Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 1: No 1) >> Simms on Melville in the Southern Quarterly Review >> Page 33

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Reviews/Essays | 1849-10 - 1852-10
Transcription White Jacket ; or the World in a Man-of-War. By HERMAN
MELVILLE, author of "Typee,""Omoo,""Mardi," and "Redburn."
New-York : Harper & Brothers. 185O.

IN the work before us the author appears as a witness, giving his
evidence on the subjects of a sailor's usual experience at sea, and on
the regulations of a than-of-war. lle aims at nothing that is find-
ful, and seeks Home of the successes of the artist or romancer. Iiis
rifle is that of the reformer. iie speaks to the abuses of they serviee,
the cruel treatment usually bestowed upon the poor sailor hv the absurd
superstitions of authority in vessels of war ; the incompetence of com-
manders, their tvr:tnnies, and the unceasing severities and cruelties
of a system which ha., no solitary reason or necessity for its coin-
tinuance. The interest of his book is derived from the regular details
of .1if; on ship-board, the usual daily toils anti incidents, the moods
and feelings, the sympathies and antipathies, of all concerned—the
hopes that encourage, the fears and stttli!rimgs that depress—in short,
the full history of that world-in-little, that community to itself, wan-
dering, lonely, cut off from the associations of man in the abodes
which he loves, and locked up in an ark, which is necessarily, for the
time, a prison. In this narrative, the picturesque is afforded by the
introduction of occasional events that disturb the monotony of a
ship's progress. We have, accordingly, lively descriptions of the
storm at sea, the burial at sea, the man overboard, theatricals, and
other sports of the ship, modes of annoyance and amusement among
sailoms, and portraits of individuals marked with striking peculiarities
of character. Jack Chase is one of our author's favourite studies,
and he pourtrays several others, in whom we learn to take an interest
like hititself. We have no reason to suppose these portraits exag-
gerated, and as little to suspect our author of colouring too highly
his complaints of the evils and injustice, the folly and the tyranny
of that rule under which the sailor lives perfume. Many of the
evils of usage which he reports are surely remediable. Take a few
examples. '1'lte seamen cline at noon. Yet, says our author " they
have just cause, almost for mutiny, to the outrageous hours assigned
for their breakf;tst and supper. Eight o'clock for breakfast, twelve
for dinner, and four for supper, and no meals but these—no lunches
and no cold snacks Owing to this arrangement, (and partly to one
watch going to their meals before the other, at se:t) all the )deals of
the twenty-four hours are crowded into eight ! Sixteen mortal
hours elapse between supper and breakfast, including, to one watch,
eight hours on deck. This is barbarous—any physician will tell you
so. Before the Commodore has dined you have supped ! And in
high latitudes, in summer time, you have taken your last meal for
the day, and five hours, or more, daylight to spare.'.
"Though this arrangement," adds our author, " makes a neater
and cleaner thing of it for the officers, and looks vc'ry nice and su-
periine on paper. yet it is plainly detrimental to health, and, in time
of war, is attended with still more serious consequences to the na-
tion at large. It' the necessary researches were made, it would
perhaps be found that in those instances where men-of-war adopting
the above-mentioned hours for meals have encountered an enenty
at night, they have pretty generally been beaten ; that is, in those