Part 8 out of 12
human science, is but a passing fable. If then, Sir William Jones,
who read in thirty languages, could not read the simplest
peasant's face in its profounder and more subtle meanings,
how may unlettered Ishmael hope to read the awful Chaldee
of the Sperm Whale's brow? I but put that brow before you.
Read if it if you can.
If the Sperm Whale be physiognomically a Sphinx, to the phrenologist his
brain seems that geometrical circle which it is impossible to square.
In the full-grown creature the skull will measure at least twenty feet
in length. Unhinge the lower jaw, and the side view of this skull
is as the side view of a moderately inclined plane resting throughout
on a level base. But in life--as we have elsewhere seen--this inclined
plane is angularly filled up, and almost squared by the enormous
superincumbent mass of the junk and sperm. At the high end the skull
forms a crater to bed that part of the mass; while under the long floor
of this crater--in another cavity seldom exceeding ten inches in length
and as many in depth reposes the mere handful of this monster's brain.
The brain is at least twenty feet from his apparent forehead in life;
it is hidden away behind its vast outworks, like the innermost citadel
within the amplified fortifications of Quebec. So like a choice casket
is it secreted in him, that I have known some whalemen who peremptorily
deny that the Sperm Whale has any other brain than that palpable
semblance of one formed by the cubic-yards of his sperm magazine.
Lying in strange folds, courses, and convolutions, to their apprehensions,
it seems more in keeping with the idea of his general might to regard
that mystic part of him as the seat of his intelligence.
It is plain, then, that phrenologically the head of this Leviathan,
in the creature's living intact state, is an entire delusion.
As for his true brain, you can then see no indications of it,
nor feel any. The whale, like all things that are mighty,
wears a false brow to the common world.
If you unload his skull of its spermy heaps and then take a rear
view of its rear end, which is the high end, you will be struck
by its resemblance to the human skull, beheld in the same situation,
and from the same point of view. Indeed, place this reversed skull
(scaled down to the human magnitude) among a plate of men's skulls,
and you would involuntarily confound it with them; and remarking
the depressions on one part of its summit, in phrenological phrase
you would say--This man had no self-esteem, and no veneration.
And by those negations, considered along with the affirmative fact
of his prodigious bulk and power, you can best form to yourself
the truest, though not the most exhilarating conception of what
the most exalted potency is.
But if from the comparative dimensions of the whale's proper brain,
you deem it incapable of being adequately charted, then I
have another idea for you. If you attentively regard almost
any quadruped's spine, you will be struck with the resemblance
of its vertebrae to a strung necklace of dwarfed skulls,
all bearing rudimental resemblance to the skull proper.
It is a German conceit, that the vertebrae are absolutely
undeveloped skulls. But the curious external resemblance,
I take it the Germans were not the first men to perceive.
A foreign friend once pointed it out to me, in the skeleton of a foe
he had slain, and with the vertebrae of which he was inlaying,
in a sort of basso-relieve, the beaked prow of his canoe.
Now, I consider that the phrenologists have omitted an important
thing in not pushing their investigations from the cerebellum
through the spinal canal. For I believe that much of a
man's character will be found betokened in his backbone.
I would rather feel your spine than your skull, whoever you are.
A thin joist of a spine never yet upheld a full and noble soul.
I rejoice in my spine, as in the firm audacious staff of that flag
which I fling half out to the world.
Apply this spinal branch of phrenology to the Sperm Whale. His cranial
cavity is continuous with the first neck-vertebra; and in that vertebra
the bottom of the spinal canal will measure ten inches across, being eight
in height, and of a triangular figure with the base downwards.
As it passes through the remaining vertebrae the canal tapers in size,
but for a considerable distance remains of large capacity.
Now, of course, this canal is filled with much the same strangely
fibrous substance--the spinal cord--as the brain; and directly
communicates with the brain. And what is still more, for many feet
after emerging from the brain's cavity, the spinal cord remains
of an undecreasing girth, almost equal to that of the brain.
Under all these circumstances, would it be unreasonable to survey and map
out the whale's spine phrenologically? For, viewed in this light,
the wonderful comparative smallness of his brain proper is more than
compensated by the wonderful comparative magnitude of his spinal cord.
But leaving this hint to operate as it may with the phrenologists,
I would merely assume the spinal theory for a moment, in reference
to the Sperm Whale's hump. This august hump, if I mistake not,
rises over one of the larger vertebrae, and is, therefore, in some sort,
the outer convex mould of it. From its relative situation then,
I should call this high hump the organ of firmness or indomitableness
in the Sperm Whale. And that the great monster is indomitable,
you will yet have reason to know.
The Pequod Meets The Virgin
The predestinated day arrived, and we duly met the ship
Jungfrau, Derick De Deer, master, of Bremen.
At one time the greatest whaling people in the world, the Dutch
and Germans are now among the least; but here and there at very wide
intervals of latitude and longitude, you still occasionally meet
with their flag in the Pacific.
For some reason, the Jungfrau seemed quite eager to pay her respects.
While yet some distance from the Pequod, she rounded to, and dropping
a boat, her captain was impelled towards us, impatiently standing
in the bows instead of the stern.
"What has he in his hand there?" cried Starbuck, pointing to something
wavingly held by the German. "Impossible!--a lamp-feeder!"
"Not that," said Stubb, "no, no, it's a coffee-pot, Mr. Starbuck;
he's coming off to make us our coffee, is the Yarman; don't you see
that big tin can there alongside of him?--that's his boiling water.
Oh! he's all right, is the Yarman."
