Friday Mystery Author: Nov. 17, 2006

Here is the first regular installment of Friday Mystery Author. Every Friday, I’ll post a passage from a more or less well-known book and invite all comers to identify the author and title. The first installment is here and the answer, posted earlier today, is here. Leave your answers in the comments, or just say hello, and if you have a url, please leave that too.

I got a good laugh when I first read this passage, though the joke depends on context.

First: Though most men have some vague flitting ideas of the general perils of the grand fishery, yet they have nothing like a fixed, vivid conception of those perils, and the frequency with which they recur. One reason perhaps is, that not one in fifty of the actual disasters and deaths by casualties in the fishery, ever finds a public record at home, however transient and immediately forgotten that record. Do you suppose that that poor fellow there, who this moment perhaps caught by the whale-line off the coast of New Guinea, is being carried down to the bottom of the sea by the sounding leviathan — do you suppose that that poor fellow’s name will appear in the newspaper obituary you will read to-morrow at your breakfast? No: because the mails are very irregular between here and New Guinea. In fact, did you ever hear what might be called regular news direct or indirect from New Guinea? Yet I tell you that upon one particular voyage which I made to the Pacific, among many others we spoke thirty different ships, every one of which had had a death by a whale, some of them more than one, and three that had each lost a boat’s crew. For God’s sake, be economical with your lamps and candles! not a gallon you burn, but at least one drop of man’s blood was spilled for it.

Secondly: People ashore have indeed some indefinite idea that a whale is an enormous creature of enormous power; but I have ever found that when narrating to them some specific example of this two-fold enormousness, they have significantly complimented me upon my facetiousness; when, I declare upon my soul, I had no more idea of being facetious than Moses, when he wrote the history of the plagues of Egypt.

But fortunately the special point I here seek can be established upon testimony entirely independent of my own. That point is this: The Sperm Whale is in some cases sufficiently powerful, knowing, and judiciously malicious, as with direct aforethought to stave in, utterly destroy, and sink a large ship; and what is more, the Sperm Whale has done it.

I’ll post the answer (and the joke should be clear) on Monday.

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2 Responses to “Friday Mystery Author: Nov. 17, 2006”

  1. Friday Mystery Author: Herman Melville « Zeal and Activity Says:

    […] Last week’s Friday Mystery Author was Herman Melville, from his masterpiece Moby Dick. This passage, from Chapter 45, “The Affidavit,” made me laugh out loud when I read it. It’s not funny unless you know you’re reading Moby Dick, and the real joke is in the prior paragraph: I do not know where I can find a better place than just here, to make mention of one or two other things, which to me seem important, as in printed form establishing in all respects the reasonableness of the whole story of the White Whale, more especially the catastrophe. For this is one of those disheartening instances where truth requires full as much bolstering as error. So ignorant are most landsmen of some of the plainest and most palpable wonders of the world, that without some hints touching the plain facts, historical and otherwise, of the fishery, they might scout at Moby Dick as a monstrous fable, or still worse and more detestable, a hideous and intolerable allegory. […]

  2. Friday Mystery Author: Herman Melville « Zeal and Activity Says:

    […] Mystery Author: Herman Melville Last week’s Friday Mystery Author was Herman Melville, from his masterpiece Moby Dick. This passage, from Chapter 45, “The […]

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