“They may celebrate as they will the heroes of Exploring Expeditions, your Cooks, your Krusensterns; but I say that scores of anonymous Captains have sailed out of Nantucket, that were as great, and greater than your Cook and your Krusenstern.”


Adam Johann Ritter von Krusenstern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Adam Johann Ritter von Krusenstern (November 19, 1770 – August 24, 1846) was a famous Russian explorer: the first Russian sailor to lead a voyage around the world. He was in command of a three-mast sloop, Nadezhda—in Russian: Надежда or “hope”—with which he sailed from Kronstadt, around Cape Horn, South America, to China and back to Russia around the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa. In this three year journey (August 1803 – August 1806) Krusenstern measured the temperature, density, transparency of the sea at depths of over 400 meters, discovered the causes of sea-fire, and gathered information on atmospheric pressure and the rise and fall of the tides in numerous parts of the oceans. He also disproved the existence of a number of islands and met with people such as the Aleuts, Chukchis, Itelmens, Tlingits, Yakuts, Polynesians, and Native South Americans on his expedition. Known as a dignified man of high intelligence, Krusenstern was sought for advice by explorers the world over. He became the Director of the Naval Cadet Corps in 1827; he was a part of a number of scientific communities, such as: the Russian Academy of Sciences, the London Royal Geographical Society, the Goettingen Society of Sciences and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences; and he rose to the rank of admiral in 1841.

But who is this man, Melville would ask, in comparison to the whaleman? As stated in Chapter 24’s “The Advocate,” people “may celebrate as they will the heroes of exploring expedition, your Cooks, your Krusensterns; but I say that scores of anonymous Captains have sailed out of Nantucket, that were great, greater than your Cook and your Krusenstern.” Any great act of Krusenstern is commonplace among the whale-ships. So he was an admiral? The Dutch made “admirals of their whale fleets.” And, as to his voyage, what was three years? The average whaling voyage would last three years, and many of them would last longer. Whatever geographical findings he may have made in this time are also unimpressive when compared to the works of the whale-ship. Australia may have been blundered upon by a Dutchman, but “the whale-ship is the true mother of that now mighty” country. Was that not a greater achievement than proving the nonexistence of a few islands? Melville goes on to write that it was “the whale-ship which originally showed [Americans and Europeans] the way, and first interpreted between them and the savages.” Melville claims not only were the whale-ships capable of Krusenstern’s exploits, but it is the work of the whale-ships that allowed him to even take his journey. By inviting this famous explorer, among with others, into his work, Melville gives his audience what he feels to be an appropriate personage to whom one can compare the whaleman, but only in order to highlight the ways in which the latter is an incomparable “hero” of the modern world.

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