"Go along with you," cried Flask, "it's a lamp-feeder and an oil-can.
He's out of oil, and has come a-begging."
However curious it may seem for an oil-ship to be borrowing
oil on the whale-ground, and however much it may invertedly
contradict the old proverb about carrying coals to Newcastle,
yet sometimes such a thing really happens; and in the present
case Captain Derick De Deer did indubitably conduct a lamp-feeder
as Flask did declare.
As he mounted the deck, Ahab abruptly accosted him, without at
all heeding what he had in his hand; but in his broken lingo,
the German soon evinced his complete ignorance of the White Whale;
immediately turning the conversation to his lamp-feeder and oil can,
with some remarks touching his having to turn into his hammock at
night in profound darkness--his last drop of Bremen oil being gone,
and not a single flying-fish yet captured to supply the deficiency;
concluding by hinting that his ship was indeed what in the Fishery
is technically called a clean one (that is, an empty one), well
deserving the name of Jungfrau or the Virgin.
His necessities supplied, Derick departed; but he had not gained
his ship's side, when whales were almost simultaneously raised from
the mast-heads of both vessels; and so eager for the chase was Derick,
that without pausing to put his oil-can and lamp-feeder aboard,
he slewed round his boat and made after the leviathan lamp-feeders.
Now, the game having risen to leeward, he and the other three German boats
that soon followed him, had considerably the start of the Pequod's keels.
There were eight whales, an average pod. Aware of their danger,
they were going all abreast with great speed straight before the wind,
rubbing their flanks as closely as so many spans of horses in harness.
They left a great, wide wake, as though continually unrolling a great
wide parchment upon the sea.
Full in this rapid wake, and many fathoms in the rear, swam a huge,
humped old bull, which by his comparatively slow progress,
as well as by the unusual yellowish incrustations over-growing him,
seemed afflicted with the jaundice, or some other infirmity.
Whether this whale belonged to the pod in advance, seemed questionable;
for it is not customary for such venerable leviathans to be at
all social. Nevertheless, he stuck to their wake, though indeed their
back water must have retarded him, because the white-bone or swell
at his broad muzzle was a dashed one, like the swell formed when two
hostile currents meet. His spout was short, slow, and laborious;
coming forth with a choking sort of gush, and spending itself
in torn shreds, followed by strange subterranean commotions in him,
which seemed to have egress at his other buried extremity,
causing the waters behind him to upbubble.
"Who's got some paregoric?" said Stubb, "he has the stomach-ache,
I'm afraid. Lord, think of having half an acre of stomach-ache!
Adverse winds are holding mad Christmas in him, boys.
It's the first foul wind I ever knew to blow from astern; but look,
did ever whale yaw so before? it must be, he's lost his tiller."
As an overladen Indiaman bearing down the Hindostan coast with a deck
load of frightened horses, careens, buries, rolls, and wallows on
her way; so did this old whale heave his aged bulk, and now and then
partly turning over on his cumbrous rib-ends, expose the cause
of his devious wake in the unnatural stump of his starboard fin.
Whether he had lost that fin in battle, or had been born without it,
it were hard to say.
"Only wait a bit, old chap, and I'll give ye a sling for that
wounded arm," cried cruel Flask, pointing to the whale-line near him.
"Mind he don't sling thee with it," cried Starbuck. "Give way,
or the German will have him."
With one intent all the combined rival boats were pointed
for this one fish, because not only was he the largest,
and therefore the most valuable whale, but he was nearest to them,
and the other whales were going with such great velocity, moreover,
as almost to defy pursuit for the time. At this juncture,
the Pequod's keels had shot by the three German boats last lowered;
but from the great start he had had, Derick's boat still led
the chase, though every moment neared by his foreign rivals.
The only thing they feared, was, that from being already
so nigh to his mark, he would be enabled to dart his iron
before they could completely overtake and pass him.
As for Derick, he seemed quite confident that this would be the case,
and occasionally with a deriding gesture shook his lamp-feeder
at the other boats.
"The ungracious and ungrateful dog!" cried Starbuck; "he mocks and dares
me with the very poor-box I filled for him not five minutes ago!"--
Then in his old intense whisper--"give way, greyhounds! Dog to it!"
"I tell ye what it is, men"--cried Stubb to his crew--It's against my
religion to get mad; but I'd like to eat that villainous Yarman--Pull--
won't ye? Are ye going to let that rascal beat ye? Do ye love brandy?
A hogshead of brandy, then, to the best man. Come, why don't some of ye
burst a blood-vessel? Who's that been dropping an anchor overboard--
we don't budge an inch--we're becalmed. Halloo, here's grass growing
in the boat's bottom--and by the Lord, the mast there's budding.
This won't do, boys. Look at that Yarman! The short and long of
it is, men, will ye spit fire or not?"
"Oh! see the suds he makes!" cried Flask, dancing up and down--"What
a hump--Oh, do pile on the beef--lays like a log! Oh! my lads,
do spring--slap-jacks and quahogs for supper, you know, my lads--
baked clams and muffins--oh, do, do, spring,--he's a hundred barreler--
don't lose him now--don't oh, don't!--see that Yarman--Oh, won't ye pull
for your duff, my lads--such a sog! such a sogger! Don't ye love sperm?
There goes three thousand dollars, men!--a bank!--a whole bank!
The bank of England!--Oh, do, do, do!--What's that Yarman about now?"
At this moment Derick was in the act of pitching his lamp-feeder
at the advancing boats, and also his oil-can; perhaps with the double
view of retarding his rivals' way, and at the same time economically
accelerating his own by the momentary impetus of the backward toss.
