Part 9 out of 12
But what plays the mischief with this masterly code is the admirable
brevity of it, which necessitates a vast volume of commentaries to
First: What is a Fast-Fish? Alive or dead a fish is technically
fast, when it is connected with an occupied ship or boat, by any
medium at all controllable by the occupant or occupants,--a mast, an
oar, a nine-inch cable, a telegraph wire, or a strand of cobweb, it
is all the same. Likewise a fish is technically fast when it bears a
waif, or any other recognised symbol of possession; so long as the
party waifing it plainly evince their ability at any time to take it
alongside, as well as their intention so to do.
These are scientific commentaries; but the commentaries of the
whalemen themselves sometimes consist in hard words and harder
knocks--the Coke-upon-Littleton of the fist. True, among the more
upright and honourable whalemen allowances are always made for
peculiar cases, where it would be an outrageous moral injustice for
one party to claim possession of a whale previously chased or killed
by another party. But others are by no means so scrupulous.
Some fifty years ago there was a curious case of whale-trover
litigated in England, wherein the plaintiffs set forth that after a
hard chase of a whale in the Northern seas; and when indeed they (the
plaintiffs) had succeeded in harpooning the fish; they were at last,
through peril of their lives, obliged to forsake not only their
lines, but their boat itself. Ultimately the defendants (the crew of
another ship) came up with the whale, struck, killed, seized, and
finally appropriated it before the very eyes of the plaintiffs. And
when those defendants were remonstrated with, their captain snapped
his fingers in the plaintiffs' teeth, and assured them that by way of
doxology to the deed he had done, he would now retain their line,
harpoons, and boat, which had remained attached to the whale at the
time of the seizure. Wherefore the plaintiffs now sued for the
recovery of the value of their whale, line, harpoons, and boat.
Mr. Erskine was counsel for the defendants; Lord Ellenborough was the
judge. In the course of the defence, the witty Erskine went on to
illustrate his position, by alluding to a recent crim. con. case,
wherein a gentleman, after in vain trying to bridle his wife's
viciousness, had at last abandoned her upon the seas of life; but in
the course of years, repenting of that step, he instituted an action
to recover possession of her. Erskine was on the other side; and he
then supported it by saying, that though the gentleman had originally
harpooned the lady, and had once had her fast, and only by reason of
the great stress of her plunging viciousness, had at last abandoned
her; yet abandon her he did, so that she became a loose-fish; and
therefore when a subsequent gentleman re-harpooned her, the lady then
became that subsequent gentleman's property, along with whatever
harpoon might have been found sticking in her.
Now in the present case Erskine contended that the examples of the
whale and the lady were reciprocally illustrative of each other.
These pleadings, and the counter pleadings, being duly heard, the
very learned Judge in set terms decided, to wit,--That as for the
boat, he awarded it to the plaintiffs, because they had merely
abandoned it to save their lives; but that with regard to the
controverted whale, harpoons, and line, they belonged to the
defendants; the whale, because it was a Loose-Fish at the time of the
final capture; and the harpoons and line because when the fish made
off with them, it (the fish) acquired a property in those articles;
and hence anybody who afterwards took the fish had a right to them.
Now the defendants afterwards took the fish; ergo, the aforesaid
articles were theirs.
A common man looking at this decision of the very learned Judge,
might possibly object to it. But ploughed up to the primary rock of
the matter, the two great principles laid down in the twin whaling
laws previously quoted, and applied and elucidated by Lord
Ellenborough in the above cited case; these two laws touching
Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish, I say, will, on reflection, be found the
fundamentals of all human jurisprudence; for notwithstanding its
complicated tracery of sculpture, the Temple of the Law, like the
Temple of the Philistines, has but two props to stand on.
Is it not a saying in every one's mouth, Possession is half of the
law: that is, regardless of how the thing came into possession? But
often possession is the whole of the law. What are the sinews and
souls of Russian serfs and Republican slaves but Fast-Fish, whereof
possession is the whole of the law? What to the rapacious landlord
is the widow's last mite but a Fast-Fish? What is yonder undetected
villain's marble mansion with a door-plate for a waif; what is that
but a Fast-Fish? What is the ruinous discount which Mordecai, the
broker, gets from poor Woebegone, the bankrupt, on a loan to
keep Woebegone's family from starvation; what is that ruinous
discount but a Fast-Fish? What is the Archbishop of Savesoul's
income of L100,000 seized from the scant bread and cheese of
hundreds of thousands of broken-backed laborers (all sure of heaven
without any of Savesoul's help) what is that globular L100,000 but a
Fast-Fish? What are the Duke of Dunder's hereditary towns and
hamlets but Fast-Fish? What to that redoubted harpooneer, John Bull,
is poor Ireland, but a Fast-Fish? What to that apostolic lancer,
Brother Jonathan, is Texas but a Fast-Fish? And concerning all
these, is not Possession the whole of the law?
But if the doctrine of Fast-Fish be pretty generally applicable, the
kindred doctrine of Loose-Fish is still more widely so. That is
internationally and universally applicable.
What was America in 1492 but a Loose-Fish, in which Columbus struck
the Spanish standard by way of waifing it for his royal master and
mistress? What was Poland to the Czar? What Greece to the Turk?
What India to England? What at last will Mexico be to the United
States? All Loose-Fish.
What are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World but
Loose-Fish? What all men's minds and opinions but Loose-Fish? What
is the principle of religious belief in them but a Loose-Fish? What
to the ostentatious smuggling verbalists are the thoughts of thinkers
but Loose-Fish? What is the great globe itself but a Loose-Fish?
And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?
Heads or Tails.
"De balena vero sufficit, si rex habeat caput, et regina caudam."
BRACTON, L. 3, C. 3.
Latin from the books of the Laws of England, which taken along with
the context, means, that of all whales captured by anybody on the
coast of that land, the King, as Honourary Grand Harpooneer, must have
the head, and the Queen be respectfully presented with the tail. A
division which, in the whale, is much like halving an apple; there is
no intermediate remainder. Now as this law, under a modified form,
is to this day in force in England; and as it offers in various
respects a strange anomaly touching the general law of Fast and
Loose-Fish, it is here treated of in a separate chapter, on the same
courteous principle that prompts the English railways to be at the
expense of a separate car, specially reserved for the accommodation
of royalty. In the first place, in curious proof of the fact that
the above-mentioned law is still in force, I proceed to lay before
you a circumstance that happened within the last two years.
It seems that some honest mariners of Dover, or Sandwich, or some one
of the Cinque Ports, had after a hard chase succeeded in killing and
beaching a fine whale which they had originally descried afar off
from the shore. Now the Cinque Ports are partially or somehow under
the jurisdiction of a sort of policeman or beadle, called a Lord
Warden. Holding the office directly from the crown, I believe, all
the royal emoluments incident to the Cinque Port territories become
by assignment his. By some writers this office is called a sinecure.
But not so. Because the Lord Warden is busily employed at times in
fobbing his perquisites; which are his chiefly by virtue of that same
fobbing of them.
Now when these poor sun-burnt mariners, bare-footed, and with their
trowsers rolled high up on their eely legs, had wearily hauled their
fat fish high and dry, promising themselves a good L150 from the
precious oil and bone; and in fantasy sipping rare tea with their
wives, and good ale with their cronies, upon the strength of their
respective shares; up steps a very learned and most Christian and
charitable gentleman, with a copy of Blackstone under his arm; and
laying it upon the whale's head, he says--"Hands off! this fish, my
masters, is a Fast-Fish. I seize it as the Lord Warden's." Upon
this the poor mariners in their respectful consternation--so truly
English--knowing not what to say, fall to vigorously scratching their
heads all round; meanwhile ruefully glancing from the whale to the
stranger. But that did in nowise mend the matter, or at all soften
the hard heart of the learned gentleman with the copy of Blackstone.
At length one of them, after long scratching about for his ideas,
made bold to speak,
"Please, sir, who is the Lord Warden?"
"But the duke had nothing to do with taking this fish?"
"It is his."
"We have been at great trouble, and peril, and some expense, and is
all that to go to the Duke's benefit; we getting nothing at all for
our pains but our blisters?"
"It is his."
"Is the Duke so very poor as to be forced to this desperate mode of
getting a livelihood?"
"It is his."
"I thought to relieve my old bed-ridden mother by part of my share of
"It is his."
"Won't the Duke be content with a quarter or a half?"
"It is his."
In a word, the whale was seized and sold, and his Grace the Duke of
Wellington received the money. Thinking that viewed in some
particular lights, the case might by a bare possibility in some small
degree be deemed, under the circumstances, a rather hard one, an
honest clergyman of the town respectfully addressed a note to his
Grace, begging him to take the case of those unfortunate mariners
into full consideration. To which my Lord Duke in substance replied
(both letters were published) that he had already done so, and
received the money, and would be obliged to the reverend gentleman if
for the future he (the reverend gentleman) would decline meddling
with other people's business. Is this the still militant old man,
standing at the corners of the three kingdoms, on all hands coercing
alms of beggars?
It will readily be seen that in this case the alleged right of the
Duke to the whale was a delegated one from the Sovereign. We must
needs inquire then on what principle the Sovereign is originally
invested with that right. The law itself has already been set forth.
But Plowdon gives us the reason for it. Says Plowdon, the whale so
caught belongs to the King and Queen, "because of its superior
excellence." And by the soundest commentators this has ever been
held a cogent argument in such matters.
But why should the King have the head, and the Queen the tail? A
reason for that, ye lawyers!
In his treatise on "Queen-Gold," or Queen-pinmoney, an old King's
Bench author, one William Prynne, thus discourseth: "Ye tail is ye
Queen's, that ye Queen's wardrobe may be supplied with ye whalebone."
Now this was written at a time when the black limber bone of the
Greenland or Right whale was largely used in ladies' bodices. But
this same bone is not in the tail; it is in the head, which is a sad
mistake for a sagacious lawyer like Prynne. But is the Queen a
mermaid, to be presented with a tail? An allegorical meaning may
There are two royal fish so styled by the English law writers--the
whale and the sturgeon; both royal property under certain
limitations, and nominally supplying the tenth branch of the crown's
ordinary revenue. I know not that any other author has hinted of the
matter; but by inference it seems to me that the sturgeon must be
divided in the same way as the whale, the King receiving the highly
dense and elastic head peculiar to that fish, which, symbolically
regarded, may possibly be humorously grounded upon some presumed
congeniality. And thus there seems a reason in all things, even in
The Pequod Meets The Rose-Bud.
"In vain it was to rake for Ambergriese in the paunch of this
Leviathan, insufferable fetor denying not inquiry."
SIR T. BROWNE, V.E.
It was a week or two after the last whaling scene recounted, and when
we were slowly sailing over a sleepy, vapoury, mid-day sea, that the
many noses on the Pequod's deck proved more vigilant discoverers than
the three pairs of eyes aloft. A peculiar and not very pleasant
smell was smelt in the sea.
"I will bet something now," said Stubb, "that somewhere hereabouts
are some of those drugged whales we tickled the other day. I thought
they would keel up before long."
