A Winter Circuit of Our Arctic Coast: A Narrative of a Journey with Dog-Sleds around the Entire Arctic Coast of Alaska.

One of four travel accounts by the “Archdeacon of the Yukon and the Arctic,” with Walter Harper as companion. “My purpose was an enquiry into their present state, physical, mental, moral and religious, industrial and domestic, into their prospects, into what the government and the religious organizations have done and are doing for them, and what should yet be done” (p. viii). Among other things the archdeacon did a good deal of reading during his journey, not all of which will be captured here.

p. ix: The scattered inhabitants the reader may call savages if it please him, they are certainly primitive and have some habits and customs that are not attractive. But I think they are the bravest, the cheeriest, the most industrious, the most hospitable, and altogether the most

winning native people that I know anything about, the most deserving of the indulgent consideration of mankind.

p. 9-11, on his young travelling companion, Walter Harper: It was hard for me to think of him as a man, approaching the end of his twenty-fifth year as he was; he was always to me the boy that I had found on the Yukon, the boy who had blundered and kindled as he read Robinson Crusoe aloud to me, that immortal work of genius, and later Treasure Island, of which its author was justified in saying “If this doesn’t fetch the kids they’ve gone rotten since my time”—and not the kids only;—who had gained his first fragmentary acquaintance with history in that most delightfnl of ways, a long series of Henty’s books, also read aloud. I am sorry for the boy who does not know Henty; Walter had built up no contemptible grasp of the great events of history by stringing together these narratives and hanging them on certain pegs of dates that I had driven home. Some time since I read a condemnation of these books on the score that they conveyed false views of history, but a false view or a true view of any history depends largely upon the standpoint and I suppose Henty was as much entitled to his as another. Beside, what do a boy’s “views” matter? The thing is to get the information into his head, to fire and fan his imagination, to extend his horizon. And whatever may come to him later I would rather he were nurtured in the generous and chivalrous school of Scott and Henty than in the sordid and cynical school prevailing today, however painfully and impossibly impartial it may strive to be. Shakespeare’s history may be true or false—one thinks sometimes that the writers of Queen Elizabeth’s reign were not so utterly ignorant of the Lancastrian and Yorkist affair as their critics of three centuries later maintain—but true or false Shakespeare’s history is likely to remain history for nine-tenths of English-speaking people.

We had fallen into the habit of calling Henty ‘s boy-hero, whose footsteps echo down all the corridors of time, “Cedric,” and when a new story was begun, whether of ancient Egypt or of the Crusades or of the American Revolution, Walter would say “Here comes Cedric,” when the gallant and fortunate youth made a new reincarnation in the first chapter. There must be fifty or sixty of these books, and there may be an hundred for aught I know, and “Cedric” bobs up in all of them with the same gallantry and the same marvellous luck. Together they form a most valuable and interesting compendium of history for youth, and I have often been glad of the refreshing of my own knowledge while they were reading. I will confess that I had my first clear conception of Peterborough’s astonishing campaign in the war of the Spanish Succession and my most vivid picture of his storming of Barcelona, as also my clearest impressions of Wolfe’s campaign against Montcalm and the taking of Quebec, from hearing Henty read aloud ; to which per- haps the deliberation of the reading contributed.

p. 17-18: We lay long, and had no more than breakfasted when it was church time, and the afternoon slipped rapidly away while Walter read aloud to me from the Maccabees. Having read the greater part of the Bible aloud to me in previous years, I had chosen the Apocrypha for the winter’s Sunday reading, and, since it is strangely omitted from most Bibles, had brought it along in an additional slim India-paper volume. I was again struck by the vigour and restraint of the narrative, equal to any other of the sacred narratives, and superior to many. Of Antiochus Epiphanes the author writes “He spoke very proud words and made a great massacre.” Walter looked up and said “That would do for the Kaiser.” I have thought of the verse in that connection many times since, and I know not where else in literature so curt yet adequate a characterization of William II of Germany may be found. I submit it for his epitaph: “He spoke very proud words and made a great massacre.” What a record!

