Today in History: Moby Dick Is Published

Today in History: Moby Dick Is Published

 Herman Melville signature Moby Dick.svg

Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began.

Consider all this; and then turn to the green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!

--Moby Dick, Ch. LVII, "Brit", p.219

On October 18, 1851, Moby-Dick, or The Whale, a novel by American writer Herman Melville, was published by Richard Bentley in London, England, preceding the Harper and Row American edition on November 14th, 1851. The book, met with mixed reviews and scanty sales, told the tragic story of Captain Ahab and his revenge on a great white sperm whale who destroyed half of his leg. Narrated by the sailor Ishmael, the epic follows the crew's three year journey aboard the whaling ship Pequod, from the Atlantic to the Indian to the South Pacific oceans. Setting sail on Christmas Day from Nantucket, the ship was believed to have been named after the Algonquian-speaking Pequot tribe of Native Americans, while Moby Dick, the leviathan, has been interpreted to symbolize God, nature, good, evil, the ocean, power, and more.

Melville was inspired by true story of the whaler Essex, an 87-foot long ship which left Nantucket in 1819, and was attacked and sunk by a whale, cutting short its two and a half year voyage. "Mocha Dick" was a large, powerful, and much-feared albino male sperm whale who lived off the coast of Chile in the early nineteenth century. Melville's work, dedicated to American novelist and short story writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, eventually became a classic in American literature -- and a recognized literary masterpiece throughout the world. Despite its length (135 chapters), Moby Dick, a great American novel, is still read in schools today, with exploration of genre, historical context, and our universal human condition.

In 1987 the whaling industry became illegal in most countries, and the sale of sperm oil prohibited. It was outlawed in the United States in 1971. Whales became an endangered species, as other sources of oil, including kerosene, petroleum, and fossil fuels proved more reliable subsitutes. Meat, skin, blubber, organs, or bones could not be eaten or used in a multitude of products that included fishing lines, baskets, roofing, and tools. 


 The following articles are drawn from Proquest Historical Newspapers, which informs and inspires classroom teaching and learning.




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