Presently, the vapours in advance slid aside; and there in the
distance lay a ship, whose furled sails betokened that some sort of
whale must be alongside. As we glided nearer, the stranger showed
French colours from his peak; and by the eddying cloud of vulture
sea-fowl that circled, and hovered, and swooped around him, it was
plain that the whale alongside must be what the fishermen call a
blasted whale, that is, a whale that has died unmolested on the sea,
and so floated an unappropriated corpse. It may well be conceived,
what an unsavory odor such a mass must exhale; worse than an Assyrian
city in the plague, when the living are incompetent to bury the
departed. So intolerable indeed is it regarded by some, that no
cupidity could persuade them to moor alongside of it. Yet are there
those who will still do it; notwithstanding the fact that the oil
obtained from such subjects is of a very inferior quality, and by no
means of the nature of attar-of-rose.
Coming still nearer with the expiring breeze, we saw that the
Frenchman had a second whale alongside; and this second whale seemed
even more of a nosegay than the first. In truth, it turned out to be
one of those problematical whales that seem to dry up and die with a
sort of prodigious dyspepsia, or indigestion; leaving their defunct
bodies almost entirely bankrupt of anything like oil. Nevertheless,
in the proper place we shall see that no knowing fisherman will ever
turn up his nose at such a whale as this, however much he may shun
blasted whales in general.
The Pequod had now swept so nigh to the stranger, that Stubb vowed he
recognised his cutting spade-pole entangled in the lines that were
knotted round the tail of one of these whales.
"There's a pretty fellow, now," he banteringly laughed, standing in
the ship's bows, "there's a jackal for ye! I well know that these
Crappoes of Frenchmen are but poor devils in the fishery; sometimes
lowering their boats for breakers, mistaking them for Sperm Whale
spouts; yes, and sometimes sailing from their port with their hold
full of boxes of tallow candles, and cases of snuffers, foreseeing
that all the oil they will get won't be enough to dip the Captain's
wick into; aye, we all know these things; but look ye, here's a
Crappo that is content with our leavings, the drugged whale there, I
mean; aye, and is content too with scraping the dry bones of that
other precious fish he has there. Poor devil! I say, pass round a
hat, some one, and let's make him a present of a little oil for dear
charity's sake. For what oil he'll get from that drugged whale
there, wouldn't be fit to burn in a jail; no, not in a condemned
cell. And as for the other whale, why, I'll agree to get more oil by
chopping up and trying out these three masts of ours, than he'll get
from that bundle of bones; though, now that I think of it, it may
contain something worth a good deal more than oil; yes, ambergris. I
wonder now if our old man has thought of that. It's worth trying.
Yes, I'm for it;" and so saying he started for the quarter-deck.
By this time the faint air had become a complete calm; so that
whether or no, the Pequod was now fairly entrapped in the smell, with
no hope of escaping except by its breezing up again. Issuing from
the cabin, Stubb now called his boat's crew, and pulled off for the
stranger. Drawing across her bow, he perceived that in accordance
with the fanciful French taste, the upper part of her stem-piece was
carved in the likeness of a huge drooping stalk, was painted green,
and for thorns had copper spikes projecting from it here and there;
the whole terminating in a symmetrical folded bulb of a bright red
colour. Upon her head boards, in large gilt letters, he read "Bouton
de Rose,"--Rose-button, or Rose-bud; and this was the romantic name
of this aromatic ship.
Though Stubb did not understand the BOUTON part of the inscription,
yet the word ROSE, and the bulbous figure-head put together,
sufficiently explained the whole to him.
"A wooden rose-bud, eh?" he cried with his hand to his nose, "that
will do very well; but how like all creation it smells!"
Now in order to hold direct communication with the people on deck, he
had to pull round the bows to the starboard side, and thus come close
to the blasted whale; and so talk over it.
Arrived then at this spot, with one hand still to his nose, he
bawled--"Bouton-de-Rose, ahoy! are there any of you Bouton-de-Roses
that speak English?"
"Yes," rejoined a Guernsey-man from the bulwarks, who turned out to
be the chief-mate.
"Well, then, my Bouton-de-Rose-bud, have you seen the White Whale?"
"The WHITE Whale--a Sperm Whale--Moby Dick, have ye seen him?
"Never heard of such a whale. Cachalot Blanche! White Whale--no."
"Very good, then; good bye now, and I'll call again in a minute."
Then rapidly pulling back towards the Pequod, and seeing Ahab leaning
over the quarter-deck rail awaiting his report, he moulded his two
hands into a trumpet and shouted--"No, Sir! No!" Upon which Ahab
retired, and Stubb returned to the Frenchman.
He now perceived that the Guernsey-man, who had just got into the
chains, and was using a cutting-spade, had slung his nose in a sort
"What's the matter with your nose, there?" said Stubb. "Broke it?"
"I wish it was broken, or that I didn't have any nose at all!"
answered the Guernsey-man, who did not seem to relish the job he was
at very much. "But what are you holding YOURS for?"
"Oh, nothing! It's a wax nose; I have to hold it on. Fine day,
ain't it? Air rather gardenny, I should say; throw us a bunch of
posies, will ye, Bouton-de-Rose?"
"What in the devil's name do you want here?" roared the Guernseyman,
flying into a sudden passion.
"Oh! keep cool--cool? yes, that's the word! why don't you pack those
whales in ice while you're working at 'em? But joking aside, though;
do you know, Rose-bud, that it's all nonsense trying to get any oil
out of such whales? As for that dried up one, there, he hasn't a
gill in his whole carcase."
"I know that well enough; but, d'ye see, the Captain here won't
believe it; this is his first voyage; he was a Cologne manufacturer
before. But come aboard, and mayhap he'll believe you, if he won't
me; and so I'll get out of this dirty scrape."
"Anything to oblige ye, my sweet and pleasant fellow," rejoined
Stubb, and with that he soon mounted to the deck. There a queer
scene presented itself. The sailors, in tasselled caps of red
worsted, were getting the heavy tackles in readiness for the whales.
But they worked rather slow and talked very fast, and seemed in
anything but a good humor. All their noses upwardly projected from
their faces like so many jib-booms. Now and then pairs of them would
drop their work, and run up to the mast-head to get some fresh air.
Some thinking they would catch the plague, dipped oakum in coal-tar,
and at intervals held it to their nostrils. Others having broken the
stems of their pipes almost short off at the bowl, were vigorously
puffing tobacco-smoke, so that it constantly filled their
Stubb was struck by a shower of outcries and anathemas proceeding
from the Captain's round-house abaft; and looking in that direction
saw a fiery face thrust from behind the door, which was held ajar
from within. This was the tormented surgeon, who, after in vain
remonstrating against the proceedings of the day, had betaken himself
to the Captain's round-house (CABINET he called it) to avoid the
pest; but still, could not help yelling out his entreaties and
indignations at times.
Marking all this, Stubb argued well for his scheme, and turning to
the Guernsey-man had a little chat with him, during which the
stranger mate expressed his detestation of his Captain as a conceited
ignoramus, who had brought them all into so unsavory and unprofitable
a pickle. Sounding him carefully, Stubb further perceived that the
Guernsey-man had not the slightest suspicion concerning the
ambergris. He therefore held his peace on that head, but otherwise
was quite frank and confidential with him, so that the two quickly
concocted a little plan for both circumventing and satirizing the
Captain, without his at all dreaming of distrusting their sincerity.
According to this little plan of theirs, the Guernsey-man, under
cover of an interpreter's office, was to tell the Captain what he
pleased, but as coming from Stubb; and as for Stubb, he was to utter
any nonsense that should come uppermost in him during the interview.
By this time their destined victim appeared from his cabin. He was a
small and dark, but rather delicate looking man for a sea-captain,
with large whiskers and moustache, however; and wore a red cotton
velvet vest with watch-seals at his side. To this gentleman, Stubb
was now politely introduced by the Guernsey-man, who at once
ostentatiously put on the aspect of interpreting between them.
"What shall I say to him first?" said he.
"Why," said Stubb, eyeing the velvet vest and the watch and seals,
"you may as well begin by telling him that he looks a sort of babyish
to me, though I don't pretend to be a judge."
"He says, Monsieur," said the Guernsey-man, in French, turning to his
captain, "that only yesterday his ship spoke a vessel, whose captain
and chief-mate, with six sailors, had all died of a fever caught from
a blasted whale they had brought alongside."
Upon this the captain started, and eagerly desired to know more.
"What now?" said the Guernsey-man to Stubb.
"Why, since he takes it so easy, tell him that now I have eyed him
carefully, I'm quite certain that he's no more fit to command a
whale-ship than a St. Jago monkey. In fact, tell him from me he's a
"He vows and declares, Monsieur, that the other whale, the dried one,
is far more deadly than the blasted one; in fine, Monsieur, he
conjures us, as we value our lives, to cut loose from these fish."
Instantly the captain ran forward, and in a loud voice commanded his
crew to desist from hoisting the cutting-tackles, and at once cast
loose the cables and chains confining the whales to the ship.
"What now?" said the Guernsey-man, when the Captain had returned to
"Why, let me see; yes, you may as well tell him now that--that--in
fact, tell him I've diddled him, and (aside to himself) perhaps
"He says, Monsieur, that he's very happy to have been of any service
Hearing this, the captain vowed that they were the grateful parties
(meaning himself and mate) and concluded by inviting Stubb down
into his cabin to drink a bottle of Bordeaux.
"He wants you to take a glass of wine with him," said the
"Thank him heartily; but tell him it's against my principles to drink
with the man I've diddled. In fact, tell him I must go."
"He says, Monsieur, that his principles won't admit of his drinking;
but that if Monsieur wants to live another day to drink, then
Monsieur had best drop all four boats, and pull the ship away from
these whales, for it's so calm they won't drift."
By this time Stubb was over the side, and getting into his boat,
hailed the Guernsey-man to this effect,--that having a long tow-line
in his boat, he would do what he could to help them, by pulling out
the lighter whale of the two from the ship's side. While the
Frenchman's boats, then, were engaged in towing the ship one way,
Stubb benevolently towed away at his whale the other way,
ostentatiously slacking out a most unusually long tow-line.
Presently a breeze sprang up; Stubb feigned to cast off from the
whale; hoisting his boats, the Frenchman soon increased his distance,
while the Pequod slid in between him and Stubb's whale. Whereupon
Stubb quickly pulled to the floating body, and hailing the Pequod to
give notice of his intentions, at once proceeded to reap the fruit of
his unrighteous cunning. Seizing his sharp boat-spade, he commenced
an excavation in the body, a little behind the side fin. You would
almost have thought he was digging a cellar there in the sea; and
when at length his spade struck against the gaunt ribs, it was like
turning up old Roman tiles and pottery buried in fat English loam.
His boat's crew were all in high excitement, eagerly helping their
chief, and looking as anxious as gold-hunters.
And all the time numberless fowls were diving, and ducking, and
screaming, and yelling, and fighting around them. Stubb was
beginning to look disappointed, especially as the horrible nosegay
increased, when suddenly from out the very heart of this plague,
there stole a faint stream of perfume, which flowed through the tide
of bad smells without being absorbed by it, as one river will flow
into and then along with another, without at all blending with it for
"I have it, I have it," cried Stubb, with delight, striking something
in the subterranean regions, "a purse! a purse!"
Dropping his spade, he thrust both hands in, and drew out handfuls of
something that looked like ripe Windsor soap, or rich mottled old
cheese; very unctuous and savory withal. You might easily dent it
with your thumb; it is of a hue between yellow and ash colour. And
this, good friends, is ambergris, worth a gold guinea an ounce to any
druggist. Some six handfuls were obtained; but more was unavoidably
lost in the sea, and still more, perhaps, might have been secured
were it not for impatient Ahab's loud command to Stubb to desist, and
come on board, else the ship would bid them good bye.
