Islands," "Mabel Bruce Fjord," "Albert Armitage Island," "Cape Alice Armitage," "Ceceil Rhodes Straits," "H. M. S. Worcester Glacier," etc. These have not even the advantage of an old-time arctic "ring" about them. Courting popularity by the bestowal of all manner of personal names, irrespective of direct relation to the expedition or to geographical exploration, is hardly commendable, and is only less objectionable than the plan suggested a few years ago by an American would-be arctic explorer to "sell" the names of places to be discovered to the highest bidder—i.e., according to a graded schedule of contributions to the expedition funds.

  1. A Thousand Days in the Arctic. By Frederick G. Jackson, Knight, First Class, of the Royal Order of St. Olaf, etc. New York and London: Harper & Brothers, 1899.