|Review of Moby-Dick, first three paragraphs in the|
Boston Morning Journal - November 18, 1851
Gary Scharnhorst, "Melville Bibliography 1846-1897: A Sheaf of Uncollected Excerpts, Notices, and Reviews" continued from Number 74 in Melville Society Extracts 75 (November 1988), pages 3-8 at 4 and 5.Scharnhorst transcribed parts of the Boston Journal review of Moby-Dick, omitting the plot summary with repeated references to the "monomaniac" Captain Ahab. The review of Moby-Dick in John S. Sleeper's Boston Journal is not transcribed or listed in Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews, edited by Brian Higgins and Hershel Parker (Cambridge University Press, 1995; paperback 2009).
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My research on Melville's reception in the Boston Journal is ongoing, but I want to pause here and share the favorable review of Moby-Dick in the morning edition of November 18, 1851. Presumably by editor John Sherburne Sleeper (1794-1878), as will be seen. What led me to hunt up this one in the Boston Morning Journal was the mostly negative notice that Richard E. Winslow III discovered in a different Boston newspaper, the Saturday Evening Gazette for December 6, 1851. That later Saturday Evening Gazette item is collected and transcribed at page 102 in Melville Reviews and Notices, Continued, Leviathan, vol. 13 no. 1, 2011, p. 88-115. Project MUSE muse.jhu.edu/article/493025.
The Boston Saturday Evening Gazette, then edited by twenty-five year old William Warland Clapp, Jr., wished Melville had quit while he was ahead, having peaked with the brilliant Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847): "We have read portions of Moby Dick, but fail to discover any marks of freshness, any traces of originality." But here's the clue. With admirable humility and fairness, Clapp went on to acknowledge the contrary opinion of an older and possibly wiser editor:
"The work [Moby-Dick] is highly spoken of by our neighbor of the Journal, a nautical gentleman, and our opinion of its merits may be erroneous. The only way for the reader to decide is by perusing the volume."So then, according to Clapp's Saturday Evening Gazette, a "highly" positive take on Moby-Dick had recently graced the Boston Journal. Without needing to name him, Clapp respectfully acknowledged Journal editor John Sherburne Sleeper as the "nautical gentleman" who had endorsed Moby-Dick, apparently in glowing terms.
As confirmed in Appletons' Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume 5, Sleeper edited the Boston Journal for twenty years from 1834 to1854; and before that "was during twenty-two years a sailor and a shipmaster in the merchant service from Boston."
SLEEPER, John Sherburne, author, born in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts, 21 September, 1794; died in Boston Highlands, Massachusetts, 14 November, 1878. He was during twenty-two years a sailor and a shipmaster in the merchant service from Boston. He afterward engaged in journalism, was connected with the New Hampshire "News Letter" at Exeter in 1831-'2, and the Lowell "Daily Journal" in 1833, and was editor of the Boston "Journal" in 1834-'54. He was mayor of Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1856-'8, and published "Tales of the Ocean "(Boston, 1842); "Salt-Water Bubbles" (1854); "Jack in the Forecastle" (1860); " Mark Rowland, a Tale of the Sea, by Hawser Martingale "(1867); and various addresses.
One of Sleeper's nautical tales provided a source for White-Jacket, as Howard P. Vincent shows in The Tailoring of Melville's White-Jacket (Northwestern University Press, 1970) pages 150-154. In chapter 67, White-Jacket arraigned at the Mast, the narrator's determination to kill himself and Captain Claret rather than submit to flogging is re-imagined from Sleeper's dramatic passage on the flogging of an impressed Yankee boy in Tales of the Ocean. Melville's White Jacket escapes punishment with help from Jack Chase, and never enacts the desperate murder-suicide that actually happens in Sleeper's account. Published under the pseudonym "Hawser Martingale," Sleeper's "Tales of the Ocean is number 647 in Mary K. Bercaw, Melville's Sources (Northwestern University Press, 1987) page 120.
