The author is a pious, anti-papist clergyman travelling in a whaler from the South Seas to Boston, observing whaling practices and especially critical of the Sabbath-breaking customs of whalers.
p. 47-48, attributes civilizing of the South Sea Island savages to the Bible: It is THE BOOK which has brought it to pass that the adventurous, weary whaleman can now traverse the entire Pacific, and land with impunity at most of its lovely islands, and be supplied on terms of equity with all he needs. Let, then, those that owe to it the most, be loudest in their praises, and warmest in their love, and most careful in their obedience to the BOOK OF BOOKS. [See also p.49.].
p. 70-72, finds him reading Pilgrim’s Progress, and "Polar Seas and Regions" from the Family Library aboard ship: I can doubly appreciate now that amusing passage in the Holy War, where Bunyan says, "Silly Mansoul did not stick nor boggle at a monstrous oath that she would not desert Diabolus, but swallowed it without chewing, as if it had been a sprat in the mouth of a whale." This feed is supposed to lie generally rather deep under water in these seas, as whales are often taken in greatest numbers where none of it is to be seen on the surface. In the Greenland and Arctic Seas it often covers miles and miles in extent, thick enough, it is said, to impede the course of a ship; and perhaps, in the economy of Providence, whales as well as sharks are but the scavengers of the great deep, to consume what would otherwise putrefy and decay.
A volume of the Family Library, on " Polar Seas and Regions," which I have been reading with great interest on shipboard, says, that the basis of subsistence for the numerous tribes of the Arctic world is found in the genus medusa, which the sailors graphically describe as sea-
blubber…. Beyond the Arctic Circle it increases in an extraordinary degree, and is eagerly devoured by the finny tribes of all shapes and sizes. By far the most numerous, however, of the medusan races are of dimensions too small to be discovered without the aid of the microscope, the application of which instrument shows them to be the cause of a peculiar color, which tinges a great extent of the Greenland Sea. This color is olive-green, and the water is opaque compared to that which bears the common cerulean hue.
"These olive waters occupy about a fourth of the Greenland Sea, or above twenty thousand square miles, and hence the number of medusan animalcula which they contain is far beyond calculation. Mr. Scoresby estimates that two square miles contain 23,888,000,000,000,000; and as this number is beyond the range of human man words and conceptions, he illustrates it by observing, that eighty thousand persons would have been employed since the creation in counting it. This green sea may be considered as the Polar pasture ground, where whales are always seen in greatest numbers.
p. 73: We learn, then, that the law of mutual consumption holds throughout the wide domain of the deep. And Byron was literally correct when saying, in his apostrophe to the Ocean,
Even from out thy slime
The monsters of the deep are made.
p. 76, Cheever reports reading or at least cites Wilkes’s Narrative of the United States Exploring Squadron on Indian whaling on the northwest coast, as well as on Cape Cod.
p. 79: There are some points in the whale’s physiology: …well described in parts of a sailor’s yarn that I have found in a loose number of the Sailor’s Magazine, of which most excellent periodical we have several on board…. [a publication of the American Seaman’s Friend Society]
p. 162: For the well-deserved commendation of this [whaling] branch of American industry, all persons in any way connected with it will be as pleased as we in the Commodore Preble have been at the way in which New England enterprise was toasted at the New England Society’s last dinner in New York. There is an account of the Anniversary of the Pilgrims’ Landing, and the festivities of the occasion, in a paper to which we have been treated from an outward-bound whale ship just fallen in with. How greedily we have devoured it, none but a news-hungry whaleman knows.
p. 169, in chapter on wintering over on South Georgia: There was nothing to do in the evenings…. We had the radio, and we carried plenty of books and magazines, but these luxuries can be galling at times. We could sleep, of course, or we might muster up enough courage to poke a nose out into the freezing atmosphere and observe the heavens of the Southern Hemisphere.
p. 176-78, describes a Captain Warrens finding a ship beset in the ice in high northern latitudes, apparently abandoned but in actuality still occupied by some of its dead crew: On approaching, he observed that her hull was miserably weather-beaten, and not a soul appeared on the deck, which was covered with snow to a considerable depth. He hailed her crew several times, but no answer was returned. Previous to stepping on board, an open port-hole near the main chains caught his eye, and on looking into it, he perceived a man reclining back in a chair, with writing materials on a table before him, but the feebleness of the light made every thing very indistinct. The party went upon deck, and having removed the hatchway, which they found closed, they descended to the cabin.
