Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ahab's Bible

It is always interesting when a book transforms from a carrier of a text into an object of veneration. Most late-18th-century editions of the English Authorized Bible are not particularly rare, and in many library collections they would not be housed in Special Collections. But, sometimes something happens to a book in its life that brings it new meaning through association and turns it into a coveted, precious object. In this case, our copy of The Holy Bible (Edinburgh, 1795) once belonged to Valentine Pease, the captain of the whaling ship "Acushnet." Even with that information, this still might be meaningless, but devotees to Herman Melville know that is the ship Melville served on, and that makes this "Captain Ahab's bible."

I was once showing a book like this to a group of students, and one perceptive member of the class commented that the book had become "encrusted with culture." I have hung onto that phrase because it so beautifully captures the concept: the book is just an old book, but its cultural associations have given it new weight and meaning. That disappears as soon as the association is broken.

Come and take a look (and see if you can still smell the sea spray) by asking for Rauner Melville BS185 1795 .E42.

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