Part 6 out of 12
they occasionally put, and which are duly answered at the time.
"Some two years prior to my first learning the events which I am
about rehearsing to you, gentlemen, the Town-Ho, Sperm Whaler of
Nantucket, was cruising in your Pacific here, not very many days'
sail eastward from the eaves of this good Golden Inn. She was
somewhere to the northward of the Line. One morning upon handling
the pumps, according to daily usage, it was observed that she made
more water in her hold than common. They supposed a sword-fish had
stabbed her, gentlemen. But the captain, having some unusual reason
for believing that rare good luck awaited him in those latitudes; and
therefore being very averse to quit them, and the leak not being then
considered at all dangerous, though, indeed, they could not find it
after searching the hold as low down as was possible in rather heavy
weather, the ship still continued her cruisings, the mariners working
at the pumps at wide and easy intervals; but no good luck came; more
days went by, and not only was the leak yet undiscovered, but it
sensibly increased. So much so, that now taking some alarm, the
captain, making all sail, stood away for the nearest harbor among the
islands, there to have his hull hove out and repaired.
"Though no small passage was before her, yet, if the commonest chance
favoured, he did not at all fear that his ship would founder by the
way, because his pumps were of the best, and being periodically
relieved at them, those six-and-thirty men of his could easily keep
the ship free; never mind if the leak should double on her. In
truth, well nigh the whole of this passage being attended by very
prosperous breezes, the Town-Ho had all but certainly arrived in
perfect safety at her port without the occurrence of the least
fatality, had it not been for the brutal overbearing of Radney, the
mate, a Vineyarder, and the bitterly provoked vengeance of Steelkilt,
a Lakeman and desperado from Buffalo.
"'Lakeman!--Buffalo! Pray, what is a Lakeman, and where is Buffalo?'
said Don Sebastian, rising in his swinging mat of grass.
"On the eastern shore of our Lake Erie, Don; but--I crave your
courtesy--may be, you shall soon hear further of all that. Now,
gentlemen, in square-sail brigs and three-masted ships, well-nigh as
large and stout as any that ever sailed out of your old Callao to far
Manilla; this Lakeman, in the land-locked heart of our America, had
yet been nurtured by all those agrarian freebooting impressions
popularly connected with the open ocean. For in their interflowing
aggregate, those grand fresh-water seas of ours,--Erie, and Ontario,
and Huron, and Superior, and Michigan,--possess an ocean-like
expansiveness, with many of the ocean's noblest traits; with many of
its rimmed varieties of races and of climes. They contain round
archipelagoes of romantic isles, even as the Polynesian waters do; in
large part, are shored by two great contrasting nations, as the
Atlantic is; they furnish long maritime approaches to our numerous
territorial colonies from the East, dotted all round their banks;
here and there are frowned upon by batteries, and by the goat-like
craggy guns of lofty Mackinaw; they have heard the fleet thunderings
of naval victories; at intervals, they yield their beaches to wild
barbarians, whose red painted faces flash from out their peltry
wigwams; for leagues and leagues are flanked by ancient and unentered
forests, where the gaunt pines stand like serried lines of kings in
Gothic genealogies; those same woods harboring wild Afric beasts of
prey, and silken creatures whose exported furs give robes to Tartar
Emperors; they mirror the paved capitals of Buffalo and Cleveland, as
well as Winnebago villages; they float alike the full-rigged merchant
ship, the armed cruiser of the State, the steamer, and the beech
canoe; they are swept by Borean and dismasting blasts as direful as
any that lash the salted wave; they know what shipwrecks are, for out
of sight of land, however inland, they have drowned full many a
midnight ship with all its shrieking crew. Thus, gentlemen, though
an inlander, Steelkilt was wild-ocean born, and wild-ocean nurtured;
as much of an audacious mariner as any. And for Radney, though in
his infancy he may have laid him down on the lone Nantucket beach, to
nurse at his maternal sea; though in after life he had long followed
our austere Atlantic and your contemplative Pacific; yet was he quite
as vengeful and full of social quarrel as the backwoods seaman, fresh
from the latitudes of buck-horn handled bowie-knives. Yet was this
Nantucketer a man with some good-hearted traits; and this Lakeman, a
mariner, who though a sort of devil indeed, might yet by inflexible
firmness, only tempered by that common decency of human recognition
which is the meanest slave's right; thus treated, this Steelkilt had
long been retained harmless and docile. At all events, he had proved
so thus far; but Radney was doomed and made mad, and Steelkilt--but,
gentlemen, you shall hear.
"It was not more than a day or two at the furthest after pointing her
prow for her island haven, that the Town-Ho's leak seemed again
increasing, but only so as to require an hour or more at the pumps
every day. You must know that in a settled and civilized ocean like
our Atlantic, for example, some skippers think little of pumping
their whole way across it; though of a still, sleepy night, should
the officer of the deck happen to forget his duty in that respect,
the probability would be that he and his shipmates would never again
remember it, on account of all hands gently subsiding to the bottom.
Nor in the solitary and savage seas far from you to the westward,
gentlemen, is it altogether unusual for ships to keep clanging at
their pump-handles in full chorus even for a voyage of considerable
length; that is, if it lie along a tolerably accessible coast, or if
any other reasonable retreat is afforded them. It is only when a
leaky vessel is in some very out of the way part of those waters,
some really landless latitude, that her captain begins to feel a
"Much this way had it been with the Town-Ho; so when her leak was
found gaining once more, there was in truth some small concern
manifested by several of her company; especially by Radney the mate.
He commanded the upper sails to be well hoisted, sheeted home anew,
and every way expanded to the breeze. Now this Radney, I suppose,
was as little of a coward, and as little inclined to any sort of
nervous apprehensiveness touching his own person as any fearless,
unthinking creature on land or on sea that you can conveniently
imagine, gentlemen. Therefore when he betrayed this solicitude about
the safety of the ship, some of the seamen declared that it was only
on account of his being a part owner in her. So when they were
working that evening at the pumps, there was on this head no small
gamesomeness slily going on among them, as they stood with their feet
continually overflowed by the rippling clear water; clear as any
mountain spring, gentlemen--that bubbling from the pumps ran across
the deck, and poured itself out in steady spouts at the lee
"Now, as you well know, it is not seldom the case in this
conventional world of ours--watery or otherwise; that when a person
placed in command over his fellow-men finds one of them to be very
significantly his superior in general pride of manhood, straightway
against that man he conceives an unconquerable dislike and
bitterness; and if he have a chance he will pull down and pulverize
that subaltern's tower, and make a little heap of dust of it. Be
this conceit of mine as it may, gentlemen, at all events Steelkilt
was a tall and noble animal with a head like a Roman, and a flowing
golden beard like the tasseled housings of your last viceroy's
snorting charger; and a brain, and a heart, and a soul in him,
gentlemen, which had made Steelkilt Charlemagne, had he been born son
to Charlemagne's father. But Radney, the mate, was ugly as a mule;
yet as hardy, as stubborn, as malicious. He did not love Steelkilt,
and Steelkilt knew it.
"Espying the mate drawing near as he was toiling at the pump with the
rest, the Lakeman affected not to notice him, but unawed, went on
with his gay banterings.
"'Aye, aye, my merry lads, it's a lively leak this; hold a cannikin,
one of ye, and let's have a taste. By the Lord, it's worth bottling!
I tell ye what, men, old Rad's investment must go for it! he had
best cut away his part of the hull and tow it home. The fact is,
boys, that sword-fish only began the job; he's come back again with a
gang of ship-carpenters, saw-fish, and file-fish, and what not; and
the whole posse of 'em are now hard at work cutting and slashing at
the bottom; making improvements, I suppose. If old Rad were here
now, I'd tell him to jump overboard and scatter 'em. They're playing
the devil with his estate, I can tell him. But he's a simple old
soul,--Rad, and a beauty too. Boys, they say the rest of his
property is invested in looking-glasses. I wonder if he'd give a
poor devil like me the model of his nose.'
"'Damn your eyes! what's that pump stopping for?' roared Radney,
pretending not to have heard the sailors' talk. 'Thunder away at
'Aye, aye, sir,' said Steelkilt, merry as a cricket. 'Lively, boys,
lively, now!' And with that the pump clanged like fifty
fire-engines; the men tossed their hats off to it, and ere long that
peculiar gasping of the lungs was heard which denotes the fullest
tension of life's utmost energies.
"Quitting the pump at last, with the rest of his band, the Lakeman
went forward all panting, and sat himself down on the windlass; his
face fiery red, his eyes bloodshot, and wiping the profuse sweat from
his brow. Now what cozening fiend it was, gentlemen, that possessed
Radney to meddle with such a man in that corporeally exasperated
state, I know not; but so it happened. Intolerably striding along
the deck, the mate commanded him to get a broom and sweep down the
planks, and also a shovel, and remove some offensive matters
consequent upon allowing a pig to run at large.
"Now, gentlemen, sweeping a ship's deck at sea is a piece of
household work which in all times but raging gales is regularly
attended to every evening; it has been known to be done in the case
of ships actually foundering at the time. Such, gentlemen, is the
inflexibility of sea-usages and the instinctive love of neatness in
seamen; some of whom would not willingly drown without first washing
their faces. But in all vessels this broom business is the
prescriptive province of the boys, if boys there be aboard. Besides,
it was the stronger men in the Town-Ho that had been divided into
gangs, taking turns at the pumps; and being the most athletic seaman
of them all, Steelkilt had been regularly assigned captain of one of
the gangs; consequently he should have been freed from any trivial
business not connected with truly nautical duties, such being the
case with his comrades. I mention all these particulars so that you
may understand exactly how this affair stood between the two men.
"But there was more than this: the order about the shovel was almost
as plainly meant to sting and insult Steelkilt, as though Radney had
spat in his face. Any man who has gone sailor in a whale-ship will
understand this; and all this and doubtless much more, the Lakeman
fully comprehended when the mate uttered his command. But as he sat
still for a moment, and as he steadfastly looked into the mate's
malignant eye and perceived the stacks of powder-casks heaped up in
him and the slow-match silently burning along towards them; as he
instinctively saw all this, that strange forbearance and
unwillingness to stir up the deeper passionateness in any already
ireful being--a repugnance most felt, when felt at all, by really
valiant men even when aggrieved--this nameless phantom feeling,
gentlemen, stole over Steelkilt.
"Therefore, in his ordinary tone, only a little broken by the bodily
exhaustion he was temporarily in, he answered him saying that
sweeping the deck was not his business, and he would not do it. And
then, without at all alluding to the shovel, he pointed to three
lads as the customary sweepers; who, not being billeted at the
pumps, had done little or nothing all day. To this, Radney replied
with an oath, in a most domineering and outrageous manner
unconditionally reiterating his command; meanwhile advancing upon the
still seated Lakeman, with an uplifted cooper's club hammer which he
had snatched from a cask near by.
"Heated and irritated as he was by his spasmodic toil at the pumps,
for all his first nameless feeling of forbearance the sweating
Steelkilt could but ill brook this bearing in the mate; but somehow
still smothering the conflagration within him, without speaking he
remained doggedly rooted to his seat, till at last the incensed
Radney shook the hammer within a few inches of his face, furiously
commanding him to do his bidding.
