Part 1 out of 12
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In chapters 24, 89, and 90, we substituted a capital L for the symbol
for the British pound, a unit of currency.
MOBY DICK; OR THE WHALE
by Herman Melville
(Supplied by a Late Consumptive Usher to a Grammar School)
The pale Usher--threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him
now. He was ever dusting his old lexicons and grammars, with a queer
handkerchief, mockingly embellished with all the gay flags of all the
known nations of the world. He loved to dust his old grammars; it
somehow mildly reminded him of his mortality.
"While you take in hand to school others, and to teach them by what
name a whale-fish is to be called in our tongue leaving out, through
ignorance, the letter H, which almost alone maketh the signification
of the word, you deliver that which is not true." --HACKLUYT
"WHALE. ... Sw. and Dan. HVAL. This animal is named from roundness
or rolling; for in Dan. HVALT is arched or vaulted." --WEBSTER'S
"WHALE. ... It is more immediately from the Dut. and Ger. WALLEN;
A.S. WALW-IAN, to roll, to wallow." --RICHARDSON'S DICTIONARY
EXTRACTS (Supplied by a Sub-Sub-Librarian).
It will be seen that this mere painstaking burrower and grub-worm of
a poor devil of a Sub-Sub appears to have gone through the long
Vaticans and street-stalls of the earth, picking up whatever random
allusions to whales he could anyways find in any book whatsoever,
sacred or profane. Therefore you must not, in every case at least,
take the higgledy-piggledy whale statements, however authentic, in
these extracts, for veritable gospel cetology. Far from it. As
touching the ancient authors generally, as well as the poets here
appearing, these extracts are solely valuable or entertaining, as
affording a glancing bird's eye view of what has been promiscuously
said, thought, fancied, and sung of Leviathan, by many nations and
generations, including our own.
So fare thee well, poor devil of a Sub-Sub, whose commentator I am.
Thou belongest to that hopeless, sallow tribe which no wine of this
world will ever warm; and for whom even Pale Sherry would be too
rosy-strong; but with whom one sometimes loves to sit, and feel
poor-devilish, too; and grow convivial upon tears; and say to them
bluntly, with full eyes and empty glasses, and in not altogether
unpleasant sadness--Give it up, Sub-Subs! For by how much the more
pains ye take to please the world, by so much the more shall ye for
ever go thankless! Would that I could clear out Hampton Court and
the Tuileries for ye! But gulp down your tears and hie aloft to the
royal-mast with your hearts; for your friends who have gone before
are clearing out the seven-storied heavens, and making refugees of
long-pampered Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael, against your coming.
Here ye strike but splintered hearts together--there, ye shall strike
"And God created great whales." --GENESIS.
"Leviathan maketh a path to shine after him; One would think the deep
to be hoary." --JOB.
"Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah."
"There go the ships; there is that Leviathan whom thou hast made to
play therein." --PSALMS.
"In that day, the Lord with his sore, and great, and strong sword,
shall punish Leviathan the piercing serpent, even Leviathan that
crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea."
"And what thing soever besides cometh within the chaos of this
monster's mouth, be it beast, boat, or stone, down it goes all
incontinently that foul great swallow of his, and perisheth in the
bottomless gulf of his paunch." --HOLLAND'S PLUTARCH'S MORALS.
"The Indian Sea breedeth the most and the biggest fishes that are:
among which the Whales and Whirlpooles called Balaene, take up as
much in length as four acres or arpens of land." --HOLLAND'S PLINY.
"Scarcely had we proceeded two days on the sea, when about sunrise a
great many Whales and other monsters of the sea, appeared. Among the
former, one was of a most monstrous size. ... This came towards us,
open-mouthed, raising the waves on all sides, and beating the sea
before him into a foam." --TOOKE'S LUCIAN. "THE TRUE HISTORY."
"He visited this country also with a view of catching horse-whales,
which had bones of very great value for their teeth, of which he
brought some to the king. ... The best whales were catched in his
own country, of which some were forty-eight, some fifty yards long.
He said that he was one of six who had killed sixty in two days."
--OTHER OR OCTHER'S VERBAL NARRATIVE TAKEN DOWN FROM HIS MOUTH BY
KING ALFRED, A.D. 890.
"And whereas all the other things, whether beast or vessel, that
enter into the dreadful gulf of this monster's (whale's) mouth, are
immediately lost and swallowed up, the sea-gudgeon retires into it in
great security, and there sleeps." --MONTAIGNE. --APOLOGY FOR
"Let us fly, let us fly! Old Nick take me if is not Leviathan
described by the noble prophet Moses in the life of patient Job."
"This whale's liver was two cartloads." --STOWE'S ANNALS.
"The great Leviathan that maketh the seas to seethe like boiling
pan." --LORD BACON'S VERSION OF THE PSALMS.
"Touching that monstrous bulk of the whale or ork we have received
nothing certain. They grow exceeding fat, insomuch that an
incredible quantity of oil will be extracted out of one whale."
--IBID. "HISTORY OF LIFE AND DEATH."
"The sovereignest thing on earth is parmacetti for an inward bruise."
"Very like a whale." --HAMLET.
"Which to secure, no skill of leach's art
Mote him availle, but to returne againe
To his wound's worker, that with lowly dart,
Dinting his breast, had bred his restless paine,
Like as the wounded whale to shore flies thro' the maine."
--THE FAERIE QUEEN.
"Immense as whales, the motion of whose vast bodies can in a peaceful
calm trouble the ocean til it boil." --SIR WILLIAM DAVENANT. PREFACE
"What spermacetti is, men might justly doubt, since the learned
Hosmannus in his work of thirty years, saith plainly, Nescio quid
sit." --SIR T. BROWNE. OF SPERMA CETI AND THE SPERMA CETI WHALE.
VIDE HIS V. E.
"Like Spencer's Talus with his modern flail
He threatens ruin with his ponderous tail.
Their fixed jav'lins in his side he wears,
And on his back a grove of pikes appears." --WALLER'S BATTLE OF THE
"By art is created that great Leviathan, called a Commonwealth or
State--(in Latin, Civitas) which is but an artificial man." --OPENING
SENTENCE OF HOBBES'S LEVIATHAN.
"Silly Mansoul swallowed it without chewing, as if it had been a
sprat in the mouth of a whale." --PILGRIM'S PROGRESS.
"That sea beast
Leviathan, which God of all his works
Created hugest that swim the ocean stream." --PARADISE LOST.
Hugest of living creatures, in the deep
Stretched like a promontory sleeps or swims,
And seems a moving land; and at his gills
Draws in, and at his breath spouts out a sea." --IBID.
"The mighty whales which swim in a sea of water, and have a sea of
oil swimming in them." --FULLLER'S PROFANE AND HOLY STATE.
"So close behind some promontory lie
The huge Leviathan to attend their prey,
And give no chance, but swallow in the fry,
Which through their gaping jaws mistake the way."
--DRYDEN'S ANNUS MIRABILIS.
"While the whale is floating at the stern of the ship, they cut off
his head, and tow it with a boat as near the shore as it will come;
but it will be aground in twelve or thirteen feet water." --THOMAS
EDGE'S TEN VOYAGES TO SPITZBERGEN, IN PURCHAS.
"In their way they saw many whales sporting in the ocean, and in
wantonness fuzzing up the water through their pipes and vents, which
nature has placed on their shoulders." --SIR T. HERBERT'S VOYAGES
INTO ASIA AND AFRICA. HARRIS COLL.
"Here they saw such huge troops of whales, that they were forced to
proceed with a great deal of caution for fear they should run their
ship upon them." --SCHOUTEN'S SIXTH CIRCUMNAVIGATION.
"We set sail from the Elbe, wind N.E. in the ship called The
Jonas-in-the-Whale. ... Some say the whale can't open his mouth, but
that is a fable. ... They frequently climb up the masts to see
whether they can see a whale, for the first discoverer has a ducat
for his pains. ... I was told of a whale taken near Shetland, that
had above a barrel of herrings in his belly. ... One of our
harpooneers told me that he caught once a whale in Spitzbergen that
was white all over." --A VOYAGE TO GREENLAND, A.D. 1671 HARRIS COLL.
"Several whales have come in upon this coast (Fife) Anno 1652, one
eighty feet in length of the whale-bone kind came in, which (as I was
informed), besides a vast quantity of oil, did afford 500 weight of
baleen. The jaws of it stand for a gate in the garden of Pitferren."
--SIBBALD'S FIFE AND KINROSS.
"Myself have agreed to try whether I can master and kill this
Sperma-ceti whale, for I could never hear of any of that sort that
was killed by any man, such is his fierceness and swiftness."
--RICHARD STRAFFORD'S LETTER FROM THE BERMUDAS. PHIL. TRANS. A.D.
"Whales in the sea God's voice obey." --N. E. PRIMER.
"We saw also abundance of large whales, there being more in those
southern seas, as I may say, by a hundred to one; than we have to the
northward of us." --CAPTAIN COWLEY'S VOYAGE ROUND THE GLOBE, A.D.
"... and the breath of the whale is frequendy attended with such an
insupportable smell, as to bring on a disorder of the brain."
--ULLOA'S SOUTH AMERICA.
"To fifty chosen sylphs of special note,
We trust the important charge, the petticoat.
Oft have we known that seven-fold fence to fail,
Tho' stuffed with hoops and armed with ribs of whale." --RAPE
OF THE LOCK.
"If we compare land animals in respect to magnitude, with those that
take up their abode in the deep, we shall find they will appear
contemptible in the comparison. The whale is doubtless the largest
animal in creation." --GOLDSMITH, NAT. HIST.
"If you should write a fable for little fishes, you would make them
speak like great wales." --GOLDSMITH TO JOHNSON.
"In the afternoon we saw what was supposed to be a rock, but it was
found to be a dead whale, which some Asiatics had killed, and were
then towing ashore. They seemed to endeavor to conceal themselves
behind the whale, in order to avoid being seen by us." --COOK'S
"The larger whales, they seldom venture to attack. They stand in so
great dread of some of them, that when out at sea they are afraid to
mention even their names, and carry dung, lime-stone, juniper-wood,
and some other articles of the same nature in their boats, in order
to terrify and prevent their too near approach." --UNO VON TROIL'S
LETTERS ON BANKS'S AND SOLANDER'S VOYAGE TO ICELAND IN 1772.
"The Spermacetti Whale found by the Nantuckois, is an active, fierce
animal, and requires vast address and boldness in the fishermen."
--THOMAS JEFFERSON'S WHALE MEMORIAL TO THE FRENCH MINISTER IN 1778.
"And pray, sir, what in the world is equal to it?" --EDMUND BURKE'S
REFERENCE IN PARLIAMENT TO THE NANTUCKET WHALE-FISHERY.