Now this ambergris is a very curious substance, and so important as
an article of commerce, that in 1791 a certain Nantucket-born Captain
Coffin was examined at the bar of the English House of Commons on
that subject. For at that time, and indeed until a comparatively
late day, the precise origin of ambergris remained, like amber
itself, a problem to the learned. Though the word ambergris is but
the French compound for grey amber, yet the two substances are quite
distinct. For amber, though at times found on the sea-coast, is also
dug up in some far inland soils, whereas ambergris is never found
except upon the sea. Besides, amber is a hard, transparent, brittle,
odorless substance, used for mouth-pieces to pipes, for beads and
ornaments; but ambergris is soft, waxy, and so highly fragrant and
spicy, that it is largely used in perfumery, in pastiles, precious
candles, hair-powders, and pomatum. The Turks use it in cooking, and
also carry it to Mecca, for the same purpose that frankincense is
carried to St. Peter's in Rome. Some wine merchants drop a few
grains into claret, to flavor it.
Who would think, then, that such fine ladies and gentlemen should
regale themselves with an essence found in the inglorious bowels of a
sick whale! Yet so it is. By some, ambergris is supposed to be the
cause, and by others the effect, of the dyspepsia in the whale. How
to cure such a dyspepsia it were hard to say, unless by administering
three or four boat loads of Brandreth's pills, and then running out
of harm's way, as laborers do in blasting rocks.
I have forgotten to say that there were found in this ambergris,
certain hard, round, bony plates, which at first Stubb thought might
be sailors' trowsers buttons; but it afterwards turned out that they
were nothing more than pieces of small squid bones embalmed in that
Now that the incorruption of this most fragrant ambergris should be
found in the heart of such decay; is this nothing? Bethink thee of
that saying of St. Paul in Corinthians, about corruption and
incorruption; how that we are sown in dishonour, but raised in glory.
And likewise call to mind that saying of Paracelsus about what it is
that maketh the best musk. Also forget not the strange fact that of
all things of ill-savor, Cologne-water, in its rudimental
manufacturing stages, is the worst.
I should like to conclude the chapter with the above appeal, but
cannot, owing to my anxiety to repel a charge often made against
whalemen, and which, in the estimation of some already biased minds,
might be considered as indirectly substantiated by what has been said
of the Frenchman's two whales. Elsewhere in this volume the
slanderous aspersion has been disproved, that the vocation of whaling
is throughout a slatternly, untidy business. But there is another
thing to rebut. They hint that all whales always smell bad. Now how
did this odious stigma originate?
I opine, that it is plainly traceable to the first arrival of the
Greenland whaling ships in London, more than two centuries ago.
Because those whalemen did not then, and do not now, try out their
oil at sea as the Southern ships have always done; but cutting up the
fresh blubber in small bits, thrust it through the bung holes of
large casks, and carry it home in that manner; the shortness of the
season in those Icy Seas, and the sudden and violent storms to which
they are exposed, forbidding any other course. The consequence is,
that upon breaking into the hold, and unloading one of these whale
cemeteries, in the Greenland dock, a savor is given forth somewhat
similar to that arising from excavating an old city grave-yard, for
the foundations of a Lying-in-Hospital.
I partly surmise also, that this wicked charge against whalers may be
likewise imputed to the existence on the coast of Greenland, in
former times, of a Dutch village called Schmerenburgh or Smeerenberg,
which latter name is the one used by the learned Fogo Von Slack, in
his great work on Smells, a text-book on that subject. As its name
imports (smeer, fat; berg, to put up), this village was founded in
order to afford a place for the blubber of the Dutch whale fleet to
be tried out, without being taken home to Holland for that purpose.
It was a collection of furnaces, fat-kettles, and oil sheds; and when
the works were in full operation certainly gave forth no very
pleasant savor. But all this is quite different with a South Sea
Sperm Whaler; which in a voyage of four years perhaps, after
completely filling her hold with oil, does not, perhaps, consume
fifty days in the business of boiling out; and in the state that it
is casked, the oil is nearly scentless. The truth is, that living or
dead, if but decently treated, whales as a species are by no means
creatures of ill odor; nor can whalemen be recognised, as the people
of the middle ages affected to detect a Jew in the company, by the
nose. Nor indeed can the whale possibly be otherwise than fragrant,
when, as a general thing, he enjoys such high health; taking
abundance of exercise; always out of doors; though, it is true,
seldom in the open air. I say, that the motion of a Sperm Whale's
flukes above water dispenses a perfume, as when a musk-scented lady
rustles her dress in a warm parlor. What then shall I liken the
Sperm Whale to for fragrance, considering his magnitude? Must it not
be to that famous elephant, with jewelled tusks, and redolent with
myrrh, which was led out of an Indian town to do honour to Alexander
It was but some few days after encountering the Frenchman, that a
most significant event befell the most insignificant of the Pequod's
crew; an event most lamentable; and which ended in providing the
sometimes madly merry and predestinated craft with a living and ever
accompanying prophecy of whatever shattered sequel might prove her
Now, in the whale ship, it is not every one that goes in the boats.
Some few hands are reserved called ship-keepers, whose province it is
to work the vessel while the boats are pursuing the whale. As a
general thing, these ship-keepers are as hardy fellows as the men
comprising the boats' crews. But if there happen to be an unduly
slender, clumsy, or timorous wight in the ship, that wight is certain
to be made a ship-keeper. It was so in the Pequod with the little
negro Pippin by nick-name, Pip by abbreviation. Poor Pip! ye have
heard of him before; ye must remember his tambourine on that dramatic
midnight, so gloomy-jolly.
In outer aspect, Pip and Dough-Boy made a match, like a black pony
and a white one, of equal developments, though of dissimilar colour,
driven in one eccentric span. But while hapless Dough-Boy was by
nature dull and torpid in his intellects, Pip, though over
tender-hearted, was at bottom very bright, with that pleasant,
genial, jolly brightness peculiar to his tribe; a tribe, which ever
enjoy all holidays and festivities with finer, freer relish than any
other race. For blacks, the year's calendar should show naught but
three hundred and sixty-five Fourth of Julys and New Year's Days.
Nor smile so, while I write that this little black was brilliant, for
even blackness has its brilliancy; behold yon lustrous ebony,
panelled in king's cabinets. But Pip loved life, and all life's
peaceable securities; so that the panic-striking business in which he
had somehow unaccountably become entrapped, had most sadly blurred
his brightness; though, as ere long will be seen, what was thus
temporarily subdued in him, in the end was destined to be luridly
illumined by strange wild fires, that fictitiously showed him off to
ten times the natural lustre with which in his native Tolland County
in Connecticut, he had once enlivened many a fiddler's frolic on the
green; and at melodious even-tide, with his gay ha-ha! had turned the
round horizon into one star-belled tambourine. So, though in the
clear air of day, suspended against a blue-veined neck, the
pure-watered diamond drop will healthful glow; yet, when the cunning
jeweller would show you the diamond in its most impressive lustre, he
lays it against a gloomy ground, and then lights it up, not by the
sun, but by some unnatural gases. Then come out those fiery
effulgences, infernally superb; then the evil-blazing diamond, once
the divinest symbol of the crystal skies, looks like some crown-jewel
stolen from the King of Hell. But let us to the story.
It came to pass, that in the ambergris affair Stubb's after-oarsman
chanced so to sprain his hand, as for a time to become quite maimed;
and, temporarily, Pip was put into his place.
The first time Stubb lowered with him, Pip evinced much nervousness;
but happily, for that time, escaped close contact with the whale; and
therefore came off not altogether discreditably; though Stubb
observing him, took care, afterwards, to exhort him to cherish his
courageousness to the utmost, for he might often find it needful.
Now upon the second lowering, the boat paddled upon the whale; and as
the fish received the darted iron, it gave its customary rap, which
happened, in this instance, to be right under poor Pip's seat. The
involuntary consternation of the moment caused him to leap, paddle in
hand, out of the boat; and in such a way, that part of the slack
whale line coming against his chest, he breasted it overboard with
him, so as to become entangled in it, when at last plumping into the
water. That instant the stricken whale started on a fierce run, the
line swiftly straightened; and presto! poor Pip came all foaming up
to the chocks of the boat, remorselessly dragged there by the line,
which had taken several turns around his chest and neck.
Tashtego stood in the bows. He was full of the fire of the hunt. He
hated Pip for a poltroon. Snatching the boat-knife from its sheath,
he suspended its sharp edge over the line, and turning towards Stubb,
exclaimed interrogatively, "Cut?" Meantime Pip's blue, choked face
plainly looked, Do, for God's sake! All passed in a flash. In less
than half a minute, this entire thing happened.
"Damn him, cut!" roared Stubb; and so the whale was lost and Pip was
So soon as he recovered himself, the poor little negro was assailed
by yells and execrations from the crew. Tranquilly permitting these
irregular cursings to evaporate, Stubb then in a plain,
business-like, but still half humorous manner, cursed Pip officially;
and that done, unofficially gave him much wholesome advice. The
substance was, Never jump from a boat, Pip, except--but all the rest
was indefinite, as the soundest advice ever is. Now, in general,
STICK TO THE BOAT, is your true motto in whaling; but cases will
sometimes happen when LEAP FROM THE BOAT, is still better. Moreover,
as if perceiving at last that if he should give undiluted
conscientious advice to Pip, he would be leaving him too wide a
margin to jump in for the future; Stubb suddenly dropped all advice,
and concluded with a peremptory command, "Stick to the boat, Pip, or
by the Lord, I won't pick you up if you jump; mind that. We can't
afford to lose whales by the likes of you; a whale would sell for
thirty times what you would, Pip, in Alabama. Bear that in mind, and
don't jump any more." Hereby perhaps Stubb indirectly hinted, that
though man loved his fellow, yet man is a money-making animal, which
propensity too often interferes with his benevolence.
But we are all in the hands of the Gods; and Pip jumped again. It
was under very similar circumstances to the first performance; but
this time he did not breast out the line; and hence, when the whale
started to run, Pip was left behind on the sea, like a hurried
traveller's trunk. Alas! Stubb was but too true to his word. It
was a beautiful, bounteous, blue day; the spangled sea calm and
cool, and flatly stretching away, all round, to the horizon, like
gold-beater's skin hammered out to the extremest. Bobbing up and
down in that sea, Pip's ebon head showed like a head of cloves. No
boat-knife was lifted when he fell so rapidly astern. Stubb's
inexorable back was turned upon him; and the whale was winged. In
three minutes, a whole mile of shoreless ocean was between Pip and
Stubb. Out from the centre of the sea, poor Pip turned his crisp,
curling, black head to the sun, another lonely castaway, though the
loftiest and the brightest.
Now, in calm weather, to swim in the open ocean is as easy to the
practised swimmer as to ride in a spring-carriage ashore. But the
awful lonesomeness is intolerable. The intense concentration of self
in the middle of such a heartless immensity, my God! who can tell it?
Mark, how when sailors in a dead calm bathe in the open sea--mark
how closely they hug their ship and only coast along her sides.
But had Stubb really abandoned the poor little negro to his fate?