"The unmannerly Dutch dogger!" cried Stubb. "Pull now, men,
like fifty thousand line-of-battle-ship loads of red-haired devils.
What d'ye say, Tashtego; are you the man to snap your spine in
two-and-twenty pieces for the honor of old Gayhead? What d'ye say?"
"I say, pull like god-dam,"--cried the Indian.
Fiercely, but evenly incited by the taunts of the German, the Pequod's
three boats now began ranging almost abreast; and, so disposed,
momentarily neared him. In that fine, loose, chivalrous attitude
of the headsman when drawing near to his prey, the three mates stood
up proudly, occasionally backing the after oarsman with an exhilarating
cry of, "There she slides, now! Hurrah for the white-ash breeze!
Down with the Yarman! Sail over him!"
But so decided an original start had Derick had, that spite
of all their gallantry, he would have proved the victor
in this race, had not a righteous judgment descended upon him
in a crab which caught the blade of his midship oarsman.
While this clumsy lubber was striving to free his white-ash,
and while, in consequence, Derick's boat was nigh to capsizing,
and he thundering away at his men in a mighty rage;--that was
a good time for Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask. With a shout,
they took a mortal start forwards, and slantingly ranged up
on the German's quarter. An instant more, and all four boats
were diagonically in the whale's immediate wake, while stretching
from them, on both sides, was the foaming swell that he made.
It was a terrific, most pitiable, and maddening sight.
The whale was now going head out, and sending his spout
before him in a continual tormented jet; while his one poor
fin beat his side in an agony of fright. Now to this hand,
now to that, he yawed in his faltering flight, and still at
every billow that he broke, he spasmodically sank in the sea,
or sideways rolled towards the sky his one beating fin.
So have I seen a bird with clipped wing, making affrighted broken
circles in the air, vainly striving to escape the piratical hawks.
But the bird has a voice, and with plaintive cries will make
known her fear; but the fear of this vast dumb brute of the sea,
was chained up and enchanted in him; he had no voice,
save that choking respiration through his spiracle, and this
made the sight of him unspeakably pitiable; while still,
in his amazing bulk, portcullis jaw, and omnipotent tail,
there was enough to appal the stoutest man who so pitied.
Seeing now that but a very few moments more would give the Pequod's
boats the advantage, and rather than be thus foiled of his game,
Derick chose to hazard what to him must have seemed a most unusually
long dart, ere the last chance would for ever escape.
But no sooner did his harpooneer stand up for the stroke, than all
three tigers--Queequeg, Tashtego, Daggoo--instinctively sprang
to their feet, and standing in a diagonal row, simultaneously pointed
their barbs; and darted over the head of the German harpooneer,
their three Nantucket irons entered the whale. Blinding vapors
of foam and white-fire! The three boats, in the first fury of the
whale's headlong rush, bumped the German's aside with such force,
that both Derick and his baffled harpooneer were spilled out,
and sailed over by the three flying keels.
"Don't be afraid, my butter-boxes," cried Stubb, casting a passing
glance upon them as he shot by; "ye'll be picked up presently--
all right--I saw some sharks astern--St. Bernard's dogs, you know--
relieve distressed travellers. Hurrah! this is the way to sail now.
Every keel a sunbeam! Hurrah!--Here we go like three tin
kettles at the tail of a mad cougar! This puts me in mind
of fastening to an elephant in a tilbury on a plain--
makes the wheelspokes fly, boys, when you fasten to him that way;
and there's danger of being pitched out too, when you strike a hill.
Hurrah! this is the way a fellow feels when he's going
to Davy Jones--all a rush down an endless inclined plane!
Hurrah! this whale carries the everlasting mail!"
But the monster's run was a brief one. Giving a sudden gasp,
he tumultuously sounded. With a grating rush, the three lines flew round
the loggerheads with such a force as to gouge deep grooves in them;
while so fearful were the harpooneers that this rapid sounding
would soon exhaust the lines, that using all their dexterous might,
they caught repeated smoking turns with the rope to hold on;
till at last--owing to the perpendicular strain from the lead-lined
chocks of the boats, whence the three ropes went straight
down into the blue--the gunwales of the bows were almost even
with the water, while the three sterns tilted high in the air.
And the whale soon ceasing to sound, for some time they
remained in that attitude, fearful of expending more line,
though the position was a little ticklish. But though boats have
been taken down and lost in this way, yet it is this "holding on,"
as it is called; this hooking up by the sharp barbs of his live
flesh from the back; this it is that often torments the Leviathan
into soon rising again to meet the sharp lance of his foes.
Yet not to speak of the peril of the thing, it is to be doubted
whether this course is always the best; for it is but reasonable
to presume, that the longer the stricken whale stays under water,
the more he is exhausted. Because, owing to the enormous surface of him--
in a full grown sperm whale something less than 2000 square feet--
the pressure of the water is immense. We all know what an astonishing
atmospheric weight we ourselves stand up under; even here,
above-ground, in the air; how vast, then, the burden of a whale,
bearing on his back a column of two hundred fathoms of ocean!
It must at least equal the weight of fifty atmospheres. One whaleman
has estimated it at the weight of twenty line-of-battle ships,
with all their guns, and stores, and men on board.
As the three boats lay there on that gently rolling sea,
gazing down into its eternal blue noon; and as not a single groan
or cry of any sort, nay, not so much as a ripple or a bubble
came up from its depths; what landsman would have thought,
that beneath all that silence and placidity, the utmost
monster of the seas was writhing and wrenching in agony!