p. 38: I have felt the freer to make these animadversions in connection with one of our own missions in which I am especially interested, where the school moreover is our own and not a government school, and in connection with an Eskimo boy of whom I am personally fond, because I found the same situation at many other places where criticism might seem invidious. The danger is recognized, and that is the first requisite towards averting it. I had told the assembled people on Sunday that I was much more ashamed of an Indian or an Eskimo youth who could not build a boat or a sled or make a pair of snowshoes or kill a moose or tend a trap-line, than of one who could not read or write. “Reading and writing are good things, and the other things the school teaches are good things, and that is why we put the school here to teach them, but knowing how to make a living on the river or in the woods, winter and summer, is a very much better thing, a very much more important thing, and something that the school cannot teach and the fathers must. Let us have both if we can, but whatever happens don’t let your boys grow up without learning to take care of themselves and of their wives and children by and by.”

p. 41: We were starting Macbeth; first I gave him a general sketch of the play and read an act aloud to him; then he read the same act aloud to me, and this, with its correction of mispronunciations, its assimilation of new words and thoughts, was always the most valuable part of our work. I marvel that reading aloud has fallen into educational disuse; there is simply no other exercise that can take its place. The dark and bloody tragedy made strong appeal to Walter, and its supernatural machinery of witches and apparitions called up remembrance of the old Indian stories with which his juvenile mind had been familiar, and thus there needed not the half-contemptuous, apologetic explanations which the average high-school teacher of English appends nowadays to his edition of the play. Our half-educated youths grow too wise to appreciate the classics of literature, and turn eagerly to Scientific American, while the deep emotions of their dwindling souls remained untouched. From the weird sisters on the blasted heath was an easy transition when the reading was done to the tales of his childhood referred to, and he told me how the children would gather in the firelight round some old woman and beg her for a story, and sit still for hours while she wound the interminable course of some piece of Indian folk-lore, so replete with delicious terrors that sometimes they were afraid to go home to bed. The dissimilarities which a new strange people present make first appeal to the observer; afterwards it is the underlying resemblances, and at last the fundamental identity, that most prominently stand out, and, in particular, the more I see of Indian and Eskimo children the more I am struck with the oneness of childhood the world over.

p. 60, on Hearne’s views on the sounds of the aurora: Then in the course of the re-reading of some scores of Arctic books, I began to note down the testimony of their authors, pro and con. I traced the beginning of what I am bold enough to call this auricular delusion to Samuel Hearne, who in his famous journey to the Coppermine river in 1771 says, “I can positively affirm that in still nights I have frequently heard them (i. e. the northern lights) make a rustling and cracking noise like the waving of a large flag in a fresh gale of wind.”

p. 86-87, the author’s memories of the books of a shipwrecked relative: There remained at home a cross-grained green parrot as a memento of his southern voyages, and a collection of books of Arctic exploration as memento of the northern. Those fine old quartos, with their delicate and spirited engravings of ships beset by fantastic icebergs, their coloured plates of auroras and parhelia, of Eskimos and their igloos and dog-teams, are amongst the most vivid recollections of my childhood. The first and second of Sir John Ross, the first and second of Sir Edward Parry, the first and second of Sir John Franklin, a number of the Franklin Search books (in which enterprise I think their owner had seen his Arctic service in some capacity or other). Sir John Richardson’s books—these were my companions and delights as a boy; and an illustrated volume that I know not the name of but that I should rejoice to discover again, describing the work of the Moravian missionaries in Greenland with much interesting detail, was, in particular, a sort of oasis in a desert of forgotten religious books to which, in the main, it was sought to confine my reading with notable unsuccess. Adding Sir Robert McClure, Sir Leopold McClintock, and remembering that George III had intended to knight James Cook had he returned from his third voyage, but by all that is modest and capable and kindly in the others leaving out Sir Edward Belcher, I think these Arctic knights constitute as fine a body of real chivalry as Christendom has ever known, and their humility of mind, even their frank ignorance, their deep reverence and religious feeling, seem to bring them as much closer to us as the cold self-sufficiency and egotism of some of our modem agnostic explorers seem to detach them.

