Redburn: His First Voyage, being the Sailor-boy Confessions and Reminiscences of the Son-of-a-Gentleman, in the Merchant Service

p. 47-8: And I remembered reading in a magazine, called the Sailors’ Magazine, with a sea-blue cover, and a ship painted on the back, about pious seamen who never swore, and paid over all their wages to the poor heathen in India; and how that when they were too old to go to sea, these pious old sailors found a delightful home for life in the Hospital, where they had nothing to do, but prepare themselves for their latter end. And I wondered whether there were any such good sailors among my ship-mates; and observing that one of them laid on deck apart from the rest, I thought to be sure that he was one of them: so I did not disturb his devotions: but I was afterwards shocked at discovering that he was only fast asleep, with one of the brown jugs by his side.

p. 48, Redburn addressing his new ship-mates at the beginning of the voyage:…I knew they were but poor indeed. I made bold to ask one of them, whether he was ever in the habit of going to church, when he was ashore, or dropping in at the Floating Chapel I had seen lying off the dock in the East River at New York; and whether he would think it too much of a liberty, if I asked him, if he had any good books in his chest. He stared a little at first, but marking what good language I used, seeing my civil bearing toward him, he seemed for a moment to be filled with a certain involuntary respect for me, and answered that he had been to church once, some ten or twelve years before, in London, and on a week-day had helped to move the Floating Chapel round the Battery, from the North River; and that was the only time he had seen it. For his books, he said he did not know what I meant by good books; but if I wanted the Newgate Calendar, and Pirate’s Own, he could lend them to me.”

p. 81-83, talks about the Bible reading of the black cook: But on the day I speak of, it was no wonder he got perplexed. Being aware that I knew how to read, he called me as I was passing his premises, and read the passage over, demanding an explanation. I told him it was a mystery that no one could explain; not even a parson. But this did not satisfy him, and I left him poring over it still….

p. 83: He was a sentimental sort of darky, and read the “Three Spaniards,” and “Charlotte Temple,” and carried a lock of frizzled hair in his vest pocket….

p. 85-7: On the Sunday afternoon I spoke of, it was my watch below, and I thought I would spend it profitably, in improving my mind.

My bunk was an upper one; and right over the head of it was a bull’s-eye, or circular piece of thick ground class, inserted into the deck to give light. It was a dull, dubious light, though; and I often found myself looking up anxiously to see whether the bull’s eye had not suddenly been put out; for whenever anyone trod on it, in walking the deck, it was momentarily quenched; and what was still worse, sometimes a coil of rope would be thrown down on it, and stay till I dressed myself and went up to remove it—a kind of interruption to my studies which annoyed me very much, when diligently occupied in reading.

However, I was glad of any light at all, down in that gloomy hole, where we burrowed like rabbits in a warren; and it was the happiest time I had, when all my messmates were asleep, and I could lie on my back, during a forenoon watch below, and read in comparative quiet and seclusion.

I had already read two books loaned to me by Max, to whose share they had fallen, in dividing the effects of the sailor who had jumped overboard. One was an account of Shipwrecks and Disasters at Sea, and the other was a large black volume, with Delirium Tremens in great gilt letters on the back. This proved to be a popular treatise on the subject of that disease; and I remembered seeing several copies in the sailor book-stalls about Fulton Market, and along South-street, in New York.

But this Sunday I got out a book, from which I expected to reap great profit and sound instruction. It had been presented to me by Mr. Jones, who had quite a library, and took down this book from the top shelf where it lay very dusty. When he gave it to me, said, that although I was going to sea, I must not forget the value of a good education; and that there was hardly any situation in life, however humble and depressed, or dark and gloomy, but one might find leisure in it to store his mind, and build himself up in the exact sciences….

Saying this, he handed it to me, and I blew the dust off, and looked at the back: “Smith’s Wealth of Nations.” This not satisfying me, I glanced at the title page, and found it was an “Enquiry into the Nature and Causes” of the alleged wealth of nations. But happening to look further down, I caught sight of “Aberdeen,” where the book was printed; and thinking that any thing from Scotland, a foreign country, must prove someway or other pleasing to me. I thanked Mr. Jones very kindly, and promised to puruse the volume carefully.

