PEARY, ROBERT. (1856-1920). American admiral and explorer; widely recognized as the first person to reach the North Pole. AQS. (“R.E. Peary”). 1p. Folio. N.p., N.d. [April 14, 1904]. A detailed, original pen-and-ink bust drawing of Peary additionally signed by French artist ROBERT KASTOR (1872-1936, “R. Kastor”), to which Peary has boldly added his motto in Latin and signature:
“Inveniet viam aut fecit” [“Find a way or make it”]
In 1891, Peary, accompanied by his wife and crew, set off for Greenland to prove by inland exploration that the icy wilderness was in fact an island. Two years later, he sailed north on an expedition to be the first to reach the North Pole. Despite several setbacks, Peary remained undeterred: “In the years up to 1900 Peary made several unsuccessful attempts on the Pole, during one of which the temperature fell to –50o Celsius (–58o Fahrenheit) and eight of his toes had to be amputated because of severe frostbite. With each attempt he became more determined,” (Great Explorers, Owen). After a failed attempt in 1905, “the next three years were spent in preparation for a final try,” (ibid.).
Finally, after traveling hundreds of miles across ice in conditions more extreme than any previously encountered, Peary and his men reached the Pole on April 6, 1909, almost 5 years to the day of this drawing. However, his claim was challenged by Dr. Frederick Cook who insisted that he had attained the Pole exactly one year earlier. “In October 1909 a committee of experts appointed by the National Geographic Society examined his records and reported that they were unanimously of the opinion that [Peary] had reached the North Pole… His friends also worked actively to induce Congress to give adequate recognition to his achievements… In March 1911… a bill was passed tendering him the thanks of Congress and placing him on the retired list,” (DAB). Interestingly, Peary’s claim has been challenged in recent years by the very organization he once headed, the American Geographical Society, who has withdrawn its recognition, whereas the National Geographic Society steadfastly continues to uphold Peary’s achievement.
“Inveniet viam aut fecit” is an expression first used by Seneca, the Roman statesman and dramatist. It has also been identified as Hadrian’s response to his generals when he was advised that it would be impossible to cross the Alps using elephants. Later it became the motto for English philosopher Francis Bacon and Peary.
Dated in French on the verso, likely by Kastor, with some additional pencil notes about Peary. Some creasing and wear at the edges. In near mint condition and very impressive.