Cast Down Your Bucket

Posted by Bruce Kahl on January 27, 2002

In Reply to: Cast Down Your Bucket posted by tom dewey on January 27, 2002

: Not exactly a phrase, but in one of his novels, Melville relates a story of a sailing ship signaling to Melville's narrator that
: they were out of drinking water. Melville's skipper signals back to "cast down your bucket." They are off the coast of
: South America in the vicinity of the the Amazon and Melville's skipper knows that the river extends for miles into the
: Atlantic. The other skipper is either unfamiliar with the terrain or inexperienced. He can't understand that there is
: potable water under his keel.

: Anybody know which novel this scene appears?

I couldn't find a searchable etext of Melville nor did I see any references at all to Melville and your phrase.

However, I did see that your phrase was part of a speech given by Booker T. Washington in what later came to be known as the Atlanta Compromise speech before the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta in 1895.

Melville lived from 1819 to 1891 so it is very possible that Mr. Washington borrowed the phrase. Maybe some Melvillians can help you further.

"...... a ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal: "Water, water. We die of thirst." The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back: "Cast down your bucket where you are." A second time, the signal, "Water, send us water!" went up from the distressed vessel. And was answered: "Cast down your bucket where you are." A third and fourth signal for water was answered: "Cast down your bucket where you are." The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River."
" those of the white race who look to the incoming of those of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits for the prosperity of the South, were I permitted, I would repeat what I have said to my own race: "Cast down your bucket where you are." Cast it down among the eight millions of Negroes whose habits you know, whose fidelity and love you have tested in days when to have proved treacherous meant the ruin of your fireside. Cast down your bucket among these people who have without strikes and labor wars tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded your railroads and cities, brought forth treasures from the bowels of the earth, just to make possible this magnificent representation of the progress of the South."