Far & Wide
IS THE NORTH POLE A YAWNING HOLE?
THE CURIOUS THEORY HELD BY JOHN CLEVE SYMMES, THE ECCENTRIC OHIO SCIENTIST.
THOUGHT THE EARTH HOLLOW AND INHABITED.
THE reported discovery of the North Pole by Dr. Nansen recalls the curious
theory propounded by John Cleve Symmes, of Ohio, in the first quarter
of the century. In 1818 Symmes issued a circular "to all the world,"
in which he said: "I declare the earth is hollow and habitable within,
containing a number of solid, concentric spheres, one within the other,
and that it is open at the poles twelve or sixteen degrees. I pledge my
life in support of this truth and am ready to explore the hollow if the
world will support and aid me in the undertaking."
To this startling proposition he added an "N. B.," announcing
that he had ready for the press a treatise on "the principles of
matter" that would prove his theory. He closed with this appeal:
"I ask 100 brave companions, well equipped, to start from Siberia
in the fall season with reindeer and sleighs on the frozen sea. I engage
we find a warm, rich land, stocked with thrifty vegetables and animals,
if not men, on reaching one degree northward of latitude 82; we will return
in the succeeding spring."
A copy of this circular was sent by Symmes to nearly every learned institution
and town of large size in the country, and to many scientific societies
in Europe. In accordance with the request of Symmes, Count Volney laid
it before the Academy of Science of Paris. That body decided that it was
not worthy of consideration. Symmes continued to fire circular after circular
at the public and then he started on a lecturing campaign of education.
The evident earnestness and enthusiasm of the man attracted large audiences.
He made many converts to his opinions, and on one occasion, at the end
of an address, it was unanimously resolved that, "We esteem Symmes's
theory of the earth deserving of serious examination and worthy of the
attention of the American people." But capital for the enterprise
failed to materialize and it was not long before Symmes and his theory
began to be ridiculed by newspaper editors and the wits of the period.
Some one (sic) fastened on the mysterious Polar cavity this epithet:
"Symmes's Hole," and it stuck from that day to this.
WHO WAS SYMMES?
Suffolk County, over in Jersey, was the birthplace of Symmes. He was
born Nov. 5. 1780. He received only the ordinary education obtainable
by country boys at the time, but he was of a studious disposition and
read everything that came in his way. Mathematics and the natural sciences
possessed very great attractions for him and he lost no opportunity to
add to his stock of knowledge on those subjects.
At the age of twenty-five he enlisted in the United States Army as an
ensign. He remained in the service ten years and was promated (sic)
through all the grades to be a captain. In 1816 he was retired on the
disbandment of the army that had been called into existence during the
second war with England. Symmes was a gallant, daring soldier, and his
name was honorably mentioned on many occasions in the reports of his commanding
officers. He was high-spirited and quick to resent what he considered
a slight or an insult. Two " affairs of honor are set down to his
credit. In one of them he severely wounded his opponent and himself hit
in the wrist.
In these far-away "twenties" of the closing century the subject
of Polar exploration was one of the uppermost thoughts in the scientific
world. Great Britain had then begun offering large rewards for Arctic
discoveries. Symmes, in 1822 petitioned Congress for aid in his undertaking.
He asked the Government to equip an expedition to explore "this internal
world." During the next two years he continued to besiege the national
Legislature and also the Legislature of the young State of Ohio, but without
avail. "Strict construction" of the Constitution was the fashion
and the statesmen of the time could not see their way clear to gratify
Capt. Symmes's scientific ambition in Polar Hole discovery.
About 1825 it occurred to him that he might be able to do something with
Russia. That country was then fitting out a Polar expedition, and through
the American Minister at St. Petersburg Symmes made application to join
it. The request was granted, but poor Symmes was unable to purchase a
proper outfit and had to remain at home in Ohio. But he did not despair.
Beaten in Congress, defeated in the Legislature of his own State unsuccessful
in his effort to find a rich man or a combination of them to fit out an
expedition for him, he turned again to the lecture field in the hope of
being able to raise sufficient money to realize the dream of his life.
It was a hopeless struggle, and it finally came to an end with his death
in May, 1829. Symmes was then only forty-nine years old. His tomb is in
Hamilton, 0. On one side of the monument these words are cut: "Capt.
John Cleves Symmes was a philosopher and the originator of Symmes's theory
of concentric spheres and Polar voids."
WHAT HIS THEORY WAS.
The theory of Symmes was that the earth is not a solid mass thrown off
ages ago from the sun in a molten condition, which has gradually cooled
from, the surface inward. He held, on the contrary, that it is a hollow
sphere, with an opening at either pole. So certain was he on this point
that he fixed the diameter of the Northern cavity at 2,000 miles and estimated
that the Southern one was slightly larger.
The shell of the earth, he held, is about one thousand miles thick. He
thought its interior was hollow, because "an Omnipotent Being would
not have created so large a globe with only its outer surface habitable.
" That would be a waste of material, and hence improbable.
Following this line of argumentation, he maintained that if there is a
place of abode within the earth, the light and heat supply must be the
sun, and, if the sun, there must he an opening for the admission of the
light and heat. Owing to the inclination of the Polar axis and the rotation
the earth around the sun an orifice of the proper size at the poles would
admit a sufficient amount of both.
This theory of concentric spheres, Symmes extended to all the planets
getting the suggestion from the rings of Saturn and Jupiter.
The theory was, to say the least, an ingenious one, and it is not surprising
that it attracted very great attention at the time. The North Pole was
then far more of a mystery than it is now. Capt. Ross had not started
with the Victory, which was crushed in the ice, until 1829, and it was
not until 1846 that Sir John Franklin endeavored to wrest its great secret
front the ice-bound North.
Symmes's fantastic theory has, however, won for him a certain share of
immortality, and he unquestionably believed in his idea.
Reproduced with permission: L.L. Lewis, Explorations
(Newspaper Clippings Related to Polar Exploration), Vol. 1 & 2.
University Archives, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas Libraries,