Sunday, December 27, 2015

Frank T. Bullen on global New Bedford and Melville's "glorious imagination"

Image Credit: Goodreads
From the Rochester [New York] Democrat and Chronicle, Sunday, October 13, 1901. Found in the online archives of Old Fulton NY Post Cards By Tom Tryniski. Also published the same day, Sunday, October 13, 1901 in the Cleveland Leader.

Frank T. Bullen's Memories of the Past and Impressions of the Present After an Absence of Twenty-six Years 

... When I was last in New Bedford twenty-six years ago, like most other sailors, I did not stray far from the water-front, and felt as if my intrusion up-town would be resented. Knowing nobody, and by sheer stress of circumstances caring little for anybody as long as I was not in his power, like most other sailors, as I say, my experiences were confined to those lively quarters where seafarers most did congregate. And what a concourse it was! I do firmly believe that nowhere in the wide world could have been found such a congeries of fortuitous atoms of the human race as in New Bedford a quarter of a century ago. From all the isles of the South they came, sturdy of limb and clear of eye from Polynesia, lithe, sinewy, and cruel visaged from Malaysia, black with the blackness of soft coal from East Africa, stolid and haughty from Arabia, and last, but greatest both in number and importance, the stately cavalier-like Portuguese from that Atlantic cluster of jeweled isles, the Azores, Cape Verde’s and Madeira. A whole series of articles might be written by a competent man on the queer transmutations which have brought into closest, most intimate contact, these dusky denizens of one of the most retrograde, hide-bound of nations with the sturdy upstanding Puritans of England’s prime who feared not the face of man nor recked aught of right divine except it was that of the only wise King Invisible, eternal in the heavens. 
But as such a comparison, such a series of articles is utterly beyond either my scope or my intention, I must hark back to that quaint scene that might then be witnessed any day along the wharves of New England’s metropolis of whaling. Here at least, no matter how queer your garments or foreign speech, you might be sure that none would bestow a second glance upon you because of the certainty that upon your heels would be treading a queerer garbed, more foreign-looking individual than yourself. How splendidly has Herman Melville depicted this in the opening chapter of “Moby Dick.” How his glorious imagination runs riot among these scenes of marvelous color, those wonderful kaleidoscopic views of all the sea-skirting world’s representatives drawn to one small town by the exigencies of a unique business such as the world never saw before and in all probability never will see again.
Bullen's letter to the New York Times, September 30, 1905:

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