Not eight inches of perpendicular rope were visible at the bows.
Seems it credible that by three such thin threads the great
Leviathan was suspended like the big weight to an eight day clock.
Suspended? and to what? To three bits of board. Is this
the creature of whom it was once so triumphantly said--"Canst thou
fill his skin with barbed irons? or his head with fish-spears?
The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold, the spear,
the dart, nor the habergeon: he esteemeth iron as straw;
the arrow cannot make him flee; darts are counted as stubble;
he laugheth at the shaking of a spear!" This the creature?
this he? Oh! that unfulfilments should follow the prophets.
For with the strength of a thousand thighs in his tail,
Leviathan had run his head under the mountains of the sea,
to hide him from the Pequod's fishspears!
In that sloping afternoon sunlight, the shadows that the three boats sent
down beneath the surface, must have been long enough and broad enough
to shade half Xerxes' army. Who can tell how appalling to the wounded
whale must have been such huge phantoms flitting over his head!
"Stand by, men; he stirs," cried Starbuck, as the three lines suddenly
vibrated in the water, distinctly conducting upwards to them,
as by magnetic wires, the life and death throbs of the whale,
so that every oarsman felt them in his seat. The next moment,
relieved in a great part from the downward strain at the bows,
the boats gave a sudden bounce upwards, as a small icefield will,
when a dense herd of white bears are scared from it into the sea.
"Haul in! Haul in!" cried Starbuck again; "he's rising."
The lines, of which, hardly an instant before, not one hand's
breadth could have been gained, were now in long quick coils
flung back all dripping into the boats, and soon the whale
broke water within two ship's length of the hunters.
His motions plainly denoted his extreme exhaustion.
In most land animals there are certain valves or flood-gates
in many of their veins, whereby when wounded, the blood is in
some degree at least instantly shut off in certain directions.
Not so with the whale; one of whose peculiarities it is,
to have an entire non-valvular structure of the blood-vessels,
so that when pierced even by so small a point as a harpoon,
a deadly drain is at once begun upon his whole arterial system;
and when this is heightened by the extraordinary pressure
of water at a great distance below the surface, his life
may be said to pour from him in incessant streams.
Yet so vast is the quantity of blood in him, and so distant
and numerous its interior fountains, that he will keep
thus bleeding and bleeding for a considerable period;
even as in a drought a river will flow, whose source is
in the well-springs of far-off and indiscernible hills.
Even now, when the boats pulled upon this whale, and perilously
drew over his swaying flukes, and the lances were darted into him,
they were followed by steady jets from the new made wound,
which kept continually playing, while the natural spout-hole
in his head was only at intervals, however rapid, sending its
affrighted moisture into the air. From this last vent no blood
yet came, because no vital part of him had thus far been struck.
His life, as they significantly call it, was untouched.
As the boats now more closely surrounded him, the whole upper part of his
form, with much of it that is ordinarily submerged, was plainly revealed.
His eyes, or rather the places where his eyes had been, were beheld.
As strange misgrown masses gather in the knot-holes of the noblest
oaks when prostrate, so from the points which the whale's eyes had
once occupied, now protruded blind bulbs, horribly pitiable to see.
But pity there was none. For all his old age, and his one arm,
and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered,
in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men,
and also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional
inoffensiveness by all to all. Still rolling in his blood, at last
he partially disclosed a strangely discolored bunch or protuberance,
the size of a bushel, low down on the flank.
"A nice spot," cried Flask; "just let me prick him there once."
"Avast!" cried Starbuck, "there's no need of that!"
But humane Starbuck was too late. At the instant of the dart
an ulcerous jet shot from this cruel wound, and goaded by it
into more than sufferable anguish, the whale now spouting
thick blood, with swift fury blindly darted at the craft,
bespattering them and their glorying crews all over with
showers of gore, capsizing Flask's boat and marring the bows.
It was his death stroke. For, by this time, so spent was he by loss
of blood, that he helplessly rolled away from the wreck he had made;
lay panting on his side, impotently flapped with his stumped fin,
then over and over slowly revolved like a waning world;
turned up the white secrets of his belly; lay like a log,
and died. It was most piteous, that last expiring spout.
As when by unseen hands the water is gradually drawn off
from some mighty fountain, and with half-stifled melancholy
gurglings the spray-column lowers and lowers to the ground--
so the last long dying spout of the whale.
Soon, while the crews were awaiting the arrival of the ship,
the body showed symptoms of sinking with all its treasures unrifled.
Immediately, by Starbuck's orders, lines were secured to it at
different points, so that ere long every boat was a buoy; the sunken
whale being suspended a few inches beneath them by the cords.
By very heedful management, when the ship drew nigh, the whale was
transferred to her side, and was strongly secured there by the stiffest
fluke-chains, for it was plain that unless artificially upheld,
the body would at once sink to the bottom.
It so chanced that almost upon first cutting into him with the spade,
the entire length of a corroded harpoon was found imbedded
in his flesh, on the lower part of the bunch before described.
But as the stumps of harpoons are frequently found in the dead
bodies of captured whales, with the flesh perfectly healed
around them, and no prominence of any kind to denote their place;
therefore, there must needs have been some other unknown reason
in the present case fully to account for the ulceration alluded to.
But still more curious was the fact of a lance-head of stone being
found in him, not far from the buried iron, the flesh perfectly
firm about it. Who had darted that stone lance? And when?
It might have been darted by some Nor' West Indian long before
America was discovered.
