In 1925 Nansen had been elected honorary Rector by the students of St. Andrew’s University. The British General Strike intervened and he was not inducted until 1926. When he arrived at St. Andrews station he was met by an excited crowd of students who decorated the train with a polar bear wearing an academic gown and mortar board. The next day he gave his speech:
Rectorial Address at St. Andrews University, 3rd November 1926.
Soloman is said to have compared ‘the people unto the sea, and orators and counsellors to the wind; for that the sea would be calm and quiet if the winds did not trouble it.’ If in the present case I may call you the sea, I am pretty sure that you are troubled enough already without the help of any orators. And yet, though I have never before felt any desire to cultivate windy oratory, I do wish I could be a tempest today, to do you credit. But winds, whether strong or weak, may blow from so many quarters. I wonder what direction you expect me to blow from?
I have been wondering how on earth you ever came to think of making me your rector? Was it because long ago, long before you were born, I expect, a young fellow with the same name as mine made some journeys through the frozen North? You may have heard something about it when you were children. Or could it be because, during more recent years, my name has happened to be connected with several undertakings intended to alleviate the sufferings of unfortunate fellow creatures?
I could not find out; and that was disheartening, as it might have given me my cue for this address, the delivery of which, I understand, will be my chief duty as your rector.
But after all, why should I worry? You will not remember what it was about anyhow.
You must not think that we old people are as self satisfied as we seem. We know well enough that although you are extraordinarily nice to us - sometimes at any rate - still, to be quite honest, you often think us intolerable bores with our heavy learning and good advice - at least I remember I did when I was your age - and not without reason perhaps.
Long ago La Rochefoucauld said that, ‘old folk like to give good precepts in order to console themselves for no longer being able to give bad examples.’ I do not know that we can altogether accept that definition, though there may be more truth in it than we realise at first.
I am sure, however, we shall all agree with the same sage, when he said that: ‘we never meet with any intelligent people but those who are of the same opinion as ourselves.’ As a rule, it is only by sad experience that we are enabled to verify the wisdom of opinions that differ from ours. How much easier life would be if we could be taught by others! But the real wisdom of life we have to discover with our own eyes.
‘Experience doth take dreadfully high wages,’ your immortal Carlyle said, ‘but she teacheth like no other.’ Stick to that, young friends! Listen to authority and age; you may learn a great deal from those who are older than yourselves - but trust your own eyes still more, and keep them open. A truth acquired by the use of your own eyes, though imperfect, is worth ten truths told you by others, for besides increasing your knowledge, it has improved your capacity to see.
But although I believe that as strongly as any of you, here I stand, none the less, your rector, rather an old man, I am sorry to say, and I have to deliver an improving address to you who are setting sail on your voyage through life.
What shall I say? Well, I presume that a rectorial address should first say a few wise words about the ocean of life which you are to navigate. But I am afraid I can make you no wiser in that respect, the sea is so rough now, and the mist and scud so dense that it is difficult to see ahead.
A dangerous sea for the young to navigate, they say. I should think it would be a remarkably interesting voyage. One act of the play is finished - a new act is just beginning. There is ferment everywhere. Old established truths are overthrown; it is for you to find new ones.
Yes, indeed, the sea is difficult. Many may be wrecked, perhaps; but all the more will remain to be done by every one of you who has got the grit to do it.
My friend Amundsen observed the other day that he was glad he was not born later, as then there would have been nothing left for him to explore except the moon. It made me think of Martin Frobisher who, 350 years ago, ‘resolved wyth himselfe to go... and to accomplyshe ‘the North West Passage’ or bring true certificate of the truth, or else never to retourne againe, knowing this to be the onely thing of the worlde that was left yet undone, whereby a notable mind might be made famous and fortunate.’
We have heard much lately about the decline of European civilization; it has reached its old age, they say, and is on the way down hill. And amongst other things they point to the lack of originality and a certain alarming sterility in the productiveness of the West European brain nowadays, perhaps especially manifesting itself in the art of our time, and in the lack of commanding personalities.