No; he did not mean to, at least. Because there were two boats in
his wake, and he supposed, no doubt, that they would of course come
up to Pip very quickly, and pick him up; though, indeed, such
considerations towards oarsmen jeopardized through their own
timidity, is not always manifested by the hunters in all similar
instances; and such instances not unfrequently occur; almost
invariably in the fishery, a coward, so called, is marked with the
same ruthless detestation peculiar to military navies and armies.
But it so happened, that those boats, without seeing Pip, suddenly
spying whales close to them on one side, turned, and gave chase; and
Stubb's boat was now so far away, and he and all his crew so intent
upon his fish, that Pip's ringed horizon began to expand around him
miserably. By the merest chance the ship itself at last rescued him;
but from that hour the little negro went about the deck an idiot;
such, at least, they said he was. The sea had jeeringly kept his
finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned
entirely, though. Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths,
where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro
before his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his
hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile
eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral
insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal
orbs. He saw God's foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it;
and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man's insanity is
heaven's sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at
last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and
frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as
For the rest, blame not Stubb too hardly. The thing is common in
that fishery; and in the sequel of the narrative, it will then be
seen what like abandonment befell myself.
A Squeeze of the Hand.
That whale of Stubb's, so dearly purchased, was duly brought to the
Pequod's side, where all those cutting and hoisting operations
previously detailed, were regularly gone through, even to the baling
of the Heidelburgh Tun, or Case.
While some were occupied with this latter duty, others were employed
in dragging away the larger tubs, so soon as filled with the sperm;
and when the proper time arrived, this same sperm was carefully
manipulated ere going to the try-works, of which anon.
It had cooled and crystallized to such a degree, that when, with
several others, I sat down before a large Constantine's bath of it, I
found it strangely concreted into lumps, here and there rolling about
in the liquid part. It was our business to squeeze these lumps back
into fluid. A sweet and unctuous duty! No wonder that in old times
this sperm was such a favourite cosmetic. Such a clearer! such a
sweetener! such a softener! such a delicious molifier! After
having my hands in it for only a few minutes, my fingers felt like
eels, and began, as it were, to serpentine and spiralise.
As I sat there at my ease, cross-legged on the deck; after the bitter
exertion at the windlass; under a blue tranquil sky; the ship under
indolent sail, and gliding so serenely along; as I bathed my hands
among those soft, gentle globules of infiltrated tissues, woven
almost within the hour; as they richly broke to my fingers, and
discharged all their opulence, like fully ripe grapes their wine; as
I snuffed up that uncontaminated aroma,--literally and truly, like
the smell of spring violets; I declare to you, that for the time I
lived as in a musky meadow; I forgot all about our horrible oath; in
that inexpressible sperm, I washed my hands and my heart of it; I
almost began to credit the old Paracelsan superstition that sperm is
of rare virtue in allaying the heat of anger; while bathing in that
bath, I felt divinely free from all ill-will, or petulance, or
malice, of any sort whatsoever.
Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that
sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till
a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself
unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers' hands in it, mistaking their
hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate,
friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was
continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes
sentimentally; as much as to say,--Oh! my dear fellow beings, why
should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest
ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us
all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves
universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.
Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm for ever! For now,
since by many prolonged, repeated experiences, I have perceived that
in all cases man must eventually lower, or at least shift, his
conceit of attainable felicity; not placing it anywhere in the
intellect or the fancy; but in the wife, the heart, the bed, the
table, the saddle, the fireside, the country; now that I have
perceived all this, I am ready to squeeze case eternally. In
thoughts of the visions of the night, I saw long rows of angels in
paradise, each with his hands in a jar of spermaceti.
Now, while discoursing of sperm, it behooves to speak of other things
akin to it, in the business of preparing the sperm whale for the
First comes white-horse, so called, which is obtained from the
tapering part of the fish, and also from the thicker portions of his
flukes. It is tough with congealed tendons--a wad of muscle--but
still contains some oil. After being severed from the whale, the
white-horse is first cut into portable oblongs ere going to the
mincer. They look much like blocks of Berkshire marble.
Plum-pudding is the term bestowed upon certain fragmentary parts of
the whale's flesh, here and there adhering to the blanket of blubber,
and often participating to a considerable degree in its unctuousness.
It is a most refreshing, convivial, beautiful object to behold. As
its name imports, it is of an exceedingly rich, mottled tint, with a
bestreaked snowy and golden ground, dotted with spots of the deepest
crimson and purple. It is plums of rubies, in pictures of citron.
Spite of reason, it is hard to keep yourself from eating it. I
confess, that once I stole behind the foremast to try it. It tasted
something as I should conceive a royal cutlet from the thigh of Louis
le Gros might have tasted, supposing him to have been killed the
first day after the venison season, and that particular venison
season contemporary with an unusually fine vintage of the vineyards
There is another substance, and a very singular one, which turns up
in the course of this business, but which I feel it to be very
puzzling adequately to describe. It is called slobgollion; an
appellation original with the whalemen, and even so is the nature of
the substance. It is an ineffably oozy, stringy affair, most
frequently found in the tubs of sperm, after a prolonged squeezing,
and subsequent decanting. I hold it to be the wondrously thin,
ruptured membranes of the case, coalescing.
Gurry, so called, is a term properly belonging to right whalemen, but
sometimes incidentally used by the sperm fishermen. It designates
the dark, glutinous substance which is scraped off the back of the
Greenland or right whale, and much of which covers the decks of those
inferior souls who hunt that ignoble Leviathan.
Nippers. Strictly this word is not indigenous to the whale's
vocabulary. But as applied by whalemen, it becomes so. A whaleman's
nipper is a short firm strip of tendinous stuff cut from the tapering
part of Leviathan's tail: it averages an inch in thickness, and for
the rest, is about the size of the iron part of a hoe. Edgewise
moved along the oily deck, it operates like a leathern squilgee; and
by nameless blandishments, as of magic, allures along with it all
But to learn all about these recondite matters, your best way is at
once to descend into the blubber-room, and have a long talk with its
inmates. This place has previously been mentioned as the receptacle
for the blanket-pieces, when stript and hoisted from the whale. When
the proper time arrives for cutting up its contents, this apartment
is a scene of terror to all tyros, especially by night. On one side,
lit by a dull lantern, a space has been left clear for the workmen.
They generally go in pairs,--a pike-and-gaffman and a spade-man.
The whaling-pike is similar to a frigate's boarding-weapon of the
same name. The gaff is something like a boat-hook. With his gaff,
the gaffman hooks on to a sheet of blubber, and strives to hold it
from slipping, as the ship pitches and lurches about. Meanwhile, the
spade-man stands on the sheet itself, perpendicularly chopping it
into the portable horse-pieces. This spade is sharp as hone can make
it; the spademan's feet are shoeless; the thing he stands on will
sometimes irresistibly slide away from him, like a sledge. If he
cuts off one of his own toes, or one of his assistants', would you be
very much astonished? Toes are scarce among veteran blubber-room
Had you stepped on board the Pequod at a certain juncture of this
post-mortemizing of the whale; and had you strolled forward nigh the
windlass, pretty sure am I that you would have scanned with no small
curiosity a very strange, enigmatical object, which you would have
seen there, lying along lengthwise in the lee scuppers. Not the
wondrous cistern in the whale's huge head; not the prodigy of his
unhinged lower jaw; not the miracle of his symmetrical tail; none of
these would so surprise you, as half a glimpse of that unaccountable
cone,--longer than a Kentuckian is tall, nigh a foot in diameter at
the base, and jet-black as Yojo, the ebony idol of Queequeg. And an
idol, indeed, it is; or, rather, in old times, its likeness was.
Such an idol as that found in the secret groves of Queen Maachah in
Judea; and for worshipping which, King Asa, her son, did depose her,
and destroyed the idol, and burnt it for an abomination at the brook
Kedron, as darkly set forth in the 15th chapter of the First Book of
Look at the sailor, called the mincer, who now comes along, and
assisted by two allies, heavily backs the grandissimus, as the
mariners call it, and with bowed shoulders, staggers off with it as
if he were a grenadier carrying a dead comrade from the field.
Extending it upon the forecastle deck, he now proceeds cylindrically
to remove its dark pelt, as an African hunter the pelt of a boa.
This done he turns the pelt inside out, like a pantaloon leg; gives
it a good stretching, so as almost to double its diameter; and at
last hangs it, well spread, in the rigging, to dry. Ere long, it is
taken down; when removing some three feet of it, towards the pointed
extremity, and then cutting two slits for arm-holes at the other end,
he lengthwise slips himself bodily into it. The mincer now stands
before you invested in the full canonicals of his calling.
Immemorial to all his order, this investiture alone will adequately
protect him, while employed in the peculiar functions of his office.
That office consists in mincing the horse-pieces of blubber for the
pots; an operation which is conducted at a curious wooden horse,
planted endwise against the bulwarks, and with a capacious tub
beneath it, into which the minced pieces drop, fast as the sheets
from a rapt orator's desk. Arrayed in decent black; occupying a
conspicuous pulpit; intent on bible leaves; what a candidate for an
archbishopric, what a lad for a Pope were this mincer!*
*Bible leaves! Bible leaves! This is the invariable cry from the
mates to the mincer. It enjoins him to be careful, and cut his work
into as thin slices as possible, inasmuch as by so doing the business
of boiling out the oil is much accelerated, and its quantity
considerably increased, besides perhaps improving it in quality.
Besides her hoisted boats, an American whaler is outwardly
distinguished by her try-works. She presents the curious anomaly of
the most solid masonry joining with oak and hemp in constituting the
completed ship. It is as if from the open field a brick-kiln were
transported to her planks.
The try-works are planted between the foremast and mainmast, the
most roomy part of the deck. The timbers beneath are of a peculiar
strength, fitted to sustain the weight of an almost solid mass of
brick and mortar, some ten feet by eight square, and five in height.
The foundation does not penetrate the deck, but the masonry is firmly
secured to the surface by ponderous knees of iron bracing it on all
sides, and screwing it down to the timbers. On the flanks it is
cased with wood, and at top completely covered by a large, sloping,
battened hatchway. Removing this hatch we expose the great try-pots,
two in number, and each of several barrels' capacity. When not in
use, they are kept remarkably clean. Sometimes they are polished
with soapstone and sand, till they shine within like silver
punch-bowls. During the night-watches some cynical old sailors will
crawl into them and coil themselves away there for a nap. While
employed in polishing them--one man in each pot, side by side--many
confidential communications are carried on, over the iron lips. It
is a place also for profound mathematical meditation. It was in the
left hand try-pot of the Pequod, with the soapstone diligently
circling round me, that I was first indirectly struck by the
remarkable fact, that in geometry all bodies gliding along the
cycloid, my soapstone for example, will descend from any point in
precisely the same time.
Removing the fire-board from the front of the try-works, the bare
masonry of that side is exposed, penetrated by the two iron mouths of
the furnaces, directly underneath the pots. These mouths are fitted
with heavy doors of iron. The intense heat of the fire is prevented
from communicating itself to the deck, by means of a shallow
reservoir extending under the entire inclosed surface of the works.
By a tunnel inserted at the rear, this reservoir is kept replenished
with water as fast as it evaporates. There are no external chimneys;
they open direct from the rear wall. And here let us go back for a
It was about nine o'clock at night that the Pequod's try-works were
first started on this present voyage. It belonged to Stubb to
oversee the business.