"Spain--a great whale stranded on the shores of Europe." --EDMUND
"A tenth branch of the king's ordinary revenue, said to be grounded
on the consideration of his guarding and protecting the seas from
pirates and robbers, is the right to royal fish, which are whale and
sturgeon. And these, when either thrown ashore or caught near the
coast, are the property of the king." --BLACKSTONE.
"Soon to the sport of death the crews repair:
Rodmond unerring o'er his head suspends
The barbed steel, and every turn attends."
"Bright shone the roofs, the domes, the spires,
And rockets blew self driven,
To hang their momentary fire
Around the vault of heaven.
"So fire with water to compare,
The ocean serves on high,
Up-spouted by a whale in air,
To express unwieldy joy." --COWPER, ON THE QUEEN'S
VISIT TO LONDON.
"Ten or fifteen gallons of blood are thrown out of the heart at a
stroke, with immense velocity." --JOHN HUNTER'S ACCOUNT OF THE
DISSECTION OF A WHALE. (A SMALL SIZED ONE.)
"The aorta of a whale is larger in the bore than the main pipe of the
water-works at London Bridge, and the water roaring in its passage
through that pipe is inferior in impetus and velocity to the blood
gushing from the whale's heart." --PALEY'S THEOLOGY.
"The whale is a mammiferous animal without hind feet." --BARON
"In 40 degrees south, we saw Spermacetti Whales, but did not take any
till the first of May, the sea being then covered with them."
--COLNETT'S VOYAGE FOR THE PURPOSE OF EXTENDING THE SPERMACETI WHALE
"In the free element beneath me swam,
Floundered and dived, in play, in chace, in battle,
Fishes of every colour, form, and kind;
Which language cannot paint, and mariner
Had never seen; from dread Leviathan
To insect millions peopling every wave:
Gather'd in shoals immense, like floating islands,
Led by mysterious instincts through that waste
And trackless region, though on every side
Assaulted by voracious enemies,
Whales, sharks, and monsters, arm'd in front or jaw,
With swords, saws, spiral horns, or hooked fangs."
--MONTGOMERY'S WORLD BEFORE THE FLOOD.
"Io! Paean! Io! sing.
To the finny people's king.
Not a mightier whale than this
In the vast Atlantic is;
Not a fatter fish than he,
Flounders round the Polar Sea." --CHARLES LAMB'S TRIUMPH OF THE
"In the year 1690 some persons were on a high hill observing the
whales spouting and sporting with each other, when one observed:
there--pointing to the sea--is a green pasture where our children's
grand-children will go for bread." --OBED MACY'S HISTORY OF
"I built a cottage for Susan and myself and made a gateway in the
form of a Gothic Arch, by setting up a whale's jaw bones."
--HAWTHORNE'S TWICE TOLD TALES.
"She came to bespeak a monument for her first love, who had been
killed by a whale in the Pacific ocean, no less than forty years
"No, Sir, 'tis a Right Whale," answered Tom; "I saw his sprout; he
threw up a pair of as pretty rainbows as a Christian would wish to
look at. He's a raal oil-butt, that fellow!" --COOPER'S PILOT.
"The papers were brought in, and we saw in the Berlin Gazette that
whales had been introduced on the stage there." --ECKERMANN'S
CONVERSATIONS WITH GOETHE.
"My God! Mr. Chace, what is the matter?" I answered, "we have been
stove by a whale." --"NARRATIVE OF THE SHIPWRECK OF THE WHALE SHIP
ESSEX OF NANTUCKET, WHICH WAS ATTACKED AND FINALLY DESTROYED BY A
LARGE SPERM WHALE IN THE PACIFIC OCEAN." BY OWEN CHACE OF NANTUCKET,
FIRST MATE OF SAID VESSEL. NEW YORK, 1821.
"A mariner sat in the shrouds one night,
The wind was piping free;
Now bright, now dimmed, was the moonlight pale,
And the phospher gleamed in the wake of the whale,
As it floundered in the sea." --ELIZABETH OAKES SMITH.
"The quantity of line withdrawn from the boats engaged in the capture
of this one whale, amounted altogether to 10,440 yards or nearly six
English miles. ...
"Sometimes the whale shakes its tremendous tail in the air, which,
cracking like a whip, resounds to the distance of three or four
"Mad with the agonies he endures from these fresh attacks, the
infuriated Sperm Whale rolls over and over; he rears his enormous
head, and with wide expanded jaws snaps at everything around him; he
rushes at the boats with his head; they are propelled before him with
vast swiftness, and sometimes utterly destroyed. ... It is a matter
of great astonishment that the consideration of the habits of so
interesting, and, in a commercial point of view, so important an
animal (as the Sperm Whale) should have been so entirely neglected,
or should have excited so little curiosity among the numerous, and
many of them competent observers, that of late years, must have
possessed the most abundant and the most convenient opportunities of
witnessing their habitudes." --THOMAS BEALE'S HISTORY OF THE SPERM
"The Cachalot" (Sperm Whale) "is not only better armed than the True
Whale" (Greenland or Right Whale) "in possessing a formidable weapon
at either extremity of its body, but also more frequently displays a
disposition to employ these weapons offensively and in manner at once
so artful, bold, and mischievous, as to lead to its being regarded as
the most dangerous to attack of all the known species of the whale
tribe." --FREDERICK DEBELL BENNETT'S WHALING VOYAGE ROUND THE GLOBE,
October 13. "There she blows," was sung out from the mast-head.
"Where away?" demanded the captain.
"Three points off the lee bow, sir."
"Raise up your wheel. Steady!" "Steady, sir."
"Mast-head ahoy! Do you see that whale now?"
"Ay ay, sir! A shoal of Sperm Whales! There she blows! There she
"Sing out! sing out every time!"
"Ay Ay, sir! There she blows! there--there--THAR she
"How far off?"
"Two miles and a half."
"Thunder and lightning! so near! Call all hands." --J. ROSS BROWNE'S
ETCHINGS OF A WHALING CRUIZE. 1846.
"The Whale-ship Globe, on board of which vessel occurred the horrid
transactions we are about to relate, belonged to the island of
Nantucket." --"NARRATIVE OF THE GLOBE," BY LAY AND HUSSEY SURVIVORS.
Being once pursued by a whale which he had wounded, he parried the
assault for some time with a lance; but the furious monster at length
rushed on the boat; himself and comrades only being preserved by
leaping into the water when they saw the onset was inevitable."
--MISSIONARY JOURNAL OF TYERMAN AND BENNETT.
"Nantucket itself," said Mr. Webster, "is a very striking and
peculiar portion of the National interest. There is a population of
eight or nine thousand persons living here in the sea, adding largely
every year to the National wealth by the boldest and most persevering
industry." --REPORT OF DANIEL WEBSTER'S SPEECH IN THE U. S. SENATE,
ON THE APPLICATION FOR THE ERECTION OF A BREAKWATER AT NANTUCKET.
"The whale fell directly over him, and probably killed him in a
moment." --"THE WHALE AND HIS CAPTORS, OR THE WHALEMAN'S ADVENTURES
AND THE WHALE'S BIOGRAPHY, GATHERED ON THE HOMEWARD CRUISE OF THE
COMMODORE PREBLE." BY REV. HENRY T. CHEEVER.
"If you make the least damn bit of noise," replied Samuel, "I will
send you to hell." --LIFE OF SAMUEL COMSTOCK (THE MUTINEER), BY HIS
BROTHER, WILLIAM COMSTOCK. ANOTHER VERSION OF THE WHALE-SHIP GLOBE
"The voyages of the Dutch and English to the Northern Ocean, in
order, if possible, to discover a passage through it to India, though
they failed of their main object, laid-open the haunts of the whale."
--MCCULLOCH'S COMMERCIAL DICTIONARY.
"These things are reciprocal; the ball rebounds, only to bound
forward again; for now in laying open the haunts of the whale, the
whalemen seem to have indirectly hit upon new clews to that same
mystic North-West Passage." --FROM "SOMETHING" UNPUBLISHED.
"It is impossible to meet a whale-ship on the ocean without being
struck by her near appearance. The vessel under short sail, with
look-outs at the mast-heads, eagerly scanning the wide expanse around
them, has a totally different air from those engaged in regular
voyage." --CURRENTS AND WHALING. U.S. EX. EX.
"Pedestrians in the vicinity of London and elsewhere may recollect
having seen large curved bones set upright in the earth, either to
form arches over gateways, or entrances to alcoves, and they may
perhaps have been told that these were the ribs of whales." --TALES
OF A WHALE VOYAGER TO THE ARCTIC OCEAN.
"It was not till the boats returned from the pursuit of these whales,
that the whites saw their ship in bloody possession of the savages
enrolled among the crew." --NEWSPAPER ACCOUNT OF THE TAKING AND
RETAKING OF THE WHALE-SHIP HOBOMACK.
"It is generally well known that out of the crews of Whaling vessels
(American) few ever return in the ships on board of which they
departed." --CRUISE IN A WHALE BOAT.
"Suddenly a mighty mass emerged from the water, and shot up
perpendicularly into the air. It was the while." --MIRIAM COFFIN OR
THE WHALE FISHERMAN.
"The Whale is harpooned to be sure; but bethink you, how you would
manage a powerful unbroken colt, with the mere appliance of a rope
tied to the root of his tail." --A CHAPTER ON WHALING IN RIBS AND
"On one occasion I saw two of these monsters (whales) probably male
and female, slowly swimming, one after the other, within less than a
stone's throw of the shore" (Terra Del Fuego), "over which the beech
tree extended its branches." --DARWIN'S VOYAGE OF A NATURALIST.
"'Stern all!' exclaimed the mate, as upon turning his head, he saw
the distended jaws of a large Sperm Whale close to the head of the
boat, threatening it with instant destruction;--'Stern all, for your
lives!'" --WHARTON THE WHALE KILLER.
"So be cheery, my lads, let your hearts never fail,
While the bold harpooneer is striking the whale!" --NANTUCKET SONG.
"Oh, the rare old Whale, mid storm and gale
In his ocean home will be
A giant in might, where might is right,
And King of the boundless sea." --WHALE SONG.
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago--never mind how long
precisely--having little or no money in my purse, and nothing
particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a
little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of
driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I
find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp,
drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily
pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every
funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper
hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me
from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking
people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon
as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a
philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly
take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but
knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish
very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by
wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs--commerce surrounds it with
her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its
extreme downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by
waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of
sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.
Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from
Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall,
northward. What do you see?--Posted like silent sentinels all around
the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean
reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the
pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some
high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better
seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in
lath and plaster--tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to
desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they
But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and
seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but
the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of
yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh
the water as they possibly can without falling in. And there they
stand--miles of them--leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes
and alleys, streets and avenues--north, east, south, and west. Yet
here they all unite. Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the
needles of the compasses of all those ships attract them thither?
