Part 4 out of 12
Killer. Both are outlaws, even in the lawless seas.
Thus ends BOOK II. (OCTAVO), and begins BOOK III. (DUODECIMO).
DUODECIMOES.--These include the smaller whales. I. The Huzza
Porpoise. II. The Algerine Porpoise. III. The Mealy-mouthed
To those who have not chanced specially to study the subject, it may
possibly seem strange, that fishes not commonly exceeding four or
five feet should be marshalled among WHALES--a word, which, in the
popular sense, always conveys an idea of hugeness. But the creatures
set down above as Duodecimoes are infallibly whales, by the terms of
my definition of what a whale is--i.e. a spouting fish, with a
BOOK III. (DUODECIMO), CHAPTER 1. (HUZZA PORPOISE).--This is the
common porpoise found almost all over the globe. The name is of my
own bestowal; for there are more than one sort of porpoises, and
something must be done to distinguish them. I call him thus, because
he always swims in hilarious shoals, which upon the broad sea keep
tossing themselves to heaven like caps in a Fourth-of-July crowd.
Their appearance is generally hailed with delight by the mariner.
Full of fine spirits, they invariably come from the breezy billows to
windward. They are the lads that always live before the wind. They
are accounted a lucky omen. If you yourself can withstand three
cheers at beholding these vivacious fish, then heaven help ye; the
spirit of godly gamesomeness is not in ye. A well-fed, plump Huzza
Porpoise will yield you one good gallon of good oil. But the fine
and delicate fluid extracted from his jaws is exceedingly valuable.
It is in request among jewellers and watchmakers. Sailors put it on
their hones. Porpoise meat is good eating, you know. It may never
have occurred to you that a porpoise spouts. Indeed, his spout is so
small that it is not very readily discernible. But the next time you
have a chance, watch him; and you will then see the great Sperm whale
himself in miniature.
BOOK III. (DUODECIMO), CHAPTER II. (ALGERINE PORPOISE).--A pirate.
Very savage. He is only found, I think, in the Pacific. He is
somewhat larger than the Huzza Porpoise, but much of the same general
make. Provoke him, and he will buckle to a shark. I have lowered
for him many times, but never yet saw him captured.
BOOK III. (DUODECIMO), CHAPTER III. (MEALY-MOUTHED PORPOISE).--The
largest kind of Porpoise; and only found in the Pacific, so far as it
is known. The only English name, by which he has hitherto been
designated, is that of the fishers--Right-Whale Porpoise, from the
circumstance that he is chiefly found in the vicinity of that Folio.
In shape, he differs in some degree from the Huzza Porpoise, being of
a less rotund and jolly girth; indeed, he is of quite a neat and
gentleman-like figure. He has no fins on his back (most other
porpoises have), he has a lovely tail, and sentimental Indian eyes of
a hazel hue. But his mealy-mouth spoils all. Though his entire
back down to his side fins is of a deep sable, yet a boundary line,
distinct as the mark in a ship's hull, called the "bright waist,"
that line streaks him from stem to stern, with two separate colours,
black above and white below. The white comprises part of his head,
and the whole of his mouth, which makes him look as if he had just
escaped from a felonious visit to a meal-bag. A most mean and mealy
aspect! His oil is much like that of the common porpoise.
Beyond the DUODECIMO, this system does not proceed, inasmuch as the
Porpoise is the smallest of the whales. Above, you have all the
Leviathans of note. But there are a rabble of uncertain, fugitive,
half-fabulous whales, which, as an American whaleman, I know by
reputation, but not personally. I shall enumerate them by their
fore-castle appellations; for possibly such a list may be valuable to
future investigators, who may complete what I have here but begun.
If any of the following whales, shall hereafter be caught and marked,
then he can readily be incorporated into this System, according to
his Folio, Octavo, or Duodecimo magnitude:--The Bottle-Nose Whale;
the Junk Whale; the Pudding-Headed Whale; the Cape Whale; the Leading
Whale; the Cannon Whale; the Scragg Whale; the Coppered Whale; the
Elephant Whale; the Iceberg Whale; the Quog Whale; the Blue Whale; etc.
From Icelandic, Dutch, and old English authorities, there might
be quoted other lists of uncertain whales, blessed with all manner of
uncouth names. But I omit them as altogether obsolete; and can
hardly help suspecting them for mere sounds, full of Leviathanism,
but signifying nothing.
Finally: It was stated at the outset, that this system would not be
here, and at once, perfected. You cannot but plainly see that I have
kept my word. But I now leave my cetological System standing thus
unfinished, even as the great Cathedral of Cologne was left, with the
crane still standing upon the top of the uncompleted tower. For
small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand
ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me
from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a
draught--nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength,
Cash, and Patience!
Concerning the officers of the whale-craft, this seems as good a
place as any to set down a little domestic peculiarity on ship-board,
arising from the existence of the harpooneer class of officers, a
class unknown of course in any other marine than the whale-fleet.
The large importance attached to the harpooneer's vocation is evinced
by the fact, that originally in the old Dutch Fishery, two centuries
and more ago, the command of a whale ship was not wholly lodged in
the person now called the captain, but was divided between him and an
officer called the Specksynder. Literally this word means
Fat-Cutter; usage, however, in time made it equivalent to Chief
Harpooneer. In those days, the captain's authority was restricted to
the navigation and general management of the vessel; while over the
whale-hunting department and all its concerns, the Specksynder or
Chief Harpooneer reigned supreme. In the British Greenland Fishery,
under the corrupted title of Specksioneer, this old Dutch official is
still retained, but his former dignity is sadly abridged. At present
he ranks simply as senior Harpooneer; and as such, is but one of the
captain's more inferior subalterns. Nevertheless, as upon the good
conduct of the harpooneers the success of a whaling voyage largely
depends, and since in the American Fishery he is not only an
important officer in the boat, but under certain circumstances (night
watches on a whaling ground) the command of the ship's deck is also
his; therefore the grand political maxim of the sea demands, that he
should nominally live apart from the men before the mast, and be in
some way distinguished as their professional superior; though always,
by them, familiarly regarded as their social equal.
Now, the grand distinction drawn between officer and man at sea, is
this--the first lives aft, the last forward. Hence, in whale-ships
and merchantmen alike, the mates have their quarters with the
captain; and so, too, in most of the American whalers the harpooneers
are lodged in the after part of the ship. That is to say, they take
their meals in the captain's cabin, and sleep in a place indirectly
communicating with it.
Though the long period of a Southern whaling voyage (by far the
longest of all voyages now or ever made by man), the peculiar perils
of it, and the community of interest prevailing among a company, all
of whom, high or low, depend for their profits, not upon fixed wages,
but upon their common luck, together with their common vigilance,
intrepidity, and hard work; though all these things do in some cases
tend to beget a less rigorous discipline than in merchantmen
generally; yet, never mind how much like an old Mesopotamian family
these whalemen may, in some primitive instances, live together; for
all that, the punctilious externals, at least, of the quarter-deck
are seldom materially relaxed, and in no instance done away. Indeed,
many are the Nantucket ships in which you will see the skipper
parading his quarter-deck with an elated grandeur not surpassed in
any military navy; nay, extorting almost as much outward homage as if
he wore the imperial purple, and not the shabbiest of pilot-cloth.
And though of all men the moody captain of the Pequod was the least
given to that sort of shallowest assumption; and though the only
homage he ever exacted, was implicit, instantaneous obedience; though
he required no man to remove the shoes from his feet ere stepping
upon the quarter-deck; and though there were times when, owing to
peculiar circumstances connected with events hereafter to be
detailed, he addressed them in unusual terms, whether of
condescension or IN TERROREM, or otherwise; yet even Captain Ahab was
by no means unobservant of the paramount forms and usages of the sea.
Nor, perhaps, will it fail to be eventually perceived, that behind
those forms and usages, as it were, he sometimes masked himself;
incidentally making use of them for other and more private ends than
they were legitimately intended to subserve. That certain sultanism
of his brain, which had otherwise in a good degree remained
unmanifested; through those forms that same sultanism became
incarnate in an irresistible dictatorship. For be a man's
intellectual superiority what it will, it can never assume the
practical, available supremacy over other men, without the aid of
some sort of external arts and entrenchments, always, in themselves,
more or less paltry and base. This it is, that for ever keeps God's
true princes of the Empire from the world's hustings; and leaves the
highest honours that this air can give, to those men who become famous
more through their infinite inferiority to the choice hidden handful
of the Divine Inert, than through their undoubted superiority over
the dead level of the mass. Such large virtue lurks in these small
things when extreme political superstitions invest them, that in some
royal instances even to idiot imbecility they have imparted potency.
But when, as in the case of Nicholas the Czar, the ringed crown of
geographical empire encircles an imperial brain; then, the plebeian
herds crouch abased before the tremendous centralization. Nor, will
the tragic dramatist who would depict mortal indomitableness in its
fullest sweep and direct swing, ever forget a hint, incidentally so
important in his art, as the one now alluded to.
But Ahab, my Captain, still moves before me in all his Nantucket
grimness and shagginess; and in this episode touching Emperors and
Kings, I must not conceal that I have only to do with a poor old
whale-hunter like him; and, therefore, all outward majestical
trappings and housings are denied me. Oh, Ahab! what shall be grand
in thee, it must needs be plucked at from the skies, and dived for in
the deep, and featured in the unbodied air!
It is noon; and Dough-Boy, the steward, thrusting his pale
loaf-of-bread face from the cabin-scuttle, announces dinner to his
lord and master; who, sitting in the lee quarter-boat, has just been
taking an observation of the sun; and is now mutely reckoning the
latitude on the smooth, medallion-shaped tablet, reserved for that
daily purpose on the upper part of his ivory leg. From his complete
inattention to the tidings, you would think that moody Ahab had not
heard his menial. But presently, catching hold of the mizen shrouds,
he swings himself to the deck, and in an even, unexhilarated voice,
saying, "Dinner, Mr. Starbuck," disappears into the cabin.
When the last echo of his sultan's step has died away, and Starbuck,
the first Emir, has every reason to suppose that he is seated, then
Starbuck rouses from his quietude, takes a few turns along the
planks, and, after a grave peep into the binnacle, says, with some
touch of pleasantness, "Dinner, Mr. Stubb," and descends the scuttle.
The second Emir lounges about the rigging awhile, and then slightly
shaking the main brace, to see whether it will be all right with
that important rope, he likewise takes up the old burden, and with a
rapid "Dinner, Mr. Flask," follows after his predecessors.
But the third Emir, now seeing himself all alone on the quarter-deck,
seems to feel relieved from some curious restraint; for, tipping all
sorts of knowing winks in all sorts of directions, and kicking off
his shoes, he strikes into a sharp but noiseless squall of a hornpipe
right over the Grand Turk's head; and then, by a dexterous sleight,
pitching his cap up into the mizentop for a shelf, he goes down
rollicking so far at least as he remains visible from the deck,
reversing all other processions, by bringing up the rear with music.
