PEARY, ROBERT. (1856-1920). American admiral and explorer; widely recognized as the first person to reach the North Pole. AQS. (“R.E. Peary”). 1p. 4to. Eagle Island, October 9, 1910. A small sheet of his Eagle Island stationery on which Peary has written his motto in Latin. Tipped into an early edition of his book, The North Pole, (New York Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1910).
“Inveniat viam aut faciat” [“Find a way or make one”]
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has been challenged in recent years by the very organization he once headed, the American Geographical Society, who has withdrawn its recognition, whereas the National Geographic Society steadfastly continues to uphold Peary’s achievement.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.
Peary recorded much of his pioneering exploits in several books including Northward over the “Great Ice,” Secrets of Polar Travel, Nearest the Pole, and The North Pole, published in 1910. After his retirement, Peary retired to Eagle Island in Harpswell, Maine, which he had purchased in 1881.
Boldly written and signed diagonally on the sheet; folded with some light creasing and wear. In very good condition. Our copy suffers from some damp staining and wear. The illustrated bookplate of Frank Leslie Welt, designed by renowned artist Arthur Nelson MacDonald, is attached to the front pastedown.