Wilson was a prodigious reader. In addition to the citations below he speaks often of readings on medicine or surgery, presumably technical books he had with him on the expedition. He was also a devout Christian and would read his services when he couldn’t attend or in addition to attendance. Most notable was his reading of Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” during the fatal polar trip.
p. 37, enroute to South Trinidad: I am now reading the Psalms pretty regularly in the morning.
p. 46, enroute to South Trinidad Wed 4 Sept 1901: Shackle and I got up on the whale boat canvas cover, which is as good as a hammock. He went fast asleep with an uncut Challenger volume, and Elizabeth’s Visits. I read through my anniversary letters from Ory, and [James] Wilson’s Gospel of the Atonement. [Wilson returned to Archbishop Wilson’s book, the Hulsean lectures of 1898-99, again on 25 March 1902, p. 128.]
p. 86, at dinner at club in Dunedin, NZ: 23 Dec 1901 This was a very useful dinner to me, as I procured the two volumes of Buller’s Birds of New Zealand which I had been wanting for a long time, an expensive book worth £15. A dear old Dr. Brown offered to lend me his copy for the trip, so I accepted it.
p. 126, Tues 18 March: Read E. S. Thompson’s Kangaroo Rat after dinner, a most fascinating tale by the author of Some Animals I have known. Pianola. Wrote and read a bit.
p. 137-38, Wed 30 April 1902: Blowing a blizzard again the whole day long. I read Tito by E. S. Thompson, a story I found in an old number of Scribner’s Magazine, a most fascinating story as usual, all his are. Pondered long over his drawings in several old Scribners. They are beautiful. I wish I could grasp his style, or even understand it.
p. 147, Fri 30 May 1902: Spent the day reading the Manual, which I haven’t ever had time or opportunity to get through. [The Arctic Manual for the Use of the Expedition of 1901. Ed. by George Murray. London, Royal Geographical Society, 1901.]
p. 166, Wed 30 July 1902: Reading Bennett’s Whaling voyage round the globe, an excellent book, chiefly sperm whaling. Very good zoological notes, published in 1840 by Bentley. Read this all day until dinner time. p. 171, Tues 12 Aug 1902: The rest of the day reading Moseley’s Challenger and writing.
p. 171, Thurs 14 Aug, re South Polar Times: The work I have done in producing these has been a tremendous help in passing the winter, and though it has taken up a lot of time I cannot think it is exactly wasted, because the book has amused everyone here and will be a happy souvenir, as we have kept everything objectionable out of it…. Shackleton has all the drudgery of its production, and everybody else has helped.
p. 172, reference to Reid’s Prehistoric Peeps.
p. 173, Mon 18 Aug 1902: I have never realized to such an extent the truth that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ as in the last year during which I have seen a little of the inside of the ‘Royal Navy’. God help it???
“well, the discussion arose over sharks and pilot fish and ‘suckers’, the two latter being small fish which attend on sharks for scraps, just as jackals are said to attend on lions. But two of these Navy people, who had seen the fish, said they were one and the same thing, that the ‘suckers’ were the pilot fish. I had an idea that they were different and asked Muggins, who said he thought they were different too. So as I knew that Moseley in his Challenger narrative went into the question, I got the book and found that they were two quite distinct fish, the ‘sucker’ having a plate on its head by which it fixes on the shark’s skin, the pilot fish having nothing of the sort, but being a regular shark’s jackal waiting around for scraps.
‘Oh, but I’ve seen them’, says Junior Lieutenant, ‘and they’re the same thing. You see, I don’t know who the man is that wrote this book, but I don’t suppose he’s a sailor man’. ‘No’, I said, ‘he happens to be Moseley, the naturalist of the Challenger expedition’… . I don’t know if he had ever heard of Moseley, poor fellow, or knew anything at all about his life or work, but I left him explaining the thread-bare sailor’s creed that being a ‘museum man’, he couldn’t be expected to know as much about the matter as those who had actually hooked a shark.…”
p. 177—every day for a week Wilson speaks of reading, frequently in Geikie’s Ice Age. He was still reading the book two weeks later [p. 188] but with no comment on it. He does mention the book a year later, with obvious retention [p. 183].
p. 211-18, Sledging on the Southern Journey, Wed 5 Nov 1902: We got into our bags and I read aloud a chapter out of the Origin of Species which we had brought for these occasions. We discussed it between whiles…. 7 Nov: Shackle read a chapter of Darwin. 8 Nov: All the same we had a decent day. I read a chapter of Darwin. 11 Nov, during storm: Then we had breakfast, and turned in again, read a chapter of Darwin and so on…. 26 Nov, p. 243: Read a chapter of Darwin. 29 Jan, two months later: We lay in our bags, had full meals all day long, read a chapter of Darwin and slept.
p. 251, Sat 21 March, 1903: Evening, read Ruskin’s Crown of Wild Olives, in which there are some splendid passages, though the bulk of the book doesn’t appeal to me very much. When his high teaching comes in contact with the general low standards of public life, it is too suggestive of an attempt to hew large timber with a hollow-ground high-tempered razor. [He finished the book the next day.]
