Part 3 out of 12
and selecting one entitled "The Latter Day Coming; or No Time to
Lose," placed it in Queequeg's hands, and then grasping them and the
book with both his, looked earnestly into his eyes, and said, "Son of
darkness, I must do my duty by thee; I am part owner of this ship,
and feel concerned for the souls of all its crew; if thou still
clingest to thy Pagan ways, which I sadly fear, I beseech thee,
remain not for aye a Belial bondsman. Spurn the idol Bell, and the
hideous dragon; turn from the wrath to come; mind thine eye, I say;
oh! goodness gracious! steer clear of the fiery pit!"
Something of the salt sea yet lingered in old Bildad's language,
heterogeneously mixed with Scriptural and domestic phrases.
"Avast there, avast there, Bildad, avast now spoiling our
harpooneer," Peleg. "Pious harpooneers never make good voyagers--it
takes the shark out of 'em; no harpooneer is worth a straw who aint
pretty sharkish. There was young Nat Swaine, once the bravest
boat-header out of all Nantucket and the Vineyard; he joined the
meeting, and never came to good. He got so frightened about his
plaguy soul, that he shrinked and sheered away from whales, for fear
of after-claps, in case he got stove and went to Davy Jones."
"Peleg! Peleg!" said Bildad, lifting his eyes and hands, "thou
thyself, as I myself, hast seen many a perilous time; thou knowest,
Peleg, what it is to have the fear of death; how, then, can'st thou
prate in this ungodly guise. Thou beliest thine own heart, Peleg.
Tell me, when this same Pequod here had her three masts overboard in
that typhoon on Japan, that same voyage when thou went mate with
Captain Ahab, did'st thou not think of Death and the Judgment then?"
"Hear him, hear him now," cried Peleg, marching across the cabin, and
thrusting his hands far down into his pockets,--"hear him, all of ye.
Think of that! When every moment we thought the ship would sink!
Death and the Judgment then? What? With all three masts making such
an everlasting thundering against the side; and every sea breaking
over us, fore and aft. Think of Death and the Judgment then? No!
no time to think about Death then. Life was what Captain Ahab and I
was thinking of; and how to save all hands--how to rig
jury-masts--how to get into the nearest port; that was what I was
Bildad said no more, but buttoning up his coat, stalked on deck,
where we followed him. There he stood, very quietly overlooking some
sailmakers who were mending a top-sail in the waist. Now and then he
stooped to pick up a patch, or save an end of tarred twine, which
otherwise might have been wasted.
"Shipmates, have ye shipped in that ship?"
Queequeg and I had just left the Pequod, and were sauntering away from
the water, for the moment each occupied with his own thoughts, when
the above words were put to us by a stranger, who, pausing before us,
levelled his massive forefinger at the vessel in question. He was
but shabbily apparelled in faded jacket and patched trowsers; a rag
of a black handkerchief investing his neck. A confluent small-pox
had in all directions flowed over his face, and left it like the
complicated ribbed bed of a torrent, when the rushing waters have
been dried up.
"Have ye shipped in her?" he repeated.
"You mean the ship Pequod, I suppose," said I, trying to gain a
little more time for an uninterrupted look at him.
"Aye, the Pequod--that ship there," he said, drawing back his whole
arm, and then rapidly shoving it straight out from him, with the
fixed bayonet of his pointed finger darted full at the object.
"Yes," said I, "we have just signed the articles."
"Anything down there about your souls?"
"Oh, perhaps you hav'n't got any," he said quickly. "No matter
though, I know many chaps that hav'n't got any,--good luck to 'em;
and they are all the better off for it. A soul's a sort of a fifth
wheel to a wagon."
"What are you jabbering about, shipmate?" said I.
"HE'S got enough, though, to make up for all deficiencies of that
sort in other chaps," abruptly said the stranger, placing a nervous
emphasis upon the word HE.
"Queequeg," said I, "let's go; this fellow has broken loose from
somewhere; he's talking about something and somebody we don't know."
"Stop!" cried the stranger. "Ye said true--ye hav'n't seen Old
Thunder yet, have ye?"
"Who's Old Thunder?" said I, again riveted with the insane
earnestness of his manner.
"What! the captain of our ship, the Pequod?"
"Aye, among some of us old sailor chaps, he goes by that name. Ye
hav'n't seen him yet, have ye?"
"No, we hav'n't. He's sick they say, but is getting better, and will
be all right again before long."
"All right again before long!" laughed the stranger, with a solemnly
derisive sort of laugh. "Look ye; when Captain Ahab is all right,
then this left arm of mine will be all right; not before."
"What do you know about him?"
"What did they TELL you about him? Say that!"
"They didn't tell much of anything about him; only I've heard that
he's a good whale-hunter, and a good captain to his crew."
"That's true, that's true--yes, both true enough. But you must jump
when he gives an order. Step and growl; growl and go--that's the
word with Captain Ahab. But nothing about that thing that happened
to him off Cape Horn, long ago, when he lay like dead for three days
and nights; nothing about that deadly skrimmage with the Spaniard
afore the altar in Santa?--heard nothing about that, eh? Nothing
about the silver calabash he spat into? And nothing about his losing
his leg last voyage, according to the prophecy. Didn't ye hear a
word about them matters and something more, eh? No, I don't think ye
did; how could ye? Who knows it? Not all Nantucket, I guess. But
hows'ever, mayhap, ye've heard tell about the leg, and how he lost
it; aye, ye have heard of that, I dare say. Oh yes, THAT every one
knows a'most--I mean they know he's only one leg; and that a
parmacetti took the other off."
"My friend," said I, "what all this gibberish of yours is about, I
don't know, and I don't much care; for it seems to me that you must
be a little damaged in the head. But if you are speaking of Captain
Ahab, of that ship there, the Pequod, then let me tell you, that I
know all about the loss of his leg."
"ALL about it, eh--sure you do?--all?"
With finger pointed and eye levelled at the Pequod, the beggar-like
stranger stood a moment, as if in a troubled reverie; then starting a
little, turned and said:--"Ye've shipped, have ye? Names down on the
papers? Well, well, what's signed, is signed; and what's to be, will
be; and then again, perhaps it won't be, after all. Anyhow, it's
all fixed and arranged a'ready; and some sailors or other must go
with him, I suppose; as well these as any other men, God pity 'em!
Morning to ye, shipmates, morning; the ineffable heavens bless ye;
I'm sorry I stopped ye."
"Look here, friend," said I, "if you have anything important to tell
us, out with it; but if you are only trying to bamboozle us, you are
mistaken in your game; that's all I have to say."
"And it's said very well, and I like to hear a chap talk up that way;
you are just the man for him--the likes of ye. Morning to ye,
shipmates, morning! Oh! when ye get there, tell 'em I've concluded
not to make one of 'em."
"Ah, my dear fellow, you can't fool us that way--you can't fool us.
It is the easiest thing in the world for a man to look as if he had a
great secret in him."
"Morning to ye, shipmates, morning."
"Morning it is," said I. "Come along, Queequeg, let's leave this
crazy man. But stop, tell me your name, will you?"
Elijah! thought I, and we walked away, both commenting, after each
other's fashion, upon this ragged old sailor; and agreed that he was
nothing but a humbug, trying to be a bugbear. But we had not gone
perhaps above a hundred yards, when chancing to turn a corner, and
looking back as I did so, who should be seen but Elijah following us,
though at a distance. Somehow, the sight of him struck me so, that I
said nothing to Queequeg of his being behind, but passed on with my
comrade, anxious to see whether the stranger would turn the same
corner that we did. He did; and then it seemed to me that he was
dogging us, but with what intent I could not for the life of me
imagine. This circumstance, coupled with his ambiguous,
half-hinting, half-revealing, shrouded sort of talk, now begat in me
all kinds of vague wonderments and half-apprehensions, and all
connected with the Pequod; and Captain Ahab; and the leg he had lost;
and the Cape Horn fit; and the silver calabash; and what Captain
Peleg had said of him, when I left the ship the day previous; and the
prediction of the squaw Tistig; and the voyage we had bound ourselves
to sail; and a hundred other shadowy things.
I was resolved to satisfy myself whether this ragged Elijah was
really dogging us or not, and with that intent crossed the way with
Queequeg, and on that side of it retraced our steps. But Elijah
passed on, without seeming to notice us. This relieved me; and once
more, and finally as it seemed to me, I pronounced him in my heart, a
A day or two passed, and there was great activity aboard the Pequod.
Not only were the old sails being mended, but new sails were coming
on board, and bolts of canvas, and coils of rigging; in short,
everything betokened that the ship's preparations were hurrying to a
close. Captain Peleg seldom or never went ashore, but sat in his
wigwam keeping a sharp look-out upon the hands: Bildad did all the
purchasing and providing at the stores; and the men employed in the
hold and on the rigging were working till long after night-fall.
On the day following Queequeg's signing the articles, word was given
at all the inns where the ship's company were stopping, that their
chests must be on board before night, for there was no telling how
soon the vessel might be sailing. So Queequeg and I got down our
traps, resolving, however, to sleep ashore till the last. But it
seems they always give very long notice in these cases, and the ship
did not sail for several days. But no wonder; there was a good deal
to be done, and there is no telling how many things to be thought of,
before the Pequod was fully equipped.
Every one knows what a multitude of things--beds, sauce-pans, knives
and forks, shovels and tongs, napkins, nut-crackers, and what not,
are indispensable to the business of housekeeping. Just so with
whaling, which necessitates a three-years' housekeeping upon the wide
ocean, far from all grocers, costermongers, doctors, bakers, and
bankers. And though this also holds true of merchant vessels, yet
not by any means to the same extent as with whalemen. For besides
the great length of the whaling voyage, the numerous articles
peculiar to the prosecution of the fishery, and the impossibility of
replacing them at the remote harbors usually frequented, it must be
remembered, that of all ships, whaling vessels are the most exposed
to accidents of all kinds, and especially to the destruction and loss
of the very things upon which the success of the voyage most depends.
Hence, the spare boats, spare spars, and spare lines and harpoons,
and spare everythings, almost, but a spare Captain and duplicate
At the period of our arrival at the Island, the heaviest storage of
the Pequod had been almost completed; comprising her beef, bread,
water, fuel, and iron hoops and staves. But, as before hinted, for
some time there was a continual fetching and carrying on board of
divers odds and ends of things, both large and small.
Chief among those who did this fetching and carrying was Captain
Bildad's sister, a lean old lady of a most determined and
indefatigable spirit, but withal very kindhearted, who seemed
resolved that, if SHE could help it, nothing should be found wanting
in the Pequod, after once fairly getting to sea. At one time she
would come on board with a jar of pickles for the steward's pantry;
another time with a bunch of quills for the chief mate's desk, where
he kept his log; a third time with a roll of flannel for the small of
some one's rheumatic back. Never did any woman better deserve her
name, which was Charity--Aunt Charity, as everybody called her. And
like a sister of charity did this charitable Aunt Charity bustle
about hither and thither, ready to turn her hand and heart to
anything that promised to yield safety, comfort, and consolation to
all on board a ship in which her beloved brother Bildad was
concerned, and in which she herself owned a score or two of
But it was startling to see this excellent hearted Quakeress coming
on board, as she did the last day, with a long oil-ladle in one hand,
and a still longer whaling lance in the other. Nor was Bildad himself
nor Captain Peleg at all backward. As for Bildad, he carried about
with him a long list of the articles needed, and at every fresh
arrival, down went his mark opposite that article upon the paper.
