Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 36. Peary’s Discovery of the North Pole

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XIV. Travellers and Explorers, 1846–1900

§ 36. Peary’s Discovery of the North Pole

Not only was the outer approach towards the Pole hazardous and difficult, but the mathematical point lay in the midst of a wide frozen ocean with hundreds of miles of barrier ice constantly on the move and frequently splitting into broad “leads” of open water, interposing forbidding obstacles to progress or to return. One American had set his heart on reaching this “inaccessible spot,” and after twenty-three years of amazing perseverance, Robert Edwin Peary succeeded, 6 April, 1909, in placing the flag of the United States at the point where all meridians meet under the North Star. Peary deserved every honour his countrymen could give him, but, alas, at the moment of triumph the voice of an impostor dimmed the glory.

The North Pole was won by the adoption of Eskimo clothing, snow houses, and a relay dog-sledge system. Peary’s account of his long continued efforts to attain this object of centuries is found in numerous reports, lectures, and articles, but his chief literary production is the several volumes: Northward over the Great Ice (1898), Snowland Folk (1904), Nearest the Pole (1907), and The North Pole (1910), the last the story of the final success. Besides the conquest of the Pole, Peary determined the insularity of Greenland and added much other information to the Polar records. My Arctic Journal (1893) by Mrs. Josephine Debitsch Peary is interesting and valuable in North Pole literature.

In travel and exploration in the period which we have thus briefly reviewed, there are many notable and thrilling events, but there is nothing that exhibits the striving after an ideal regardless of pecuniary profit or physical comfort better than the determination of Peary to reach the frozen centre of the Northern Hemisphere. He has a competent successor in Vilhjàlmur Stefànsson, another American whose whole heart is in Arctic exploration, and whose bold and original method of relying on his rifle for food, even on the wide ice of the Polar ocean, has been rewarded by an astonishing success, a success which has revealed, or at least emphasized, the facts that everywhere in the farthest North there exists a large amount of game.

Stefànsson and his literary output do not properly belong to this chapter, but in closing it may be permissible to refer to him and his volume, My Life with the Eskimo (1913), since he has accomplished much that must be considered in connection with all earlier Arctic exploration.