They first came to the apartment which Captain Warrens viewed through the port-hole. A tremor seized him as he entered it. Its inmate retained its former position, and seemed to be insensible to strangers. He was found to be a corpse, and a green damp mold had covered his checks and forehead, and veiled his eye-balls. He had a pen in his hand, and a log-book lay before him, the last sentence in whose unfinished page ran thus: “November 11th, 1762. We have now been inclosed in the ice ;seventeen days. The fire went out; yesterday, and our master has been trying ever since to kindle; it without success. His wife died this morning. There is no relief.” [Warrens eventually learned that the ship had been frozen in for thirteen years before discovered (p. 180).
p. 204-05, on the phenomenon of the “gam,” the events surrounding the meeting of two whalers at sea: It is almost worth taking one cruise in a
whale ship to see how they capture and dispose of their gigantic game, and to learn some odd things a man can never know otherwise. Had Noah Webster ever gone a whaling, he would have been able to add some five or six notable and genuine English words to his Dictionary, which may never be known off salt water unless we record them here.
Mux and skimshander are the general names by which they express the ways in which whalemen busy themselves when making passages, and in the intervals of taking whales, in working up sperm whales’ jaws and teeth and right whale bone into boxes, swifts, reels, canes, whips, folders, stamps, and all sorts of things, according to their ingenuity.
Gurry is the term by which they call the combined water, oil, and dirt that "cutting in" a whale leaves on deck and below. The yellowish stuff
That creams and mantles on a standing pool,
and affords such a favorite, nice comparison, ready to hand, and hackneyed, for writers that want to express the odiousness of moral putrescence and stagnation, is nothing to this sui generis composition elaborated in the hold of a whale ship. Hereafter, if any one should wish
to illustrate morals by physicals in a way particularly new and original, let him say that the filth and foulness of Mr. So-and-so’s mind, or the daily scum and dregs of Mr. Slabbering Editor Such a One, or the hebdomadal black vomit of this and that member of the "Satanic Press,"
look and smell like gurry.
Gaily, or Gallow, as it is found in Shakspeare, is the term by which they express a whale’s being frightened. Thus you often hear
"that whale’s gallied," as they pronounce it.
Gam is the word by which they designate the meeting, exchanging visits, and keeping company of two or more whale ships, or a sociable family of whales. Thus we gammed two days on the New Zealand whaling ground with the Niantic of Sag Harbor. One day the captain of the Niantic spent with us, the next our captain spent on board the Niantic, the boats’ crews gamming together at the same time in the forecastle, and the mates of the ships meeting and having a gam in the ship that was left of her captain.
These gams are very pleasant interludes in a whaleman’s life, when abroad upon the desert ocean, without change of society or scene, a
thousand miles from land. It is peculiarly grateful for a rusty and barnacled old ship, that has been absent thirty or more months, to have
a gam of a day with a fresh competitor just arrived out with all the news from home. Such a gam gives matter of talk and old newspaper reading for a month, and nobody can tell how pleasant it is but one that has experienced it. A shipmaster has a chance to exchange counsel, and tell stories, and let himself be familiar with somebody that’s new, and he is always the milder, and better pleased with himself and all about him, for some days after such a gam. The use of these words is not a little amusing at first to a stranger; but I have come to believe them as good and veritable English, and to have as fair a claim to be placed in our
dictionaries as a thousand words that are spoken oftener in ears polite. I like to talk with old whalemen upon the hair-breadth escapes and perilous adventures of their hazardous war fare upon the monsters of the deep. It is a marvel that death, in its most appalling forms, is not oftener met with. Whalers, I think, have to look danger more full and steadily in
the face than any other class of men except soldiers.
p. 244: Chapter XVI is an extended harangue against sabbath-breaking on whalers.
p. 305-06, describing the Notes, the “the repulsive hole called the forecastle”: Here, with no possibility of classification and separate quarters, with few or no books, or opportunity to use them if they were possessed, with the constant din of roystering disorder, superabundant profanity, and teeming asciviousness of conversation and songs, with no Sabbath, no prayer, no words and efforts by superiors to win them to something better and worthier, three fourths of their forty months’ absence are passed. When they are on shore, or lying in port to refit, corruptions, by libidinous intercourse with impure women, intemperance, and other abominations, vary, while they by no means improve, their condition.— Christian Reflector.