Once more. Say you are in the country; in some high land of lakes.
Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down
in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is
magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his
deepest reveries--stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going,
and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all
that region. Should you ever be athirst in the great American
desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied
with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation
and water are wedded for ever.
But here is an artist. He desires to paint you the dreamiest,
shadiest, quietest, most enchanting bit of romantic landscape in all
the valley of the Saco. What is the chief element he employs? There
stand his trees, each with a hollow trunk, as if a hermit and a
crucifix were within; and here sleeps his meadow, and there sleep his
cattle; and up from yonder cottage goes a sleepy smoke. Deep into
distant woodlands winds a mazy way, reaching to overlapping spurs of
mountains bathed in their hill-side blue. But though the picture
lies thus tranced, and though this pine-tree shakes down its sighs
like leaves upon this shepherd's head, yet all were vain, unless the
shepherd's eye were fixed upon the magic stream before him. Go visit
the Prairies in June, when for scores on scores of miles you wade
knee-deep among Tiger-lilies--what is the one charm
wanting?--Water--there is not a drop of water there! Were Niagara
but a cataract of sand, would you travel your thousand miles to see
it? Why did the poor poet of Tennessee, upon suddenly receiving two
handfuls of silver, deliberate whether to buy him a coat, which he
sadly needed, or invest his money in a pedestrian trip to Rockaway
Beach? Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy
soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your
first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical
vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of
sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did
the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely
all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of
that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the
tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and
was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and
oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this
is the key to it all.
Now, when I say that I am in the habit of going to sea whenever I
begin to grow hazy about the eyes, and begin to be over conscious of
my lungs, I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever go to sea as
a passenger. For to go as a passenger you must needs have a purse,
and a purse is but a rag unless you have something in it. Besides,
passengers get sea-sick--grow quarrelsome--don't sleep of nights--do
not enjoy themselves much, as a general thing;--no, I never go as a
passenger; nor, though I am something of a salt, do I ever go to sea
as a Commodore, or a Captain, or a Cook. I abandon the glory and
distinction of such offices to those who like them. For my part, I
abominate all honourable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations
of every kind whatsoever. It is quite as much as I can do to take
care of myself, without taking care of ships, barques, brigs,
schooners, and what not. And as for going as cook,--though I confess
there is considerable glory in that, a cook being a sort of officer
on ship-board--yet, somehow, I never fancied broiling fowls;--though
once broiled, judiciously buttered, and judgmatically salted and
peppered, there is no one who will speak more respectfully, not to
say reverentially, of a broiled fowl than I will. It is out of the
idolatrous dotings of the old Egyptians upon broiled ibis and roasted
river horse, that you see the mummies of those creatures in their
huge bake-houses the pyramids.
No, when I go to sea, I go as a simple sailor, right before the mast,
plumb down into the forecastle, aloft there to the royal mast-head.
True, they rather order me about some, and make me jump from spar to
spar, like a grasshopper in a May meadow. And at first, this sort of
thing is unpleasant enough. It touches one's sense of honour,
particularly if you come of an old established family in the land,
the Van Rensselaers, or Randolphs, or Hardicanutes. And more than
all, if just previous to putting your hand into the tar-pot, you have
been lording it as a country schoolmaster, making the tallest boys
stand in awe of you. The transition is a keen one, I assure you,
from a schoolmaster to a sailor, and requires a strong decoction of
Seneca and the Stoics to enable you to grin and bear it. But even
this wears off in time.
What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a
broom and sweep down the decks? What does that indignity amount to,
weighed, I mean, in the scales of the New Testament? Do you think
the archangel Gabriel thinks anything the less of me, because I
promptly and respectfully obey that old hunks in that particular
instance? Who ain't a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the
old sea-captains may order me about--however they may thump and punch
me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right;
that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same
way--either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and
so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each
other's shoulder-blades, and be content.
Again, I always go to sea as a sailor, because they make a point of
paying me for my trouble, whereas they never pay passengers a single
penny that I ever heard of. On the contrary, passengers themselves
must pay. And there is all the difference in the world between
paying and being paid. The act of paying is perhaps the most
uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon
us. But BEING PAID,--what will compare with it? The urbane activity
with which a man receives money is really marvellous, considering
that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly
ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how
cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!
Finally, I always go to sea as a sailor, because of the wholesome
exercise and pure air of the fore-castle deck. For as in this world,
head winds are far more prevalent than winds from astern (that is, if
you never violate the Pythagorean maxim), so for the most part the
Commodore on the quarter-deck gets his atmosphere at second hand from
the sailors on the forecastle. He thinks he breathes it first; but
not so. In much the same way do the commonalty lead their leaders in
many other things, at the same time that the leaders little suspect
it. But wherefore it was that after having repeatedly smelt the sea
as a merchant sailor, I should now take it into my head to go on a
whaling voyage; this the invisible police officer of the Fates, who
has the constant surveillance of me, and secretly dogs me, and
influences me in some unaccountable way--he can better answer than
any one else. And, doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage,
formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a
long time ago. It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo
between more extensive performances. I take it that this part of the
bill must have run something like this:
"GRAND CONTESTED ELECTION FOR THE PRESIDENCY OF THE UNITED STATES.
"WHALING VOYAGE BY ONE ISHMAEL.
"BLOODY BATTLE IN AFFGHANISTAN."
Though I cannot tell why it was exactly that those stage managers,
the Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage, when
others were set down for magnificent parts in high tragedies, and
short and easy parts in genteel comedies, and jolly parts in
farces--though I cannot tell why this was exactly; yet, now that I
recall all the circumstances, I think I can see a little into the
springs and motives which being cunningly presented to me under
various disguises, induced me to set about performing the part I did,
besides cajoling me into the delusion that it was a choice resulting
from my own unbiased freewill and discriminating judgment.
Chief among these motives was the overwhelming idea of the great
whale himself. Such a portentous and mysterious monster roused all
my curiosity. Then the wild and distant seas where he rolled his
island bulk; the undeliverable, nameless perils of the whale; these,
with all the attending marvels of a thousand Patagonian sights and
sounds, helped to sway me to my wish. With other men, perhaps, such
things would not have been inducements; but as for me, I am tormented
with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden
seas, and land on barbarous coasts. Not ignoring what is good, I am
quick to perceive a horror, and could still be social with it--would
they let me--since it is but well to be on friendly terms with all
the inmates of the place one lodges in.
By reason of these things, then, the whaling voyage was welcome; the
great flood-gates of the wonder-world swung open, and in the wild
conceits that swayed me to my purpose, two and two there floated into
my inmost soul, endless processions of the whale, and, mid most of
them all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air.
I stuffed a shirt or two into my old carpet-bag, tucked it under my
arm, and started for Cape Horn and the Pacific. Quitting the good
city of old Manhatto, I duly arrived in New Bedford. It was a
Saturday night in December. Much was I disappointed upon learning
that the little packet for Nantucket had already sailed, and that no
way of reaching that place would offer, till the following Monday.
As most young candidates for the pains and penalties of whaling stop
at this same New Bedford, thence to embark on their voyage, it may as
well be related that I, for one, had no idea of so doing. For my
mind was made up to sail in no other than a Nantucket craft, because
there was a fine, boisterous something about everything connected
with that famous old island, which amazingly pleased me. Besides
though New Bedford has of late been gradually monopolising the
business of whaling, and though in this matter poor old Nantucket is
now much behind her, yet Nantucket was her great original--the Tyre
of this Carthage;--the place where the first dead American whale was
stranded. Where else but from Nantucket did those aboriginal
whalemen, the Red-Men, first sally out in canoes to give chase to the
Leviathan? And where but from Nantucket, too, did that first
adventurous little sloop put forth, partly laden with imported
cobblestones--so goes the story--to throw at the whales, in order to
discover when they were nigh enough to risk a harpoon from the
Now having a night, a day, and still another night following before
me in New Bedford, ere I could embark for my destined port, it
became a matter of concernment where I was to eat and sleep
meanwhile. It was a very dubious-looking, nay, a very dark and
dismal night, bitingly cold and cheerless. I knew no one in the
place. With anxious grapnels I had sounded my pocket, and only
brought up a few pieces of silver,--So, wherever you go, Ishmael,
said I to myself, as I stood in the middle of a dreary street
shouldering my bag, and comparing the gloom towards the north with
the darkness towards the south--wherever in your wisdom you may
conclude to lodge for the night, my dear Ishmael, be sure to inquire
the price, and don't be too particular.
With halting steps I paced the streets, and passed the sign of "The
Crossed Harpoons"--but it looked too expensive and jolly there.
Further on, from the bright red windows of the "Sword-Fish Inn,"
there came such fervent rays, that it seemed to have melted the
packed snow and ice from before the house, for everywhere else the
congealed frost lay ten inches thick in a hard, asphaltic
pavement,--rather weary for me, when I struck my foot against the
flinty projections, because from hard, remorseless service the soles
of my boots were in a most miserable plight. Too expensive and
jolly, again thought I, pausing one moment to watch the broad glare
in the street, and hear the sounds of the tinkling glasses within.
But go on, Ishmael, said I at last; don't you hear? get away from
before the door; your patched boots are stopping the way. So on I
went. I now by instinct followed the streets that took me waterward,
for there, doubtless, were the cheapest, if not the cheeriest inns.
Such dreary streets! blocks of blackness, not houses, on either
hand, and here and there a candle, like a candle moving about in a
tomb. At this hour of the night, of the last day of the week, that
quarter of the town proved all but deserted. But presently I came to
a smoky light proceeding from a low, wide building, the door of which
stood invitingly open. It had a careless look, as if it were meant
for the uses of the public; so, entering, the first thing I did was
to stumble over an ash-box in the porch. Ha! thought I, ha, as the
flying particles almost choked me, are these ashes from that
destroyed city, Gomorrah? But "The Crossed Harpoons," and "The
Sword-Fish?"--this, then must needs be the sign of "The Trap."
However, I picked myself up and hearing a loud voice within, pushed
on and opened a second, interior door.
It seemed the great Black Parliament sitting in Tophet. A hundred
black faces turned round in their rows to peer; and beyond, a black
Angel of Doom was beating a book in a pulpit. It was a negro church;
and the preacher's text was about the blackness of darkness, and the
weeping and wailing and teeth-gnashing there. Ha, Ishmael, muttered
I, backing out, Wretched entertainment at the sign of 'The Trap!'
Moving on, I at last came to a dim sort of light not far from the
docks, and heard a forlorn creaking in the air; and looking up, saw a
swinging sign over the door with a white painting upon it, faintly
representing a tall straight jet of misty spray, and these words
underneath--"The Spouter Inn:--Peter Coffin."