The Library of Congress has bound volumes of the Boston Morning Journal and Boston Daily Journal, stored offsite at Fort Meade, Maryland. With generous help from Library of Congress experts in the James Madison Memorial Building, I was able to examine volumes in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room. For major assistance there I am grateful to Amber Paranick, Reference Librarian; and Robin Butterhof, Digital Conversion Specialist.
|Boston Morning Journal - November 18, 1851|
... Moby-Dick; or the Whale. By Herman Melville. New York: Harper & Brothers. The appearance of this work has been awaited with much interest. The author of "Omoo," "Typee," &c., has taken a high rank among the writers of the day, and his works have attained considerable popularity, as well in England as in this country.
Moby-Dick is the soubriquet given by whalemen to a white whale of unusual ferocity, and whose exploits form the subject of many a tale of havoc. This whale had been attacked by Captain Ahab of the Pequod, on board of which vessel the scenes of this volume are laid. Captain Ahab came off from the encounter with the loss of a leg. From that hour he became a monomaniac, and lived for revenge. He returned to Nantucket, and dissembling with the cunning of a madman the condition of his mind, again took command of the Pequod for another whaling cruise. When well out to sea, the monomaniac Captain assembled his crew, declared his determination to hunt the white whale to the death, and influenced them also to swear to aid him in his work of revenge. From that hour the Pequod pursued the seemingly hopeless search to all quarters of the world, and in spite of all warnings of evil. The white whale is finally overtaken, but his malice and ferocity proved more than a match for the hatred of Captain Ahab, and a terrible tragedy ends the tale.
The work is a singular mixture of fact and fiction.— The supernatural is interwoven with the matter-of-fact delineations of life on board a whale ship. The descriptions of the various operations of the whalemen are remarkably life like. The chapters upon the whale, for minute description of the characteristics of the different varieties of the leviathan, would do credit to the researches of the most enthusiastic naturalist.
We take a few leaves from this volume for the perusal of our readers. They afford striking illustrations of the descriptive powers of the author. And first we quote a picture of cabin life on board a whale ship— time, the dinner hour. This chapter [34: The Cabin-Table] is a life-like delineation of the social distinctions which exist among the officers of a large ship:
"It is noon; and Dough-Boy, the steward, thrusting his pale loaf-of-bread face from the cabin-scuttle, announces dinner to his lord and master; who, sitting in the lee quarter-boat, has just been taking an observation of the sun; and is now mutely reckoning the latitude on the smooth, medallion-shaped tablet, reserved for that daily purpose on the upper part of his ivory leg. From his complete inattention to the tidings, you would think that moody Ahab had not heard his menial. But presently, catching hold of the mizen shrouds, he swings himself to the deck, and in an even, unexhilarated voice, saying, 'Dinner, Mr. Starbuck,' disappears into the cabin.
When the last echo of his sultan's step has died away, and Starbuck, the first Emir, has every reason to suppose that he is seated, then Starbuck rouses from his quietude, takes a few turns along the planks, and after a grave peep into the binnacle, says, with some touch of pleasantness, 'Dinner, Mr. Stubb,' and descends the scuttle. The second Emir lounges about the rigging awhile, and then slightly shaking the main brace, to see whether it be all right with that important rope, he likewise takes up the old burden, and with a rapid 'Dinner, Mr. Flask,' follows after his predecessors.
But the third Emir, now seeing himself all alone on the quarter-deck, seems to feel relieved from some curious restraint; for, tipping all sorts of knowing winks in all sorts of directions, and kicking off his shoes, he strikes into a sharp but noiseless squall of a hornpipe right over the Grand Turk's head; and then, by a dexterous sleight, pitching his cap up into the mizentop for a shelf, he goes down rollicking, so far at least as he remains visible from the deck, reversing all other processions, by bringing up the rear with music. But ere stepping into the cabin doorway below, he pauses, ships a new face altogether, and, then, independent, hilarious little Flask enters King Ahab's presence, in the character of Abjectus, or the Slave.
