Monday, 20 February 2012
To the Scott exhibition at the Natural History Museum. Scott has always been part of my psychological makeup along with Nightingale and the Brontes. Oddly enough, despite having a grandfather who was gassed (but survived) in World War 1, in out family it was Scott who was talked about - and read about in the Ladybird Books, not those millions of doomed young men who died a few years later in the trenches. Scott was the acceptable face of sacrifice and heroic failure. It's a truism, of course, to say that we would scarcely think about him had he survived that trek - although this new exhibition shows the scientific importance of his endeavours.
Two things struck me. The first is how very much the expedition was governed by money. They went to earn money, they had to raise sponsorship - and the question arises - had they not been burdened by quite so many crates of Huntley and Palmers biscuits, and had more Pemmican instead, might they have survived. And of course Scott's last, haunting words: For God sake look after our people, are all about money.
And the second - also a bit of a truism - is how much Scott was a writer - even a fiction writer. He was processing his experience as he lived it, as a novelist does. His diaries are agony because they reveal a man trying to justify his failure by creating art. He writes so eloquently - his words are unforgettable - even in his last moments, he is crafting his experience. Of course, a different kind of a leader would have led a wholly different expedition. But what mistakes can be attributed to the fact that he was something of a poet?
Posted by Katharine McMahon at 13:36