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WHAT SCIENTISTS SAID OF THE RIVALS.
In an earlier chapter some of the first developments of the Cook-Peary controversy were described. On the return of the rivals to America the war broke out with renewed vigor. All the living explorers of note took sides, and lengthy pronouncements were made public. Most of these debaters were inclined to apportion the glory in equal parts.
Of special weight was the declaration of Capt. Roald Amundsen, who a few years before had sailed through the northwest passage. Amundsen, after quoting Cook's first announcement of his discovery, said:
"Thus read the first message about the achievement of this great object, told dryly and without much ado, without a flourish of trumpets. It was quite like the man who sent it. For centuries the battle had been going on. Wealth and intellect for many years had been struggling side by side, inch by inch; the mind and energy of man had forced themselves through terrible ice deserts, great and well equipped expeditions had taken up the struggle of solving the problem, immense sums of money had been expended and many lives sacrificed, and for a long time it seemed as if nature would win in the great battle.
"The news from Lerwick, Shetlands, on September 1, came, therefore, as a thunderbolt down on the civilized world. All that scores of men and well equipped expeditions had been unable to achieve was accomplished by a single man. The North Pole had been reached.
"A shiver went through the whole world. Was it true? Who was Cook? You had never heard anything about him before, and I think it was right that only a very few believed the news.
"On my part, on the other hand, who knew Cook very well, the news didn't come as any surprise. The man was entirely adequate to the task. Fred A. Cook was born on June 10, 1864, in Callicoon, Sullivan County, N. Y. His parents came from Hamburg, Germany, to America about 1850, where his father settled down as a surgeon. In 1891 Cook became himself a surgeon. The same year he went on Peary's expedition to Greenland. As surgeon in this expedition he showed brilliant capacity as a polar explorer.
"Later on I had opportunity to speak with the young Norwegian, Eivind Astrup, who was also with the Peary expedition on the sledge trip through the inland ice of Greenland. From him I got a most distinct impression that the expedition of Peary owed its good results to Cook in a very high degree
"This was Cook's matriculation in polar exploration. Later on he made other trips to polar regions, but it was not until six years later that I got to know him more closely and concluded a friendship which should last for life. This was in the Belgian expedition to the Antarctic on the Belgica, where he was surgeon, anthropologist and photographer, and I was first officer. This was from 1897 to 1899.
"The Belgian Antarctic expedition had as its purpose to seek down toward South Victoria Land to ascertain more closely the conditions existing around the magnetic South Pole. The plan was that a party of four men should be left behind there while the ship returned to Melbourne.
"Cook and I were well equipped to take part in this party, which was to spend the Winter there. When the expedition reached Punta Arenas, in Magellan Straits, where the steamer should coal, the original plan was abandoned, and the intention of searching the regions around Graham's Land, just south from South America, was decided on. Before going there we made several researches in less known parts of Terra del Fuego, and much good work was done by Dr. Cook among the natives there. He took an endless number of photographs during the whole journey.
"On the first of March, 1898, we made our way southward on flowing ice and we were stuck so fast in the ice that we were prisoners for a whole year on the same spot.
"Here it was that I learned to know Cook and learned to appreciate him as one of the ablest, most honest, most reliable men I have ever met. The Belgica wasn't prepared for Wintering either with equipment or provisions.
"During the Winter scurvy broke out. At the same time several of the party showed signs of mental trouble. In such circumstances it was very important to have a surgeon who was equal to the situation. That was just what we had in Dr. Cook. Quietly he went from one to another, cheering them and always trying to keep up their courage when it showed signs of failing them. There was only one who died and his death was owing to long standing weakness. All of Dr. Cook's patients recovered.
"But it was not only as a physician and friend I learned to appreciate him; it was also, and particularly, as a practical polar explorer. It was under very difficult circumstances that we had penetrated the ice, and still more difficult when we tried to get out again. It was different from the floating ice of the arctic regions, which seems to be kept always in movement by the current in the ocean.
"This antarctic ice in which we were stuck seemed not to be influenced in the slightest by the movement in the ocean. The ice was immovable and seemed to have taken a grip on the vessel which it would not let go.
"The situation seemed critical. Our food would not be sufficient for another Winter and it was feared our mental condition would suffer very much if we had to stand another Winter here. What were we going to do?