Every once in a while Peleg came hobbling out of his whalebone den,
roaring at the men down the hatchways, roaring up to the riggers at
the mast-head, and then concluded by roaring back into his wigwam.
During these days of preparation, Queequeg and I often visited the
craft, and as often I asked about Captain Ahab, and how he was, and
when he was going to come on board his ship. To these questions they
would answer, that he was getting better and better, and was expected
aboard every day; meantime, the two captains, Peleg and Bildad, could
attend to everything necessary to fit the vessel for the voyage. If
I had been downright honest with myself, I would have seen very
plainly in my heart that I did but half fancy being committed this
way to so long a voyage, without once laying my eyes on the man who
was to be the absolute dictator of it, so soon as the ship sailed out
upon the open sea. But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes
happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly
strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself. And much this
way it was with me. I said nothing, and tried to think nothing.
At last it was given out that some time next day the ship would
certainly sail. So next morning, Queequeg and I took a very early
It was nearly six o'clock, but only grey imperfect misty dawn, when
we drew nigh the wharf.
"There are some sailors running ahead there, if I see right," said I
to Queequeg, "it can't be shadows; she's off by sunrise, I guess;
"Avast!" cried a voice, whose owner at the same time coming close
behind us, laid a hand upon both our shoulders, and then insinuating
himself between us, stood stooping forward a little, in the uncertain
twilight, strangely peering from Queequeg to me. It was Elijah.
"Hands off, will you," said I.
"Lookee here," said Queequeg, shaking himself, "go 'way!"
"Ain't going aboard, then?"
"Yes, we are," said I, "but what business is that of yours? Do you
know, Mr. Elijah, that I consider you a little impertinent?"
"No, no, no; I wasn't aware of that," said Elijah, slowly and
wonderingly looking from me to Queequeg, with the most unaccountable
"Elijah," said I, "you will oblige my friend and me by withdrawing.
We are going to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and would prefer not
to be detained."
"Ye be, be ye? Coming back afore breakfast?"
"He's cracked, Queequeg," said I, "come on."
"Holloa!" cried stationary Elijah, hailing us when we had removed a
"Never mind him," said I, "Queequeg, come on."
But he stole up to us again, and suddenly clapping his hand on my
shoulder, said--"Did ye see anything looking like men going towards
that ship a while ago?"
Struck by this plain matter-of-fact question, I answered, saying,
"Yes, I thought I did see four or five men; but it was too dim to be
"Very dim, very dim," said Elijah. "Morning to ye."
Once more we quitted him; but once more he came softly after us; and
touching my shoulder again, said, "See if you can find 'em now, will
"Morning to ye! morning to ye!" he rejoined, again moving off. "Oh!
I was going to warn ye against--but never mind, never mind--it's all
one, all in the family too;--sharp frost this morning, ain't it?
Good-bye to ye. Shan't see ye again very soon, I guess; unless it's
before the Grand Jury." And with these cracked words he finally
departed, leaving me, for the moment, in no small wonderment at his
At last, stepping on board the Pequod, we found everything in
profound quiet, not a soul moving. The cabin entrance was locked
within; the hatches were all on, and lumbered with coils of rigging.
Going forward to the forecastle, we found the slide of the scuttle
open. Seeing a light, we went down, and found only an old rigger
there, wrapped in a tattered pea-jacket. He was thrown at whole
length upon two chests, his face downwards and inclosed in his folded
arms. The profoundest slumber slept upon him.
"Those sailors we saw, Queequeg, where can they have gone to?" said
I, looking dubiously at the sleeper. But it seemed that, when on the
wharf, Queequeg had not at all noticed what I now alluded to; hence I
would have thought myself to have been optically deceived in that
matter, were it not for Elijah's otherwise inexplicable question.
But I beat the thing down; and again marking the sleeper, jocularly
hinted to Queequeg that perhaps we had best sit up with the body;
telling him to establish himself accordingly. He put his hand upon
the sleeper's rear, as though feeling if it was soft enough; and
then, without more ado, sat quietly down there.
"Gracious! Queequeg, don't sit there," said I.
"Oh! perry dood seat," said Queequeg, "my country way; won't hurt
"Face!" said I, "call that his face? very benevolent countenance
then; but how hard he breathes, he's heaving himself; get off,
Queequeg, you are heavy, it's grinding the face of the poor. Get
off, Queequeg! Look, he'll twitch you off soon. I wonder he don't
Queequeg removed himself to just beyond the head of the sleeper, and
lighted his tomahawk pipe. I sat at the feet. We kept the pipe
passing over the sleeper, from one to the other. Meanwhile, upon
questioning him in his broken fashion, Queequeg gave me to understand
that, in his land, owing to the absence of settees and sofas of all
sorts, the king, chiefs, and great people generally, were in the
custom of fattening some of the lower orders for ottomans; and to
furnish a house comfortably in that respect, you had only to buy up
eight or ten lazy fellows, and lay them round in the piers and
alcoves. Besides, it was very convenient on an excursion; much
better than those garden-chairs which are convertible into
walking-sticks; upon occasion, a chief calling his attendant, and
desiring him to make a settee of himself under a spreading tree,
perhaps in some damp marshy place.
While narrating these things, every time Queequeg received the
tomahawk from me, he flourished the hatchet-side of it over the
"What's that for, Queequeg?"
"Perry easy, kill-e; oh! perry easy!
He was going on with some wild reminiscences about his tomahawk-pipe,
which, it seemed, had in its two uses both brained his foes and
soothed his soul, when we were directly attracted to the sleeping
rigger. The strong vapour now completely filling the contracted hole,
it began to tell upon him. He breathed with a sort of muffledness;
then seemed troubled in the nose; then revolved over once or twice;
then sat up and rubbed his eyes.
"Holloa!" he breathed at last, "who be ye smokers?"
"Shipped men," answered I, "when does she sail?"
"Aye, aye, ye are going in her, be ye? She sails to-day. The
Captain came aboard last night."
"Who but him indeed?"
I was going to ask him some further questions concerning Ahab, when
we heard a noise on deck.
"Holloa! Starbuck's astir," said the rigger. "He's a lively chief
mate, that; good man, and a pious; but all alive now, I must turn
to." And so saying he went on deck, and we followed.
It was now clear sunrise. Soon the crew came on board in twos and
threes; the riggers bestirred themselves; the mates were actively
engaged; and several of the shore people were busy in bringing
various last things on board. Meanwhile Captain Ahab remained
invisibly enshrined within his cabin.
At length, towards noon, upon the final dismissal of the ship's
riggers, and after the Pequod had been hauled out from the wharf, and
after the ever-thoughtful Charity had come off in a whale-boat, with
her last gift--a night-cap for Stubb, the second mate, her
brother-in-law, and a spare Bible for the steward--after all this,
the two Captains, Peleg and Bildad, issued from the cabin, and
turning to the chief mate, Peleg said:
"Now, Mr. Starbuck, are you sure everything is right? Captain Ahab
is all ready--just spoke to him--nothing more to be got from shore,
eh? Well, call all hands, then. Muster 'em aft here--blast 'em!"
"No need of profane words, however great the hurry, Peleg," said
Bildad, "but away with thee, friend Starbuck, and do our bidding."
How now! Here upon the very point of starting for the voyage,
Captain Peleg and Captain Bildad were going it with a high hand on
the quarter-deck, just as if they were to be joint-commanders at sea,
as well as to all appearances in port. And, as for Captain Ahab, no
sign of him was yet to be seen; only, they said he was in the cabin.
But then, the idea was, that his presence was by no means necessary
in getting the ship under weigh, and steering her well out to sea.
Indeed, as that was not at all his proper business, but the pilot's;
and as he was not yet completely recovered--so they said--therefore,
Captain Ahab stayed below. And all this seemed natural enough;
especially as in the merchant service many captains never show
themselves on deck for a considerable time after heaving up the
anchor, but remain over the cabin table, having a farewell
merry-making with their shore friends, before they quit the ship for
good with the pilot.
But there was not much chance to think over the matter, for Captain
Peleg was now all alive. He seemed to do most of the talking and
commanding, and not Bildad.
"Aft here, ye sons of bachelors," he cried, as the sailors lingered
at the main-mast. "Mr. Starbuck, drive'em aft."
"Strike the tent there!"--was the next order. As I hinted before,
this whalebone marquee was never pitched except in port; and on board
the Pequod, for thirty years, the order to strike the tent was well
known to be the next thing to heaving up the anchor.
"Man the capstan! Blood and thunder!--jump!"--was the next command,
and the crew sprang for the handspikes.
Now in getting under weigh, the station generally occupied by the
pilot is the forward part of the ship. And here Bildad, who, with
Peleg, be it known, in addition to his other officers, was one of the
licensed pilots of the port--he being suspected to have got himself
made a pilot in order to save the Nantucket pilot-fee to all the
ships he was concerned in, for he never piloted any other
craft--Bildad, I say, might now be seen actively engaged in looking
over the bows for the approaching anchor, and at intervals singing
what seemed a dismal stave of psalmody, to cheer the hands at the
windlass, who roared forth some sort of a chorus about the girls in
Booble Alley, with hearty good will. Nevertheless, not three days
previous, Bildad had told them that no profane songs would be allowed
on board the Pequod, particularly in getting under weigh; and
Charity, his sister, had placed a small choice copy of Watts in each
Meantime, overseeing the other part of the ship, Captain Peleg ripped
and swore astern in the most frightful manner. I almost thought he
would sink the ship before the anchor could be got up; involuntarily
I paused on my handspike, and told Queequeg to do the same, thinking
of the perils we both ran, in starting on the voyage with such a
devil for a pilot. I was comforting myself, however, with the
thought that in pious Bildad might be found some salvation, spite of
his seven hundred and seventy-seventh lay; when I felt a sudden sharp
poke in my rear, and turning round, was horrified at the apparition
of Captain Peleg in the act of withdrawing his leg from my immediate
vicinity. That was my first kick.
"Is that the way they heave in the marchant service?" he roared.
"Spring, thou sheep-head; spring, and break thy backbone! Why don't
ye spring, I say, all of ye--spring! Quohog! spring, thou chap with
the red whiskers; spring there, Scotch-cap; spring, thou green
pants. Spring, I say, all of ye, and spring your eyes out!" And so
saying, he moved along the windlass, here and there using his leg
very freely, while imperturbable Bildad kept leading off with his
psalmody. Thinks I, Captain Peleg must have been drinking something
At last the anchor was up, the sails were set, and off we glided. It
was a short, cold Christmas; and as the short northern day merged
into night, we found ourselves almost broad upon the wintry ocean,
whose freezing spray cased us in ice, as in polished armor. The long
rows of teeth on the bulwarks glistened in the moonlight; and like
the white ivory tusks of some huge elephant, vast curving icicles
depended from the bows.
Lank Bildad, as pilot, headed the first watch, and ever and anon, as
the old craft deep dived into the green seas, and sent the shivering
frost all over her, and the winds howled, and the cordage rang, his
steady notes were heard,--
"Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood,
Stand dressed in living green.
So to the Jews old Canaan stood,
While Jordan rolled between."
Never did those sweet words sound more sweetly to me than then. They
were full of hope and fruition. Spite of this frigid winter night in
the boisterous Atlantic, spite of my wet feet and wetter jacket,
there was yet, it then seemed to me, many a pleasant haven in store;
and meads and glades so eternally vernal, that the grass shot up by
the spring, untrodden, unwilted, remains at midsummer.
