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Vernet’s A Violent Storm in Melville’s copy of The Works of Eminent Masters

MBB 3.4 vernet violent storm in Works.jpg

MBB 3.4 Engraving of A Violent Storm, from a Painting by Joseph Vernet, illustrating the essay “Joseph Vernet” in Melville’s copy of The Works of Eminent Masters, 1854, 2: 52. Houghton Library, Harvard University.

This image shows the wreckage of one ship in the foreground while in the distance another ship is shuddering against the lee shore fortified by massive round tower. This image enacts the disaster that was threatening the ship off the shore in the engraving after Vernet’s Naufrage in Melville’s collection (CAT 163). In this image, the presence of the tower on the land and the figures in the foreground present an exceptionally compact visual equivalent to Ishmael’s declaration in “The Lee-Shore” that “the port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that’s kind to our mortalities.  But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship’s direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through” (NN MD 106).