|Captain Scoresby's snowflakes
||[Dec. 26th, 2014|12:26 pm]
The big Gothic exhibition at the British Library overshadows all else, but there is also, tucked away in the foyer, a small exhibition called Lines in the Ice: Seeking the Northwest Passage, which we visited while we were in London. It is a little random: the blurb promises to explore and examine various themes, which I would describe it rather as mentioning and illustrating - but it did tell me some things I hadn't known, and I enjoyed some of those illustrations very much.
The first section, in a side-room, is accompanied by an unexplained soundscape of groans and gurgling, as if the Library itself had indigestion. It looks at the early years of exploration, and mentions, almost in passing, the belief that the open sea does not freeze. I dont know the origin of this conviction (other than ignorance) but it does explain why people were so confident that there would be a navigable route to the north and west of all that known, frozen, territory. There was a volume of Hakluyt, open at an illustration of the crew on foot breaking a passage in the ice for their ship, observed by a very unimpressed polar bear. I would like to know more about Martin Frobisher; anyone who can label a geographical feature "the Mistaken Straightes" is worth investigating. There was a map of Thule (which doesn't seem to have made it into the BL's online gallery, though an image search turns up a variety of detailed maps of this entirely imaginary island). There were also some Inuit stick maps, wooden rods carved into a tactile representation of the coastline (these may not have been as old as their inclusion in this section sugests, but still, wonderful things).
The second section of the exhibition brought us into the nineteenth century, and inevitably to Sir John Franklin. The bee in my bonnet on this subject is always the treatment of John Rae, and on this occasion whoever wrote the captions has done him justice in describing his discovery of the fate of Franklin's exhibition, and the shabbiness of his treatment thereafter. They haven't, though, found either pictures or books to represent him in the exhibition itself (with the exception of one book, which may have been McClure's account, on whose title page his name appears, though smaller than those of the author and of Franklin). The Bookhunter's interesting and enthusiastic account of the exhibition manages to overlook Rae altogether, though it does include an image of my favourite thing from this section, William Scoresby's careful drawings of snowflakes (what is the BL thinking not offering this for purchase as a Christmas card? But they have precisely nothing available from this exhibition.) There was also a listening post, with audio from Martin Carthy, Stan Rogers and some Inuit players of a throat-singing game.
The bearded seals under the ice were in the next section, as was a map showing Inuit place names, and some material about Amundsen, but I found it a little incoherent. Blame my memory, since, as I said, no supporting material, no flyers to bring home...
Nonetheless, good exhibition, free entry, do look in if you're passing.