At last we gained such an offing, that the two pilots were needed no
longer. The stout sail-boat that had accompanied us began ranging
It was curious and not unpleasing, how Peleg and Bildad were affected
at this juncture, especially Captain Bildad. For loath to depart,
yet; very loath to leave, for good, a ship bound on so long and
perilous a voyage--beyond both stormy Capes; a ship in which some
thousands of his hard earned dollars were invested; a ship, in which
an old shipmate sailed as captain; a man almost as old as he, once
more starting to encounter all the terrors of the pitiless jaw; loath
to say good-bye to a thing so every way brimful of every interest to
him,--poor old Bildad lingered long; paced the deck with anxious
strides; ran down into the cabin to speak another farewell word
there; again came on deck, and looked to windward; looked towards the
wide and endless waters, only bounded by the far-off unseen Eastern
Continents; looked towards the land; looked aloft; looked right and
left; looked everywhere and nowhere; and at last, mechanically
coiling a rope upon its pin, convulsively grasped stout Peleg by the
hand, and holding up a lantern, for a moment stood gazing heroically
in his face, as much as to say, "Nevertheless, friend Peleg, I can
stand it; yes, I can."
As for Peleg himself, he took it more like a philosopher; but for all
his philosophy, there was a tear twinkling in his eye, when the
lantern came too near. And he, too, did not a little run from cabin
to deck--now a word below, and now a word with Starbuck, the chief
But, at last, he turned to his comrade, with a final sort of look
about him,--"Captain Bildad--come, old shipmate, we must go. Back
the main-yard there! Boat ahoy! Stand by to come close alongside,
now! Careful, careful!--come, Bildad, boy--say your last. Luck to
ye, Starbuck--luck to ye, Mr. Stubb--luck to ye, Mr. Flask--good-bye
and good luck to ye all--and this day three years I'll have a hot
supper smoking for ye in old Nantucket. Hurrah and away!"
"God bless ye, and have ye in His holy keeping, men," murmured old
Bildad, almost incoherently. "I hope ye'll have fine weather now, so
that Captain Ahab may soon be moving among ye--a pleasant sun is all
he needs, and ye'll have plenty of them in the tropic voyage ye go.
Be careful in the hunt, ye mates. Don't stave the boats needlessly,
ye harpooneers; good white cedar plank is raised full three per cent.
within the year. Don't forget your prayers, either. Mr. Starbuck,
mind that cooper don't waste the spare staves. Oh! the sail-needles
are in the green locker! Don't whale it too much a' Lord's days,
men; but don't miss a fair chance either, that's rejecting Heaven's
good gifts. Have an eye to the molasses tierce, Mr. Stubb; it was a
little leaky, I thought. If ye touch at the islands, Mr. Flask,
beware of fornication. Good-bye, good-bye! Don't keep that cheese
too long down in the hold, Mr. Starbuck; it'll spoil. Be careful
with the butter--twenty cents the pound it was, and mind ye, if--"
"Come, come, Captain Bildad; stop palavering,--away!" and with that,
Peleg hurried him over the side, and both dropt into the boat.
Ship and boat diverged; the cold, damp night breeze blew between; a
screaming gull flew overhead; the two hulls wildly rolled; we gave
three heavy-hearted cheers, and blindly plunged like fate into the
The Lee Shore.
Some chapters back, one Bulkington was spoken of, a tall, newlanded
mariner, encountered in New Bedford at the inn.
When on that shivering winter's night, the Pequod thrust her
vindictive bows into the cold malicious waves, who should I see
standing at her helm but Bulkington! I looked with sympathetic awe
and fearfulness upon the man, who in mid-winter just landed from a
four years' dangerous voyage, could so unrestingly push off again for
still another tempestuous term. The land seemed scorching to his
feet. Wonderfullest things are ever the unmentionable; deep memories
yield no epitaphs; this six-inch chapter is the stoneless grave of
Bulkington. Let me only say that it fared with him as with the
storm-tossed ship, that miserably drives along the leeward land. The
port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is
safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all
that's kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the
land, is that ship's direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality;
one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her
shudder through and through. With all her might she crowds all sail
off shore; in so doing, fights 'gainst the very winds that fain would
blow her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea's landlessness again; for
refuge's sake forlornly rushing into peril; her only friend her
Know ye now, Bulkington? Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally
intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the
intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea;
while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on
the treacherous, slavish shore?
But as in landlessness alone resides highest truth, shoreless,
indefinite as God--so, better is it to perish in that howling
infinite, than be ingloriously dashed upon the lee, even if that were
safety! For worm-like, then, oh! who would craven crawl to land!
Terrors of the terrible! is all this agony so vain? Take heart, take
heart, O Bulkington! Bear thee grimly, demigod! Up from the spray
of thy ocean-perishing--straight up, leaps thy apotheosis!
As Queequeg and I are now fairly embarked in this business of
whaling; and as this business of whaling has somehow come to be
regarded among landsmen as a rather unpoetical and disreputable
pursuit; therefore, I am all anxiety to convince ye, ye landsmen, of
the injustice hereby done to us hunters of whales.
In the first place, it may be deemed almost superfluous to establish
the fact, that among people at large, the business of whaling is not
accounted on a level with what are called the liberal professions.
If a stranger were introduced into any miscellaneous metropolitan
society, it would but slightly advance the general opinion of his
merits, were he presented to the company as a harpooneer, say; and if
in emulation of the naval officers he should append the initials
S.W.F. (Sperm Whale Fishery) to his visiting card, such a procedure
would be deemed pre-eminently presuming and ridiculous.
Doubtless one leading reason why the world declines honouring us
whalemen, is this: they think that, at best, our vocation amounts to
a butchering sort of business; and that when actively engaged
therein, we are surrounded by all manner of defilements. Butchers we
are, that is true. But butchers, also, and butchers of the bloodiest
badge have been all Martial Commanders whom the world invariably
delights to honour. And as for the matter of the alleged
uncleanliness of our business, ye shall soon be initiated into
certain facts hitherto pretty generally unknown, and which, upon the
whole, will triumphantly plant the sperm whale-ship at least among
the cleanliest things of this tidy earth. But even granting the
charge in question to be true; what disordered slippery decks of a
whale-ship are comparable to the unspeakable carrion of those
battle-fields from which so many soldiers return to drink in all
ladies' plaudits? And if the idea of peril so much enhances the
popular conceit of the soldier's profession; let me assure ye that
many a veteran who has freely marched up to a battery, would quickly
recoil at the apparition of the sperm whale's vast tail, fanning into
eddies the air over his head. For what are the comprehensible
terrors of man compared with the interlinked terrors and wonders of
But, though the world scouts at us whale hunters, yet does it
unwittingly pay us the profoundest homage; yea, an all-abounding
adoration! for almost all the tapers, lamps, and candles that burn
round the globe, burn, as before so many shrines, to our glory!
But look at this matter in other lights; weigh it in all sorts of
scales; see what we whalemen are, and have been.
Why did the Dutch in De Witt's time have admirals of their whaling
fleets? Why did Louis XVI. of France, at his own personal expense,
fit out whaling ships from Dunkirk, and politely invite to that town
some score or two of families from our own island of Nantucket? Why
did Britain between the years 1750 and 1788 pay to her whalemen in
bounties upwards of L1,000,000? And lastly, how comes it that we
whalemen of America now outnumber all the rest of the banded whalemen
in the world; sail a navy of upwards of seven hundred vessels; manned
by eighteen thousand men; yearly consuming 4,000,000 of dollars; the
ships worth, at the time of sailing, $20,000,000! and every year
importing into our harbors a well reaped harvest of $7,000,000. How
comes all this, if there be not something puissant in whaling?
But this is not the half; look again.
I freely assert, that the cosmopolite philosopher cannot, for his
life, point out one single peaceful influence, which within the last
sixty years has operated more potentially upon the whole broad world,
taken in one aggregate, than the high and mighty business of whaling.
One way and another, it has begotten events so remarkable in
themselves, and so continuously momentous in their sequential issues,
that whaling may well be regarded as that Egyptian mother, who bore
offspring themselves pregnant from her womb. It would be a hopeless,
endless task to catalogue all these things. Let a handful suffice.
For many years past the whale-ship has been the pioneer in ferreting
out the remotest and least known parts of the earth. She has
explored seas and archipelagoes which had no chart, where no Cook or
Vancouver had ever sailed. If American and European men-of-war
now peacefully ride in once savage harbors, let them fire salutes to
the honour and glory of the whale-ship, which originally showed them
the way, and first interpreted between them and the savages. They
may celebrate as they will the heroes of Exploring Expeditions, your
Cooks, your Krusensterns; but I say that scores of anonymous
Captains have sailed out of Nantucket, that were as great, and
greater than your Cook and your Krusenstern. For in their
succourless empty-handedness, they, in the heathenish sharked waters,
and by the beaches of unrecorded, javelin islands, battled with
virgin wonders and terrors that Cook with all his marines and
muskets would not willingly have dared. All that is made such a
flourish of in the old South Sea Voyages, those things were but the
life-time commonplaces of our heroic Nantucketers. Often,
adventures which Vancouver dedicates three chapters to, these men
accounted unworthy of being set down in the ship's common log. Ah,
the world! Oh, the world!
Until the whale fishery rounded Cape Horn, no commerce but colonial,
scarcely any intercourse but colonial, was carried on between Europe
and the long line of the opulent Spanish provinces on the Pacific
coast. It was the whaleman who first broke through the jealous
policy of the Spanish crown, touching those colonies; and, if space
permitted, it might be distinctly shown how from those whalemen at
last eventuated the liberation of Peru, Chili, and Bolivia from the
yoke of Old Spain, and the establishment of the eternal democracy in
That great America on the other side of the sphere, Australia, was
given to the enlightened world by the whaleman. After its first
blunder-born discovery by a Dutchman, all other ships long shunned
those shores as pestiferously barbarous; but the whale-ship touched
there. The whale-ship is the true mother of that now mighty colony.
Moreover, in the infancy of the first Australian settlement, the
emigrants were several times saved from starvation by the benevolent
biscuit of the whale-ship luckily dropping an anchor in their waters.
The uncounted isles of all Polynesia confess the same truth, and do
commercial homage to the whale-ship, that cleared the way for the
missionary and the merchant, and in many cases carried the primitive
missionaries to their first destinations. If that double-bolted
land, Japan, is ever to become hospitable, it is the whale-ship alone
to whom the credit will be due; for already she is on the threshold.
But if, in the face of all this, you still declare that whaling has
no aesthetically noble associations connected with it, then am I
ready to shiver fifty lances with you there, and unhorse you with a
split helmet every time.
The whale has no famous author, and whaling no famous chronicler, you
THE WHALE NO FAMOUS AUTHOR, AND WHALING NO FAMOUS CHRONICLER? Who
wrote the first account of our Leviathan? Who but mighty Job! And
who composed the first narrative of a whaling-voyage? Who, but no
less a prince than Alfred the Great, who, with his own royal pen,
took down the words from Other, the Norwegian whale-hunter of those
times! And who pronounced our glowing eulogy in Parliament? Who,
but Edmund Burke!
True enough, but then whalemen themselves are poor devils; they have
no good blood in their veins.