But do not allow yourselves to become pessimists. This talk of decline is nothing new. Let us get it into true perspective. We like, of course, to think that mankind is constantly making progress; it is such a nice comforting idea. But is it right? Progress implies that we know whither we are going; and we can only advance towards a fixed point. But such a point is just what is lacking. You will remember that Archimedes long ago said, though in a different connection: ‘Give me a fixed point and I can lift the earth!’ Fancy if some of the ancient leaders of thought - Buddha, Socrates, Christ - came back to us, and we showed them all our marvellous inventions, and our scientific discoveries, the results of the great progress since their days. Would they not smile indulgently at us - as we smile at our children when they show us their favourite toys? I imagine the following dialogue might have taken place between Socrates and Marconi:
Socrates, after having seen all the inventions, would say: ‘This is all very interesting, but what have you learnt about yourself?’
Marconi: ‘But do you not see what enormous importance it has for the whole of human life, for business, for economic conditions and development to be able to convey information quickly!’
Socrates: ‘But how has it helped you? Have you become a better man by it? And then if it helps some people, perhaps others suffer.’
Marconi: ‘But look at the broadcasting which brings beautiful music and good lectures to thousands, and even to millions, of people!’
Socrates: ‘How, then, do these people get time for that which is infinitely more important, to think for themselves?’
No, we have no reason to boast ourselves better than our fathers. Indeed, it is more important than doubtful whether there is any proof of the superiority of the so called ‘civilised man’ over his ‘uncivilised’ ancestors. Let us go back some five or six thousand years to the ancient Egyptians, living in a Stone age. When we see what those people accomplished with their implements, can we say honestly that we feel ourselves superior to them..?
Oh no, my friends, let us be modest. The rising trend of evolution, which carried our ancestors from the level of the apes to that of the Cro-Magnon people, stopped thousands of years ago owing to the conditions of modern social life, especially to its urbanisation, which interfere with the ‘survival of the fittest,’ and make the inferior elements of mankind the most prolific. The human race is certainly still changing and changing rapidly - but ‘it is no use galloping if you are going in the wrong direction...’
But surely, even if the race may not have improved physically of late, our ideas have done so. Our ethics and morality have developed far beyond the primitive stage. Yes, certainly, so far as individuals go, though not to the extent that many people think, and certainly not when the individuals combine into groups.
Nations have hardly begun as yet to have real morality. They are little more than collections of beasts of prey. Private human virtues such as modesty, unselfishness, charity, love of one’s neighbour, the feeling of solidarity, still strike them only too often as ridiculous folly if they are urged to practise them in their policies.
This may sound a harsh judgement, and perhaps it is too harsh. But let me give you an example that should have shocked much more profoundly than it did the public conscience of mankind. I mean the proceedings of the special Assembly of the League of Nations in March last.
Now, this League is just a great and remarkable adventure, a new ship sailing out along new tracks with the future hopes of mankind on board. It marks, we trust, the beginning of a new era in the world’s history, attempting as it does to introduce into the dealings between nations respect for those virtues I mentioned, and to create a feeling of solidarity, and establish real co-operation between them for the betterment of the world. We therefore expected much. But, alas! a new spirit of the world cannot be created in a day, and amongst the crew of that ship there are still many sailors who have not forgotten their old habits.
The nations of the world met in Geneva in March for one single purpose, which everyone believed to be not only desirable, but even essential to the future of Europe - the purpose of admitting Germany to the League. Everyone imagined that the way was clear. After the Locarno meetings, after the noble speeches breathing international brotherhood and love, we really thought that the nations of the world had at last turned over a new leaf... In March many of our first bright hopes were tragically dispelled. Then we had the spectacle of one nation after another raising obstacles to the fulfilment of our common purpose, and doing so with a disregard for decency which we had none of us believed it would be possible for them to show.
And in the end, as you remember, we had to leave Geneva defeated and dismayed, because some states were still determined to think solely of their own interests instead of the world at large. Well, in September we repaired in part the disaster that had happened, and we are profoundly grateful for much that was said and done. But we remember, too, the foul, occult powers that were at work in March, and remembering them we cannot resist the conviction that there is something rotten outside Hamlet’s State of Denmark.
Let me, however, give you another example: the Russian famine in 1921 - 22, when the Volga region and the most fertile parts of Russia were ravaged by a terrible drought - when something like thirty million people, or more, were starving and dying - dying by the thousand...
