The Open Polar Sea: A Narrative of a Voyage of Discovery towards the North Pole, in the Schooner “United States.”

The Open Polar Sea was a prominent but false theory of the nineteenth century that as one approached the highest latitudes the ice would give way to an open sea fed by warm currents which would reach as far as the poles.

p. 12: From numerous friends, whose names I cannot here mention without violating the obligations of confidence, we received books and a great quantity of “small stores” which were afterward greatly appreciated during our winter imprisonment in the ice.

p. 22: My own cabin gets washed out at irregular intervals, and my books are half of them spoiled by tumbling from their shelves in spite of all I can do to the contrary. Once I caught the whole library tacking about the deck after an unusually ambitious dive of the schooner, and the advent of a more than ordinarily heavy rush of water through the ‘companion-way.’

p. 134, on returning from a glacial survey trip: The curtains which inclose what is my lounge by day and my bed by night have taken on a brighter crimson…; the books, which are stuck about in all available places, seem to be lost friends found again; and the little pictures, which hang around wherever there is room, seem to smile upon me with a sort of sympathetic cheerfulness. Rolls of maps, unfinished sketches, scraps of paper, all sorts of books, including stray volumes of the ‘Penny Cyclopædia’ and Soyer’s ‘Principles of Cooking,’ drawing implements, barometer cases, copies of Admiralty Blue Books, containing reports of the Arctic Search, track charts of all those British worthies, from Ross to Rae, who have gone in search of Sir John Franklin, litter the floor; and, instead of annoying me with their presence, as they used to do, they seem to possess an air of quiet and refreshing comfort…. My good and faithful friend Sonntag sits opposite to me at the table, reading. I write nestling among my furs, with my journal in my lap; and when I contrast this night with the night on the glacier summit…, I believe that I have as much occasion to write myself down a thankful man, as I am very sure I do, for once at least, a contented one.

p. 146: I have passed an hour of the evening very pleasantly with the officers in their cabin, have had my usual game of chess with Knorr, and now, having done with this journal for the day, I will coil myself up in my nest of furs and read in Marco Polo of those parts of the world where people live without an effort, know not the use of bear-skins, and die of fever. After all, one’s lines might fall in less pleasant places than in the midst of an Arctic winter.

p. 149-50: As far as possible, Sunday is observed as we would observe it at home. …I read to them a portion of the morning service; and this is followed by a chapter from the good Book, which we all love alike, wherever we are. Sometimes I read one of Blair’s fine sermons, and when meal time comes round we find it in our heart to ask a continuance of God’s provident care; and if expressed in few words, it is perhaps not the less felt.

p. 157-62, November 11th: My journal is looking up,—two novelties in one day. First a thaw, and then a newspaper. The free press follows the flag all over the world, and the North Pole rejoices in “The Port Foulke Weekly News.” During the past week everybody has been much interested in a newspaper enterprise, bearing the above title. Thinking to create a diversion that would confound our enemy, the darkness, I proposed some time ago to the officers that we should publish a weekly paper, offering at the same time my assistance. [A four-page paeon to Hayes’ innovation follows.]

p. 164: November 16. McCormick has established a school of navigation, and has three good pupils in Barnum, Charley, and McDonald. There is indeed quite a thirst for knowledge in that quarter known as “Mariner’s Hall,” and an excellent library, which we own to the kindness of our Boston friends is well used. Dodge has already consumed several boxes of “Littell’s Living Age” and the “Westminster Review.” Knorr studies Danish, Jensen English, and Sonntag is wading through Esquimaux, and, with his long, mathematical head, is conjuring up some incomprehensive compound of differential quantities.

p. 184, has a long passage on the monotony of winter: From the officers I continue to have the same daily reports; the newspaper comes out regularly, and continues to afford amusement; the librarian hands out the books every morning, and they are well read; the officers and the men have no new means of entertainment, and usually fill up the last of the waking hours (I cannot say the evening, where there is nothing else but night) with cards and pipes….

p. 224, with reference to the Nautical Almanac, to find date of return of the sun.

p. 303, during a blizzard on a sledging expedition on Smith Sound: “The temperature has come up almost to the freezing point, and it is a great relief to write. What else should I do? I have two small books which I have brought along for just such emergencies as this, and while my companions play cards and bet gingerbread and oyster suppers and bottles of rum to be paid in Boston, I find nothing better to do than read and write; and, since I cannot remain unoccupied, but must kill time in some manner, or else sleep, suppose I describe this den in the snow-bank.

p. 393, at the final stage of the expedition: As I turned away and commenced my descent, I found myself repeating these lines of Byron, penned as his poet-fancy wandered up the ice-girdled steeps and over the ice-crowned summits of the Alps:

. . . . . . these are
The palaces of Nature, whose vast walls
Have pinnacled in clouds their snowy scalps,
And throned Eternity in icy halls
Of cold sublimity.

p. 397, on reaching Upernavik on Aug 12, 1861: These and some files of papers, and the Doctor’s memory, gave us the leading occurrences which had taken place at home up to near the end of March, 1861. We learned of the inauguration of the new President and of the leading events following his election, but of the startling incidents of a later period we were ignorant. We could not apprehend that war had actually broken out. [Later at Halifax they picked up “some files of New York papers” and soon learned of the terrible struggle that had been going on for many months.]