But ere stepping into the cabin doorway below, he pauses, ships a new
face altogether, and, then, independent, hilarious little Flask
enters King Ahab's presence, in the character of Abjectus, or the
It is not the least among the strange things bred by the intense
artificialness of sea-usages, that while in the open air of the deck
some officers will, upon provocation, bear themselves boldly and
defyingly enough towards their commander; yet, ten to one, let those
very officers the next moment go down to their customary dinner in
that same commander's cabin, and straightway their inoffensive, not
to say deprecatory and humble air towards him, as he sits at the head
of the table; this is marvellous, sometimes most comical. Wherefore
this difference? A problem? Perhaps not. To have been Belshazzar,
King of Babylon; and to have been Belshazzar, not haughtily but
courteously, therein certainly must have been some touch of mundane
grandeur. But he who in the rightly regal and intelligent spirit
presides over his own private dinner-table of invited guests, that
man's unchallenged power and dominion of individual influence for the
time; that man's royalty of state transcends Belshazzar's, for
Belshazzar was not the greatest. Who has but once dined his friends,
has tasted what it is to be Caesar. It is a witchery of social
czarship which there is no withstanding. Now, if to this
consideration you superadd the official supremacy of a ship-master,
then, by inference, you will derive the cause of that peculiarity of
sea-life just mentioned.
Over his ivory-inlaid table, Ahab presided like a mute, maned
sea-lion on the white coral beach, surrounded by his warlike but
still deferential cubs. In his own proper turn, each officer waited
to be served. They were as little children before Ahab; and yet, in
Ahab, there seemed not to lurk the smallest social arrogance. With
one mind, their intent eyes all fastened upon the old man's knife, as
he carved the chief dish before him. I do not suppose that for the
world they would have profaned that moment with the slightest
observation, even upon so neutral a topic as the weather. No! And
when reaching out his knife and fork, between which the slice of beef
was locked, Ahab thereby motioned Starbuck's plate towards him, the
mate received his meat as though receiving alms; and cut it tenderly;
and a little started if, perchance, the knife grazed against the
plate; and chewed it noiselessly; and swallowed it, not without
circumspection. For, like the Coronation banquet at Frankfort, where
the German Emperor profoundly dines with the seven Imperial
Electors, so these cabin meals were somehow solemn meals, eaten in
awful silence; and yet at table old Ahab forbade not conversation;
only he himself was dumb. What a relief it was to choking Stubb,
when a rat made a sudden racket in the hold below. And poor little
Flask, he was the youngest son, and little boy of this weary family
party. His were the shinbones of the saline beef; his would have
been the drumsticks. For Flask to have presumed to help himself,
this must have seemed to him tantamount to larceny in the first
degree. Had he helped himself at that table, doubtless, never more
would he have been able to hold his head up in this honest world;
nevertheless, strange to say, Ahab never forbade him. And had Flask
helped himself, the chances were Ahab had never so much as noticed
it. Least of all, did Flask presume to help himself to butter.
Whether he thought the owners of the ship denied it to him, on
account of its clotting his clear, sunny complexion; or whether he
deemed that, on so long a voyage in such marketless waters, butter
was at a premium, and therefore was not for him, a subaltern; however
it was, Flask, alas! was a butterless man!
Another thing. Flask was the last person down at the dinner, and
Flask is the first man up. Consider! For hereby Flask's dinner was
badly jammed in point of time. Starbuck and Stubb both had the start
of him; and yet they also have the privilege of lounging in the rear.
If Stubb even, who is but a peg higher than Flask, happens to have
but a small appetite, and soon shows symptoms of concluding his
repast, then Flask must bestir himself, he will not get more than
three mouthfuls that day; for it is against holy usage for Stubb to
precede Flask to the deck. Therefore it was that Flask once admitted
in private, that ever since he had arisen to the dignity of an
officer, from that moment he had never known what it was to be
otherwise than hungry, more or less. For what he ate did not so much
relieve his hunger, as keep it immortal in him. Peace and
satisfaction, thought Flask, have for ever departed from my stomach.
I am an officer; but, how I wish I could fish a bit of old-fashioned
beef in the forecastle, as I used to when I was before the mast.
There's the fruits of promotion now; there's the vanity of glory:
there's the insanity of life! Besides, if it were so that any mere
sailor of the Pequod had a grudge against Flask in Flask's official
capacity, all that sailor had to do, in order to obtain ample
vengeance, was to go aft at dinner-time, and get a peep at Flask
through the cabin sky-light, sitting silly and dumfoundered before
Now, Ahab and his three mates formed what may be called the first
table in the Pequod's cabin. After their departure, taking place in
inverted order to their arrival, the canvas cloth was cleared, or
rather was restored to some hurried order by the pallid steward. And
then the three harpooneers were bidden to the feast, they being its
residuary legatees. They made a sort of temporary servants' hall of
the high and mighty cabin.
In strange contrast to the hardly tolerable constraint and nameless
invisible domineerings of the captain's table, was the entire
care-free license and ease, the almost frantic democracy of those
inferior fellows the harpooneers. While their masters, the mates,
seemed afraid of the sound of the hinges of their own jaws, the
harpooneers chewed their food with such a relish that there was a
report to it. They dined like lords; they filled their bellies like
Indian ships all day loading with spices. Such portentous appetites
had Queequeg and Tashtego, that to fill out the vacancies made by the
previous repast, often the pale Dough-Boy was fain to bring on a
great baron of salt-junk, seemingly quarried out of the solid ox.
And if he were not lively about it, if he did not go with a nimble
hop-skip-and-jump, then Tashtego had an ungentlemanly way of
accelerating him by darting a fork at his back, harpoon-wise. And
once Daggoo, seized with a sudden humor, assisted Dough-Boy's memory
by snatching him up bodily, and thrusting his head into a great empty
wooden trencher, while Tashtego, knife in hand, began laying out the
circle preliminary to scalping him. He was naturally a very nervous,
shuddering sort of little fellow, this bread-faced steward; the
progeny of a bankrupt baker and a hospital nurse. And what with the
standing spectacle of the black terrific Ahab, and the periodical
tumultuous visitations of these three savages, Dough-Boy's whole life
was one continual lip-quiver. Commonly, after seeing the harpooneers
furnished with all things they demanded, he would escape from their
clutches into his little pantry adjoining, and fearfully peep out at
them through the blinds of its door, till all was over.
It was a sight to see Queequeg seated over against Tashtego, opposing
his filed teeth to the Indian's: crosswise to them, Daggoo seated on
the floor, for a bench would have brought his hearse-plumed head to
the low carlines; at every motion of his colossal limbs, making the
low cabin framework to shake, as when an African elephant goes
passenger in a ship. But for all this, the great negro was
wonderfully abstemious, not to say dainty. It seemed hardly possible
that by such comparatively small mouthfuls he could keep up the
vitality diffused through so broad, baronial, and superb a person.
But, doubtless, this noble savage fed strong and drank deep of the
abounding element of air; and through his dilated nostrils snuffed in
the sublime life of the worlds. Not by beef or by bread, are giants
made or nourished. But Queequeg, he had a mortal, barbaric smack of
the lip in eating--an ugly sound enough--so much so, that the
trembling Dough-Boy almost looked to see whether any marks of teeth
lurked in his own lean arms. And when he would hear Tashtego singing
out for him to produce himself, that his bones might be picked, the
simple-witted steward all but shattered the crockery hanging round
him in the pantry, by his sudden fits of the palsy. Nor did the
whetstone which the harpooneers carried in their pockets, for their
lances and other weapons; and with which whetstones, at dinner, they
would ostentatiously sharpen their knives; that grating sound did not
at all tend to tranquillize poor Dough-Boy. How could he forget that
in his Island days, Queequeg, for one, must certainly have been
guilty of some murderous, convivial indiscretions. Alas! Dough-Boy!
hard fares the white waiter who waits upon cannibals. Not a napkin
should he carry on his arm, but a buckler. In good time, though, to
his great delight, the three salt-sea warriors would rise and depart;
to his credulous, fable-mongering ears, all their martial bones
jingling in them at every step, like Moorish scimetars in scabbards.
But, though these barbarians dined in the cabin, and nominally lived
there; still, being anything but sedentary in their habits, they were
scarcely ever in it except at mealtimes, and just before
sleeping-time, when they passed through it to their own peculiar
In this one matter, Ahab seemed no exception to most American whale
captains, who, as a set, rather incline to the opinion that by rights
the ship's cabin belongs to them; and that it is by courtesy alone
that anybody else is, at any time, permitted there. So that, in real
truth, the mates and harpooneers of the Pequod might more properly be
said to have lived out of the cabin than in it. For when they did
enter it, it was something as a street-door enters a house; turning
inwards for a moment, only to be turned out the next; and, as a
permanent thing, residing in the open air. Nor did they lose much
hereby; in the cabin was no companionship; socially, Ahab was
inaccessible. Though nominally included in the census of
Christendom, he was still an alien to it. He lived in the world, as
the last of the Grisly Bears lived in settled Missouri. And as when
Spring and Summer had departed, that wild Logan of the woods, burying
himself in the hollow of a tree, lived out the winter there, sucking
his own paws; so, in his inclement, howling old age, Ahab's soul,
shut up in the caved trunk of his body, there fed upon the sullen
paws of its gloom!
It was during the more pleasant weather, that in due rotation with
the other seamen my first mast-head came round.
In most American whalemen the mast-heads are manned almost
simultaneously with the vessel's leaving her port; even though she
may have fifteen thousand miles, and more, to sail ere reaching her
proper cruising ground. And if, after a three, four, or five years'
voyage she is drawing nigh home with anything empty in her--say, an
empty vial even--then, her mast-heads are kept manned to the last;
and not till her skysail-poles sail in among the spires of the port,
does she altogether relinquish the hope of capturing one whale more.
Now, as the business of standing mast-heads, ashore or afloat, is a
very ancient and interesting one, let us in some measure expatiate
here. I take it, that the earliest standers of mast-heads were the
old Egyptians; because, in all my researches, I find none prior to
them. For though their progenitors, the builders of Babel, must
doubtless, by their tower, have intended to rear the loftiest
mast-head in all Asia, or Africa either; yet (ere the final truck was
put to it) as that great stone mast of theirs may be said to have
gone by the board, in the dread gale of God's wrath; therefore, we
cannot give these Babel builders priority over the Egyptians. And
that the Egyptians were a nation of mast-head standers, is an
assertion based upon the general belief among archaeologists, that
the first pyramids were founded for astronomical purposes: a theory
singularly supported by the peculiar stair-like formation of all four
sides of those edifices; whereby, with prodigious long upliftings of
their legs, those old astronomers were wont to mount to the apex, and
sing out for new stars; even as the look-outs of a modern ship sing
out for a sail, or a whale just bearing in sight. In Saint Stylites,
the famous Christian hermit of old times, who built him a lofty stone
pillar in the desert and spent the whole latter portion of his life
on its summit, hoisting his food from the ground with a tackle; in
him we have a remarkable instance of a dauntless
stander-of-mast-heads; who was not to be driven from his place by
fogs or frosts, rain, hail, or sleet; but valiantly facing everything
out to the last, literally died at his post. Of modern
standers-of-mast-heads we have but a lifeless set; mere stone, iron,
and bronze men; who, though well capable of facing out a stiff gale,
are still entirely incompetent to the business of singing out upon
discovering any strange sight. There is Napoleon; who, upon the top
of the column of Vendome, stands with arms folded, some one hundred
and fifty feet in the air; careless, now, who rules the decks below;
whether Louis Philippe, Louis Blanc, or Louis the Devil. Great
Washington, too, stands high aloft on his towering main-mast in
Baltimore, and like one of Hercules' pillars, his column marks that
point of human grandeur beyond which few mortals will go. Admiral
Nelson, also, on a capstan of gun-metal, stands his mast-head in
Trafalgar Square; and ever when most obscured by that London smoke,
token is yet given that a hidden hero is there; for where there is
smoke, must be fire. But neither great Washington, nor Napoleon, nor
Nelson, will answer a single hail from below, however madly invoked
to befriend by their counsels the distracted decks upon which they
gaze; however it may be surmised, that their spirits penetrate
through the thick haze of the future, and descry what shoals and what
rocks must be shunned.