Wed 25 March: Reading now, Nares’ book on the Alert and Discovery up north. I read the book before starting on this expedition, but how very differently it reads now.
p. 257, Mon 4 May: The rest of the day reading and drawing. Reading now chiefly articles in the Monthly Review, which seems an excellent paper, full of up to date papers on most interesting subjects. [He returned to Monthly Reviews on May 21 and 22.]
p. 258-59, Mon 11 May: Reading Payer’s book on the Austrian Tegetthoff expedition to Franz Joseph Land the rest of the day. Sat 16 May: The rest of the day spent in reading, and finished Payer’s book. Interesting reading but very foreign or un-English and hysterical in places.
p. 262, Sun 31 May: In the evening read Wells’ Anticipations, a book brought down by the Morning.
p. 263, Tues, 2 June: My own two candles, our allowance for the week, I use in my cabin, reading in my bunk from 8 or 8.30 till 9.30 when I get up for breakfast. Each candle burns 7 hours, and the ullage goes in dressing, undressing, and looking for things during the day. All this winter I have never done any other reading or writing in my cabin, except on my night out, for which we are allowed another candle, once a fortnight. This I use in my cabin, writing. Thursday 4 June: The afternoon and evening I had some work to do, trivial things on the mess deck, but also did some reading in the evening at Anticipations. Sat 6 June: Reading all the evening, with a yarn in the galley.
p. 264, Thurs 11 June: Finished Anticipations a book full of stuff to make one think, but written by a hard minded, unpleasant scientific socialist, a man with a weird sense of beauty and apparently very little in common with the character of men whom has always looked upon as the most deserving of love and admiration amongst human beings. Essentially not a gentle-man, in that he shows no consideration for those whom he thinks his inferiors—God help him—the clever product of a one sided technical education.
p. 265, Sun 14 June: Began reading Seton Thompson’s Wild Animals again, a most beautiful book…. Drawing a bit and reading the evening.
p. 268, Wed 24 June: Started a small book lent me by Royds today—Through Nature to God, by Fiske, a reconcilement of Darwin’s ideas of evolution and natural selection with monotheism. This at least is my idea of the book so far.
p. 269, Wed 1 July: I have just read an account of Sverdrup’s expedition and am struck at the amount of sledging they did in those three seasons. He must be a splendid hard-working character. But his record also shows the great value of having plenty of dogs to do the hauling.
p. 272-3, Wed 22 July 1903: Did some sewing, and some reading. Our life in the Swiss highlands by J. Addington Symonds, a book I got in Davos and brought here with me, as it had much to do with snow and avalanches, but till now I never read it. I find it most attractive reading and it gives me proper Heimweh for the warm snow of the Swiss Alps, where fir forests can grow and water can run and reeds and rushes and anemones, alpine heather, hepatica, spring gentians, crocuses and soldanella can all burst and flower in a happy fraternity with snowdrifts and glacier snouts. Here inanimate nature lives, but has no warmth and lives so slowly that one finds it hard to think it isn’t dead as well as cold. [He continued that book for a few days.]
p. 273, Fri 24 July: Spent most of the morning reading Symonds book.
p. 274, Sat 25 July: …called into the Captain’s cabin for a discussion on the charting of the Great Barrier in the evening. Our observations seem to fall in very well indeed with Ross’ and Borchgrevink’s, and we now find that Ross, without recognizing it, charted the corner where the rue Barrie ends and the ice attached to our new eastern land begins. It is an interesting piece of work.
p. 274, Sun 26 July: Reading about the Swiss again and finished the book I am sorry to say. I like it immensely, but it makes me have a terrible longing to get back to life again.
p. 274, Mon 27 July: I got a German fit on and it lasted till the evening. I was reading Carl Chun’s voyage of the Valdivia, Aus den Tiefen des Weltmeeres.
p. 277, Fri 31 July: The evening I spent reading Bowdler Sharpe’s book [probably A Handbook to the Birds of Great Britain], in preparing for a contribution to the South Polar Times.
p. 278, Sun 2 Aug: Writing and reading before breakfast. Wine books. Church.
p. 280-1, Sun 9 Aug: Got hold of a book by Newbegin, a lady professor at Edinburgh University on Colour in Nature, which I think looks very interesting….
p. 345, Thurs 3 March : After dinner read A Fair Barbarian [Mrs. Frances Hodgson Burnett, c1880].
