Flowers and Butterflies

The failure to communicate with H.M.S. “Discovery” in the autumn had
to some extent disarranged our plans. Communication was absolutely
necessary to ensure co-operation, and the sooner it was effected the
better, for our consort had as much sledging work to get through as
she could possibly complete in the season.

Robeson Channel had to be crossed, and the rugged northern shore of
Greenland explored in search of land poleward. Petermann’s Fiord
had not yet been traversed, and Lady Franklin Sound might possibly
open northwards, and afford a favourable route for the “Discovery’s”
sledge-crews to penetrate as far as the shore of the Polar Sea.

The short travelling season in the far north is limited on the one
hand by the lingering cold of winter, and on the other by the summer
thaw of the surface snow and the renewed motion of the ice. As soon,
therefore, as travelling was at all possible, a dog sledge was got
ready to carry despatches to our sister ship. Two energetic young
officers and Niel Petersen the Dane were detailed for this duty.
On the morning of 12th March everyone in the ship gathered on the
floes to see them off. Their team of nine dogs carried the “Clements
Markham” down the smooth ice of our exercise mile at a gallop, and in
a few minutes the red and white sledge pennant with its crossed arrows
was lost to sight amongst the hummocks off Cape Rawson.

Three days passed in preparing the ship for spring, and the low
temperature and strong wind made us think anxiously of our absent
messmates, but we never for a moment supposed that they would suffer
anything more than the recognised hardships of sledging in bad weather.

On the evening of the third day, our heavy winter awning had just been
taken down from over the deck, and the men were coming inboard after
their day’s work, when some one caught sight of the dog sledge coming
back to the ship. There were but two men running alongside, and they
came on silently, without the usual joyful signalling that marks a
returning party. Poor Petersen lay on the sledge, marvellously changed
in three days, mottled with frost-bite, and apparently dying. His
companions had succeeded in carrying him back to the ship only just in
time. They themselves were much fatigued, and their fingers raw with
frost-bites incurred in attempts to restore Petersen’s frozen limbs.
When they had slept, as only tired men can, we heard their story.

They had not been a day away when Petersen found he had greatly
overrated his strength, and became unable to assist in the heavy work
of guiding the sledge along the steep incline under the cliffs,
lowering the dogs and sledge down precipitous places, and hauling
them up again. Next day he was badly frost-bitten, for a cramped and
enfeebled man cannot long resist strong wind and a temperature of
minus 34°. It was impossible either to proceed or retreat without
risking his life, and the breeze freshened, so that they could not
pitch the tent. The only course left was to dig a pit in the snow,
which was, fortunately, somewhat hardened by the wind. So they at once
set about shovelling out a hole, and when it was six feet deep they
excavated it below till they got a space eight feet square. It took
six hours’ hard labour before they were able to move Petersen, wrapped
up in the tent and tent robes, into it, and cover the top closely in
with the sledge and drifting snow. But once well covered in, and the
sledge lamp lit, they had the satisfaction of seeing the temperature
rise to 7° above zero. But Petersen could not be warmed. They made
tea for him—he could not take it; pemmican disagreed with him; and a
little soup was made from the Australian meat carried for the dogs. By
turns they chafed his limbs for hours at a time, and thawed his frozen
feet under their own clothes, Eskimo fashion, then swathed feet and
hands in their flannel wrappers, and lay close on either side trying
to warm him; but in a very short time, although he said his feet were
warm and comfortable, they were found frozen so hard that the toes
could not be bent, and the whole process had to be gone through again.
For a day and a night they struggled in this way against the fatal
cold, and then, fortunately for them, the wind lessened, and leaving
provisions and fuel, dogs’ food, and all that could be dispensed with,
behind, they took the only course open to them, and struck out for
the ship. The only possible road was the one they had come, and it
was rugged in the extreme. On the left rose high cliffs banked with
treacherous snow, and on the right rounded and broken ice piled in
towers and pinnacles upon the shore. In some places round headlands
it was utterly impossible to get the sledge safely past with the man
and tent robes lashed on it, and one had to help him round as best he
could, while the other held in the eager dogs and tried to guide the
sledge. The poor brutes were so anxious to get back to the ship that
constant halts were necessary to disentangle their harness, no easy
task with frost-bitten fingers. The last headland was the worst. In
spite of every effort the sledge slipped sideways, then upset, and
rolled down into a deep ditch, turning over three times as it went,
and dragging the dogs after it. When it was at length got out, a
comparatively smooth road lay before them, and they drew up alongside
the ship, most thankful that their comrade was still able to recognise
the friends that crowded round him. For days the poor fellow lay in
a very uncertain state. Severe amputations were unavoidable, but he
rallied wonderfully for a time, and when the main detachments of
sledges left the ship we bade him a hopeful good-bye.

Five days passed before the weather became calm enough for a second
attempt southward, but on the 20th the dog-sledge again started for
the “Discovery.” The settled weather that favoured our travellers this
time, enabled us to take active measures to prepare our sledge crews
for their coming work. Each day a pair of crews left the ship for
practice with their sledges, and thus a store of pemmican, bacon, &c.,
was deposited at Black Cape to help forward the Greenland division of
sledges from the “Discovery.”

Before breakfast on 1st of April a man came down with a report that
a large white animal had just been seen a quarter of a mile from the
ship. This seemed a very extraordinary piece of news, for our walking
parties had scoured the whole country, sometimes as much as thirteen
hours away from the ship, without finding even a track of game, and
had as yet brought nothing on board except one small white feather
from the breast of a ptarmigan or snowy owl.

The general opinion at first sight was that the date added a peculiar
significance to the story, but at any rate it was advisable to lose
no time in seeing whether the mysterious animal was sufficiently
“materialised” to leave any tracks. Accordingly two of us took our
rifles, and sure enough we found a large wolf track at the spot
indicated. For hours we patiently followed the marks. They took us
a long circuit shoreward. There appeared to be three animals, but
we could not be certain, for the track often doubled on itself. All
at once an unpleasant suspicion flashed across us—could it be that
anything had happened to our travellers, and that we were following
their dogs in mistake for wolves? The tracks were very large,
measuring as much as six inches long by four and a-half wide, and
the centre nails were long, and turned outwards. While we debated,
our suspicions were set at rest by a loud howl, not as prolonged as
a black Canadian wolf’s, but wolfish certainly, for there was no
mistaking the fierce misery of the note. He had caught sight of us,
and, as usual with his species, given a view halloo. Presently we saw
him, three hundred yards off—a gaunt, yellowish white beast—cantering
along at a swift slouching gait. When we stopped, he stopped. We lay
down, and one of us rolled off on the snow out of sight, and made
a long detour in hope of surprising him, but he seemed to know the
range of our rifles to a nicety, and at length we saw him canter off
southwards unharmed by the long shots we sent after him. As we walked
back, we could not but wonder what had induced wolves to come north
into a desert where for miles and miles there was not so much as a
stone above the snow. The mystery was soon explained. Tracks of four
hunted musk oxen were found a couple of miles off. No doubt the wolves
had driven them from some southern feeding-ground. They travelled so
rapidly that our hunting party despatched after them failed even to
catch sight of them.

The discovery that there was some game in the country was a very
cheering one. If it was not a land flowing with milk and honey, it
was at any rate not so bad as it might be, and we went back to our
sledging preparations with a hope that we should fall in with either
the wolves or the oxen during our travels.

The weather was now sufficiently settled to warrant the departure
of the main travelling parties. It was arranged that they should
consist of two separate divisions of eight-men sledges. Lieutenant
Aldrich, with the sledge “Challenger,” would explore the shore to the
north-west in search of land trending northward. He would be supported
by Lieutenant Giffard’s sledge, the “Poppie,” which would travel with
the “Challenger” to a distant point, re-provision her there, return
to Floeberg Beach, and then carry out depôts of food and fuel for the
“Challenger’s” homeward journey.

The northern division, under the command of Captain Markham, would
consist of his sledge, the “Marco Polo,” and Lieutenant Parr’s, the
“Victoria,” supported by the “Alexandra,” commanded by Mr. White,
and the writer’s own sledge, the “Bulldog.” In addition to these, a
four-man sledge led by Briant, a petty officer of H.M.S. “Discovery,”
would help us forward for three or four days. The routes of both
detachments lay together as far as Cape Joseph Henry. At that point
the northern parties would replenish their stores from the supporting
sledges and from the large depôt of pemmican placed there in the
autumn, then, leaving the land, endeavour to force a passage due
northward over the floes. Meantime, a depôt for their return would be
carried out by the “Bulldog,” and left at some suitable spot at Cape
Joseph Henry. Owing to the impossibility of depositing autumn or,
indeed, any other depôts, sledge-travelling _away from a coast_ has
never yet been carried to any distance. We looked upon this attempt
in the light of a more than doubtful experiment. It nevertheless
promised a higher northern latitude than the coast-line route. When
we compared notes amongst ourselves after we had started, one or two
thought that N. lat. 86° might be attainable, but the majority drew
the line at 85°.

[Illustration: CAMP OF SLEDGE PARTY.]

On the morning of 3rd April all hands mustered for the last time on
the floes beside the ship. The final preparations were complete,
and our seven heavily-laden sledges lay ranged in a line, with
their knotted drag-ropes stretched on the snow. When every point in
their dress and outfit had been carefully inspected, the men closed
together, and joined heartily in the short service read by the
chaplain. All felt the serious nature of the work they were about to
undertake, but nevertheless looked forward to it eagerly. Then the
order was given, and the sledge crews took their places—fifty-three
men and officers in all. A little group of twelve only remained by the
ship, every one of them regretting that it was not their duty to share
hard work and exposure with their messmates. With three cheers the men
took leave of their comrades and of the gallant little ship that had
so well sheltered them, and the whole detachment moved forwards. The
last to leave us was the Captain. He walked on a little while with
each sledge, giving us a few words of advice or encouragement before
he bade us God-speed.

LOOKING SOUTH, MARCH, 1876.—p. 50.

Quarter of a mile north of the “Alert” a field of polar floe had
been pushed on shore, and split up into a number of floebergs, with
lanes and streets between them. This view of our winter quarters was
obtained from the top of one of the fragments. Beyond the ship Cape
Rawson may be seen forming the western portal of Robeson Channel,
while away across the strait the snowy hills of Greenland make the

For a mile or more the sledges crept slowly along in the same order as
they had started, dragging through the snow with much difficulty. The
whole depth of the runners buried in the soft snow made them pull, as
one of the men said, “like a plough with a cart-load on it.” The two
leading sledges pulled the heaviest, though the weight per man was
about equal in all. They carried specially-built boats, wonderfully
light in proportion to their size, weighing respectively 740 and 440
lbs., but difficult to manage, because they distributed the weight
over the whole length of the sledge. Every time a sledge stuck, it
took a united effort with a “One, two, three, haul!” to start it
forward again. Soon, in order to save the men, it became necessary to
double-bank the sledges—that is to say, two crews pulled one sledge
forward and then walked back for the other. Even the sledges without
boats pulled very heavily. We could not but confess that the
labour was harder than we had expected, but if others had gone through
it we could. Crews loaded with exactly the same stores as ours, and
pulling the same 240 lbs. a man, had accomplished all the longest
journeys on record. Every ounce of weight on each of the seven sledges
had been carefully thought over. Not so much as an unnecessary screw
was carried. The sledge-rifle, for example, had four inches cut off
its barrel and all the brass-work removed from its stock. Both men
and officers knew that no reduction was possible unless the number
of days’ travel was curtailed, or some other change made in the
well-tried arrangements of their successful predecessors. On one
point, however, our parties deviated from precedent. Tea instead of
rum for lunch was most decidedly an improvement.

We camped early on the first day’s march. The spot selected was a
little bay inside one of the curious hook-shaped promontories of the
coast. The process of camping is a simple one. When camping-time
comes, an officer goes on in advance and selects a flat piece of
snow—a spot where it is soft for about six inches down is best. Then
the sledge halts. Everything is unpacked. The cook of the day lights
up his stearine lamp under a panful of snow for tea. The tent, with
its poles already secured in it, is pitched, with its door away from
the wind, and secured by ropes to the sledge at one end, and to a
pickaxe driven into the snow or ice at the other; then a waterproof is
spread over the snow inside, and over it a robe of duffle, a material
like close blanket. The sleeping-bags and haversacks are next passed
in, and the men, beginning with the innermost—for there is not room
for all at once—change their snow-saturated moccasins and blanket
wrappers for night pairs carried in the haversack. Moccasin, worsted
stockings, and blanket wrappers all pull off together, frozen hard
into one snowy mass about the foot. Meantime others are “banking up”
snow all round the tent outside. Nothing adds more to the warmth of
the tent than thorough “banking up.” In about an hour from the time
of halting, every one, except the cook, is packed inside his bag.
All wear close-fitting Berlin wool helmets, enclosing head and neck,
and leaving only the face exposed; the men call them “Eugénies,” for
they were the thoughtful gift of the Empress. The cook soon gives
notice that tea is ready, and each man sits up in his bag and gets his
pannikinful, softening his biscuit in it as it cools to a drinkable
temperature. After tea comes half-a-pound of pemmican—a peppery
mixture when one’s lips are blistered with hot and cold pannikins,
and cracked with sun and frost. An ounce of preserved potato is
warmed up with it, and greatly improves its flavour. When the cook
has trimmed his lamp for the morning, and scraped out the pannikins,
his duties are over, and he changes his foot coverings, wriggles into
his bag, and squeezes himself down next the door. Finally, about half
a wine-glassful of rum with a little water is served out all round.
This, however injurious under other circumstances, helps to tide over
the chilly moments when one’s frozen clothes melt, and acts much as a
bellows does to a feeble fire. The heads soon disappear into the bags,
and everyone goes to sleep as fast as the cold and cramp in his feet
and legs will let him.

The hardships of sledging are made up of innumerable small worries.
For the first two or three days we were all plagued with cramp; we
could hardly bend up our knees to tie a moccasin or put on a foot
wrapper without being obliged to kick out suddenly, overbalancing
ourselves and our neighbours into a general mêlée, like a row at
Donnybrook Fair. When the men began to get warm in their bags, muffled
remarks about the cramp gradually gave place to smothered snores that
would last till morning, and then the performers would wake with a
firm conviction that they had never slept at all. On our first night
of spring sledging the temperature fell to minus 35°, and many lay
awake with the cold. Four nights afterwards it was nearly ten degrees
colder, but the tents were better banked up and the under robes and
coverlet better laced together; some of us, moreover, had discovered
that turning the mouth of the bag under and lying on it greatly
increased the warmth. The officer is the outside man at the end of the
tent away from the door. It is his duty to call the cook the first
thing in the morning. It is no easy thing to wake at the right hour
when the sun shines impartially all the twenty-four. The watch is
often consulted two or three times before five o’clock comes. Then the
cook turns out, lights his lamp, has a pipe, sets some snow melting,
and scrapes down cocoa for breakfast; afterwards he walks in over his
sleeping companions, and brushes down the snowy festoons of frozen
breath hanging from the tent.

[Illustration: THE DAY’S MARCH DONE.]

Cocoa and pemmican are disposed of soon after seven. The frozen
blanket wrappers and moccasins that have served for a pillow have to
be got on again, and about eight the sledge is again ready to start.
Packing is cold work, and everybody is anxious to be off and get up a
little warmth with exercise.

In our next day’s march we visited the snow-house built by Petersen
in the autumn, and found its roof level with the snow. A fox had
taken up his quarters in it, and made very free with the dog biscuit.
That night we camped near a conspicuous mass of ice on the shore of a
small island. The spot afterwards became a well-known landmark. Partly
by accident, and partly because the striking piles of ice made a
definite point to march for, the numerous shorter sledge parties often
halted there for lunch or camp. Upon one such occasion the drawing
reproduced in this book was obtained (Plate No. 12). The floeberg
itself was not a very large one, but it afforded an excellent example
of the structure of polar floe. We could not but wonder what enormous
force had pushed it upwards on the sloping beach till its flat upper
surface stood forty feet above the floes around it. The lower half was
made of what may be called conglomerate ice, the upper was stratified
with the usual white and blue layers—white where the ice was spongy
with air-cells, blue in the denser layers between. High overhead might
be seen a section, in olive-tinted ice, of what had once been a summer
pool, and on top of all, like sugar on a cake, lay last season’s snow,
slowly condensing into ice.


The great stratified masses of salt ice that lie grounded along the
shores of the Polar Sea are nothing more than fragments broken from
the edges of the perennial floes. We called them floebergs in order to
distinguish them from, and yet express their kinship to, icebergs—the
latter and their parent glaciers belong to more southern regions.
Partly because it was a conspicuous point to push on for before
halting for lunch, the floeberg on Simmon’s Island became a familiar
landmark in the many trips of the supporting sledges across Black
Cliff Bay; and the chill hour while tea was preparing was often spent
in speculating on the enormous force required to push the huge square
mass so high on shore.]

A day’s march beyond the island and its floebergs we came to a spot
where many traces of game had been seen in the autumn, but after a
long search, while the sledges halted to take in a depôt of pemmican,
we only found one hare track, and it led down over the crest of an
inaccessible cliff, so we returned to camp empty-handed. During the
night we reflected that it was a pity to lose nine pounds of fresh
meat without another effort; so in the morning, while the sledges were
packed, we walked along the floes to a point under where the tracks
had been lost, and by carefully searching the crest of the cliff with
a telescope the tracks were discovered and traced downwards, along
narrow ledges and abrupt slopes, to a sheltered nook, half way down
the cliff, that looked utterly inaccessible to anything but a bird.
There, in her sanctuary, poor pussy sat, in fancied security, till
the rifle brought her tumbling downwards to the floes just as the
last sledge reached the spot. This solitary hare was the only fresh
food procured by our northern sledge-crews. From henceforth they were
beyond the limits of game, and in this one condition our parties
differed widely from those whose precedent they were attempting to
follow. The longest journeys ever accomplished were made by Sir
Leopold M’Clintock and Lieutenant Meecham. The former obtained
forty-six head of game, including eight reindeer and seven musk oxen;
the latter no less than seventy-seven head, including nine deer and
four oxen.

Our party was now reduced to six sledges. The seventh returned, as
had been arranged, carrying with them a man who had been an invalid
since the day after leaving the ship. From this point the road lay due
northward over floes half-a-mile wide, with hedges of hummocks between
them. The surface looked smooth enough, but it was only a crust over
soft snow, and broke under one’s weight into slabs most uncomfortable
to travel over. Nothing can exceed the monotony of sledge-travelling.
Day after day the same routine is gone through; day after day the
same endless ice is the only thing in sight. A dark stone projecting
above the snow on a cape we were approaching was the only coloured
thing in sight for two whole marches, and it had a most disagreeable
fascination for our eyes. In order to compensate for this blankness
of scenery, every man had been advised to decorate the back of his
holland overall with such devices as seemed good to him. Accordingly
the back view of our sledge-crews was an extraordinary spectacle.
One man’s back bore a large black anchor with the motto “Hold fast,”
another displayed a complicated hieroglyphic savouring of Freemasonry.
Here was a locomotive engine careering over a beautifully green sod,
and on the next back a striking likeness of the Tichborne claimant
bespoke the bearer’s admiration for the “distressed nobleman.” Here,
again, was an artistic effort which had cost its author many a week
of painstaking execution, but neither he nor anyone else could tell
what it was. Union-jacks, twelve-ton guns, and highly mythical polar
bears, were of course common. These decorations were most useful in
identifying the various men—no easy matter when all were dressed
alike, and every face was swollen and blistered with sun and frost,
and blackened with stearine smoke.

On 7th April, some difference of temperature in the still air treated
us to a display of mirage. Almost all day long, as we marched
forwards, the conical mountains of Cape Joseph Henry raised themselves
up in pale shadow against the sky, and spread out into great flat
table-lands, spanning the valleys with bridges, and constantly
flickering into new shapes.

[Illustration: PLATE XIII.—ON THE NORTHERN MARCH, APRIL 8, 1876.—p. 60.

On the sixth day’s march of the united northern and western parties
from the ship, this sketch was outlined in pencil while the sledges
passed across a floe, little if at all under one hundred and fifty
feet in thickness. Like most heavy floes, its edges were piled with
rubble ice, cemented and smoothed off with snow-drift, showing
a perpendicular wall outside, but sloping inside to the general
undulating surface. The easiest road lay right across it, and with
the aid of picks a natural gap in its walls was soon converted into
a practicable path. The united crews of the “Bulldog” and “Marco
Polo” are hauling the latter sledge down through the gap, while the
“Challenger’s” and “Poppie’s” have just reached the spot with the
first of their sledges.]

On the seventh day’s march we crossed a floe so much raised above its
fellows that it got the name of “The Castle.” Its surface was about an
acre in extent, and, judging from its height over the water, it could
not be less than one hundred feet—perhaps one hundred and fifty—in
thickness. It was walled in all round by lines of _débris_, piled upon
its edges and cemented together with snow, perpendicular outside, but
sloping inwards, so that the inside looked like a vast saucer. The
easiest road for the sledges lay right across it. Several breaches
occurred in its walls, and with the aid of picks they were soon made
practicable. A sketch made as the boats passed across represents a
scene familiar to many of our sledge parties, for “Castle Floe” was
subsequently crossed on no less than thirteen separate occasions
(Plate No. 13).


Sunlight amongst the ice is often very beautiful, but at the same time
very inconvenient. It had already peeled our faces, now it attacked
our eyes. Every crystal of snow reflected a miniature sun, and the
path of the rays seemed literally sown with gems, topaz and sapphire
generally, but here and there a ruby. Similar colours, but with a
curious metallic lustre like oil on water, tinted the fleecy clouds
overhead, and the sun itself was almost always surrounded by circles
similar to those seen round the moon in winter, but exquisitely
rich and brilliant in rainbow-hued colour. No painter could hope to
produce the faintest resemblance to such effects. The light was in
fact altogether too bright for mortals, and we could only face it
with goggles on. The gem-like gleams especially produced a quick pain
in the back of the eye that considerably lessened their æsthetic
effect. The officers, who have to travel well in advance and climb
hummocks to find a road for the sledges, cannot wear goggles
continuously; vapour from the eye freezes on the inside of the glass,
and it requires the keenest sight to detect differences of level and
distance in the white blank of the prospect. On our eighth day’s
journey a faint mist took away all shadow from the ice, and though a
man might be seen several hundred yards off, it was quite impossible
to tell whether the next step was up or down, into a hole, or against
a hummock. That day, pioneering was done rather by touch than sight.
When the fog lifted, we found ourselves close to Cape Joseph Henry,
and next forenoon the depôt left there in the autumn was transferred
to the advancing sledges.

Half-a-mile northward from the depôt, a bank of snow, evidently the
accumulation of ages, sloped down from a small hill to the sea. In
one place a great slice of the bank had broken bodily from the mass
above, leaving a deep crevasse. This was bridged over and completely
concealed, except in two places, where the roof had fallen in and
exposed its perpendicular walls of green ice streaked with layers
of earth and sand. The bank was in fact a miniature “discharging
glacier,” the only one yet met with on this coast. A few yards below
the openings, the bridge was strong enough to bear the heavily-laden
sledges of the western parties. Their course lay through the valley
to the left, for though the snow on shore was in many places soft
and deep, a short cut across the isthmus promised better travelling
than the crush of floes round the cape. The prospects of the northern
party were less encouraging. Looking northward from the hill over the
crevasse, an icy chaos spread to the horizon. Mirage every now and
then raised lines and flakes of distant pack into view, but all as
rough and rugged as the ice-floes at our feet.

The detachments separated on 11th April. We of the supporting sledges
bade both good-bye with three cheers, and watched them slowly wind
out of sight amongst the hummocks, the one to the westward, the other
poleward; and as we retraced our steps on the return journey, their
“One, two, three, haul!” came faintly to us across the ice.

Meantime, our friends in the “Discovery” had passed the winter in
not a little anxiety about our fate, Their efforts to communicate
in autumn were no more successful than ours, and as spring slipped
by and no news came, the suspense increased. Could it be that the
“Alert” had penetrated beyond the range of communication, or that any
disaster had happened to her? It had been arranged that at the latest
a party would reach the “Discovery” from her before the 1st April,
and now March was nearly gone. News, however, was close at hand. The
dog-sledge, “Clements Markham,” had gallantly fought its way southward
past the steep cliffs of Robeson Channel, and when, on 24th March,
its crew rounded Cape Beachy and left the last of the cliffs behind
them, they knew their troubles were over. Next day they came to a
recent sledge-track, and the dogs at once struck out like hounds on a
fresh scent. The last promontories were soon passed, and as Discovery
Bay opened out, a cheer from the galloping sledge brought a crowd
of figures racing from the ship to meet it. In a moment all were
shaking hands in a storm of questions. Where was the “Alert”?—had she
passed “Navy Opening” or got to “President’s Land”?—and what were the
prospects polewards?

The arrival of the dog-sledge was a signal for the immediate departure
of the “Discovery’s” sledging parties. A dog-sledge was despatched
south-eastward to “Hall’s Rest” to ascertain how far the stores left
by U.S.S. “Polaris” could be utilised. Then two eight-men sledges, the
“Sir Edward Parry” and the “Stephenson,” under Lieutenant Beaumont
and Dr. Coppinger, started for the north coast of Greenland, calling
at Floeberg Beach on their way, and being there joined by Lieutenant
Rawson’s sledge, the “Discovery.” They left the “Alert” on 20th April,
and two smaller sledges helped them across Robeson Channel, and then
left them to follow the rugged coast that we could see stretching
far eastward to Cape Britannia. Another division of sledges, with
Lieutenant Archer and Sub-Lieutenant Conybeare, pushed northward
through Lady Franklin Sound, hoping to find it opening northward like
Robeson Channel, and perhaps affording a smooth and direct route to
the shores of the Polar Sea for next year’s parties.

The “Discovery” had passed a winter little, if at all, less severe
than ours, but in one respect she had been more fortunate. No less
than thirty-three musk oxen were secured in the autumn, and thus a
supply of good fresh meat was issued twice a-week during the winter.
Her routine and amusements were almost identical with our own, but we
heard with surprise of her skating rink, and of dramas performed in
a snow-built theatre on shore, where a temperature many degrees below
zero obliged the actors to appear muffled to several times the size of
ordinary stage heroes.

After a short rest, our dog-sledge returned to the “Alert,” and
reached her just a day too late to give the western and northern
parties news from the “Discovery.” She was then at once despatched to
pioneer a “high-road” to Greenland across the narrowest part of the
channel in advance of the “Discovery’s” detachment. From this time the
arrival and departure of sledge-crews was a matter of daily occurrence.

Numerous supporting sledges, now travelling invariably in the hours
called night, arrived from Greenland or Cape Joseph Henry, filled up
with stores, and left again, each fully occupied with its own work,
and only catching an occasional glimpse of what the others were doing.

It was while all were thus actively employed that sickness—the one
sickness of the Arctic regions—appeared amongst us. No one with
medical experience of the disease can read the sledge journals of
former expeditions without recognising numerous indications of scurvy.
Our parties, more than five hundred miles north of where Franklin
was lost, and in an unexpectedly colder and more lifeless climate,
had no greater safeguards than their predecessors. Accordingly, each
sledge-crew that returned to the ship showed fresh examples of the
exhaustion, swollen and sprained ankles, stiff knees, and bruised
and painful legs, only too familiar to Arctic travellers. Petersen,
already maimed by frost-bite, was its first victim. He died on 14th
May, and on the 19th the few remaining on board carried him to his
grave. A spot on the top of a small hill, half-way between the beach
and the beacon on Cairn Hill, was chosen, because a long heavy slab,
suitable for a tombstone, lay there. The ground was frozen as hard as
rock, and it took three days’ hard work with pick and gunpowder to
dig a grave three feet deep. The slab, afterwards rough-hewn by his
messmates, and an oaken tablet covered with brass, marks where he lies.

[Illustration: PETERSEN’S GRAVE.]

As the season advanced, signs of approaching summer began to appear.
On 19th May, the temperature, for the first time in nine months,
rose above freezing. Icicles formed from the projecting angles of
the floebergs—and it may here be remarked that icicles, though very
common in Arctic pictures, are rare in reality, for they only form
in the brief interval between winter and summer, and last but a week
or ten days. Signs of returning life began to multiply. A sledge
party, returning from Cape Joseph Henry on 21st May, brought in two
ptarmigan, snow white, but for one solitary brown feather on the hen.
On 4th June, one of us found a little brown caterpillar creeping on
some uncovered stones, and saw a flock of birds that looked like
knots. In some places the snow was softening into discoloured patches,
in others it was gradually leaving the ground. Light snow often fell,
but the tiny star-shaped crystals evaporated without wetting the brown
slate of the hill-tops. There was as yet no water in the ravines, but
it was plain that the thaw was at hand. A sledge party that got back
to the ship on 7th June experienced very unsettled weather, and had
to wade through a good deal of soft slushy snow sometimes knee deep.
The travelling season was fast drawing to a close, and our extended
parties had evidently little time left for their return. Just before
tea-time on 8th June, those of us who happened to be on board were
startled by hearing Lieutenant Parr’s voice in the captain’s cabin.
He had come alone, and we soon heard his tidings. The whole northern
detachment was broken down with scurvy, and could not reach the ship
without assistance, and that must be immediate. Five men were already
helpless on the sledges. He had left them near Cape Joseph Henry,
twenty-two hours before, and had marched in the whole way.

There was neither time nor occasion to hear more. Every soul capable
of pulling at once got orders to man relief sledges. A dog-sledge,
laden with immediate necessities, started in advance to cheer them
with the news that help was near.

It was advisable to follow Lieutenant Parr’s footprints, for, once off
the track, the distressed party might easily be passed. He had called
at Snow-house Point, hoping to find lamp and matches that would enable
him to get a drink in the tent pitched there to assist returning
parties, but a wolf had gnawed the tent ropes, and it lay flat on the
snow. Near Castle Floe the tracks crossed and re-crossed in a complete
maze, for there he had all but lost his way in a treacherous fog. A
short halt was necessary to rest and feed the dogs, then we pushed on
as before. At length, twenty-three hours after leaving the ship, we
caught sight of a figure seated beside a loaded sledge, and resting
his head upon his hands; then two others staggered up, helping a third
between them; and a moment after, six men slowly emerged from among
the hummocks dragging up a second sledge. The wind blowing from them
towards us prevented them hearing our first shout, but they soon saw
us, and with a faint cheer limped forward, poor fellows, to meet us.
For a time our hearts were in our throats, and no one could speak
much. Hardly one of them was recognisable. The thin, feeble voices,
the swollen and frost-peeled faces and crippled limbs, made an awful
contrast to the picked body of determined men we had seen march north
only two months before. Four lay packed amongst the tent robes on the
sledges—only four, for one had died soon after Parr left them. He was
a private in the marine artillery, and belonged to the “Victoria”
sledge. Poor Porter—George, as the men called him—had been one of the
strongest and most energetic of the party. They had dragged him on
the sledge thirty-nine days—others had been on longer—and his death
greatly depressed both crews. They buried him deep in the ice
not far from their camp, and had made one day’s march southwards when
we met them. The place was only a mile off, so, when the wants of the
survivors had been attended to, we walked back to see it. Sunlight
streaming through low clouds of drifting snow made it difficult to
see far, but we soon recognised the little mound on the side of a
floe-hill. A rough cross, made of a sledge-batten and a paddle, and
with a text written on it in pencil, stood at the head. They could do
no more for him. Perhaps the sketch reproduced in this book (Plate No.
14) may serve as a humble memento of our shipmate’s grave, the most
northern of any race or of any time.

[Illustration: PLATE XIV.—THE MOST NORTHERN GRAVE, JUNE, 1876.—p. 65.

A little mound of ice on the side of a floe-hill, and a rough cross
made of a sledge batten and a paddle, mark our shipmate’s grave—the
most northern of any race or time.]

The first symptoms of scurvy appeared amongst the men only a few days
after the auxiliary sledges had quitted the party on the northward
march; and before the expenditure of half their provisions obliged
them to turn back, they had three men on the sledges, and half the
detachment crippled with stiff knees. Instead of finding the floes
increase in width as they left the land, they met with nothing worthy
of the name of floe. Their road lay across endless hummocks of crushed
fragments, piled on each other and drifted over with snow. One half
the party worked in advance, slowly hewing a road with their pickaxes.
The remainder toiled after them, hauling up each of the three sledges
in turn. On 12th May they reached their most northern point, north
latitude 83° 20´ 26´´, a little less than four hundred miles from the

Considering the helpless state of the majority, we could not but
think them most fortunate in being able to regain the land before
even the strongest of them lost the strength and courage that carried
their message to the ship. Looking at them as they staggered feebly
along, panting at every breath, we forcibly realised the probable
fate of those large parties from Franklin’s ships that remain to
this day unaccounted for. Since reaching the depôt at Cape Joseph
Henry, the men had had ample supplies of lime juice, and nothing
now remained but to carry them to the ship before the disruption of
the pack. Immediately after falling in with them, the dog-sledge
had been sent back again to carry the news of their whereabouts to
the relief parties led by the Captain, and in a few hours it again
reappeared, carrying a pleasant surprise for the invalids—four Brent
geese, swinging by the necks from the back of the sledge. A camp, to
break the journey to the ship, had been formed at a little bay in
Black Cliffs, where the geese had been shot, and in a few minutes two
of our invalids that could best bear the journey were packed on the
sledge, and whirled off towards it behind the willing dogs. The main
relief parties were soon in sight—two sledges, manned in great part
by officers, Captain Nares himself pulling in the drag-ropes of the
leading sledge. Thus reinforced, three marches carried the whole party
back to the ship. The first instalment reached her by dog-sledge on
12th June. Next day, when Flagstaff Point was rounded, and the yards
and masts of the ship were again in view, the “Marco Polo” sledge went
in front. Her officer and three men had throughout steadily refused to
be treated as invalids, and now, hoisting their sledge pennant and the
Union Jack they had so gallantly carried to the most northern point
ever reached by land or sea, they led the way alongside the ship.

Such results as were obtained by the northern party have been greatly
lost sight of in the painful interest connected with the cause of the
scurvy, a subject which it would be altogether improper to enter upon
here. But the effort to penetrate across the polar pack has proved
other facts besides the necessity for a change in sledge diet. The
attempt was never a hopeful one, but if it had not been made, no one
would have been satisfied that it was impossible. If the men had been
able to march as far every day after the scurvy appeared as they did
before it—in other words, if the scurvy had not broken out—they would
have reached only twenty-seven miles further north. The Pole lay 435
miles from their most advanced depôt. Their total distance marched
was 521 geographical miles, so that under impossibly favourable
circumstances—if they had been able to travel in a perfectly straight
line, pulling a single sledge, and with ice as smooth as a lake, they
would have succeeded in reaching the Pole and half-way back again, a
conclusion which would be neither satisfactory nor instructive. If
a comparatively unbroken ice-cap exists, and if its surface affords
better travelling than its broken margin, it is possible that some
future expedition may yet find it lying nearer Cape Joseph Henry,
and travel over it to 84° or 85°, but certainly not to the Pole. The
broken condition of the floes is inexplicable; perhaps a small island
or bank exists to the northward. Those who choose to think so have two
facts to hang their faith on: a hare track was found thirty miles from
the land, and the depth of the Polar Sea at the furthest camp was only
seventy fathoms.

