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Letter 1

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Original Text (thanky you Project Gutenberg i owe you my life)

Letter 1

_To Mrs. Saville, England._

St. Petersburgh, Dec. 11th, 17—.

You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the
commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil
forebodings. I arrived here yesterday, and my first task is to assure
my dear sister of my welfare and increasing confidence in the success
of my undertaking.

I am already far north of London, and as I walk in the streets of
Petersburgh, I feel a cold northern breeze play upon my cheeks, which
braces my nerves and fills me with delight. Do you understand this
feeling? This breeze, which has travelled from the regions towards
which I am advancing, gives me a foretaste of those icy climes.
Inspirited by this wind of promise, my daydreams become more fervent
and vivid. I try in vain to be persuaded that the pole is the seat of
frost and desolation; it ever presents itself to my imagination as the
region of beauty and delight. There, Margaret, the sun is for ever
visible, its broad disk just skirting the horizon and diffusing a
perpetual splendour. There—for with your leave, my sister, I will put
some trust in preceding navigators—there snow and frost are banished;
and, sailing over a calm sea, we may be wafted to a land surpassing in
wonders and in beauty every region hitherto discovered on the habitable
globe. Its productions and features may be without example, as the
phenomena of the heavenly bodies undoubtedly are in those undiscovered
solitudes. What may not be expected in a country of eternal light? I
may there discover the wondrous power which attracts the needle and may
regulate a thousand celestial observations that require only this
voyage to render their seeming eccentricities consistent for ever. I
shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world
never before visited, and may tread a land never before imprinted by
the foot of man. These are my enticements, and they are sufficient to
conquer all fear of danger or death and to induce me to commence this
laborious voyage with the joy a child feels when he embarks in a little
boat, with his holiday mates, on an expedition of discovery up his
native river. But supposing all these conjectures to be false, you
cannot contest the inestimable benefit which I shall confer on all
mankind, to the last generation, by discovering a passage near the pole
to those countries, to reach which at present so many months are
requisite; or by ascertaining the secret of the magnet, which, if at
all possible, can only be effected by an undertaking such as mine.

These reflections have dispelled the agitation with which I began my
letter, and I feel my heart glow with an enthusiasm which elevates me
to heaven, for nothing contributes so much to tranquillise the mind as
a steady purpose—a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual
eye. This expedition has been the favourite dream of my early years. I
have read with ardour the accounts of the various voyages which have
been made in the prospect of arriving at the North Pacific Ocean
through the seas which surround the pole. You may remember that a
history of all the voyages made for purposes of discovery composed the
whole of our good Uncle Thomas’ library. My education was neglected,
yet I was passionately fond of reading. These volumes were my study
day and night, and my familiarity with them increased that regret which
I had felt, as a child, on learning that my father’s dying injunction
had forbidden my uncle to allow me to embark in a seafaring life.

These visions faded when I perused, for the first time, those poets
whose effusions entranced my soul and lifted it to heaven. I also
became a poet and for one year lived in a paradise of my own creation;
I imagined that I also might obtain a niche in the temple where the
names of Homer and Shakespeare are consecrated. You are well
acquainted with my failure and how heavily I bore the disappointment.
But just at that time I inherited the fortune of my cousin, and my
thoughts were turned into the channel of their earlier bent.

Six years have passed since I resolved on my present undertaking. I
can, even now, remember the hour from which I dedicated myself to this
great enterprise. I commenced by inuring my body to hardship. I
accompanied the whale-fishers on several expeditions to the North Sea;
I voluntarily endured cold, famine, thirst, and want of sleep; I often
worked harder than the common sailors during the day and devoted my
nights to the study of mathematics, the theory of medicine, and those
branches of physical science from which a naval adventurer might derive
the greatest practical advantage. Twice I actually hired myself as an
under-mate in a Greenland whaler, and acquitted myself to admiration. I
must own I felt a little proud when my captain offered me the second
dignity in the vessel and entreated me to remain with the greatest
earnestness, so valuable did he consider my services.

And now, dear Margaret, do I not deserve to accomplish some great purpose?
My life might have been passed in ease and luxury, but I preferred glory to
every enticement that wealth placed in my path. Oh, that some encouraging
voice would answer in the affirmative! My courage and my resolution is
firm; but my hopes fluctuate, and my spirits are often depressed. I am
about to proceed on a long and difficult voyage, the emergencies of which
will demand all my fortitude: I am required not only to raise the spirits
of others, but sometimes to sustain my own, when theirs are failing.

This is the most favourable period for travelling in Russia. They fly
quickly over the snow in their sledges; the motion is pleasant, and, in
my opinion, far more agreeable than that of an English stagecoach. The
cold is not excessive, if you are wrapped in furs—a dress which I have
already adopted, for there is a great difference between walking the
deck and remaining seated motionless for hours, when no exercise
prevents the blood from actually freezing in your veins. I have no
ambition to lose my life on the post-road between St. Petersburgh and

I shall depart for the latter town in a fortnight or three weeks; and my
intention is to hire a ship there, which can easily be done by paying the
insurance for the owner, and to engage as many sailors as I think necessary
among those who are accustomed to the whale-fishing. I do not intend to
sail until the month of June; and when shall I return? Ah, dear sister, how
can I answer this question? If I succeed, many, many months, perhaps years,
will pass before you and I may meet. If I fail, you will see me again soon,
or never.

Farewell, my dear, excellent Margaret. Heaven shower down blessings on you,
and save me, that I may again and again testify my gratitude for all your
love and kindness.

Your affectionate brother,

R. Walton