Moby Dick; or The Whale
Part 10 out of 12
But to a large and thorough sweeping comprehension of him,
it behoves me now to unbutton him still further, and untagging
the points of his hose, unbuckling his garters, and casting loose
the hooks and the eyes of the joints of his innermost bones,
set him before you in his ultimatum; that is to say,
in his unconditional skeleton.
But how now, Ishmael? How is it, that you, a mere oarsman in
the fishery, pretend to know aught about the subterranean parts
of the whale? Did erudite Stubb, mounted upon your capstan,
deliver lectures on the anatomy of the Cetacea; and by help
of the windlass, hold up a specimen rib for exhibition?
Explain thyself, Ishmael. Can you land a full-grown whale on your
deck for examination, as a cook dishes a roast-pig? Surely not.
A veritable witness have you hitherto been, Ishmael;
but have a care how you seize the privilege of Jonah alone;
the privilege of discoursing upon the joists and beams;
the rafters, ridge-pole, sleepers, and under-pinnings, making
up the frame-work of leviathan; and belike of the tallow-vats,
dairy-rooms, butteries, and cheeseries in his bowels.
I confess, that since Jonah, few whalemen have penetrated very far
beneath the skin of the adult whale; nevertheless, I have been
blessed with an opportunity to dissect him in miniature.
In a ship I belonged to, a small cub Sperm Whale was once
bodily hoisted to the deck for his poke or bag, to make sheaths
for the barbs of the harpoons, and for the heads of the lances.
Think you I let that chance go, without using my boat-hatchet
and jack-knife, and breaking the seal and reading all the contents
of that young cub?
And as for my exact knowledge of the bones of the leviathan
in their gigantic, full grown development, for that rare knowledge
I am indebted to my late royal friend Tranquo, king of Tranque,
one of the Arsacides. For being at Tranque, years ago,
when attached to the trading-ship Dey of Algiers, I was invited
to spend part of the Arsacidean holidays with the lord of Tranque,
at his retired palm villa at Pupella; a sea-side glen not very far
distant from what our sailors called Bamboo-Town, his capital.
Among many other fine qualities, my royal friend Tranquo,
being gifted with a devout love for all matters of barbaric vertu,
had brought together in Pupella whatever rare things the more ingenious
of his people could invent; chiefly carved woods of wonderful devices,
chiselled shells, inlaid spears, costly paddles, aromatic canoes;
and all these distributed among whatever natural wonders,
the wonder-freighted, tribute-rendering waves had cast upon his shores.
Chief among these latter was a great Sperm Whale, which, after an
unusually long raging gale, had been found dead and stranded, with his
head against a cocoa-nut tree, whose plumage-like, tufted droopings
seemed his verdant jet. When the vast body had at last been stripped
of its fathomdeep enfoldings, and the bones become dust dry in the sun,
then the skeleton was carefully transported up the Pupella glen,
where a grand temple of lordly palms now sheltered it.
The ribs were hung with trophies; the vertebrae were carved
with Arsacidean annals, in strange hieroglyphics; in the skull,
the priests kept up an unextinguished aromatic flame, so that the mystic
head again sent forth its vapory spout; while, suspended from
a bough, the terrific lower jaw vibrated over all the devotees,
like the hair-hung sword that so affrighted Damocles.
It was a wondrous sight. The wood was green as mosses of the Icy Glen;
the trees stood high and haughty, feeling their living sap;
the industrious earth beneath was as a weaver's loom,
with a gorgeous carpet on it, whereof the ground-vine tendrils
formed the warp and woof, and the living flowers the figures.
All the trees, with all their laden branches; all the shrubs,
and ferns, and grasses; the message-carrying air; all these
unceasingly were active. Through the lacings of the leaves,
the great sun seemed a flying shuttle weaving the unwearied verdure.
Oh, busy weaver! unseen weaver!--pause!--one word!--
whither flows the fabric? what palace may it deck? wherefore
all these ceaseless toilings? Speak, weaver!--stay thy hand!--
but one single word with thee! Nay--the shuttle flies--
the figures float from forth the loom; the fresher-rushing
carpet for ever slides away. The weaver-god, he weaves;
and by that weaving is he deafened, that he hears no mortal voice;
and by that humming, we, too, who look on the loom are deafened;
and only when we escape it shall we hear the thousand voices that
speak through it. For even so it is in all material factories.
The spoken words that are inaudible among the flying spindles;
those same words are plainly heard without the walls, bursting from
the opened casements. Thereby have villainies been detected.
Ah, mortal! then, be heedful; for so, in all this din of the great
world's loom, thy subtlest thinkings may be overheard afar.
Now, amid the green, life-restless loom of that Arsacidean wood,
the great, white, worshipped skeleton lay lounging--a gigantic idler!
Yet, as the ever-woven verdant warp and woof intermixed and hummed
around him, the mighty idler seemed the cunning weaver; himself all woven
over with the vines; every month assuming greener, fresher verdure;
but himself a skeleton. Life folded Death; Death trellised Life;
the grim god wived with youthful Life, and begat him curly-headed glories.
Now, when with royal Tranquo I visited this wondrous whale,
and saw the skull an altar, and the artificial smoke ascending
from where the real jet had issued, I marvelled that the king
should regard a chapel as an object of vertu. He laughed.
But more I marvelled that the priests should swear that smoky jet
of his was genuine. To and fro I paced before this skeleton--
brushed the vines aside--broke through the ribs--and with a ball
of Arsacidean twine, wandered, eddied long amid its many winding,
shaded colonnades and arbors. But soon my line was out;
and following it back, I emerged from the opening where I entered.
I saw no living thing within; naught was there but bones.
Cutting me a green measuring-rod, I once more dived within
the skeleton. From their arrow-slit in the skull, the priests
perceived me taking the altitude of the final rib, "How now!"
they shouted; "Dar'st thou measure this our god! That's for us."
"Aye, priests--well, how long do ye make him, then?" But hereupon
a fierce contest rose among them, concerning feet and inches;
they cracked each other's sconces with their yard-sticks--
the great skull echoed--and seizing that lucky chance,
I quickly concluded my own admeasurements.
These admeasurements I now propose to set before you.
But first, be it recorded, that, in this matter, I am not free
to utter any fancied measurements I please. Because there are
skeleton authorities you can refer to, to test my accuracy.
There is a Leviathanic Museum, they tell me, in Hull, England,
one of the whaling ports of that country, where they have some
fine specimens of fin-backs and other whales. Likewise, I have
heard that in the museum of Manchester, in New Hampshire,
they have what the proprietors call "the only perfect specimen
of a Greenland or River Whale in the United States." Moreover, at a
place in Yorkshire, England, Burton Constable by name, a certain
Sir Clifford Constable has in his possession the skeleton of a
Sperm Whale, but of moderate size, by no means of the full-grown
magnitude of my friend King Tranquo's.
In both cases, the stranded whales to which these two skeletons belonged,
were originally claimed by their proprietors upon similar grounds.
King Tranquo seizing his because he wanted it; and Sir Clifford,
because he was lord of the seignories of those parts.
Sir Clifford's whale has been articulated throughout; so that,
like a great chest of drawers, you can open and shut him,
in all his bony cavities--spread out his ribs like a gigantic fan--
and swing all day upon his lower jaw. Locks are to be put
upon some of his trap-doors and shutters; and a footman will
show round future visitors with a bunch of keys at his side.
Sir Clifford thinks of charging twopence for a peep at the whispering
gallery in the spinal column; threepence to hear the echo
in the hollow of his cerebellum; and sixpence for the unrivalled
view from his forehead.
The skeleton dimensions I shall now proceed to set down are
copied verbatim from my right arm, where I had them tattooed;
as in my wild wanderings at that period, there was no
other secure way of preserving such valuable statistics.
But as I was crowded for space, and wished the other parts of my
body to remain a blank page for a poem I was then composing--
at least, what untattooed parts might remain--I did not trouble
myself with the odd inches; nor, indeed, should inches at all
enter into a congenial admeasurement of the whale.
Measurement of The Whale's Skeleton
In the first place, I wish to lay before you a particular,
plain statement, touching the living bulk of this leviathan,
whose skeleton we are briefly to exhibit. Such a statement
may prove useful here.
According to a careful calculation I have made, and which I
partly base upon Captain Scoresby's estimate, of seventy tons
for the largest sized Greenland whale of sixty feet in length;
according to my careful calculation, I say, a Sperm Whale of the
largest magnitude, between eighty-five and ninety feet in length,
and something less than forty feet in its fullest circumference,
such a whale will weigh at least ninety tons; so that,
reckoning thirteen men to a ton, he would considerably outweigh
the combined population of a whole village of one thousand
one hundred inhabitants.
Think you not then that brains, like yoked cattle, should be put to
this leviathan, to make him at all budge to any landsman's imagination?
Having already in various ways put before you his skull,
spout-hole, jaw, teeth, tail, forehead, fins, and divers other parts,
I shall now simply point out what is most interesting in the
general bulk of his unobstructed bones. But as the colossal
skull embraces so very large a proportion of the entire extent
of the skeleton; as it is by far the most complicated part;
and as nothing is to be repeated concerning it in this chapter,
you must not fail to carry it in your mind, or under your arm,
as we proceed, otherwise you will not gain a complete notion
of the general structure we are about to view.
In length, the Sperm Whale's skeleton at Tranque measured
seventy-two feet: so that when fully invested and extended in life,
he must have been ninety feet long; for in the whale, the skeleton
loses about one fifth in length compared with the living body.
Of this seventy-two feet, his skull and jaw comprised some
twenty feet, leaving some fifty feet of plain backbone.
Attached to this back-bone, for something less than a third
of its length, was the mighty circular basket of ribs which once
enclosed his vitals.
To me this vast ivory-ribbed chest, with the long, unrelieved spine,
extending far away from it in a straight line, not a little resembled
the hull of a great ship new-laid upon the stocks, when only some
twenty of her naked bow-ribs are inserted, and the keel is otherwise,
for the time, but a long, disconnected timber.
The ribs were ten on a side. The first, to begin from the neck,
was nearly six feet long; the second, third, and fourth were each
successively longer, till you came to the climax of the fifth,
or one of the middle ribs, which measured eight feet and
some inches. From that part, the remaining ribs diminished,
till the tenth and last only spanned five feet and some inches.
In general thickness, they all bore a seemly correspondence
to their length. The middle ribs were the most arched.
In some of the Arsacides they are used for beams whereon to lay
footpath bridges over small streams.
In considering these ribs, I could not but be struck anew with
the circumstance, so variously repeated in this book, that the skeleton
of the whale is by no means the mould of his invested form.
The largest of the Tranque ribs, one of the middle ones,
occupied that part of the fish which, in life, is greatest
in depth. Now, the greatest depth of the invested body of this
particular whale must have been at least sixteen feet; whereas,
the corresponding rib measured but little more than eight feet.
So that this rib only conveyed half of the true notion
of the living magnitude of that part. Besides, for some way,
where I now saw but a naked spine, all that had been once wrapped
round with tons of added bulk in flesh, muscle, blood, and bowels.
