Some Amusing Books of Travel

PROFESSOR NORDENSKIöLD has won for himself a high place among arctic explorers by his accomplishment of the northeast passage, a bit of navigation that had been often tried, and always in vain, during the last three centuries. The English were the first to make the attempt, in 1553. This expedition was fitted out under the care of Sebastian Cabot, and it sailed with Sir Hugh Willoughby as commander. He was found afterwards frozen to death along with his crew, while his companion, Chancelor, made his way to Russia. Chancelor was lost, however, in another expedition, and Stephen Burrough was unsuccessful a few years later. Arthur Pit had no better luck, and when the Dutch tried the experiment, which the English at last gave up, Henry Hudson failed three times. The Danes then took it up, but only to share the same fate. The Russians sent out eighteen expeditions to explore their northern coast, and especially the Kara Sea, which lies just to the eastward of Nova Zembla, but they failed to accomplish much. In 1875-76, Nordenskiöld succeeded in exploring this sea, and this inspired him with renewed zeal for pushing on to Behring’s Straits, his latest and greatest feat.

He believes that the voyage is a possible one for ships of commerce, but one ship in three hundred years would hardly tempt merchants to try many experiments with the Siberian markets. But whatever the commercial value of his voyage, it is most interesting to science, and the long training of the leading men enabled them to profit most fully by their advantages. This volume 1 by no means pretends to completeness, but it gives in compact form an intelligent outline of Nordenskiöld’s life and work. He was well trained for scientific study, and it is curious to observe how far adventure and commerce become comparatively insignificant in undertakings like these to which Nordenskiöld has devoted himself, in comparison with what is done in the cause of science. From the beginning of his career as an explorer of Spitzbergen, Nordenskiöld has dedicated himself with enthusiasm to his work, and he has well won the admiration of the civilized world.

In short, his success is the result of long-continued, well-directed endeavor. His completion of the northeast passage was but the last step of a series of undertakings, all of which had been done with the utmost care. First, Spitzbergen was explored thoroughly; then gradually investigation extended itself further and further eastward, until the whole wild coast was, as it were, brought into order.

It is curious to read, as one of the incidents of arctic travel, that his ship arrived at the northern part of Behring’s Straits only in time to be frozen in for the winter. The distinguished traveler himself said, “ A single hour’s steaming of the Vega at full speed had probably been sufficient to traverse this distance, and a day earlier the drift ice at this point, would not have formed any serious obstacle to the advance of the vessel; ” but “a winter’s meteorological and magnetical observations at this place, and the geological, botanical, and zoölogical researches which our being frozen in will give us an opportunity of prosecuting, are besides of sufficient interest to repay all the difficulties and troubles which a wintering involves.” This extract makes Nordenskiöld’s method clear, and satisfactorily accounts for his success. Those who take an interest in Siberia, and who care to see what sort of country it is that Nordenskiöld has opened to the world, will find a certain amount of information in the little volume that has been compiled for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, by Mr. Charles H. Eden.2 This writer has carefully collected his facts from a number of authorities, and the reader will be strengthened in whatever patriotism he may have by gratitude for not being born in Northern Asia. The raw edges of civilization are unattractive places at the best, and it is a dreary picture that Mr. Eden draws, but it seems to be a faithful one. The little volume contains an interesting abstract of Nordenskiöld’s last voyage. As interesting as any part is the account of the native races that are fading away before the advance of the Russian power.

Mr. W. Fraser Rae is one of the vast swarm of English tourists who have of late years been improving their minds by a brief visit to this country. When they get home again, they generally publish a book about their journeyings, recording the number of buffaloes they have shot, if they have gone far into the West, or describing the ways and manners of our fellow-citizens, if they have taken an interest in anything but sporting matters. Mr. Rae was here at the time of the Centennial Exhibition, and he describes with considerable humor some of the things he saw at Philadelphia, Washington, New York, Boston, and Saratoga, with an account of a hasty trip in Canada. His book 3 is sufficiently amusing from his lack of sympathy with our most cherished institutions. Thus in speaking of the Knights Templar, who visited Philadelphia at the time of his stay in that interesting city, he says, “ It was difficult to believe that they were simple citizens of the republic, so grand was their appearance, and so proud did they seem of their new clothes. As a rule, there is no more soberly dressed person than a citizen of the United States. A paternal Congress has forbidden a civilian to indulge in the vanity known as court costume, and has enjoined that when he attends a foreign court he shall wear ordinary evening dress. No restriction, however, is put upon the citizen donning any kind of military uniform he pleases, and this is said to be one of the reasons why the order of Knights Templar is attractive and popular in the United States. Its members have the further gratification of reading their names, with handles to them, in the newspapers; and when plain Brown, Jones, and Robinson see themselves in print as Sir John Brown, Sir Thomas Jones, Sir Joseph Robinson, they may experience the satisfaction of men who have made their mark.”

