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