A heart rending appeal for help went out to all the world, and eventually a great many people in this and in other countries helped, and helped generously. But many more were busy trying to find our first who was to blame. Was it the drought? Or was it the political system of the Russian State? As if that could ameliorate the terrible suffering or make any difference whatever to those who were dying of starvation!
But what was worse, there was in various trans-Atlantic countries such an abundance of maize at that time that the farmers did not know how to get rid of it before the new harvest, so they had to burn it as fuel in their railway engines. At the same time the ships in Europe were idle, and laid up, for there were no cargoes. Simultaneously there were thousands, nay millions, of unemployed. All this while thirty million people in the Volga region - not far away and easily reached by means of our ships - were allowed to starve and die, the politicians of the world at large, except in the United States, trying to find an excuse for doing nothing in the pretext that it was the Russians’ own fault - a result of the Bolshevik system.
Fancy, if the unemployed had been put on board the idle ships, had been sent to South America, and had brought the maize to the Black Sea and saved the stricken millions, how much suffering they could have relieved. Do you not think that world would have been the better for it? I tell you that there is something rotten in the condition of the world. There is still ample scope for improvement.
The touchstone of real culture should be the feeling of solidarity. You, your family, your class, your nation, are only parts of the whole, passing links in space and time. But of that feeling there seems to be nothing as yet between nations, and mighty little between classes. In their relations you still have the morality of the savage who only considers his own advantage.
How strange that we have not yet outgrown these perpetual struggles and disputes between different classes of the same people about the division of the profit; that we have no more rational means of settling them than brute force: strikes and lock-outs - and that we use these weapons and stop working, even when there is unemployment and privation.
I often wonder what an inhabitant of some other globe would say if he could look down and see how we manage things upon this little planet of ours. Would he think that there were intelligent beings on this earth? Wasn’t it Bernard Shaw who said some time ago that he did not know what the inhabitants of the other globes were doing, but he was firmly convinced that they used our earth as their lunatic asylum.
Yes, there can be no doubt that excessive nationalism as well as class warfare are dangers. But there may be dangers on the other side too. Let us not forget that national patriotism, as was mentioned by Lord Cecil in the last Assembly of the League, is a necessary stimulus for the development of the world.
Beware of the tendency towards too much internationalism, towards unification, towards creating a great uniform human family. Desirable as it might be in some respects I cannot help seeing a great danger in it. Increasing urbanisation, uniform education, the rapidly improving means of transport and communication tend to abolish distance, and to wipe our those characteristic differences between peoples, nations, and cultures which have made life interesting and beautiful, and acted as an important stimulus to new thought.
There are several ideals in vogue nowadays, which, if realised, would lead us towards a dangerous monotony, a uniform greyness, in which it would be difficult to develop one’s own personality. All this may be difficult to alter, but we ought not to shut our eyes to it.
It is not very encouraging, the picture which your rector has drawn of the sea you have to navigate, of the stage on which you have to act your part in life... But you have the buoyant strength of youth, and when they tell you civilization is going down hill, remember it has been bad enough many times before in history...
What we call development goes in great waves up and down. If you are in the trough you have always the possibility of rising in to a crest ahead of you. The great thing in human life is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving. And, mind you, it is not the stage that makes your actions great or small. It is for you yourselves to create your rôle on the stage.
‘Men at some time are masters of their fates,
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.’
If the world is out of joint it is for you to put it right, to make it a better place to live in, each of you to the best of his ability. As I told you, there is ample scope for improvement.
The old beaten tracks do not take us to our goal. It is time to begin prospecting in new lands. We need you, young friends, with fresh eyes capable of seeing the simple elemental things - ready to try new trails, to run risks, and dare the unknown.
My distinguished predecessors, Barrie and Kipling, have spoken to you about courage and about independence, two heaven born qualities for this voyage of life, and never more needed than in our day. They are worth infinitely more than all your wireless, and broadcasting, and all the rest. But a third genius is needed to complete the group of deities - it is the spirit of adventure. It is about this genius that I wish to say a few words to you today.
Who is she? No less than the spirit that urges mankind forward on the way towards knowledge. The soul’s mysterious impulse to fill the void spaces, analogous to Nature’s horror vacui.