What other marvels might have been rummaged out of this monstrous cabinet
there is no telling. But a sudden stop was put to further discoveries,
by the ship's being unprecedentedly dragged over sideways to the sea,
owing to the body's immensely increasing tendency to sink.
However, Starbuck, who had the ordering of affairs, hung on to it
to the last; hung on to it so resolutely, indeed, that when at length
the ship would have been capsized, if still persisting in locking
arms with the body; then, when the command was given to break clear
from it, such was the immovable strain upon the timber-heads to which
the fluke-chains and cables were fastened, that it was impossible
to cast them off. Meantime everything in the Pequod was aslant.
To cross to the other side of the deck was like walking up
the steep gabled roof of a house. The ship groaned and gasped.
Many of the ivory inlayings of her bulwarks and cabins were started
from their places, by the unnatural dislocation. In vain handspikes
and crows were brought to bear upon the immovable fluke-chains, to pry
them adrift from the timberheads; and so low had the whale now settled
that the submerged ends could not be at all approached, while every
moment whole tons of ponderosity seemed added to the sinking bulk,
and the ship seemed on the point of going over.
"Hold on, hold on, won't ye?" cried Stubb to the body,
"don't be in such a devil of a hurry to sink!
By thunder, men, we must do something or go for it.
No use prying there; avast, I say with your handspikes,
and run one of ye for a prayer book and a pen-knife, and cut
the big chains."
"Knife? Aye, aye," cried Queequeg, and seizing the carpenter's
heavy hatchet, he leaned out of a porthole, and steel to iron,
began slashing at the largest fluke-chains. But a few strokes,
full of sparks, were given, when the exceeding strain effected the rest.
With a terrific snap, every fastening went adrift; the ship righted,
the carcase sank.
Now, this occasional inevitable sinking of the recently killed
Sperm Whale is a very curious thing; nor has any fisherman yet
adequately accounted for it. Usually the dead Sperm Whale
floats with great buoyancy, with its side or belly considerably
elevated above the surface. If the only whales that thus sank
were old, meagre, and broken-hearted creatures, their pads
of lard diminished and all their bones heavy and rheumatic;
then you might with some reason assert that this sinking is
caused by an uncommon specific gravity in the fish so sinking,
consequent upon this absence of buoyant matter in him.
But it is not so. For young whales, in the highest health,
and swelling with noble aspirations, prematurely cut off
in the warm flush and May of life, with all their panting lard
about them! even these brawny, buoyant heroes do sometimes sink.
Be it said, however, that the Sperm Whale is far less
liable to this accident than any other species.
Where one of that sort go down, twenty Right Whales do.
This difference in the species is no doubt imputable in no small
degree to the greater quantity of bone in the Right Whale;
his Venetian blinds alone sometimes weighing more than a ton;
from this incumbrance the Sperm Whale is wholly free. But there
are instances where, after the lapse of many hours or several days,
the sunken whale again rises, more buoyant than in life.
But the reason of this is obvious. Gases are generated in him;
he swells to a prodigious magnitude; becomes a sort of animal balloon.
A line-of-battle ship could hardly keep him under then.
In the Shore Whaling, on soundings, among the Bays of New Zealand,
when a Right Whale gives token of sinking, they fasten buoys
to him, with plenty of rope; so that when the body has gone down,
they know where to look for it when it shall have ascended again.
It was not long after the sinking of the body that a cry
was heard from the Pequod's mast-heads, announcing that the
Jungfrau was again lowering her boats; though the only spout
in sight was that of a Fin-Back, belonging to the species of
uncapturable whales, because of its incredible power of swimming.
Nevertheless, the Fin-Back's spout is so similar to the Sperm Whale's,
that by unskilful fishermen it is often mistaken for it.
And consequently Derick and all his host were now in valiant
chase of this unnearable brute. The Virgin crowding all sail,
made after her four young keels, and thus they all disappeared
far to leeward, still in bold, hopeful chase.
Oh! many are the Fin-Backs, and many are the Dericks, my friend.
The Honor and Glory of Whaling
There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
is the true method.
The more I dive into this matter of whaling, and push my researches
up to the very spring-head of it so much the more am I impressed
with its great honorableness and antiquity; and especially when I
find so many great demi-gods and heroes, prophets of all sorts,
who one way or other have shed distinction upon it, I am transported
with the reflection that I myself belong, though but subordinately,
to so emblazoned a fraternity.
The gallant Perseus, a son of Jupiter, was the first whaleman;
and to the eternal honor of our calling be it said, that the first
whale attacked by our brotherhood was not killed with any
sordid intent. Those were the knightly days of our profession,
when we only bore arms to succor the distressed, and not to fill
men's lamp-feeders. Every one knows the fine story of Perseus
and Andromeda; how the lovely Andromeda, the daughter of a king,
was tied to a rock on the sea-coast, and as Leviathan was in
the very act of carrying her off, Perseus, the prince of whalemen,
intrepidly advancing, harpooned the monster, and delivered
and married the maid. It was an admirable artistic exploit,
rarely achieved by the best harpooneers of the present day;
inasmuch as this Leviathan was slain at the very first dart.
And let no man doubt this Arkite story; for in the ancient Joppa,
now Jaffa, on the Syrian coast, in one of the Pagan temples,
there stood for many ages the vast skeleton of a whale,
which the city's legends and all the inhabitants asserted
to be the identical bones of the monster that Perseus slew.
When the Romans took Joppa, the same skeleton was carried to Italy
in triumph. What seems most singular and suggestively important
in this story, is this: it was from Joppa that Jonah set sail.
