Category Archives: Moby-Dick

Changing places: Some technical whaling highlights from Purrington & Russell’s Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World, 1848-1851.

The great appeal of the Panorama, at least as far as the newspaper reviews are concerned, was not the actual whaling scenes, but the scenery. The views of the islands including the volcano at Fogo, Cape Verde, drew the most admiration, at least from one reviewer from the New York Courier in 1851, who called the view “sublime.”

View of the eruption of the 7000 foot high volcano, Pico do Fogo, Cape Verde Islands. In April of 1847 the volcano erupted spectacularly and it is this event that Russell and Purrington captured in the Panorama. Neither artist actually witnessed the eruption, however the island of Fogo, according to books of sailing directions for the North Atlantic, "burns continuously," and may "sometimes be seen at the distance of 34 leagues."

View of the eruption of the 7000 foot high volcano, Pico do Fogo, Cape Verde Islands. In April of 1847 the volcano erupted spectacularly and it is this event that Russell and Purrington captured in the Panorama. Neither artist actually witnessed the eruption, however the island of Fogo, according to books of sailing directions for the North Atlantic, “burns continuously,” and may “sometimes be seen at the distance of 34 leagues.”

The same reviewer commented favorably upon the “graphic and life-like” view of New Bedford Harbor and the “magnificent” rendering of the harbor at Rio Janeiro.

View of the harbor at Rio de Janeiro.

View of the harbor at Rio de Janeiro.

While the reviewer determined that the whaling scenes were “sprightly,” little more is said about the industrial aspect of the whaling subject. This is a pity, really, as few Americans outside of a few established New England whaling ports, even New Yorkers living in one of the world’s great seaports, had any idea about the actual techniques used by whalemen in both ship management and hunting.

While a ship at sea is generally acknowledged a beautiful thing its management was little considered by those who did not participate directly in the proceedings. As far as the sailor’s themselves were concerned, their labors were performed out of sight of all but their fellows under exceptionally difficult conditions for hours, days and weeks at a time during voyages that could last years. Ships were out of sight, and therefore largely out of mind to most people, unless there was some compelling reason to think about them, such as having a loved one onboard, an expected letter from overseas, or a monetary investment in a voyage or cargo.

Details like this scene showing a full-rigged whale ship hove-to, lowering boats for an enormous sperm whale fighting in the background serve to make Benjamin Russell among the great American whaling illustrators. Few others document lowering boats including the handling of the ship while lowering for whales. Likewise, Russell creates a common tableaux, where several boats could easily be required to kill a particularly large sperm whale.

Details from the Panorama, such as this scene showing a full-rigged whale ship hove-to, and lowering the whaleboats for an enormous sperm whale fighting in the background, serve to make Benjamin Russell among the great American whaling illustrators. Few other artists document lowering boats including how the ship was handled during this operation. Likewise, Russell creates a common tableaux, where several boats could be and commonly were required to kill a particularly large or dangerous, “ugly,” sperm whale.

Benjamin Russell, however, documented whaling directly from his experience; hence his whaling scenes serve a larger purpose, both at the time they were painted and today. Even in New Bedford in the 1850s, some of the most accomplished artists in the city, never having gone a’ whaling themselves, had a hard time capturing the essence of the hunt. Two of these painters, Albert Van Beest and R. Swain Gifford, for instance, undertook in the early 1850s to make a mass-market print of sperm whaling, however, it was poorly received in New Bedford and Benjamin Russell was called upon to assist them in elements of proportion, whaling and nautical details, points of naval architecture, etc. The resulting prints were among the most solid representations of the industry done by Americans.

"Sperm whaling No. 1 - The Chase," 1862. Lithograph by Albert Van Beest and R. Swain Gifford corrected by Benjamin Russell. 2001.100.7088

“Sperm whaling No. 1 – The Chase,” 1862. Lithograph by Albert Van Beest and R. Swain Gifford corrected by Benjamin Russell. 2001.100.7088

As far as his work on whaling scenes in the Panorama is concerned, he transcended the usual broadside ship view, or other simple perspective of whaling so common to most whalemen’s illustrations. He drew his ships from a variety of perspectives and with a reliable attention to accuracy. He also focused on other little-documented details of the hunt. William Morris Davis, whaleman and author of Nimrod of the Sea; or, The American Whaleman (New York, 1874), commented favorably on Russell’s art:

“There have been lately published by Benjamin Russell, of New Bedford, two illustrations representing both the sperm and right whale-fishing, which gives and accurate idea o the the general features of the business, both in the boats and onboard the ship. The illustrations show the positions of the boats in the contest, and of the ships, and in cutting-in, etc. Mr. Russell himself was a boatsteerer; and, guided by several years’ experience, his artistic skill has embodied in the small space of two pictures the most correct idea of whaling which I have seen.”[1]

One good example from the Panorama is his view of the boat-steerer and boat-header exchanging places in a whaleboat that is fast to a whale. This oft-described oddity of the whaling trade has no pictorial parallel. The description appears in many whaling texts, including this one from Reverend Lewis Holmes that appears as “A Brief History of Whaling,” in The Arctic Whaleman; or, Winter in the Arctic Ocean (Boston, 1861):

“When, however, the whale becomes so exhausted, having been perhaps harpooned by some other boats, that the warp can be hauled in, and the boat or boats approach the whale again, the lancer [boat-header], who is generally one of the mates of the ship, exchanges places with the boat-steerer, and takes his position at the bow of the boat, with a lance ten or twelve feet long.”[2]

In this extraordinary detail from the section of the Panorama documenting right whaling on the Northwest Coast, Russell shows the age-old tradition of Yankee whalers where the harpooner and the boatheader exchange places in the boat when the animal is ready to be lanced to death. This is a unique whaling image.

In this extraordinary detail from the section of the Panorama documenting right whaling on the Northwest Coast, Russell shows the age-old tradition of Yankee whalers where the harpooner and the boatheader exchange places in the boat when the animal is ready to be lanced to death. This is a unique whaling image.