Still more, for the ample fins, I here saw but a few disordered joints;
and in place of the weighty and majestic, but boneless flukes,
an utter blank!
How vain and foolish, then, thought I, for timid untravelled man
to try to comprehend aright this wondrous whale, by merely poring
over his dead attenuated skeleton, stretched in this peaceful wood.
No. Only in the heart of quickest perils; only when within
the eddyings of his angry flukes; only on the profound unbounded sea,
can the fully invested whale be truly and livingly found out.
But the spine. For that, the best way we can consider it is,
with a crane, to pile its bones high up on end. No speedy enterprise.
But now it's done, it looks much like Pompey's Pillar.
There are forty and odd vertebrae in all, which in the skeleton
are not locked together. They mostly lie like the great knobbed
blocks on a Gothic spire, forming solid courses of heavy masonry.
The largest, a middle one, is in width something less than three feet,
and in depth more than four. The smallest, where the spine tapers
away into the tail, is only two inches in width, and looks something
like a white billiard-ball. I was told that there were still
smaller ones, but they had been lost by some little cannibal urchins,
the priest's children, who had stolen them to play marbles with.
Thus we see how that the spine of even the hugest of living things
tapers off at last into simple child's play.
The Fossil Whale
From his mighty bulk the whale affords a most congenial theme
whereon to enlarge, amplify, and generally expatiate. Would you,
you could not compress him. By good rights he should only be
treated of in imperial folio. Not to tell over again his furlongs
from spiracle to tail, and the yards he measures about the waist;
only think of the gigantic involutions of his intestines,
where they lie in him like great cables and hawsers coiled away
in the subterranean orlop-deck of a line-of-battle-ship.
Since I have undertaken to manhandle this Leviathan, it behoves
me to approve myself omnisciently exhaustive in the enterprise;
not overlooking the minutest seminal germs of his blood,
and spinning him out to the uttermost coil of his bowels.
Having already described him in most of his present habitatory
and anatomical peculiarities, it now remains to magnify him in
an archaeological, fossiliferous, and antediluvian point of view.
Applied to any other creature than the Leviathan--to an ant or a flea--
such portly terms might justly be deemed unwarrantably grandiloquent.
But when Leviathan is the text, the case is altered. Fain am I to stagger
to this enterprise under the weightiest words of the dictionary.
And here be it said, that whenever it has been convenient to consult
one in the course of these dissertations, I have invariably used a huge
quarto edition of Johnson, expressly purchased for that purpose;
because that famous lexicographer's uncommon personal bulk more fitted
him to compile a lexicon to be used by a whale author like me.
One often hears of writers that rise and swell with their subject,
though it may seem but an ordinary one. How, then, with me,
writing of this Leviathan? Unconsciously my chirography
expands into placard capitals. Give me a condor's quill!
Give me Vesuvius' crater for an inkstand! Friends, hold my arms!
For in the mere act of penning my thoughts of this Leviathan,
they weary me, and make me faint with their outreaching
comprehensiveness of sweep, as if to include the whole circle
of the sciences, and all the generations of whales, and men,
and mastodons, past, present, and to come, with all the revolving
panoramas of empire on earth, and throughout the whole universe,
not excluding its suburbs. Such, and so magnifying, is the
virtue of a large and liberal theme! We expand to its bulk.
To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.
No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea,
though many there be who have tried it.
Ere entering upon the subject of Fossil Whales, I present my
credentials as a geologist, by stating that in my miscellaneous
time I have been a stone-mason, and also a great digger of ditches,
canals and wells, wine-vaults, cellars, and cisterns of all sorts.
Likewise, by way of preliminary, I desire to remind the reader,
that while in the earlier geological strata there are found the fossils
of monsters now almost completely extinct; the subsequent relics
discovered in what are called the Tertiary formations seem the connecting,
or at any rate intercepted links, between the antichronical creatures,
and those whose remote posterity are said to have entered the Ark;
all the Fossil Whales hitherto discovered belong to the Tertiary period,
which is the last preceding the superficial formations. And though
none of them precisely answer to any known species of the present time,
they are yet sufficiently akin to them in general respects, to justify
their taking ranks as Cetacean fossils.
Detached broken fossils of pre-adamite whales, fragments of their bones
and skeletons, have within thirty years past, at various intervals,
been found at the base of the Alps, in Lombardy, in France,
in England, in Scotland, and in the States of Louisiana, Mississippi,
and Alabama. Among the more curious of such remains is part of a skull,
which in the year 1779 was disinterred in the Rue Dauphine in Paris,
a short street opening almost directly upon the palace of the Tuileries;
and bones disinterred in excavating the great docks of Antwerp,
in Napoleon's time. Cuvier pronounced these fragments to have belonged
to some utterly unknown Leviathanic species.
But by far the most wonderful of all Cetacean relics was the almost
complete vast skeleton of an extinct monster, found in the year 1842,
on the plantation of Judge Creagh, in Alabama. The awe-stricken credulous
slaves in the vicinity took it for the bones of one of the fallen angels.
The Alabama doctors declared it a huge reptile, and bestowed upon it
the name of Basilosaurus. But some specimen bones of it being taken
across the sea to Owen, the English Anatomist, it turned out that this
alleged reptile was a whale, though of a departed species. A significant
illustration of the fact, again and again repeated in this book,
that the skeleton of the whale furnishes but little clue to the shape
of his fully invested body. So Owen rechristened the monster Zeuglodon;
and in his paper read before the London Geological Society, pronounced it,
in substance, one of the most extraordinary creatures which the mutations
of the globe have blotted out of existence.
When I stand among these mighty Leviathan skeletons,
skulls, tusks, jaws, ribs, and vertebrae, all characterized
by partial resemblances to the existing breeds of sea-monsters;
but at the same time bearing on the other hand similar affinities to
the annihilated antichronical Leviathans, their incalculable seniors;
I am, by a flood, borne back to that wondrous period, ere time
itself can be said to have begun; for time began with man.
Here Saturn's grey chaos rolls over me, and I obtain dim,
shuddering glimpses into those Polar eternities; when wedged
bastions of ice pressed hard upon what are now the Tropics;
and in all the 25,000 miles of this world's circumference,
not an inhabitable hand's breadth of land was visible.
Then the whole world was the whale's; and, king of creation,
he left his wake along the present lines of the Andes and
the Himmalehs. Who can show a pedigree like Leviathan? Ahab's harpoon
had shed older blood than the Pharaoh's. Methuselah seems a schoolboy.
I look round to shake hands with Shem. I am horror-struck
at this antemosaic, unsourced existence of the unspeakable
terrors of the whale, which, having been before all time,
must needs exist after all humane ages are over.
But not alone has this Leviathan left his pre-adamite traces in the
stereotype plates of nature, and in limestone and marl bequeathed his
ancient bust; but upon Egyptian tablets, whose antiquity seems to claim
for them an almost fossiliferous character, we find the unmistakable print
of his fin. In an apartment of the great temple of Denderah, some fifty
years ago, there was discovered upon the granite ceiling a sculptured
and painted planisphere, abounding in centaurs, griffins, and dolphins,
similar to the grotesque figures on the celestial globe of the moderns.
Gliding among them, old Leviathan swam as of yore; was there swimming
in that planisphere, centuries before Solomon was cradled.
Nor must there be omitted another strange attestation of the antiquity
of the whale, in his own osseous postdiluvian reality, as set down
by the venerable John Leo, the old Barbary traveller.
"Not far from the Sea-side, they have a Temple, the Rafters
and Beams of which are made of Whale-Bones; for Whales of a
monstrous size are oftentimes cast up dead upon that shore.
The Common People imagine, that by a secret Power bestowed by God
upon the Temple, no Whale can pass it without immediate death.
But the truth of the Matter is, that on either side
of the Temple, there are Rocks that shoot two Miles into
the Sea, and wound the Whales when they light upon 'em.
They keep a Whale's Rib of an incredible length for a Miracle,
which lying upon the Ground with its convex part uppermost,
makes an Arch, the Head of which cannot be reached
by a Man upon a Camel's Back. This Rib (says John Leo)
is said to have layn there a hundred Years before I saw it.
Their Historians affirm, that a Prophet who prophesy'd of Mahomet,
came from this Temple, and some do not stand to assert,
that the Prophet Jonas was cast forth by the Whale at the Base
of the Temple."
In this Afric Temple of the Whale I leave you, reader, and if you
be a Nantucketer, and a whaleman, you will silently worship there.
Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish? - Will He Perish?
Inasmuch, then, as this Leviathan comes floundering down
upon us from the head-waters of the Eternities, it may be
fitly inquired, whether, in the long course of his generations,
he has not degenerated from the original bulk of his sires.
But upon investigation we find, that not only are the whales
of the present day superior in magnitude to those whose fossil
remains are found in the Tertiary system (embracing a distinct
geological period prior to man), but of the whales found in
that Tertiary system, those belonging to its latter formations
exceed in size those of its earlier ones.
Of all the pre-adamite whales yet exhumed, by far the largest
is the Alabama one mentioned in the last chapter, and that
was less than seventy feet in length in the skeleton.
Whereas, we have already seen, that the tape-measure gives
seventy-two feet for the skeleton of a large sized modern whale.
And I have heard, on whalemen's authority, that Sperm Whales have
been captured near a hundred feet long at the time of capture.
But may it not be, that while the whales of the present hour are an
advance in magnitude upon those of all previous geological periods;
may it not be, that since Adam's time they have degenerated?
Assuredly, we must conclude so, if we are to credit the accounts
of such gentlemen as Pliny, and the ancient naturalists generally.
For Pliny tells us of Whales that embraced acres of living bulk,
and Aldrovandus of others which measured eight hundred feet in length--
Rope Walks and Thames Tunnels of Whales! And even in the days
of Banks and Solander, Cooke's naturalists, we find a Danish member
of the Academy of Sciences setting down certain Iceland Whales
(reydan-siskur, or Wrinkled Bellies) at one hundred and twenty yards;
that is, three hundred and sixty feet. And Lacepede,
the French naturalist, in his elaborate history of whales,
in the very beginning of his work (page 3), sets down the Right Whale
at one hundred metres, three hundred and twenty-eight feet.
And this work was published so late as A.D. 1825.
But will any whaleman believe these stories? No. The whale
of to-day is as big as his ancestors in Pliny's time.
And if ever I go where Pliny is, I, a whaleman (more than he was),
will make bold to tell him so. Because I cannot understand
how it is, that while the Egyptian mummies that were buried
thousands of years before even Pliny was born, do not measure
so much in their coffins as a modern Kentuckian in his socks;
and while the cattle and other animals sculptured on the oldest
Egyptian and Nineveh tablets, by the relative proportions in
which they are drawn, just as plainly prove that the high-bred,
stall-fed, prize cattle of Smithfield, not only equal,
but far exceed in magnitude the fattest of Pharaoh's fat kine;
in the face of all this, I will not admit that of all animals
the whale alone should have degenerated.