Akin to the adventure of Perseus and Andromeda--indeed, by some
supposed to be indirectly derived from it--is that famous story
of St. George and the Dragon; which dragon I maintain to have
been a whale; for in many old chronicles whales and dragons
are strangely jumbled together, and often stand for each other.
"Thou art as a lion of the waters, and as a dragon of
the sea," said Ezekiel; hereby, plainly meaning a whale;
in truth, some versions of the Bible use that word itself.
Besides, it would much subtract from the glory of the exploit
had St. George but encountered a crawling reptile of the land,
instead of doing battle with the great monster of the deep.
Any man may kill a snake, but only a Perseus, a St. George,
a Coffin, have the heart in them to march boldly up to a whale.
Let not the modern paintings of this scene mislead us;
for though the creature encountered by that valiant whaleman
of old is vaguely represented of a griffin-like shape,
and though the battle is depicted on land and the saint
on horseback, yet considering the great ignorance of those times,
when the true form of the whale was unknown to artists;
and considering that as in Perseus' case, St. George's
whale might have crawled up out of the sea on the beach;
and considering that the animal ridden by St. George might have
been only a large seal, or sea-horse; bearing all this in mind,
it will not appear altogether incompatible with the sacred
legend and the ancientest draughts of the scene, to hold this
so-called dragon no other than the great Leviathan himself.
In fact, placed before the strict and piercing truth,
this whole story will fare like that fish, flesh, and fowl
idol of the Philistines, Dagon by name; who being planted
before the ark of Israel, his horse's head and both the palms
of his hands fell off from him, and only the stump or fishy
part of him remained. Thus, then, one of our own noble stamp,
even a whaleman, is the tutelary guardian of England;
and by good rights, we harpooneers of Nantucket should be
enrolled in the most noble order of St. George. And therefore,
let not the knights of that honorable company (none of whom,
I venture to say, have ever had to do with a whale like their
great patron), let them never eye a Nantucketer with disdain,
since even in our woollen frocks and tarred trowsers we are much
better entitled to St. George's decoration than they.
Whether to admit Hercules among us or not, concerning this I long
remained dubious: for though according to the Greek mythologies,
that antique Crockett and Kit Carson--that brawny doer
of rejoicing good deeds, was swallowed down and thrown up
by a whale; still, whether that strictly makes a whaleman
of him, that might be mooted. It nowhere appears that he ever
actually harpooned his fish, unless, indeed, from the inside.
Nevertheless, he may be deemed a sort of involuntary whaleman;
at any rate the whale caught him, if he did not the whale.
I claim him for one of our clan.
But, by the best contradictory authorities, this Grecian story
of Hercules and the whale is considered to be derived from the still
more ancient Hebrew story of Jonah and the whale; and vice versa;
certainly they are very similar. If I claim the demigod then,
why not the prophet?
Nor do heroes, saints, demigods, and prophets alone comprise
the whole roll of our order. Our grand master is still to be named;
for like royal kings of old times, we find the head-waters
of our fraternity in nothing short of the great gods themselves.
That wondrous oriental story is now to be rehearsed from the Shaster,
which gives us the dread Vishnoo, one of the three persons
in the godhead of the Hindoos; gives us this divine Vishnoo
himself for our Lord;--Vishnoo, who, by the first of his ten
earthly incarnations, has for ever set apart and sanctified the whale.
When Brahma, or the God of Gods, saith the Shaster, resolved to
recreate the world after one of its periodical dissolutions,
he gave birth to Vishnoo, to preside over the work; but the Vedas,
or mystical books, whose perusal would seem to have been indispensable
to Vishnoo before beginning the creation, and which therefore
must have contained something in the shape of practical hints
to young architects, these Vedas were lying at the bottom of
the waters; so Vishnoo became incarnate in a whale, and sounding
down in him to the uttermost depths, rescued the sacred volumes.
Was not this Vishnoo a whaleman, then? even as a man who rides
a horse is called a horseman?
Perseus, St. George, Hercules, Jonah, and Vishnoo! there's
a member-roll for you! What club but the whaleman's can head
off like that?
Jonah Historically Regarded
Reference was made to the historical story of Jonah and the whale
in the preceding chapter. Now some Nantucketers rather distrust this
historical story of Jonah and the whale. But then there were some
sceptical Greeks and Romans, who, standing out from the orthodox pagans
of their times, equally doubted the story of Hercules and the whale,
and Arion and the dolphin; and yet their doubting those traditions
did not make those traditions one whit the less facts, for all that.
One old Sag-Harbor whaleman's chief reason for questioning the Hebrew
story was this:--He had one of those quaint old-fashioned Bibles,
embellished with curious, unscientific plates; one of which represented
Jonah's whale with two spouts in his head--a peculiarity only true
with respect to a species of the Leviathan (the Right Whale,
and the varieties of that order), concerning which the fishermen
have this saying, "A penny roll would choke him"; his swallow is so
very small. But, to this, Bishop Jebb's anticipative answer is ready.
It is not necessary, hints the Bishop, that we consider Jonah as tombed in
the whale's belly, but as temporarily lodged in some part of his mouth.
And this seems reasonable enough in the good Bishop. For truly,
the Right Whale's mouth would accommodate a couple of whist-tables,
and comfortably seat all the players. Possibly, too, Jonah might
have ensconced himself in a hollow tooth; but, on second thoughts,
the Right Whale is toothless.