It may seem unwarrantable to couple in any respect the mast-head
standers of the land with those of the sea; but that in truth it is
not so, is plainly evinced by an item for which Obed Macy, the sole
historian of Nantucket, stands accountable. The worthy Obed tells
us, that in the early times of the whale fishery, ere ships were
regularly launched in pursuit of the game, the people of that island
erected lofty spars along the sea-coast, to which the look-outs
ascended by means of nailed cleats, something as fowls go upstairs in
a hen-house. A few years ago this same plan was adopted by the Bay
whalemen of New Zealand, who, upon descrying the game, gave notice to
the ready-manned boats nigh the beach. But this custom has now
become obsolete; turn we then to the one proper mast-head, that of a
whale-ship at sea. The three mast-heads are kept manned from
sun-rise to sun-set; the seamen taking their regular turns (as at the
helm), and relieving each other every two hours. In the serene
weather of the tropics it is exceedingly pleasant the mast-head; nay,
to a dreamy meditative man it is delightful. There you stand, a
hundred feet above the silent decks, striding along the deep, as if
the masts were gigantic stilts, while beneath you and between your
legs, as it were, swim the hugest monsters of the sea, even as ships
once sailed between the boots of the famous Colossus at old Rhodes.
There you stand, lost in the infinite series of the sea, with nothing
ruffled but the waves. The tranced ship indolently rolls; the drowsy
trade winds blow; everything resolves you into languor. For the most
part, in this tropic whaling life, a sublime uneventfulness invests
you; you hear no news; read no gazettes; extras with startling
accounts of commonplaces never delude you into unnecessary
excitements; you hear of no domestic afflictions; bankrupt
securities; fall of stocks; are never troubled with the thought of
what you shall have for dinner--for all your meals for three years
and more are snugly stowed in casks, and your bill of fare is
In one of those southern whalesmen, on a long three or four years'
voyage, as often happens, the sum of the various hours you spend at
the mast-head would amount to several entire months. And it is much
to be deplored that the place to which you devote so considerable a
portion of the whole term of your natural life, should be so sadly
destitute of anything approaching to a cosy inhabitiveness, or
adapted to breed a comfortable localness of feeling, such as pertains
to a bed, a hammock, a hearse, a sentry box, a pulpit, a coach, or
any other of those small and snug contrivances in which men
temporarily isolate themselves. Your most usual point of perch is
the head of the t' gallant-mast, where you stand upon two thin
parallel sticks (almost peculiar to whalemen) called the t' gallant
cross-trees. Here, tossed about by the sea, the beginner feels about
as cosy as he would standing on a bull's horns. To be sure, in cold
weather you may carry your house aloft with you, in the shape of a
watch-coat; but properly speaking the thickest watch-coat is no more
of a house than the unclad body; for as the soul is glued inside of
its fleshy tabernacle, and cannot freely move about in it, nor even
move out of it, without running great risk of perishing (like an
ignorant pilgrim crossing the snowy Alps in winter); so a watch-coat
is not so much of a house as it is a mere envelope, or additional
skin encasing you. You cannot put a shelf or chest of drawers in
your body, and no more can you make a convenient closet of your
Concerning all this, it is much to be deplored that the mast-heads of
a southern whale ship are unprovided with those enviable little tents
or pulpits, called CROW'S-NESTS, in which the look-outs of a
Greenland whaler are protected from the inclement weather of the
frozen seas. In the fireside narrative of Captain Sleet, entitled
"A Voyage among the Icebergs, in quest of the Greenland Whale, and
incidentally for the re-discovery of the Lost Icelandic Colonies of
Old Greenland;" in this admirable volume, all standers of mast-heads
are furnished with a charmingly circumstantial account of the then
recently invented CROW'S-NEST of the Glacier, which was the name of
Captain Sleet's good craft. He called it the SLEET'S CROW'S-NEST, in
honour of himself; he being the original inventor and patentee, and
free from all ridiculous false delicacy, and holding that if we call
our own children after our own names (we fathers being the original
inventors and patentees), so likewise should we denominate after
ourselves any other apparatus we may beget. In shape, the Sleet's
crow's-nest is something like a large tierce or pipe; it is open
above, however, where it is furnished with a movable side-screen to
keep to windward of your head in a hard gale. Being fixed on the
summit of the mast, you ascend into it through a little trap-hatch in
the bottom. On the after side, or side next the stern of the ship,
is a comfortable seat, with a locker underneath for umbrellas,
comforters, and coats. In front is a leather rack, in which to keep
your speaking trumpet, pipe, telescope, and other nautical
conveniences. When Captain Sleet in person stood his mast-head in
this crow's-nest of his, he tells us that he always had a rifle with
him (also fixed in the rack), together with a powder flask and shot,
for the purpose of popping off the stray narwhales, or vagrant sea
unicorns infesting those waters; for you cannot successfully shoot at
them from the deck owing to the resistance of the water, but to shoot
down upon them is a very different thing. Now, it was plainly a
labor of love for Captain Sleet to describe, as he does, all the
little detailed conveniences of his crow's-nest; but though he so
enlarges upon many of these, and though he treats us to a very
scientific account of his experiments in this crow's-nest, with a
small compass he kept there for the purpose of counteracting the
errors resulting from what is called the "local attraction" of all
binnacle magnets; an error ascribable to the horizontal vicinity of
the iron in the ship's planks, and in the Glacier's case, perhaps, to
there having been so many broken-down blacksmiths among her crew; I
say, that though the Captain is very discreet and scientific here,
yet, for all his learned "binnacle deviations," "azimuth compass
observations," and "approximate errors," he knows very well, Captain
Sleet, that he was not so much immersed in those profound magnetic
meditations, as to fail being attracted occasionally towards that
well replenished little case-bottle, so nicely tucked in on one side
of his crow's nest, within easy reach of his hand. Though, upon the
whole, I greatly admire and even love the brave, the honest, and
learned Captain; yet I take it very ill of him that he should so
utterly ignore that case-bottle, seeing what a faithful friend and
comforter it must have been, while with mittened fingers and hooded
head he was studying the mathematics aloft there in that bird's nest
within three or four perches of the pole.
But if we Southern whale-fishers are not so snugly housed aloft as
Captain Sleet and his Greenlandmen were; yet that disadvantage is
greatly counter-balanced by the widely contrasting serenity of those
seductive seas in which we South fishers mostly float. For one, I
used to lounge up the rigging very leisurely, resting in the top to
have a chat with Queequeg, or any one else off duty whom I might find
there; then ascending a little way further, and throwing a lazy leg
over the top-sail yard, take a preliminary view of the watery
pastures, and so at last mount to my ultimate destination.
Let me make a clean breast of it here, and frankly admit that I kept
but sorry guard. With the problem of the universe revolving in me,
how could I--being left completely to myself at such a
thought-engendering altitude--how could I but lightly hold my
obligations to observe all whale-ships' standing orders, "Keep your
weather eye open, and sing out every time."
And let me in this place movingly admonish you, ye ship-owners of
Nantucket! Beware of enlisting in your vigilant fisheries any lad
with lean brow and hollow eye; given to unseasonable meditativeness;
and who offers to ship with the Phaedon instead of Bowditch in his
head. Beware of such an one, I say; your whales must be seen before
they can be killed; and this sunken-eyed young Platonist will tow you
ten wakes round the world, and never make you one pint of sperm the
richer. Nor are these monitions at all unneeded. For nowadays, the
whale-fishery furnishes an asylum for many romantic, melancholy, and
absent-minded young men, disgusted with the carking cares of earth,
and seeking sentiment in tar and blubber. Childe Harold not
unfrequently perches himself upon the mast-head of some luckless
disappointed whale-ship, and in moody phrase ejaculates:--
"Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll! Ten thousand
blubber-hunters sweep over thee in vain."
Very often do the captains of such ships take those absent-minded
young philosophers to task, upbraiding them with not feeling
sufficient "interest" in the voyage; half-hinting that they are so
hopelessly lost to all honourable ambition, as that in their secret
souls they would rather not see whales than otherwise. But all in
vain; those young Platonists have a notion that their vision is
imperfect; they are short-sighted; what use, then, to strain the
visual nerve? They have left their opera-glasses at home.
"Why, thou monkey," said a harpooneer to one of these lads, "we've
been cruising now hard upon three years, and thou hast not raised a
whale yet. Whales are scarce as hen's teeth whenever thou art up
here." Perhaps they were; or perhaps there might have been shoals of
them in the far horizon; but lulled into such an opium-like
listlessness of vacant, unconscious reverie is this absent-minded
youth by the blending cadence of waves with thoughts, that at last he
loses his identity; takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the
visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind
and nature; and every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing
that eludes him; every dimly-discovered, uprising fin of some
undiscernible form, seems to him the embodiment of those elusive
thoughts that only people the soul by continually flitting through
it. In this enchanted mood, thy spirit ebbs away to whence it came;
becomes diffused through time and space; like Crammer's sprinkled
Pantheistic ashes, forming at last a part of every shore the round
There is no life in thee, now, except that rocking life imparted by a
gently rolling ship; by her, borrowed from the sea; by the sea, from
the inscrutable tides of God. But while this sleep, this dream is on
ye, move your foot or hand an inch; slip your hold at all; and your
identity comes back in horror. Over Descartian vortices you hover.
And perhaps, at mid-day, in the fairest weather, with one
half-throttled shriek you drop through that transparent air into the
summer sea, no more to rise for ever. Heed it well, ye Pantheists!
(ENTER AHAB: THEN, ALL)
It was not a great while after the affair of the pipe, that one
morning shortly after breakfast, Ahab, as was his wont, ascended the
cabin-gangway to the deck. There most sea-captains usually walk at
that hour, as country gentlemen, after the same meal, take a few
turns in the garden.
Soon his steady, ivory stride was heard, as to and fro he paced his
old rounds, upon planks so familiar to his tread, that they were all
over dented, like geological stones, with the peculiar mark of his
walk. Did you fixedly gaze, too, upon that ribbed and dented brow;
there also, you would see still stranger foot-prints--the foot-prints
of his one unsleeping, ever-pacing thought.
But on the occasion in question, those dents looked deeper, even as
his nervous step that morning left a deeper mark. And, so full of
his thought was Ahab, that at every uniform turn that he made, now at
the main-mast and now at the binnacle, you could almost see that
thought turn in him as he turned, and pace in him as he paced; so
completely possessing him, indeed, that it all but seemed the inward
mould of every outer movement.
"D'ye mark him, Flask?" whispered Stubb; "the chick that's in him
pecks the shell. 'Twill soon be out."
The hours wore on;--Ahab now shut up within his cabin; anon, pacing
the deck, with the same intense bigotry of purpose in his aspect.
It drew near the close of day. Suddenly he came to a halt by the
bulwarks, and inserting his bone leg into the auger-hole there, and
with one hand grasping a shroud, he ordered Starbuck to send
"Sir!" said the mate, astonished at an order seldom or never given on
ship-board except in some extraordinary case.