Close-up detail of the above scene.

Close-up detail of the above scene showing the men exchanging places.

In Moby-Dick, Herman Melville, in his fundamentally critical fashion commented not only on the practice, but upon its disadvantages to the success of the hunt:

” Again, if the dart be successful, then at the second critical instant, that is, when the whale starts to run, the boatheader and harpooner likewise start to running fore and aft, to the imminent jeopardy of themselves and everyone else. It is then they change places; and the headsman, the chief officer of the little craft, takes his proper station in the bows of the boat. Now, I care not who maintains the contrary, but all this is both foolish and unnecessary. The headsman should stay in the bows from first to last; he should both dart the harpoon and the lance, and no rowing whatever should be expected of him, except under circumstances obvious to any fisherman. I know that this would sometimes involve a slight loss of speed in the chase; but long experience in various whalemen of more than one nation has convinced me that in the vast majority of failures in the fishery, it has not by any means been so much the speed of the whale as the before described exhaustion of the harpooneer that has caused them. To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooneers of this world must start to their feet from out of idleness, and not from out of toil.”[3]

Regardless of Melville’s opinion on the practicality of this matter, the practice retained its tradition well past the 1840s when he was whaling, and continued throughout the rest of the history of the American industry. As late as 1887 in The Fisheries and Fishery Industries of the United States, where the details of the methods of the fishery were outlined, James Templeman Brown wrote: “When the animal has been fastened to “good and solid” the harpooner and officer immediately change places.”

Detail from Cornelis Claesz van Wieringen, Dutch Bay Whaling in the Arctic, 1620, showing experienced Basque whalemen, harpooner and boat-header, training the Dutch to hunt whales. 2001.100.4503

Detail from the Cornelis Claesz van Wieringen painting, Dutch Bay Whaling in the Arctic, 1620, showing experienced Basque whalemen, harpooner and boat-header, training the Dutch to hunt whales. 2001.100.4503

The origins of this practice dates to the earliest days of commercial whaling in the early 17th century when Basque whalemen were training British and Dutch whalemen in the techniques of killing bowhead whales in the Arctic. The Basques, being the most experienced whalemen, commanded the boats and undertook the actual killing of the whale. Following the Basques long established hunting techniques, the most experienced whaleman in the boat was the officer in charge. He knew how and where to place the boat so that the harpooner could get fast. The second most experienced person was the harpooner and having planted his irons, ceded his position to the boatheader who again, knew where to plunge the lance and how to handle the lance once it was planted in the animal to ensure a quick death. Thus, a hunting technique originating in the early 17th century European Arctic fishery continued throughout the American sperm and right whale fishery into the 20th century.

Hand-whaling techniques did spread beyond the American and European experience. Curiously, while many of the techniques and technology of the Yankee whale fishery were retained by the Azoreans as the islanders developed their own sperm whale fishery in the 20th century, this exchange of crew members during the actual killing of the whale was not retained. Robert Clarke reports in Open Boat Whaling in the Azores (Cambridge, 1954) that:

Azorean whaling for sperm whales in the deep waters around the Azores archipelago in the North Atlantic, was based almost entirely on American techniques. Azorean whaleboats became highly specialized over time, adapted by their builders to the local needs and conditions. In this mid-twentieth century oil painting by Manuel Joaquim Madruga, three whaleboats under sail are shown attacking two sperm whales, one of which is spouting blood. The Azorean whalemen stayed in their places in the boats and did not switch around. 1977.17.1

Azorean whaling for sperm whales in the deep waters around the Azores archipelago in the North Atlantic, was based almost entirely on American techniques. Azorean whaleboats became highly specialized over time, adapted by their builders to the local needs and conditions. In this mid-twentieth century oil painting by Manuel Joaquim Madruga, three whaleboats under sail and one under oars, are shown attacking two sperm whales, one of which is spouting blood. The Azorean whalemen stayed in their places in the boats and did not switch around in the traditional way. 1977.17.1

In the American whaleboats, the striking of mast and sail was partly the job of the harpooner as he went aft to change ends with the boat-header. In the Azores the bow and midship oarsmen attend to the mast and sail, for the boat-header and harpooner never change ends in the present survival, and this is the one detail that which distinguishes the existing technique of hunting from that of 100 years ago. To the last days of American whaling it was an invariable rule that the harpooner fastened to the whale but did not lance it; he gave place to the boatheader for this operation, and himself went aft to take the steering-oar and tend the line at the loggerhead.[4]

Without the full text of Russell’s narration of the Panorama as it traveled from town to town, we’ll never know the extent to which he addressed many of the details that he drew. As he was himself a boat-steerer onboard the ship Kutusoff of New Bedford on a four-year sperm and right whaling cruise to the Pacific Ocean, 1841-1845, he would certainly have been intimately familiar with the process, another fascinating detail of his whaling experience shared in the Panorama.

[1] Davis, p. 171.

[2] Holmes, pp. 273-274

[3] Melville, Chapter 62.

[4] Clarke, in: Discovery Reports, Vol. 26, pp. 281-354.

20th Annual Moby-Dick Marathon

The 20th anniversary of the Moby-Dick Marathon was indeed a celebration of America’s greatest novel, of New Bedford’s place in whaling and industrial history, of shared heritage, and of Irwin Marks’ vision of a community event that would include readers of varied backgrounds. Our readers came from a dozen different states and from the Netherlands, our Livestream feed was followed in 26 different countries, including New Zealand and Zimbabwe, our foreign language readers added French, Spanish, German, Hebrew, Mandarin, Japanese, Dutch and Portuguese to the reading, and two dozen hearty souls stayed for the entire Marathon. The second Children’s mini-Marathon kicked off with teenagers from Iceland joining us via Skype to read in their native tongue before a full roster of our own young readers read through the abridged version of Moby-Dick. The Maratona de Moby-Dick em Lingua Portuguêsa, a new event this year, was a great success that featured 46 ‘leitores’ reading from Tiago Patricio’s four-hour adaptation of the Portuguese translation of Moby-Dick. The ‘Chat with a Melville Scholar’ sessions attracted more than 40 people to each session and Michael Dyer’s presentation on the new exhibition Mapping Ahab’s Storied Waves was given to a full gallery. The Cook Memorial Theater was filled to capacity to watch Culture*Park enthusiastically act out Chapter 40, Midnight – Forecastle.

