The Worst Journey in the World. [1910-12]

Often thought the finest book on Antarctic exploration, this is a dramatic account of Scott’s 1910-13 expedition. The expedition was comprised of three actual journeys: the depot journey, during which supplies were laid for the polar trip; the winter journey to Cape Crozier to visit the penguin rookery—the “worst journey” of the title; and the final, tragic attempt on the pole, during which Scott and four others perished. The story of Scott’s last expedition is of course a great tale, and Cherry-Garrard uses his considerable skill as a writer to heighten the drama, aided also in his writing by suggestions from George Bernard Shaw.

p. 142, referring to the earlier Shackleton Nimrod expedition of 1908 and revisiting Shackleton’s hut, Cherry-Garrard gives a substantial quote from Raymond Priestley who had been there: “It was very funny to see everything lying about just as we had left it, in that last rush to get off in the lull of the blizzard. On Marston’s bunk was a sixpenny copy of the Story of Bessie Costrell, which some one had evidently read and left open.”

p. 206-07, in chapter on The Depot Journey: Later, when we came to our own limited quarters, books of reference were constantly in demand to settle disputes. Such books as the Times Atlas, a good encyclopedia and even a Latin Dictionary are invaluable to such expeditions for this purpose. To them I would add Who’s Who.

From odd corners we unearth some Contemporary Reviews, the Girls’ Own Papegraham r and the Family Herald, all of ten years ago. We also found encased in ice an incomplete copy of Stanley Weyman’s My Lady Rotha; it was carefully thawed out and read by everybody, and the excitement was increased by the fact that the end of the book was missing.

p. 218, also on Depot Journey: For the rest we mended our finesko, and read Bleak House.

p. 232: during our sojourn at Cape Evans, in our comfortable warm roomy home, we took our full allotted span of sleep. Most were in their bunks by 10 p.m., sometimes with a candle and a book, not rarely with a piece of chocolate.

p. 234, books used to settle constant arguments, called cags: Though the Times Atlas does not rise to public-houses nor Chambers’s Encyclopaedia sink to behaviour at our more expensive hotels, yet they settled more of these disputes than anything else.

p. 243-45, First Winter: We had also records of good classical music, and the kindly-disposed individual who played them had his reward in the pleasant atmosphere of homeliness which made itself felt. After dinner had been cleared away, some men sat on the table occupied with books and games….

With regard to books we were moderately well provided with good modern fiction, and very well provided with such authors as Thackeray, Charlotte Bronte, Bulwer-Lytton and Dickens. With all respect to the kind givers of these books, I would suggest that the literature most acceptable to us in the circumstances under which we did most of our reading, that is in Winter Quarters, was the best of the more recent novels, such as Barrie, Kipling, Merriman and Maurice Hewlett. We certainly should have taken with us as much of Shaw, Barker, Ibsen and Wells as we could lay our hands on, for the train of ideas started by these works and the discussions to which they would have given rise would have been a godsend to us in our isolated circumstances. The one type of book in which we were rich was Arctic and Antarctic travel. We had a library of these given to us by Sir Lewis Beaumont and Sir Albert Markham which was very complete. They were extremely popular, though it is probably true that these are books which you want to read on your return than when you are actually experiencing a similar life. They were used extensively in discussions or lectures on such polar subjects as clothing, food rations, and the building of igloos, while we were constantly referring to them on specific points and getting useful hints such as the use of an inner lining to our tents, and the mechanism of a blubber stove.

I have already spoken of maps and books of reference, and these should include a good encyclopedia and dictionaries, English, Latin and Greek. Oates was generally deep in Napier’s History of the Peninsular War, and some of us found Herbert Paul’s History of Modern England a great stand-by. Most of us managed to find room in our personal gear when sledging for some book which did not weigh much and yet would last. Scott took some Browning on the Polar Journey, though I only saw him reading it once. Wilson took Maud and In Memoriam; Bowers always had so many weights to tally and observations to record on reaching camp that I feel sure he took no reading matter. Bleak House was the most successful book I ever took away sledging, though a volume of poetry was useful, because it gave one something to learn by heart and repeat during the blank hours of the daily march, when the idle mind is all too apt to think of food in times of hunger, or possibly of purely imaginary grievances, which may become distorted into real foundations of discord under the abnormal strain of living for months in the unrelieved company of three other men. If your companions have much the same tastes as yourself it is best to pool your allowance of weights and take one book which will offer a wide field of thought and discussion. I have heard Scott and Wilson bless the thought which led them to take Darwin’s Origin of Species on their first Southern Journey. Such is the object of your sledging book, but you often want the book which you read for half an hour before you go to sleep at Winter Quarters to take you into the frivolous fripperies of modern social life which you may not know and may never wish to know, but which it is often pleasant to read about, and never so much as when its charms are so remote as to be entirely tantalizing.

p. 358, quoting from his diary: Another very happy day doing nothing. After falling asleep two or three times I went to bed, read Kim and slept.

p. 374, Preparing for the Polar Journey: The Boss [Scott] had 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. 387: There were meals when we had interesting little talks, as when I find in my diary that: ‘we had a jolly lunch meal, discussing authors. Barrie, Galsworthy and others are personal friends of Scott. Someone told Max Beerbohm that he was like Captain Scott, and immediately, so Scott assured us, he grew a beard.

p. 405: We are all sitting round now after some tea…. I can hardly think that the ponies can pull on, but Titus thinks they can pull tomorrow; all the food is finished, and what they have had today was only what they would not eat out of their last feed yesterday. It is a terrible end—driven to death on no more food, to be then cut up, poor devils. I have swopped the Little Minister with Silas Wright for Dante’s Inferno!

p. 554, of the separate Northern Party, Cherry-Garrard wrote: Their stories of the winter are most amusing—of ‘Placing the Plug, or Sports in the Antarctic’; of lectures; of how dirty they were; of their books, of which they had four, including David Copperfield.