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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 72

been stirred by tales of deeds done on remote oceans by the most adventurous Yankees of the age, in the arduous calling in which New England, and especially the hard little island of Nantucket, led and taught the world. “The Nantucketer,” says Melville, “he alone resides and riots on the sea.… There is his home; there lies his business, which a Noah’s flood would not interrupt though it overwhelmed all the millions in China. He lives on the sea, as prairie cocks in the prairie; he hides among the waves, he climbs them as chamois hunters climb the Alps. For years he knows not the land; so that when he comes to it at last, it smells like another world, more strangely than the moon would to an Englishman. With the landless gull, that at sunset folds her wings and is rocked to sleep between billows; so at nightfall, the Nantucketer, out of sight of land, furls his sails, and lays him to his rest, while under his very pillow rush herds of walruses and whales.” A minor literature of whaling had grown up, chiefly the records of actual voyages and a few novels, like J. C. Hart’s Miriam Coffin (1834). But the whalers still lacked any such romantic record as the backwoodsmen had. Melville brought to the task an exact knowledge of the craft, a large and curious learning in all that pertained to whales ancient and modern, and an imagination which worked with lurid power upon the facts of his own experience, swinging resistlessly over the seven seas and the seventy regions of the earth. Moby Dick, the strange, fierce white whale with his wrinkled forehead and high pyramidical hump, the villain that Captain Ahab pursues with such relentless fury, was already a legend among the whalers, who knew him as Mocha Dick. And



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