Nathaniel Philbrick reading Chapter One, Loomings.

Nathaniel Philbrick reading Chapter One, Loomings.

We were thrilled to have Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Heart of the Sea, Why Read Moby-Dick? and several other great stories, start the Marathon for us as Ishmael. We were honored to have three of Irwin Marks’ children, David, Rebecca and Esther, along with Rebecca’s husband, Alban, join us in the Bourne Building, in the shadow of the Lagoda, where the entire Marathon took place for the first five years under Irwin’s guiding hand, to read from chapters two and three.  We were humbled by both the full-audience singing of The Ribs and Terrors in the Whale, led by Gerald Dyck, Dwight Thomas and several docents, and by the words of Father Mapple’s sermon orated by Reverend David Lima.

Our new Harbor View Gallery (HVG) was showcased over the weekend as the primary site for the reading. The view of New Bedford Harbor from this gallery created a new connection to the setting of the story. For many of our readers, spectators and supporters it was their first visit to the HVG and the new Wattles Jacobs Education Center (WJEC). The first floor of the WJEC, the Casa dos Botes Discovery Center, became Cousin Hosea’s Chowder Hall, where participants could enjoy chowder and soup donated by four local restaurants and sip some coffee and have a snack.

David Sullivan and John Bullard at the lecterns in the Harbor View Gallery

David Sullivan and John Bullard at the lecterns in the Harbor View Gallery (Arthur Motta/NBWM Photo)

But, the 20th anniversary was more than the reading and associated events that took place on Saturday and Sunday, January 9 and 10. We began the four days of celebration on Thursday, January 7, by unveiling a stunning photography exhibit by award-winning photographer Nuno Sá, from Portugal. Nearly 200 people filled the Jacobs Family Gallery with their ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as they viewed his vivid photos of marine life in the waters around the Azores. They then packed the Cook Memorial Theater to hear Mr. Sá’s presentation and see more of his impressive photos on the big screen.

Consul of Portugal, Pedro Carneiro, begins the Maratona em Lingua Portuguesa in the Museum's Azorean Whaleman Gallery.

Consul of Portugal, Pedro Carneiro, begins the Maratona em Lingua Portuguesa in the Museum’s Azorean Whaleman Gallery. (Arthur Motta/NBWM photo)

The next night began with a cocktail reception in the JFG before we moved upstairs to the former Center Street Gallery to watch the dedication of the space as it officially became The Herman Melville Room. Members of the Melville Society Cultural Project spoke on the gallery and their partnership with the Museum, before they cut the ribbon to formalize the process.

After the ribbon cutting, guests walked into the new building to check out the exhibit, In the Heart of the Sea, featuring costumes from the film of the same name before gathering in the Harbor View Gallery for a delicious dinner. Diners were then treated to an engaging presentation by our own Arthur Motta, titled “Moby-Dick: How Hollywood Changed New Bedford”.

Wattles Jacobs Education Center and Bourne Building on Saturday night, during the Marathon. (Arthur Motta photo)

Wattles Jacobs Education Center and Bourne Building on Saturday night, during the Marathon. (Arthur Motta/NBWM photo)

We are grateful to the sponsors, watch officers, volunteers, trustees, readers, spectators, supporters, media outlets, staff and apprentices who made this series of events possible. Of course, we are most grateful to the late Irwin Marks for his vision and dedication, and to the volunteers in 1996 who also believed in this concept, that made this event a reality.  As popular as the event was that first year, we think he would be truly impressed with the reach of the Moby-Dick Marathon after 20 years. It has become as global as the whaling industry itself.

Herman Melville’s Return to New Bedford

Herman Melville

Herman Melville (1819-1891)

157 years ago tonight the author who immortalized the city in Moby-Dick returned to speak, on of all things, Roman statuary. What was it like to be there?

It had been 17 years since Herman Melville was last in the whaling city. His stay was brief then; just a few days before shipping out on the whaleship Acushnet, January 3, 1841. In the years that followed his reputation as an adventurer writer would make his name synonymous with the South Seas. Now, on the evening of February 23, 1858, his return was as a speaker at the New Bedford Lyceum. Just seven years after the publication Moby-Dick, one might expect his topic would be related to that ponderous tome; surely some in town had questions about it. But his lecture that night was titled “The Statues of Rome.” In the Republican Standard a week earlier his talk was listed within a diminutive advertisement.

What was it like that night, arriving at the Lyceum, finding a seat, and waiting for Mr. Melville to take the stage?

Melville’s manuscript of “Statues of Rome” has not turned up. Perhaps he spoke from scant notes; after all, he had been on the lecture circuit some several weeks speaking on this one subject. New Bedford was to be his sixteenth and final engagement in a tour  that left him exhausted. Whether he directed the attention of his audience to placards with illustrations of the works he discussed is not known but it is probably  unlikely. Certainly, many in the hall would be familiar with the stories behind the statues; Greek and Latin were taught in schools for those who could afford an education. Melville’s extraordinary gift of description doubtless could have provided all the visual imagery needed, though one would expect a portfolio of large illustrations upon an easel would have enriched the program for all. Nevertheless, Melville gave his audience their money’s worth.

Melville_Bag_concept_2Although the exact content of the program remains undiscovered, scholars have meticulously pieced together Melville’s talk by studying the many reviews published in local newspapers where he appeared. Thanks to the Melville Society Archives, housed in the Research Library of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, multiple sources are available to examine Melville’s lost lecture. Within the Archives “The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces 1839-1860,” published by Northwestern University Press (1987), attempts such  a glimpse. In a section titled Reconstructed Lectures, “The Statues of Rome” is reassembled based upon more than thirty reviews and news articles in the local press where Melville appeared. It should be noted here that the Piazza Tales volume was the work of many academics, including contributing scholar Mary K. Bercaw Edwards, now the Melville Society Extracts Editor.

