As seen in Herman Melville.
PUBLISHING POETRY IN A MAN-OF-WAR.
A day or two after our arrival in Rio, a rather amusing incident occurred to a particular acquaintance of mine, young Lemsford, the gun-deck bard.
The great guns of an armed ship have blocks of wood, called tompions, painted black, inserted in their muzzles, to keep out the spray of the sea. These tompions slip in and out very handily, like covers to butter firkins.
By advice of a friend, Lemsford, alarmed for the fate of his box of poetry, had latterly made use of a particular gun on the main-deck, in the tube of which he thrust his manuscripts, by simply crawling partly out of the porthole, removing the tompion, inserting his papers, tightly rolled, and making all snug again.
Breakfast over, he and I were reclining in the main-top—where, by permission of my noble master, Jack Chase, I had invited him—when, of a sudden, we heard a cannonading. It was our own ship.
“Ah!” said a top-man, “returning the shore salute they gave us yesterday.”
“O Lord!” cried Lemsford, “my Songs of the Sirens!” and he ran down the rigging to the batteries; but just as he touched the gun-deck, gun No. 20—his literary strong-box—went off with a terrific report.
“Well, my after-guard Virgil,” said Jack Chase to him, as he slowly returned up the rigging, “did you get it? You need not answer; I see you were too late. But never mind, my boy: no printer could do the business for you better. That’s the way to publish, White-Jacket,” turning to me. …
— Herman Melville, White-Jacket, or The World in a Man-of-War
The relics of hermitages and stone basins are not the only signs of vanishing humanity to be found upon the isles. And, curious to say, that spot which of all others in settled communities is most animated, at the Enchanted Isles presents the most dreary of aspects. And though it may seem very strange to talk of post offices in this barren region, yet post offices are occasionally to be found there. They consist of a stake and a bottle. The letters being not only sealed, but corked. They are generally deposited by captains of Nantucketers for the benefit of passing fishermen, and contain statements as to what luck they had in whaling or tortoise hunting. Frequently, however, long months and months, whole years, glide by and no applicant appears. The stake rots and falls, presenting no very exhilarating object.
— Herman Melville, The Encantadas, or Enchanted Isles
— posted by Roger W. Smith (with a bow to Henry T. Handy, my Cape Cod whaling ancestor)