Rejoice My Heart: The Making of H. R. Mill’s “The Life of Sir Ernest Shackleton”: The Private Correspondence of Dr. Hugh Robert Mill and Lady Shackleton, 1922-33

This is a collection of collaborative correspondence that led to the publication of Mill’s Life of Sir Ernest Shackleton (1923) with a great deal of help from Emily Shackleton (Shackleton’s second wife).

p. xv—in dealing with Peary, Mill sharply disagreed with American historian W. H. Hobbs (1864-1953), who claimed that Peary had reached the North Pole. While Mill was confident that Frederick A. Cook (1865-1940) never reached 90º N, Mill would not credit Peary either. His reason—that Peary was “careless in keeping his log”—remains in line with the essential later account of Peary’s life by Sir Wally Herbert. Mill mentioned, for the benefit of those knowledgeable about the circumstances, but discretely enough to pass over the head of the casual reader, that Peary was “unwise in not taking his Canadian comrade with him.” (From “Preliminaries”, by T. M. Baughman. (Original source is Mill’s Autobiography, p. 140.)

p. 26-28, long letter from Emily Shackleton to Mill, on Shackleton’s reading preferences, especially Robert Browning. dated 8th June 1922:

I have just spent an hour digging up; memories of R.B., always a joy, Canon Woosnam, Ernest’s cousin, told me last March that he saw him aboard his first ship, and that he had a volume of R.B. sticking out of his pocket—this was in 1899. Whether his memory is to be trusted I know not, but when I first knew Ernest I was steeped in R.B. and I remember most distinctly, his saying he did not care for him, whereupon (acting on Mr. Churto Collins[‘s] advice that one should start with the short poems!) I gave him the “Pocket Volume of Selections” beside me as I write and I will send it to you. I have marked in the index (√) the poems we talked most about at that time. “Prospice” became our watchword, he always used it in telegrams, up to the last one he sent….

Ernest loved Browning from that time onwards….

I also enclose a treasure—“Moments with Browning”—he carried this on the southern journey, 1907-8 [1908-9].

p. 28: In 1898, Ernest was also reading Swinburne. I think you will like to see one of his favourite volumes, the markings in [the] index are his, also the marking of certain poems. When we first knew each other he was fond of Tennyson too especially “Locksley Hall” large portions of which I would love to hear him repeat from memory. I think I must send you the little book we shared in 1898. It is part of my heart. Often I used to ask him to repeat “The Road to Varley”. I loved the sound of his voice in that verse—up to last year he used to say it for me, and also those lines of John Hay, “And when you are old and weary.

He was particularly fond of “The Gateway Pines” from the Japanese. Other poets Shackleton liked and which Emily mentioned in this long letter were Charles Kingsley, Maurice Hewlett, and Tennyson.

p. 43: I enclose [Robert] Service’s verse. I will send the “Songs of a Sourdough” (there are several E. liked)…–it is a small book.

p. 44-45—Shackleton quoting Swinburne’s “The Triumph of Time”.

p. 51, Emily S. to Mill, 11 October1922: I also send you the little book, Ernest carried about with him when he was preparing to go to Russia. [A Russian grammar?]

p. 61, paragraph from Emily describing how she and Shackleton used lines from Browning’s “Prospice” as a code for hope in hard times.

p. 62: I don’t think Ernest read Swinburne at all for many years….

The rest of the book is largely concerned with the preparation of Mill’s Life of Shackleton, his widow’s concerns about many very small points, Mill’s gratitude for her help, decisions about complementary copies, and a concluding section of press reviews.

p. 109-11, on Shackleton’s strong believe in the guidance of Providence and of the 4th Presence on South Georgia.

[By the end of this correspondence Mill comes across as an honest hagiographer and Emily as a sentimental worrywart.]