Part 4 out of 12
the progeny of a bankrupt baker and a hospital nurse.
And what with the standing spectacle of the black terrific Ahab,
and the periodical tumultuous visitations of these three savages,
Dough-Boy's whole life was one continual lip-quiver. Commonly,
after seeing the harpooneers furnished with all things they demanded,
he would escape from their clutches into his little pantry adjoining,
and fearfully peep out at them through the blinds of its door,
till all was over.
It was a sight to see Queequeg seated over against Tashtego,
opposing his filed teeth to the Indian's; crosswise to them,
Daggoo seated on the floor, for a bench would have brought
his hearse-plumed head to the low carlines; at every motion
of his colossal limbs, making the low cabin framework to shake,
as when an African elephant goes passenger in a ship.
But for all this, the great negro was wonderfully abstemious,
not to say dainty. It seemed hardly possible that by such
comparatively small mouthfuls he could keep up the vitality
diffused through so broad, baronial, and superb a person.
But, doubtless, this noble savage fed strong and drank deep
of the abounding element of air; and through his dilated
nostrils snuffed in the sublime life of the worlds.
Not by beef or by bread, are giants made or nourished.
But Queequeg, he had a mortal, barbaric smack of the lip in eating--
an ugly sound enough--so much so, that the trembling Dough-Boy
almost looked to see whether any marks of teeth lurked in his
own lean arms. And when he would hear Tashtego singing out
for him to produce himself, that his bones might be picked,
the simple-witted Steward all but shattered the crockery hanging
round him in the pantry, by his sudden fits of the palsy.
Nor did the whetstone which the harpooneers carried in their pockets,
for their lances and other weapons; and with which whetstones,
at dinner, they would ostentatiously sharpen their knives;
that grating sound did not at all tend to tranquillize poor
Dough-Boy. How could he forget that in his Island days, Queequeg,
for one, must certainly have been guilty of some murderous,
convivial indiscretion. Alas! Dough-Boy! hard fares the white waiter
who waits upon cannibals. Not a napkin should he carry on his arm,
but a buckler. In good time, though, to his great delight,
the three salt-sea warriors would rise and depart; to his credulous,
fable-mongering ears, all their martial bones jingling in them
at every step, like Moorish scimetars in scabbards.
But, though these barbarians dined in the cabin, and nominally
lived there; still, being anything but sedentary in their habits,
they were scarcely ever in it except at mealtimes, and just
before sleeping-time, when they passed through it to their
own peculiar quarters.
In this one matter, Ahab seemed no exception to most American
whale captains, who, as a set, rather incline to the opinion
that by rights the ship's cabin belongs to them; and that it is by
courtesy alone that anybody else is, at any time, permitted there.
So that, in real truth, the mates and harpooneers of the Pequod might
more properly be said to have lived out of the cabin than in it.
For when they did enter it, it was something as a streetdoor
enters a house; turning inwards for a moment, only to be turned
out the next; and, as a permanent thing, residing in the open air.
Nor did they lose much hereby; in the cabin was no companionship;
socially, Ahab was inaccessible. Though nominally included
in the census of Christendom, he was still an alien to it.
He lived in the world, as the last of the Grisly Bears lived
in settled Missouri. And as when Spring and Summer had departed,
that wild Logan of the woods, burying himself in the hollow of a tree,
lived out the winter there, sucking his own paws; so, in his inclement,
howling old age, Ahab's soul, shut up in the caved trunk of his body,
there fed upon the sullen paws of its gloom!
It was during the more pleasant weather, that in due rotation
with the other seamen my first mast-head came round.
In most American whalemen the mast-heads are manned
almost simultaneously with the vessel's leaving her port;
even though she may have fifteen thousand miles, and more,
to sail ere reaching her proper cruising ground. And if,
after a three, four, or five years' voyage she is drawing nigh
home with anything empty in her--say, an empty vial even--
then, her mast-heads are kept manned to the last! and not till
her skysail-poles sail in among the spires of the port, does she
altogether relinquish the hope of capturing one whale more.
Now, as the business of standing mast-heads, ashore or afloat, is a very
ancient and interesting one, let us in some measure expatiate here.
I take it, that the earliest standers of mast-heads were the
old Egyptians; because, in all my researches, I find none prior to them.
For though their progenitors, the builders of Babel, must doubtless,
by their tower, have intended to rear the loftiest mast-head in
all Asia, or Africa either; yet (ere the final truck was put to it)
as that great stone mast of theirs may be said to have gone by
the board, in the dread gale of God's wrath; therefore, we cannot
give these Babel builders priority over the Egyptians. And that
the Egyptians were a nation of mast-head standers, is an
assertion based upon the general belief among archaeologists,
that the first pyramids were founded for astronomical purposes:
a theory singularly supported by the peculiar stairlike formation
of all four sides of those edifices; whereby, with prodigious long
upliftings of their legs, those old astronomers were wont to mount
to the apex, and sing out for new stars; even as the look-outs of a
modern ship sing out for a sail, or a whale just bearing in sight.
In Saint Stylites, the famous Christian hermit of old times,
who built him a lofty stone pillar in the desert and spent the whole
latter portion of his life on its summit, hoisting his food from
the ground with a tackle; in him we have a remarkable instance
of a dauntless stander-of-mast-heads; who was not to be driven from
his place by fogs or frosts, rain, hail, or sleet; but valiantly
facing everything out to the last, literally died at his post.
Of modern standers-of-mast-heads we have but a lifeless set;
mere stone, iron, and bronze men; who, though well capable of facing
out a stiff gale, are still entirely incompetent to the business
of singing out upon discovering any strange sight. There is Napoleon;
who, upon the top of the column of Vendome stands with arms folded,
some one hundred and fifty feet in the air; careless, now, who rules
the decks below, whether Louis Philippe, Louis Blanc, or Louis
the Devil. Great Washington, too, stands high aloft on his towering
main-mast in Baltimore, and like one of Hercules' pillars, his column
marks that point of human grandeur beyond which few mortals will go.
Admiral Nelson, also, on a capstan of gun-metal, stands his
mast-head in Trafalgar Square; and even when most obscured by that
London smoke, token is yet given that a hidden hero is there;
for where there is smoke, must be fire. But neither great Washington,
nor Napoleon, nor Nelson, will answer a single hail from below,
however madly invoked to befriend by their counsels the distracted
decks upon which they gaze; however it may be surmised,
that their spirits penetrate through the thick haze of the future,
and descry what shoals and what rocks must be shunned.
It may seem unwarrantable to couple in any respect the mast-head standers
of the land with those of the sea; but that in truth it is not so,
is plainly evinced by an item for which Obed Macy, the sole historian
of Nantucket, stands accountable. The worthy Obed tells us, that in
the early times of the whale fishery, ere ships were regularly launched in
pursuit of the game, the people of that island erected lofty spars along
the seacoast, to which the look-outs ascended by means of nailed cleats,
something as fowls go upstairs in a hen-house. A few years ago this same
plan was adopted by the Bay whalemen of New Zealand, who, upon descrying
the game, gave notice to the ready-manned boats nigh the beach.
But this custom has now become obsolete; turn we then to the one proper
mast-head, that of a whale-ship at sea. The three mast-heads are kept
manned from sun-rise to sun-set; the seamen taking their regular turns
(as at the helm), and relieving each other every two hours.
In the serene weather of the tropics it is exceedingly pleasant
the mast-head: nay, to a dreamy meditative man it is delightful.
There you stand, a hundred feet above the silent decks, striding along
the deep, as if the masts were gigantic stilts, while beneath you
and between your legs, as it were, swim the hugest monsters of the sea,
even as ships once sailed between the boots of the famous Colossus at
old Rhodes. There you stand, lost in the infinite series of the sea,
with nothing ruffled but the waves. The tranced ship indolently rolls;
the drowsy trade winds blow; everything resolves you into languor.
For the most part, in this tropic whaling life, a sublime uneventfulness
invests you; you hear no news; read no gazettes; extras with startling
accounts of commonplaces never delude you into unnecessary excitements;
you hear of no domestic afflictions; bankrupt securities; fall of stocks;
are never troubled with the thought of what you shall have for dinner--
for all your meals for three years and more are snugly stowed in casks,
and your bill of fare is immutable.
In one of those southern whalesmen, on a long three or four years'
voyage, as often happens, the sum of the various hours you
spend at the mast-head would amount to several entire months.
And it is much to be deplored that the place to which you devote
so considerable a portion of the whole term of your natural life,
should be so sadly destitute of anything approaching to a
cosy inhabitiveness, or adapted to breed a comfortable localness
of feeling, such as pertains to a bed, a hammock, a hearse,
a sentry box, a pulpit, a coach, or any other of those small
and snug contrivances in which men temporarily isolate themselves.
Your most usual point of perch is the head of the t'
gallant-mast, where you stand upon two thin parallel sticks
(almost peculiar to whalemen) called the t' gallant crosstrees.
Here, tossed about by the sea, the beginner feels about
as cosy as he would standing on a bull's horns. To be sure,
in cold weather you may carry your house aloft with you,
in the shape of a watch-coat; but properly speaking the thickest
watch-coat is no more of a house than the unclad body;
for as the soul is glued inside of its fleshy tabernacle,
and cannot freely move about in it, nor even move out of it,
without running great risk of perishing (like an ignorant pilgrim
crossing the snowy Alps in winter); so a watch-coat is not so much
of a house as it is a mere envelope, or additional skin encasing you.
You cannot put a shelf or chest of drawers in your body,
and no more can you make a convenience closet of your watch-coat.
Concerning all this, it is much to be deplored that the mast-heads
of a southern whale ship are unprovided with those enviable little
tents or pulpits, called crow's-nests, in which the look-outs
of a Greenland whaler are protected from the inclement weather
of the frozen seas. In the fireside narrative of Captain Sleet,
entitled "A Voyage among the Icebergs, in quest of the Greenland Whale,
and incidentally for the re-discovery of the Lost Icelandic Colonies
of Old Greenland;" in this admirable volume, all standers
of mast-heads are furnished with a charmingly circumstantial
account of the then recently invented crow's-nest of the Glacier,
which was the name of Captain Sleet's good craft.
He called it the Sleet's crow's-nest, in honor of himself;
he being the original inventor and patentee, and free from all
ridiculous false delicacy, and holding that if we call our own
children after our own names (we fathers being the original
inventors and patentees), so likewise should we denominate
after ourselves any other apparatus we may beget. In shape,
the Sleet's crow's-nest is something like a large tierce or pipe;
it is open above, however, where it is furnished with a movable
sidescreen to keep to windward of your head in a hard gale.