Coffin?--Spouter?--Rather ominous in that particular connexion,
thought I. But it is a common name in Nantucket, they say, and I
suppose this Peter here is an emigrant from there. As the light
looked so dim, and the place, for the time, looked quiet enough, and
the dilapidated little wooden house itself looked as if it might have
been carted here from the ruins of some burnt district, and as the
swinging sign had a poverty-stricken sort of creak to it, I thought
that here was the very spot for cheap lodgings, and the best of pea
It was a queer sort of place--a gable-ended old house, one side
palsied as it were, and leaning over sadly. It stood on a sharp
bleak corner, where that tempestuous wind Euroclydon kept up a worse
howling than ever it did about poor Paul's tossed craft. Euroclydon,
nevertheless, is a mighty pleasant zephyr to any one in-doors, with
his feet on the hob quietly toasting for bed. "In judging of that
tempestuous wind called Euroclydon," says an old writer--of whose
works I possess the only copy extant--"it maketh a marvellous
difference, whether thou lookest out at it from a glass window where
the frost is all on the outside, or whether thou observest it from
that sashless window, where the frost is on both sides, and of which
the wight Death is the only glazier." True enough, thought I, as
this passage occurred to my mind--old black-letter, thou reasonest
well. Yes, these eyes are windows, and this body of mine is the
house. What a pity they didn't stop up the chinks and the crannies
though, and thrust in a little lint here and there. But it's too
late to make any improvements now. The universe is finished; the
copestone is on, and the chips were carted off a million years ago.
Poor Lazarus there, chattering his teeth against the curbstone for
his pillow, and shaking off his tatters with his shiverings, he might
plug up both ears with rags, and put a corn-cob into his mouth, and
yet that would not keep out the tempestuous Euroclydon. Euroclydon!
says old Dives, in his red silken wrapper--(he had a redder one
afterwards) pooh, pooh! What a fine frosty night; how Orion
glitters; what northern lights! Let them talk of their oriental
summer climes of everlasting conservatories; give me the privilege of
making my own summer with my own coals.
But what thinks Lazarus? Can he warm his blue hands by holding them
up to the grand northern lights? Would not Lazarus rather be in
Sumatra than here? Would he not far rather lay him down lengthwise
along the line of the equator; yea, ye gods! go down to the fiery pit
itself, in order to keep out this frost?
Now, that Lazarus should lie stranded there on the curbstone before
the door of Dives, this is more wonderful than that an iceberg should
be moored to one of the Moluccas. Yet Dives himself, he too lives
like a Czar in an ice palace made of frozen sighs, and being a
president of a temperance society, he only drinks the tepid tears of
But no more of this blubbering now, we are going a-whaling, and there
is plenty of that yet to come. Let us scrape the ice from our
frosted feet, and see what sort of a place this "Spouter" may be.
Entering that gable-ended Spouter-Inn, you found yourself in a wide,
low, straggling entry with old-fashioned wainscots, reminding one of
the bulwarks of some condemned old craft. On one side hung a very
large oilpainting so thoroughly besmoked, and every way defaced,
that in the unequal crosslights by which you viewed it, it was only
by diligent study and a series of systematic visits to it, and
careful inquiry of the neighbors, that you could any way arrive at an
understanding of its purpose. Such unaccountable masses of shades
and shadows, that at first you almost thought some ambitious young
artist, in the time of the New England hags, had endeavored to
delineate chaos bewitched. But by dint of much and earnest
contemplation, and oft repeated ponderings, and especially by
throwing open the little window towards the back of the entry, you at
last come to the conclusion that such an idea, however wild, might
not be altogether unwarranted.
But what most puzzled and confounded you was a long, limber,
portentous, black mass of something hovering in the centre of the
picture over three blue, dim, perpendicular lines floating in a
nameless yeast. A boggy, soggy, squitchy picture truly, enough to
drive a nervous man distracted. Yet was there a sort of indefinite,
half-attained, unimaginable sublimity about it that fairly froze you
to it, till you involuntarily took an oath with yourself to find out
what that marvellous painting meant. Ever and anon a bright, but,
alas, deceptive idea would dart you through.--It's the Black Sea in a
midnight gale.--It's the unnatural combat of the four primal
elements.--It's a blasted heath.--It's a Hyperborean winter
scene.--It's the breaking-up of the icebound stream of Time. But at
last all these fancies yielded to that one portentous something in
the picture's midst. THAT once found out, and all the rest were
plain. But stop; does it not bear a faint resemblance to a gigantic
fish? even the great leviathan himself?
In fact, the artist's design seemed this: a final theory of my own,
partly based upon the aggregated opinions of many aged persons with
whom I conversed upon the subject. The picture represents a
Cape-Horner in a great hurricane; the half-foundered ship weltering
there with its three dismantled masts alone visible; and an
exasperated whale, purposing to spring clean over the craft, is in
the enormous act of impaling himself upon the three mast-heads.
The opposite wall of this entry was hung all over with a heathenish
array of monstrous clubs and spears. Some were thickly set with
glittering teeth resembling ivory saws; others were tufted with knots
of human hair; and one was sickle-shaped, with a vast handle sweeping
round like the segment made in the new-mown grass by a long-armed
mower. You shuddered as you gazed, and wondered what monstrous
cannibal and savage could ever have gone a death-harvesting with such
a hacking, horrifying implement. Mixed with these were rusty old
whaling lances and harpoons all broken and deformed. Some were
storied weapons. With this once long lance, now wildly elbowed,
fifty years ago did Nathan Swain kill fifteen whales between a
sunrise and a sunset. And that harpoon--so like a corkscrew now--was
flung in Javan seas, and run away with by a whale, years afterwards
slain off the Cape of Blanco. The original iron entered nigh the
tail, and, like a restless needle sojourning in the body of a man,
travelled full forty feet, and at last was found imbedded in the
Crossing this dusky entry, and on through yon low-arched way--cut
through what in old times must have been a great central chimney with
fireplaces all round--you enter the public room. A still duskier
place is this, with such low ponderous beams above, and such old
wrinkled planks beneath, that you would almost fancy you trod some
old craft's cockpits, especially of such a howling night, when this
corner-anchored old ark rocked so furiously. On one side stood a
long, low, shelf-like table covered with cracked glass cases, filled
with dusty rarities gathered from this wide world's remotest nooks.
Projecting from the further angle of the room stands a dark-looking
den--the bar--a rude attempt at a right whale's head. Be that how it
may, there stands the vast arched bone of the whale's jaw, so wide, a
coach might almost drive beneath it. Within are shabby shelves,
ranged round with old decanters, bottles, flasks; and in those jaws
of swift destruction, like another cursed Jonah (by which name indeed
they called him), bustles a little withered old man, who, for their
money, dearly sells the sailors deliriums and death.
Abominable are the tumblers into which he pours his poison. Though
true cylinders without--within, the villanous green goggling glasses
deceitfully tapered downwards to a cheating bottom. Parallel
meridians rudely pecked into the glass, surround these footpads'
goblets. Fill to THIS mark, and your charge is but a penny; to THIS
a penny more; and so on to the full glass--the Cape Horn measure,
which you may gulp down for a shilling.
Upon entering the place I found a number of young seamen gathered
about a table, examining by a dim light divers specimens of
SKRIMSHANDER. I sought the landlord, and telling him I desired to be
accommodated with a room, received for answer that his house was
full--not a bed unoccupied. "But avast," he added, tapping his
forehead, "you haint no objections to sharing a harpooneer's blanket,
have ye? I s'pose you are goin' a-whalin', so you'd better get used
to that sort of thing."
I told him that I never liked to sleep two in a bed; that if I should
ever do so, it would depend upon who the harpooneer might be, and
that if he (the landlord) really had no other place for me, and the
harpooneer was not decidedly objectionable, why rather than wander
further about a strange town on so bitter a night, I would put up
with the half of any decent man's blanket.
"I thought so. All right; take a seat. Supper?--you want supper?
Supper'll be ready directly."
I sat down on an old wooden settle, carved all over like a bench on
the Battery. At one end a ruminating tar was still further adorning
it with his jack-knife, stooping over and diligently working away at
the space between his legs. He was trying his hand at a ship under
full sail, but he didn't make much headway, I thought.
At last some four or five of us were summoned to our meal in an
adjoining room. It was cold as Iceland--no fire at all--the landlord
said he couldn't afford it. Nothing but two dismal tallow candles,
each in a winding sheet. We were fain to button up our monkey
jackets, and hold to our lips cups of scalding tea with our half
frozen fingers. But the fare was of the most substantial kind--not
only meat and potatoes, but dumplings; good heavens! dumplings for
supper! One young fellow in a green box coat, addressed himself to
these dumplings in a most direful manner.
"My boy," said the landlord, "you'll have the nightmare to a dead
"Landlord," I whispered, "that aint the harpooneer is it?"
"Oh, no," said he, looking a sort of diabolically funny, "the
harpooneer is a dark complexioned chap. He never eats dumplings, he
don't--he eats nothing but steaks, and he likes 'em rare."
"The devil he does," says I. "Where is that harpooneer? Is he
"He'll be here afore long," was the answer.
I could not help it, but I began to feel suspicious of this "dark
complexioned" harpooneer. At any rate, I made up my mind that if it
so turned out that we should sleep together, he must undress and get
into bed before I did.
Supper over, the company went back to the bar-room, when, knowing not
what else to do with myself, I resolved to spend the rest of the
evening as a looker on.
Presently a rioting noise was heard without. Starting up, the
landlord cried, "That's the Grampus's crew. I seed her reported in
the offing this morning; a three years' voyage, and a full ship.
Hurrah, boys; now we'll have the latest news from the Feegees."
A tramping of sea boots was heard in the entry; the door was flung
open, and in rolled a wild set of mariners enough. Enveloped in
their shaggy watch coats, and with their heads muffled in woollen
comforters, all bedarned and ragged, and their beards stiff with
icicles, they seemed an eruption of bears from Labrador. They had
just landed from their boat, and this was the first house they
entered. No wonder, then, that they made a straight wake for the
whale's mouth--the bar--when the wrinkled little old Jonah, there
officiating, soon poured them out brimmers all round. One complained
of a bad cold in his head, upon which Jonah mixed him a pitch-like
potion of gin and molasses, which he swore was a sovereign cure for
all colds and catarrhs whatsoever, never mind of how long standing,
or whether caught off the coast of Labrador, or on the weather side
of an ice-island.
The liquor soon mounted into their heads, as it generally does even
with the arrantest topers newly landed from sea, and they began
capering about most obstreperously.
