November 7 marks the 200th anniversary of the conclusion of the Lewis and Clark expedition, which mapped the land route across the North American continent. This article celebrates the achievement and laments the loss of the rivers and waterways the explorers describe. One quotation from Clark stands out, describing the moment they first saw the pacific: “Great joy in camp we are in View of the Ocian, this great Pacific Octean which we been So long anxious to See.”
As the article points out, Clark was a terrible speller, but he could “capture a moment.” Herman Melville, on the other hand, seems to have been good at both; he is probably also the finest writer about the sea. A new biography of Melville, by Andrew Delbanco, came out recently and has been well reviewed, notably by Michael Dirda in the Washington Post, and by Jay Parini, in The Guardian. Parini’s conclusion, that Melville’s work is “not only relevant but urgent” is one that I would agree with.