Being fixed on the summit of the mast, you ascend into it
through a little trap-hatch in the bottom. On the after side,
or side next the stern of the ship, is a comfortable seat,
with a locker underneath for umbrellas, comforters, and coats.
In front is a leather rack, in which to keep your speaking
trumpet, pipe, telescope, and other nautical conveniences.
When Captain Sleet in person stood his mast-head in this
crow's-nest of his, he tells us that he always had a rifle with him
(also fixed in the rack), together with a powder flask and shot,
for the purpose of popping off the stray narwhales, or vagrant
sea unicorns infesting those waters; for you cannot successfully
shoot at them from the deck owing to the resistance of the water,
but to shoot down upon them is a very different thing.
Now, it was plainly a labor of love for Captain Sleet to describe,
as he does, all the little detailed conveniences of his crow's-nest;
but though he so enlarges upon many of these, and though
he treats us to a very scientific account of his experiments
in this crow's-nest, with a small compass he kept there
for the purpose of counteracting the errors resulting from
what is called the "local attraction" of all binnacle magnets;
an error ascribable to the horizontal vicinity of the iron in
the ship's planks, and in the Glacier's case, perhaps, to there
having been so many broken-down blacksmiths among her crew;
I say, that though the Captain is very discreet and
scientific here, yet, for all his learned "binnacle deviations,"
"azimuth compass observations," and "approximate errors,"
he knows very well, Captain Sleet, that he was not so much
immersed in those profound magnetic meditations, as to fail being
attracted occasionally towards that well replenished little
case-bottle, so nicely tucked in on one side of his crow's nest,
within easy reach of his hand. Though, upon the whole, I greatly
admire and even love the brave, the honest, and learned Captain;
yet I take it very ill of him that he should so utterly ignore
that case-bottle, seeing what a faithful friend and comforter
it must have been, while with mittened fingers and hooded head
he was studying the mathematics aloft there in that bird's nest
within three or four perches of the pole.
But if we Southern whale-fishers are not so snugly housed aloft
as Captain Sleet and his Greenlandmen were; yet that disadvantage
is greatly counter-balanced by the widely contrasting serenity
of those seductive seas in which we South fishers mostly float.
For one, I used to lounge up the rigging very leisurely,
resting in the top to have a chat with Queequeg, or any one
else off duty whom I might find there; then ascending a little
way further, and throwing a lazy leg over the top-sail yard,
take a preliminary view of the watery pastures, and so at last
mount to my ultimate destination.
Let me make a clean breast of it here, and frankly admit
that I kept but sorry guard. With the problem of the universe
revolving in me, how could I--being left completely to myself
at such a thought-engendering altitude--how could I but lightly
hold my obligations to observe all whaleships' standing orders,
"Keep your weather eye open, and sing out every time."
And let me in this place movingly admonish you, ye ship-owners
of Nantucket! Beware of enlisting in your vigilant fisheries any lad
with lean brow and hollow eye; given to unseasonable meditativeness;
and who offers to ship with the Phaedon instead of Bowditch in his head.
Beware of such an one, I say: your whales must be seen before they can
be killed; and this sunken-eyed young Platonist will tow you ten wakes
round the world, and never make you one pint of sperm the richer.
Nor are these monitions at all unneeded. For nowadays, the whale-fishery
furnishes an asylum for many romantic, melancholy, and absent-minded
young men, disgusted with the corking care of earth, and seeking
sentiment in tar and blubber. Childe Harold not unfrequently perches
himself upon the mast-head of some luckless disappointed whale-ship,
and in moody phrase ejaculates:--
"Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll!
Ten thousand blubber-hunters sweep over thee in vain."
Very often do the captains of such ships take those absent-minded young
philosophers to task, upbraiding them with not feeling sufficient
"interest" in the voyage; half-hinting that they are so hopelessly
lost to all honorable ambition, as that in their secret souls they
would rather not see whales than otherwise. But all in vain;
those young Platonists have a notion that their vision is imperfect;
they are short-sighted; what use, then, to strain the visual nerve?
They have left their opera-glasses at home.
"Why, thou monkey," said a harpooneer to one of these lads,
"we've been cruising now hard upon three years, and thou hast
not raised a whale yet. Whales are scarce as hen's teeth
whenever thou art up here." Perhaps they were; or perhaps
there might have been shoals of them in the far horizon;
but lulled into such an opium-like listlessness of vacant,
unconscious reverie is this absent-minded youth by the blending
cadence of waves with thoughts, that at last he loses his identity;
takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of
that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature;
and every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing that eludes him;
every dimly-discovered, uprising fin of some undiscernible form,
seems to him the embodiment of those elusive thoughts that
only people the soul by continually flitting through it.
In this enchanted mood, thy spirit ebbs away to whence it came;
becomes diffused through time and space; like Crammer's
sprinkled Pantheistic ashes, forming at last a part of every
shore the round globe over.
There is no life in thee, now, except that rocking life imparted
by a gently rolling ship; by her, borrowed from the sea;
by the sea, from the inscrutable tides of God. But while
this sleep, this dream is on ye, move your foot or hand an inch;
slip your hold at all; and your identity comes back in horror.
Over Descartian vortices you hover. And perhaps, at midday,
in the fairest weather, with one half-throttled shriek you drop through
that transparent air into the summer sea, no more to rise for ever.
Heed it well, ye Pantheists!
(Enter Ahab: Then, all)
It was not a great while after the affair of the pipe,
that one morning shortly after breakfast, Ahab, as was his wont,
ascended the cabin-gangway to the deck. There most sea-captains
usually walk at that hour, as country gentlemen, after the same meal,
take a few turns in the garden.
Soon his steady, ivory stride was heard, as to and fro he paced his
old rounds, upon planks so familiar to his tread, that they were all
over dented, like geological stones, with the peculiar mark of his walk.
Did you fixedly gaze, too, upon that ribbed and dented brow;
there also, you would see still stranger foot-prints--the foot-prints
of his one unsleeping, ever-pacing thought.
But on the occasion in question, those dents looked deeper,
even as his nervous step that morning left a deeper mark.
And, so full of his thought was Ahab, that at every uniform turn
that he made, now at the main-mast and now at the binnacle,
you could almost see that thought turn in him as he turned,
and pace in him as he paced; so completely possessing him, indeed,
that it all but seemed the inward mould of every outer movement.
"D'ye mark him, Flask?" whispered Stubb; "the chick that's in him
pecks the shell. 'Twill soon be out."
The hours wore on;--Ahab now shut up within his cabin;
anon, pacing the deck, with the same intense bigotry of purpose
in his aspect.
It drew near the close of day. Suddenly he came to a halt by
the bulwarks, and inserting his bone leg into the auger-hole there,
and with one hand grasping a shroud, he ordered Starbuck
to send everybody aft.
"Sir!" said the mate, astonished at an order seldom or never given
on ship-board except in some extraordinary case.
"Send everybody aft," repeated Ahab. "Mast-heads, there! come down!"
When the entire ship's company were assembled, and with curious
and not wholly unapprehensive faces, were eyeing him, for he looked
not unlike the weather horizon when a storm is coming up, Ahab,
after rapidly glancing over the bulwarks, and then darting his
eyes among the crew, started from his standpoint; and as though
not a soul were nigh him resumed his heavy turns upon the deck.
With bent head and half-slouched hat he continued to pace,
unmindful of the wondering whispering among the men; till Stubb
cautiously whispered to Flask, that Ahab must have summoned
them there for the purpose of witnessing a pedestrian feat.
But this did not last long. Vehemently pausing, he cried:--
"What do ye do when ye see a whale, men?"
"Sing out for him!" was the impulsive rejoinder from a score
of clubbed voices.
"Good!" cried Ahab, with a wild approval in his tones;
observing the hearty animation into which his unexpected question
had so magnetically thrown them.
"And what do ye next, men?"
"Lower away, and after him!"
"And what tune is it ye pull to, men?"
"A dead whale or a stove boat!"
More and more strangely and fiercely glad and approving,
grew the countenance of the old man at every shout;
while the mariners began to gaze curiously at each other,
as if marvelling how it was that they themselves became so excited
at such seemingly purposeless questions.
But, they were all eagerness again, as Ahab, now half-revolving in his
pivot-hole, with one hand reaching high up a shroud, and tightly,
almost convulsively grasping it, addressed them thus:--
"All ye mast-headers have before now heard me give orders about a
white whale. Look ye! d'ye see this Spanish ounce of gold?"--holding up
a broad bright coin to the sun--"it is a sixteen dollar piece, men.
D'ye see it? Mr. Starbuck, hand me yon top-maul."
While the mate was getting the hammer, Ahab, without speaking,
was slowly rubbing the gold piece against the skirts of his jacket,
as if to heighten its lustre, and without using any words was
meanwhile lowly humming to himself, producing a sound so strangely
muffled and inarticulate that it seemed the mechanical humming
of the wheels of his vitality in him.
Receiving the top-maul from Starbuck, he advanced towards the main-mast
with the hammer uplifted in one hand, exhibiting the gold with the other,
and with a high raised voice exclaiming: "Whosoever of ye raises
me a white-headed whale with a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw;
whosoever of ye raises me that white-headed whale, with three holes
punctured in his starboard fluke--look ye, whosoever of ye raises me
that same white whale, he shall have this gold ounce, my boys!"
"Huzza! huzza!" cried the seamen, as with swinging tarpaulins
they hailed the act of nailing the gold to the mast.
"It's a white whale, I say," resumed Ahab, as he threw down the topmaul:
"a white whale. Skin your eyes for him, men; look sharp for white water;
if ye see but a bubble, sing out."
All this while Tashtego, Daggoo, and Queequeg had looked on with even
more intense interest and surprise than the rest, and at the mention
of the wrinkled brow and crooked jaw they had started as if each was
separately touched by some specific recollection.
"Captain Ahab," said Tashtego, "that white whale must be the same
that some call Moby Dick."
"Moby Dick?" shouted Ahab. "Do ye know the white whale then, Tash?"
"Does he fan-tail a little curious, sir, before he goes down?"
said the Gay-Header deliberately.
"And has he a curious spout, too," said Daggoo, "very bushy,
even for a parmacetty, and mighty quick, Captain Ahab?"