"Then it was that our doctor quietly stepped forward with his proposal to get out of captivity, and his proposal was sanctioned by the highest authority. We should try to saw ourselves out of the ice. It wasn't an easy task, badly equipped as we were with tools, but what we needed in the shape of tools Dr. Cook by his ingenuity and skill in one way or another devised and manufactured. He thus helped us over our difficulties. That the Belgian Antarctic expedition in this way got out of the ice is due first and foremost to the skill, energy and persistence of Dr. Cook.
"His ascent of Mount McKinley gave us again a good opportunity to look a little further into his character. Quietly he came forward and told us that one of the greatest exploits which had ever been made in mountain climbing was now accomplished. It didn't occur to him to beat a drum and blow a trumpet to make this known to the world. If the world wouldn't acknowledge his exploit without this it was all the same to him.
" 'Reached the North Pole on the 21st of April, 1908. Discovered land far northward.'
"It would not, indeed, have been necessary for him to sign his name under this for my benefit. I should have understood all the time that it was from him. Nobody else could have taken it in such thoroughly fine and quietly noble manner.
"It was a pity that Peary should besmirch his beautiful work in throwing out outrageous accusations against a competitor who had won the battle m open field. Peary will prove his statement, they say, but in which way, I ask? Is it the evidence of Cook's two followers on which he rests his accusations? Then I must confess it has a very weak foundation.
"When Peary accuses Cook of having taken his Eskimos, then this is nonsense. The Eskimos, as we know, are free people like ourselves; nay, to a still greater extent, and they do what they like. When, therefore, the Eskimos took resolution to accompany Dr. Cook on his expedition toward the North Pole, neither they nor Dr. Cook felt bound to render Peary an account.
"Another and quite as futile a detail in the accusation of Peary is when he says Cook went into his domain. Does Peary really mean that he can assert the right to this territory? I think Peary cannot be so childish. It is very likely a stroke in the air to gain the sympathy of unsuspecting people. The American people have a great stake in arctic exploration. They deserve the undivided admiration of the whole civilized world for the splendid result which two of their brave sons have just brought home.
"We shall always honor Cook as the first man on the geographical north pole of the earth. We shall always admire Peary as the man who didn't give up, but finally achieved his aim and desire after many years' hard work."
Dr. Eugene Murray Aaron, F. G. S., who has acquaintance with both Commander Peary and Dr. Cook and who has a knowledge of the terrors of the long night, and the hardships and difficulties of travel on the arctic ice, who for some years has been a Chicagoan, engaged in geographic authorship and publication, also discussed the merits of the controversy.
"No one who knows either Cook or Peary," said the doctor, "can for a moment doubt that each of them firmly believes that he has set his feet on that spot without longitude, where all lines converge — and hence without dimensions, that we call the north pole. The only doubt permissible to fair minded men who have the privilege of acquaintance with these great men is as to whether iii the final dash they were able to take along those instruments necessary to scientific exactitude and whether, during their very brief stops on the top of the earth, they had sufficient time to verify their first conclusions.
"It must be the opinion of all that the reputations of America and of American men of science have suffered from the unseemly, though perhaps rather natural, outburst of Peary and his warmer supporters, when the news from Cook reached them. Commander Peary has so manfully struggled northward for the past quarter of a century, always meeting rebuffs and defeat with a brave heart and each time returning to the battle to win a few more miles from the threatening ice floes and leads, that it is very understandable that he has almost come to regard the pole as his by eminent domain. It is not hard to realize the poignancy of his feelings when he learned that his rival had beaten him to the goal, all the more as the personal relations between the two had been strained for many years, owing to causes known to few, but quite sufficient to both of these positive, forceful men.
"That Peary lost grip on his better judgment for the moment and sent forth statements regarding his rival's honesty that will always come up to plague him, seems to be beyond question, although much must be allowed for the misunderstanding of correspondents and perhaps even something for telegraphic slips. That, however, he has done, with respect to Cook's supplies or records, anything dishonorable or underhanded, those who know him cannot believe. It would seem, at this moment, that each might well cry: 'Deliver me from my friends!' For it is the intemperate utterances of those that have done most to cloud the atmosphere and eclipse the proverbial American spirit of fair play.