When the northern party arrived on board the ship, they found her very
different to what they had left her. The thawing snow had been thrown
off her upper deck, and the banking up round her sides had almost
disappeared. A deep pool of not very clean water lay all round the
ship, and in order to get on board it was necessary to cross a bridge
some twenty feet long made of poles and planks. The tide rose and fell
in this pool, showing that the ice in which the ship was imbedded was
actually supported like a bridge between the shore and the floebergs;
in fact, so fixed was the ship that, when the snow banking sank a
little more, the tide might be seen rising and falling against the
torn and ragged planking of her sides. Other pools of water lay on
the floes, especially in the neighbourhood of floebergs. Cracks, too,
were opening in every direction, and though there was as yet no motion
in the pack, it seemed as if it only wanted a strong wind to set it
grinding and roaring as it did in autumn. This state of affairs,
together with the two following even more important considerations,
made us very anxious about Lieutenant Aldrich and his crew. He had a
good store of lime juice laid out in depôt for his return journey,
but, with the experience of the northern party before us, we could
hardly hope that his crew would be free from scurvy when they reached
it. And again, we knew, from the reports of his auxiliary sledge, that
he had penetrated far to the westward across an absolute desert of
deep snow, which, if once softened, would effectually bar his return,
and cut him off from assistance.

In many places round the ship the snow was softening rapidly, so much
so that spots once hard enough to walk on were now totally impassable.
Even snow-shoes, which had proved most useful on the march to the
rescue of the northern party a week before, now balled so much under
the heel, and shovelled up such a weight of slush, that they could not
be used.

On clear days the depôt at Cape Joseph Henry was visible with a good
glass from the top of Cairn Hill. As long as it could be seen we knew
that the party had not reached it, and a most anxious watch was kept
on the little flickering miraged spot. Up to the 18th June no change
occurred, and then Lieutenant May and his indefatigable dogs went
off to try and find some trace of the missing party. On the 25th the
suspense came to an end. It was Sunday morning, and shortly after
service the news came from Cairn Hill that both Aldrich’s sledge and
the dog-sledge were in sight. The two tents pitched on the floes near
Mushroom Point could be made out plainly. They were evidently encamped
for the day as usual. Their homeward march would not begin till
evening, so at 7 p.m. everyone that could left the ship to meet them.
Rounding a low point, we came on them suddenly. The “Challenger” led
the way with colours flying and sledge-sail set. Her officer and the
last man left of his crew—a stalwart, light-hearted teetotaler—hauled
in her drag-belts. One man, unable to walk, lay muffled on the sledge,
the others kept up as best they could, taking turns on the dog-sledge.
They had turned back from a point two hundred and thirty geographical
miles to the westward, and had travelled, there and back, over seven
hundred miles of coast-line, but had found no shore leading poleward.
On their outward journey, as they passed each successive cape,
another and another came into view, till, on rounding a headland in
north latitude 83°.7, they found the shore-line bending off to the
southward. At this spot, since called Cape Columbia, a slaty cliff
sloping downward to the floes formed the most northern point of the
new world. For miles on either side the shore was lifeless, but
there on the slope of the cape, amongst the stones and snow, they
found a little Arctic poppy, with its tiny yellow petals withered
into lines and folds of green. Beyond Cape Columbia it was sometimes
hard to tell where the land ended and the frozen sea began; here and
there, banks of sand and gravel were bare of snow, but when you dug
into them with a pick there was deep ice beneath. On the left lay a
monotonous, snow-clad shore rising into irregular mountain groups,
and on the right, perennial floes, worn into mounds and valleys.
They still followed the shore-line, till, on their forty-fifth day’s
journey, they found themselves further south than the winter quarters
of the ship. Then they came to the limit of their provisions. There
was only enough left to carry them back to their farthest depôt.
And so, recovering in succession each of the little piles of stores
deposited on their outward journey, they retraced their footsteps
along this shore that no other human eyes than theirs had ever looked
on. For a week before the dog-sledge met them their state was even
worse than we had feared. The snow that bore them on their outward
way had softened; every step sank a different depth in it, sometimes
to the knee, sometimes to the waist. The men broke down one by one,
strength and appetite failed them, and every motion of their swollen
and stiffened limbs was an agony. They would haul the sledge five
or six yards forward, and then stop for want of breath. With fifty
miles of bottomless snow before them, it was no wonder some of them
began to think their prospects hopeless, and wanted to be left behind
rather than burden the others with their weight. But the sight of the
dog-sledge put new life in the party. Its four strong men and six
plucky dogs soon got them over their difficulties. Now they were safe
and close to the ship, and knees grew straighter than they had been
for many a day; those who could walk at all required an order to keep
them on the dog-sledge. There was amongst them an ex-member of the
“Bulldog” sledge, who had impressed himself specially on his former
sledge-mates by one peculiar trait—he never could see a joke till
hours after it was made, and then his sudden roars of laughter would
sometimes wake the whole crew from their first sleep. The poor fellow
was now amongst the worst, but he insisted on being helped into the
drag-belts, and staggered alongside the ship in harness. Thus ended
the spring sledging.

For another month hunting parties scoured the land, and two sledges
tried to find an overland route to the “Discovery” in case our ship
should suffer in the disruption of the pack; but so far as the
“Alert” was concerned, the exploring work of the year was over. Of
the “Discovery’s” proceedings we yet knew little. We had heard that
Lady Franklin Sound had proved a mere inlet. No news had reached us
from the North Greenland detachment, but the shore that we could see
from our mast-heads and from the hills of Floeberg Beach was long and
deeply indented, and its extreme limit at Cape Britannia was far to
the east, but little to the north.

The summer disruption of the pack was now evidently close at hand,
and it was therefore necessary to come to an immediate decision
about the future. We had men in both ships who had passed many
winters in “whalers,” and they were unanimously of opinion that the
“Alert” had little if any chance of ever leaving her winter quarters.
Those with knowledge of naval Arctic work thought otherwise. The
“break-up,” when it did come, would probably give us a choice of three
alternatives—namely, to advance, to stay where we were, or to retreat.
As for advancing, in some very favourable season we might perhaps
get the ship about twelve miles further westward and five further
north, but this was the very utmost that could be hoped for; and for
all purposes of northward extension our present position was just as
good. Any advance along the shores of Greenland was utterly out of the
question, for the eastward motion of the pack threw its chief pressure
on that shore. What, then, would another year at Floeberg Beach enable
us to accomplish? Assuming, against all precedent, that our crew
would completely recover and be as strong as ever they were—assuming,
too, that the whole force of the Expedition, guided by the experience
already gained, could be launched northwards over the floes, there
could even then be no hope whatever of adding one degree to our north


Under such circumstances, retreat, if possible before the relief ship
was despatched from England, became a duty. There was one objection
to it that was often joked about, but of course never seriously
entertained—“The public will not be satisfied unless you stay one or
two more winters, or at least lose a ship.” We little knew how very
near we should be to doing both.


On June 14th, the northern detachment, with the relief sledges sent
to its assistance, returned to the ship from its ten weeks’ march
over the polar floes. The detachment had started northward seventeen
strong, but only four remained able to pull in the drag-belts, and of
these one was the officer in command. Frost-peeled and sun-burnt, with
stiffened knees, and faces and clothes stained with stearine smoke,
these four led the way alongside the ship, flying the Union Jack they
had carried a month’s hard march beyond every predecessor.]

Summer at Floeberg Beach was an affair of weeks, almost of days. The
turning-point came silently and quickly—not in quite the demonstrative
fashion some of us expected, with an abrupt bursting forth of ravines
and a general rush of torrents to the sea, but still suddenly.
Three-fourths of the snow disappeared as if by magic, and the dark
patches of bare land grew broader and broader every day. In some
places the earth passed at once from frozen rock to dust; in others
marshy spots formed, and there the whole ground was cut up into
the hexagonal bosses that form a very striking feature in Arctic
foregrounds. A view of Floeberg Beach from Cape Rawson (Plate No. 4),
sketched on 18th July, gives an idea of how the land looked in summer.
Even near the shores it is never altogether free from snow. Permanent
drifts lie in the hollows, and from the crests of the cliffs at Cape
Rawson a great bank several hundred feet in height sloped downward
to the “mud flats” below. Trickling streams cut their way vertically
down through the snow or flow in tunnels under it, then wind across
the marshy flats, and end in some of the ravines that intersect
the land like Lancashire “cloughs.” For great part of the year the
ravines are merely more or less deep grooves in the monotonous
undulating whiteness, but in summer they hold brown foaming torrents
rushing between steep undermined banks of snow, quite unfordable if
deeper than the knee. These are the rivers of the country, but they
cannot run out to sea, like ordinary streams; the grounded pack-edge
prevents them; so they expend much of their energy in destroying the
green one-season’s ice, filling the lagoon between barrier bergs and
beach. The snow was no sooner off the land than the flowers were in
bloom—not very gorgeous specimens certainly, but still flowers, and
with more than their share of tender sentiment, as might be seen
by many bright little nosegays gathered for our invalids by the
rough hands of messmates. First came close clumps of magenta-tinted
saxifrage, with scarcely a trace of a leaf, and fading as fast as it
bloomed; then tiny yellow _Drabas_, and white coltsfoot, and woolly
willow catkins; and later, when the sorrel leaves, each as large
as a sixpence, began to get red and tasteless, the yellow poppies
appeared, and with them the delicately-tinted strawberry-like flowers
of _Dryas octopetala_. Plants were of course few and far between—for
example, four men searching all day could just gather one plateful
of the valuable sorrel. All, too, were on the most Liliputian scale,
seldom more than an inch above ground, but with immensely long roots.
Sometimes, as we sat sketching or picking sorrel, a mosquito or two
would present themselves, but they did not bite like their brethren
of the Greenland settlements. A small sort of dragon-fly was not
uncommon near pools, and now and then a small brown butterfly, an
_Argynnus_, or, more rarely, a yellow _Colias_, would flit by, looking
somewhat incongruous amongst the rocks and snow. Birds soon became
comparatively plenty; graceful grey tern fluttered about over cracks
in the floes, and dipped into the pools for the little shrimps that
came to the surface; flocks of knots, exceedingly wild and quick of
wing, were commonly seen wading about in marshy places. A pair of
snowy owls reared a brood on the cliffs of the north ravine. The
parents supplied an excellent dish, and the young ones were made pets
of. One of them, called “Mordecai” on account of his Asian profile,
became a great favourite in consequence of his quaintly gluttonous
habits. A few king-duck and Brent geese chose Grant Land as a safe
nursery for their coming broods. Stringent game laws were enacted, in
order that they might not be frightened away before they had made up
their minds on the subject. We altogether underrated the sagacity of
these creatures. Birds accustomed to winter perhaps on our own shores
would of course be familiar with man, but we hoped they might take us
for Eskimo armed with bows and arrows, and we were not at all prepared
for their accurate knowledge of the range of Eley wire cartridge in
our Guy and Moncrieff “central fires.” All were not so well informed,
however. One day, an officer wandering about the “mud flats” was
brought to a standstill by the extreme stickiness of the ground, and
was endeavouring to extract his boot from a muddy place, where it
had stuck fast, when a pair of geese, impelled by most convenient
curiosity, flew round him once or twice, and lit within a hundred
yards, then, stretching out their necks straight in front, walked
deliberately up till there was less risk of missing than of blowing
them to fragments. These birds no doubt come north in search of safety
for themselves and their broods during the nursing season, for the
moulting of both parents, just before the young are able to fly,
leaves them peculiarly defenceless. Later on, when the Expedition was
on its way southward, two of our sportsmen encountered a large flock
thus deprived of their pinions, and secured no less than seventy birds
in fourteen shots.

_A propos_ of shooting, the following curiously improbable personal
incident is perhaps worth narrating:—One evening, shortly before the
ship broke out of winter quarters, I took my rifle and went shoreward
to try and find a hare, but, after a long search, was returning
unsuccessful, when I happened to discover a king-duck swimming about
in a small lake; there was little chance of hitting her, but she would
at any rate give an excuse for a shot. After trying for twenty minutes
to get within moderate range, it was plain that there was nothing for
it but to walk straight up through the crunching snow; but the bird’s
patience was exhausted, and she rose on the wing a good hundred yards
off. In sheer annoyance and chagrin I fired, when, most unexpectedly,
out flew the feathers and down fell the duck. On going to pick her up,
marvelling greatly at the Munchausen-like luck of the shot, and hoping
that the hole was not through the best part of the bird, what was
my amazement to discover that she was not only alive, but perfectly
unhurt. Turn her over how I would, there was not a speck of blood on
the feathers, or a scratch on any part of the body. At last the secret
was discovered; the bullet had clipped the pinions off one wing, and
the fall had stunned the bird. She afterwards lived some time in
captivity in a hen-coop, and laid two eggs.

We had not spent many days roaming over our newly uncovered lands,
before we began to suspect that tracks of game were, in our part
of the Arctic regions at any rate, extremely misleading. On the
way northward, whenever the ship came to a standstill amongst the
floes, men and officers often made hurried visits to the shore, and
invariably came off with the stereotyped report that “traces of game
were numerous and recent.” We found so many traces and so little
game that the phrase acquired an inverted meaning, and passed into a
proverb, but the discrepancy remained unaccounted for. At Floeberg
Beach tracks of game were certainly numerous enough. The hard frozen
mud at the margins of every pool showed footprints of birds, often
so sharp and distinct that “rubbings” with pencil and paper were
easily made of them, and sometimes in relief where dust had filled
the impression and ice evaporation afterwards lowered the mould. In
some places tracks of musk oxen were abundant, and of every size,
from the little round footprints of calves to the broad hoof-marks of
full-grown animals; but there was absolutely no way of telling when
or in what numbers the game had been there. Once frozen, a footprint
may last indefinitely, especially if protected by snow; and, for aught
we could prove to the contrary, some of the tracks may have been as
old as the celebrated mammoth frozen up in the Siberian mud. On 5th
July, however, those who contended that the tracks were practically
fossil were confounded by the appearance of three musk oxen on a
hill-top beyond the north ravine. Their discoverer instantly sent off
news to the ship, and, very judiciously, waited patiently till the
arrival of assistance rendered their escape impossible. A few mornings
afterwards, a fine bull walked innocently down to the beach near the
ship, and was forthwith slaughtered. Being a good specimen, and close
at hand, he was transferred to the naturalist, and he now represents
his species in the British Museum.

All through the earlier weeks of July the pack gave warnings of
approaching disruption. Decided motion first occurred on 16th, and
on 21st the old familiar sound of “breaking plates” came from the
offing, and with a loud crack the ship suddenly righted herself from
the heel towards shore, which had slowly increased during the winter.
Nevertheless, as long as it remained calm no important movement was
likely to occur, except at high tide. We were, therefore, still able
to extend our hunting expeditions to several days from the ship. It
was not the search for game only, exciting as it was, that made these
late trips interesting. Our hunters enjoyed a privilege that has
rarely fallen to the lot of any discoverers in either past or recent
times—they traversed a shore never before trodden by the foot of man.
Everywhere south of the steep cliffs of Robeson Channel some vestiges
of humanity were discoverable; a broken sledge-runner, a chipped
flint, or a musk ox bone broken to extract the marrow, told us that
wandering Eskimo had been before us; but from the cliffs northward
all traces ceased—no savage hunter had ever disturbed the ice-borne
boulders of Floeberg Beach to fasten down his tent of skins, or form a
rough hearth for his travelling camp, and no sledges but our own were
ever launched towards the icy horizon beyond—

“We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.”

Yet though there was no trace of man or his doings, Nature had left
deeply significant records of her own to tell the history of the
land. The neighbourhood of the ship was rich in such evidences. No
one could walk over the broad “mud flats” half-a-mile inland from the
ship without being convinced that the land had risen from the sea at,
geologically speaking, no very distant period. Shells similar to those
still living in the sea two hundred feet below lay strewn in abundance
on the fine sand. Here a pair of valves, enormously thickened to bear
the crush of ice, there a whole bed of slighter shells, still covered
with their brown filmy skins, and connected by their gristly hinges.
The mud itself was so salty, that where it dried in the sun a white
briny coat formed on its surface. Stems and roots of laver sea-weeds
were sometimes picked up, but the most interesting and eloquent
witnesses of the past were the splinters and logs of drift-wood that
lay imbedded in the mud, or scattered along the crests of these raised
beaches. The wood was easily recognised by the microscope as the wood
of pine trees, and though probably very many centuries old, was often
so apparently fresh as to smell woody when cut. It was not for us to
conjecture when or where that wood had grown, or how it had drifted to
its present elevated site; but we could not help thinking that it told
of a time when the shores, though perhaps far more deeply laden with
glaciers, were washed by a less ice-bound sea.

At one o’clock in the morning of 23rd July, the pack broke from the
shore under the influence of a strong wind, and left pools of water
outside our barrier bergs, but the ice still crushed close on Cape
Rawson, and when the wind lessened, all closed in. Again, on the
evening of 26th a space of water formed outside the bergs, and in
order to be ready when an opportunity for a rush southward should
offer, we set about breaking a channel through the floes between the
ship and the nearest gap in the wall of grounded bergs. The ice was
far too thick for even our longest and heaviest ice-saws, but with
the aid of three hundred pounds of gunpowder, judiciously disposed
in torpedoes made of tin cans and lime-juice jars, it was shattered,
piece by piece, and as each mass broke off and floated free, it was
pushed out to seaward by the united efforts of the whole crew wielding
levers and ice-poles.

While we lay waiting for a path southward to open, we could not but
look forward to the ordeal before us with a good deal of anxiety. Once
round Cape Rawson, there would be no turning back. Thirty miles of
shelterless cliff must be passed before we reached Lincoln Bay, and
for the whole of that distance the ship would have to run the gauntlet
through a mere fissure between a perpendicular wall of ice-foot, and a
moving, irresistible mass of floe eighty feet and more in thickness.
If fortune did not favour us, the destruction of the ship was certain,
and every preparation was made to meet such an eventuality. Provisions
and sledges were piled on deck ready to launch on the floes, and
notes and sketches and carefully-selected specimens were packed into
the smallest possible bundles, so that they could be pushed hastily
into a pocket if it should be necessary to desert the ship. Early
on the morning of 31st, an unusual sound awoke us; a strong breeze
whistled and sung in the rigging overhead, and a low vibration, like
the bass notes of an organ, filled the ship. It came from our heating
boilers—steam was being got up. On deck one glance round told us that
the time had come. A long black canal of water skirted the coast as
far as we could see towards Cape Rawson, and the rush through it must
be made now or never. Screw and rudder were already down in their
places, and the sails “bent,” ready to be loosed. A few strong charges
of gunpowder shook the ship from her icy bed. The order “full speed
ahead” was given. The screw flung a stream of foaming water over the
ice, and the ship moved slowly forward into the channel blasted for
her. Then, as she swung round under steam and sail through the narrow
portal in the wall of bergs, we caught our last glimpse of Floeberg
Beach. Shadows of clouds chased each other down over the brown slopes.
The headstone of Petersen’s grave stood out like a solitary human
figure, and a piece of canvas fluttered on a pole over “the doctor’s
garden,” where mustard and cress were just beginning to appear above
ground. Our tall cairn on top of the hill remained in sight for a few
minutes longer, then the bend of the coast shut it from view. At full
speed we flew past the well-known headlands so often painfully rounded
with tired crew and heavy sledge, past the ice-rounded rocks of Cape
Rawson, the tower-like buttresses of Half-way Cliffs, and the dark
precipices of Black Cape; but before we got to Cape Union our career
was cut short—the angle of a floe lay right across our narrow path,
and we had to wait in anxious inactivity till the next tide moved it
off and let us slip past. All that night and next morning, the floes,
closing in behind us, literally hunted us along the coast from one
little hollow of the ice-foot to another. Over and over again the ship
had to be pushed and wriggled through desperately narrow gaps to avoid
the closing floes behind her. Several times there was so little space
to pass that our boats, hoisted high up at the davits, scraped along
the perpendicular wall of ice-foot. The accompanying etching is from a
sketch made near midnight on 2nd August, looking back along our track,
but no sketch can convey an idea of the chief feature of the scene—the
majestic and irresistible motion of the ice-fields.


Two days later, when we lay walled in by bergs in “Shift Rudder Bay,”
we could look back past Cape Beechey into the strait from which we had
escaped, and watch the tight pack of ice islands streaming south from
Robeson Channel into Hall’s Sea, without the distracting influence
of immediate danger, and we one and all came to the conclusion that,
as an impressive example of magnificent and imposing force, no other
natural phenomena could equal it. Our little vessel went very near
leaving her bones on the shores of this same bay. When we reached it,
the ice was closing in. A line of grounded bergs lay along the beach,
with a gap in it just large enough to admit the ship. Into this we
thrust her, feeling thankful for so good and opportune a shelter, but
unfortunately the gateway of our castle had no portcullis to close
behind us, the ice followed us in, and, foot by foot, forced the ship
up on the ice-foot, heeling her over and damaging her rudder. At four
in the morning the pressure suddenly relaxed, and the ship fell two
feet, but remained imprisoned. For days not a patch of water was to be
seen, though the whole pack moved south with one tide and halted with
the next. On 8th August it blew a gale, and the ice swept past with
increased speed. One large, dome-shaped fragment of polar floe crushed
through our gateway, and though it grounded long before getting near
the ship, the pressure behind was so enormous that it continued to
advance, shovelling round lumps of ice as big as a house on either
side of it, and rising out of the water as it did so, till it came
against the side of the ship. Now we were nipped in earnest. First
a rattle on deck, exactly like a hail-storm overhead, as the pitch
cracked and flew out of the seams; then a crunch as the ship yielded,
then an interval, and then another horrible vibrating crunch—for
downright unpleasantness, not even the tear of a shot through a ship’s
timbers can compare with such a sound—but the decks did not buckle
up under our feet, and the sides did not collapse. The “Alert” was
evidently not fated to be destroyed in that way. Nevertheless, when
the crush ceased, her position was far from comfortable; she was
raised four feet by the stern and completely imprisoned in a citadel
of bergs, apparently as hopelessly walled in as she well could be.
There might be oceans of water outside, but how was she to get out?
One chance only remained. It might be possible to make our jailor
berg float by digging off the whole top of it; so all hands set to
work, and for three days all that gunpowder, pick, and shovel could do
was done. Time was everything, for the tide fell lower every day. At
last our enemy gave up the fight, floated up, turned partly over, and
sailed out through the gate, considerably smaller than when he came
in. Victory came just in time; the ice opened before us across the bay
and down the coast. Ice navigation is never very rapid work, every
mile has to be fought for. We were only twenty-five miles from the
“Discovery,” but it took two days of sleepless activity to accomplish
that distance, and it was late on the evening of the 11th when we
rounded Distant Cape and caught sight of our sister ship.

Continue Reading


On the 9th September, a party of four officers and four men, with
three sledges, each drawn by eight dogs, left the ship for the
westward to explore a route for subsequent crews, push forward a small
depôt, and search the country for game. On the first day’s march, our
halt for lunch was ludicrously uncomfortable. A cold wind blew. All
our water-bottles were hermetically sealed by the freezing in of the
rough wooden plugs we had hastily fitted to them. There was nothing
to drink but icy cold raw rum. One or two attempted it, and only
succeeded in half-choking themselves, very much to the amusement of
the rest.

When camping-time came, we found ourselves rounding into a narrow
channel between two fine bays, whose “dumb-bell” shape at once
suggested the title by which they were ever afterwards known. A strong
tide in the narrow passage, representing the handle of a dumb-bell,
had kept a small pool of water from freezing, leaving a hole about
as large as a Trafalgar Square fountain. In this a seal was swimming
about, turning his black shining head and large eyes from side to side
in amazement at our appearance. All was fish that came to our net. He
would at least make a good beginning for our game-bag. He was struck
in the head, and consequently floated; but it was by no means a simple
matter to get him out of the pool, for the ice was thin at the edges,
and an unpleasantly swift-looking current was running below. Fred, our
Eskimo, was equal to the occasion. Spread out flat on the ice, with
a piece of cord in one hand and a batten in the other, he managed to
reach the edge and secure our prize. He was rewarded for his exertions
by a good share of liver for supper; indeed, no one at that time felt
inclined to dispute the delicacy with him, for, by some mistake, our
unpractised cook had fried a little of the blubber with it. The meat
is very dark and rich, and is far from unpalatable; but if the least
bit of blubber is cooked with it, it is exactly like mutton fried in
cod-liver oil. This solitary “floe-rat” was the only seal shot in
the Northern Sea. We had little sleep that night, the novelty of the
circumstances, the low temperature of our beds, and the wind, which
threatened to blow the tent over, kept most of us awake. The dogs
too were behaving in an extraordinary manner. Something evidently
made them uneasy; there was none of the usual snarling and growling
going on. All at once there was a tremendous hubbub. We rushed out,
and discovered that the brutes had scented out the spot where we had
buried and _cached_ our seal. They had succeeded in digging it up, and
not a fragment was left. Fortunately, the skin and blubber were buried
separately, and were still safe. Next morning our party subdivided.
Three travelled forward with the sledges to deposit the depôt as far
as possible northward and westward. Petersen, the Dane, experienced
in snow-house building in Hayes’ Expedition, set about constructing
huts in a position that might be useful to later parties; and two of
us started inland to search for game. The broad flats at the head
of the bay looked promising, but were lifeless. Then we plodded on
over the hills; not even a lemming track was to be seen. A few ridges
were blown clear of snow, and sometimes the lee side of a red granite
boulder would appear above the universal white. We worked towards a
long westward-running depression in the land, hoping that there at
least a little vegetation might exist; but on reaching the last ridge
overlooking it, we discovered that it was filled with a sheet of green
ice, stretching several miles to the westward. The lake—for lake it
was—evidently discharged through gullies in the low hills at its
farther end, and beyond these, twenty miles off, a range of pyramidal
snowy peaks stood out clear and sharp against the calm green sky. When
we stopped to secure a sketch, the lifeless stillness of our lonely
lake was most impressive. No human eye had ever looked upon it before.
And now there was neither bird or beast, or even tiny flower or blade
of grass, to dispute possession.

About a mile from us on the left shore, a small rocky island caught
a gleam of sunshine coming down through a ravine, and flickered
strangely by refraction. The ice afforded easy walking towards it,
but on reaching it we found that a rapidly-freshening wind was coming
off the land, carrying clouds of snow with it, so that a retreat
towards camp was plainly advisable. Before leaving, however, we set
about piling up a few stones to record our visit. Under the edges of
almost the first stone raised we were surprised to find the scattered
vertebræ of a small fish. Some feathered summer visitor had evidently
carried them there from the lake. We bottled the little bones in a
small glass tube, and during two long days’ most careful search for
game, no other vestige or track of living creature was discovered.

Our return to camp was very near being enlivened by an incident.
The wind had freshened so much, and carried such a quantity of
large crystalled snow with it, that it was impossible to travel
except in one direction—namely, straight before it. Fortunately, it
blew directly towards our camp. So we started off across the lake,
knee-deep or more in a flying drift which rustled like dead leaves in
autumn. The ice was not thick even close to shore, for we had fired
a bullet through it to try whether the water beneath was salt or
not, and when we got about half-way across, it began to crack in an
alarming manner, and to yield unmistakably to every footstep. We could
neither stop nor turn back; the only thing to be done was to separate
and shuffle on as fast as possible. The water soaked through cracks in
our footsteps; but we were soon wading in the deeper snow of the land,
and reached camp without further excitement, and thoroughly resolved
to be more careful of untried ice in the future. Starting early next
morning, we made a more extended, but equally fruitless, search for
game. There was neither bird nor beast in the country, and but for a
musk ox skull picked up near the shore we might have supposed that no
living creature had ever visited the land. Punctual to their time, our
sledges reappeared on the morning of the fourth day, having succeeded
in depositing their load of pemmican on the further shore of Black
Cliff Bay. The ice they had travelled over was so insecure in some
places between the shore and the heavy floes that the sledges had
broken through more than once, and the travellers had been wet through
ever since they left us. There was evidently no game to be got, so we
returned to the ship, and on the way back met a strong party hauling
forward two boats in order to deposit them at an advanced point in
readiness for the spring sledging.

Two days afterwards, on 14th September, a wind came from the south
and gradually increased into a violent gale. The ice between the ship
and the land broke up, and the pack again separated from the shore.
The whole air was filled with drifting snow blown from the land, and
flying past in a dense cloud higher than the topmasts. It was only
in the lulls that it was possible to distinguish the shore not one
hundred yards off. The boat party had not yet returned, and we were
not a little anxious about it; but late in the evening a figure was
seen signalling from the beach. A double-manned boat pushed off from
the ship, and, after a tough struggle, pulling in the teeth of the
gale, reached the shore. Then we learnt that the returning crews
had narrowly escaped being carried off by the breaking-up ice, and
were about two miles from the ship dragging an exhausted man on the
sledge, and thoroughly fatigued by their long forced march against
the gale. Assistance was promptly despatched to them; all were soon
brought safely on board. The severity of the weather was not the
only reason why we were anxious that the sledge parties should be on
board. A crisis in our fortunes was approaching, for the pack was
still moving from the shore, and in a few hours it might be possible
to advance the ship a little further westward, and perhaps a mile or
two further northward. As the drifting snow became less thick, and
the weather cleared, we saw that the opportunity had come. Once more
we heard the joyful order to get up steam. The rudder was rapidly got
into its place, but no efforts could get the screw into its bearings.
The fresh surface water entangled about it froze when it was lowered
into the colder salt sea beneath, and while all hands were still
working at it, the pack closed in as tightly as before. We were all
greatly disappointed at the time, but there is now not the slightest
doubt that if H.M.S. “Alert” had advanced two miles to the westward
she would never have carried her crew southward again. It was from
henceforth evident that the ship would have to winter in the spot
where chance had placed her, and every effort was at once directed to
the sledging.

There was no time to be lost; winter was fast approaching; day and
night had again returned. The sun’s dip below the icy horizon to the
north was longer and longer every night, and during the day he skirted
so low above the southern land that even at noon it was already dusk
in our wardroom and between decks. Light fleecy snow fell frequently,
and day by day the temperature declined nearer and nearer to zero;
but nevertheless, no change took place in the outside pack—it still
roared and grated in constant motion. The idea of travelling over it
could not be entertained for a moment, and it was necessary to wait
till the snow of the shores and the new ice of the inlets and narrow
spaces between the pack and shore were hard enough to bear the loaded
sledges. On 22nd September the dog-sledges again started for the north
to ascertain whether Cape Joseph Henry could be crossed or rounded.
And two days later, three eight-man sledges, under Commander Markham,
with Lieutenants Parr and May, left the ship with a heavy load of
provisions and stores, to be deposited at the most northern suitable
fixed point in readiness for the spring campaign. Lieutenant Aldrich
and his dog-sledges returned in fourteen days. He had reached the
Cape, crossing on his way the ring of latitude from which Sir Edward
Parry, the most poleward of our predecessors, had turned back 48 years
before. From a cliff two thousand feet above the polar floes, he had
seen nothing but ice to the northward; but far westward, seventy miles
or more distant, snowy headlands, one beyond the other, extended
slightly northward of the land on which he stood.

This was the worst news we had anticipated. It left the future
undecided. If his telescope had detected the loom of land to the
north, our duty would have been plain, and success at least probable.
If, on the other hand, the coast beyond the Cape ran definitely south,
the clear negative would have allowed us to turn every energy into a
new channel. But now this new-found land must be tracked westward for
many a weary mile, and those distant headlands must be rounded one by
one before we could be certain that the coast-line did not finally
turn polewards, and afford a route which might be followed, if not
next year, at least in the following season.

Wind, insecure ice, and constant falls of snow told heavily against
Captain Markham’s three sledges, but they successfully deposited their
depôt near the Cape, and in such a position that anyone travelling
along the beach could not fail to find it even in fog or storm. On
their way back, part of the ice they had recently sledged over was
found destroyed by the motion of the pack, and it was necessary to
haul the sledges over the summits of the Black Cliffs. There, there
was no shelter from the wind; the temperature fell to 47 degrees below
freezing. That bleak ridge was afterwards known as “Frost-bite Range.”
When, after three weeks’ absence, they reached the ship, the whole
party was in a wretched condition. Their sleeping-bags, robes, and
tent were stiffened into boards of ice, more than twice as heavy as
when they set out; and the twenty-four men and officers had no less
than forty-three frost-bites amongst them, most of them comparatively
slight, but three so severe as to require amputation. While these
sledge parties were laying out the autumn depôts and exploring
northward, others were no less active in another direction.

The programme of our Expedition stipulated that the “Alert,” in order
to keep up communication with her consort, was not to winter more than
two hundred miles from her. An officer and sledge crew belonging to
the “Discovery” had accompanied us northwards with the intention of
returning to their ship as soon as the “Alert” had reached her winter
quarters. We had advanced but sixty miles, and yet the most gallant
and persevering efforts to communicate with the “Discovery” were
again and again unsuccessful. The deep soft snow lying piled against
the cliffs of Cape Rawson and Black Cape barred the way. The men,
buried to their waists in the snow, dug a path for the sledge till the
excavation became a tunnel, and a day’s hard labour could be measured
by a few paces. The last and most determined effort to force a road
southward was undertaken on the 2nd October, but on the 12th the party
returned without having got further than six miles from the ship. This
failure to communicate with the “Discovery” over so short a distance
as only 60 miles was altogether unlooked for, and could not but
suggest uncomfortable reflections. It had been assumed that even two
hundred miles would not interrupt communication between our ships, and
that sledges could travel the whole length of Smith’s Sound to reach a
relief ship, or to deposit despatches at its entrance. Where was the
error in the assumption? Were our men degenerate? Our picked crews,
full of health and strength, and enthusiastic to a man, were equal
to the best of their predecessors. The conclusion was inevitable—the
conditions and not the men were to blame. Within half-a-mile of our
ship, there were many places that would stop the finest crew that
ever drew a sledge. The ice was massive beyond all expectation; but
it was not the ice that stopped our travellers—it was the soft snow.
Some idea of its fleecy lightness may be gathered from the fact that
ten measures of it could easily be pressed into one, and that one
melted into only one-tenth its bulk of water. Everyone noticed the
beauty of its crystals; they were delicate eighteen-rayed stars, rayed
not in one plane, but in all. In British Columbia and other parts of
Canada, when such soft snow interferes with travelling, it is usual
to camp for a day or so—perhaps under a comfortable tree—and, when
the snow has hardened a little, make a firm path for the sledge, or
long tobbogin, by tramping in advance on snow-shoes. But we might
have waited till permanent darkness set in before our snow hardened.
Our sledges, perfect as they were for their own work, were not suited
for land travelling over soft snow; and as snow-shoes had never been
used by Arctic Expeditions, we had but two pairs in the ship. There
are two causes that tend to harden and cake the surface of snow—the
first is wind, and we had comparatively little of that; the second is
a contrast in temperature between the earth below and the air above
the snow. When the lower part of the snow is twenty or thirty degrees
warmer than the upper, evaporation takes place from the one, and
condensation in the other. At Floeberg Beach the earth was permanently
cold. Even in midsummer only a few inches of the surface thawed, and
during the whole winter it remained close to zero, so that it was not
until the intensely cold weather of spring that any marked contrast
was established.


Two days before the return of the last autumn party the sun sank below
the south horizon, not to return for nearly five months. We climbed
Cairn Hill to have a last look at him, but the high land southwards
hid him from view. His refracted rays still lit up the ice of the
northern horizon, but Floeberg Beach and the pack, for a mile outside
the ship, lay in the shadow of the land. Away southwards to the right,
the sides of the Greenland hills caught the sunlight, and through the
gaps in their undulating outline a distant horizontal plain of _mer de
glace_, the northern termination of Greenland’s continental ice, was
yet distinguishable at intervals.