NO GOOD BLOOD IN THEIR VEINS? They have something better than royal
blood there. The grandmother of Benjamin Franklin was Mary Morrel;
afterwards, by marriage, Mary Folger, one of the old settlers of
Nantucket, and the ancestress to a long line of Folgers and
harpooneers--all kith and kin to noble Benjamin--this day darting the
barbed iron from one side of the world to the other.
Good again; but then all confess that somehow whaling is not
WHALING NOT RESPECTABLE? Whaling is imperial! By old English
statutory law, the whale is declared "a royal fish."*
Oh, that's only nominal! The whale himself has never figured in any
grand imposing way.
THE WHALE NEVER FIGURED IN ANY GRAND IMPOSING WAY? In one of the
mighty triumphs given to a Roman general upon his entering the
world's capital, the bones of a whale, brought all the way from the
Syrian coast, were the most conspicuous object in the cymballed
*See subsequent chapters for something more on this head.
Grant it, since you cite it; but, say what you will, there is no real
dignity in whaling.
NO DIGNITY IN WHALING? The dignity of our calling the very heavens
attest. Cetus is a constellation in the South! No more! Drive
down your hat in presence of the Czar, and take it off to Queequeg!
No more! I know a man that, in his lifetime, has taken three hundred
and fifty whales. I account that man more honourable than that great
captain of antiquity who boasted of taking as many walled towns.
And, as for me, if, by any possibility, there be any as yet
undiscovered prime thing in me; if I shall ever deserve any real
repute in that small but high hushed world which I might not be
unreasonably ambitious of; if hereafter I shall do anything that, upon
the whole, a man might rather have done than to have left undone; if,
at my death, my executors, or more properly my creditors, find any
precious MSS. in my desk, then here I prospectively ascribe all the
honour and the glory to whaling; for a whale-ship was my Yale College
and my Harvard.
In behalf of the dignity of whaling, I would fain advance naught but
substantiated facts. But after embattling his facts, an advocate who
should wholly suppress a not unreasonable surmise, which might tell
eloquently upon his cause--such an advocate, would he not be
It is well known that at the coronation of kings and queens, even
modern ones, a certain curious process of seasoning them for their
functions is gone through. There is a saltcellar of state, so
called, and there may be a castor of state. How they use the salt,
precisely--who knows? Certain I am, however, that a king's head is
solemnly oiled at his coronation, even as a head of salad. Can it
be, though, that they anoint it with a view of making its interior
run well, as they anoint machinery? Much might be ruminated here,
concerning the essential dignity of this regal process, because in
common life we esteem but meanly and contemptibly a fellow who
anoints his hair, and palpably smells of that anointing. In truth, a
mature man who uses hair-oil, unless medicinally, that man has
probably got a quoggy spot in him somewhere. As a general rule, he
can't amount to much in his totality.
But the only thing to be considered here, is this--what kind of oil
is used at coronations? Certainly it cannot be olive oil, nor
macassar oil, nor castor oil, nor bear's oil, nor train oil, nor
cod-liver oil. What then can it possibly be, but sperm oil in
its unmanufactured, unpolluted state, the sweetest of all oils?
Think of that, ye loyal Britons! we whalemen supply your kings and
queens with coronation stuff!
Knights and Squires.
The chief mate of the Pequod was Starbuck, a native of Nantucket, and
a Quaker by descent. He was a long, earnest man, and though born on
an icy coast, seemed well adapted to endure hot latitudes, his flesh
being hard as twice-baked biscuit. Transported to the Indies, his
live blood would not spoil like bottled ale. He must have been born
in some time of general drought and famine, or upon one of those fast
days for which his state is famous. Only some thirty arid summers
had he seen; those summers had dried up all his physical
superfluousness. But this, his thinness, so to speak, seemed no more
the token of wasting anxieties and cares, than it seemed the
indication of any bodily blight. It was merely the condensation of
the man. He was by no means ill-looking; quite the contrary. His
pure tight skin was an excellent fit; and closely wrapped up in it,
and embalmed with inner health and strength, like a revivified
Egyptian, this Starbuck seemed prepared to endure for long ages to
come, and to endure always, as now; for be it Polar snow or torrid
sun, like a patent chronometer, his interior vitality was warranted
to do well in all climates. Looking into his eyes, you seemed to
see there the yet lingering images of those thousand-fold perils he
had calmly confronted through life. A staid, steadfast man, whose
life for the most part was a telling pantomime of action, and not a
tame chapter of sounds. Yet, for all his hardy sobriety and
fortitude, there were certain qualities in him which at times
affected, and in some cases seemed well nigh to overbalance all the
rest. Uncommonly conscientious for a seaman, and endued with a deep
natural reverence, the wild watery loneliness of his life did
therefore strongly incline him to superstition; but to that sort of
superstition, which in some organizations seems rather to spring,
somehow, from intelligence than from ignorance. Outward portents and
inward presentiments were his. And if at times these things bent the
welded iron of his soul, much more did his far-away domestic memories
of his young Cape wife and child, tend to bend him still more from
the original ruggedness of his nature, and open him still further to
those latent influences which, in some honest-hearted men, restrain
the gush of dare-devil daring, so often evinced by others in the more
perilous vicissitudes of the fishery. "I will have no man in my
boat," said Starbuck, "who is not afraid of a whale." By this, he
seemed to mean, not only that the most reliable and useful courage
was that which arises from the fair estimation of the encountered
peril, but that an utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous
comrade than a coward.
"Aye, aye," said Stubb, the second mate, "Starbuck, there, is as
careful a man as you'll find anywhere in this fishery." But we shall
ere long see what that word "careful" precisely means when used by a
man like Stubb, or almost any other whale hunter.
Starbuck was no crusader after perils; in him courage was not a
sentiment; but a thing simply useful to him, and always at hand upon
all mortally practical occasions. Besides, he thought, perhaps, that
in this business of whaling, courage was one of the great staple
outfits of the ship, like her beef and her bread, and not to be
foolishly wasted. Wherefore he had no fancy for lowering for whales
after sun-down; nor for persisting in fighting a fish that too much
persisted in fighting him. For, thought Starbuck, I am here in this
critical ocean to kill whales for my living, and not to be killed by
them for theirs; and that hundreds of men had been so killed Starbuck
well knew. What doom was his own father's? Where, in the bottomless
deeps, could he find the torn limbs of his brother?
With memories like these in him, and, moreover, given to a certain
superstitiousness, as has been said; the courage of this Starbuck
which could, nevertheless, still flourish, must indeed have been
extreme. But it was not in reasonable nature that a man so
organized, and with such terrible experiences and remembrances as he
had; it was not in nature that these things should fail in latently
engendering an element in him, which, under suitable circumstances,
would break out from its confinement, and burn all his courage up.
And brave as he might be, it was that sort of bravery chiefly,
visible in some intrepid men, which, while generally abiding firm in
the conflict with seas, or winds, or whales, or any of the ordinary
irrational horrors of the world, yet cannot withstand those more
terrific, because more spiritual terrors, which sometimes menace you
from the concentrating brow of an enraged and mighty man.
But were the coming narrative to reveal in any instance, the complete
abasement of poor Starbuck's fortitude, scarce might I have the heart
to write it; for it is a thing most sorrowful, nay shocking, to
expose the fall of valour in the soul. Men may seem detestable as
joint stock-companies and nations; knaves, fools, and murderers there
may be; men may have mean and meagre faces; but man, in the ideal,
is so noble and so sparkling, such a grand and glowing creature, that
over any ignominious blemish in him all his fellows should run to
throw their costliest robes. That immaculate manliness we feel
within ourselves, so far within us, that it remains intact though all
the outer character seem gone; bleeds with keenest anguish at the
undraped spectacle of a valor-ruined man. Nor can piety itself, at
such a shameful sight, completely stifle her upbraidings against the
permitting stars. But this august dignity I treat of, is not the
dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding dignity which has no
robed investiture. Thou shalt see it shining in the arm that wields
a pick or drives a spike; that democratic dignity which, on all
hands, radiates without end from God; Himself! The great God
absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy! His
omnipresence, our divine equality!
If, then, to meanest mariners, and renegades and castaways, I shall
hereafter ascribe high qualities, though dark; weave round them
tragic graces; if even the most mournful, perchance the most abased,
among them all, shall at times lift himself to the exalted mounts; if
I shall touch that workman's arm with some ethereal light; if I shall
spread a rainbow over his disastrous set of sun; then against all
mortal critics bear me out in it, thou Just Spirit of Equality,
which hast spread one royal mantle of humanity over all my kind!
Bear me out in it, thou great democratic God! who didst not refuse to
the swart convict, Bunyan, the pale, poetic pearl; Thou who didst
clothe with doubly hammered leaves of finest gold, the stumped and
paupered arm of old Cervantes; Thou who didst pick up Andrew Jackson
from the pebbles; who didst hurl him upon a war-horse; who didst
thunder him higher than a throne! Thou who, in all Thy mighty,
earthly marchings, ever cullest Thy selectest champions from the
kingly commons; bear me out in it, O God!
Knights and Squires.
Stubb was the second mate. He was a native of Cape Cod; and hence,
according to local usage, was called a Cape-Cod-man. A
happy-go-lucky; neither craven nor valiant; taking perils as they
came with an indifferent air; and while engaged in the most imminent
crisis of the chase, toiling away, calm and collected as a journeyman
joiner engaged for the year. Good-humored, easy, and careless, he
presided over his whale-boat as if the most deadly encounter were but
a dinner, and his crew all invited guests. He was as particular
about the comfortable arrangement of his part of the boat, as an
old stage-driver is about the snugness of his box. When close to the
whale, in the very death-lock of the fight, he handled his unpitying
lance coolly and off-handedly, as a whistling tinker his hammer. He
would hum over his old rigadig tunes while flank and flank with the
most exasperated monster. Long usage had, for this Stubb, converted
the jaws of death into an easy chair. What he thought of death
itself, there is no telling. Whether he ever thought of it at all,
might be a question; but, if he ever did chance to cast his mind that
way after a comfortable dinner, no doubt, like a good sailor, he took
it to be a sort of call of the watch to tumble aloft, and bestir
themselves there, about something which he would find out when he
obeyed the order, and not sooner.
What, perhaps, with other things, made Stubb such an easy-going,
unfearing man, so cheerily trudging off with the burden of life in a
world full of grave pedlars, all bowed to the ground with their
packs; what helped to bring about that almost impious good-humor of
his; that thing must have been his pipe. For, like his nose, his
short, black little pipe was one of the regular features of his face.
You would almost as soon have expected him to turn out of his bunk
without his nose as without his pipe. He kept a whole row of pipes
there ready loaded, stuck in a rack, within easy reach of his hand;
and, whenever he turned in, he smoked them all out in succession,
lighting one from the other to the end of the chapter; then loading
them again to be in readiness anew. For, when Stubb dressed, instead
of first putting his legs into his trowsers, he put his pipe into his
I say this continual smoking must have been one cause, at least, of
his peculiar disposition; for every one knows that this earthly air,
whether ashore or afloat, is terribly infected with the nameless
miseries of the numberless mortals who have died exhaling it; and as
in time of the cholera, some people go about with a camphorated
handkerchief to their mouths; so, likewise, against all mortal
tribulations, Stubb's tobacco smoke might have operated as a sort of
The third mate was Flask, a native of Tisbury, in Martha's Vineyard.
