Nearer, My God, To Thee

Saturday, May 20, AD 2017

Something for the weekend.  Nearer, My God, to Thee, sung by Mahalia Jackson.  Written in 1841 by Sarah Fuller Flower Adams, it retells the story of Jacob’s Dream.  A hymn of surpassing power in time of grief and loss, it was played by Confederate bands after Pickett’s Charge, and was sounded while the Rough Riders buried their dead.  Its title was the last words said by a dying President McKinley and the band on the Titanic ended their heroic service by playing the hymn as the ship sank beneath the waves.

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Who Survived The Titanic: A Story of Chivalry Not Class

Tuesday, April 17, AD 2012

There’s something about the magnitude and timing of the sinking of the Titanic that makes it almost irresistible for people to turn it into a sort of fable. The sinking of the “unsinkable” ship, the largest ship of its kind built up to that time, seems like a perfect example of hubris, and the fact that the wreck occurred just two years before the outbreak of the Great War (which perhaps more than any event defines the beginning of “Modern Times”) allows the Titanic to serve as a symbol of all that was bad and good about the world before the world before the War.

One of the things that most people are pretty sure they know about the sinking of the Titanic is that many of the first class passengers survived while those traveling third class were kept below decks and perished in far greater numbers. This fits well with the image of rigid class stratification in the pre-War years.

It is certainly true that a much greater percentage of third class passengers died in the sinking than first and second class passengers, however, the images popularized by James Cameron’s movie of third class passengers being locked below decks by the viciously classist crew appear to be fiction. The question of whether third class passengers were actively kept from the lifeboats was examined during Lord Mersey’s official investigation of the wreck and his conclusions were as follows:

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13 Responses to Who Survived The Titanic: A Story of Chivalry Not Class

  • Astor was by far the richest man onboard. He left 150 million dollars in his will which would be 11.92 billion in 2011 dollars.

  • To take your chance in the thick of a rush, with firing all about,
    Is nothing so bad when you’ve cover to ‘and, an’ leave an’ likin’ to shout;
    But to stand an’ be still to the Birken’ead drill
    is a damn tough bullet to chew,
    An’ they done it, the Jollies — ‘Er Majesty’s Jollies —
    soldier an’ sailor too!
    Their work was done when it ‘adn’t begun; they was younger nor me an’ you;
    Their choice it was plain between drownin’ in ‘eaps
    an’ bein’ mopped by the screw,
    So they stood an’ was still to the Birken’ead drill, soldier an’ sailor too!

    We’re most of us liars, we’re ‘arf of us thieves,
    an’ the rest are as rank as can be,
    But once in a while we can finish in style
    (which I ‘ope it won’t ‘appen to me).
    But it makes you think better o’ you an’ your friends,
    an’ the work you may ‘ave to do,
    When you think o’ the sinkin’ Victorier’s Jollies — soldier an’ sailor too!
    Rudyard Kipling

  • “it was seen as the duty of society as a whole to protect the lives of women and children in such a situation,” an authentic “Right to Choose”

  • …the images popularized by James Cameron’s movie… appear to be fiction.

    Almost the whole flick is fakery of one kind or another – most egregiously its attempt to woozily merge feminism with female privilege via the duties chivalry imposes on men alone.

  • Don,

    Thanks for remembrin’ the “Birken’ead drill.”

    More “mixed” sea stories: this date in 1942 a small group of daring airmen who took off from the aircraft carrier Hornet in B-24 (bombers!) and took the first counter-punch at Dai Nippon.

  • The 1958 film “A Night to Remember” , a far better film than Cameron’s absurd epic, and done when many of the survivors were still alive, also buys into the myth that third class passengers were deliberately kept below. Third class (not ‘steerage’ please note) on Titanic was as well-appointed as second class on most liners, and represented good value for money – then, as now, the class you travelled in depended on how much you were prepared to, or could afford to pay. In the 1950s, when traditional notions of social class were being eroded, it was fashionable to portray the pre-1914 era as class-ridden. The same film also belongs to the stiff-upper-lip British officer war movie genre of the time, exemplified by Kenneth More who played Lightoller in the film. In reality the ship’s officers had no clear idea of what they were supposed to do and Captain Smith seems to have had some sort of nervous breakdown. Costa Concordia anyone?

    Incidentally, Charles Lightoller came out of retirement to command one of the ‘little ships’ in the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940.

    BTW, does anyone have an explanation for the low survival rate among second class male passengers?

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  • Just like on a plane, first class gets you more privileges/comfort. You get what you pay for.

  • No amount of truth can penetrate prejudice. Cameron’s “Titanic” was appalling. Drives me batty to see history (or even good novels, for that matter) gutted to serve somebody’s social agenda.
    God knows what heroes died that day, and why.

  • And the unsung ones were Wilde (Chief Officer) and Murdoch (First Officer) who saw all their boats away full, before going down with the ship. A rumour (no more than that) on Carpathia was that Murdoch shot himself in remorse as he had been the the Officer of the Watch when the berg was struck. The Cameron film had him shooting a third class passenger (Irish of course). No wonder Murdoch’s family objected. For all the millions of dollars spent on it the Cameron film was one of the worst I have seen in my life.

  • I don’t think Astor should be cited as an example of chivalry.
    He tried to finagle his way on (in place of who else but a woman or a child – who were to be given preference) and only when the powers-that-be put the kibosh on it did he accept his fate.
    His second wife (he divorced his first), a teenage girl 30 years his junior, was fine – she inherited millions and married her childhood sweetheart a few years later.

  • Good article. Minor nitpick to one comment. The Doolittle Raid used B-25’s, a twin engined medium bomber, not the 4 engined, B-24, a heavy bomber.

  • Mr. Onge,
    I think it is perilous to cast aspersions with respect to the actions of Mr. Astor since it is difficult to reconcile the account of Mrs Astor with that of Officer Lightoller. It is possible that Lightoller misconstrued Mr. Astor’s selfless efforts to assist his wife, just as it is possible that Mrs. Astor contrived a face-saving explanation for her husband’s selfish actions. We simply cannot know, although Mr. Garrett’s account gives one reason to want to favor Mrs. Astor’s rendering.