"All ready there? Off hatch, then, and start her. You cook, fire
the works." This was an easy thing, for the carpenter had been
thrusting his shavings into the furnace throughout the passage. Here
be it said that in a whaling voyage the first fire in the try-works has
to be fed for a time with wood. After that no wood is used, except
as a means of quick ignition to the staple fuel. In a word, after
being tried out, the crisp, shrivelled blubber, now called scraps or
fritters, still contains considerable of its unctuous properties.
These fritters feed the flames. Like a plethoric burning martyr, or
a self-consuming misanthrope, once ignited, the whale supplies his
own fuel and burns by his own body. Would that he consumed his own
smoke! for his smoke is horrible to inhale, and inhale it you must,
and not only that, but you must live in it for the time. It has an
unspeakable, wild, Hindoo odor about it, such as may lurk in the
vicinity of funereal pyres. It smells like the left wing of the day
of judgment; it is an argument for the pit.
By midnight the works were in full operation. We were clear from the
carcase; sail had been made; the wind was freshening; the wild ocean
darkness was intense. But that darkness was licked up by the fierce
flames, which at intervals forked forth from the sooty flues, and
illuminated every lofty rope in the rigging, as with the famed Greek
fire. The burning ship drove on, as if remorselessly commissioned to
some vengeful deed. So the pitch and sulphur-freighted brigs of the
bold Hydriote, Canaris, issuing from their midnight harbors, with
broad sheets of flame for sails, bore down upon the Turkish frigates,
and folded them in conflagrations.
The hatch, removed from the top of the works, now afforded a wide
hearth in front of them. Standing on this were the Tartarean shapes
of the pagan harpooneers, always the whale-ship's stokers. With huge
pronged poles they pitched hissing masses of blubber into the
scalding pots, or stirred up the fires beneath, till the snaky flames
darted, curling, out of the doors to catch them by the feet. The
smoke rolled away in sullen heaps. To every pitch of the ship there
was a pitch of the boiling oil, which seemed all eagerness to leap
into their faces. Opposite the mouth of the works, on the further
side of the wide wooden hearth, was the windlass. This served for a
sea-sofa. Here lounged the watch, when not otherwise employed,
looking into the red heat of the fire, till their eyes felt scorched
in their heads. Their tawny features, now all begrimed with smoke
and sweat, their matted beards, and the contrasting barbaric
brilliancy of their teeth, all these were strangely revealed in the
capricious emblazonings of the works. As they narrated to each other
their unholy adventures, their tales of terror told in words of
mirth; as their uncivilized laughter forked upwards out of them, like
the flames from the furnace; as to and fro, in their front, the
harpooneers wildly gesticulated with their huge pronged forks and
dippers; as the wind howled on, and the sea leaped, and the ship
groaned and dived, and yet steadfastly shot her red hell further and
further into the blackness of the sea and the night, and scornfully
champed the white bone in her mouth, and viciously spat round her on
all sides; then the rushing Pequod, freighted with savages, and laden
with fire, and burning a corpse, and plunging into that blackness of
darkness, seemed the material counterpart of her monomaniac
So seemed it to me, as I stood at her helm, and for long hours
silently guided the way of this fire-ship on the sea. Wrapped, for
that interval, in darkness myself, I but the better saw the redness,
the madness, the ghastliness of others. The continual sight of the
fiend shapes before me, capering half in smoke and half in fire,
these at last begat kindred visions in my soul, so soon as I began to
yield to that unaccountable drowsiness which ever would come over me
at a midnight helm.
But that night, in particular, a strange (and ever since
inexplicable) thing occurred to me. Starting from a brief standing
sleep, I was horribly conscious of something fatally wrong. The
jaw-bone tiller smote my side, which leaned against it; in my ears
was the low hum of sails, just beginning to shake in the wind; I
thought my eyes were open; I was half conscious of putting my fingers
to the lids and mechanically stretching them still further apart.
But, spite of all this, I could see no compass before me to steer by;
though it seemed but a minute since I had been watching the card, by
the steady binnacle lamp illuminating it. Nothing seemed before me
but a jet gloom, now and then made ghastly by flashes of redness.
Uppermost was the impression, that whatever swift, rushing thing I
stood on was not so much bound to any haven ahead as rushing from all
havens astern. A stark, bewildered feeling, as of death, came over
me. Convulsively my hands grasped the tiller, but with the crazy
conceit that the tiller was, somehow, in some enchanted way,
inverted. My God! what is the matter with me? thought I. Lo! in my
brief sleep I had turned myself about, and was fronting the ship's
stern, with my back to her prow and the compass. In an instant I
faced back, just in time to prevent the vessel from flying up into
the wind, and very probably capsizing her. How glad and how grateful
the relief from this unnatural hallucination of the night, and the
fatal contingency of being brought by the lee!
Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man! Never dream with
thy hand on the helm! Turn not thy back to the compass; accept the
first hint of the hitching tiller; believe not the artificial fire,
when its redness makes all things look ghastly. To-morrow, in the
natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils
in the forking flames, the morn will show in far other, at least
gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true
lamp--all others but liars!
Nevertheless the sun hides not Virginia's Dismal Swamp, nor Rome's
accursed Campagna, nor wide Sahara, nor all the millions of miles of
deserts and of griefs beneath the moon. The sun hides not the ocean,
which is the dark side of this earth, and which is two thirds of this
earth. So, therefore, that mortal man who hath more of joy than
sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be true--not true, or
undeveloped. With books the same. The truest of all men was the Man
of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon's, and
Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. "All is vanity."
ALL. This wilful world hath not got hold of unchristian Solomon's
wisdom yet. But he who dodges hospitals and jails, and walks fast
crossing graveyards, and would rather talk of operas than hell;
calls Cowper, Young, Pascal, Rousseau, poor devils all of sick men;
and throughout a care-free lifetime swears by Rabelais as passing
wise, and therefore jolly;--not that man is fitted to sit down on
tomb-stones, and break the green damp mould with unfathomably
But even Solomon, he says, "the man that wandereth out of the way of
understanding shall remain" (I.E., even while living) "in the
congregation of the dead." Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest
it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a
wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is
a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the
blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in
the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge,
that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the
mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even
though they soar.
Had you descended from the Pequod's try-works to the Pequod's
forecastle, where the off duty watch were sleeping, for one single
moment you would have almost thought you were standing in some
illuminated shrine of canonized kings and counsellors. There they
lay in their triangular oaken vaults, each mariner a chiselled
muteness; a score of lamps flashing upon his hooded eyes.
In merchantmen, oil for the sailor is more scarce than the milk of
queens. To dress in the dark, and eat in the dark, and stumble in
darkness to his pallet, this is his usual lot. But the whaleman, as
he seeks the food of light, so he lives in light. He makes his berth
an Aladdin's lamp, and lays him down in it; so that in the pitchiest
night the ship's black hull still houses an illumination.
See with what entire freedom the whaleman takes his handful of
lamps--often but old bottles and vials, though--to the copper cooler
at the try-works, and replenishes them there, as mugs of ale at a
vat. He burns, too, the purest of oil, in its unmanufactured, and,
therefore, unvitiated state; a fluid unknown to solar, lunar, or
astral contrivances ashore. It is sweet as early grass butter in
April. He goes and hunts for his oil, so as to be sure of its
freshness and genuineness, even as the traveller on the prairie hunts
up his own supper of game.
Stowing Down and Clearing Up.
Already has it been related how the great leviathan is afar off
descried from the mast-head; how he is chased over the watery moors,
and slaughtered in the valleys of the deep; how he is then towed
alongside and beheaded; and how (on the principle which entitled the
headsman of old to the garments in which the beheaded was killed) his
great padded surtout becomes the property of his executioner; how, in
due time, he is condemned to the pots, and, like Shadrach, Meshach,
and Abednego, his spermaceti, oil, and bone pass unscathed through
the fire;--but now it remains to conclude the last chapter of this
part of the description by rehearsing--singing, if I may--the
romantic proceeding of decanting off his oil into the casks and
striking them down into the hold, where once again leviathan returns
to his native profundities, sliding along beneath the surface as
before; but, alas! never more to rise and blow.
While still warm, the oil, like hot punch, is received into the
six-barrel casks; and while, perhaps, the ship is pitching and
rolling this way and that in the midnight sea, the enormous casks are
slewed round and headed over, end for end, and sometimes perilously
scoot across the slippery deck, like so many land slides, till at
last man-handled and stayed in their course; and all round the hoops,
rap, rap, go as many hammers as can play upon them, for now, EX
OFFICIO, every sailor is a cooper.
At length, when the last pint is casked, and all is cool, then the
great hatchways are unsealed, the bowels of the ship are thrown open,
and down go the casks to their final rest in the sea. This done, the
hatches are replaced, and hermetically closed, like a closet walled
In the sperm fishery, this is perhaps one of the most remarkable
incidents in all the business of whaling. One day the planks stream
with freshets of blood and oil; on the sacred quarter-deck enormous
masses of the whale's head are profanely piled; great rusty casks lie
about, as in a brewery yard; the smoke from the try-works has
besooted all the bulwarks; the mariners go about suffused with
unctuousness; the entire ship seems great leviathan himself; while on
all hands the din is deafening.
But a day or two after, you look about you, and prick your ears in
this self-same ship; and were it not for the tell-tale boats and
try-works, you would all but swear you trod some silent merchant
vessel, with a most scrupulously neat commander. The unmanufactured
sperm oil possesses a singularly cleansing virtue. This is the
reason why the decks never look so white as just after what they call
an affair of oil. Besides, from the ashes of the burned scraps of
the whale, a potent lye is readily made; and whenever any
adhesiveness from the back of the whale remains clinging to the side,
that lye quickly exterminates it. Hands go diligently along the
bulwarks, and with buckets of water and rags restore them to their
full tidiness. The soot is brushed from the lower rigging. All the
numerous implements which have been in use are likewise faithfully
cleansed and put away. The great hatch is scrubbed and placed upon
the try-works, completely hiding the pots; every cask is out of
sight; all tackles are coiled in unseen nooks; and when by the
combined and simultaneous industry of almost the entire ship's
company, the whole of this conscientious duty is at last concluded,
then the crew themselves proceed to their own ablutions; shift
themselves from top to toe; and finally issue to the immaculate deck,
fresh and all aglow, as bridegrooms new-leaped from out the daintiest
Now, with elated step, they pace the planks in twos and threes, and
humorously discourse of parlors, sofas, carpets, and fine cambrics;
propose to mat the deck; think of having hanging to the top; object
not to taking tea by moonlight on the piazza of the forecastle. To
hint to such musked mariners of oil, and bone, and blubber, were
little short of audacity. They know not the thing you distantly
allude to. Away, and bring us napkins!
But mark: aloft there, at the three mast heads, stand three men
intent on spying out more whales, which, if caught, infallibly will
again soil the old oaken furniture, and drop at least one small
grease-spot somewhere. Yes; and many is the time, when, after the
severest uninterrupted labors, which know no night; continuing
straight through for ninety-six hours; when from the boat, where they
have swelled their wrists with all day rowing on the Line,--they only
step to the deck to carry vast chains, and heave the heavy windlass,
and cut and slash, yea, and in their very sweatings to be smoked and
burned anew by the combined fires of the equatorial sun and the
equatorial try-works; when, on the heel of all this, they have
finally bestirred themselves to cleanse the ship, and make a spotless
dairy room of it; many is the time the poor fellows, just buttoning
the necks of their clean frocks, are startled by the cry of "There
she blows!" and away they fly to fight another whale, and go through
the whole weary thing again. Oh! my friends, but this is
man-killing! Yet this is life. For hardly have we mortals by long
toilings extracted from this world's vast bulk its small but
valuable sperm; and then, with weary patience, cleansed ourselves
from its defilements, and learned to live here in clean tabernacles
of the soul; hardly is this done, when--THERE SHE BLOWS!--the ghost
is spouted up, and away we sail to fight some other world, and go
through young life's old routine again.
