FOR most of us who must gravitate between our homes and our workrooms, travel, in the adventurous sense, is something to be dreamed of but seldom attempted. For a few chosen spirits, travel is the breath of life, and for them a stay at home is merely a pause between expeditions. As we travel to the office, they travel to places not on the map, and when, as in Scott’s Last Expedition, they do not return, the world is the better for their courage.
THIS book, Larson, Duke of Mongolia (Atlantic Monthly Press and Little, Brown, $3.50), is only a taste of it all, but it is the sole taste to be got by any true Westerner and we should be grateful. Among the many Americans and Europeans who have visited Urga, the Mongol capital, and the few who have lived there, Frans August Larson is the only one who has made a real and human use of his chance. Probably he is the only human being of them all precisely fitted for it. He can ride, shoot, and wrestle with the Mongols; he sits up all night telling stories in their yurts, and on many occasions he has shown himself their understanding and true friend. His pages are different from the colorless books of Curtin. Our author has traded horses and sold Bibles and hunted wolves with the Mongols for thirtyfive years. He has been their official representative at Peking, he has lived with them at court and in their camps and been friend with prince and herdsman.
Entirely without deliberate art his book contrives to get the high air of the plateau. The story of how he put a stop to the war with China, and fetched Prince Na with two hundred followers all the way to Peking to live there as a bodyguard to the President, is worthy of a mediæval romance. There is more than he tells us in the history of the murder of Grant of the Chinese Telegraph Service and the execution of Muronga his murderer. I wish he had written it all down, for Muronga gave your reviewer an uncomfortable six days of skulking and of waterless camps till we heard that he had been sewn up in a felt and jounced to death on a camel.
Mr. Larson’s ranch at Tabo-Ol has supplied the North China racing stables for years, and hundreds of foreigners in Peking and Tientsin have been mounted on the redoubtable little beasts that he brings down each year. His notes on these ponies, and the strange fact that they lose wind and endurance when they have been scientifically trained for racing, are valuable additions to horse-lore. Let us hope for another book, a book with still more stories and an account of Mongolia’s strange part in the Great War and a history of the mad Baron Ungern-Sternberg, the Scourge of the Reds.
Seven Horizons, by Charles J. Finger (Doubleday, Doran, $5.00), is a strange book, starting in Mayfair when London was still being shocked by Disraeli’s oddities, and ending — of all places in the world — in the Ozarks. Any fiction writer would envy that early chapter about the respectable small boy and the family who did not read. So, too, the rollicking piracy in which the author took part on Tierra del Fuego, and some splendid sailor men, beach combers, and philosophers who are described.
In fact the year on the island, the inimitable visit of the Prince with the Lady, and the whole Patagonian period would make prime stuff for the novelist. The last part, with its railroads in America, its literature and editing, though it must have been pleasant and engrossing to live, makes less vital reading. Even the important and near-important names that crop up through the long book do not help much. What really matters is the kindly spirit of this autobiography and the strange adventures and human charanters described so graphically that we ought not to be surprised to find them sometimes ungrammatical.
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‘Generally a mere follower, without much responsibility, and often scared out of my wits, I was in the thick of it all, and I know.'
He did know. Apsley Cherry-Garrard put it down so vividly and with so few adjectives that I never realized till the end of his book. The Worst Journey in tinWorld (Dial Press, $5.00), that I had been reading a style so welded into the subject matter as to make a professional stylist despair. Always excepting Scott’s Last Expedition, which every man must read again and again, never without tears, polar exploration should be avoided by the ordinary reader. It frightens and disturbs one, and that, is not what books are for. But The Worst Journey in the World must be read even if you don’t want to know what it s all like, even if you think polar expeditions are useless, and, most of all, if you believe you have lost the faculty of being quite lifted out of yourself by mere writing.
Being additional light on the Scott expedition, this book borrows from that other something of its splendid tragedy. It deals with the side expeditions and gives fresh incidents. Above all it carries one along with a positively convincing force which freezes the reader’s feet and hands, tears his temper into rags, rends his very heart, for the sufferings of other gallant members of the party, and, every night, pries open his frozen sleepingbag to admit a half-starved aching body that shivers against the ice until he believes that his back will break.
We have had high adventures told in enduring English before, but this book is a product of our own decade and gives ns far more insight into the minds of the adventurers than Raleigh does or Marco Polo or any of the others. I confess that I like the two extremes. The Facrie Quccne, immatchable for certain moods, but Arabiu Drserta, Scott’s Lust Expedition. Lawrence’s Berolt in the Desert, and the book of Apsley Cherry-Garrard for a safe fireside and hideous vicarious suffering.
As a chronicle The Worst Jonrucy in the World will fulfill its purpose with precision. Future expeditions must consult it for information on their outfit, the advisability of taking ponies or mules, and the probable endurance of their man-power. But always through and above such details the book tells of men, and again men. He says of his friend Bowers, ‘Such men may he at a discount in conventional life; but give me a snowy icefloe waving about on the top of a black swell, a ship thrown aback, a sledge party almost shattered, or one which has just upset their supper on the floor-cloth of the tent (which is much the same thing), and I will lie down and cry for Rowers to come and lead me to food and safety.’
Of the character of Scott himself — affectionately called ‘The Owner’ — he speaks with a tenderness that strikes at one’s heart. And yet ‘he was a bad judge of men.’ Elsewhere in the book there is an estimate of the four great leaders, Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton, and Wilson. The undoubtedly bitter fact that Amundsen reached the pole first is squarely dealt with and in a spirit of admiration for the accomplishment and for the valor of the Norwegian expedition. Yet there is no ridiculous attempt to prove that the news was not a nasty pill to swallow, nor is there any reference to British sportsmanship — thank Heaven! The deliberate deceit practised by Amundsen in first sailing north in the Frani and then doubling south is dismissed with the simple words, ‘Nothing makes a more unpleasant impression than a feint.’ To understand these things fully we must read an account—published twenty years after —of the Worst journey in the world.