Thus, we can with  a degree of confidence know what Melville covered through this  Reconstructed Lecture. For example, the Boston Journal (December 3, 1857) reported that “He began by suggesting that in the realm of art there was no exclusiveness. Dilletanti might accumulate their technical terms, but that did not interfere with the substantial enjoyment of those who did not understand them. As the beauties of nature could be appreciated without a knowledge of botany, so art could be enjoyed without the artist’s skill.” (p.727)

Apollo_Belvidere

Melville included the Apollo Belvedere in his lecture on Roman Statuary.

In New Bedford, both the Mercury and the Republican Standard published reviews of Melville’s lecture; the former on February 24th and the latter on February 25th. Neither review noted Melville’s authorship of Moby-Dick. The Mercury reported “Mr. Melville gave an interesting and instructive lecture last evening on the Sculptures of Rome, more especially with many suggestive and thoughtful criticisms on art interspersed.” The Mercury article continued, noting the many works upon which Melville touched. “After enumerating other salient points of the Roman antique, and dwelling upon the vast ruins of the Coliseum and the Baths, the lecturer passed to the villas of Rome, which were the houses of the best collections of the finest objects of art, and where nature had been raised by culture and refinement into an almost human character.”

The Republican Standard was more critical in its review, which also confirms that Melville read from a prepared script.  “The lecture on Tuesday evening was a well written and scholarly essay, which would doubtless be read with much pleasure, but was not calculated to interest as a lecture.” Like the Mercury, the Standard related the various works, which Melville covered in sequence. “The lecturer then gave an account of some of the more ideal works, such as the Apollo Belvedere, which was a model for poets, and from which Milton must have obtained some of his grand conceptions of dignity and grace… The Laocoon, Castor and Pollux, and the Hercules Farnese, with other statues were also described.”

In the week before Melville spoke, the New Bedford Lyceum featured a lecture by the Reverend Henry Fowler (1824-1872), titled “A View of the Pulpit by the Pews.” The content of his lecture mirrored his book on the subject. However, Fowler’s program is important in relation to Melville’s program  because it inspired a parody piece in the Republican Standard, published on February 25, 1858 – the same issue in which its review of Melville’s lecture was published. Titled “The Audience as Seen from the Reporters Box,” the column vividly and humorously describes the scene in Liberty Hall as the audience assembles for the Lyceum lecture. It is a wonderfully witty piece of editorial, which doubtless records the scene of Melville’s program; so much so, the text in its entirety is included here so that the reader may be the judge:

Laocoon

Melville’s talk included this sculpture titled “Laocoön and His Sons” in the Vatican Collections. This image is taken from Smith’s Classical Dictionary, 1866.

“It is the night of the weekly lecture, an occasion which competes for the public attention with the auction room, the reading club, the itinerant psychologist, the prayer meeting, and the spiritual medium. On lecture night all these have to suspend operations. The beauty and the chivalry, the beaux and the belles, the whits and the blues of New Bedford, each having some especial taste to gratify, crowd to the lecture room. The doors are thrown open at an early hour, and those who are blessed with nothing to do, secure the best seats and pass away an hour or two with sandwiches and sewing, magazines and small talk.

“The reporter, to whom lectures, city council and school committee meetings, and all public gatherings which it is his duty to attend, are only a bore, defers his arrival to the latest possible moment. He winds his way through the furniture of the stage and at the risk of his neck, ascends the rickety ladder by which alone he can reach his lofty perch. He folds his shawl and places it on the three legged stool he is privileged to occupy, so as to have as comfortable a seat as possible, wipes his glasses and in the first place, glances over the evening papers, internally anathematizing the ill placed gas light which tries alike his eyes and his temper. The journals are speedily dispatched and he has nothing to occupy his attention previous to the entrance of the lecturer but the audience before him.

“The hall is already pretty well filled. A few however are dropping in. Every seat is occupied. From orchestra to loftiest gallery there is not a vacant space. The latest comers overflow upon the platform, hardly leaving room for the speaker, or stagnate in the aisles. What a sea of faces! What a study for a physiognomist! How many histories can be read in all these countenances! How character stands out not only in the features, but in the dress, the conduct and attitudes of all this crowd! What a contrast between the expression of that shrewd sharp-featured man of business and that dreamy large-eyed youth! Between that cold and calculating politician and that warm hearted and impulsive girl! Between those lineaments molded into sternness by long habits of thought, and the smooth, unmeaning vacant face of one whose mental faculties have never been called into exercise.

“Some are busied with their magazines and newspapers. Others are improving the time by knitting and sewing. Others are communing with their own thoughts. But most are engaged in conversation. Some, talking politics; some criticizing the audience; some talking over last evening’s ball; some whispering tenderly – but the reporter will not reveal the secrets which have reached his ear.

Liberty_Hall_c1860

Liberty Hall, at William and Purchase Streets was the site of the New Bedford Lyceum where Melville spoke on February 23, 1858. (photo ca. 1860, published in the Rotogravure Section, New Bedford Sunday Standard-Times ca. 1930-1950).

 

“Now a slight murmur of applause, which the boys in the gallery aggravate with their feet into a horrible din, announces the entrance of the lecturer. He pushes his way slowly down the aisle and along the crowded platform. He takes his seat, wipes his face with his handkerchief, and looks around him. He is evidently a good deal astonished. He thought he was coming to some small out of the way place to waste his fine thoughts and unappreciated eloquence on a hundred or two of uncultivated people. Perhaps he didn’t think it worth while to bring down his best effort. But he finds himself exceedingly mistaken. He finds, the reporter ventures to say, as fine and well-lighted a hall, as intelligent and appreciative an audience as anywhere in New England, out of the Metropolis. Well, he has got to make the best of it. He is announced. The murmur of conversation gradually dies away, and a profound stillness prevails.

