Arctic Adventure: My Life in the Frozen North

One of two or three autobiographies by Freuchen, this mainly of his life and adventures with Rasmussen during the Thule expeditions. A few things stand out: his total admiration for Robert Peary (of course for Rasmussen as well), his growing sensitivity to Inuit culture (thanks to his marriage with Navarana), and his lack of any literary pretentions. He scarcely mentions anything he does during his leisure time.

p. 58: Perhaps the principal excuse for our excursions was to break the monotony which moves in like the Arctic’s gray, impenetrable fog. Then one does not need much excuse for travel, or do anything out of the ordinary, conditions permitting.

p. 216, 218, first Thule expedition, when they had found a cairn left by Peary in northern Greenland with a “statement to the effect that this cairn had been erected by Robert Peary and Eyvin Astrup, and that the following year Peary had visited it again with Matew [sic] Henson and Lee…”: I copied Peary’s record for my own information; then I added to the original document the fact that I had visited the cairn twenty years later, and such information of our expedition as might be of interest in case we should be lost.

p. 220, also on first Thule expedition: We had a few books with us, and as the dogs died and it became necessary further to lighten our sledges we left them behind. One day we built a cairn in our own honor—nobody else would—and I left my old copy of Homer as a memento. Anyone interested in the contents of that cairn might be somewhat surprised to find in it a year’s file of a housekeeping magazine. Knud insisted he had bought them along merely for the value of the paper, but each night on the trip he had read me a complete menu for a week, and we had discussed it weightily for hours.

p. 283: When the ship departed it was fine to be left alone to read the papers. I made it a rule to read one newspaper a day, a paper just one year old, which worked out beautifully. If you receive mail only once a year, it is silly to read everything at once—you will forget most of it immediately, and when you reread it the news will be stale. …

Only once did I break my rule. Madame Caillaux, wife of the French minister of finance, had shot Calmette, editor of Figaro. She was consequently tried for the murder, and I could not resist running through the papers lying on the shelf to learn whether or not she was acquitted.

She was.

p. 294—Freuchen is virulently anti-Greely. He must have that view as influenced by Peary.

p. 296-97: It had been a rare treat for me to live with the two Americans [MacMillan and Ekblaw] and learn about America from them. Ekblaw was very much interested in college life, especially the intramural activities. He had been editor of his college paper and still received copies of it. I tried to read them, but found that, even when I could read English, I could not understand what was meant.

p. 341-42: One can endure solitude somehow if he has books to read, but I had only one. The others had been lost in transit across Melville Bay, and even this one had been soaked.

It was a most erudite volume titled, The Relationship between the Popes in Avignon and Denmark. The subject was not my special hobby, but it was something to read and, as it was the only book I possessed for a whole year, I read it over and over again. Until I die I shall remember everything there is to know about the Popes in Avignon and Denmark. I fancied them my companions and I grew so weary of them that I was tempted to burn the book. But I could not do that, of course.

The author was a learned, in fact, a great, man. Long afterward when I returned to Denmark the government gave a banquet in my honor, and the Danish Secretary of Foreign Affairs was the author of that book, the one man in the world I hated above all others. He sat next to me—Dr. Moltesen was his name—and smiled and talked in a friendly fashion. I told him he would have to excuse me. Later on I gave him the oil- and water-soaked and often dried book, and had it bound in fine leather. He appreciated my thought and seemed to be very fond of the book. He could not have liked it half as much as I hated it.

p. 315 and 391: pictures of interior bookshelves. He had lots of books, it turns out.