Oh! the metempsychosis! Oh! Pythagoras, that in bright Greece, two
thousand years ago, did die, so good, so wise, so mild; I sailed with
thee along the Peruvian coast last voyage--and, foolish as I am,
taught thee, a green simple boy, how to splice a rope!
Ere now it has been related how Ahab was wont to pace his
quarter-deck, taking regular turns at either limit, the binnacle and
mainmast; but in the multiplicity of other things requiring narration
it has not been added how that sometimes in these walks, when most
plunged in his mood, he was wont to pause in turn at each spot, and
stand there strangely eyeing the particular object before him. When
he halted before the binnacle, with his glance fastened on the
pointed needle in the compass, that glance shot like a javelin with
the pointed intensity of his purpose; and when resuming his walk he
again paused before the mainmast, then, as the same riveted glance
fastened upon the riveted gold coin there, he still wore the same
aspect of nailed firmness, only dashed with a certain wild longing,
if not hopefulness.
But one morning, turning to pass the doubloon, he seemed to be newly
attracted by the strange figures and inscriptions stamped on it, as
though now for the first time beginning to interpret for himself in
some monomaniac way whatever significance might lurk in them. And
some certain significance lurks in all things, else all things are
little worth, and the round world itself but an empty cipher, except
to sell by the cartload, as they do hills about Boston, to fill up
some morass in the Milky Way.
Now this doubloon was of purest, virgin gold, raked somewhere out of
the heart of gorgeous hills, whence, east and west, over golden
sands, the head-waters of many a Pactolus flows. And though now
nailed amidst all the rustiness of iron bolts and the verdigris of
copper spikes, yet, untouchable and immaculate to any foulness, it
still preserved its Quito glow. Nor, though placed amongst a
ruthless crew and every hour passed by ruthless hands, and through
the livelong nights shrouded with thick darkness which might cover
any pilfering approach, nevertheless every sunrise found the doubloon
where the sunset left it last. For it was set apart and sanctified
to one awe-striking end; and however wanton in their sailor ways, one
and all, the mariners revered it as the white whale's talisman.
Sometimes they talked it over in the weary watch by night, wondering
whose it was to be at last, and whether he would ever live to spend
Now those noble golden coins of South America are as medals of the
sun and tropic token-pieces. Here palms, alpacas, and volcanoes;
sun's disks and stars; ecliptics, horns-of-plenty, and rich banners
waving, are in luxuriant profusion stamped; so that the precious gold
seems almost to derive an added preciousness and enhancing glories,
by passing through those fancy mints, so Spanishly poetic.
It so chanced that the doubloon of the Pequod was a most wealthy
example of these things. On its round border it bore the letters,
REPUBLICA DEL ECUADOR: QUITO. So this bright coin came from a
country planted in the middle of the world, and beneath the great
equator, and named after it; and it had been cast midway up the
Andes, in the unwaning clime that knows no autumn. Zoned by those
letters you saw the likeness of three Andes' summits; from one a
flame; a tower on another; on the third a crowing cock; while arching
over all was a segment of the partitioned zodiac, the signs all
marked with their usual cabalistics, and the keystone sun entering
the equinoctial point at Libra.
Before this equatorial coin, Ahab, not unobserved by others, was now
"There's something ever egotistical in mountain-tops and towers, and
all other grand and lofty things; look here,--three peaks as proud as
Lucifer. The firm tower, that is Ahab; the volcano, that is Ahab;
the courageous, the undaunted, and victorious fowl, that, too, is
Ahab; all are Ahab; and this round gold is but the image of the
rounder globe, which, like a magician's glass, to each and every man
in turn but mirrors back his own mysterious self. Great pains, small
gains for those who ask the world to solve them; it cannot solve
itself. Methinks now this coined sun wears a ruddy face; but see!
aye, he enters the sign of storms, the equinox! and but six months
before he wheeled out of a former equinox at Aries! From storm to
storm! So be it, then. Born in throes, 't is fit that man should
live in pains and die in pangs! So be it, then! Here's stout stuff
for woe to work on. So be it, then."
"No fairy fingers can have pressed the gold, but devil's claws must have
left their mouldings there since yesterday," murmured Starbuck to
himself, leaning against the bulwarks. "The old man seems to read
Belshazzar's awful writing. I have never marked the coin
inspectingly. He goes below; let me read. A dark valley between
three mighty, heaven-abiding peaks, that almost seem the Trinity, in
some faint earthly symbol. So in this vale of Death, God girds us
round; and over all our gloom, the sun of Righteousness still shines
a beacon and a hope. If we bend down our eyes, the dark vale shows
her mouldy soil; but if we lift them, the bright sun meets our glance
half way, to cheer. Yet, oh, the great sun is no fixture; and if, at
midnight, we would fain snatch some sweet solace from him, we gaze
for him in vain! This coin speaks wisely, mildly, truly, but still
sadly to me. I will quit it, lest Truth shake me falsely."
"There now's the old Mogul," soliloquized Stubb by the try-works,
"he's been twigging it; and there goes Starbuck from the same, and
both with faces which I should say might be somewhere within nine
fathoms long. And all from looking at a piece of gold, which did I
have it now on Negro Hill or in Corlaer's Hook, I'd not look at it
very long ere spending it. Humph! in my poor, insignificant opinion,
I regard this as queer. I have seen doubloons before now in my
voyagings; your doubloons of old Spain, your doubloons of Peru, your
doubloons of Chili, your doubloons of Bolivia, your doubloons of
Popayan; with plenty of gold moidores and pistoles, and joes, and
half joes, and quarter joes. What then should there be in this
doubloon of the Equator that is so killing wonderful? By Golconda!
let me read it once. Halloa! here's signs and wonders truly! That,
now, is what old Bowditch in his Epitome calls the zodiac, and what
my almanac below calls ditto. I'll get the almanac and as I have
heard devils can be raised with Daboll's arithmetic, I'll try my hand
at raising a meaning out of these queer curvicues here with the
Massachusetts calendar. Here's the book. Let's see now. Signs and
wonders; and the sun, he's always among 'em. Hem, hem, hem; here
they are--here they go--all alive:--Aries, or the Ram; Taurus, or the
Bull and Jimimi! here's Gemini himself, or the Twins. Well; the sun
he wheels among 'em. Aye, here on the coin he's just crossing the
threshold between two of twelve sitting-rooms all in a ring. Book!
you lie there; the fact is, you books must know your places. You'll
do to give us the bare words and facts, but we come in to supply the
thoughts. That's my small experience, so far as the Massachusetts
calendar, and Bowditch's navigator, and Daboll's arithmetic go.
Signs and wonders, eh? Pity if there is nothing wonderful in signs,
and significant in wonders! There's a clue somewhere; wait a bit;
hist--hark! By Jove, I have it! Look you, Doubloon, your zodiac
here is the life of man in one round chapter; and now I'll read it
off, straight out of the book. Come, Almanack! To begin: there's
Aries, or the Ram--lecherous dog, he begets us; then, Taurus, or the
Bull--he bumps us the first thing; then Gemini, or the Twins--that
is, Virtue and Vice; we try to reach Virtue, when lo! comes Cancer
the Crab, and drags us back; and here, going from Virtue, Leo, a
roaring Lion, lies in the path--he gives a few fierce bites and surly
dabs with his paw; we escape, and hail Virgo, the Virgin! that's our
first love; we marry and think to be happy for aye, when pop comes
Libra, or the Scales--happiness weighed and found wanting; and while
we are very sad about that, Lord! how we suddenly jump, as Scorpio,
or the Scorpion, stings us in the rear; we are curing the wound, when
whang come the arrows all round; Sagittarius, or the Archer, is
amusing himself. As we pluck out the shafts, stand aside! here's
the battering-ram, Capricornus, or the Goat; full tilt, he comes
rushing, and headlong we are tossed; when Aquarius, or the
Water-bearer, pours out his whole deluge and drowns us; and to wind
up with Pisces, or the Fishes, we sleep. There's a sermon now, writ
in high heaven, and the sun goes through it every year, and yet comes
out of it all alive and hearty. Jollily he, aloft there, wheels
through toil and trouble; and so, alow here, does jolly Stubb. Oh,
jolly's the word for aye! Adieu, Doubloon! But stop; here comes
little King-Post; dodge round the try-works, now, and let's hear what
he'll have to say. There; he's before it; he'll out with something
presently. So, so; he's beginning."
"I see nothing here, but a round thing made of gold, and whoever
raises a certain whale, this round thing belongs to him. So, what's
all this staring been about? It is worth sixteen dollars, that's
true; and at two cents the cigar, that's nine hundred and sixty
cigars. I won't smoke dirty pipes like Stubb, but I like cigars, and
here's nine hundred and sixty of them; so here goes Flask aloft to
spy 'em out."
"Shall I call that wise or foolish, now; if it be really wise it has
a foolish look to it; yet, if it be really foolish, then has it a
sort of wiseish look to it. But, avast; here comes our old
Manxman--the old hearse-driver, he must have been, that is, before he
took to the sea. He luffs up before the doubloon; halloa, and goes
round on the other side of the mast; why, there's a horse-shoe nailed
on that side; and now he's back again; what does that mean? Hark!
he's muttering--voice like an old worn-out coffee-mill. Prick ears,
"If the White Whale be raised, it must be in a month and a day, when
the sun stands in some one of these signs. I've studied signs, and
know their marks; they were taught me two score years ago, by the old
witch in Copenhagen. Now, in what sign will the sun then be? The
horse-shoe sign; for there it is, right opposite the gold. And
what's the horse-shoe sign? The lion is the horse-shoe sign--the
roaring and devouring lion. Ship, old ship! my old head shakes to
think of thee."
"There's another rendering now; but still one text. All sorts of men
in one kind of world, you see. Dodge again! here comes Queequeg--all
tattooing--looks like the signs of the Zodiac himself. What says the
Cannibal? As I live he's comparing notes; looking at his thigh bone;
thinks the sun is in the thigh, or in the calf, or in the bowels, I
suppose, as the old women talk Surgeon's Astronomy in the back
country. And by Jove, he's found something there in the vicinity of
his thigh--I guess it's Sagittarius, or the Archer. No: he don't
know what to make of the doubloon; he takes it for an old button off
some king's trowsers. But, aside again! here comes that ghost-devil,
Fedallah; tail coiled out of sight as usual, oakum in the toes of his
pumps as usual. What does he say, with that look of his? Ah, only
makes a sign to the sign and bows himself; there is a sun on the
coin--fire worshipper, depend upon it. Ho! more and more. This way
comes Pip--poor boy! would he had died, or I; he's half horrible to
me. He too has been watching all of these interpreters--myself
included--and look now, he comes to read, with that unearthly idiot
face. Stand away again and hear him. Hark!"
"I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look."
"Upon my soul, he's been studying Murray's Grammar! Improving his
mind, poor fellow! But what's that he says now--hist!"