A short, stout, ruddy young fellow, very pugnacious concerning
whales, who somehow seemed to think that the great leviathans had
personally and hereditarily affronted him; and therefore it was a
sort of point of honour with him, to destroy them whenever
encountered. So utterly lost was he to all sense of reverence for
the many marvels of their majestic bulk and mystic ways; and so dead
to anything like an apprehension of any possible danger from
encountering them; that in his poor opinion, the wondrous whale was
but a species of magnified mouse, or at least water-rat, requiring
only a little circumvention and some small application of time and
trouble in order to kill and boil. This ignorant, unconscious
fearlessness of his made him a little waggish in the matter of
whales; he followed these fish for the fun of it; and a three years'
voyage round Cape Horn was only a jolly joke that lasted that length
of time. As a carpenter's nails are divided into wrought nails and
cut nails; so mankind may be similarly divided. Little Flask was one
of the wrought ones; made to clinch tight and last long. They called
him King-Post on board of the Pequod; because, in form, he could be
well likened to the short, square timber known by that name in Arctic
whalers; and which by the means of many radiating side timbers
inserted into it, serves to brace the ship against the icy
concussions of those battering seas.
Now these three mates--Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask, were momentous
men. They it was who by universal prescription commanded three of the
Pequod's boats as headsmen. In that grand order of battle in which
Captain Ahab would probably marshal his forces to descend on the
whales, these three headsmen were as captains of companies. Or,
being armed with their long keen whaling spears, they were as a
picked trio of lancers; even as the harpooneers were flingers of
And since in this famous fishery, each mate or headsman, like a
Gothic Knight of old, is always accompanied by his boat-steerer or
harpooneer, who in certain conjunctures provides him with a fresh
lance, when the former one has been badly twisted, or elbowed in the
assault; and moreover, as there generally subsists between the two, a
close intimacy and friendliness; it is therefore but meet, that in
this place we set down who the Pequod's harpooneers were, and to what
headsman each of them belonged.
First of all was Queequeg, whom Starbuck, the chief mate, had
selected for his squire. But Queequeg is already known.
Next was Tashtego, an unmixed Indian from Gay Head, the most westerly
promontory of Martha's Vineyard, where there still exists the last
remnant of a village of red men, which has long supplied the
neighboring island of Nantucket with many of her most daring
harpooneers. In the fishery, they usually go by the generic name of
Gay-Headers. Tashtego's long, lean, sable hair, his high cheek
bones, and black rounding eyes--for an Indian, Oriental in their
largeness, but Antarctic in their glittering expression--all this
sufficiently proclaimed him an inheritor of the unvitiated blood of
those proud warrior hunters, who, in quest of the great New England
moose, had scoured, bow in hand, the aboriginal forests of the main.
But no longer snuffing in the trail of the wild beasts of the
woodland, Tashtego now hunted in the wake of the great whales of the
sea; the unerring harpoon of the son fitly replacing the infallible
arrow of the sires. To look at the tawny brawn of his lithe snaky
limbs, you would almost have credited the superstitions of some of
the earlier Puritans, and half-believed this wild Indian to be a son
of the Prince of the Powers of the Air. Tashtego was Stubb the
second mate's squire.
Third among the harpooneers was Daggoo, a gigantic, coal-black
negro-savage, with a lion-like tread--an Ahasuerus to behold.
Suspended from his ears were two golden hoops, so large that the
sailors called them ring-bolts, and would talk of securing the
top-sail halyards to them. In his youth Daggoo had voluntarily
shipped on board of a whaler, lying in a lonely bay on his native
coast. And never having been anywhere in the world but in Africa,
Nantucket, and the pagan harbors most frequented by whalemen; and
having now led for many years the bold life of the fishery in the
ships of owners uncommonly heedful of what manner of men they
shipped; Daggoo retained all his barbaric virtues, and erect as a
giraffe, moved about the decks in all the pomp of six feet five in
his socks. There was a corporeal humility in looking up at him; and
a white man standing before him seemed a white flag come to beg truce
of a fortress. Curious to tell, this imperial negro, Ahasuerus
Daggoo, was the Squire of little Flask, who looked like a chess-man
beside him. As for the residue of the Pequod's company, be it said,
that at the present day not one in two of the many thousand men
before the mast employed in the American whale fishery, are Americans
born, though pretty nearly all the officers are. Herein it is the
same with the American whale fishery as with the American army and
military and merchant navies, and the engineering forces employed in
the construction of the American Canals and Railroads. The same, I
say, because in all these cases the native American liberally
provides the brains, the rest of the world as generously supplying
the muscles. No small number of these whaling seamen belong to the
Azores, where the outward bound Nantucket whalers frequently touch to
augment their crews from the hardy peasants of those rocky shores.
In like manner, the Greenland whalers sailing out of Hull or London,
put in at the Shetland Islands, to receive the full complement of
their crew. Upon the passage homewards, they drop them there again.
How it is, there is no telling, but Islanders seem to make the best
whalemen. They were nearly all Islanders in the Pequod, ISOLATOES
too, I call such, not acknowledging the common continent of men, but
each ISOLATO living on a separate continent of his own. Yet now,
federated along one keel, what a set these Isolatoes were! An
Anacharsis Clootz deputation from all the isles of the sea, and all
the ends of the earth, accompanying Old Ahab in the Pequod to lay the
world's grievances before that bar from which not very many of them
ever come back. Black Little Pip--he never did--oh, no! he went
before. Poor Alabama boy! On the grim Pequod's forecastle, ye shall
ere long see him, beating his tambourine; prelusive of the eternal
time, when sent for, to the great quarter-deck on high, he was bid
strike in with angels, and beat his tambourine in glory; called a
coward here, hailed a hero there!
For several days after leaving Nantucket, nothing above hatches was
seen of Captain Ahab. The mates regularly relieved each other at the
watches, and for aught that could be seen to the contrary, they
seemed to be the only commanders of the ship; only they sometimes
issued from the cabin with orders so sudden and peremptory, that
after all it was plain they but commanded vicariously. Yes, their
supreme lord and dictator was there, though hitherto unseen by any
eyes not permitted to penetrate into the now sacred retreat of the
Every time I ascended to the deck from my watches below, I instantly
gazed aft to mark if any strange face were visible; for my first
vague disquietude touching the unknown captain, now in the seclusion
of the sea, became almost a perturbation. This was strangely
heightened at times by the ragged Elijah's diabolical incoherences
uninvitedly recurring to me, with a subtle energy I could not have
before conceived of. But poorly could I withstand them, much as in
other moods I was almost ready to smile at the solemn whimsicalities
of that outlandish prophet of the wharves. But whatever it was of
apprehensiveness or uneasiness--to call it so--which I felt, yet
whenever I came to look about me in the ship, it seemed against all
warrantry to cherish such emotions. For though the harpooneers, with
the great body of the crew, were a far more barbaric, heathenish, and
motley set than any of the tame merchant-ship companies which my
previous experiences had made me acquainted with, still I ascribed
this--and rightly ascribed it--to the fierce uniqueness of the very
nature of that wild Scandinavian vocation in which I had so
abandonedly embarked. But it was especially the aspect of the three
chief officers of the ship, the mates, which was most forcibly
calculated to allay these colourless misgivings, and induce confidence
and cheerfulness in every presentment of the voyage. Three better,
more likely sea-officers and men, each in his own different way,
could not readily be found, and they were every one of them
Americans; a Nantucketer, a Vineyarder, a Cape man. Now, it being
Christmas when the ship shot from out her harbor, for a space we had
biting Polar weather, though all the time running away from it to the
southward; and by every degree and minute of latitude which we
sailed, gradually leaving that merciless winter, and all its
intolerable weather behind us. It was one of those less lowering,
but still grey and gloomy enough mornings of the transition, when
with a fair wind the ship was rushing through the water with a
vindictive sort of leaping and melancholy rapidity, that as I mounted
to the deck at the call of the forenoon watch, so soon as I levelled
my glance towards the taffrail, foreboding shivers ran over me.
Reality outran apprehension; Captain Ahab stood upon his
There seemed no sign of common bodily illness about him, nor of the
recovery from any. He looked like a man cut away from the stake,
when the fire has overrunningly wasted all the limbs without
consuming them, or taking away one particle from their compacted aged
robustness. His whole high, broad form, seemed made of solid bronze,
and shaped in an unalterable mould, like Cellini's cast Perseus.
Threading its way out from among his grey hairs, and continuing right
down one side of his tawny scorched face and neck, till it
disappeared in his clothing, you saw a slender rod-like mark, lividly
whitish. It resembled that perpendicular seam sometimes made in the
straight, lofty trunk of a great tree, when the upper lightning
tearingly darts down it, and without wrenching a single twig, peels
and grooves out the bark from top to bottom, ere running off into the
soil, leaving the tree still greenly alive, but branded. Whether
that mark was born with him, or whether it was the scar left by some
desperate wound, no one could certainly say. By some tacit consent,
throughout the voyage little or no allusion was made to it,
especially by the mates. But once Tashtego's senior, an old Gay-Head
Indian among the crew, superstitiously asserted that not till he was
full forty years old did Ahab become that way branded, and then it
came upon him, not in the fury of any mortal fray, but in an
elemental strife at sea. Yet, this wild hint seemed inferentially
negatived, by what a grey Manxman insinuated, an old sepulchral man,
who, having never before sailed out of Nantucket, had never ere this
laid eye upon wild Ahab. Nevertheless, the old sea-traditions, the
immemorial credulities, popularly invested this old Manxman with
preternatural powers of discernment. So that no white sailor
seriously contradicted him when he said that if ever Captain Ahab
should be tranquilly laid out--which might hardly come to pass, so he
muttered--then, whoever should do that last office for the dead,
would find a birth-mark on him from crown to sole.
So powerfully did the whole grim aspect of Ahab affect me, and the
livid brand which streaked it, that for the first few moments I
hardly noted that not a little of this overbearing grimness was owing
to the barbaric white leg upon which he partly stood. It had
previously come to me that this ivory leg had at sea been fashioned
from the polished bone of the sperm whale's jaw. "Aye, he was
dismasted off Japan," said the old Gay-Head Indian once; "but like
his dismasted craft, he shipped another mast without coming home for
it. He has a quiver of 'em."
I was struck with the singular posture he maintained. Upon each side
of the Pequod's quarter deck, and pretty close to the mizzen shrouds,
there was an auger hole, bored about half an inch or so, into the
plank. His bone leg steadied in that hole; one arm elevated, and
holding by a shroud; Captain Ahab stood erect, looking straight out
beyond the ship's ever-pitching prow. There was an infinity of
firmest fortitude, a determinate, unsurrenderable wilfulness, in the
fixed and fearless, forward dedication of that glance. Not a word he
spoke; nor did his officers say aught to him; though by all their
minutest gestures and expressions, they plainly showed the uneasy, if
not painful, consciousness of being under a troubled master-eye. And
not only that, but moody stricken Ahab stood before them with a
crucifixion in his face; in all the nameless regal overbearing
dignity of some mighty woe.
