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Great Short Works of Herman Melville (Perennial Classics)by Herman Melville
Synopses & Reviews
Chapter OneThe Town-Ho's Story(As told at the Golden Inn)
Note: "The Town-Ho's Story" appeared first in "Harper's New Monthly Magazine" for October, 1851, where it was presented as an excerpt from "'The Whale' . . . a new work by Mr. Melville, in the press of Harper and Brothers, and now publishing in London by Mr. Bentley." (The same issue coinddentally featured an account of an "Incident During the Mutiny Of 1797," that near-revolutionary episode — characteristic of a .time, the anonymous author remarks, "more rife with interest and excitement" and "more animated by hope and fear" than the progress-blessed present age-to which Melville himself would return forty years later in "Billy Budd." The "new work," with its more familiar American title, "Moby-Dick," went on gale in New York in November, 1851, and was warmly recommended to "Harper's" readers in the December "Literary Notices" column.
As an interpolated chapter "The Town-Ho's Story" serves the purpose of bringing Moby Dick dramatically on stage soon after the revelation of Ahab's scheme of vengeance, and in the appropriate role of superhuman justicer. Otherwise the white whale would not appear, except spectrally, until the end of the book. As a self-contained tale of adventure, and Melville's first published work in this popular mode, the story is proof positive of its author's casual virtuosity in the art of narrative.
The Cape of Good Hope, and all the watery region round about there, is much like some noted four corners of a great highway, where you meet more travellers than in any other part.
It was not very long after speaking the Goney that another homeward-bound whaleman, the Town-Ho, was encountered. She wasmanned almost wholly by Polynesians. In the short
The ancient whale-cry upon first sighting a whale from the mast-head, still used by whalemen in hunting the famous Gallipagos terrapin.Gam that ensued she gave us strong news of Moby Dick. To some the general interest in the White Whale was now wildly heightened by a circumstance of the Town-Ho's story, which seemed obscurely to involve with the whale a certain wondrous, inverted visitation of one of those so-called judgments of God which at times are said to overtake some men. This latter circumstance, with its own particular accompaniments, forming what may be called the secret part of the tragedy about to be narrated, never reached the ears of Captain Ahab or his mates. For that secret part of the story was unknown to the captain of the Town-Ho himself. It was the private property of three confederate white seamen of that ship, one of whom, it seems, communicated it to Tashtego with Romish injunctions of secrecy, but the following night Tashtego rambled in his sleep, and revealed so much of it in that way, that when he was wakened he could not well withhold the rest. Nevertheless, so potent an influence did this thing have on those seamen in the Pequod who came to the full knowledge of it, and- by such a strange delicacy, to call it so, were they governed in this matter, that they kept the secret among themselves so that it never transpired abaft the Pequod's main-mast. Interweaving in its proper place this darker thread with the story as publicly narrated on the ship, the whole of this strange affair I now proceed to put on lasting record.
For my humor's sake, I shall preserve the style in which I once narrated it at Lima, to alounging circle of my Spanish friends, one saint's eve, smoking upon the thick-gilt tiled piazza of the Golden Inn. Of those fine cavaliers, the young Dons, Pedro and Sebastian, were on the closer terms with me; and hence the interluding questions they occasionally put, and which are duly answered at the time.
"Some two years prior to my first learning the events which I am about rehearsing to you, gentlemen, the Town-Ho, Sperm Whaler of Nantucket, was cruising in your Pacific here, not very many days' sail eastward from the eaves of this good Golden Inn. She was somewhere to the northward of the Line. One morning upon handling the pumps, according to daily usage, it was observed that she made more water. in her hold than common. They supposed a sword-fish had stabbed her, gentlemen. But the captain, having some unusual reason for believing that rare good luck awaited him in those latitudes; and therefore being very averse to quit them, and the leak not being then considered at all dangerous, though, indeed, they could not find it after searching the hold as low down as was possible in rather heavy weather, the ship still continued her cruisings, the mariners working at the pumps at wide and easy intervals; but no good luck came; more days went by, and not only was the leak yet undiscovered, but it sensibly increased. So much so, that now taking some alarm, the captain, making all sail, stood away for the nearest harbor among the islands, there to have his hull hove out and repaired.
"Though no small passage was before her, yet, if the commonest chance favored, he did not at all fear that his ship would founder by the way, because his pumps were of the best, and being periodicallyrelieved at them, those six-and-thirty men of his could easily keep the ship free; never mind if the leak should double on her. In truth, well nigh the whole of this passage being attended by very prosperous breezes, the Town-Ho had all but certainly arrived in perfect safety at her port without the occurrence of the least fatality, had it not been for the brutal overbearing of Radney, the mate, a Vineyarder, and the- bitterly provoked vengeance of Steelkilt, a Lakeman and desperado from Buffalo.
"'Lakeman!-Buffalo! Pray, what is a Lakeman, and where is Buffalo?" said Don Sebastian, rising in his swinging mat of grass..
"On the eastern shore of our Lake Eric, Don; but — I crave your courtesy-may be, you shall soon hear further of all that. Now, gentlemen, in square-sail brigs and three-masted ships, well nigh as large and stout as any that ever sailed out of your old Callao to far Manilla; this Lakeman, in the landlocked heart of our America, had yet been...
A complete collection of Melville's short works of fiction includes The Encantadas, Benito Cereno, Billy Budd, Sailor, and Bartleby, the Scrivener, as well as seventeen other short stories. Reprint. 20,000 first printing.
Billy Budd, Sailor and Bartleby, the Scrivener are two of the most revered shorter works of fiction in history. Here, they are collected along with 19 other stories in a beautifully redesigned collection that represents the best short work of an American master.As Warner Berthoff writes in his introduction to this volume, "It is hard to think of a major novelist or storyteller who is not also a first-rate entertainer ... a master, according to choice, of high comedy, of one or another robust species of expressive humour, or of some special variety of the preposterous, the grotesque, the absurd. And Melville, certainly, is no exception. A kind of vigorous supervisory humour is his natural idiom as a writer, and one particular attraction of his shorter work is the fresh further display it offers of this prime element in his literary character."
About the Author
Born in New York City in 1819, Herman Melville died in 1891, at which point his work had been largely forgotten. He has since been recognized as one of Americas greatest writers. His metaphysical whaling novel, Moby Dick, is one of literatures most enduring works of art. His shorter works, including Billy Budd, Bartleby, the Scrivener and Benito Cereno, are considered classics of the form.
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