“The lecturer’s fame has probably preceded him, and it now remains to be seen whether it will stand the test of actual experience. His exordium is listened to with attention. As he proceeds, the audience by their air, indicate the judgment they are forming. The politician sneers at some evidence of fanaticism. The eye of the dreamer kindles as he gets a new insight into some great truth. The man of business moves restlessly in his seat as he perceives the subject has no “practical” bearing.  The young girl whispers “beautiful” at some display of flowery rhetoric. The lawyer smiles as he detects a fallacy, and the head of the unthinking one whom no rhetoric, eloquence, humor or logic can move, gradually subsides as he sinks into a dreamless sleep. Sometimes there is a faint applause at some happy expression. But the reporter has observed that our audiences are timid in this respect.  They seem to be afraid of interrupting or disconcerting the speaker.

“But it is more likely that discriminating and genial applause helps to establish a more complete sympathy between the audience and the speaker, to give increased confidence to the latter, and more animation to his delivery. But cat-calls, whistling, and loud stamping, are rude, ill-tempered and abominable.

“So the hour passes away. If the speaker be a man of true eloquence, and sincere earnestness, if he is untrammeled by manuscript and speaks with animation and heartiness, he will generally secure the attention of the audience to its close. But if he be a near rhetorician, a bounding in words but scanty in ideas, if he be confined to manuscript or speaks in the manner of a school boy declaiming from memory, the attention of the audience will soon begin to flag. Conversation will be renewed. General uneasiness will prevail and a universal sense of relief will be felt at the close of the performance.

“But whoever the lecturer may be, he cannot please all alike. None has secured the unanimous suffrage or favor of those who have heard him. To some Beecher is merely theatrical; Chapin, only a thunderer; Phillips, a fanatic; Parker, an infidel; Cushing, a sophist, and Emerson, an unintelligible transcendentalist. In our estimates of lectures as of books, we are all more or less influenced by our prevailing habits of thought, our degree of culture, our standard of taste and our personal prejudices. “What is one man’s meat is another man’s poison” is true of the ineffectual as well as the bodily appetite. What one admires another abhors. What one approves, another condemns. And so, taking the course of lectures as a whole, each has heard something to disapprove of and condemn, but, we will hope, more to relish, entertain and instruct.

“ We should endeavor to divest ourselves of all personal prejudices, to expand our contracted habits of thought, to acquire a catholicity of taste, and to detect whatever there may be of truth in all the varieties of opinion and doctrine. For each of them is a partial development of the common mind, and what we find wanting in ourselves, we may supply by a candid reception of that which others seek to impart.

“But the reporter didn’t intend to philosophize. The lecture is over. The audience gradually makes its way out of the building, tarrying for the interchange of friendly greeting by acquaintances and of criticisms favorable or unfavorable on the evening’s performance. The lecturer remains behind to receive the fifty he has earned (?) and the reporter hurries home to decipher his hieroglyphic notes before the impression of the lecture has faded from his memory and thus rendered the task almost impossible.”

One wonders 157 years later, if anyone lingered after the lecture to shake Melville’s hand and ask him to autograph their copy of Moby-Dick? And did he smile?

SOURCES:

Melville, Herman. Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces, 1839-1860: Volume Nine, Scholarly Edition. G. Thomas Tanselle , Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, Editors. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1987.

Parker, Herschel. Herman Melville: A Biography (Volume 2, 1851-1891). Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

Wallace, Robert K. Douglass And Melville: Anchored Together in Neighborly Style. New Bedford, Massachusetts: Spinner Publications, 2005.

Smith, William. A Smaller Classical Dictionary of Biography, Mythology and Geography. New York, New York: American Book Company, ca.1866.

New Bedford Mercury, February 1858.

New Bedford Republican Standard, February 1858.

http://www.melvillesociety.org

 

 

 

Right Whales Through the Eyes of Herman Melville

The following post is part of a series of blogs created for the Face-ing Extinction: The North Atlantic Right Whale page on Facebook. Three organizations (WDC, ASRI, NBWM) from the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium meet monthly to create and update right whale related curriculum, discuss important issues related to the NARW and devise ways to bring awareness to the precarious status of the population of this highly endangered species. The FB page is a result of these meetings.

Because the Whaling Museum hosted the 19th annual Moby-Dick Marathon earlier this month, it was deemed appropriate to weave Eubalaena glacialis and Herman Melville together, something he first did in 1851. However, in 2015, it has been done in a more contemporary form of print media.

Two North Atlantic right whales. (nmfs.noaa.gov photo)

Two North Atlantic right whales. (nmfs.noaa.gov photo)

When Moby-Dick was published in 1851, confusion still existed as to which whales were Right whales and which were later to be known as Bowhead whales. In Chapter 32, Cetology, Melville attacks the topic of whale taxonomy like a librarian, splitting up the whales based on size. Thus, the known whales were split into three groups: Folio Whales, Octavo Whales and Duodecimo Whales.

Our whale is considered as Chapter 2 of the Folio Whales and is called a Right Whale. “In one respect this is the most venerable of the Leviathans, being the one first regularly hunted by man. It yields the article commonly known as whalebone or baleen; and the oil specially known as “whale oil”, an inferior article in commerce.”

However, it becomes clear immediately that there is confusion as to which whale he is trying to describe, “Among the fishermen, he is indiscriminately designated by all the following titles: The Whale; the Greenland Whale; The Black Whale; The Great Whale; the True Whale; the Right Whale. There is a deal of obscurity concerning the identity of the species thus multitudinously baptized. What then is the whale, which I include in the second species of my Folios? It is the Great Mysticetus of the English naturalists; the Greenland Whale of the English whalemen; the Baliene Ordinaire of the French whalemen; The Growlands Walfish of the Swedes.”