"And he have one, two, tree--oh! good many iron in him hide,
too, Captain," cried Queequeg disjointedly, "all twiske-tee be-twisk,
like him--him-" faltering hard for a word, and screwing his hand
round and round as though uncorking a bottle--"like him--him-"
"Corkscrew!" cried Ahab, "aye, Queequeg, the harpoons lie
all twisted and wrenched in him; aye, Daggoo, his spout is
a big one, like a whole shock of wheat, and white as a pile
of our Nantucket wool after the great annual sheep-shearing;
aye, Tashtego, and he fan-tails like a split jib in a squall.
Death and devils! men, it is Moby Dick ye have seen--
Moby Dick--Moby Dick!"
"Captain Ahab," said Starbuck, who, with Stubb and Flask, had thus
far been eyeing his superior with increasing surprise, but at last
seemed struck with a thought which somewhat explained all the wonder.
"Captain Ahab, I have heard of Moby Dick--but it was not Moby Dick
that took off thy leg?"
"Who told thee that?" cried Ahab; then pausing, "Aye, Starbuck;
aye, my hearties all round; it was Moby Dick that dismasted me;
Moby Dick that brought me to this dead stump I stand on now.
Aye, aye," he shouted with a terrific, loud, animal sob, like that of
a heart-stricken moose; "Aye, aye! it was that accursed white whale
that razeed me; made a poor pegging lubber of me for ever and a day!"
Then tossing both arms, with measureless imprecations he shouted out:
"Aye, aye! and I'll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn,
and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames
before I give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for,
men! to chase that white whale on both sides of land, and over all
sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out.
What say ye, men, will ye splice hands on it, now? I think ye
do look brave."
"Aye, aye!" shouted the harpooneers and seamen, running closer
to the excited old man: "A sharp eye for the White Whale;
a sharp lance for Moby Dick!"
"God bless ye," he seemed to half sob and half shout.
"God bless ye, men. Steward! go draw the great measure of grog.
But what's this long face about, Mr. Starbuck; wilt thou not
chase the white whale! art not game for Moby Dick?"
"I am game for his crooked jaw, and for the jaws of Death too,
Captain Ahab, if it fairly comes in the way of the business we follow;
but I came here to hunt whales, not my commander's vengeance.
How many barrels will thy vengeance yield thee even if thou gettest it,
Captain Ahab? it will not fetch thee much in our Nantucket market."
"Nantucket market! Hoot! But come closer, Starbuck;
thou requirest a little lower layer. If money's to be
the measurer, man, and the accountants have computed their
great counting-house the globe, by girdling it with guineas,
one to every three parts of an inch; then, let me tell thee,
that my vengeance will fetch a great premium here!"
"He smites his chest," whispered Stubb, "what's that for? methinks it
rings most vast, but hollow."
"Vengeance on a dumb brute!" cried Starbuck, "that simply smote thee
from blindest instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing,
Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous."
"Hark ye yet again--the little lower layer. All visible objects, man,
are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event--in the living act,
the undoubted deed--there, some unknown but still reasoning
thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind
the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask!
How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?
To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me.
Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough.
He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength,
with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable
thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent,
or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him.
Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me.
For could the sun do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever
a sort of fair play herein, jealousy presiding over all creations.
But not my master, man, is even that fair play. Who's over me?
Truth hath no confines. Take off thine eye! more intolerable
than fiends' glarings is a doltish stare! So, so; thou reddenest
and palest; my heat has melted thee to anger-glow. But look ye,
Starbuck, what is said in heat, that thing unsays itself.
There are men from whom warm words are small indignity.
I meant not to incense thee. Let it go. Look! see yonder Turkish
cheeks of spotted tawn--living, breathing pictures painted by the sun.
The Pagan leopards--the unrecking and unworshipping things, that live;
and seek, and give no reasons for the torrid life they feel!
The crew, man, the crew! Are they not one and all with Ahab, in this
matter of the whale? See Stubb! he laughs! See yonder Chilian!
he snorts to think of it. Stand up amid the general hurricane,
thy one tost sapling cannot, Starbuck! And what is it?
Reckon it. 'Tis but to help strike a fin; no wondrous feat
for Starbuck. What is it more? From this one poor hunt,
then, the best lance out of all Nantucket, surely he will not
hang back, when every foremast-hand has clutched a whetstone.
Ah! constrainings seize thee; I see! the billow lifts thee!
Speak, but speak!--Aye, aye! thy silence, then, that voices thee.
(Aside) Something shot from my dilated nostrils, he has
inhaled it in his lungs. Starbuck now is mine; cannot oppose
me now, without rebellion."
"God keep me!--keep us all!" murmured Starbuck, lowly.
But in his joy at the enchanted, tacit acquiescence of the mate,
Ahab did not hear his foreboding invocation; nor yet the low
laugh from the hold; nor yet the presaging vibrations of
the winds in the cordage; nor yet the hollow flap of the sails
against the masts, as for a moment their hearts sank in.
For again Starbuck's downcast eyes lighted up with the stubbornness
of life; the subterranean laugh died away; the winds blew on;
the sails filled out; the ship heaved and rolled as before.
Ah, ye admonitions and warnings! why stay ye not when ye come?
But rather are ye predictions than warnings, ye shadows!
Yet not so much predictions from without, as verifications
of the fore-going things within. For with little external
to constrain us, the innermost necessities in our being,
these still drive us on.
"The measure! the measure!" cried Ahab.
Receiving the brimming pewter, and turning to the harpooneers,
he ordered them to produce their weapons. Then ranging them
before him near the capstan, with their harpoons in their hands,
while his three mates stood at his side with their lances,
and the rest of the ship's company formed a circle round the group;
he stood for an instant searchingly eyeing every man of his crew.
But those wild eyes met his, as the bloodshot eyes of the prairie
wolves meet the eye of their leader, ere he rushes on at their head
in the trail of the bison; but, alas! only to fall into the hidden
snare of the Indian.
"Drink and pass!" he cried, handing the heavy charged
flagon to the nearest seaman. "The crew alone now drink.
Round with it, round! Short draughts--long swallows, men;
'tis hot as Satan's hoof. So, so; it goes round excellently.
It spiralizes in ye; forks out at the serpent-snapping eye.
Well done; almost drained. That way it went, this way it comes.
Hand it me--here's a hollow! Men, ye seem the years;
so brimming life is gulped and gone. Steward, refill!
"Attend now, my braves. I have mustered ye all round this capstan;
and ye mates, flank me with your lances; and ye harpooneers, stand there
with your irons; and ye, stout mariners, ring me in, that I may in some
sort revive a noble custom of my fisherman fathers before me. O men,
you will yet see that--Ha! boy, come back? bad pennies come not sooner.
Hand it me. Why, now, this pewter had run brimming again, wert not thou
St. Vitus' imp--away, thou ague!
"Advance, ye mates! Cross your lances full before me. Well done!
Let me touch the axis." So saying, with extended arm, he grasped
the three level, radiating lances at their crossed centre;
while so doing, suddenly and nervously twitched them;
meanwhile glancing intently from Starbuck to Stubb; from Stubb
to Flask. It seemed as though, by some nameless, interior volition,
he would fain have shocked into them the same fiery emotion
accumulated within the Leyden jar of his own magnetic life.
The three mates quailed before his strong, sustained, and mystic aspect.
Stubb and Flask looked sideways from him; the honest eye of
Starbuck fell downright.
"In vain!" cried Ahab; "but, maybe, 'tis well. For did ye three but once
take the full-forced shock, then mine own electric thing, that had perhaps
expired from out me. Perchance, too, it would have dropped ye dead.
Perchance ye need it not. Down lances! And now, ye mates,
I do appoint ye three cupbearers to my three pagan kinsmen there--
yon three most honorable gentlemen and noblemen, my valiant harpooneers.
Disdain the task? What, when the great Pope washes the feet of beggars,
using his tiara for ewer? Oh, my sweet cardinals! your own condescension,
that shall bend ye to it. I do not order ye; ye will it.
Cut your seizings and draw the poles, ye harpooneers!"
Silently obeying the order, the three harpooneers now stood
with the detached iron part of their harpoons, some three
feet long, held, barbs up, before him.
"Stab me not with that keen steel! Cant them; cant them
over! know ye not the goblet end? Turn up the socket!
So, so; now, ye cup-bearers, advance. The irons! take them;
hold them while I fill!" Forthwith, slowly going from one officer
to the other, he brimmed the harpoon sockets with the fiery
waters from the pewter.
"Now, three to three, ye stand. Commend the murderous chalices!
Bestow them, ye who are now made parties to this
indissoluble league. Ha! Starbuck! but the deed is done!
Yon ratifying sun now waits to sit upon it. Drink, ye harpooneers!
drink and swear, ye men that man the deathful whaleboat's bow--
Death to Moby Dick! God hunt us all, if we do not hunt Moby Dick
to his death!" The long, barbed steel goblets were lifted;
and to cries and maledictions against the white whale,
the spirits were simultaneously quaffed down with a hiss.
Starbuck paled, and turned, and shivered. Once more, and finally,
the replenished pewter went the rounds among the frantic crew;
when, waving his free hand to them, they all dispersed;
and Ahab retired within his cabin.
The cabin; by the stern windows; Ahab sitting alone, and gazing out.
I leave a white and turbid wake; pale waters, paler cheeks,
where'er I sail. The envious billows sidelong swell to whelm my track;
let them; but first I pass.
Yonder, by the ever-brimming goblet's rim, the warm waves blush
like wine. The gold brow plumbs the blue. The diver sun--
slow dived from noon--goes down; my soul mounts up! she
wearies with her endless hill. Is, then, the crown too heavy
that I wear? this Iron Crown of Lombardy. Yet is it bright
with many a gem; I the wearer, see not its far flashings;
but darkly feel that I wear that, that dazzlingly confounds.
'Tis iron--that I know--not gold. 'Tis split, too--that I feel;
the jagged edge galls me so, my brain seems to beat against
the solid metal; aye, steel skull, mine; the sort that needs
no helmet in the most brain-battering fight!
Dry heat upon my brow? Oh! time was, when as the sunrise nobly
spurred me, so the sunset soothed. No more. This lovely light,
it lights not me; all loveliness is anguish to me, since I can
ne'er enjoy. Gifted with the high perception, I lack the low,
enjoying power; damned, most subtly and most malignantly!
damned in the midst of Paradise! Good night--good night!
(waving his hand, he moves from the window.)
'Twas not so hard a task. I thought to find one stubborn, at the least;
but my one cogged circle fits into all their various wheels,
and they revolve. Or, if you will, like so many ant-hills of powder,
they all stand before me; and I their match. Oh, hard! that to
fire others, the match itself must needs be wasting! What I've dared,
I've willed; and what I've willed, I'll do! They think me mad--
Starbuck does; but I'm demoniac, I am madness maddened!
