JF Ptak Science Books Post 2343
"...a most Plutonian sight. In no world but a fallen one could such lands exist."--Herman Melville on the Galapagos, in The Encantadas
"It is utterly useless to say anything about the Scenery...it would be as profitable to explain to a blind man colours, as to [a] person, who has not been out of Europe, the total
dissimilarity of a Tropical view."--Charles Darwin in a letter not long after returning from his voyage on the Galapagos.--The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Volume I (of II), edited by His Son, Charles Darwin & Francis Darwin
It is interesting to think of Charles Darwin and Herman Melville sharing tea prepared over a wood fire, stone chairs, looking out over the rough beach of one of the islands in the Galapagos chain from the top of the Rock Rodondo. And what I would have them talk about is their lives, reveiwed as spectres come back to Earth to see the advent of their careers as humans and what the future held in stock for them.
They certainly had different views of the Galapagos--the Melville quote from his The Encantadas, which is the "Enchanted Isles/Islands" or Galapagos is pretty much what he thought of the place, which was a cruel and wrenching world. Darwin, well... not so. (I should also point out that there is a little bit of back-up in the Melville novella regarding ghosts--one of the stories is about the encounter of the War of 1812 USS Essex with a ghost ship. And here are Dawin and Melville, two ghost ships passing in the night...)
Here is the quote to start off the tenth of ten parts of the work, "Runaways, Castaways, Solitaries, Gravestones, Etc.":
"And all about old stocks and stubs of trees,
Whereon nor fruit nor leaf was ever seen,
Did hang upon ragged knotty knees,
On which had many wretches hanged been."
The two men weren't in the Galapagos at thew same time, though, during their living lives but did come within several years of one another on their respective voyages. Both men went on great accomplishment, though Melville's lasted only about five years, his writing and career falling out of the public eye soon after his fifth novel. Darwin was a different story.
[Photo by JF Ptak of the front door keyhole at Melville's house, Arrowhead, near Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The foundry work is old, the hardware is not.]
Darwin became DARWIN in 1859 and stayed there, and icon of thought. Melville achieved early fame but soon lost it. Melville's career started out very strong in 1846, and had five successful novels in five years. What he is remembered most for--Moby Dick--appeared in 1851, but the book was a critical and commercial failure. Pierre appeared in the next year, anf again very little success, and by just about that time his name as a highlight in the American literary world began to dim, considerably. He lived until 1891 and spent the '60's through the '80's and into the early '90's as an obscure footnote int eh history of American literature. As a matter of fact some of the short obituaries that appeared in New York papers had very little to say about him, and his great work in Moby Dick received scant (or no) attention. Even the New York Times didn't get the spelling correct of the title of the book1, referring to "Mobie"
Like the Mona Lisa, Melvillle didn't become his famous-self until well after his death, and the Mona Lisa did achieve her iconic nature (it can be argued) for nearly two centuries. Darwin became famous and stayed famous. In repose, perhaps Darwin would have wished for less recognition and Melville a little more--or at least enough to allow his to earn a living from his writing.
1. "Herman Melville died yesterday at his residence, 104 East Twenty-sixth Street, this city, of heart failure, aged seventy-two. He was the author of Typee, Omoo, Mobie Dick, and other sea-faring tales, written in earlier years. He leaves a wife and two daughters, Mrs. M. B. Thomas and Miss Melville."--New York Times, September 29, 1891