Saturday, September 17, 2011

John Cleves Symmes Polar Exploration Symmes Hole

Occasional allusions to what is call­ed Symmes's theory, popularly styled Symmes's Hole, are seen in the press of this country and England. Who Symmes was, and exactly what his theory is, seem to be definitely understood by but few peo­ple. The writer is indebted to Mr. Ameri­cus Symmes, a son of John Cleves Symmes, the author of the theory, for much inter­esting information concerning the man and his hypothesis. The son is a farm­er, and resides near Louisville, Kentucky. In response to an inquiry he expressed himself at some length concerning the Howgate theory, about which he had read much in the public prints.

"Mr. Howgate's plan," he said, "is to colonize a given number of men, well equipped and provided for, in the highest attainable latitude, and to let them spend the first winter where Captain Hall did, up between 81° and 82° of north latitude, and to then go up to 83° or 84°, and spend another winter, and then up to 85° for another, and thus, by acclimating them­selves, gradually approach the region of the pole, even if it took three, four, or five years.


"But if my father's plan was adopted, the riddle of an open polar sea could soon be solved, the pole reached, and Symmes's new world found. My father's plan, as suggested in his petitions to Congress in 1823-4, was to spend a year up North at about 80° north latitude, and there keep an eye to the wild animals that inhabit that region every summer - coming from the north every, spring and returning north every fall - and in the fall of the second year follow them in their journey northward into the country where they go to have their young, and whence they come down among the Esquimaux Indians every spring in fine condition, with their young following them. Whither those animals go, man can certainly follow, if he has one year in which to prepare him­self. All northern explorers agree that. the musk-ox, reindeer, white bear, wolf, foxes, and rabbits, as well as partridges, come from the north in great numbers every spring, and return again in the fall, and if man can follow them, that is, go north with them in the fall, and return with them in the spring, it will only take two or three years at the most to deter­mine if the pole can be reached, or the new world found to which these animals go. Captain Nares is the first northern ex­plorer whoever reached as far north as he did and failed to find more moderate weather than had been passed at a few lower degrees of latitude, and warmer winds coming from the north.

"The experiences of Ross, Parry, Kane, and Hall all differ from that of Nares, and no doubt if he had remained in the North the second year, as he was prepared and expected to do, he would have experienced the same kind of weather that they did, and the farther north he proceeded, the milder the weather would have been found. Ross experienced warm winds from the north, though not out of the ice. Parry on his third voyage not only met warm winds, but came into a climate so warm that the sun actually melted the tar on the seams of his vessel, and small flies came on board. The ice was so rotten that it would not bear his weight. He was not expecting any such result, as he was ig­norant of Symmes's theory, so he turned about and came home. Kane actually found open water, with not a "speck of ice to be seen." Hall found the same, and saw geese, ducks, and in fact all kinds of wading birds in the greatest abundance.

"If Hall had been aware of the Symmes theory, he could have reached the pole, as he was within five or six hundred miles of it. It is now a question of veracity between Nares and former explorers. Another expedition should be sent out as soon as possible to determine whether or not our own fellow citizens, Kane and Hall, were correct."

John Cleves Symmes, the author of the theory of concentric spheres, was the son of Timothy Symmes, of New Jersey, whose father's name was also Timothy, the son of the Rev. Thomas Symmes, of Bradford, , who graduated at Harvard College in 1698. An uncle of John Cleves Symmes, as history states, was the founder of the first settlements in the Miami country. Symmes when about forty-six years of age is described as follows: "He is of mid­dle stature, and tolerably proportioned, with scarcely anything in his exterior to characterize the secret operations of his mind, except an abstraction which from attentive inspection is. found seated on a slightly contracted brow, and the glances of a bright blue eye that often seem fixed on something beyond immediate surrounding objects. His head is round, and his face rather small and oval. His voice is some­what nasal, and he speaks hesitatingly, and with apparent labor. His manners are plain, and remarkable for native sim­plicity." During the early part of his life he received what was then considered a common English education, which he im­proved in after-life by having access to tolerably well selected libraries. In 1802, at the age of about twenty-two years, he entered the army of the United States with the office of ensign, from which he after­ward rose to that of captain. He contin­ued in service until after the close of the second war with Great Britain. While attached to the army he is said to have been universally esteemed as a brave sol­dier and a zealous and faithful officer. He was in the memorable battle of Bridge­water, and was senior captain of his regi­ment. The company under his imme­diate command that day discharged sev­enty rounds of cartridge, and repelled three desperate charges of the bayonet. Afterward, in the sortie from Fort Erie, Captain Symmes with his command cap­tured the enemy's battery No.2, and with his own hands spiked the cannon it contained. After retiring from service, un­til his death, Captain Symmes had his re­sidence at Newport, Kentucky. He first published his views in 1818, in St. Louis, Missouri. His theory was at first received with universal ridicule; the French Acad­emy declared it unworthy of serious con­sideration, and a petition to Congress pre­sented by Richard M. Johnson, of Ken­tucky, was disregarded. Symmes was held to be little better than a lunatic.

He had two "affairs;" one of which act­ually called him to the field. This was caused by his pulling the nose of Lieuten­ant Marshall, who had ridiculed him un­mercifully, and refused to fight him, saying that Symmes was an ignorant green­horn. He, however, challenged Symmes, and they fought with pistols at a distance of ten paces. At the word they both fired. Marshall fell, with his leg broken just be­low the hip joint. Symmes was slight­ly wounded in the wrist. When he was asked to retire and have his wound dress­ed, he said, "Not until you go and see if Marshall wants another fire." Of course Marshall did not want another fire. 'The latter part of Symmes's life was spent wholly in developing his theory, lectur­ing, writing, and travelling. He died in May, 1829.

General William Henry Harrison mar­ried the sister of John Cleves Symmes, and Mr. Americus tells how the general got his wife. When he asked Judge Symmes for his daughter in marriage, the judge remarked, clearing his throat, and pressing his cane upon the floor after the manner of the comedy papas, "How do you expect to support her?" The general drew himself up proudly, and presenting his sword, said, "With this, sir." The judge answered, "That is not reliable, sir; may be taken from you at any time. You can not have her." A few days after, the young people eloped.

The Symmeses are a speculative fami­ly, albeit a gallant one. The brother of Americus is the inventor of a flying ma­chine, or method of flying, and resides at Homburg, Germany. He is a captain on the retired list of the United States army, and a graduate of West Point with high honors. The traditional grit of the fam­ily crops out in a recent lawsuit which Americus Symmes won in the Jefferson County Court of Kentucky. Mr. Symmes lives in the country upon the Bear-grass Turnpike, which turnpike had been very much neglected. He determined to take up the matter, indict the company, and prosecute them to the bitter end. He did so, and caused a fine of $1500 to be enter­ed against them. During the progress of the case Mr. Symmes testified that the road was "miserable and full of holes." The counsel for the defense, with a know­ing look at the jury, remarked, pointedly, that "Mr. Symmes could see a hole where nobody else could, like his father before him; indeed, it seemed to be a family fail­ing." General Basil Duke, the attorney for the commonwealth, turned it off very neatly by saying that he felt sure that no one who knew Mr. Symmes could feel any­thing but the warmest respect for him for working so zealously for the cause in which his father's life had been spent. The same earnestness which characterized the father now sustains the son. His con­stant thought is of  "the theory." He pe­ruses with an intense interest every edito­rial, every letter, dispatch, or communica­tion in the newspapers concerning arctic matters.
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