Ere long, from his first visit in the air, he withdrew into his
cabin. But after that morning, he was every day visible to the crew;
either standing in his pivot-hole, or seated upon an ivory stool he
had; or heavily walking the deck. As the sky grew less gloomy;
indeed, began to grow a little genial, he became still less and less
a recluse; as if, when the ship had sailed from home, nothing but the
dead wintry bleakness of the sea had then kept him so secluded. And,
by and by, it came to pass, that he was almost continually in the
air; but, as yet, for all that he said, or perceptibly did, on the at
last sunny deck, he seemed as unnecessary there as another mast. But
the Pequod was only making a passage now; not regularly cruising;
nearly all whaling preparatives needing supervision the mates were
fully competent to, so that there was little or nothing, out of
himself, to employ or excite Ahab, now; and thus chase away, for that
one interval, the clouds that layer upon layer were piled upon his
brow, as ever all clouds choose the loftiest peaks to pile themselves
Nevertheless, ere long, the warm, warbling persuasiveness of the
pleasant, holiday weather we came to, seemed gradually to charm him
from his mood. For, as when the red-cheeked, dancing girls, April
and May, trip home to the wintry, misanthropic woods; even the
barest, ruggedest, most thunder-cloven old oak will at least send
forth some few green sprouts, to welcome such glad-hearted visitants;
so Ahab did, in the end, a little respond to the playful allurings of
that girlish air. More than once did he put forth the faint blossom
of a look, which, in any other man, would have soon flowered out in a
Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb.
Some days elapsed, and ice and icebergs all astern, the Pequod now
went rolling through the bright Quito spring, which, at sea, almost
perpetually reigns on the threshold of the eternal August of the
Tropic. The warmly cool, clear, ringing, perfumed, overflowing,
redundant days, were as crystal goblets of Persian sherbet, heaped
up--flaked up, with rose-water snow. The starred and stately nights
seemed haughty dames in jewelled velvets, nursing at home in lonely
pride, the memory of their absent conquering Earls, the golden
helmeted suns! For sleeping man, 'twas hard to choose between such
winsome days and such seducing nights. But all the witcheries of
that unwaning weather did not merely lend new spells and potencies to
the outward world. Inward they turned upon the soul, especially when
the still mild hours of eve came on; then, memory shot her crystals
as the clear ice most forms of noiseless twilights. And all these
subtle agencies, more and more they wrought on Ahab's texture.
Old age is always wakeful; as if, the longer linked with life, the
less man has to do with aught that looks like death. Among
sea-commanders, the old greybeards will oftenest leave their berths
to visit the night-cloaked deck. It was so with Ahab; only that now,
of late, he seemed so much to live in the open air, that truly
speaking, his visits were more to the cabin, than from the cabin to
the planks. "It feels like going down into one's tomb,"--he would
mutter to himself--"for an old captain like me to be descending this
narrow scuttle, to go to my grave-dug berth."
So, almost every twenty-four hours, when the watches of the night
were set, and the band on deck sentinelled the slumbers of the band
below; and when if a rope was to be hauled upon the forecastle, the
sailors flung it not rudely down, as by day, but with some
cautiousness dropt it to its place for fear of disturbing their
slumbering shipmates; when this sort of steady quietude would begin
to prevail, habitually, the silent steersman would watch the
cabin-scuttle; and ere long the old man would emerge, gripping at the
iron banister, to help his crippled way. Some considering touch of
humanity was in him; for at times like these, he usually abstained
from patrolling the quarter-deck; because to his wearied mates,
seeking repose within six inches of his ivory heel, such would have
been the reverberating crack and din of that bony step, that their
dreams would have been on the crunching teeth of sharks. But once,
the mood was on him too deep for common regardings; and as with
heavy, lumber-like pace he was measuring the ship from taffrail to
mainmast, Stubb, the old second mate, came up from below, with a
certain unassured, deprecating humorousness, hinted that if Captain
Ahab was pleased to walk the planks, then, no one could say nay; but
there might be some way of muffling the noise; hinting something
indistinctly and hesitatingly about a globe of tow, and the insertion
into it, of the ivory heel. Ah! Stubb, thou didst not know Ahab
"Am I a cannon-ball, Stubb," said Ahab, "that thou wouldst wad me
that fashion? But go thy ways; I had forgot. Below to thy nightly
grave; where such as ye sleep between shrouds, to use ye to the
filling one at last.--Down, dog, and kennel!"
Starting at the unforseen concluding exclamation of the so suddenly
scornful old man, Stubb was speechless a moment; then said excitedly,
"I am not used to be spoken to that way, sir; I do but less than half
like it, sir."
"Avast! gritted Ahab between his set teeth, and violently moving
away, as if to avoid some passionate temptation.
"No, sir; not yet," said Stubb, emboldened, "I will not tamely be
called a dog, sir."
"Then be called ten times a donkey, and a mule, and an ass, and
begone, or I'll clear the world of thee!"
As he said this, Ahab advanced upon him with such overbearing terrors
in his aspect, that Stubb involuntarily retreated.
"I was never served so before without giving a hard blow for it,"
muttered Stubb, as he found himself descending the cabin-scuttle.
"It's very queer. Stop, Stubb; somehow, now, I don't well know
whether to go back and strike him, or--what's that?--down here on my
knees and pray for him? Yes, that was the thought coming up in me;
but it would be the first time I ever DID pray. It's queer; very
queer; and he's queer too; aye, take him fore and aft, he's about the
queerest old man Stubb ever sailed with. How he flashed at me!--his
eyes like powder-pans! is he mad? Anyway there's something on his
mind, as sure as there must be something on a deck when it cracks.
He aint in his bed now, either, more than three hours out of the
twenty-four; and he don't sleep then. Didn't that Dough-Boy, the
steward, tell me that of a morning he always finds the old man's
hammock clothes all rumpled and tumbled, and the sheets down at the
foot, and the coverlid almost tied into knots, and the pillow a sort
of frightful hot, as though a baked brick had been on it? A hot old
man! I guess he's got what some folks ashore call a conscience; it's
a kind of Tic-Dolly-row they say--worse nor a toothache. Well, well;
I don't know what it is, but the Lord keep me from catching it. He's
full of riddles; I wonder what he goes into the after hold for, every
night, as Dough-Boy tells me he suspects; what's that for, I should
like to know? Who's made appointments with him in the hold? Ain't
that queer, now? But there's no telling, it's the old game--Here
goes for a snooze. Damn me, it's worth a fellow's while to be born
into the world, if only to fall right asleep. And now that I think
of it, that's about the first thing babies do, and that's a sort of
queer, too. Damn me, but all things are queer, come to think of 'em.
But that's against my principles. Think not, is my eleventh
commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth--So here goes
again. But how's that? didn't he call me a dog? blazes! he called me
ten times a donkey, and piled a lot of jackasses on top of THAT! He
might as well have kicked me, and done with it. Maybe he DID kick
me, and I didn't observe it, I was so taken all aback with his brow,
somehow. It flashed like a bleached bone. What the devil's the
matter with me? I don't stand right on my legs. Coming afoul of
that old man has a sort of turned me wrong side out. By the Lord, I
must have been dreaming, though--How? how? how?--but the only way's
to stash it; so here goes to hammock again; and in the morning, I'll
see how this plaguey juggling thinks over by daylight."
When Stubb had departed, Ahab stood for a while leaning over the
bulwarks; and then, as had been usual with him of late, calling a
sailor of the watch, he sent him below for his ivory stool, and also
his pipe. Lighting the pipe at the binnacle lamp and planting the
stool on the weather side of the deck, he sat and smoked.
In old Norse times, the thrones of the sea-loving Danish kings were
fabricated, saith tradition, of the tusks of the narwhale. How could
one look at Ahab then, seated on that tripod of bones, without
bethinking him of the royalty it symbolized? For a Khan of the
plank, and a king of the sea, and a great lord of Leviathans was
Some moments passed, during which the thick vapour came from his mouth
in quick and constant puffs, which blew back again into his face.
"How now," he soliloquized at last, withdrawing the tube, "this
smoking no longer soothes. Oh, my pipe! hard must it go with me if
thy charm be gone! Here have I been unconsciously toiling, not
pleasuring--aye, and ignorantly smoking to windward all the while; to
windward, and with such nervous whiffs, as if, like the dying whale,
my final jets were the strongest and fullest of trouble. What
business have I with this pipe? This thing that is meant for
sereneness, to send up mild white vapours among mild white hairs, not
among torn iron-grey locks like mine. I'll smoke no more--"
He tossed the still lighted pipe into the sea. The fire hissed in
the waves; the same instant the ship shot by the bubble the sinking
pipe made. With slouched hat, Ahab lurchingly paced the planks.
Next morning Stubb accosted Flask.
"Such a queer dream, King-Post, I never had. You know the old man's
ivory leg, well I dreamed he kicked me with it; and when I tried to
kick back, upon my soul, my little man, I kicked my leg right off!
And then, presto! Ahab seemed a pyramid, and I, like a blazing fool,
kept kicking at it. But what was still more curious, Flask--you know
how curious all dreams are--through all this rage that I was in, I
somehow seemed to be thinking to myself, that after all, it was not
much of an insult, that kick from Ahab. 'Why,' thinks I, 'what's the
row? It's not a real leg, only a false leg.' And there's a mighty
difference between a living thump and a dead thump. That's what
makes a blow from the hand, Flask, fifty times more savage to bear
than a blow from a cane. The living member--that makes the living
insult, my little man. And thinks I to myself all the while, mind,
while I was stubbing my silly toes against that cursed pyramid--so
confoundedly contradictory was it all, all the while, I say, I was
thinking to myself, 'what's his leg now, but a cane--a whalebone
cane. Yes,' thinks I, 'it was only a playful cudgelling--in fact,
only a whaleboning that he gave me--not a base kick. Besides,'
thinks I, 'look at it once; why, the end of it--the foot part--what a
small sort of end it is; whereas, if a broad footed farmer kicked me,
THERE'S a devilish broad insult. But this insult is whittled down to
a point only.' But now comes the greatest joke of the dream, Flask.
While I was battering away at the pyramid, a sort of badger-haired
old merman, with a hump on his back, takes me by the shoulders, and
slews me round. 'What are you 'bout?' says he. Slid! man, but I was
frightened. Such a phiz! But, somehow, next moment I was over the
fright. 'What am I about?' says I at last. 'And what business is
that of yours, I should like to know, Mr. Humpback? Do YOU want a
kick?' By the lord, Flask, I had no sooner said that, than he turned
round his stern to me, bent over, and dragging up a lot of seaweed he
had for a clout--what do you think, I saw?--why thunder alive, man,
his stern was stuck full of marlinspikes, with the points out. Says
I, on second thoughts, 'I guess I won't kick you, old fellow.' 'Wise
Stubb,' said he, 'wise Stubb;' and kept muttering it all the time, a
sort of eating of his own gums like a chimney hag. Seeing he wasn't
going to stop saying over his 'wise Stubb, wise Stubb,' I thought I
might as well fall to kicking the pyramid again. But I had only just
lifted my foot for it, when he roared out, 'Stop that kicking!'
'Halloa,' says I, 'what's the matter now, old fellow?' 'Look ye
here,' says he; 'let's argue the insult. Captain Ahab kicked ye,
didn't he?' 'Yes, he did,' says I--'right HERE it was.' 'Very
good,' says he--'he used his ivory leg, didn't he?' 'Yes, he did,'
says I. 'Well then,' says he, 'wise Stubb, what have you to complain
of? Didn't he kick with right good will? it wasn't a common pitch
pine leg he kicked with, was it? No, you were kicked by a great man,
and with a beautiful ivory leg, Stubb. It's an honour; I consider it
an honour. Listen, wise Stubb. In old England the greatest lords
think it great glory to be slapped by a queen, and made
garter-knights of; but, be YOUR boast, Stubb, that ye were kicked by
old Ahab, and made a wise man of. Remember what I say; BE kicked by
him; account his kicks honours; and on no account kick back; for you
can't help yourself, wise Stubb. Don't you see that pyramid?' With
that, he all of a sudden seemed somehow, in some queer fashion, to
swim off into the air. I snored; rolled over; and there I was in my
hammock! Now, what do you think of that dream, Flask?"