I observed, however, that one of them held somewhat aloof, and though
he seemed desirous not to spoil the hilarity of his shipmates by his
own sober face, yet upon the whole he refrained from making as much
noise as the rest. This man interested me at once; and since the
sea-gods had ordained that he should soon become my shipmate (though
but a sleeping-partner one, so far as this narrative is concerned),
I will here venture upon a little description of him. He stood full
six feet in height, with noble shoulders, and a chest like a
coffer-dam. I have seldom seen such brawn in a man. His face was
deeply brown and burnt, making his white teeth dazzling by the
contrast; while in the deep shadows of his eyes floated some
reminiscences that did not seem to give him much joy. His voice at
once announced that he was a Southerner, and from his fine stature, I
thought he must be one of those tall mountaineers from the
Alleghanian Ridge in Virginia. When the revelry of his companions
had mounted to its height, this man slipped away unobserved, and I
saw no more of him till he became my comrade on the sea. In a few
minutes, however, he was missed by his shipmates, and being, it
seems, for some reason a huge favourite with them, they raised a cry
of "Bulkington! Bulkington! where's Bulkington?" and darted out of
the house in pursuit of him.
It was now about nine o'clock, and the room seeming almost
supernaturally quiet after these orgies, I began to congratulate
myself upon a little plan that had occurred to me just previous to
the entrance of the seamen.
No man prefers to sleep two in a bed. In fact, you would a good deal
rather not sleep with your own brother. I don't know how it is, but
people like to be private when they are sleeping. And when it comes
to sleeping with an unknown stranger, in a strange inn, in a strange
town, and that stranger a harpooneer, then your objections
indefinitely multiply. Nor was there any earthly reason why I as a
sailor should sleep two in a bed, more than anybody else; for sailors
no more sleep two in a bed at sea, than bachelor Kings do ashore. To
be sure they all sleep together in one apartment, but you have your
own hammock, and cover yourself with your own blanket, and sleep in
your own skin.
The more I pondered over this harpooneer, the more I abominated the
thought of sleeping with him. It was fair to presume that being a
harpooneer, his linen or woollen, as the case might be, would not be
of the tidiest, certainly none of the finest. I began to twitch all
over. Besides, it was getting late, and my decent harpooneer ought
to be home and going bedwards. Suppose now, he should tumble in upon
me at midnight--how could I tell from what vile hole he had been
"Landlord! I've changed my mind about that harpooneer.--I shan't
sleep with him. I'll try the bench here."
"Just as you please; I'm sorry I cant spare ye a tablecloth for a
mattress, and it's a plaguy rough board here"--feeling of the knots
and notches. "But wait a bit, Skrimshander; I've got a carpenter's
plane there in the bar--wait, I say, and I'll make ye snug enough."
So saying he procured the plane; and with his old silk handkerchief
first dusting the bench, vigorously set to planing away at my bed,
the while grinning like an ape. The shavings flew right and left;
till at last the plane-iron came bump against an indestructible knot.
The landlord was near spraining his wrist, and I told him for
heaven's sake to quit--the bed was soft enough to suit me, and I did
not know how all the planing in the world could make eider down of a
pine plank. So gathering up the shavings with another grin, and
throwing them into the great stove in the middle of the room, he went
about his business, and left me in a brown study.
I now took the measure of the bench, and found that it was a foot too
short; but that could be mended with a chair. But it was a foot too
narrow, and the other bench in the room was about four inches higher
than the planed one--so there was no yoking them. I then placed the
first bench lengthwise along the only clear space against the wall,
leaving a little interval between, for my back to settle down in.
But I soon found that there came such a draught of cold air over me
from under the sill of the window, that this plan would never do at
all, especially as another current from the rickety door met the one
from the window, and both together formed a series of small
whirlwinds in the immediate vicinity of the spot where I had thought
to spend the night.
The devil fetch that harpooneer, thought I, but stop, couldn't I
steal a march on him--bolt his door inside, and jump into his bed,
not to be wakened by the most violent knockings? It seemed no bad
idea; but upon second thoughts I dismissed it. For who could tell
but what the next morning, so soon as I popped out of the room, the
harpooneer might be standing in the entry, all ready to knock me
Still, looking round me again, and seeing no possible chance of
spending a sufferable night unless in some other person's bed, I
began to think that after all I might be cherishing unwarrantable
prejudices against this unknown harpooneer. Thinks I, I'll wait
awhile; he must be dropping in before long. I'll have a good look at
him then, and perhaps we may become jolly good bedfellows after
all--there's no telling.
But though the other boarders kept coming in by ones, twos, and
threes, and going to bed, yet no sign of my harpooneer.
"Landlord! said I, "what sort of a chap is he--does he always keep
such late hours?" It was now hard upon twelve o'clock.
The landlord chuckled again with his lean chuckle, and seemed to be
mightily tickled at something beyond my comprehension. "No," he
answered, "generally he's an early bird--airley to bed and airley to
rise--yes, he's the bird what catches the worm. But to-night he
went out a peddling, you see, and I don't see what on airth keeps him
so late, unless, may be, he can't sell his head."
"Can't sell his head?--What sort of a bamboozingly story is this you
are telling me?" getting into a towering rage. "Do you pretend to
say, landlord, that this harpooneer is actually engaged this blessed
Saturday night, or rather Sunday morning, in peddling his head around
"That's precisely it," said the landlord, "and I told him he couldn't
sell it here, the market's overstocked."
"With what?" shouted I.
"With heads to be sure; ain't there too many heads in the world?"
"I tell you what it is, landlord," said I quite calmly, "you'd better
stop spinning that yarn to me--I'm not green."
"May be not," taking out a stick and whittling a toothpick, "but I
rayther guess you'll be done BROWN if that ere harpooneer hears you a
slanderin' his head."
"I'll break it for him," said I, now flying into a passion again at
this unaccountable farrago of the landlord's.
"It's broke a'ready," said he.
"Broke," said I--"BROKE, do you mean?"
"Sartain, and that's the very reason he can't sell it, I guess."
"Landlord," said I, going up to him as cool as Mt. Hecla in a
snow-storm--"landlord, stop whittling. You and I must understand one
another, and that too without delay. I come to your house and want a
bed; you tell me you can only give me half a one; that the other half
belongs to a certain harpooneer. And about this harpooneer, whom I
have not yet seen, you persist in telling me the most mystifying and
exasperating stories tending to beget in me an uncomfortable feeling
towards the man whom you design for my bedfellow--a sort of
connexion, landlord, which is an intimate and confidential one in the
highest degree. I now demand of you to speak out and tell me who and
what this harpooneer is, and whether I shall be in all respects safe
to spend the night with him. And in the first place, you will be so
good as to unsay that story about selling his head, which if true I
take to be good evidence that this harpooneer is stark mad, and I've
no idea of sleeping with a madman; and you, sir, YOU I mean,
landlord, YOU, sir, by trying to induce me to do so knowingly, would
thereby render yourself liable to a criminal prosecution."
"Wall," said the landlord, fetching a long breath, "that's a purty
long sarmon for a chap that rips a little now and then. But be easy,
be easy, this here harpooneer I have been tellin' you of has just
arrived from the south seas, where he bought up a lot of 'balmed New
Zealand heads (great curios, you know), and he's sold all on 'em but
one, and that one he's trying to sell to-night, cause to-morrow's
Sunday, and it would not do to be sellin' human heads about the
streets when folks is goin' to churches. He wanted to, last Sunday,
but I stopped him just as he was goin' out of the door with four
heads strung on a string, for all the airth like a string of inions."
This account cleared up the otherwise unaccountable mystery, and
showed that the landlord, after all, had had no idea of fooling
me--but at the same time what could I think of a harpooneer who
stayed out of a Saturday night clean into the holy Sabbath, engaged
in such a cannibal business as selling the heads of dead idolators?
"Depend upon it, landlord, that harpooneer is a dangerous man."
"He pays reg'lar," was the rejoinder. "But come, it's getting
dreadful late, you had better be turning flukes--it's a nice bed;
Sal and me slept in that ere bed the night we were spliced. There's
plenty of room for two to kick about in that bed; it's an almighty
big bed that. Why, afore we give it up, Sal used to put our Sam and
little Johnny in the foot of it. But I got a dreaming and sprawling
about one night, and somehow, Sam got pitched on the floor, and came
near breaking his arm. Arter that, Sal said it wouldn't do. Come
along here, I'll give ye a glim in a jiffy;" and so saying he lighted
a candle and held it towards me, offering to lead the way. But I
stood irresolute; when looking at a clock in the corner, he exclaimed
"I vum it's Sunday--you won't see that harpooneer to-night; he's come
to anchor somewhere--come along then; DO come; WON'T ye come?"
I considered the matter a moment, and then up stairs we went, and I
was ushered into a small room, cold as a clam, and furnished, sure
enough, with a prodigious bed, almost big enough indeed for any four
harpooneers to sleep abreast.
"There," said the landlord, placing the candle on a crazy old sea
chest that did double duty as a wash-stand and centre table; "there,
make yourself comfortable now, and good night to ye." I turned
round from eyeing the bed, but he had disappeared.
Folding back the counterpane, I stooped over the bed. Though none of
the most elegant, it yet stood the scrutiny tolerably well. I then
glanced round the room; and besides the bedstead and centre table,
could see no other furniture belonging to the place, but a rude
shelf, the four walls, and a papered fireboard representing a man
striking a whale. Of things not properly belonging to the room,
there was a hammock lashed up, and thrown upon the floor in one
corner; also a large seaman's bag, containing the harpooneer's
wardrobe, no doubt in lieu of a land trunk. Likewise, there was a
parcel of outlandish bone fish hooks on the shelf over the
fire-place, and a tall harpoon standing at the head of the bed.
But what is this on the chest? I took it up, and held it close to
the light, and felt it, and smelt it, and tried every way possible to
arrive at some satisfactory conclusion concerning it. I can compare
it to nothing but a large door mat, ornamented at the edges with
little tinkling tags something like the stained porcupine quills
round an Indian moccasin. There was a hole or slit in the middle of
this mat, as you see the same in South American ponchos. But could
it be possible that any sober harpooneer would get into a door mat,
and parade the streets of any Christian town in that sort of guise?
I put it on, to try it, and it weighed me down like a hamper, being
uncommonly shaggy and thick, and I thought a little damp, as though
this mysterious harpooneer had been wearing it of a rainy day. I
went up in it to a bit of glass stuck against the wall, and I never
saw such a sight in my life. I tore myself out of it in such a hurry
that I gave myself a kink in the neck.
I sat down on the side of the bed, and commenced thinking about this
head-peddling harpooneer, and his door mat. After thinking some time
on the bed-side, I got up and took off my monkey jacket, and then
stood in the middle of the room thinking. I then took off my coat,
and thought a little more in my shirt sleeves. But beginning to feel
very cold now, half undressed as I was, and remembering what the
landlord said about the harpooneer's not coming home at all that
night, it being so very late, I made no more ado, but jumped out of
my pantaloons and boots, and then blowing out the light tumbled into
bed, and commended myself to the care of heaven.
