Monday, September 15, 2014

"The Kennebecker" (John H. Drew) remembers Tranque

by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen via Wikimedia Commons
John H. Drew (1834-1890) of Hallowell, Maine sailed to Ireland with Captain Knott on The Sandwich. After tours of Dublin Castle and Trinity College, Drew visited the museum of the Royal Dublin Society where a view of the great whale skeleton there led naturally to thoughts of Moby-Dick:
"Herman Melville ought to see the skeleton of a whale that is in the grand hall. He never would write any more about that one in the island grove of his."
(From "The Kennebecker in Ireland Or, the Cruise of the 'Sandwich,' Capt. A. M. I. Knott" in the Boston Journal, Saturday, March 29, 1879)
Two whale skeletons (neither of a sperm whale) now hang from the ceiling of the National Museum of Ireland-Natural History in Dublin:
". . . of a fin whale, found at Bantry Bay in 1862, and a Humpback whale, which was found stranded at Inishcrone in County Sligo in 1893." --Paramount Hotel
Drew must have seen the Bantry Bay skeleton of a fin whale. Writing as "The Kennebecker," Drew pretends to think this fin whale skeleton even more impressive than the sperm whale skeleton at Tranque that Ishmael describes and ventures to measure in "A Bower in the Arsacides":
The ribs were hung with trophies; the vertebrae were carved with Arsacidean annals, in strange hieroglyphics; in the skull, the priests kept up an unextinguished aromatic flame, so that the mystic head again sent forth its vapoury spout; while, suspended from a bough, the terrific lower jaw vibrated over all the devotees, like the hair-hung sword that so affrighted Damocles. 
It was a wondrous sight. The wood was green as mosses of the Icy Glen; the trees stood high and haughty, feeling their living sap; the industrious earth beneath was as a weaver's loom, with a gorgeous carpet on it, whereof the ground-vine tendrils formed the warp and woof, and the living flowers the figures. All the trees, with all their laden branches; all the shrubs, and ferns, and grasses; the message-carrying air; all these unceasingly were active. Through the lacings of the leaves, the great sun seemed a flying shuttle weaving the unwearied verdure. Oh, busy weaver! unseen weaver! pause! one word! whither flows the fabric? what palace may it deck? wherefore all these ceaseless toilings? Speak, weaver!—stay thy hand!—but one single word with thee! Nay—the shuttle flies—the figures float from forth the loom; the freshet-rushing carpet forever slides away. The weaver-god, he weaves; and by that weaving is he deafened, that he hears no mortal voice; and by that humming, we, too, who look on the loom are deafened; and only when we escape it shall we hear the thousand voices that speak through it. . . . (Moby-Dick, A Bower in the Arsacides)
This 1879 Melville mention by John H. Drew is earlier than others noted in previous Melvilliana posts on The Kennebecker: on the Plum Duff yarn about Herman's younger brother Tom, fondly remembered by the Kennebecker as a rollicking dare-devil sort of sailor; and Kennebecker identified.

Bird’s-eye View of Hallowell, Kennebec County, Maine, 1878
Image Credit: World Maps Online
More on Captain Drew from Emma Huntington Nason's Old Hallowell on the Kennebec (Augusta, Maine, 1909) pages 325-6:
One of the most familiar and honored names in the long list of later Hallowell sea-captains is that of John H. Drew, well known as an able and efficient ship-officer, and as the author of a series of breezy sea-letters and picturesque descriptions of "foreign parts," which, under the signature of "The Kennebecker," appeared in the columns of the Boston Journal.

Captain Drew was born in Chelsea, formerly a part of Hallowell, on the east side of the Kennebec. He was the son of Allen Drew, ship-carver, and a man of marked individuality in the town.

Born and bred in a seafaring community, the son of the old ship-carver early manifested a strong love of the sea and an irresistible longing for the life of the sailor. When but a boy of eleven years, John Drew set sail in the forecastle, and by his own energy and ability rose to the office of captain of the Fearless. He afterwards commanded the Franklin and the Sea Witch, and sailed in many seas and visited almost every foreign port frequented by American vessels. He "doubled the Cape" many times, and was often in the Chinese and East Indian waters.

In reference to Captain Drew and his literary work, the Boston Journal prints this tribute: "Captain Drew was a self-taught man, and the large fund of information which he possessed was the fruit of reading and observation and travel in every part of the globe. He wrote without affectation or straining for effect, in a vigorous, straightforward style, breezy and original, and with the savor of the sea in every line. His racy and vivid descriptions of life on shipboard and of strange experiences in distant ports were widely popular, and few New England writers in this particular department were better known than he."

Captain Drew was always a loyal son of Hallowell, and the Kennebec was the one river of the world to him. His letters abound in local allusions and interesting reminiscences that appeal to many readers. His life was marked by the wild longings and aspirations of the boy, and the well-earned success of a brave, persistent, and genuine lover of the sea. He spent the last two years of his life in the comforts of his own home in Farmingdale, where he died in 1891 [December 11, 1890 according to the obituary notice in the Boston Journal on Friday, December 12, 1890]. The following brief tribute expresses the sentiment of many who knew and esteemed the Kennebecker: "Captain Drew was our friend. When we looked into his flashing eyes and frank, manly countenance, and received his cordial hand-grasp, we could make no mistake in the man. His friendship was unfailing, his helpfulness of the sort that assisted without embarrassing, and his heart was as free from guile as that of a child. Verily, a manly man has gone from the loving embrace of home and friends to join the innumerable multitude." -- Old Hallowell on the Kennebec 

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