"Send everybody aft," repeated Ahab. "Mast-heads, there! come down!"
When the entire ship's company were assembled, and with curious and
not wholly unapprehensive faces, were eyeing him, for he looked not
unlike the weather horizon when a storm is coming up, Ahab, after
rapidly glancing over the bulwarks, and then darting his eyes among
the crew, started from his standpoint; and as though not a soul were
nigh him resumed his heavy turns upon the deck. With bent head and
half-slouched hat he continued to pace, unmindful of the wondering
whispering among the men; till Stubb cautiously whispered to Flask,
that Ahab must have summoned them there for the purpose of witnessing
a pedestrian feat. But this did not last long. Vehemently pausing,
"What do ye do when ye see a whale, men?"
"Sing out for him!" was the impulsive rejoinder from a score of
"Good!" cried Ahab, with a wild approval in his tones; observing the
hearty animation into which his unexpected question had so
magnetically thrown them.
"And what do ye next, men?"
"Lower away, and after him!"
"And what tune is it ye pull to, men?"
"A dead whale or a stove boat!"
More and more strangely and fiercely glad and approving, grew the
countenance of the old man at every shout; while the mariners began
to gaze curiously at each other, as if marvelling how it was that
they themselves became so excited at such seemingly purposeless
But, they were all eagerness again, as Ahab, now half-revolving in
his pivot-hole, with one hand reaching high up a shroud, and tightly,
almost convulsively grasping it, addressed them thus:--
"All ye mast-headers have before now heard me give orders about a
white whale. Look ye! d'ye see this Spanish ounce of gold?"--holding
up a broad bright coin to the sun--"it is a sixteen dollar piece,
men. D'ye see it? Mr. Starbuck, hand me yon top-maul."
While the mate was getting the hammer, Ahab, without speaking, was
slowly rubbing the gold piece against the skirts of his jacket, as if
to heighten its lustre, and without using any words was meanwhile
lowly humming to himself, producing a sound so strangely muffled and
inarticulate that it seemed the mechanical humming of the wheels of
his vitality in him.
Receiving the top-maul from Starbuck, he advanced towards the
main-mast with the hammer uplifted in one hand, exhibiting the gold
with the other, and with a high raised voice exclaiming: "Whosoever
of ye raises me a white-headed whale with a wrinkled brow and a
crooked jaw; whosoever of ye raises me that white-headed whale, with
three holes punctured in his starboard fluke--look ye, whosoever of
ye raises me that same white whale, he shall have this gold ounce, my
"Huzza! huzza!" cried the seamen, as with swinging tarpaulins they
hailed the act of nailing the gold to the mast.
"It's a white whale, I say," resumed Ahab, as he threw down the
topmaul: "a white whale. Skin your eyes for him, men; look sharp for
white water; if ye see but a bubble, sing out."
All this while Tashtego, Daggoo, and Queequeg had looked on with even
more intense interest and surprise than the rest, and at the mention
of the wrinkled brow and crooked jaw they had started as if each was
separately touched by some specific recollection.
"Captain Ahab," said Tashtego, "that white whale must be the same
that some call Moby Dick."
"Moby Dick?" shouted Ahab. "Do ye know the white whale then, Tash?"
"Does he fan-tail a little curious, sir, before he goes down?" said
the Gay-Header deliberately.
"And has he a curious spout, too," said Daggoo, "very bushy, even for
a parmacetty, and mighty quick, Captain Ahab?"
"And he have one, two, three--oh! good many iron in him hide, too,
Captain," cried Queequeg disjointedly, "all twiske-tee be-twisk, like
him--him--" faltering hard for a word, and screwing his hand round
and round as though uncorking a bottle--"like him--him--"
"Corkscrew!" cried Ahab, "aye, Queequeg, the harpoons lie all twisted
and wrenched in him; aye, Daggoo, his spout is a big one, like a
whole shock of wheat, and white as a pile of our Nantucket wool after
the great annual sheep-shearing; aye, Tashtego, and he fan-tails like
a split jib in a squall. Death and devils! men, it is Moby Dick ye
have seen--Moby Dick--Moby Dick!"
"Captain Ahab," said Starbuck, who, with Stubb and Flask, had thus
far been eyeing his superior with increasing surprise, but at last
seemed struck with a thought which somewhat explained all the wonder.
"Captain Ahab, I have heard of Moby Dick--but it was not Moby Dick
that took off thy leg?"
"Who told thee that?" cried Ahab; then pausing, "Aye, Starbuck; aye,
my hearties all round; it was Moby Dick that dismasted me; Moby Dick
that brought me to this dead stump I stand on now. Aye, aye," he
shouted with a terrific, loud, animal sob, like that of a
heart-stricken moose; "Aye, aye! it was that accursed white whale
that razeed me; made a poor pegging lubber of me for ever and a day!"
Then tossing both arms, with measureless imprecations he shouted
out: "Aye, aye! and I'll chase him round Good Hope, and round the
Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames
before I give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! to
chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all sides of
earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out. What say ye,
men, will ye splice hands on it, now? I think ye do look brave."
"Aye, aye!" shouted the harpooneers and seamen, running closer to the
excited old man: "A sharp eye for the white whale; a sharp lance for
"God bless ye," he seemed to half sob and half shout. "God bless ye,
men. Steward! go draw the great measure of grog. But what's this
long face about, Mr. Starbuck; wilt thou not chase the white whale?
art not game for Moby Dick?"
"I am game for his crooked jaw, and for the jaws of Death too,
Captain Ahab, if it fairly comes in the way of the business we
follow; but I came here to hunt whales, not my commander's vengeance.
How many barrels will thy vengeance yield thee even if thou gettest
it, Captain Ahab? it will not fetch thee much in our Nantucket
"Nantucket market! Hoot! But come closer, Starbuck; thou requirest
a little lower layer. If money's to be the measurer, man, and the
accountants have computed their great counting-house the globe, by
girdling it with guineas, one to every three parts of an inch; then,
let me tell thee, that my vengeance will fetch a great premium HERE!"
"He smites his chest," whispered Stubb, "what's that for? methinks it
rings most vast, but hollow."
"Vengeance on a dumb brute!" cried Starbuck, "that simply smote thee
from blindest instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing,
Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous."
"Hark ye yet again--the little lower layer. All visible objects,
man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event--in the living
act, the undoubted deed--there, some unknown but still reasoning
thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the
unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How
can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?
To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I
think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps
me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice
sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be
the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak
that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the
sun if it insulted me. For could the sun do that, then could I do
the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play herein, jealousy
presiding over all creations. But not my master, man, is even that
fair play. Who's over me? Truth hath no confines. Take off thine
eye! more intolerable than fiends' glarings is a doltish stare! So,
so; thou reddenest and palest; my heat has melted thee to anger-glow.
But look ye, Starbuck, what is said in heat, that thing unsays
itself. There are men from whom warm words are small indignity. I
meant not to incense thee. Let it go. Look! see yonder Turkish
cheeks of spotted tawn--living, breathing pictures painted by the
sun. The Pagan leopards--the unrecking and unworshipping things,
that live; and seek, and give no reasons for the torrid life they
feel! The crew, man, the crew! Are they not one and all with Ahab,
in this matter of the whale? See Stubb! he laughs! See yonder
Chilian! he snorts to think of it. Stand up amid the general
hurricane, thy one tost sapling cannot, Starbuck! And what is it?
Reckon it. 'Tis but to help strike a fin; no wondrous feat for
Starbuck. What is it more? From this one poor hunt, then, the best
lance out of all Nantucket, surely he will not hang back, when every
foremast-hand has clutched a whetstone? Ah! constrainings seize
thee; I see! the billow lifts thee! Speak, but speak!--Aye, aye! thy
silence, then, THAT voices thee. (ASIDE) Something shot from my
dilated nostrils, he has inhaled it in his lungs. Starbuck now is
mine; cannot oppose me now, without rebellion."
"God keep me!--keep us all!" murmured Starbuck, lowly.
But in his joy at the enchanted, tacit acquiescence of the mate, Ahab
did not hear his foreboding invocation; nor yet the low laugh from
the hold; nor yet the presaging vibrations of the winds in the
cordage; nor yet the hollow flap of the sails against the masts, as
for a moment their hearts sank in. For again Starbuck's downcast
eyes lighted up with the stubbornness of life; the subterranean laugh
died away; the winds blew on; the sails filled out; the ship heaved
and rolled as before. Ah, ye admonitions and warnings! why stay ye
not when ye come? But rather are ye predictions than warnings, ye
shadows! Yet not so much predictions from without, as verifications
of the foregoing things within. For with little external to
constrain us, the innermost necessities in our being, these still
drive us on.
"The measure! the measure!" cried Ahab.
Receiving the brimming pewter, and turning to the harpooneers, he
ordered them to produce their weapons. Then ranging them before him
near the capstan, with their harpoons in their hands, while his three
mates stood at his side with their lances, and the rest of the ship's
company formed a circle round the group; he stood for an instant
searchingly eyeing every man of his crew. But those wild eyes met
his, as the bloodshot eyes of the prairie wolves meet the eye of
their leader, ere he rushes on at their head in the trail of the
bison; but, alas! only to fall into the hidden snare of the Indian.
"Drink and pass!" he cried, handing the heavy charged flagon to the
nearest seaman. "The crew alone now drink. Round with it, round!
Short draughts--long swallows, men; 'tis hot as Satan's hoof. So,
so; it goes round excellently. It spiralizes in ye; forks out at the
serpent-snapping eye. Well done; almost drained. That way it went,
this way it comes. Hand it me--here's a hollow! Men, ye seem the
years; so brimming life is gulped and gone. Steward, refill!
"Attend now, my braves. I have mustered ye all round this capstan;
and ye mates, flank me with your lances; and ye harpooneers, stand
there with your irons; and ye, stout mariners, ring me in, that I may
in some sort revive a noble custom of my fisherman fathers before
me. O men, you will yet see that--Ha! boy, come back? bad pennies
come not sooner. Hand it me. Why, now, this pewter had run brimming
again, were't not thou St. Vitus' imp--away, thou ague!
"Advance, ye mates! Cross your lances full before me. Well done!
Let me touch the axis." So saying, with extended arm, he grasped the
three level, radiating lances at their crossed centre; while so
doing, suddenly and nervously twitched them; meanwhile, glancing
intently from Starbuck to Stubb; from Stubb to Flask. It seemed as
though, by some nameless, interior volition, he would fain have
shocked into them the same fiery emotion accumulated within the
Leyden jar of his own magnetic life. The three mates quailed before
his strong, sustained, and mystic aspect. Stubb and Flask looked
sideways from him; the honest eye of Starbuck fell downright.
"In vain!" cried Ahab; "but, maybe, 'tis well. For did ye three but
once take the full-forced shock, then mine own electric thing, THAT
had perhaps expired from out me. Perchance, too, it would have
dropped ye dead. Perchance ye need it not. Down lances! And now,
ye mates, I do appoint ye three cupbearers to my three pagan kinsmen
there--yon three most honourable gentlemen and noblemen, my valiant
harpooneers. Disdain the task? What, when the great Pope washes the
feet of beggars, using his tiara for ewer? Oh, my sweet cardinals!
your own condescension, THAT shall bend ye to it. I do not order ye;
ye will it. Cut your seizings and draw the poles, ye harpooneers!"