But still another inquiry remains; one often agitated by the more
recondite Nantucketers. Whether owing to the almost omniscient
look-outs at the mast-heads of the whaleships, now penetrating
even through Behring's straits, and into the remotest secret drawers
and lockers of the world; and the thousand harpoons and lances darted
along all continental coasts; the moot point is, whether Leviathan
can long endure so wide a chase, and so remorseless a havoc;
whether he must not at last be exterminated from the waters,
and the last whale, like the last man, smoke his last pipe,
and then himself evaporate in the final puff.
Comparing the humped herds of whales with the humped herds of buffalo,
which, not forty years ago, overspread by tens of thousands the prairies
of Illinois and Missouri, and shook their iron manes and scowled with
their thunder-clotted brows upon the sites of populous river-capitals,
where now the polite broker sells you land at a dollar an inch;
in such a comparison an irresistible argument would seem furnished,
to show that the hunted whale cannot now escape speedy extinction.
But you must look at this matter in every light. Though so short
a period ago--not a good lifetime--the census of the buffalo in Illinois
exceeded the census of men now in London, and though at the present
day not one horn or hoof of them remains in all that region;
and though the cause of this wondrous extermination was the spear
of man; yet the far different nature of the whale-hunt peremptorily
forbids so inglorious an end to the Leviathan. Forty men in one
ship hunting the Sperm Whales for forty-eight months think they
have done extremely well, and thank God, if at last they carry home
the oil of forty fish. Whereas, in the days of the old Canadian
and Indian hunters and trappers of the West, when the far west
(in whose sunset suns still rise) was a wilderness and a virgin,
the same number of moccasined men, for the same number of months,
mounted on horse instead of sailing in ships, would have slain
not forty, but forty thousand and more buffaloes; a fact that,
if need were, could be statistically stated.
Nor, considered aright, does it seem any argument in favor
of the gradual extinction of the Sperm Whale, for example,
that in former years (the latter part of the last century, say)
these Leviathans, in small pods, were encountered much
oftener than at present, and, in consequence, the voyages
were not so prolonged, and were also much more remunerative.
Because, as has been elsewhere noticed, those whales, influenced by
some views to safety, now swim the seas in immense caravans,
so that to a large degree the scattered solitaries, yokes,
and pods, and schools of other days are now aggregated into
vast but widely separated, unfrequent armies. That is all.
And equally fallacious seems the conceit, that because the so-called
whale-bone whales no longer haunt many grounds in former years
abounding with them, hence that species also is declining.
For they are only being driven from promontory to cape; and if
one coast is no longer enlivened with their jets, then, be sure,
some other and remoter strand has been very recently startled
by the unfamiliar spectacle.
Furthermore: concerning these last mentioned Leviathans,
they have two firm fortresses, which, in all human probability,
will for ever remain impregnable. And as upon the invasion of
their valleys, the frosty Swiss have retreated to their mountains;
so, hunted from the savannas and glades of the middle seas,
the whale-bone whales can at last resort to their Polar citadels,
and diving under the ultimate glassy barriers and walls there,
come up among icy fields and floes! and in a charmed circle
of everlasting December, bid defiance to all pursuit from man.
But as perhaps fifty of these whale-bone whales are harpooned
for one cachalot, some philosophers of the forecastle have
concluded that this positive havoc has already very seriously
diminished their battalions. But though for some time past
a number of these whales, not less than 13,000, have been
annually slain on the nor'west coast by the Americans alone;
yet there are considerations which render even this circumstance
of little or no account as an opposing argument in this matter.
Natural as it is to be somewhat incredulous concerning the populousness
of the more enormous creatures of the globe, yet what shall we
say to Harto, the historian of Goa, when he tells us that at one
hunting the King of Siam took 4,000 elephants; that in those regions
elephants are numerous as droves of cattle in the temperate climes.
And there seems no reason to doubt that if these elephants,
which have now been hunted for thousands of years, by Semiramis,
by Porus, by Hannibal, and by all the successive monarchs of the East--
if they still survive there in great numbers, much more may
the great whale outlast all hunting, since he has a pasture
to expatiate in, which is precisely twice as large as all Asia,
both Americas, Europe and Africa, New Holland, and all the Isles
of the sea combined.
Moreover: we are to consider, that from the presumed great longevity
of whales, their probably attaining the age of a century and more,
therefore at any one period of time, several distinct adult
generations must be contemporary. And what this is, we may soon
gain some idea of, by imagining all the grave-yards, cemeteries,
and family vaults of creation yielding up the live bodies of all
the men, women, and children who were alive seventy-five years ago;
and adding this countless host to the present human population
of the globe.
Wherefore, for all these things, we account the whale immortal
in his species, however perishable in his individuality.
He swam the seas before the continents broke water; he once
swam over the site of the Tuileries, and Windsor Castle,
and the Kremlin. In Noah's flood he despised Noah's Ark;
and if ever the world is to be again flooded, like the Netherlands,
to kill off its rats, then the eternal whale will still survive,
and rearing upon the topmost crest of the equatorial flood,
spout his frothed defiance to the skies.
The precipitating manner in which Captain Ahab had quitted
the Samuel Enderby of London, had not been unattended with some small
violence to his own person. He had lighted with such energy upon a thwart
of his boat that his ivory leg had received a half-splintering shock.
And when after gaining his own deck, and his own pivot-hole there,
he so vehemently wheeled round with an urgent command to the steersman
(it was, as ever, something about his not steering inflexibly enough);
then, the already shaken ivory received such an additional twist
and wrench, that though it still remained entire, and to all
appearances lusty, yet Ahab did not deem it entirely trustworthy.
And, indeed, it seemed small matter for wonder, that for all
his pervading, mad recklessness, Ahab, did at times give careful
heed to the condition of that dead bone upon which he partly stood.
For it had not been very long prior to the Pequod's sailing
from Nantucket, that he had been found one night lying prone upon
the ground, and insensible; by some unknown, and seemingly inexplicable,
unimaginable casualty, his ivory limb having been so violently displaced,
that it had stake-wise smitten, and all but pierced his groin;
nor was it without extreme difficulty that the agonizing wound
was entirely cured.
Nor, at the time, had it failed to enter his monomaniac mind,
that all the anguish of that then present suffering was but the
direct issue of a former woe; and he too plainly seemed to see,
that as the most poisonous reptile of the marsh perpetuates
his kind as inevitably as the sweetest songster of the grove;
so, equally with every felicity, all miserable events do naturally
beget their like. Yea, more than equally, thought Ahab;
since both the ancestry and posterity of Grief go further than
the ancestry and posterity of Joy. For, not to hint of this:
that it is an inference from certain canonic teachings, that while
some natural enjoyments here shall have no children born to them
for the other world, but, on the contrary, shall be followed by
the joy-childlessness of all hell's despair; whereas, some guilty
mortal miseries shall still fertilely beget to themselves
an eternally progressive progeny of griefs beyond the grave;
not at all to hint of this, there still seems an inequality
in the deeper analysis of the thing. For, thought Ahab,
while even the highest earthly felicities ever have a certain
unsignifying pettiness lurking in them, but, at bottom, all heartwoes,
a mystic significance, and, in some men, an archangelic grandeur;
so do their diligent tracings-out not belie the obvious deduction.
To trail the genealogies of these high mortal miseries,
carries us at last among the sourceless primogenitures of the gods;
so that, in the face of all the glad, hay-making suns,
and softcymballing, round harvest-moons, we must needs give
in to this: that the gods themselves are not for ever glad.
The ineffaceable, sad birth-mark in the brow of man, is but
the stamp of sorrow in the signers.
Unwittingly here a secret has been divulged, which perhaps
might more properly, in set way, have been disclosed before.
With many other particulars concerning Ahab, always had it remained
a mystery to some, why it was, that for a certain period, both before
and after the sailing of the Pequod, he had hidden himself away
with such Grand-Lama-like exclusiveness; and, for that one interval,
sought speechless refuge, as it were, among the marble senate
of the dead. Captain Peleg's bruited reason for this thing appeared
by no means adequate; though, indeed, as touching all Ahab's
deeper part, every revelation partook more of significant darkness
than of explanatory light. But, in the end, it all came out;
this one matter did, at least. That direful mishap was at the bottom
of his temporary recluseness. And not only this, but to that
ever-contracting, dropping circle ashore, who for any reason,
possessed the privilege of a less banned approach to him;
to that timid circle the above hinted casualty--remaining, as it did,
moodily unaccounted for by Ahab--invested itself with terrors,
not entirely underived from the land of spirits and of wails.
So that, through their zeal for him, they had all conspired, so far
as in them lay, to muffle up the knowledge of this thing from others;
and hence it was, that not till a considerable interval had elapsed,
did it transpire upon the Pequod's decks.
But be all this as it may; let the unseen, ambiguous synod
in the air, or the vindictive princes and potentates of fire,
have to do or not with earthly Ahab, yet, in this present
matter of his leg, he took plain practical procedures;--
he called the carpenter.
And when that functionary appeared before him, he bade him without
delay set about making a new leg, and directed the mates to see him
supplied with all the studs and joists of jaw-ivory (Sperm Whale)
which had thus far been accumulated on the voyage, in order that a careful
selection of the stoutest, clearest-grained stuff might be secured.
This done, the carpenter received orders to have the leg
completed that night; and to provide all the fittings for it,
independent of those pertaining to the distrusted one in use.
Moreover, the ship's forge was ordered to be hoisted out of its
temporary idleness in the hold; and, to accelerate the affair,
the blacksmith was commanded to proceed at once to the forging
of whatever iron contrivances might be needed.
Seat thyself sultanically among the moons of Saturn, and take
high abstracted man alone; and he seems a wonder, a grandeur,
and a woe. But from the same point, take mankind in mass,
and for the most part, they seem a mob of unnecessary duplicates,
both contemporary and hereditary. But most humble though he was,
and far from furnishing an example of the high, humane abstraction;
the Pequod's carpenter was no duplicate; hence, he now comes
in person on this stage.
Like all sea-going ship carpenters, and more especially those belonging
to whaling vessels, he was, to a certain off-hand, practical extent,
alike experienced in numerous trades and callings collateral to his own;
the carpenter's pursuit being the ancient and outbranching trunk
of all those numerous handicrafts which more or less have to do
with wood as an auxiliary material. But, besides the application
to him of the generic remark above, this carpenter of the Pequod
was singularly efficient in those thousand nameless mechanical
emergencies continually recurring in a large ship, upon a three
or four years' voyage, in uncivilized and far-distant seas.
For not to speak of his readiness in ordinary duties:--
repairing stove boats, sprung spars, reforming the shape of
clumsy-bladed oars, inserting bull's eyes in the deck, or new
tree-nails in the side planks, and other miscellaneous matters
more directly pertaining to his special business; he was moreover
unhesitatingly expert in all manner of conflicting aptitudes,
both useful and capricious.
The one grand stage where he enacted all his various parts so manifold,
was his vice-bench; a long rude ponderous table furnished with
several vices, of different sizes, and both of iron and of wood.
At all times except when whales were alongside, this bench was securely
lashed athwartships against the rear of the Try-works.