“ Till I beheld the Knights Templar, I had never realized the effect produced by entire regiments clad in the uniforms of general officers of the Grand Duchy of Gerolstein. With cocked hats adorned with feathers upon their heads, embroidered trousers upon their legs, tunics round their bodies, their breasts being as thickly covered with ribbons and medals as the breasts of officers in the service of the Prince of Monaco, and with swords in their hands resembling the toy swords of children, these Sir Knights appeared to the simple-minded a splendid spectacle, and to the critic a set of guys.”

It is only necessary to add to this the statement that the author speaks disrespectfully of the east wind that occasionally rages in Boston.

Mr. N. H. Bishop has a singular fondness for long voyages, in strange craft, through almost unknown waters, and he writes very interesting accounts of his mysterious trips. It is not long since he published the story of a journey in a canoe along the Atlantic coast, and now he gives us the log of his passage down the Ohio and Mississippi, along the Gulf of Mexico, to the point in Florida where his previous trip had ended.4 His vessel this time was what is called a sneak-box, a little skiff, much used by New Jersey sportsmen. His sneak-box was twelve feet long, four feet wide, and thirteen inches deep, weighing two hundred pounds. It has a spoonshaped bottom and bow and a removable centre-board, and is what boatingmen call stiff. It carries a mast ninetyeight inches high, with a boom ninety-six inches long and a sprit of the length of the mast. If the sail is not wanted, the mast can be unshipped, and then the craft may be propelled by rowing, though this is naturally slow work against a head-wind.

It was early in December, 1875, that Mr. Bishop started from Pittsburgh, Pa., and made his way through the ice-cakes as long as daylight lasted. He began at once, what he afterwards did habitually, to camp out in his little boat, which he moored somewhere on the shore. For food he was mainly dependent on what he carried with him in the shape of potted meats, canned fruits, etc., although at times he was driven to the society of man by stress of weather. The monotony of the trip was relieved by amusing adventures with the flat-boat-men who were traveling in the same direction, and with the inhabitants of the riverbanks, all of whom were exceedingly interested in this boat and its owner.

Mr. Bishop adds to his book some valuable historical and statistical information, and he gives useful accounts concerning the natural history of the regions he visited. We can only regret that a man who has shown himself so good an explorer should not once more visit some really unknown region, and put his gifts to what may be called more genuine work.

The most striking thing about Miss Bird’s very entertaining volume 5 is her indomitable energy and good spirits. From the moment that she appears on the scene, dressed so as to ride on a horse man-fashion, to the end of her book, where she is writing letters with her ink directly in front of the fire that it may escape freezing, one finds nothing but the utmost persistence and cheerfulness, in the face of obstacles that would surely break the spirits of less dauntless travelers. The severer the hardships she encountered, the happier she seems to have been. She very nearly tasted of perfect happiness when living with some “low-down” settlers, of the grim and silent kind, who were “ thoroughly ungenial.” “ They wear boots, but two of one pair, and never blacked, of course, but no stockings. They think it quite effeminate to sleep under a roof, except during the severest months of the year.” She climbed Long’s Peak, and achieved perfect happiness at Estes Park, Colorado. She was snowed up in the middle of October : the thermometer fell to zero ; the snow drifted through the chinks in the wall; and after a chilly dressing “we all sat in great cloaks and coats, and kept up an enormous fire, with the pitch running out of the logs.” This was but a trifling adventure. She rode alone in the coldest weather, through snowstorms, over wild mountains. She found Denver too highly civilized for her comfort, and when, owing to the panic, she was unable to cash her circular notes, she returned to Estes Park, for a new experience of cold and hunger.

Her account of her deeds is certainly worth reading; a more extraordinary tale of adventure it would be hard to find. The book is made up of letters written at the time, and they are as entertaining as they are curious. Great as was her interest in the people she saw in outlandish places, there is no doubt that she herself must have afforded a vast deal of pleasure to the inhabitants, who might in time become indifferent to the scenery and the misdeeds of ruffians.