p. 121-23, on the Point Hope mission library: I have mentioned the well-selected mission library. It was a pleasure to find so many good books on the shelves, and I am glad to vary my steady diet of Gibbon with a re-reading of much of Motley, several volumes of Fiske, Justin McCarthy’s History of Our Own Times and Victor Hugo’’s History of a Crime. I remember when I used to think Les Mis é rables the greatest novel ever written, but a maturer acquaintance with Hugo finds more to repel than attract. The bombast and egotism of the History of a Crime, the declamation, the pose, the ever-present self-consciousness, had the effect mainly of arousing my sympathy for Napoleon III; had much the same sort of effect on me that the reading of John Knox’s History of the Church of Scotland had on John Wesley. But the prize of the library was a volume of some considerable value, I judge, from a collector’s point of view—Pierce Egan’s Life in London with coloured prints by George Cruikshank. The discovery of this book brought back my boyhood very vividly, for I once heard George Cruikshank give a temperance lecture (which I have completely forgotten) and was taken up at its close to shake hands with the veteran caricaturist and reformer, a little, wizened but most vivacious old man who danced about the platform; which I remember very well indeed. Upon our walls at home hung some of his clever prints, full of action and character, and I was keen to meet the man who had drawn them. Here in the Arctic regions it was strange to come upon his work again, and the roistering high life which Pierce Egan depicts with so much gusto, with its Corinthian Tom, its Vauxhall, its Tattersall’s, struck me chiefly, I think, from a sense of its wild incongruity with my present surroundings. Here was its fulsome dedication to “the accomplished gentleman, the profound and elegant scholar, the liberal and enlightened prince, George IV,” then newly come to the throne; God save the mark!—one grew more grateful upon reading it to Beau Brummel for the delicious impudence of “Who’s your fat friend?” How narrowly the English crown escaped ruin from that rake’s wearing! Let me write it down to his credit, however, that Beechey declares that the voyages of Parry and the first of Franklin owed much to his “enlightened encouragement,” and take hope that this also is not mere adulation from the circumstance that George IV was dead when it was written. … I wonder how that book came to Point Hope! I should like to write an essay some day upon books I have come across in most out-of the-way places.

p. 132: There is one other incident I should like to record before the journey is resumed—one that unfortunately did not interest me enough. An excellent little monthly publication of the Bureau of Education at Nome, called The Eskimo, had offered prizes, or was understood to have offered prizes, for English transcriptions of native legends by native hands; and some interest had been excited in the matter at Point Hope. One day while Mr. Thomas was attending to postal matters and I was sitting reading The Rise of the Dutch Republic beside him, there entered a young man who had been encouraged to attempt such a transcription, with a manuscript book in his hand. Mr. Thomas was all interest and attention at once and asked me to listen, and the young man began to read. Those who are familiar with Indian and Eskimo legends know their interminable length and monotony. Their chief characteristic seems to be lack of all point and purpose. They have neither beginning, middle, nor end, and, once launched, there seems no reason why they should ever stop. I had heard many similar stories from Indians; years ago Walter had told me what he remembered of them. They have a certain ethnological value for comparison with similar stories from other Eskimo people, from Indians; as giving some slight evidence of common or different origin and perhaps throwing a little light on possible migrations; very slight and not to be built upon at all, I should judge—did not David Livingstone find that the stories he heard around camp fires in South Africa were wonderfully like those told him in his childhood by his Hebridean grandfather!—yet perhaps giving a measure of corroborative force to some view otherwise sustained. It is partly upon the ground, for instance, of the frequent references to Ar-ki-li-nik in Greenland legends of widely separated tribes, as I understand, that the region northwest of Hudson Bay is regarded by many as the original home of the Eskimos, and the view of a general westerly rather than easterly migration of these people along the north coast of America, which seems to prevail in ethnological circles today, is based upon a close examination of many snch stories, and other similar philological evidence of dialects and place-names. Historical or literary interest they have none.

I listened for awhile until, through the broken English which at first kept my attention in the effort to understand, I perceived that this story was of the same old kind. When the man had got up, started a fire, boiled a fish for breakfast and travelled along the coast all day a dozen times over, the thing became a burden, and rather shamefacedly I let my eyes drop to the book in my lap. Motley’s heroic Dutchmen at least meaning something and attempting something. I thought I detected a turgidness, especially about the early part of Motley, that I had not associated with it upon a reading many years before; some sort of echo of Carlyle, perhaps?—some influence of the dithyrambs of the French Revolution? I wondered if it were so, or if I were growing finical and hypercritical. Gibbon perhaps spoiling me for any who cannot carry their learning so lightly. I suppose I had been reading half an hour, the voice still wearily droning along, the man still going to bed and arising and cooking his breakfast and his supper, meeting an occasional old woman and exchanging some cryptic remarks with a raven or a hare, rolling stones from the mountain upon the igloos of people who were unkind to him, when, happening to look up, I saw that Thomas was fast asleep in his chair. At the same moment the young man looked up and saw the same thing, and our eyes thereupon meeting, we burst into laughter which woke Thomas to join in our merriment. The good nature of the Eskimo is what struck me most forcibly. There was no chagrin at the result of his laborious literary effort, but merely amusement at Mr. Thomas’s expense that it had put him to sleep. It was the same young man who had sent a letter a few days before, beginning in the most formal way, “Dear Reverend Friend, Sir,” and thereupon plunging into the utmost familiarity with, “Say, Thomas.”

