Gateway to the Classics: Adrift on an Ice-Pan by Wilfred Thomason Grenfell
Adrift on an Ice-Pan by  Wilfred Thomason Grenfell

Front Matter


E verybody loves to see a good game, well played; and everybody, who is anybody, loves a good player; and what the best in everybody naturally loves is pretty sure to be right. So if you, whoever you are, who read this, do not agree with what it says, you need n't have much doubt about it that you are wrong.

Of course, every one cannot play as well as every other person in every place in the game. One fellow can excel, say at football, and another at baseball, and another at scholarship; while some are physically unfitted to outclass their fellows at any of these things. But that is no excuse whatever why they should not love every good game and every good player. To appreciate and encourage the players is perhaps your part of the game. Do not think that a good "rooter" has no value.

Every one can excel in the greatest of all games—the game of life. God will give you exactly what you need to win out in your particular place.

If you who are reading this do not possess riches, or physical strength, or genius, do not be discouraged. Remember that riches of themselves cannot add to your life anything which is of real importance. Physical strength only belongs to any one for a few years; and it has not been the brilliantly clever, but the hard workers who have given the world most. That is, it is they who have really won the greatest prize. For success is measured, not by what we have, but by what we do with what we have. " 'Tis dogged as does it."  "Blessed be drudgery."

The second thing I want to say is that no one, at heart, has any use for the excuse maker. Even if you know you cannot win, the world will never forgive you for not trying. It rightly despises the "quitter," but it loves the fellow who says, "I know I'm not much good, but I'll play the game. I may not be able to get on the gridiron, but I'll be there on my place on the stand, and encourage the others." The bigger the odds against you, and the greater the sacrifice you have to make, the more every one will love you, better you will become fitted for accomplishment. Who cares for the winner of a "walkover"? The man who is worth while does not care about it himself. Anyhow, there is no such thing as a "walkover" in the greatest game of all. There is only one way to attain the best of all prizes, that is to fight for it, and win it for yourself.

This little book is only the story of a Doctor in the wilds. His name and his identity do not matter. They will soon be forgotten anyhow. It was only a nameless fisher-lad whose life was at issue. The world does not care whether it was prolonged or not. What at first to us appear the big things, are really, often enough, only the little things.

If there is any lesson, it is only of importance in showing that the playing of the game well is in itself the prize of life, and that now is the time, and exactly where you are is the place, for each man to be playing it.

Our own approval, and the world's approval, and God's approval can only be gained by struggle. They can never be purchased. Life is not a gamble. The crown of life can only go, and will always go, to those who have a right to say "I have fought a good fight." Captain Oates won it when he went out to meet his death, consciously, in order that he might try and save his companions. All the ages concede that Christ won it, though it was on a cross. Nathan Hale, scholar and athlete, emphasized this when, as he gladly gave up his young life for his country, he said, "My only regret is that I have but one life to offer."

Wilfred T. Grenfell, M.D.

November 5, 1913.

Biographical Sketch

"Most Noble Vice-Chancellor, and You, Eminent Proctors:

"A citizen of Britain is before you, once a student in this University, now better known to the people of the New World than to our own. This is the man who fifteen years ago went to the coast of Labrador, to succor with medical aid the solitary fishermen of the northern sea; in executing which service he despised the perils of the ocean, which are there most terrible, in order to bring comfort and light to the wretched and sorrowing. Thus, up to the measure of human ability, he seems to follow, if it is right to say it of any one, in the footsteps of Christ Himself, as a truly Christian man. Rightly then we praise him by whose praise not he alone, but our University also is honored. I present to you Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, that he may be admitted to the degree of Doctor in Medicine, honoris causa ."

Thus may be rendered the Latin address when, in May, 1907, for the first time in its history, the University of Oxford conferred the honorary degree in medicine. With these fitting words was presented a man whose simple faith has been the motive power of his works, to whom pain and weariness of flesh have called no stay since there was discouragement never, to whom personal danger has counted as nothing since fear is incomprehensible. "As the Lord wills, whether for wreck or service, I am about His business." On November 9th of the preceding year, the King of England gave one of his "Birthday Honors" to the same man, making him a Companion of St. Michael and St. George (C. M. G.).