That wild madness that's only calm to comprehend itself!
The prophecy was that I should be dismembered; and--Aye! I lost
this leg. I now prophesy that I will dismember my dismemberer.
Now, then, be the prophet and the fulfiller one. That's more than ye,
ye great gods, ever were. I laugh and hoot at ye, ye cricket-players,
ye pugilists, ye deaf Burkes and blinded Bendigoes! I will not
say as schoolboys do to bullies--Take some one of your own size;
don't pommel me! No, ye've knocked me down, and I am up again;
but ye have run and hidden. Come forth from behind your cotton bags!
I have no long gun to reach ye. Come, Ahab's compliments to ye;
come and see if ye can swerve me. Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me,
else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me?
The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my
soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled
hearts of mountains, under torrents' beds, unerringly I rush!
Naught's an obstacle, naught's an angle to the iron way!
By the Mainmast; Starbuck leaning against it.
My soul is more than matched; she's over-manned; and by a madman!
Insufferable sting, that sanity should ground arms on such a field!
But he drilled deep down, and blasted all my reason out of me!
I think I see his impious end; but feel that I must help him to it.
Will I, nill I, the ineffable thing has tied me to him; tows me with
a cable I have no knife to cut. Horrible old man! Who's over him,
he cries;--aye, he would be a democrat to all above; look, how he lords
it over all below! Oh! I plainly see my miserable office,--
to obey, rebelling; and worse yet, to hate with touch of pity!
For in his eyes I read some lurid woe would shrivel me up, had I it.
Yet is there hope. Time and tide flow wide. The hated whale has
the round watery world to swim in, as the small gold-fish has its
glassy globe. His heaven-insulting purpose, God may wedge aside.
I would up heart, were it not like lead. But my whole clock's run down;
my heart the all-controlling weight, I have no key to lift again.
[A burst of revelry from the forecastle.]
Oh, God! to sail with such a heathen crew that have small touch
of human mothers in them! Whelped somewhere by the sharkish sea.
The white whale is their demigorgon. Hark! the infernal orgies!
that revelry is forward! mark the unfaltering silence aft!
Methinks it pictures life. Foremost through the sparkling sea
shoots on the gay, embattled, bantering bow, but only to drag
dark Ahab after it, where he broods within his sternward cabin,
builded over the dead water of the wake, and further on,
hunted by its wolfish gurglings. The long howl thrills me through!
Peace! ye revellers, and set the watch! Oh, life! 'tis in an
hour like this, with soul beat down and held to knowledge,--
as wild, untutored things are forced to feed--Oh, life! 'tis
now that I do feel the latent horror in thee! but 'tis not me!
that horror's out of me, and with the soft feeling of the human
in me, yet will I try to fight ye, ye grim, phantom futures!
Stand by me, hold me, bind me, O ye blessed influences!
First Night Watch
(Stubb solus, and mending a brace.)
Ha! ha! ha! ha! hem! clear my throat!--I've been thinking
over it ever since, and that ha, ha's the final consequence.
Why so? Because a laugh's the wisest, easiest answer to all
that's queer; and come what will, one comfort's always left--
that unfailing comfort is, it's all predestinated.
I heard not all his talk with Starbuck; but to my poor eye
Starbuck then looked something as I the other evening felt.
Be sure the old Mogul has fixed him, too. I twigged it, knew it;
had had the gift, might readily have prophesied it--for when I
clapped my eye upon his skull I saw it. Well, Stubb, wise Stubb--
that's my title--well, Stubb, what of it, Stubb? Here's a carcase.
I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will,
I'll go to it laughing. Such a waggish leering as lurks
in all your horribles! I feel funny. Fa, la! lirra, skirra!
What's my juicy little pear at home doing now? Crying its eyes out?--
Giving a party to the last arrived harpooneers, I dare say,
gay as a frigate's pennant, and so am I--fa, la! lirra, skirra! Oh--
We'll drink to-night with hearts as light,
To love, as gay and fleeting
As bubbles that swim, on the beaker's brim,
And break on the lips while meeting.
A brave stave that--who calls? Mr. Starbuck? Aye, aye, sir--
(Aside) he's my superior, he has his too, if I'm not mistaken.--
Aye, aye, sir, just through with this job--coming.
HARPOONEERS AND SAILORS
(Foresail rises and discovers the watch standing, lounging, leaning,
and lying in various attitudes, all singing in chorus.)
Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish ladies!
Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain!
Our captain's commanded.--
1ST NANTUCKET SAILOR
Oh, boys, don't be sentimental. it's bad for the digestion!
Take a tonic, follow me! (Sings, and all follow)
Our captain stood upon the deck,
A spy-glass in his hand,
A viewing of those gallant whales
That blew at every strand.
Oh, your tubs in your boats, my boys,
And by your braces stand,
And we'll have one of those fine whales,
Hand, boys, over hand!
So, be cheery, my lads! may your hearts never fail!
While the bold harpooneer is striking the whale!
MATE'S VOICE FROM THE QUARTER-DECK
Eight bells there, forward!
2ND NANTUCKET SAILOR
Avast the chorus! Eight bells there! d'ye hear, bell-boy? Strike
the bell eight, thou Pip! thou blackling! and let me call the watch.
I've the sort of mouth for that--the hogshead mouth. So, so,
(thrusts his head down the scuttle,) Star-bo-l-e-e-n-s, a-h-o-y!
Eight bells there below! Tumble up!
Grand snoozing to-night, maty; fat night for that. I mark this in our old
Mogul's wine; it's quite as deadening to some as filliping to others.
We sing; they sleep--aye, lie down there, like ground-tier butts.
At 'em again! There, take this copper-pump, and hail 'em through it.
Tell 'em to avast dreaming of their lassies. Tell 'em it's
the resurrection; they must kiss their last, and come to judgment.
That's the way--that's it; thy throat ain't spoiled with
eating Amsterdam butter.
Hist, boys! let's have a jig or two before we ride to anchor
in Blanket Bay. What say ye? There comes the other watch.
Stand by all legs! Pip! little Pip! hurrah with your tambourine!
PIP (Sulky and sleepy)
Don't know where it is.
Beat thy belly, then, and wag thy ears. Jig it, men, I say;
merry's the word; hurrah! Damn me, won't you dance?
Form, now, Indian-file, and gallop into the double-shuffle?
Throw yourselves! Legs! legs!
I don't like your floor, maty; it's too springy to my taste.
I'm used to ice-floors. I'm sorry to throw cold water on the subject;
but excuse me.
Me too; where's your girls? Who but a fool would take his left hand
by his right, and say to himself, how d'ye do? Partners! I must
Aye; girls and a green!--then I'll hop with ye; yea, turn grasshopper!
Well, well, ye sulkies, there's plenty more of us.
Hoe corn when you may, say I. All legs go to harvest soon.
Ah! here comes the music; now for it!
AZORE SAILOR (Ascending, and pitching the tambourine up the scuttle.)
Here you are, Pip; and there's the windlass-bits;
up you mount! Now, boys!
(The half of them dance to the tambourine; some go below;
some sleep or lie among the coils of rigging. Oaths a-plenty.)
AZORE SAILOR (Dancing)
Go it, Pip! Bang it, bell-boy! Rig it, dig it, stig it, quig it,
bell-boy! Make fire-flies; break the jinglers!
Jinglers, you say?--there goes another, dropped off; I pound it so.
Rattle thy teeth, then, and pound away; make a pagoda of thyself.
Merry-mad! Hold up thy hoop, Pip, till I jump through it!
Split jibs! tear yourselves! Tashtego ( Quietly smoking.)
That's a white man; he calls that fun: humph! I save my sweat.
OLD MANX SAILOR
I wonder whether those jolly lads bethink them of what they are
dancing over. I'll dance over your grave, I will--that's the bitterest
threat of your night-women, that beat head-winds round corners.
O Christ! to think of the green navies and the green-skulled crews!
Well, well; belike the whole world's a ball, as you scholars
have it; and so 'tis right to make one ballroom of it.
Dance on, lads, you're young; I was once.
3D NANTUCKET SAILOR
Spell oh!--whew! this is worse than pulling after whales in a calm--
give us a whiff, Tash.
(They cease dancing, and gather in clusters. Meantime the sky darkens--
the wind rises.)
By Brahma! boys, it'll be douse sail soon. The sky-born, high-tide
Ganges turned to wind! Thou showest thy black brow, Seeva!
MALTESE SAILOR (Reclining and shaking his cap)
It's the waves--the snow's caps turn to jig it now.
They'll shake their tassels soon. Now would all the waves
were women, then I'd go drown, and chassee with them evermore!
There's naught so sweet on earth--heaven may not match it!--
as those swift glances of warm, wild bosoms in the dance,
when the over-arboring arms hide such ripe, bursting grapes.
SICILIAN SAILOR (Reclining)
Tell me not of it! Hark ye, lad--fleet interlacings of the limbs--
lithe swayings--coyings--flutterings! lip! heart! hip! all graze:
unceasing touch and go! not taste, observe ye, else come satiety.
Eh, Pagan? (Nudging.)
TAHITAN SAILOR (Reclining on a mat)
Hail, holy nakedness of our dancing girls!--the Heeva-Heeva! Ah!
low veiled, high palmed Tahiti! I still rest me on thy mat,
but the soft soil has slid! I saw thee woven in the wood, my mat!
green the first day I brought ye thence; now worn and wilted quite.
Ah me!--not thou nor I can bear the change! How then,
if so be transplanted to yon sky? Hear I the roaring streams from
Pirohitee's peak of spears, when they leap down the crags and drown
the villages?--The blast, the blast! Up, spine, and meet it!
(Leaps to his feet.)
How the sea rolls swashing 'gainst the side! Stand by for reefing,
hearties! the winds are just crossing swords, pell-mell they'll
go lunging presently.
Crack, crack, old ship! so long as thou crackest, thou holdest!
Well done! The mate there holds ye to it stiffly. He's no more
afraid than the isle fort at Cattegat, put there to fight the Baltic
with storm-lashed guns, on which the sea-salt cakes!
4TH NANTUCKET SAILOR
He has his orders, mind ye that. I heard old Ahab tell him he must
always kill a squall, something as they burst a waterspout with a pistol--
fire your ship right into it!
Blood! but that old man's a grand old cove! We are the lads
to hunt him up his whale!
OLD MANX SAILOR
How the three pines shake! Pines are the hardest sort of tree
to live when shifted to any other soil, and here there's
none but the crew's cursed clay. Steady, helmsman! steady.
