observation. No gibe that is now directed against those who believe
the Arctic to be inhabitable and fairly pleasant is quite so amusing as
those directed four hundred years ago at the advocates of the roundness
of the earth, pointing out that in such a case the water would be spilled
out of the wells in China and the Chinamen themselves would be walking
like flies on a ceiling with feet upwards and pigtails hanging down.
But the nearly universal view of the earth's flatness received such
a blow from
through the voyages of Columbus and Magellan that it was only
another 200 years
or so until the majority of Europeans ceased laughing
about the inverted Chinamen and began to incline to the view that the
earth was probably round.
If the masses were slow-minded, the reverse was true of the leaders,
who quickly realized that if the earth were round it would be possible
to reach Cathay by sailing west. They tried it but the Americas barred
the way and the route to China around the Horn was both long and stormy.
For men in whose lifetime the world had changed from a pancake to
a sphere, it was easy to throw by the board all the other geographical
conceptions of the ancients. They forgot or disregarded the Greek and
Roman doctrine that human and animal life was not possible in the remote
north and boldly reasoned that since the earth was a sphere you could
reach China not only by sailing west
by but also by sailing north. This
led to a series of voyages perhaps the most gallant in recorded history.
They were productive in terms of knowledge, but negative with regard
to the main objective of finding a shortcut to the riches of the East.
When ice barred the way to ships steering directly north, the
navigators felt their way east or west along the margin, hoping for a
thoroughfare. Long after they had concluded that a direct northerly
route was impossible, they cherished the hope of circumventing either
North America or Asia by what were known as the Northwest and Northeast
passages. Many countries gave to that search a list of dauntless
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