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, November 20, 2011

Today in History

One hundred ninety-one years ago (November 20, 1820) was the event that started it all, for us Marathoners: The whaleship Essex, out of Nantucket and hunting in the south Pacific, was struck and sunk by a large sperm whale. The crew of twenty set out in three whaleboats. Eight survived.

Owen Chase
Owen Chase (1798-1869) was the first mate on the Essex. He wrote about the incident in Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex.

On July 23, 1841, the whaleship Acushnet gammed with the Lima about 2000 miles west of Ecuador. At this gam, Melville met Owen's son, William Henry Chase, and "first held a copy of Chase's Narrative."

Melville recalled years later, "The reading of this wondrous story upon the landless sea, & close to the very latitude of the shipwreck, had a surprising effect upon me." (Herman Melville, v.1; Hershel Parker, 1996)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Today in History

This date in 1851 was the official publication date of Moby-Dick in the U.S. (It had been published in England on October 18, as The Whale.)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Today in History

Published in The New York Times, November 5, 1851:
Thrilling Account of the Destruction of a Whale Ship by a Sperm Whale—Sinking the Ship—Loss of the Boats and Miraculous Escape of the Crew 
We have just received the following thrilling account of the destruction of the Whale Ship Anne Alexander, Capt. John S. Deblois, of New Bedford, by a large Sperm Whale, from the lips of the Captain himself, who arrived in this city from Paita on Sunday last, in the schooner Providence. ... A similar circumstance has never been known to occur, but once in the whole history of whale-fishing, and that was the destruction of the ship Essex, some twenty or twenty-five years ago... The ship Ann Alexander ... sailed from New Bedford, Ma., June 1st, 1850...  
The full article reads like a replay of the story of the Essex. On August 20, 1851, a hunted sperm whale smashed two whaleboats in his jaws, then later rammed the ship, "knocking a great hole entirely through her bottom." The crew escaped in the remaining whaleboats with twelve quarts of water, five gallons of vinegar, and twenty pounds of wet bread. On August 22, they had the luck to be rescued by the Nantucket (of Nantucket).

Moby-Dick was published (in the U.S.) just nine days after this article appeared. (Think what a modern-day publicist would make of that coincidence!) As Hershel Parker relates in Herman Melville, A Biography, "around 5 November Evert Duyckinck sent Melville a clipping about this Ann Alexander catastrophe." Melville's reply, dated November 7, is rather restrained, but contains an odd reference to the year of the Pequod's sinking:
It is really and truly a surprising coincidence—to say the least. I make no doubt it is Moby Dick himself, for there is no account of his capture after the sad fate of the Pequod about fourteen years ago [emphasis added]. —Ye Gods! What a Commentator is this Ann Alexander whale. What he has to say is short & pithy & very much to the point. I wonder if my evil art has raised this monster.
According to Melville then, the Pequod sank "about" 14 years before 1851, i.e. about 1837. If he states or implies this date in the novel, I've missed it for years. Any help out there?