Silently obeying the order, the three harpooneers now stood with the
detached iron part of their harpoons, some three feet long, held,
barbs up, before him.
"Stab me not with that keen steel! Cant them; cant them over! know
ye not the goblet end? Turn up the socket! So, so; now, ye
cup-bearers, advance. The irons! take them; hold them while I fill!"
Forthwith, slowly going from one officer to the other, he brimmed
the harpoon sockets with the fiery waters from the pewter.
"Now, three to three, ye stand. Commend the murderous chalices!
Bestow them, ye who are now made parties to this indissoluble league.
Ha! Starbuck! but the deed is done! Yon ratifying sun now waits to
sit upon it. Drink, ye harpooneers! drink and swear, ye men that man
the deathful whaleboat's bow--Death to Moby Dick! God hunt us all,
if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!" The long, barbed steel
goblets were lifted; and to cries and maledictions against the white
whale, the spirits were simultaneously quaffed down with a hiss.
Starbuck paled, and turned, and shivered. Once more, and finally,
the replenished pewter went the rounds among the frantic crew; when,
waving his free hand to them, they all dispersed; and Ahab retired
within his cabin.
THE CABIN; BY THE STERN WINDOWS; AHAB SITTING ALONE, AND GAZING OUT.
I leave a white and turbid wake; pale waters, paler cheeks, where'er
I sail. The envious billows sidelong swell to whelm my track; let
them; but first I pass.
Yonder, by ever-brimming goblet's rim, the warm waves blush like
wine. The gold brow plumbs the blue. The diver sun--slow dived from
noon--goes down; my soul mounts up! she wearies with her endless
hill. Is, then, the crown too heavy that I wear? this Iron Crown of
Lombardy. Yet is it bright with many a gem; I the wearer, see not
its far flashings; but darkly feel that I wear that, that dazzlingly
confounds. 'Tis iron--that I know--not gold. 'Tis split, too--that
I feel; the jagged edge galls me so, my brain seems to beat against
the solid metal; aye, steel skull, mine; the sort that needs no
helmet in the most brain-battering fight!
Dry heat upon my brow? Oh! time was, when as the sunrise nobly
spurred me, so the sunset soothed. No more. This lovely light, it
lights not me; all loveliness is anguish to me, since I can ne'er
enjoy. Gifted with the high perception, I lack the low, enjoying
power; damned, most subtly and most malignantly! damned in the midst
of Paradise! Good night--good night! (WAVING HIS HAND, HE MOVES FROM
'Twas not so hard a task. I thought to find one stubborn, at the
least; but my one cogged circle fits into all their various wheels,
and they revolve. Or, if you will, like so many ant-hills of powder,
they all stand before me; and I their match. Oh, hard! that to fire
others, the match itself must needs be wasting! What I've dared,
I've willed; and what I've willed, I'll do! They think me
mad--Starbuck does; but I'm demoniac, I am madness maddened! That
wild madness that's only calm to comprehend itself! The prophecy was
that I should be dismembered; and--Aye! I lost this leg. I now
prophesy that I will dismember my dismemberer. Now, then, be the
prophet and the fulfiller one. That's more than ye, ye great gods,
ever were. I laugh and hoot at ye, ye cricket-players, ye pugilists,
ye deaf Burkes and blinded Bendigoes! I will not say as schoolboys
do to bullies--Take some one of your own size; don't pommel ME! No,
ye've knocked me down, and I am up again; but YE have run and hidden.
Come forth from behind your cotton bags! I have no long gun to
reach ye. Come, Ahab's compliments to ye; come and see if ye can
swerve me. Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve
yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed
purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run.
Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under
torrents' beds, unerringly I rush! Naught's an obstacle, naught's an
angle to the iron way!
BY THE MAINMAST; STARBUCK LEANING AGAINST IT.
My soul is more than matched; she's overmanned; and by a madman!
Insufferable sting, that sanity should ground arms on such a field!
But he drilled deep down, and blasted all my reason out of me! I
think I see his impious end; but feel that I must help him to it.
Will I, nill I, the ineffable thing has tied me to him; tows me with
a cable I have no knife to cut. Horrible old man! Who's over him,
he cries;--aye, he would be a democrat to all above; look, how he
lords it over all below! Oh! I plainly see my miserable office,--to
obey, rebelling; and worse yet, to hate with touch of pity! For in
his eyes I read some lurid woe would shrivel me up, had I it. Yet is
there hope. Time and tide flow wide. The hated whale has the round
watery world to swim in, as the small gold-fish has its glassy globe.
His heaven-insulting purpose, God may wedge aside. I would up
heart, were it not like lead. But my whole clock's run down; my
heart the all-controlling weight, I have no key to lift again.
[A BURST OF REVELRY FROM THE FORECASTLE.]
Oh, God! to sail with such a heathen crew that have small touch of
human mothers in them! Whelped somewhere by the sharkish sea. The
white whale is their demigorgon. Hark! the infernal orgies! that
revelry is forward! mark the unfaltering silence aft! Methinks it
pictures life. Foremost through the sparkling sea shoots on the gay,
embattled, bantering bow, but only to drag dark Ahab after it, where
he broods within his sternward cabin, builded over the dead water of
the wake, and further on, hunted by its wolfish gurglings. The long
howl thrills me through! Peace! ye revellers, and set the watch!
Oh, life! 'tis in an hour like this, with soul beat down and held to
knowledge,--as wild, untutored things are forced to feed--Oh, life!
'tis now that I do feel the latent horror in thee! but 'tis not me!
that horror's out of me! and with the soft feeling of the human in
me, yet will I try to fight ye, ye grim, phantom futures! Stand by
me, hold me, bind me, O ye blessed influences!
First Night Watch.
(STUBB SOLUS, AND MENDING A BRACE.)
Ha! ha! ha! ha! hem! clear my throat!--I've been thinking over it
ever since, and that ha, ha's the final consequence. Why so?
Because a laugh's the wisest, easiest answer to all that's queer; and
come what will, one comfort's always left--that unfailing comfort is,
it's all predestinated. I heard not all his talk with Starbuck; but
to my poor eye Starbuck then looked something as I the other evening
felt. Be sure the old Mogul has fixed him, too. I twigged it, knew
it; had had the gift, might readily have prophesied it--for when I
clapped my eye upon his skull I saw it. Well, Stubb, WISE
Stubb--that's my title--well, Stubb, what of it, Stubb? Here's a
carcase. I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will,
I'll go to it laughing. Such a waggish leering as lurks in all your
horribles! I feel funny. Fa, la! lirra, skirra! What's my juicy
little pear at home doing now? Crying its eyes out?--Giving a party
to the last arrived harpooneers, I dare say, gay as a frigate's
pennant, and so am I--fa, la! lirra, skirra! Oh--
We'll drink to-night with hearts as light,
To love, as gay and fleeting
As bubbles that swim, on the beaker's brim,
And break on the lips while meeting.
A brave stave that--who calls? Mr. Starbuck? Aye, aye, sir--(ASIDE)
he's my superior, he has his too, if I'm not mistaken.--Aye, aye,
sir, just through with this job--coming.
HARPOONEERS AND SAILORS.
(FORESAIL RISES AND DISCOVERS THE WATCH STANDING, LOUNGING, LEANING,
AND LYING IN VARIOUS ATTITUDES, ALL SINGING IN CHORUS.)
Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish ladies!
Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain!
Our captain's commanded.--
1ST NANTUCKET SAILOR.
Oh, boys, don't be sentimental; it's bad for the digestion! Take a
tonic, follow me!
(SINGS, AND ALL FOLLOW)
Our captain stood upon the deck,
A spy-glass in his hand,
A viewing of those gallant whales
That blew at every strand.
Oh, your tubs in your boats, my boys,
And by your braces stand,
And we'll have one of those fine whales,
Hand, boys, over hand!
So, be cheery, my lads! may your hearts never fail!
While the bold harpooner is striking the whale!
MATE'S VOICE FROM THE QUARTER-DECK.
Eight bells there, forward!
2ND NANTUCKET SAILOR.
Avast the chorus! Eight bells there! d'ye hear, bell-boy? Strike
the bell eight, thou Pip! thou blackling! and let me call the watch.
I've the sort of mouth for that--the hogshead mouth. So, so,
(THRUSTS HIS HEAD DOWN THE SCUTTLE,) Star-bo-l-e-e-n-s, a-h-o-y!
Eight bells there below! Tumble up!
Grand snoozing to-night, maty; fat night for that. I mark this in
our old Mogul's wine; it's quite as deadening to some as filliping to
others. We sing; they sleep--aye, lie down there, like ground-tier
butts. At 'em again! There, take this copper-pump, and hail 'em
through it. Tell 'em to avast dreaming of their lasses. Tell 'em
it's the resurrection; they must kiss their last, and come to
judgment. That's the way--THAT'S it; thy throat ain't spoiled with
eating Amsterdam butter.
Hist, boys! let's have a jig or two before we ride to anchor in
Blanket Bay. What say ye? There comes the other watch. Stand by
all legs! Pip! little Pip! hurrah with your tambourine!
(SULKY AND SLEEPY)
Don't know where it is.
Beat thy belly, then, and wag thy ears. Jig it, men, I say; merry's
the word; hurrah! Damn me, won't you dance? Form, now, Indian-file,
and gallop into the double-shuffle? Throw yourselves! Legs! legs!
I don't like your floor, maty; it's too springy to my taste. I'm
used to ice-floors. I'm sorry to throw cold water on the subject;
but excuse me.
Me too; where's your girls? Who but a fool would take his left hand
by his right, and say to himself, how d'ye do? Partners! I must
Aye; girls and a green!--then I'll hop with ye; yea, turn
Well, well, ye sulkies, there's plenty more of us. Hoe corn when you
may, say I. All legs go to harvest soon. Ah! here comes the music;
now for it!
(ASCENDING, AND PITCHING THE TAMBOURINE UP THE SCUTTLE.)
Here you are, Pip; and there's the windlass-bitts; up you mount!
(THE HALF OF THEM DANCE TO THE TAMBOURINE; SOME GO BELOW; SOME SLEEP
OR LIE AMONG THE COILS OF RIGGING. OATHS A-PLENTY.)
Go it, Pip! Bang it, bell-boy! Rig it, dig it, stig it, quig it,
bell-boy! Make fire-flies; break the jinglers!
Jinglers, you say?--there goes another, dropped off; I pound it so.
Rattle thy teeth, then, and pound away; make a pagoda of thyself.
Merry-mad! Hold up thy hoop, Pip, till I jump through it! Split
jibs! tear yourselves!
That's a white man; he calls that fun: humph! I save my sweat.
OLD MANX SAILOR.
I wonder whether those jolly lads bethink them of what they are
dancing over. I'll dance over your grave, I will--that's the
bitterest threat of your night-women, that beat head-winds round
corners. O Christ! to think of the green navies and the
green-skulled crews! Well, well; belike the whole world's a ball, as
you scholars have it; and so 'tis right to make one ballroom of it.
Dance on, lads, you're young; I was once.
3D NANTUCKET SAILOR.
Spell oh!--whew! this is worse than pulling after whales in a
calm--give us a whiff, Tash.
(THEY CEASE DANCING, AND GATHER IN CLUSTERS. MEANTIME THE SKY
DARKENS--THE WIND RISES.)
By Brahma! boys, it'll be douse sail soon. The sky-born, high-tide
Ganges turned to wind! Thou showest thy black brow, Seeva!
