A Black Explorer at the North Pole

Mostly from Hensen’s diary with connecting narrative of Peary’s North Pole expedition of 1908-9.

p. 39: On board ship there was quite an extensive library, especially on Arctic and Antarctic topics, but as it was in the Commander’s cabin it was not heavily patronized. In my own cabin I had Dickens’ ‘Bleak House,’ Kipling’s ‘Barrack Room Ballads,’ and the poems of Thomas Hood; also a copy of the Holy Bible, which had been given to me by a dear old lady in Brooklyn, N.Y. I also had Peary’s books, ‘Northward Over the Great Ice,’ and his last work ‘Nearest the Pole.’ During the long dreary midnights of the Arctic winter, I spent many a pleasant hour with my books. I also took with me a calendar for the years 1908 and 1909, for in the regions of noonday darkness and midnight daylight, a calendar is absolutely necessary.

But mostly I had rougher things than reading to do.

p. 65-6, February 23: The hours preceding our advance from Cape Columbia were pleasantly spent, though we had lost no time in literary debates. There were a few books along.

Out on the ice of the Polar ocean, as far as reading matter went, I think Dr. Goodsell had a very small set of Shakespeare, and I know that I had a Holy Bible. The others who went out on the ice may have had reading matter with them, but they did not read it out loud, and so I am not in a position to say what their literary tastes were.

Even on shipboard, we had no pigskin library or five-foot shelf of sleep-producers, but each member had some favorite books in his cabin, and they helped to form a circulating library.

p. 74, February 26, 1909: The Peary discipline is the iron hand ungloved. From now on we must be indifferent to comfort, and like poor little Joe, in “Bleak House” we must always be moving on.

p. 89, March 7: Captain Bartlett describes it as “Hell on Earth”; the Commander has nothing to say, and I agree with him. Dr Goodsell reads from his little books [Shakespeare], studies Esquimo language, writes in his diary and talks to me and the rest of the party and waits.

p. 114, March 25 at 86˚ 38’ north: The work of readjusting the loads kept me busy until seven P.M. While doing this work I came across my Bible that I had neglected so long, and that night, before going to sleep, I read the twenty-third Psalm, and the fifth chapter of St. Matthew.