p. 168: The long evening gave us plenty of time for study, despite the cold. We lay half in and half out of our sleeping-bags, and Walter had to take off his fur mitt every time he turned a page. We were now reading The Merchant of Venice, and we got through several acts and discussed them, this being the second reading. But his mind was always much more interested in concrete physical things than in literature, and it was hard, when the reading was done, to keep our conversation on the educational lines that I desired.

p. 186: All the afternoon the monotonous travel continued with little chance of riding, so rough was the going, and it was just six o’clock, and long since dark, when we reached Point Lay. George I. Lay was the naturalist of Beechey’s expedition, but beyond his name amongst the ship’s company, and a reference to his preparation of specimens in the preface, I find only a single mention of him in the whole of Beechey’s narrative. That one, however, is of much interest to me. While wintering between her first and second visits to the Arctic, the Blossom touched at the Loo-Choo islands between For mosa and Japan, then little known, and Beechey records that both he and Mr. Lay succeeded in distributing some little books in Chinese given them by the famous Dr. Morrison, the first Protestant missionary to China, whose Chinese dictionary, published in six volumes by the East India Company at a cost of $60,000, brought him the coveted distinction of election to the Royal Society. Dr. Morrison is also remembered as having established the first medical mission. Beechey seems to have been a devout man, and Lay, from this single incident, I judge to have been like-minded. It is curious that the Russians, who had considerable trouble with the names given by the English navigators, transliterated this name on their charts as though it were descriptive of layers, just as they misconstrued Point Hope as honouring a cardinal virtue instead of a lord of the admiralty.

p. 266, on reading about the sense of smell: Once I had occasion to read everything that I could lay my hand on with regard to the sense of smell, and I found that there is virtually nothing known about it. I do not believe that there is any hypothesis as to its modus operandi that is tenable, and the prevailing belief that the olfactory nerves are excited by minute particles flying off from odoriferous substances is to my mind absurd. That a grain of musk should give off such particles from the days of Marie Antoinette until now and lose no weight thereby, is utterly incredible to me. What infinite minuteness of subdivision it involves! What astonishing potency in the particle! What ceaseless rapidity of ejaculation! Nothing but the emanations of radium seem to be in the same class with it, and I should not be surprised if it turned out by and by that a whole series of activities, as unknown to science today as the activities of radium were unknown fifty years ago, are involved. Let him who is disposed to smile at this excursus into science read all there is to read (it is not much) about the sense of smell.

p. 273-74: One of the things much needed today is a full, critical history of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Dr. George Bryce has done valuable condensed work, following Beckles Wilson of a decade earlier (though both of them have furnished their books with indexes that are a mere exasperation), but the great mass of material en shrouded in the company’s archives is scarcely touched, and now that there can be no valid reason for keeping it secret, should afford a rich mine for research. I have hoped that Miss Agnes Laut would develop a sufficiently scholarly temper to undertake it, having already dipped into the records, but she remains wedded to her shocks and thrills, and the deep damnation of the word “popular” still affixes itself to the titles of her books in descriptive catalogues. My hope now, if not for the history itself, for the materials thereof, lies chiefly with the Champlain Society, and perhaps no history is possible until the records have been independently edited and published. If fifteen years of constant travel had been spent in Rupert’s Land, if there were prospect of five years’ free, undisturbed digging at the Hudson’s Bay House and the British Museum, the attempt at the compilation of such an history would not be without its attractions for the leisurely evening of life, as it would certainly be worth while.

p. 289-90, re the British artist and sculptor, John Flaxman: Most people with any smattering of artistic knowledge will probably remember Flaxman best as the designer of the exquisite little cameos that stand out so charmingly in dead white upon the dead blue background of Wedgwood pottery;—the pottery that brought to multitudes their first acquaintance with the grace of Greek art. But Flaxman’s name chiefly recalls to me the noble line drawings which he made to illustrate Homer’s Iliad, as I can still in memory turn the pages of that book and recapture something of boyhood delight, as I can still see the airy, flowing draperies of the procession of gods and heroes that moved with such lightness yet such dignity around a prized family teapot and cream pitcher that appeared on special occasions.

