Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Uni-Polar: The Adventures of Captain Hatteras


         This unique journey, without precedent in the annals of history, summed up all the previous discoveries done in the circumpolar regions; it united the expeditions of Parry, Ross, Franklin, and McClure; it completed the map of the hyperboreal lands between the hundredth and hundred-and-fifteenth meridians; and it culminated at that point of the globe inaccessible until then:  at the very Pole.

        Never, no, never did such an unexpected piece of news explode across a stupefied Britain!

        The British are excited by great geographic accomplishments; they felt moved and proud, from the Lord to the Cockney, from the merchant prince to the dockworker.

        The news of the great discovery ran down all the telegraphic wires of the United Kingdom at the speed of lightning; the newspapers inscribed the name of Hatteras in their titles, like that of a martyr, and Britain trembled with pride.

        The doctor and his companions were feted, and formally presented to Her Gracious Majesty by the Lord Chancellor.

        The government confirmed the name of Queen’s Island for the rock at the North Pole, Mount Hatteras for the volcano, and Altamont Harbor for the port of New America.

        Altamont remained with his companions in misery and glory, and became their friend; he went with the doctor, Bell, and Johnson to Liverpool, which acclaimed them on their return, after believing them long dead and buried in the eternal ice.

    But Dr Clawbonny always gave the glory to the man who deserved it above all others.   In his account of the journey, entitled The British At The North Pole and published the following year by the Royal Geographical Society, he presented John Hatteras as the equal of the great travelers, the successor of those daring men who indefatigably sacrificed themselves for the advancement of science.

        Meanwhile, this sad victim of his sublime passion was living peacefully at Sten Cottage Nursing Home, close to Liverpool, where his friend the doctor had personally placed him.  His madness was of the gentle sort, but he did not speak, he no longer understood, for power of speech had apparently departed at the same time as his reason.  Only one emotion linked him to the external world, his friendship for Duke, from whom it had not been thought wise to separate him.  This disease, this polar madness, thus quietly followed its course, not presenting any special symptoms.  But while visiting his poor patient one day, Dr Clawbonny was struck by his gait.

        For some time Captain Hatteras had been walking several hours each day , followed by his faithful dog, who gazed at him with soft, sad eyes; but it was invariably in a particular direction along a certain avenue at Sten Cottage.  Once the captain reached the end of the avenue, he would retrace his route, walking backwards.  If somebody stopped him, he would point to a fixed spot in the sky.  If someone tried to make him turn round, he would flare up, and Duke, sharing his anger, would bark back furiously.

        The doctor attentively observed such a strange mania, and soon understood the reason for such a singular obstinacy;  he guessed why the walk followed a fixed direction, under the influence, as it were, of a magnetic force. *

        Captain John Hatteras marched constantly north.

From Chapter 27,  The Adventures of Captain Hatteras by Jules Verne (1864).  Translation with an Introduction and Notes by William Butcher.  New York, Oxford University Press, 2005.

*  Note:  Verne was influenced by Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer (1734 – 1815), a Viennese doctor who used magnets to explore human sensitivity to the “magnetic fluid”, an idea not totally discredited today, and one which led to Charcot’s work on hysteria and to Freud.

** Note 2:  The Adventures of Captain Hatteras illustrations from various sources.  Please note that most of the images enlarge with a mouse click.  Verne's map is really impressive to behold.

Mesmer's Baquet, Musée d'Histoire de la médecine et de la Pharmacie, Lyon, France.

Mesmerism: The Operator Inducing a Hypnotic Trance, engraving after Dodd, 1794. Plate from Ebenezer Sibly's book, A Key to Physic, 1794.

1 comment: