CHAPTER V. Account of Captain Cook during the Period between his Second Voyage and his Voyage to the Pacific Ocean.
Captain Cook, after the conclusion of his second voyage, was called upon to appear in the world in the character of an author. In the account that was published, by authority, of his former circumnavigation of the globe, as well as of those which had been performed by the Captains Byron, Cateret, and Wallis, it was thought requisite to procure the assistance of a professed literary man, whose business it should be to draw up a narrative from the several journals of these commanders. Accordingly, Dr. Hawkesworth, as is universally known, was employed for the purpose. In the present case, it was not esteemed necessary to have recourse to such an expedient. Captain Cook was justly regarded as sufficiently qualified to relate his own story. His journal only required to be divided into chapters, and perhaps to be amended by a few verbal corrections. It is not speaking extravagantly to say, that in point of composition, his history of his voyage reflects upon him no small degree of credit. His style is natural, clear, and manly; being well adapted to the subject and to his own character: and it is possible that a pen of more studied elegance would not have given any additional advantage to the narration. It was not till some time after Captain Cook's leaving England that the work was published; but, in the meanwhile, the superintendence of it was undertaken by his learned and valuable friend, Dr. Douglas, whose late promotion to the mitre hath afforded pleasure to every literary man, of every denomination. When the Voyage appeared it came recommended by the accuracy and excellence of its charts, and by a great variety of engravings, from the curious and beautiful drawings of Mr. Hodges. This work was followed by the publication of the original astronomical observations, which had been made by Mr. Wales in the Resolution, and by Mr. Bayley in the Adventure. It was at the expense of the commissioners of longitude that these observations were made, and it was by their order that they were printed. The book of Mr. Wales and Mr. Bayley displays, in the strongest light, the scientific use and value of Captain Cook's voyage.
Some of the circumstances which have now been mentioned have designedly been brought forward more early in point of time than should otherwise have been done, in order to prevent any interruption in the course of the subsequent narrative.
Though Captain Cook was expected to, sit down in repose, after his toils and labours, the design of farther discoveries was not laid aside. The illusion, indeed of a Terra Australis incognita, to any purposes of commerce, colonization, and utility, had been dispelled: but there was another grand question which remained to be determined; and that was the practicability of a northern passage to the Pacific Ocean.
It had long been a favourite object with navigators, and particularly with the English, to discover a shorter, a more commodious, and a more profitable course of sailing to Japan and China, and, indeed, to the East Indies in general, than by making the tedious circuit of the Cape of Good Hope. To find a western passage round North America had been attempted by several bold adventurers, from Frobisher's first voyage, in 1576, to those of James and of Fox, in 1631. By these expeditions a large addition was made to the knowledge of the northern extent of America, and Hudson's and Baffin's Bays were discovered. But the wished-for passage, on that side, into the Pacific Ocean, was still unattained. Nor were the various attempts of our countrymen, and of the Dutch, to find such a passage, by sailing round the north of Asia, in an eastern direction, attended with better success. Wood's failure in 1676, appears to have concluded the long list of unfortunate expeditions in that century. The discovery, if not absolutely despaired of, had been unsuccessful in such a number of instances, that it ceased for many years, to be an object of pursuit.
The question was again revived in the present century. Mr. Dobbs, a warm advocate for the probability of a north-west passage through Hudson's Bay, once more recalled the attention of this country to that undertaking. In consequence of the spirit by him excited, Captain Middleton was sent out by government, in 1741, and Captains Smith and More, in 1746. But though an act of Parliament had been passed, which secured a reward of twenty thousand pounds to the discovery of a passage, the accomplishment of this favourite object continued at as great a distance as ever.
To ascertain a matter of such importance and magnitude in navigation, was reserved to be another glory of his present majesty's reign. The idea was peculiarly suited to the enlightened mind of the noble lord at the head of the admiralty, and he adopted it with ardour. Preparatory to the execution of the design, Lord Mulgrave sailed with two ships, to determine how far navigation was practicable towards the north pole. In this expedition, his lordship met with the same insuperable difficulties which had been experienced by former voyagers. Nevertheless, the expectation of opening a communication between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, by a northerly course, was not abandoned; and it was resolved that a voyage should be undertaken for that purpose.