p. 345, Fri 4 March: Read Louisiana and Gabriele d’Annunzio’s Victim. One of his books is more than enough for a lifetime. I haven’t read such a lot of egoistic beastliness for a long time.
p. 346, Mon 7 March at Auckland Islands: Read Lady Rose’s Daughter [Mrs Humphrey Ward] and finished by 2 a.m. We saw a Royal Albatross today, the biggest of all.
p. 346, Thurs 10 March: Had an hour or two on the bridge and an hour or two reading Kim. [He finished Kim the next day.]
p. 377, enroute back to Falklands, Azores and Britain. Sun 19 June 1904: Third Sunday after Trinity. Read the Lessons in church, Koettlitz being seasick. Made up sketch book and read surgery…. Tues 21 June: Read Beasts of the Field by William Long, a very fascinating book after the manner of E. Seton Thompson’s work…. Wed 22 June: Finished Long’s book. Fri 24 June: Then reading a book by Jack London, The Call of the Wild, Evening writing letters…. Sat 25 June: Spent nearly the whole day painting and finished The Call of the Wild. Sun 26 June: Skelton and I have been chosen as committee to arrange the fair division of all the mess furniture, crockery, glass, silver, books, pictures and the rest, to be drawn for in lots by each of the officers.
p. 388, Mon 25 July 1904: Painting afternoon, reading The Roadmender [Margaret Barber] and writing.
p. 391, Sun 14 Aug 1904: I have got Mortimer Menpes’ Japan to read….”
p. 392, Tues 16 Aug.: Finished my bird skins and finished Menpes’ Japan which is most delightful reading, as well as all the beauty of colour in the sketches. Wed 17 Aug: Read Life of Carlyle in the evening.
p. 393, 23rd Aug, amidst a string of days when he read every day he began and finished Helbeck of Bannisdale by Mrs. Humphrey Ward
p. 293, Fri 26 Aug: Worked at arranging the fair division of the library, crockery, pantry gear and other things of the mess between the officers. Skelton and I were chosen to do this, by a general ballot. This appropriation of everything seems queer, but is apparently the usual rule at the end of a ship’s commission.
Sat 27 Aug: Read Mrs Humphrey Ward’s Eleanor and made out the division of books and property.
Mon 29 Aug: Painting, reading and working at book lists. Cricket after tea.
Tues 30 Aug: Reading and painting till teatime. Then we had a general meeting in the ward-room for three hours during which we divided up the whole library.
p. 395, Sat 3 Sept, 1904, enroute Azores: Out of sight of land. Reading The Virginian a very fascinating book by Owen Wister, all about a cowboy.
p. 396, Tues 6 Sept: Up again and made our remaining library lists and arranged for distribution of all the mess property.
Wed 7 September: Finished up all the distribution of books etc. at a meeting after tea.
See also Bill Bell’s Antarctica Live (typescript, Oct. 2016)) on Wilson’s reading:
p.20: Wilson was also the most devoutly religious member of the Ward Room and would retire to his bunk every morning to read from the Psalms and on Sundays set aside time for the reading of devotional works, of which Bishop Wilson’s Gospel of the Atonement appears to have been a favourite. He regulated his diary by the Anglican calendar and we find him on many occasions reading the day’s offices from The Book of Common Prayer, a copy of which he always took with him on sledging journeys. He often found consolation in the Bible, which he read intensely but was prone to take his secular books personally as well.
His cabin was well stocked with novels and biographical works, including most of Morley’s English Men of Letters series but in the first year there are scant references to literary pursuits. During the second winter, like Ferrar, Wilson’s reading habits became more leisurely and even more so as the expedition wound down. On the voyage home, with most of his scientific work behind him, he began devouring fiction, reading his way through three novels by Mrs Humphry Ward, Kim, and Francis Hodgson Burnett’s A Fair Barbarian.
Through reading Wilson projected himself back across the miles to places from his past. In July 1903 he was reading Addington Symonds’ Our Life in the Swiss Highlands which gave him ‘proper Heimwech for the warm snow of the Swiss Alps, where fir forests can grow and water can run.’ How different from his present surroundings, he reflected, where ‘inanimate nature lives . . . so slowly that one finds it hard to think it isn’t dead as well as cold.’ On Christmas Day he was feeling particularly far from home as he finished reading Sidney Royce Lysaght’s 1899 novel One of the Grenvilles. A sentimental romance, it follows the fortunes of its protagonists’ itinerant lives. By the final chapter the romantic leads are reunited and sail off into the sunset to the sound of wedding bells. He thought it ‘a good story’ but ‘made me pretty homesick’. Shortly before his departure from England, Wilson had been married and his mind often drifted back home to his new bride, for whom he kept his diary, as he read.