It is not the least among the strange things bred by the intense artificialness of sea-usages, that while in the open air of the deck some officers will, upon provocation, bear themselves boldly and defyingly enough towards their commander; yet, ten to one, let those very officers the next moment go down to their customary dinner in that same commander's cabin, and straightway their inoffensive, not to say deprecatory and humble air towards him, as he sits at the head of the table; this is marvellous, sometimes most comical. Wherefore this difference? A problem? Perhaps not. To have been Belshazzar, King of Babylon; and to have been Belshazzar, not haughtily but courteously, therein certainly must have been some touch of mundane grandeur. But he who in the rightly regal and intelligent spirit presides over his own private dinner-table of invited guests, that man's unchallenged power and dominion of individual influence for the time; that man's royalty of state transcends Belshazzar's, for Belshazzar was not the greatest. Who has but once dined his friends, has tasted what it is to be Caesar. It is a witchery of social czarship which there is no withstanding. Now, if to this consideration you superadd the official supremacy of a ship-master, then, by inference, you will derive the cause of that peculiarity of sea-life just mentioned."
The following we take from a chapter [60: The Line] descriptive of some of the implements used in the capture of whales:
"The whale line is only two thirds of an inch in thickness. At first sight, you would not think it so strong as it really is. By experiment its one and fifty yarns will each suspend a weight of one hundred and twenty pounds; so that the whole rope will bear a strain nearly equal to three tons. In length, the common sperm whale-line measures something over two hundred fathoms. Towards the stern of the boat it is spirally coiled away in the tub, not unlike the worm-pipe of a still though, but so as to form one round, cheese-shaped mass of densely bedded 'sheaves,' or layers of concentric spiralizations, without any hollow but the 'heart,' or minute vertical tube formed at the axis of the cheese. As the least tangle or kink in the coiling would, in running out, infallibly take somebody's arm, leg or entire body off, the utmost precaution is used in stowing the line in its tub. Some harpooneers will consume almost an entire morning in this business, carrying the line high aloft and then reeving it downwards through a block towards the tub, so as in the act of coiling to free it from all possible wrinkles and twists.
In the English boats two tubs are used instead of one; the same line being continuously coiled in both tubs. There is some advantage in this; because these twin tubs being so small they fit more readily into the boat, and do not strain it so much; whereas, the American tub, nearly three feet in diameter and of proportionate depth, makes a rather bulky freight for a craft whose planks are but one half-inch in thickness; for the bottom of the whale-boat is like critical ice, which will bear up a considerable distributed weight, but not very much of a concentrated one. When the painted canvas cover is clapped on the American line-tub, the boat looks as if it were pulling off with a prodigious great wedding cake to present to the whales.
Both ends of the line are exposed; the lower end terminating in an eye-splice or loop coming up from the bottom against the side of the tub, and hanging over its edge completely disengaged from everything. This arrangement of the lower end is necessary on two accounts. First: In order to facilitate the fastening to it of an additional line from a neighboring boat, in case the stricken whale should sound so deep as to threaten to carry off the entire line originally attached to the harpoon. In these instances, the whale of course is shifted like a mug of ale, as it were, from one boat to the other; though the first boat always hovers at hand to assist its consort. Second: This arrangement is indispensable for common safety's sake; for were the lower end of the line in any way attached to the boat, and were the whale then to run the line out to the end almost in a single, smoking minute as he sometimes does, he would not stop there, for the doomed boat would infallibly be dragged down after him into the profundity of the sea; and in that case no town-crier would ever find her again.
Before lowering the boat for the chase, the upper end of the line is taken aft from the tub, and passing round the loggerhead there, is again carried forward the entire length of the boat, resting crosswise upon the loom or handle of every man's oar, so that it jogs against his wrist in rowing; and also passing between the men, as they alternately sit at the opposite gunwales, to the leaded chocks or grooves in the extreme pointed prow of the boat, where a wooden pin or skewer the size of a common quill, prevents it from slipping out. From the chocks it hangs in a slight festoon over the bows, and is then passed inside the boat again; and some ten or twenty fathoms (called box-line) being coiled upon the box in the bows, it continues its way to the gunwale still a little further aft, and is then attached to the short-warp—the rope which is immediately connected with the harpoon; but previous to that connexion, the short-warp goes through sundry mystifications too tedious to detail.