So now, lying in my bunk, I began the book methodically, at page number one, resolved not to permit a few flying glimpses into it, taken previously, to prevent me from regular approaches to the gist and body of the book, where I fancied lay something like the philosopher’s stone, a secret talisman, which would transmute even pitch and tar to silver and gold.

Pleasant though vague visions of future, letter on the back, “The History of Rome,” was quite as full of matter and a good deal more entertaining. I wondered whether Mr. Jones had ever read the volume himself; and could not help remembering, that he had to get on a chair when he reached it down from its dusty shelf; that certainly looked suspicious….

I wondered if he had ever read it; or, indeed whether any body had ever read it, even the author himself; but then authors, they say, never read their own books; writing them, being enough in all conscience.

At length, I fell asleep, with the volume in my hand; and never slept so sound before; after that, I used to wrap my jacket round it, and use it for a pillow; for which purpose it answered very well; only I sometimes waked up feeling dull and stupid; but of course the book could not have been the cause of that.

p. 118: One would think, too, that, as since the beginning of the world almost, the tide of emigration has been setting west, the [compass] needle would point that way; whereas, t is forever pointing its fixed fore-finger toward the Pole, where there are few inducements to attract a sailor, unless it be plenty of ice for mint-julips.

p. 140: And yet, what are sailors? What in your heart do you think of that fellow staggering along the dock? Do you not give him a wide berth, shun him, and account him but little above the brutes that perish? Will you throw open your parlors to him; invite him to dinner, or give him a season ticket to your pew in church?—No. You will do no such thing; but at a distance, you will perhaps subscribe a dollar or two for the building of a hospital, to accommodate sailors almost broken down; or for the distribution of excellent books among tars who can not read. And the very mode and manner in which such charities are made, bespeak, more than words, the low estimation in which sailors are held. It is useless to gainsay it; they are deemed almost the refuse and offscourings of the earth; and the romantic view of them is principally had through romances.

p. 175ff, in Liverpool Redburn sees a great diversity of vessels, including a disorderly slaver-like brig from Guinea: The crew were a bucaniering looking set; with hair chests, purple shirts, and arms wildly tattooed. The mate had a wooden leg, and hobbled about with a crooked cane like a spiral staircase. There was a deal of swearing on board of this craft, which was rendered the more reprehensible when she came to moor alongside the Floating Chapel.

This was the hull of an old sloop-of-war, which had been converted into a mariner’s church. A house had been built upon it, and a steeple took the place of a mast. There was a little balcony near the base of the steeple, some twenty feet from the water; where, on week-days, I used to see an old pensioner of a tar, sitting on a camp-stool, reading his Bible. On Sundays he hoisted the Bethel flag, and like the muezzin or crier of prayers on the top of a Turkish mosque, would call the strolling sailors to their devotions; not officially, but on his own account; conjuring them to make fools of themselves but muster round the pulpit, as they did about the capstan of a man-of-war. This old worthy was the sexton. I attended the chapel several times, and found there a very orderly but small congregation. The first time I went, the chaplain was discoursing of future punishments, and making allusions to the Tartarean Lake; which, coupled with the pitchy smell of the old hull, summoned up the most forcible image of the thing which I ever experienced.

The floating chapels which are to be found in some of the docks, form one of the means which have been tried to induce the seamen visiting Liverpool to turn their thoughts toward serious things. But as very few of them ever think of entering these chapels, though they might pass them twenty times in the day, some of the clergy, of a Sunday, address them in the open air, from the corner of the quays, or wherever they can procure an audience.

[Three more paragraphs on these services which he found well-adapted to their male audience, with preaching against their two main vices, often with the notorious women all addressed to the sinner, not the saint: “Better to save one sinner from an obvious vice that is destroying him, than to indoctrinate ten thousand saints.” Contrast Melville here with Edward William Parry writing in his letters about the depth of religious feeling of the men of the Hecla. See his Memoirs. London: Longman, 1868, p. 186-88.]