Very little like Miss Bird’s method of viewing the world is that which Mrs. Brassey describes so agreeably in her Sunshine and Storm in the East.6 Mrs. Brassey has a steam-yacht at her command, with stewards, cabin cook and cabin-cook’s boy, and a forecastle cook with a forecastle-cook’s boy. Some of her voyages in the Mediterranean are what she has narrated in this volume. The first feeling that the reader has is one of intense envy for so delightful a method of traveling. For the ability to choose one’s destination between Cyprus, Constantinople, Southern Spain, and Italy, and to be able to move about in such delightful quarters, are things that make one discontented with muddy streets and crowded horse-cars. When we have agreed that there could be no pleasanter method of traveling, and no more interesting part of this globe than the shores of the Mediterranean, there is no room for doubt about the charm of this volume. Of course, there are no new descriptions of the places visited,— at least, no formal descriptions, such as travelers of old times used to employ as a ballast for their light works, — but there is plenty of agreeable information about one place and another, and notably of Cyprus, concerning which there has been of late more curiosity than knowledge. The illustrations are numerous, and with but few exceptions good, most of them being from photographs taken by the travelers. One thing the book infallibly suggests is wonder that more of the rich Americans, whose highest ambition seems to be to play hockey on horseback before a number of admiring ladies, do not put their yachts to some better use than sailing short races around a light-ship, when the wind is not blowing too hard. These accounts of Mrs. Brassey’s serious and to a certain extent perilous voyages should make our lily-handed, pink-cheeked fresh-water yachtsmen ashamed of their timid trips from New York to Newport, through Long Island Sound, and back.

There is no doubt that Mr. J. Mortimer Murphy has sound views about sporting matters, and in his entertaining volume 7 he has given us a good deal of information about the game of the West, from grizzly bears to muskrats. Of late years there have been a good many books written about hunting in that region, but there is hardly one that has quite the practical value of this convenient volume. The general directions to sportsmen are valuable, and all that he has to say about the game is important. The book contains a number of interesting anecdotes of adventures, some comic, and some tragic enough. As to the way in which fur-covered animals are slaughtered by men who sell the skins, nothing need be said except that in a few years there will be nothing left to kill. The buffalo is disappearing, as well as the elk, moose, antelope, etc., the process of killing the goose with the golden egg keeping pace with the improvements in fire-arms. Meanwhile, however, Mr. Murphy’s book tells us all that is to be known about the process, and he raises his voice against the present indiscriminate slaughter.

Another good book is Mr. F. A. Ober’s Camps in the Caribbees,8 in which he describes his adventures in the Lesser Antilles, a region of the earth that is but little known to most of us. The author’s object in taking this trip was to make ornithological discoveries in behalf of the Smithsonian Institute, and he did his work well. He brought back many rare birds, and he has described his experiences in getting them with the double zeal of an ornithologist and a hunter. Moreover, he tells in agreeable style all that he saw in these remote regions. His book is very pleasant reading, and is adorned with many engravings from Mr. Ober’s photographs. An amusing chapter is the one in which he narrates his experiences with a number of monkeys, none of which he was heartless enough to shoot.

If Mr. Cox’s reputation as a humorist were, geographically at least, less extensive, he could probably have written a better book than this Search for Winter Sunbeams,9 a second edition of which has just been given to the world. The book is made depressing reading by the fact that the author seems to have labored continually under the feeling that it was incumbent upon him to be funny, and in obedience to this sense of duty he frequently indulges in jests by the side of which grinning through a horse-collar is a serious and dignified occupation. If he had been content to be natural, his book would have been an interesting account of some still tolerably little-known regions, but he incessantly pokes us in the ribs, kicks at the tambourine, and reminds us by his forced merriment that he remembers his position as “ end-man.” When he is sensible he is readable, but when he is funny he is lamentable.

Mr. Oppert is not to blame that his book 10 about Corea has not more information concerning that unknown country. He evidently did his best to explore that inaccessible region, but in spite of his boldness and energy he was able to do extremely little in his three attempts. Naturally enough, travelers turn to any part of the world which has not yet been described, and Mr. Oppert, besides this reason, was anxious to see if Corea could not be brought into relations with civilization. At first, so far as the people were concerned, he seems to have been received with kindness. They were curious about these foreigners who had dropped down among them, and even the officials with whom they came in contact were personally agreeable, although they were obliged, by their position, to frown upon all attempts to explore the land. The second time he made the experiment was just after the outbreak against the French missionaries and their converts. It was at this time that Mr. Oppert had the curious experience of receiving some information about the survivors of the massacre from a native Corean, who wrote dowm what he had to say in Latin, which he had learned from the missionaries. The feeling against foreigners was only heightened by the taste of blood, and Mr. Oppert had no success. The third time had an even more unfortunate ending.

The author has amassed a good many statistics about the country and its inhabitants. He says, among other things, that he believes it to abound in mineral wealth. If he is right, the policy of exclusion which the government of Corea has hitherto maintained is pretty sure soon to disappear before the inroads of foreigners.