Thus the whale-line folds the whole boat in its complicated coils, twisting and writhing around it in almost every direction. All the oarsmen are involved in its perilous contortions; so that to the timid eye of the landsman, they seem as Indian jugglers, with the deadliest snakes sportively festooning their limbs. Nor can any son of mortal woman, for the first time, seat himself amid those hempen intricacies, and while straining his utmost at the oar, bethink him that at any unknown instant the harpoon may be darted, and all these horrible contortions be put in play like ringed lightnings; he cannot be thus circumstanced without a shudder that makes the very marrow in his bones to quiver in him like a shaken jelly. Yet habit—strange thing! what cannot habit accomplish?' "
We have read many accounts of the chase and capture of the sperm whale, but none so absorbingly interesting, or which have presented so vivid a picture of this exciting event, as the following [from Chapter 61: Stubb Kills a Whale]:
" 'Start her, start her, my men! Don't hurry yourselves; take plenty of time—but start her; start her like thunder-claps, that's all,' cried Stubb, spluttering out the smoke as he spoke. 'Start her, now; give 'em the long and strong stroke, Tashtego. Start her, Tash, my boy—start her, all; but keep cool, keep cool—cucumbers is the word—easy, easy —only start her like grim death and grinning devils, and raise the buried dead perpendicular out of their graves, boys—that's all. Start her!'
'Woo-hoo! Wa-hee!' screamed the Gay-Header in reply, raising some old war-whoop to the skies; as every oarsman in the strained boat involuntarily bounced forward with the one tremendous leading stroke which the eager Indian gave.
But his wild screams were answered by others quite as wild. 'Kee-hee! Kee-hee!' yelled Daggoo, straining forwards and backwards on his seat, like a pacing tiger in his cage.
'Ka-la! Koo-loo!' howled Queequeg, as if smacking his lips over a mouthful of Grenadier's steak. And thus with oars and yells the keels cut the sea. Meanwhile, Stubb retaining his place in the van, still encouraged his men to the onset, all the while puffing the smoke from his mouth. Like desperadoes they tugged and they strained, till the welcome cry was heard— 'Stand up, Tashtego!—give it to him!' The harpoon was hurled. 'Stern all!' The oarsmen backed water; the same moment something went hot and hissing along every one of their wrist[s]. It was the magical line. An instant before, Stubb had swiftly caught two additional turns with it round the loggerhead, whence, by reason of its increased rapid circlings, a hempen blue smoke now jetted up and mingled with the steady fumes from his pipe. As the line passed round and round the loggerhead; so also, just before reaching that point, it blisteringly passed through and through both of Stubb's hands, from which the hand-cloths, or squares of quilted canvas sometimes worn at these times, had accidentally dropped. It was like holding an enemy's sharp two-edged sword by the blade, and that enemy all the time striving to wrest it out of your clutch.
'Wet the line! wet the line!' cried Stubb to the tub oarsman (him seated by the tub) who, snatching off his hat, dashed the sea-water into it. More turns were taken, so that the line began holding its place. The boat now flew through the boiling water like a shark all fins. Stubb and Tashtego here changed places—stem for stern—a staggering business truly in that rocking commotion.
From the vibrating line extending the entire length of the upper part of the boat, and from its now being more tight than a harpstring, you would have thought the craft had two keels—one cleaving the water, the other the air—as the boat churned on through both opposing elements at once. A continual cascade played at the bows; a ceaseless whirling eddy in her wake; and, at the slightest motion from within, even but of a little finger, the vibrating, cracking craft canted over her spasmodic gunwale into the sea. Thus they rushed; each man with might and main clinging to his seat, to prevent being tossed to the foam; and the tall form of Tashtego at the steering oar crouching almost double, in order to bring down his centre of gravity. Whole Atlantics and Pacifics seemed passed as they shot on their way, till at length the whale somewhat slackened his flight.