A belaying pin is found too large to be easily inserted into its hole:
the carpenter claps it into one of his ever ready vices,
and straightway files it smaller. A lost landbird of strange
plumage strays on board, and is made a captive: out of clean shaved
rods of right-whale bone, and cross-beams of sperm whale ivory,
the carpenter makes a pagoda-looking cage for it. An oarsman
sprains his wrist: the carpenter concocts a soothing lotion.
Stubb longed for vermillion stars to be painted upon the blade
of his every oar; screwing each oar in his big vice of wood,
the carpenter symmetrically supplies the constellation.
A sailor takes a fancy to wear shark-bone ear-rings:
the carpenter drills his ears. Another has the toothache:
the carpenter out pincers, and clapping one hand upon his bench
bids him be seated there; but the poor fellow unmanageably winces
under the unconcluded operation; whirling round the handle of his
wooden vice, the carpenter signs him to clap his jaw in that,
if he would have him draw the tooth.
Thus, this carpenter was prepared at all points, and alike indifferent
and without respect in all. Teeth he accounted bits of ivory;
heads he deemed but top-blocks; men themselves he lightly held
for capstans. But while now upon so wide a field thus variously
accomplished and with such liveliness of expertness in him, too;
all this would seem to argue some uncommon vivacity of intelligence.
But not precisely so. For nothing was this man more remarkable,
than for a certain impersonal stolidity as it were; impersonal, I say;
for it so shaded off into the surrounding infinite of things,
that it seemed one with the general stolidity discernible in the whole
visible world; which while pauselessly active in uncounted modes,
still eternally holds its peace, and ignores you, though you dig
foundations for cathedrals. Yet was this half-horrible stolidity
in him, involving, too, as it appeared, an all-ramifying heartlessness;--
yet was it oddly dashed at times, with an old, crutch-like, antediluvian,
wheezing humorousness, not unstreaked now and then with a certain
grizzled wittiness; such as might have served to pass the time
during the midnight watch on the bearded forecastle of Noah's ark.
Was it that this old carpenter had been a life-long wanderer,
whose much rolling, to and fro, not only had gathered no moss;
but what is more, had rubbed off whatever small outward clingings
might have originally pertained to him? He was a stript abstract;
an unfractioned integral; uncompromised as a new-born babe;
living without premeditated reference to this world or the next.
You might almost say, that this strange uncompromisedness in him involved
a sort of unintelligence; for in his numerous trades, he did not seem
to work so much by reason or by instinct, or simply because he had been
tutored to it, or by any intermixture of all these, even or uneven;
but merely by a kind of deaf and dumb, spontaneous literal process.
He was a pure manipulator; his brain, if he had ever had one,
must have early oozed along into the muscles of his fingers.
He was like one of those unreasoning but still highly useful,
multum in parvo, Sheffield contrivances, assuming the exterior--
though a little swelled--of a common pocket knife; but containing,
not only blades of various sizes, but also screw-drivers,
cork-screws, tweezers, awls, pens, rulers, nail-filers, countersinkers.
So, if his superiors wanted to use the carpenter for a screw-driver,
all they had to do was to open that part of him, and the screw was fast:
or if for tweezers, take him up by the legs, and there they were.
Yet, as previously hinted, this omnitooled, open-and-shut carpenter,
was, after all, no mere machine of an automaton. If he did not
have a common soul in him, he had a subtle something that somehow
anomalously did its duty. What that was, whether essence of quicksilver,
or a few drops of hartshorn, there is no telling. But there it was;
and there it had abided for now some sixty years or more.
And this it was, this same unaccountable, cunning life-principle in him;
this it was, that kept him a great part of the time soliloquizing;
but only like an unreasoning wheel, which also hummingly soliloquizes;
or rather, his body was a sentry-box and this soliloquizer on guard there,
and talking all the time to keep himself awake.
Ahab and the Carpenter
The Deck - First Night Watch
(Carpenter standing before his vice-bench, and by the light
of two lanterns busily filing the ivory joist for the leg,
which joist is firmly fixed in the vice. Slabs of ivory,
leather straps, pads, screws, and various tools of all sorts lying
about the bench. Forward, the red flame of the forge is seen,
where the blacksmith is at work.)
Drat the file, and drat the bone! That is hard which should be soft,
and that is soft which should be hard. So we go, who file old jaws
and shin bones. Let's try another. Aye, now, this works better
(sneezes). Halloa, this bone dust is (sneezes)--why it's
(sneezes)--yes it's (sneezes)--bless my soul, it won't let me speak!
This is what an old fellow gets now for working in dead lumber.
Saw a live tree, and you don't get this dust; amputate a live bone,
and you don't get it (sneezes). Come, come, you old Smut, there,
bear a hand, and let's have that ferrule and buckle-screw; I'll be ready
for them presently. Lucky now (sneezes) there's no knee-joint to make;
that might puzzle a little; but a mere shin-bone--why it's easy
as making hop-poles; only I should like to put a good finish on.
Time, time; if I but only had the time, I could turn him out as
neat a leg now as ever (sneezes) scraped to a lady in a parlor.
Those buckskin legs and calves of legs I've seen in shop windows
wouldn't compare at all. They soak water, they do; and of course
get rheumatic, and have to be doctored (sneezes) with washes and lotions,
just like live legs. There; before I saw it off, now, I must call
his old Mogulship, and see whether the length will be all right;
too short, if anything, I guess. Ha! that's the heel; we are in luck;
here he comes, or it's somebody else, that's certain. AHAB (advancing)
(During the ensuing scene, the carpenter continues sneezing at times).
Just in time, sir. If the captain pleases, I will now mark the length.
Let me measure, sir.
Measured for a leg! good. Well, it's not the first time.
About it! There; keep thy finger on it. This is a cogent
vice thou hast here, carpenter; let me feel its grip once.
So, so; it does pinch some.
Oh, sir, it will break bones--beware, beware!
No fear; I like a good grip; I like to feel something in this
slippery world that can hold, man. What's Prometheus about there?--
the blacksmith, I mean--what's he about?
He must be forging the buckle-screw, sir, now.
Right. It's a partnership; he supplies the muscle part.
He makes a fierce red flame there!
Aye, sir; he must have the white heat for this kind of fine work.
Um-m. So he must. I do deem it now a most meaning thing,
that that old Greek, Prometheus, who made men, they say, should have
been a blacksmith, and animated them with fire; for what's made
in fire must properly belong to fire; and so hell's probable.
How the soot flies! This must be the remainder the Greek made
the Africans of. Carpenter, when he's through with that buckle,
tell him to forge a pair of steel shoulder-blades; there's a pedlar
aboard with a crushing pack.
Hold; while Prometheus is about it, I'll order a complete man
after a desirable pattern. Imprimis, fifty feet high in his socks;
then, chest modelled after the Thames Tunnel then, legs with roots
to 'em, to stay in one place; then, arms three feet through the wrist;
no heart at all, brass forehead, and about a quarter of an acre
of fine brains; and let me see--shall I order eyes to see outwards?
No, but put a sky-light on top of his head to illuminate inwards.
There, take the order, and away.
Now, what's he speaking about, and who's he speaking to,
I should like to know? Shall I keep standing here? (aside.)
'Tis but indifferent architecture to make a blind dome; here's one.
No, no, no; I must have a lantern.
Ho, ho! That's it, hey? Here are two, sir; one will serve my turn.
What art thou thrusting that thief-catcher into my face for, man?
Thrusted light is worse than presented pistols.
I thought, sir, that you spoke to carpenter.
Carpenter? why that's--but no;--a very tidy, and, I may say, an extremely
gentlemanlike sort of business thou art in here, carpenter;--or would'st
thou rather work in clay?
Sir?--Clay? clay, sir? That's mud; we leave clay to ditchers, sir.
The fellow's impious! What art thou sneezing about?
Bone is rather dusty, sir.
Take the hint, then; and when thou art dead, never bury thyself
under living people's noses.
Sir?--oh! ah!--I guess so; so;--yes, yes--oh dear!
Look ye, carpenter, I dare say thou callest thyself a right good
workmanlike workman, eh? Well, then, will it speak thoroughly well
for thy work, if, when I come to mount this leg thou makest, I shall
nevertheless feel another leg in the same identical place with it;
that is, carpenter, my old lost leg; the flesh and blood one, I mean.
Canst thou not drive that old Adam away?
Truly, sir, I begin to understand somewhat now.
Yes, I have heard something curious on that score, sir;
how that a dismasted man never entirely loses the feeling
of his old spar, but it will be still pricking him at times.
May I humbly ask if it be really so, sir?
It is, man. Look, put thy live leg here in the place where mine once was;
so, now, here is only one distinct leg to the eye, yet two to the soul.
Where thou feelest tingling life; there, exactly there, there to a hair,
do I. Is't a riddle?
I should humbly call it a poser, sir.
Hist, then. How dost thou know that some entire, living, thinking thing
may not be invisibly and uninterpenetratingly standing precisely
where thou now standest; aye, and standing there in thy spite?
In thy most solitary hours, then, dost thou not fear eavesdroppers?
Hold, don't speak! And if I still feel the smart of my crushed leg,
though it be now so long dissolved; then, why mayest not thou, carpenter,
feel the fiery pains of hell for ever, and without a body? Hah!
Good Lord! Truly, sir, if it comes to that, I must calculate over again;
I think I didn't carry a small figure, sir.
Look ye, pudding-heads should never grant premises.--How long
before this leg is done?
Perhaps an hour, sir.
Bungle away at it then, and bring it to me (turns to go).
Oh, Life. Here I am, proud as Greek god, and yet standing debtor
to this blockhead for a bone to stand on! Cursed be that mortal
inter-indebtedness which will not do away with ledgers.
I would be free as air; and I'm down in the whole world's books.
I am so rich, I could have given bid for bid with the wealthiest
Praetorians at the auction of the Roman empire (which was the world's);
and yet I owe for the flesh in the tongue I brag with. By heavens!
I'll get a crucible, and into it, and dissolve myself down to one small,
compendious vertebra. So.
Carpenter ( resuming his work).
Well, well, well! Stubb knows him best of all, and Stubb always says
he's queer; says nothing but that one sufficient little word queer;
he's queer, says Stubb; he's queer--queer, queer; and keeps dinning it
into Mr. Starbuck all the time--queer--sir--queer, queer, very queer.
And here's his leg. Yes, now that I think of it, here's his bed-fellow!
has a stick of whale's jaw-bone for a wife! And this is his leg;
he'll stand on this. What was that now about one leg standing
in three places, and all three places standing in one hell--
how was that? Oh! I don't wonder he looked so scornful at me!
I'm a sort of strange-thoughted sometimes, they say; but that's
only haphazard-like. Then, a short, little old body like me,
should never undertake to wade out into deep waters with tall,
heron-built captains; the water chucks you under the chin pretty quick,
and there's a great cry for life-boats. And here's the heron's leg!
long and slim, sure enough! Now, for most folks one pair of legs
lasts a lifetime, and that must be because they use them mercifully,
as a tender-hearted old lady uses her roly-poly old coach-horses.
But Ahab; oh he's a hard driver. Look, driven one leg to death,
and spavined the other for life, and now wears out bone legs by the cord.
