Topsy Turvy

Page 06

So runs the world.



One thing was evident to the whole world at once, namely, that if the new association should succeed in buying the Arctic regions, those regions would become absolutely the property of America or rather of the United States, a country which was always trying to acquire something. This was not a pleasing prospect to rival governments, but nevertheless, as has been said, the different States of Europe and of Asia not neighboring to these regions, refused to take part in the proposed auction sale so long as its results seemed so problematical to them. Only the powers whose property touched the eighty-fourth degree resolved to make their rights valuable by the attendance of official delegates. That was all. They did not care to buy even at a relatively moderate price land the possession of which was only a possibility. In this as in all cases insatiable England gave orders to its financial agents to make an imposing showing. The cession of the polar countries did not threaten any European trouble nor any international complication. Herr von Bismarck, the grand Iron Chancellor, who was yet living, did not even knit his heavy brow. There remained only England, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Holland and Russia to be present and make their bids to the Commissioner of Baltimore, against those of the United States.

It was a difficult matter to fix prices for this polar earth cap, the business value of which was at least very problematic. Their main reason for presenting themselves at the sale was that some advantage might accrue to them. Sweden and Norway, proprietors of the North Cape, situated beyond the seventy-second parallel, did not conceal the fact that they thought they had certain rights of proprietorship on these vast lands which extended to Spitsbergen, and from there to the North Pole. Denmark said that it had already in its possession islands and fiords on the line of the polar circle where their colonies had been founded, such as Disko Island, in the Davis Channel; the settlements of Holstein, of Proven, of Godhaven, of Uppernavik, in the Baffin Sea, and on the west coast of Greenland. Besides, did not the famous navigator, Behring (of Danish origin, although he was then in the service of Russia), in the year 1728 pass over the channel which afterwards carried his name before he started again, thirteen years later, and died miserably with thirty of his men on a little island, which also carries his distinguished name.

In the year 1619 did not the navigator, Jean Munk, explore the east coast of Greenland and discover several points formerly totally unknown? Therefore, Denmark had, she thought, undisputable rights to be proprietor of these regions.

In regard to Holland, there were her sailors Barentz and Heemskerk, who had visited the Spitsbergen and the New Zealand about the end of the sixteenth century. It was by one of her children too, Jean Mayen, through whose courageous campaign against the north the island which carries his name came in their possession. It is situated below the 72d degree of latitude. Therefore Holland thought her past had given her rights of possession. In regard to Russia, with Alexis Tschirikof, having Behring under his command; with Paulutski, whose expedition advanced in 1751 beyond the limits of the ice-pack; with Capt. Martin Spangberg, and Lieut. William Walton, who dared to go into these unknown parts in 1739, she had taken a notable part in the search across the gulf which separates Asia and America.

Furthermore, the position of the Siberian territories, extending over 120 degrees to the extreme limits of Kamchatka, the length of the Asiatic coast, where the Samoyedes, Yakoutes, Tchuoktchis, and other conquered people lived, did Russia not rule half of the Northern Ocean? And then, on the 75th parallel to within less than nine hundred miles from the pole, did she not possess the islands of the new Siberia, the Archipelago of Liatkow, discovered in the beginning of the eighteenth century? And finally, since 1764, before the English, before the Americans, before the Swedes, did not the navigator Tschitschagoff search a passage in the North to shorten the route between the two continents? However, notwithstanding this, it seemed that the Americans were more anxious to become possessors of this particularly inaccessible point of the globe than anyone else.

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