This is the sort of weather when brave hearts snap ashore,
and keeled hulls split at sea. Our captain has his birthmark;
look yonder, boys, there's another in the sky lurid--like, ye see,
all else pitch black.
What of that? Who's afraid of black's afraid of me!
I'm quarried out of it!
(Aside.) He wants to bully, ah!--the old grudge makes me touchy
(Advancing.) Aye, harpooneer, thy race is the undeniable dark
side of mankind--devilish dark at that. No offence.
ST. JAGO'S SAILOR
That Spaniard's mad or drunk. But that can't be, or else in his one
case our old Mogul's fire-waters are somewhat long in working.
5TH NANTUCKET SAILOR
What's that I saw--lightning? Yes.
No; Daggoo showing his teeth.
Swallow thine, mannikin! White skin, white liver!
SPANISH SAILOR (Meeting him)
Knife thee heartily! big frame, small spirit!
A row! a row! a row!
TASHTEGO (With a whiff)
A row a'low, and a row aloft--Gods and men--both brawlers! Humph!
A row! arrah a row! The Virgin be blessed, a row!
Plunge in with ye!
Fair play! Snatch the Spaniard's knife! A ring, a ring!
OLD MANX SAILOR
Ready formed. There! the ringed horizon. In that ring Cain
struck Abel. Sweet work, right work! No? Why then, God,
mad'st thou the ring?
MATE'S VOICE FROM THE QUARTER-DECK
Hands by the halyards! in top-gallant sails! Stand by to reef topsails!
The squall! the squall! jump, my jollies! (They scatter.)
PIP (Shrinking under the windlass)
Jollies? Lord help such jollies! Crish, crash! there goes
the jib-stay! Blang-whang! God! Duck lower, Pip, here comes
the royal yard! It's worse than being in the whirled woods,
the last day of the year! Who'd go climbing after chestnuts now?
But there they go, all cursing, and here I don't. Fine prospects
to 'em; they're on the road to heaven. Hold on hard!
Jimmini, what a squall! But those chaps there are worse yet--
they are your white squalls, they. White squalls? white whale,
shirr! shirr! Here have I heard all their chat just now,
and the white whale--shirr! shirr!--but spoken of once! and only
this evening--it makes me jingle all over like my tambourine--
that anaconda of an old man swore 'em in to hunt him!
Oh! thou big white God aloft there somewhere in yon darkness,
have mercy on this small black boy down here; preserve him
from all men that have no bowels to feel fear!
I, Ishmael, was one of that crew; my shouts had gone up with the rest;
my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more
did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul.
A wild, mystical, sympathetical feeling was in me; Ahab's quenchless
feud seemed mine. With greedy ears I learned the history of that
murderous monster against whom I and all the others had taken our oaths
of violence and revenge.
For some time past, though at intervals only, the unaccompanied,
secluded White Whale had haunted those uncivilized seas mostly
frequented by the Sperm Whale fishermen. But not all of them
knew of his existence; only a few of them, comparatively,
had knowingly seen him; while the number who as yet had
actually and knowingly given battle to him, was small indeed.
For, owing to the large number of whale-cruisers; the disorderly
way they were sprinkled over the entire watery circumference,
many of them adventurously pushing their quest along
solitary latitudes, so as seldom or never for a whole twelvemonth
or more on a stretch, to encounter a single news-telling sail
of any sort; the inordinate length of each separate voyage;
the irregularity of the times of sailing from home; all these,
with other circumstances, direct and indirect, long obstructed
the spread through the whole world-wide whaling-fleet of the special
individualizing tidings concerning Moby Dick. It was hardly
to be doubted, that several vessels reported to have encountered,
at such or such a time, or on such or such a meridian,
a Sperm Whale of uncommon magnitude and malignity, which whale,
after doing great mischief to his assailants, has completely
escaped them; to some minds it was not an unfair presumption,
I say, that the whale in question must have been no other than
Moby Dick. Yet as of late the Sperm Whale fishery had been
marked by various and not unfrequent instances of great ferocity,
cunning, and malice in the monster attacked; therefore it was,
that those who by accident ignorantly gave battle to Moby Dick;
such hunters, perhaps, for the most part, were content to ascribe
the peculiar terror he bred, more, as it were, to the perils
of the Sperm Whale fishery at large, than to the individual cause.
In that way, mostly, the disastrous encounter between Ahab
and the whale had hitherto been popularly regarded.
And as for those who, previously hearing of the White Whale,
by chance caught sight of him; in the beginning of the thing
they had every one of them, almost, as boldly and fearlessly
lowered for him, as for any other whale of that species.
But at length, such calamities did ensue in these assaults--
not restricted to sprained wrists and ankles, broken limbs,
or devouring amputations--but fatal to the last degree of fatality;
those repeated disastrous repulses, all accumulating and piling
their terrors upon Moby Dick; those things had gone far to
shake the fortitude of many brave hunters, to whom the story
of the White Whale had eventually come.
Nor did wild rumors of all sorts fail to exaggerate, and still
the more horrify the true histories of these deadly encounters.
For not only do fabulous rumors naturally grow out of the very body
of all surprising terrible events,--as the smitten tree gives birth
to its fungi; but, in maritime life, far more than in that of terra firma,
wild rumors abound, wherever there is any adequate reality for them
to cling to. And as the sea surpasses the land in this matter,
so the whale fishery surpasses every other sort of maritime life,
in the wonderfulness and fearfulness of the rumors which sometimes
circulate there. For not only are whalemen as a body unexempt
from that ignorance and superstitiousness hereditary to all sailors;
but of all sailors, they are by all odds the most directly brought
into contact with whatever is appallingly astonishing in the sea;
face to face they not only eye its greatest marvels, but, hand to jaw,
give battle to them. Alone, in such remotest waters, that though
you sailed a thousand miles, and passed a thousand shores, you would
not come to any chiselled hearth-stone, or aught hospitable beneath
that part of the sun; in such latitudes and longitudes, pursuing too
such a calling as he does, the whaleman is wrapped by influences
all tending to make his fancy pregnant with many a mighty birth.
No wonder, then, that ever gathering volume from the mere transit
over the wildest watery spaces, the outblown rumors of the White Whale
did in the end incorporate with themselves all manner of morbid hints,
and half-formed foetal suggestions of supernatural agencies,
which eventually invested Moby Dick with new terrors unborrowed from
anything that visibly appears. So that in many cases such a panic
did he finally strike, that few who by those rumors, at least,
had heard of the White Whale, few of those hunters were willing
to encounter the perils of his jaw.
But there were still other and more vital practical influences at work.
Nor even at the present day has the original prestige of the
Sperm Whale, as fearfully distinguished from all other species
of the leviathan, died out of the minds of the whalemen as a body.
There are those this day among them, who, though intelligent and
courageous enough in offering battle to the Greenland or Right whale,
would perhaps--either from professional inexperience, or incompetency,
or timidity, decline a contest with the Sperm Whale; at any rate,
there are plenty of whalemen, especially among those whaling nations
not sailing under the American flag, who have never hostilely
encountered the Sperm Whale, but whose sole knowledge of the leviathan
is restricted to the ignoble monster primitively pursued in the North;
seated on their hatches, these men will hearken with a childish fireside
interest and awe, to the wild, strange tales of Southern whaling.
Nor is the preeminent tremendousness of the great Sperm Whale
anywhere more feelingly comprehended, than on board of those prows
which stem him.
And as if the now tested reality of his might had in former legendary
times thrown its shadow before it; we find some book naturalists--
Olassen and Povelson--declaring the Sperm Whale not only to be
a consternation to every other creature in the sea, but also to be
so incredibly ferocious as continually to be athirst for human blood.
Nor even down to so late a time as Cuvier's, were these or almost
similar impressions effaced. For in his Natural History,
the Baron himself affirms that at sight of the Sperm Whale, all fish
(sharks included) are "struck with the most lively terrors,"
and "often in the precipitancy of their flight dash themselves against
the rocks with such violence as to cause instantaneous death."
And however the general experiences in the fishery may amend
such reports as these; yet in their full terribleness, even to the
bloodthirsty item of Povelson, the superstitious belief in them is,
in some vicissitudes of their vocation, revived in the minds
of the hunters.
So that overawed by the rumors and portents concerning him,
not a few of the fishermen recalled, in reference to Moby Dick,
the earlier days of the Sperm Whale fishery, when it was oftentimes
hard to induce long practised Right whalemen to embark in the perils
of this new and daring warfare; such men protesting that although
other leviathans might be hopefully pursued, yet to chase and point
lances at such an apparition as the Sperm Whale was not for mortal man.
That to attempt it, would be inevitably to be torn into a quick eternity.
On this head, there are some remarkable documents that may be consulted.
Nevertheless, some there were, who even in the face of these things
were ready to give chase to Moby Dick; and a still greater number who,
chancing only to hear of him distantly and vaguely, without the specific
details of any certain calamity, and without superstitious accompaniments
were sufficiently hardy not to flee from the battle if offered.
One of the wild suggestions referred to, as at last coming to be linked
with the White Whale in the minds of the superstitiously inclined,
was the unearthly conceit that Moby Dick was ubiquitous; that he had
actually been encountered in opposite latitudes at one and the same
instant of time.
Nor, credulous as such minds must have been, was this conceit
altogether without some faint show of superstitious probability.
For as the secrets of the currents in the seas have never yet
been divulged, even to the most erudite research; so the hidden ways
of the Sperm Whale when beneath the surface remain, in great part,
unaccountable to his pursuers; and from time to time have originated
the most curious and contradictory speculations regarding them,
especially concerning the mystic modes whereby, after sounding
to a great depth, he transports himself with such vast swiftness
to the most widely distant points.
It is a thing well known to both American and English
whale-ships, and as well a thing placed upon authoritative
record years ago by Scoresby, that some whales have been
captured far north in the Pacific, in whose bodies have been
found the barbs of harpoons darted in the Greenland seas.
Nor is it to be gainsaid, that in some of these instances it has
been declared that the interval of time between the two assaults
could not have exceeded very many days. Hence, by inference,
it has been believed by some whalemen, that the Nor' West Passage,
so long a problem to man, was never a problem to the whale.
So that here, in the real living experience of living men,
the prodigies related in old times of the inland Strello mountain
in Portugal (near whose top there was said to be a lake in which
the wrecks of ships floated up to the surface); and that still
more wonderful story of the Arethusa fountain near Syracuse
(whose waters were believed to have come from the Holy Land
by an underground passage); these fabulous narrations are almost
fully equalled by the realities of the whalemen.