Don’t you remember how, as a child, when some part of the house was closed, and vaguely suspected of being haunted, you felt fearfully frightened - and yet pined to get in there to meet those mysterious ghosts? The risks added to the charm. And one day when you were alone, you somehow managed to get in. But how disappointed you were when you saw no ghosts after all! That was your awakening spirit of adventure. It is in every one of us. It is our mysterious longing to do things, to fill life with something more than our daily walk from home to office, and from the office back home again.
It is our perpetual yearning to overcome difficulties and dangers, to see the hidden things, to penetrate into the regions outside our beaten track - it is the call of the unknown - the longing for the Land of Beyond, the divine force deeply rooted in the soul of man which drove the first hunters out into new regions - the mainspring perhaps of our greatest actions - of winged human thought knowing no bounds to its freedom...
Kipling says in Kim: ‘God causes men to be born... who have a lust to go abroad at the risk of their lives and discover news - today it may be of far off things - tomorrow of some hidden mountain - and the next day of some near by men who have done a foolishness against the State. These souls are very few, and of these few not more than ten are of the best.’ But, my young friends, though modesty is a becoming virtue, let us always believe that we are amongst those ten!
For most of us ordinary people life is a voyage from harbour to harbour, along a fairly safe coast. We run no great risks... But what about the things worth doing, the achievements, the aims to live and die for?
No, although many of us have to do it, coastal navigation is not really to the liking of our race. Our ancestors, yours and mine - the Norsemen - they did not hug the coast. With their undaunted spirit of adventure they hoisted their sails for distant shores, and no fear of risks could keep them back...
Let me tell you an example of the awakening spirit of adventure in the history of the British Empire - how it led on the one hand to disaster, but on the other to greatness.
In the middle of the sixteenth century England’s power on the sea was very modest. We hear, for instance, that in 1540 London had, with the exception of the royal fleet, only four vessels of more than 120 tons burden. Then awoke the idea that it might be possible to find a short route to the riches of Cathay or China, north of Norway and Russia. This seemed a promising adventure... The Company of the Merchant Adventurers equipped three ships, and placed the expedition under the command of the gallant general Sir Hugh Willoughby, on account ‘of his tall, handsome appearance, and of his rare qualities as a soldier.’
The ships sailed in May 1553, amid great expectations and much rejoicing. Willoughby with two ships and sixty-two men had to winter on the coast of the Kola Peninsula, and when Russian fishermen came to the place next spring they found two ships with only dead men on board. They had all died of scurvy. When the two ships were subsequently sailed homeward, one of them was wrecked on the coast of Norway and the new crew lost, the other, with 24 men on board, disappeared and was never heard of again... But the third vessel, Edward Bonaventure, under command of the able Richard Chancellor, was separated from the two other ships in a gale north of Norway, and arrived at Vardö. Here Chancellor evidently heard about the route to the White Sea and the trade between the Norwegians and the Russians. This was a new adventure, and as the other ships never came, he decided to try that route.
He met, however, with some Scotsmen, who do not seem to have been as enterprising as Scotsmen are supposed to be. They warned him earnestly against the voyage, but he sailed all the same, ‘determining,’ as he declared, ‘either to bring that to passe which was intended, or else to die the death.’ They came into the White Sea and to the river Dvina. Chancellor went to Moscow and was well received by the Russian Czar, Ivan the Terrible. Next summer he returned in his ship to England, bearing a letter from the Czar.
This voyage and the so-called discovery of this old Norse route to Russia through the White Sea form an important turning point in the development of English commerce and shipping.
It meant the opening of a great new market for English goods. A profitable trade with Russia developed quickly, and the Muscovy Company, which received special privileges, became so rich and powerful that it could soon support important undertakings in other parts of the world as well. A rapid development of the English mercantile marine followed.
Thus it came about that England was soon in a position to compete with the stronger sea powers even in other regions.
This episode, in fact, marks the beginning of Great Britain’s power on the sea. The story shows how apparently small accidents may prove decisive in the history of a whole people... If it had not been for the true spirit of adventure in that one man, Richard Chancellor... England’s important trade with Russia would not have commenced at that time, the development of her shipping would have been very different, and the history of the world would have proceeded along other lines... I am sure that the great events in the world depend on the spirit of adventure shown by certain individuals in grasping opportunities when they occur.
And so it is in the personal life of every one of us. Let me tell you a little about myself, not because that self is a personage of any great importance, or a good example; but simply because it is the only one I have. And we must all of us judge life from the standpoint of our own experience.
