Among so many other things, Moby Dick is a key text on the reading of sailors, especially the quote on p. 159, and this edition with Kent’s wood engravings is especially desirable.
p. 148: …Bildad had told them that no profane songs would be allowed on board the Pequod, particularly in getting under weigh; and Charity, his sister, had placed a small choice copy of Watts in each seaman’s berth.
p. 159: …if, at my death, my executors, or more properly my creditors, find any precious MSS. in my desk, then here I prospectively ascribe all the honor and the glory to whaling; for a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.
p. 190ff, Chapter XXXII. Cetology: Melville’s bibliographic taxonomy of all whales, for which (p. 193): I have swam through libraries and sailed through oceans; I have had to do with whales with these visible hands; I am in earnest, and I will try.
p. 621, on Melville’s use of books aboard Pequod, including Bowditch, an almanack, Daboll’s arithmetic.
Addendum from Joan Druett on a Maritime List in November 2019:
*Moby-Dick, In the Heart of the Sea*, and Melville
This was certainly a thought-provoking post! And while Stormy Paul is perfectly right in saying that the *Essex* sinking was the inspiration for only the end of *Moby-Dick*, I do feel as if I should leap to the defense of both Philbrick and Melville.
I don’t know Philbrick, having met him only once, and that very briefly, but he can’t be blamed for using Melville’s name as a kind of mantra. As it happens, *In the Heart of the Sea* gives only a passing mention to *Moby-Dick*, being almost entirely focused on the dreadful small-boat voyage that followed the sinking of the *Essex.* But publishers love a hook to hang a blurb on, and *Moby-Dick* is a good one. I have been guilty of that myself, when writing and talking about *In the Wake of Madness* — partly because I was utterly convinced that the chapter "The Town-Ho story" was inspired by the mutiny on the sister ship of the *Acushnet*, *Sharon* — and partly because the publisher wanted it. It does seem to work, because the reviewers all echo it, and it must be remembered that both books were aimed at the popular, lay market, not the academic one.
It is to Philbrick’s credit that he did use a couple of primary sources (one published, the other not), and he is certainly a scholar, one who knows whaling history intimately. I fossicked out the review I wrote of the book, back in the day, and found it was a warm one. I thought the description of the sinking compelling reading, and the whaling background very convincing. The discussions of what went on in the boats raised a few questions — I would have liked to know more about why it was the black members of the crew that died first, for instance — but everything was interesting enough to hold my attention.
Melville does not seem to fare very well when viewed with modern eyes. Personally, I much prefer the complete version of *Moby-Dick* — the Norton edition is superb — and even then one chapter at a time is plenty. But, back in 1851, Melville achieved something I consider remarkable with its publication. See my blog:
As they used to say, greasy luck, Joan