The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Captain Ahab and Admiral Nelson

Thomas Hardy (Bain News
Service, publisher, public
domain, via Wikimedia
The Dynasts is a three-volume epic poem (in the form of a drama that could never be staged) by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928).  Published between 1904 and 1908, it depicts the Napoleonic Wars through the actions of heads of state, generals and admirals, and the man in the street, with framing commentary by various "shades" and "spirits" that observe humanity.

My cursory research has not turned up any evidence that Hardy read or was aware of Moby-Dick.  (The Oxford Reader's Companion to Hardy [2000], for example, contains no entry for either Melville or Moby-Dick.)  All the same, in volume one of The Dynasts—in Part First, Act Fifth, Scene IV, to be exact—Hardy puts a very Ahab-like speech in the mouth of Admiral Nelson.  In the scene, set aboard the Victory at the battle of Trafalgar, Nelson lies dying from a gun shot to his spine.  He gives the order "to anchor" to the officers standing nearby, and one officer asks him if he wishes Admiral Collingwood to be instructed to "take full on him the conduct of affairs."  Nelson says no, that he will continue in command himself:
Give Collingwood my order.  Anchor all. 
... By God, if but our carpenter
Could rig me up a jury-backbone now,
To last one hour—until the battle's done,
I'd see to it!  But here I am—stove in—
Broken—all logged and done for!  Done, ay done!
By way of comparison, here's a taste of Ahab:
Carpenter, when he's through with that buckle, tell him [the blacksmith] to forge a pair of steel shoulder-blades; there's a pedlar aboard with a crushing pack. ... 
Hold; while Prometheus is about it, I'll order a complete man after a desirable pattern. Imprimis, fifty feet high in his socks; then, chest modelled after the Thames Tunnel; then, legs with roots to 'em, to stay in one place; then, arms three feet through the wrist; no heart at all, brass forehead, and about a quarter of an acre of fine brains; and let me see—shall I order eyes to see outwards? No, but put a sky-light on top of his head to illuminate inwards. There, take the order, and away.
(From Chapter CVIII, "Ahab and the Carpenter.")

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