Now, when I look back on my own life, it strikes me that if anything worth doing has ever been accomplished on that crooked course of regrettable irregularities, it was only due to a certain spirit of adventure, acting, however, in a sporadic and imperfect way.
In his admirable address, Barrie proposed that a good subject for his successor’s rectorial address would be: ‘the mess the rector himself has made of life.’ Little did he know how much to the point that subject would be for your present rector. Barrie warned you against M’Connachie, his imaginary other half, who is always flying around on one wing, dragging him with him. And what shall we other poor mortals say, whose M’Connachies do not write charming plays for us, like Barrie’s, but merely lead us astray?
How many nasty tricks that unruly fellow has played me! When we were young, and plodding steadily along a fairly promising road, he would suddenly bolt up some unexpected side track, and I had to follow and make the best of it. Now, do not mistake that fanciful creature for the spirit of adventure. Far from it, he is just Master Irresponsible - an emotional, impulsive, and quarrelsome person, who is very easily bored...
But the spirit of adventure may still save the situation and see you through, once you have been diverted on to a new trail. For its nature is not to want continually to change; on the contrary it is to want to see the end of things. And once you have embarked upon an undertaking, the spirit of adventure will not give in - whether you sink or swim - till the work is done and done well. Do not think that adventure is child’s play, or that the heights can be won in a day... Real greatness was never attained without patience and industry. ‘Genius is an inexhaustible power of taking trouble,’ Carlyle said. ‘Patience is power,’ adds an Eastern proverb, ‘with time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes satin’...
I have always thought that the much praised ‘line of retreat’ is a snare for people who wish to reach their goal.
Let me tell you one secret of such so called successes as there may have been in my life, and here I believe I give you really good advice. It was to burn my boats and demolish the bridges behind me. Then one loses no time in looking behind, when one should have quite enough to do in looking ahead - then there is no choice for you or your men but - forward. You have to do or die!
Let me try to tell you how it worked in my case... I was an undergraduate once, even younger than most of you, probably, and a ‘ne’er-do-weel’ except for some little sport, perhaps. According to Carlyle, ‘the first of all problems for a man to find out is what kind of work he is to do in this universe.’ But even this little problem I had not been able to solve.
I had a leaning to science; but to which science? Physics and Chemistry interested me the most; but Master Irresponsible - over whom I had no control at the time - did not like that kind of life much. One day he suddenly took it into his head that Zoology would be better, as that promised more fun - more shooting and out of door life. Consequently we went in for Zoology.
Then one day, the irresponsible creature suddenly suggested that we should go on a voyage to the Arctic Sea, under the pretext of studying the animal life of the polar regions. I was 20 then - and off we went! That was the first fatal step that led me astray from the quiet life of science.
It gave me more Arctic sport, more interest in various polar problems than actual zoological research, and on that voyage we were caught and beset in the pack ice, and drifted for over three weeks towards the then unknown east coast of Greenland. I saw the mountains and glaciers, and a longing awoke in me, and vague plans revolved in my mind of exploring the unknown interior of that mysterious, ice covered land. I returned home. I was made Curator of the Zoological Museum at Bergen. The Arctic dreams were more or less forgotten. I went in, body and soul, for Zoology, and especially for microscopical Anatomy. For 6 years I lived in a microscope. It was an entirely new world, and Master Irresponsible kept fairly quiet during those years, and we were well on the way to become a promising young zoologist...
While I was Curator in Bergen I was visited by a young Scottish zoologist, my friend D’Arcy Thompson, who is now one of your professors. I wrote some works, especially on the microscopical anatomy of the nervous system. They contained some discoveries of value, I believe, but still more important were perhaps the new problems which they raised. We were full of ambitious plans for new investigations to solve those problems. Most of those investigations have later been made by others... Anyhow, we had possibilities of doing work worth doing, and of becoming a sound man of science and a university professor. I still feel a pang of regret when I think of those lost opportunities.
But just then Master Irresponsible took advantage of a weak moment, and played me one of his most fatal tricks. We had just finished a treatise on the nervous system, with the result that the author’s own nervous system was overstrained and needed a little rest. Then he brought back the Arctic dreams and told me that the time had come to carry out our old plan of crossing Greenland. It would not take that long, and we could soon return to the nervous system again with renewed vigour. He would not have succeeded if he had not been joined by a stronger ally, the spirit of adventure. To resist those two together was hopeless, I had to go!