Whether that mattress was stuffed with corn-cobs or broken crockery,
there is no telling, but I rolled about a good deal, and could not
sleep for a long time. At last I slid off into a light doze, and had
pretty nearly made a good offing towards the land of Nod, when I
heard a heavy footfall in the passage, and saw a glimmer of light
come into the room from under the door.
Lord save me, thinks I, that must be the harpooneer, the infernal
head-peddler. But I lay perfectly still, and resolved not to say a
word till spoken to. Holding a light in one hand, and that identical
New Zealand head in the other, the stranger entered the room, and
without looking towards the bed, placed his candle a good way off
from me on the floor in one corner, and then began working away at
the knotted cords of the large bag I before spoke of as being in the
room. I was all eagerness to see his face, but he kept it averted
for some time while employed in unlacing the bag's mouth. This
accomplished, however, he turned round--when, good heavens! what a
sight! Such a face! It was of a dark, purplish, yellow colour, here
and there stuck over with large blackish looking squares. Yes, it's
just as I thought, he's a terrible bedfellow; he's been in a fight,
got dreadfully cut, and here he is, just from the surgeon. But at
that moment he chanced to turn his face so towards the light, that I
plainly saw they could not be sticking-plasters at all, those black
squares on his cheeks. They were stains of some sort or other. At
first I knew not what to make of this; but soon an inkling of the
truth occurred to me. I remembered a story of a white man--a
whaleman too--who, falling among the cannibals, had been tattooed by
them. I concluded that this harpooneer, in the course of his distant
voyages, must have met with a similar adventure. And what is it,
thought I, after all! It's only his outside; a man can be honest in
any sort of skin. But then, what to make of his unearthly
complexion, that part of it, I mean, lying round about, and
completely independent of the squares of tattooing. To be sure, it
might be nothing but a good coat of tropical tanning; but I never
heard of a hot sun's tanning a white man into a purplish yellow one.
However, I had never been in the South Seas; and perhaps the sun
there produced these extraordinary effects upon the skin. Now, while
all these ideas were passing through me like lightning, this
harpooneer never noticed me at all. But, after some difficulty
having opened his bag, he commenced fumbling in it, and presently
pulled out a sort of tomahawk, and a seal-skin wallet with the hair
on. Placing these on the old chest in the middle of the room, he
then took the New Zealand head--a ghastly thing enough--and crammed
it down into the bag. He now took off his hat--a new beaver
hat--when I came nigh singing out with fresh surprise. There was no
hair on his head--none to speak of at least--nothing but a small
scalp-knot twisted up on his forehead. His bald purplish head now
looked for all the world like a mildewed skull. Had not the stranger
stood between me and the door, I would have bolted out of it quicker
than ever I bolted a dinner.
Even as it was, I thought something of slipping out of the window,
but it was the second floor back. I am no coward, but what to make
of this head-peddling purple rascal altogether passed my
comprehension. Ignorance is the parent of fear, and being completely
nonplussed and confounded about the stranger, I confess I was now as
much afraid of him as if it was the devil himself who had thus broken
into my room at the dead of night. In fact, I was so afraid of him
that I was not game enough just then to address him, and demand a
satisfactory answer concerning what seemed inexplicable in him.
Meanwhile, he continued the business of undressing, and at last
showed his chest and arms. As I live, these covered parts of him
were checkered with the same squares as his face; his back, too, was
all over the same dark squares; he seemed to have been in a Thirty
Years' War, and just escaped from it with a sticking-plaster shirt.
Still more, his very legs were marked, as if a parcel of dark green
frogs were running up the trunks of young palms. It was now quite
plain that he must be some abominable savage or other shipped aboard
of a whaleman in the South Seas, and so landed in this Christian
country. I quaked to think of it. A peddler of heads too--perhaps
the heads of his own brothers. He might take a fancy to
mine--heavens! look at that tomahawk!
But there was no time for shuddering, for now the savage went about
something that completely fascinated my attention, and convinced me
that he must indeed be a heathen. Going to his heavy grego, or
wrapall, or dreadnaught, which he had previously hung on a chair, he
fumbled in the pockets, and produced at length a curious little
deformed image with a hunch on its back, and exactly the colour of a
three days' old Congo baby. Remembering the embalmed head, at first
I almost thought that this black manikin was a real baby preserved
in some similar manner. But seeing that it was not at all limber,
and that it glistened a good deal like polished ebony, I concluded
that it must be nothing but a wooden idol, which indeed it proved to
be. For now the savage goes up to the empty fire-place, and removing
the papered fire-board, sets up this little hunch-backed image, like
a tenpin, between the andirons. The chimney jambs and all the bricks
inside were very sooty, so that I thought this fire-place made a very
appropriate little shrine or chapel for his Congo idol.
I now screwed my eyes hard towards the half hidden image, feeling but
ill at ease meantime--to see what was next to follow. First he takes
about a double handful of shavings out of his grego pocket, and
places them carefully before the idol; then laying a bit of ship
biscuit on top and applying the flame from the lamp, he kindled the
shavings into a sacrificial blaze. Presently, after many hasty
snatches into the fire, and still hastier withdrawals of his fingers
(whereby he seemed to be scorching them badly), he at last succeeded
in drawing out the biscuit; then blowing off the heat and ashes a
little, he made a polite offer of it to the little negro. But the
little devil did not seem to fancy such dry sort of fare at all; he
never moved his lips. All these strange antics were accompanied by
still stranger guttural noises from the devotee, who seemed to be
praying in a sing-song or else singing some pagan psalmody or other,
during which his face twitched about in the most unnatural manner.
At last extinguishing the fire, he took the idol up very
unceremoniously, and bagged it again in his grego pocket as
carelessly as if he were a sportsman bagging a dead woodcock.
All these queer proceedings increased my uncomfortableness, and
seeing him now exhibiting strong symptoms of concluding his business
operations, and jumping into bed with me, I thought it was high time,
now or never, before the light was put out, to break the spell in
which I had so long been bound.
But the interval I spent in deliberating what to say, was a fatal
one. Taking up his tomahawk from the table, he examined the head of
it for an instant, and then holding it to the light, with his mouth
at the handle, he puffed out great clouds of tobacco smoke. The next
moment the light was extinguished, and this wild cannibal, tomahawk
between his teeth, sprang into bed with me. I sang out, I could not
help it now; and giving a sudden grunt of astonishment he began
Stammering out something, I knew not what, I rolled away from him
against the wall, and then conjured him, whoever or whatever he might
be, to keep quiet, and let me get up and light the lamp again. But
his guttural responses satisfied me at once that he but ill
comprehended my meaning.
"Who-e debel you?"--he at last said--"you no speak-e, dam-me, I
kill-e." And so saying the lighted tomahawk began flourishing about
me in the dark.
"Landlord, for God's sake, Peter Coffin!" shouted I. "Landlord!
Watch! Coffin! Angels! save me!"
"Speak-e! tell-ee me who-ee be, or dam-me, I kill-e!" again growled
the cannibal, while his horrid flourishings of the tomahawk scattered
the hot tobacco ashes about me till I thought my linen would get on
fire. But thank heaven, at that moment the landlord came into the
room light in hand, and leaping from the bed I ran up to him.
"Don't be afraid now," said he, grinning again, "Queequeg here
wouldn't harm a hair of your head."
"Stop your grinning," shouted I, "and why didn't you tell me that
that infernal harpooneer was a cannibal?"
"I thought ye know'd it;--didn't I tell ye, he was a peddlin' heads
around town?--but turn flukes again and go to sleep. Queequeg, look
here--you sabbee me, I sabbee--you this man sleepe you--you sabbee?"
"Me sabbee plenty"--grunted Queequeg, puffing away at his pipe and
sitting up in bed.
"You gettee in," he added, motioning to me with his tomahawk, and
throwing the clothes to one side. He really did this in not only a
civil but a really kind and charitable way. I stood looking at him a
moment. For all his tattooings he was on the whole a clean, comely
looking cannibal. What's all this fuss I have been making about,
thought I to myself--the man's a human being just as I am: he has
just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him.
Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.
"Landlord," said I, "tell him to stash his tomahawk there, or pipe,
or whatever you call it; tell him to stop smoking, in short, and I
will turn in with him. But I don't fancy having a man smoking in bed
with me. It's dangerous. Besides, I ain't insured."
This being told to Queequeg, he at once complied, and again politely
motioned me to get into bed--rolling over to one side as much as to
say--I won't touch a leg of ye."
"Good night, landlord," said I, "you may go."
I turned in, and never slept better in my life.
Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg's arm
thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had
almost thought I had been his wife. The counterpane was of
patchwork, full of odd little parti-coloured squares and triangles;
and this arm of his tattooed all over with an interminable Cretan
labyrinth of a figure, no two parts of which were of one precise
shade--owing I suppose to his keeping his arm at sea unmethodically
in sun and shade, his shirt sleeves irregularly rolled up at various
times--this same arm of his, I say, looked for all the world like a
strip of that same patchwork quilt. Indeed, partly lying on it as
the arm did when I first awoke, I could hardly tell it from the
quilt, they so blended their hues together; and it was only by the
sense of weight and pressure that I could tell that Queequeg was
My sensations were strange. Let me try to explain them. When I was
a child, I well remember a somewhat similar circumstance that befell
me; whether it was a reality or a dream, I never could entirely
settle. The circumstance was this. I had been cutting up some caper
or other--I think it was trying to crawl up the chimney, as I had
seen a little sweep do a few days previous; and my stepmother who,
somehow or other, was all the time whipping me, or sending me to bed
supperless,--my mother dragged me by the legs out of the chimney and
packed me off to bed, though it was only two o'clock in the afternoon
of the 21st June, the longest day in the year in our hemisphere. I
felt dreadfully. But there was no help for it, so up stairs I went
to my little room in the third floor, undressed myself as slowly as
possible so as to kill time, and with a bitter sigh got between the
I lay there dismally calculating that sixteen entire hours must
elapse before I could hope for a resurrection. Sixteen hours in bed!
the small of my back ached to think of it. And it was so light too;
the sun shining in at the window, and a great rattling of coaches in
the streets, and the sound of gay voices all over the house. I felt
worse and worse--at last I got up, dressed, and softly going down in
my stockinged feet, sought out my stepmother, and suddenly threw
myself at her feet, beseeching her as a particular favour to give me a
good slippering for my misbehaviour; anything indeed but condemning
me to lie abed such an unendurable length of time. But she was the
best and most conscientious of stepmothers, and back I had to go to
my room. For several hours I lay there broad awake, feeling a great
deal worse than I have ever done since, even from the greatest
subsequent misfortunes. At last I must have fallen into a troubled
nightmare of a doze; and slowly waking from it--half steeped in
dreams--I opened my eyes, and the before sun-lit room was now wrapped
in outer darkness. Instantly I felt a shock running through all my
frame; nothing was to be seen, and nothing was to be heard; but a
supernatural hand seemed placed in mine. My arm hung over the
counterpane, and the nameless, unimaginable, silent form or phantom,
to which the hand belonged, seemed closely seated by my bed-side.