(RECLINING AND SHAKING HIS CAP.)
It's the waves--the snow's caps turn to jig it now. They'll shake
their tassels soon. Now would all the waves were women, then I'd go
drown, and chassee with them evermore! There's naught so sweet on
earth--heaven may not match it!--as those swift glances of warm, wild
bosoms in the dance, when the over-arboring arms hide such ripe,
Tell me not of it! Hark ye, lad--fleet interlacings of the
limbs--lithe swayings--coyings--flutterings! lip! heart! hip! all
graze: unceasing touch and go! not taste, observe ye, else come
satiety. Eh, Pagan? (NUDGING.)
(RECLINING ON A MAT.)
Hail, holy nakedness of our dancing girls!--the Heeva-Heeva! Ah! low
veiled, high palmed Tahiti! I still rest me on thy mat, but the soft
soil has slid! I saw thee woven in the wood, my mat! green the first
day I brought ye thence; now worn and wilted quite. Ah me!--not thou
nor I can bear the change! How then, if so be transplanted to yon
sky? Hear I the roaring streams from Pirohitee's peak of spears,
when they leap down the crags and drown the villages?--The blast! the
blast! Up, spine, and meet it! (LEAPS TO HIS FEET.)
How the sea rolls swashing 'gainst the side! Stand by for reefing,
hearties! the winds are just crossing swords, pell-mell they'll go
Crack, crack, old ship! so long as thou crackest, thou holdest! Well
done! The mate there holds ye to it stiffly. He's no more afraid
than the isle fort at Cattegat, put there to fight the Baltic with
storm-lashed guns, on which the sea-salt cakes!
4TH NANTUCKET SAILOR.
He has his orders, mind ye that. I heard old Ahab tell him he must
always kill a squall, something as they burst a waterspout with a
pistol--fire your ship right into it!
Blood! but that old man's a grand old cove! We are the lads to hunt
him up his whale!
OLD MANX SAILOR.
How the three pines shake! Pines are the hardest sort of tree to
live when shifted to any other soil, and here there's none but the
crew's cursed clay. Steady, helmsman! steady. This is the sort of
weather when brave hearts snap ashore, and keeled hulls split at sea.
Our captain has his birthmark; look yonder, boys, there's another in
the sky--lurid-like, ye see, all else pitch black.
What of that? Who's afraid of black's afraid of me! I'm quarried
out of it!
(ASIDE.) He wants to bully, ah!--the old grudge makes me touchy
(ADVANCING.) Aye, harpooneer, thy race is the undeniable dark side of
mankind--devilish dark at that. No offence.
ST. JAGO'S SAILOR.
That Spaniard's mad or drunk. But that can't be, or else in his one
case our old Mogul's fire-waters are somewhat long in working.
5TH NANTUCKET SAILOR.
What's that I saw--lightning? Yes.
No; Daggoo showing his teeth.
Swallow thine, mannikin! White skin, white liver!
SPANISH SAILOR (MEETING HIM).
Knife thee heartily! big frame, small spirit!
A row! a row! a row!
TASHTEGO (WITH A WHIFF).
A row a'low, and a row aloft--Gods and men--both brawlers! Humph!
A row! arrah a row! The Virgin be blessed, a row! Plunge in with
Fair play! Snatch the Spaniard's knife! A ring, a ring!
OLD MANX SAILOR.
Ready formed. There! the ringed horizon. In that ring Cain struck
Abel. Sweet work, right work! No? Why then, God, mad'st thou the
MATE'S VOICE FROM THE QUARTER-DECK.
Hands by the halyards! in top-gallant sails! Stand by to reef
The squall! the squall! jump, my jollies! (THEY SCATTER.)
PIP (SHRINKING UNDER THE WINDLASS).
Jollies? Lord help such jollies! Crish, crash! there goes the
jib-stay! Blang-whang! God! Duck lower, Pip, here comes the royal
yard! It's worse than being in the whirled woods, the last day of
the year! Who'd go climbing after chestnuts now? But there they
go, all cursing, and here I don't. Fine prospects to 'em; they're on
the road to heaven. Hold on hard! Jimmini, what a squall! But
those chaps there are worse yet--they are your white squalls, they.
White squalls? white whale, shirr! shirr! Here have I heard all
their chat just now, and the white whale--shirr! shirr!--but spoken
of once! and only this evening--it makes me jingle all over like my
tambourine--that anaconda of an old man swore 'em in to hunt him!
Oh, thou big white God aloft there somewhere in yon darkness, have
mercy on this small black boy down here; preserve him from all men
that have no bowels to feel fear!
I, Ishmael, was one of that crew; my shouts had gone up with the
rest; my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted,
and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my
soul. A wild, mystical, sympathetical feeling was in me; Ahab's
quenchless feud seemed mine. With greedy ears I learned the history
of that murderous monster against whom I and all the others had taken
our oaths of violence and revenge.
For some time past, though at intervals only, the unaccompanied,
secluded White Whale had haunted those uncivilized seas mostly
frequented by the Sperm Whale fishermen. But not all of them knew of
his existence; only a few of them, comparatively, had knowingly seen
him; while the number who as yet had actually and knowingly given
battle to him, was small indeed. For, owing to the large number of
whale-cruisers; the disorderly way they were sprinkled over the
entire watery circumference, many of them adventurously pushing their
quest along solitary latitudes, so as seldom or never for a whole
twelvemonth or more on a stretch, to encounter a single news-telling
sail of any sort; the inordinate length of each separate voyage; the
irregularity of the times of sailing from home; all these, with other
circumstances, direct and indirect, long obstructed the spread
through the whole world-wide whaling-fleet of the special
individualizing tidings concerning Moby Dick. It was hardly to be
doubted, that several vessels reported to have encountered, at such
or such a time, or on such or such a meridian, a Sperm Whale of
uncommon magnitude and malignity, which whale, after doing great
mischief to his assailants, had completely escaped them; to some
minds it was not an unfair presumption, I say, that the whale in
question must have been no other than Moby Dick. Yet as of late the
Sperm Whale fishery had been marked by various and not unfrequent
instances of great ferocity, cunning, and malice in the monster
attacked; therefore it was, that those who by accident ignorantly
gave battle to Moby Dick; such hunters, perhaps, for the most part,
were content to ascribe the peculiar terror he bred, more, as it
were, to the perils of the Sperm Whale fishery at large, than to the
individual cause. In that way, mostly, the disastrous encounter
between Ahab and the whale had hitherto been popularly regarded.
And as for those who, previously hearing of the White Whale, by
chance caught sight of him; in the beginning of the thing they had
every one of them, almost, as boldly and fearlessly lowered for him,
as for any other whale of that species. But at length, such
calamities did ensue in these assaults--not restricted to sprained
wrists and ankles, broken limbs, or devouring amputations--but fatal
to the last degree of fatality; those repeated disastrous repulses,
all accumulating and piling their terrors upon Moby Dick; those
things had gone far to shake the fortitude of many brave hunters, to
whom the story of the White Whale had eventually come.
Nor did wild rumors of all sorts fail to exaggerate, and still the
more horrify the true histories of these deadly encounters. For not
only do fabulous rumors naturally grow out of the very body of all
surprising terrible events,--as the smitten tree gives birth to its
fungi; but, in maritime life, far more than in that of terra firma,
wild rumors abound, wherever there is any adequate reality for them
to cling to. And as the sea surpasses the land in this matter, so
the whale fishery surpasses every other sort of maritime life, in the
wonderfulness and fearfulness of the rumors which sometimes circulate
there. For not only are whalemen as a body unexempt from that
ignorance and superstitiousness hereditary to all sailors; but of all
sailors, they are by all odds the most directly brought into contact
with whatever is appallingly astonishing in the sea; face to face
they not only eye its greatest marvels, but, hand to jaw, give battle
to them. Alone, in such remotest waters, that though you sailed a
thousand miles, and passed a thousand shores, you would not come to
any chiseled hearth-stone, or aught hospitable beneath that part of
the sun; in such latitudes and longitudes, pursuing too such a
calling as he does, the whaleman is wrapped by influences all tending
to make his fancy pregnant with many a mighty birth.
No wonder, then, that ever gathering volume from the mere transit
over the widest watery spaces, the outblown rumors of the White Whale
did in the end incorporate with themselves all manner of morbid
hints, and half-formed foetal suggestions of supernatural agencies,
which eventually invested Moby Dick with new terrors unborrowed from
anything that visibly appears. So that in many cases such a panic
did he finally strike, that few who by those rumors, at least, had
heard of the White Whale, few of those hunters were willing to
encounter the perils of his jaw.
But there were still other and more vital practical influences at
work. Not even at the present day has the original prestige of the
Sperm Whale, as fearfully distinguished from all other species of the
leviathan, died out of the minds of the whalemen as a body. There
are those this day among them, who, though intelligent and courageous
enough in offering battle to the Greenland or Right whale, would
perhaps--either from professional inexperience, or incompetency, or
timidity, decline a contest with the Sperm Whale; at any rate, there
are plenty of whalemen, especially among those whaling nations not
sailing under the American flag, who have never hostilely encountered
the Sperm Whale, but whose sole knowledge of the leviathan is
restricted to the ignoble monster primitively pursued in the North;
seated on their hatches, these men will hearken with a childish
fireside interest and awe, to the wild, strange tales of Southern
whaling. Nor is the pre-eminent tremendousness of the great Sperm
Whale anywhere more feelingly comprehended, than on board of those
prows which stem him.
And as if the now tested reality of his might had in former legendary
times thrown its shadow before it; we find some book
naturalists--Olassen and Povelson--declaring the Sperm Whale not only
to be a consternation to every other creature in the sea, but also to
be so incredibly ferocious as continually to be athirst for human
blood. Nor even down to so late a time as Cuvier's, were these or
almost similar impressions effaced. For in his Natural History, the
Baron himself affirms that at sight of the Sperm Whale, all fish
(sharks included) are "struck with the most lively terrors," and
"often in the precipitancy of their flight dash themselves against
the rocks with such violence as to cause instantaneous death." And
however the general experiences in the fishery may amend such reports
as these; yet in their full terribleness, even to the bloodthirsty
item of Povelson, the superstitious belief in them is, in some
vicissitudes of their vocation, revived in the minds of the hunters.
So that overawed by the rumors and portents concerning him, not a few
of the fishermen recalled, in reference to Moby Dick, the earlier
days of the Sperm Whale fishery, when it was oftentimes hard to
induce long practised Right whalemen to embark in the perils of this
new and daring warfare; such men protesting that although other
leviathans might be hopefully pursued, yet to chase and point lance
at such an apparition as the Sperm Whale was not for mortal man.
That to attempt it, would be inevitably to be torn into a quick
eternity. On this head, there are some remarkable documents that may
Nevertheless, some there were, who even in the face of these things
were ready to give chase to Moby Dick; and a still greater number
who, chancing only to hear of him distantly and vaguely, without the
specific details of any certain calamity, and without superstitious
accompaniments, were sufficiently hardy not to flee from the battle
One of the wild suggestions referred to, as at last coming to be
linked with the White Whale in the minds of the superstitiously
inclined, was the unearthly conceit that Moby Dick was ubiquitous;
that he had actually been encountered in opposite latitudes at one
and the same instant of time.