Another reason which Sag-Harbor (he went by that name)
urged for his want of faith in this matter of the prophet,
was something obscurely in reference to his incarcerated body
and the whale's gastric juices. But this objection likewise falls
to the ground, because a German exegetist supposes that Jonah
must have taken refuge in the floating body of a dead whale--
even as the French soldiers in the Russian campaign turned
their dead horses into tents, and crawled into them.
Besides, it has been divined by other continental commentators,
that when Jonah was thrown overboard from the Joppa ship,
he straightway effected his escape to another vessel near by,
some vessel with a whale for a figure-head; and, I would add,
possibly called "The Whale," as some craft are nowadays
christened the "Shark," the "Gull," the "Eagle." Nor have
there been wanting learned exegetists who have opined
that the whale mentioned in the book of Jonah merely meant
a life-preserver--an inflated bag of wind--which the endangered
prophet swam to, and so was saved from a watery doom.
Poor Sag-Harbor, therefore, seems worsted all round.
But he had still another reason for his want of faith.
It was this, if I remember right: Jonah was swallowed
by the whale in the Mediterranean Sea, and after three days'
he was vomited up somewhere within three days' journey of Nineveh,
a city on the Tigris, very much more than three days'
journey across from the nearest point of the Mediterranean coast.
How is that?
But was there no other way for the whale to land the prophet within
that short distance of Nineveh? Yes. He might have carried him
round by the way of the Cape of Good Hope. But not to speak
of the passage through the whole length of the Mediterranean,
and another passage up the Persian Gulf and Red Sea,
such a supposition would involve the complete circumnavigation
of all Africa in three days, not to speak of the Tigris waters,
near the site of Nineveh, being too shallow for any whale to swim in.
Besides, this idea of Jonah's weathering the Cape of Good Hope
at so early a day would wrest the honor of the discovery of that
great headland from Bartholomew Diaz, its reputed discoverer,
and so make modern history a liar.
But all these foolish arguments of old Sag-Harbor only evinced his
foolish pride of reason--a thing still more reprehensible in him,
seeing that he had but little learning except what he had picked up from
the sun and the sea. I say it only shows his foolish, impious pride,
and abominable, devilish rebellion against the reverend clergy.
For by a Portuguese Catholic priest, this very idea of Jonah's going to
Nineveh via the Cape of Good Hope was advanced as a signal magnification
of the general miracle. And so it was. Besides, to this day,
the highly enlightened Turks devoutly believe in the historical story
of Jonah. And some three centuries ago, an English traveller in old
Harris's Voyages, speaks of a Turkish Mosque built in honor of Jonah,
in which Mosque was a miraculous lamp that burnt without any oil.
To make them run easily and swiftly, the axles of carriages
are anointed; and for much the same purpose, some whalers perform
an analogous operation upon their boat; they grease the bottom.
Nor is it to be doubted that as such a procedure can do no harm,
it may possibly be of no contemptible advantage; considering that
oil and water are hostile; that oil is a sliding thing,
and that the object in view is to make the boat slide bravely.
Queequeg believed strongly in anointing his boat, and one morning
not long after the German ship Jungfrau disappeared, took more than
customary pains in that occupation; crawling under its bottom,
where it hung over the side, and rubbing in the unctuousness as though
diligently seeking to insure a crop of hair from the craft's bald keel.
He seemed to be working in obedience to some particular presentiment.
Nor did it remain unwarranted by the event.
Towards noon whales were raised; but so soon as the ship sailed
down to them, they turned and fled with swift precipitancy;
a disordered flight, as of Cleopatra's barges from Actium.
Nevertheless, the boats pursued, and Stubb's was foremost.
By great exertion, Tashtego at last succeeded in planting
one iron; but the stricken whale, without at all sounding,
still continued his horizontal flight, with added fleetness.
Such unintermitted strainings upon the planted iron must sooner
or later inevitably extract it. It became imperative to lance
the flying whale, or be content to lose him. But to haul the boat
up to his flank was impossible, he swam so fast and furious.
What then remained?
Of all the wondrous devices and dexterities, the sleights of hand and
countless subtleties, to which the veteran whaleman is so often forced,
none exceed that fine manoeuvre with the lance called pitchpoling.
Small sword, or broad sword, in all its exercises boasts nothing like it.
It is only indispensable with an inveterate running whale;
its grand fact and feature is the wonderful distance to which the long
lance is accurately darted from a violently rocking, jerking boat,
under extreme headway. Steel and wood included, the entire spear
is some ten or twelve feet in length; the staff is much slighter
than that of the harpoon, and also of a lighter material--pine. It is
furnished with a small rope called a warp, of considerable length,
by which it can be hauled back to the hand after darting.
But before going further, it is important to mention here, that though
the harpoon may be pitchpoled in the same way with the lance, yet it
is seldom done; and when done, is still less frequently successful,
on account of the greater weight and inferior length of the harpoon
as compared with the lance, which in effect become serious drawbacks.
As a general thing, therefore, you must first get fast to a whale,
before any pitchpoling comes into play.
Look now at Stubb; a man who from his humorous,
deliberate coolness and equanimity in the direst emergencies,
was specially qualified to excel in pitchpoling. Look at him;
he stands upright in the tossed bow of the flying boat;
wrapt in fleecy foam, the towing whale is forty feet ahead.
Handling the long lance lightly, glancing twice or thrice along
its length to see if it be exactly straight, Stubb whistlingly
gathers up the coil of the warp in one hand, so as to secure
its free end in his grasp, leaving the rest unobstructed.
