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.
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March 02, 2004
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Excerpt from Great Short Works of Herman Melville by Herman Melville
The 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 was manned 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.