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Old and young ahead

by Abram Kean

Other authors: Wilfred Grenfell (Foreword)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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911,967,321 (3)None
When Captain Abram Kean, doyen of our ice hunters and northern seamen, invited me to write a foreword to his book, I felt profoundly honoured, for we have been friends for forty years, and I know what he has consistently stood for among our northern seafaring people: true seamanship, courage, unselfishness, and genuine love for his fellow men. To the American public and the world "Captain Bob" has introduced those yeomen of our fisheries, the Bartlett family. I am hoping this book will introduce another than whom none are better loved and trusted in the North. Somehow it may, I hope, lead to a better appreciation of the character developed in what is regarded by some as a "humble calling." There are many such yeomen in the North. It was to men of such calling Christ Himself entrusted the ineffable message He came to earth to reveal. A gale of wind in the winter in the North Atlantic when your sheets are frozen solid, your canvas blown to ribbons, and you have no way of knowing where you are in a heavily laden small schooner with all your own and perhaps your best loved one aboard off an ill-charted coast makes one feel humble in the presence of the unseen--and yet all that is manly and noble is challenged. "They that go down to the sea in ships" don't often write books; when they do I advise all my friends, especially professional storywriters, to read them. I heartily recommend Captain Kean's book to every one of them.       From the foreword by Sir Wilfred Grenfell… (more)
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Being The World's Greatest doesn't mean that you're much good.

Abram Kean was the greatest seal-hunter the world has every known. In half a century of haunting Newfoundland's seal fishery, his ships brought home over a million seals -- about half again as many as the next-best sealing captain. It even earned him the Order of the British Empire. But it sure didn't make him nice.

I don't say that because I dislike sealing. I do dislike sealing, but I also know that Newfoundland was poor, and it survived in large part by sealing; there were good men on both sides of the sealing issue, just as today there are good people on both sides of the gun debate. But I dislike Abram Kean because he was just plain mean. He played a part in the Greenland Disaster of 1898, in which several dozen men lost their lives, and a much greater part in the Newfoundland disaster of 1914, in which 78 men froze to death. His sons, Joe Kean and Westbury Kean, had consciences, and were horror-stricken; Abram just said, "Not my fault," and went on hunting seals. He never admitted fault. He never learned. He never gave a fig what anyone thought. He just hunted seals.

That, and served in the Newfoundland legislature. He was first elected because he was a Methodist teetotaler, and Newfoundland politics being what it was, that was what was called for.

This book, Kean's autobiography, says little about his sealing disasters, although it was his sealing career that made him famous. It says more about his political views -- which mostly boil down to, "You're all a bunch of cowards, and you got us into this mess (when Newfoundland went bankrupt in the 1930s and had to give up self-government), and it's not my fault."

Nothing was ever his fault. That's the story of this book.

Apart from that cheery message, it's rather a bore. It's an old man's ramblings, without much coherence but with all the pomposity you could ever wish for.

The edition I read is the re-issue edited by Shannon Ryan. This adds a little additional information, which is useful; this is the edition to get. But it's still basically Abram Kean, rich in seals, poor in ideas, destitute in humility and honesty and human kindness. If you're anything like me, you won't like him.

So why did I read it? Because the Newfoundland seal fishery was a tremendously important part of Newfoundland culture in the century and a half before World War II, and if you want to understand it, you need to know about Abram Kean. If you're interested in that, you need this book. Just... don't expect to enjoy it. ( )
  waltzmn | May 6, 2018 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Abram Keanprimary authorall editionscalculated
Grenfell, WilfredForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ryan, ShannonEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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FOREWORD by Wilfred Grenfell
When Captain Abram Kean, doyen of our ice hunters and northern seamen, invited me to write a foreword to his book, I felt profoundly honoured, for we have been friends for forty years, and I know what he has consistently stood for among our northern seafaring people.
On the 8th day of July, 1855, I first saw the light of day, and exactly seventy-nine years later to the day I decided to write the history of my own life.
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When Captain Abram Kean, doyen of our ice hunters and northern seamen, invited me to write a foreword to his book, I felt profoundly honoured, for we have been friends for forty years, and I know what he has consistently stood for among our northern seafaring people: true seamanship, courage, unselfishness, and genuine love for his fellow men. To the American public and the world "Captain Bob" has introduced those yeomen of our fisheries, the Bartlett family. I am hoping this book will introduce another than whom none are better loved and trusted in the North. Somehow it may, I hope, lead to a better appreciation of the character developed in what is regarded by some as a "humble calling." There are many such yeomen in the North. It was to men of such calling Christ Himself entrusted the ineffable message He came to earth to reveal. A gale of wind in the winter in the North Atlantic when your sheets are frozen solid, your canvas blown to ribbons, and you have no way of knowing where you are in a heavily laden small schooner with all your own and perhaps your best loved one aboard off an ill-charted coast makes one feel humble in the presence of the unseen--and yet all that is manly and noble is challenged. "They that go down to the sea in ships" don't often write books; when they do I advise all my friends, especially professional storywriters, to read them. I heartily recommend Captain Kean's book to every one of them.       From the foreword by Sir Wilfred Grenfell

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