"I don't know; it seems a sort of foolish to me, tho.'"
"May be; may be. But it's made a wise man of me, Flask. D'ye see
Ahab standing there, sideways looking over the stern? Well, the best
thing you can do, Flask, is to let the old man alone; never speak to
him, whatever he says. Halloa! What's that he shouts? Hark!"
"Mast-head, there! Look sharp, all of ye! There are whales
If ye see a white one, split your lungs for him!
"What do you think of that now, Flask? ain't there a small drop of
something queer about that, eh? A white whale--did ye mark that,
man? Look ye--there's something special in the wind. Stand by for
it, Flask. Ahab has that that's bloody on his mind. But, mum; he
comes this way."
Already we are boldly launched upon the deep; but soon we shall be
lost in its unshored, harbourless immensities. Ere that come to pass;
ere the Pequod's weedy hull rolls side by side with the barnacled
hulls of the leviathan; at the outset it is but well to attend to a
matter almost indispensable to a thorough appreciative understanding
of the more special leviathanic revelations and allusions of all
sorts which are to follow.
It is some systematized exhibition of the whale in his broad genera,
that I would now fain put before you. Yet is it no easy task. The
classification of the constituents of a chaos, nothing less is here
essayed. Listen to what the best and latest authorities have laid
"No branch of Zoology is so much involved as that which is entitled
Cetology," says Captain Scoresby, A.D. 1820.
"It is not my intention, were it in my power, to enter into the
inquiry as to the true method of dividing the cetacea into groups and
families.... Utter confusion exists among the historians of this
animal" (sperm whale), says Surgeon Beale, A.D. 1839.
"Unfitness to pursue our research in the unfathomable waters."
"Impenetrable veil covering our knowledge of the cetacea." "A field
strewn with thorns." "All these incomplete indications but serve to
torture us naturalists."
Thus speak of the whale, the great Cuvier, and John Hunter, and
Lesson, those lights of zoology and anatomy. Nevertheless, though of
real knowledge there be little, yet of books there are a plenty; and
so in some small degree, with cetology, or the science of whales.
Many are the men, small and great, old and new, landsmen and seamen,
who have at large or in little, written of the whale. Run over a
few:--The Authors of the Bible; Aristotle; Pliny; Aldrovandi; Sir
Thomas Browne; Gesner; Ray; Linnaeus; Rondeletius; Willoughby; Green;
Artedi; Sibbald; Brisson; Marten; Lacepede; Bonneterre; Desmarest;
Baron Cuvier; Frederick Cuvier; John Hunter; Owen; Scoresby; Beale;
Bennett; J. Ross Browne; the Author of Miriam Coffin; Olmstead; and
the Rev. T. Cheever. But to what ultimate generalizing purpose all
these have written, the above cited extracts will show.
Of the names in this list of whale authors, only those following Owen
ever saw living whales; and but one of them was a real professional
harpooneer and whaleman. I mean Captain Scoresby. On the separate
subject of the Greenland or right-whale, he is the best existing
authority. But Scoresby knew nothing and says nothing of the great
sperm whale, compared with which the Greenland whale is almost
unworthy mentioning. And here be it said, that the Greenland whale
is an usurper upon the throne of the seas. He is not even by any
means the largest of the whales. Yet, owing to the long priority of
his claims, and the profound ignorance which, till some seventy years
back, invested the then fabulous or utterly unknown sperm-whale, and
which ignorance to this present day still reigns in all but some few
scientific retreats and whale-ports; this usurpation has been every
way complete. Reference to nearly all the leviathanic allusions in
the great poets of past days, will satisfy you that the Greenland
whale, without one rival, was to them the monarch of the seas. But
the time has at last come for a new proclamation. This is Charing
Cross; hear ye! good people all,--the Greenland whale is
deposed,--the great sperm whale now reigneth!
There are only two books in being which at all pretend to put the
living sperm whale before you, and at the same time, in the remotest
degree succeed in the attempt. Those books are Beale's and
Bennett's; both in their time surgeons to English South-Sea
whale-ships, and both exact and reliable men. The original matter
touching the sperm whale to be found in their volumes is necessarily
small; but so far as it goes, it is of excellent quality, though
mostly confined to scientific description. As yet, however, the
sperm whale, scientific or poetic, lives not complete in any
literature. Far above all other hunted whales, his is an unwritten
Now the various species of whales need some sort of popular
comprehensive classification, if only an easy outline one for the
present, hereafter to be filled in all its departments by subsequent
laborers. As no better man advances to take this matter in hand, I
hereupon offer my own poor endeavors. I promise nothing complete;
because any human thing supposed to be complete, must for that very
reason infallibly be faulty. I shall not pretend to a minute
anatomical description of the various species, or--in this place at
least--to much of any description. My object here is simply to
project the draught of a systematization of cetology. I am the
architect, not the builder.
But it is a ponderous task; no ordinary letter-sorter in the
Post-Office is equal to it. To grope down into the bottom of the sea
after them; to have one's hands among the unspeakable foundations,
ribs, and very pelvis of the world; this is a fearful thing. What am
I that I should essay to hook the nose of this leviathan! The awful
tauntings in Job might well appal me. "Will he the (leviathan) make
a covenant with thee? Behold the hope of him is vain! But I have
swam through libraries and sailed through oceans; I have had to do
with whales with these visible hands; I am in earnest; and I will
try. There are some preliminaries to settle.
First: The uncertain, unsettled condition of this science of Cetology
is in the very vestibule attested by the fact, that in some quarters
it still remains a moot point whether a whale be a fish. In his
System of Nature, A.D. 1776, Linnaeus declares, "I hereby separate
the whales from the fish." But of my own knowledge, I know that down
to the year 1850, sharks and shad, alewives and herring, against
Linnaeus's express edict, were still found dividing the possession of
the same seas with the Leviathan.
The grounds upon which Linnaeus would fain have banished the whales
from the waters, he states as follows: "On account of their warm
bilocular heart, their lungs, their movable eyelids, their hollow
ears, penem intrantem feminam mammis lactantem," and finally, "ex
lege naturae jure meritoque." I submitted all this to my friends
Simeon Macey and Charley Coffin, of Nantucket, both messmates of mine
in a certain voyage, and they united in the opinion that the reasons
set forth were altogether insufficient. Charley profanely hinted
they were humbug.
Be it known that, waiving all argument, I take the good old fashioned
ground that the whale is a fish, and call upon holy Jonah to back me.
This fundamental thing settled, the next point is, in what internal
respect does the whale differ from other fish. Above, Linnaeus has
given you those items. But in brief, they are these: lungs and warm
blood; whereas, all other fish are lungless and cold blooded.
Next: how shall we define the whale, by his obvious externals, so as
conspicuously to label him for all time to come? To be short, then,
a whale is A SPOUTING FISH WITH A HORIZONTAL TAIL. There you have
him. However contracted, that definition is the result of expanded
meditation. A walrus spouts much like a whale, but the walrus is not
a fish, because he is amphibious. But the last term of the
definition is still more cogent, as coupled with the first. Almost
any one must have noticed that all the fish familiar to landsmen have
not a flat, but a vertical, or up-and-down tail. Whereas, among
spouting fish the tail, though it may be similarly shaped, invariably
assumes a horizontal position.
By the above definition of what a whale is, I do by no means exclude
from the leviathanic brotherhood any sea creature hitherto identified
with the whale by the best informed Nantucketers; nor, on the other
hand, link with it any fish hitherto authoritatively regarded as
alien.* Hence, all the smaller, spouting, and horizontal tailed fish
must be included in this ground-plan of Cetology. Now, then, come
the grand divisions of the entire whale host.
*I am aware that down to the present time, the fish styled Lamatins
and Dugongs (Pig-fish and Sow-fish of the Coffins of Nantucket) are
included by many naturalists among the whales. But as these pig-fish
are a noisy, contemptible set, mostly lurking in the mouths of
rivers, and feeding on wet hay, and especially as they do not spout,
I deny their credentials as whales; and have presented them with
their passports to quit the Kingdom of Cetology.
First: According to magnitude I divide the whales into three primary
BOOKS (subdivisible into CHAPTERS), and these shall comprehend them
all, both small and large.
I. THE FOLIO WHALE; II. the OCTAVO WHALE; III. the DUODECIMO WHALE.
As the type of the FOLIO I present the SPERM WHALE; of the OCTAVO,
the GRAMPUS; of the DUODECIMO, the PORPOISE.
FOLIOS. Among these I here include the following chapters:--I. The
SPERM WHALE; II. the RIGHT WHALE; III. the FIN-BACK WHALE; IV. the
HUMP-BACKED WHALE; V. the RAZOR-BACK WHALE; VI. the SULPHUR-BOTTOM
BOOK I. (FOLIO), CHAPTER I. (SPERM WHALE).--This whale, among the
English of old vaguely known as the Trumpa whale, and the Physeter
whale, and the Anvil Headed whale, is the present Cachalot of the
French, and the Pottsfich of the Germans, and the Macrocephalus of
the Long Words. He is, without doubt, the largest inhabitant of the
globe; the most formidable of all whales to encounter; the most
majestic in aspect; and lastly, by far the most valuable in commerce;
he being the only creature from which that valuable substance,
spermaceti, is obtained. All his peculiarities will, in many other
places, be enlarged upon. It is chiefly with his name that I now
have to do. Philologically considered, it is absurd. Some centuries
ago, when the Sperm whale was almost wholly unknown in his own
proper individuality, and when his oil was only accidentally obtained
from the stranded fish; in those days spermaceti, it would seem, was
popularly supposed to be derived from a creature identical with the
one then known in England as the Greenland or Right Whale. It was
the idea also, that this same spermaceti was that quickening humor of
the Greenland Whale which the first syllable of the word literally
expresses. In those times, also, spermaceti was exceedingly scarce,
not being used for light, but only as an ointment and medicament. It
was only to be had from the druggists as you nowadays buy an ounce of
rhubarb. When, as I opine, in the course of time, the true nature of
spermaceti became known, its original name was still retained by the
dealers; no doubt to enhance its value by a notion so strangely
significant of its scarcity. And so the appellation must at last
have come to be bestowed upon the whale from which this spermaceti
was really derived.
BOOK I. (FOLIO), CHAPTER II. (RIGHT WHALE).--In one respect this is
the most venerable of the leviathans, being the one first regularly
hunted by man. It yields the article commonly known as whalebone or
baleen; and the oil specially known as "whale oil," an inferior
article in commerce. Among the fishermen, he is indiscriminately
designated by all the following titles: The Whale; the Greenland
Whale; the Black Whale; the Great Whale; the True Whale; the Right
Whale. There is a deal of obscurity concerning the identity of the
species thus multitudinously baptised. What then is the whale, which
I include in the second species of my Folios? It is the Great
Mysticetus of the English naturalists; the Greenland Whale of the
English whalemen; the Baliene Ordinaire of the French whalemen; the
Growlands Walfish of the Swedes. It is the whale which for more than
two centuries past has been hunted by the Dutch and English in the
Arctic seas; it is the whale which the American fishermen have long
pursued in the Indian ocean, on the Brazil Banks, on the Nor' West
Coast, and various other parts of the world, designated by them Right
Whale Cruising Grounds.
