Thursday, January 3, 2019

Herman Melville — the voyage begins

The following reminds that I’ve put off for too long my goal of reading much more about and by Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Those two authors will be my 2019 reading project. Of course, I might not achieve my goal in one year, and I shouldn’t make any long term plans; damn, I don’t even buy green bananas these days. But, now, let me ask you a question: is there an author you’ve long wanted to read but have not gotten around to yet? 

Herman Melville (books by this author), age 21, set sail aboard the whaling vessel  (Acushnet on this date in 1841 from the port of New Bedford, Massachusetts, bound for the Pacific Ocean. Melville had no experience as a whaler, and not much as a seaman, either, although he'd sailed to Liverpool, England, and back during his few weeks as a cabin boy on a merchant ship. But he loved the sea, and he was eager to learn. Whaling was still big business in 1841; whale oil from blubber was the most widely available fuel for artificial lights, powering household lamps, streetlights, and even lighthouses. It was also one of the most popular lubricants, used in factory machines, sewing machines, and clocks.
Melville learned the ins and outs of whaling, helping to harpoon the whales, harvest them, and process their oil aboard the ship. He also listened to the tales his fellow whalers told, particularly of a legendary white sperm whale called Mocha Dick. Knickerbocker Magazine had described the whale in 1939: "this renowned monster, who had come off victorious in a hundred fights with his pursuers, an old bull whale, of prodigious size and strength. From the effect of age, or more probably from a freak of nature, ... he was white as wool! ... Numerous boats are known to have been shattered by his immense flukes, or ground to pieces in the crush of his powerful jaws." Melville also met the son of Owen Chase, who had survived a whale attack on the Essex 21 years earlier, and he read Chase's account. It gave him material for Moby-Dick, which begins, "Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world." (Source: The Writer’s Almanac)


  1. i read MB once (enough for a lifetime i thought...); i'd like to read Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton; if i have a month some time this year i might get at it...

    1. What about MD put you off?

    2. it's very long; the language is not easy to read; there's a whole lot of off-topic ramblings; and i felt sorry for the whale (s)... there's a pretty gruesome section about processing the whale which i'd rather not think about much less read again... not to mention the biblical language...