Fighting the Icebergs.

A novel about a whaleman and his foundling ‘son’ who learns everything about whaling from his ‘father’: the book is a good fictional introduction to whaling, a teetotaler tract (the father becomes sober as soon as he has responsibility for the boy), and a tearjerker. Towards the end of the book the author says that the boy was inculcated at an early age in the habit of reading. But there is a little bit of everything here: a happy crew converted from alcoholism, the mendacity of the owners, the death of the captain/father, the nip and sinking of their vessel, the success of the son, and his final marriage to a petticoat sailor.

p. 141: No, his education had proceeded steadily with his life. Everything he learned he saw put into practice, and as he grew able to take a part, practiced himself, always emulating those whom he saw around him. The only exception to this was the reading of certain old-fashioned books which the skipper had bought for his own pleasure and which they read together, conspicuous among which were the Bible, Milton, Hakluyt’s “Voyages,” and Rollin’s “Ancient History.”

p. 197, while trapped in the ice: It was none the easier to bear because of the lack of any other interest such as reading or games, or indeed occupation beside the incessant scraping and cleaning of the whalebone. For on board of a whaleship the number of hands carried is always much greater than the ship herself requires, and consequently when there is no whaling going on the time hangs very heavily on the men’s hands. Except those who are enthusiastic “scrimshoners” or workers in bone and every, and that very soon palls when the shadow of a great calamity looms imminent.

p. 216-17: But perhaps the happiest time of all was on Sundays, when all ordinary work was solemnly put away, some special addition was made to the bill of fare from the carefully hoarded stores, and religious exercises, such as prayer meetings, the singing of the old familiar psalms and hymns, and the reading of the Bible by any who would volunteer to do so—all being assiduously coached by Grey [ship’s doctor], who was that rare kind of man, a reader who could make the printed word live—were in full swing.

p. 243: “…God bless my soul! I’ve just remembered that it’s six months or more since I’ve seen a newspaper; no wonder I’m carrying on like. Forgive me, I’ll drop it at once, for I know that this Largie here wants a chance, and he’ll say presently I have only been gassing like this to prevent him getting one.”