Wilfred Thomason Grenfell, second son of the Rev. Algernon Sydney Grenfell and Jane Georgiana Hutchinson, was born on the twenty-eighth day of February, eighteen hundred and sixty-five, at Mostyn House School, Parkgate, by Chester, England, of an ancestry which laid a firm foundation for his career and in surroundings which fitted him for it. On both sides of his inheritance have been exhibited the courage, patience, persistence, and fighting and teaching qualities which are exemplified in his own abilities to command, to administer, and to uplift.

On his father's side were the Grenvilles, who made good account of themselves in such cause as they approved, among them Basil Grenville, commander of the Royalist Cornish Army, killed at Lansdown in 1643 in defence of King Charles.

"Four wheels to Charles's wain:

Grenville, Trevanion, Slanning, Godolphin slain."

There was also Sir Richard Grenville, immortalized by Tennyson in "The Revenge," and John Pascoe Grenville, the right-hand man of Admiral Cochrane, who boarded the Spanish admiral's ship, the Esmeralda, on the port side, while Cochrane came up on the starboard, when together they made short work of the capture. Nor has the strain died out, as is demonstrated in the present generation by many of Dr. Grenfell's cousins, among them General Francis Wallace Grenfell, Lord Kilvey, and by Dr. Grenfell himself on the Labrador in the fight against disease and disaster and distress along a stormy and uncharted coast.

On his mother's side, four of her brothers were generals or colonels in the trying times of service in India. The eldest fought with distinction throughout the Indian Mutiny and in the defence of Lucknow, and another commanded the crack cavalry regiment, the "Guides," at Peshawar, and fell fighting in one of the turbulent North of India wars.

Of teachers, there was Dr. Grenfell's paternal grandfather, the Rev. Algernon Grenfell, the second of three brothers, house master at Rugby under Arnold, and a fine classical scholar, whose elder and younger brothers each felt the ancestral call of the sea and became admirals, with brave records of daring and success.

Dr. Grenfell's father, after a brilliant career at Rugby School and at Balliol College, Oxford, became assistant master at Repton, and later, when he married, head master of Mostyn House School, a position which he resigned in 1882 to become Chaplain of the London Hospital. "He was a man of much learning, with a keen interest in science, a remarkable eloquence, and a fervent evangelistic faith."

Mostyn House School still stands, enlarged and modernized, in the charge of Dr. Grenfell's elder brother, and in it his mother is still the real head and controlling genius.

Parkgate, at one time a seaport of renown, when Liverpool was still unimportant, and later a seaside health resort to which came the fashion and beauty of England, had fallen, through the silting of the estuary and the broadening of the "Sands of Dee," to the level of a hamlet in the time of Dr. Grenfell's boyhood. The broad stretch of seaward trending sand, with its interlacing rivulets of fresh and brackish water, made a tempting though treacherous playground, alluring alike in the varied forms of life it harbored and in the adventure which whetted exploration. Thither came Charles Kingsley, Canon of Chester, who married a Grenfell, and who coupled his verse with scientific study and made geological excursions to the river's mouth with the then Master of Mostyn House School. In these excursions the youthful Wilfred was a participant, and therein he learned some of his first lessons in that accuracy of observation essential to his later life work.

Here in this trained, but untrammeled, boyhood, with an inherited incentive to labor and an educated thirst for knowledge, away from the thrall of crowded communities, close to the wild places of nature, with the sea always beckoning and a rocking boat as familiar as the land, it is small wonder that there grew the fashioning of the purpose of a man, dimly at first, conceived in a home in which all, both of tradition and of teaching, bred faith, reverence, and the sense of thanksgiving in usefulness.

