“The Dog Ate It”

On Backing Up Your Work

Surely we have all been guilty of the dreaded folly: not backing up our writing. Dum dum dum. In today’s technological age, of course, we have little excuse, whether we have two hard-drives (thank goodness my husband is a tech geek!) or simply email our manuscript to ourselves.

Still, somehow, in uni, I had a professor who somehow lost an entire book manuscript. We theorized that for the remainder of the semester, our gaunt-looking prof. had more than coffee in her opaque thermos.



However, I’ve just come across an anecdote that should put all of you non-savers to shame. I don’t want to hear you whining if your computer crashes and your latest poem disappears into internet-ether. Why?

I’m currently reading Melville: His World & Work by Andrew Delbanco, and in Chapter 3 he describes a man Melville knew who lost his one and only poetry manuscript in what must be the most unfortunate manner I’ve yet heard of:

“And there was a fellow New Yorker named Ephraim Curtiss Hine” (already unlucky, then,) “– probably the model for another recluse whom Melville, in White-Jacket, called Lemsford–who snatched every moment he could to write poetry.”

(In 1848, Hine’s The Haunted Barque was privately printed in Auburn, NY…is the title a reference to what happened to his original m.s.?)

“Fearful that his poems would be disposed of in one of the bouts of sweeping and scrubbing at which the crew was periodically set to work, Hine stuffed his manuscript for safekeeping into a ships’s cannon by ramming it in with the “tompion,” a sort of plunger kept in place in the barrel to keep out the sea spray. When the ship fired a volley in return to a salute from a shore battery somewhere off South America, he arrived too late at the sheltering gun to save his work-in-progress, which had been blown out to sea in shreds.

ship cannon

ship cannon

“Jack Chase, whose name Melville retained in White-Jacket, consoled him with words that were later to register on Melville, whose own publishing career was to have its share of misfortunes:

‘Never mind, my boy, no printer could do the business for you better. That’s the way to publish…fire it right into ’em; every canto a twenty-four-pound shot; hull the blockheads, whether they will or no. And mind you,…when your shot does the most execution, you hear the least from the foe. A killed man cannot even lisp.'”

Jack Chase has a good, although cynical, attitude about the whole thing!

Moral: Don’t whine about losing your writing because at least it wasn’t blown out of a cannon.

One thought on ““The Dog Ate It”

  1. That’s right! Off-site backups are the way to go.

    With services like Mozy you can have your manuscript up in the cloud, in the unlikely event that your computer gets shot out to sea in a cannon…

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