An account of the traversal of the Greenland Ice-Cap, between Jakobshaven, near Disco Island on the west coast, and Angmagssalik on the east coast.
p. 47: December 6th. The weather could not be more disagreeable; a Fohn wind has blown for two days, and we have practically no snow left—merely large and evil-smelling puddles. I have therefore remained indoors all day and finished Scott’s Voyage of the Discovery. I fed the dogs as usual today but they are never hungry in such warm weather. (Croft??)
p. 85: We said good-bye once more, but the train dallied unmercifully. Godfrey looked out the window, looking as usual every inch the Foreign Office, and holding Anthony Adverse in his hand.
p. 91: One of our favourite arguments in 1930-31 was on the subject of how travel books should be written. Watkins always professed to be disgusted with their smugness and implied sentimentality; if he ever wrote one it was to be modeled on All Quiet on the Western Front. Certainly there is a lot in what he said. For travel books are always too busy trying to be tactful to be truthful. Few of them ever tell more than 70 per cent of what actually happened. In missing out nothing and in sparing nobody this volume is a—possibly unfortunate—experiment. The fault in All Quiet on the Western Front was that it did not so much present a picture of reality with all its starkness, as that it searched the latrines and middens for lavatorial details which could be used as ‘copy.’
This is not that kind of book….
p. 98: The marked preference we displayed for reading a book in the saloon and smoking strong Danish cigars undoubtedly prejudiced the ship’s officers against our chances of getting across Greenland.
p. 100: It was not long before our literature was finished. Then the Captain kindly unearthed for our benefit some American magazines, twelve years old….
We finished the magazines.
[The preceding passages are from their voyage to Greenland.]
p. 130: Croft made himself generally useful and then, when there was nothing further for him to do, went into the tent and started to read a collection of twenty-four leading articles from the Observer, in order to get in touch with the news of the past winter.
p. 149, on provisions for the journey across the ice-cap: …one personal book, but I have also secreted two minute Shakespeares—Hamlet and Macbeth….
p. 251: At this stage we had read all our books. Or rather Croft and Godfrey had finished my literature as well as their own, and I had read all theirs except Hamlet and Macbeth; for once I almost came to regret that I do not understand blank verse. As there were no more books, we talked and got to know each other.
p. 195-99, “One Book”: extracts from a chapter on expedition reading:
The blizzard rolled on… While driven snow volleyed and drummed against the side of the tent we turned for consolation to reading, almost for the first time on the Ice-Cap.
Have you ever considered what book you would choose if you were able to take only one for a three-months’ sojourn beyond the realms of civilization? In this respect a study of the literature of the Great Campaigners would be of interest. The most recent of them, Lawrence of Arabia, traveled, whenever possible, with Malory’s Morte d’Arthur, the Comedies of Aristophanes and the Oxford Book of English Verse. Captain Scott once took the Origin of Species; and The Conquest of Mexico and Whitaker’s Almanack have also gone far afield. But I suspect that if a ballot were taken the greatest favourite of saddle-bag and sleeping-sack would be found to be Shakespeare, followed by anthologies such as Palgrave’s Golden Treasury.
Our choice of books was as follows: Croft selected Trollope’s Barchester Towers, Godfrey took Jane Austen’s Emma and I chose Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. The Early Victorians were well to the fore! In addition to these personal selections I took for general utility a small edition of the Oxford Book of English Verse and a pocket atlas. Croft also ‘secreted two minute Shakespeares’ and Godfrey ‘found’ in his rucksack a week after the beginning of the crossing A. E. Housman’s Shropshire Lad and Last Poems bound in one volume.
We all enjoyed Vanity Fair and Barchester Towers, which I had taken sledging with me before. Emma I personally considered too milk-and-water; the gentle reader whom novelists used to address would certainly find it gentle enough. To provide a complete diversion one needs something that is not only well-written but also exciting enough to occupy one’s whole attention; Scott or Dumas would be a good sledging choice. But Godfrey is a Jane Austen enthusiast and used to argue hotly for his choice of Emma, saying that Becky Sharp is not true to life and one can find Jane Austen characters in any country village, even in this twentieth-century age of motor-cars and lipstick.
An anthology is well worth its place on a journey like this, as one can pick it up for ten minutes at a time and always discover something new. My companions enjoyed Hamlet and Macbeth, neither of which was any use to me, for I do not understand the language. But in the pocket atlas I had the equivalent of a library itself, and were I ever limited to one book I would choose no other.
Maps cannot provide either the music of poetry or the fascination of a good story; they do, however, stimulate the memory and the imagination to an extent that is beyond the power of the written word. There are many ways of reading an atlas, indeed sufficient to suit any mood. You can set yourself absorbing itineraries such as from Paris to Popocatepetl or from Manchester to the Mountains of the Moon; or you can travel aimlessly from one place to another until the candle burns low. Again, you can glance down the Gazetteer and let your mind wander along whatever paths the printed names suggest. Or, which is perhaps more exciting and less trouble, open the book at random and see what happens.
[The remainder of the chapter is Martin’s imaginary trips through the plates of his atlas, Germany, Moscow, Tomsk, Omsk, Tobolsk, China, Pacific Islands, Panama, Mexico, the United States “where the unemployed hurl themselves from Brooklyn Bridge.”]
The blizzard drives—but one is deaf even to the flapping of the cold canvas close to one’s head. It is le tour de monde leading eventually to England, “a land worth living for and even, if necessary, worth dying for.”
The book is closed. We have swooped back to the Ice-Cap, unchanged for a hundred thousand years, for in Greenland a millennium is a period of time and not a political programme…the land of reality in which the temperature is minus 10 [degrees] F. and it is time to start cooking the pemmican.
p. 265: Is there anything in the world more tedious than a record of geographical progression?—‘we covered 15 miles that day because the going was good. Next day it was not so good and we covered 13 miles.’ Who cares? Yet there is not much else to write about in describing the dull slogging of sledging, which for the most part is even duller than it is to read about….
p. 271: As it happened I always slept the best and was never so cold and hungry as the other two. This they ascribed to my experience of camping in different parts of the world. I am inclined to think that the true reason is more obscure. Experience has shown that the leader is usually the fittest man at the end of a strenuous journey, and when a disaster overtakes the party he is nearly always the last to die.
p. 291: The many people who have read Chapman’s splendid book, Watkins’ Last Expedition, will be familiar with the vivid details of Watson’s perilous dash through the ice to rescue the Hutchinson family—a sally made in a small steel ship, during the hours of darkness, off a notoriously dangerous ill-charted coast….
p. 292: But it was Shakespeare to me.
p. 333: Appendix XI: The Equipment: Books:
Shackleton’s The Heart of the Antarctic
Scott’s Voyage of the Discovery.
Evans’s South with Scott
Mawson’s The Home of the Blizzard.
Stefansson’s Hunters of the Great North.
Wegener’s Lezte Fahrt in Gronland. The Water Gypsies, The Old Flame, The Good Companion, Juan in America, Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield, Vanity Fair, Barchester Towers, Guy Mannering, The Pirate, Oxford Book of French Verse, Toll und Haben, The Tempest, Hamlet, Bainville’s Historie de France, Gulliver’s Travels, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Country House, The Mirror of the Sea, Lord Jim, Those Barren Leaves, Mansfield Park, The Cloister and the Hearth, the Week-end Book, Golden Treasury, Whitaker’s Almanack, As You Like It, Macbeth, Oxford Song Book.
Also: Note-books, French, Spanish and a few technical books. Total: 37.