Nor, credulous as such minds must have been, was this conceit
altogether without some faint show of superstitious probability. For
as the secrets of the currents in the seas have never yet been
divulged, even to the most erudite research; so the hidden ways of
the Sperm Whale when beneath the surface remain, in great part,
unaccountable to his pursuers; and from time to time have originated
the most curious and contradictory speculations regarding them,
especially concerning the mystic modes whereby, after sounding to a
great depth, he transports himself with such vast swiftness to the
most widely distant points.
It is a thing well known to both American and English whale-ships,
and as well a thing placed upon authoritative record years ago by
Scoresby, that some whales have been captured far north in the
Pacific, in whose bodies have been found the barbs of harpoons darted
in the Greenland seas. Nor is it to be gainsaid, that in some of
these instances it has been declared that the interval of time
between the two assaults could not have exceeded very many days.
Hence, by inference, it has been believed by some whalemen, that the
Nor' West Passage, so long a problem to man, was never a problem to
the whale. So that here, in the real living experience of living
men, the prodigies related in old times of the inland Strello
mountain in Portugal (near whose top there was said to be a lake in
which the wrecks of ships floated up to the surface); and that still
more wonderful story of the Arethusa fountain near Syracuse (whose
waters were believed to have come from the Holy Land by an
underground passage); these fabulous narrations are almost fully
equalled by the realities of the whalemen.
Forced into familiarity, then, with such prodigies as these; and
knowing that after repeated, intrepid assaults, the White Whale had
escaped alive; it cannot be much matter of surprise that some
whalemen should go still further in their superstitions; declaring
Moby Dick not only ubiquitous, but immortal (for immortality is but
ubiquity in time); that though groves of spears should be planted in
his flanks, he would still swim away unharmed; or if indeed he should
ever be made to spout thick blood, such a sight would be but a
ghastly deception; for again in unensanguined billows hundreds of
leagues away, his unsullied jet would once more be seen.
But even stripped of these supernatural surmisings, there was enough
in the earthly make and incontestable character of the monster to
strike the imagination with unwonted power. For, it was not so much
his uncommon bulk that so much distinguished him from other sperm
whales, but, as was elsewhere thrown out--a peculiar snow-white
wrinkled forehead, and a high, pyramidical white hump. These were
his prominent features; the tokens whereby, even in the limitless,
uncharted seas, he revealed his identity, at a long distance, to
those who knew him.
The rest of his body was so streaked, and spotted, and marbled with
the same shrouded hue, that, in the end, he had gained his
distinctive appellation of the White Whale; a name, indeed, literally
justified by his vivid aspect, when seen gliding at high noon through
a dark blue sea, leaving a milky-way wake of creamy foam, all
spangled with golden gleamings.
Nor was it his unwonted magnitude, nor his remarkable hue, nor yet
his deformed lower jaw, that so much invested the whale with natural
terror, as that unexampled, intelligent malignity which, according to
specific accounts, he had over and over again evinced in his
assaults. More than all, his treacherous retreats struck more of
dismay than perhaps aught else. For, when swimming before his
exulting pursuers, with every apparent symptom of alarm, he had
several times been known to turn round suddenly, and, bearing down
upon them, either stave their boats to splinters, or drive them back
in consternation to their ship.
Already several fatalities had attended his chase. But though
similar disasters, however little bruited ashore, were by no means
unusual in the fishery; yet, in most instances, such seemed the White
Whale's infernal aforethought of ferocity, that every dismembering or
death that he caused, was not wholly regarded as having been
inflicted by an unintelligent agent.
Judge, then, to what pitches of inflamed, distracted fury the minds
of his more desperate hunters were impelled, when amid the chips of
chewed boats, and the sinking limbs of torn comrades, they swam out
of the white curds of the whale's direful wrath into the serene,
exasperating sunlight, that smiled on, as if at a birth or a bridal.
His three boats stove around him, and oars and men both whirling in
the eddies; one captain, seizing the line-knife from his broken prow,
had dashed at the whale, as an Arkansas duellist at his foe, blindly
seeking with a six inch blade to reach the fathom-deep life of the
whale. That captain was Ahab. And then it was, that suddenly
sweeping his sickle-shaped lower jaw beneath him, Moby Dick had
reaped away Ahab's leg, as a mower a blade of grass in the field. No
turbaned Turk, no hired Venetian or Malay, could have smote him with
more seeming malice. Small reason was there to doubt, then, that
ever since that almost fatal encounter, Ahab had cherished a wild
vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his
frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with him, not only all
his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual
exasperations. The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac
incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel
eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and
half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the
beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe
one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east
reverenced in their statue devil;--Ahab did not fall down and worship
it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred
white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that
most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all
truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the
brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to
crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable
in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all
the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and
then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's
shell upon it.
It is not probable that this monomania in him took its instant rise
at the precise time of his bodily dismemberment. Then, in darting at
the monster, knife in hand, he had but given loose to a sudden,
passionate, corporal animosity; and when he received the stroke that
tore him, he probably but felt the agonizing bodily laceration, but
nothing more. Yet, when by this collision forced to turn towards
home, and for long months of days and weeks, Ahab and anguish lay
stretched together in one hammock, rounding in mid winter that
dreary, howling Patagonian Cape; then it was, that his torn body and
gashed soul bled into one another; and so interfusing, made him mad.
That it was only then, on the homeward voyage, after the encounter,
that the final monomania seized him, seems all but certain from the
fact that, at intervals during the passage, he was a raving lunatic;
and, though unlimbed of a leg, yet such vital strength yet lurked in
his Egyptian chest, and was moreover intensified by his delirium,
that his mates were forced to lace him fast, even there, as he
sailed, raving in his hammock. In a strait-jacket, he swung to the
mad rockings of the gales. And, when running into more sufferable
latitudes, the ship, with mild stun'sails spread, floated across the
tranquil tropics, and, to all appearances, the old man's delirium
seemed left behind him with the Cape Horn swells, and he came forth
from his dark den into the blessed light and air; even then, when he
bore that firm, collected front, however pale, and issued his calm
orders once again; and his mates thanked God the direful madness was
now gone; even then, Ahab, in his hidden self, raved on. Human
madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you
think it fled, it may have but become transfigured into some still
subtler form. Ahab's full lunacy subsided not, but deepeningly
contracted; like the unabated Hudson, when that noble Northman flows
narrowly, but unfathomably through the Highland gorge. But, as in
his narrow-flowing monomania, not one jot of Ahab's broad madness had
been left behind; so in that broad madness, not one jot of his great
natural intellect had perished. That before living agent, now became
the living instrument. If such a furious trope may stand, his
special lunacy stormed his general sanity, and carried it, and turned
all its concentred cannon upon its own mad mark; so that far from
having lost his strength, Ahab, to that one end, did now possess a
thousand fold more potency than ever he had sanely brought to bear
upon any one reasonable object.
This is much; yet Ahab's larger, darker, deeper part remains
unhinted. But vain to popularize profundities, and all truth is
profound. Winding far down from within the very heart of this spiked
Hotel de Cluny where we here stand--however grand and wonderful, now
quit it;--and take your way, ye nobler, sadder souls, to those vast
Roman halls of Thermes; where far beneath the fantastic towers of
man's upper earth, his root of grandeur, his whole awful essence sits
in bearded state; an antique buried beneath antiquities, and throned
on torsoes! So with a broken throne, the great gods mock that
captive king; so like a Caryatid, he patient sits, upholding on his
frozen brow the piled entablatures of ages. Wind ye down there, ye
prouder, sadder souls! question that proud, sad king! A family
likeness! aye, he did beget ye, ye young exiled royalties; and from
your grim sire only will the old State-secret come.
Now, in his heart, Ahab had some glimpse of this, namely: all my
means are sane, my motive and my object mad. Yet without power to
kill, or change, or shun the fact; he likewise knew that to mankind
he did long dissemble; in some sort, did still. But that thing of
his dissembling was only subject to his perceptibility, not to his
will determinate. Nevertheless, so well did he succeed in that
dissembling, that when with ivory leg he stepped ashore at last, no
Nantucketer thought him otherwise than but naturally grieved, and
that to the quick, with the terrible casualty which had overtaken
The report of his undeniable delirium at sea was likewise popularly
ascribed to a kindred cause. And so too, all the added moodiness
which always afterwards, to the very day of sailing in the Pequod on
the present voyage, sat brooding on his brow. Nor is it so very
unlikely, that far from distrusting his fitness for another whaling
voyage, on account of such dark symptoms, the calculating people of
that prudent isle were inclined to harbor the conceit, that for those
very reasons he was all the better qualified and set on edge, for a
pursuit so full of rage and wildness as the bloody hunt of whales.
Gnawed within and scorched without, with the infixed, unrelenting
fangs of some incurable idea; such an one, could he be found, would
seem the very man to dart his iron and lift his lance against the
most appalling of all brutes. Or, if for any reason thought to be
corporeally incapacitated for that, yet such an one would seem
superlatively competent to cheer and howl on his underlings to the
attack. But be all this as it may, certain it is, that with the mad
secret of his unabated rage bolted up and keyed in him, Ahab had
purposely sailed upon the present voyage with the one only and
all-engrossing object of hunting the White Whale. Had any one of his
old acquaintances on shore but half dreamed of what was lurking in
him then, how soon would their aghast and righteous souls have
wrenched the ship from such a fiendish man! They were bent on
profitable cruises, the profit to be counted down in dollars from the
mint. He was intent on an audacious, immitigable, and supernatural
Here, then, was this grey-headed, ungodly old man, chasing with
curses a Job's whale round the world, at the head of a crew, too,
chiefly made up of mongrel renegades, and castaways, and
cannibals--morally enfeebled also, by the incompetence of mere
unaided virtue or right-mindedness in Starbuck, the invunerable
jollity of indifference and recklessness in Stubb, and the pervading
mediocrity in Flask. Such a crew, so officered, seemed specially
picked and packed by some infernal fatality to help him to his
monomaniac revenge. How it was that they so aboundingly responded to
the old man's ire--by what evil magic their souls were possessed,
that at times his hate seemed almost theirs; the White Whale as much
their insufferable foe as his; how all this came to be--what the
White Whale was to them, or how to their unconscious understandings,
also, in some dim, unsuspected way, he might have seemed the gliding
great demon of the seas of life,--all this to explain, would be to
dive deeper than Ishmael can go. The subterranean miner that works
in us all, how can one tell whither leads his shaft by the ever
shifting, muffled sound of his pick? Who does not feel the
irresistible arm drag? What skiff in tow of a seventy-four can stand
still? For one, I gave myself up to the abandonment of the time and
the place; but while yet all a-rush to encounter the whale, could see
naught in that brute but the deadliest ill.
The Whiteness of The Whale.
What the white whale was to Ahab, has been hinted; what, at times, he
was to me, as yet remains unsaid.
Aside from those more obvious considerations touching Moby Dick,
which could not but occasionally awaken in any man's soul some alarm,
there was another thought, or rather vague, nameless horror
concerning him, which at times by its intensity completely
overpowered all the rest; and yet so mystical and well nigh ineffable
was it, that I almost despair of putting it in a comprehensible form.
It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me.
