Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic A dventure.

A facsimile and transcript of a diary Conan Doyle kept on an Arctic whaling trip in 1880 as ship’s surgeon aboard the S.S. Hope. It includes a good bit about his reading during this six-month summer trip to Greenland. All quotations here are from the transcript.

p. 226, March 8th 1880: Fine honest fellows the men are and such a strapping lot. You’ve no idea how self-educated some of them are. The chief engineer came up from the coal hole last night & engaged me upon Darwinism, in the moonlight on deck. I overthrew him with great slaughter but then he took me on to Colenso’s objections to the Pentateuch and got rather the best of me there.

p. 230-31, March 14th: Read Boswell. Don’t agree with Macauley at all about Boswell being a man of no intellect. If ever a man was afflicted with what he calls “morbus Boswellianus” it is Lord Macauley himself in the case of Willy the Silent.

Footnote 66: Despite his criticism of Macauley here, in his 1907 book about literature and writers, Through the Magic Door, Conan Doyle rhapsodized over the copy he had brought on this voyage: “If I had to choose the one book out of all that line from which I have had most pleasure and most profit, I should point to yonder stained copy of Macauley’s Essays. It seems entwined into my whole life as I look backwards. It was my comrade in my student days, it has been with me on the sweltering Gold Coast, and it formed part of my humble kit when I went a-whaling in the Arctic. Honest Scotch harpooners have addled their brains over it, and you may still see the grease stains where the second engineer grappled with Frederick the Great. Tattered and dirty and worn, no gilt-edged morocco-bound volume could ever take its place for me.”

p. 236, March 28th: The conversation turned upon the war [Second Afghan War], politics, the North Pole, Darwinism, Frankenstein, free trade, whaling and local matters.

p. 244, April 11th: Began Carlyle’s “Hero Worship.” A great and glorious book.

p. 247, April 18th: Went to a Methodist meeting in the evening conducted by Johnny McLeod the engineer, he read a sermon from an evangelical magazine and then we sang a hymn together.

p. 250, April 30th: The night is very nearly as bright as the day now, I can read Chambers’ Journal at midnight easily.

p. 257, May 9th: Have been reading Scoresby’s book on whaling. Some of the anecdotes are too big to be swallowed at a gulp, they need chewing. He saw a whale caught in the bight of a rope that held another whale fast. However on the whole it is an eminently readable book, and very accurate as far as I can judge.

p. 259, May 5th: Reading Scoresby’s journal of his discoveries between Lat 69° & 74° on the coast of east Greenland. The last Danish settlements on that coast are a very curious problem. He found no trace of them.

p. 276, June 16th: Reading “Tristram Shandy,” a coarse book but a very clever one.

p. 283, July 4th: Reading Motley’s “Rise of the Dutch Republic,” a very fine history.

p. 288, July 15: Saw a small scene of Goethe’s ‘Faust’ which I am reading which I think is as vivid and weird as anything I ever read, far more gruesome than Shakespeare’s witches

Night – – – An open Plain

Faust. Mephistopheles rushing past on black horses

Faust – What are these hovering round the Ravenstone?

Meph – I know not what they’re shaping & preparing.

Faust – They wave up- wave down. They bend – they stoop.

Meph – A band of witches.

Faust – They sprinkle and charm.

Meph- On! On!

This is very awful, I think.

p. 290, July 21: Captain David [Gray]… entered into a critical analysis of Goethe’s Faust, comparing it with some of Shakespeare’ plays, and showing where the former borrowed from the latter, so we are not altogether barbarous up here.

p. 292, July 27: Reading Maury’s “Physical Geography of the Sea.” He explains the weed of the Sargasso Sea (in the triangle between Cape de Verdes, Azores and Canaries) by saying it is the centre of the whirl of the Gulf Stream, as when you whirl the water in a basin, you find floating corks at centre.