Mr. Arnold is fortunate in the choice of his subject,11 for a great many people who are more or less familiar with other parts of Europe have but the slightest knowledge, if any at all, of Pontresina and the Upper Engadine. In his book he gives the reader a certain amount of statistical information about this spot, and, what is better, he gives us, what statistics alone can never do, the air of the place, its scenery, the ways of the inhabitants, the manners of its visitors, and all the impressions of his visit there. The whole book is written in a humorous fashion that recalls to the reader Sir Francis Head’s Bubbles from the Brunnen of Nassau, but Mr. Arnold’s humor turns into something like venomousness when he has occasion to write about English people. International recrimination is quite as poor a thing as international flattery, with but this advantage, that it is generally much sincerer; and there seems to be but little profit in pointing out the faults of those who in traveling abroad, at least, are our neighbors. Still it cannot be denied that he sees the faults of the English people as they stand out in glaring prominence ; but they should certainly receive credit for the way in which they try to alleviate the loneliness of journeyings by ready and interesting talk. We believe the chance traveler who declines to enter into conversation abroad is as likely to be one of our fellow-countrymen as an Englishman.

Besides the English, Mr. Arnold discusses the Etruscans, and on this subject he runs less chance of wounding delicate susceptibilities, unless they be those of the German who has written a book descriptive of alleged traces of the Etruscans in those remote regions. This book Mr. Arnold proceeds to controvert, and apparently he is perfectly successful. It is not only the traveler to the Engadine who will enjoy Mr. Arnold’s humorous account of his travels ; those of us who are too patriotic to spend our money in Europe will find pleasure in his humor.

The lady who has received so many blessings from her contemporaries under the name of Marion Harland, besides composing novels, has, like a great many other people, written a book 12 about her travels in Europe. Her book, too, is so much like a great many other books on this subject that there is no need of describing it at any great length. The journey was taken for the benefit of the author’s impaired health, and the book contains much that cannot fail to be of practical value to invalids. Let them take warning from this lady’s experience of a foreign cook’s preparation of oatmeal. After full and doubtless most lucid explanations of what was wanted, the irrepressible chef sent up this simple dish flavored with garlic.

Mr. A. Judd Northrup has written a very pleasant account of various excursions to the wilderness, and especially to the Adirondacks. The book 13 is a simple, readable, and evidently photographically true record of all the pleasures and easily forgotten misadventures of his experience. He does not omit to mention the mosquitoes and black flies, but he contrasts with them the trout and deer that also await the sportsman. Every lover of the woods, whether he be destined to pace the scorching sidewalk or to share the joys it describes, should read this volume.

  1. The Arctic Voyages of Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld. 1858-1879. With Illustrations and Maps. London: Macmillan & Co. 1879.
  2. Frozen, Asia: A Sketch of Modern Siberia. Together with an Account of the Native Tribes inhabiting that Region. By CHARLES H. EDEN, F. R. G. S., Author of Australia’s Heroes, China, Historical and Descriptive, etc., etc. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. New York : Pott, Young & Co.
  3. Columbia and Canada. Notes on the Great Republic and the New Dominion. A Supplement to Westward by Rail. By W. FRASER RAE. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1879.
  4. Four Months in a Sneak-Box. A Boat Voyage of 2600 Miles down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and along the Gulf of Mexico. By NATHANIEL H. Bisnor, Author of A Thousand Mile Walk across South America, and A Voyage of the Paper Canoe. Boston: Lee and Shepard. 1879.
  5. A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains. By ISABELLA L. BIRD, Author of Six Months in the Sandwich Islands, etc., etc. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1879-80.
  6. Sunshine and Storm in the East; or, Cruises to Cyprus and Constantinople. By MRS. BRASSEY, Author of Around the World in the Yacht Sunbeam. New York: Henry Holt & Co. 1880.
  7. Sporting Adventures in the Far West. By JOHN MORTIMER MURPHY. Illustrated. New York: Harper and Brothers. 1880.
  8. Camps in the Caribbees. The Adventures of a Naturalist in the Lesser Antilles. By FREDERICK A. OBER. Boston: Lee and Shepard. New York: Charles T. Dillingham. 1880.
  9. Search for Winter Sunbeams in the Riviera, Corsica, Algiers, and Spain. By SAMUEL S. COX, Author of The Buckeye Abroad, Eight Years in Congress, etc. New York: D. Appleton & Co. 1880.
  10. A Forbidden Land: Voyages to the Corea,. With an Account of its Geography, History, Productions, and Commercial Capabilities, etc., etc. By ERNEST OPPERT. With two Charts and twentyone Illustrations. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1880.
  11. Gleanings from Pontresina and the Upper Engadine. By HOWARD PAYSON ARNOLD. Boston : Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1880.
  12. Loiterings in Pleasant Paths. By MARION HARLAND, Author of Common Sense in the Household, etc. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons. 1880.
  13. Camps and Tramps in the Adirondacks, and Grayling Fishing in Northern Michigan. A Record of Summer Vacations in the Wilderness. By A, JUDD NORTHRUP. Syracuse, N. Y.: Davis, Bardeen & Co. 1880.