Northern Travel

THERE will come a time, doubtless, when every nook and cranny of this world of ours will have been explored and reported upon. We are not so very far now from the point of a tolerably complete reconnaissance: a little of the extreme north, a spot in the highlands of Central Asia, a scrap of remote and apparently forgotten Antarctic regions, — when these have been visited, our maps will have firm outlines, and terrœ incognitœ will disappear. The nineteenth century will then have, as an enduring element in its character, a romantic passion for travel and adventure akin to the spirit of the fifteenth and early part of the sixteenth century, but differing from that in the strong mingling of scientific and humane pursuits. People will smile at our way of scorning ourselves as the unromantic century, and will ask what they are doing which can compare for lofty enthusiasm with the series of explorations set on foot for the relief of Sir John Franklin and his men, and finally, when all hope was extinct of finding any living witness, for the arduous search after silent testimony and the memorials of the dead.

Schwatka’s Search 1 will then, it may be, have a singular interest as a work recording the last expedition undertaken in obedience to the commanding sentiment of the great Franklin mystery. So far as can now be seen, no future expedition will rest its claims for support or interest upon any purpose of solving a mystery which for more than a generation has made the frozen North more chill, although even now, and for years to come, those who traverse the American Arctic will be under the influence of the Franklin secret. To us, who carry in our memory the successive journeys toward the Polar Sea, this volume fills a gap in knowledge; for it makes a positive addition to geographical information, it finds almost the footprints of the lost party, and it gives a very interesting interior view of Esquimaux life. It appeals, moreover, strongly to one’s imagination in its simple disclosure of the dreary country over which the sledging party traveled. The temper of Mr. Gilder’s narrative is admirable ; the reader, until he looks narrowly into the details of the expedition, is hardly aware of the courage, patience, tact, and cheerfulness which pervaded the company, and made it successful in its errand. The modesty of Lieutenant Schwatka, as well as his resolution and hope, seems to have become the property of all his associates.

The preface intimates that the final form of the book was not due to Mr. Gilder, and we regret that so good a traveler and competent a reporter could not have had the final word, for there are some defects which a little attention could have cured. It is a pity that, in recasting the letters written for the journal in which they first appeared, the writer could not have provided his readers with a better commentary upon the relation which Schwatka’s search bore to previous expeditions ; too much familiarity with Arctic literature is taken for granted. The lack of this commentary would have been excusable if pains had been taken to make the maps of the volume complete. As it is, while the two maps given make the narrative clearer, the reader is left in the lurch just at the most interesting and necessary point. A third map should have been supplied, carrying the track of the party to its final goal, and showing the whole course beyond Ogle Peninsula.

There are blemishes in the text, which necessarily result from a too literal use of newspaper letters formed from a diary, and would have disappeared under a more thorough recasting by the author. The illustrations are rude but effective, and have an air of truthfulness about them, agreeable to the tenor of the work, which impresses us as honest, frank, and honorable throughout. The absence of unnecessary detail, the occasional humor, and the unflagging good-nature of the book render it thoroughly readable.

There is a singular contrast suggested by the other notable book of Northern travel which the season has brought us. Du Chaillu2 made himself at home among the Scandinavians as completely as Schwatka and his party did among the Esquimaux; he traveled over the same parallels, going even farther north, but what a difference between the experience of the two travelers! The discomforts, the excitements, the perils of travel in the extreme north of America make life in Norway and Sweden take on almost a tropic luxury and ease. If one wished to institute other comparisons, an opportunity could easily be found in the contrasted pictures of Du Chaillu vis-à-vis with gorillas and the same merry traveler dancing with the maidens of the extreme North. Whatever contrasts might be discovered, Du Chaillu himself would be found eminently consistent. There is a humorous aspect to his book in the suggestion which it constantly offers of the veteran explorer pursuing the same general course in the civilized North which he would follow in the barbaric regions of the equator. He appears amongst the natives with his propitiatory gifts of beads and trinkets, and finds his way to the hearts of the women by the direct avenue which his African travel revealed. Du Chaillu has the gift, plainly, of making himself welcome, and his long residence in the North gave him a remarkably intimate knowledge of life there. If he had an equally good gift of reporting his life, he would have made a more useful and readable book. As it is, one may find in these two volumes a great mass of material, out of which he may gather his impressions of the North; but there is so much repetition and so much wearisome detail that the very completeness of the work defeats its object. One gets a lively notion of the traveler’s irrepressible goodnature and vivacity, but he would like to have with this a more graphic account of that which constitutes the peculiarity of Scandinavian civilization. The homes of a great many peasants are individually described; the distinctions between them are not so important to us as their difference from the homes of peasants elsewhere. There is hardly a reference to Scandinavian literature and art, very little account of politics, and no picturesqueness in the description of scenery. The peasant life, besides, if we are to judge from Scandinavian authorities, is not quite so idyllic and virginal as Du Chaillu would have us believe, though he could not state too emphatically its strong elements of frugality, self-respect, and hardy independence. There is some carelessness in the use of Norwegian words and phrases, and the pictures are often ineffective and misleading. But some of the prints, especially where giving details of architecture and implements, are good and serviceable, and the book in general contains so much valuable material, and has so excellent a spirit, that we welcome it, in spite of its being a jumble, as an important addition to a literature which is already possessed of a goodly number of acceptable works ; for we doubt if any country in Europe has afforded, in proportion to its political importance, so many excellent books of travel and observation.

This cannot be said of Miss Tyler’s contribution to the same literature. Her travels3 were confined mainly to Norway, where she followed a few of the main lines pursued by tourists, visiting the Gudbrandsdal and Romsdal, coasting to the North Cape and back to Bergen, and making excursions along the Hardanger and Sogne fjords and through the Ringerige. This outline will suggest to travelers in Norway a variety of rich and delightful experiences, and Miss Tyler enjoyed her journey ; but she has failed in constructing a worthy book, from her inability to separate the permanent from the ephemeral in the impressions which she would reproduce ; the petty experiences of her tour are entangled with shreds of geographical and statistical information, descriptions of scenery and personal adventures. The charm of a Scandinavian summer is indeed so enduring that it has even managed to temper the dullness of this book.

Mr. Vincent has been so recently a traveler in the North that we must turn aside from our subject, for a moment, to speak a single word of the new edition 4 of his earlier work, which was devoted to Asiatic travel. The first edition of the book was published in 1874. The additions in the present form consist of a supplement, containing the notes made by the author during a recent tour. Here are the latest news of Burma, Siam, Cambodia and Cochin - China, and the author shows himself desirous of keeping his books posted to date. Mr. Vincent is a good traveler and a good reporter ; when he tells what he himself has seen he is candid and unassuming, and the value of his book rests upon the fidelity of his report.

  1. Schwatka’s Search: Sledging in the Arctic, in Quest of the Franklin Records. By WILLIAM H. GILDER, second in command. With Maps and Illustrations. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1881.
  2. The Land of the Midnight Sun. Summer and Winter Journeys through Sweden, Norway, Lapland, and Northern Finland. By PAUL B. DU CHAILLU. With Map and 235 Illustrations. In two volumes. New York: Harper and Brothers. 1882.
  3. The Story of a Scandinavian Summer. By KATHARINE E. TYLER. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1881.
  4. The Land of the White Elephant. Sights and Scenes in Southeastern Asia. A Record of Travel and Adventure in Burma, Siam, Cambodia, and Cochin-China. By FRANK VINCENT, JR. Profusely illustrated with Maps, Plans, and Engravings. New and enlarged edition. New York: Harper and Brothers. 1881.