After the return of the depôt detachment from Cape Joseph Henry, the
twilight had darkened so much that further sledging was impossible,
and all hands set about making preparations to encounter the fast
closing-in winter. Firm ice had formed round the ship, and cemented
her to the grounded floebergs on her right; but, in order to guard
against being again blown from shore, she was secured to the beach
by two strong chain cables, supported at intervals by barrels, so
that the heavy metal links should not sink into the ice. The “crow’s
nest” and all the rigging that could be spared were taken down from
aloft and packed away. A thick felty awning was spread overhead
across spars fastened between the masts so as to completely roof in
the greater part of the ship. Then snow was heaped up all round her
black hull as high as the crimson stripe along her bulwarks. But for
her masts and yards she might have been taken for a great marquee,
with stove-pipes coming through at intervals. Her unshipped rudder
was hung across the stern, safe from any ice pressure during
the winter. To enter the ship, one had to pass through a narrow gap
in the snow embankment, near the middle of her left side, ascend two
or three steps, and lift up a hanging door closing an entrance cut
in the bulwarks. The whole of the upper deck was covered with a deep
layer of snow, so as to keep the heat in. Snow passages, with double
wooden doors, self-closing by means of weights, were made over the
two hatch-ways leading down below. The skylights were all covered up.
Lamps and candles had already been in use for some time. By means of
eight stoves, distributed in various parts between decks, and each
burning twenty-eight pounds of coal per day, an average temperature
of forty-nine was maintained through the winter. It was intended to
utilise all the heat by leading the flues along the deck overhead
before they passed up into the outer air; but the horizontal flues
smoked so much that it was necessary to let them pass directly
upwards, and even then they were as smoky as ships’ stoves usually
are. Meantime, the bleak beach opposite the ship was also undergoing
metamorphosis. Boats, spars, blocks of patent fuel, casks, and cans
of stores innumerable had been carried to it from the ship, so as to
increase the habitable space on board. The casks and barrels were
piled into walls, and roofed in with spars and sails, so as to make a
large storehouse to hold everything that could be taken from the ship.
A short distance off, a great pyramid of pemmican, stearine-fuel,
bacon, and other sledging stores rose above the snow. Next came the
preparations for the scientific observations of the winter. The
wooden observatory, on a firm foundation of snow-filled casks, looked
like a bathing-box unaccountably gone astray. Then a whole group
of beehive-shaped snow-houses, each one the temple of some special
instrument, the “Declinometer,” the “Unifiler,” and so on, and a whole
system of catacomb-like passages cut in the deep snow and roofed in,
connected the buildings.

ASTERN OF H.M.S. “ALERT,” DECEMBER, 1876.—p. 37.

During winter moonlight this view of the ship was a familiar one;
for it is from the end of the half-mile marked out for exercise on
the Hoes. The foretopmast has gone to make a roof-tree for the thick
awnings that house in the deck. The crow’s nest and much of the
rigging are packed away till next wanted. The unshipped rudder hangs
across the stern, out of the way of damage from any crushing of the
floes. Snow packed up carefully all round the ship is an all-important
protection against the increasing cold.]

Fortunately, the last gale had so far hardened the snow-drifts in this
spot that snow-house building had become possible. Every few days a
new “house” sprang up. A group of men would come out from the ship,
warmly booted and mitted, carrying shovels and saws, and perhaps a
lantern. They shovel off the loose surface snow, and proceed to mark
out two sets of concentric circles, one slightly larger than the
other, and follow the marks with the saw driven vertically into the
snow. The rings thus sawn out are then cut into blocks about two feet
square. The outer ring of blocks from the larger circles, placed round
the circular pit left by the removal of blocks from the smaller set,
makes the first tier. Then comes the outer ring from the smaller set,
and so on alternately, till a good flat block closes in the top. The
resulting edifice is all in steps, but it is thoroughly substantial,
and will last till midsummer. Thus our town sprang up, and each part
soon received its appropriate name—Markham Hall, Kew, Deptford,
Greenwich, &c., while at a safe distance southward an eccentric
edifice, surmounted by a broom handle to represent a lightning
conductor, acted as magazine and spirit-store.

Long before winter had passed, our town had disappeared as
completely as Nineveh or Pompeii. Only an uncertain mound here and
there projected over the bleak slope of drifted snow. Some of the
storehouses, indeed, were so effectively hidden that they were not
found till after several days’ excavations in the following July.
The great advantage of a snow-house is that it takes its temperature
from the earth, and not from the air. Some of ours were occasionally
as much as forty degrees warmer than the atmosphere, so that an
observer well muffled in furs could remain for four or five hours at
a time watching the swinging magnetic needle, or the progress of some
icy experiment. His meditations would sometimes be disturbed by the
wandering footfall of one of our dogs overhead, sounding strangely
loud and reverberating. The snow was curiously retentive of odours:
a little spirit spilt in one house made it ever afterwards smell like
a gin-palace; another had an unaccountable odour of oysters that
puzzled all our _savans_; but, as a rule, the smell of burnt candle
predominated. The manner, by-the-bye, in which the flame of a candle
gradually sank into a tallowy net-work cylinder afforded a striking
illustration of the still air and low temperature of a snow-house.
In strong moonlight, or after daylight returned, the effect inside
one of our buildings was most peculiar. The snow transmits a subdued
greenish-blue light, such as a diver sees deep under water.


While twilight lasted, many excursions were made landwards, but the
uncertain state of the deep snow made even a short walk a serious
undertaking. In places it lay merely dusted over the ground; in others
in deep drifts, here soft, and there hardened by wind. If we turned to
the north, we soon came to a steep ravine, by no means easily crossed,
winding down from Mount Pullen. All inland was a monotonous waste
of snow, and ten minutes’ walk to the south brought us to another
ravine—a smaller one—which somehow or other acquired the name of the
“Gap of Dunloe.” Here a summer torrent had cut a way under the ice and
snow that half filled the ravine. A few little frozen pools amongst
the boulders was all that remained of the torrent, but its size might
be estimated by the long flat cavern it had washed out under the ice,
lit from above by a number of dangerous “man-holes” opening through
the snow overhead. At the other side of the ravine, the land rose
towards the high capes overlooking Robeson Channel, and afforded very
rough walking, for the vertical slate strata was either smoothed over
with treacherous snow, or stuck up through it in various-sized flat
slabs, making the land look like a vast graveyard. As a rule, however,
there was really nothing to see but interminable snow. Sometimes, when
it was a little overcast, even the distinction between land and sky
was confused, and everything assumed a uniform whiteness. More than
once it occurred to us that our scenery was very simply portrayed: a
spotless sheet of white paper could not be improved upon. Under such
circumstances, it may easily be imagined that the discovery of a hare
track was quite an exciting event. Who could think of returning to
a half-past two o’clock dinner before the track was followed, and
the quarry found! A second hare track was fallen in with on the 29th
October, but after following it for some hours it became plain that
the creature had more than once been within thirty yards, and had
escaped unnoticed in the twilight. The chase was given up, and it
was at any rate a satisfaction to know that at least one live thing
was left to pass the winter in our neighbourhood. There was no use
in trying to hunt after this. That day we had hoped to get something
better than hare, for one of the ice quartermasters had reported that
he had heard wolves howling inland during the middle watch, and wolves
would hardly pay us a visit so far north unless they were driving musk
oxen or reindeer. A long walk on snow-shoes failed to discover any
tracks, and indeed the beasts themselves might have been close at hand
without being seen, for darkness was already stealing over the land.

Twilight at mid-day ceased on 9th November; that is to say, the sun
never afterwards came within twenty-eight degrees of the southern
horizon. Such a definition of twilight is as convenient as any other,
and has the advantage of being familiar to some people at least, as
it is that which usually regulates the firing of the morning gun
in garrison towns. After this date nothing but a faint violet glow
towards the south, not bright enough to hide the stars, and that too
lessening every day, marked the whereabouts of the mid-day sun. We
were not at once left in darkness, however, for the moon rose, and for
ten periods of twenty-four hours—one cannot call them days—climbed,
and then declined spirally through the heavens. She again visited us
three times before twilight returned, each time giving us the benefit
of full moon; indeed, without her cheerful visits winter darkness
would have been almost unendurable. During the intervening periods
of darkness, “next moonlight” was looked forward to in much the same
way that schoolboys look forward to holidays. A diagram made by
Captain Nares, and hung up on the lower deck, representing the daily
position of the moon during the absence of the sun, was constantly
consulted. In this far northern region man is as much influenced by
the moon as his celebrated Ascidian ancestor on the tidal beach.
Her advent inaugurates a period of intermittent vitality. Then was
the time to build snow-houses, to collect fresh ice for culinary
purposes, and to repair the banking up of the ship. It was only then
that it was possible to leave the beaten track marked out for daily
exercise, and wade towards Cairn Hill or Flagstaff Point, or toboggin
down Thermometer Hill or Guy Fawkes Hummock. When the moon left us,
exercise collapsed into a monotonous two hours’ routine up and down,
up and down the measured line of preserved meat tins, relieved here
and there by an empty barrel, by way of milestone. A tread-mill would
have been a pleasing exchange, especially if it was made the means of
supplying an electric light during exercise hours.

Anyone acquainted with Arctic literature does not need to be told that
a polar winter cannot be safely passed without strict discipline.
Routine must extend even to the smallest domestic affairs. Some people
would never go to bed, and others would never get up if there was
nothing special to make them; and constant darkness is so enervating
that few, if any, would keep up a steady healthful amount of exercise
without routine.


Morning muster and prayers on deck formed part of the daily routine,
and, while the long darkness lasted, every day began with this scene.
The men are clad in sealskin and cork-soled carpet boots. The deck is
covered in with a deep layer of snow, and snow-houses are built over
each hatchway.]

Let us take a single day as an example of life in winter quarters.
On waking in the morning one’s first sensation is that there is a
chilly spot somewhere amongst the blankets. A drip of condensation
from the cold deck overhead has found its way through the waterproof
or rug spread like a canopy to intercept it. This condensation
is one of the greatest nuisances we have to contend with. Its chief
sources are our breath, evaporation from damp clothes, and culinary
operations, but there are many others. All the oil used in our lamps,
and every candle we burn, is converted into nearly its own weight of
water, and must condense somewhere. It either falls in large drops,
well coloured with candle and lamp smoke, or reserves itself for
warmer weather by freezing in all the nooks and crannies overhead and
at our side. A little press close to the bed holds our summer boots, a
number of glass instruments for chemical experiments, and some spare
candles; but we have just discovered that the whole set of articles
are imbedded in a solid block of ice formed by repeated condensation.
An odour of kindling coal floats into the cabin as the wardroom stove
is lit, and warns us that it is time to get up. Some minutes elapse
before the chilled flue will draw, hence the odour. Toilet is not a
lengthy operation. A tub is a weekly luxury, for water means fuel.
The men have already breakfasted, and are clearing up the decks.
The plates, cups, and saucers are cheerfully rattling on our mess
table, and our next-door neighbour kindly warns us not to be late, as
curried sardine day has come round again. A large mess-tin of cocoa
is simmering on top of the stove, and the baker has treated us to
the unusual luxury of hot rolls. At ten o’clock the men muster round
the tub of lime-juice, mixed with warm water, and each man’s name is
marked off as he drinks his allowance. Then all hands parade on deck
for inspection. Everyone is dressed alike, in yellow sealskin cap and
coat, sealskin or duffle trousers; long carpet boots with thick cork
soles keep the feet well off the snow, and are especially comfortable
over two pair of lambs’-wool socks and a pair of fur slippers. When
the officers have inspected their detachments and reported all
mustered, the chaplain reads the collect for the day and a brief
prayer by the light of an engine-room oil-lamp hung from overhead.
All join in the familiar responses, and the beautiful words of the
prayer for the navy sound more than ever applicable to our special
circumstances. The scene is a striking one. The dim yellow light,
the composed fur-clad men, the awning draped in feathery pendants
of ice, and the trampled snow on deck, make a picture not easily
forgotten (Plate No. 6). Immediately after prayers, all hands are
told off to the work of the day. The declinometer house is closed up
with a snow-drift, and has to be dug out. Ice has to be dug out with
picks from the top of a floeberg, and drawn on a sledge on board to
be melted for drinking, cooking, and washing. The water thus obtained
is only too pure. Frozen sea water, in spite of theory, remains salt,
but the upper strata of the floebergs are pure snow condensed into
ice. Then there are some stores to be drawn on the strong working
sledge from Markham Hall; and the blacksmith and his assistants have
a number of shovels to repair, for, strong as they are, they wont
stand levering out blocks for snow-houses. At one o’clock the men go
to their dinner, and before ours there is yet an hour and a quarter.
We cannot stay on board, for the wardroom is occupied by an energetic
party rehearsing for theatricals. We have just time for a good smart
walk. In a few minutes we are equipped, with long mitts—some people
call them elbow-bags—slung round the neck, and a substantial muffler
tied sash-wise over one shoulder as a reserve in case of necessity.
On first going into the open air, there is a faint odour like that of
green walnuts. It is difficult to say what is the cause of it; it is
not always noticeable, and does not coincide with the darkest staining
of the ozone tests. The measured half-mile is already full of figures
tramping along, some singly, some in pairs, some fast, others slowly,
but all keeping to the beaten track, for elsewhere the snow is soft
and the ice is hillocky.

Let us, for sake of variety, take advantage of the waning December
moon, and visit Flagstaff Point. It is only a mile and a-half
northwards, but the deep snow will keep us beyond our time unless
we wear snow-shoes. The sloping shore hills are barred with
“sastrugi”—wind-made ridges of snow—but the abrupt scooped-out
rifts between them are smoothed over with fleecy powder in gentle
undulations like the swell of a sea. The crests of the snow waves
are often marked with long sinuous lines of black dust blown from
uncovered spots. A short alpenstock is useful to feel the way. We
carry no arms, for we are beyond the region of the sea bear. The
fierce creature depicted on our crockery (p. 83) is altogether out
of place; but then every one supposed when we left England that the
far north was chiefly characterised by abundance of bears, brilliant
auroræ, icebergs, and Eskimo. The point is marked by four barrels
supporting a flagstaff. Beyond it lies a seemingly level plain,
between a wall of pack-ice and the mouth of our north ravine. The
temperature is 67° below freezing; but it is perfectly calm, and not
too cold to rest for a moment or two.


In this icy wilderness there is an overpowering sense of solitude,
which adds greatly to the weird effect of moonlight on the floebergs,
fantastically-shaped and vague. There is complete silence, but it is
broken every now and then by sudden unearthly yells and shrieks from
the still moving pack, harsh and loud as a steam siren, but unlike
anything else in art or nature. As we return to the ship our attention
is caught by a brilliant star, so close to the rough and indistinct
horizon that it looks as if some one was carrying a lantern on the
floes. As we watch it, it moves, at first but a little, but afterwards
in long curves like the sweep of a goshawk. It took us some time to
find out that the motion was an optical delusion, most distinct when
no other stars were near.

The cheery sound of the first dinner gong has brought every one in off
the ice; and as we enter the ship, we find a group of our messmates
brushing each other down with a housemaid’s brush, for one must be
careful not to carry any snow into the warmth below. A lantern lights
the way into a snow-hall built over the hatchway. We open the inner
door, a rush of cold air precedes us down the ladder, and we descend
in a cloud of vapour like an Olympian deity. For a moment the changed
atmosphere and a suspicion of tobacco smoke makes us cough, and the
glare of lanterns and lamps dazzles. There must be no delay in taking
off our sealskins; they are already moist with condensation, and a
cold steam streams from them to the floor. Little lumps of ice on the
eyelashes and brows soon melt, but a solid mass cementing beard and
moustache together resists even warm water for a time. Hair about the
mouth is a nuisance in the Arctic regions, and everyone keeps close
cropped. Our vice-president’s two sharp taps on the table announce
grace; he will wait for no one when the soup is cooling, and quite
right too. Our dinner is the same as the men’s: a piece of salt meat
left from yesterday _rechauffé_, preserved meat—there is a discussion
whether the pie is mutton or beef—preserved potatoes, and preserved
onions; we shall have carrots to-morrow. Lime juice replaces beer, for
the latter has become a rare luxury, reserved for birthdays and other
state occasions. Presently some one throws a good conversational fly;
if it is very successful, a brisk controversy follows. The subject is
immaterial, all are more or less exhausted, and none is proscribed
except theology. It is wonderful how many subjects became theological
before the end of the winter. We have laid in a small stock of wine,
which allows us to have two glasses of sherry or Madeira with dinner.
When that is disposed of, conversation flags, and the table is soon
cleared. As soon as the cloth, which looks as if it had been used
before, is removed, our white cat springs upon the table, and seats
herself in the centre with all the assurance of a spoiled pet. It is
not a little strange that both she and “Ginger,” her sister, forward
in the men’s quarters, as well as the Eskimo dogs, and even “Nellie,”
the black retriever, suffered from epileptiform fits. Before winter
was over, Pops got so strangely feeble that she could not spring upon
a chair without several efforts; but when summer came, and we got her
a little fresh meat, she recovered perfectly, and returned with us in
safety to England. After dinner was a quiet time to write up journal,
to read, or to work at some experiment or observation. Certain
instruments had to be registered every hour, and sometimes even every
ten minutes, day and night, and fair registers of such observations
occupy not a little time. One or two who have work to do at night put
in a couple of hours’ comfortable sleep before tea is announced at six
o’clock. Then follows school on the lower deck. When it is over, and
the officers have dismissed their pupils, the musician of our mess,
whose good fellowship is equal to his skill, treats us to a little of
his exhaustless fund of music. Strange to say, our piano still keeps
excellent tune in spite of the heavy seas that swept the wardroom
crossing the Atlantic, and many a severe freezing since. A game of
chess, or a rubber in the captain’s cabin, concludes the evening.


The warmth and comfort inside the ship were a strong contrast to the
chill loneliness outside. In the snug lamplight of the wardroom, with
a journal to be written up, or a book from the well-stocked shelves
behind the door, it was easy to forget that only a few planks and a
bank of snow shut out a thousand miles of darkness and deadly cold.]

We were all prepared for a long and monotonous winter, and each
one, according to his proclivities, had drawn out for himself a
lengthy programme of improving study. One would read through Alison’s
“History of Europe,” another would master Italian, a third preferred
German; others chose music, and would learn the banjo, or, if the
mess preferred it, the tambourine. But the historic programme only
was carried out. Most of us found that our time was more than
occupied with notes and observations of Arctic Nature that we might
never have another opportunity of making. There was the electric,
magnetic, microscopic, thermal, and chemical states of earth, air,
ice, and water, and a hundred other pressing questions, that made
us regret we had not spent our whole lives in preparation for our
unlimited opportunities. Then there was other work that could not be
postponed. It was above all things necessary to ascertain the exact
position of our winter quarters, so that the geographical discoveries
of the Expedition—the coast-lines passed by the ship as well as
those traversed by sledges—might be fastened down to at least one
fixed point. For this purpose, many careful observations of moon and
stars were required, and the officer who had accepted the duties of
astronomer had no easy time of it. He and his assistant spent many a
chill hour watching the occultation or transit of some star or planet.
The observatory is necessarily open to the air; snow-wreaths festoon
its walls and corners. Every breath freezes on the metal and glasses
of the telescope; even the vapour from the observer’s eye quickly
clouds the lens. His assistant, utterly unrecognisable under a pile of
furs and mufflers, stands shivering beside him, carefully keeping a
chronometer from the cold, for neither watch nor chronometer will work
in the temperature of Arctic night.

The weather during winter was, as a rule, so calm and clear that
observations on the stars could be made almost at any time; but it
was not a little remarkable that, even at the clearest times, some
icy dust, too fine to be called snow, was always falling. On the
27th December, for example, it was so clear that a star of the third
magnitude less than three degrees from the northern horizon could
be satisfactorily observed. And yet, in twelve hours, a glass plate
exposed on top of a neighbouring hill collected a quantity of little
crystals equal to nine tons per square mile. These crystals, not to be
confounded with icy dew formed on the plate itself, were altogether
too small to be seen with the naked eye; but there was no difficulty
in using a microscope, even in the lowest temperatures, except that
the mercurial reflector was soon destroyed by the cold. It was when
these crystals assumed their simpler shapes, and were abundant in the
air, that the moon appeared decked in those halos and crosses known as
_paraselena_, or mock moons. Twice in December we had good examples of
them. Upon each occasion the moon appeared in the centre of a large
and luminous cross, surrounded by two circles plainly distinguishable
between us and the snow-clad land. The cross swayed and trembled with
every breath of air, and vanished altogether when wind disturbed the
tissue of falling crystals; but the halos were more permanent. Plate
No. 7 gives a better idea of them than any verbal description. It is
a reproduction of a sketch made early in the morning of the 11th of
December. Our long-lost wanderer, Sally, absent since 15th October,
when she was left by a sledging party near Sickle Point, had just put
in an appearance, and may be seen in the foreground intensely watching
the proceedings of two officers engaged in measuring the holes with a

[Illustration: PLATE VIII.—LUNAR HALOES.—p. 44.

This is a sketch, from the floes alongside the ship, of an unusually
distinct Paraselena that appeared on 11th December, 1875. The haloes
and cross round the moon are caused by the passage of her light
through a tissue of impalpably minute needle-like crystals of ice
slowly falling through the atmosphere. The snow-covered hills of
Floeberg Beach are in the background, and in the foreground two
officers are measuring the arc with a sextant, while the long-lost
Sally looks on. In summer the sun was often surrounded by a similar
meteor, but intensely dazzling, and tinted with colours like an
outside rainbow.]

_A propos_ of Sally, her adventures might make a canine romance. She
was a young, rather unsociable, grey-coloured Eskimo dog, that formed
one of Lieutenant Aldrich’s team in his autumn sledge-journey into the
“untrodden north” and past Cape Joseph Henry. Like several others, the
cold and hard work were too much for her, and she broke down utterly.
The more “fits” she had, and the feebler she got, the more she was
set upon and bitten by the stronger ones. It was impossible to delay
the sledge, and there was nothing to be done but either shoot the
poor beast, like a canine comrade a few days before, or adopt a less
merciful course and leave her on the floes, with a faint hope that she
might revive and limp home after the sledge. It was late in September
that Sall was thus cast adrift. On 22nd of October the men of Captain
Markham’s party fell in with her, still lingering about the spot where
she had been abandoned, very lean and hungry, but too wild or too
feeble to follow them back to the ship. From that time she was written
down in the roll call as “expended.”

Week after week of cold and storm and darkness passed, and
everyone felt quite certain that poor Sall had gone to the happy
hunting-grounds. It is accordingly easy to imagine that her
reappearance on 11th December caused a decided sensation. Even her
old comrades could not believe their eyes, but growled and stared at
the gaunt prodigal that sat wolf-like on a snow hillock, and howled
dismally in the moonlight. Ever afterwards she was a changed dog.
She grew large and strong, and her character became ambitious and
overbearing. When she set her mind upon anything, she got it, whether
it was an empty box to sleep in, or a neighbour’s pup for supper. She
became the favourite of the “king dog” of the pack (dogs soon learn,
and never forget which is master), and would feed between his paws.
But after a while she learnt to beat her lord, and finally usurped
his throne, and led the pack in work or play, though Salic law is
generally observed amongst Eskimo dogs. When the Expedition returned,
she was given to our trusty Eskimo Fred, who knew how to value her.
Some of us would have liked to have shown her in England, but it would
have gone hard with the first cab horse she caught sight of.

The “Alert” in her winter quarters at Floeberg Beach was 142 days
without the sun—a week longer than the “Polaris,” and a month longer
than any previous English expedition. Throughout the whole time the
difference between noon and midnight was hardly appreciable, but a
long period of slowly lessening twilight preceded actual night. Our
darkest time occurred between moon-set on 18th December, 1875, and
moon-rise on 4th January, 1876, though indeed the periods preceding
and following it were scarcely lighter. Many a time, as we stumbled
blindly along at daily exercise, we discussed the question whether
our noon was really as dark as an English moonless night. The general
impression was that it was not so dark. The universal snow husbanded
what little light there was, and sometimes looked almost as if it
was self-luminous. Although the sun was further off on the 23rd
December, that was not the darkest day, for the moon was not far below
the horizon. That day at noon it was just possible to count lines 3
millimetres wide when not more than 4 millimetres apart.

The 28th was perhaps our darkest day. In order to retain some idea
of what the darkness was, we took a rough “Letts’s Diary” out on the
floe at noon, and tried to read the advertisements printed in large
type at the end. It was necessary to remain out some ten or fifteen
minutes in order to get accustomed to the darkness; and of course, if
one had any idea of what the advertisements were beforehand, the test
did not apply. The words “Epps’s Cocoa,” in type nearly half-an-inch
long, were easily read, but the “breakfast” in small type between them
was utterly illegible. It was just possible to spell out “Oetzmann”
in clear Roman type five-sixteenths of an inch long; and after much
staring at the page, held close before the eyes, we managed to make
out “great novelty” in type one-fourth of an inch long. Of course the
test depended as much upon the eyes as upon the darkness; but it was
at any rate a comparative one which would enable those who tried it to
recall the darkness of their winter noon.

The line below will give an idea of the size of type


We have since found that such type is legible on clear moonless nights
in England.

As the absence of the sun lengthened, so the cold increased.
Arctic Expeditions have almost invariably registered their lowest
temperatures in February and March, the months in which the earth
is coldest even in England. The darkness and the low temperature of
winter do not occur together: the cold, indeed, belongs rather to
spring than to winter. In our case, it was not till after darkness had
left us and dawn was well advanced that the state of our thermometer
became a subject of general interest.

We did not expect an unusually cold winter. Maps marked the “pole
of cold” far south of our position, and it seemed likely that the
great polar sea, though much the reverse of open, would make our
winter warm. The thermometer stands were conspicuous objects as we
came out from the ship to the floes. The first was supported on a
barrel and snow pedestal only seventeen feet from the ship, so as to
be convenient for hourly or half-hourly registration. Then came the
self-registering thermometer, elevated on a tripod about thirty yards
from the ship. Others were placed on the floe near shore, and on a
hillock close to the beach.

It may be said to be always freezing in the far north. Even in a warm
summer day, when the air is perhaps 40° Fahrenheit, flakes of ice
rise up from the cold sides of the floebergs, and in the shade float
in a thin pellicle on the water in the ice-cracks. Meat exposed to
the air keeps all the year round, and for many months our rigging was
decorated with sides of musk ox and carcases of mutton. In connection
with the keeping of meat, it is worth while to mention that a piece
of musk ox meat, exposed for six months in the rigging, and sealed
up in the cold air, remained, very unexpectedly, unchanged when the
temperature rose, and was exhibited perfectly fresh three months after
the Expedition returned to England.

The temperature of the air sank permanently below freezing in the
middle of August before we had reached winter quarters, and continued
below for nine months. Fifty-four degrees of frost were registered
during the October sledging. In November, mercury froze and the spirit
thermometers fell to forty-five below zero (_i.e._, 77° of frost). The
lowest in December was one degree colder. Then hopes of a warm winter
were given up, and we watched the spirit shrink degree after degree
past the coldest recorded by our predecessors. January’s lowest was
58°.7; February brought 66°.3 below zero; but on the third of March,
three days after sunrise, the unparalleled temperature of 73.7 degrees
below zero was indicated by our Kew-corrected thermometers, and for
many hours the temperature remained more than one hundred degrees
below freezing.

[Illustration: EXAMINING THERMOMETER: -73.4°.]

As a general rule, people look upon extreme cold as the most
characteristic and most insupportable part of Arctic service, but
this is altogether a mistake. It is not nearly as trying as the long
darkness, and both are insignificant compared to the social friction
of the confined life—a friction which would be unbearable if the men
and officers had not been accustomed to habits of discipline, and
inured to the confinement and restraints of “man-of-war” life. The
hardships of mere low temperature are by no means unendurable. In
comfortable winter quarters, and with plenty of dry warm clothing, we
found the extremest cold rather curious and interesting than painful
or dangerous. An icy tub on an English winter morning feels colder
to the skin than the calm Arctic air. Cold alone never interrupted
daily exercise. It was possible to walk for two or three hours over
our snow-clad hills, in a temperature of one hundred degrees below
freezing, without getting a single frost-bite, or perceptibly lowering
the temperature of the body. It is possible even to perspire if one
works hard enough. The fact is, only the face and lungs are really
exposed, and neither appear to suffer from it. Our experience led
us to think that men, thoroughly prepared, might safely encounter
far lower temperatures. Many a time, as we sat round the stove on
the main-deck discussing the events of the day and the state of the
weather, the relative merits of Arctic cold and tropic heat were
warmly canvassed. Several of both our officers and men had lately
returned from the Ashantee campaign, and they could speak with
authority. There was one thing clear—one could sometimes get warm in
the Arctic, but never get cool on the Coast.

If the intense cold was more endurable in winter quarters than some
of us had anticipated, it was altogether a different thing camping
out away from the ship on a sledge party. Then, with food and clothing
limited by the sledge-weights, with no warmer bed than a snowdrift,
and no possibility of changing ice-saturated clothes, cold, far less
than that experienced in winter quarters, becomes a real hardship, and
its miseries can hardly be exaggerated.

During the period of intense cold, we amused ourselves with many
experiments on its effects on various substances. Ordinary spirit,
such as brandy or rum, froze into crystalline paste. Even the alcohol
in our astronomer’s spirit levels acted sluggishly. Glycerine became
as hard as soap; mercury remained frozen for ten or twelve days at a
time. Everyone knows the danger of handling metal at low temperatures.
The danger depends greatly upon the state of the hand; if it is at all
moist or soft, it will adhere, and soon be dangerously frost-bitten;
but if quite dry, we could, for experiment sake, take a mitt off and
turn the brass handle of our outer door without experiencing anything
more serious than a sudden sting, which was like neither heat nor
cold. It was even possible to melt a small fragment of mercury on the
naked palm without leaving a trace of injury.

We had few opportunities of noting how the lower animals bore the
cold. Our Eskimo dogs evidently suffered much at times, but never
learnt to use a snow-kennel built to shelter them. Some of the bitches
had sumptuous apartments constructed for them on deck, in the vain
hope that comfort would make them more careful of their offspring. One
old dog, Master Bruin, who had no tail to coil round his neck when
he went to sleep, and was perhaps more susceptible to cold on that
account, discovered that the magnetic observatory was warmer than the
star-lit side of a hummock, and would willingly have taken up his
quarters there if it had been allowed. Nellie, the retriever, always
took her daily exercise, but slept between decks in the warmth. Pussy
paid one visit to the deck just to see what Arctic winter was like;
but she hopped about shaking one foot after another, and sneezed so
incessantly that she seemed in danger of choking, and had to be taken
below again.

Neither rats nor mice had come north with us. Three of our useless
carrier pigeons had reached winter quarters alive, fluttering round
the ship and perching on the frozen rigging, but none survived
long. It was in the depth of winter, when the land seemed utterly
lifeless and deserted, that the first living inhabitant of Floeberg
Beach presented himself on board our ship. Midnight was past, and
one officer alone lingered beside the main-deck stove, watching the
red light flickering on a much-weathered musk ox skull that had been
picked up on shore and was now being dried before the fire. Suddenly
he falls on his knees and stares intently at the bone, then rushes to
the naturalist’s cabin, and reappears with that gentleman lightly clad
in scarlet flannel, and bearing the first bottles and specimen boxes
that came to hand. A little black spider, revived by the warmth, had
crept out of a small hole in the skull, but retreated again before he
could be bottled. Two weary hours elapsed ere he reappeared, but the
watchers were at length rewarded, and he was triumphantly captured,
packed away, dated, and labelled in the naturalist’s store, commonly
known as “South Kensington.”

At that time we had an unreasoning impression that no live thing
could endure actual reduction to the temperatures of Arctic night.
But cold is by no means so deadly. The mosquitoes, butterflies,
and dragon-flies of brief Arctic summer are assuredly not all new
arrivals. A good example of vitality in the vegetable kingdom
was afforded by the wheat left at “Hall’s Rest” by the ill-fated
“Polaris.” In spite of the cold of five winters, it was still alive
when we found it. Sown at Discovery Bay, it germinated freely, and, as
I write, some of it carried home with the ships promises to reproduce
itself in a fair crop of bearded “Polaris wheat.” Even at the Polar
Sea, and in the midnight of winter, the air holds spores of
moulds, and many of them grew rapidly when carried into the warmth
inside the ship. It is hard to say what temperatures would kill such
primitive organisms—in fact, so far as our little experience goes, Sir
William Thomson’s “moss-grown fragment of another world” might have
carried the germ of terrestrial life safely enough through the chills
of stellar space.

The temperature of winter was by no means steady; on the contrary, its
progressive fall was interrupted by many sudden rises.

In ordinary cold weather the sky was wonderfully clear, and the
weather wonderfully calm. Many a time, as we walked at daily exercise
up and down our half-mile of shadowy snow, with nothing to look at
but the stars, the whole sky was absolutely vapourless, from the
pole star in the zenith to Orion or the three stars of Aquila just
skirting along the horizon. Sometimes a faint fleecy mist, hardly
distinguishable from one of our feeble auroras, would pass overhead;
but round piled-up masses of cloud, such as are common in southern
skies, were never seen.

A change rarely came unexpectedly. Often for days beforehand “mare’s
tail” clouds, with a hard wavy outline, would float up against the
faint moonlight in the southern sky, and spread themselves into wings
and fingers over Robeson Channel. Then, with a sudden gust from the
south, and a mist of flying snow from the land, the temperature
would rise. Mercurial thermometers would thaw, and soon register as
faithfully as spirit instruments beside them. After a while the wind
begins to come more and more from the westward. The thermometers
remain high, but the wind feels piercingly cold wherever it can find
a way inside our sealskins. While the storm lasts, it is impossible
to go outside the ship. Whirling snow hides everything. Even on
deck exercise is uncomfortable, for powdery snow floats in through
every chink in the carefully-closed tent-like awnings. Notes on the
instruments on shore have to be suspended, for no one could force
a way as far as the beach through the darkness and whirlwind of
drifting snow; and if they could, they would find the observatories
so buried that it would take several hours to dig out their doorways.
Even the thermometers within seventeen feet of the ship were not
always easily registered. Upon one occasion the officer in charge
of the meteorological work had to confess himself beaten, after two
determined attempts to reach and register them. In twenty-four hours
or more the storm lessens, and gradually dies away to a gentle breeze
from the northward; and with it the temperature declines, until it is
as cold or colder than before.

A striking change of this sort came in December. From thirty-five
degrees below zero, the thermometers rose rapidly with a gusty
southerly wind till the temperature reached the freezing-point. This
strangely warm wind cannot have travelled far in contact with the
frozen earth, for it was being rapidly cooled. The quick changes,
with every puff of wind, suggested the advisability of trying what
the temperature was in the air overhead, and it was discovered that
the higher we climbed up the rigging the warmer it got. The main-top
was three degrees warmer than the deck at the same instant, and a
thermometer secured high aloft in the cross-trees actually registered
+ 36°—a temperature which can hardly be accounted for by supposing
that the wind was warmed by passing over pools of open water in
Robeson Channel or Smith’s Sound.

At times, when the air was undergoing rapid changes of this sort,
it was striking to find that, by boring a hole into the ice with
an auger, it was possible to get down past zero, and reach the
temperature of yesterday or last week before coming to + 28°.3, the
steady temperature of the Polar Sea beneath.

