The Great Frozen Land (Bolshaia Zemelskija Tundra). Narrative of a Winter Journey across the Tundras and a Sojourn among the Samoyads.

Purpose to test newly developed equipment in severe conditions, but also to “visit and, for some months, to live with that primitive group of the human family, the Samoyads of the Great Frozen Tundra of Arctic Russia; to dwell in their tents, to eat of their food, to go and come with them in their daily life, to share their labour and their rest; to mark their ways and seek their motives, to note their relations to one another, and to learn, if possible, something of their sense of a higher influence” (p. ix).

p. 13: I hope therefore that my notes on the geography of this region and the information contained in the sketch map accompanying this book will be as welcome to those who seek for knowledge as I trust the account of my daily life among a peculiar people, and the incidents and accidents of a journey in a new land, will be to those who read for pleasure.

p. 49: The idea that the name of the Samoyad means self-eater is of long standing, and we find a curious instance of it in the contemporary account of Frobisher’s Third Voyage, by Captain George Best of the Anne Francis. He is referring to the Eskimo: “These people I judge to be a kind of Tartar, or rather a kind of Samoed, of the same sort and condition of life that the Samoeds be to the north-eastwards beyond Muscovy, who are called Samoeds, which is as much to say in the Muscovy tongue as ‘eaters of themselves’; and so the Russians, their borderers, do name them. And by late conference with a friend of mine, with whom I did sometime travel in the ports of Muscovy, who hath great experience of those Samoeds and people of the north-east, I find that in all their manner of living, those people of the north-east and these of the north-west are like.” The text is that of Hakluyt, and the modernisation Mr. Edward John Payne’s (Voyages of the Elizabethan Seamen to America), p. 185).

p. 99, on monastery diet among the Samoyards: Meanwhile I took up my abode in the log-house which Siberiakoff built some years ago for the accommodation of a few monks; and hereby hangs a tale which those interested in the study of scurvy may be glad to read. There were in all at this tiny monastery a log-house about twenty feet long by fifteen feet wide, excluding the out-house—six Russian monks, and one lad who acted as general servant. They belonged to the strictest sect of the Russian priesthood, and were bound by their vows to abstain altogether from meat. This obligation, however, did not apply to the lad, who was kept busy and in constant exercise, and lived on fresh reindeer meat. At the end of the second winter (in May) the Russian peasant – traders and Samoyads came back from the Pechora to find all the six priests dead of scurvy and the boy of twelve in perfect health. The poor little fellow had buried his masters one after the other in the snow, and was the sole inhabitant of Habarova. I knew him well, and used to chaff him a good deal by telling him he had killed six monks; and he had sufficiently got over the gloom of that trying time to laugh at the accusation.

p. 126: Nothing that I know in nature can equal the dreariness and solitude of the Tundra. Mile after mile as you travel along there is no break in the monotony of this great frozen land. Everywhere is snow, everywhere the vast white plains. In the perspective of distance the very ridges melt into the general level, and as you look around, everywhere you are met with the same great mantle of unbroken snow. The country lies before you as an earth that is dead, so still, so motionless, so rigid is the landscape. Life has fled before the icy winds which draw out of the north, and the land you traverse is surely the land of death.

p. 207ff: Chapter VIII collects Samoyad Folk-Tales, well worth reading.