Home  »  Volume XVII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II  »  § 19. The South Seas

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XIV. Travellers and Explorers, 1846–1900

§ 19. The South Seas

A missionary who wrote Adventures in Patagonia (1880) wrote also Life in Hawaii (1882), both of them “foundation” books. He became identified with everything Hawaiian, and wrote many letters from there to The American Journal of Science and to The Missionary Herald. This indefatigable worker in the missionary real was the Rev. Titus Coan, whose son, Dr. Titus Munson Coan, has written a brochure on The Climate of Hawaii (1901) and on The Natives of Hawaii: A Study in Polynesian Charm (1901).

The South Seas enthrall the visitor with this “Polynesian Charm”; a drifting away from material things on “tropic spray ‘which knows not if it be sea or sun’”; a plunge into a conservatory of blossoms producing a sort of narcosis—at least such was the effect in former days, and Charles Warren Stoddard caught and presented this earlier delicioso in his classic South Sea Idyls (1873), “the lightest, sweetest, wildest things that ever were written about the life of the summer ocean,” declares W. D. Howells in the introduction which he wrote. “No one need ever write of the South Seas again.” Full of whales were these South Seas, too, as well as of the fragrance of tropic fruits, and the life of the whaler in pursuit of them there, as well as in the northern waters, has found numerous recorders. But who has painted it as delightfully, as masterfully, as Herman Melville in Moby Dick? And who can forget, once lost in its wonderful glow, that other story of Melville’s, the story of life among cannibals, told in Typee? And there is Omoo, hardly less absorbing, telling of life in Tahiti. These books of his belong to our American classics. He wrote also White Jacket, of life on a man-of-war, Redburn, and Mardi and a Voyage Thither.