An engaging account by a 25-year-old naturalist of a whaling voyage to South Georgia in 1912, taking the form of a log written to and for his new wife, Grace. Witty and reflective, including lots of material on his own reading and library, mostly during the ship’s passage through the tropics.
p. 8-9, July 8 : The skipper and the cooper—the latter a native of Fayal and one of the three bona fide white men on board this craft—have made and installed a shipshape set of bookshelves for my library, which is now all accessible and secure behind battens. he volumes might be called a motley assemblage, comprising the following:
Cambridge Natural History, the volumes on fishes, birds, and mammals
Parker and Haswell, Zoology
Flower and Lydekker, Mammals Living and Extinct
Beddard, Book of Whales
Gregory, The Orders of Mammals
True, Review of the Delphinidae (porpoises)
Melville, Moby Dick
Tower, History of the American Whale Fishery
Starbuck, History of the American Whale Fishery
Weddell, A Voyage towards the South Pole
Catalogue of Birds of the British Museum, the volume on albatrosses, petrels, gulls and terns
Journal of the Right Hon. Sir Joseph Banks during Captain Cook’s First Voyage in HMS “Endeavour”
Ridgway, Nomenclature of Colors
Lönnberg, Notes on the Vertebrates of South Georgia
Darwin, Voyage of the “Beagle”
Moseley, “Challenger” Narrative
Dante, Divina Commedia
Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress
Oxford Book of English Verse
The Oxford Shakespeare
Typewritten and bound summaries and translations of information about South Georgia from the writings of Guyot, Cook, Forster, Sparrman, Bellingshausen, Klutschak, Szielasko, von den Steinen and others
Also, several fat notebooks, still blank and white, but destined to contain the great literature of the future!
Hanging and lashed beside the shelves, is the rotund sack in which you my darling, by incredible labor and wile, seem to have arranged orderly files of communications from your beloved self and countless friends for nearly every date in the calendar of the long year ahead!
p. 11, July 12, quote from Dante (in Italian) which he had been reading the previous evening.
p. 14, July 16: Most of these men can read and write, and the cooper is positively profound. But, if the letters they prepare are in English, they come to me when they can’t spell a word, and they bring scraps of newspapers and magazines for me to read to them.
p. 19, July 21: If your mind ever turns, my Grace, to fancied hardships or privations of your husband somewhere on the deep, find the Voyage of the Beagle and read the “Retrospect” of its final pages. I copy, from the book on my knees, one paragraph of Darwin’s words….
p. 23, July 24: The Old Man has been reading my copy of Moseley’s record of the great Challenger cruise. Because he has visited very many of the islands named, his comments and discussion are exceedingly interesting. I’ll start him next on Darwin’s voyage, even though he does say Galapáygos in the singular and Galapáygoses in the plural.
p. 31, July 31 on tropical island of Roseau: I have bought a large envelope and am now in the town library winding up. It is all very unreal, dull at the moment and yet also full of hope. I have nothing more to write except that I love you with all my heart….
p. 46, August 14:We are moving northward at a snail’s pace, and there is not enough to do. I read by the hour on such a day as this, but there is an end even to reading. I have finished Moseley’s narrative of the Challenger voyage and now I have traveled far with Darwin in the Beagle. Aside from being delightful, both of these books play right into my hands when it comes to getting the most out of this cruise.
p. 55, August 20, following whale catch and boiling of blubber: Cockroaches take to all perishable stores, which means anything not soldered or welded inside seamless metal plates. Leather or paper come under the heading of food, and the covers of my books are already beautifully chased with hieroglyphics and other symbols pertaining to the language of the exceedingly ancient insect family of the Blattidae….
p. 56-57, August 21: There is a strong breeze astern and we are speeding eastward and rolling scuppers under. I have read Hamlet, in which, as in everything else by its author, it is possible to find allusions to one’s present job—
Whose sore task
Does not divide the Sunday from the week.
The Old Man has been poring over his Bible for at least two hours. He is rather full of pious instincts, and might be called religious but not churchly. All the sects familiar in the vicinity of New Bedford seem… to have won his displeasure, but Quakers lead the field in his list of preferred funerals….
I have known him now for just about six months, and this afternoon he finally popped the dread question, “Mr. Murphy, what’s your religion?”
“Well, Captain,” I responded, “I’m a member of the Unitarian Church, and— “but he cut me short with a comment that has smoothed all possible difficulties.”
“Oh, I have great respect for the Unitarians. They don’t believe a goddam thing and they live up to it every day in the week, Sundays included.”
p. 61, August 25: Since the rain ceased, I have been sitting for several hours in the scanty shadow of the furled mainsail, rapt in a book, or several books in succession. Thus has the egregious development of my gray matter (if any) helped the hours to slip by, and I’m another day nearer you….
The magazines you sent by Mr. da Lomba are seeing service from cabin to forecastle. They ultimately pass through every pair of hands on board. Mr. Vincent can’t read a word, even though he is second officer, but he pores over the pictures more than anyone else, occasionally asking the cooper for an exploration.
