Thursday, August 10, 2006

Item of the Day: The Possibility of Reaching the North Pole Asserted. (1818)

Full Title: The Possibility of Approaching the North Pole Asserted. By the Hon. D. Barrington. A New Edition. With an Appendix, containing Papers on the Same Subject, and on a Northwest Passage. By Colonel Beaufoy, Illustrated with a Map of the North Pole, According to the Latest Discoveries. New-York: Published by James Eastburn & Co., 1818.

[First printed in 1775 and 1776 as “Probability of Reaching the North Pole Discussed,” this edition of Daines Barrington’s work includes the appendix by physicist Mark Beaufoy.]

The following Tracts, relative to the possibility of near approaches to the Pole of our own hemisphere, as likewise of a communication between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in any Northern direction, were first published in 1775 and 1776.

I now think it right again to print them, because they contain many well attested facts with regard to reaching high Northern Latitudes, which are not to be found elsewhere, and have a tendency to promote geographical discoveries. I am very ready to admit, indeed, that the purposes of commerce can never be answered by the great uncertainty of a constant passage (even when such a communication is discovered) in seas which are so frequently obstructed by the ice packing in vast fields. I find likewise, that since the Resolution and Endeavor returned from their last voyage, many conceive a North East or North West Passage to be impracticable, because our ships, in two successive years, were not able to penetrate beyond 71°, by impediments of ice. Besides, however, the ice packing in particular situations varies often in different years, both these attempts were made in the month of August, which I flatter myself to have proved, is the very season of the year when the ice, breaking up on the coast, is floating in every direction, and consequently often packs in masses of immense extent.

These vast fields of ice, indeed, often are dispersed; but who hath, or indeed should have, the fortitude of waiting for this accident, whilst he is already in a high Northern Latitude, and the winter is fast approaching? If the ice, however, should thus pack in April or May, (which I conceive it would not, as little must be left to float from the preceding summer,) yet as the warm weather is then increasing from day to day, the navigator would wait with some degree of patience till his ship may be released from this temporary obstruction. The situation of the discoverer, under these circumstances, may be compared to a traveler passing over a large tract of sea sand, when the tide is flowing or ebbing. In the first instance he spurs his horse, because the sea may be expected at his heels; in the latter he proceeds with great composure, as every instant he loses in point of time the sea is farther removed. . . .

Perhaps, whilst discoveries by sea are thus dwelt upon, encouragement should be given to travelers by land, for procuring better information with regard to the central parts of Asia, Africa, and America. In short, let us endeavour to know as much as we may of our globe; nor should this be considered as a vain and trifling curiosity, though no benefits to commerce may result from these inquiries.

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