Herman Melville: Journals of a Voyage from New York to London, 1849 [part 1/3]

July 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Thursday Oct 11th

After a detention of three or four days, owing to wind & weather, with the rest of the passengers I went on board the tug-boat Goliath about 12 ½ P.M. during a cold violent storm from the West. The “Southampton” (a regular London liner) lay in the North river. We transferred ourselves aboard with some confusion, hove up our anchor, & were off. Our pilot, a large, beefy looking fellow resembling an oyster-man more than a sailor. . . . [T]o my great delight, the promise that the Captain had given me at an early day, he now made good; & I find my self in the undevided [sic] occupancy of a large state-room. It is as big almost as my own room at home; it has a spacious birth, a large wash-stand, a sofa, glass &c & c. I am the only person on board who is thus honored with a room to himself. . . .

Friday Oct 12th

Walked the deck last night till about eight o’ clock; then made up a whist party & played till one of the number had to visit his room from sickness. Retired early & had a sound sleep. Was up betimes, & aloft, to recall the old emotions of being at the masthead. Found that the ocean looked the same as ever. Have tried to read, but found it hard work. However, there are some very pleasant passengers on board, with whom to converse.  Chief among these is a Mr. Adler, a German scholar, to whom Duyckinck introduced me. He is author of a formidable lexicon, (German & English); in compiling which he almost ruined his health. He was almost crazy, he tells me, for a time.  He is fully of the German metaphysics, & discourses of Kant, Swedenborg &c.  He has been my principal companion thus far. There is also a Mr. Taylor among the passengers, cousin to James Bayard Taylor the pedestrian traveler. He is full of fun – or rather wasfull of it. – Just as this moment I hear his mysterious noises from the state-room next to mine. Poor fellow! he is sea-sick. As yet there have been but few thus troubled, owing to pleasant weather. There is a Scotch artist on board, a painter, with a most unpoetical looking only child, a young-one all cheecks [sic] & forhead [sic], the former preponderating. Young McCurdy I find to be a lisping youth of genteel capacity, but quite disposed to be sociable. We have several Frenchmen & Englishmen. One of the latter has been hunting, & carries over with him two glorious pairs of antlers (moose) as trophies of his prowess in the woods of Maine. We have also, a middle-aged English woman, who sturdily walks the deck, & prides herself upon her sea-legs, & being an old tar.

 Saturday Oct 13

Last evening was very pleasant. Walked the deck with the German, Mr. Adler till a late hour, talking of “Fixed Fate, Free-will, foreknowledge absolute” &c.  His philosophy is Colredegian: he accepts the Scriptures as divine, & yet leaves himself free to inquire into Nature. He does not take it, that the Bible is absolutely infallible, & that anything opposed to it in Science must be wrong. He beleives [sic] that there are things out of God and independent of him, — things that would have existed were there no God: — such as that two & two make four; for it is not that God so decrees mathematically, but that in the very nature of things, the fact is thus. . . . Before breakfast went up to the mast-head, by way of gymnastics. . . . I was walking the deck, when I perceived one of the steerage passengers looking over the side; I looked too, & saw a man in the water, his head completely lifted above the waves – about twelve feet from the ship, right abreast the gangway. For an instant, I thought I was dreaming; for no one else seemed to see what I did. Next moment, I shouted “Man overboard!” & turned to go aft. The Captain ran forward, greatly confused. I dropped overboard the tackle-fall of the quarter-boat, & swung it towards the man, who was now drifting close to the ship. He did not get hold of it, & I got over the side, within a foot or two of the sea, & again swung the rope towards him. He now got hold of it. By this time, a crowd of people – sailors & others – were clustering about the bulwarks; but none seemed very anxious to save him. They warned me however, not to fall overboard. After holding on to the rope, about a quarter of a minute the man let go of it, & drifted astern under the mizzen chains. Four or five of the seamen jumped over into the chains & swung him more ropes. But his conduct was unaccountable; he could have saved himself, had he been so minded. I was struck by the expression of his face in the water. It was merry. At last he drifted off under the ship’s counter, & all hands cried “He’s gone!” Running to the taffrail, we saw him again, floating off – saw a few bubbles, & never saw him again. No boat was lowered, no sail was shortened, hardly any noise was made. The man drowned like a bullock. It afterwards turned out, that he was crazy, & had jumped overboard. He had declared hi would do so several times, & just before he did jump, he had tried to get possession of his child, in order to jump into the sea, with the child in his arms. His wife was miserably sick in her berth. The Captain said that this was the fourth or fifth instance he had know of people jumping overboard. He told a story of a man who did so, with his wife on deck at the time. As they were trying to save him, the wife said it was no use; & when he was drowned, she said “there were plenty more men to be had.” – Amiable creature! . . . .

— Herman Melville, Journals

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You are currently reading Herman Melville: Journals of a Voyage from New York to London, 1849 [part 1/3] at Departure Delayed.