August 26: Calm. We are still rapidly going nowhere.
From the stomach of a dolphin I took three entire flying fish that looked fit to eat, so by Jove, we ate ‘em! Then, after studying awhile, I read the tragedy of King Richard III, just to rest my mind.
p. 64, August 28: The “doctor book,” in which I have been reading chapters on the character and treatment of infected wounds, fevers, scurvy, etc., is enough to chill the blood. It was published forty years ago. The Old Man is at least consistent in the period of his essential literature, because his South America Pilot is as old as his medical authority.
p. 65, August 28: I have just read King John, the most giggling of comedies for the first half, and a bit scurrilous withal. The scene of Hubert and Prince Arthur in the Tower then ends all laughter with a bang, and steps up the pulse and respiration. The bastard, Philip, is one of Shakespeare’s most likeable characters.
August 29. Still calm, and here we lie in midocean, about as far from anywhere as from everywhere.
Today I went over various gear in anticipation of its use, sharpened my knives, cleaned and lubricated instruments, and then read Twelfth Night. We have scarcely moved all day.
p. 66, August 31: I read from biological texts for two or three hours and then went on with my Shakespearean debauch: first the crazy, frolicsome, and boisterous Comedy of Errors, and then A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There’s a real play for you, worthy of the Queen of the Fairies, the finest of the comedies except, perhaps, The Tempest.
September 1: Another bookish day. Titus, Philemon and Jude, from the New Testament; then the Winter’s Tale, doubtless the dreariest production of the Bard of Avon, even though it has some exquisite passages. But the theme is nasty, the noblemen are arrant liars, and the joyous end is a fraud and a swindle.
You probably never suspected that a whaling cruise would incubate a Shakespearean critic!
p. 69, September 2: I caught up on my sewing—general repairs to work clothes—and, then read The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Lines here and there reveal the ineffable genius, but some Shakespearean heroes are certainly detestable beasts.
p. 71, September 5: I have read the Revelation of John the Divine and Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. The latter was a new play to me and I found it thrilling and wholly engrossing, and tricked up with magnificent passages. It was not designed for Sunday school reading, however.
As for the Revelation, it has colored the literature of two millennia, but what has it to do with Christianity? Tinsel and might, rather than love, are made the supreme attributes of deity….
September 6: Today I read Love’s Labour Lost, of which the lyrics are the only part up to scratch.
p. 74, September 9: Later in the day I read Much Ado about Nothing and As you Like It, and in the latter play I found the perfect description of this, my journal, the sole object of which is to keep you with me while we are absent from one another: ‘It is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, in which my often rumination wraps me in a most humorous sadness.’
p. 76, September 14: When the sun travels around behind the sail, I open the luxurious canvas chair you gave me… and read on top of the cabin. I have told you mostly of my reading for sheer fun, which includes thus far fourteen plays of Shakespeare, but I have also done a good stint of biological and geographical study, and have pumped everybody on board who has had experiences of special interest to me. The Old Man and the cooper have been my best sources, though the officers and two or three of the forecastle hands have helped, too….
p. 80, September 16: I wish I could convey a real picture of the jagged and infernal surroundings [of the Cape Verde Islands]. Dante, to whose pages I turned many times on the way across the Atlantic, would feel at home here.
p. 82, September 17: My knowledge of this place had been derived from the prosy pages of the pilot book and from Moseley’s account of his visit in the Challenger, thirty-nine years ago.
p. 84—recent newspapers including New York World.
p. 88, September 25: …the combination of rain and calm, and of heat and dim light below decks, makes life on board extremely dull. It is impossible to read in comfort at the very time that one has most leisure for books.
p. 90, September 28: My illness has gone, but I have not felt energetic, and I did not walk on deck until the sun ducked under just in time to avoid facing the moon, which is now past full. I read in my berth while the light was good—King Henry the Fifth and King Henry the Eighth.
p. 96: October 5. The bones of my porpoise are well macerated, and most of them are drying. The best proved easy to identify from True’s book [see catalogue above]. Its name, if you and the captain must know, is Prodelphinus froenatus. Are you any better off? I have photographs and a good sketch of it.
p. 110—Fernando Noronha described as Prospero’s isle.
p. 114, October 24: Today I packed up all my cleaned and dried skeletons, and did a lot of reading anent the animals of the cold latitudes ahead of us.
p. 126, November 5: I realize that the day of the classical languages is waning, and that there are new humanities which will make it impracticable for the average educated man of the future to dig into Greek or Latin, or both, for from four to six long years. But I’m glad that I lived before the end of the transition, because the apogee of my college course, for sheer fun, came when I faced the inspired countenance of Johnny Green and read Horace, Catullus, Tibullus, and Propertius. I have Horace with me but, in any case, I know by heart many of the lyrics.
p. 127, November 7: Reading is a thing of the past, because it is too cold to sit on deck, and too dark below.
p. 137, November 23 approaching South Georgia: In the miserable light of the lamp I have been running over my typewritten summaries of the historical and scientific literature relating to South Georgia.
