Cadwallader Cuticle

Inside Reagan's Navy

My car took me to the officers club at Bethesda for a dinner for the department heads of all naval hospitals. In my remarks, I spoke of Cadwallader Cuticle, the sawbones surgeon aboard USS Neversink in Melville’s White Jacket:

Surrounded by moans and shrieks, by features distorted with anguish inflicted by himself, he yet maintained a countenance almost supernaturally calm….. Indeed, long habituation to the dissecting-room and amputation table had made him seemingly impervious to the ordinary emotions of humanity…. Yet you could not say that Cuticle was essentially a cruel-hearted man. His apparent heartlessness [was] of a purely scientific origin. It is not to be imagined [he] would have harmed a fly, unless he could procure a microscope powerful enough to assist him in experimenting on the minute vitals of the creature.

I’m certain the shade of old Herman smiled contentedly to have his words read at a dinner of Navy doctors, including Cuticle’s spiritual descendent, the Surgeon General.


Herman Melville in 1860,
ten years after White Jacket was first published


Melville’s White Jacket is of course your best reference for more on Cawallader Cuticle, but you can read more about my service as DASN and assistant secretary for Manpower and Foreign Reserves in Inside Reagan’s Navy.

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