Personal Choice 54
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish, Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
Herman Melville (1819 - 1891) was an American novelist, short story writer, and poet of the American Renaissance period. Among his best-known works are Moby-Dick (1851); Typee (1846), a romanticized account of his experiences in Polynesia; and Billy Budd, Sailor, a posthumously published novella. Although his reputation was not high at the time of his death, the 1919 centennial of his birth was the starting point of a Melville revival, and Moby-Dick grew to be
considered one of the great American novels.
Moby-Dick tells the story of a sailor called Ishmael as he undertakes a perilous journey on a ship whose captain is obsessed with hunting a specific whale. The first line of Moby-Dick, critics have claimed to be the greatest in the Western canon. This paragraph lets the reader know that Ishmael deals with periodic bouts of depression as he manages his mental state by going to sea. Moby Dick the white whale becomes a complex metaphor for perhaps fighting against the meaninglessness of the world and then the new republic already falling apart. These opening lines are a sumptuous feast of writing.