Melville’s muse was language, and his literary talent has been preserved for a century-and-a-half in his novels about the sea and its sailors. Narrator Paul Boehmer uses Melville’s substantial language to introduce Israel Potter and all the conjured-up people the boy meets. Cameo appearances made by King George III, Benjamin Franklin, and John Paul Jones give Boehmer the opportunity to render their vivid personalities as he chooses. Boehmer’s second talent, we learn, is to make the unfamiliar words of the time - the "must needs" and "e’re longs" - melt into the phrases we do understand. His flow upgrades the story for contemporary listeners and creates an adventuresome ambiance. Boehmer’s ultimate talent comes with his agility at employing accents, all credible and entertaining.
Based on the life of an actual soldier who claimed to have fought at Bunker Hill, Israel Potter is unique among Herman Melville's books: a novel in the guise of a biography. In telling the story of Israel Potter's fall from Revolutionary War hero to peddler on the streets of London, where he obtained a livelihood by crying "Old Chairs to Mend," Melville alternated between invented scenes and historical episodes, granting cameos to such famous men of the era as Benjamin Franklin (Potter may have been his secret courier) and John Paul Jones, and providing a portrait of the American Revolution as the rollicking adventure and violent series of events that it really was.