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.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Whaling Logs, as considered by one writer

There was an interesting post recently at the blog of writer and antiquarian book dealer, Gregory Gibson. Quite a Life peruses the "sub-genre" of whaling logs, with particular attention to the log of "The Bark Triton," which left New Bedford on October 10, 1860, not to return until April 23, 1865. Lots of scans of logs' original pages.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Holmes's "Revelation"

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. -- the Supreme Court justice and son of the Autocrat of the Breakfast Table -- was among those readers who, in the 1920s, were delighted by a new discovery in American letters, a novel about whaling by an obscure 19th-century writer of travel narratives who had then been dead some 30 years:
Did I mention my revelation ... ? Herman Melville and Moby Dick -- an account of sperm whaling with a story superadded.  Anyhow I have finished it now and can say more certainly than ever that, with longueurs, it is, yet, I think, a mighty book.  Not Shakespeare had more feeling of the mystery of the world and of life.  There are mountain peaks and chasms -- and the whole is as thick with life at first hand now as the day it was written -- as Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter seemed to me thin, 20 years ago.  (W[illiam] James replied to me when I said so, Because it is an original book.)  Incidentally, it pleases me that he takes his fellow-sailors, a cannibal, an Indian, a negro and old Nantucket mates and captain with the same unconscious seriousness that common men would reserve for Presidents and Prime Ministers.  And my, but he nobly exalts the Nantucket Whalemen, the Macys, the Coffins and the rest.  I don't want to say too much but if you like George Borrow as I do I think this is a bigger man.  If I made a shelf of strong impressions of recent years it would be an odd lot.  Moby Dick beside Pearson's Grammar of Science or the best of Santayana or Lotze's Microcosmos
This comes from an April 14, 1921, letter from Holmes to Harold Laski, reprinted in part in Richard Posner's The Essential Holmes (1992).  Holmes, born in 1841, was thus about 79 or 80 years old when he read Moby-Dick, and had been on the U.S. Supreme Court for 19 years.  (He still had about 11 more years to go on the Court, clinging to his seat until his death in early 1932.) 

The worlds of publishing, academia, and literary criticism have changed so much since the 19th century that it's almost impossible to imagine a work from the 1950s as great as Moby-Dick lying forgotten and largely unavailable for 70 years.  English professors make careers out of burnishing the reputations of unjustly neglected authors (and even justly neglected ones; Peyton Place is now kept in print by Northeastern University Press, in a paperback edition with a scholarly introduction). 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Current Large-Print Moby-Dick

In a recent post at The Moby-Dick Collection, Mr. Pettit displays a nice-looking large-print edition of Moby-Dick, published in hardcover in 1969 by Franklin Watts, Inc.  Unfortunately for me, I was not aware of this edition when I ordered a large-print Moby-Dick for myself from Amazon last year. 

This one is a paperback published by BiblioBazaar.  According to Wikipedia, BiblioBazaar is a division or subsidiary of BiblioLabs LLC.  BiblioLabs is in turn (according to its own website) "a hybrid software-media company, with a focus on using technology to enable curators and subject matter experts to create new works from the wealth of licensed, open source and public domain materials available within our core database." 

Not surprisingly, therefore, BiblioBazaar's large-print Moby-Dick uses one of the uncorrected public-domain texts.  This became apparent to me during the 2011 New Bedford Moby-Dick marathon, when I followed along in this version and began marking ways in which this text appeared to differ from what the readers were saying.

I bought a large-print edition because I wanted one that I could read comfortably at the podium without either stooping over it or holding it up to my face.  This worked well for that, although as mentioned the text is not the most up-to-date.  It's also a heavy one -- too heavy for Gansevoort, I'm sure, but I'm willing to put up with that.  Indeed, the text is so large that I can just keep it open in my lap and follow along with no trouble.

It must be admitted, however, that this is no thing of beauty.  It seems very much like a print-on-demand volume: just the text (with "Etymology" and "Extracts" at the end) and a non-specific cover.

