The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #128220 Message #2870449
Posted By: Gibb Sahib
23-Mar-10 - 08:58 PM
Thread Name: The Advent and Development of Chanties
Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
Capstan shanty description!
Fiction, from 1829: "Tales of a Voyager to the Arctic Ocean" -- excerpts discovered in THE LADY's MAGAZINE. Full context not given; a whaling vessel. :
Our visitors were particularly animated in their extemporaneous effusions, and ran round the capstan rapidly, to words signifying their hope of soon sharing an allowance of spirits; a luxury of which our prudential regime had deprived them whilst we remained beset, occasionally varying their exclamations with anticipations of the other benefits which they expected to obtain by the deliverance of the vessel from her icy fetters. The limit of the choral expression is always marked by the velocity with which the leader of the band, that is, the individual who first gives out the stave, completes a circle on the deck as he heaves round his bar, and he recommences his chant at the same spot at which it was begun. Hence, when the circumvolutions of the performers are quickened by the yielding of the obstruction to the winding-in of the warp, and the velocity of the turns will not allow the repetition of the canticle first set up, the choir break into a more brief outcry, suited to their movements; and at times, especially when reinforced by an accession of hands, they whirl round the capstan with the utmost swiftness, shrieking, laughing, dancing, and flinging out their heels, like a company of savage revelers capering about some object of convivial worship with extravagant demonstrations of mental and bodily excitement. Such was the glee of our Hialtlandmen, when they found the Leviathan, so long immovable, and consequently unprofitable, now gliding onward with increasing speed toward freedom and the possibility of exercising her whale-capturing functions. No sooner had they got the ship under weigh, and felt her yield to the impulse of their warp, as if she gradually awoke from a deep lethargy, and slowly resumed her suspended faculty of motion, than they began their song, one of them striking up, seemingly with the first idea that entered his imagination, while the others caught at his words, and repeated them to a kind of Chinese melody; the whole at length uniting their voices into one chant, which, though evidently the outpouring of a jovial spirit, had, from its unvaried tone and constant echo of the same expression, a half-wild, half-melancholy effect upon the ear. The foreign accent of the singers contributed not a little to invest their music with a strange imposing character, while the strong contrast between the import of their exclamation and its somewhat dirge-like accompaniment of voice, gave their stave a serio-comic air, well illustrated by the ludicrous display of joyous feelings depicted on the habitually grave and simple countenances of the performers. As the vessel advanced, the momentum she had received from the previous exertions of the capstan-heavers, and the strain upon the warp, yielding readily to the increasing resolution of the men, allowed them to run round with their bars at a more soulstirring pace, and the song grew fast and furious. It had begun with "Yah! yah! here's a full ship for the captain, and a full pannikin for Peytie Pevterson, la— la—lalla—la—leh; but this sentence, after many repetitions, was changed for others of briefer duration and more expressive import, as they coursed after each other with intoxicating rapidity; their steps grew frolicsome, and their voices were elevated till they cracked with energy; they shouted, shrieked, and capered ; and at length they wanted nothmg requisite to make them true representatives of a troop of roaring bacchanalians but old Silenus perched upon the drumhead of the capstan, and some of that good liquor whose very expectation had thus inspired them with frantic mirth.