"Since Peary's first cablegrams, all that we have had from him bearing upon Cook's claims has been corroborative, rather than otherwise. Cook's experiences with unusually propitious conditions near the pole were duplicated by Peary. The former's remarkable speed on his dash northward has been exceeded by Peary on his return from his goal to Cape Columbia. The lack of adequate witnesses, so criticised by Peary's adherents when it became known that Cook had but two Eskimo 'boys' with him, has been effectually met by the fact that Peary had but one such with him under like circumstances. One with far northern experience can see many more unmistakable signs of agreement in the very inadequate present accounts of the two men. While Peary's account is thus far devoid of longitudinal data, it is already plain why he encountered no signs along Cook's route. At their points of departure from northern Grantland they were over 150 miles apart, and, as Cook's returning route was still further to the west, there were only a very few miles in the immediate neighborhood of the pole where by any possibility his tracks could have been detected by Peary.
"Still further, it must be remembered that these men, in common with everyone who has established a far north record, approached their tasks in March and April, because of the upbreak of the ice in that great open polar sea during the long continuous day of the summer, and, also, that one of these long days had intervened between Cook's return and Peary's start, doubtless breaking up every vestige of Cook's feverishly hurried stops and dissipating any records in the ice he may have sought to leave behind."
"Then what proofs will the public ever have; how will these men prove beyond doubt that they have been there?" the doctor was asked.
"Of absolute proofs, such as would be undeniable in a court of justice, there can be none. We will always be compelled to accept their words. The talk of records of observations, that will support them beyond peradventure, is the sheerest nonsense. Any man competent to take such observations would be equally competent to coin them. There are no self-recording instruments to automatically, mechanically uphold him or give him the lie. The statement credited to astronomers that an eclipse, occurring at the time that Cook was beyond the 80th degree of latitude, must have been observed by him and would be contributory evidence, likewise means nothing. Those acquainted with atmospheric and hydrographic conditions in the far north know that this is buncombe. Then, too, were Cook the sort of man to manufacture records, and we who know him believe him to be far above it, it would have been the easiest possible thing to acquaint himself with future astronomic conditions and be prepared to incorporate such observations among his other manufactured data.
"No, not until some one has firmly established an aerial stage line to the north pole will we be in a position to contravert the claims of those hardy men who find a certain delight in the frozen solitudes of the Arctic sea. As a matter of fact, there is nothing inherently more difficult in reaching the upper stretches of the final dash than have to be coped with in the preparatory marches; perhaps nothing as terrible as Cook must have undergone in his winter quarters in Ellesmereland, on his homeward journey."
"Can you state in a few words the practical value of the discovery or attainment of the pole?" the doctor was asked.
"By 'practical value' I understand you to take the usual utilitarian American view, and that you would shut out the gratification to American pride and the possibility that this achievement will lead to our letting the north pole rest in peace, which we will not. Then, with those rather doubtful advantages set aside, it is possible to answer your question in four letters — none. That certain observations could be taken at the pole, which, if repeated at the equator, would enable us to very nearly arrive at the weight of our earth and to settle some other certainties desired by physiographers, is well known. But these are not possible on any dash to that region, and it is very unlikely that conditions will ever allow either the transportation of cumbersome paraphernalia or the prolonged sojourn necessary."
To the question as to whether some recent interviews were accurate in considering Cook and Peary the greatest explorers of all times, the doctor quoted a long list from the roster of famed explorers, any one of which he regarded as of greater eminence. Among these the names of Magellan, Von Humboldt, Livingstone, Wallace, Merrian, Bates, Whymper, Conway and Hedin are recalled.
"Conway, practically alone in the great Andes, Wallace living with the head-hunting Dyaks of Borneo, Bates for a decade on the upper Amazon, Sven Hedin courting instant death if detected on the march toward Lassa, these and many others like them, not only met and conquered as great dangers and for far greater lengths of time than did Cook or Peary," added the doctor; "but they contributed vastly to the sum of useful human knowledge.
"Yet I would not take one iota of credit or glory from Cook or Peary, if I had that power. The qualities of indomitable courage and tireless perseverance that have won them these great successes are becoming too rare among us, we who are so greatly given over to half-baked and transient effort, to hysteric admiration and interests, and to the softening and often ignoble chase after the elusive dollar."
From the Detroit Free Press