Halloa, there, you Smut! bear a hand there with those screws,
and let's finish it before the resurrection fellow comes
a-calling with his horn for all legs, true or false, as brewery
men go round collecting old beer barrels, to fill 'em up again.
What a leg this is! It looks like a real live leg, filed down
to nothing but the core; he'll be standing on this to-morrow;
he'll be taking altitudes on it. Halloa! I almost forgot the little
oval slate, smoothed ivory, where he figures up the latitude.
So, so; chisel, file, and sand-paper, now!
Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabin
According to usage they were pumping the ship next morning;
and lo! no inconsiderable oil came up with the water;
the casks below must have sprung a bad leak. Much concern
was shown; and Starbuck went down into the cabin to report
this unfavorable affair.*
*In Sperm-whalemen with any considerable quantity of oil on board,
it is a regular semiweekly duty to conduct a hose into the hold,
and drench the casks with sea-water; which afterwards,
at varying intervals, is removed by the ship's pumps.
Hereby the casks are sought to be kept damply tight; while by
the changed character of the withdrawn water, the mariners
readily detect any serious leakage in the precious cargo.
Now, from the South and West the Pequod was drawing nigh to Formosa
and the Bashee Isles, between which lies one of the tropical outlets
from the China waters into the Pacific. And so Starbuck found Ahab
with a general chart of the oriental archipelagoes spread before him;
and another separate one representing the long eastern coasts
of the Japanese islands--Niphon, Matsmai, and Sikoke. With his
snow-white new ivory leg braced against the screwed leg of his table,
and with a long pruning-hook of a jack-knife in his hand, the wondrous
old man, with his back to the gangway door, was wrinkling his brow,
and tracing his old courses again.
"Who's there?" hearing the footstep at the door, but not turning
round to it. "On deck! Begone!"
"Captain Ahab mistakes; it is I. The oil in the hold is leaking, sir.
We must up Burtons and break out."
"Up Burtons and break out? Now that we are nearing Japan;
heave-to here for a week to tinker a parcel of old hoops?"
"Either do that, sir, or waste in one day more oil than we
may make good in a year. What we come twenty thousand miles
to get is worth saving, sir."
"So it is, so it is; if we get it."
"I was speaking of the oil in the hold, sir."
"And I was not speaking or thinking of that at all.
Begone! Let it leak! I'm all aleak myself. Aye! leaks in leaks!
not only full of leaky casks, but those leaky casks are in a
leaky ship; and that's a far worse plight than the Pequod's, man.
Yet I don't stop to plug my leak; for who can find it in
the deep-loaded hull; or how hope to plug it, even if found,
in this life's howling gale? Starbuck! I'll not have
the Burtons hoisted."
"What will the owners say, sir?"
"Let the owners stand on Nantucket beach and outyell
the Typhoons. What cares Ahab? Owners, owners? Thou art
always prating to me, Starbuck, about those miserly owners,
as if the owners were my conscience. But look ye, the only real
owner of anything is its commander; and hark ye, my conscience
is in this ship's keel.--On deck!"
"Captain Ahab," said the reddening mate, moving further into the cabin,
with a daring so strangely respectful and cautious that it almost seemed
not only every way seeking to avoid the slightest outward manifestation
of itself, but within also seemed more than half distrustful of itself;
"A better man than I might well pass over in thee what he would quickly
enough resent in a younger man; aye, and in a happier, Captain Ahab."
"Devils! Dost thou then so much as dare to critically think
of me?--On deck!"
"Nay, sir, not yet; I do entreat. And I do dare, sir--to be forbearing!
Shall we not understand each other better than hitherto, Captain Ahab?"
Ahab seized a loaded musket from the rack (forming part of most
South-Sea-men's cabin furniture), and pointing it towards
Starbuck, exclaimed: "There is one God that is Lord over the earth,
and one Captain that is lord over the Pequod.--On deck!"
For an instant in the flashing eyes of the mate, and his fiery cheeks,
you would have almost thought that he had really received the blaze
of the levelled tube. But, mastering his emotion, he half calmly rose,
and as he quitted the cabin, paused for an instant and said:
"Thou hast outraged, not insulted me, Sir; but for that I ask thee not to
beware of Starbuck; thou wouldst but laugh; but let Ahab beware of Ahab;
beware of thyself, old man."
"He waxes brave, but nevertheless obeys; most careful
bravery that!" murmured Ahab, as Starbuck disappeared.
"What's that he said--Ahab beware of Ahab--there's something there!"
Then unconsciously using the musket for a staff, with an iron
brow he paced to and fro in the little cabin; but presently
the thick plaits of his forehead relaxed, and returning the gun
to the rack, he went to the deck.
"Thou art but too good a fellow, Starbuck," he said lowly to the mate;
then raising his voice to the crew: "Furl the t'gallant-sails,
and close-reef the top-sails, fore and aft; back the main-yard;
up Burtons, and break out in the main-hold."
It were perhaps vain to surmise exactly why it was, that as respecting
Starbuck, Ahab thus acted. It may have been a flash of honesty
in him; or mere prudential policy which, under the circumstance,
imperiously forbade the slightest symptom of open disaffection,
however transient, in the important chief officer of his ship.
However it was, his orders were executed; and the Burtons were hoisted.
Queequeg in His Coffin
Upon searching, it was found that the casks last struck into the hold
were perfectly sound, and that the leak must be further off.
So, it being calm weather, they broke out deeper and deeper,
disturbing the slumbers of the huge ground-tier butts;
and from that black midnight sending those gigantic moles
into the daylight above. So deep did they go; and so ancient,
and corroded, and weedy the aspect of the lowermost puncheons,
that you almost looked next for some mouldy corner-stone cask
containing coins of Captain Noah, with copies of the posted placards,
vainly warning the infatuated old world from the flood.
Tierce after tierce, too, of water, and bread, and beef,
and shooks of staves, and iron bundles of hoops, were hoisted out,
till at last the piled decks were hard to get about; and the hollow
hull echoed under foot, as if you were treading over empty catacombs,
and reeled and rolled in the sea like an air-freighted demijohn.
Top-heavy was the ship as a dinnerless student with all Aristotle
in his head. Well was it that the Typhoons did not visit them then.
Now, at this time it was that my poor pagan companion,
and fast bosom-friend, Queequeg, was seized with a fever,
which brought him nigh to his endless end.
Be it said, that in this vocation of whaling, sinecures are unknown;
dignity and danger go hand in hand; till you get to be Captain,
the higher you rise the harder you toil. So with poor Queequeg,
who, as harpooneer, must not only face all the rage of the
living whale, but--as we have elsewhere seen--mount his dead back
in a rolling sea; and finally descend into the gloom of the hold,
and bitterly sweating all day in that subterraneous confinement,
resolutely manhandle the clumsiest casks and see to their stowage.
To be short, among whalemen, the harpooneers are the holders, so called.
Poor Queequeg! when the ship was about half disembowelled,
you should have stooped over the hatchway, and peered down
upon him there; where, stripped to his woollen drawers,
the tattooed savage was crawling about amid that dampness
and slime, like a green spotted lizard at the bottom of a well.
And a well, or an ice-house, it somehow proved to him, poor pagan;
where, strange to say, for all the heat of his sweatings,
he caught a terrible chill which lapsed into a fever;
and at last, after some days' suffering, laid him in his hammock,
close to the very sill of the door of death. How he wasted
and wasted away in those few long-lingering days, till there
seemed but little left of him but his frame and tattooing.
But as all else in him thinned, and his cheek-bones grew sharper,
his eyes, nevertheless, seemed growing fuller and fuller;
they became of a strange softness of lustre; and mildly but
deeply looked out at you there from his sickness, a wondrous
testimony to that immortal health in him which could not die,
or be weakened. And like circles on the water, which, as they
grow fainter, expand; so his eyes seemed rounding and rounding,
like the rings of Eternity. An awe that cannot be named would
steal over you as you sat by the side of this waning savage,
and saw as strange things in his face, as any beheld who were
bystanders when Zoroaster died. For whatever is truly wondrous
and fearful in man, never yet was put into words or books.
And the drawing near of Death, which alike levels all,
alike impresses all with a last revelation, which only an author
from the dead could adequately tell. So that--let us say it again--
no dying Chaldee or Greek had higher and holier thoughts
than those, whose mysterious shades you saw creeping over the face
of poor Queequeg, as he quietly lay in his swaying hammock,
and the rolling sea seemed gently rocking him to his final rest,
and the ocean's invisible flood-tide lifted him higher and higher
towards his destined heaven.
Not a man of the crew but gave him up; and, as for Queequeg himself,
what he thought of his case was forcibly shown by a curious
favor he asked. He called one to him in the grey morning watch,
when the day was just breaking, and taking his hand,
said that while in Nantucket he had chanced to see certain little
canoes of dark wood, like the rich war-wood of his native isle;
and upon inquiry, he had learned that all whalemen who died
in Nantucket, were laid in those same dark canoes, and that the fancy
of being so laid had much pleased him; for it was not unlike
the custom of his own race, who, after embalming a dead warrior,
stretched him out in his canoe, and so left him to be floated
away to the starry archipelagoes; for not only do they believe
that the stars are isles, but that far beyond all visible horizons,
their own mild, uncontinented seas, interflow with the blue heavens;
and so form the white breakers of the milky way. He added,
that he shuddered at the thought of being buried in his hammock,
according to the usual sea-custom, tossed like something vile
to the death-devouring sharks. No: he desired a canoe like those
of Nantucket, all the more congenial to him, being a whaleman,
that like a whale-boat these coffin-canoes were without a keel;
though that involved but uncertain steering, and much lee-way
adown the dim ages.
Now, when this strange circumstance was made known aft,
the carpenter was at once commanded to do Queequeg's bidding,
whatever it might include. There was some heathenish,
coffin-colored old lumber aboard, which, upon a long previous voyage,
had been cut from the aboriginal groves of the Lackaday islands,
and from these dark planks the coffin was recommended to be made.
No sooner was the carpenter apprised of the order, than taking
his rule, he forthwith with all the indifferent promptitude
of his character, proceeded into the forecastle and took
Queequeg's measure with great accuracy, regularly chalking
Queequeg's person as he shifted the rule.
"Ah! poor fellow! he'll have to die now," ejaculated the
Long Island sailor.
Going to his vice-bench, the carpenter for convenience sake
and general reference, now transferringly measured on it
the exact length the coffin was to be, and then made the transfer
permanent by cutting two notches at its extremities.
This done, he marshalled the planks and his tools, and to work.
When the last nail was driven, and the lid duly planed and fitted,
he lightly shouldered the coffin and went forward with it,
inquiring whether they were ready for it yet in that direction.
Overhearing the indignant but half-humorous cries with which
the people on deck began to drive the coffin away, Queequeg,
to every one's consternation, commanded that the thing should
be instantly brought to him, nor was there any denying him;
seeing that, of all mortals, some dying men are the most tyrannical;
and certainly, since they will shortly trouble us so little
for evermore, the poor fellows ought to be indulged.
Leaning over in his hammock, Queequeg long regarded the coffin
with an attentive eye. He then called for his harpoon,
had the wooden stock drawn from it, and then had the iron part
placed in the coffin along with one of the paddles of his boat.