"Steelkilt rose, and slowly retreating round the windlass, steadily
followed by the mate with his menacing hammer, deliberately repeated
his intention not to obey. Seeing, however, that his forbearance had
not the slightest effect, by an awful and unspeakable intimation with
his twisted hand he warned off the foolish and infatuated man; but it
was to no purpose. And in this way the two went once slowly round
the windlass; when, resolved at last no longer to retreat, bethinking
him that he had now forborne as much as comported with his humor, the
Lakeman paused on the hatches and thus spoke to the officer:
"'Mr. Radney, I will not obey you. Take that hammer away, or look to
yourself.' But the predestinated mate coming still closer to him,
where the Lakeman stood fixed, now shook the heavy hammer within an
inch of his teeth; meanwhile repeating a string of insufferable
maledictions. Retreating not the thousandth part of an inch;
stabbing him in the eye with the unflinching poniard of his glance,
Steelkilt, clenching his right hand behind him and creepingly drawing
it back, told his persecutor that if the hammer but grazed his cheek
he (Steelkilt) would murder him. But, gentlemen, the fool had been
branded for the slaughter by the gods. Immediately the hammer
touched the cheek; the next instant the lower jaw of the mate was
stove in his head; he fell on the hatch spouting blood like a whale.
"Ere the cry could go aft Steelkilt was shaking one of the backstays
leading far aloft to where two of his comrades were standing their
mastheads. They were both Canallers.
"'Canallers!' cried Don Pedro. 'We have seen many whale-ships in our
harbours, but never heard of your Canallers. Pardon: who and what are
"'Canallers, Don, are the boatmen belonging to our grand Erie Canal.
You must have heard of it.'
"'Nay, Senor; hereabouts in this dull, warm, most lazy, and
hereditary land, we know but little of your vigorous North.'
"'Aye? Well then, Don, refill my cup. Your chicha's very fine; and
ere proceeding further I will tell ye what our Canallers are; for
such information may throw side-light upon my story.'
"For three hundred and sixty miles, gentlemen, through the entire
breadth of the state of New York; through numerous populous cities
and most thriving villages; through long, dismal, uninhabited swamps,
and affluent, cultivated fields, unrivalled for fertility; by
billiard-room and bar-room; through the holy-of-holies of great
forests; on Roman arches over Indian rivers; through sun and shade;
by happy hearts or broken; through all the wide contrasting scenery
of those noble Mohawk counties; and especially, by rows of snow-white
chapels, whose spires stand almost like milestones, flows one
continual stream of Venetianly corrupt and often lawless life.
There's your true Ashantee, gentlemen; there howl your pagans; where
you ever find them, next door to you; under the long-flung shadow,
and the snug patronising lee of churches. For by some curious
fatality, as it is often noted of your metropolitan freebooters that
they ever encamp around the halls of justice, so sinners, gentlemen,
most abound in holiest vicinities.
"'Is that a friar passing?' said Don Pedro, looking downwards into
the crowded plazza, with humorous concern.
"'Well for our northern friend, Dame Isabella's Inquisition wanes in
Lima,' laughed Don Sebastian. 'Proceed, Senor.'
"'A moment! Pardon!' cried another of the company. 'In the name of
all us Limeese, I but desire to express to you, sir sailor, that we
have by no means overlooked your delicacy in not substituting present
Lima for distant Venice in your corrupt comparison. Oh! do not bow
and look surprised; you know the proverb all along this
coast--"Corrupt as Lima." It but bears out your saying, too;
churches more plentiful than billiard-tables, and for ever open--and
"Corrupt as Lima." So, too, Venice; I have been there; the holy city
of the blessed evangelist, St. Mark!--St. Dominic, purge it! Your
cup! Thanks: here I refill; now, you pour out again.'
"Freely depicted in his own vocation, gentlemen, the Canaller would
make a fine dramatic hero, so abundantly and picturesquely wicked is
he. Like Mark Antony, for days and days along his green-turfed,
flowery Nile, he indolently floats, openly toying with his
red-cheeked Cleopatra, ripening his apricot thigh upon the sunny
deck. But ashore, all this effeminacy is dashed. The brigandish
guise which the Canaller so proudly sports; his slouched and
gaily-ribboned hat betoken his grand features. A terror to the
smiling innocence of the villages through which he floats; his swart
visage and bold swagger are not unshunned in cities. Once a vagabond
on his own canal, I have received good turns from one of these
Canallers; I thank him heartily; would fain be not ungrateful; but it
is often one of the prime redeeming qualities of your man of
violence, that at times he has as stiff an arm to back a poor
stranger in a strait, as to plunder a wealthy one. In sum,
gentlemen, what the wildness of this canal life is, is emphatically
evinced by this; that our wild whale-fishery contains so many of its
most finished graduates, and that scarce any race of mankind, except
Sydney men, are so much distrusted by our whaling captains. Nor does
it at all diminish the curiousness of this matter, that to many
thousands of our rural boys and young men born along its line, the
probationary life of the Grand Canal furnishes the sole transition
between quietly reaping in a Christian corn-field, and recklessly
ploughing the waters of the most barbaric seas.
"'I see! I see!' impetuously exclaimed Don Pedro, spilling his
chicha upon his silvery ruffles. 'No need to travel! The world's
one Lima. I had thought, now, that at your temperate North the
generations were cold and holy as the hills.--But the story.'
"I left off, gentlemen, where the Lakeman shook the backstay.
Hardly had he done so, when he was surrounded by the three junior
mates and the four harpooneers, who all crowded him to the deck. But
sliding down the ropes like baleful comets, the two Canallers rushed
into the uproar, and sought to drag their man out of it towards the
forecastle. Others of the sailors joined with them in this attempt,
and a twisted turmoil ensued; while standing out of harm's way, the
valiant captain danced up and down with a whale-pike, calling upon
his officers to manhandle that atrocious scoundrel, and smoke him
along to the quarter-deck. At intervals, he ran close up to the
revolving border of the confusion, and prying into the heart of it
with his pike, sought to prick out the object of his resentment. But
Steelkilt and his desperadoes were too much for them all; they
succeeded in gaining the forecastle deck, where, hastily slewing
about three or four large casks in a line with the windlass, these
sea-Parisians entrenched themselves behind the barricade.
"'Come out of that, ye pirates!' roared the captain, now menacing
them with a pistol in each hand, just brought to him by the steward.
'Come out of that, ye cut-throats!'
"Steelkilt leaped on the barricade, and striding up and down there,
defied the worst the pistols could do; but gave the captain to
understand distinctly, that his (Steelkilt's) death would be the
signal for a murderous mutiny on the part of all hands. Fearing in
his heart lest this might prove but too true, the captain a little
desisted, but still commanded the insurgents instantly to return to
"'Will you promise not to touch us, if we do?' demanded their
"'Turn to! turn to!--I make no promise;--to your duty! Do you want
to sink the ship, by knocking off at a time like this? Turn to!' and
he once more raised a pistol.
"'Sink the ship?' cried Steelkilt. 'Aye, let her sink. Not a man of
us turns to, unless you swear not to raise a rope-yarn against us.
What say ye, men?' turning to his comrades. A fierce cheer was their
"The Lakeman now patrolled the barricade, all the while keeping his
eye on the Captain, and jerking out such sentences as these:--'It's
not our fault; we didn't want it; I told him to take his hammer away;
it was boy's business; he might have known me before this; I told him
not to prick the buffalo; I believe I have broken a finger here
against his cursed jaw; ain't those mincing knives down in the
forecastle there, men? look to those handspikes, my hearties.
Captain, by God, look to yourself; say the word; don't be a fool;
forget it all; we are ready to turn to; treat us decently, and we're
your men; but we won't be flogged.'
"'Turn to! I make no promises, turn to, I say!'
"'Look ye, now,' cried the Lakeman, flinging out his arm towards him,
'there are a few of us here (and I am one of them) who have shipped
for the cruise, d'ye see; now as you well know, sir, we can claim our
discharge as soon as the anchor is down; so we don't want a row; it's
not our interest; we want to be peaceable; we are ready to work, but
we won't be flogged.'
"'Turn to!' roared the Captain.
"Steelkilt glanced round him a moment, and then said:--'I tell you
what it is now, Captain, rather than kill ye, and be hung for such a
shabby rascal, we won't lift a hand against ye unless ye attack us;
but till you say the word about not flogging us, we don't do a hand's
"'Down into the forecastle then, down with ye, I'll keep ye there
till ye're sick of it. Down ye go.'
"'Shall we?' cried the ringleader to his men. Most of them were
against it; but at length, in obedience to Steelkilt, they preceded
him down into their dark den, growlingly disappearing, like bears
into a cave.
"As the Lakeman's bare head was just level with the planks, the
Captain and his posse leaped the barricade, and rapidly drawing over
the slide of the scuttle, planted their group of hands upon it, and
loudly called for the steward to bring the heavy brass padlock
belonging to the companionway.
Then opening the slide a little, the Captain whispered something down
the crack, closed it, and turned the key upon them--ten in
number--leaving on deck some twenty or more, who thus far had
"All night a wide-awake watch was kept by all the officers, forward
and aft, especially about the forecastle scuttle and fore hatchway;
at which last place it was feared the insurgents might emerge, after
breaking through the bulkhead below. But the hours of darkness
passed in peace; the men who still remained at their duty toiling
hard at the pumps, whose clinking and clanking at intervals through
the dreary night dismally resounded through the ship.
"At sunrise the Captain went forward, and knocking on the deck,
summoned the prisoners to work; but with a yell they refused. Water
was then lowered down to them, and a couple of handfuls of biscuit
were tossed after it; when again turning the key upon them and
pocketing it, the Captain returned to the quarter-deck. Twice every
day for three days this was repeated; but on the fourth morning a
confused wrangling, and then a scuffling was heard, as the customary
summons was delivered; and suddenly four men burst up from the
forecastle, saying they were ready to turn to. The fetid closeness
of the air, and a famishing diet, united perhaps to some fears of
ultimate retribution, had constrained them to surrender at
discretion. Emboldened by this, the Captain reiterated his demand to
the rest, but Steelkilt shouted up to him a terrific hint to stop his
babbling and betake himself where he belonged. On the fifth morning
three others of the mutineers bolted up into the air from the
desperate arms below that sought to restrain them. Only three were
"'Better turn to, now?' said the Captain with a heartless jeer.
"'Shut us up again, will ye!' cried Steelkilt.
"'Oh certainly,' the Captain, and the key clicked.
"It was at this point, gentlemen, that enraged by the defection of
seven of his former associates, and stung by the mocking voice that
had last hailed him, and maddened by his long entombment in a place
as black as the bowels of despair; it was then that Steelkilt
proposed to the two Canallers, thus far apparently of one mind with
him, to burst out of their hole at the next summoning of the
garrison; and armed with their keen mincing knives (long, crescentic,
heavy implements with a handle at each end) run amuck from the
bowsprit to the taffrail; and if by any devilishness of desperation
possible, seize the ship. For himself, he would do this, he said,
whether they joined him or not. That was the last night he should
spend in that den. But the scheme met with no opposition on the part
of the other two; they swore they were ready for that, or for any
other mad thing, for anything in short but a surrender. And what was
more, they each insisted upon being the first man on deck, when the
time to make the rush should come. But to this their leader as
fiercely objected, reserving that priority for himself; particularly
as his two comrades would not yield, the one to the other, in the
matter; and both of them could not be first, for the ladder would but
admit one man at a time. And here, gentlemen, the foul play of these
miscreants must come out.