Forced into familiarity, then, with such prodigies as these;
and knowing that after repeated, intrepid assaults, the White Whale
had escaped alive; it cannot be much matter of surprise that
some whalemen should go still further in their superstitions;
declaring Moby Dick not only ubiquitous, but immortal
(for immortality is but ubiquity in time); that though groves
of spears should be planted in his flanks, he would still swim
away unharmed; or if indeed he should ever be made to spout
thick blood, such a sight would be but a ghastly deception;
for again in unensanguined billows hundreds of leagues away,
his unsullied jet would once more be seen.
But even stripped of these supernatural surmisings, there was enough
in the earthly make and incontestable character of the monster
to strike the imagination with unwonted power. For, it was not
so much his uncommon bulk that so much distinguished him from
other sperm whales, but, as was elsewhere thrown out--a peculiar
snow-white wrinkled forehead, and a high, pyramidical white hump.
These were his prominent features; the tokens whereby,
even in the limitless, uncharted seas, he revealed his identity,
at a long distance, to those who knew him.
The rest of his body was so streaked, and spotted,
and marbled with the same shrouded hue, that, in the end,
he had gained his distinctive appellation of the White Whale;
a name, indeed, literally justified by his vivid aspect,
when seen gliding at high noon through a dark blue sea,
leaving a milky-way wake of creamy foam, all spangled
with golden gleamings.
Nor was it his unwonted magnitude, nor his remarkable hue, nor yet his
deformed lower jaw, that so much invested the whale with natural terror,
as that unexampled, intelligent malignity which, according to
specific accounts, he had over and over again evinced in his assaults.
More than all, his treacherous retreats struck more of dismay than
perhaps aught else. For, when swimming before his exulting pursuers,
with every apparent symptom of alarm, he had several times been known
to turn around suddenly, and, bearing down upon them, either stave their
boats to splinters, or drive them back in consternation to their ship.
Already several fatalities had attended his chase.
But though similar disasters, however little bruited ashore,
were by no means unusual in the fishery; yet, in most instances,
such seemed the White Whale's infernal aforethought of ferocity,
that every dismembering or death that he caused, was not wholly
regarded as having been inflicted by an unintelligent agent.
Judge, then, to what pitches of inflamed, distracted fury the minds
of his more desperate hunters were impelled, when amid the chips
of chewed boats, and the sinking limbs of torn comrades, they swam
out of the white curds of the whale's direful wrath into the serene,
exasperating sunlight, that smiled on, as if at a birth or a bridal.
His three boats stove around him, and oars and men both whirling in
the eddies; one captain, seizing the line-knife from his broken prow,
had dashed at the whale, as an Arkansas duellist at his foe,
blindly seeking with a six inch blade to reach the fathom-deep life
of the whale. That captain was Ahab. And then it was, that suddenly
sweeping his sickle-shaped lower jaw beneath him, Moby Dick had
reaped away Ahab's leg, as a mower a blade of grass in the field.
No turbaned Turk, no hired Venetian or Malay, could have smote him
with more seeming malice. Small reason was there to doubt, then,
that ever since that almost fatal encounter, Ahab had cherished a wild
vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his
frantic morbidness he at last came to identify with him, not only all
his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations.
The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all
those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them,
till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung.
That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose
dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds;
which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil;--
Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously
transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself,
all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments;
all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it;
all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms
of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified,
and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's
white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole
race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar,
he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.
It is not probable that this monomania in him took its instant
rise at the precise time of his bodily dismemberment.
Then, in darting at the monster, knife in hand, he had but
given loose to a sudden, passionate, corporal animosity;
and when he received the stroke that tore him, he probably
but felt the agonizing bodily laceration, but nothing more.
Yet, when by this collision forced to turn towards home, and for
long months of days and weeks, Ahab and anguish lay stretched
together in one hammock, rounding in mid winter that dreary,
howling Patagonian Cape; then it was, that his torn body and gashed
soul bled into one another; and so interfusing, made him mad.
That it was only then, on the homeward voyage, after the encounter,
that the final monomania seized him, seems all but certain
from the fact that, at intervals during the passage, he was
a raving lunatic; and, though unlimbed of a leg, yet such vital
strength yet lurked in his Egyptian chest, and was moreover
intensified by his delirium, that his mates were forced to lace
him fast, even there, as he sailed, raving in his hammock.
In a strait-jacket, he swung to the mad rockings of the gales.
And, when running into more sufferable latitudes, the ship,
with mild stun'sails spread, floated across the tranquil tropics,
and, to all appearances, the old man's delirium seemed left behind
him with the Cape Horn swells, and he came forth from his dark
den into the blessed light and air; even then, when he bore
that firm, collected front, however pale, and issued his calm
orders once again; and his mates thanked God the direful madness
was now gone; even then, Ahab, in his hidden self, raved on.
Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing.
When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured
into some still subtler form. Ahab's full lunacy subsided not,
but deepeningly contracted; like the unabated Hudson, when that noble
Northman flows narrowly, but unfathomably through the Highland gorge.
But, as in his narrow-flowing monomania, not one jot of Ahab's
broad madness had been left behind; so in that broad madness,
not one jot of his great natural intellect had perished.
That before living agent, now became the living instrument.
If such a furious trope may stand, his special lunacy stormed
his general sanity, and carried it, and turned all its concentred
cannon upon its own mad mark; so that far from having lost
his strength, Ahab, to that one end, did now possess a thousand
fold more potency than ever he had sanely brought to bear upon
any one reasonable object.
This is much; yet Ahab's larger, darker, deeper part remains unhinted.
But vain to popularize profundities, and all truth is profound.
Winding far down from within the very heart of this spiked Hotel de
Cluny where we here stand--however grand and wonderful, now quit it;--
and take your way, ye nobler, sadder souls, to those vast Roman halls
of Thermes; where far beneath the fantastic towers of man's upper earth,
his root of grandeur, his whole awful essence sits in bearded state;
an antique buried beneath antiquities, and throned on torsoes!
So with a broken throne, the great gods mock that captive king;
so like a Caryatid, he patient sits, upholding on his frozen brow
the piled entablatures of ages. Wind ye down there, ye prouder,
sadder souls! question that proud, sad king! A family likeness! aye,
he did beget ye, ye young exiled royalties; and from your grim sire
only will the old State-secret come.
Now, in his heart, Ahab had some glimpse of this, namely;
all my means are sane, my motive and my object mad.
Yet without power to kill, or change, or shun the fact;
he likewise knew that to mankind he did now long dissemble;
in some sort, did still. But that thing of his dissembling was
only subject to his perceptibility, not to his will determinate.
Nevertheless, so well did he succeed in that dissembling,
that when with ivory leg he stepped ashore at last, no Nantucketer
thought him otherwise than but naturally grieved, and that to
the quick, with the terrible casualty which had overtaken him.
The report of his undeniable delirium at sea was likewise
popularly ascribed to a kindred cause. And so too, all the added
moodiness which always afterwards, to the very day of sailing
in the Pequod on the present voyage, sat brooding on his brow.
Nor is it so very unlikely, that far from distrusting his fitness
for another whaling voyage, on account of such dark symptoms,
the calculating people of that prudent isle were inclined
to harbor the conceit, that for those very reasons he was
all the better qualified and set on edge, for a pursuit
so full of rage and wildness as the bloody hunt of whales.
Gnawed within and scorched without, with the infixed,
unrelenting fangs of some incurable idea; such an one,
could he be found, would seem the very man to dart his iron
and lift his lance against the most appalling of all brutes.
Or, if for any reason thought to be corporeally incapacitated
for that, yet such an one would seem superlatively competent
to cheer and howl on his underlings to the attack.
But be all this as it may, certain it is, that with the mad
secret of his unabated rage bolted up and keyed in him, Ahab had
purposely sailed upon the present voyage with the one only and
all-engrossing object of hunting the White Whale. Had any one
of his old acquaintances on shore but half dreamed of what was
lurking in him then, how soon would their aghast and righteous
souls have wrenched the ship from such a fiendish man!
They were bent on profitable cruises, the profit to be counted
down in dollars from the mint. He was intent on an audacious,
immitigable, and supernatural revenge.
Here, then, was this grey-headed, ungodly old man, chasing with
curses a Job's whale round the world, at the head of a crew,
too, chiefly made up of mongrel renegades, and castaways,
and cannibals--morally enfeebled also, by the incompetence
of mere unaided virtue or right-mindedness in Starbuck,
the invulnerable jollity of indifference and recklessness
in Stubb, and the pervading mediocrity in Flask. Such a crew,
so officered, seemed specially picked and packed by some
infernal fatality to help him to his monomaniac revenge.
How it was that they so aboundingly responded to the old
man's ire--by what evil magic their souls were possessed,
that at times his hate seemed almost theirs; the White Whale
as much their insufferable foe as his; how all this came
to be--what the White Whale was to them, or how to their
unconscious understandings, also, in some dim, unsuspected way,
he might have seemed the gliding great demon of the seas of life,--
all this to explain, would be to dive deeper than Ishmael can go.
The subterranean miner that works in us all, how can one tell
whither leads his shaft by the ever shifting, muffled sound
of his pick? Who does not feel the irresistible arm drag?
What skiff in tow of a seventy-four can stand still? For one,
I gave myself up to the abandonment of the time and the place;
but while yet all a-rush to encounter the whale, could see
naught in that brute but the deadliest ill.
The Whiteness of The Whale
What the white whale was to Ahab, has been hinted; what, at times,
he was to me, as yet remains unsaid.
Aside from those more obvious considerations touching Moby Dick,
which could not but occasionally awaken in any man's soul some alarm,
there was another thought, or rather vague, nameless horror
concerning him, which at times by its intensity completely overpowered
all the rest; and yet so mystical and well nigh ineffable was it,
that I almost despair of putting it in a comprehensible form.
It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me.
But how can I hope to explain myself here; and yet, in some dim,
random way, explain myself I must, else all these chapters
might be naught.