Norton Critical Editions Moby-Dick
Signet Classics Moby-Dick
Penguin English Library Moby-Dick

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Higgledy-Piggledy Whale Statements - 3

For the film-fans among us, here's another interesting article in Cinefantastique: "Sons of Moby Dick: Melville’s White Whale has spawned a school of sea monsters." Author Steve Biodrowski discusses films that deal with scary things that come out of the ocean, including Godzilla, Jaws, Anaconda, and both the Gregory Peck and Patrick Stewart versions of our beloved tome.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Today in History

From The New York Times, on this day in 1884:

...A whale was sporting in the waters off the south side of the island [Nantucket]... But alas! there was scarcely a vestige of whaling gear upon the island, so no effort could be made to capture his whaleship...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

American Whalefleet - 1839

Here are some statistics that may be of interest, taken from the enlightening compendium The Yankee Whaler, by New Bedford native Clifford W. Ashley (author of The Ashley Book of Knots). This book seems to have been dropped by the publisher, Dover, but used copies can be found on Amazon. If you're interested in the history, practice, and nitty-gritty details of whaling, whaleships, and whalemen, it's a great resource.
Ashley took the following table from Charles Melville(!) Scammon. "It shows the size and distribution of the American fleet in the year 1839, when more ports were engaged in whaling than at any other time."
Wikipedia has articles to clarify the terms bark, brig, and schooner. (The distinction between "ship" and the others is unknown to me.) I sorted the table by tonnage, the total cargo carrying capacity of a city's fleet.
It's not surprising to see New Bedford, Nantucket, and Fair Haven at the head of the list. Ashley reports that by 1823 New Bedford's fleet equaled Nantucket's, both in numbers and tonnage. Sixteen years later, New Bedford's fleet was more than twice that of Nantucket in both measures.
Poughkeepsie and Hudson, lying 80 and 150 miles up-river from New York harbor, are a surprise. Of course, those are the cities of ownership, not necessarily the home port.
I was also surprised to see such major ports as New York, Portland, Portsmouth, and last-place Boston so far down the list; and to see New Jersey and Delaware there at all.
As of 1839, these states with "ocean access" were members of "the union," but are missing from this list: Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. (Some of these states may have dabbled in whaling before or after 1839—Ashley writes that in the years after the War of 1812, i.e. after February 1815, Philadelphia sent out two whaling voyages.) Was that due to lack of capital, lack of a distribution system for product, greater demand for product in New England, or inability to compete against established whaling centers for talented shipwrights, officers, and crew?
City where ownedStateShips and
Brigs and
New BedfordMA169856118
New LondonCT30911447
Sag HarborNY3110605
Fall RiverMA431604
Holmes' Hole (Vineyard Haven)MA311180
New YorkNY3710
Coldspring HarborNY2629
New SuffolkNY1274

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Moby-Dick at SUNY Albany

The exhibit of a selection from Mr. Pettit's Moby-Dick collection is now open at the main library of SUNY's Albany campus.  The exhibit focuses on foreign-language editions and on illustrations of Ahab.  It will apparently be on view only through April 24, so don't procrastinate if you happen to be in the Albany area. 

An interview with Mr. Pettit about his Moby-Dick obsession can be found here.

"I like the Nantucketers"

In her 1859 novel The Minister's Wooing, Harriet Beecher Stowe depicts the religious, social, and romantic concerns of the good citizens of Newport, Rhode Island, in the 1790s.  In Chapter XXX ("The Quilting"), she presents a sewing bee, during which some of the young single women discuss marriage.  The topic of a husband's occupation comes up:
Cerinthy Ann contrived to produce an agreeable electric shock by declaring, that, for her part, she never could see into it, how any girl could marry a minister,-- that she should as soon think of setting up housekeeping in a meeting-house.

"Oh, Cerinthy Ann!" exclaimed her mother, "how can you go on so?"

"It's a fact," said the adventurous damsel; "now other men let you have some peace,-- but a minister's always round under your feet."

"So you think, the less you see of a husband, the better?" said one of the ladies.