All by his own request, also, biscuits were then ranged round
the sides within; a flask of fresh water was placed at the head,
and a small bag of woody earth scraped up in the hold at the foot;
and a piece of sail-cloth being rolled up for a pillow,
Queequeg now entreated to be lifted into his final bed,
that he might make trial of its comforts, if any it had.
He lay without moving a few minutes, then told one to go
to his bag and bring out his little god, Yojo. Then crossing
his arms on his breast with Yojo between, he called for
the coffin lid (hatch he called it) to be placed over him.
The head part turned over with a leather hinge, and there lay
Queequeg in his coffin with little but his composed countenance
in view. "Rarmai" (it will do; it is easy), he murmured at last,
and signed to be replaced in his hammock.
But ere this was done, Pip, who had been slily hovering near by all
the while, drew nigh to him where he lay, and with soft sobbings,
took him by the hand; in the other, holding his tambourine.
"Poor rover! will ye never have done with all this weary roving?
Where go ye now? But if the currents carry ye to those sweet Antilles
where the beaches are only beat with water-lilies, will ye do one
little errand for me? Seek out one Pip, who's now been missing long:
I think he's in those far Antilles. If ye find him, then comfort him;
for he must be very sad; for look! he's left his tambourine behind;--
I found it. Rig-a-dig, dig, dig! Now, Queequeg, die; and I'll beat
ye your dying march."
"I have heard," murmured Starbuck, gazing down the scuttle, "that in
violent fevers, men, all ignorance, have talked in ancient tongues;
and that when the mystery is probed, it turns out always
that in their wholly forgotten childhood those ancient tongues
had been really spoken in their hearing by some lofty scholars.
So, to my fond faith, poor Pip, in this strange sweetness of
his lunacy, brings heavenly vouchers of all our heavenly homes.
Where learned he that, but there?--Hark! he speaks again;
but more wildly now."
"Form two and two! Let's make a General of him! Ho, where's
his harpoon? Lay it across here.--Rig-a-dig, dig, dig! huzza!
Oh for a game cock now to sit upon his head and crow!
Queequeg dies game!--mind ye that; Queequeg dies game!--
take ye good heed of that; Queequeg dies game!
I say; game, game, game! but base little Pip, he died a coward;
died all a'shiver;--out upon Pip! Hark ye; if ye find Pip,
tell all the Antilles he's a runaway; a coward, a coward,
a coward! Tell them he jumped from a whale-boat! I'd never
beat my tambourine over base Pip, and hail him General,
if he were once more dying here. No, no! shame upon all cowards--
shame upon them! Let'em go drown like Pip, that jumped from
a whale-boat. Shame! shame!"
During all this, Queequeg lay with closed eyes, as if in a dream.
Pip was led away, and the sick man was replaced in his hammock.
But now that he had apparently made every preparation for death;
now that his coffin was proved a good fit, Queequeg suddenly rallied;
soon there seemed no need of the carpenter's box; and thereupon,
when some expressed their delighted surprise, he, in substance,
said, that the cause of his sudden convalescence was this;--
at a critical moment, he had just recalled a little duty ashore, which he
was leaving undone; and therefore had changed his mind about dying:
he could not die yet, he averred. They asked him, then, whether to
live or die was a matter of his own sovereign will and pleasure.
He answered, certainly. In a word, it was Queequeg's conceit,
that if a man made up his mind to live, mere sickness could not kill him:
nothing but a whale, or a gale, or some violent, ungovernable,
unintelligent destroyer of that sort.
Now, there is this noteworthy difference between savage and civilized;
that while a sick, civilized man may be six months convalescing,
generally speaking, a sick savage is almost half-well again
in a day. So, in good time my Queequeg gained strength;
and at length after sitting on the windlass for a few indolent days
(but eating with a vigorous appetite) he suddenly leaped to his feet,
threw out his arms and legs, gave himself a good stretching, yawned a
little bit, and then springing into the head of his hoisted boat,
and poising a harpoon, pronounced himself fit for a fight.
With a wild whimsiness, he now used his coffin for a sea-chest;
and emptying into it his canvas bag of clothes, set them in order there.
Many spare hours he spent, in carving the lid with all manner of grotesque
figures and drawings; and it seemed that hereby he was striving,
in his rude way, to copy parts of the twisted tattooing on his body.
And this tattooing had been the work of a departed prophet and seer
of his island, who, by those hieroglyphic marks, had written
out on his body a complete theory of the heavens and the earth,
and a mystical treatise on the art of attaining truth; so that Queequeg
in his own proper person was a riddle to unfold; a wondrous work
in one volume; but whose mysteries not even himself could read,
though his own live heart beat against them; and these mysteries
were therefore destined in the end to moulder away with the living
parchment whereon they were inscribed, and so be unsolved to the last.
And this thought it must have been which suggested to Ahab that wild
exclamation of his, when one morning turning away from surveying poor
Queequeg--"Oh, devilish tantalization of the gods!"
When gliding by the Bashee isles we emerged at last upon the great
South Sea; were it not for other things I could have greeted my dear
Pacific with uncounted thanks, for now the long supplication of my youth
was answered; that serene ocean rolled eastwards from me a thousand
leagues of blue.
There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea,
whose gently awful stirrings seems to speak of some hidden soul beneath;
like those fabled undulations of the Ephesian sod over the buried
Evangelist St. John. And meet it is, that over these sea-pastures,
wide-rolling watery prairies and Potters' Fields of all four continents,
the waves should rise and fall, and ebb and flow unceasingly;
for here, millions of mixed shades and shadows, drowned dreams,
somnambulisms, reveries; all that we call lives and souls,
lie dreaming, dreaming, still; tossing like slumberers in their beds;
the ever-rolling waves but made so by their restlessness.
To any meditative Magian rover, this serene Pacific, once beheld,
must ever after be the sea of his adoption. It rolls the midmost
waters of the world, the Indian ocean and Atlantic being but its arms.
The same waves wash the moles of the new-built California towns,
but yesterday planted by the recentest race of men and lave the faded
but still gorgeous skirts of Asiatic lands, older than Abraham;
while all between float milky-ways of coral isles, and low-lying, endless,
unknown Archipelagoes, and impenetrable Japans. Thus this mysterious,
divine Pacific zones the world's whole bulk about; makes all
coasts one bay to it; seems the tide-beating heart of earth.
Lifted by those eternal swells, you needs must own the seductive god,
bowing your head to Pan.
But few thoughts of Pan stirred Ahab's brain, as standing, like an iron
statue at his accustomed place beside the mizen rigging, with one
nostril he unthinkingly snuffed the sugary musk from the Bashee isles
(in whose sweet woods mild lovers must be walking), and with
the other consciously inhaled the salt breath of the new found sea;
that sea in which the hated White Whale must even then be swimming.
Launched at length upon these almost final waters, and gliding
towards the Japanese cruising-ground, the old man's purpose
intensified itself. His firm lips met like the lips of a vice;
the Delta of his forehead's veins swelled like overladen brooks;
in his very sleep, his ringing cry ran through the vaulted hull,
"Stern all! the White Whale spouts thick blood!"
Availing himself of the mild, summer-cool weather that now reigned
in these latitudes, and in preparation for the peculiarly active
pursuits shortly to be anticipated, Perth, the begrimed, blistered
old blacksmith, had not removed his portable forge to the hold again,
after concluding his contributory work for Ahab's leg, but still
retained it on deck, fast lashed to ringbolts by the foremast;
being now almost incessantly invoked by the headsmen, and harpooneers,
and bowsmen to do some little job for them; altering, or repairing,
or new shaping their various weapons and boat furniture.
Often he would be surrounded by an eager circle, all waiting
to be served; holding boat-spades, pikeheads, harpoons, and lances,
and jealously watching his every sooty movement, as he toiled.
Nevertheless, this old man's was a patient hammer wielded by a
patient arm. No murmur, no impatience, no petulance did come
from him. Silent, slow, and solemn; bowing over still further his
chronically broken back, he toiled away, as if toil were life itself,
and the heavy beating of his hammer the heavy beating of his heart.
And so it was.--Most miserable!
A peculiar walk in this old man, a certain slight but painful
appearing yawing in his gait, had at an early period of the voyage
excited the curiosity of the mariners. And to the importunity
of their persisted questionings he had finally given in;
and so it came to pass that every one now knew the shameful
story of his wretched fate.
Belated, and not innocently, one bitter winter's midnight,
on the road running between two country towns, the blacksmith
half-stupidly felt the deadly numbness stealing over him,
and sought refuge in a leaning, dilapidated barn.
The issue was, the loss of the extremities of both feet.
Out of this revelation, part by part, at last came out the four
acts of the gladness, and the one long, and as yet uncatastrophied
fifth act of the grief of his life's drama.
He was an old man, who, at the age of nearly sixty, had postponedly
encountered that thing in sorrow's technicals called ruin.
He had been an artisan of famed excellence, and with plenty
to do; owned a house and garden; embraced a youthful,
daughter-like, loving wife, and three blithe, ruddy children;
every Sunday went to a cheerful-looking church, planted in a grove.
But one night, under cover of darkness, and further concealed
in a most cunning disguisement, a desperate burglar slid
into his happy home, and robbed them all of everything.
And darker yet to tell, the blacksmith himself did
ignorantly conduct this burglar into his family's heart.
It was the Bottle Conjuror! Upon the opening of that fatal cork,
forth flew the fiend, and shrivelled up his home. Now, for prudent,
most wise, and economic reasons, the blacksmith's shop was in
the basement of his dwelling, but with a separate entrance to it;
so that always had the young and loving healthy wife listened
with no unhappy nervousness, but with vigorous pleasure,
to the stout ringing of her young-armed old husband's hammer;
whose reverberations, muffled by passing through the floors
and walls, came up to her, not unsweetly, in her nursery;
and so, to stout Labor's iron lullaby, the blacksmith's infants
were rocked to slumber.
Oh, woe on woe! Oh, Death, why canst thou not sometimes be timely?
Hadst thou taken this old blacksmith to thyself ere his full ruin
came upon him, then had the young widow had a delicious grief,
and her orphans a truly venerable, legendary sire to dream of in
their after years; and all of them a care-killing competency.
But Death plucked down some virtuous elder brother, on whose whistling
daily toil solely hung the responsibilities of some other family,
and left the worse than useless old man standing, till the hideous
rot of life should make him easier to harvest.
Why tell the whole? The blows of the basement hammer every day
grew more and more between; and each blow every day grew fainter
than the last; the wife sat frozen at the window, with tearless eyes,
glitteringly gazing into the weeping faces of her children;
the bellows fell; the forge choked up with cinders; the house
was sold; the mother dived down into the long church-yard grass;
her children twice followed her thither; and the houseless,
familyless old man staggered off a vagabond in crape; his every
woe unreverenced; his grey head a scorn to flaxen curls!
