15 FEBRUARY 1896, Page 12


a quarter ago, we gave some account of Nansen's views as to the mode in which he might be able t> reach the earth's North Pole, and the ardent con- viction with which he held the absolute irresistibility of his evidence. On Thursday there was telegraphed from Irkutsk the statement that Dr. Nansen's voyage had been crowned with success ; that he had actually reached one of those two points on our globe where there is no diurnal revolution of the earth at all, and that it is a point of terra firma, as such a point, if it were on the land, might be accu- rately called ; and that it is part of the land and not on sea. Of course, the news may be untrue, though it is said to pro- ceed from M. Kuchnareff, one of Dr. Nansen's agents. We are well used by this time to having the telegraph dissipate the illusions which it has itself created, and till we have the story confirmed with a little more detail, we shall not feel any con- fidence that Dr. Nansen has really stood where we know that he so confidently believed that one day he should stand, to find all his eager anticipations confirmed. Still we confess to a very hearty desire that this inspired traveller may really have found the fulfilment of his vivid dream. " Though hopes be dupes, fears may be liars." It is quite possible that Dr. Nansen, who was evidently, in grain at halt, a new Columbus, may have attained Columbus's success, and we have no sort of sympathy with those who declare that if he has, they shall only regret the success which has crowned so barren and wilful a quest. It is not exactly a religious quest, we admit. There is no holy grail to be found on that ideal spot where the axis of the earth meets the surface and directs the eye towards the north pole of the heavens. It is probably a barren spot of land enough, with little to invite the eye except perhaps such fields of snow as may be seen at any time from the Rittel or Monte Rosa, and probably with none of the grandeur of that great landscape of towering peaks and mighty glaciers. Still, with this wee planet of ours as the only field for close human observation, it is hardly creditable to our vannted curiosity and enterprise that thousands of years should have elapsed without our even having surveyed it fully. The few enthusiasts who have actually extended our knowledge of the secrets of the earth deserve our admira- tion and gratitude. There were plenty of men to condemn Columbus for his adventurous eagerness to discover new continents, but the cynics of his day are not now the heroes of our own. We do not suppose that any one now con- demns his rashness and regrets his discovery. The men who are born with a mission ought to fulfil their mission. And never was any one born with a more vivid mission than the Norwegian enthusiast who penetrated the desolate solitudes of Greenland, and filled half the scientific men in England with a strange yearning that his eager quest might be crowned with success. What matters it if even the discovery of the North Pole does prove fruitless ? We know already that it is not the pole of the great magnet which the earth constitutes. The magnetic poles have been determined already, and the north pole of the terrestrial magnet is far south of the termination of the earth's axis, and indeed in 701° N. lat. The true North Pole is little more than an ideal point where the 'evolution of the surface ceases, and the only motion is the forward motion of the earth in its orbit, not around its axis. Still, it is not to our credit that with an an`-hill so minute as ours in the great fields of space, no one should yet have visited the point where there is no diurnal motion to be observed at all. Dr. Neilsen has bad a great desire to discover this point, and we heartily hope that he may have discovered it. We have not so many of

these born discoverers that we can afford to make light of their great thirst for new knowledge. It is to this class of men that we owe all the romance of the very little ex- ploration of which our petty globe admits. What though this particular field of discovery should turn out to be rather barren, as it well may be, or may not be ? Without the restless class there would be far less food for th3 mind of those whose bodies appreciate rest much more than they appreciate the hardships which are encountered in travel. Without the indomitable travellers we should all have much fewer active minds, a much narrower scientific horizon, and far less of the awe and wonder of imaginative life.

Men like Dr. Nansen add indefinitely to the interest of life. The passion for exploring the fastnesses of the earth is as natural to man as the passion for finding out its constitution and discovering its separate elements, and is not a bit more dangerous. If we do not condemn the hardihood of the chemist who risks the dangers of a thousand different kinds of explosion, if we do not condemn the hardihood of the miner who descends deep into the interior of the earth in search of some vegetable or mineral product like coal or gold, why should we condemn the hardihood of one who defies two or three Arctic winters only in order to bring back news of its more inaccessible areas and corners P There is nothing more noble in risking life for a new chemical compound, or for a certain amount of fuel or metallic ore, than there is in risking it for an accession of knowledge. There is hardly anything for which life is not risked. And it is all the better for man that it is so. If we are too apt to sacrifice the great moral ends of living simply in order that we may live at all, we com- pensate ourselves for that lavishness by treating life itself as a trivial matter compared with the chief ends of living,—the happiness of others, for instance ; the chance of saving them at the cost of our own existence ; the glory of sweeping a great horizon ; the delight of standing where no one has ever stood before; the ecstasy of verifying a well-considered theory ; the craving to solve a riddle which might prove to be the avenue to a new world of speculation. For all these objects men sacrifice their lives every day just as they do for the purpose of gaining a livelihood, and we do not know that there is any more discredit in risking it for an intellectual craving than in risking it for a mere feat of scientific or athletic daring. Dr. Nansen studied with the most intense vigilance all the evidence he could get of the ocean currents tending towards the North Pole, and believed that he had found fragments of wreck and of vegetation, which after drifting to the North from Siberia, had come south- wards again by the currents which flow back into the Atlantic. This was the basis of his belief that he could find his way to tho point where the axis of the earth stiikes the surface, aod then return to the habitable world by either another or the same route. He had built himself a ship especially calculated to resist the pressure of the pack-ice, and of a shape which would give a good chance if it were ever nipped by the pack, that it would be lifted clean to the surface of the ice instead of being crushed by its side- pressures, and be himself overflowed with the conviction that he should succeed in reaching the Pole. We heartily hope that this rumour of his success is not an illusion. These prophets of physical truth, as they may be called, are not per- haps the very noblest of our race, but they are amongst the noblest, and their profound belief in themselves and disin- terested pursuit of purely ideal ends purifies the atmosphere of our too contracted life and our too sordid aspirations. Dr. Nansen's genius is at least entirely free from any sordid element.