"Just my views," said Cerinthy, giving a decided snip to her thread with her scissors; "I like the Nantucketers, that go off on four-years' voyages, and leave their wives a clear field.  If ever I get married, I'm going to have one of those fellows."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Father Taylor in Boston

Lemuel's post on Edward Thompson Taylor set me off on a wave of Web surfing.

"Father Taylor" is mentioned by name twice in Richard Henry Dana Jr.'s memoir, Two Years Before the Mast. Once for absolving seamen of blame should they consent to orders to work on a Sunday; once as a subject of conversation with the mates of the Lagoda (yes, that Lagoda, which was a merchant ship from 1826 to 1841), at anchor in San Diego:

One of their first inquiries was for Father Taylor, the seamen's preacher in Boston. Then followed the usual strain of conversation, inquiries, stories, and jokes, which one must always hear in a ship's forecastle, but which are, perhaps, after all, no worse, though more gross and coarse, than those one may chance to hear from some well-dressed gentlemen around their tables.

According to Find-A-Grave, Taylor's privateer was captured by the British, and he spent time in Dartmoor Prison. In 1847 he served as chaplain on board the U.S.S. Macedonian, transporting famine relief to Ireland, where he preached in Cork as well as Glasgow, Scotland. He is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery in Mattapan (south Boston).

The biography that Lemuel mentioned, Father Taylor, the Sailor Preacher, is here on Google Books. Of note is the following:

...1833, realized the completion, at the cost of twenty-four thousand dollars, of the world-known edifice, the Seamen's Bethel, North Square, Boston.

In his dedication sermon, Taylor is quoted (p. 125):

America is the centre of the world, and the centre of America is Boston, and the centre of Boston is North Square, and the centre of North Square is the Bethel.

In 1847 the Mariner's House was built across the square from the Bethel. It still offers budget accommodations to working seamen.

According to, the Seamen's Bethel became the Sacred Heart Church after Taylor's death in 1871. It remains so today. Looking at an exterior photo, I have to wonder if any of the original Bethel was preserved. (Road trip, Lemuel!)

Emerson referred to Taylor as the "Poet of the Sailor and of Ann Street" (see Lem's post). Ann Street gets several mentions in Two Years Before the Mast as the seaman's main drag in Boston; e.g., "In a few hours I was down in Ann Street, and on my way to Hackstadt's boarding-house..."

Until 1852, when it was renamed North Street (which name it still carries) in an effort to improve its image, the infamous Ann Street area was known as the "Black Sea." In 1851, police "estimated that it was home to 227 brothels, 26 gambling dens, and 1,500 establishments that sold liquor." (Wikipedia)

Looking at the 1814 map above, you can see Ann Street running NNE along the wharves, becoming Fish Street, and passing the southern tip of the triangular North Square. (You can view the entire map at this Boston Public Library site.) Father Taylor's Bethel was across the street from the NE corner of North Square. The Mariner's House is on the West side of the square. Cross Street and Richmond Street, both running NW from Fish Street, exist today, but Ann/Fish Street is no longer the eastern-most street of this area.

Tales of the Seamen's Bethel, Part 2

It seems to be generally acknowledged that Melville largely based his Father Mapple on the Boston sailor-preacher Edward Thompson Taylor (1793-1871).  Father Taylor, as he was known, was born in Richmond, Virginia, first went to sea at age 7, and fought in the War of 1812 aboard the privateer Black Hawk until his capture and imprisonment by the British.  He later worked as a junkman, a peddlar, and a farmer.

Is this the face of Father Mapple?
Father Taylor's religious awakening occurred in 1811, when he wandered into a Methodist service while in port in Boston.  After the war, his amateur preaching brought him to the attention of a church elder who paid for him to have six months of schooling in Newmarket, New Hampshire -- the only formal education Taylor ever received.  Ordained in 1819, he was given charge of the Seamen's Bethel on the waterfront in Boston's North End in 1830.