Although such warm southerly breezes sometimes occurred, our winter
was on the whole marvellously calm. During its earlier months, the
wind was anxiously watched. Our safety depended entirely upon its
direction. A north-easterly wind might force the whole polar pack with
irresistible pressure upon our unprotected shore. Many parts of the
beach bore witness to the effects of such pressure in former seasons.
Vast blocks of ice, thousands of tons in weight, had been forced high
upon the shore, pushing up redans of mud, sand, and shells before
them. It was not pleasant to contemplate the enormous force which had
accomplished such work, and might any day repeat it. And our autumn
efforts to reach the “Discovery” gave us poor encouragement for a
march southward from a crushed or stranded ship.

Towards the end of January a pale violet light made its appearance
over the southern horizon. It was at first only noticeable at noon,
and the glow was so faint that stars shone brilliantly through it.
It heralded the returning sun, and every one watched it hopefully.
It and the increasing cold were the two staple subjects for every
conversation. Day by day the faint noon-light imperceptibly increased,
till, in the first week in February, a tender greenish glow succeeded
the violet, and for an hour at noon we could fairly call it twilight.

[Illustration: PLATE IX.—THE DAWN OF 1876. H.M.S. “ALERT” IN WINTER
QUARTERS.—p. 49.

Dawn in the latitude of Floeberg Beach is a
season rather than an hour, and the growing brightness skirts round
the whole horizon almost impartially. This is a sketch very early in
March, looking north at midnight. At the time it was made, the spirit
thermometers on the small stand, and on the tripod seen to the left of
the ship, registered -70° Fahrenheit. The outlines were made without
much difficulty, with a pencil pushed through two pairs of worsted
mitts. The colours were laid on in the warmth and candle-light between
decks, and verified by repeated trips into the cold. In regions where
wind could crush the ice together, or where open water existed to
leeward, Arctic ships have more than once been blown to sea with the
ice of their winter quarters; and, as a precautionary measure, our
ship was secured to shore by chain cables, raised at intervals on
casks to prevent them sinking into the ice.]


Nowhere is it more true that “the low sun makes the colour” than
in the Arctic regions. The ice and snow, that are wearily white in
midsummer, glow with all sorts of opaline tints in the sunrise light
of March. The sketch is from amongst the floebergs to seaward of the
ship. The sides of the berg in the centre have been worn into columns
and alcoves by the surface floods of some former summer; but it has
since been forced higher on the beach, and into shallower water.
Snow-drifts fill up all the gorges and ravines amongst the bergs, and
are in some places so hardened by wind and infiltration of sea-water,
that tidal motion cracks and fissures them, especially round the
grounded bergs.]

If any part of Arctic life deserves the sentiment and romance that
have been lavished on it, it is returning daylight. However practical
and matter-of-fact a man may be, a long spell of Egyptian darkness
will make him glad to see daylight again, and he may well be excused
a little unnecessary emotion at the dawn of the pale young year.
With us the day and the year were all but the same. When daylight
was once established there was no more real night, though the sun
made thirty-seven more and more shallow dips below the horizon before
rising spirally through the heavens in perpetual day. Winter was our
night, and the morning and the evening were spring and autumn. As
February advanced, we began to have light enough to walk about on
shore. Up to this time we had laboured under two disadvantages that
had not oppressed our predecessors—namely, the extra noon darkness and
the softness of the snow. Both together rendered it utterly impossible
to indulge in exercise except along the well-trodden half-mile, with
empty meat tins for guide posts, or backwards and forwards to the
shore along the track of the sledges carrying stores to and from
“Markham Hall.” It was not till we were able to walk about a little
at noon that we got impatient of the darkness, and began to realise
its length and intensity. The transition from darkness to daylight was
like recovery from a long and somewhat delirious illness.

As the light increased, the sky displayed all the colours of the
rainbow, from rosy red at the horizon to cold violet overhead, and the
ice, borrowing the spectrum sky tints, assumed hues of indescribable
delicacy and beauty. A few hundred yards ahead of the ship some acres
of floe had stranded and split into bergs with narrow lanes between
them. The cliff-like walls afforded convenient sections of the ice,
where its varying saltness and its strange lines of “air dust” could
be favourably examined. Accordingly, these narrow clefts were well
explored, and in them especially the low light produced most magical
changes of opaline colour. Such effects are unsketchable. Form
there was none, but while the low light lasted the tints of the ice
vista were incredible—a brilliant transformation scene would look
commonplace and natural beside them.

Our walks were not carried very far from the ship before we discovered
that other animals had begun, like ourselves, to take advantage of the
returning daylight. Even while the darkness was at its greatest, men
carrying lanterns to and from the water-berg or the shore occasionally
noticed the little lines of curved scratches left by lemming. What the
little creatures could have been doing out on the floes we could not
understand; their tracks usually led into deep cracks and fissures
of the ice. Perhaps they found warmer quarters near the water. After
daylight one could hardly walk half-a-mile on shore without coming
across their burrows—little circular tunnels leading long distances
under the snow, either to saxifrage pastures, or to warm nests made of
grass that must have taken them a long time to collect. Sometimes we
came across them sitting near their burrows. They were about the size
of a small rat, almost tailless, and as yet in their yellowish white
winter fur. Later on, ermine tracks were met with, but they were much
less common. They were generally found pursuing lemming, but upon one
occasion it was quite plain that the ermine had followed a hare. Of
course whoever met a hare track was bound to follow it. Three hares
remained in our neighbourhood; they lived in burrows in the snow five
or six feet long; two were shot, but the third would never allow us
within rifle range.

On 29th February the sun rose, but those who climbed to Cairn Hill
to see him were disappointed. The high flat land southwards shut him
from view. On the 2nd of March, however, when we mustered as usual
by sledge crews on the floes beside the ship, bright sunlight lit up
the tops of the higher floebergs and shone on the upper parts of the
ship’s rigging. The Greenland mountains were already pink, and as the
sun approached the gap between them and Cape Rawson, half his orb was
seen for a moment by a few who climbed the rigging to look for it; the
others thought they could well wait another day after waiting so long.

The month after sunrise was a busy time for all hands, for there
was much to be done before the whole strength of the Expedition was
diverted to the sledging campaign.

Although there was broad daylight outside the ship, the work inside
had still to be done by lamp and candle-light. In one place a group
of figures might be seen surrounded by open packing-cases, carefully
weighing out sledging-rations, and dividing the daily allowances in
little bags made of fancy calico intended for theatrical purposes; in
another an officer and the captain of his sledge might be seen filling
a large gutta-percha box with the stores to be placed in depôt for his
return journey. Everywhere through the ship men were busy with needle
and thread making many small improvements in the fit of their duffle
suits or holland overalls; some were adding linen leggings to their
mocassins, others strengthening the soles with thick soft leather cut
from the top of their fishermen’s boots. The general sledging outfit
was of course rigorously adhered to, but each man made such small
changes in the fit of his clothes as his autumn experience suggested.

During the darkness the snow had hardened considerably; in many places
a sledge now travelled readily where it would have sunk out of sight
in the autumn, and as early as the 28th February an exercise party
travelling with a dog-sledge to the south reached in a few hours the
spot from which our autumn sledges had returned baffled after a ten
days’ struggle towards the “Discovery.”

But the snow was not hardened everywhere. There were many drifts
and patches along the shore that were not easily crossed except
on snow-shoes. With these, travelling over smooth snow was easy,
and a man could even pull along another seated on a small sledge,
faster than a third could wade beside them. No Arctic expedition had
hitherto used snow-shoes, though the Germans three hundred miles
south of us on the east coast of Greenland had found it necessary
to extemporise rough substitutes during the winter. Some of our men
made two excellent copies of a well-worn pair presented by Dr. Rae
to one of our officers. These were at times most useful, but much of
our travelling was over snow and ice so rugged that no one, however
expert, would have attempted snow-shoeing.

Constant preparation for the sledging soon superseded the winter
evening routine. School was suspended, and the theatrical season
closed on 24th February with a very successful burlesque written by
our chaplain. On the following Thursday the weekly lectures were
concluded by an address from the captain on the sledging work we were
about to undertake, and on the prospects that lay before us. Those
prospects were not promising, however we looked at them; they were
no more encouraging than when we first rounded Cape Rawson and saw
no land to the northwards. The very first elements of success were
absent, but it was still possible that the land might trend to the
north somewhere beyond Cape Joseph Henry. It was possible, too, that
sledges journeying northward over the floes might reach some land
where depôts could be left, and which might next year serve as a fresh
base for poleward sledges.

A few in the ship cherished a third hope, founded on the character of
our ice. It seemed not unlikely that if sledges could penetrate that
zone of the floating ice-cap which had been fractured year after year
by contact with the shores, they might reach a broad mass of almost
continental ice rounded into hills and valleys by ages of summers, but
not offering insuperable obstacles to poleward travel.

If the floes had not been in rapid motion all the autumn, and if Sir
Leopold M’Clintock’s method of pushing forward sledges on depôts
deposited in the autumn could have been applied to the polar pack, we
might start from the land with fair hopes of practical success. But,
as it was, our sledges would have to leave shore carrying _all_ their
fuel and provisions, and therefore greatly limited in point of time,
for no men can drag more than between forty and fifty days’ provisions
and fuel, together with tent, bedding, cooking-gear, and sledge. The
system of supporting sledges was still applicable. By it additional
sledges would fall back from the main party when say one-third of
their provisions were expended, retaining a third to return on, and
filling up the advancing sledges with the remainder.

We were by no means certain that the motion of the floes would not
even now prove a serious obstacle. Even as late as January they were
heard roaring and crushing in the darkness to seaward, and their
pressure forced our protecting floeberg somewhat shoreward, cracking
and buckling up the floes, and heeling the ship over four degrees.
For months, however, little sign of motion had been apparent except
at tidal periods, when it sometimes came with curious suddenness,
as if the tide wave had all at once overcome the resistance of the
ice that bound it. For example, the morning of the 12th of March was
beautifully calm and still, and few but those whose special duty it
was knew that a high tide was due that day. I was engaged picking out
some stones grooved and scratched by ice-motion from an overturned
“floeberg” not far from the ship, when suddenly a curious faint sound
came from the north-west, at first a dull, indistinct hum, but in a
moment it grew nearer and louder, like the rush of a railway train.
Then, as it swept down along the beach, the ice cracked visibly in
every direction with a sharp rattle like musketry, and a loud rush of
water under the floes came so suddenly and unexpectedly that I ran to
the top of the berg with a vague idea that the ice was breaking up.
But in a moment the tide wave had passed off to the south-west, and
all was still again.

Continue Reading

Mysterious Cairns

Records of our advance were to be deposited at Lyttelton Island, for
the information of a relief ship which would so far follow us if the
Expedition should remain northward for two winters. Accordingly, on
the morning of 28th July, our ships anchored off Reindeer Point,
Port Foulke. Here we were on ground that must always possess a deep
interest for every Arctic traveller. The southern side of our little
bay shut in the winter quarters from which Dr. Hayes had brought his
ship safely home; out to seaward Lyttelton Island was strewn with
remains of the “Polaris;” and Rensselaer Harbour, famed as the winter
quarters of Dr. Kane, was but thirty miles to the northward. A path,
still plainly discernible, led across a gap in the Doige range to the
deserted Eskimo settlement of Etah; and if any further inducement was
required to make the shore attractive, it was supplied by a little
note on our chart, “reindeer plentiful.”

Our time for exploration was limited, for the ships would weigh anchor
on the return of the main party from Lyttelton Island. Leaving the
ship as soon as possible after breakfast, we landed amongst fragments
of shore ice which still lined the little bay, and travelled inland up
a valley completely bare of snow, and green with saxifrage, willow,
and grasses. A rivulet trickled through some marshy ground in its
centre, amongst treacherous islands of rich-coloured velvety moss,
and occasional broad ripple-marked slabs of red sandstone. The whole
ground was covered with footprints of reindeer, but a gentle wind blew
up the valley, and left little hope of sighting them. Climbing the
hills to the northward to obtain a better view, a broad undulating
table-land lay spread out before us, ridges of plutonic rock, like
low walls, traversed the country from east to west, and here and
there marshy pools, some of them almost deserving the name of lakes,
lay in the hollows, and sent little streams winding towards gaps in
the coast cliffs. Beyond and below the cliffs lay Smith’s Sound, an
unbroken expanse of blue, limited westward by snow-clad Ellesmere
Land between Capes Isabella and distant Sabine. The strait was, so
far, quite open and unencumbered by ice, but away to the northward,
where Hayes’ Sound interrupted the outline of the coast, a long thin
line of pack, the first indication of coming troubles, streaked the
horizon. This was bad news to have to report on our return to the
ship, but there was no help for it. We turned our backs on it, and
struck out inland across the muddy flats in the direction of Foulke
Fiord. The Doige Range looked near enough, but an hour’s hard walking
did not bring it much nearer. Two steep ravines had to be crossed,
as well as a stream, which fortunately was in one place bridged by
a deep snowdrift that afforded firm footing across. At length the
precipitous cliffs of Foulke Fiord were reached at a point close above
the deserted settlement of Etah. Looking down into the fiord, large
flocks of little auks were seen perched in black and white lines along
the ledges.

A small ravine intersects the cliff-edge a little eastward from
the “Aukrey,” and on the brow over it we came upon two structures,
evidently the work of man, puzzling enough at the time, but which
we have since learnt to recognise as Eskimo meat _caches_ or safes.
Each consisted of a pile of stones covering in a long rectangular
chamber, left open at one end, but easily closed by a flat stone which
lay close by. Both stood in a conspicuous position on the top of a
little rise, and were surrounded by lemming and fox marks. A mile
further eastward, the cliffs promised a good commanding position for
a view, but the rough and undulating hill-tops took us a good while
to get over. At length the ascent of the last ridge was commenced,
when suddenly a snow-white object appeared over the brow. It was an
Arctic hare, the first we had seen. He was evidently astonished at
the reappearance of his old enemy, man, and it was not till after
he had made a careful examination of us, standing straight up, full
length, on his hind feet, that he concluded we were to be avoided.
Then off he went, running ten or fifteen paces erect, then a bound or
two on all-fours, then erect again, and finally, when he had run some
eighty or one hundred yards, he stopped for another look, sitting on
his haunches like a dog begging. This time we were ready for him; he
presented a steady mark, and his curiosity was fatal to him. On going
to pick him up, we came on a low wall of stones roughly piled, nowhere
more than two feet high, leading from the cliff-edge on the right, for
about eighty yards inland, to a small shallow tarn; it was apparently
some Eskimo hunting contrivance, possibly to assist in driving small
game to a suitable spot over the cliffs. Amongst the rounded boulders
in the margins of the tarn lay a great number of shed antlers of
reindeer, some of them broken and moss-grown, half-buried in the mud;
others bleached white, but evidently of no great age. The tips of
almost all showed marks of having been gnawed by foxes. Some scattered
antlers were found on other parts of the hills, but were always
numerous round the tarns; every one we met with had horns of various
sizes and ages lying about it.

On reaching the summit we were amply rewarded for our expenditure of
energy. The prospect was truly magnificent. A thousand feet below,
the blue waters of Foulke Fiord lay, rippled with a breeze, under the
richly-coloured cliffs of the opposite shore; further on, the flat
expanse at the head of the inlet, with Alida Lake, and Brother John’s
Glacier of Kane, shaped like a great paw, closed in the valley. Beyond
and above all, a broad white plain, the vast inland ice of Greenland,
lay spread before us. Even at first sight, this sea of ice could not
be mistaken for a frozen sea, for its distant horizon was sensibly
above our level.

The coast of Greenland, like other western shores, is so subdivided by
inlets and fiords, that there are but few places where it is possible
to get a good view over any extent of the _mar de glace_. Three or
four miles off, as we saw it, its surface seems smooth enough, but it
is really so uneven and fissured, that the most persevering attempts
to travel inland over it have penetrated but a short distance,
after three days’ incessant toil. When not checked by labyrinths of
crevasses, the travellers have encountered impassable rivers, flowing
in icy beds, till they plunged in a cloud of mist into fathomless
pits. Enough, however, has been learned to justify the belief, that a
continuous mass of ice, many thousand feet deep, loads the whole of
Greenland, from the land’s end near Cape Farewell, to far north beyond
Petermann’s fiord, where our Expedition traced its outline behind the
coast hills on the shores of the Polar Sea.

The place where we stood afforded an excellent site for a sketch; some
bold rocks over the cliffs and a mellow-tinted herbage—principally
red-tipped three-cleft saxifrage—supplied a good foreground. Our
artistic proceedings were, however, interrupted by the appearance of
a little grey fox, attracted doubtless by the dead hare. He seemed
perfectly aware of the danger he ran, and never exposed more
than his forehead, ears, and eyes over the rocks behind which he had
taken up his position. His skin would have made an acceptable addition
to our collection; and after waiting some time in hope that he would
make a further advance, he was fired at, but missed, and he gave us no
opportunity for a second shot.

JULY 28, 1875.—p. 16.

Foulke Fiord is a narrow ice-scooped inlet in the coast of Greenland,
at the entrance of Smith’s Sound. Hayes made it his winter quarters;
and Rensselaer Bay, where Kane spent his three winters, is close to
the northward. On the shore of the fiord, and under the red granite
cliff in foreground of the picture, a few ruined huts mark the site of
the once populous Eskimo village of Etah—the capital of the “Arctic
Highlanders.” At the head of the fiord an expanse of lake and valley
leads to Brother John’s Glacier of Kane, stretching down in the shape
of a huge paw from the inland ice beyond. This continental ice lies
thousands of feet thick over what little is known of the interior of
Greenland, and looks like a vast frozen sea, but that its level is
sensibly above the horizon.]

It was now high time to get back to the ships, so, shouldering a
specimen pair of reindeer horns and our hare, we took a direct course
across the Doige Range, but found it by no means an easy one, for a
steep ravine had to be crossed, and a rapid knee-deep stream waded,
before the hills of Reindeer Point were reached. On getting to the
ship, we learned that a party of officers from the “Discovery” had
been more successful than we were. Landing at the head of the inlet,
they had searched the valley below Brother John’s Glacier, and climbed
the cliffs on its southern side. There they found three reindeer,
which led them a severe chase across the glacier. They finally secured
one of them, and carried the best parts of the meat to their boat, but
not until one of the most active of the party was so much exhausted,
that it required the united exertions of the others to keep him awake.

The ice seen northwards from the hills over our anchorage at Port
Foulke was met with off Cape Sabine the day after we left, and found
to be altogether impenetrable. It was disheartening to see the ships
come to a complete standstill under steam and sail in the very first
pack-ice we encountered in Smith’s Sound. We were compelled again and
again to return and shelter in a little harbour inside some islands
three miles south of Cape Sabine. Our prospects seemed sufficiently
discouraging. We had only reached the latitude of Dr. Kane’s winter
quarters, and here was an impassable barrier of ice stretching north
and east, as far as we could see from the rocky hills over our harbour
of refuge. Our chances of progress were often discussed sitting round
the table after dinner, and when one of us, hoping to gain support
from opposition, suggested that perhaps we might have to winter here,
it was at first treated as a joke, but after half-a-dozen failures
to advance, the subject was dropped as altogether too serious for
discussion. Four days were spent in fruitless efforts to push through
the tongue of pack stretching into Hayes’ Sound, and we thus got
early experience of the necessity of a continuous coast-line for ice
navigation. At length a fine lead of water opened round Cape Sabine
into Hayes’ Sound. If we could not go north, we might at least go
west, and hold ourselves ready to seize any opportunities for advance
that the unknown waters of Hayes’ Sound might offer.

After three or four hours’ rapid steam and sail, in the line of water
between the floes and shore, the sound was found to subdivide into a
number of narrow inlets. The only available lane of water led into the
first of these. As we passed into it, a strange landmark on the top of
a long hill on its south side attracted our attention. If we had been
in an inhabited latitude, no one would have hesitated to call it a
house. We could only suppose it to be a gigantic and singularly square
specimen of the boulders which here strew the surface of the country.
The inlet did not run far, and we soon found ourselves “brought up”
off a broad valley closed in landwards by the union of two large
glaciers. The ships were secured inside some rocks to wait for the
opening of the ice, which would probably occur next tide. The shores
here were virgin ground, and parties were soon organised to explore
the valley. It was two miles wide at its sea face, and not far from
three in length; precipitous hills rose on either side; along the
centre, a stream from the ice above had cut a water-course, in some
places as much as eighty feet deep, through the soft yellow sandstone.
At the head of the valley, a wall of ice, formed by the junction of
two glaciers, stood across it from side to side. The glacier on the
right terminated in a perpendicular cliff seventy feet high, excavated
along the ground, and with small streams spouting from blue fissures
in its wall; that on the left was parallel with the former, but
rounded off gradually to a sort of glacis covered with a thin layer
of black mud, smelling strongly of decaying vegetable matter. Bunches
of dead heather-like Cassiopea cropped up amongst the stones within
three feet of the sloping face of ice. The stream came down from an
amphitheatre between the glaciers, which, half-a-mile further on, met
in a ridge, caused by the right hand glacier being forced up over the

We were greatly disappointed at finding no game in the valley; there
was not even a ptarmigan or a hare to be seen, though tracks of both
were numerous. Every gap in the banks of the water-course was pitted
with the footprints of reindeer or musk oxen. A number of boulders
strewed the valley, and every one that was large enough had been used
as scratching-posts by musk oxen, as the white wool and brown hair on
and around them testified.

[Illustration: TWIN GLACIER VALLEY.]

A splendid erratic block of red granite, twelve or fifteen feet high,
lay in the south side of the valley, and round it a complete trench
was worn deep into the ground by the foot prints of musk oxen as they
rubbed themselves against it or stood under it for shelter. This glen
was even more fertile than Port Foulke, and would make a delightful
winter quarters for an amateur Arctic Expedition. There was plenty of
willow, with large well-grown leaves, and in many places the ground
was covered with a perfect garden of dwarf flowers; even in the dry
parts of the river bed, patches of purple Epilobium covered the sand.
We could only account for the absence of game by supposing that the
neighbouring valleys were equally rich. An old reindeer antler was
picked up, together with the skull of a bear, and at the upper end of
the valley some remains of Eskimo “igloos” were discovered, with door
posts made of whale ribs.

Our furthest point in Hayes’ Sound was reached two days afterwards,
and, so far as we could see, the peninsula on our right was not an
island. We subsequently saw that it, and the very similar headland
next north of it, were parts of the same land, only separated by a
curve in the coast with a low hill in the centre. We accordingly
ceased to speak of our headlands as Henry and Bache Islands, and
returned to their original titles, Capes Albert and Victoria.

At length the long check at Hayes’ Sound came to an end. Some
southward motion in the ice opened a lead round Cape Albert. It was
at once taken advantage of, and when it closed in again the ships
were well to the north of the Cape, but, unfortunately, completely
imprisoned in close pack drifting steadily southwards, and taking them
with it. There was no fixed point to lay hold on. The long wall of
horizontally banded cliffs was more than a mile off, and, even if we
could have reached it, there did not appear to be any little curve or
hollow where we could have held our own. What little we had won seemed
slipping from us. There was nothing to be done but wait patiently
for the chances of the next tide. “Tea” had been cleared away in the
wardroom, and logs were being written up and journals posted, when we
were startled by sudden orders on deck. “Full speed ahead!” “Clear
away jib!” “Set fore-top sail, top-gallant sail, and foresail!” We
rushed on deck, expecting that a fine lead had opened northwards, but,
lo! the ships were still fast in the pack, and drifting right down
upon an iceberg two hundred yards long and forty feet above water
that crushed through the floes towards us. The “Alert” was directly
in its path. Men out on the ice ahead and astern tried to make way,
and hauled with ice anchors and tackle; full steam and sail failed to
move her. The pack tightened every moment with increasing pressure.
The roar of the crushing ice came nearer and nearer. And as the orders
“Up screw and up rudders” were given, those of us who were useless on
deck went below to see that our messmates’ haversacks were ready to
be flung out on the ice alongside, if our ship’s strong beams should
prove unequal to the crush. In solitary possession of the wardroom,
and quite undisturbed by the excitement on deck, our white cat “Pops”
dozed peacefully in her favourite posture on a chair in front of the
stove. When we went on deck again the critical moment had come. The
stern was clear of the berg, but the bow was in its direct path. The
ice pack, buckling and shovelling in front, caught the fore part of
the ship, and pushed her forcibly sternwards, swinging her half round
into a stream of ice and water sweeping past the berg. The danger was
over, but our jibboom was not four feet from the wall of ice. Such
an opportunity of arresting our southward drift was not to be lost.
Grappling appliances were all ready, and in a moment both ships were
being towed comfortably along in the wake of their old enemy.

[Illustration: OUR WHITE CAT “POPS.”++]

The events of next day well illustrate the uncertainties of ice
navigation. At 2 a.m. the ships had slowly struggled northwards until
they were abeam of Cape Victoria, but there the ice closed in and
“nipped” the ships close inshore under the cliffs. Rudder and screw
were again raised to save them from the dangerous pressure, which
increased till the floes, sliding one under the other, were forced
landwards completely under the ship. At that moment nothing could be
more unpromising than the prospects of the expedition, and yet, twenty
minutes afterwards we were steaming cheerily along through a good lead
towards Franklin and Pierce Bay. By breakfast time we had crossed to
the north-eastern shore of the bay, and found further progress checked
for the time by floes close packed against the rugged headlands to
the north. As the ships were secured to the edge of a broad flat
floe lying between an island and the high conglomerate cliffs of the
mainland, several walrus were seen lying on a fragment of floe about a
mile off. Their flesh would make a most valuable store of food for our
dogs, who had been living almost exclusively on preserved Australian
meat, for they disliked dog biscuit. Accordingly, a whale-boat with
a harpoon gun in her bows was lowered and manned. It was necessary
to make a long detour. New ice forming in the shadow of the cliffs
impeded our progress and rendered a noiseless attack impossible. Our
game, however, paid no attention to the noise we made scraping the ice
with the oars and breaking a road with a paddle. We soon got close
enough to see that there were three of them lying close together.
Occasionally one or other would rear himself slowly up, displaying his
double-lobed head and long gleaming tusks, scratch his side lazily
with his huge flipper, and fling himself down again with a satisfied
grunt beside his slumbering companions. They lay on the edge of a
floe. We steered for the largest of the three, and at length the broad
arrow-head of the harpoon, projecting from the muzzle of the gun, was
within five yards of the beast. Then, with the flash, the steel buries
itself deep in his side, a stream of blood spurts on the snow, and all
three walrus start up and heave themselves upright before plunging
into the water, looking as formidable game as any post-diluvian
sportsman could desire, but evidently too much frightened to attack.
A well-aimed bullet struck our victim’s throat and shortened his
death-struggle. Ere long the drag on the harpoon line slackened, and
the huge carcase was drawn to the surface and towed slowly to the
ship. It measured twelve and a-half feet from nose to tail, eleven
and a-half in girth. The tusks, eighteen inches from gum to point,
gave the creature a savage appearance, but their use was to dig up
the molluscs on which he fed, or to hook himself up on to the ice
floes. The dogs were not alone in their appreciation of fresh meat. We
ourselves found some steaks by no means unpalatable though desperately
tough, and for some days walrus liver figured upon our breakfast-table.

An anxious watch was always kept for any favourable movement of the
ice. But, meanwhile, the broad smooth floe alongside afforded a
tempting exercising ground, whereon, after working hours, some played
football and others took their first lessons in dog-driving. The
ships happened to be secured in a sort of basin fifteen fathoms deep,
but with shallower water all round, so that the bottom was protected
from the scrapings of icebergs. It was evidently a favourable spot
for a haul of the dredge. Our expectations were more than realised.
The net came up full of strange creatures. Here a fish with a sucker
under his chin; there a brittle feather star with long branched arms.
He has to be extracted most carefully from the bag, and supplied
with some cotton to grasp before being consigned to our naturalist’s
ever-ready bottle. Next comes a _Terebratula_, or lamp shell,
anchored by a strange chance to a fossil _Terebratula_ drifted from
some neighbouring rock. Here are pale vermilion-coloured antlers of
_Escharella_, and delicate lacework of _Retepore Polyzoa_, and here,
perhaps greatest prize of all, a little calcareous sponge with a
double frill glistening like spun glass. The dredging operations were
continued far into the nominal night, and, after a little necessary
rest, we started to explore the island. A steep wall of ice-foot
encircling the land disputed our inroad. Clambering up over it, we
were at once struck with the terraced condition of the shores. On the
north side of the island especially, the ridges rose one over the
other in long horizontal waves to the number of twenty or more. Even
on the highest, sea shells were to be picked up. Each ridge was tipped
here and there with little mounds of yellow clay, sometimes in lines
at right angles to the ridges. The shore was very barren; a few little
grey tufts of grass, or Draba, found root in the mounds of yellow
clay, all the rest was small stones weathered into sharp points like

When we reached the northern shores of the island, a number of
conspicuous white objects strewn along the lower terraces excited
our curiosity. They were bones of walrus and seal, much broken
evidently by the hand of man, but fragile and moss-grown with age.
Some long-vanished tribe had doubtless found this lonely island a rich
hunting-ground. The western point of the island was covered with the
foundations of a complete town. In some places mere rings of stones
had served to keep down the edges of summer tents of skins; in others,
rectangular enclosures three yards broad, with excavated floor and
with traces of porch opening seawards, gave unmistakable evidence of
more permanent habitation. Deep carpets of velvety moss found rich
soil in the floors of the huts, which had doubtless been no cleaner
than that of modern Eskimo. A little further inland we came upon a
bird-shelter, such as the natives of Danish Greenland still use to
encourage geese and duck to settle on their shores. It consisted of
four stones piled together like a miniature “Druid’s altar,” so as to
form a chamber large enough to shelter a nest. Generations of eider
duck had been hatched in it in security since the last wild hunter
left the shore. When we found it, it held a deep nest of eider down
with three eggs, fresh, but cold, probably belonging to a duck we had
killed before landing. The traces of former human habitation found on
this island, as well as at other places further northwards, seemed to
be about equally ancient. All told—not of fixed habitation in these
inhospitable lands, but of the exodus of some migrating tribe whose
hunters must have travelled far with their dog sledges if the walrus
and seal were as scarce then as now. No doubt the Arctic Highlanders
who told Kane that an island rich in musk oxen lay far to the north,
had occasionally despatched hunters in that direction; but no mere
hunters would require such a town of huts, nor would they take the
trouble to build on a new site at each visit without disturbing the
circles of stone close beside them. Similar ancient remains have been
found far westward through the Parry group, and have been attributed
to that host which, in the fourteenth century, swept downwards from
the unknown north and annihilated the Norsemen; but in our case the
broken walrus and seal bones, though lichen-grown and evidently very
old, could hardly have lasted five centuries even in an Arctic climate.

[Illustration: ESKIMO TENT-CIRCLES.]

After three days’ detention in Franklin and Pierce Bay, the ships
succeeded in creeping up inshore past Cape Prescott and a broad
glacier-headed bay, which has since been called after Professor
Allman. Every one was on deck as we rounded Cape Hawkes into Dobbin
Bay at midnight on the 12th August, for the scene that was opening
beyond the tall shadow of the cape was one of unusual splendour,
altogether different from such ideas of far Northern scenery as we
had gleaned from books. It has somehow or other become conventional
to represent Arctic skies as dark and lowering, and Arctic day as
little better than uncertain twilight. Nothing could be wider from
the mark, at least during the months that travel by ship and sledge
is possible. Washington Irving Island threw a long shadow towards us
across the lilac-tinted floes and gleaming water-spaces, which broke
into ripples as our iron prow pushed towards them. As we rounded in
close to the island, every telescope was fixed on a strange point on
the top of the bluff standing out clear and sharp against the northern
sunlight. It was either a very odd pinnacle of rock or a cairn, and
that, too, remarkably well placed. We could soon decide, for the back
of the bluff afforded a steep but practicable ascent. The conglomerate
rock of the summit was smoothed off like a mosaic by the action of
some ancient glacier, but near the edges it broke into a succession
of rocky ledges, and on the topmost of these stood the object of our
curiosity—a conical pile of well-packed stones. A second similar one
stood a little lower down to the southwards, both plainly the work of
a painstaking builder. But who was that builder? Not Eskimo. Structure
and site forbade that suggestion. Civilised man had but once visited
this shore, and that was when Dr. Hayes, in the spring of 1861, halted
his tired dogs on the floes beside the island. He did not climb the
bluff, and, besides, such an active sledge traveller would not have
loitered to build a pair of cairns except at some crisis of his
journey, and then he would have referred to them in his Journal. But
the cairns themselves bore witness that they were not the work of any
modern builder. Lichens grow but slowly in these regions. Dr. Scott
found Sir Edward Parry’s cairn untouched by them after thirty-two
years, and the wheel tracks of his cart were fresh as yesterday’s
when, after the same interval, Sir Leopold M’Clintock crossed his
track. These stones, on the other hand, were cemented together by deep
patches of orange lichen—the growth of many generations. We found no
record or scratched stone to tell us the names or fortunes of the men
who had left the cairns as witnesses to us, their successors. Perhaps
some baffled wanderer, whose fate is unknown to fame, had thus marked
his furthest north. There is plenty of room for conjecture. Many have
sailed for the northern Eldorado since Karlsefne, Celtic Norseman,
left his Greenland home and launched his three ships on the first
Arctic Expedition, eight hundred and seventy years ago.

[Illustration: CAPE HAWKES.]

For a week after leaving the island our progress northward was a
constant struggle with the pack. Here, in the broad basin opposite
Humboldt glacier, the Atlantic tidal wave through Baffin’s Sea
terminates, and leaves an icy barrier to mark its limits. Had not
that barrier consisted of much broken floes lying off a continuous
coast-line, it would have been impossible to force any ship through
it; but, aided as we were by the shore, twenty-eight miles were made
good in a week. Never did the prospects of the Expedition seem less
cheering, but we comforted ourselves with the knowledge that the
“Polaris,” a fortnight later in the season, had made her magnificent
run into Robeson Channel without much difficulty. With constant
watchfulness and unremitting labour the way northward was won mile by
mile. Every hour opened up some fresh possibility of advance, or some
new danger to be combated. The tired watch-keepers found little rest
during their short spell below. Almost every one “turned in” without
undressing. The tearing and splintering of the ice along the ship’s
sides, and the creaking and crushing as she charged the floes, made
sleep difficult. “All hands up screw and rudder,” became a familiar
order. And twice during the week it became necessary to cut docks in
the floes to shelter the ships from pressure. On the first occasion,
the heavy ice-saws, swung on tripods and worked by every hand on
board, did their work readily; but on the second day they were found
too short to reach through the thick ice, and nothing but rapid
blasting with gunpowder saved the ships from an overwhelming crush. At
length we found the rising tide flowing—not from the south as it had
done, but from the unknown north. It was the 19th August. The barrier
was past. Pools and lanes of water became more frequent, and on the
21st we steamed through a sea which Morton, leader of Kane’s northern
party, might well call open, for the ice fragments floating in its
intensely green water were not numerous enough to prevent a slight
swell, which gave our wardroom lamps the old familiar swing.


As we pass Cape Constitution, Kane’s furthest, the air, 6° below
freezing, warns us that this year’s navigable season is already far
gone, but the dazzling sunlight ahead shows but little ice save the
film already forming on the sea. Twenty hours’ steam at this rate
would take us beyond where ship had ever sailed. But, alas! “open
seas” inside the Polar ice are disappointingly limited. Fragments of
pack increase in masses, and at length stretch across the channel in
a long white line from shore to shore. But a degree and a-half of
latitude has been gained, and the 81° parallel lies five miles behind
us as the ships are secured between Hannah Island and the grey cliffs
of Bessels Bay. The island is merely a number of gravel mounds forming
a convex breakwater in the entrance of the narrow fiord. Looking
northward from it, Hall’s Basin lay before us, bounded on the right by
Cape Morton and Joe Island, and far away beyond the mouth of Petermann
Fiord the valley of Hall’s Rest and the distant headlands of “Polaris”
Promontory; while to the left, at the other side of the strait, the
snowy cliffs of Grant Land formed the western lintel of Robeson
Channel. There was little time to explore the island. A sketch which
supplies the accompanying engraving was just complete when the signal
for recall flew from the foremast of H.M.S. “Alert.” A lead had opened
to the north-westward; the whole of the ice was in motion, and that
night both ships reached the northern shores of Lady Franklin Straits
before the closing pack barred further progress.