The text that follows makes it clear that rights and bowheads are being conflated, “It is the whale which for more than two centuries past has been hunted by the Dutch and English in the Arctic seas; it is the whale which the American fishermen have long pursued in the Indian ocean, on the Brazil Banks, on the Nor’ West Coast, and various other parts of the world, designated by them Right Whale Cruising Grounds.”

Later in the story in Chapter 58, Brit, however, there is no confusion as to which species they see while sailing north east of the Crozetts (small islands directly south of Madagascar). “On the second day, numbers of Right Whales were seen, who, secure from the attack of a sperm whaler like the Pequod, with open jaws sluggishly swam through the brit, which, adhering to the fringing fibres of that wondrous Venetian blind in their mouths, was in that manner separated from the water that escaped at the lip.”

Two paragraphs later he captures the experience of most people the first time they see any species of right whale in the water, “Seen from the mast-heads, especially when they paused and were stationary for a while, their vast black forms looked more like lifeless masses of rock than anything else….And when recognized at last, their immense magnitude renders it very hard really to believe that such bulky masses of overgrowth can possibly be instinct, on all parts, with the same sort of life that lives in a dog or a horse.”

Melville later dedicates an entire chapter, #75, to describing the head of a right whale. “So, at a broad view, the Right Whale’s head bears a rather inelegant resemblance to a gigantic galliot-toed shoe.”

Luckily the science of cetacean taxonomy has come a long way since the mid -1800s and there’s no confusion as to which whales are Eubalaena glacialis and which are Balaena mysticetus.  We have also long settled the discussion as to whether or not whales are fish. Just before he dives into his book-focused classification of cetaceans, Melville states, “To be short, then, a whale is a spouting fish with a horizontal tail.”

There are many intentionally funny moments in Moby-Dick. This one was not written to be humorous, but has become quite laughable. That being said, Moby-Dick has stood the test of time to become one of the humankind’s classic stories. It has put whales in the consciousness of thousands of people, including those who attend the Whaling Museum’s Moby-Dick Marathon each January. Perhaps some of you will join us at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in 2016.

Moby-Dick Marathon celebrates education, Jan. 3-5

Herman Melville struggles with the opening line of Moby-Dick, as imagined by artist, Dave Blanchette

Herman Melville struggles with the opening line of Moby-Dick, as imagined by artist, Dave Blanchette

The 18th annual Moby-Dick Marathon January 3-5 celebrates education during a weekend of activities surrounding the non-stop reading of Herman Melville’s literary masterpiece at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Pia Durkin, Superintendent of New Bedford Public Schools will lead the marathon on Saturday at noon. “We are pleased to welcome Superintendent Durkin as she reads from America’s most famous novel, written by one of its greatest authors. The museum stresses the importance of writing in our high school apprentice program; it is a life skill which is critical for success in every field of endeavor,” said James Russell, museum President and CEO.

Sponsored in part by Rockland Trust and Empire Loan Charitable Foundation, admission is free to marathon programs. Freewill donations supporting museum programs are gratefully accepted. Continue reading

Moby-Dick and Modern America: A Summer Reading Course

One of the best things about a good book is that it can be read at any time of year, at any time of day, and it will draw you in. Sure, a book like White Fang may have even greater impact if you read it on cold winter nights. You may feel the dusty Alabama setting of To Kill A Mockingbird even more if you read it during a hot, dry summer. Yet, these are compelling stories no matter when you read them. The same can be said for Moby-Dick.

Many of you know that we choose to hold our Moby-Dick Marathon in January because it was January of 1841 when Herman Melville sailed out of New Bedford harbor on the whaleship Acushnet. However, there are Moby-Dick reading marathons in other cities that happen throughout the year. It’s a great book, to many, the greatest novel ever. The season in which you read it isn’t particularly important.

In that vein, former NBWM curatorial intern Evander Price, now a doctoral student in Harvard’s American Studies program, is looking to connect high school students to Moby-Dick after their school year is over.  This summer, he is teaching a high school course on Moby-Dick through MIT’s intensive summer program, Junction, which aims to provide intense, college-level academic courses for high school students.  He invites any brave green whalers who might be interested aboard his literary ship.  Applications are due April 10th, though late applications will be accepted up until May (precise date TBD).  See course description below, and on Junction’s website.

MOBYDICK14

Title: Moby-Dick and Modern America

Description:

“I have written a wicked book, and feel as spotless as a lamb.”

–Melville in a Letter to Hawthorne, July 1851

This class is an introduction to Herman Melville’s famous epic, Moby-Dick; we will read the book in its entirety.  This course explores a wide range of subjects, such as: philosophy, metaphysics, ontology, World/American/Scientific/Maritime history, art, mythology (Greek and otherwise), cetology, geography, popular art/ culture, justice, poetry, environmentalism, etymology, civilization, savagery, Shakespeare, heroism, war, nothingness, evil, darkness, hell, the abyss, god, death, race, religion, monstrousness, genius, madness, wisdom, ethics, eschatology and some slice of the complexity of existence within the human condition.

We will embark on this literary ship of the past as it winds its way from the world’s beginning to the present day, beginning at page one with Ishmael, a young man who, contemplating suicide, instead decides to commit himself to sea.  You can expect to finish this class with no answers, but rather, a firm grasp of the magnitude of the questions.  You can expect to improve enormously as a reader, to be mind-blown, blubber-brained, and equipped with a whole new set of philosophical and analytical tools to approach any daunting work of great literature you may read in the future.  Have no fear: we will work together as a crew to harpoon this evil epic.  Join me on a whaling voyage around the world!

Moby-Dick the Reptile

Our Moby-Dick Marathon may be done for 2013, but the influence of the story and its eternally metaphorical whale continue.  A recently discovered species of unpigmented skink, in the island country of Madagascar, is being nicknamed the Moby Dick mermaid skink. However, nicknames / common names, often change from language to language. For example, what we call cod, the Portuguese call bacalhau, the French call morue and the Norwegians call torsk. What doesn’t change is the scientific name. For the cod, that would be Gadus morhua. This new skink will forever have the white whale’s moniker attached to it no matter what language is used. It has been given the scientific name Sirenoscincus mobydick.  I’d like to thank Brandon Walecka for sending this story from Cosmos magazine to us.