Among Father Taylor's admirers was Emerson, who often attended his sermons.  As Carlos Baker describes one such occasion in Emerson among the Eccentrics: A Group Portrait (p. 71):
[Emerson] watched Taylor pacing his pulpit platform while the crowd gathered -- restive as a racehorse, beckoning tardy sailors to the front pews, imperiously waving at others to move over and make room.  At forty-two he looked to be fifty, a wiry, weather-beaten man of middle height, his highly mobile face grooved with deep lines, his graying hair swept back, his Ben Franklin spectacles perched high on his brow, and the worn old Bible cradled in his arms.  In due course he came forward to the lectern, "threw back his coat-collar, rolled up his cuffs, ran his fingers backward through his hair," and began to preach.

Behind him as he spoke was the only ornament in the chapel -- a large canvas depicting a ship in distress, braving the billows under lowering skies while mariners labored to keep the hulk afloat.  It was a symbolic picture and the congregation knew it.  Many a time in the heat and fury of his sermon he pointed it out as a graphic representation of the human predicament.  He knew instinctively how to use it for maximum effect, owned the maritime experience and the idiomatic vocabulary to describe it, could in a twinkling summon up many a tale of disasters at sea, when the sailors "cried unto the Lord" and were yanked out of the maw of the deep by timely intercession....

"And so he went on," wrote Emerson, "this Poet of the Sailor and of Ann Street -- fusing all the rude hearts of his auditory with the heat of his own love and making the abstractions of philosophers accessible and effectual to them also."
Baker's chapter on Father Taylor includes evocative examples of his oratory, along with a discussion of his impact on Emerson's views of religion.  The biographical details above are taken from Baker's book and from Father Taylor, the Sailor Preacher, an 1872 biography by Gilbert Haven and Thomas Russell (available on Google).

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tales of the Seamen's Bethel, Part 1

According to Hershel Parker's Herman Melville: A Biography (vol. 1), the New Bedford Seamen's Bethel in which marathoners foregather to hear Chapter IX ("The Sermon") is not the same Seamen's Bethel that Herman and his brother Gansevoort attended a few days before Herman sailed on his first whaling voyage in January 1841.  The original structure was built in 1831 ... and burned in 1866.  As Prof. Parker goes on to explain, "many of the marble cenotaphs were saved from the fire and masoned into the walls of the replacement chapel, built at the old site on Johnny-Cake Hill."  (See pages 184-85 of vol. 1.)

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Besides, to this day, the highly enlightened Turks devoutly believe in the historical story of Jonah. And some three centuries ago, an English traveller in old Harris's Voyages, speaks of a Turkish Mosque built in honour of Jonah, in which Mosque was a miraculous lamp that burnt without any oil. 
     -- from Chapter LXXXIII, "Jonah Historically Regarded" 

In case any of our loyal readers may be wondering why I've left Gansevoort to shoulder the whole burden here for the past few weeks, I will offer an explanation.  Unlike Gansevoort, I have to work for a living.  And yesterday I returned from a business trip to Turkey.  I did not come across the above-mentioned mosque in honor of Jonah, but my client did take me to a wonderful seafood restaurant in Ankara.  The display of fish at right was in the entry to the restaurant -- we had (among other weird and wonderful things) the smallish silvery fish in the foreground, which I was told are not available in this immature form outside the Black Sea region.

Friday, March 18, 2011

...when Leviathan is the text - 7

(7th in the search for the ideal edition for an MDM)

...gropes he not his way by mere dead reckoning of the error-abounding log?
- Chapter CXXIII

Avast, mates! I need to hit the reset button.

This won't be news to the legitimate literati among you, but the examination of the 1995 Könemann edition of M-D showed me the error of my ways—those "Note on the Text" sections included in many tomes are skipped at one's peril. Even recent editions of our beloved text can carry errors dating as far back as that first publication in London on October 18, 1851. These errors run the gamut from distracting typos (e.g. "...him bevy small-e fish-e..." ) to passages that make no sense. (The meaning of "One hundred pounds of clay reward for Pip..." in The Log and Line is opaque until emended to "One hundred pounds of clay! reward for Pip...")

