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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE GREAT aid which science combined with common-sense can render in overcoming the difficulties and dangers of arctic exploration is illustrated in the expedition of Dr. Fridtjof Nansen. His book ‘Farthest North’ is the record of this expedition, the success of which was the result of adequate preparations both in the vessel and its equipment for a voyage towards the Pole.  1
  Dr. Nansen was born in Christiania, Norway, on October 10th, 1861. In 1880 he entered the university of his native city, devoting himself to the study of zoölogy. In 1882 he made a voyage to the Jan Mayen and Spitzbergen seas, for the purpose of observing animal life in high latitudes; and in the same year he was appointed curator in the Natural History Museum at Bergen, Norway. He took his degree in 1888. In 1888–9 he crossed Southern Greenland on snow-shoes. Subsequently he was appointed curator of the Museum of Comparative Anatomy in the University of Christiania. As early as 1884 Dr. Nansen had conceived the idea that there must be a current flowing at some point between the Pole and Franz Josef Land, from the Siberian Arctic Sea to the east coast of Greenland. The starting-point of his conjecture was the fact that certain articles belonging to the ill-fated Jeannette, which had foundered in the drift ice north of the New Siberian Islands, had been found afterwards upon the southwest coast of Greenland, bearing evidence to a hitherto unsuspected current in the arctic seas. In an address before the Christiania Geographical Society in 1890, Dr. Nansen set forth his theory; and proposed that he should place himself at the head of an expedition which should endeavor, by taking advantage of this current, to reach Greenland by way of the Pole. The success of the expedition would depend largely on the design of the vessel. Former arctic explorers had employed ordinary ships,—ill adapted, as events proved, to resist the enormous pressure of the ice in the polar regions. Nansen proposed to have a ship built of such a shape as to enable it to withstand the ice pressure. In its construction two points were to be especially studied: (1) that the shape of the hull be such as to offer as small a vulnerable target as possible to the attacks of ice; (2) that it be built so solidly as to be able to withstand the greatest possible pressure from without in any direction whatsoever. More attention was to be paid to making the ship a safe and warm stronghold while drifting in the ice, than to endow it with speed or good sailing qualities. These designs were carried out in building the Fram, the vessel in which Nansen made his voyage. The sides of the Fram were so well rounded that at no portion of its frame could the ice take firm hold upon it. Its adaptability to the conditions of the Arctic Sea was well proven. After the vessel had left the open sea, its strength and its peculiar shape enabled it to resist the ice pressure. It was lifted by the ice out of the water, and borne upon the drifting floe in the direction of the Pole. Nansen did not accomplish all that he set out to do, but he did traverse the unknown polar sea northwestward from the New Siberian Islands, and he did explore the region north of Franz Josef Land as far as 86° 14', the highest latitude yet reached by man. His success was largely due to the construction of the Fram. The first volume of ‘Farthest North’ contains the account of the building of the Fram, and of its voyage to the eighty-fourth parallel. The second volume tells of the sledge journey still farther north, undertaken by Dr. Nansen and one companion. Both accounts are rich in scientific observations, and in details of the daily lives of the explorers. Dr. Nansen’s passion for science has absorbed neither his humanity nor his capacity for poetry. His record of his travels is lightened by his appreciation of the little pleasantries possible within four degrees of the Pole, and by his sensitiveness to the ghostly beauty of a shrouded world. He writes of his inner life of hope and ambition and frequent depression, and of his outer life of adventure, with the ease and charm of a man so completely under the sway of his subject that literary graces are the natural accompaniment of his record.  2
 
 
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