Friday, June 9, 2017

Charles Rockwell on "that precocious chap Melville"

Navy chaplain and Congregational minister Charles Rockwell mentioned Herman Melville in the fourth and final installment of "Western Travel," a series of newspaper sketches published in the Boston Recorder in July and August 1846. Rockwell was the author of the two-volume work, Sketches of Foreign Travel, and Life at Sea (Boston, 1842). Volume 2 ends with two long chapters on the Navy of the United States, conveying a chaplain's perspective with a good deal of first-hand information about life on board a man-of-war. Charles Rockwell co-dedicated Sketches of Foreign Travel, and Life at Sea to Ralph Emerson and his cousin and Yale classmate Julius Rockwell (who was later a good friend to Herman Melville, in Pittsfield).

Charles Rockwell's "Western Travel" series ran in the Boston Recorder as follows:
  • No. I. - Boston Recorder, July 9, 1846
  • No. II - Boston Recorder, July 16, 1846
  • No. III - Boston Recorder, July 23, 1846
  • No. IV - Boston Recorder, August 6, 1846
From the Boston Recorder, August 6, 1846, under the heading "Western Travel.--No. IV":
In returning from Michigan, I left Detroit in the steamer Rochester. It was one of the old, slow class of high pressure boats, with its breathing pipe thorough which it was constantly wheezing and gasping as it went along, like a horse with the asthma, or an overstuffed alderman. The captain was a Nantucket man, who preferred a steamer on the Lakes, to a three masted Blubber Hunter around Cape Horn. Another of these Nantucket captains was with us when on our way to Michigan. He is now a farmer at Ann Arbor, in that State. His past life has been a very eventful one in the way of shipwrecks, imprisonment, &c., and he had twice amputated limbs of those who sailed with him with perfect success. After listening to the tale of his adventures at sea, and as a dweller in distant lands and a consular agent of our government at the Sandwich Islands, I said to him, "Captain, why don't you publish an account of your life?" "I would" said he, "if I could write as well as you can." "Well," I replied, "if you will furnish me the materials, I will write your life and we will divide the profits." "Agreed," said he, and so in due time the public may hope to be entertained with the life and adventures of Capt. T., by the author of Foreign Travel and Life at Sea, in which Robinson Crusoe will live again, and that precocious chap Melville, author of Typee, will receive his deserts, as Capt. T. was familiar with him, his movements and character when he was in the Pacific.
It would be nice to identify the ex-whaleman who according to Rockwell knew, or knew of Herman Melville in the Pacific--not so very long ago, as Rockwell is writing this in 1846. Let's see... some other native of Nantucket, not the captain of the steamer Rochester, but a different Nantucket whaleman. Formerly "a consular agent of our government at the Sandwich Islands," and "now a farmer at Ann Arbor." Who is "Capt. T."?


  1. Replies
    1. Interesting to find Charles Myrick Thurston in the list of Nantucket births. He was the father of Allan Melville's wife, Sophia.