Death seems the only desirable sequel for a career like this;
but Death is only a launching into the region of the strange Untried;
it is but the first salutation to the possibilities
of the immense Remote, the Wild, the Watery, the Unshored;
therefore, to the death-longing eyes of such men, who still
have left in them some interior compunctions against suicide,
does the all-contributed and all-receptive ocean alluringly spread
forth his whole plain of unimaginable, taking terrors, and wonderful,
new-life adventures; and from the hearts of infinite Pacifics,
the thousand mermaids sing to them--"Come hither, broken-hearted;
here is another life without the guilt of intermediate death;
here are wonders supernatural, without dying for them.
Come hither! bury thyself in a life which, to your now equally
abhorred and abhorring, landed world, is more oblivious than death.
Come hither! put up thy grave-stone, too, within the churchyard,
and come hither, till we marry thee!"
Hearkening to these voices, East and West, by early sunrise,
and by fall of eve, the blacksmith's soul responded, Aye, I come!
And so Perth went a-whaling.
With matted beard, and swathed in a bristling shark-skin apron,
about mid-day, Perth was standing between his forge and anvil,
the latter placed upon an iron-wood log, with one hand holding a pike-head
in the coals, and with the other at his forge's lungs, when Captain Ahab
came along, carrying in his hand a small rusty-looking leathern bag.
While yet a little distance from the forge, moody Ahab paused;
till at last, Perth, withdrawing his iron from the fire, began hammering
it upon the anvil--the red mass sending off the sparks in thick
hovering flights, some of which flew close to Ahab.
"Are these thy Mother Carey's chickens, Perth? they are always flying
in thy wake; birds of good omen, too, but not to all;--look here,
they burn; but thou--thou liv'st among them without a scorch."
"Because I am scorched all over, Captain Ahab," answered Perth,
resting for a moment on his hammer; "I am past scorching-,
not easily can'st thou scorch a scar."
"Well, well; no more. Thy shrunk voice sounds too calmly, sanely woeful
to me. In no Paradise myself, I am impatient of all misery in others
that is not mad. Thou should'st go mad, blacksmith; say, why dost
thou not go mad? How can'st thou endure without being mad?
Do the heavens yet hate thee, that thou can'st not go mad?--
What wert thou making there?"
"Welding an old pike-head, sir; there were seams and dents in it."
"And can'st thou make it all smooth again, blacksmith, after such hard
usage as it had?"
"I think so, sir."
"And I suppose thou can'st smoothe almost any seams and dents;
never mind how hard the metal, blacksmith?"
"Aye, sir, I think I can; all seams and dents but one."
"Look ye here then," cried Ahab, passionately advancing, and leaning
with both hands on Perth's shoulders; "look ye here--here--can ye
smoothe out a seam like this, blacksmith," sweeping one hand across
his ribbed brow; "if thou could'st, blacksmith, glad enough would
I lay my head upon thy anvil, and feel thy heaviest hammer between
my eyes. Answer! Can'st thou smoothe this seam?"
"Oh! that is the one, sir! Said I not all seams and dents but one?"
"Aye, blacksmith, it is the one; aye, man, it is unsmoothable;
for though thou only see'st it here in my flesh, it has worked down
into the bone of my skull--that is all wrinkles! But, away with
child's play; no more gaffs and pikes to-day. Look ye here!"
jingling the leathern bag, as if it were full of gold coins.
"I, too, want a harpoon made; one that a thousand yoke of fiends could
not part, Perth; something that will stick in a whale like his own
fin-bone. There's the stuff," flinging the pouch upon the anvil.
"Look ye, blacksmith, these are the gathered nail-stubbs of the steel
shoes of racing horses."
"Horse-shoe stubbs, sir? Why, Captain Ahab, thou hast here, then,
the best and stubbornest stuff we blacksmiths ever work."
"I know it, old man; these stubbs will weld together like glue
from the melted bones of murderers. Quick! forge me the harpoon.
And forge me first, twelve rods for its shank; then wind, and twist,
and hammer these twelve together like the yarns and strands of a
tow-line. Quick! I'll blow the fire."
When at last the twelve rods were made, Ahab tried them, one by one,
by spiralling them, with his own hand, round a long, heavy iron bolt.
"A flaw!" rejecting the last one. "Work that over again, Perth."
This done, Perth was about to begin welding the twelve into one,
when Ahab stayed his hand, and said he would weld his own iron.
As, then, with regular, gasping hems, he hammered on the anvil,
Perth passing to him the glowing rods, one after the other,
and the hard pressed forge shooting up its intense straight flame,
the Parsee passed silently, and bowing over his head towards
the fire, seemed invoking some curse or some blessing on the toil.
But, as Ahab looked up, he slid aside.
"What's that bunch of lucifers dodging about there for?" muttered Stubb,
looking on from the forecastle. "That Parsee smells fire like a fusee;
and smells of it himself, like a hot musket's powder-pan."
At last the shank, in one complete rod, received its final heat;
and as Perth, to temper it, plunged it all hissing into the cask
of water near by, the scalding steam shot up into Ahab's bent face.
"Would'st thou brand me, Perth?" wincing for a moment with the pain;
"have I been but forging my own branding-iron, then?"
"Pray God, not that; yet I fear something, Captain Ahab. Is not this
harpoon for the White Whale?"
"For the white fiend! But now for the barbs; thou must make
them thyself, man. Here are my razors--the best of steel;
here, and make the barbs sharp as the needle-sleet of the Icy Sea."
For a moment, the old blacksmith eyed the razors as though he would
fain not use them.
"Take them, man, I have no need for them; for I now neither shave,
sup, nor pray till--but here--to work!"
Fashioned at last into an arrowy shape, and welded by Perth to the shank,
the steel soon pointed the end of the iron; and as the blacksmith
was about giving the barbs their final heat, prior to tempering them,
he cried to Ahab to place the water-cask near.
"No, no--no water for that; I want it of the true death-temper.
Ahoy, there! Tashtego, Queequeg, Daggoo! What say ye, pagans! Will ye
give me as much blood as will cover this barb?" holding it high up.
A cluster of dark nods replied, Yes. Three punctures were made
in the heathen flesh, and the White Whale's barbs were then tempered.
"Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris, sed in nomine diaboli!"
deliriously howled Ahab, as the malignant iron scorchingly
devoured the baptismal blood.
Now, mustering the spare poles from below, and selecting one of hickory,
with the bark still investing it, Ahab fitted the end to the socket
of the iron. A coil of new tow-line was then unwound, and some fathoms
of it taken to the windlass, and stretched to a great tension.
Pressing his foot upon it, till the rope hummed like a harp-string,
then eagerly bending over it, and seeing no strandings, Ahab exclaimed,
"Good! and now for the seizings."
At one extremity the rope was unstranded, and the separate spread
yarns were all braided and woven round the socket of the harpoon;
the pole was then driven hard up into the socket; from the lower
end the rope was traced halfway along the pole's length,
and firmly secured so, with inter-twistings of twine.
This done, pole, iron, and rope--like the Three Fates--
remained inseparable, and Ahab moodily stalked away with the weapon;
the sound of his ivory leg, and the sound of the hickory pole,
both hollowly ringing along every plank. But ere he entered
his cabin, a light, unnatural, half-bantering, yet most piteous
sound was heard. Oh! Pip, thy wretched laugh, thy idle
but unresting eye; all thy strange mummeries not unmeaningly
blended with the black tragedy of the melancholy ship,
and mocked it!
Penetrating further and further into the heart of the Japanese
cruising ground the Pequod was soon all astir in the fishery.
Often, in mild, pleasant weather, for twelve, fifteen, eighteen,
and twenty hours on the stretch, they were engaged in the boats,
steadily pulling, or sailing, or paddling after the whales,
or for an interlude of sixty or seventy minutes calmly awaiting
their uprising; though with but small success for their pains.
At such times, under an abated sun; afloat all day upon smooth,
slow heaving swells; seated in his boat, light as a birch canoe;
and so sociably mixing with the soft waves themselves,
that like hearth-stone cats they purr against the gunwale;
these are the times of dreamy quietude, when beholding the tranquil
beauty and brilliancy of the ocean's skin, one forgets the tiger
heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember,
that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang.
These are the times, when in his whale-boat the rover softly feels
a certain filial, confident, land-like feeling towards the sea; that he
regards it as so much flowery earth; and the distant ship revealing
only the tops of her masts, seems struggling forward, not through high
rolling waves, but through the tall grass of a rolling prairie:
as when the western emigrants' horses only show their erected ears,
while their hidden bodies widely wade through the amazing verdure.
The long-drawn virgin vales; the mild blue hill-sides;
as over these there steals the hush, the hum; you almost swear
that play-wearied children lie sleeping in these solitudes,
in some glad May-time, when the flowers of the woods are plucked.
And all this mixes with your most mystic mood; so that fact and fancy,
half-way meeting, interpenetrate, and form one seamless whole.
Nor did such soothing scenes, however temporary, fail of at least
as temporary an effect on Ahab. But if these secret golden
keys did seem to open in him his own secret golden treasuries,
yet did his breath upon them prove but tarnishing.
Oh, grassy glades! oh ever vernal endless landscapes in the soul;
in ye,--though long parched by the dead drought of the earthly life,--
in ye, men yet may roll, like young horses in new morning clover;
and for some few fleeting moments, feel the cool dew of the life
immortal on them. Would to God these blessed calms would last.
But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp
and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm.
There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not
advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause:--
through infancy's unconscious spell, boyhood's thoughtless
faith, adolescence' doubt (the common doom), then scepticism,
then disbelief, resting at last in manhood's pondering repose
of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again;
and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally.
Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more?
In what rapt ether sails the world, of which the weariest
will never weary? Where is the foundling's father hidden?
Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die
in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave,
and we must there to learn it.
And that same day, too, gazing far down from his boat's side
into that same golden sea, Starbuck lowly murmured:--
"Loveliness unfathomable, as ever lover saw in his young bride's eyes!--
Tell me not of thy teeth-tiered sharks, and thy kidnapping cannibal ways.
Let faith oust fact; let fancy oust memory; I look deep down
and do believe."
And Stubb, fish-like, with sparkling scales, leaped up in that
same golden light:--
"I am Stubb, and Stubb has his history; but here Stubb takes
oaths that he has always been jolly!"
The Pequod Meets The Bachelor
And jolly enough were the sights and the sounds that came bearing down
before the wind, some few weeks after Ahab's harpoon had been welded.
It was a Nantucket ship, the Bachelor, which had just wedged
in her last cask of oil, and bolted down her bursting hatches;
and now, in glad holiday apparel, was joyously, though somewhat
vain-gloriously, sailing round among the widely-separated ships
on the ground, previous to pointing her prow for home.
The three men at her mast-head wore long streamers of narrow red
bunting at their hats; from the stern, a whale-boat was suspended,
bottom down; and hanging captive from the bowsprit was seen the long
lower jaw of the last whale they had slain. Signals, ensigns,
and jacks of all colors were flying from her rigging, on every side.
Sideways lashed in each of her three basketed tops were two barrels
of sperm; above which, in her top-mast cross-trees, you saw slender
breakers of the same precious fluid; and nailed to her main truck
was a brazen lamp.
As was afterwards learned, the Bachelor had met with
the most surprising success; all the more wonderful,
for that while cruising in the same seas numerous other vessels
had gone entire months without securing a single fish.