AUGUST 25, 1875—p. 25.

Our first musk ox hunt led us to an isolated hill-top overlooking
the bay in which H.M.S. “Discovery” afterwards wintered. This sketch
was made on the following evening, from the spot where seven of the
herd had fallen. Looking southward across the bay, and beyond Bellot
Island, Lady Franklin Sound extends away to the south-west; and at
the other side of the sound Grinnell Land rises in a line of straight
cliffs, and spreads away towards Cape Leiber on the left, and to the
distant peaks of the Victoria and Albert range on the right.]


It was then midnight and very calm. A well-sheltered bay shut in by
Bellot Island offered a secure harbour, and both ships entered it,
steaming in towards a snow-covered valley at its head. Half-a-mile
inland in the valley lay a cluster of dark objects; through our
telescopes they looked like boulders; but as we watched them,
wondering at their uniform size, they appeared to move. In a moment
there could be no mistake. They were musk oxen, eleven of them in all,
and within easy reach. A hunting party of six was soon organised, and
in a few minutes a boat landed us on this yet untrodden shore. We
separated in three directions, meaning to cut off the retreat of the
animals landwards, but, unfortunately, our left wing engaged the enemy
sooner than we expected, and they made off at a rolling gallop up a
steep glen; two of them, evidently wounded, turned downwards towards
a ravine to the left, but the main body vanished over the brow of a
hill. So many pounds of good fresh meat could not be allowed to escape
without an effort, and accordingly two of us started off up hill on
the track of the game. They had made almost a complete circle, and we
sighted them standing together on a steep isolated bluff nearly over
where we had first seen them. Hidden by a projecting edge of the hill
crest, we scrambled to the top up a slope of stones and snow, and
surprised the beasts not ten yards off. They galloped right and left,
heads down, and sweeping the snow with their long shaggy fur, but fell
fast under the quick fire of our Winchester repeating rifles—murderous
weapons for this sort of work. In less than a minute all seven were
stretched on the snow.

It was now necessary to skin and cut up our victims, but before we
commenced this very disagreeable duty, the reports of rifles in the
valley below induced us to look over the brow. Our comrades had been
reinforced by others from the ships, and a circle of assailants had
closed round the wounded leader of the herd—a splendid bull. He was
making his last stand close to the brink of a deep ravine, gallantly
facing round at the flash of each rifle. He could no longer charge,
but the angry toss of his head showed how dangerous it would be to
close with him. He received no less than twenty-eight heavy Snider
bullets before he fell.

Musk ox hunting is not, as a rule, exciting sport. The skinning and
cleaning of the game, often in a cutting wind and low temperature,
and the carrying of the meat on board the ship, involved a good deal
of labour. Upon a subsequent occasion one of our hunters conceived
the happy idea of making a wounded ox carry his own beef towards the
ship, but the beast resented direction, refused even to be led by the
horns, and finally overthrew his captor, and had to be despatched
incontinently. They rarely attack, and can generally be approached
within rifle range with little trouble. Sometimes, however, they are
unaccountably timid. Animals that have never seen men are said to be
devoid of fear; but our experience does not bear out the statement.
Every beast we met, from the musk ox to the lemming, was afraid of
us. They seemed to take some time to realise that we did not belong
to their world. But having once made up their minds, they showed even
more terror than wild animals usually do.

Each musk ox gave us about two hundred pounds of meat, often most
excellent, but occasionally tainted with the flavour that gives them
their name. We failed to ascertain the source of this characteristic.
It occurs in both sexes and at all ages; and, moreover, it is not
peculiar to the musk ox, for a haunch of reindeer presented to us by
the Governor of Egedesminde possessed the very same flavour. A long
course of preserved food makes most fresh meat acceptable; walrus
and seal became delicacies; owls, foxes, and even skuas are not to
be despised; but genuinely musky musk ox is fit for nothing more
civilised than Eskimo dogs.

[Illustration: HEAD OF MUSK OX.]

According to the programme drawn up for our Expedition before we left
England, the second ship was not to be carried beyond the 82° parallel
of north latitude. The sheltered harbour in which the ships now lay
was 81° 41´, and was in every way suited for the winter quarters of
our consort. Here, accordingly, the first stage of the Expedition
terminated. So far everything we had hoped for had been accomplished.
Depôts to cover retreat in case of disaster had been duly deposited
at the Carey Islands and at Cape Hawkes, and a suitable harbour for
H.M.S. “Discovery” had been found beyond Lady Franklin Strait, in a
higher northern latitude than any human being had yet wintered in.
Much of the navigable season still remained, and though we had all
long ago realised the absurdity of expecting open water in the Far
North, we could not but look hopefully forward to the long stretch of
coast line shown on the charts extending to within 6° of the Pole,
interrupted only by “Army Fiord” and “Navy Opening.”

On the 26th August the ships parted company, but the beginning of
the voyage was ominous. A quarter of an hour after the “Alert” had
received the last well-wishes of her consort, she grounded on a
sunken rock, and got off again only to be checked within sight of
her starting-point by a close-packed barrier of heavy floes. Two
days afterwards she pushed successfully past Cape Murchison, but
soon afterwards became entangled in a chaos of broken floes of most
formidable proportions, and was forced to take refuge in a shallow bay
with, fortunately, no worse injury than a broken rudder. While the
rudder was being replaced, three more musk oxen were obtained, and,
with our larder thus replenished, we entered Robeson Channel. Heavy
floes completely filled the strait, moving rapidly north and south
with each tide. Sometimes the whole pack would check for a moment
against a projecting point of coast, and then rush on again, leaving
a lane of eddying water filled with broken fragments between it and
the wall-like cliffs. Through this lane, with a precipice of rock and
ice-foot on the left, and square-sided floes gliding irresistibly
past on the right, the path northward lay. It changed continually,
one moment opening out invitingly, and the next closing like the jaws
of a vice. It required the most unwearying watchfulness to advance
through such a lead, especially as the numerous little bays which
had so often enabled us to hold our own further south had now given
place to an almost unindented coast. Late on the afternoon of the
27th we passed a broad inlet, which was identified as Lincoln Bay of
the “Polaris.” Twice we were forced back into its shelter. The second
occasion was after an attempt had been made to force a passage through
the pack away from shore. After an hour’s charging and crushing
amongst heavy blocks, the little patches of water became smaller
and smaller, and the ship became beset amongst broken floes of most
unusual proportions. The level surface of many of them was as high as
the ship’s sides out of water, and their whole thickness little if at
all under eighty feet. The gentlest touch between such floes would be
instant destruction; but, fortunately for us, there was much broken
ice between them, and the ship was able to struggle away from the
larger pieces till some change in the tide allowed her to escape back
to the protecting land.

The first of September was an eventful day for the Expedition. A gale
blew from the south-west, and after it had continued with undiminished
violence for some hours, we could see through the drifting snow, blown
in clouds from the land, that the ice was separating from the shore,
and leaving a lane of water between it and the “ice-foot.” Such a
chance would not come twice, and there was no time to be lost. Under
full steam, and with reefed topsails and foresail, our ship was soon
flying northwards, trusting to chance for security when the floes
would close again. Flying mists of snow left little to be seen but
the black band of water ahead, and the bases of dark, steep cliffs on
the left. We were passing Cape Union, but which of the numerous bold
bluffs had received that name we could not tell. After a few hours, it
was plain that it lay behind us, for the land began to trend to the
westward. At noon the ship still advanced, but at right angles to her
former course. The cliffs of Robeson Channel were past, and what could
be seen of the shore was a low undulating beach fringed by a barrier
reef of grounded icebergs. Our lane of water extended about two miles
along this shore, and then ended at a low point of land, from which
the pack had never moved in spite of the violence of the gale. The
wind was now lessening rapidly, and the floes were closing steadily
and resistlessly inwards. To be caught between them and the wall of
grounded ice would be instant and hopeless destruction.

A mile behind us we had noticed a gap in the barrier of ice. There was
just time to run back and push the ship through it, into the shallow
water between the grounded ice-blocks and the shore, and to make her
fast under the shelter of one of the blocks, when the pack closed in
with a grinding crush that made some of us at least expect to see
ice-barrier, ship, and all pushed high and dry on the beach.

In a few hours it again came on to blow, and this time furiously. The
ice-pack was again driven off shore, carrying part of our barrier with
it, the hawsers holding the ship to hillocks of grounded ice tightened
like bars, and finally, in a fierce gust, snapt, and the ship drifted
outside her shelter, but was again brought up by her anchor. Then the
wind suddenly veered, and drove the ice in on us with alarming speed.
There was no time to turn the ship; struggling sideways and sternwards
through the tide of slush and tumbling ice that raced along the
outside of the barrier, she reached the friendly gap just in time to
be helped in by the closing pack. The roar of crushing ice had already
commenced on the point of land north-west of the ship. It approached
and increased every moment, till the whole beach was in full chorus,
creaking, screaming, and crashing. Under such an enormous pressure the
strongest ship that ever floated would have been reduced to matches in
one minute.

For months afterwards the same harsh sound was to be heard outside
our barrier, till it became familiar and commonplace. It can be very
closely imitated by rubbing dinner plates together. As soon as the
position of the ship ceased to claim immediate attention, many an
anxious look was cast over the chaos of ice beyond in search of the
coast-line to the northwards. The truth broke on us very slowly.
President’s Land was not there. The shore off which we lay curved to
the left in a broad bay, and thirty or forty miles north-west of the
ship the land ended in an abrupt cape. Behind us, and beyond Robeson
Channel, Greenland spread away to the eastward, dwindling off in a
perspective of rounded snow-covered hills, while to the north between
these two lands’ ends there was nothing but an icy horizon.


Where Robeson Channel opens out into the Polar Sea, the cliffs of
Grant Land give place to a more shelving shore. This sketch, made
late in July, 1876, and looking due north across the winter quarters
of H.M.S. “Alert” at Floeberg Beach, shows the poleward prospect from
the last of the cliffs. The coast-line curves away to the west into
Black Cliff Bay, then turns north, and ends in the peaked mountains of
Cape Joseph Henry, the point from which the northern sledge-parties
started. Patches of melting snow, under Cairn Hill on the left, and
under the slaty crest in the foreground (where some pink saxifrage
is still in flower), send rivulets across the mud-flats to the South
Ravine, and help to flood the green one-season ice between the
grounded edge of the perennial pack and the shore. The floes are
mapped out by hedges of hummocks, and look deceptively smooth from
this height.]

The whole sea was covered with floes varying from a few yards to miles
in diameter. Their surfaces were undulating, and assumed peculiar blue
and metallic greens in low sunlight. Small angular spaces between them
were choked with fragments broken from the parent masses, and long
irregular hedges made of similar _débris_ surrounded each ice-field.
These hedges rarely reflected the same tint as the floes; when one
was purple, the other was green, and _vice versa_. It was months
before we realised the full import of this ice. At first it seemed
impossible that the great masses grounded along the shore could be
mere fragments of sea ice we saw spread before us. We mistook them
for icebergs. Like them, they were stratified. They grew in the same
way, only the land is the parent of one, and the sea of the other. The
Polar floes are in fact a floating glacier, and we accordingly called
the fragments floebergs. In this the sea before us differed from
ordinary frozen seas. Baffin’s Bay, for example, renews its ice year
by year. Every summer great part of it is, as we saw it, free from
ice; in autumn, its surface freezes first into a pasty mass, then
into floes nearly as flat as a frozen pond. During the winter, frost
and snow thicken them, and wind piles them into hummocks. Sometimes
part of the ice lasts for more than one year—thus whalers talk of
ice of one or more seasons old. But the floes of the Polar Sea are
perennial. They bear the plainest evidences of great age. They grow
from above, and are stratified by seasonal deposits of snow slowly
converted into ice. Excepting in insignificant spots along shore, the
surface of the Polar Sea never freezes into new floe; it is never
long enough exposed. The only ice of a single season possible here is
a frozen together conglomerate of boulder blocks between the thick
old floes. With this distinction in view, the term “Paleocrystic”
was applied to this “sea of ancient ice.” “Archäiocrystic” would
more exactly represent what we meant, but sounds, if possible, more
pedantic. The age of the floes is a subject for speculation; whether
there is any limit to their thickness is also unknown. It does not in
any way depend on crushing or piling together. They should be thinnest
near land, where they are most frequently broken, and yet there were
several on our beach—Floeberg Beach, as we called it—over eighty feet
in thickness. We met with others floating so high out of water that
they could not be less than two hundred feet deep. When strong winds
and tides occur together during autumn, pools and fissures, crevasses
rather, sometimes form in the edges of this polar-ice cap, but only
those who have seen it can fully appreciate the utter impossibility
of “boring” any ship through this polar pack; a nut-shell would have
as much chance under a steam-hammer as a ship between the closing
walls of such a crevasse. This was the open polar sea we had heard
so much of, but which in truth no one in the Expedition had ever
expected to sail in. What we had not calculated on was the absence of
land northward; and that the coasts shown in the maps were absent was
soon beyond all doubt. Day by day our disappointing position became
plainer. The continuous coast-line upon which every hope depended
was at least not in sight. One chance still remained. Possibly the
land beyond Cape Joseph Henry turned to the northward, and though the
ship had reached the utmost limit of navigation, sledges could travel
along the frozen shore. Depôts pushed far northwards on a continuous
coast-line would yet enable us to reach a high latitude, if that
northward-running coast-line could be found at any reasonable distance
from the ship. Meanwhile, it was plainly necessary to accommodate
our aspirations to the stern negatives before us. The infinite
possibilities of the unknown were no longer at our disposal. We
could no longer cherish little unspoken hopes of rapid success, more
navigable seas, richer hunting-grounds, or milder climate, polewards.
Our ship lay about a hundred yards from the beach, her bows pointed
to the north, her right side against the grounded ice which protected
her, and on her left a space of shallow water stretching to the shore.
Even this space was by no means “open water;” it was, on the contrary,
filled with floating lumps of ice of every size, from that of a
hailstone to that of a house, moving about with every change of tide.
Some of the large ones were troublesome neighbours, and had to be
secured with hawsers to prevent them getting into damaging positions.
One of them, more erratic and less manageable than the rest, was
commonly known as the Wandering Jew. The poet, by-the-bye, who placed
that hero on a piece of polar pack, must have had a prophetic glimpse
of these perennial floes ever drifting slowly round and round the
pole. A few days after the gale the whole space between the ship
and the shore froze hard, and it was possible to walk to land. The
shelving beach was of rough shale, but, like the rest of the land,
was almost entirely covered with snow. Much of the latter was soft
and white, and had fallen recently; but here and there, in sheltered
hollows, hard brown patches had evidently remained through the summer.
Half-a-mile inshore low undulating hills rose to about four hundred
feet. None of them had anything characteristic about them; they were
simply rounded-off banks of brown slate and grey shale, with long
straight slopes of hard snow on their northward faces—splendid places
for headlong “toboggoning,” as we found later on. Nothing could be
more dismal than our new territory. But we still hoped that the
next spring tides might allow the ship to advance a little way into
some more favoured spot before she was finally frozen in for the
winter. Two short excursions had already been made in search of safer
quarters, but the reports they brought back were not encouraging.
There were several bays not far north of the ship, but most of them
were blocked with ice, which had evidently remained unmoved for many
seasons. Under any circumstances, it was perfectly plain that the
ship would be obliged to winter within a few miles of where she lay,
and preliminary exploration of the coast westward, in preparation for
the autumn sledging, could no longer be delayed. Accordingly, three
dog-sledges were got ready to pioneer the road towards Cape Joseph
Henry, to push forward a small depôt, and to search likely-looking
spots for game.

Dog-sledges are to an Arctic Expedition what cavalry is to an army.
They act as the feelers of the advancing force, do the scout work,
carry despatches, keep up communications, and are in fact the Uhlans
of a sledging campaign. Speed is their strong point, but in the long
run dogs are unable to carry their provisions as far as men. They
have, nevertheless, accomplished long journeys in latitudes where the
pick and shovel had not to travel before the sledge, and where an
occasional seal or bear helped out their provender. Looked at from a
distance, there is a deal of romance about dog-sledging. Imagination
immediately pictures the lively galloping team flying along over the
crisp snow, and the comfortably muffled driver, covered with furs,
reclining on the sledge, without a trace of baggage or provisions
to inconvenience him. Alas! one half-hour’s experience of the real
thing is enough to take the whole gloss off the subject. The sledge
is heavily laden with tent and sleeping-bags, provisions, and fuel—an
item not considered by many people, without which even a drink of
water is an impossibility. The driver toils along behind the sledge,
guiding it by its handles as he would a plough, or flogging the dogs
with all his might. Striding along in the deep snow gives him a
peculiar waddling gait universal amongst the Eskimo. His companions
run in front or behind, and keep up as best they can, painfully
panting in the icy air, which sometimes brings blood from the lungs.
When the sledge sticks in the snow, or falls into a crack, or jams
between two lumps of ice, the dogs make one violent effort, and then
stop doggedly till the sledge is lifted out for them. Then the driver
hisses out “Kis, kis, kis,” and the whip encourages any dogs that wont
understand good Eskimo or forcible English, and off they go again. The
Eskimo dog is, as a rule, utterly destitute of the ordinary virtues of
his species. He is simply a wolf that has found slavery convenient.
After the autumn sledging season, we tried hard to rear pups.
Sometimes we got them large enough to toddle about the decks, and the
fat little morsels would begin to answer to their names; but if we
took our eyes off them for an instant, little “Samuel” or “William
Henry” would suddenly disappear, and some near relative would look a
little less hungry than before. When travelling, there is generally
some unpopular individual in the team, and he is snapped at by all
the rest. The dogs pull in the shape of a fan, constantly changing
places, and thus tangling their tails in the traces. One elderly dog,
appropriately called Bruin, had lost his tail in that way; some former
Eskimo master had found it simpler to amputate than to unravel. More
than once dogs were so severely bitten by their fellow-labourers that
they had to be tied up in bread-bags, and carried on the sledge till
they recovered a little. The meat biscuit provided for their diet was
the only thing they would not eat. Hide sledge-lashings or whip-thongs
were luxuries to them. One brute, called Michael, invariably ate his
canvas harness, and upon one occasion ran off with the cook’s metal
ladle, and bit a large piece out of it. With all their faults, our
dogs worked wonderfully hard. Their value to the Expedition can not
be overrated. They could pull at a pinch nearly one hundred pounds
each for a long day’s march. Then when camping-time came, the driver
whistled the signal to halt. A meal of preserved meat was served out
to them, and they coiled themselves down in the snow, and slept with
their bushy tails wrapped round their heads.


Most of our dog-sledging parties found it necessary to secure their
teams during the hours called “night.” This was done by detaching the
united traces from the sledge, and fastening them to a spare tent-pole
pushed deep into the snow. Securing the dogs was not always a simple
matter. Upon one occasion, the officer in charge had loosed the traces
from the sledge for this purpose, when the dogs overpowered him, and
started off at full speed across the floes, dragging him at their
heels. He held on manfully, banging about like the tail of a kite;
if he let go, good-bye to the team. Fortunately, the dogs divided on
either side of an abrupt lump of ice, which checked them effectually,
and put an end to his Mazeppa-like career.

Continue Reading

An old and respected pupil

“It is as much commendation as any man can bear, to own him
excellent; all beyond it is idolatry.”—DRYDEN.

It has been stated by an acute observer that it was impossible for
any man to be with Abernethy, even for a short time, without feeling
that he was in communion with no common mind; and it was just, I
think, the first effect he produced. In person, he was of middle
stature, and well proportioned for strength and activity. He had a most
interesting countenance; it combined the character of a philosopher and
a philanthropist, lighted up by cheerfulness and humour. It was not
that his features were particularly well formed or handsome, though
there was not a bad one in the whole countenance; but the harmony of
composition (if we may be allowed the expression) was so perfect.

A sufficiently high and ample forehead towered over two of the most
observant and expressive eyes I almost ever saw. People differ about
colour; they appeared to me always of a greyish-blue, and were
characterized as the rule by a mirthful yet piercing expression, from
which an overlaying of benevolence was seldom wanting; yet, as we have
before observed, they would sometimes launch forth gleams of humour,
anger, or pathos, as the case might be, which were such as the term
dramatic can alone convey.

There was another expression of his eye which was very characteristic;
it was when his benevolence was excited without the means of gratifying
it, as would sometimes happen in the case of hospital patients, for
whom he wanted good air, and things which their position did not
allow them to procure. He would in this case step a pace or two from
the bed, throw his head a little aside, and, talking to the dresser,
exhibit an expression of deep feeling which was extremely peculiar; it
was a mixture of suffering, of impatience, and sympathy; but the force
which the scene drew from the dramatic character of his expressive
countenance is entirely lost in the mere relation. If, at such times,
he gave utterance to a few words, they were always extremely touching
and expressive. On an occasion, for example, like the following, these
characters were combined. A woman came into the hospital to have an
operation performed; and Abernethy, as was his invariable custom, took
some time to get her health into a more favourable condition. When the
day for the operation was at hand, the dresser informed him that she
was about to quit the hospital.

“Why, my good woman,” said Abernethy, “what a fool you must be to come
here to have an operation performed; and now, just as you are in a fit
state for it, to go out again.” Somebody here whispered to him that her
father in the country “was dying.” With a burst of indignation, his
eyes flashing fire, he turned to the dresser, and said: “You fool, why
did you not tell me this before?” Then, after a moment or two looking
at the patient, he went from the foot up to the side of the bed, and
said in the kindest tone possible: “Yes, my good woman, you shall go
out immediately; you may come back again when you please, and I will
take all the care I can of you.”

Now there was nothing in all this, perhaps; but his manner gave it
immense force. And I remember one of the old pupils saying to me: “How
kind he was to that woman; upon my soul, I could hardly help crying.”

Abernethy exemplified a very rare and powerful combination of
intellectual qualities. He had a perception of the facts of a subject
at once rapid, penetrating, and comprehensive, and a power of analysis
which immediately elicited those relations which were most important to
the immediate objects of the investigation; a power, of course, of the
utmost value in a practical profession.

This faculty was never more marvellously displayed than sometimes in
doubtful or difficult cases; and this had been always a striking
excellence in him, even when a young man. I recollect hearing my
father say, that to see Abernethy to advantage, you must observe him
when roused by some difficulty, and in a case where other men were
at fault, or puzzled. It was just so; his penetrating mind seemed to
remove to either side at once what was foreign or doubtful, and go
straight to the point with which alone he had to grapple. Allied to
this, if not part of it, was that suggestive power which he possessed
in so remarkable a degree, and which by a kind of intuition seemed
to single out those pertinent relations and inquiries which the
judgment is to examine, and reject, or approve, as the case may be; a
faculty absolutely necessary to success in endeavours at extending the
boundaries of a science. He was thus sometimes enabled, as has been
shown, to convert facts to the highest purposes, in aid of practical
improvement, which, with an ordinary observer, would have passed

These qualities, combined with a memory, as we have seen, peculiarly
ready, capacious, and retentive, placed his resources at once at
hand for practical application. Then, while his quick perception of
relation always supplied him with abundant analogies, his imaginative
faculty enabled him to illustrate, enforce, and adorn them with such a
multitude and variety of illustration as seemed well-nigh inexhaustible.

Of his humour we have already spoken; but the same properties which
served him so well in more important matters were really, as it appears
to us, the foundation of much of that humour by which his conversation
was characterized—we mean his quick perception of relation, and his
marvellously retentive memory. Many of the things that he said, “told,”
not because they were original, so much as that they were ready at
hand; not because they were intrinsically good, as so apposite in
application; and, lastly, because they were further assisted by his
inimitable manner. Nevertheless, sometimes his quick perception would
be characterized by a corresponding felicity of expression. Bartleman
was an intimate friend of Abernethy’s; and those who remember the
magnificent voice and peculiarly chaste style of that celebrated
singer, will appreciate the felicity of the expression applied to him
by Abernethy, when he said, “Bartleman is an orator in music.”

Abernethy had the talent of conveying, by his manner, and apparently
without the smallest effort, that which in the drama is scarcely known
but as the result of constant and careful study. It was a manner
which no analysis of his character can convey, of which none of his
own compositions even give an adequate idea. The finest colours are
often the most fugitive. This is just the case with that heightened
expression which we term dramatic. Who can express in words the
thrilling effect that an earnest, heartfull delivery of a single phrase
has sometimes conveyed. But brilliant as these endowments were, they
were graced by moral qualities of the first order.

Quick as he was to see everything, he was necessarily rapid in his
perception of character, and would sometimes at a glance hit on the
leading influence of this always difficult assemblage of phenomena,
with the same rapidity that marked his dealings with facts which were
the more usual objects of his inquiries. But, though quick in his
perception of character, and therefore rapidly detective of faults, his
views were always tempered by generosity and good sense. Indignant at
injustice and oppression, and intolerant only of baseness or cruelty,
he was kind and charitable in his construction of more common or
excusable failings.

He loved man as his brother, and, with enlarged ideas of the duties of
benevolence, never dispensed it as a gift which it was creditable to
bestow, so much as an obligation which it would have been immoral to
have omitted. It was not that he did anything which the world calls
noble or great in giving sums of money to this or that person. There
were, indeed, plenty of instances of that sort of generosity and
benevolence, which would creep out, in spite of him, from those whom he
had benefited; and no man knew how to do it better. A gentleman, for
example, came up from the country to the school, and went to Bedford
Row, to enter the lectures. Abernethy asked him a few questions about
his intentions and his prospects, and found that his proceedings would
be little doubtful, as they were contingent on the receipt of some
funds which were uncertain. Abernethy gave him a perpetual ticket
to all his own lectures. “And what made so much impression on me,”
said the gentleman, “was, that instead of paying me less attention,
in asking me to his house, than the other pupils, if there were any
difference, he paid me rather more.” We have seen this gentleman within
a few days, and we are happy to say he has had a happy and prosperous

The benevolence, however, to which we allude, was not merely shown
in giving or remitting money; that, indeed, would be a marvellous
overcoming of the world with many people, but not with Abernethy;
his benevolence was no fitful suggestion of impulse, but a steadily
glowing principle of action, never obtrusive, but always ready when
required. It has been said, “a good man’s life is a constant prayer.”
It may be asserted that a good surgeon’s life should be a gentle
stream of benevolent sympathies, supporting and distributing the
conscientious administration of the duties of his profession. That this
really intrinsic part of his character should have been occasionally
overlaid by unkindness of manner, is, indeed, much to be regretted;
and, we believe, was subsequently deplored by no one more sincerely
than himself, and those who most loved and respected him. The faults
of ordinary acquaintances are taken as matters of course; but the
errors of those who are the objects of our respect and affection, are
always distressing. We feel them almost as a personal wrong; and, in a
character like Abernethy, where every spot on so fair a surface became
luminously evident, such defects gave one a feeling of mortification
which was at once humiliating and oppressive. But, whilst we are the
last to conceal his failings, we cannot but think he was, after all,
himself the greatest sufferer; we have no doubt they originated, at
least, in good motives, and that they have been charged, after all,
with much good.

Unfortunately, we have at all times had too many Gnathos in our
profession, too much of the

“Quidquid dicunt laudo, id rursum si negant, laudo id quoque.
Negat quis? nego. ait? aio.”

These assenting flatterers are the bane of an honest man, and, under
the name of tact and the influence of an uncompromising ambition to
get on, merge the highest duties into a mere desire to please; and,
adopting the creed of Gnatho, appropriately arrive at the same climax
as their conclusion:

“Postremo imperavi egomet mihi
Omnia assentari.”

Now, Abernethy knew this well, and detested it with a repulsion deep
and sincere. He had no knowledge of Gnathonics. He felt that he was
called on to practise a profession, the legitimate object of which
was alone achieved when it ministered to real suffering; and that
mere assentation to please patients was a prostitution of the highest
qualities of mind to the lowest purposes. If one may so say, he felt
like a painter who has a feeling for the highest department of his art,
and who could see nothing in an assenting Gnathonicism but an immoral

Neither was this without use to others; for though he looked, as the
public may be assured many others have done, on a “parcel of people
who came to him with nothing the matter,” yet even in his roughness he
was discriminate, and sometimes accomplished more good than the most
successful time-server by all his lubricity. One day, for example, a
lady took her daughter, evidently most tightly laced—a practice which
we believe mothers now are aware is mischievous, but scarcely to the
extent known to medical men. She complained of Abernethy’s rudeness to
her, as well she might; still he gave her, in a few words, a useful
lesson. “Why, madam,” said he, “do you know there are upwards of thirty
yards of bowels squeezed underneath that girdle of your daughter’s? Go
home and cut it, let Nature have fair play, and you will have no need
of my advice.”

But, if we must acknowledge and regret, as we do, his occasional
rudenesses of manner, let us also give him the credit of overcoming
these besetting impulses. In all hospitals, of course, there are
occasional vexations; but who ever saw Abernethy really unkind to
a hospital patient? Now, we cannot affirm any thing beyond our own
experience. We had, as dresser, for a considerable period, the care
of many of his patients, and we continued frequently to observe his
practice from the commencement of our pupilage, which was about a year
or a little more after his appointment as surgeon, until the close of
his hospital labours. We speak subject to correction, therefore, but
we cannot charge our memory with a single instance of unkindness to
a hospital patient; whilst we are deeply impressed by the constant
prevalence of a generally kind and unaffected sympathy with them.

The quickness with which he observed any imperfection in the execution
of his directions, was, on the contrary, the source of many a “rowing,”
as we apprehend some of his dressers well enough remember; whilst he
seldom took a dresser without making more than usual inquiries as
to his competency. In private practice, also, any case that really
required skill and discrimination was pretty sure to meet with the
attention that it deserved. This was noticed in the remarks made on
the character of Abernethy, at the time of his death, by the Duke of
Sussex, at the Royal Society, at their anniversary meeting on the 30th
of November, 1831, of which the following is a report, copied from the
books of the Society:

His Royal Highness observed that “Mr. Abernethy was one of those
pupils of John Hunter who appears the most completely to have
caught the bold and philosophical spirit of his great master. He
was the author of various works and memoirs upon physiological
and anatomical or surgical subjects, including papers which have
appeared in our Transactions. Few persons have contributed more
abundantly to the establishment of the true principles of surgery
and medical science in those cases which require that minute
criticism of the symptoms of disease, upon the proper knowledge and
study of which the perfection of medical art must mainly depend.

“As a lecturer, he was not less distinguished than as an author;
and he appears to have attained the art of fixing strongly
the attention of his hearers, not less by the just authority
of his opinions than by his ready command of apt and forcible
illustrations. He enjoyed, during many years of his life, more
than an ordinary share of public favour in the practice of
his profession; and, though not a little remarkable for the
eccentricities of his manner and an affected roughness in his
intercourse with his ordinary patients, he was generally kind and
courteous in those cases which required the full exercise of his
skill and knowledge, and also liberal in the extreme when the
infliction of poverty was superadded to those of disease.”

The high character of his benevolence was shown also in the ready
forgiveness of injuries; and he was as grateful as he was forgiving.
How constant his attachment to his early friend and teacher, Sir
William Blizard. There is something very characteristic of this, when,
in the decline of life, he writes “Yours unremittingly,” to one whose
unusually lengthened years had enabled him to witness Abernethy’s entry
into life, and, at the conclusion of the labours of his distinguished
pupil, to join with a public body in expressing the high sense
entertained of the obligations which he had conferred on science and
mankind. Few men could have been placed in positions more trying than
that in which he found himself in his controversy with Mr. Lawrence.
When the time arrived at which, in the ordinary course, that gentleman
would have been elected into the Council of the College, there was a
very strong feeling on the part of some of the members against his
admission. Abernethy, however, proposed him himself, and it was by his
casting vote that the election terminated in Mr. Lawrence’s favour.

A member of the Council having expressed his surprise that Mr.
Abernethy should propose a gentleman with whom he had had so unpleasant
a difference—”What has that to do with it?” rejoined Abernethy. Some
friends of Mr. Lawrence wished to pay that gentleman the compliment of
having his portrait drawn, and a subscription was to be entered into
for this purpose. It was suggested that it would be very desirable to
get Mr. Abernethy to allow his name to be in the list; and our friend,
Mr. Kingdon[88], with the best intentions no doubt, ventured to ask
Mr. Abernethy to put his name at _the head_ of the list. But there was
nothing of Quixotism in Abernethy. He would have been very glad to do
a kind thing to anybody; and any obstacle affecting him personally
was much more likely to be an argument in favour than otherwise. He
liked justice for its own sake; but he was circumspect as well as
penetrative. At first he seemed inclined to do it, but asked a day
to consider of it; and then wrote the following letter, into a more
particular examination of which we need not enter:


“My dear sir,

“‘_Fiat Justitia_’ is, as I flatter myself, the rule of my conduct.
At all times have I expressed my approbation and respect for
William Lawrence, on account of his professional learning, and of
his ability as a writer and public speaker. But, if I do what you
would have me, I should do much more, and be made to appear as
a leader in a scheme the object of which is indefinite; so that
persons will be at liberty to put what construction they please
upon my conduct. Being desirous of doing what you wish, I have been
for some time in a state of perplexity and hesitation.

“At length I have resolved—that since I cannot determine what
ought to be done—to follow a useful rule of professional conduct,
and to do nothing. Vexed to refuse you anything, I hope you will
still believe me,

“My dear sir,
“Your obliged and very sincere friend,

The question of how far letters are to be relied on as expositions of
character, has been much discussed.

The remarks of Dr. Johnson on the subject, in his Life of Pope, are put
with great force, and almost carry us with him; but, on reflection,
they appear too general; they do not, perhaps, get close enough to the
question in which the student in Biography is chiefly interested.

Although letters obviously afford opportunities for a variety of
affectation—and Pope seems to have seldom been quite natural—yet we
cannot think that “friendship has no tendency to produce veracity.”
But it seems impossible to generalize on the subject. We might as well
ask whether oral evidence is to be relied on. There is no one quality
that we can think of that can be said to be so universally distributed
in letters as to be safe to generalize on. Common sense tells us that
the testimony they give may be false or true. They are, like witnesses,
capable of telling truth, but having, under different circumstances,
all the characters of all other kinds of witnesses. Strictly, the
dependence one would place on them would be on the abstract probability
of that which they suggest; or as supported by any corroborative

The following is a note to his daughter, the late Mrs. Warburton,
thanking her for a watch-chain:

“Bedford Row,
“Sept. 30.

“My dear Anne,

“I am quite accablé by the liberality of the Dr. and yourself; but
I’ve been thinking that the Dr. is leading me into temptation,
and that you are spending your money for an ornament which will
never be seen, and which will only increase my apprehensions of
having my pocket picked. However, what is meant in kindness should
be received according to its design. Thus occasionally shall I
taste the old rum; though, according to the phrase of the Doctor’s
schoolfellow (who reiterated that the wine was capital), blue
ruin might have done as well. Thus also shall I wear the chain in
remembrance of a chain which attaches me to you; one forged by
Nature, and riveted by your good conduct and excellent disposition.

