Friday, January 12, 2007

"A Letter Of Love" ( Read previous post re Dietrich first! )

This second person, Robert Falcon Scott, was born in 1868 and died in freezing ice and blizzards in 1912. In 1901, he led the National Arctic Expedition for the Royal Geographical Society; he travelled further south than anyone before him.

In later years, Scott led an expedition to both the South Pole and ultimately to his death. His body, along with those of some of his companions, still lies beneath a cairn of ice. It is guarded by a cross of skis.
Recently Scott's last letter to his beloved wife has been published for the first time. His thoughts and feelings are revealed as he gradually realises that he will perish in the Antarctic: "We are in a very tight corner and I have doubts of pulling through"and " It is not easy to write because of the cold; 70 degrees below zero, and nothing but the shelter of our tent". Scott's thoughts are with his family, particularly his wife ( who he movingly addresses as " my widow") and his three year old son, Peter: " You know I have loved you, you know my thoughts must have constantly dwelt on you.."
Scott's words are tragic yet beautiful; it is impossible to imagine his agony but the letter, with both its strength and its gentleness, is memorable.
This letter, along with many others, has been presented by Scott's family to Cambridge University. They will be viewed at the Scott Polar Research Institute from January 17th; this will be the 95th Anniversary of Scott arriving at the South Pole. The letter in its entirety can be read on line at
It is admirable that at last the British public can share something so special that has been unavailable for so long.


Anonymous Geoff said...


I've enjoyed reading your recent pieces, Jan. I like the way you find the threads to weave stories and thoughts together.

I've always been keen on reading about explorers and adventurers and Scott of the Antarctic was one of my boyhood heroes. Sometime during the 1970's or 80's his achievements began to be criticised and re-assessed. He was compared with Shackleton, a more "down to earth" character who had managed to return from Antarctica with all his men alive. Recently I read Ranulph Fiennes book on Scott and I think this was another turning point which saw renewed interest in Scott's remarkable journey across the ice. I think for most people Scott is once again held in high esteem.

How does history treat Beatrix Potter? Well, I certainly enjoyed the film but what a tiny snapshot of the woman. Local stories in the Lake District suggest that she was a grumpy, cantankerous old biddy not very fond of children. Maybe that isn't true but possibly a rumour spread maliciously.

But it would be unfair if history remembered only the fluffy picture book stories portrayed in the film.
What about the young Potter, the scientist who studied fungi and flowers and was refused entry to the Linnaen Society? Or the older Potter who championed the fast disappearing native Herdwick sheep and left her wonderful working farms to the National Trust? How do we make sure this side of Potter is not lost? Does a book on Scott or a film on Potter shape people's views so dramatically?


3:07 pm  
Blogger Philippa said...

The tale of Robert Falcon Scott has always fascinated me. I would dearly love to visit Antarctica one day but fear that my body wouldn't be able to cope with the extreme temperatures as I have to wear my thermals and two pairs of socks on the mildest of days! Age or circulation? Not sure.

4:11 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

Thanks for all your comments. They are much appreciated.
I can well imagine you...that studious little L'pool fellow reading up on Scott and all those other heroes....Andrew too had such a book; he loved it.Boys of our generation wanted to be heroes; boys still do, but the heroes frequently inhabit rather different fields with rather different values, dont they??
The books we read as children stay with us always, whether we realise or not; their influences (whether characters, ideas, thoughts, places, plots..) are stashed away within us. And sometimes we reach up to the shelves of our mind, brush away cobwebs and either USE the memory in some way or BASK in it.
I have been basking today in "The Tale Of the Flopsy Bunnies". I bought a copy for George to send to Cornwall and arriving home, I studied Beatrix Potter's words and drawings with delight. The language is as elegant as ever: " By degrees, one after another, they ( the rabbits) were overcome by slumber" and also " The mouse aplogised profusely"..and there's mention of "a doleful tale", mention too of a large Rabbit family that was " improvident and cheerful"..
When Flopsy gets hit by a rotten marrow, it didn't merely " hurt", but it " rather hurt"..I like the understated RATHER!
And the pictures: I remembered many of them instantly; they'd obviously been well stored on the shelves of MY mind! The soporific rabbits dozing in the lettucepatch, the ditch beyond McGregors garden..they were so familiar. One picture in particular made me gasp( Mrs F Bunny coming across a misty field towards a house beyond a five barred was as though I'd seen this picture yesterday.
Her work is worth celebrating; the film does THAT admirably. Im sure you'll agree on that one?
You are right though re Potter's legacy. And it was scarcely touched on in the film. I believe mention was made briefly re her NT farms, how her purchases saw off Developers etc, but she was never properly portrayed as a serious scientist ( although JUST the accuracy of her drawings prove that instantly...) Hopefully viewers of the film will make that connection...
We have to take this film on face value ( the triumphant story of a creative, loving woman in a different century) but I agree...her intellect, her Causes ( for Women, for Science etc) could have been explained.
I am interested how you in the Lakes feel about this film from another stance. Recently I was sent a spam ad for a hotel somewhere in the announced that a " Beatrix Potter room" was now available at exceptional rates..are folk cashing in already? I know that Rene Z has already declared it the loveliest spots in the world..

6:30 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

Age and thermals?? You? Mere chicken..
I can remember before you were born...during our school holidays, my mother made Andrew and me write out a list of names for your parents to browse! I think we went a bit silly and put down silly ones, but my mother sent it anyway!!

6:33 pm  
Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

There is a memorial to Scott in Queenstown where I have just been on holiday.

I will get back to you re my sister's partner's Cheshire background.

9:49 am  
Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

Silly me - it's Chester, not Cheshire - completely different of course. Duh!

6:04 am  
Blogger Jan said...

Chester, where I live, is the county town of Cheshire. Is he from Chester and how long has he been in NZ? ( At this rate, we'll be related!!)

7:08 am  

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