This may be the first scientific name to include Moby-Dick. But, it’s not the first to include something from Herman Melville. There is a recently discovered species of fossil (and fearsome) sperm whale that in 2010 was given the name Livyatan melvillei. If you sound out the genus name, you’ll understand why the name was chosen…and that taxonomists have a sense of humor. Case in point, the scientific name for the blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus. This can translate into muscular winged whale. It can also translate into winged whale mouse.

Moby-Dick Marathon, Jan. 4-6

MDM17_ButtonThe New Bedford Whaling Museum’s 17th annual Moby-Dick Marathon celebrates Herman Melville’s literary masterpiece with a 25-hour nonstop public reading of the book during a weekend of activities and events, January 4 – 6, 2013. This year’s marathon is generously sponsored in part by Rockland Trust and the Empire Loan Charitable Foundation. Admission is free to the marathon and museum galleries during the event. Donations are gratefully accepted.

On Friday, January 4 at 5:30 p.m. the weekend kicks off with a ticketed buffet dinner and cash bar in the Jacobs Family Gallery. For tickets to the dinner ($29), call (508) 997-0046 ext. 100.

Dinner will be followed by a free public lecture titled Moby-Dick in Pictures: A Drawing For Every Page, presented by artist Matt Kish, at 7:15 p.m. in the Cook Memorial Theater. In 2009, the Ohio artist began creating an image a day based on text selected from every page of Moby-Dick. The work, which took 18 months complete, utilizes a wide variety of mixed media, to create “a visual masterpiece that echoes the layers of meaning in Melville’s narrative.”

On Saturday, January 5 at 10:00 a.m., Stump the Scholars, returns by popular demand – a free program in which the audience is invited to pose questions to Melville Society scholars on all matters Moby-Dick in the Cook Memorial Theater. Patterned after a popular public radio quiz show, a prize will be awarded to those who can stump the scholars.  Questions may be submitted  in advance at mdmarathon@whalingmuseum.org or posed just prior to the program.

At 11:30 a.m. in the Bourne Building, Melville Society members will read many of the 80 brief Extracts related to whales and whaling, which Melville included before Chapter 1.

At noon, the Moby-Dick Marathon begins with “Call me Ishmael.” – the most famous opening line in American literature, read by retired Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank. With more than 160 scheduled readers, the marathon will continue through the night, ending early Sunday afternoon.

All reading slots have been booked. The public is cordially invited to come and go at any time during the marathon, or stay for the entire 25 hours and win a prize.

For the first time in the marathon’s history, a sight impaired participant will read from a Braille edition of the book.

On Saturday at approximately 1:30 p.m., marathon participants will walk next door to the historic Seamen’s Bethel (est. 1832) – located at 15 Johnny Cake Hill for the reading of Chapters  7, 8, and 9, titled “The Chapel,” The Pulpit,” and “The Sermon”  – all three chapters take place in the original “Whaleman’s Chapel.”  This segment will feature a performance by Gerald P. Dyck. Vocalist, composer and longtime music director of the New Bedford Choral Society, Mr. Dyck, holds a Master of Sacred Music degree from the Union Theological Seminary School of Sacred Music.

Culture*Park, a regional performing arts collaborative, will stage Chapter 40, “Midnight, Forecastle” in the Cook Memorial Theater.

Guests are also invited to the Wattles Family Gallery to chat with Melville scholars on Saturday from 2:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. and Sunday, 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., and with Melville artist, Matt Kish from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. On Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., meet Melville artist, Jason Hancock in the Centre Street Gallery (main level) where his contemporary works inspired by Moby-Dick are on exhibit.

The Museum’s website will provide livestreaming throughout the weekend. Tweet the marathon with hashtag #MDM17 and @whalingmuseum.

Related exhibits to see during the marathon include A Voyage Around the World: Cultures Abroad, Cultures at Home.

Images related to the book will also be projected in the Cook Memorial Theater throughout the marathon, presented by the Museum’s youth apprentices.

A midwinter tradition, attracting hundreds of Moby-Dick fans from around the world,

the marathon marks the anniversary of Melville’s January 1841 departure from the port of New Bedford and Fairhaven aboard the whale ship, Acushnet.

Refreshments will be available for sale throughout the Marathon.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum is the world’s most comprehensive museum devoted to the global story of whales, whaling and the cultural history of the region. The cornerstone of New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, the Museum is located at 18 Johnny Cake Hill in the heart of the city’s historic downtown.

Moby-Dick Marathon Weekend Schedule of Events

Friday, January 4

5:30 p.m.: Ticketed buffet dinner, Jacobs Family Gallery (cash bar: 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.)

7:15 p.m.: Public lecture, “Moby-Dick in Pictures: A Drawing for Every Page,” with artist Matt Kish, Cook Memorial Theater.

Saturday, January 5

10:00 a.m.: Stump the Scholars, Cook Memorial Theater.

11:30 a.m.: The Moby-Dick Extracts, read by the Melville Society, Bourne Building.

12:00 noon: Moby-Dick Marathon begins, BourneBuilding.

1:30 p.m. (approx.): Chapters 7– 9 in the Seamen’s Bethel with Gerald P. Dyck.

2:30 p.m. (approx.): Marathon continues, Jacobs Family Gallery.

2:00 – 3:00 p.m.: Chat with a Melville scholar, Wattles Family Gallery.

6:00 – 7:00 p.m.: Chat with Melville artist, Matt Kish, Wattles Family Gallery.

7:00 p.m. (approx.): Chapters 35 – 40. “Midnight, Forecastle” performed by Culture*Park, Cook Memorial Theater.

8:00 p.m. (approx.): Marathon continues, Jacobs Family Gallery.