Many attempts had been made to cross Greenland, the unknown interior of which was supposed to be covered by an enormous ice cap, called the Inland Ice. But all these attempts had been made from the inhabited west coast and had not succeeded. How, then, was my plan formed?
It was one autumn evening in Bergen, in 1883. I was sitting and listening indifferently as the day’s paper was being read by my friend the clergyman. But suddenly my attention was roused by a telegram: Nordenskiöld had come back from his expedition towards the interior of Greenland; he had had two Lapps with him, who had found good snow for skiing, and had covered incredible distances on ski. In that same moment it struck me that an expedition of Norwegian ski-runners, going in the opposite direction, from east to west, will cross Greenland. The plan was ready.
My idea was this, that if one started as previous expeditions had done, from the west side, one would have the ‘flesh pots of Egypt’ behind one, and in front the unexplored desert of ice and the east coast, which is little better. So it struck me that the only sure road to success was to force a passage through the floe belt, land on the desolate east coast of Greenland, and thence cross through the unknown over to the inhabited west coast. In this way one would burn one’s boats behind one; there would be no need to urge one’s men on, as the east coast would attract no one back, while in front would lie the colonies on the west coast with the allurments and amenities of civilisation.
The plan when it was published was declared by the so called ‘competent authorities’ to he utterly impossible. One of them, a Dane, who had travelled along the ice bound east coast of Greenland, where I proposed to land, declared in a public lecture that the plan ‘betrayed absolute ignorance of the true conditions’ and showed ‘such absolute recklessness that it was scarcely possible to criticise it seriously.’ I dare say he was right in his way. Some authorities criticised especially the unpardonable rashness of destroying the bridges behind you. The first thought of a good general and leader was always to secure a safe line of retreat, without which his men would not go on with confidence.
But I had always thought ‘the line of retreat’ a wretched invention, as I told you before. And I was justified by the events. In spite of my youthful ignorance and lack of experience, and although our preparations and equipment were lamentably imperfect in several respects - as my companion Captain Sverdrup, here present, would tell you if he were to give you his candid opinion - the expedition was carried out in accordance with the plan. The method worked out extremely well, the lack of the line of retreat simplified matters and acted as a stimulus, making up for the defects in our preparations.
The same method was also used for our next expedition. Of course, having once really set foot on the Arctic trail, and heard the ‘call of the wild,’ the call of ‘the unknown regions,’ we could not return to the microscope and the histology of the nervous system again, much as I longed to do so.
I had conceived an idea that there was a continuous drift of the ice across the unknown regions round the North Pole, from the sea north of Bering Straits and Siberia on into the sea between Greenland and Spitzberbgen. I found more and more proofs which definitely convinced me of the existence of such a drift. Then it struck me that this drift of the ice could be used for the transport of an expedition across the unknown regions. It would only mean building a ship of a special shape, sufficiently strong to resist the ice pressure, and this ship we could push as far as possible into the pack ice on the side where it was drifting northwards, let her be frozen in, and then the ice would carry us across the regions which the previous expeditions had tried in vain to reach. It simply meant working with the forces of nature instead of against them. Here again the same principle was applied. Once we were well started on this expedition, there would be no line of retreat. Our hope was ahead of us, and so the ship was called the Fram, which means Forward.
When this plan was published it was severely attacked by most of the very first authorities on polar exploration in Great Britain and in other countries. As the prominent Arctic navigator, Admiral Sir George Nares, expressed it: It totally disregarded the adopted Arctic axioms for successfully navigating an icy region, which were, ‘that it is absolutely necessary to keep close to a coast line, and that the farther we advance from civilisation, the more desirable it is to insure a reasonably safe line of retreat.’ He did not believe in a drift of the polar ice as assumed by me.
That splendid Arctic explorer, Admiral Sir Leopold M’Clintock, said that it was impossible to build a ship strong enough to resist the ice pressure in the winter, and he believed, as did the majority of the others, that there was no probability of ever seeing the Fram again when once she had given herself over to the pitiless polar ice.