But how can I hope to explain myself here; and yet, in some dim,
random way, explain myself I must, else all these chapters might be
Though in many natural objects, whiteness refiningly enhances beauty,
as if imparting some special virtue of its own, as in marbles,
japonicas, and pearls; and though various nations have in some way
recognised a certain royal preeminence in this hue; even the
barbaric, grand old kings of Pegu placing the title "Lord of the
White Elephants" above all their other magniloquent ascriptions of
dominion; and the modern kings of Siam unfurling the same snow-white
quadruped in the royal standard; and the Hanoverian flag bearing the
one figure of a snow-white charger; and the great Austrian Empire,
Caesarian, heir to overlording Rome, having for the imperial colour
the same imperial hue; and though this pre-eminence in it applies to
the human race itself, giving the white man ideal mastership over
every dusky tribe; and though, besides, all this, whiteness has been
even made significant of gladness, for among the Romans a white stone
marked a joyful day; and though in other mortal sympathies and
symbolizings, this same hue is made the emblem of many touching,
noble things--the innocence of brides, the benignity of age; though
among the Red Men of America the giving of the white belt of wampum
was the deepest pledge of honour; though in many climes, whiteness
typifies the majesty of Justice in the ermine of the Judge, and
contributes to the daily state of kings and queens drawn by
milk-white steeds; though even in the higher mysteries of the most
august religions it has been made the symbol of the divine
spotlessness and power; by the Persian fire worshippers, the white
forked flame being held the holiest on the altar; and in the Greek
mythologies, Great Jove himself being made incarnate in a snow-white
bull; and though to the noble Iroquois, the midwinter sacrifice of
the sacred White Dog was by far the holiest festival of their
theology, that spotless, faithful creature being held the purest
envoy they could send to the Great Spirit with the annual tidings of
their own fidelity; and though directly from the Latin word for
white, all Christian priests derive the name of one part of their
sacred vesture, the alb or tunic, worn beneath the cassock; and
though among the holy pomps of the Romish faith, white is specially
employed in the celebration of the Passion of our Lord; though in the
Vision of St. John, white robes are given to the redeemed, and the
four-and-twenty elders stand clothed in white before the great-white
throne, and the Holy One that sitteth there white like wool; yet for
all these accumulated associations, with whatever is sweet, and
honourable, and sublime, there yet lurks an elusive something in the
innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul
than that redness which affrights in blood.
This elusive quality it is, which causes the thought of whiteness,
when divorced from more kindly associations, and coupled with any
object terrible in itself, to heighten that terror to the furthest
bounds. Witness the white bear of the poles, and the white shark of
the tropics; what but their smooth, flaky whiteness makes them the
transcendent horrors they are? That ghastly whiteness it is which
imparts such an abhorrent mildness, even more loathsome than
terrific, to the dumb gloating of their aspect. So that not the
fierce-fanged tiger in his heraldic coat can so stagger courage as
the white-shrouded bear or shark.*
*With reference to the Polar bear, it may possibly be urged by him
who would fain go still deeper into this matter, that it is not the
whiteness, separately regarded, which heightens the intolerable
hideousness of that brute; for, analysed, that heightened
hideousness, it might be said, only rises from the circumstance, that
the irresponsible ferociousness of the creature stands invested in
the fleece of celestial innocence and love; and hence, by bringing
together two such opposite emotions in our minds, the Polar bear
frightens us with so unnatural a contrast. But even assuming all
this to be true; yet, were it not for the whiteness, you would not
have that intensified terror.
As for the white shark, the white gliding ghostliness of repose in
that creature, when beheld in his ordinary moods, strangely tallies
with the same quality in the Polar quadruped. This peculiarity is
most vividly hit by the French in the name they bestow upon that
fish. The Romish mass for the dead begins with "Requiem eternam"
(eternal rest), whence REQUIEM denominating the mass itself, and any
other funeral music. Now, in allusion to the white, silent stillness
of death in this shark, and the mild deadliness of his habits, the
French call him REQUIN.
Bethink thee of the albatross, whence come those clouds of spiritual
wonderment and pale dread, in which that white phantom sails in all
imaginations? Not Coleridge first threw that spell; but God's great,
unflattering laureate, Nature.*
*I remember the first albatross I ever saw. It was during a
prolonged gale, in waters hard upon the Antarctic seas. From my
forenoon watch below, I ascended to the overclouded deck; and there,
dashed upon the main hatches, I saw a regal, feathery thing of
unspotted whiteness, and with a hooked, Roman bill sublime. At
intervals, it arched forth its vast archangel wings, as if to embrace
some holy ark. Wondrous flutterings and throbbings shook it. Though
bodily unharmed, it uttered cries, as some king's ghost in
supernatural distress. Through its inexpressible, strange eyes,
methought I peeped to secrets which took hold of God. As Abraham
before the angels, I bowed myself; the white thing was so white, its
wings so wide, and in those for ever exiled waters, I had lost the
miserable warping memories of traditions and of towns. Long I gazed
at that prodigy of plumage. I cannot tell, can only hint, the things
that darted through me then. But at last I awoke; and turning, asked
a sailor what bird was this. A goney, he replied. Goney! never had
heard that name before; is it conceivable that this glorious thing is
utterly unknown to men ashore! never! But some time after, I learned
that goney was some seaman's name for albatross. So that by no
possibility could Coleridge's wild Rhyme have had aught to do with
those mystical impressions which were mine, when I saw that bird upon
our deck. For neither had I then read the Rhyme, nor knew the bird
to be an albatross. Yet, in saying this, I do but indirectly burnish
a little brighter the noble merit of the poem and the poet.
I assert, then, that in the wondrous bodily whiteness of the bird
chiefly lurks the secret of the spell; a truth the more evinced in
this, that by a solecism of terms there are birds called grey
albatrosses; and these I have frequently seen, but never with such
emotions as when I beheld the Antarctic fowl.
But how had the mystic thing been caught? Whisper it not, and I will
tell; with a treacherous hook and line, as the fowl floated on the
sea. At last the Captain made a postman of it; tying a lettered,
leathern tally round its neck, with the ship's time and place; and
then letting it escape. But I doubt not, that leathern tally, meant
for man, was taken off in Heaven, when the white fowl flew to join
the wing-folding, the invoking, and adoring cherubim!
Most famous in our Western annals and Indian traditions is that of
the White Steed of the Prairies; a magnificent milk-white charger,
large-eyed, small-headed, bluff-chested, and with the dignity of a
thousand monarchs in his lofty, overscorning carriage. He was the
elected Xerxes of vast herds of wild horses, whose pastures in those
days were only fenced by the Rocky Mountains and the Alleghanies. At
their flaming head he westward trooped it like that chosen star which
every evening leads on the hosts of light. The flashing cascade of
his mane, the curving comet of his tail, invested him with housings
more resplendent than gold and silver-beaters could have furnished
him. A most imperial and archangelical apparition of that unfallen,
western world, which to the eyes of the old trappers and hunters
revived the glories of those primeval times when Adam walked majestic
as a god, bluff-browed and fearless as this mighty steed. Whether
marching amid his aides and marshals in the van of countless cohorts
that endlessly streamed it over the plains, like an Ohio; or whether
with his circumambient subjects browsing all around at the horizon,
the White Steed gallopingly reviewed them with warm nostrils
reddening through his cool milkiness; in whatever aspect he presented
himself, always to the bravest Indians he was the object of trembling
reverence and awe. Nor can it be questioned from what stands on
legendary record of this noble horse, that it was his spiritual
whiteness chiefly, which so clothed him with divineness; and that
this divineness had that in it which, though commanding worship, at
the same time enforced a certain nameless terror.
But there are other instances where this whiteness loses all that
accessory and strange glory which invests it in the White Steed and
What is it that in the Albino man so peculiarly repels and often
shocks the eye, as that sometimes he is loathed by his own kith and
kin! It is that whiteness which invests him, a thing expressed by
the name he bears. The Albino is as well made as other men--has no
substantive deformity--and yet this mere aspect of all-pervading
whiteness makes him more strangely hideous than the ugliest abortion.
Why should this be so?
Nor, in quite other aspects, does Nature in her least palpable but
not the less malicious agencies, fail to enlist among her forces this
crowning attribute of the terrible. From its snowy aspect, the
gauntleted ghost of the Southern Seas has been denominated the White
Squall. Nor, in some historic instances, has the art of human malice
omitted so potent an auxiliary. How wildly it heightens the effect
of that passage in Froissart, when, masked in the snowy symbol of
their faction, the desperate White Hoods of Ghent murder their
bailiff in the market-place!
Nor, in some things, does the common, hereditary experience of all
mankind fail to bear witness to the supernaturalism of this hue. It
cannot well be doubted, that the one visible quality in the aspect of
the dead which most appals the gazer, is the marble pallor lingering
there; as if indeed that pallor were as much like the badge of
consternation in the other world, as of mortal trepidation here. And
from that pallor of the dead, we borrow the expressive hue of the
shroud in which we wrap them. Nor even in our superstitions do we
fail to throw the same snowy mantle round our phantoms; all ghosts
rising in a milk-white fog--Yea, while these terrors seize us, let us
add, that even the king of terrors, when personified by the
evangelist, rides on his pallid horse.
Therefore, in his other moods, symbolize whatever grand or gracious
thing he will by whiteness, no man can deny that in its profoundest
idealized significance it calls up a peculiar apparition to the soul.
But though without dissent this point be fixed, how is mortal man to
account for it? To analyse it, would seem impossible. Can we,
then, by the citation of some of those instances wherein this thing
of whiteness--though for the time either wholly or in great part
stripped of all direct associations calculated to impart to it aught
fearful, but nevertheless, is found to exert over us the same
sorcery, however modified;--can we thus hope to light upon some
chance clue to conduct us to the hidden cause we seek?
Let us try. But in a matter like this, subtlety appeals to subtlety,
and without imagination no man can follow another into these halls.
And though, doubtless, some at least of the imaginative impressions
about to be presented may have been shared by most men, yet few
perhaps were entirely conscious of them at the time, and therefore
may not be able to recall them now.
Why to the man of untutored ideality, who happens to be but loosely
acquainted with the peculiar character of the day, does the bare
mention of Whitsuntide marshal in the fancy such long, dreary,
speechless processions of slow-pacing pilgrims, down-cast and hooded
with new-fallen snow? Or, to the unread, unsophisticated Protestant
of the Middle American States, why does the passing mention of a
White Friar or a White Nun, evoke such an eyeless statue in the soul?
Or what is there apart from the traditions of dungeoned warriors and
kings (which will not wholly account for it) that makes the White
Tower of London tell so much more strongly on the imagination of an
untravelled American, than those other storied structures, its
neighbors--the Byward Tower, or even the Bloody? And those sublimer
towers, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, whence, in peculiar
moods, comes that gigantic ghostliness over the soul at the bare
mention of that name, while the thought of Virginia's Blue Ridge is
full of a soft, dewy, distant dreaminess? Or why, irrespective of
all latitudes and longitudes, does the name of the White Sea exert
such a spectralness over the fancy, while that of the Yellow Sea
lulls us with mortal thoughts of long lacquered mild afternoons on
the waves, followed by the gaudiest and yet sleepiest of sunsets?
Or, to choose a wholly unsubstantial instance, purely addressed to
the fancy, why, in reading the old fairy tales of Central Europe,
does "the tall pale man" of the Hartz forests, whose changeless
pallor unrustlingly glides through the green of the groves--why is
this phantom more terrible than all the whooping imps of the
Nor is it, altogether, the remembrance of her cathedral-toppling
earthquakes; nor the stampedoes of her frantic seas; nor the
tearlessness of arid skies that never rain; nor the sight of her
wide field of leaning spires, wrenched cope-stones, and crosses all