a man of fine feelings,

enkidu68

Senior Member
turkish
Hi folks, this is cited from Wellingborough Redburn by Hermann Melville (1849)

Context: Melville is talking about here a costum officer. I think he uses an ironic language as we might understand from the first sentence.
What I wonder is if he used the phrase “ a man of fine feelings” in the same vein? Does he imply that when this costume officer lands, he takes bribe or something? Why would it be worse than “driving geese to water.”


He was kept on board to prevent smuggling; but he used to smuggle himself ashore very often, when, according to law, he should have been at his post on board ship. But no wonder; he seemed to be a man of fine feelings, altogether above his situation; a most inglorious one, indeed; worse than driving geese to water.
 
  • lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I don’t see anything ironic in this. Before that, the man is described as “a gentlemanly, friendless custom-house officer”. The author seems to be sympathising with his predicament of being expected to stay on board all the time with nothing to do.

    I don’t know what “driving geese to water” implies.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It’s just a turn of phrase (and maybe a bit of a pun, in this case). He had to creep ashore surreptitiously because he was supposed to stay on the ship.
     

    enkidu68

    Senior Member
    turkish
    I think he compares "driving gees to the water " with "being a costume officer" Driving geese to water must be difficult maybe I have to ask this to my mom:))
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    “driving geese to water” -> to do a job that is pointless and boring. (Geese do not need "driving to water" they will happily find there own way there.)

    Melville uses the same expression in the autobiographical "Billy Budd": He [Melville] returned to New York City in 1863 and for four dollars a day served at the Gansevoort Street wharf for twenty years (from 1866–86) as deputy inspector of customs, a job he characterized as “a most inglorious one; indeed, worse than driving geese to water.”

    (There may be a pun here, as "Gans" is Dutch (cf. German "Ganse") for "Goose," and "voort" = forth)
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Life on board a ship in those days was probably rough. And the sailors were probably rough, unrefined men with little formal education. He was probably more cultured and more educated than them and didn't fit in very well. That's what they mean by "fine feelings", I think. Imagine a college professor working on an oil drilling rig, for instance. Those are two different worlds.

    "altogether above his situation; a most inglorious one"

    The man's situation, having to work on that ship, is inglorious, meaning undesirable. "Altogether above" means he was too good for that job. Maybe he should have been working in a bank or somewhere like that with other people like him and in his social class.

    To get away from his bad situation he would "smuggle himself" ashore, which just means he would sneak off the ship when he had the opportunity to go into town and do things he enjoyed, probably with people more like himself (and unlike the sailors).
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top