"Upon hearing the frantic project of their leader, each in his own
separate soul had suddenly lighted, it would seem, upon the same
piece of treachery, namely: to be foremost in breaking out, in
order to be the first of the three, though the last of the ten, to
surrender; and thereby secure whatever small chance of pardon such
conduct might merit. But when Steelkilt made known his determination
still to lead them to the last, they in some way, by some subtle
chemistry of villany, mixed their before secret treacheries together;
and when their leader fell into a doze, verbally opened their souls
to each other in three sentences; and bound the sleeper with cords,
and gagged him with cords; and shrieked out for the Captain at
"Thinking murder at hand, and smelling in the dark for the blood, he
and all his armed mates and harpooneers rushed for the forecastle.
In a few minutes the scuttle was opened, and, bound hand and foot,
the still struggling ringleader was shoved up into the air by his
perfidious allies, who at once claimed the honour of securing a man
who had been fully ripe for murder. But all these were collared, and
dragged along the deck like dead cattle; and, side by side, were
seized up into the mizzen rigging, like three quarters of meat, and
there they hung till morning. 'Damn ye,' cried the Captain, pacing
to and fro before them, 'the vultures would not touch ye, ye
"At sunrise he summoned all hands; and separating those who had
rebelled from those who had taken no part in the mutiny, he told the
former that he had a good mind to flog them all round--thought, upon
the whole, he would do so--he ought to--justice demanded it; but for
the present, considering their timely surrender, he would let them go
with a reprimand, which he accordingly administered in the vernacular.
"'But as for you, ye carrion rogues,' turning to the three men in the
rigging--'for you, I mean to mince ye up for the try-pots;' and,
seizing a rope, he applied it with all his might to the backs of the
two traitors, till they yelled no more, but lifelessly hung their
heads sideways, as the two crucified thieves are drawn.
"'My wrist is sprained with ye!' he cried, at last; 'but there is
still rope enough left for you, my fine bantam, that wouldn't give
up. Take that gag from his mouth, and let us hear what he can say
"For a moment the exhausted mutineer made a tremulous motion of his
cramped jaws, and then painfully twisting round his head, said in a
sort of hiss, 'What I say is this--and mind it well--if you flog me,
I murder you!'
"'Say ye so? then see how ye frighten me'--and the Captain drew off
with the rope to strike.
"'Best not,' hissed the Lakeman.
"'But I must,'--and the rope was once more drawn back for the stroke.
"Steelkilt here hissed out something, inaudible to all but the
Captain; who, to the amazement of all hands, started back, paced the
deck rapidly two or three times, and then suddenly throwing down his
rope, said, 'I won't do it--let him go--cut him down: d'ye hear?'
But as the junior mates were hurrying to execute the order, a pale
man, with a bandaged head, arrested them--Radney the chief mate.
Ever since the blow, he had lain in his berth; but that morning,
hearing the tumult on the deck, he had crept out, and thus far had
watched the whole scene. Such was the state of his mouth, that he
could hardly speak; but mumbling something about his being willing
and able to do what the captain dared not attempt, he snatched the
rope and advanced to his pinioned foe.
"'You are a coward!' hissed the Lakeman.
"'So I am, but take that.' The mate was in the very act of striking,
when another hiss stayed his uplifted arm. He paused: and then
pausing no more, made good his word, spite of Steelkilt's threat,
whatever that might have been. The three men were then cut down, all
hands were turned to, and, sullenly worked by the moody seamen, the
iron pumps clanged as before.
"Just after dark that day, when one watch had retired below, a clamor
was heard in the forecastle; and the two trembling traitors running
up, besieged the cabin door, saying they durst not consort with the
crew. Entreaties, cuffs, and kicks could not drive them back, so at
their own instance they were put down in the ship's run for
salvation. Still, no sign of mutiny reappeared among the rest. On
the contrary, it seemed, that mainly at Steelkilt's instigation, they
had resolved to maintain the strictest peacefulness, obey all orders
to the last, and, when the ship reached port, desert her in a body.
But in order to insure the speediest end to the voyage, they all
agreed to another thing--namely, not to sing out for whales, in case
any should be discovered. For, spite of her leak, and spite of all her
other perils, the Town-Ho still maintained her mast-heads, and her
captain was just as willing to lower for a fish that moment, as on
the day his craft first struck the cruising ground; and Radney the mate
was quite as ready to change his berth for a boat, and with his
bandaged mouth seek to gag in death the vital jaw of the whale.
"But though the Lakeman had induced the seamen to adopt this sort of
passiveness in their conduct, he kept his own counsel (at least till
all was over) concerning his own proper and private revenge upon the
man who had stung him in the ventricles of his heart. He was in
Radney the chief mate's watch; and as if the infatuated man sought to
run more than half way to meet his doom, after the scene at the
rigging, he insisted, against the express counsel of the captain,
upon resuming the head of his watch at night. Upon this, and one or
two other circumstances, Steelkilt systematically built the plan of
"During the night, Radney had an unseamanlike way of sitting on the
bulwarks of the quarter-deck, and leaning his arm upon the gunwale of
the boat which was hoisted up there, a little above the ship's side.
In this attitude, it was well known, he sometimes dozed. There was a
considerable vacancy between the boat and the ship, and down between
this was the sea. Steelkilt calculated his time, and found that his
next trick at the helm would come round at two o'clock, in the
morning of the third day from that in which he had been betrayed. At
his leisure, he employed the interval in braiding something very
carefully in his watches below.
"'What are you making there?' said a shipmate.
"'What do you think? what does it look like?'
"'Like a lanyard for your bag; but it's an odd one, seems to me.'
'Yes, rather oddish,' said the Lakeman, holding it at arm's length
before him; 'but I think it will answer. Shipmate, I haven't enough
twine,--have you any?'
"But there was none in the forecastle.
"'Then I must get some from old Rad;' and he rose to go aft.
"'You don't mean to go a begging to HIM!' said a sailor.
"'Why not? Do you think he won't do me a turn, when it's to help
himself in the end, shipmate?' and going to the mate, he looked at
him quietly, and asked him for some twine to mend his hammock. It
was given him--neither twine nor lanyard were seen again; but the
next night an iron ball, closely netted, partly rolled from the
pocket of the Lakeman's monkey jacket, as he was tucking the coat
into his hammock for a pillow. Twenty-four hours after, his trick at
the silent helm--nigh to the man who was apt to doze over the grave
always ready dug to the seaman's hand--that fatal hour was then to
come; and in the fore-ordaining soul of Steelkilt, the mate was
already stark and stretched as a corpse, with his forehead crushed
"But, gentlemen, a fool saved the would-be murderer from the bloody
deed he had planned. Yet complete revenge he had, and without being
the avenger. For by a mysterious fatality, Heaven itself seemed to
step in to take out of his hands into its own the damning thing he
would have done.
"It was just between daybreak and sunrise of the morning of the
second day, when they were washing down the decks, that a stupid
Teneriffe man, drawing water in the main-chains, all at once shouted
out, 'There she rolls! there she rolls!' Jesu, what a whale! It was
"'Moby Dick!' cried Don Sebastian; 'St. Dominic! Sir sailor, but do
whales have christenings? Whom call you Moby Dick?'
"'A very white, and famous, and most deadly immortal monster,
Don;--but that would be too long a story.'
"'How? how?' cried all the young Spaniards, crowding.
"'Nay, Dons, Dons--nay, nay! I cannot rehearse that now. Let me get
more into the air, Sirs.'
"'The chicha! the chicha!' cried Don Pedro; 'our vigorous friend looks
faint;--fill up his empty glass!'
"No need, gentlemen; one moment, and I proceed.--Now, gentlemen, so
suddenly perceiving the snowy whale within fifty yards of the
ship--forgetful of the compact among the crew--in the excitement of
the moment, the Teneriffe man had instinctively and involuntarily
lifted his voice for the monster, though for some little time past it
had been plainly beheld from the three sullen mast-heads. All was
now a phrensy. 'The White Whale--the White Whale!' was the cry from
captain, mates, and harpooneers, who, undeterred by fearful rumours,
were all anxious to capture so famous and precious a fish; while the
dogged crew eyed askance, and with curses, the appalling beauty of
the vast milky mass, that lit up by a horizontal spangling sun,
shifted and glistened like a living opal in the blue morning sea.
Gentlemen, a strange fatality pervades the whole career of these
events, as if verily mapped out before the world itself was charted.
The mutineer was the bowsman of the mate, and when fast to a fish, it
was his duty to sit next him, while Radney stood up with his lance in
the prow, and haul in or slacken the line, at the word of command.
Moreover, when the four boats were lowered, the mate's got the start;
and none howled more fiercely with delight than did Steelkilt, as he
strained at his oar. After a stiff pull, their harpooneer got fast,
and, spear in hand, Radney sprang to the bow. He was always a
furious man, it seems, in a boat. And now his bandaged cry was, to
beach him on the whale's topmost back. Nothing loath, his bowsman
hauled him up and up, through a blinding foam that blent two
whitenesses together; till of a sudden the boat struck as against a
sunken ledge, and keeling over, spilled out the standing mate. That
instant, as he fell on the whale's slippery back, the boat righted,
and was dashed aside by the swell, while Radney was tossed over into
the sea, on the other flank of the whale. He struck out through the
spray, and, for an instant, was dimly seen through that veil, wildly
seeking to remove himself from the eye of Moby Dick. But the whale
rushed round in a sudden maelstrom; seized the swimmer between his
jaws; and rearing high up with him, plunged headlong again, and went
"Meantime, at the first tap of the boat's bottom, the Lakeman had
slackened the line, so as to drop astern from the whirlpool; calmly
looking on, he thought his own thoughts. But a sudden, terrific,
downward jerking of the boat, quickly brought his knife to the line.
He cut it; and the whale was free. But, at some distance, Moby Dick
rose again, with some tatters of Radney's red woollen shirt, caught
in the teeth that had destroyed him. All four boats gave chase
again; but the whale eluded them, and finally wholly disappeared.
"In good time, the Town-Ho reached her port--a savage, solitary
place--where no civilized creature resided. There, headed by the
Lakeman, all but five or six of the foremastmen deliberately
deserted among the palms; eventually, as it turned out, seizing a
large double war-canoe of the savages, and setting sail for some
"The ship's company being reduced to but a handful, the captain
called upon the Islanders to assist him in the laborious business of
heaving down the ship to stop the leak. But to such unresting
vigilance over their dangerous allies was this small band of whites
necessitated, both by night and by day, and so extreme was the hard
work they underwent, that upon the vessel being ready again for sea,
they were in such a weakened condition that the captain durst not put
off with them in so heavy a vessel. After taking counsel with his
officers, he anchored the ship as far off shore as possible; loaded
and ran out his two cannon from the bows; stacked his muskets on the
poop; and warning the Islanders not to approach the ship at their
peril, took one man with him, and setting the sail of his best
whale-boat, steered straight before the wind for Tahiti, five hundred
miles distant, to procure a reinforcement to his crew.
"On the fourth day of the sail, a large canoe was descried, which
seemed to have touched at a low isle of corals. He steered away from
it; but the savage craft bore down on him; and soon the voice of
Steelkilt hailed him to heave to, or he would run him under water.