The ship was built. Her famous builder with the Scottish name, Colin Archer, was a Norwegian whose father had come from this country. The expedition was carried out in full accordance with the plan. We had a great deal more knowledge and more experience this time. The drift of the ice was found to be very nearly what was expected, and the ship was strong enough to resist even the most desperate attacks of the ice. We went into the pack ice north of the New Siberian Islands in 1893, and the ship came out of the ice again north of Spitzbergen three years later, safe and sound, after having drifted across the unknown regions.
But the spirit of adventure is always urging you on, once you begin to listen to it. When we had drifted with the Fram for a long time, we saw that she would drift across, and the end of the expedition would be attained.
But then the adventurous spirit found out that something more could be done by two of us leaving the ship with dogs and sledges. We could travel across the drift ice towards the Pole, and in that way explore parts of the unknown regions outside the drift route of the Fram. But in that case we could not think of returning to the drifting ship, as we should not know where she had drifted to in the meantime. We should have to go to Franz Josef Land and Spitzbergen where we might find a sealing vessel to bring us home. Again we had to break the line of retreat, and again the method worked well.
Hjalmar Johansen went with me and, while the Fram and the rest of the expedition were left in the safe hands of Captain Sverdrup, we set off from the ship with dogs and sledges on 14th March 1895.
We expected our sledge expedition to last three months at most, and carried food for that period. But the ice was more difficult than we expected. At last we reached the north coast of a land which afterwards turned out to be Franz Josef Land, but it was so late in the season that we could not get through, so we had to winter. Instead of the three months we were provisioned for, we had to live through fifteen months before we met with people.
We built a stone hut, we shot bears, and walrus, and for ten months we tasted nothing but bear meat. The hides of the walrus we used for the roof of our hut, and the blubber for fuel. In the following summer we quite unexpectedly met British people, the Jackson-Harmsworth Expedition, on the south coast, and came home in their ship.
I tell you all this just to make you understand how things that might seem impossible can be done when you have to do them, and how a life you may think hard is easily lived when you have a goal to work for. You may think it was hard to live a long winter dug in, and on nothing but bear meat; but I can assure you it was a happy time, for we had the spring and the home coming to look forward to.
You may notice that in the case of these plans, as also on many occasions later in life, I had the misfortune to have most of the competent authorities of the world against me, declaring my views and my plans to be impossible. However, I had the advantage of living a great deal alone in my life, and had thus acquired the habit of making up my mind without asking the opinion of others.
I has obvious advantages to stand alone; it makes you more independent in your action, and you are less apt to be misled by others. Ibsen said that man is strongest who stands most alone.
But this does not imply that every man who stands alone is strong, or that every plan which competent people declare to be impossible should be attempted. Beware of obstinacy and fool-hardiness! For a strong man there is a great danger in resistance and contradiction. It takes a superior man to allow himself to be convinced in the heat of argument by the logic of another. I think it was Montage who wondered whether the fanaticism which is created by unflinching defiance of the judge’s violence and of danger, has not more than once made a man persist, even to the stake, in an opinion for which - among friends and in freedom - he would not have singed his little finger. There is the spirit of adventure, but the reverse of the medal.
You have to take risks, and cannot allow yourself to be frightened by them when you are convinced that you are following the right course. Nothing worth having in life is ever attained without taking risks. But they should be in reasonable proportion to the results which you hope to attain by your enterprise, and should not merely depend on luck, giving your ability to overcome the risks no chance of coming into play. Even an animal may have that kind of foolhardiness; and success can give you no real satisfaction if it depends on mere accident.
Let me tell you a case where, in my opinion, the risks should not have been taken. It was the ill fated expedition of the prominent Swede Andrée. He had formed a project of crossing the unknown North Polar regions in a balloon. It was in 1896, before the days of dirigibles. He hoped to be able to keep the balloon up during the time required for the winds to carry it across the unknown regions.
He went to Spitzbergen in 1896, intending to start from there in his balloon, Örnen (i.e. the Eagle). He did not, however, think the meteorological conditions sufficiently favourable for a start that summer. He therefore returned and postponed his start till the following year.