Some pretend to see a difference between the Greenland whale of the
English and the right whale of the Americans. But they precisely
agree in all their grand features; nor has there yet been presented a
single determinate fact upon which to ground a radical distinction.
It is by endless subdivisions based upon the most inconclusive
differences, that some departments of natural history become so
repellingly intricate. The right whale will be elsewhere treated of
at some length, with reference to elucidating the sperm whale.
BOOK I. (FOLIO), CHAPTER III. (FIN-BACK).--Under this head I reckon a
monster which, by the various names of Fin-Back, Tall-Spout, and
Long-John, has been seen almost in every sea and is commonly the
whale whose distant jet is so often descried by passengers crossing
the Atlantic, in the New York packet-tracks. In the length he
attains, and in his baleen, the Fin-back resembles the right whale,
but is of a less portly girth, and a lighter colour, approaching to
olive. His great lips present a cable-like aspect, formed by the
intertwisting, slanting folds of large wrinkles. His grand
distinguishing feature, the fin, from which he derives his name, is
often a conspicuous object. This fin is some three or four feet
long, growing vertically from the hinder part of the back, of an
angular shape, and with a very sharp pointed end. Even if not the
slightest other part of the creature be visible, this isolated fin
will, at times, be seen plainly projecting from the surface. When
the sea is moderately calm, and slightly marked with spherical
ripples, and this gnomon-like fin stands up and casts shadows upon
the wrinkled surface, it may well be supposed that the watery circle
surrounding it somewhat resembles a dial, with its style and wavy
hour-lines graved on it. On that Ahaz-dial the shadow often goes
back. The Fin-Back is not gregarious. He seems a whale-hater, as
some men are man-haters. Very shy; always going solitary;
unexpectedly rising to the surface in the remotest and most sullen
waters; his straight and single lofty jet rising like a tall
misanthropic spear upon a barren plain; gifted with such wondrous
power and velocity in swimming, as to defy all present pursuit from
man; this leviathan seems the banished and unconquerable Cain of his
race, bearing for his mark that style upon his back. From having the
baleen in his mouth, the Fin-Back is sometimes included with the
right whale, among a theoretic species denominated WHALEBONE WHALES,
that is, whales with baleen. Of these so called Whalebone whales,
there would seem to be several varieties, most of which, however, are
little known. Broad-nosed whales and beaked whales; pike-headed
whales; bunched whales; under-jawed whales and rostrated whales, are
the fishermen's names for a few sorts.
In connection with this appellative of "Whalebone whales," it is of
great importance to mention, that however such a nomenclature may be
convenient in facilitating allusions to some kind of whales, yet it
is in vain to attempt a clear classification of the Leviathan,
founded upon either his baleen, or hump, or fin, or teeth;
notwithstanding that those marked parts or features very obviously
seem better adapted to afford the basis for a regular system of
Cetology than any other detached bodily distinctions, which the
whale, in his kinds, presents. How then? The baleen, hump,
back-fin, and teeth; these are things whose peculiarities are
indiscriminately dispersed among all sorts of whales, without any
regard to what may be the nature of their structure in other and
more essential particulars. Thus, the sperm whale and the humpbacked
whale, each has a hump; but there the similitude ceases. Then, this
same humpbacked whale and the Greenland whale, each of these has
baleen; but there again the similitude ceases. And it is just the
same with the other parts above mentioned. In various sorts of
whales, they form such irregular combinations; or, in the case of any
one of them detached, such an irregular isolation; as utterly to defy
all general methodization formed upon such a basis. On this rock
every one of the whale-naturalists has split.
But it may possibly be conceived that, in the internal parts of the
whale, in his anatomy--there, at least, we shall be able to hit the
right classification. Nay; what thing, for example, is there in the
Greenland whale's anatomy more striking than his baleen? Yet we have
seen that by his baleen it is impossible correctly to classify the
Greenland whale. And if you descend into the bowels of the various
leviathans, why there you will not find distinctions a fiftieth part
as available to the systematizer as those external ones already
enumerated. What then remains? nothing but to take hold of the
whales bodily, in their entire liberal volume, and boldly sort them
that way. And this is the Bibliographical system here adopted; and
it is the only one that can possibly succeed, for it alone is
practicable. To proceed.
BOOK I. (FOLIO) CHAPTER IV. (HUMP-BACK).--This whale is often seen on
the northern American coast. He has been frequently captured there,
and towed into harbor. He has a great pack on him like a peddler; or
you might call him the Elephant and Castle whale. At any rate, the
popular name for him does not sufficiently distinguish him, since the
sperm whale also has a hump though a smaller one. His oil is not
very valuable. He has baleen. He is the most gamesome and
light-hearted of all the whales, making more gay foam and white water
generally than any other of them.
BOOK I. (FOLIO), CHAPTER V. (RAZOR-BACK).--Of this whale little is
known but his name. I have seen him at a distance off Cape Horn. Of
a retiring nature, he eludes both hunters and philosophers. Though
no coward, he has never yet shown any part of him but his back, which
rises in a long sharp ridge. Let him go. I know little more of him,
nor does anybody else.
BOOK I. (FOLIO), CHAPTER VI. (SULPHUR-BOTTOM).--Another retiring
gentleman, with a brimstone belly, doubtless got by scraping along
the Tartarian tiles in some of his profounder divings. He is seldom
seen; at least I have never seen him except in the remoter southern
seas, and then always at too great a distance to study his
countenance. He is never chased; he would run away with rope-walks
of line. Prodigies are told of him. Adieu, Sulphur Bottom! I can
say nothing more that is true of ye, nor can the oldest Nantucketer.
Thus ends BOOK I. (FOLIO), and now begins BOOK II. (OCTAVO).
OCTAVOES.*--These embrace the whales of middling magnitude, among
which present may be numbered:--I., the GRAMPUS; II., the BLACK FISH;
III., the NARWHALE; IV., the THRASHER; V., the KILLER.
*Why this book of whales is not denominated the Quarto is very plain.
Because, while the whales of this order, though smaller than those
of the former order, nevertheless retain a proportionate likeness to
them in figure, yet the bookbinder's Quarto volume in its dimensioned
form does not preserve the shape of the Folio volume, but the Octavo
BOOK II. (OCTAVO), CHAPTER I. (GRAMPUS).--Though this fish, whose
loud sonorous breathing, or rather blowing, has furnished a proverb
to landsmen, is so well known a denizen of the deep, yet is he not
popularly classed among whales. But possessing all the grand
distinctive features of the leviathan, most naturalists have
recognised him for one. He is of moderate octavo size, varying from
fifteen to twenty-five feet in length, and of corresponding
dimensions round the waist. He swims in herds; he is never regularly
hunted, though his oil is considerable in quantity, and pretty good
for light. By some fishermen his approach is regarded as premonitory
of the advance of the great sperm whale.
BOOK II. (OCTAVO), CHAPTER II. (BLACK FISH).--I give the popular
fishermen's names for all these fish, for generally they are the
best. Where any name happens to be vague or inexpressive, I shall
say so, and suggest another. I do so now, touching the Black Fish,
so-called, because blackness is the rule among almost all whales.
So, call him the Hyena Whale, if you please. His voracity is well
known, and from the circumstance that the inner angles of his lips
are curved upwards, he carries an everlasting Mephistophelean grin on
his face. This whale averages some sixteen or eighteen feet in
length. He is found in almost all latitudes. He has a peculiar way
of showing his dorsal hooked fin in swimming, which looks something
like a Roman nose. When not more profitably employed, the sperm
whale hunters sometimes capture the Hyena whale, to keep up the
supply of cheap oil for domestic employment--as some frugal
housekeepers, in the absence of company, and quite alone by
themselves, burn unsavory tallow instead of odorous wax. Though
their blubber is very thin, some of these whales will yield you
upwards of thirty gallons of oil.
BOOK II. (OCTAVO), CHAPTER III. (NARWHALE), that is, NOSTRIL
WHALE.--Another instance of a curiously named whale, so named I
suppose from his peculiar horn being originally mistaken for a peaked
nose. The creature is some sixteen feet in length, while its horn
averages five feet, though some exceed ten, and even attain to
fifteen feet. Strictly speaking, this horn is but a lengthened tusk,
growing out from the jaw in a line a little depressed from the
horizontal. But it is only found on the sinister side, which has an
ill effect, giving its owner something analogous to the aspect of a
clumsy left-handed man. What precise purpose this ivory horn or
lance answers, it would be hard to say. It does not seem to be used
like the blade of the sword-fish and bill-fish; though some sailors
tell me that the Narwhale employs it for a rake in turning over the
bottom of the sea for food. Charley Coffin said it was used for an
ice-piercer; for the Narwhale, rising to the surface of the Polar
Sea, and finding it sheeted with ice, thrusts his horn up, and so
breaks through. But you cannot prove either of these surmises to be
correct. My own opinion is, that however this one-sided horn may
really be used by the Narwhale--however that may be--it would
certainly be very convenient to him for a folder in reading
pamphlets. The Narwhale I have heard called the Tusked whale, the
Horned whale, and the Unicorn whale. He is certainly a curious
example of the Unicornism to be found in almost every kingdom of
animated nature. From certain cloistered old authors I have gathered
that this same sea-unicorn's horn was in ancient days regarded as the
great antidote against poison, and as such, preparations of it
brought immense prices. It was also distilled to a volatile salts
for fainting ladies, the same way that the horns of the male deer are
manufactured into hartshorn. Originally it was in itself accounted
an object of great curiosity. Black Letter tells me that Sir Martin
Frobisher on his return from that voyage, when Queen Bess did
gallantly wave her jewelled hand to him from a window of Greenwich
Palace, as his bold ship sailed down the Thames; "when Sir Martin
returned from that voyage," saith Black Letter, "on bended knees he
presented to her highness a prodigious long horn of the Narwhale,
which for a long period after hung in the castle at Windsor." An
Irish author avers that the Earl of Leicester, on bended knees, did
likewise present to her highness another horn, pertaining to a land
beast of the unicorn nature.
The Narwhale has a very picturesque, leopard-like look, being of a
milk-white ground colour, dotted with round and oblong spots of black.
His oil is very superior, clear and fine; but there is little of it,
and he is seldom hunted. He is mostly found in the circumpolar seas.
BOOK II. (OCTAVO), CHAPTER IV. (KILLER).--Of this whale little is
precisely known to the Nantucketer, and nothing at all to the
professed naturalist. From what I have seen of him at a distance,
I should say that he was about the bigness of a grampus. He is very
savage--a sort of Feegee fish. He sometimes takes the great Folio
whales by the lip, and hangs there like a leech, till the mighty
brute is worried to death. The Killer is never hunted. I never
heard what sort of oil he has. Exception might be taken to the name
bestowed upon this whale, on the ground of its indistinctness. For
we are all killers, on land and on sea; Bonapartes and Sharks
BOOK II. (OCTAVO), CHAPTER V. (THRASHER).--This gentleman is famous
for his tail, which he uses for a ferule in thrashing his foes. He
mounts the Folio whale's back, and as he swims, he works his passage
by flogging him; as some schoolmasters get along in the world by a
similar process. Still less is known of the Thrasher than of the