Not only had barrels of beef and bread been given away to make
room for the far more valuable sperm, but additional supplemental
casks had been bartered for, from the ships she had met; and these
were stowed along the deck, and in the captain's and officers'
state-rooms. Even the cabin table itself had been knocked
into kindling-wood; and the cabin mess dined off the broad head
of an oil-butt, lashed down to the floor for a centrepiece.
In the forecastle, the sailors had actually caulked and pitched
their chests, and filled them; it was humorously added, that the
cook had clapped a head on his largest boiler, and filled it;
that the steward had plugged his spare coffee-pot and filled it;
that the harpooneers had headed the sockets of their irons
and filled them; that indeed everything was filled with sperm,
except the captain's pantaloons pockets, and those he reserved
to thrust his hands into, in self-complacent testimony of
his entire satisfaction.
As this glad ship of good luck bore down upon the moody Pequod,
the barbarian sound of enormous drums came from her forecastle;
and drawing still nearer, a crowd of her men were seen standing
round her huge try-pots, which, covered with the parchment-like
poke or stomach skin of the black fish, gave forth a loud
roar to every stroke of the clenched hands of the crew.
On the quarter-deck, the mates and harpooneers were dancing with the
olive-hued girls who had eloped with them from the Polynesian Isles;
while suspended in an ornamented boat, firmly secured aloft between
the foremast and mainmast, three Long Island negroes, with glittering
fiddle-bows of whale ivory, were presiding over the hilarious jig.
Meanwhile, others of the ship's company were tumultuously busy at
the masonry of the try-works, from which the huge pots had been removed.
You would have almost thought they were pulling down the cursed Bastille,
such wild cries they raised, as the now useless brick and mortar
were being hurled into the sea.
Lord and master over all this scene, the captain stood erect
on the ship's elevated quarter-deck, so that the whole rejoicing
drama was full before him, and seemed merely contrived for his
own individual diversion.
And Ahab, he too was standing on his quarter-deck, shaggy and black,
with a stubborn gloom; and as the two ships crossed each other's wakes--
one all jubilations for things passed, the other all forebodings
as to things to come--their two captains in themselves impersonated
the whole striking contrast of the scene.
"Come aboard, come aboard!" cried the gay Bachelor's commander,
lifting a glass and a bottle in the air.
"Hast seen the White Whale?" gritted Ahab in reply.
"No; only heard of him; but don't believe in him at all,"
said the other good-humoredly. "Come aboard!"
"Thou art too damned jolly. Sail on. Hast lost any men?"
"Not enough to speak of--two islanders, that's all;--but come aboard,
old hearty, come along. I'll soon take that black from your brow.
Come along, will ye (merry's the play); a full ship and homeward-bound."
"How wondrous familiar is a fool!" muttered Ahab; then aloud, "Thou art
a full ship and homeward bound, thou sayest; well, then, call me
an empty ship, and outward-bound. So go thy ways, and I will mine.
Forward there! Set all sail, and keep her to the wind!"
And thus, while the one ship went cheerily before the breeze,
the other stubbornly fought against it; and so the two vessels parted;
the crew of the Pequod looking with grave, lingering glances
towards the receding Bachelor; but the Bachelor's men never heeding
their gaze for the lively revelry they were in. And as Ahab,
leaning over the taffrail, eyed the homewardbound craft, he took
from his pocket a small vial of sand, and then looking from the ship
to the vial, seemed thereby bringing two remote associations together,
for that vial was filled with Nantucket soundings.
The Dying Whale
Not seldom in this life, when, on the right side, fortune's favorites
sail close by us, we, though all adroop before, catch somewhat
of the rushing breeze, and joyfully feel our bagging sails fill out.
So seemed it with the Pequod. For next day after encountering
the gay Bachelor, whales were seen and four were slain;
and one of them by Ahab.
It was far down the afternoon; and when all the spearings of the crimson
fight were done; and floating in the lovely sunset sea and sky,
sun and whale both stilly died together; then, such a sweetness and
such plaintiveness, such inwreathing orisons curled up in that rosy air,
that it almost seemed as if far over from the deep green convent valleys
of the Manilla isles, the Spanish land-breeze, wantonly turned sailor,
had gone to sea, freighted with these vesper hymns.
Soothed again, but only soothed to deeper gloom, Ahab, who had sterned
off from the whale, sat intently watching his final wanings from
the now tranquil boat. For that strange spectacle observable in all
sperm whales dying--the turning sunwards of the head, and so expiring--
that strange spectacle, beheld of such a placid evening, somehow to Ahab
conveyed a wondrousness unknown before.
"He turns and turns him to it,--how slowly, but how steadfastly,
his homage-rendering and invoking brow, with his last dying motions.
He too worships fire; most faithful, broad, baronial vassal of the sun!--
Oh that these too-favoring eyes should see these too-favoring sights.
Look! here, far water-locked; beyond all hum of human weal or woe;
in these most candid and impartial seas; where to traditions no rocks
furnish tablets; where for long Chinese ages, the billows have still
rolled on speechless and unspoken to, as stars that shine upon
the Niger's unknown source; here, too, life dies sunwards full of faith,
but see! no sooner dead, than death whirls round the corpse, and it
heads some other way.
"Oh, thou dark Hindoo half of nature, who of drowned bones hast builded
thy separate throne somewhere in the heart of these unverdured seas;
thou art an infidel, thou queen, and too truly speakest to me in the
wide-slaughtering Typhoon, and the hushed burial of its after calm.
Nor has this thy whale sunwards turned his dying head, and then gone
round again, without a lesson to me.
"Oh, trebly hooped and welded hip of power! Oh, high aspiring,
rainbowed jet!--that one strivest, this one jettest all in vain!
In vain, oh whale, dost thou seek intercedings with yon
all-quickening sun, that only calls forth life, but gives it not again.
Yet dost thou darker half, rock me with a prouder, if a darker faith.
All thy unnamable imminglings float beneath me here; I am buoyed
by breaths of once living things, exhaled as air, but water now.
"Then hail, for ever hail, O sea, in whose eternal tossings the wild
fowl finds his only rest. Born of earth, yet suckled by the sea;
though hill and valley mothered me, ye billows are my foster-brothers!"
The Whale Watch
The four whales slain that evening had died wide apart;
one, far to windward; one less distant, to leeward; one ahead;
one astern. These last three were brought alongside ere nightfall;
but the windward one could not be reached till morning;
and the boat that had killed it lay by its side all night;
and that boat was Ahab's.
The waif-pole was thrust upright into the dead whale's spout-hole;
and the lantern hanging from its top, cast a troubled flickering glare
upon the black, glossy back, and far out upon the midnight waves,
which gently chafed the whale's broad flank, like soft surf upon a beach.
Ahab and all his boat's crew seemed asleep but the Parsee; who crouching
in the bow, sat watching the sharks, that spectrally played round
the whale, and tapped the light cedar planks with their tails.
A sound like the moaning in squadrons over Asphaltites of unforgiven
ghosts of Gomorrah, ran shuddering through the air.
Started from his slumbers, Ahab, face to face, saw the Parsee;
and hooped round by the gloom of the night they seemed the last men
in a flooded world. "I have dreamed it again," said he.
"Of the hearses? Have I not said, old man, that neither hearse
nor coffin can be thine?"
"And who are hearsed that die on the sea?"
"But I said, old man, that ere thou couldst die on this voyage,
two hearses must verily be seen by thee on the sea; the first not
made by mortal hands; and the visible wood of the last one must
be grown in America."
"Aye, aye! a strange sight that, Parsee!--a hearse and its plumes floating
over the ocean with the waves for the pall-bearers. Ha! Such a sight
we shall not soon see."
"Believe it or not, thou canst not die till it be seen, old man."
"And what was that saying about thyself?"
"Though it come to the last, I shall still go before thee thy pilot."
"And when thou art so gone before--if that ever befall--then ere
I can follow, thou must still appear to me, to pilot me still?--
Was it not so? Well, then, did I believe all ye say, oh my pilot!
I have here two pledges that I shall yet slay Moby Dick and survive it."
"Take another pledge, old man," said the Parsee, as his eyes lighted
up like fire-flies in the gloom--"Hemp only can kill thee."
"The gallows, ye mean.--I am immortal then, on land and on sea,"
cried Ahab, with a laugh of derision;--"Immortal on land and on sea!"
Both were silent again, as one man. The grey dawn came on,
and the slumbering crew arose from the boat's bottom, and ere
noon the dead whale was brought to the ship.
The season for the Line at length drew near; and every
day when Ahab, coming from his cabin cast his eyes aloft,
the vigilant helmsman would ostentatiously handle his spokes,
and the eager mariners quickly run to the braces, and would stand
there with all their eyes centrally fixed on the nailed doubloon;
impatient for the order to point the ship's prow for the equator.
In good time the order came. It was hard upon high noon;
and Ahab, seated in the bows of his high-hoisted boat,
was about taking his wonted daily observation of the sun
to determine his latitude.
Now, in that Japanese sea, the days in summer are as freshets
of effulgences. That unblinkingly vivid Japanese sun
seems the blazing focus of the glassy ocean's immeasurable
burning-glass. The sky looks lacquered; clouds there are none;
the horizon floats; and this nakedness of unrelieved
radiance is as the insufferable splendors of God's throne.
Well that Ahab's quadrant was furnished with colored glasses,
through which to take sight of that solar fire.
So, swinging his seated form to the roll of the ship,
and with his astrological-looking instrument placed to his eye,
he remained in that posture for some moments to catch the precise
instant when the sun should gain its precise meridian.
Meantime while his whole attention was absorbed, the Parsee
was kneeling beneath him on the ship's deck, and with face
thrown up like Ahab's, was eyeing the same sun with him;
only the lids of his eyes half hooded their orbs, and his
wild face was subdued to an earthly passionlessness.
At length the desired observation was taken; and with his pencil
upon his ivory leg, Ahab soon calculated what his latitude must
be at that precise instant. Then falling into a moment's revery,
he again looked up towards the sun and murmured to himself:
"Thou seamark! thou high and mighty Pilot! thou tellest me truly
where I am--but canst thou cast the least hint where I shall be?
Or canst thou tell where some other thing besides me is this
moment living? Where is Moby Dick? This instant thou must
be eyeing him. These eyes of mine look into the very eye
that is even now beholding him; aye, and into the eye that
is even now equally beholding the objects on the unknown,
thither side of thee, thou sun!"
Then gazing at his quadrant, and handling, one after the other,
its numerous cabalistical contrivances, he pondered again,
and muttered: "Foolish toy! babies' plaything of haughty Admirals,
and Commodores, and Captains; the world brags of thee,
of thy cunning and might; but what after all canst thou do,
but tell the poor, pitiful point, where thou thyself happenest
to be on this wide planet, and the hand that holds thee:
no! not one jot more! Thou canst not tell where one drop
of water or one grain of sand will be to-morrow noon; and yet
with thy impotence thou insultest the sun! Science! Curse thee,
thou vain toy; and cursed be all the things that cast man's eyes
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