Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 105: James Fenimore Cooper, Storm and Shipwreck (#187)

James Fenimore Cooper, "Storm and Shipwreck" (1843) from The War of 1812: Writings from America’s Second War of Independence:

Today's selection is a very simple anecdote: during the War of 1812, Ned Myers was on the USS Scourge, patrolling Lake Ontario; the ship sunk in a storm on August 8 (oh, timely), and only a few men survived. Now, that plot is very simple, but I'm a sucker for anything about the War of 1812 or about the culture of the Great Lakes or about Cooper's interest in sea stories. I'm also a sucker for the jargon of people who know what they're talking about; when Myers tells us something about a becket and how Myers sculled, I'm not entirely sure what he's talking about, but it sure sounds like he does. (Seriously, though, I hope this piece comes with a glossary in the book.)

There's one or two interesting moments, as when Ned rescues another sailor, who notes
"Davy has made a good haul, and he gave us a close shave; but he didn’t get you and me.” In this manner did this thoughtless sailor express himself, as soon as rescued from the grasp of death!
But most of the interest of this piece is generated by its history. I don't just mean "as history"--I mean the history of the piece itself, which is a little more complex than the simple plot of the piece. Apparently Ned Myers and J. F. Cooper were friends on their first sailing voyage; and after their lives took them in different directions, Myers contacted Cooper, which re-started the friendship.

Then, to top it all off, the wrecks of the ships from that night were discovered and explored recently.

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