"Loomings" in Redburn: Melville's "Prince of W[h]ales" and the Point Lynas Lighthouse
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"Loomings" in Redburn:
Melville's "Prince of W[h]ales" and the Point Lynas Lighthouse

In his journal entry for 22 November 1849, Melville describes a day excursion from London to Windsor Castle and his fortuitous encounter there with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Melville and an Englishman he had met at the castle both bowed when the Queen and the Prince passed by in their carriage, a bow that Queen Victoria (but not the Prince) acknowledged. Thus it was that Melville, to whom one critic applies the term "majestic reverence," momentarily connected with the British monarch and ruler of the still vast British empire (Hardwick 27). None of the Melville biographies I have consulted considers this "meeting" of sufficient interest to include. Melville remarks on the Queen's flawed complexion, but "God bless her, say I, & long live the 'prince of whales'" (NN Journals 24), the Prince of Wales (not the Prince Consort Albert) then being an eight year old who would become Edward VII in 1901. The surprising ramifications of the pun-based analogy between the official title "Prince of Wales" and the description "prince of whales" tempt me to imitate something of Melville's own practice. He often reasons by way of "linked analogies" (NN MD 312), and the analogy with which I am concerned contains a potential equation between the British monarch and the white whale Moby Dick.

Lamb's "PRINCE OF WHALES" and Melville's

When I read the journal passage, with its Wales/whales pun, to my wife Suzette (middle name Victoria), who takes an interest in the history of the British monarchy, she was reminded of Charles Lamb's March 1812 satiric poem about the Prince of Wales who became King George IV. Titled "The Triumph of the Whale," its concluding and shorter second stanza reads as follows:

Name or title what has he?Is he Regent of the Sea?From this difficulty free us, [End Page 31] Buffon, Banks or sage Linnæus,With his wondrous attributesSay what appellation suitsBy his bulk, and by his size,By his oily qualities,This (or else my eyesight fails),This should be the PRINCE OF WHALES.

Since Melville, in his journal entry, puts his "prince of whales" between quotation marks (although not in capitals), we might assume that he is quoting from the last line of Lamb's 42 line poem. The fact that, some months later, he quotes the first six lines of the same poem in the "Extracts" section of Moby-Dick seems to confirm the assumption. It is, therefore, odd that editors Howard C. Horsford and Lynn Horth do not provide a discussion keyed to "prince of whales" in the generally very thorough "Discussions" section of their authoritative 1989 edition of Melville's Journals.

I soon discovered that Ben J. Rogers had published an ANQ note titled "A Pun from Charles Lamb in Moby Dick" in 2000. In his "Works Cited," Rogers lists both the Horsford/Horth edition and Eleanor Metcalf's 1948 edition of Journal of a Visit to London and the Continent by Herman Melville, but he does not indicate in his note which edition he is quoting from. Rogers's quote—"and long live the prince of whales" (Rogers 42)—spells out the Melville ampersand that is reproduced in both editions and omits the quotation marks around "prince of whales" that appear in both editions. And, of course, those marks imply that Melville was either quoting from another writer or signaling his own joke. The Wales/whales pun is an obvious one (and especially inevitable for Melville), and he need not have been indebted to Charles Lamb for it. But given the references to Lamb in Melville's journal entries for the two preceding days, the likelihood is that he had Lamb in mind and was indeed quoting from Lamb's poem.

Rogers mentions Melville's visiting Lamb's publisher, Edward Moxon, on 20 November 1849 and Moxon's promise to send Melville copies of Lamb's works. Melville records their arrival the next day. Melville's later list, in his 1849-50 journal notebook B, of "Books obtained in London 1849...