Saturday, January 24, 2015

Wesley Marx on Scammon's Leatherbound Journal

From Wesley Marx's 1960 American Heritage magazine article, which gets at the strange split in Scammon's dual identity as both whaler and biologist:

"At the same time he had been ordering his harpooners to bomb the whales and his flensers to strip the blubber, Scammon was also measuring the girth of dead whales, inspecting the contents of their stomachs, and executing precise drawings of their conformations. The Captain jotted down his detailed observations alongside log entries that recorded the number of whales struck and barrels filled."

And that, as much as The Melville Society's interest in Scammon-as-Ishmael, is what bedevils me about Scammon:  He is a man engaged in the tightly-focused capitalist drive for oil, who doesn't just maintain the idealistic curiosity of the naturalist, but acts on it. 

It's as if he is two totally different men.