In the meantime we came back from our expedition in the Fram, across the unknown North Polar Sea, and our meteorological observations collected during three years in those regions were naturally of great interest to Andrée. At his request I sent him a full extract of them when he was again on his way north to Spitzbergen in the early summer of 1897. I also sent him a letter in which I pointed out that - as he would see - the prevailing winds and the meteorological conditions during the summer months would not as a rule be favourable to his undertaking. And I expressed the hope that, as he had once had the courage to return when he saw that the conditions were unfavourable, he would be able to show the same courage again.
He wrote back from Trömso, thanked me for the documents and my kind advice, but declared that he would not be able to show that courage a second time.
On 11th July 1897, the noble Swede and his two gallant companions started on their flight from Spitzbergen into the unknown. They never returned.
This was certainly the noble spirit of adventure, which did not shrink hack before risks. We cannot but admire it, but we profoundly regret that those splendid qualities could not have been used for a better purpose.
Why do I give you these examples from the life of exploration and adventure? Because all of us are explorers in life, whatever trail we follow. Because it is the explorers with the true spirit of adventure we now need if humanity shall really overcome the present difficulties, and find the right course across that dangerous sea ahead of us which I mentioned at the beginning of this address. You will all find your adventure, for life itself is an adventure.
But try not to waste your time in doing things which you know can be done equally well by others. Everyone should try to hit upon his own trail. Do not lose your opportunities, and do not allow yourselves to be carried away by the superficial rush and scramble which is modern life.
The first great thing is to find yourself, and for that you need solitude and contemplation, at least sometimes. I tell you deliverance will not come from the rushing, noisy centres of civilisation. It will come from the lonely places! The great reformers in history have come from the lonely places..!
I tell you there are many people who do not get time even to think over what they themselves hold to be the purpose of their lives. What is the purpose of yours? Are you all of you certain you have the answer ready?
Are you out for happiness? Well, many people are. But believe me, my friends, you need not look for it. The great thing is to do your best, and to be independent of all other ‘necessities.’ Dear me, how perfectly unnecessary many of these ‘necessities’ really are.
‘And if through chance of circumstance
We have to go barefoot, sir,
We’ll not repine - a friend of mine
Has got no feet to boot, sir.
This Happiness a habit is
And Life is what we make it:
See! there’s the trail to Sunnydale!
Up, friend! and let us take it.’
Are you poor? What luck. No time lost in looking after your belongings. There is always so much trouble with property. And you cannot really be poor on this earth. Let me tell you what our great poet Wergeland once said:
‘Have I no heaven because it is full of drifting clouds, fairylands of the sun?...
Complain not under the stars of the lack of bright spots in your life!
Ha! are they not twinkling as if they would speak to you?
How Venus sparkles tonight! Have the heavens also Spring?...
What riches for a mortal!’
My dear young friends, let me give you one warning based on long and sad experience. Do not let your flight be clogged by all those trifles which are now considered necessities of life. Mind, by making your baggage train longer, you clip your wings.
Oh youth, youth! what a glorious word! Unknown realms ahead of you, hidden behind the mists of the morning. As you move on, new islands appear, mountain summits shoot up through the clearing mists, one behind another, waiting for you to climb; dense new forests unfold for you to explore; free boundless plains for you to traverse. You are ‘foot loose and heart free’ to sail beyond the sunset and to roam the universe.
What a joyous thing to see day dawning and to know that you are bound on a voyage to new realms. ‘Your soul bounds upward on beams of light to the vault of heaven.’
You laugh at the risks and smile at the dangers, youth’s buoyant faith and self trust is in command. The storm cannot reach you.
And lo! far ahead, above the mist and the scud, rise your Land of Beyond! We all have a Land of Beyond to seek in life - what more can we ask? Our part is to find the trail that leads to it. A long trail, a hard trail, maybe; but the call comes to us, and we have to go.
Rooted deep in the nature of every one of us is the spirit of adventure, the call of the wild - vibrating under all our actions, making life deeper and higher and nobler.
‘Have you known the Great White Silence?...
Have you broken trail on snowshoes? mushed your huskies up
Dared the unknown, led the way, and clutched the prize?...
Have you suffered, starved and triumphed, grovelled down,
yet grasped at glory,
Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole?
‘Done things’ just for doing, letting babblers tell the story..
Have you seen...
The simple things, the true things, the silent men who do
Then listen to the Wild - it’s calling you.
Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There’s a whisper on the night wind, there’s a star agleam to
And the Wild is calling, calling... let us go.’