Sunday, January 6

9:00 – 10:30 a.m.: Chat with Melville artist, Jason Hancock, Centre Street Gallery.

9:30 – 11:00 a.m. Chat with a Melville scholar, Wattles Family Gallery.

1:00 p.m. (approx.): Marathon concludes with the Epilogue.

Moby-Dick Marathon reader call-in, Nov. 12

The 17th Annual Moby-Dick Marathon is scheduled for January 5-6, 2013 and all those interested in reading are invited to contact the museum, starting at 12:01 a.m. Monday, November 12. Call (508) 717-6851 or email: mdmarathon@whalingmuseum.org to request a 7-10 minute reading slot. Be sure to provide your full name and preferred reading time as well as two alternate times.

Every January, the world’s largest whaling museum marks the anniversary of Herman Melville’s 1841 whaling voyage from New Bedford with a 25-hour nonstop reading of America’s greatest novel – Moby-Dick. The weekend includes three days of activities, January 4-5-6, 2013, including a ticketed buffet dinner and lecture on Friday evening.

A midwinter tradition, the marathon attracts hundreds of readers and listeners from around the world. The reading begins at noon on Saturday, January 5 and finishes at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, January 6. Snow and cold will not stop this literary happening. Come at any time; leave at any time, or stay 25 hours and win a prize!

For more information, contact: Robert C. Rocha, Jr. Science Director: (508) 997-0046, ext. 149,  rrocha@whalingmuseum.org

The Futurity of the Whale, “Moby-Dick Big Read”

Thanks to Dr Philip Hoare for providing this blog post about Moby-Dick Big Read. He is artist-in-residence at the Marine Institute, Plymouth University, UK and author of The Whale (Ecco), winner of the 2009 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction. Posted today, Chapter 30, The Pipe, as read by David Cameron. Download all the chapters or listen online.

This project is a great kick-start for our own Moby Dick Marathon. Mark November 12 on your calendar, it is “Reader Call-In Day”. Send an email to mdmarathon (at) whalingmuseum.org or call (508) 717-6851 to request a reading slot.

Moby-Dick, published in 1851, is acknowledged as the greatest American novel.   A century and a half later, art and science still has to catch up with it.  Herman Melville prophesied an age in which man’s abuse of nature would lead to problems for both human and cetaceans.  That intense sense of contemporary relevance – the delayed-effect impact of the book – prompted Angela Cockayne and I, as curators of the Moby-Dick Big Read for Peninsula Arts, Plymouth University, UK, to create an online rendition of the book.  Above all, we were inspired by the world famous New Bedford Whaling Museum’s marathon reading of the book.

Our readers include Tilda Swinton, Sir David Attenborough, Stephen Fry, Simon Callow, John Waters, Benedict Cumberbatch, Nathaniel Philbrick, Chad Hardbach, Caleb Crain, Andrew Delbanco and Mary Oliver.  But as well as these celebrated names, we invited readings from the general public in the democratic spirit of the project – from schoolchildren to fishermen.  And rather than have a blank web page whilst listening to these chapters, we expanded the project to include images from international contemporary artists such as Anish Kapoor, Mark Wallinger, George Shaw, Dexter Dallwood, Gavin Turk, Zaha Hadid, Susan Hiller, Dorothy Cross and Antony Gormley, many of whom have created new works specifically for the project.

I like to think Herman Melville would have approved of this British exposition of his extraordinary work.  After all, the novel was partly conceived during Melville’s visit to London in 1849.  He stayed in rooms on Craven St, next to  Charing Crossstation – the house is now marked by a blue plaque.  And for reasons of copyright (which did not then exist in the US), his book, entitled The Whale, was also first published in Britain by Richard Bentley, in a deluxe, three-volume edition for the carriage trade.

Craven Street, London

Famously, the book did not fare well on its transition across the Atlantic.  The American first edition never sold out and Melville died in 1891, his genius unacknowledged.  Here too we British may lay claim to reviving Moby-Dick’s reputation.  In the 1920s, writers such as D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, W.H.Auden and E.M.Forster acclaimed Moby-Dick as a modernist work before modernism was invented.

How amazed Melville would be to find out far his work has lodged in our modern culture, both high and low.  Moby-Dick remains firmly in the zeitgeist.  Kraken-tattooed and buff science-fiction writer, China Mieville’s latest book, Railsea, riffs on the subject, while director Lynne Ramsay (We Need to Talk About Kevin) is working on a movie version of Moby-Dick set in outer space.  And every high street has reminder of Melville’s masterpiece named after Captain Ahab’s first mate – Starbuck.  There, sipping your latte, you may check another, aural reference: pop star Moby, real name Richard Melville Hall, is named after the book written by his great-great uncle, Herman.  Word is that Moby-Dick is Barack Obama’s favourite book; also Morgan Freeman’s; and Woody Allen confesses to being a recent convert.

And the reverberations of Melville’s text continue, not least in the way it raised questions of imperialism, fundamentalism, morality and faith.  When it was published, shortly before the American Civil War, it was a coded comment on the internecine conflict over slavery (most especially via the indirect inspiration of Frederick Douglass, whom Melville may, or may not, have met in New Bedford’s streets).  More recently, it was cited by Edward Said in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, when the writer compared the ‘war on terror’ as an impossible pursuit, like the captain’s demonic hunt for the White Whale.  Nor could you ignore its relevance today.  Witness this quote from Chapter One, ‘Loomings’:

Grand contested Election for the Presidency of the United States

WHALING VOYAGE BY ONE ISHMAEL

BLOODY BATTLE IN AFFGHANISTAN.

I’m delighted to join the New Bedford Whaling Museum – global home of the back-story to Melville’s extraordinary work – in bringing Moby-Dick into the digital age.  After all, Melville’s book, with its unedited, digressive and allusive prose, resembles nothing so much as a modern blog.  The famous ‘Extracts’ that precede his main text have the air of a Victorian search engine.  And if he were writing his book today, I don’t think Herman would have ever finished it: he’d be forever googling ‘Whale’.