"I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look."
"Why, he's getting it by heart--hist! again."
"I look, you look, he looks; we look, ye look, they look."
"Well, that's funny."
"And I, you, and he; and we, ye, and they, are all bats; and I'm a
crow, especially when I stand a'top of this pine tree here. Caw!
caw! caw! caw! caw! caw! Ain't I a crow? And where's the
scare-crow? There he stands; two bones stuck into a pair of old
trowsers, and two more poked into the sleeves of an old jacket."
"Wonder if he means me?--complimentary!--poor lad!--I could go hang
myself. Any way, for the present, I'll quit Pip's vicinity. I can
stand the rest, for they have plain wits; but he's too crazy-witty
for my sanity. So, so, I leave him muttering."
"Here's the ship's navel, this doubloon here, and they are all on
fire to unscrew it. But, unscrew your navel, and what's the
consequence? Then again, if it stays here, that is ugly, too, for
when aught's nailed to the mast it's a sign that things grow
desperate. Ha, ha! old Ahab! the White Whale; he'll nail ye! This
is a pine tree. My father, in old Tolland county, cut down a pine
tree once, and found a silver ring grown over in it; some old
darkey's wedding ring. How did it get there? And so they'll say in
the resurrection, when they come to fish up this old mast, and find a
doubloon lodged in it, with bedded oysters for the shaggy bark. Oh,
the gold! the precious, precious, gold! the green miser'll hoard ye
soon! Hish! hish! God goes 'mong the worlds blackberrying. Cook!
ho, cook! and cook us! Jenny! hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, Jenny, Jenny!
and get your hoe-cake done!"
Leg and Arm.
The Pequod, of Nantucket, Meets the Samuel Enderby, of London.
"Ship, ahoy! Hast seen the White Whale?"
So cried Ahab, once more hailing a ship showing English colours,
bearing down under the stern. Trumpet to mouth, the old man was
standing in his hoisted quarter-boat, his ivory leg plainly revealed
to the stranger captain, who was carelessly reclining in his own
boat's bow. He was a darkly-tanned, burly, good-natured,
fine-looking man, of sixty or thereabouts, dressed in a spacious
roundabout, that hung round him in festoons of blue pilot-cloth; and
one empty arm of this jacket streamed behind him like the broidered
arm of a hussar's surcoat.
"Hast seen the White Whale!"
"See you this?" and withdrawing it from the folds that had hidden
it, he held up a white arm of sperm whale bone, terminating in a
wooden head like a mallet.
"Man my boat!" cried Ahab, impetuously, and tossing about the oars
near him--"Stand by to lower!"
In less than a minute, without quitting his little craft, he and his
crew were dropped to the water, and were soon alongside of the
stranger. But here a curious difficulty presented itself. In the
excitement of the moment, Ahab had forgotten that since the loss of
his leg he had never once stepped on board of any vessel at sea but
his own, and then it was always by an ingenious and very handy
mechanical contrivance peculiar to the Pequod, and a thing not to be
rigged and shipped in any other vessel at a moment's warning. Now,
it is no very easy matter for anybody--except those who are almost
hourly used to it, like whalemen--to clamber up a ship's side from a
boat on the open sea; for the great swells now lift the boat high up
towards the bulwarks, and then instantaneously drop it half way down
to the kelson. So, deprived of one leg, and the strange ship of
course being altogether unsupplied with the kindly invention, Ahab
now found himself abjectly reduced to a clumsy landsman again;
hopelessly eyeing the uncertain changeful height he could hardly hope
It has before been hinted, perhaps, that every little untoward
circumstance that befell him, and which indirectly sprang from his
luckless mishap, almost invariably irritated or exasperated Ahab.
And in the present instance, all this was heightened by the sight of
the two officers of the strange ship, leaning over the side, by the
perpendicular ladder of nailed cleets there, and swinging towards him
a pair of tastefully-ornamented man-ropes; for at first they did not
seem to bethink them that a one-legged man must be too much of a
cripple to use their sea bannisters. But this awkwardness only
lasted a minute, because the strange captain, observing at a glance
how affairs stood, cried out, "I see, I see!--avast heaving there!
Jump, boys, and swing over the cutting-tackle."
As good luck would have it, they had had a whale alongside a day or
two previous, and the great tackles were still aloft, and the massive
curved blubber-hook, now clean and dry, was still attached to the
end. This was quickly lowered to Ahab, who at once comprehending it
all, slid his solitary thigh into the curve of the hook (it was like
sitting in the fluke of an anchor, or the crotch of an apple tree),
and then giving the word, held himself fast, and at the same time
also helped to hoist his own weight, by pulling hand-over-hand upon
one of the running parts of the tackle. Soon he was carefully swung
inside the high bulwarks, and gently landed upon the capstan head.
With his ivory arm frankly thrust forth in welcome, the other captain
advanced, and Ahab, putting out his ivory leg, and crossing the ivory
arm (like two sword-fish blades) cried out in his walrus way, "Aye,
aye, hearty! let us shake bones together!--an arm and a leg!--an arm
that never can shrink, d'ye see; and a leg that never can run. Where
did'st thou see the White Whale?--how long ago?"
"The White Whale," said the Englishman, pointing his ivory arm
towards the East, and taking a rueful sight along it, as if it had
been a telescope; "there I saw him, on the Line, last season."
"And he took that arm off, did he?" asked Ahab, now sliding down from
the capstan, and resting on the Englishman's shoulder, as he did so.
"Aye, he was the cause of it, at least; and that leg, too?"
"Spin me the yarn," said Ahab; "how was it?"
"It was the first time in my life that I ever cruised on the Line,"
began the Englishman. "I was ignorant of the White Whale at that
time. Well, one day we lowered for a pod of four or five whales, and
my boat fastened to one of them; a regular circus horse he was, too,
that went milling and milling round so, that my boat's crew could
only trim dish, by sitting all their sterns on the outer gunwale.
Presently up breaches from the bottom of the sea a bouncing great
whale, with a milky-white head and hump, all crows' feet and
"It was he, it was he!" cried Ahab, suddenly letting out his
"And harpoons sticking in near his starboard fin."
"Aye, aye--they were mine--MY irons," cried Ahab, exultingly--"but
"Give me a chance, then," said the Englishman, good-humoredly.
"Well, this old great-grandfather, with the white head and hump, runs
all afoam into the pod, and goes to snapping furiously at my
"Aye, I see!--wanted to part it; free the fast-fish--an old trick--I
"How it was exactly," continued the one-armed commander, "I do not
know; but in biting the line, it got foul of his teeth, caught there
somehow; but we didn't know it then; so that when we afterwards
pulled on the line, bounce we came plump on to his hump! instead of
the other whale's; that went off to windward, all fluking. Seeing
how matters stood, and what a noble great whale it was--the noblest
and biggest I ever saw, sir, in my life--I resolved to capture him,
spite of the boiling rage he seemed to be in. And thinking the
hap-hazard line would get loose, or the tooth it was tangled to
might draw (for I have a devil of a boat's crew for a pull on a
whale-line); seeing all this, I say, I jumped into my first mate's
boat--Mr. Mounttop's here (by the way, Captain--Mounttop;
Mounttop--the captain);--as I was saying, I jumped into Mounttop's
boat, which, d'ye see, was gunwale and gunwale with mine, then; and
snatching the first harpoon, let this old great-grandfather have it.
But, Lord, look you, sir--hearts and souls alive, man--the next
instant, in a jiff, I was blind as a bat--both eyes out--all befogged
and bedeadened with black foam--the whale's tail looming straight up
out of it, perpendicular in the air, like a marble steeple. No use
sterning all, then; but as I was groping at midday, with a blinding
sun, all crown-jewels; as I was groping, I say, after the second
iron, to toss it overboard--down comes the tail like a Lima tower,
cutting my boat in two, leaving each half in splinters; and, flukes
first, the white hump backed through the wreck, as though it was all
chips. We all struck out. To escape his terrible flailings, I
seized hold of my harpoon-pole sticking in him, and for a moment
clung to that like a sucking fish. But a combing sea dashed me off,
and at the same instant, the fish, taking one good dart forwards,
went down like a flash; and the barb of that cursed second iron
towing along near me caught me here" (clapping his hand just below
his shoulder); "yes, caught me just here, I say, and bore me down to
Hell's flames, I was thinking; when, when, all of a sudden, thank the
good God, the barb ript its way along the flesh--clear along the
whole length of my arm--came out nigh my wrist, and up I
floated;--and that gentleman there will tell you the rest (by the
way, captain--Dr. Bunger, ship's surgeon: Bunger, my lad,--the
captain). Now, Bunger boy, spin your part of the yarn."
The professional gentleman thus familiarly pointed out, had been all
the time standing near them, with nothing specific visible, to denote
his gentlemanly rank on board. His face was an exceedingly round but
sober one; he was dressed in a faded blue woollen frock or shirt, and
patched trowsers; and had thus far been dividing his attention
between a marlingspike he held in one hand, and a pill-box held in
the other, occasionally casting a critical glance at the ivory limbs
of the two crippled captains. But, at his superior's introduction of
him to Ahab, he politely bowed, and straightway went on to do his
"It was a shocking bad wound," began the whale-surgeon; "and, taking
my advice, Captain Boomer here, stood our old Sammy--"
"Samuel Enderby is the name of my ship," interrupted the one-armed
captain, addressing Ahab; "go on, boy."
"Stood our old Sammy off to the northward, to get out of the blazing
hot weather there on the Line. But it was no use--I did all I could;
sat up with him nights; was very severe with him in the matter of
"Oh, very severe!" chimed in the patient himself; then suddenly
altering his voice, "Drinking hot rum toddies with me every night,
till he couldn't see to put on the bandages; and sending me to bed,
half seas over, about three o'clock in the morning. Oh, ye stars! he
sat up with me indeed, and was very severe in my diet. Oh! a great
watcher, and very dietetically severe, is Dr. Bunger. (Bunger, you
dog, laugh out! why don't ye? You know you're a precious jolly
rascal.) But, heave ahead, boy, I'd rather be killed by you than kept
alive by any other man."
"My captain, you must have ere this perceived, respected sir"--said
the imperturbable godly-looking Bunger, slightly bowing to Ahab--"is
apt to be facetious at times; he spins us many clever things of that
sort. But I may as well say--en passant, as the French remark--that
I myself--that is to say, Jack Bunger, late of the reverend
clergy--am a strict total abstinence man; I never drink--"
"Water!" cried the captain; "he never drinks it; it's a sort of fits
to him; fresh water throws him into the hydrophobia; but go on--go on
with the arm story."
