April 11, 2013

April 1913


Nansen in late 1913. [1]

Amundsen wrote to Nansen that he was suspending preparations for the Arctic drift. "You, Herr Professor, will be the first to understand my action. To go into the polar basin for a drift of years, one must have all one's papers in order. There is no point in starting that journey with broken promises." [2]

Nansen replied, "[All] those lectures over there in that nerve-wracking land have drained your strength, and ... knocked you off balance.... This is the only way I can explain ... your letter, which otherwise would be incomprehensible to me, unless you have tired of the whole expedition with Fram, and would prefer to give it up; but then you would presumably say it straight out.... If it is your intention to threaten not to continue with Fram unless all promises are fulfilled ... it will put you in a most unfavourable light, as one who would break his great promise, in comparison of which all the other things that you mention are insignificant. When you told us that you were going to the South Pole before you started on the drift in the ice, you said it was to get the means for that expedition. With this as the point of departure, the Government and we others have defended you and broken lances for you, and, dare I say it, for your honour....

"You can perhaps reproach me for not doing enough to get these promises that you mention, carried out. But in the first place I have not known about them before your letter.... I do not feel that you have anything to reproach me with. I have really done my best for you and your expedition; I can sya what you perhaps have not understood, that I have made a greater sacrifice for you than for any other living person, in that I gave up my expedition to the South Pole, the crown of my work as a polar explorer, and renounced Fram so that you could carry out your drift over the Polar Sea. You might think that was not much; but you might consider that it was a plan that I had already considered before sailing on Fram, and which I had planned in all its detail in the hut on Franz Josef Land....

"So you went, and I saw Fram for the last time, and I got your announcement that you had gone to carry out the expedition I had given up for your sake. It was so strange -- but I was glad. It would in any case be a Norwegian, and precisely in the way I had thought. What I most regretted was however that you did not say anything to me beforehand; for I could at any rate have given you valuable advice.... I had thought it all out ... but all's well that ends well.... I repeat all this here so that you can see that I for my part at any rate have sacrificed something for you and your expedition, and that your bitterness against Norway because you consider that promises are so cheap here at home, and not entirely justified.... [It] seems to me that higher values are involved here than Lt. Nilsen gets a decoration and is promoted to commander ... or if Consul Gade gets an order etc." [3]

Amundsen replied bitterly,"I am grateful that you made me see that in ... dark moments one can forget the big things for bagatelles.

"But, Herr Professor, do you not also believe that details must be thoroughly looked after and not neglected? It seems to me that many great enterprises have failed because bagatelles have been neglected....

"It is possible I needed the correction you gave me. I would have resisted anyone else from whom I had received such blows. But I owe you so much -- I see now more than I ever knew -- that I calmly bow my head and accept it." [4]


[1] Nansen Electronic Photographic Archive.
[2] Roald Amundsen, letter to Fridtjof Nansen, [date not given], quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.566.
[3] Fridtjof Nansen, letter to Roald Amundsen, 2 April, 1913, quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.566-567.
[4] Roald Amundsen, letter to Fridtjof Nansen, [date not given], quoted by Roland Huntford in Scott and Amundsen (New York : Putnam, 1980, c1979), p.568.