Scott of the Antarctic: A Life of Courage and Tragedy.

At over 500 pages this is a very substantial biography of Scott, with some of the warts but mostly sympathetic to the man and his image.

p. 88: It was not all one-way traffic, however, and if Scott’s sense of national pride had taken a denting in Norway, it was wonderfully restored by reading the American Frederick Cook’s account of his Antarctic experience on the train journey on to Berlin. Cook had been a member of de Gerlache’s Belgica expedition that had been trapped for a year in the ice of the Bellingshausen Sea, and his maudlin narrative of emotional breakdown and moral disintegration among a foreign crew was just the tonic Scott’s patriotism needed. “Read Cook,” he noted on the twentieth; “they must be a poor lot except Lecointe whom alone appears to have had some guts—the food seems to have been very bad.”

p. 93-94 on Scott’s flirtation with Freemasons, along with Armitage and others, what Crane calls the flummery of Freemasonry: … for a naval officer Freemasonry would have been more of a career move than anything else, a gesture of belonging that knitted him more closely to a powerful, if largely invisible service establishment. [Royds and Shackleton, two of his officers, were also Masons. Despite four Masons as major officers, Crane makes light of any chance of a Masonic conspiracy, or of anti-Masonic hysteria.]

p. 101: In his account of the first nightmare winter ever spent in Antarctica, Frederick Cook recalled that there was not so much as a bible aboard Belgica. In Discovery that would have been inconceivable. For an English and navalexpedition, uneasily straddling the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the institutional trappings of Victorian religion, along with the sense of order, hierarchy and deference they underpinned, were as real and ever-present as the science, the modernity, agnosticism and spirit of enquiry that drove them.

p. 125, during Scott’s first year, first voyage: “Rather erotic lines,” he [Shackleton] wrote more convincingly the next day about a volume of Swinburne’s poetry given him by one of the officers in Ringarooma [an Australian ship], and the lightening of spirits was general. Even the unpoetical Skelton was more than usually prepared to indulge Shackleton’s cultural evangelicalism. Reading Stephen Phillips’s “Paolo and Francesca” to Skelton, Shackleton recorded optimistically, “though as a rule he thinks poetry of any description rubbish, thinking it, perhaps not in keeping with the idea of an up-to-date engineer; he rather likes these.”

p. 126, uncertain of the future Scott wrote in his journal: All we can say is we are prepared—the rest is in the hands of an all seeing Providence, we can only hope for good fortune. [Scott cites Providence rather often for such an agnostic.]

p. 161: I have been reading ‘Through the first Antarctic Night’ by Dr. F. A. Cook, Royds noted in the middle of June, pride and prejudice neatly balanced as he compared Discovery’s regime with that of Belgica, and have been thoroughly disgusted with it… To begin with, what sort of men can they be, who sit and cry over the thoughts of ‘sweethearts’ far away, who brood over their solitude, who imagine every sickness possible to these regions, who grow their hair long as they are too tired to cut it, and one hundred and one things they did, which an ordinary man in the same circumstances wouldn’t have thought of doing… could anything be more hopeless; and simply because—to my mind—a little strength of mind was wanting, just a little will to fight against despondence, and a lack of moral courage to appear happy and contented when they were not… [Royd’s Diary 24.06.1902]

p. 164: “I find also time to read up Arctic literature,” he [Scott] confessed in the middle of July, “of which I am woefully ignorant; most unfortunately, our library is deficient in this respect, as owing to the hurry of our departure many important books were omitted. We have Greely, Payer, Nares, Markham, McClintock, McDougall, Scoresby, Nansen’s ‘Greenland,’ and a few others… but, sad to relate, Nordenskjöld , Nansen (‘Farthest North’), and Peary are absent, and two of these at least would have been amongst our most valuable books of reference.”

p. 182-83: On the southern journey of Oct-Jan 02/03, the more optimistic part of it, Scott wrote in his journal that their routine even gave him room for evening readings from Darwin’s Origin of Species: Last night we could scarcely have been more comfortable than we were…sledging under such circumstances is scarcely a hardship.

p. 198: Crane describes Scott’s philosophical viewpoint as “secularized puritanism,” a “natural bedfellow” to Wilson’s [G. M] Hopkinsian asceticism.

p. 199: …if Wilson brought his prayer book to the Barrier with him, and Scott his Darwin, they shared the absolute commitment to “the idea.” For Wilson the cause of science and human knowledge was always inextricably linked to the discovery of God’s purpose, but in Scott’s agnostic, scientific nature he recognized the same deep seriousness, the same hatred of anything shoddy, the same selflessness, wonder and belief in something larger than individual ambition.

p. 215, on the Scott/Shackleton relationship: There was certainly talk in the Discovery at the time of the Morning’s departure that “personal feeling” lay behind Shackleton’s departure, and yet all the evidence makes it clear that any animus on his part came as a result and not as a cause of Scott’s decision.

p. 222, Wilson at beginning of second winter: He was also reading hard, busily reconciling God and Darwin and ploughing somewhat reluctantly through Wells—“full of stuff to make you think, but written by a hard-minded, unpleasant scientific socialist…surely not a gentleman.” Skelton was reading A.E.W. Mason and Kipling’s Kim—“very good.” Bernacchi had taken over Shackleton’s position as editor of the SPT.

p. 229, on western trip when a blizzard blew away some instruments and books: “In travelling to the west,” Scott later explained they were going to be out of sight of any landmark for weeks on end, and thus effectively in the same position “as a ship at sea,” dependent on the sun and stars for their navigation and on “an excellent little publication issued by the Royal Geographical Society and called “Hints to Travellers’ ” for the necessary declination and logarithm tables with which to make their calculations. [The most relevant pages of this book for navigational purposes had been lost just before their sledge journey began.]

It has such a wonderfully inappropriate ring to it, that “Hints to Travellers,” so redolent of Baedekers and English clergymen in Florence, that it is hard to grasp the significance of the discovery that it was gone. “The gravity of this loss can scarcely be exaggerated,” an appalled Scott wrote on realizing that it had been swept away with Skelton’s goggles when the winds had wrenched open their instrument case….

p. 231, during a weeklong blizzard: Scott later wrote; “it is a ‘nightmare’ to remember…To sleep much was out of the question, and I scarcely know how the other hours went. In our tent we had one book, Darwin’s delightful ‘Cruise of the Beagle,’ and sometimes one or another would read this aloud until our freezing fingers refused to turn the pages.”

p. 271, enroute back to England, in a meeting aboard Discovery of Scott with the officers: At the same meeting the expedition library was divided up, an issue that gave Scott one last chance to show his competitiveness, and Skelton one last opportunity to moan. “There was one slight hitch at the commencement owing to the Skipper thinking he was not getting a fair chance,” he wrote, “& altogether it seemed to me very silly and small-minded, but it ‘blew off’—that is one thing the skipper cannot do ‘play a losing game’—it is most noticeable, even in the trivial little games on deck of cricket—in ‘bridge’ which we used to play in winter quarters, in fact in almost any form of sport.” (SPRI 342/1/7, 30.08.1904)

p. 366, on leaving Cardiff the Terra Nova: finally made her escape, gleefully shedding a stream of religious tracts and pamphlets donated by well-wishers as she went.

p. 434: Winter 1911 with “a few old copies of Girl’s Own to read,” possibly leftover from Shackleton’s visit to Scott’s Discovery Hut.

p. 457, quoting from Griffith Taylor on reading for the Polar party: The Owner asked me what book he should take. He wanted something fairly filling. I recommended Tyndall’s Glaciers—if he wouldn’t find it “coolish.” He didn’t fancy this! So then I said, “Why not take Browning, as I’m doing?” And I believe that he did so.

p. 467: Frank Wild’s diary of Shackleton’s 1908 South Polar run was an important guide to Scott on the same trail.

p. 468 during a weather delay: While Wilson read Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” and Wright finished Little Dorrit, Scott fretted at the holdup.

p. 482-3, before reaching the Pole: “All will be as it was meant to be,” he [Wilson] had written at the foot of the Beardmore, as he sat out the blizzard reading “In Memoriam.” “What a perfect piece of faith and hope! Makes me feel that if the end comes to me here or hereabouts there will be no great time for O.[Oriana] to sorrow…her faith and hope and trust will be to her what Tennyson’s was to him.”

p. 495, on PO Evans lending his copy of Dum-ass whenever needed.

p. 504, Wilson’s last letter to his wife: Your little testament and prayer book will be in my hand or in my breast pocket when the end comes.” Contains underlinings and marginalia. [Where is it?]