The captain presented a pistol. With one foot on each prow of the
yoked war-canoes, the Lakeman laughed him to scorn; assuring him that
if the pistol so much as clicked in the lock, he would bury him in
bubbles and foam.
"'What do you want of me?' cried the captain.
"'Where are you bound? and for what are you bound?' demanded
Steelkilt; 'no lies.'
"'I am bound to Tahiti for more men.'
"'Very good. Let me board you a moment--I come in peace.' With that
he leaped from the canoe, swam to the boat; and climbing the gunwale,
stood face to face with the captain.
"'Cross your arms, sir; throw back your head. Now, repeat after me.
As soon as Steelkilt leaves me, I swear to beach this boat on yonder
island, and remain there six days. If I do not, may lightning strike
"'A pretty scholar,' laughed the Lakeman. 'Adios, Senor!' and
leaping into the sea, he swam back to his comrades.
"Watching the boat till it was fairly beached, and drawn up to the
roots of the cocoa-nut trees, Steelkilt made sail again, and in due
time arrived at Tahiti, his own place of destination. There, luck
befriended him; two ships were about to sail for France, and were
providentially in want of precisely that number of men which the
sailor headed. They embarked; and so for ever got the start of
their former captain, had he been at all minded to work them legal
"Some ten days after the French ships sailed, the whale-boat arrived,
and the captain was forced to enlist some of the more civilized
Tahitians, who had been somewhat used to the sea. Chartering a small
native schooner, he returned with them to his vessel; and finding all
right there, again resumed his cruisings.
"Where Steelkilt now is, gentlemen, none know; but upon the island of
Nantucket, the widow of Radney still turns to the sea which refuses
to give up its dead; still in dreams sees the awful white whale that
"'Are you through?' said Don Sebastian, quietly.
"'I am, Don.'
"'Then I entreat you, tell me if to the best of your own convictions,
this your story is in substance really true? It is so passing
wonderful! Did you get it from an unquestionable source? Bear with
me if I seem to press.'
"'Also bear with all of us, sir sailor; for we all join in Don
Sebastian's suit,' cried the company, with exceeding interest.
"'Is there a copy of the Holy Evangelists in the Golden Inn,
"'Nay,' said Don Sebastian; 'but I know a worthy priest near by, who
will quickly procure one for me. I go for it; but are you well
advised? this may grow too serious.'
"'Will you be so good as to bring the priest also, Don?'
"'Though there are no Auto-da-Fe's in Lima now,' said one of the
company to another; 'I fear our sailor friend runs risk of the
archiepiscopacy. Let us withdraw more out of the moonlight. I see
no need of this.'
"'Excuse me for running after you, Don Sebastian; but may I also beg
that you will be particular in procuring the largest sized
Evangelists you can.'
'This is the priest, he brings you the Evangelists,' said Don
Sebastian, gravely, returning with a tall and solemn figure.
"'Let me remove my hat. Now, venerable priest, further into the
light, and hold the Holy Book before me that I may touch it.
"'So help me Heaven, and on my honour the story I have told ye,
gentlemen, is in substance and its great items, true. I know it to
be true; it happened on this ball; I trod the ship; I knew the crew;
I have seen and talked with Steelkilt since the death of Radney.'"
Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales.
I shall ere long paint to you as well as one can without canvas,
something like the true form of the whale as he actually appears to
the eye of the whaleman when in his own absolute body the whale is
moored alongside the whale-ship so that he can be fairly stepped upon
there. It may be worth while, therefore, previously to advert to
those curious imaginary portraits of him which even down to the
present day confidently challenge the faith of the landsman. It is
time to set the world right in this matter, by proving such pictures
of the whale all wrong.
It may be that the primal source of all those pictorial delusions
will be found among the oldest Hindoo, Egyptian, and Grecian
sculptures. For ever since those inventive but unscrupulous times
when on the marble panellings of temples, the pedestals of statues,
and on shields, medallions, cups, and coins, the dolphin was drawn in
scales of chain-armor like Saladin's, and a helmeted head like St.
George's; ever since then has something of the same sort of license
prevailed, not only in most popular pictures of the whale, but in
many scientific presentations of him.
Now, by all odds, the most ancient extant portrait anyways purporting
to be the whale's, is to be found in the famous cavern-pagoda of
Elephanta, in India. The Brahmins maintain that in the almost
endless sculptures of that immemorial pagoda, all the trades and
pursuits, every conceivable avocation of man, were prefigured ages
before any of them actually came into being. No wonder then, that in
some sort our noble profession of whaling should have been there
shadowed forth. The Hindoo whale referred to, occurs in a separate
department of the wall, depicting the incarnation of Vishnu in the
form of leviathan, learnedly known as the Matse Avatar. But though
this sculpture is half man and half whale, so as only to give the
tail of the latter, yet that small section of him is all wrong. It
looks more like the tapering tail of an anaconda, than the broad palms
of the true whale's majestic flukes.
But go to the old Galleries, and look now at a great Christian
painter's portrait of this fish; for he succeeds no better than the
antediluvian Hindoo. It is Guido's picture of Perseus rescuing
Andromeda from the sea-monster or whale. Where did Guido get the
model of such a strange creature as that? Nor does Hogarth, in
painting the same scene in his own "Perseus Descending," make out one
whit better. The huge corpulence of that Hogarthian monster
undulates on the surface, scarcely drawing one inch of water. It has
a sort of howdah on its back, and its distended tusked mouth into
which the billows are rolling, might be taken for the Traitors' Gate
leading from the Thames by water into the Tower. Then, there are the
Prodromus whales of old Scotch Sibbald, and Jonah's whale, as
depicted in the prints of old Bibles and the cuts of old primers.
What shall be said of these? As for the book-binder's whale winding
like a vine-stalk round the stock of a descending anchor--as stamped
and gilded on the backs and title-pages of many books both old and
new--that is a very picturesque but purely fabulous creature,
imitated, I take it, from the like figures on antique vases. Though
universally denominated a dolphin, I nevertheless call this
book-binder's fish an attempt at a whale; because it was so intended
when the device was first introduced. It was introduced by an old
Italian publisher somewhere about the 15th century, during the
Revival of Learning; and in those days, and even down to a
comparatively late period, dolphins were popularly supposed to be a
species of the Leviathan.
In the vignettes and other embellishments of some ancient books you
will at times meet with very curious touches at the whale, where all
manner of spouts, jets d'eau, hot springs and cold, Saratoga and
Baden-Baden, come bubbling up from his unexhausted brain. In the
title-page of the original edition of the "Advancement of Learning"
you will find some curious whales.
But quitting all these unprofessional attempts, let us glance at
those pictures of leviathan purporting to be sober, scientific
delineations, by those who know. In old Harris's collection of
voyages there are some plates of whales extracted from a Dutch book
of voyages, A.D. 1671, entitled "A Whaling Voyage to Spitzbergen in
the ship Jonas in the Whale, Peter Peterson of Friesland, master."
In one of those plates the whales, like great rafts of logs, are
represented lying among ice-isles, with white bears running over
their living backs. In another plate, the prodigious blunder is made
of representing the whale with perpendicular flukes.
Then again, there is an imposing quarto, written by one Captain
Colnett, a Post Captain in the English navy, entitled "A Voyage round
Cape Horn into the South Seas, for the purpose of extending the
Spermaceti Whale Fisheries." In this book is an outline purporting
to be a "Picture of a Physeter or Spermaceti whale, drawn by scale
from one killed on the coast of Mexico, August, 1793, and hoisted on
deck." I doubt not the captain had this veracious picture taken for
the benefit of his marines. To mention but one thing about it, let
me say that it has an eye which applied, according to the
accompanying scale, to a full grown sperm whale, would make the eye
of that whale a bow-window some five feet long. Ah, my gallant
captain, why did ye not give us Jonah looking out of that eye!
Nor are the most conscientious compilations of Natural History for
the benefit of the young and tender, free from the same heinousness
of mistake. Look at that popular work "Goldsmith's Animated Nature."
In the abridged London edition of 1807, there are plates of an
alleged "whale" and a "narwhale." I do not wish to seem inelegant,
but this unsightly whale looks much like an amputated sow; and, as
for the narwhale, one glimpse at it is enough to amaze one, that in
this nineteenth century such a hippogriff could be palmed for genuine
upon any intelligent public of schoolboys.
Then, again, in 1825, Bernard Germain, Count de Lacepede, a great
naturalist, published a scientific systemized whale book, wherein are
several pictures of the different species of the Leviathan. All
these are not only incorrect, but the picture of the Mysticetus or
Greenland whale (that is to say, the Right whale), even Scoresby, a
long experienced man as touching that species, declares not to have
its counterpart in nature.
But the placing of the cap-sheaf to all this blundering business was
reserved for the scientific Frederick Cuvier, brother to the famous
Baron. In 1836, he published a Natural History of Whales, in which
he gives what he calls a picture of the Sperm Whale. Before showing
that picture to any Nantucketer, you had best provide for your
summary retreat from Nantucket. In a word, Frederick Cuvier's Sperm
Whale is not a Sperm Whale, but a squash. Of course, he never had
the benefit of a whaling voyage (such men seldom have), but whence he
derived that picture, who can tell? Perhaps he got it as his
scientific predecessor in the same field, Desmarest, got one of his
authentic abortions; that is, from a Chinese drawing. And what sort
of lively lads with the pencil those Chinese are, many queer cups and
saucers inform us.
As for the sign-painters' whales seen in the streets hanging over the
shops of oil-dealers, what shall be said of them? They are generally
Richard III. whales, with dromedary humps, and very savage;
breakfasting on three or four sailor tarts, that is whaleboats full
of mariners: their deformities floundering in seas of blood and blue
But these manifold mistakes in depicting the whale are not so very
surprising after all. Consider! Most of the scientific drawings
have been taken from the stranded fish; and these are about as
correct as a drawing of a wrecked ship, with broken back, would
correctly represent the noble animal itself in all its undashed pride
of hull and spars. Though elephants have stood for their
full-lengths, the living Leviathan has never yet fairly floated
himself for his portrait. The living whale, in his full majesty and
significance, is only to be seen at sea in unfathomable waters; and
afloat the vast bulk of him is out of sight, like a launched
line-of-battle ship; and out of that element it is a thing eternally
impossible for mortal man to hoist him bodily into the air, so as to
preserve all his mighty swells and undulations. And, not to speak of
the highly presumable difference of contour between a young sucking
whale and a full-grown Platonian Leviathan; yet, even in the case of
one of those young sucking whales hoisted to a ship's deck, such is
then the outlandish, eel-like, limbered, varying shape of him, that
his precise expression the devil himself could not catch.
But it may be fancied, that from the naked skeleton of the stranded
whale, accurate hints may be derived touching his true form. Not at
all. For it is one of the more curious things about this Leviathan,
that his skeleton gives very little idea of his general shape.
Though Jeremy Bentham's skeleton, which hangs for candelabra in the
library of one of his executors, correctly conveys the idea of a
burly-browed utilitarian old gentleman, with all Jeremy's other
leading personal characteristics; yet nothing of this kind could be
inferred from any leviathan's articulated bones. In fact, as the
great Hunter says, the mere skeleton of the whale bears the same
relation to the fully invested and padded animal as the insect does
to the chrysalis that so roundingly envelopes it. This peculiarity
is strikingly evinced in the head, as in some part of this book will
be incidentally shown. It is also very curiously displayed in the
side fin, the bones of which almost exactly answer to the bones of the
human hand, minus only the thumb. This fin has four regular
bone-fingers, the index, middle, ring, and little finger. But all
these are permanently lodged in their fleshy covering, as the human
fingers in an artificial covering. "However recklessly the whale may
sometimes serve us," said humorous Stubb one day, "he can never be
truly said to handle us without mittens."
