Griffith Taylor led the Western Party of Scott’s Terra Nova expedition, scientifically constituting perhaps the most successful part of Scott’s fatal journey.
p. 49-50, during trip south on the Terra Nova: In the evening a few of the after-guard may bring out novels, but there has been little time except a day or two in the Pack for this relaxation. It is interesting to see how tastes differ. Some swear by Conan Doyle and dislike Merriman. Others find the White Company tedious (though they are rare) and revel in biography. One officer—with an eye to the penguins may be—is carefully perusing the ‘Amateur Poacher,’ while all of us have studied the book on Ski-Running. A most acceptable and suitable gift from Mr. Reginald Smith and others was a complete set of those handy sevenpenny and shilling books containing almost all the best English fiction of the last fifty years. They are well printed, fairly strong and not so valuable that one needs to don dress-suit to read them. The strong book cupboard (now on the ‘balcony’) will be a most welcome addition to our winter quarters during the long night.
p. 228ff, gives a good deal of attention to the winter lectures, but notes “that when a lecture was ‘on,’ there was not much room for private reading!….” Taylor makes a self-deprecating remark about how the seamen skipped his own lecture on Physiography because it sounded so dry.
p.231: also notes South Polar Times.
p. 282-5, ashore at the Hut: We were well stocked with books in the Hut. Almost every officer had taken down some standard novels in addition to a few text-books, and curiously enough there was very little overlapping. For instance Cherry had a row of Kipling’s works which almost all of us appreciated, Day had Dickens, Debenham had four or five poets, and more popular still—a collection of thirty ‘paper-back sixpennies,’ which every one was always borrowing. He kept them in a box under his elevated bunk, and I remember one evening after we had turned in, some one came into our cubicle and started burrowing about. Debenham said, ‘Now then, what are you after down there?’ A voice replied, ‘Where do you keep those sixpenny novels, Debenham?’ It was Scott, who couldn’t sleep, and wanted some light literature!
I had two or three of Wells, Browning, Tennyson, and ‘Martin Chuzzlewit.’ However, though my library was small, I used the official library more than any one! I have mentioned elsewhere the splendid little library of standard fiction presented largely by Mr. Reginald Smith. This consisted of about 250 portable volumes published by Smith, Elder and Co., and by Nelsons. There were Merriman’s, Brontë’s, and Conan Doyle’s, and all the shilling editions of noteworthy books by authors like Gosse and Belloc. Mr. Mackellar gave us many other volumes, especially some small art books. These lived in Day’s bunk. Then Admirals Markham and Beaumont presented us with many rare copies of books on Polar Exploration. These were constantly being read, especially by Bowers, whose lectures on sledging rations and polar clothing led him to read every word. Candidly I must admit that it was not cheering—when the blizzards were booming over the hut and all was dark around us—to read of Greeley’s awful suffering in the Arctic, where forty out of fifty men perished; or of the loss of the Jeannette and her crew in Siberia; but still the volumes were always being referred to by one or other of the officers.
We had several larger books, Haydn’s ‘Dictionary of Dates,’ which didn’t seem to be much troubled, and Harmsworth’s Encyclopedia, which was always in demand. Cherry had the large Times Atlas, and we had Paul’s ‘History of the 19th Century,’ and Harmsworth’s ‘History of the World.’ Oates brought along Napier’s ‘Peninsular War,’ and rarely seemed to read or need aught else. I had a bet with him that I would finish Paul’s six volumes before he had read through Napier. However, neither was completed, though Oates was a long way ahead! Scott had a shelf of poets and a number of foreign novelists, chiefly Russian and Polish.
I had finished all the lighter literature in about three months, and thereafter was able to advise some of the others as to works meriting their fleeting attention! It occurred to me that it would be amusing to try and discover the tastes of the fifteen officers of the hut. Books were naturally often discussed. Oates must have been reading some of Merriman, for I find that Simpson took exception to his praise of the latter’s work on meteorological grounds! This seems rough on Merriman; but Simpson said it was not possible to see the midnight sun at Tver, and he also objected to the wrong use of the word parhelion. I’m afraid I’d missed these ‘professional errors,’ but I remember what seemed a serious flaw to me in Davis’ ‘Soldiers of Fortune’ (otherwise a rattling yarn), was the author’s weird geological description in the first chapter! Similarly we expected Captain Scott and Seaman Evans to revel in Kipling’s sea yarns, where they were not enthusiastic. Both made the same criticism; Evans saying that there seemed to be a lot made about a little, and that, ‘anyway things isn’t so concentrated-like in the Navy!’
“I hope living authors, if they ever read this, will rise superior to our criticism! Debenham didn’t like ‘Kipps’; in fact, except for Wright I couldn’t get a word in favour of Wells. Even Nelson, who liked reading ‘Anne Veronica,’ declared it was a piece of satire from beginning to end, in which Wells was obviously gibing at his readers! The only book Nelson and I liked in common was Gissing’s ‘Born to Exile,’ and I grieve to state that the ‘Owner’ characterized this as ‘Tosh!’ ‘Richard Yea and Nay’ is loved by Debenham. I couldn’t read it, and declared it was not free from gross errors. (Pace Hewlett!) Challenged thereon, I said I had visited the castle at Gisors, and that it was still a well-preserved ruin, where in the novel it is ‘razed to the ground.’ This, of course, led to a cag [argument] on the meaning of the word razed, in which all the hut took part, and I’ve no recollection as to who was supposed to have won! Any Canadian novel that was appreciated by one man, would be caustically slated by Wright. I think we were all better at criticism than appreciation. Chamber’s ‘Fighting Chance’ was damned ‘because the hero kisses a girl under water’!
However, as a result we began to get some idea as to each other’s tastes in literature. I was a sort of referee, in that Ponting, Day, Debenham, Wright, and Simpson, would sometimes read a book on my recommendation, while Meares, Oates, and Nelson, always went for what I didn’t like!