Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/137

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129
LITERARY NOTICES.

Sweden, in 1875 and 1876, and was convinced that the open navigable water which had carried him so far extended probably to Behring Strait. He laid his plans before the King of Sweden and other persons, who were known to sympathize with his object, and received from his Majesty, Mr. A. Sibiriakoff, and Mr. Oscar Dickson, whose portraits on steel worthily appear in the volume, pledges of substantial support, selected his company, prepared his vessels—the Vega, a steam-whaler, the Lena, as a tender to go ahead in doubtful places, and two merchant-vessels, which were to carry coal for the exploring vessels—and sailed from Maosoe, a few miles southwest of North Cape, on July 25, 1878. Here the expedition proper began and hence it was conducted through the sea that washes the northern edge of the Old World, along the coast-lines of provinces of which readers may have seen indefinite mention, and conceived hazy ideas, but of which they could have hardly had distinct notions before, till it emerged again through Behring Strait into the regions of civilization and exact knowledge. Of the sea and coasts along the Arctic borders of Europe and Asia, Professor Nordenskiöld's account gives the fullest and most interesting descriptions, touching nearly all the subjects of interest appertaining to them. First, we have the history, which in the present case naturally relates and is largely confined to previous voyages to the same regions, the relation of which, Professor Nordenskiöld remarks, adds a much-needed variety to the interest of the story, "for nearly all the narratives of the older northeast voyages contain in abundance what a sketch of our own adventures has not to offer, but what many readers, perhaps, will expect to find in a book such as this—accounts of dangers and misfortunes of a thousand sorts by land and sea." Then come geographical descriptions of features of land and sea, with the varied aspects of summer and winter phenomena according to the season when the author witnessed them; natural history, embracing the vegetable and animal life of the whole Arctic stretch covered by the voyage; geology; and the delineations of the people. In the latter category are included full and satisfactory as well as entertaining accounts of those curious tribes, the Samoyeds and the Chuckchees, their mode of life, habits and manners, and religion, which are rich in incidental and personal sketches, are given in the kindliest of feeling and with delicate humor, and form, perhaps, to general readers, the most interesting part of the book, while they must also rank high as anthropological studies. A prominent object of the voyage was to study the feasibility of opening a commercial highway from Europe to the river-marts of Central and Eastern Siberia, by way of the sea-route which the expedition took. Professor Nordenskiöld's estimate of the productive capacity of these regions of the far North, and of their possible value in the world's economy if they could be brought within reach of the markets, may be a surprise to those who have associated with Siberia all that is frozen and inhospitable. "If we take Siberia in its widest sense," he says, "that is to say, if we include under that name not only Siberia proper, but also the parts of High Asia which lie round the sources of the great Siberian rivers, this land may very well be compared in extent, climate, fertility, and the possibility of supporting a dense population, with America north of 40° north latitude. Like America, Siberia is occupied in the north by woodless plains. South of this region, where only the hunter, the fisher, and reindeer nomad can find a scanty livelihood, there lies a widely extended forest territory, difficult of cultivation, and in its natural conditions, perhaps, somewhat resembling Sweden and Finland north of 60° or 61° north latitude. South of this wooded belt, again, we have, both in Siberia and America, immeasurable stretches of an exceedingly fertile soil, of whose power to repay the toil of the cultivator, the grain exports during recent years from the frontier lands between the United States and Canada have afforded so striking evidence. There is, however, this dissimilarity between Siberia and America, that, while the products of the soil in America may be carried easily and cheaply to the harbors of the Atlantic and Pacific, the best part of Siberia, that which lies around the upper part of the courses of the Irtish, Obi, and Yenisei, is shut out from the great oceans of the world by immense tracts lying in front of it, and the great rivers which in Siberia cross the