"Yes, I may as well," said the surgeon, coolly. "I was about
observing, sir, before Captain Boomer's facetious interruption, that
spite of my best and severest endeavors, the wound kept getting worse
and worse; the truth was, sir, it was as ugly gaping wound as surgeon
ever saw; more than two feet and several inches long. I measured it
with the lead line. In short, it grew black; I knew what was
threatened, and off it came. But I had no hand in shipping that
ivory arm there; that thing is against all rule"--pointing at it with
the marlingspike--"that is the captain's work, not mine; he ordered
the carpenter to make it; he had that club-hammer there put to the
end, to knock some one's brains out with, I suppose, as he tried mine
once. He flies into diabolical passions sometimes. Do ye see this
dent, sir"--removing his hat, and brushing aside his hair, and
exposing a bowl-like cavity in his skull, but which bore not the
slightest scarry trace, or any token of ever having been a
wound--"Well, the captain there will tell you how that came here;
"No, I don't," said the captain, "but his mother did; he was born
with it. Oh, you solemn rogue, you--you Bunger! was there ever such
another Bunger in the watery world? Bunger, when you die, you ought
to die in pickle, you dog; you should be preserved to future ages,
"What became of the White Whale?" now cried Ahab, who thus far had
been impatiently listening to this by-play between the two
"Oh!" cried the one-armed captain, "oh, yes! Well; after he sounded,
we didn't see him again for some time; in fact, as I before hinted, I
didn't then know what whale it was that had served me such a trick,
till some time afterwards, when coming back to the Line, we heard
about Moby Dick--as some call him--and then I knew it was he."
"Did'st thou cross his wake again?"
"But could not fasten?"
"Didn't want to try to: ain't one limb enough? What should I do
without this other arm? And I'm thinking Moby Dick doesn't bite so
much as he swallows."
"Well, then," interrupted Bunger, "give him your left arm for bait to
get the right. Do you know, gentlemen"--very gravely and
mathematically bowing to each Captain in succession--"Do you know,
gentlemen, that the digestive organs of the whale are so inscrutably
constructed by Divine Providence, that it is quite impossible for him
to completely digest even a man's arm? And he knows it too. So that
what you take for the White Whale's malice is only his awkwardness.
For he never means to swallow a single limb; he only thinks to
terrify by feints. But sometimes he is like the old juggling fellow,
formerly a patient of mine in Ceylon, that making believe swallow
jack-knives, once upon a time let one drop into him in good earnest,
and there it stayed for a twelvemonth or more; when I gave him an
emetic, and he heaved it up in small tacks, d'ye see. No possible
way for him to digest that jack-knife, and fully incorporate it into
his general bodily system. Yes, Captain Boomer, if you are quick
enough about it, and have a mind to pawn one arm for the sake of the
privilege of giving decent burial to the other, why in that case
the arm is yours; only let the whale have another chance at you
shortly, that's all."
"No, thank ye, Bunger," said the English Captain, "he's welcome to
the arm he has, since I can't help it, and didn't know him then; but
not to another one. No more White Whales for me; I've lowered for
him once, and that has satisfied me. There would be great glory in
killing him, I know that; and there is a ship-load of precious sperm
in him, but, hark ye, he's best let alone; don't you think so,
Captain?"--glancing at the ivory leg.
"He is. But he will still be hunted, for all that. What is best let
alone, that accursed thing is not always what least allures. He's
all a magnet! How long since thou saw'st him last? Which way
"Bless my soul, and curse the foul fiend's," cried Bunger, stoopingly
walking round Ahab, and like a dog, strangely snuffing; "this man's
blood--bring the thermometer!--it's at the boiling point!--his pulse
makes these planks beat!--sir!"--taking a lancet from his pocket, and
drawing near to Ahab's arm.
"Avast!" roared Ahab, dashing him against the bulwarks--"Man the
boat! Which way heading?"
"Good God!" cried the English Captain, to whom the question was put.
"What's the matter? He was heading east, I think.--Is your Captain
crazy?" whispering Fedallah.
But Fedallah, putting a finger on his lip, slid over the bulwarks to
take the boat's steering oar, and Ahab, swinging the cutting-tackle
towards him, commanded the ship's sailors to stand by to lower.
In a moment he was standing in the boat's stern, and the Manilla men
were springing to their oars. In vain the English Captain hailed
him. With back to the stranger ship, and face set like a flint to
his own, Ahab stood upright till alongside of the Pequod.
Ere the English ship fades from sight, be it set down here, that she
hailed from London, and was named after the late Samuel Enderby,
merchant of that city, the original of the famous whaling house of
Enderby & Sons; a house which in my poor whaleman's opinion, comes
not far behind the united royal houses of the Tudors and Bourbons, in
point of real historical interest. How long, prior to the year of
our Lord 1775, this great whaling house was in existence, my numerous
fish-documents do not make plain; but in that year (1775) it fitted
out the first English ships that ever regularly hunted the Sperm
Whale; though for some score of years previous (ever since 1726) our
valiant Coffins and Maceys of Nantucket and the Vineyard had in large
fleets pursued that Leviathan, but only in the North and South
Atlantic: not elsewhere. Be it distinctly recorded here, that the
Nantucketers were the first among mankind to harpoon with civilized
steel the great Sperm Whale; and that for half a century they were
the only people of the whole globe who so harpooned him.
In 1778, a fine ship, the Amelia, fitted out for the express purpose,
and at the sole charge of the vigorous Enderbys, boldly rounded Cape
Horn, and was the first among the nations to lower a whale-boat of
any sort in the great South Sea. The voyage was a skilful and lucky
one; and returning to her berth with her hold full of the precious
sperm, the Amelia's example was soon followed by other ships, English
and American, and thus the vast Sperm Whale grounds of the Pacific
were thrown open. But not content with this good deed, the
indefatigable house again bestirred itself: Samuel and all his
Sons--how many, their mother only knows--and under their immediate
auspices, and partly, I think, at their expense, the British
government was induced to send the sloop-of-war Rattler on a whaling
voyage of discovery into the South Sea. Commanded by a naval
Post-Captain, the Rattler made a rattling voyage of it, and did some
service; how much does not appear. But this is not all. In 1819,
the same house fitted out a discovery whale ship of their own, to go
on a tasting cruise to the remote waters of Japan. That ship--well
called the "Syren"--made a noble experimental cruise; and it was thus
that the great Japanese Whaling Ground first became generally known.
The Syren in this famous voyage was commanded by a Captain Coffin, a
All honour to the Enderbies, therefore, whose house, I think, exists
to the present day; though doubtless the original Samuel must long
ago have slipped his cable for the great South Sea of the other
The ship named after him was worthy of the honour, being a very fast
sailer and a noble craft every way. I boarded her once at midnight
somewhere off the Patagonian coast, and drank good flip down in the
forecastle. It was a fine gam we had, and they were all
trumps--every soul on board. A short life to them, and a jolly
death. And that fine gam I had--long, very long after old Ahab
touched her planks with his ivory heel--it minds me of the noble,
solid, Saxon hospitality of that ship; and may my parson forget me,
and the devil remember me, if I ever lose sight of it. Flip? Did I
say we had flip? Yes, and we flipped it at the rate of ten gallons
the hour; and when the squall came (for it's squally off there by
Patagonia), and all hands--visitors and all--were called to reef
topsails, we were so top-heavy that we had to swing each other aloft
in bowlines; and we ignorantly furled the skirts of our jackets into
the sails, so that we hung there, reefed fast in the howling gale, a
warning example to all drunken tars. However, the masts did not go
overboard; and by and by we scrambled down, so sober, that we had to
pass the flip again, though the savage salt spray bursting down the
forecastle scuttle, rather too much diluted and pickled it to my
The beef was fine--tough, but with body in it. They said it was
bull-beef; others, that it was dromedary beef; but I do not know, for
certain, how that was. They had dumplings too; small, but
substantial, symmetrically globular, and indestructible dumplings. I
fancied that you could feel them, and roll them about in you after
they were swallowed. If you stooped over too far forward, you risked
their pitching out of you like billiard-balls. The bread--but that
couldn't be helped; besides, it was an anti-scorbutic; in short, the
bread contained the only fresh fare they had. But the forecastle was
not very light, and it was very easy to step over into a dark corner
when you ate it. But all in all, taking her from truck to helm,
considering the dimensions of the cook's boilers, including his own
live parchment boilers; fore and aft, I say, the Samuel Enderby was a
jolly ship; of good fare and plenty; fine flip and strong; crack
fellows all, and capital from boot heels to hat-band.
But why was it, think ye, that the Samuel Enderby, and some other
English whalers I know of--not all though--were such famous,
hospitable ships; that passed round the beef, and the bread, and the
can, and the joke; and were not soon weary of eating, and drinking,
and laughing? I will tell you. The abounding good cheer of these
English whalers is matter for historical research. Nor have I been
at all sparing of historical whale research, when it has seemed
The English were preceded in the whale fishery by the Hollanders,
Zealanders, and Danes; from whom they derived many terms still extant
in the fishery; and what is yet more, their fat old fashions,
touching plenty to eat and drink. For, as a general thing, the
English merchant-ship scrimps her crew; but not so the English
whaler. Hence, in the English, this thing of whaling good cheer is
not normal and natural, but incidental and particular; and,
therefore, must have some special origin, which is here pointed out,
and will be still further elucidated.
During my researches in the Leviathanic histories, I stumbled upon an
ancient Dutch volume, which, by the musty whaling smell of it, I knew
must be about whalers. The title was, "Dan Coopman," wherefore I
concluded that this must be the invaluable memoirs of some Amsterdam
cooper in the fishery, as every whale ship must carry its cooper. I
was reinforced in this opinion by seeing that it was the production
of one "Fitz Swackhammer." But my friend Dr. Snodhead, a very
learned man, professor of Low Dutch and High German in the college of
Santa Claus and St. Pott's, to whom I handed the work for
translation, giving him a box of sperm candles for his trouble--this
same Dr. Snodhead, so soon as he spied the book, assured me that "Dan
Coopman" did not mean "The Cooper," but "The Merchant." In short,
this ancient and learned Low Dutch book treated of the commerce of
Holland; and, among other subjects, contained a very interesting
account of its whale fishery. And in this chapter it was, headed,
"Smeer," or "Fat," that I found a long detailed list of the outfits
for the larders and cellars of 180 sail of Dutch whalemen; from which
list, as translated by Dr. Snodhead, I transcribe the following:
400,000 lbs. of beef.
60,000 lbs. Friesland pork.
150,000 lbs. of stock fish.
550,000 lbs. of biscuit.
72,000 lbs. of soft bread.
2,800 firkins of butter.
20,000 lbs. Texel & Leyden cheese.
144,000 lbs. cheese (probably an inferior article).
550 ankers of Geneva.
10,800 barrels of beer.
Most statistical tables are parchingly dry in the reading; not so in
the present case, however, where the reader is flooded with whole
pipes, barrels, quarts, and gills of good gin and good cheer.
At the time, I devoted three days to the studious digesting of all
this beer, beef, and bread, during which many profound thoughts were
incidentally suggested to me, capable of a transcendental and
Platonic application; and, furthermore, I compiled supplementary
tables of my own, touching the probable quantity of stock-fish, etc.,
consumed by every Low Dutch harpooneer in that ancient Greenland and
Spitzbergen whale fishery. In the first place, the amount of butter,
and Texel and Leyden cheese consumed, seems amazing. I impute it,
though, to their naturally unctuous natures, being rendered still
more unctuous by the nature of their vocation, and especially by
their pursuing their game in those frigid Polar Seas, on the very
coasts of that Esquimaux country where the convivial natives pledge
each other in bumpers of train oil.
The quantity of beer, too, is very large, 10,800 barrels. Now,
as those polar fisheries could only be prosecuted in the short summer
of that climate, so that the whole cruise of one of these Dutch
whalemen, including the short voyage to and from the Spitzbergen sea,
did not much exceed three months, say, and reckoning 30 men to each
of their fleet of 180 sail, we have 5,400 Low Dutch seamen in all;
therefore, I say, we have precisely two barrels of beer per man, for