p. 139, November 24: I have before me, in the cabin of the Daisy—which is probably far less luxurious than that of the Resolution, our predecessor by 137 years!—copies or translations of every word that Cook, the Forsters, and Sparrman wrote about the island. It makes me feel almost mystically close, in this icy, and silent setting, to the heroes who cruised in the Golden Age of exploration.
p. 143—notes library on South Georgia among other amenities of civilization.
p. 174, December 20, South Georgia: Sometimes my inclinations run toward the grisly, which fits certain moods of the South Georgian weather. For example, it gives me special glee to improvise musical variations that fit the so so merry words of Isaac Watts’ Day of Judgment, which happens to have found immortality in the Oxford Book of English Verse rather than in the hymnals. I don’t know the tune for the jolly old paean-in-reverse (if it ever had one), but I can surely delight the devil and me with my renderings.
p. 177, December 22: Practically no work is possible, and days like this on board seem even more lonely than on the high seas. I have just read Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, and now I have started Captain Cleveland on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which seems appropriate for a mid-day blizzard in the Antarctic! He gives the appearance of being thoroughly absorbed, and no doubt we’ll hear more about it later.
p. 212, January 29 : I have been reading about the king penguins in the account of James Weddell, the British explorer who visited South Georgia in 1823. The details of his story have long been overlooked, or perhaps disbelieved, by ornithologists, but they actually comprise the best account of the bird’s life history that has yet been published. Nothing in my own observations would lead me to change a line of Weddell’s almost forgotten history. “In pride, these birds are perhaps not surpassed even by the peacock,” he writes, quaintly and truthfully.
p. 219, February 5th [written where Shackleton would be a few years later]: I long for the opportunity to cross South Georgia to the still wilder and more Antarctic southerly coast. It would be quite safe to undertake such a trip if three men with sufficient rope were to travel together.
p. 234, at Prince Olaf whaling station: The most important news from the outside world is that of the tragic death of Captain Scott and his four comrades on their return from the South Pole. E. A. Wilson, who was probably closest of all the men to Scott, was, in my opinion, the best naturalist who ever worked in the Antarctic. Under the circumstances of the sad end of Scott’s great and successful effort, I am glad that the party had Amundsen’s records to establish their glory beyond any possible doubt.
p. 237, March 8: For three days I have been mostly stormbound in the dark cabin, and have taken naps both morning and afternoon. I have also found time to read from the Divina Commedia, the whole Antarctic portion of Moseley’s account of the Challenger’s cruise, All’s Well that Ends Well, and Othello. In addition, I have started writing up the notes that will ultimately constitute a life history of the sea elephant.
p. 245-47—Murphy’s compilation of visitors to South Georgia from 1790 to 1912 ends with Murphy himself.
p. 253, re St Elmo’s fire: A few days ago I was reading about this same phenomenon in the last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. St. Paul, aboard the ship from Alexandria, knew it as the ancient pagan symbol of Castor and Pollux, and yet he was apparently not above regarding it as a fair omen. May it likewise prove to us….
p. 264-65: The captain then read the order of the burial of the dead from an Anglican Book of Common Prayer. …
p. 267, April 13: I finished the day by reading The Taming of the Shrew.
p. 268, April 15: Not holding even a bleacher seat [to a whale pursuit], I spent part of the afternoon reading Titus Andronicus. I thought Pericles was stupidly horrible, but Titus is worse, if possible—quite the most dismal and insane thing I ever read. Bill must have been in a perverse and slaughtering mood when he wrote it. I wonder how the creator of Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream could have tumbled so far from his eminence.
p. 269, April 16: I have loafed today while everybody else has labored very, very hard. After revising some South Georgian notes, I read Coriolanus. Only the Henrys remain to complete my reading on this voyage of everything that Shakespeare wrote. Once is enough for some of the plays, and in future I can confine my rereading to those I like.
p. 270—re Journal of Sir Joseph Banks and his account of shark’s stomachs.
p. 274, April 20: I took the Notes of a Naturalist during the voyage of the Beagle to my chair atop the cabin, and for several hours have wandered again with Darwin over the pampas of Patagonia, through the Galápagos Isles, across the Pacific to Tahiti, then on to Keeling in the Indian Ocean. How I long to see with the eyes of that matchless man of science, and to write with his pen!
p. 275, April 21: Later I read Timon of Athens, The Tempest, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and some of the sonnets.
p. 276, April 22: …read The Merchant of Venice again. For the last half hour I’ve been lying on my couch, waiting for the supper bell to ring so that I can quit work.
p. 282: I have finished Pilgrim’s Progress and have enjoyed the whole book enormously. What a pity so few readers realize that the second part of this work stands foremost among the unconsciously comical pearls of literature, besides having other virtues!
p. 285, May 7 and the onset of channel fever: I can’t work, and I find it very hard to keep my mind occupied cheerfully.
[See also Murphy’s picture book about the Daisy, entitled A Dead Whale or a Stove Boat. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967.]