“I am, my dear Anne,
“Your affectionate and attached


“My dear Anne,

“Sir James, becoming a Governor, observed, he could not be both
master and servant, and therefore _must_ relinquish his labours. I
was three hours going round the hospital for the first time. It is
Sir James’s taking-in day on Thursday. The admitted patients must
be seen on Friday. I cannot leave town until Saturday, unless Mrs.
A.[89] pleases to encounter the chance of sleeping on the road. I
suppose she will have luggage; and I cannot in reason allow less
than seven hours, with a rest of two to Miss Jenny, with such
additional weight.

“I wish you had seen Dr. Powell; not that I believe he could do
aught more than your own reason would suggest, or else you should
never, with my goodwill, have gone to Southend. I know nought
of —— Could you not return by water? By engaging a suitable
vessel, the whole party might then be transported—ay, even to
Putney. I should think ten or twelve pounds well bestowed on such
a desideratum. Do not think of expense; for money cannot be put in
competition with your welfare. If you are healthy and long-lived, I
should be surprised if the children were not good and prosperous. I
say nothing about myself, because I am no Professor, although they
so nickname me.

“Yours in all events,

The following has some points of interest. The reason why merciful; the
observance of approved custom in shutting up the house; yet connecting
so much of “forms, modes, shows of grief,” as Hamlet calls them,
with the best feelings, because “she had loved you,” &c.; the gentle
tenderness with which he alludes to the excellence of the Mother;
and the graceful compliment with which he concludes; seem excellent

“My dear Anne,

“I am much concerned to tell you that your Grandmother died last
night, about nine o’clock. Death came to her unattended with pain
or terrors. It is highly probable that she neither felt uneasiness
of body or mind, from the time she was first seized with the fit.
To have lived to her age, respectably and respected, in health,
and to die without bodily or mental sufferings, is a fate which
falls but to the lot of few; so that her friends have no reason to
repine at her death; and it seems to be a merciful dispensation
of Providence. If the servant has left Putney for Radcliff, of
course the house is shut up; if not, it ought to be so. You and
the children ought also to stay within doors, and have the front
windows closed. She loved you all very much, and you ought to
love and respect her memory. To you, who are apt to indulge your
feelings too much, I must add, that it would be wrong to grieve
much for what is in reality, as I have said, a cause to rejoice.
I mean that the pains and decrepitude of age should be spared to
the Individual whose fate we mourn. I have always esteemed it
an excellence in your Mother’s character, that though she feels
acutely, yet she bears her lot in the dispensations of Providence
with a gentleness and submission which indeed serve to diminish
their severity. I trust she will do so on this occasion. You will
see her to-morrow at Putney, if not before. On all occasions, and
under every circumstance, rely on it that I remain

“Most affectionately yours,

“Bedford Row,
“Friday Morning, August, 1812.”



“The first incident worth relating happened at Cirencester. I
hobbled in haste to Mr. Lawrence’s; his dressing room was open,
and articles of apparel, &c. lay about, as if he had been lately
engaged in the (to some agreeable, to others annoying) operation
of dressing himself. His maid servant, however, sought him in
vain, even in the church-yard. She looked mysterious and alarmed.
‘Perhaps,’ said I, ‘he is gone to Mr. Warner’s.’ Sure enough there
he was, examining a shoulder said to have been dislocated; and
he would make me examine it likewise. So much time having been
lost as to the object of my visit, I had merely time to tell him
that you were at Cheltenham, and would come to see him; and he
to tell me that Mrs. Lawrence was at Malvern. The guard sounded
his tin horn in an imperative manner; the sound was repeated, and
I received a verbal reproof from the coachman for not instantly
obeying the summons. A little way out of Cirencester, on the road
to Tetbury, there is a neat and stile-ish house and grounds which
I anticipated belonged to Charles Lawrence; and my presentiment
was confirmed by a Compagnon de Voyage. Arrived at the York House,
Bath, I was shown into a bed-room which had not been dusted, as
you would think, properly since a fortnight before the fire. So,
with the fear of bugs and other blood-sucking insects, I took
up those of the papilionacious tribe belonging to Mr. Marriott,
and proceeded to his abode; approaching which, I encountered Mr.
Wood. By his recommendation, I procured apartments in a house,
as Bourdillon would say, the entirety of which could only be
obtained by persons in general. Behold me, then, sole occupant
of a spacious and well-furnished house (being No. 9, St. James’s
Square), with a garden terminating in a road, beyond which fields
only are visible, and within ken of the brow of Lansdown. The
front and back rooms communicate, and the windows of each being
open, there is perflation in excess. (Diary.) Monday. Descending
Gay Street, in my way to the bath, I called at Soden’s, and found
him in great distress, and that Hodgson had gone forth to seek
for me. Mrs. Soden is very ill, and Hodgson had come once to
see her. She has lots of medical attendants, who, to use ——’s
phrase, dovetail their opinions and practice before they prescribe
for their patient. In perambulating Bath with Mr. Hodgson, we
encountered Mr. Leifchild, who recited his case to the former,
in proof of the efficacy of diet, with the eloquence of a public
orator; and it happened to be a case in point. I scrubbed myself
for half an hour, and drank half a pint of water at the pump room;
then reascended the hill; looked in at Wilson Brown’s, whose wife
is quite well. No doubt the state of her digestive organs was the
source of her various maladies. Her father, Dr. Chichester, whom
you saw at Mr. Acres’, now resides at Cheltenham. I went with Mr.
Brown to the Riding School, thinking that if I could meet with a
kind of shooting pony, I might be tempted to get on his back. But
I escaped temptation, dined on mutton chop or chops, drank half a
pint of ale, felt quiet, dosed a little. Descended to Queen Square;
left a card for Sir George Gibbs, who is at Weymouth; called on Mr.
Gore, who had been called out to a casualty (Bath phrase); went to
the White Hart, found the coach did not come in until nine o’clock;
thinking that if I did not see Mr. Battiscombe until then, we
should both be as weary of seeing each other as of the day’s toil,
I reascended the hill, and went to bed. It was necessary that a
day should elapse, that I might tell you how time passed; so that
I have complied with your request of writing as soon as possible.
No doubt that the days will be so monotonous as to render a second
account unnecessary. I calculate I shall be tout-à-fait ennuyé in a
fortnight; so that I expect I shall set off to Cheltenham, in the
coach I came by, next Monday sennight, which I believe will arrive
there about eight or nine in the evening, when I hope to find
you all well. On Friday I think we might visit Oxford, and house
ourselves again at the Angel; from whence, if we start at nine, we
may be in London by four o’clock on Saturday.

“I think I have written a ladylike letter: no attempt at
condensation. I hope to hear from you in return, and that you will
be able to say all’s well. I will write to Anne to-morrow, because
you say she wishes it—perhaps to-day.

“Love to Miss Moggy and Miss Madge.

“Yours for ever and for aye,

“Bath, 8th September, 1828.”

He was fond of joining in anything that could delight and amuse his
children. In summer, when he returned home, the “upstairs bell” was
generally the signal for the young people to come to have a game of
play. Of games, battledore and shuttlecock was a favourite, at which he
was as expert and pleased as any of them. Sometimes there would be a
petition for stories; and he would delight them all by little histories
or tales, in which he appears to have shown the same talent as he did
in his lectures. The same stories were often repeated, yet they always
had something of the fun or freshness, as the case might be, of things
that were heard for the first time. One Christmas, the family, desirous
of amusing some friends, proposed to get up some private theatricals.
The anxious question being, what papa would say to it? Well, this was
very soon known, by a ready assent. But what was the play to be? They
replied, “The Iron Chest.” But now rather an important difficulty
arose, of who was to take the part of Sir Edward Mortimer? This was as
unexpectedly as joyfully solved, by Mr. Abernethy taking it himself.

But, of all the home sports to which he seems to have given such zest,
all yielded to the superior attractions of the Magic lantern. This was
generally a gambol reserved for Christmas, when the whole establishment
were admitted. The fun lay in the number and variety of the stories and
remarks which accompanied the optical illustrations.

Every “slide” had remarks and stories made off-hand, which, as stories
were of this or that kind, either greatly increased the interest or
were the occasion of hearty merriment or peals of laughter.

He was very fond of the country and his garden, and nothing he enjoyed
more than driving down to Enfield with Mr. Clift, and having a holiday.
On such occasions, sometimes, even before he went into the house he
would set to work in the garden. They used both to be very active in
cutting out the dead wood from the laurels and other shrubs. In these
domestic operations the children would assist without any of the party
recollecting that bonnets and gowns were not the best costume for
making way amongst the trees and shrubs, which, however, only assisted
to increase the fun and excitement. At other times, there would be an
expedition against the duck-weed on the water. In short, he always
seems to have been the life of the party, and to have invested even the
most ordinary occupations with liveliness and interest, for which he
was certainly gifted with unwonted powers. Occasionally he would go to
the theatre, which he sometimes enjoyed very much. Like his brother,
he was a great lover of our immortal Shakspeare, and scarcely less
familiar with most of the wonderful creations of his mighty genius.

When we contemplate Abernethy in a single phase only of his character,
we see a “fidgetty” physical organization, influencing an habitual
irritability of which it was too much a supporter, if it were not
the original cause; but the moment we penetrate this thin and only
occasional covering, we meet with nothing but rare and splendid
endowments; and, as we proceed in our examination, we are at a loss
which most to admire, the brilliant qualities of his intellect, or the
moral excellences of his heart.

But, in estimating the one or the other, we must view them in relation
to the other feelings with which they were accompanied, as impeding
or assisting their development and application; or otherwise we shall
hardly estimate in its due force the powers of that volition over which
the moral sense so constantly presides.

Abernethy had considerable love of approbation—a quality which,
regarded in a religious point of view, may be said to embrace all
others; but it is one which, in the ordinary relations of life, is apt
to dilute the character, bringing down the mind from the contemplation
of more elevated motives to the level of those suggested by worldly
considerations and conventionalisms. To one shy, even to timidity,
and whose organization fitted him rather for the rapid movements of a
penetrative and impulsive perception, than the more dogged perseverance
of sustained labour, love of approbation, even in the ordinary
application of it, might have been a useful stimulus in maintaining
exertion; and we believe it was. Yet, though he avowed it as a dominant
principle in our nature, as the great “incentive” to human action, he
never sought it but by legitimate channels; nor, potential as its
influences might have been, when sharpened by shyness and timidity, did
he hesitate one moment to throw them all aside whenever the interests
of truth or justice rendered it necessary.

When Mr. Hunter’s views were little noticed, less understood, and
apparently in danger of being forgotten—when the more speculative
of his views were not even known as his by any _published_
documents—when, therefore, in addition to other objections, he
was, as we have seen, subjected to the imputation of advocating
opinions as Hunter’s, of which there was no other testimony than the
precarious memories of contemporaries,—he stood boldly forward as
the fearless, earnest, and eloquent advocate of John Hunter. In this
case, he overcome his natural dislike to contest and publicity, and
encountered just that individualizing opposition which is most trying
to a sensitive organization; exemplifying a rare tribute of truth and
justice paid by genius to the claims of a departed brother. At the
same time, the power he displayed of moulding views, scarcely even
acknowledged, into the elementary beginnings of little less than a new
science, strikingly testifies the superiority of his intellectual power.

Whilst, however, he advocated John Hunter’s views, and, with a creative
spirit, made them the basis of additional structures which were
emphatically his own, we find him modestly reverting again and again to
John Hunter, as if afraid of not awarding him his just due,—and for
ever linking both the early bud put forth by Hunter’s inquiries and
the opening blossom afforded by his own, with the imperishable efforts
of his distinguished master,—exemplifying the modesty of genius, and
how superior it is, when guided by virtue, to any but the most exalted

Another example of his independence of mind and of his conquest over
difficulty, when the interests of truth appeared to him to render it
necessary, was the manner in which, in defiance of ridicule and all
sorts of opposition, he advocated his own views; with ultimate success,
it is true, but obtained only through a variety of difficulties,
greatly augmented by his naturally shy, if not timid, organization.
Still, amidst all his brilliant endowments, we feel ourselves fondly
reverting to the more peaceful and unobtrusive efforts with which he
daily inculcated the conscientious study of an important profession.

That he had faults, is of course true; but they were not the faults
of the spirit so much as of the clay-bound tenement in which it
resided—not so much those of the individual man as those necessarily
allied to humanity. The powerful influences of education had not been
very happily applied in Abernethy; its legitimate office is, no doubt,
to educe the good, and suppress the evolution of bad qualities. In
Abernethy, we can hardly help thinking that his education was more
calculated to do just the contrary. “To level a boy with the earth,”
because he ventured on “a crib to Greek Testament,” is, to say the
least of it, very questionable discipline for a shy and irritable
organization. To restore to its original form the tree which has been
bent as a sapling, is always difficult or impossible.

But, in virtue of those beneficent laws which “shelter the shorn
lamb,” Abernethy was allowed ultimately, less in consequence than
in spite of his education, to develop one of the most benevolent of
dispositions. To this was joined a powerful conscientiousness, which
pervaded everything he did, and which could hardly be supported but by
sentiments of religious responsibility; and it is certain that his mind
was deeply imbued with the precepts of a vital Christianity, that took
the most practical view of his duty to God and to his neighbour; and,
in the very imperfect sense in which human nature has ever attained
to the full obedience of either, he regarded a humble and practical
observance of the one as the best human exposition of the other. His
favourite apothegm on all serious occasions, and especially in those
parts of his profession where its guidance was most required, was the
divine precept of doing to others as we would wish done to ourselves.

In his reflections he strikingly exemplifies how humble and
single-minded were his modes of thinking. After the manner of Bishop
Butler, but with a simplicity highly characteristic, he identifies that
which is truly religious with that which is truly philosophical; and,
instead of finding difficulties in those barriers which necessarily
lie before finite capacities, when endeavouring to approach the
Infinite, he seems to regard them as things which rather direct and
limit, than obstruct, legitimate inquiry.

In concluding this imperfect sketch of a difficult character, we
have merely endeavoured to state our own impressions. We cannot help
thinking that Abernethy has left a space which yet remains unoccupied;
it would be presumptuous to say that it will long continue so. In his
life he has left us an excellent example to follow, nor has it been
less useful in teaching us that which we should avoid.

Whilst amongst us, as he taught us how to exercise some important
duty, he would occasionally endeavour to impress matters of detail,
by showing, first, how they should not be done. His life instructs us
after the same manner. In all serious matters, we may generally take
him as a guide; in occasional habits, we may most safely recollect
that faults are no less faults—as Mirabeau said of Frederick—because
they have the “shadow” of a great name; and we believe that, were it
possible, no good man would desire to leave a better expiation of any
weakness, than that it should deter others from a similar error. This
is the view we would wish our young friends to take of the matter. We
cannot all reach the genius of Abernethy, but we may be animated by the
same spirit.

If great men are endowed with powers given only to the few, their
success generally turns on the steady observance of the more homely
qualities which are the common privilege of the many—caution,
circumspection, industry, and humility. Again, genius is often
charged with weaknesses by which more ordinary minds are unfettered
or unembarrassed. We may emulate the justice, the independence of
mind, the humanity, the generosity, the modesty, and, above all,
the conscientiousness of Abernethy, in all serious cases; without
withholding from the more ordinary and lighter duties of our profession
a due proportion of these feelings, or necessarily laying aside the
forbearance and courtesy which must ever lend an additional grace to
our various duties.

We may endeavour with all our power to avoid a disgraceful flattery
and compliancy, without replacing them by contrasts which, though not
equally mischievous, we may be assured are equally unnecessary: whilst
we may, in our various stations, emulate his kindness, his constancy
as a husband, father, and friend; and yet not refuse a becoming share
of such endearing qualities to others, from any fear that we shall be
subject to misconstruction.

We may remember that intellect alone is dry, cold, and calculating;
that feeling, unsupported or uncontrolled, is impulsive, paroxysmal,
and misleading; and that the few rare moments of moral excellence which
human nature achieves, are, when these powers combine, in harmony of
purpose and unity of action.

We may be assured that, however much we admire that rapid and searching
perceptivity,—that sound, acute, and comprehensive judgment which
Abernethy brought to bear on the study of the profession,—or the
honourable, independent, generous, and humane manner in which he
administered its more important and serious duties,—the greatest,
and, for good, the most potential influence of all, was the manner in
which he employed his manifold and varied excellences as a teacher in
endeavouring to infuse a truly conscientious spirit into the numbers
who, as pupils, he sent forth to practise in all parts of the world.
This is still an unknown amount of obligation. Those resulting from
his works may be proximately calculated, and such as are necessarily
omitted in a review essentially popular, _may be chronicled hereafter
in a more suitable manner_; but, as a teacher, we cannot as yet
calculate the amount of our obligations to him. They are only to be
estimated by reflection; and by recollecting the _moral influence of
every man_ who honestly practises an important profession.

Finally, whether we think of the interests of the public, the
profession, or those of each, as affecting the other, or of both as
affecting the progress of society; we shall, I think, be disposed to
agree with one of our most distinguished modern writers, that the
“means on which the interests and prospects of society most depend, are
the sustained influence that invariably attends the dignity of private

In a world which presents so much of violated faith and broken ties,
the mind experiences a grateful repose in the contemplation of long and
uninterrupted friendship.

Of all men, perhaps Sir William Blizard had known Abernethy the
longest, and loved him the best; and an intercourse of more than half a
century had only served to cement a friendship entirely reciprocal with
sentiments of increased respect and regard.

Sir William had been one of the first to excite in Abernethy that
love for his profession which led to such brilliant results. He had
witnessed his career with all the pleasure that a teacher regards the
success of an early pupil, and no doubt with that satisfaction which is
inseparable from a prediction fulfilled. He had lived, also, to receive
a public and affectionate tribute of gratitude for his early lessons,
when Abernethy was in the zenith of his power.

Sir William, however, lived nearly a century, and was still alive and
well, when Abernethy’s sun was setting, and when that fire which he had
been the first to kindle for such useful and benevolent purposes was
soon to be extinguished for ever.

When Abernethy retired from the College of Surgeons, Sir William was
requested to draw up the memorial in which his services were to be

These circumstances invest even formal documents with an unusual
interest; and we therefore trust that Sir William’s encomium may not be
thought an inappropriate conclusion to our humble story.

This almost ancient friend and early instructor observed, of Abernethy,
“that his life has been devoted to the improvement of the healing art.
His luminous writings breathe simplicity, humanity, reverence of truth,
and disdain of worldly art; and have placed the art and science of
surgery on the permanent basis of anatomy and physiology; whilst the
contemplation of his character excites emulative ideas of public virtue
in the cultivation of useful knowledge.”

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Professor Smythe

“Philosophy directs us to bear evils with patience and fortitude,
because they are inevitable; but Christianity gives us consolation
under sufferings, by assuring us that they are but the discipline
of a Parent who loveth while he chastiseth, and that they are but
for a moment, when compared with eternity. The Christian’s Hope
has made him whom it has supported rejoice under the greatest
sufferings that mortality could endure; yet Hope is but the
offspring of faith, and therefore it was necessary to make faith
the foundation of the structure of the Christian Religion, and
to assign and affix to it peculiar privileges and rewards.” MR.

Whoever reflects on the influence produced on the mind by research in
Science, will, we think, arrive at a very important conclusion.

It is true that, at the commencement, numerous worldly motives tend to
place most prominently before us the temporal advantages of scientific
Inquiry. There are distinctions of wealth, rank, position, which not
unfrequently await its successful cultivation. Then there are the
multiform applications of science in extending the enjoyments, in
ministering to the wants, and, still better, relieving the calamities
of mankind; but when we have arrived at this, surely the acmé of its
_utilitarian_ allurements, we find there are still higher motives
engendered—that science has a still richer harvest to encourage its
onward cultivation. Nor is it too much to say, that, if cultivated
aright, the fruits may be more surely garnered than any of those
to which we have previously referred. The harvest we mean consists
of those moralizing influences which, however neglected, are never
separable from the study of Nature; which, however ordinary the
impulses with which the inquiry may have commenced, slowly overlay
it with motives and feelings which lead us to investigate Nature for
the sake of truth alone. And here, we think, first dawns upon us the
conclusion to which we have alluded: viz. that the highest attractions
of science are to be found in what we venture to term its “Religion.”

However much the influences first mentioned tend to place the more
lofty suggestions of science in temporary abeyance, there always comes
a time when the sincere inquirer begins to feel a double current of
thought. In the one, the thoughts are open, aspiring—ambitious, it
may be—public, and directed only to the laws and phenomena of Nature;
in the other, they are calm, deep, humble, silent, and _will_ turn to
the Supreme Cause. The former may foster his ambition, animate his
research, sustain his industry. The latter carry him beyond those
influences, and supplies something which they cannot give. In loving
truth for its own sake, he learns by degrees to lean little on the
worldly appreciation of labour—convinced that whatever is true, will
one day find its own way, in the time best fitted for it. We cannot
help thinking that it is the force of this double current of thought
by which that climax has been reached by some of the greatest minds;
which has exemplified the coincidence of the utmost range of human
knowledge with the most profound humility; thus rendering the highest
aspirations of science subservient to the cultivation of a principle;
inseparable, we suppose, from all Religion; but certainly one of the
most distinguishing characteristics of Christianity.

An idea, however, has arisen in some minds, that the pursuit of science
has a tendency to make men sceptical in Religion. This we believe
to be not only a demonstrable, but a dangerous error—demonstrable,
as remarkably opposed to the evidences of fact and observation; and
dangerous, as withdrawing the minds of many from the study of science,
who would be perhaps especially fitted to estimate its advantages and
enjoy its pleasures.

History, who from her ample store of testimony has so often repealed
injustice and defeated error, is no where more conclusive than on the
question before us. The study of Nature not only has no tendency to
induce a state of mind unfavorable to the reception of the truths of
Religion, but just the contrary; for the proofs of a humble and sincere
reliance on the promises of the one, have been infinitely most striking
in those who have proved themselves the most successful cultivators of
the other.

The philosopher, regarding the universe as the dwelling of the Supreme,
sees in the laws of nature, and in the powers through which he is
permitted in a degree to interpret them, only another revelation—a
Divine recognition of his high relations and destiny; and grasps
in one comprehensive idea the Word and the Works, as an integral
communication—one extended privilege to Man. He does not indeed
confound the evidences on which philosophical and religious truths
respectively repose. He knows that they rest on different _kinds_ of
testimony, which he neither strives to identify, nor misapply. He
no more expects to deduce the generalizations of science from the
Scriptures, than he does the commands of the Deity from the facts of
the natural world. Philosophy and Religion, however, are constantly
impressing similar facts. In science, we learn—and no doubt the
deepest learn it best—that “there are more things in heaven and earth
than are dreamt of in our philosophy.” Religion tells us there are many
things “past man’s understanding.” Religion and science teach us alike
that any inquiry into the positive and ultimate nature of anything
which exists, is entirely beyond our faculties; and respectively impress
on us the conviction, that our proper business is to search out the
phenomena and laws of the one, and to obey the Commandments of the other.

Philosophy is daily teaching us how little we know, as compared with
that which is unknown. Religion informs us that, at present, we see
“through a glass darkly.” Yet, at the same time, both concur in
encouraging us to believe that everything that is really required of
us, everything that is good and useful to us both here and hereafter,
are alike open to human capacity. The pursuit of science, no doubt,
establishes requisitions which are essential to the proper study of
it. A mind undisciplined by any rule; a mind taking only a conjectural
view of nature; a mind allowing fancy or imagination to usurp the
place of intellectual power; a condition which ignores the guidance of
patience, circumspection, and industry, and which seeks the explanation
of the impressions made on the senses by ingenious hypotheses made to
fit them; or which sees no order or intelligibility in anything which
it does not at once comprehend; that these and many other states of
mind _may_ tend to confound the understanding, and replace anything
rational or profitable by anything else, is _possible_ enough. But is
it not equally true of Religion? Experience has abundantly shown us the
result of Man trying to fit the mysteries of Religion to the measure
of intelligibility set up by the human intellect. There surely is no
subject on which men have become more lamentably bewildered. This,
however, is merely one of the too common examples of abuse of our
faculties; and that such men may become sceptical, whether pursuing
Science or any subject whatever, is probable. It is, in truth, “Science
falsely so called,” and has no more relation to the legitimate study of
Nature, than the most orderly formula of the mathematician has to the
wildest conjecture.

But that research in science, legitimately conducted, has any tendency
to produce what is usually intended by the term scepticism, is not only
improbable;—it is directly contradicted by the facts of experience.
So numerous are the examples of the contrary, to which we here add
the name of Abernethy, that it is difficult to select, so as not to
leave the evidence unjustifiably bald on the one hand; or to render
it superfluous even to tediousness on the other. That which confers,
however, the greatest interest on this part of the subject, is not so
much the _mass_ of testimony, not so much the _crowd_ of witnesses,
as the peculiar, yet varied, character of the august assemblage. It
is extremely significant to observe, that whilst we find amongst
the most earnest advocates of the paramount importance of Revealed
Truth, the names of the most successful students of the Truths of
Science,—so, on the other hand, no persons have laboured to impress
us with the important uses of the facts in nature with more zeal and
success than distinguished Divines. Amongst the many scientific men
who have exemplified the purifying tendencies of scientific pursuits
in promoting their reverence for Revealed Religion, it will suffice to
mention such names as Boyle, Bacon, Kepler, Newton, Locke. The latter
too reminds us that the medical profession has contributed no small
number of witnesses; of whom, Böerhaave, Linnæus, Sloane, and Haller,
are a few of the more illustrious examples. All the foregoing are men
who have explored one or more of the ample fields of Nature; some of
them, extending their views beyond the planet we inhabit, into the
whole visible universe, have come back, showing us how to understand
the necessity, and estimate the value, of Revealed Truth; converting,
it may be, in many instances, Belief (so called) into a positive Faith;
and a passive assent into an earnest and clear conviction.

But, as we have said, Divines have not been slow in contributing the
weight of their testimony to the value of natural evidence, and the
acceptable assistance afforded by a contemplation of the laws and the
mysteries of Nature. So abundant indeed are these mysteries, that
there is not a path of our progress by day, nor a waking thought by
night, that does not at times present some of them to our reflection.
Mysteries in operation so clear, that our very senses take cognizance
of them; so orderly, that when we are allowed to discover the law which
regulates them, we are at a loss which most to admire, the power, the
number, or the simplicity of its manifestations; and yet which, as to
their intrinsic nature, are so recondite as to be entirely beyond our
researches; leaving us, in fact, no faculty which can deal with them,
but faith alone. Divines have shown the value they attach to all such
facts, by the admirable application they have made of them in aiding
the cultivation of Religion—sometimes by teaching the necessity and
reasonableness of faith in the mysteries of Religion; at others, in
impressing the nature and attributes of the Supreme.

It would be easy to produce a longer roll of such men; but most
readers are acquainted with such names as Cudworth, Butler, Sturm,
Derham, Paley, Crombie, who have, in one or other sense, exemplified
the importance of natural knowledge, and the interest they took in
its cultivation. In every phase of the investigation, we meet with
fresh examples of the union of Religion with Science. Paschal and
St. Pierre are eminent illustrations. Paschal was a Divine, and an
eminent mathematician: mankind is surely under obligations to him for
his “Lettres Provinciales.” These extraordinary compositions must
have operated with uncommon force against the sophistries of the
Jesuits; and, considering the nature of the subject, it could have
been no ordinary work that could have induced Voltaire to say that
he had never read anything more humorous than the earlier letters,
or more sublime than the later. St. Pierre[80], too, should not be
passed without mention. His book is, in some points of view, one of
the most interesting works ever written: occasionally fanciful or
enthusiastic, it is a most unusually rich collection of facts and
observations. How excellently adapted it is to encourage observation
of natural phenomena! How just and philanthropic—how circumspect
and comprehensive his observations in Nature! and how excellent and
free from cant the paramount importance he impresses of Religion as a
principle, and of Christianity as the perfect supply of all that is
necessary to us in time or in eternity. Yet St. Pierre was a soldier;
and it is to our present purpose that he was a scientific man, and an
engineer. Neither should we pass unnoticed the numerous associations of
pastoral care with the observation of nature, so pleasingly exemplified
in White of Selborne, and Gilpin of the New Forest—men whose books we
count now rather by generations than editions, and which suggest to
our imagination the additional gratification which such men must have
derived to their favourite pursuits, in the continued sanction afforded
by Scripture. We would reverently point to the site first chosen as
the abode of purity and innocence; and the numerous illustrations from
nature contained in the Sacred Volume; whether in enforcing general
rules, or a special command—impressing a particular principle, or
illustrating a recondite mystery,—and especially that which is a
_remarkable and necessary combination_ of mystery with faith. For
whilst it is, as well as other mysteries, beyond our comprehension, it
commands so entire a faith in its reality, as to be, in some form or
other, instinctive and universal[81].

Mr. Abernethy, it has been stated in former editions, was, as regards
his religious tenets, a member of the Church of England: and it would
have been gratifying to have included some of those sentiments on
religious and moral matters which we now record; but, although some of
these documents had been open to our inspection before the completion
of the second edition, they were not so entirely at our disposal as
Miss Abernethy has subsequently placed them. Of these documents,
those which relate to religious and moral subjects consist, first,
of a small book on the Mind, which Abernethy published a great many
years ago, anonymously; and certain reflections, found amongst the
very few MSS. which he had preserved. Amongst these papers, there
are two which are in the form of sermons; and, although they are all
somewhat fragmentary, they are in several points of view more or less

As it appears to be an abuse of the proper business of biography
to publish every thing that an eminent man says or does, we shall
endeavour to make such selection as shall fall within its legitimate
objects—viz. as establishing some fact of importance, as illustrating
the tone and character of the man, or as placing some conclusion which
had been drawn more or less from general observation, on the more
secure basis of the sentiments he has himself recorded.


There is “more moral certainty in the greater number of instances of
those things which we believe from the deduction of reason, than of
those we believe from the action of the senses.”

Yet he would warn the students of science “from being proud of their
acquisitions; and against not believing any thing but what they learn
from the deductions of their reason, lest they _become most ignorant of
that of which they are most assured_.”

“Man at this period of the world is still ignorant of the nature of
surrounding bodies; his information must be limited as his perceptions
are limited, and this should produce humility, the proper frame of mind
for Christians.”

After saying that we have no means of forming any idea of the nature
of matter, but from the impressions we receive from it, those of
figure, divisibility, gravity, and disposition to move when impelled,
to continue in motion unless retarded, &c. &c.—in allusion to a
well-known theory, he adds: “But some have doubted whether we could be
sure even of those properties of matter of which we felt most confident
the existence were such as we conceived them to be. Certainly,” he
says, “we know nothing of what matter really is; we only know certain
properties, without being at all acquainted with the substratum or
subject, as a logician would say, which supports these properties.
Yet,” he says, “when we consider the ideas derived from external
objects, we _cannot but admire their correctness and suitability to our
present wants and state of existence_.”

“If we are ignorant of the nature of the most common object of matter,
as we call it, how can we obtain any knowledge of what we call Spirit?”
He thinks that it is only from a knowledge of ourselves that we can
derive any ideas on the subject.

“When we examine our bodies, we see an assemblage of organs formed
of what we call matter, visible to the eye and cognizable to the
touch; but, when we examine our minds, we feel that there is something
sensitive and intelligible which inhabit our bodies.” “We naturally
believe in the existence of a Supreme First Cause. We feel our own
free agency. We distinguish right and wrong. We feel as if we were
responsible for our conduct, and the belief in the existence of a
_future state seems indigenous to the mind of man_.” “We are conscious
of our existence; we remember our sensations; we compare them, judge
of them, and Will and act in consequence of such judgment.” He thinks
if we can form any notion of the actions of a Spirit, it must be
from reflections on such phenomena, and not from any hypothetical
definitions of Matter and Spirit.

Again, after insisting on the limitation of our powers, he says, “From
them we may conceive of God, that He approves what is right, and
condemns what is wrong; and that he may approve of our conduct when we
act right or wrong, according to our own ideas of rectitude or error.
We cannot conceive that God would have given us the power of judging
without deciding on the rectitude or error of our conduct in conformity
to such power or judgment. This is the sense in which I understand the
Scriptures—that God created man in His own image.”


“As the Mind takes cognizance of what is passing in the body, and in
those which surround it and directs its notions and operations in
regard to them, so we may conceive of that Great Spirit, the Soul
of the universe, that He perceives and governs all its parts. That
Creator, Supporter, and Governor of the universe, whom we are taught to
address, not only as such, but by the more endearing appellation of the
Father of our Spirits.”

In his little book on Mind, he thus lays out his plan:

“The attributes of the mind, which seem to be of a permanent nature,
are here considered as ‘properties’ (intending such as perception,
memory, &c.); those which are occasionally exerted and operate with
effort as ‘powers;’ and those which may be perceived only occasionally,
and which vary in degree or kind in different persons, as ‘qualities.’
As Reason and Will are ‘properties’ of the mind, and yet exerted as
‘powers,’ they are treated under both heads.”


“As I may not use the word in a customary sense, I think it right
to explain what I mean by ideas. When I see a beautiful prospect
illuminated by the sun, I have a _perception_ of light and shade.
When, however, I have acquired such a knowledge of light and shade
as to be able to represent on paper a spherical or many-sided body,
I think I have acquired a knowledge of light and shade beyond that
which the _mere_ remembrance of my perception would have produced. I
shall, therefore, express myself as follows: Our knowledge consists
of perceptions and deduction from them, which may be called ideas,
opinions, thoughts. In reasoning, we employ these intellectual
deductions, as we employ the perceptions of the facts themselves.”


He observes: “It does not appear that we have the power of abstracting
the mind from the consideration of any subject, except by engaging it
in some other.”


“Benevolence is necessary, because it enlarges our sphere of happiness
by rendering us participators in the happiness of others—besides
producing, by sympathy, similar feelings in others.”

In a series of propositions on the exercise of mind, he impresses the
mischief of admitting or indulging erroneous trains of thought, as
illustrated by “the fears arising from bad management in childhood,—by
persistence in vice after the gratification has ceased and the
destruction certain; and also in contributing to the production of
insanity.” Or, on the other hand, he considers the _advantage_ of
exercise in correct trains of thought; that the powers evinced by
Newton, and, in certain cases, by Johnson, to have been unattainable,
but as the result of such exercise. He enlarges on the moral effects
of habitual increase of power in diverting the mind at will to other
objects, and so subduing anger, mitigating calamity, &c.

In illustrating the intensity that recurrence of impression is apt to
give to the feelings, he says: “Benevolence indulged, leads to lasting
friendship; whilst the harbouring sensations of even trivial disgust
are too likely to develop animosity,” &c.

In speaking of the difficulty of ascertaining all the _facts_ and
_feelings_ which enter into the formation of any one’s opinions, he
says: “It ought to incline us to think modestly of our own, and pay
deference to those of others,”

The impropriety of “anything like compulsion to make men think alike
by other than _their own temperately induced convictions_ is never
more clear than in regard to religion; for the aim of Christianity is
general benevolence and individual humility—benevolence even to the
forgiveness of error. Has not this been illustrated in the highest
degree by its Supreme Author, when He said, ‘Father, forgive them;
they know not what they do?’ Does not Christianity enjoin the very
reverse of that which we are constantly pursuing, by which we excite
dissension and cultivate an arrogance incompatible with the character
of a Christian.”

He concludes one chapter thus:

If we said to others, who agree in the main points of religion, “We are
brothers, let each think as his own mind dictates,—it is probable that
all would soon think alike, because all would think without passion or

He considers the most exalted of all manifestations of divine mercy,
“the atonement of sin by the sufferings of Christ, and the promulgation
of precepts which, if practised, ensure temporal and eternal
happiness.” And, in another place, he speaks of the gratitude that
man should feel in “that his Creator has thus condescended to be his
Redeemer,” &c.

