PEARY ON COOK: “LARGE AMOUNTS HAVE BEEN PAID THE GREATEST IMPOSTOR OF THE PRESENT GENERATION FOR A FICTITIOUS STORY”—EXTRAORDINARY TYPED LETTER SIGNED BY ROBERT E. PEARY
PEARY, Robert E. Typed Letter Signed to Stanley Gray. Washington, DC: 17 December 1909. Two quarto leaves (8-1/2 inches by 11 inches), typed on rectos, 1-1/2 pages. With original typed envelope. $4800.
Extraordinary and revealing typed letter signed from Peary to Stanley Gray, written shortly after Peary’s bitter controversy with Frederick Cook had erupted over which of the two explorers was the first to reach the North Pole.
After leading several prior Arctic expeditions that fell short of the final goal, Peary set out on his last quest for the North Pole in 1908. Accompanied by Matthew Henson and four Eskimos, he made a final dash for the pole, which he claimed to have reached on Apr. 6, 1909. Upon his return he learned of the almost simultaneous announcement of Dr. Frederick A. Cook who claimed to have reached the Pole one year earlier. A bitter controversy followed. Although Cook spent much of his life attempting to substantiate his claim, Congress officially recognized Peary’s achievement in 1911.
Peary’s emotions are evident in this letter answering an invitation to lecture about his expedition. “I am in rather a peculiar position in regard to lectures,” he writes. “Occurrences within the last two months have, in my opinion, so lowered the lecture platform and the great accomplishment which the world has been working for for nearly four hundred years, that, personally, I would rather not lecture at all… At the same time I recognize the fact that, in the interests of those dependent on me and who, to a certain extent, have borne the severest brunt of the last twenty years of effort and sacrifice, I have no right to throw away opportunities which come to me unsolicited and which… may offer opportunities of doing good in other directions…
“My self-respect, and the magnitude of the work which I have done (not because of any greater ability than many another man who has tried before me, but because of my good fortune in being able to stick to the work and finally concentrate upon it the inestimable experience of years) will not permit me to lecture for insignificant sums and tell my hearers the real story of the discovery of the North Pole, when large amounts have been paid the greatest impostor of the present generation for a fictitious story.
“If you can see your way clear to pay me $1,000.00 for a lecture in your largest Haverhill auditorium, make the lecture the biggest affair of its kind in Haverhill, and clear a handsome profit for yourself, I shall be glad to come to you, shall tell you the straight-from-the-heart story of the last of the great earth stories in a way that everyone in your audience will hear and understand, and I shall supplement my narrative with a series of views which have been pronounced by experts as the most effective and unique ever obtained in the Arctic regions, views which will be a revelation and an education. If, however, you do not see your way clear to making the affair a financial success for yourself, I should be very sorry to have you go into it, for the subject is one too big, both per se and to me personally, for me to care to have the slightest aftermath of dissatisfaction or discontent associated with it.” He has signed “R.E. Peary, U.S.N.” In a typed postscript which adds a few more requirements for a lecture, he concludes with the hope that he “may have the pleasure of telling a representative Haverhill audience the story of the discovery of the North Pole.”
Minor discoloration at a few spots on the letter and the ink in Peary’s signature has run slightly, but the signature is nonetheless clear. Very good condition.