To cut to the punch line, the accepted accurate version of M-D is found in the Northwestern-Newberry Edition of The Writings of Herman Melville, originally published in 1988. It is the result of the research of Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle. Any edition of M-D published before 1988 is bound to contain known errors. It's also worth noting that a post-'88 publication date is no guarantee of fidelity, as in the case of the Könemann.

So where does the addition of this new criterion leave us in the search for the ideal MDM companion?

First, we must jettison from consideration any pre-'88 publication. This includes the Spencer Press and Encyclopædia Britannica offerings already reviewed, as well as others I had on-deck from Grolier; Easton Press; Franklin Library; Macmillan Company; Dodd, Mead & Co.; Norton, 1976; Hendricks House; The Folio Society; and Albert & Charles Boni. Many of these are beautiful examples of the printer's art. You should indulge your lust for them over at the estimable blog, The Moby-Dick Collection, but remember we're looking for a working volume that will be our marathon craft.

Second, note that the Modern Library edition, previously reviewed, is not "Northwestern-Newberry compliant," even though it was published in 1992 (even though it has those captivating Rockwell Kent illustrations). Likewise the Reader's Digest edition—easily found, nicely put-together, but it contains errors that are corrected in "N-N."

The way forward...

Is there an affordable, Northwestern-Newberry M-D with sewn binding? We have the Library of America edition, but it's a 3-pack of works that includes Redburn and White-Jacket, so it's hefty.

I reckon the ideal volume could be made from a Lib. of Am. edition by lopping off the unnecessary (for the MDM) signatures and re-binding. There are several new copies available now on Amazon for about $25, including shipping, then for about $40, Lynda's Custom Bookbinding (about which I know nothing) will re-bind it with a cloth hardcover. (Do-it-yourself binding is another option.) In the end you would have a marathon-ready book for $65 or so.

A more economical path is to jettison the hardcover-sewn-binding criterion. Paula Radcliffe doesn't expect her running shoes to last forever; B.B. King doesn't expect his guitar strings to last forever. If we consider our marathon M-D to be a tool, a consumable, we needn't worry that eventually the binding might split and the pages fall out. We'll replace it and return to the work.

A scan of Amazon gave me nine paperback editions for consideration, all published after 2000, so they damn well should use the Northwestern-Newberry text. I picked up a copy of one of these at a local, no-nonsense bookstore, and (dare I say it?) it could be the one.

To be continued...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

...when Leviathan is the text - 6

(6th in the search for the ideal edition for an MDM)

It was just one of those things,
Just one of those crazy flings,
One of those bells that now and then rings,
Just one of those things.

When I saw it on the library shelf, tucked modestly among those pretentious editions, its confident, sophisticated restraint was alluring. Sized like a trade paperback (4.75" x 7" x 1.125"), but with slightly supple boards, it nestled in my hand like a prayerbook. It opened coolly, exposing smooth, light-cream paper and a classically tailored, sewn binding. One look at its typeface and I was smitten. This edition had a font that felt warm and generous, unlike the self-conscious, condensed fonts of its "hipper" rivals. These letterforms were soft, open, ... zaftig! I was on the threshold to the magical world of sensual delights that most men dare not dream of. I brought it to my place to get better acquainted.

It was just one of those nights,
Just one of those fabulous flights,
A trip to the moon on gossamer wings,
Just one of those things.

It came to this country in 1995 from the small German publisher, Könemann (since acquired by publishing powerhouse Tandem Verlag). My head was spinning. This book defied the laws of physics—630 pages, with less-than-average show-through, weighing a mere 17.5 ounces. No illustrations or extraneous commentary. ...and that irresistible typeface! I couldn't take my eyes off of it. (See the Typeface Tally post.)

Visions danced in my head, of enchanted January nights together in the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Could this be the one?

So what if it didn't have a table of contents—the Etymology and Extracts were there! It was charmingly continental in the way it marked a footnote with a cute dingbat () in the margin, and gathered the actual footnotes at the end of the book. And if the editors mixed their own notes in with Melville's originals, I could learn to live with that, I told myself.