There is an accidental yet deep congruity in the association of Flaxman’s name with this Arctic island. The marble of his statues was not purer than its snows; the lines of his drawings scarcely less severe and unadorned than its contour as it rose above the ice; and when we left it and from a distance looked back upon it, its dead whiteness stood out against a sky that was blue once more.

p. 297: So we settled down to another day of rest and refreshment and I browsed amongst the books. In the afternoon Walter and I resumed our Shakespeare and spent a couple of hours with the Midsummer Night’s Dream.

If it were noticed some pages back that I passed over several of Franklin’s names without comment, it may be as well to say that it was because I can find nothing to tell about them. Gwydyr Bay, Prudhoe Bay, Yarborough Inlet, Franklin merely mentions as the names of indentations of the coast without any word as to those whom he designed to honour. The only one that I can make any conjecture about is the last, and since it dis appears altogether from Mr. Leffingwell’s map, it is not worth speculating as to whether it were named for Charles Anderson-Pelham, earl of Yarborough, or not,…

p. 325, on the Winter Circuit to Fort Yukon: From the agent, Mr. Harding, we had every kindness and consideration, and I found him the proud possessor of the first edition of Sir Alexander Mackenzie’s Voyages Through the Continent of North America—a very valuable book nowadays—in which the famous journey to the mouth of the great river that bears his name is described. My own edition was a wretched cheap reprint, and I enjoyed re-reading the book, which he kindly lent me, in the dignity of the original quarto. Cheap reprints with their poor type and their absence of plates and maps are not the same thing as the original edition. Another book that I found here, and read through with the greatest interest, was David Hanbury’s Sport and Travel in the Northland of Canada, a very valuable account of adventurous travel through the Barren Lands to the Coronation Gulf. Cowie’s The Company of Adventurers (another Hudson’s Bay book), I also found here and devoured; and was particularly glad to have lit upon Hanbury.

It was pleasant to me to find both the Hudson’s Bay agent, and the missionary, the Rev. Mr. Fry, intelligently interested in the geography and exploration of the country, for it is surprising how little such interest is manifested all around this coast. The walls of the mission house were spread with the excellent Arctic charts of the British Admiralty, issued after the last of the Franklin search expedition of the fifties, which there has been very little occasion to add to or alter, save for Amundsen’s mapping of the east coast of Victoria Island, until this present time; and I found Mr. Stefansson’s three new islands of the Parry archipelago carefully inserted in their places.

p. 314, re Flaxman and Herschel Islands: But on the last day of our eastern travel, the long day that took us from Laughing Joe’s to Herschel Island, the wind had swung back into its old quarter again, though rather more dead ahead than usual, with the thermometer at 40° below zero when we started. The minimum of the night had been 51 ° below, which is “some cold for the fifth of April” as Walter said. I recalled that I had read almost with incredulity in Bartlett’s book that on his journey down the Siberian coast, when he had left Wrangell Island to seek rescue for the Karluk survivors, he had experienced a temperature of —65 ˚ at the same time of year….

p. 326: I wish that every missionary would show as much interest in the country to which he is sent; there is valuable work yet to be done in many lines in many quarters of the globe that a properly equipped missionary may very well do without any interference with his main occupation, indeed with distinct furtherance thereof: and I am jealous for the tradition of missionary contribution to the world’s knowledge of the world. In some respects a missionary of general education is better fitted for such work than a scientific specialist who is a)’, at sea outside his specialty.

On the Sunday that we spent at Herschel Island I was given the opportunity of speaking twice to the natives, through a fairly good interpreter, and of addressing the whites who assembled in the afternoon. I was glad to see that the whole native service was in the vernacular tongue, mainly the work of Archdeacon Whittaker, who was here for a number of years, who also translated many selections of Scripture, and of noticing the hearty and intelligent participation of the Eskimos therein. Man after man stood up and read aloud from the Scrip- ture selections. At the white service the one prisoner at the police station, the Russian Jew to whose enormities I have already referred, was present by special permission, and at its conclusion he came forward and unctuously thanked me. I know not when I have been more repulsively impressed.