Some of this book, such as the description of the pinup contest and an obvious double entendre or two, is rather childish, but the book does give a different and quite positive perspective on Cook, though rejected by his enemies like Skelton or Peary.
p. 56: A very complete library is on board. It is a library, like the men, of various tongues, and descriptive of a great variety of subjects. Each department has its technical bibliography. The Commandant and the writer have a general collection of all the Antarctic narratives in all tongues. The Captain has a heap of charts and books on navigation; Lieutenant Danco has everything pertaining to terrestrial magnetism. The general scientific library is indeed a cosmopolitan collection. It contains books in French, English, German, Polish, Norwegian, and Rumanian print. In addition to serious literature, we have other books and magazines of lighter character. But these float about, from the laboratory to the cabin, and then to the forecastle, always in the hands of those whose spirits need elevating. Weeklies with unusually good pictures, such as half tones of beautiful women, theatric or opera scenes are reserved and served after dinner as a kind of entertainment.
p. 69: Returning to our present voyage and to the less sentimental, and less brutal, but I fear less religious modern times, the Belgica has not only no one to fill the chaplain’s duties, but, so far as I know, only one Bible (which is kept under cover) and no prayer book. Religion is apparently not one of our missions. But then I must hasten to add that on expeditions of this kind land pilots are more necessary than “sky pilots”.
p. 231-32: Racovitza reminds us daily that he will write a book describing life in the “Ladyless south,” and we have all agreed to contribute articles to a forthcoming paper in which we shall advertise our wants. This paper will take the generic name given us by the naturalist, “The Pack Loafers’ World.” In the forecastle the men are less sentimental and less inclined to poetry.
p. 250: That we might better mark the king’s [Leopold] birthday and remember it as a period of great rejoicing, and to arouse our sleeping regard for women we have instituted a ‘beauty contest…. The pick had been made from the illustrations of a Paris journal, illustrating women famous for graces of form and manner, and public notoriety. Nearly five hundred pictures were selected, representing all kinds of poses and dress and undress, and anatomical parts of women noted as types of beauty.” The official announcement is on p. 251-2: Grand Concourse of Beautiful Women, organized in the Cold Antarctic…contest in 4 parts (General Beauty, Excellence of Special parts, selection of most suitable to individual votes, and Part Four: “The umpires will decide which girl will be likely to be preferred by the various ‘Wandering Willies’ of the expedition.”
It is hoped that the elections will be honourable, but ‘all is fair in love and war,’ and in the ‘Ladyless South,’ swindling of all sorts is allowable providing it is in an honourable cause.
p. 254: It is Easter Sunday. We have been up most of the night trying to settle the many disputes which have arisen out of the ‘beauty contest.’ It is so long since we have seen a girl that I doubt our ability to pass judgment on the charms of beautiful women….
p. 296: To day is Sunday; the men look forward with some anticipation to this day because Sunday is set aside, not as a day of worship, for I have never seen a man on the Belgica with a Bible or prayer-book in his hands, but as a time of freedom from usual duties. It is the weekly period of recreation and feeding. The few eatables which are still relished are placed on the menu for Sunday. This serves to mark time and to divide, somewhat, the almost unceasing sameness of our lives.
p. 300: Each of us had planned a work of some magnitude to be completed before sunrise. Commandant de Gerlache started to rewrite the ship’s log. Lecointe began to complete the details of the summer’s hydrographic work. Racovitza, in addition to regular laboratory work, was to plan the outlines of a new book on the geographical distribution of life. Arctowski had in mind a dozen scientific problems to elucidate. Amundsen entered into a co-partnership with me to make new and more perfect travelling equipment; and in addition to this I had the anthropological work of the past summer to place into workable order, and a book on Antarctic exploration. Thus we had placed before us the outline for industrious occupation; but we did little of it. As the darkness increased our energy waned. We became indifferent and found it difficult to concentrate our minds or fix our efforts to any one plan of action. (The work mapped out was partly accomplished, but it was done after the return of the sun.)
p. 382: The men have had their second week of half-days to mend their personal effects, and since these are next to nothing, they use the time in hunting, reading and discussion.
The Bassett Jones Libris Polaris collection at Columbia UL has a fine presentation copy of Through the First Antarctic Night, presented by Cook to Herbert Bridgman. Copy 16 of the Special Edition: “To my Dear Friend and Arctic Colleague Herbert L. Bridgman with best wishes. Frederick A. Cook Brooklyn Dec.10, 1900.” Interesting in light of subsequent hostility between them.
The back endpapers of this Columbia copy has five manuscript notes and postcards from officers of the Belgica to Doctor Cook, after the completion of the expedition, including one letter about books:
Letter III Roald Amundsen [First Mate]: “45th Professor Dahlsgade Christiania 13-9 1900 Dear Doctor,
I am leaving Christiania Saturday next for Wilhelmshaven in Germany to finish my magnetic studies which has occupied me long time already.
“Kindly send the books you have talked about to my address here. I will be back for Christmas. I shall inform you of my new address as soon as I get to Wilhelmshaven.
Yours very sincerely,