Whipscars and Tattoos: The Last of the Mohicans, Moby-Dick, and the Maori

By Geoffrey Sanborn | Go to book overview

Chapter Four
MELYILLE’S FURIOUS LIFE

ON April 19, 1859, two Williams College students, John Thomas Gulick and Titus Munson Coan, made a “literary pilgrimage” to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where they called on Herman Melville. “He has a form of good proportions,” Gulick would later write, in one of the best surviving descriptions of Melville’s appearance. He “is about 5 ft. 9” in height, stands erect and moves with firm and manly grace. His conversation and manner, as well as the engravings on his walls, betray little of the sailor. His head is of moderate size with black hair, dark eyes, a smooth pleasant forehead and rough heavy beard and mustache. His countenance is slightly flushed with whiskey drinking, but not without expression. When in conversation his keen eyes glance from over his aquiline nose.”

The students were, as Coan put it, “Hawaiian-American,” the children of Honolulu-based missionaries, and they had hoped to have a conversation about Melville’s two early narratives of Pacific adventures, Typee and Omoo. But the flow of conversation—“or rather of monologue,” Coan complained—went elsewhere. For the better part of a morning, they sat in somewhat stunned silence as Melville “pour[ed] forth his philosophy and his theories of life.” He was not “a Marquesan,” Coan concluded, but “a gypsy student,” a heterodox thinker who had “suffered from opposition, both literary and social,” and acquired an attitude “something like that of Ishmael.” Gulick agreed. “Though it was apparent that he possessed a mind of an aspiring, ambitious order,” he wrote, “full of elastic energy and illumined with the rich colors of a

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Whipscars and Tattoos: The Last of the Mohicans, Moby-Dick, and the Maori
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Glossary xv
  • Introduction- Grand, Ungodly, Godlike Men 1
  • Chapter One- Te Ara’s Scars 16
  • Chapter Two- Cooper’s Death Song 37
  • Chapter Three- Te Pehi Kupe’s Moko 73
  • Chapter Four- Melyille’s Furious Life 93
  • Notes 133
  • Index 175
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