For all these reasons, then, any way you may look at it, you must
needs conclude that the great Leviathan is that one creature in the
world which must remain unpainted to the last. True, one portrait
may hit the mark much nearer than another, but none can hit it with
any very considerable degree of exactness. So there is no earthly
way of finding out precisely what the whale really looks like. And
the only mode in which you can derive even a tolerable idea of his
living contour, is by going a whaling yourself; but by so doing, you
run no small risk of being eternally stove and sunk by him.
Wherefore, it seems to me you had best not be too fastidious in your
curiosity touching this Leviathan.
Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, and the True Pictures of
In connexion with the monstrous pictures of whales, I am strongly
tempted here to enter upon those still more monstrous stories of them
which are to be found in certain books, both ancient and modern,
especially in Pliny, Purchas, Hackluyt, Harris, Cuvier, etc. But I
pass that matter by.
I know of only four published outlines of the great Sperm Whale;
Colnett's, Huggins's, Frederick Cuvier's, and Beale's. In the
previous chapter Colnett and Cuvier have been referred to. Huggins's
is far better than theirs; but, by great odds, Beale's is the best.
All Beale's drawings of this whale are good, excepting the middle
figure in the picture of three whales in various attitudes, capping
his second chapter. His frontispiece, boats attacking Sperm Whales,
though no doubt calculated to excite the civil scepticism of some
parlor men, is admirably correct and life-like in its general effect.
Some of the Sperm Whale drawings in J. Ross Browne are pretty
correct in contour; but they are wretchedly engraved. That is not
his fault though.
Of the Right Whale, the best outline pictures are in Scoresby; but
they are drawn on too small a scale to convey a desirable impression.
He has but one picture of whaling scenes, and this is a sad
deficiency, because it is by such pictures only, when at all well
done, that you can derive anything like a truthful idea of the living
whale as seen by his living hunters.
But, taken for all in all, by far the finest, though in some details
not the most correct, presentations of whales and whaling scenes to
be anywhere found, are two large French engravings, well executed,
and taken from paintings by one Garnery. Respectively, they
represent attacks on the Sperm and Right Whale. In the first
engraving a noble Sperm Whale is depicted in full majesty of might,
just risen beneath the boat from the profundities of the ocean, and
bearing high in the air upon his back the terrific wreck of the
stoven planks. The prow of the boat is partially unbroken, and is
drawn just balancing upon the monster's spine; and standing in that
prow, for that one single incomputable flash of time, you behold an
oarsman, half shrouded by the incensed boiling spout of the whale,
and in the act of leaping, as if from a precipice. The action of the
whole thing is wonderfully good and true. The half-emptied line-tub
floats on the whitened sea; the wooden poles of the spilled harpoons
obliquely bob in it; the heads of the swimming crew are scattered
about the whale in contrasting expressions of affright; while in the
black stormy distance the ship is bearing down upon the scene.
Serious fault might be found with the anatomical details of this
whale, but let that pass; since, for the life of me, I could not draw
so good a one.
In the second engraving, the boat is in the act of drawing alongside
the barnacled flank of a large running Right Whale, that rolls his
black weedy bulk in the sea like some mossy rock-slide from the
Patagonian cliffs. His jets are erect, full, and black like soot; so
that from so abounding a smoke in the chimney, you would think there
must be a brave supper cooking in the great bowels below. Sea fowls
are pecking at the small crabs, shell-fish, and other sea candies and
maccaroni, which the Right Whale sometimes carries on his pestilent
back. And all the while the thick-lipped leviathan is rushing
through the deep, leaving tons of tumultuous white curds in his wake,
and causing the slight boat to rock in the swells like a skiff caught
nigh the paddle-wheels of an ocean steamer. Thus, the foreground is
all raging commotion; but behind, in admirable artistic contrast, is
the glassy level of a sea becalmed, the drooping unstarched sails of
the powerless ship, and the inert mass of a dead whale, a conquered
fortress, with the flag of capture lazily hanging from the whale-pole
inserted into his spout-hole.
Who Garnery the painter is, or was, I know not. But my life for it
he was either practically conversant with his subject, or else
marvellously tutored by some experienced whaleman. The French are
the lads for painting action. Go and gaze upon all the paintings of
Europe, and where will you find such a gallery of living and
breathing commotion on canvas, as in that triumphal hall at
Versailles; where the beholder fights his way, pell-mell, through the
consecutive great battles of France; where every sword seems a flash
of the Northern Lights, and the successive armed kings and Emperors
dash by, like a charge of crowned centaurs? Not wholly unworthy of a
place in that gallery, are these sea battle-pieces of Garnery.
The natural aptitude of the French for seizing the picturesqueness of
things seems to be peculiarly evinced in what paintings and
engravings they have of their whaling scenes. With not one tenth of
England's experience in the fishery, and not the thousandth part of
that of the Americans, they have nevertheless furnished both nations
with the only finished sketches at all capable of conveying the real
spirit of the whale hunt. For the most part, the English and
American whale draughtsmen seem entirely content with presenting the
mechanical outline of things, such as the vacant profile of the
whale; which, so far as picturesqueness of effect is concerned, is
about tantamount to sketching the profile of a pyramid. Even
Scoresby, the justly renowned Right whaleman, after giving us a stiff
full length of the Greenland whale, and three or four delicate
miniatures of narwhales and porpoises, treats us to a series of
classical engravings of boat hooks, chopping knives, and grapnels;
and with the microscopic diligence of a Leuwenhoeck submits to the
inspection of a shivering world ninety-six fac-similes of magnified
Arctic snow crystals. I mean no disparagement to the excellent
voyager (I honour him for a veteran), but in so important a matter it
was certainly an oversight not to have procured for every crystal a
sworn affidavit taken before a Greenland Justice of the Peace.
In addition to those fine engravings from Garnery, there are two
other French engravings worthy of note, by some one who subscribes
himself "H. Durand." One of them, though not precisely adapted to
our present purpose, nevertheless deserves mention on other accounts.
It is a quiet noon-scene among the isles of the Pacific; a French
whaler anchored, inshore, in a calm, and lazily taking water on
board; the loosened sails of the ship, and the long leaves of the
palms in the background, both drooping together in the breezeless
air. The effect is very fine, when considered with reference to its
presenting the hardy fishermen under one of their few aspects of
oriental repose. The other engraving is quite a different affair:
the ship hove-to upon the open sea, and in the very heart of the
Leviathanic life, with a Right Whale alongside; the vessel (in the
act of cutting-in) hove over to the monster as if to a quay; and a
boat, hurriedly pushing off from this scene of activity, is about
giving chase to whales in the distance. The harpoons and lances lie
levelled for use; three oarsmen are just setting the mast in its
hole; while from a sudden roll of the sea, the little craft stands
half-erect out of the water, like a rearing horse. From the ship,
the smoke of the torments of the boiling whale is going up like the
smoke over a village of smithies; and to windward, a black cloud,
rising up with earnest of squalls and rains, seems to quicken the
activity of the excited seamen.
Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in Stone; in
Mountains; in Stars.
On Tower-hill, as you go down to the London docks, you may have seen
a crippled beggar (or KEDGER, as the sailors say) holding a painted
board before him, representing the tragic scene in which he lost his
leg. There are three whales and three boats; and one of the boats
(presumed to contain the missing leg in all its original integrity)
is being crunched by the jaws of the foremost whale. Any time these
ten years, they tell me, has that man held up that picture, and
exhibited that stump to an incredulous world. But the time of his
justification has now come. His three whales are as good whales as
were ever published in Wapping, at any rate; and his stump as
unquestionable a stump as any you will find in the western clearings.
But, though for ever mounted on that stump, never a stump-speech
does the poor whaleman make; but, with downcast eyes, stands ruefully
contemplating his own amputation.
Throughout the Pacific, and also in Nantucket, and New Bedford, and
Sag Harbor, you will come across lively sketches of whales and
whaling-scenes, graven by the fishermen themselves on Sperm
Whale-teeth, or ladies' busks wrought out of the Right Whale-bone,
and other like skrimshander articles, as the whalemen call the
numerous little ingenious contrivances they elaborately carve out of
the rough material, in their hours of ocean leisure. Some of them
have little boxes of dentistical-looking implements, specially
intended for the skrimshandering business. But, in general, they
toil with their jack-knives alone; and, with that almost omnipotent
tool of the sailor, they will turn you out anything you please, in
the way of a mariner's fancy.
Long exile from Christendom and civilization inevitably restores a
man to that condition in which God placed him, i.e. what is called
savagery. Your true whale-hunter is as much a savage as an Iroquois.
I myself am a savage, owning no allegiance but to the King of the
Cannibals; and ready at any moment to rebel against him.
Now, one of the peculiar characteristics of the savage in his
domestic hours, is his wonderful patience of industry. An ancient
Hawaiian war-club or spear-paddle, in its full multiplicity and
elaboration of carving, is as great a trophy of human perseverance as
a Latin lexicon. For, with but a bit of broken sea-shell or a
shark's tooth, that miraculous intricacy of wooden net-work has been
achieved; and it has cost steady years of steady application.
As with the Hawaiian savage, so with the white sailor-savage. With
the same marvellous patience, and with the same single shark's tooth,
of his one poor jack-knife, he will carve you a bit of bone
sculpture, not quite as workmanlike, but as close packed in its
maziness of design, as the Greek savage, Achilles's shield; and full
of barbaric spirit and suggestiveness, as the prints of that fine old
Dutch savage, Albert Durer.
Wooden whales, or whales cut in profile out of the small dark slabs
of the noble South Sea war-wood, are frequently met with in the
forecastles of American whalers. Some of them are done with much
At some old gable-roofed country houses you will see brass whales
hung by the tail for knockers to the road-side door. When the porter
is sleepy, the anvil-headed whale would be best. But these knocking
whales are seldom remarkable as faithful essays. On the spires of
some old-fashioned churches you will see sheet-iron whales placed
there for weather-cocks; but they are so elevated, and besides that
are to all intents and purposes so labelled with "HANDS OFF!" you
cannot examine them closely enough to decide upon their merit.
In bony, ribby regions of the earth, where at the base of high broken
cliffs masses of rock lie strewn in fantastic groupings upon the
plain, you will often discover images as of the petrified forms of
the Leviathan partly merged in grass, which of a windy day breaks
against them in a surf of green surges.
Then, again, in mountainous countries where the traveller is
continually girdled by amphitheatrical heights; here and there from
some lucky point of view you will catch passing glimpses of the
profiles of whales defined along the undulating ridges. But you must
be a thorough whaleman, to see these sights; and not only that, but
if you wish to return to such a sight again, you must be sure and
take the exact intersecting latitude and longitude of your first
stand-point, else so chance-like are such observations of the hills,
that your precise, previous stand-point would require a laborious
re-discovery; like the Soloma Islands, which still remain incognita,
though once high-ruffed Mendanna trod them and old Figuera
Nor when expandingly lifted by your subject, can you fail to trace
out great whales in the starry heavens, and boats in pursuit of them;
as when long filled with thoughts of war the Eastern nations saw
armies locked in battle among the clouds. Thus at the North have I
chased Leviathan round and round the Pole with the revolutions of the
bright points that first defined him to me. And beneath the
effulgent Antarctic skies I have boarded the Argo-Navis, and joined
the chase against the starry Cetus far beyond the utmost stretch of
Hydrus and the Flying Fish.