For what seemed ages piled on ages, I lay there, frozen with the most
awful fears, not daring to drag away my hand; yet ever thinking that
if I could but stir it one single inch, the horrid spell would be
broken. I knew not how this consciousness at last glided away from
me; but waking in the morning, I shudderingly remembered it all, and
for days and weeks and months afterwards I lost myself in confounding
attempts to explain the mystery. Nay, to this very hour, I often
puzzle myself with it.
Now, take away the awful fear, and my sensations at feeling the
supernatural hand in mine were very similar, in their strangeness,
to those which I experienced on waking up and seeing Queequeg's pagan
arm thrown round me. But at length all the past night's events
soberly recurred, one by one, in fixed reality, and then I lay only
alive to the comical predicament. For though I tried to move his
arm--unlock his bridegroom clasp--yet, sleeping as he was, he still
hugged me tightly, as though naught but death should part us twain.
I now strove to rouse him--"Queequeg!"--but his only answer was a
snore. I then rolled over, my neck feeling as if it were in a
horse-collar; and suddenly felt a slight scratch. Throwing aside the
counterpane, there lay the tomahawk sleeping by the savage's side, as
if it were a hatchet-faced baby. A pretty pickle, truly, thought I;
abed here in a strange house in the broad day, with a cannibal and a
tomahawk! "Queequeg!--in the name of goodness, Queequeg, wake!" At
length, by dint of much wriggling, and loud and incessant
expostulations upon the unbecomingness of his hugging a fellow male
in that matrimonial sort of style, I succeeded in extracting a grunt;
and presently, he drew back his arm, shook himself all over like a
Newfoundland dog just from the water, and sat up in bed, stiff as a
pike-staff, looking at me, and rubbing his eyes as if he did not
altogether remember how I came to be there, though a dim
consciousness of knowing something about me seemed slowly dawning
over him. Meanwhile, I lay quietly eyeing him, having no serious
misgivings now, and bent upon narrowly observing so curious a
creature. When, at last, his mind seemed made up touching the
character of his bedfellow, and he became, as it were, reconciled to
the fact; he jumped out upon the floor, and by certain signs and
sounds gave me to understand that, if it pleased me, he would dress
first and then leave me to dress afterwards, leaving the whole
apartment to myself. Thinks I, Queequeg, under the circumstances,
this is a very civilized overture; but, the truth is, these savages
have an innate sense of delicacy, say what you will; it is marvellous
how essentially polite they are. I pay this particular compliment to
Queequeg, because he treated me with so much civility and
consideration, while I was guilty of great rudeness; staring at him
from the bed, and watching all his toilette motions; for the time my
curiosity getting the better of my breeding. Nevertheless, a man
like Queequeg you don't see every day, he and his ways were well
worth unusual regarding.
He commenced dressing at top by donning his beaver hat, a very tall
one, by the by, and then--still minus his trowsers--he hunted up his
boots. What under the heavens he did it for, I cannot tell, but his
next movement was to crush himself--boots in hand, and hat on--under
the bed; when, from sundry violent gaspings and strainings, I
inferred he was hard at work booting himself; though by no law of
propriety that I ever heard of, is any man required to be private
when putting on his boots. But Queequeg, do you see, was a creature
in the transition stage--neither caterpillar nor butterfly. He was
just enough civilized to show off his outlandishness in the strangest
possible manners. His education was not yet completed. He was an
undergraduate. If he had not been a small degree civilized, he very
probably would not have troubled himself with boots at all; but then,
if he had not been still a savage, he never would have dreamt of
getting under the bed to put them on. At last, he emerged with his
hat very much dented and crushed down over his eyes, and began
creaking and limping about the room, as if, not being much accustomed
to boots, his pair of damp, wrinkled cowhide ones--probably not made
to order either--rather pinched and tormented him at the first go off
of a bitter cold morning.
Seeing, now, that there were no curtains to the window, and that the
street being very narrow, the house opposite commanded a plain view
into the room, and observing more and more the indecorous figure that
Queequeg made, staving about with little else but his hat and boots
on; I begged him as well as I could, to accelerate his toilet
somewhat, and particularly to get into his pantaloons as soon as
possible. He complied, and then proceeded to wash himself. At that
time in the morning any Christian would have washed his face; but
Queequeg, to my amazement, contented himself with restricting his
ablutions to his chest, arms, and hands. He then donned his
waistcoat, and taking up a piece of hard soap on the wash-stand
centre table, dipped it into water and commenced lathering his face.
I was watching to see where he kept his razor, when lo and behold, he
takes the harpoon from the bed corner, slips out the long wooden
stock, unsheathes the head, whets it a little on his boot, and
striding up to the bit of mirror against the wall, begins a vigorous
scraping, or rather harpooning of his cheeks. Thinks I, Queequeg,
this is using Rogers's best cutlery with a vengeance. Afterwards I
wondered the less at this operation when I came to know of what fine
steel the head of a harpoon is made, and how exceedingly sharp the
long straight edges are always kept.
The rest of his toilet was soon achieved, and he proudly marched out
of the room, wrapped up in his great pilot monkey jacket, and
sporting his harpoon like a marshal's baton.
I quickly followed suit, and descending into the bar-room accosted
the grinning landlord very pleasantly. I cherished no malice towards
him, though he had been skylarking with me not a little in the matter
of my bedfellow.
However, a good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce a
good thing; the more's the pity. So, if any one man, in his own
proper person, afford stuff for a good joke to anybody, let him not
be backward, but let him cheerfully allow himself to spend and be
spent in that way. And the man that has anything bountifully
laughable about him, be sure there is more in that man than you
perhaps think for.
The bar-room was now full of the boarders who had been dropping in
the night previous, and whom I had not as yet had a good look at.
They were nearly all whalemen; chief mates, and second mates, and
third mates, and sea carpenters, and sea coopers, and sea
blacksmiths, and harpooneers, and ship keepers; a brown and brawny
company, with bosky beards; an unshorn, shaggy set, all wearing
monkey jackets for morning gowns.
You could pretty plainly tell how long each one had been ashore.
This young fellow's healthy cheek is like a sun-toasted pear in hue,
and would seem to smell almost as musky; he cannot have been three
days landed from his Indian voyage. That man next him looks a few
shades lighter; you might say a touch of satin wood is in him. In
the complexion of a third still lingers a tropic tawn, but slightly
bleached withal; HE doubtless has tarried whole weeks ashore. But
who could show a cheek like Queequeg? which, barred with various
tints, seemed like the Andes' western slope, to show forth in one
array, contrasting climates, zone by zone.
"Grub, ho!" now cried the landlord, flinging open a door, and in we
went to breakfast.
They say that men who have seen the world, thereby become quite at
ease in manner, quite self-possessed in company. Not always, though:
Ledyard, the great New England traveller, and Mungo Park, the Scotch
one; of all men, they possessed the least assurance in the parlor.
But perhaps the mere crossing of Siberia in a sledge drawn by dogs as
Ledyard did, or the taking a long solitary walk on an empty stomach,
in the negro heart of Africa, which was the sum of poor Mungo's
performances--this kind of travel, I say, may not be the very best
mode of attaining a high social polish. Still, for the most part,
that sort of thing is to be had anywhere.
These reflections just here are occasioned by the circumstance that
after we were all seated at the table, and I was preparing to hear
some good stories about whaling; to my no small surprise, nearly
every man maintained a profound silence. And not only that, but they
looked embarrassed. Yes, here were a set of sea-dogs, many of whom
without the slightest bashfulness had boarded great whales on the
high seas--entire strangers to them--and duelled them dead without
winking; and yet, here they sat at a social breakfast table--all of
the same calling, all of kindred tastes--looking round as sheepishly
at each other as though they had never been out of sight of some
sheepfold among the Green Mountains. A curious sight; these bashful
bears, these timid warrior whalemen!
But as for Queequeg--why, Queequeg sat there among them--at the head
of the table, too, it so chanced; as cool as an icicle. To be sure I
cannot say much for his breeding. His greatest admirer could not
have cordially justified his bringing his harpoon into breakfast with
him, and using it there without ceremony; reaching over the table
with it, to the imminent jeopardy of many heads, and grappling the
beefsteaks towards him. But THAT was certainly very coolly done by
him, and every one knows that in most people's estimation, to do
anything coolly is to do it genteelly.
We will not speak of all Queequeg's peculiarities here; how he
eschewed coffee and hot rolls, and applied his undivided attention to
beefsteaks, done rare. Enough, that when breakfast was over he
withdrew like the rest into the public room, lighted his
tomahawk-pipe, and was sitting there quietly digesting and smoking
with his inseparable hat on, when I sallied out for a stroll.
If I had been astonished at first catching a glimpse of so outlandish
an individual as Queequeg circulating among the polite society of a
civilized town, that astonishment soon departed upon taking my first
daylight stroll through the streets of New Bedford.
In thoroughfares nigh the docks, any considerable seaport will
frequently offer to view the queerest looking nondescripts from
foreign parts. Even in Broadway and Chestnut streets, Mediterranean
mariners will sometimes jostle the affrighted ladies. Regent Street
is not unknown to Lascars and Malays; and at Bombay, in the Apollo
Green, live Yankees have often scared the natives. But New Bedford
beats all Water Street and Wapping. In these last-mentioned haunts
you see only sailors; but in New Bedford, actual cannibals stand
chatting at street corners; savages outright; many of whom yet carry
on their bones unholy flesh. It makes a stranger stare.
But, besides the Feegeeans, Tongatobooarrs, Erromanggoans,
Pannangians, and Brighggians, and, besides the wild specimens of the
whaling-craft which unheeded reel about the streets, you will see
other sights still more curious, certainly more comical. There
weekly arrive in this town scores of green Vermonters and New
Hampshire men, all athirst for gain and glory in the fishery. They
are mostly young, of stalwart frames; fellows who have felled
forests, and now seek to drop the axe and snatch the whale-lance.
Many are as green as the Green Mountains whence they came. In some
things you would think them but a few hours old. Look there! that
chap strutting round the corner. He wears a beaver hat and
swallow-tailed coat, girdled with a sailor-belt and sheath-knife.
Here comes another with a sou'-wester and a bombazine cloak.