From the school-days at Parkgate came the step to Marlborough College, where three years were marked by earnest study, both in books and in play, for the one gained a scholarship and the other an enduring interest in Rugby football. Matriculating later at the University of London, Grenfell entered the London Hospital, and there laid not only the foundation of his medical education, but that of his friendship with Sir Frederick Treves, renowned surgeon and daring sailor and master mariner as well. With plenty of work to the fore, as a hospital interne, the ruling spirit still asserted itself, and the young doctor became an inspiration among the waifs of the teeming city; he was one of the founders of the great Lads' Brigades which have done much good, and fostered more, in the example that they have set for allied activities. Nor were the needs of his own bodilymachine neglected; football, rowing, and the tennis court kept him in condition, and his athletics served to strengthen his appeals to the London boys whom he enrolled in the brigades. He founded the inter-hospital rowing club at Putney and rowed in the first inter-hospital race; he played on the Varsity football team, and won the "throwing the hammer" at the sports.

A couple of terms at Queen's College, Oxford, followed the London experience, but here the conditions were too easy and luxurious for one who, by both inheritance and training, had within him the incentive to the strenuous life. Need called, misery appealed, the message of life, of hope, and of salvation awaited, and the young doctor turned from Oxford to the medical mission work in which his record stands among the foremost for its effectiveness and for the spirituality of its purpose.

Seeking some way in which he could satisfy his medical aspirations, as well as his desire for adventure and for definite Christian work, he appealed to Sir Frederick Treves, a member of the Council of the Royal National Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, who suggested his joining the staff of the mission and establishing a medical mission to the fishermen of the North Sea. The conditions of the life were onerous, the existing traffic in spirituous liquors and in all other demoralizing influences had to be fought step by step, prejudice and evil habit had to be overcome and to be replaced by better knowledge and better desire, there was room for both fighting and teaching, and the medical mission won its way. "When you set out to commend your gospel to men who don't want it, there's only one way to go about it,—to do something for them that they'll be sure to understand. The message of love that was 'made flesh and dwelt amongst men' must be reincarnate in our lives if it is to be received to-day." Thus came about the outfitting of the Albert hospital-ship to carry the message and the help, by cruising among the fleets on the fishing-grounds, and the organization of the Deep Sea Mission; when this work was done, "when the fight had gone out of it," Dr. Grenfell looked for another field, for yet another need, and found it on that barren and inhospitable coast the Labrador, whose only harvest field is the sea.

Six hundred miles of almost barren rock with outlying uncharted ledges,—worn smooth by ice, else still more vessels would have been found wreckage there; a scant, constant population of hardy fishermen and their families, pious and God-fearing, most of them, but largely at the mercy of the local traders, who took their pay in fish for the bare necessities of living, with a large account always on the trader's side; with such medical aid and ministration as came only occasionally, by the infrequent mail boat, and not at all in the long winter months when the coast was firm beset with ice,—to such a place came Dr. Grenfell in 1892 to cast in his lot with its inhabitants, to live there so long as he should, to die there were it God's will.

As it stands to-day the Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen, which Dr. Grenfell represents, administers, and animates on the Labrador coast, not only brings hope, new courage, and spiritual comfort to an isolated people in a desolate land, but cares for the sick and injured, in its four hospitals and dispensary, provides house visitation by means of dog-sledge journeys covering hundreds of miles in a year, teaches wholesome and righteous living, conducts cooperative stores, provides for orphans and for families bereft of the bread-winners by accidents of the sea, encourages thrift, and administers justice, and adds to the wage-earning capacity and therefore food-obtaining power by operating a sawmill, a schooner-building yard, and other productive industries.

To accomplish this, to make of the scattered settlements a united and independent people, to safeguard their future by such measures as the establishment of a Seamen's Institute at St. John's, Newfoundland, and the insurance of communication with the outside world, and to raise, by personal solicitation, the money needed for these enterprises, requires an unusual personality. Faith, courage, insight, foresight, the power to win, and the ability to command,—all of these and more of like qualities are embodied and portrayed in Dr. Grenfell.

Clarence John Blake.

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