Of the Scripture precept—”To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk
humbly with thy God”—he observes, “that it contains precepts so clear
as to be intelligible to any capacity—so strikingly just as to gain
our immediate accordance—and so comprehensive as to include every
event which can occur in life,” &c. Yet he says, “it is the property of
truth, however beautiful it may appear at first sight, to seem more
and more so, in proportion as it is minutely examined.” MSS.

In deprecating pride, whether of mind, body, or estate, after
discussing the latter, he remarks on the more seductive influence of
intellectual superiority; he says: “The mind is no more ours than
the body;” that the success of intellect depends on varieties of
opportunity, qualities of mind, &c.; that all are alike given us, and
that any merit which the mind may bring, consists, not in the successes
of intellect, but in the purity of the motive by which they are guided.


“It requires great and constant reflection to prevent a man from
becoming vain, who is placed in high office. He receives such constant
deference and respect to his opinions and wishes from all around him,
such ready obedience, that he might be led to imagine he was a creature
of superior order.”

In some memoranda connected with things which had vexed him, we find:
“If justice, good will, and candour, were common, the world would be
too happy; it would not be what it now is—a state of exertion and
trial; of strenuous efforts, which contribute to the general good;
and, when efforts are unavailing, of trials which demand fortitude,
patience, and submission.” MSS.

In allusion to some preceding reflections, “It being intended to
show that the conduct enjoined by the Scriptures is the same that
philosophy should inculcate, and that the preceding considerations
would not only almost persuade, but oblige every one to be a Christian
in conduct, whatever he might be in creed.”

“To me it seems that the inspired origin of Christianity may be fairly
inferred from its wonderful adaptations to the wants and feelings of
the human mind. The Author of the Christian Religion knew the mind
of man, and all those feelings and considerations which support and
confirm him in well-doing. That feelings, to become vivid, strong, and
habitual, must be often repeated; and therefore that prayer and the
ceremonials of Religion were not only right, but due to that Power by
whose ordinances we live, and move, and have our being. How perfect a
knowledge of the human mind evince those precepts which instruct us,
distrusting our own constancy, to shun temptation and evil society. To
engage ourselves in constant and useful employment, and to suppress
the first movements of the mind, which, if continued, would urge us
with increased force and velocity to error. Human observation teaches
that the feelings of man are the source of their happiness or misery,
and the causes of their conduct. The Christian Religion operates on
our feelings, by teaching us the government of the mind, and showing
that Christianity does not consist merely in evil doing, but in evil

We here conclude the extracts which we think it necessary to submit to
the reader, and we hope that they have not been more than in keeping
with the objects we proposed to observe. In all the reasoning in his
papers, Abernethy, whether we suppose him right or wrong, is remarkably
clear and consistent. If he discourses on matter, or spirit, or any
other principle, he simply regards the phenomena they can be made
to exhibit, regardless of any opinion mankind may have formed as to
their _real_ nature. He regards our ignorance of the intrinsic nature
of matter or spirit merely as an example of our ignorance of that
which is beyond the scope of our present faculties. This, in science,
is _studying_ facts and laws, as contrasted with speculation and
conjecture; in religion, it seems to be attention to the Command and
the study of the Word, as contrasted with that of the intrinsic nature
of Him who gave it; and, in thus suggesting the legitimate path of mind
in regard to both, is at once philosophical and religious.

It would have been easy to have multiplied the analogies of science
and religion, and especially those which, in warning us before hand
of those difficulties which occur in the prosecution of science, tend
to gird us with the requisite firmness and moderation in bearing up
against, or in surmounting them. Few have cultivated science with
success, without encountering more or less of those evils which have
been so commonly opposed to the more devoted advocates of religion. So,
also, some of the most useful discoveries have been the mission of men
of obscure origin. Again, discoveries in science have frequently had
to brave distrust, ridicule, injustice, and all kinds of opposition.
It would, indeed, seem that nothing really good can in this world be
attained without sacrifice; much less truth—that best of all; and he
among us who is not prepared, in his search for the truths of Science,
to add his mite of something that the world most values, might perhaps
as well take Science as he finds it, and avoid a labour which, without
sacrifice, will be almost certainly abortive.

That Abernethy’s idea of religion was eminently practical, is every
where apparent in his reflections; yet, while he seems to have felt
that “faith, without works, is dead,” he unmistakeably evinces his
conviction as to the foundation on which he thinks _good_ works can
alone be secured.

The extracts we have made, and all Abernethy’s writings, appear to bear
witness to a marked sincerity of character. We see that, whether he
lectured at the College of Surgeons, or spoke to his pupils, who paid
him for his instructions—whether he addressed the public who joined
with the profession in establishing his eminent position—whether he
published with his name or without it; or addressed his sentiments to
his family, unheard but in the sacred precincts of home,—we find his
thoughts and his language always the same. He had no dress thoughts,
no company mind-clothing; he was always the same, simple, earnest, and
sincere. In his very earliest papers, in his lectures at College, or
in those of the Hospital, we never entirely lose sight of the golden
thread to which I have before alluded. The bulk of the discourse is
always the question that is really and properly before him; yet he
seldom concludes the argument philosophical, without glancing (and it
is in that just keeping as to be seldom more) at its ethical or its
theological relations.

“It is the duty of Criticism neither to depreciate, nor dignify
by partial representations; but to hold out the light of reason,
whatever it may discover.”


In tracing the progress of science, it is difficult to assign to each
individual his just share of merit. The evidence, always incomplete,
seldom allows us to do more than to mark the more fortunate, to whom,
as it were, the principal parts have been allotted. The exposition of
truth generally implies a previous contest with error. This may, in one
sense, be compared with military achievements. We hear of the skill and
wisdom of the General and his associate Chiefs; but little is known
of individual prowess, on the multiplication of which, after all, the
result depends.

To one who conferred so many obligations on his country and on mankind
as Abernethy, it is difficult to assign only his just share; and yet
it is desirable that nothing be ascribed to him which is doubtful or

Antecedently to Abernethy’s time, and contemporaneous with the date
of Mr. Hunter’s labours, surgery had, in the best hands, and as a
mere practical _art_, arrived at a respectable position; still,
in Abernethy’s early day, barber-surgeons were not yet extinct;
and, as he jocosely phrased it, he himself had “doffed his cap” to
barber-surgeons. There is no doubt that some of them had arrived
at a very useful knowledge. The celebrated Ambrose Paré was a
French barber-surgeon. When Abernethy entered into life, the best
representative of the regular surgery _of that day_ was Mr. Pott, who
was contemporary with the period of Mr. Hunter’s labours. Mr. Pott
was a good surgeon, an eloquent lecturer, a scholar, and a gentleman;
and he gave some surgical lectures at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. We
have perused two manuscript copies of these lectures, which are in
the library of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society, and they
contain many useful and judicious observations. There are ripples
of a more humane and scientific surgery, and many parts that are
suggestive of onward study. Pott had also the good sense to perceive
the measured pretensions of his own time, and to predict advances on
it, as great as that itself was on the surgery of his predecessors:
but we do not perceive anything in Pott’s lectures in the shape of a
science. _Extensive_ generalizations we are not thinking of; we have
them _yet_ to get; but we see nothing, in the true sense of the word,
even axiomatic. There are no steps, no axioms, by which we can reach
the platform of more general propositions. In some of his operations,
the most elementary principles are either not perceived or neglected;
and, although there are general recognitions of the state of the health
influencing the so-called surgical maladies, there is no definite
principle developed. It is a recognition scarcely more than that
implied in the older surgical writers, when, if the surgical part of a
case did not go on well, they recommended the calling in of a physician.

In this state of things, John Hunter began a beautifully simple,
and, in its bearings on surgery, we may add, a new mode of inquiry.
He saw that there was much in all animals that was common, and that
there were analogies in the whole organic kingdom of nature; hence he
sought to develop, by observation of the various processes in various
animals, and their nearest analogies in vegetables also, the _true
relations_ of the phenomena observable in man. It was not that he did
that which had never been attempted before, in the abstract, but that
he undertook it with a new, a concentrated unity of purpose. He did
not employ, as it were, a different instrument to collect the rays
of light from surrounding nature; but he concentrated them into a
focus on a different object—the nature and treatment of disease. His
labours, though not permitted to endure for many years, interrupted by
indisposition, and suddenly stopped by death, were abundantly fruitful;
they enabled him to simplify much of surgery that was officious and
hurtful, and to correct many errors. He first gave a reason for this or
that proceeding, founded on actual observation of natural processes:
thus, in healing of wounds, the natural and healthy were distinguished
from unnatural and unhealthy processes, and so forth. But as Mr.
Hunter’s enlarged views taught him the the value of the _relations_
observable throughout the whole animal creation, he contemplated
_parts_ of the body only as a step to the more successful observation
of the _whole_. As before stated, he observed the phenomena exhibited
by the various organs, both separately and in connection; traced
them with elaborate circumspection, and concluded by justifying what
Abernethy said, when he observed: “Hunter proved that the whole body
sympathized with all its parts.”

Now, many of the facts which Mr. Hunter remarked in the relations
established between different parts of the body, were, in the
strictest sense, axiomatic—that is, they were exemplifications of
laws to which they were the necessary steps. Take one for example:
that the part sympathetically affected by an impression primarily
made on another part, appeared to be frequently _more disturbed_
than the part with which it had appeared to sympathize. This we now
know to be no exception, but rather the law; because the exceptions
(as we contend[82]) are explicable; but that was not then perceived.
Abernethy, however, made use of this so far as to impress the fact,
that organs might be seriously disordered without there being
_apparently_ any symptoms referable to them.

Now, Abernethy might have continued to labour as Hunter did in
collecting facts as the materials for axioms, or as elements for
future and more extensive generalization; or he might have at once
taken Mr. Hunter’s views, so far as he had gone, and, working on them
with his remarkable aptitude for perceiving the more salient and
practicable relations of facts, have applied them at once to practical
purposes; gleaning more facts as his extremely acute observation might
have enabled him on the way. He pursued, perhaps, neither course
exclusively; but the latter appeared to be the one he chiefly adopted;
and, from the more immediate fruition it affords, no doubt it was best
adapted to the existing exigencies of a practical profession.

John Hunter was a man of indefatigable industry, and exceedingly
_circumspect_ in his observance of facts. Abernethy was fagging too,
but more impulsive and not so dogged; mere facts were mere bores to
him; he panted for _practical_ relations, and was most wonderfully
quick in perceiving them. His vision was as penetrative as Hunter’s
had been circumspect and cautious. Hunter would have sifted all the
useful things out of any heap, however heterogeneous; Abernethy would
have looked through it, at once found the one jewel that it concealed,
and left the rest for the next comer. They were both most perfectly
honest and truthful, both careless of money, both enthusiastic in
science—that is, both ardent in the pursuit of truth, with that kind
of feeling which does not stop to examine the utilitarian relations
of these pursuits; but which, carried on by a continually increasing
impulse, takes the good for granted, and is impelled by the love of
truth for its own sake.

But, interesting as it is to contemplate those requisitions which, as
indispensable, are common to the successful investigators of science,
it is yet more so to observe the _distinctive_ characters of John
Hunter and John Abernethy. The former, with many ideas to tell, and
most of them new, had a difficulty in expressing himself. With more
need than any man before him for additional facilities in this way,
he had a restricted vocabulary. Again, in making use of it, his style
was seldom easy, often obscure; so that things which, when thoroughly
understood, had no feature more striking than their simplicity, were
often made to appear difficult, and by many readers, no doubt, had
often been left unexamined.

Abernethy, on the contrary, had a happy facility of expressing himself,
and a power, rarely equalled, of singling out the difficult parts
of a subject, and simplifying them down to the level of ordinary
capacities. Hunter, though not without imagination, or humour even,
had these qualities held in abeyance by the unceasing concentration
of his intellectual faculty. As Abernethy used to say, “John Hunter
was always thinking.” Abernethy, on the contrary, had an active
imagination; it always accompanied his intellect, like a young, joyous
attendant, constantly lighting up the more sombre propositions of her
grave companion with varieties of illustration. The most difficult
proposition, directly Abernethy began to fashion it, had all its
rough points taken off, and its essential features brought out clear
and orderly to the plainest intellect. John Hunter, in laying down a
series of facts having the most important influence in the formation
of a medical science (take place when it may), was not able to keep
people awake. Abernethy’s treatment of the most dry and unimportant,
kept his audience unceasingly interested. The obscurity of language
in Hunter was happily replaced, not only by an unusual ease, but by a
_curiosa felicitas_, in Abernethy. In sustained composition, Hunter was
generally difficult, often obscure; Abernethy, if not faultless, always
easy and unaffected. If his style failed sometimes in earnestness and
vigour, it was always sincere; and whilst, though not deficient in
eloquence, it asserted no special claim to that excellence, it was
always pleasing and perspicuous.

Nothing could be further from the earnest and thinking John Hunter than
anything dramatic. Abernethy had that happy variety of countenance and
manner that can be conveyed by no other term. Hunter, without being
slow, was cautious, circumspect: Abernethy, without being hasty, was
rapid, penetrative, and impulsive. Never were two minds so admirably
fitted for the heavy-armed pioneering in science, and the comparatively
light-trooped intellect which was calculated to render the first
clearing easily convertible to those practical necessities with which
the science had to deal. Accordingly we find that Abernethy very soon
extended Mr. Hunter’s views, and applied them so powerfully, as at
least to create the dawnings of a science. He showed that all processes
in the economy—and of course, therefore, those of disease—are
essentially nervous in their origin: that is to say, the nerves being
the _instruments_ through which our relations are established with
surrounding nature (however much we may, in common language, speak of
this or that feeling, this or that _organ_, or this or that part of the
body), all impressions must still be made primarily on the sensitive or
nervous system of that part; and this, of course, whether they imply
_consciousness_, or be altogether independent of it; that disturbed
nervous action was, as the case might be, either the forerunner—or the
next link in the chain of causation (i. e. the proximate cause)—of
the disease; and that therefore the relief of diseased or disordered
actions, however attempted, consisted ultimately and essentially in the
restoration of healthy nervous power, or adaptation.

This, then, is the first proposition. The next thing, and which
necessarily follows, is, that in the prevention or cure of disease, the
first object is the tranquillizing of nervous disorder.

Now, here there are many things to be regarded; for man is a moral
as well as a physical being; and the circumstances by which he
is surrounded, even the air he breathes, the moral and physical
impressions to which he is subjected, are very often not under his own
control, much less that of his medical attendant. On the other hand,
the food is, in civilized communities, very much under the influence
of his volition; and there are many circumstances which, instead of
impeding those adaptations which disorder requires, renders them
particularly easy—it frequently happening that those things which
are really best, are most easily procured. This is important; because
the next proposition is, _that the nervous system is very easily and
constantly disturbed by disorder of one or other, or of the whole
of the digestive organs_, and that therefore the tranquillizing of
disturbance in them is of the highest consequence in the treatment of
disease: _few_ propositions in _any_ science are more susceptible of
proof than the foregoing. But if this be so, we must now recollect
the full force of what we have observed with regard to relation; that
is, we must not restrict our notion of it to the general loose assent
that there is a relation in all parts of the body, and rest on the
simple admission, for example, that animals are formed in adaptation
to their habits; but we must sustain the Cuvier-like impression of the
fact, the Owen-like application of it to the phenomena; recollect
that _preconceived_ ideas of magnitude and minuteness can do nothing
but obscure or mislead; and that the relations established in the
body are constant and universal, however they may at first—as in the
case we have quoted—excite the surprise or the derision of the less
informed and less reflecting. We must take their immensely potential
power as existing _as certainly in the most trifling headache, as
in the most malignant fever_—in the smallest scratch, _as in the
most complicated compound fracture_. We have plenty of facts now to
_prove_ this; but the first plain, clear enunciation of it all, the
successful demonstration of it at the bedside, and the consequent
diminution of an enormous amount of human suffering, is the great
debt we owe to Abernethy. Mankind in general admitted that Diet
was of consequence. Nobody doubted its force as an _accessory_ in
treatment. Lactantius said: “Sis prudens ad victum sine quo cetera
remedia frustra adhibentur.” But no one had recognized the treatment
of the Digestive Organs as the essential part of the treatment of
_surgical_ diseases, nor founded it on the same comprehensive view
of its relations as addressed to organs which executed the nutritive
functions of the body on the one hand, and were the _most potential
disturbers or tranquillizers of the nervous system on the other_,
and thus for ever linked them in their practical relations with the
fact, that the essential element of disease, the _fons et origo_, is
disturbed nervous power. But, as all diseases are merely the result of
two conditions—namely, the injurious influence acting, and the body
acted on—it matters not whether the injurious influence be sudden,
violent, slow, moderate, chemical, mechanical, or what not; so the
foregoing positions affect the whole practice of medicine, and must not
be held as affecting any one part of it, but as influencing equally
both medicine and surgery.

We do trust that these few propositions will induce some to think; for,
as Abernethy used to say, lectures will never make surgeons: and we
feel equally confident that no books, no individual efforts, however
costly or sincere, will really benefit or inform any portion of the
public or the profession, except such of them as may be induced to
_think_ for themselves. They have only to recollect that, in carrying
out such principles, they must not measure their influence by their
previously conceived notions; they must encourage labour when they see
the profession willing, and not thwart them by showing that it will be
labour in vain. There will soon be science, if it is encouraged:

“Sint Mæcenates, non deerunt Flacci.”

If they are disposed to think investigation too minute to be practical,
or precision too unpleasant to be necessary, let them remember the
story of Professor Owen’s beautiful application of minute relation, and
that the distinction between a huge common quadruped and an unknown
wingless bird could alone be discovered by particulars far more minute
than they will be called on once in a hundred times to observe or
to follow. The obligation we have already noticed has in some sense
revolutionized the practice of medicine and surgery, and is no doubt
the capital debt we owe to Abernethy; but there are many others. His
application and adjustment of the operation of the trephine was a
beautiful and discriminating achievement, and would alone have been
sufficient to have raised an ordinary reputation.

His first extension of John Hunter’s operation for aneurism, shows
how ready he was—when he could do so with advantage—to enlarge the
application of that branch of our duties which he least valued—namely,
operative surgery.

His proposal to add to the treatment of the diseases of joints
the apparatus of splints, for ensuring absolute quiescence of the
affected surfaces, has saved a most incalculable number of limbs from
amputation. It here becomes necessary to repeat a remark we have made
in a former work. Sir B. Brodie recommends this plan only in the
third edition, I think, of his discriminative work on the joints, not
appearing to have been aware that Abernethy taught it for nearly thirty
years previously, about ten years of which we ourselves had repeatedly
tested its great value, and taught it, but contemporaneously from
Abernethy, in our own lectures. Indeed, so important an element is it
in the treatment of diseases of the joints, that we have never seen it
fail, when fairly applied and accompanied by a reasonable attention to
the general health, except in the following cases: First, when the
patient has been nearly worn out by disease, before being subjected to
treatment; and, secondly, where the complaint has been proved to be
accompanied by internal organic disease.

We have always thought that one of the most valuable of our obligations
to Abernethy was his lesson on fracture of the neck of the thigh bone
within the capsule of the joint. For thirty years, Sir Astley Cooper
taught, and boasted that he had taught, that this fracture could not
unite by bone; Sir Astley reasoning on the anatomy of the part _only_,
and conceiving that the neck, in its somewhat isolated position,
would be imperfectly nourished; and, seeing that, in point of fact,
this fracture _did generally_ unite by ligament only, unfortunately
adopted the foregoing idea as the _cause_ of the fact, and concluded
that bony union was impracticable. Experiments on animals—at all
times extremely fallacious, in this case singularly imperfect in the
analogy they afforded—appeared to confirm his views. Despairing of
effecting a proper union, he adopted a treatment which rendered it
impossible. Abernethy’s beautiful reasoning on the subject led him to
an opposite conclusion. It embraced certain views of Hunter’s, and some
common phenomena in other accidents where the union by ligament is
_coincident_ with _motion_ of the part. He therefore treated all cases
with a view to secure bony union; and he and many of his pupils had no
doubt but that they had seen examples of its success. Still, people
got well and were lost sight of, and therefore it was said that the
fracture was not _wholly_ within the capsule of the joint. At length
a specimen was procured from the examination of a dead body, and the
question set at rest, we believe, in the minds of every body, that
this fracture, though it require especial care to keep parts steady
and in apposition, will unite just like other fractures in the way
taught (and since proved) by Abernethy. Let those who can calculate the
number of surgeons who have been educated by these two gentlemen, and
who, for the first few years, would have almost certainly followed the
practice of their instructors, compute the number of those of the lame
who, under Providence, have walked in consequence of the clear-sighted
reasoning of Abernethy.

How the French surgeons may have been influenced by Abernethy on
this subject, I do not know. When I was first in Paris, in 1824, they
were divided; but I recollect Baron Larrey showing me a case which
he regarded as a clear example of this fracture in course of firm
consolidation, and he was well aware of the opinion of Abernethy.

The bearing which Abernethy’s acuteness of observation of the influence
of the state of the digestive organs on so-called specific poisons in
producing or maintaining diseases resembling them, opposed as it was to
the most powerful conventionalism, is a proof of his clear judgment;
and, if we mistake not, will one day prove to have been the first
ripple of a most important law in the animal economy, which will shed
a light as new on specific affections as his other principles have on
diseases in general.

His treatment of that severe malady, “lumbar abscess,” is, in our view,
a most acceptable addition to humane and successful surgery; and as
regards one of its distinctive characters, he has, as we have shown,
received the encomiums of the most distinguished of his contemporaries,
including Sir Astley Cooper.

The manner in which he applied that law which prevails in voluntary
muscles to the replacement of dislocations—namely, that muscles
under the influence of the will cannot ordinarily act long and
unremittingly—was an amendment as humane as scientific; and, whilst
it has removed from surgery a farrier-like roughness in the treatment
of dislocations, as repulsive as unnecessary, it has adjusted the
application of more sustained force, when it becomes necessary, on
principles at once humane, safe, and effectual. In short, whatever
part of surgery we consider, we should have something to say of
Abernethy—either something new in itself, or improved in application.
We find him equally patient and discriminative, wherever there is
danger; thus there is the same force and originality on the occasional
consequences on the simple operation of bleeding in the arm, and the
more serious proceeding of perforating the cranium. He is every where
acute, penetrating, discriminative, humane, and practical; so that it
is difficult which most to admire, his enlarged views in relation to
important general principles, or the pervading science and humanity
with which he invests their minutest details.

Hunter’s method of investigation was highly inductive; and, whenever he
adhered to it, the structure he has left is stable, and fit for further
superadditions. Whenever he proceeded on any preconceived notions,
or on an induction manifestly imperfect, his conclusions have, as we
think, been proved unsound. His definition of disease, as distinct
from accidental injury, is one instance which we formerly noticed in
our own works; and some of his conclusions in regard to poisons—as
mercury, for example—will not hold; but all that Abernethy made use
of, either in developing his own views or maturing their practical
applications, were sound and most careful deductions from obvious and
incontrovertible facts. Abernethy took equal care to deduce nothing
from them, or from anything of his own observations, but the most
strictly logical inferences—conclusions which were, in truth, little
more than the expression of the facts, and therefore irrefragable. He
showed that, however dissimilar in kind, nervous disturbance was the
essential element of disease; and that the removal of that disturbance
was the essential element of cure. That no mode should be neglected,
therefore, which was capable of exerting an influence on the nervous
system; but that, whether he looked at the subject as mere matter of
fact, or as assisted by the phenomena of health or disease generally,
or merely to that which was _most within our power_, no more potential
disturbers of the nervous system were to be found, than disordered
conditions of the digestive organs; and that the tranquillizing of
these must always be a leading object in our endeavours to achieve the
still greater one of tranquillizing nervous disorder.

The absurd idea that he looked chiefly to the stomach—that he thought
of nothing but blue pills or alterative doses of mercury—need scarcely
detain us. His works show, and his lectures still more, that there
was no organ in the body which had not been the object of his special
attention; in almost all cases, in advance of his time; and not
exceeded in practical value by any thing now done. We know of nothing
more valuable or clear _now_ than his paper on the skin; nothing so
advanced or important as his observations on the lungs and skin, and
the relations of these important organs; and it is unnecessary to
repeat what has been already said about the digestive organs. His
medical treatment was always very simple, and, if its more salient
object was to correct disorders of the liver, it was because he knew
that the important relations of that organ not only rendered it very
frequently the cause of many disorders, but that there could be nothing
materially wrong in the animal economy, by which it must not be more
or less affected. He carried the same clearness and definiteness of
purpose into his prescriptions, as that which characterized all his
investigations; and, indisposed to employ any means except on some
principle, used but few remedies; although he by no means wished to
deter others from having recourse to a more extended pharmacopæia. We
regret, indeed, the impossibility of doing full justice to Abernethy
in any thing less than a running commentary on the publication of his
works; but we have said enough, we trust, to show how largely the
profession and mankind are indebted to him.

Now, in these days of testimonials, what memorials have we of
Abernethy? It is true there is no monument at Westminster Abbey, and
only a bust at St. Bartholomew’s. His portrait, to be sure, given by
his pupils, hangs at St. Bartholomew’s, exalted where it can hardly be
distinctly seen, to be replaced by those of Mr. Vincent[83], and Mr.
Lawrence in his Professor’s gown! But he has still a

“Monumentum ære perennius,”

in the claim he has established to the rarely so truly earned honour of
“nihil quod non tetigit, et nihil quod tetigit, quod non ornavit;” in
the grateful hearts of many a pupil who had no other obligation to him
than his beautiful lessons; and in an improved medical Surgery, which,
though it may have in _London_ rather retrograded than otherwise since
his time, is felt more or less in its moral as well as its medical
bearings, and in a diminution of suffering and an improved practice
throughout the civilized world.

But, if Abernethy’s views are so true or so excellent as we allege that
they are, they must have _some_ relation to anything that is good in
every kind of medical or surgical treatment; and this equally, whatever
the system (so called) whence it may arise, however much of truth or
error it may contain, or however perplexingly these qualities may be
blended together. These are points on which we have yet something to
say; and as we are anxious that the public and the profession should
favour us with their attention to the very few remarks we have the
space to offer, we must have a new chapter.

[Footnote 82: See “Medicine and Surgery One Inductive Science.” 1838.]

[Footnote 83: A contemporary of the Hospital, of whom, as a practical
surgeon, Mr. Abernethy expressed a very high opinion. Until the matter
was explained, Mr. Vincent’s son was afraid that something “sneerlike”
was intended in this passage; and we were glad of an opportunity of
correcting that impression. Nothing could be farther from the intention
than anything of the kind in regard to either. But it seemed to us an
infelicitous result of the Governors probably having no better rule
for the disposition of their portraits than that which some of us are
obliged to observe in the shelves for our books—we mean the rule which
has twelve inches to the foot.]

“Quæ res neque consilium neque modum habet ullum
Eam consilio regere non potes.”

TER. Eun. Act i, Sc. i.

“Master, the thing which hath not in itself
Or measure or advice—advice can’t rule.”


A writer[84], of no ordinary judgment and discrimination, has observed,
that “it often happens in human affairs that the evil and the remedy
grow up at the same time: the remedy unnoticed, and at a distance
scarcely visible perhaps above the earth; whilst the evil may shoot
rapidly into strength, and alone catch the eye of the observer by the
immensity of its shadow; and yet,” he adds, “a future age may be able
to mark how the one declined and the other advanced, and how returning
spring seemed no longer to renew the honours of the one, while it
summoned into maturity and progress the perfection of the other.”

We know not how it may appear to the reader, but we cannot help
thinking that, in the foregoing sentence, there is a far-seeing
perception of a very leading character in human affairs. There is no
evil but which is charged with a certain degree of good. At first,
it is indeed “scarcely visible”—nay, it escapes alike the most
penetrative perception and faithful confidence, in the surpassing
working-to-good of all things around us; but so soon as the evil begins
to tell—so soon as the full flood of mischief becomes obtrusive or
remarkable,—the small ripple of some corrective principle rises into

It would be easy to illustrate the foregoing proposition from general
history, from the progress of nations, or even from the contracted
area of individual experience. But we will confine ourselves to an
illustration more directly in relation to our immediate object—namely,
the present condition and prospects of medical science.

There are, no doubt, many persons who view the present state of
Medical Science as little better than the triumphant domination of a
conjectural art, which has long obscured, and is still very imperfectly
representing, a beautiful science; and that the perception of the
true relations which it bears to such science has been veiled by the
impression that it involved some mystery from which the general public,
who were most interested in its development, were necessarily excluded.

There have been at all times individuals, perhaps, sufficiently
astute to see the real truth of the matter; but still they were
rare exceptions, and did not prevent Mystery from conferring, on
a very considerable section of people, the social advantage of a
gainful profession; that property being enhanced, of course, in that
it ministered to an ignorant public. But, even in an early stage,
correctives to an equivocally-earned advantage began to appear; for a
thing which had no character but its indefiniteness, and its apparent
facility of acquisition, obtained many followers: the supply, such
as it was, was thus so close in relation to the demand, that what in
theory seemed necessarily very gainful, in practice, on the whole,
proved anything but a lucrative profession. As contrasted with any
other, or a variety of commercial pursuits, medical men were neither so
affluent, nor always so secure of their position. Retiring competency
in well-conducted callings has, in a rich country, been rather the
rule. We fear, in the medical profession it is the exception; which,
we are apprehensive (in its bereaved dependents), contributes more
applicants for eleemosynary relief than any other.

This surely is not a state of things which can be well made worse.
Public ignorance, the _real mischief_, has, in the meantime, been
left uninformed; and any attempt to enlighten it has too often been
branded with some kind or other of corrupt motive. Public positions
have been conferred without competition—the surest test of fitness
or excellence; and the public have been further doubly barred out,
in that the chance of eliciting men of spirit and enthusiasm has
been diminished, by the first positions having been often rendered
contingent on the payment of money in the right quarter.

But all this time corrections were slowly springing up. Hundreds were
beginning, under the light of a more liberal diffusion of general
knowledge, to feel that the so-called Science of medicine and surgery
was very different from science usually so termed; and, whilst other
sciences were affording that which was definite and positive, the
juxtaposition only seemed to bring out in higher relief the prevailing
character of conjecture and uncertainty in medicine.

People began to see that, in mere human occupation, mystery is but
mystery, to whatever it is applied; and that one man can see in the
dark about as well as another; that, where all is obscure, any one
may scramble with a chance of success. Accordingly, we observe that
a state of things has gradually been rising up, which, if it do not
justify the expression of _quot medici tot empirici_, at least leads
us to deplore that, of all callings in life, no one had ever such a
legion of parasites as are represented by the hydra-headed quackeries
which infest the medical profession. Naturally enough, too, Quackery
attacked chiefly those disorders in regard to which Mystery avowed its
incapacity, or declared to be incurable; and thus, while the regular
profession made their _own limited_ knowledge the measures of the
_powers of nature_, the quacks unconsciously proceeded, _de facto_,
more philosophically, when they neither avowed nor acknowledged any
other limits than those of observation and experience.

Amongst, no doubt, innumerable failures, and, as we know, a
multiplicity of fictions, they would now and then, in acting violently
on the various organs, blunder on the last link in the chain—the
immediate cause of the disorder; and perhaps effect the removal of a
so-called incurable malady. Thus, whilst the regular profession were
making their own knowledge the _measure_ of remedial possibility, and
were reposing contentedly on the rule, they were every now and then
undermined, or tripped up, by unexplained exceptions.

It is difficult to conceive any state of things, when once observed,
more calculated to drive men to the obvious remedy that a definite
science would alone afford; nor should it be forgotten that multiform
quackeries, with mesmerism to boot, are coincident with a system which
allows _not one single appointment_, which the public are requested to
regard as implying authority, to be open to scientific competition. Of
late, many persons have begun to examine for themselves questions which
they had been wont to leave entirely to their medical adviser.

The sanitary movement has shown that more people die every year from
avoidable causes than would satisfy the yawning gulf of a severe
epidemic, or the most destructive battle. In a crowded community, many
events are daily impressing on the heads of families, besides the
expedience of avoiding unnecessary expenses, that long illnesses are
long evils; that their dearest connections are sometimes prematurely
broken; and that parts are not unfrequently found diseased which are
not suspected to be so during life. The thought will sometimes occur
whether this may have been always consequent on the _difficulty_ of
the subject, or whether it may not have been sometimes the result of
_too hasty or too restricted_ an inquiry; that not only (as the Spanish
tutor told his royal pupil of kings) do patients die “sometimes,” but
very frequently.

These and other circumstances have induced many of the public to
inquire into the reason of their faith in us; and to ask how
it happens that, whilst all other sciences are popularized and
progressing, there should be any thing so recondite in the laws
governing our own bodies as to be accessible only to comparatively few;
especially as they have begun to perceive that their interests, in
knowing such laws, is of the greatest possible importance.

Amongst various attempts to better this condition of things, the
imagination of men has been very active. Too proud to obey the
guidance, or too impatient to await the fruition, of those cautious
rules which the intellect has imposed on the one hand, and which have
been so signally rewarded (whenever observed) on the other, imagination
has set forth on airy wing, and brought home curiosities which she
called science, and observations which, because they contained _some_
of that truth of which even fancies are seldom entirely deprived,
blinded her to the perception of a much larger portion of error.

Two of these curiosities have made considerable noise, have been not a
little damaging to the pecuniary interests of the medical profession,
and have been proportionately species of El Dorados to the followers of
them. We allude to the so-called Homœopathy and Hydropathy.

Homœopathy proceeds on an axiom that diseases are cured by remedies
which excite an action similar to that of the disease itself; “_Similia
similibus curantur_.”

Our objection to this dogma is twofold, and, in the few hints we are
giving, we wish them not to be confounded.

1st. It is _not_ proven.

2nd. It is _not_ true.

Take the so-called fever. The immediate and most frequent causes of
fever are bad air, unwholesome food, mental inquietude, derangement of
the digestive organs, severe injuries. Now it is notorious that very
important agents in the cure of all fevers are good air, carefully
exact diet or temporary abstinence, and correction of disordered
functions, with utmost repose of mind and body, and so forth.

So of small-pox, one of the most instructive of all diseases. All the
things favourable to small-pox are entirely opposite to those which
conduct the patient safely through this alarming disease; and so
clearly is this the case, that, if known beforehand, its virulence can
be indefinitely moderated, so as to become a comparatively innoxious

We might go on multiplying these illustrations to almost any extent.
What, then, is the meaning of the _similia similibus curantur_? This
we will endeavour, so far as there is any truth in it, to explain. The
truth is, that Nature has but one mode, principle, or law, in dealing
with injurious influences on the body. Before we offer the few hints
we propose to do on these subjects (and we can here do no more), we
entirely repudiate that sort of abusive tone which is too generally
adopted. That never can do anybody any good. We believe both systems
to be dangerous fallacies; but, like all other things, not allowed
to be entirely uncharged with good. We shall state, as popularly as
possible, in what respect we deem them to be dangerous fallacies, and
in what we deem them to be capable of effecting some good; because it
is our object to show, in respect to both, that the good they do is
because they accidentally, as it were, chip off a small corner of the
principles of Abernethy.