If we’d thought a bit, of the end of it
When we started painting the town,
We’d have been aware that our love affair
Was too hot, not to cool down.

Then I happened to notice that Cetology is headed "Chapter XXXIIC". (An endearing quirk!) And hey, what was that extra paragraph break on the first page of The Spirit Spout? (Geez, that foreign accent is getting on my nerves.) And why are there no chapter-title headings on any of the pages? (I'm starting to miss that table of contents.)

One idle evening I innocently glanced at the section A Note on the Text in my comprehensive first love, the Penguin paperback, and my heart began to break.

Recall that in 1988, seven years before my German beauty was born, Hayford, Parker, and Tanselle published the now-standard "Northwestern-Newberry Edition" of The Writings of Herman Melville. Their work (summarized here by Library of America) corrected hundreds of errors and variations in the accepted text(s). My Penguin's "Notes" listed many of these corrections. After checking a few in the Könemann edition I knew my fling was flung. Clearly meine Liebchen had never even seen the corrections of Hayford and Parker's 1967 "Norton Critical Edition," much less the Northwestern-Newberry!

Picture yourself at the Whaling Museum's podium reciting "...and the knot slamming against the wall...," or "...all four boats were diagonically in the whale's immediate wake...;" or referring to Queequeg's island of "Rokovoko"—just a few of Könemann's coy requests.

I had to break it off. (Can you blame me?)

I escorted my seductress back to the library; the less said the better in these situations. The comely volume slipped silently into the "Returns" slot, and out of my life.

So beware—don't let this Könemann make a fool of you, too. Somewhere out there is an edition with beauty and brains.

So good-bye, dear, and amen.
Here’s hoping we meet now and then.
It was great fun but it was
just one of those things.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Typeface Tally

This will be a growing collection of typography samples from the serious contenders in the series of posts searching for the ideal edition for an MDM. The photos might not display as 3" wide on your monitor, but they are all cropped at three inches on the ruler and scaled to the same pixel width, so at least the relative proportions are comparable.

Reader's Digest, 1989 edition

Könemann, 1995 edition

Everyman's Library, 1991 edition

Barnes & Noble, 1994 edition

Norton Critical Edition, 1999
(a.k.a. NCE2)

Longman Critical Edition, 2007

Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition

Northwestern University Press 150th Anniversary Edition

Library of America Paperback Classics edition

Norton Critical Edition, 2018
(a.k.a. NCE3)

...when Leviathan is the text - 5

[revised 3/19/11]
Back to the Future... (5th in the search for the ideal edition for an MDM)

Here's a test: Do you remember Milli Vanilli? ...or watching Paula Abdul's music videos on MTV? If not, then the Reader's Digest edition (circa 1989) might be your ideal MDM companion. You're young enough to have sharp eyesight, and too young to remember the stylistic excesses of the late twentieth century.
The Reader's Digest edition of M-D is found in numbers on eBay. It measures 6.125" x 9.25" x 1.5", with rigid boards, sewn binding, and an easily recognized spine and cover. There's no colophon or mention of "acid-free," but the paper is smooth, cream-colored, and feels sturdy. The library copy I examined showed no yellowing of the pages. Show-through is minimal.
This one is built to last, and it ain't no featherweight. It comes in at 32.6 ounces, about an ounce heavier than my Library of America 3-pack of Redburn, White-Jacket, and Moby-Dick.

The content is well-pared for marathoning. The required elements are there: table of contents, Extracts, Etymology, and Melville's footnotes. The only non-essentials are a five-page Afterword by author Thomas Fleming, and twelve illustrations by Joe Ciardiello, whose work you may well recognize. The color scheme (black, white, & faded turquoise) is carried through all the illustrations and chapter headings. For me, who equates The Breakfast Club with cinematic torture, the book's design feels uncomfortably retro (which is to say, it makes me feel old).
Also "uncomfortable" for me is the typeface. It's on the small side, and a bit too condensed, giving it an over-caffeinated, frenetic feel. I doubt I could live with this font for 25 hours, but that's me. (See the Typeface Tally post.) The margins and line-spacing are fine (the gutters could be wider).