With a frigate's anchors for my bridle-bitts and fasces of harpoons
for spurs, would I could mount that whale and leap the topmost skies,
to see whether the fabled heavens with all their countless tents
really lie encamped beyond my mortal sight!
Steering north-eastward from the Crozetts, we fell in with vast
meadows of brit, the minute, yellow substance, upon which the Right
Whale largely feeds. For leagues and leagues it undulated round us,
so that we seemed to be sailing through boundless fields of ripe and
On the second day, numbers of Right Whales were seen, who, secure
from the attack of a Sperm Whaler like the Pequod, with open jaws
sluggishly swam through the brit, which, adhering to the fringing
fibres of that wondrous Venetian blind in their mouths, was in that
manner separated from the water that escaped at the lip.
As morning mowers, who side by side slowly and seethingly advance
their scythes through the long wet grass of marshy meads; even so
these monsters swam, making a strange, grassy, cutting sound; and
leaving behind them endless swaths of blue upon the yellow sea.*
*That part of the sea known among whalemen as the "Brazil Banks" does
not bear that name as the Banks of Newfoundland do, because of there
being shallows and soundings there, but because of this remarkable
meadow-like appearance, caused by the vast drifts of brit continually
floating in those latitudes, where the Right Whale is often chased.
But it was only the sound they made as they parted the brit which at
all reminded one of mowers. Seen from the mast-heads, especially
when they paused and were stationary for a while, their vast black
forms looked more like lifeless masses of rock than anything else.
And as in the great hunting countries of India, the stranger at a
distance will sometimes pass on the plains recumbent elephants
without knowing them to be such, taking them for bare, blackened
elevations of the soil; even so, often, with him, who for the first
time beholds this species of the leviathans of the sea. And even
when recognised at last, their immense magnitude renders it very
hard really to believe that such bulky masses of overgrowth can
possibly be instinct, in all parts, with the same sort of life that
lives in a dog or a horse.
Indeed, in other respects, you can hardly regard any creatures of the
deep with the same feelings that you do those of the shore. For
though some old naturalists have maintained that all creatures of the
land are of their kind in the sea; and though taking a broad general
view of the thing, this may very well be; yet coming to specialties,
where, for example, does the ocean furnish any fish that in
disposition answers to the sagacious kindness of the dog? The
accursed shark alone can in any generic respect be said to bear
comparative analogy to him.
But though, to landsmen in general, the native inhabitants of the
seas have ever been regarded with emotions unspeakably unsocial and
repelling; though we know the sea to be an everlasting terra
incognita, so that Columbus sailed over numberless unknown worlds to
discover his one superficial western one; though, by vast odds, the
most terrific of all mortal disasters have immemorially and
indiscriminately befallen tens and hundreds of thousands of those who
have gone upon the waters; though but a moment's consideration will
teach, that however baby man may brag of his science and skill, and
however much, in a flattering future, that science and skill may
augment; yet for ever and for ever, to the crack of doom, the sea
will insult and murder him, and pulverize the stateliest, stiffest
frigate he can make; nevertheless, by the continual repetition of
these very impressions, man has lost that sense of the full awfulness
of the sea which aboriginally belongs to it.
The first boat we read of, floated on an ocean, that with Portuguese
vengeance had whelmed a whole world without leaving so much as a
widow. That same ocean rolls now; that same ocean destroyed the
wrecked ships of last year. Yea, foolish mortals, Noah's flood is
not yet subsided; two thirds of the fair world it yet covers.
Wherein differ the sea and the land, that a miracle upon one is not a
miracle upon the other? Preternatural terrors rested upon the
Hebrews, when under the feet of Korah and his company the live ground
opened and swallowed them up for ever; yet not a modern sun ever
sets, but in precisely the same manner the live sea swallows up ships
But not only is the sea such a foe to man who is an alien to it, but
it is also a fiend to its own off-spring; worse than the Persian host
who murdered his own guests; sparing not the creatures which itself
hath spawned. Like a savage tigress that tossing in the jungle
overlays her own cubs, so the sea dashes even the mightiest whales
against the rocks, and leaves them there side by side with the split
wrecks of ships. No mercy, no power but its own controls it.
Panting and snorting like a mad battle steed that has lost its rider,
the masterless ocean overruns the globe.
Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures
glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously
hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the
devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless
tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks.
Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose
creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the
Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most
docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you
not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this
appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man
there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed
by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not
off from that isle, thou canst never return!
Slowly wading through the meadows of brit, the Pequod still held on
her way north-eastward towards the island of Java; a gentle air
impelling her keel, so that in the surrounding serenity her three
tall tapering masts mildly waved to that languid breeze, as three
mild palms on a plain. And still, at wide intervals in the silvery
night, the lonely, alluring jet would be seen.
But one transparent blue morning, when a stillness almost
preternatural spread over the sea, however unattended with any
stagnant calm; when the long burnished sun-glade on the waters seemed
a golden finger laid across them, enjoining some secrecy; when the
slippered waves whispered together as they softly ran on; in this
profound hush of the visible sphere a strange spectre was seen by
Daggoo from the main-mast-head.
In the distance, a great white mass lazily rose, and rising higher
and higher, and disentangling itself from the azure, at last gleamed
before our prow like a snow-slide, new slid from the hills. Thus
glistening for a moment, as slowly it subsided, and sank. Then once
more arose, and silently gleamed. It seemed not a whale; and yet is
this Moby Dick? thought Daggoo. Again the phantom went down, but on
re-appearing once more, with a stiletto-like cry that startled every
man from his nod, the negro yelled out--"There! there again! there
she breaches! right ahead! The White Whale, the White Whale!"
Upon this, the seamen rushed to the yard-arms, as in swarming-time
the bees rush to the boughs. Bare-headed in the sultry sun, Ahab
stood on the bowsprit, and with one hand pushed far behind in
readiness to wave his orders to the helmsman, cast his eager glance
in the direction indicated aloft by the outstretched motionless arm
Whether the flitting attendance of the one still and solitary jet had
gradually worked upon Ahab, so that he was now prepared to connect
the ideas of mildness and repose with the first sight of the
particular whale he pursued; however this was, or whether his
eagerness betrayed him; whichever way it might have been, no sooner
did he distinctly perceive the white mass, than with a quick
intensity he instantly gave orders for lowering.
The four boats were soon on the water; Ahab's in advance, and all
swiftly pulling towards their prey. Soon it went down, and while,
with oars suspended, we were awaiting its reappearance, lo! in the
same spot where it sank, once more it slowly rose. Almost forgetting
for the moment all thoughts of Moby Dick, we now gazed at the most
wondrous phenomenon which the secret seas have hitherto revealed to
mankind. A vast pulpy mass, furlongs in length and breadth, of a
glancing cream-colour, lay floating on the water, innumerable long
arms radiating from its centre, and curling and twisting like a nest
of anacondas, as if blindly to clutch at any hapless object within
reach. No perceptible face or front did it have; no conceivable
token of either sensation or instinct; but undulated there on the
billows, an unearthly, formless, chance-like apparition of life.
As with a low sucking sound it slowly disappeared again, Starbuck
still gazing at the agitated waters where it had sunk, with a wild
voice exclaimed--"Almost rather had I seen Moby Dick and fought him,
than to have seen thee, thou white ghost!"
"What was it, Sir?" said Flask.
"The great live squid, which, they say, few whale-ships ever beheld,
and returned to their ports to tell of it."
But Ahab said nothing; turning his boat, he sailed back to the
vessel; the rest as silently following.
Whatever superstitions the sperm whalemen in general have connected
with the sight of this object, certain it is, that a glimpse of it
being so very unusual, that circumstance has gone far to invest it
with portentousness. So rarely is it beheld, that though one and all
of them declare it to be the largest animated thing in the ocean, yet
very few of them have any but the most vague ideas concerning its
true nature and form; notwithstanding, they believe it to furnish to
the sperm whale his only food. For though other species of whales
find their food above water, and may be seen by man in the act of
feeding, the spermaceti whale obtains his whole food in unknown zones
below the surface; and only by inference is it that any one can tell
of what, precisely, that food consists. At times, when closely
pursued, he will disgorge what are supposed to be the detached arms
of the squid; some of them thus exhibited exceeding twenty and thirty
feet in length. They fancy that the monster to which these arms
belonged ordinarily clings by them to the bed of the ocean; and that
the sperm whale, unlike other species, is supplied with teeth in
order to attack and tear it.
There seems some ground to imagine that the great Kraken of Bishop
Pontoppodan may ultimately resolve itself into Squid. The manner in
which the Bishop describes it, as alternately rising and sinking,
with some other particulars he narrates, in all this the two
correspond. But much abatement is necessary with respect to the
incredible bulk he assigns it.
By some naturalists who have vaguely heard rumors of the mysterious
creature, here spoken of, it is included among the class of
cuttle-fish, to which, indeed, in certain external respects it would
seem to belong, but only as the Anak of the tribe.
With reference to the whaling scene shortly to be described, as well
as for the better understanding of all similar scenes elsewhere
presented, I have here to speak of the magical, sometimes horrible
The line originally used in the fishery was of the best hemp,
slightly vapoured with tar, not impregnated with it, as in the case of
ordinary ropes; for while tar, as ordinarily used, makes the hemp
more pliable to the rope-maker, and also renders the rope itself more
convenient to the sailor for common ship use; yet, not only would the
ordinary quantity too much stiffen the whale-line for the close
coiling to which it must be subjected; but as most seamen are
beginning to learn, tar in general by no means adds to the rope's
durability or strength, however much it may give it compactness and
Of late years the Manilla rope has in the American fishery almost
entirely superseded hemp as a material for whale-lines; for, though
not so durable as hemp, it is stronger, and far more soft and
elastic; and I will add (since there is an aesthetics in all things),
is much more handsome and becoming to the boat, than hemp. Hemp is a
dusky, dark fellow, a sort of Indian; but Manilla is as a
golden-haired Circassian to behold.
The whale-line is only two-thirds of an inch in thickness. At first
sight, you would not think it so strong as it really is. By
experiment its one and fifty yarns will each suspend a weight of one
hundred and twenty pounds; so that the whole rope will bear a strain
nearly equal to three tons. In length, the common sperm whale-line
measures something over two hundred fathoms. Towards the stern of
the boat it is spirally coiled away in the tub, not like the
worm-pipe of a still though, but so as to form one round,
cheese-shaped mass of densely bedded "sheaves," or layers of
concentric spiralizations, without any hollow but the "heart," or
minute vertical tube formed at the axis of the cheese. As the least
tangle or kink in the coiling would, in running out, infallibly take
somebody's arm, leg, or entire body off, the utmost precaution is
used in stowing the line in its tub. Some harpooneers will consume
almost an entire morning in this business, carrying the line high
aloft and then reeving it downwards through a block towards the tub,
so as in the act of coiling to free it from all possible wrinkles and
In the English boats two tubs are used instead of one; the same line
being continuously coiled in both tubs. There is some advantage in
this; because these twin-tubs being so small they fit more readily
into the boat, and do not strain it so much; whereas, the American
tub, nearly three feet in diameter and of proportionate depth, makes
a rather bulky freight for a craft whose planks are but one half-inch
in thickness; for the bottom of the whale-boat is like critical ice,
which will bear up a considerable distributed weight, but not very
much of a concentrated one. When the painted canvas cover is clapped
on the American line-tub, the boat looks as if it were pulling off
with a prodigious great wedding-cake to present to the whales.