Homœopathy is one of those hypotheses which show the power that a
minute portion of truth has to give currency to a large quantity of
error; and how much more powerful in the uninformed are appeals to
the imagination than to the intellect. The times are favourable to
homœopathy. To some persons, who had accustomed themselves to associate
medical attendance with short visits, long bills,—a gentleman in
black, all smiles,—and a numerous array of red bottles, homœopathy
must have addressed itself very acceptably. It could not but be welcome
to hear that all the above not very pleasing impressions could be at
once dismissed by simply swallowing the decillionth part of a grain
of some efficacious drug. Then there was the prepossession so common
in favour of mystery. How wonderful! So small a quantity! What a
powerful medicine it must be! It was as good as the fortune-telling of
the gipsies. There! take that, and then you will see what will happen
next! Then, to get released from red bottles tied over with blue or red
paper, which, if they were not infinitesimal in dose, had appeared
infinite in number, to say nothing of the wholesome repulsion of the

Besides, after the bottles, came the bill, having no doubt the
abominable character of all bills, which, by some law analogous to
gravitation, appear to enlarge in a terrifically accelerating ratio,
in proportion to their longevity; so that they fall at last with an
unexpected and a very unwelcome gravity. Then homœopathy did not
restrict itself to infinitesimal doses of medicine, but recommended
people to live plainly, to relinquish strong drinks, and, in short, to
adopt what at least seemed an approximation to a simple mode of living.
To be serious—what, then, are the objections to homœpathy?

Is there no truth, then, in the dogma, “_Similia similibus curantur_?”
We will explain. The _laws_ governing the human body have an
established mode of dealing with all injurious influences, which is
identical in principle, but infinitely varied and obscured in its
_manifestations_, in consequence of multifarious _interferences_; in
that respect, just like the laws of light or of gravitation. As we
have no opportunity of going into the subject at length, we will give
a hint or two which will enable the observing, with a moderate degree
of painstaking, to see the fallacy. You can _demonstrate_ no fallacy
in a mathematical process even, without some work; neither can you
do so in any science; so let that absence of complete demonstration
be no bar to the _investigation_ of the hints we give. All medicines
are more or less poisons; that is, they have no nutritive properties,
or these are so overbalanced by those which are injurious, that the
economy immediately institutes endeavours for their expulsion, or for
the relief of the disturbance they excite. All organs have a special
function of their own, but all can on occasions execute those of some
other organ. So, in carrying out injurious influences, organs have
peculiar relations to different forms of matter; that is, _ordinarily_.
Thus, the stomach is impatient of ipecacuanha, and substances which
we call emetics; the liver, of mercury, alcohol, fat, and saccharine
matters; and so forth. In the same way we might excite examples of
other organs which ordinarily deal with particular natural substances.
But then, by the compensating power they have, they _can_ deal with
any substance on special occasions.

Now the natural mode in which all organs deal with injurious
substances, or substances which tend to disturb them, is by pouring
forth their respective secretions; but if, when stimulated, they
have not the power to do that, then they evince, as the case may be,
disorder or disease. Thus, for example: If we desire to influence the
secretion from the liver, mercury is one of _the many things_ which
will do it. But if mercury cease to do this, it will produce disease;
and, if carried to a certain extent, of no organ _more certainly_ than
the liver. Thus, again, alcohol, in certain forms, is a very useful
medicine for the liver; yet nothing, in continuance, more notoriously
produces disease of that organ. So that it happens that all things,
which in one form disorder an organ, _may_, in another form, in greater
or more continued doses, tend to correct that disorder, by inducing
there a greater, and thus exciting stimulation of its secretions.

This is the old dogma, long before homœopathy was heard of, of one
poison driving out another. This is the way in which fat bacon, at
one period, or in one case, may be a temporary or a good stimulant of
a liver which it equally disorders in another; for as the liver is a
decarbonizing agent, as well as the lungs, so articles rich in carbon
are all stimulants of that organ; useful, _exceptionally_; invariably
disordering, if _habitual_ or _excessive_.

But if this be so, what becomes of the “_curantur_?” To that, we say
it is far from proven. Medicine hardly ever—perhaps never, _strictly
speaking_—cures; but it often materially assists in putting people
in a _curable condition_, proper for the agencies of more natural
influences. True. Well, then, may not homœopathy be good here? We
doubt it; and for this reason: Medicine, to do good, should _act_ on
the organ to which it is directed; it is itself essentially a poison,
and does well to relieve organs by which _it is expelled_; but if you
give medicine in very small doses, or so as to institute an artificial
condition of _those sentinels_, the nerves, you may _accumulate a
fearful amount of injurious influence in the system before you are
at all aware of it_. And it is the more necessary to be aware of
this in respect to homœopathy; because many of the medicines which
homœopathists employ are active poisons; as belladonna, aconite,
and so on. We have seen disturbed states of nerves, bordering on
paralysis, which were completely unintelligible, until we found that
the patient had been taking small doses of narcotic poisons. We have no
desire whatever to forestall the cool decisions of experience; but we
earnestly request the attention of the homœopathist to the foregoing
remarks; and, if he thinks there is anything in them, to peruse
the arguments on which we found the law of which we have formerly

We must in candour admit that, as far as the inquiry into all the facts
of the case go, as laid down by Hahnemann, we think the profession may
take a hint with advantage. We have long pleaded for more accuracy
in this respect; but we fear, as yet, pleaded in vain. Homœopathic
influences may be perhaps more successful. Practically, the good that
results from homœopathy, as it appears to us, may be thus stated: that
if people will leave off drinking alcohol, live plainly, and take very
little medicine, they will find that many disorders will be relieved by
this treatment alone.

For the rest, we fear that the so-called small doses are either inert,
or, if persisted in so as to produce effect, that they incur the risk
of accumulating in the system influences injurious to the economy;
which the histories of mercury, arsenic, and other poisons, show to be
nothing uncommon: and, further, that this tends to keep out of sight
the real uses and the _measured influences_ of medicine, which, in the
ordinary practice, their usual effects serve, as the case may be, to
suggest or demonstrate.

Practically, therefore, the effects of homœopathy resolve themselves,
so far as they are good, into a more or less careful diet, and small
doses of medicine; which, as we have said, is a chipping off of the
views of Abernethy.

We regret we have no space to consider the relation of homœopathy to
serious and acute diseases. We can therefore only say that the facts
which have come before us have left no doubts on our minds of its being
alike dangerous and inapplicable.

One morning, a nobleman asked his surgeon (who was representing to
him the uselessness of consulting a medical man without obeying his
injunctions) what he thought would be the effect of his going into a
hydropathic establishment? “That you would get perfectly well,” was the
reply; “for there your lordship would get plain diet and good air, and,
as I am informed, good hours; in short, the very things I recommend to
you, but which you will not adopt with any regularity.”

Hydropathy sets out, indeed, with water as its staple, and the skin as
the organ to which it chiefly addresses itself; but we imagine that the
hydropathic physician, if he sees nothing in philosophical medicine,
discovers sufficient in human nature, to prevent him from trading on so
slender a capital. There was, no doubt, in the imperfection of medical
science, a fine opening left for a scheme which proposed to rest its
merits chiefly on an organ so much neglected.

There has never been anything bordering on a proper attention to the
skin, until recently; and even now, any care commensurate with the
importance of the organ, is the exception rather than the rule. Thirty
years ago, Abernethy, when asked by a gentleman as to the probable
success of a bathing establishment, said that the profession would not
be persuaded to attend to the subject; and that, in respect to the
capital which the gentleman proposed to invest in it, he had better
keep the money in his pocket. This was said in relation to the general
importance of attention to the skin, and also in connection with
making it the portal for the introduction of medical agents generally.
Abernethy was, in fact, the first who introduced into this country
Lalonette’s method of affecting the system by mercury applied to the
skin in vapour.

Hydropathy deals with a very potent agent, and applies it to a very
powerful and important organ, the skin; and it employs in combination
the energetic influences, temperature and moisture; so that we may be
assured there will be very little that is equivocal or infinitesimal in
_its_ results; that in almost every case it must do good or harm.

But it does not limit itself to these agencies. It has
“establishments;” that is to say, pleasant rural retreats, tastefully
laid-out gardens; plain diet; often, no doubt, agreeable society;
rational amusements; and, as we understand, good hours, with abstinence
from alcohol. These are, indeed, powerful agencies in a vast variety
of diseases. So that, if hydropathy be not very scientific, it is
certainly a clever scheme; and as there are very many people who
require nothing but good air, plain living, rest from their anxious
occupations, with agreeable society,—it is very possible that many
hydropathic patients get well, by just doing that which they could not
be induced to do before.

But here comes the objection: The skin is, in the first place, only
_one_ of the organs of the body, and it is in very different conditions
in different people, and in the same people at different periods.

It has, like other organs, its mode of dealing with powerful or with
injurious influences; and _if it deal with them_ in the full force
of the natural law, it affects (and, in disease, almost uniformly)
favourably the internal organs; but, on the other hand, _if there
be interfering influences opposed to the healthy_ exhibition of the
natural law, so that the skin do not deal with the cold, or other
agencies, to which it is subjected, _as it naturally should do_, then
the cold, moisture, or other agent, increases the determination of the
blood to the internal organs, and does mischief. This it may do in one
of two ways: we have seen both. 1st. The blood driven from the surface,
increases, _pro tanto_, the quantity in the internal organs: it must
go somewhere; it can go nowhere else. Or, if cold and moisture produce
not this effect, nor be attended with a reactive determination to the
surface, there may be an _imperfect_ reaction; that is, _short_ of the
surface of the body. In the first case, you dangerously increase the
disorder of any materially affected organ; in the latter, you incur the
risk of diseased depositions; as, for example, Tumours. We here speak
from our own experience, having seen tumours of the most malignant and
cancerous character developed under circumstances in which it appeared
impossible to ascribe the immediate cause to anything but the violently
depressing influence of hydropathic treatment on the skin, with a
co-existing disordered condition of internal organs.

In one very frightful case indeed, the patient was told, when he first
stated his alarm, that the tumour was a “crisis” or reaction; as sure
enough it was; but it was the reaction of a cancerous disease, which
destroyed the patient. But, as we have said, hydropathy has many
features which obviously minister very agreeably and advantageously
to various conditions of indisposition, whilst they favour the _bonâ
fide observance_ of something like a rational diet—a point of immense
consequence, and too much neglected in regular practice. Here again
we speak from actual observation. One man allows his patient to eat
what he pleases. An eminent physician replied to a patient who, as he
was leaving the room, asked what he should do about his diet, “Oh, I
leave that to yourself;” showing, as we think, a better knowledge of
human nature than of his profession. Another restricts his patient to
“anything light.” Others see no harm in patients eating three or four
things at dinner, “provided they are wholesome;” thus rendering the
solution of many a question in serious cases three or four times, of
course, as difficult. Now we do not require the elaborate apparatus
of a hydropathic establishment to cure disorders, after such loose
practice as this; and we do protest against the assertion that any such
treatment can be called, as we have sometimes heard it, “Abernethy’s
plan, attention to diet,” and so forth.

So far from anything _less_ than the beautifully simple views held
out by Abernethy being necessary, we trust that we have, some of us,
arrived, as we ought to do, at several improvements. But people will
confound a _plain_ diet, or a select diet, with a _starving_ diet, and,
hating restrictions altogether, naturally prefer a physician who is
good-natured and assenting; still this assentation is being visited, we
think, with a justly retributive reaction.

Hydropathy, in many points, no doubt, tends to excite attention to
the real desiderata; but it is nevertheless imperfect and dangerous,
because evidently charged with a capital error. It entirely fails in
that comprehensive view of the relations which exists in all animals
between the various organs; and on a sustained recollection and
examination of which, rests the safe treatment of _any one_ of them. It
is, therefore, unsafe and unscientific. Again, it is illogical, because
it proceeds, as regard the skin, on the suppressed premise, that it
will obtain a natural reaction; a thing, in a very large number of
cases, and those of the most serious kind, seldom to be calculated on.

It is quite clear, therefore, that, so far as hydropathy does good, it
effects it by the institution of diet, abstinence from alcohol, country
air, exercise, agreeable society, and, _we_ will suppose, in some
cases, appropriate care of the surface; all of which are, in a general
sense, beneficial to the nervous system and the digestive organs—the
points insisted on by Abernethy.

So long as the Public are not better informed, and until medicine
is more strictly cultivated as a science, they will necessarily be
governed by the first impression on their feelings; and so long as
this is the case, fallacies can never be exposed, except by the severe
lessons of experience. To hope to reason successfully with those whose
feelings induce them to adopt that which they decline to examine with
their intellect, is madness, and is just what Terence says of some
other feelings:

“Nihilo plus agas
Quam si des operam ut cum ratione insanias.”

But, although, therefore, we are neither hydropathists nor
homœopathists, we begin to see, in the very success of these things,
some good; and that the “great shadow of the evil” of a conjectural
science will one day be replaced by another example of the triumph of
an inductive philosophy; that the retiring confidence of the public
will induce in us a more earnest and successful effort to give them
a more definite science; and that, as Professor Smythe says, the
“returning spring will no longer renew the honours of the one,” whilst
it will gradually evolve the development of the other.

The efforts, too, which the profession are already making, though,
as we humbly consider, not in the right direction, will certainly
arrive in time at a path that is more auspicious. When we see the
hydropathist looking so much to the skin, homœopathy leading people to
think of _quantities_ of medicine; when, in the regular profession, we
see one man restricting his views to one organ, another to another,
a third thinking that _everything_ can be learnt only by examination
of the dead, thus confounding morbid anatomy with pathology—a fourth
_restricting_ his labours to the microscope, as if the discovery of
laws depended rather on the enlargement of sensual objects than on the
improvement of _intellectual_ vision; still we cannot but perceive
that these isolated labours, if _once concentrated by unity of purpose
and combined action_, would be shadowing forth the outline of a really
inductive inquiry.

Hydropathy and homœopathy are making powerful uses, too, of the
_argumenta ad crumenam_. Their professors are amassing very large sums
of money, and that is an influence which will in time probably generate
exertions in favour of a more definite science. Still, Medicine and
Surgery cannot be formed into a science so long as men consider it
impossible; nor can there be any material advance, if they will persist
in measuring the remedial processes of nature by their present power
of educing them—a presumption obviously infinitely greater than any
in which the veriest quack ever dared to indulge. Well did Lord Bacon
see the real difficulties of establishing the dominion of an inductive
philosophy, when he laboured so much in the first place to destroy the
influence of preconceived opinions—idols, as he justly called them.

You cannot, of course, write truth on a page already filled with
conjecture. Nevertheless, mankind seem gradually exhausting the
resources of Error: many of her paths have been trodden, and their
misleading lures discovered; and by and by that of Truth will be
well-nigh the only one left untried. In the meantime, we fear the
science is nearly good enough for the age. The difficulty of advance
is founded deeply in the principles of human nature. People know that
there are physical laws as well as moral laws, and they may rely on
it that disobedience and disease, sin and death, are as indissolubly
bound up with infractions of the one as well as the other.

It is true there are many who have (however unconsciously) discovered
that the pleasures procured by the abuses of our appetites, are a
cheat; and that permanent good is only attained by obeying those laws
which were clearly made for our happiness.

Error has, indeed, long darkened the horizon of medical science; and,
albeit, there have been lightning—like coruscations of genius—from
time to time; still they have passed away, and left the atmosphere as
dark as before. At length, however, there has arisen, we hope, a small,
but steady, light, which is gradually diffusing itself through the
mists of Error; and which, when it shall have gained a very little more
power, it will succeed in dispelling.

Then, we trust, Medicine will be seen in the graceful form in which
she exists in nature; as a Science which will enable us to administer
the physical laws in harmony with that moral code over which her
elder sister presides; but, whenever this shall happen, Surgery will
recognize, as the earliest gleams of light shed on her paths of
inquiry, in aid of the progress of science and the welfare of mankind,
the honoured contributions of John Hunter and John Abernethy.

“Eheu fugaces Postume Postume
Labuntur anni: nec pietas moram
Rugis et instanti senectæ
Adferet, indomitæque morti.”


“How swiftly glide our flying years,
Alas! nor piety, nor tears,
Can stop the fleeting day;
Deep-furrow’d wrinkles, frosting age,
And Death’s unconquerable rage,
Are strangers to delay.”


We have already observed that Abernethy had begun to feel the wear and
tear of an anxious and active life, when, after a tenure of office
for twenty-eight years as assistant, he was appointed surgeon to St.
Bartholomew’s Hospital. After a few years, he took a house at Enfield,
where he occasionally went at leisure hours, on Wednesday and Saturday;
and, as the Spring Course of Lectures came near to a conclusion, and
in the summer, sometimes on other afternoons. At this season, he had
been accustomed to doff the black knee-breeches, silk stockings, and
shoes, sometimes with, sometimes without, short gaiters, and refresh
one’s rural recollections with drab kerseymeres and top-boots; in which
costume he would at that season not unfrequently come down to lecture.
He was fond of riding, and had a favourite mare he called Jenny; and
many a time have we seen her jogging along on a fine summer afternoon,
and her master looking as happy as any schoolboy that he was escaping
from the botherations of Bedford Row and the smoke of London. Jenny was
a favourite mare, which Abernethy had for nearly twenty-five years. She
was a great pet, and her excellent qualities had been associated with
almost every little excursion of relaxation or pleasure. All things,
however, must have an end. At last, the poor animal became affected
with a kind of rheumatism, attended with much suffering. After various
hesitations, the pain of which those who are fond of animals can very
well understand, the order was given that she should be destroyed. This
took place in the stables behind Bedford Row. The family were all in
one apartment, except Mr. Abernethy, who was heard pacing up and down
his private room. A short pause, and the coachman is seen running from
the stable to say that Jenny was no more. One of his daughters ran to
Mr. Abernethy’s room to say, “it is all over, papa.” “Good girl,” said
he, patting her head, “to come and tell me so soon.” He is said to have
suffered greatly on this occasion.

Some years before this, he met with what might have been a serious
accident: in stooping forward, his horse threw up his head and struck
him a violent blow on the forehead and nose; as Mr. Abernethy first
thought, breaking the bones of the latter. He rode up a gateway, and,
having dismounted, was endeavouring to adjust the bruise and staunch
the blood, when some people ran to assist him, and, as he said, very
kindly asked him if they should fetch him a doctor; “but,” said
Abernethy, “I told them I thought they had better fetch me a hackney
coach,” which they accordingly did. He was conveyed home, and in a
short time recovered from the accident.

His taking the house at Enfield was probably a prudent measure; he
seemed to enjoy it very much, and especially in getting a quiet friend
or two down on a Saturday to stay over till the Monday; amongst whom, a
very favourite visitor was our respected friend Mr. Clift, of whom we
have already spoken. Abernethy had always, however, had what he used
aptly enough to term a fidgetty nervous system. From early life he had
been annoyed by a particularly irritable heart. The first time he ever
suffered materially from it was while he was yet a young man. He had
been exceedingly depressed by the death of a patient in whose case he
had been much interested, and his heart became alarmingly violent and
disordered in its action. He could not sleep at night, and sometimes
in the day it would beat so violently as to shake his waistcoat. He
was afterwards subject to fugitive returns of this complaint, and few,
unless by experience, know how distressing such attacks are.

We suspect that surgeons are more frequently thus affected than is
generally supposed. A cold, half-brutal indifference is one thing, but
a calm and humane self-possession in many of our duties is another,
and, as we saw in Cheselden, not obtained always without some cost;
the effects of this sometimes appear only when the causes have ceased
to recur, or are forgotten. A lively sensibility to impressions was
natural to Abernethy; but this susceptibility had been increased by
the well-known influence of the air and excitement of crowded cities
on people who are engaged in much mental exertion. His physical
organization, easily susceptible of disturbance, did not always shake
it off again very readily. At one period he suffered an unusually long
time from the consequences of a wound in dissection.

These not uncommon accidents occur perhaps a hundred or a thousand
times without being followed by any material results; but, if they
happen in disordered conditions of health, either of mind or body,
they are sometimes serious affairs, and usually of a more or less
active kind—that is, soon terminating in death or recovery. Not so in
Abernethy. The complaint went through various phases, so that it was
nearly three years, he used to tell us, before he fairly and finally
got rid of the effects of it. One of the most difficult things for a
man so actively engaged in a profession in London as was Abernethy,
is to get the requisite quantity of exercise; whilst the great mental
exertion which characterizes a London, as distinguished from almost any
other kind of life, requires that the digestive organs should be “up
to” pretty good living.

Then, again, Abernethy lived in the days of port wine; when every
man had something to say of the sample his hospitality produced of
that popular beverage. Abernethy, who was never intemperate, was very
hospitable, and always selected the finest port wine he could get,
which, as being generally full and powerful, was for him perhaps the
least fitted.

Mr. Lloyd, of Fleet Street, who was one of the old-fashioned family
wine-merchants, and one of the best men of his day, was the purveyor
of his Falernian; never was there a more correct application of
nomenclature than that which gave to him the title, by which he was
best known, of “Honest John Lloyd.” He was one of the kindest-hearted
men I ever knew: he had a great regard for Mr. Abernethy; and was
treated himself by almost everybody as an intimate friend. One day I
went there just as Abernethy had left. “Well,” says Mr. Lloyd, “what
a funny man your master is!” “Who?” said I. “Why, Mr. Abernethy. He
has just been here, and paid me for a pipe of wine; and threw down a
handful of notes and pieces of papers with fees. I wanted him to stop
to see if they were right, ‘for,’ said I, ‘some of these fees may be
more than you think, perhaps.’ ‘Never mind,’ said he; ‘I can’t stop;
you have them as I took them,’ and hastily went his way.”

Sedentary habits, however, as people now begin to find, do not
harmonize well with great mental exertion, or constant and anxious
occupation. In 1817, Abernethy felt his combined duties as surgeon to
the hospital, as lecturer there, and also at the College, becoming too
onerous, and therefore in that year resigned the Professorship. On this
occasion, the Council sent him the following unanimous expression of
their appreciation of his services.

“At the Court of Assistants of the Royal College of Surgeons in
London, holden at the College on the 15th day of July, 1817;

“Resolved unanimously:

“That the thanks of this Court be presented to John Abernethy,
Esq. for the series of Lectures delivered by him in the theatre
of this College, in the years 1814, 1815, 1816, 1817, with
distinguished energy and perspicuity, by which he has elucidated
the physiological and pathological opinions of John Hunter,
explained his design in the formation of the Hunterian Collection,
illustrated the principles of surgery, and thereby has highly
conduced to the improvement of anatomical and physiological
knowledge, the art and science of surgery, and to the promotion of
the honour of the College.”

This seems to have gratified him, as, under all circumstances, we can
readily understand it might do; and he accordingly replied to it as


“Sir and Gentlemen,

“To obtain the good opinion of others, is a universal object of
human actions; and we often strive to acquire it by circuitous
and absurd means; but to obtain the approbation of eminent and
judicious characters, by pursuing the direct path of professional
duty, is the most gratifying mode of seeking and receiving this
object of general ambition.

“I have ventured to premise these observations, to show you,
gentlemen, that I do not write inconsiderately, or merely as a
matter of form, when I thus return you my warmest thanks for the
distinguished honour you have conferred on me by your public
approbation of my _endeavours_[86] to discharge the duties of an
arduous office, to which I was elected through your kindness and

“I have the honour to remain,
“Sir and Gentlemen,
“Your very grateful and obedient servant,

We insert in this place a letter which he wrote about this time to Sir
William Blizard; because it shows two things which are characteristic:
the one, how constant he was in not allowing any considerations to
interfere with the lectures; and the other, the endurance of his old
attachment to Sir William Blizard. It is an apology for not having been
present at the Council.

“Dear Sir William,

“I was yesterday desired to see a patient residing seven or eight
miles from London. I could not go that day, for it was lecture
evening; I cannot go to-morrow for the same reason; consequently I
must go this evening. I hope you will consider these circumstances
as an apology for my _absence_ from the Board.

“If you cite my example as one misleading future Professors, be so
good as to remember that I retired, leaving the task which I had
undertaken incomplete, wherefore it became necessary to _explain
publicly_ to an indulgent audience my _motives_ for resigning the

“I remain, dear Sir William,
“Yours unremittingly,

Abernethy had at various periods of his life been subject to an
inflammatory sore throat of a very active kind, which would on some
days impede so as almost to prevent his swallowing, and then suddenly
terminate in abscess, leaving him perfectly well again. He was young
when these sorts of attack began; for in his lectures he used to speak
of one of them having subsided only the night before he had some
lectures to deliver before the Council of the College, when they were
accustomed to meet in the Old Bailey.

As he advanced in life, the disposition to disorder of the digestive
organs, which had hitherto shown a tendency to terminate in
inflammation of the mucous membrane of the throat, began to affect
other structures; and he became teazed and subsequently greatly
tortured by rheumatism. The disorder so termed (a kind of general name
for various conditions of disorder very different from each other, and
which occasionally affect, not only joints, but other structures) is
in many cases, as we all know, extremely painful; and is never more
excruciating than when muscular parts thus conditioned are affected by
spasm. These spasms were a source of much acute suffering to Abernethy.
His constant occupations gave him no opportunity of relieving himself
from work, except there was that accommodation of indisposition to
convenient times, which of course seldom happens.

In the early parts of his life, Abernethy, when he was out of health,
would take the first opportunity which his occupations allowed of going
a little way into the country; and there, by diet, and amusing himself
by reading and exercise, he would soon get well. But as he advanced
in life, he was not so ready to attend to himself as perhaps he ought
to have been. Besides, he would occasionally do things which incurred
unnecessary risks, which we ourselves have sometimes ventured to
mention to him.

Living, at the time to which we are now alluding, in Ely Place, and
attending his lectures long after we had commenced practice, we
frequently walked down with him to lecture; sometimes in the rain,
when we used to think his knee-breeches and silk stockings looked most
uncomfortable. Besides this, he was very careless about his umbrella;
I never recollect him on such occasions calling a coach, and I hardly
ever knew him come down to his evening lecture in his carriage. He
generally came to the two-o’clock lecture some minutes before the time;
and, as he often complained of cold feet, he would stand opposite one
of the flue openings in the Museum. One day, I ventured to suggest to
him that the transition of temperature to the cold place he occupied in
the theatre rendered this hardly prudent, when he said, “Ay!” and moved
away. Though temperate, without being very particular in his diet,
these other imprudences were unfortunate; because we saw him, every
year almost, becoming troubled more and more by his painful visitor.
The time, however, was now arriving when he was about to resign the
Surgeoncy of the hospital.

We have seen that, when elected to that appointment, he had been no
less than twenty-eight years assistant surgeon; he, however, took no
pains to indemnify himself for this long and profitless tenure of
a subordinate post; but, mindful of what he had himself suffered,
immediately on his appointment he did the best he could at once to
provide against others being subjected to such an unrequited service.
He accordingly, on his election, addressed a letter to the Governors of
the Hospital, of which, when the first edition went to press, we had
no copy. As we then stated, our friend, Mr. E. A. Lloyd, a friend and
favourite pupil of Abernethy’s, had found one, and kindly laid it aside
for us; but he unfortunately again mislaid it; and there is no copy of
it on the books of the hospital. Subsequently, Mr. Pettigrew has most
kindly sent us a volume containing the letter in question. To us it is
a very interesting document; but as we had already mentioned the most
important fact in it, we have not thought it necessary to reprint the
letter. We must not fail to repeat publicly our thanks to Mr. Pettigrew
for his kind assistance.

The object of the letter was to recommend some alteration in the
arrangement of the duties of the surgeons of the hospital; and, amongst
other things, that they should resign at the age of sixty, with a
retiring salary. Nothing could, we think, be more just or considerate
than such a proposal; and it came very well from Abernethy, who had
just stepped into the lucrative appointment. The proposal, however,
was not acted upon; and it would appear that his successors, however
much they may have at the time approved of the precept, have not been
in haste to follow the example. There is little doubt that Abernethy’s
proposal was as just and considerate of the interests of all parties,
as it was in favour of those of science. We cannot think that any one,
who considers the whole subject without prejudice, will arrive at any
other conclusion.

The absence, however, of any law on the subject, made no difference
to Abernethy; he had expressed his own intention of resigning at
the age of sixty; and when that time arrived, he accordingly did
so. The Governors, however, would not, on that occasion, accept his
resignation, but requested him to continue. This he did for about
another year, when, in 1827—having been elected in 1815,—he finally
resigned the hospital, in the following letter, addressed to the
President of the Hospital:

“St. Bartholomew’s Hospital,
“July 24, 1827.

“Finding myself incompetent to discharge the duties of surgeon to
your Hospital in a satisfactory manner, and having led my junior
to believe that I should resign my office at a certain period of
my life, I hereby tender my resignation accordingly. At the same
time, I beg leave to assure the Governors of my gratitude for their
appointment to the offices which I have held under them, and for
the good opinion and confidence which they have manifested towards
me. I annex a draft for £100 for the use of the Hospital.

“I am, dear Sir,
“Your obedient servant,

“To Rowland Stephenson, Esq.”

At the next meeting of the “Court” of Governors, it was proposed by Dr.
Latham, seconded by Mr. Wells, and unanimously resolved:

“That this Court accept, with great regret, the resignation of Mr.
Abernethy as one of its Surgeons, an office which he has discharged
with consummate ability for forty years; and the Court offers him
their best, their most unanimous, and warmest thanks for his very
long and important services.

“July 25, 1827.”

There is something significant in this vote of thanks, merging his long
period of assistant surgeon in the general expression of his services
as surgeon. It is very suggestive of the influence which had been felt
from the presence of his master mind, although so long in a position
which necessarily restricted its useful energies in regard to hospital
matters. We have little doubt that, had Abernethy become surgeon to the
hospital at a time of life when his physical energies were unimpaired,
he would have suggested many improvements on the system; but, with
little real power in this respect, and with men who were opposed to
him, he was just the last man in the world to commence a crusade
against the opinions of those with whom he was associated. The moment
he became surgeon, we see him endeavouring to remove an evil from which
he had greatly suffered, and which is obviously a most undesirable
state of things; namely, that men should so often arrive at a post
in which their active energies are most required, at a time of life
when those energies have been, perhaps, necessarily addressed to other
objects, have become weary with hope deferred, or already on the wane.

He was, also, very averse to so spacious a portion of the hospital
being devoted to the festive meetings of the Governors; and, on showing
it, would sometimes go so far as to say—”Ay, this is what I call the
useless portion of the hospital.” He continued to lecture another year,
when he resigned the lectures; and, in 1829, his appointment at the
College of Surgeons also.

In May, 1829, he wrote to Mr. Belfour, the Secretary of the College of
Surgeons (whose politeness and attention in facilitating our inquiries
at the College we are happy thus publicly to acknowledge), as follows:

“My dear Sir,

“Early in April, the thermometer was above 70°, and I had so
violent a relapse of rheumatism, that I have not been able (nor
am I now able) to leave this place since that time. Apologize to
the President, therefore, for my non-attendance on Monday. _Entre
nous_: as I think I shall not be able to perform the duties of
those situations which I now hold at the College, I think of
resigning them; yet I will not decide till I have talked with
Clift[87] upon it. If he could come down this or the following
Saturday, I should be glad to see him.

“I remain, my dear Sir,
“Yours very sincerely,

“Enfield, May 21.
“To Edmund Belfour, Esq.”

He accordingly, in July of 1829, resigned his seat at the Court of
Examiners, when the following Memorial was sent him by the Court of

“At the College, at the Court holden on Friday, the 17th of July,

“Present: Mr. Thomas, President; Mr. Headington, Mr. Keate,
Vice-Presidents; Sir William Blizard, Mr. Lynn, Sir A. Cooper,
Bart., Sir A. Carlisle, Mr. Vincent, and Mr. Guthrie:

“Resolved, that the following Memorial be entered in the minutes of
this Court:

“Conscious of having been enlightened by the scientific labours
of Mr. Abernethy; convinced that teachers of anatomy, physiology,
and of surgery (and consequently their pupils), have derived
most important information from these sources of knowledge; and
impressed that the healing art has been eminently advanced by the
writings of that excellent individual; the Members of the Court
of Examiners lament the tendered resignation of an associate
so endowed, and whose conduct in the Court has always been so

“Resolved also, that a copy of the foregoing Memorial be delivered
by the Secretary to Mr. Abernethy.”

He had by this time become a great sufferer—walked very lamely; and
this difficulty, interfering more than ever with his exercise, no doubt
tended to make matters worse. He consulted nobody, I believe, but his
old friend Dr. Roberts, of St. Bartholomew’s. He was induced to go for
some time into the country; and on his return, hearing that he was
again in Bedford Row, and not having seen him for some time, I called
on him one morning, about eleven o’clock.

I knew that he had been very ill; but I was not in the least prepared
to see him so altered. When I was shown into his room, I was so
struck with his appearance, that it was with difficulty I concealed
the emotion it occasioned; but I felt happy in observing that I had

He appeared, all at once as it were, to have become a very old man;
he was much thinner; his features appeared shrunk. He had always
before worn a good deal of powder; but his hair, which used to hang
rather thickly over his ears, was now thin, and, as it appeared to me,
silvered by age and suffering.

There was the same expressive eye which I had so often seen lit up
by mirth or humour, or animated by some more impassioned feeling,
looking as penetrating and intellectual as ever, but with a calmness
and languor which seemed to tell of continued pain, and which I had
never seen before. He was sitting at a table, on a sort of stool, as
it appeared to me, and had been seeing patients, and there were still
several waiting to see him. On asking him how he was, his reply was
very striking.

It was indeed the same voice which I had so often listened to with
pleasure; but the tone was exceedingly changed. It was the subdued
character which is expressive of recent suffering, and sounded to me
most mournfully. “Ay,” say he, “this is very kind of you—very kind
indeed!” And he somewhat distressed me by repeating this several times,
so that I hardly knew what to reply. He said he was better, and that he
could now walk pretty fairly again, “as,” said he, “you shall see.”

He accordingly slowly dismounted from his seat, and, with the aid of
two sticks, began to walk; but it was a melancholy sight to me. I had
never seen him nearly so lame before.

I asked him what he was going to do. He said he was going to Enfield
on the morrow, and that he did not think he should return. I suggested
that he might possibly try a drier air with more advantage; that I
feared Enfield might be a little low and damp, and not, possibly, the
best place for him. “Well,” he said, “anything is better than this.”
I very shortly after took my leave; not sorry to be again alone; for
I felt considerably depressed by the unexpected impressions I had
received from this interview. It was too plain that his powers were
rapidly waning. He went to Enfield on the following day (a Wednesday, I
think), and never returned again to practice. He lingered about another
year, during which time I once went to see him, when I found him
something better. He was able to see his friends occasionally, and at
times seemed to rally. In the spring, however, of 1831, he gradually
got weaker, and died on the 20th of April in that year.

He perfectly retained his consciousness to the last, and died as
tranquilly as possible. In exhausted conditions of the body, persons
will sometimes linger much longer than the medical attendant had
considered possible; in other cases, the flickering lamp becomes
extinguished many days before they had been apprehensive of immediate
danger. The latter was the case with Mr. Abernethy. Dr. Roberts had
just been to see him; and the family, who scarcely ever left him,
had followed the Doctor down into the dining room, anxious to hear
his report. This, although it gave them no hope as to the ultimate
result, expressed no apprehension of immediate danger. On returning to
Mr. Abernethy, but a few minutes had elapsed when he gently laid his
head back and expired; but with such entire absence of any struggle,
alteration of countenance, or other indication, that for a short time
it was difficult to realize the fact that he was no more. His body
was not examined; but, from the history and symptoms of his case,
there could be little doubt that there would have been found organic
changes, in which the valvular structures of the heart had more or less

He was buried in the parish church of Enfield. The funeral was a
private one; and there is a plain tablet on the wall over his vault,
with the following inscription:

H. S. E.

APRILIS DIE 20, A. D. 1831, ÆTATIS SUÆ 67.

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