Though in many natural objects, whiteness refiningly
enhances beauty, as if imparting some special virtue of its own,
as in marbles, japonicas, and pearls; and though various nations
have in some way recognised a certain royal preeminence in this hue;
even the barbaric, grand old kings of Pegu placing the title
"Lord of the White Elephants" above all their other magniloquent
ascriptions of dominion; and the modern kings of Siam unfurling
the same snow-white quadruped in the royal standard; and the
Hanoverian flag bearing the one figure of a snow-white charger;
and the great Austrian Empire, Caesarian, heir to overlording Rome,
having for the imperial color the same imperial hue; and though
this pre-eminence in it applies to the human race itself,
giving the white man ideal mastership over every dusky tribe;
and though, besides, all this, whiteness has been even made
significant of gladness, for among the Romans a white stone marked
a joyful day; and though in other mortal sympathies and symbolizings,
this same hue is made the emblem of many touching, noble things--
the innocence of brides, the benignity of age; though among
the Red Men of America the giving of the white belt of wampum was
the deepest pledge of honor; though in many climes, whiteness typifies
the majesty of Justice in the ermine of the Judge, and contributes
to the daily state of kings and queens drawn by milk-white steeds;
though even in the higher mysteries of the most august religions
it has been made the symbol of the divine spotlessness and power;
by the Persian fire worshippers, the white forked flame being
held the holiest on the altar; and in the Greek mythologies,
Great Jove himself being made incarnate in a snow-white bull;
and though to the noble Iroquois, the midwinter sacrifice of the sacred
White Dog was by far the holiest festival of their theology,
that spotless, faithful creature being held the purest envoy they
could send to the Great Spirit with the annual tidings of their
own fidelity; and though directly from the Latin word for white,
all Christian priests derive the name of one part of their
sacred vesture, the alb or tunic, worn beneath the cassock;
and though among the holy pomps of the Romish faith, white is
specially employed in the celebration of the Passion of our Lord;
though in the Vision of St. John, white robes are given to the redeemed,
and the four-and-twenty elders stand clothed in white before
the great-white throne, and the Holy One that sitteth there
white like wool; yet for all these accumulated associations,
with whatever is sweet, and honorable, and sublime, there yet
lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue,
which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which
affrights in blood.
This elusive quality it is, which causes the thought of whiteness,
when divorced from more kindly associations, and coupled
with any object terrible in itself, to heighten that terror
to the furthest bounds. Witness the white bear of the poles,
and the white shark of the tropics; what but their smooth,
flaky whiteness makes them the transcendent horrors they are?
That ghastly whiteness it is which imparts such an abhorrent mildness,
even more loathsome than terrific, to the dumb gloating of their aspect.
So that not the fierce-fanged tiger in his heraldic coat can
so stagger courage as the white-shrouded bear or shark.*
*With reference to the Polar bear, it may possibly be urged by him who
would fain go still deeper into this matter, that it is not the whiteness,
separately regarded, which heightens the intolerable hideousness of
that brute; for, analysed, that heightened hideousness, it might be said,
only rises from the circumstance, that the irresponsible ferociousness
of the creature stands invested in the fleece of celestial innocence
and love; and hence, by bringing together two such opposite emotions
in our minds, the Polar bear frightens us with so unnatural a contrast.
But even assuming all this to be true; yet, were it not for the whiteness,
you would not have that intensified terror.
As for the white shark, the white gliding ghostliness of repose
in that creature, when beheld in his ordinary moods, strangely tallies
with the same quality in the Polar quadruped. This peculiarity is most
vividly hit by the French in the name they bestow upon that fish.
The Romish mass for the dead begins with "Requiem eternam"
(eternal rest), whence Requiem denominating the mass itself,
and any other funeral music. Now, in allusion to the white,
silent stillness of death in this shark, and the mild deadliness
of his habits, the French call him Requin.
Bethink thee of the albatross, whence come those clouds of spiritual
wonderment and pale dread, in which that white phantom sails
in all imaginations? Not Coleridge first threw that spell;
but God's great, unflattering laureate, Nature.*
*I remember the first albatross I ever saw. It was during
a prolonged gale, in waters hard upon the Antarctic seas.
From my forenoon watch below, I ascended to the overclouded deck;
and there, dashed upon the main hatches, I saw a regal, feathery thing
of unspotted whiteness, and with a hooked, Roman bill sublime.
At intervals, it arched forth its vast archangel wings, as if to
embrace some holy ark. Wondrous flutterings and throbbings shook it.
Though bodily unharmed, it uttered cries, as some king's ghost
in supernatural distress. Through its inexpressible, strange eyes,
methought I peeped to secrets which took hold of God. As Abraham
before the angels, I bowed myself; the white thing was so white,
its wings so wide, and in those for ever exiled waters, I had
lost the miserable warping memories of traditions and of towns.
Long I gazed at that prodigy of plumage. I cannot tell,
can only hint, the things that darted through me then.
But at last I awoke; and turning, asked a sailor what bird was this.
A goney, he replied. Goney! never had heard that name before;
is it conceivable that this glorious thing is utterly unknown
to men ashore! never! But some time after, I learned that goney
was some seaman's name for albatross. So that by no possibility
could Coleridge's wild Rhyme have had aught to do with those mystical
impressions which were mine, when I saw that bird upon our deck.
For neither had I then read the Rhyme, nor knew the bird to be
an albatross. Yet, in saying this, I do but indirectly burnish
a little brighter the noble merit of the poem and the poet.
I assert, then, that in the wondrous bodily whiteness of the bird
chiefly lurks the secret of the spell; a truth the more evinced in this,
that by a solecism of terms there are birds called grey albatrosses;
and these I have frequently seen, but never with such emotions as when I
beheld the Antarctic fowl.
But how had the mystic thing been caught? Whisper it not,
and I will tell; with a treacherous hook and line, as the fowl
floated on the sea. At last the Captain made a postman of it;
tying a lettered, leathern tally round its neck, with the ship's
time and place; and then letting it escape. But I doubt not,
that leathern tally, meant for man, was taken off in Heaven,
when the white fowl flew to join the wing-folding, the invoking,
and adoring cherubim!
Most famous in our Western annals and Indian traditions is that of
the White Steed of the Prairies; a magnificent milk-white charger,
large-eyed, small-headed, bluff-chested, and with the dignity
of a thousand monarchs in his lofty, overscorning carriage.
He was the elected Xerxes of vast herds of wild horses,
whose pastures in those days were only fenced by the Rocky Mountains
and the Alleghanies. At their flaming head he westward
trooped it like that chosen star which every evening leads
on the hosts of light. The flashing cascade of his mane,
the curving comet of his tail, invested him with housings more
resplendent than gold and silver-beaters could have furnished him.
A most imperial and archangelical apparition of that unfallen,
western world, which to the eyes of the old trappers and hunters
revived the glories of those primeval times when Adam walked
majestic as a god, bluff-bowed and fearless as this mighty steed.
Whether marching amid his aides and marshals in the van of
countless cohorts that endlessly streamed it over the plains,
like an Ohio; or whether with his circumambient subjects browsing
all around at the horizon, the White Steed gallopingly reviewed
them with warm nostrils reddening through his cool milkiness;
in whatever aspect he presented himself, always to the bravest
Indians he was the object of trembling reverence and awe.
Nor can it be questioned from what stands on legendary record
of this noble horse, that it was his spiritual whiteness chiefly,
which so clothed him with divineness; and that this divineness
had that in it which, though commanding worship, at the same
time enforced a certain nameless terror.
But there are other instances where this whiteness loses
all that accessory and strange glory which invests it in
the White Steed and Albatross.
What is it that in the Albino man so peculiarly repels and often shocks
the eye, as that sometimes he is loathed by his own kith and kin!
It is that whiteness which invests him, a thing expressed
by the name he bears. The Albino is as well made as other men--
has no substantive deformity--and yet this mere aspect of all-pervading
whiteness makes him more strangely hideous than the ugliest abortion.
Why should this be so?
Nor, in quite other aspects, does Nature in her least
palpable but not the less malicious agencies, fail to enlist
among her forces this crowning attribute of the terrible.
From its snowy aspect, the gauntleted ghost of the Southern Seas has
been denominated the White Squall. Nor, in some historic instances,
has the art of human malice omitted so potent an auxiliary.
How wildly it heightens the effect of that passage in Froissart,
when, masked in the snowy symbol of their faction, the desperate
White Hoods of Ghent murder their bailiff in the market-place!
Nor, in some things, does the common, hereditary experience of all
mankind fail to bear witness to the supernaturalism of this hue.
It cannot well be doubted, that the one visible quality in the aspect
of the dead which most appals the gazer, is the marble pallor
lingering there; as if indeed that pallor were as much like the badge
of consternation in the other world, as of mortal trepidation here.
And from that pallor of the dead, we borrow the expressive hue
of the shroud in which we wrap them. Nor even in our superstitions
do we fail to throw the same snowy mantle round our phantoms;
all ghosts rising in a milk-white fog--Yea, while these terrors
seize us, let us add, that even the king of terrors, when personified
by the evangelist, rides on his pallid horse.
Therefore, in his other moods, symbolize whatever grand or gracious
thing he will by whiteness, no man can deny that in its profoundest
idealized significance it calls up a peculiar apparition to the soul.
But though without dissent this point be fixed, how is mortal
man to account for it? To analyse it, would seem impossible.
Can we, then, by the citation of some of those instances
wherein this thing of whiteness--though for the time either
wholly or in great part stripped of all direct associations
calculated to impart to it aught fearful, but nevertheless,
is found to exert over us the same sorcery, however modified;--
can we thus hope to light upon some chance clue to conduct us
to the hidden cause we seek?
Let us try. But in a matter like this, subtlety appeals to subtlety,
and without imagination no man can follow another into these halls.
And though, doubtless, some at least of the imaginative impressions
about to be presented may have been shared by most men, yet few
perhaps were entirely conscious of them at the time, and therefore
may not be able to recall them now.
Why to the man of untutored ideality, who happens to be but
loosely acquainted with the peculiar character of the day,
does the bare mention of Whitsuntide marshal in the fancy
such long, dreary, speechless processions of slow-pacing pilgrims,
down-cast and hooded with new-fallen snow? Or to the unread,
unsophisticated Protestant of the Middle American States,
why does the passing mention of a White Friar or a White Nun,
evoke such an eyeless statue in the soul?
Or what is there apart from the traditions of dungeoned warriors and kings
(which will not wholly account for it) that makes the White Tower
of London tell so much more strongly on the imagination of an
untravelled American, than those other storied structures, its neighbors--
the Byward Tower, or even the Bloody? And those sublimer towers,
the White Mountains of New Hampshire, whence, in peculiar moods,
comes that gigantic ghostliness over the soul at the bare mention
of that name, while the thought of Virginia's Blue Ridge is full
of a soft, dewy, distant dreaminess? Or why, irrespective of all
latitudes and longitudes, does the name of the White Sea exert
such a spectralness over the fancy, while that of the Yellow Sea
lulls us with mortal thoughts of long lacquered mild afternoons on
the waves, followed by the gaudiest and yet sleepiest of sunsets?
