Something that’s surprised me in maritime lit is how small the world of 19th century sailing seems to be. Benito Cereno hangs around the same islands as The Essex. Everyone stops in the same Chilean ports. And of course everyone is from Nantucket.
Captain Amasa Delano, the inspiration for Captain Amasa Delano, also shows up in my American Sea Writing anthology. It’s another excerpt from his Narrative of Voyages and Travels in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and if it’s not as adventurous as the episode from Benito Cereno it’s still extremely interesting and really leaves me fascinated by Delano himself.
Here, he’s outlining everything a ship should be outfitted with to make a proper voyage to the Pacific. Rigging, supplies, food, men. He thinks the thing should be done right—spend a little more to set the voyage off to a proper start. He’s got very specific tips.
I have had beef put up by Samuel Greggs, which I have carried round the world in a three years voyage, half the time between the tropics, and out of nearly an hundred barrels I never opened one in which the beef was not as sweet and good as when it was first put up. I brought some of it home to Boston again, which was cooked, and considered as corned beef.
That’s really something. Delano also philosophizes, reflects on the different cultures he’s encountered, what it means to be a good and noble man. He’s so interesting I want to read the whole thing.
The difference of expense between doing this well, and doing it ill, is small; but the difference of character, implied in the two modes, is immense. One is humane, honorable, magnanimous, and the source of a pure and manly pleasure; while the other is mean, selfish, inhuman, pusillanimous, and the source of nothing but self reproach, where apathy has not taken entire possession of the heart.
It’s not what I think of when I think of sailors’ journals. But this is really what they are.