Both ends of the line are exposed; the lower end terminating in an
eye-splice or loop coming up from the bottom against the side of the
tub, and hanging over its edge completely disengaged from everything.
This arrangement of the lower end is necessary on two accounts.
First: In order to facilitate the fastening to it of an additional
line from a neighboring boat, in case the stricken whale should sound
so deep as to threaten to carry off the entire line originally
attached to the harpoon. In these instances, the whale of course is
shifted like a mug of ale, as it were, from the one boat to the
other; though the first boat always hovers at hand to assist its
consort. Second: This arrangement is indispensable for common
safety's sake; for were the lower end of the line in any way attached
to the boat, and were the whale then to run the line out to the end
almost in a single, smoking minute as he sometimes does, he would not
stop there, for the doomed boat would infallibly be dragged down
after him into the profundity of the sea; and in that case no
town-crier would ever find her again.
Before lowering the boat for the chase, the upper end of the line is
taken aft from the tub, and passing round the loggerhead there, is
again carried forward the entire length of the boat, resting
crosswise upon the loom or handle of every man's oar, so that it jogs
against his wrist in rowing; and also passing between the men, as
they alternately sit at the opposite gunwales, to the leaded chocks
or grooves in the extreme pointed prow of the boat, where a wooden
pin or skewer the size of a common quill, prevents it from slipping
out. From the chocks it hangs in a slight festoon over the bows, and
is then passed inside the boat again; and some ten or twenty fathoms
(called box-line) being coiled upon the box in the bows, it continues
its way to the gunwale still a little further aft, and is then
attached to the short-warp--the rope which is immediately connected
with the harpoon; but previous to that connexion, the short-warp goes
through sundry mystifications too tedious to detail.
Thus the whale-line folds the whole boat in its complicated coils,
twisting and writhing around it in almost every direction. All the
oarsmen are involved in its perilous contortions; so that to the
timid eye of the landsman, they seem as Indian jugglers, with the
deadliest snakes sportively festooning their limbs. Nor can any son
of mortal woman, for the first time, seat himself amid those hempen
intricacies, and while straining his utmost at the oar, bethink him
that at any unknown instant the harpoon may be darted, and all these
horrible contortions be put in play like ringed lightnings; he cannot
be thus circumstanced without a shudder that makes the very marrow in
his bones to quiver in him like a shaken jelly. Yet habit--strange
thing! what cannot habit accomplish?--Gayer sallies, more merry
mirth, better jokes, and brighter repartees, you never heard over
your mahogany, than you will hear over the half-inch white cedar of
the whale-boat, when thus hung in hangman's nooses; and, like the six
burghers of Calais before King Edward, the six men composing the crew
pull into the jaws of death, with a halter around every neck, as you
Perhaps a very little thought will now enable you to account for
those repeated whaling disasters--some few of which are casually
chronicled--of this man or that man being taken out of the boat by
the line, and lost. For, when the line is darting out, to be seated
then in the boat, is like being seated in the midst of the manifold
whizzings of a steam-engine in full play, when every flying beam, and
shaft, and wheel, is grazing you. It is worse; for you cannot sit
motionless in the heart of these perils, because the boat is rocking
like a cradle, and you are pitched one way and the other, without the
slightest warning; and only by a certain self-adjusting buoyancy and
simultaneousness of volition and action, can you escape being made a
Mazeppa of, and run away with where the all-seeing sun himself could
never pierce you out.
Again: as the profound calm which only apparently precedes and
prophesies of the storm, is perhaps more awful than the storm itself;
for, indeed, the calm is but the wrapper and envelope of the storm;
and contains it in itself, as the seemingly harmless rifle holds the
fatal powder, and the ball, and the explosion; so the graceful repose
of the line, as it silently serpentines about the oarsmen before
being brought into actual play--this is a thing which carries more of
true terror than any other aspect of this dangerous affair. But why
say more? All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with
halters round their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift,
sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle,
ever-present perils of life. And if you be a philosopher, though
seated in the whale-boat, you would not at heart feel one whit more
of terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a poker,
and not a harpoon, by your side.
Stubb Kills a Whale.
If to Starbuck the apparition of the Squid was a thing of portents,
to Queequeg it was quite a different object.
"When you see him 'quid," said the savage, honing his harpoon in the
bow of his hoisted boat, "then you quick see him 'parm whale."
The next day was exceedingly still and sultry, and with nothing
special to engage them, the Pequod's crew could hardly resist the
spell of sleep induced by such a vacant sea. For this part of the
Indian Ocean through which we then were voyaging is not what whalemen
call a lively ground; that is, it affords fewer glimpses of
porpoises, dolphins, flying-fish, and other vivacious denizens of
more stirring waters, than those off the Rio de la Plata, or the
in-shore ground off Peru.
It was my turn to stand at the foremast-head; and with my shoulders
leaning against the slackened royal shrouds, to and fro I idly swayed
in what seemed an enchanted air. No resolution could withstand it;
in that dreamy mood losing all consciousness, at last my soul went
out of my body; though my body still continued to sway as a pendulum
will, long after the power which first moved it is withdrawn.
Ere forgetfulness altogether came over me, I had noticed that the
seamen at the main and mizzen-mast-heads were already drowsy. So
that at last all three of us lifelessly swung from the spars, and for
every swing that we made there was a nod from below from the
slumbering helmsman. The waves, too, nodded their indolent crests;
and across the wide trance of the sea, east nodded to west, and the
sun over all.
Suddenly bubbles seemed bursting beneath my closed eyes; like vices
my hands grasped the shrouds; some invisible, gracious agency
preserved me; with a shock I came back to life. And lo! close under
our lee, not forty fathoms off, a gigantic Sperm Whale lay rolling in
the water like the capsized hull of a frigate, his broad, glossy
back, of an Ethiopian hue, glistening in the sun's rays like a
mirror. But lazily undulating in the trough of the sea, and ever and
anon tranquilly spouting his vapoury jet, the whale looked like a
portly burgher smoking his pipe of a warm afternoon. But that pipe,
poor whale, was thy last. As if struck by some enchanter's wand, the
sleepy ship and every sleeper in it all at once started into
wakefulness; and more than a score of voices from all parts of the
vessel, simultaneously with the three notes from aloft, shouted forth
the accustomed cry, as the great fish slowly and regularly spouted
the sparkling brine into the air.
"Clear away the boats! Luff!" cried Ahab. And obeying his own
order, he dashed the helm down before the helmsman could handle the
The sudden exclamations of the crew must have alarmed the whale; and
ere the boats were down, majestically turning, he swam away to the
leeward, but with such a steady tranquillity, and making so few
ripples as he swam, that thinking after all he might not as yet be
alarmed, Ahab gave orders that not an oar should be used, and no man
must speak but in whispers. So seated like Ontario Indians on the
gunwales of the boats, we swiftly but silently paddled along; the
calm not admitting of the noiseless sails being set. Presently, as
we thus glided in chase, the monster perpendicularly flitted his tail
forty feet into the air, and then sank out of sight like a tower
"There go flukes!" was the cry, an announcement immediately followed
by Stubb's producing his match and igniting his pipe, for now a
respite was granted. After the full interval of his sounding had
elapsed, the whale rose again, and being now in advance of the
smoker's boat, and much nearer to it than to any of the others, Stubb
counted upon the honour of the capture. It was obvious, now, that the
whale had at length become aware of his pursuers. All silence of
cautiousness was therefore no longer of use. Paddles were dropped,
and oars came loudly into play. And still puffing at his pipe, Stubb
cheered on his crew to the assault.
Yes, a mighty change had come over the fish. All alive to his
jeopardy, he was going "head out"; that part obliquely projecting
from the mad yeast which he brewed.*
*It will be seen in some other place of what a very light substance
the entire interior of the sperm whale's enormous head consists.
Though apparently the most massive, it is by far the most buoyant
part about him. So that with ease he elevates it in the air, and
invariably does so when going at his utmost speed. Besides, such is
the breadth of the upper part of the front of his head, and such the
tapering cut-water formation of the lower part, that by obliquely
elevating his head, he thereby may be said to transform himself from
a bluff-bowed sluggish galliot into a sharppointed New York
"Start her, start her, my men! Don't hurry yourselves; take plenty
of time--but start her; start her like thunder-claps, that's all,"
cried Stubb, spluttering out the smoke as he spoke. "Start her, now;
give 'em the long and strong stroke, Tashtego. Start her, Tash, my
boy--start her, all; but keep cool, keep cool--cucumbers is the
word--easy, easy--only start her like grim death and grinning devils,
and raise the buried dead perpendicular out of their graves,
boys--that's all. Start her!"
"Woo-hoo! Wa-hee!" screamed the Gay-Header in reply, raising some
old war-whoop to the skies; as every oarsman in the strained boat
involuntarily bounced forward with the one tremendous leading stroke
which the eager Indian gave.
But his wild screams were answered by others quite as wild.
"Kee-hee! Kee-hee!" yelled Daggoo, straining forwards and backwards
on his seat, like a pacing tiger in his cage.
"Ka-la! Koo-loo!" howled Queequeg, as if smacking his lips over a
mouthful of Grenadier's steak. And thus with oars and yells the
keels cut the sea. Meanwhile, Stubb retaining his place in the
van, still encouraged his men to the onset, all the while puffing the
smoke from his mouth. Like desperadoes they tugged and they
strained, till the welcome cry was heard--"Stand up, Tashtego!--give
it to him!" The harpoon was hurled. "Stern all!" The oarsmen
backed water; the same moment something went hot and hissing along
every one of their wrists. It was the magical line. An instant
before, Stubb had swiftly caught two additional turns with it round
the loggerhead, whence, by reason of its increased rapid circlings, a
hempen blue smoke now jetted up and mingled with the steady fumes
from his pipe. As the line passed round and round the loggerhead; so
also, just before reaching that point, it blisteringly passed through
and through both of Stubb's hands, from which the hand-cloths, or
squares of quilted canvas sometimes worn at these times, had
accidentally dropped. It was like holding an enemy's sharp two-edged
sword by the blade, and that enemy all the time striving to wrest it
out of your clutch.
"Wet the line! wet the line!" cried Stubb to the tub oarsman (him
seated by the tub) who, snatching off his hat, dashed sea-water into
it.* More turns were taken, so that the line began holding its place.
The boat now flew through the boiling water like a shark all fins.
Stubb and Tashtego here changed places--stem for stern--a staggering
business truly in that rocking commotion.