Or, to choose a wholly unsubstantial instance, purely addressed
to the fancy, why, in reading the old fairy tales of Central Europe,
does "the tall pale man" of the Hartz forests, whose changeless
pallor unrestingly glides through the green of the groves--
why is this phantom more terrible than all the whooping imps
of the Blocksburg?
Nor is it, altogether, the remembrance of her cathedral-toppling
earthquakes; nor the stampedoes of her frantic seas; nor the tearlessness
of arid skies that never rain; nor the sight of her wide field
of leaning spires, wrenched cope-stones, and crosses all adroop
(like canted yards of anchored fleets); and her suburban avenues
of house-walls lying over upon each other, as a tossed pack of cards;--
it is not these things alone which make tearless Lima, the strangest,
saddest city thou can'st see. For Lima has taken the white veil;
and there is a higher horror in this whiteness of her woe.
Old as Pizarro, this whiteness keeps her ruins for ever new;
admits not the cheerful greenness of complete decay; spreads over
her broken ramparts the rigid pallor of an apoplexy that fixes
its own distortions.
I know that, to the common apprehension, this phenomenon of whiteness
is not confessed to be the prime agent in exaggerating the terror
of objects otherwise terrible; nor to the unimaginative mind is there
aught of terror in those appearances whose awfulness to another mind
almost solely consists in this one phenomenon, especially when exhibited
under any form at all approaching to muteness or universality.
What I mean by these two statements may perhaps be respectively
elucidated by the following examples.
First: The mariner, when drawing nigh the coasts of foreign lands,
if by night he hear the roar of breakers, starts to vigilance, and feels
just enough of trepidation to sharpen all his faculties; but under
precisely similar circumstances, let him be called from his hammock
to view his ship sailing through a midnight sea of milky whiteness--
as if from encircling headlands shoals of combed white bears were swimming
round him, then he feels a silent, superstitious dread; the shrouded
phantom of the whitened waters is horrible to him as a real ghost;
in vain the lead assures him he is still off soundings; heart and helm
they both go down; he never rests till blue water is under him again.
Yet where is the mariner who will tell thee, "Sir, it was not so much
the fear of striking hidden rocks, as the fear of that hideous whiteness
that so stirred me?"
Second: To the native Indian of Peru, the continual sight of
the snowhowdahed Andes conveys naught of dread, except, perhaps,
in the mere fancying of the eternal frosted desolateness reigning
at such vast altitudes, and the natural conceit of what a fearfulness
it would be to lose oneself in such inhuman solitudes. Much the same
is it with the backwoodsman of the West, who with comparative
indifference views an unbounded prairie sheeted with driven snow,
no shadow of tree or twig to break the fixed trance of whiteness.
Not so the sailor, beholding the scenery of the Antarctic seas;
where at times, by some infernal trick of legerdemain in the powers
of frost and air, he, shivering and half shipwrecked, instead of
rainbows speaking hope and solace to his misery, views what seems
a boundless churchyard grinning upon him with its lean ice monuments
and splintered crosses.
But thou sayest, methinks this white-lead chapter about
whiteness is but a white flag hung out from a craven soul;
thou surrenderest to a hypo, Ishmael.
Tell me, why this strong young colt, foaled in some peaceful
valley of Vermont, far removed from all beasts of prey--
why is it that upon the sunniest day, if you but shake a fresh
buffalo robe behind him, so that he cannot even see it, but only
smells its wild animal muskiness--why will he start, snort,
and with bursting eyes paw the ground in phrensies of affright?
There is no remembrance in him of any gorings of wild creatures
in his green northern home, so that the strange muskiness he smells
cannot recall to him anything associated with the experience
of former perils; for what knows he, this New England colt,
of the black bisons of distant Oregon?
No; but here thou beholdest even in a dumb brute,
the instinct of the knowledge of the demonism in the world.
Though thousands of miles from Oregon, still when he smells
that savage musk, the rending, goring bison herds are as present
as to the deserted wild foal of the prairies, which this instant
they may be trampling into dust.
Thus, then, the muffled rollings of a milky sea;
the bleak rustlings of the festooned frosts of mountains;
the desolate shiftings of the windrowed snows of prairies;
all these, to Ishmael, are as the shaking of that buffalo robe
to the frightened colt!
Though neither knows where lie the nameless things of
which the mystic sign gives forth such hints; yet with me,
as with the colt, somewhere those things must exist.
Though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed
in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright.
But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness,
and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul;
and more strange and far more portentous--why, as we have seen,
it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay,
the very veil of the Christian's Deity; and yet should be as it is,
the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind.
Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless
voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind
with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths
of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not
so much a color as the visible absence of color; and at the same
time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there
is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape
of snows--a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink?
And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers,
that all other earthly hues--every stately or lovely emblazoning--
the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded
velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls;
all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent
in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified
Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover
nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further,
and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every
one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains
white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium
upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses,
with its own blank tinge--pondering all this, the palsied universe
lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in Lapland,
who refuse to wear colored and coloring glasses upon their eyes,
so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental
white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him.
And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol.
Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt? ..
"HIST! Did you hear that noise, Cabaco?
It was the middle-watch: a fair moonlight; the seamen were
standing in a cordon, extending from one of the fresh-water
butts in the waist, to the scuttle-butt near the taffrail.
In this manner, they passed the buckets to fill the scuttle-butt.
Standing, for the most part, on the hallowed precincts of the
quarter-deck, they were careful not to speak or rustle their feet.
From hand to hand, the buckets went in the deepest silence,
only broken by the occasional flap of a sail, and the steady
hum of the unceasingly advancing keel.
It was in the midst of this repose, that Archy, one of the cordon,
whose post was near the after-hatches, whispered to his neighbor,
a Cholo, the words above.
"Hist! did you hear that noise, Cabaco?"
"Take the bucket, will ye, Archy? what noise d'ye mean?"
"There it is again--under the hatches--don't you hear it--a cough--
it sounded like a cough."
"Cough be damned! Pass along that return bucket."
"There again--there it is!--it sounds like two or three sleepers
turning over, now!"
"Caramba! have done, shipmate, will ye? It's the three soaked
biscuits ye eat for supper turning over inside of ye--nothing else.
Look to the bucket!"
"Say what ye will, shipmate; I've sharp ears."
"Aye, you are the chap, ain't ye, that heard the hum of the old
Quakeress's knitting-needles fifty miles at sea from Nantucket;
you're the chap."
"Grin away; we'll see what turns up. Hark ye, Cabaco, there is
somebody down in the after-hold that has not yet been seen on deck;
and I suspect our old Mogul knows something of it too.
I heard Stubb tell Flask, one morning watch, that there was
something of that sort in the wind."
"Tish! the bucket!"
Had you followed Captain Ahab down into his cabin after the squall
that took place on the night succeeding that wild ratification
of his purpose with his crew, you would have seen him go to a locker
in the transom, and bringing out a large wrinkled roll of yellowish
sea charts, spread them before him on his screwed-down table.
Then seating himself before it, you would have seen him intently
study the various lines and shadings which there met his eye;
and with slow but steady pencil trace additional courses over spaces
that before were blank. At intervals, he would refer to piles
of old log-books beside him, wherein were set down the seasons
and places in which, on various former voyages of various ships,
sperm whales had been captured or seen.
While thus employed, the heavy pewter lamp suspended in chains
over his head, continually rocked with the motion of the ship,
and for ever threw shifting gleams and shadows of lines upon
his wrinkled brow, till it almost seemed that while he himself
was marking out lines and courses on the wrinkled charts,
some invisible pencil was also tracing lines and courses upon
the deeply marked chart of his forehead.
But it was not this night in particular that, in the solitude
of his cabin, Ahab thus pondered over his charts.
Almost every night they were brought out; almost every night
some pencil marks were effaced, and others were substituted.
For with the charts of all four oceans before him, Ahab was
threading a maze of currents and eddies, with a view to the more
certain accomplishment of that monomaniac thought of his soul.
Now, to any one not fully acquainted with the ways of the leviathans,
it might seem an absurdly hopeless task thus to seek out one
solitary creature in the unhooped oceans of this planet.
But not so did it seem to Ahab, who knew the sets of all
tides and currents; and thereby calculating the driftings of
the sperm whale's food; and, also calling to mind the regular,
ascertained seasons for hunting him in particular latitudes;
could arrive at reasonable surmises, almost approaching
to certainties, concerning the timeliest day to be upon this
or that ground in search of his prey.
So assured, indeed, is the fact concerning the periodicalness of the sperm
whale's resorting to given waters, that many hunters believe that,
could he be closely observed and studied throughout the world;
were the logs for one voyage of the entire whale fleet carefully collated,
then the migrations of the sperm whale would be found to correspond in
invariability to those of the herring-shoals or the flights of swallows.
On this hint, attempts have been made to construct elaborate migratory
charts of the sperm whale.*
*Since the above was written, the statement is happily borne
out by an official circular, issued by Lieutenant Maury,
of the National Observatory, Washington, April 16th, 1851.
By that circular, it appears that precisely such a chart is in course
of completion; and portions of it are presented in the circular.
"This chart divides the ocean into districts of five degrees
of latitude by five degrees of longitude; perpendicularly through
each of which districts are twelve columns for the twelve months;
and horizontally through each of which districts are three lines;
one to show the number of days that have been spent in each month
in every district, and the two others to show the number of days
in which whales, sperm or right, have been seen."
Besides, when making a passage from one feeding-ground to another,
the sperm whales, guided by some infallible instinct--say, rather,
secret intelligence from the Deity--mostly swim in veins, as they
are called; continuing their way along a given ocean-line with
such undeviating exactitude, that no ship ever sailed her course,
by any chart, with one tithe of such marvellous precision.
Though, in these cases, the direction taken by any one whale
be straight as a surveyor's parallel, and though the line
of advance be strictly confined to its own unavoidable,
straight wake, yet the arbitrary vein in which at these times
he is said to swim, generally embraces some few miles in width
(more or less, as the vein is presumed to expand or contract);
but never exceeds the visual sweep from the whale-ship's
mast-heads, when circumspectly gliding along this magic zone.
The sum is, that at particular seasons within that breadth
and along that path, migrating whales may with great confidence
be looked for.
And hence not only at substantiated times, upon well known
separate feeding-grounds, could Ahab hope to encounter his prey;
but in crossing the widest expanses of water between those grounds
he could, by his art, so place and time himself on his way,