Melville’s original handwritten manuscript of Billy Budd (via). (Click image to view full size.)
In a famous chapter of Moby Dick, Melville explains the law governing ownership of whales at sea.
It frequently happens that when several ships are cruising in company, a whale may be struck by one vessel, then escape, and be finally killed and captured by another vessel; and herein are indirectly comprised many minor contingencies, all partaking of this one grand feature. For example,— after a weary and perilous chase and capture of a whale, the body may get loose from the ship by reason of a violent storm; and drifting far away to leeward, be retaken by a second whaler, who, in a calm, snugly tows it alongside, without risk of life or line. Thus the most vexatious and violent disputes would often arise between the fishermen, were there not some written or unwritten, universal, undisputed law applicable to all cases.…
I. A Fast-Fish belongs to the party fast to it.
II. A Loose-Fish is fair game for anybody who can soonest catch it.
…What is a Fast-Fish? Alive or dead a fish is technically fast, when it is connected with an occupied ship or boat, by any medium at all controllable by the occupant or occupants,— a mast, an oar, a nine-inch cable, a telegraph wire, or a strand of cobweb, it is all the same. Likewise a fish is technically fast when it bears a waif [ed. note: a pole stuck into the floating body of a dead whale as a marker], or any other recognized symbol of possession; so long as the party wailing it plainly evince their ability at any time to take it alongside, as well as their intention so to do.
Matt Kish, whose bio says he is not an artist, is rereading Moby-Dick while creating a drawing for every page. I love this one, for page 109: “I will have no man in my boat,” said Starbuck, “who is not afraid of a whale.” (View full size here.) Details about the project are here, including an index of the drawings. For the record, Matt’s edition of Moby-Dick has 552 pages. Go, Matt! (via)