*Partly to show the indispensableness of this act, it may here be
stated, that, in the old Dutch fishery, a mop was used to dash the
running line with water; in many other ships, a wooden piggin, or
bailer, is set apart for that purpose. Your hat, however, is the
From the vibrating line extending the entire length of the upper part
of the boat, and from its now being more tight than a harpstring, you
would have thought the craft had two keels--one cleaving the water,
the other the air--as the boat churned on through both opposing
elements at once. A continual cascade played at the bows; a
ceaseless whirling eddy in her wake; and, at the slightest motion
from within, even but of a little finger, the vibrating, cracking
craft canted over her spasmodic gunwale into the sea. Thus they
rushed; each man with might and main clinging to his seat, to prevent
being tossed to the foam; and the tall form of Tashtego at the
steering oar crouching almost double, in order to bring down his
centre of gravity. Whole Atlantics and Pacifics seemed passed as
they shot on their way, till at length the whale somewhat slackened
"Haul in--haul in!" cried Stubb to the bowsman! and, facing round
towards the whale, all hands began pulling the boat up to him, while
yet the boat was being towed on. Soon ranging up by his flank,
Stubb, firmly planting his knee in the clumsy cleat, darted dart
after dart into the flying fish; at the word of command, the boat
alternately sterning out of the way of the whale's horrible wallow,
and then ranging up for another fling.
The red tide now poured from all sides of the monster like brooks
down a hill. His tormented body rolled not in brine but in blood,
which bubbled and seethed for furlongs behind in their wake. The
slanting sun playing upon this crimson pond in the sea, sent back
its reflection into every face, so that they all glowed to each other
like red men. And all the while, jet after jet of white smoke was
agonizingly shot from the spiracle of the whale, and vehement puff
after puff from the mouth of the excited headsman; as at every dart,
hauling in upon his crooked lance (by the line attached to it), Stubb
straightened it again and again, by a few rapid blows against the
gunwale, then again and again sent it into the whale.
"Pull up--pull up!" he now cried to the bowsman, as the waning whale
relaxed in his wrath. "Pull up!--close to!" and the boat ranged
along the fish's flank. When reaching far over the bow, Stubb slowly
churned his long sharp lance into the fish, and kept it there,
carefully churning and churning, as if cautiously seeking to feel
after some gold watch that the whale might have swallowed, and which
he was fearful of breaking ere he could hook it out. But that gold
watch he sought was the innermost life of the fish. And now it is
struck; for, starting from his trance into that unspeakable thing
called his "flurry," the monster horribly wallowed in his blood,
overwrapped himself in impenetrable, mad, boiling spray, so that the
imperilled craft, instantly dropping astern, had much ado blindly to
struggle out from that phrensied twilight into the clear air of the
And now abating in his flurry, the whale once more rolled out into
view; surging from side to side; spasmodically dilating and
contracting his spout-hole, with sharp, cracking, agonized
respirations. At last, gush after gush of clotted red gore, as if it
had been the purple lees of red wine, shot into the frighted air; and
falling back again, ran dripping down his motionless flanks into
the sea. His heart had burst!
"He's dead, Mr. Stubb," said Daggoo.
"Yes; both pipes smoked out!" and withdrawing his own from his mouth,
Stubb scattered the dead ashes over the water; and, for a moment,
stood thoughtfully eyeing the vast corpse he had made.
A word concerning an incident in the last chapter.
According to the invariable usage of the fishery, the whale-boat
pushes off from the ship, with the headsman or whale-killer as
temporary steersman, and the harpooneer or whale-fastener pulling the
foremost oar, the one known as the harpooneer-oar. Now it needs a
strong, nervous arm to strike the first iron into the fish; for
often, in what is called a long dart, the heavy implement has to be
flung to the distance of twenty or thirty feet. But however
prolonged and exhausting the chase, the harpooneer is expected to
pull his oar meanwhile to the uttermost; indeed, he is expected to
set an example of superhuman activity to the rest, not only by
incredible rowing, but by repeated loud and intrepid exclamations;
and what it is to keep shouting at the top of one's compass, while
all the other muscles are strained and half started--what that is
none know but those who have tried it. For one, I cannot bawl very
heartily and work very recklessly at one and the same time. In this
straining, bawling state, then, with his back to the fish, all at
once the exhausted harpooneer hears the exciting cry--"Stand up, and
give it to him!" He now has to drop and secure his oar, turn round
on his centre half way, seize his harpoon from the crotch, and with
what little strength may remain, he essays to pitch it somehow into
the whale. No wonder, taking the whole fleet of whalemen in a body,
that out of fifty fair chances for a dart, not five are successful;
no wonder that so many hapless harpooneers are madly cursed and
disrated; no wonder that some of them actually burst their
blood-vessels in the boat; no wonder that some sperm whalemen are
absent four years with four barrels; no wonder that to many ship
owners, whaling is but a losing concern; for it is the harpooneer
that makes the voyage, and if you take the breath out of his body how
can you expect to find it there when most wanted!
Again, if the dart be successful, then at the second critical
instant, that is, when the whale starts to run, the boatheader and
harpooneer likewise start to running fore and aft, to the imminent
jeopardy of themselves and every one else. It is then they change
places; and the headsman, the chief officer of the little craft,
takes his proper station in the bows of the boat.
Now, I care not who maintains the contrary, but all this is both
foolish and unnecessary. The headsman should stay in the bows from
first to last; he should both dart the harpoon and the lance, and no
rowing whatever should be expected of him, except under circumstances
obvious to any fisherman. I know that this would sometimes involve a
slight loss of speed in the chase; but long experience in various
whalemen of more than one nation has convinced me that in the vast
majority of failures in the fishery, it has not by any means been so
much the speed of the whale as the before described exhaustion of the
harpooneer that has caused them.
To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooneers of
this world must start to their feet from out of idleness, and not
from out of toil.
Out of the trunk, the branches grow; out of them, the twigs. So, in
productive subjects, grow the chapters.
The crotch alluded to on a previous page deserves independent
mention. It is a notched stick of a peculiar form, some two feet in
length, which is perpendicularly inserted into the starboard gunwale
near the bow, for the purpose of furnishing a rest for the wooden
extremity of the harpoon, whose other naked, barbed end slopingly
projects from the prow. Thereby the weapon is instantly at hand to
its hurler, who snatches it up as readily from its rest as a
backwoodsman swings his rifle from the wall. It is customary to have
two harpoons reposing in the crotch, respectively called the first
and second irons.
But these two harpoons, each by its own cord, are both connected with
the line; the object being this: to dart them both, if possible, one
instantly after the other into the same whale; so that if, in the
coming drag, one should draw out, the other may still retain a hold.
It is a doubling of the chances. But it very often happens that
owing to the instantaneous, violent, convulsive running of the whale
upon receiving the first iron, it becomes impossible for the
harpooneer, however lightning-like in his movements, to pitch the
second iron into him. Nevertheless, as the second iron is already
connected with the line, and the line is running, hence that weapon
must, at all events, be anticipatingly tossed out of the boat,
somehow and somewhere; else the most terrible jeopardy would involve
all hands. Tumbled into the water, it accordingly is in such cases;
the spare coils of box line (mentioned in a preceding chapter) making
this feat, in most instances, prudently practicable. But this
critical act is not always unattended with the saddest and most fatal
Furthermore: you must know that when the second iron is thrown
overboard, it thenceforth becomes a dangling, sharp-edged terror,
skittishly curvetting about both boat and whale, entangling the
lines, or cutting them, and making a prodigious sensation in all
directions. Nor, in general, is it possible to secure it again until
the whale is fairly captured and a corpse.
Consider, now, how it must be in the case of four boats all engaging
one unusually strong, active, and knowing whale; when owing to these
qualities in him, as well as to the thousand concurring accidents of
such an audacious enterprise, eight or ten loose second irons may be
simultaneously dangling about him. For, of course, each boat is
supplied with several harpoons to bend on to the line should the
first one be ineffectually darted without recovery. All these
particulars are faithfully narrated here, as they will not fail to
elucidate several most important, however intricate passages, in
scenes hereafter to be painted.
Stubb's whale had been killed some distance from the ship. It was a
calm; so, forming a tandem of three boats, we commenced the slow
business of towing the trophy to the Pequod. And now, as we eighteen
men with our thirty-six arms, and one hundred and eighty thumbs and
fingers, slowly toiled hour after hour upon that inert, sluggish
corpse in the sea; and it seemed hardly to budge at all, except at
long intervals; good evidence was hereby furnished of the
enormousness of the mass we moved. For, upon the great canal of
Hang-Ho, or whatever they call it, in China, four or five laborers on
the foot-path will draw a bulky freighted junk at the rate of a mile
an hour; but this grand argosy we towed heavily forged along, as if
laden with pig-lead in bulk.
Darkness came on; but three lights up and down in the Pequod's
main-rigging dimly guided our way; till drawing nearer we saw Ahab
dropping one of several more lanterns over the bulwarks. Vacantly
eyeing the heaving whale for a moment, he issued the usual orders for
securing it for the night, and then handing his lantern to a seaman,
went his way into the cabin, and did not come forward again until
Though, in overseeing the pursuit of this whale, Captain Ahab had
evinced his customary activity, to call it so; yet now that the
creature was dead, some vague dissatisfaction, or impatience, or
despair, seemed working in him; as if the sight of that dead body
reminded him that Moby Dick was yet to be slain; and though a
thousand other whales were brought to his ship, all that would not
one jot advance his grand, monomaniac object. Very soon you would
have thought from the sound on the Pequod's decks, that all hands
were preparing to cast anchor in the deep; for heavy chains are being
dragged along the deck, and thrust rattling out of the port-holes.
But by those clanking links, the vast corpse itself, not the ship, is
to be moored. Tied by the head to the stern, and by the tail to the
bows, the whale now lies with its black hull close to the vessel's
and seen through the darkness of the night, which obscured the spars
and rigging aloft, the two--ship and whale, seemed yoked together
like colossal bullocks, whereof one reclines while the other remains
*A little item may as well be related here. The strongest and most
reliable hold which the ship has upon the whale when moored
alongside, is by the flukes or tail; and as from its greater density
that part is relatively heavier than any other (excepting the
side-fins), its flexibility even in death, causes it to sink low
beneath the surface; so that with the hand you cannot get at it from
the boat, in order to put the chain round it. But this difficulty is
ingeniously overcome: a small, strong line is prepared with a wooden
float at its outer end, and a weight in its middle, while the other
end is secured to the ship. By adroit management the wooden float is
made to rise on the other side of the mass, so that now having
girdled the whale, the chain is readily made to follow suit; and
being slipped along the body, is at last locked fast round the
smallest part of the tail, at the point of junction with its broad
flukes or lobes.
If moody Ahab was now all quiescence, at least so far as could be
known on deck, Stubb, his second mate, flushed with conquest,
betrayed an unusual but still good-natured excitement. Such an
unwonted bustle was he in that the staid Starbuck, his official
superior, quietly resigned to him for the time the sole management of
affairs. One small, helping cause of all this liveliness in Stubb,
was soon made strangely manifest. Stubb was a high liver; he was
somewhat intemperately fond of the whale as a flavorish thing to his
"A steak, a steak, ere I sleep! You, Daggoo! overboard you go, and
cut me one from his small!"
Here be it known, that though these wild fishermen do not, as a
general thing, and according to the great military maxim, make the
enemy defray the current expenses of the war (at least before
realizing the proceeds of the voyage), yet now and then you find some
of these Nantucketers who have a genuine relish for that particular