No town-bred dandy will compare with a country-bred one--I mean a
downright bumpkin dandy--a fellow that, in the dog-days, will mow his
two acres in buckskin gloves for fear of tanning his hands. Now when
a country dandy like this takes it into his head to make a
distinguished reputation, and joins the great whale-fishery, you
should see the comical things he does upon reaching the seaport. In
bespeaking his sea-outfit, he orders bell-buttons to his waistcoats;
straps to his canvas trowsers. Ah, poor Hay-Seed! how bitterly will
burst those straps in the first howling gale, when thou art driven,
straps, buttons, and all, down the throat of the tempest.
But think not that this famous town has only harpooneers, cannibals,
and bumpkins to show her visitors. Not at all. Still New Bedford is
a queer place. Had it not been for us whalemen, that tract of land
would this day perhaps have been in as howling condition as the coast
of Labrador. As it is, parts of her back country are enough to
frighten one, they look so bony. The town itself is perhaps the
dearest place to live in, in all New England. It is a land of oil,
true enough: but not like Canaan; a land, also, of corn and wine.
The streets do not run with milk; nor in the spring-time do they pave
them with fresh eggs. Yet, in spite of this, nowhere in all America
will you find more patrician-like houses; parks and gardens more
opulent, than in New Bedford. Whence came they? how planted upon
this once scraggy scoria of a country?
Go and gaze upon the iron emblematical harpoons round yonder lofty
mansion, and your question will be answered. Yes; all these brave
houses and flowery gardens came from the Atlantic, Pacific, and
Indian oceans. One and all, they were harpooned and dragged up
hither from the bottom of the sea. Can Herr Alexander perform a feat
In New Bedford, fathers, they say, give whales for dowers to their
daughters, and portion off their nieces with a few porpoises a-piece.
You must go to New Bedford to see a brilliant wedding; for, they
say, they have reservoirs of oil in every house, and every night
recklessly burn their lengths in spermaceti candles.
In summer time, the town is sweet to see; full of fine maples--long
avenues of green and gold. And in August, high in air, the beautiful
and bountiful horse-chestnuts, candelabra-wise, proffer the passer-by
their tapering upright cones of congregated blossoms. So omnipotent
is art; which in many a district of New Bedford has superinduced
bright terraces of flowers upon the barren refuse rocks thrown aside
at creation's final day.
And the women of New Bedford, they bloom like their own red roses.
But roses only bloom in summer; whereas the fine carnation of their
cheeks is perennial as sunlight in the seventh heavens. Elsewhere
match that bloom of theirs, ye cannot, save in Salem, where they tell
me the young girls breathe such musk, their sailor sweethearts smell
them miles off shore, as though they were drawing nigh the odorous
Moluccas instead of the Puritanic sands.
In this same New Bedford there stands a Whaleman's Chapel, and few
are the moody fishermen, shortly bound for the Indian Ocean or
Pacific, who fail to make a Sunday visit to the spot. I am sure that
I did not.
Returning from my first morning stroll, I again sallied out upon this
special errand. The sky had changed from clear, sunny cold, to
driving sleet and mist. Wrapping myself in my shaggy jacket of the
cloth called bearskin, I fought my way against the stubborn storm.
Entering, I found a small scattered congregation of sailors, and
sailors' wives and widows. A muffled silence reigned, only broken at
times by the shrieks of the storm. Each silent worshipper seemed
purposely sitting apart from the other, as if each silent grief were
insular and incommunicable. The chaplain had not yet arrived; and
there these silent islands of men and women sat steadfastly eyeing
several marble tablets, with black borders, masoned into the wall on
either side the pulpit. Three of them ran something like the
following, but I do not pretend to quote:--
TO THE MEMORY
Who, at the age of eighteen, was lost overboard,
Near the Isle of Desolation, off Patagonia,
November 1st, 1836.
Is erected to his Memory
TO THE MEMORY
ROBERT LONG, WILLIS ELLERY,
NATHAN COLEMAN, WALTER CANNY, SETH MACY,
AND SAMUEL GLEIG,
Forming one of the boats' crews
THE SHIP ELIZA
Who were towed out of sight by a Whale,
On the Off-shore Ground in the
December 31st, 1839.
Is here placed by their surviving
TO THE MEMORY
CAPTAIN EZEKIEL HARDY,
Who in the bows of his boat was killed by a
Sperm Whale on the coast of Japan,
AUGUST 3d, 1833.
Is erected to his Memory by HIS WIDOW.
Shaking off the sleet from my ice-glazed hat and jacket, I seated
myself near the door, and turning sideways was surprised to see
Queequeg near me. Affected by the solemnity of the scene, there was
a wondering gaze of incredulous curiosity in his countenance. This
savage was the only person present who seemed to notice my entrance;
because he was the only one who could not read, and, therefore, was
not reading those frigid inscriptions on the wall. Whether any of
the relatives of the seamen whose names appeared there were now among
the congregation, I knew not; but so many are the unrecorded
accidents in the fishery, and so plainly did several women present
wear the countenance if not the trappings of some unceasing grief,
that I feel sure that here before me were assembled those, in whose
unhealing hearts the sight of those bleak tablets sympathetically
caused the old wounds to bleed afresh.
Oh! ye whose dead lie buried beneath the green grass; who standing
among flowers can say--here, HERE lies my beloved; ye know not the
desolation that broods in bosoms like these. What bitter blanks in
those black-bordered marbles which cover no ashes! What despair in
those immovable inscriptions! What deadly voids and unbidden
infidelities in the lines that seem to gnaw upon all Faith, and
refuse resurrections to the beings who have placelessly perished
without a grave. As well might those tablets stand in the cave of
Elephanta as here.
In what census of living creatures, the dead of mankind are included;
why it is that a universal proverb says of them, that they tell no
tales, though containing more secrets than the Goodwin Sands; how it
is that to his name who yesterday departed for the other world, we
prefix so significant and infidel a word, and yet do not thus entitle
him, if he but embarks for the remotest Indies of this living earth;
why the Life Insurance Companies pay death-forfeitures upon
immortals; in what eternal, unstirring paralysis, and deadly,
hopeless trance, yet lies antique Adam who died sixty round centuries
ago; how it is that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we
nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss; why all the
living so strive to hush all the dead; wherefore but the rumor of a
knocking in a tomb will terrify a whole city. All these things are
not without their meanings.
But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these
dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope.
It needs scarcely to be told, with what feelings, on the eve of a
Nantucket voyage, I regarded those marble tablets, and by the murky
light of that darkened, doleful day read the fate of the whalemen who
had gone before me. Yes, Ishmael, the same fate may be thine. But
somehow I grew merry again. Delightful inducements to embark, fine
chance for promotion, it seems--aye, a stove boat will make me an
immortal by brevet. Yes, there is death in this business of
whaling--a speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into
Eternity. But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this
matter of Life and Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow
here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in looking at
things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the sun
through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of air.
Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fact take
my body who will, take it I say, it is not me. And therefore three
cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they
will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot.
I had not been seated very long ere a man of a certain venerable
robustness entered; immediately as the storm-pelted door flew back
upon admitting him, a quick regardful eyeing of him by all the
congregation, sufficiently attested that this fine old man was the
chaplain. Yes, it was the famous Father Mapple, so called by the
whalemen, among whom he was a very great favourite. He had been a
sailor and a harpooneer in his youth, but for many years past had
dedicated his life to the ministry. At the time I now write of,
Father Mapple was in the hardy winter of a healthy old age; that sort
of old age which seems merging into a second flowering youth, for
among all the fissures of his wrinkles, there shone certain mild
gleams of a newly developing bloom--the spring verdure peeping forth
even beneath February's snow. No one having previously heard his
history, could for the first time behold Father Mapple without the
utmost interest, because there were certain engrafted clerical
peculiarities about him, imputable to that adventurous maritime life
he had led. When he entered I observed that he carried no umbrella,
and certainly had not come in his carriage, for his tarpaulin hat ran
down with melting sleet, and his great pilot cloth jacket seemed
almost to drag him to the floor with the weight of the water it had
absorbed. However, hat and coat and overshoes were one by one
removed, and hung up in a little space in an adjacent corner; when,
arrayed in a decent suit, he quietly approached the pulpit.
Like most old fashioned pulpits, it was a very lofty one, and since a
regular stairs to such a height would, by its long angle with the
floor, seriously contract the already small area of the chapel, the
architect, it seemed, had acted upon the hint of Father Mapple, and
finished the pulpit without a stairs, substituting a perpendicular
side ladder, like those used in mounting a ship from a boat at sea.
The wife of a whaling captain had provided the chapel with a handsome
pair of red worsted man-ropes for this ladder, which, being itself
nicely headed, and stained with a mahogany colour, the whole
contrivance, considering what manner of chapel it was, seemed by no
means in bad taste. Halting for an instant at the foot of the
ladder, and with both hands grasping the ornamental knobs of the
man-ropes, Father Mapple cast a look upwards, and then with a truly
sailor-like but still reverential dexterity, hand over hand, mounted
the steps as if ascending the main-top of his vessel.
The perpendicular parts of this side ladder, as is usually the case
with swinging ones, were of cloth-covered rope, only the rounds were
of wood, so that at every step there was a joint. At my first
glimpse of the pulpit, it had not escaped me that however convenient
for a ship, these joints in the present instance seemed unnecessary.
For I was not prepared to see Father Mapple after gaining the height,
slowly turn round, and stooping over the pulpit, deliberately drag up
the ladder step by step, till the whole was deposited within, leaving
him impregnable in his little Quebec.
I pondered some time without fully comprehending the reason for this.
Father Mapple enjoyed such a wide reputation for sincerity and
sanctity, that I could not suspect him of courting notoriety by any
mere tricks of the stage. No, thought I, there must be some sober
reason for this thing; furthermore, it must symbolize something
unseen. Can it be, then, that by that act of physical isolation, he
signifies his spiritual withdrawal for the time, from all outward
worldly ties and connexions? Yes, for replenished with the meat and
wine of the word, to the faithful man of God, this pulpit, I see, is
a self-containing stronghold--a lofty Ehrenbreitstein, with a
perennial well of water within the walls.
But the side ladder was not the only strange feature of the place,
borrowed from the chaplain's former sea-farings. Between the marble
cenotaphs on either hand of the pulpit, the wall which formed its
back was adorned with a large painting representing a gallant ship
beating against a terrible storm off a lee coast of black rocks and
snowy breakers. But high above the flying scud and dark-rolling
clouds, there floated a little isle of sunlight, from which beamed
forth an angel's face; and this bright face shed a distinct spot of
radiance upon the ship's tossed deck, something like that silver
plate now inserted into the Victory's plank where Nelson fell. "Ah,