If you're brawny of arm, keen of eye, and don't remember the days when ketchup was a vegetable, this could be the one for you.
NB: The text is not "Northwestern-Newberry compliant." [3/19/11]
The search continues...

Monday, March 7, 2011

...when Leviathan is the text - 4

A quick post on another widely-available (used) edition of M-D that ultimately fails the criteria... (4th in the search for the ideal edition for an MDM)

Along the lines of the Spenser Press, Encyclopædia Britannica has its own shelf-filler offering called "Great Books of the Western World." The 1978 printing of the original 1952 edition measures about 6.25" x 9.5", and is 7/8" thick with 420 pages. The cover is plain, showing simply "Melville," the Britannica logo, and "48" (the series volume number) gilt-embossed on the spine. Rigid boards, smooth, cream-colored paper; show-through about at its acceptable limit. Also at its limit is the line-spacing—the descenders are a hair's breadth from the ascenders of the following line. (In the photo, just above the ruler, see how the p in "up" collides with the d of "god" below it.) The font size is on the stingy side, as are the gutters. There's no note as to acid-free paper, but this 33-year-old library copy shows no yellowing.

The table of contents, Extracts, Etymology, and Melville's footnotes are there, right and proper. Other than that, it's stripped for marathoning—no illustrations, and only two pages of biography. Even Melville's inscription to Hawthorne is gone. (That's going a page too far!)

It weighs in at 21.4 ounces (nearly a half-pound lighter than the Modern Library edition). The result is a usable edition that is not too large or heavy to hold.

Its failing is the same fatal flaw of the Modern Library edition: glued binding. Britannica's edition might live with this shortcoming longer than the Mod. Lib. because, having about half as many pages, there's less mass stressing the glue when it's opened to a middle chapter. When you're finishing Chapter LX, "All men are enveloped in whale lines. All are born with halters round their necks...," Britannica's glue is holding together two blocks of 210 pages. In the Mod. Lib. edition, the glue has to couple two wads of 400-plus pages. (Yes, Mod. Lib.'s pages are thinner/lighter, but they're not half the weight of Britannica's.)

So, this is an M-D that's stripped for the long haul, but requires careful handling. If you come across a cheap copy whose binding is not split, it might serve for a few MDMs. Better editions ahead...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Aboard a Whaler

Those who have never taken the trouble or never have had an opportunity of visiting a whale-ship, fitted for a three years' cruize beyond Cape Horn, will be ignorant of what they have lost, until a leisure moment is profitably employed in that way.  There, between the plank and timbers of a ship of four hundred tons, is a little world; a monarchy in miniature, with an Emperor whose power is absolute as that of the Moon's twin brother who reigns in China, and with occupations as various as are to be found in a house of industry.  There is employed at his forge a blacksmith, and here, as deliberately following his vocation, a carpenter, while near at hand is to be seen the sail maker, pursuing the even tenor of his seam, and whiling away the time with a song. The whole deck, from the tafrail to the heel of the bowsprit, presents to the eye of the beholder, the idea and the picture of a community who knows of nothing beyond the bulwarks, and to whom every thing farther off was the same as if it never had existed.  Just forward of the mainmast is seen, deeply embedded in bricks and mortar, a huge boiler, that looks as if the waters of the Pacific itself were to be heated, and the whale and misshapen walrus boiled to a jelly, and started into casks for New England consumption.  Abaft this is the camboose, or "office of the doctor," as the sailors are in the habit of calling the cook, and truly it is a place that will be looked upon, for the three succeeding years, with not a little interest, as the source from whence emanates the supplies of beef and pork, but without any thing peculiar to recommend it to the attention of strangers, who are less interested.
--from "A Whaler," the Washington Daily National Intelligencer, April 30, 1829 (quoted in vol. 1 of Hershel Parker's Herman Melville: A Biography, p. 183 [1996]).