Libraries and literary institutions around the world in 2019 marked 200 years since Herman Melville’s birth with readings and conferences appreciating his work. At Bodleian Special Collections we took the opportunity to call again on letterpress printers around the world, who provided Shakespeare’s Sonnets in 2016, to celebrate Melville in similar fashion.
The text was a section of Moby-Dick often overlooked by readers, part of the preliminaries in which Melville introduces the multifarious themes of the work. Eighty extracts are arranged approximately chronologically. Melville writes of his fictional sub-sub-librarian: ‘this mere painstaking burrower and grubworm … appears to have gone through the long Vaticans and street-stalls of the earth, picking up whatever random allusions to whales he could anyways find in any book.’ And yet, stealthily, these extracts of everything from the Bible to ‘Nantucket songs’ build a dramatic foreshadowing of the destiny of Ishmael and his shipmates.
They bear testimony to the value of collections encompassing a wide variety of texts — devotional works, learned legal treatises, great literature and sea shanties. To join its copy of the first (London) edition published under the title The Whale, the Bodleian now holds a new, collective, version of this section of Melville’s famous novel.
The bulk of the prints received are reproduced here. It is impossible to convey in digital images the quality of the craft and the satisfying variety of the physical items received. One detail must stand for the excellence of these pieces; it is from Richard Kegler’s Extract 13.
In addition to printing using various methods (see No. 49) and materials (see No. 13), the printers have incorporated into their works (sometimes literally, see No. 63) the publishing history of Moby-Dick, the ecological crisis of the oceans, awareness of historical racism and the dangerous pace of human exploitation of natural resources on land and in the oceans. Melville’s choice of sources did not go beyond the publication year of the novel in 1851, but many of the themes remain current. To update the ‘Extracts,’ the Bodleian gladly accepted an offer from the volunteers of The National Museum of Computing, to print additional ‘Extracts’ about whales, using their collection of 20th-century printers.
The first extract, from the St James Park Press, begins the series with the title, ‘Moby Dick Extracts’.
Students from the University of Arkansas answered the ‘Extracts’ call as a class project at the Underground Ink Press, the letterpress and book arts workshop at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.
57. ‘The papers were brought in, and we saw in the Berlin Gazette that whales had been introduced on the stage there.’ – Eckermann’s Conversations with Goethe. // Patrick Goossens, Letter-kunde , Antwerp.
79. ‘So be cheery, my lads, let your hearts never fail, / While the bold harpooneer is striking the whale!’ – Nantucket Song. // Arie Koelewyn, The Paper Airplane Press, East Lansing, MI. One version of the verse is here: http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/view/edition/24312
Post-1851 ‘Extracts’ An exciting offer came from the volunteers at the National Museum of Computing, offering prints from a variety of newer machines: a 1940s German Lorenz teleprinter, a 1980s ICL computer line printer, and a Braille printer. This offer inspired the library to bring the extracts up to date in 2019, with additional quotations from Rachel Carson’s book, The Sea Around Us (1951), and from M.P. Simmonds, “Evaluating the Welfare Implications of Climate Change for Cetaceans,” in A. Butterworth (ed.), 2017, Marine Mammal Welfare (17th edition).
Film of Vtek MBoss-1 Braille Printer/Embosser, from The National Museum of Computing.
A Braille whale – or Whaille.
Film of the 1980s ICL Line Printer, from The National Museum of Computing
A display at the Bodleian’s Weston Library for Special Collections in November 2019 marked the arrival of this new collection to the Bodleian.