'Haul in—haul in!' cried Stubb to the bowsman! and, facing round towards the whale, all hands began pulling the boat up to him, while yet the boat was being towed on. Soon ranging up by his flank, Stubb, firmly planting his knee in the clumsy cleat, darted dart after dart into the flying fish; at the word of command, the boat alternately sterning out of the way of the whale's horrible wallow, and then ranging up for another fling.
The red tide now poured from all sides of the monster like brooks down a hill. His tormented body rolled not in brine but in blood, which bubbled and seethed for furlongs behind in their wake. The slanting sun playing upon this crimson pond in the sea, sent back its reflection into every face, so that they all glowed to each other like red men. And all the while, jet after jet of white smoke was agonizingly shot from the spiracle of the whale, and vehement puff after puff from the mouth of the excited headsman; as at every dart, hauling in upon his crooked lance (by the line attached to it), Stubb straightened it again and again, by a few rapid blows against the gunwale, then again and again sent it into the whale.
'Pull up—pull up!' he now cried to the bowsman, as the waning whale relaxed in his wrath. 'Pull up!—close to!' and the boat ranged along the fish's flank. When reaching far over the bow, Stubb slowly churned his long sharp lance into the fish, and kept it there, carefully churning and churning, as if cautiously seeking to feel after some gold watch that the whale might have swallowed, and which he was fearful of breaking ere he could hook it out. But that gold watch he sought was the innermost life of the fish. And now it is struck; for, starting from his trance into that unspeakable thing called his 'flurry,' the monster horribly wallowed in his blood, overwrapped himself in impenetrable, mad, boiling spray, so that the imperilled craft, instantly dropping astern, had much ado blindly to struggle out from that phrensied twilight into the clear air of the day.
And now abating in his flurry, the whale once more rolled out into view; surging from side to side; spasmodically dilating and contracting his spout-hole, with sharp, cracking, agonized respirations. At last, gush after gush of clotted red gore, as if it had been the purple lees of red wine, shot into the frighted air; and falling back again, ran dripping down his motionless flanks into the sea. His heart had burst!
'He's dead, Mr. Stubb,' said Daggoo.
'Yes; both pipes smoked out!' and withdrawing his own from his mouth, Stubb scattered the dead ashes over the water; and, for a moment, stood thoughtfully eyeing the vast corpse he had made."
There was considerable discussion when the "Typee," of Melville, appeared, whether the scenes therein described were founded on fact, or were all fiction.
In Moby-Dick, as in Typee, the author figures in the first person, but no one will mistake the strangely wild thread of this story for a veritable history. But the reader will sometimes be puzzled to separate fiction from probability, so skilfully has the author blended the common incidents of a whaleman's life, with the creations of his own fancy. In many respects Moby-Dick is the best of the works of the author, as it certainly is the most instructive. We predict for it, with confidence, an extended popularity. For sale by Redding & Co.
-- Boston Morning Journal, Volume 19, Number 5760. Tuesday morning, November 18, 1851. Page 1, columns 5-6. Library of Congress. Bound volumes, Newspapers, Control # 8218. October-December 1851.
Later in November, another passage from Moby-Dick appeared in the evening edition of the Boston Journal. On Friday evening, November 28, 1851, the Boston Daily Journal reprinted an excerpt from chapter 81 under the heading, "Death Scenes of the Whale." This text had been reprinted elsewhere with the same heading, for example on November 15, 1851 with the first notice of Moby-Dick in The Literary World. In the Boston Daily Journal, the credit line for the "Death Scenes" excerpt read,
|Boston Daily Journal - November 28, 1851 - vol. 19 no. 5767|
Library of Congress. Bound volumes, Control #8217.
|Boston Daily Journal - November 28, 1851|
page 1, columns 6-7
- White-Jacket in Sleeper's Boston Journal