This fictional description of the whaling life, written in the later 19th-century, should rank with Melville but devoid of Melville’s allegorical meanings. It is arguably a work of fiction by a fairly prolific novelist, though that is not certain. Although Cachalot was a maritime pseudonym, the work seems to be an accurate account of the trials and occasional pleasures of whaling. It was published in 1898, probably 25 years after his whaling journeys. Scattered references do show his fairly wide reading, but these likely did not stem from his youthful shipboard reading.
Foreword, p 1: …just as a whim [Bullen] took to writing, a pastime for which he was fitted not by his scant education but by his lifelong hobby of reading. Many times during the brief off-watches on vessels at sea he had strained to read through the flickering darkness of the gloomy forecastle what few books he could find on board. On one voyage, he says, he read the Bible through sixteen times.
p. 53: Keeping, as we did, out of the ordinary track of ships, we hardly ever saw a sail. We had no recreations; fun was out of the question; and had it not been for a Bible, a copy of Shakespeare, and a couple of cheap copies of “David Copperfield” and “Bleak House,” all of which were mine, we should have had no books.
p. 62: While thus ruminating, the mate and Louis began a desultory conversation concerning what they termed “ambergrease.” I had never even heard the word before, although I had a notion that Milton, in “Paradise Regained,” describing the Satanic banquet, had spoken of something being “gris-amber steamed.”
p. 64, allusion to Marryatt’s “verbose carpenter.”
p. 54-66 presents Abner’s Whale, a great account of a whale capture.
p. 107, re the “Ancient Mariner”: What an amazing instance of the triumph of the human imagination! For Coleridge certainly never witnessed such a scene as he there describes with an accuracy of detail that is astounding.
p. 121-22, preparing for a burial at sea: The captain was still too ill to be moved, so the mate stepped forward with a rusty old Common Prayerbook in his hands, whereon my vagrant fancy immediately fastened in frantic endeavour to imagine how it [the prayerbook] came to be there. The silence of death was over all…. Mr Count [first mate] opened the book, fumbling nervously among the unfamiliar leaves.
Then he suddenly looked up, his weather-scarred face glowing a dull brick-red, and said, in a low voice, ‘This thing’s too many fer me; kin any of ye do it? Ef not, I guess we’ll have ter take her as read.’ There was no response for a moment; then I stepped forward, reaching out my hand for the book. Its contents were familiar enough to me, for in happy pre-arab days I had been a chorister in the old Lock Chapel, Harrow Road, and had borne my part in the service so often that I think even now I could repeat the greater part of it memoriter. Mr. Count gave it me without a word, and, trembling like a leaf, I turned to the “Burial Service,” and began the majestic sentences, “I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord.” I did not know my own voice as the wonderful words sounded clearly in the still air; but if ever a small body of soul-hardened men felt the power of God, it was then. At the words, “We therefore commit his body to the deep,” I paused, and, the mate making a sign, two of the harpooners tilted the hatch, from which the remains slid off into the unknown depths with a dull splash. Several of the dead man’s compatriots covered their faces, and murmured prayers for the repose of his soul, while the tears trickled through their horny fingers. But matters soon resumed their normal course; the tension over, back came the strings of life into position again, to play the same old tunes and discords once more.
p. 141, promise of books while in sick bay.
p. 154: the inestimable comfort of reading was denied me.
p. 168-69: The Kanakas shipped at Honolulu were distributed among the boats, two of each, being already trained whalemen, and a fine lot of fellows they were. My two—Samuela and Polly—were not very big men, but sturdy, nimble as cats, as much at home in the water as on deck, and simply bubbling over with fun and good-humour. From my earliest sea-going, I have always had a strong likeing for natives of tropical countries, finding them affection and amenable to kindness. Why, I think, white men do not get on with darkies well, as a rule, is, that they seldom make an appeal to the man in them. It is very degrading to find one’s self looked down upon as a sort of animal without reason or feelings; and if you degrade a man, you deprive him of any incentive to make himself useful, except the brute one you may feel bound to apply yourself. My experience has been limited to Africans (of sorts), Kanakas, natives of Hindostan, Mallagasy, and Chinese; but with all these I found a little camaraderie answer excellently. True, they are lazy; but what inducement have they to work? The complicated needs of our civilized existence compel us to work, or be run over by the unresting machine; but I take leave to doubt whether any of us with a primitive environment would not be as lazy as any Kanaka that ever dozed under a banana tree through daylight hours. Why, then, make an exalted virtue of the necessity which drives us, and objurgate the poor black man because he prefers present ease to a doubtful prospective retirement on a competency. Australian blackfellows and Malays are said to be impervious to kind treatment by a great number of witnesses, the former appearing incapable of gratitude, and the latter unable to resist the frequent temptation to kill somebody. Not knowing anything personally of either of these races, I can say nothing for against them.
All the coloured individuals that I have had to do with have amply repaid any little kindness shown them with fidelity and affection, but especially has been the case with Kanakas. The soft and melodious language spoken by them is easy to acquire, and is so pleasant to speak that it is well worth learning, to say nothing of the convenience of yourself, although the Kanaka speedily picks up the mutilated jargon which does duty for English on board ship.