Then holding the lance full before his waistband's middle,
he levels it at the whale; when, covering him with it,
he steadily depresses the butt-end in his hand, thereby elevating
the point till the weapon stands fairly balanced upon his palm,
fifteen feet in the air. He minds you somewhat of a juggler,
balancing a long staff on his chin. Next moment with a rapid,
nameless impulse, in a superb lofty arch the bright steel spans
the foaming distance, and quivers in the life spot of the whale.
Instead of sparkling water, he now spouts red blood.
"That drove the spigot out of him!" cried Stubb. "'Tis July's
immortal Fourth; all fountains must run wine today!
Would now, it were old Orleans whiskey, or old Ohio, or unspeakable
old Monongahela! Then, Tashtego, lad, I'd have ye hold a canakin
to the jet, and we'd drink round it! Yea, verily, hearts alive,
we'd brew choice punch in the spread of his spout-hole there,
and from that live punch-bowl quaff the living stuff."
Again and again to such gamesome talk, the dexterous dart is repeated,
the spear returning to its master like a greyhound held in skilful leash.
The agonized whale goes into his flurry; the tow-line is slackened,
and the pitchpoler dropping astern, folds his hands, and mutely watches
the monster die.
That for six thousand years--and no one knows how many millions
of ages before--the great whales should have been spouting all over
the sea, and sprinkling and mistifying the gardens of the deep,
as with so many sprinkling or mistifying pots; and that for some
centuries back, thousands of hunters should have been close by
the fountain of the whale, watching these sprinklings and spoutings--
that all this should be, and yet, that down to this blessed minute
(fifteen and a quarter minutes past one o'clock P.M. of this
sixteenth day of December, A.D. 1851), it should still remain
a problem, whether these spoutings are, after all, really water,
or nothing but vapor--this is surely a noteworthy thing.
Let us, then, look at this matter, along with some interesting
items contingent. Every one knows that by the peculiar
cunning of their gills, the finny tribes in general breathe
the air which at all times is combined with the element
in which they swim; hence, a herring or a cod might live
a century, and never once raise its head above the surface.
But owing to his marked internal structure which gives him
regular lungs, like a human being's, the whale can only live
by inhaling the disengaged air in the open atmosphere.
Wherefore the necessity for his periodical visits to the upper world.
But he cannot in any degree breathe through his mouth, for,
in his ordinary attitude, the Sperm Whale's mouth is buried
at least eight feet beneath the surface; and what is still more,
his windpipe has no connexion with his mouth. No, he breathes
through his spiracle alone; and this is on the top of his head.
If I say, that in any creature breathing is only a function
indispensable to vitality, inasmuch as it withdraws
from the air a certain element, which being subsequently
brought into contact with the blood imparts to the blood
its vivifying principle, I do not think I shall err;
though I may possibly use some superfluous scientific words.
Assume it, and it follows that if all the blood in a man could
be aerated with one breath, he might then seal up his nostrils
and not fetch another for a considerable time. That is to say,
he would then live without breathing. Anomalous as it may seem,
this is precisely the case with the whale, who systematically lives,
by intervals, his full hour and more (when at the bottom)
without drawing a single breath, or so much as in any way
inhaling a particle of air; for, remember, he has no gills.
How is this? Between his ribs and on each side of his spine
he is supplied with a remarkable involved Cretan labyrinth
of vermicelli-like vessels, which vessels, when he quits
the surface, are completely distended with oxygenated blood.
So that for an hour or more, a thousand fathoms in the sea,
he carries a surplus stock of vitality in him, just as the camel
crossing the waterless desert carries a surplus supply
of drink for future use in its four supplementary stomachs.
The anatomical fact of this labyrinth is indisputable;
and that the supposition founded upon it is reasonable and true,
seems the more cogent to me, when I consider the otherwise
inexplicable obstinacy of that leviathan in having his
spoutings out, as the fishermen phrase it. This is what I mean.
If unmolested, upon rising to the surface, the Sperm Whale will
continue there for a period of time exactly uniform with all
his other unmolested risings. Say he stays eleven minutes,
and jets seventy times, that is, respires seventy breaths;
then whenever he rises again, he will be sure to have his seventy
breaths over again, to a minute. Now, if after he fetches a few
breaths you alarm him, so that he sounds, he will be always
dodging up again to make good his regular allowance of air.
And not till those seventy breaths are told, will he finally
go down to stay out his full term below. Remark, however,
that in different individuals these rates are different;
but in any one they are alike. Now, why should the whale
thus insist upon having his spoutings out, unless it be
to replenish his reservoir of air, ere descending for good?
How obvious it is it, too, that this necessity for the whale's
rising exposes him to all the fatal hazards of the chase.
For not by hook or by net could this vast leviathan be caught,
when sailing a thousand fathoms beneath the sunlight.
Not so much thy skill, then, O hunter, as the great necessities
that strike the victory to thee!
In man, breathing is incessantly going on--one breath only serving
for two or three pulsations; so that whatever other business he has
to attend to, waking or sleeping, breathe he must, or die he will.
But the Sperm Whale only breathes about one seventh or Sunday
of his time.
It has been said that the whale only breathes through his spout-hole;
if it could truthfully be added that his spouts are mixed with water,
then I opine we should be furnished with the reason why his sense of smell
seems obliterated in him; for the only thing about him that at all answers
to his nose is that identical spout-hole; and being so clogged with
two elements, it could not be expected to have the power of smelling.
But owing to the mystery of the spout--whether it be water or whether it
be vapor--no absolute certainty can as yet be arrived at on this head.
Sure it is, nevertheless, that the Sperm Whale has no proper olfactories.
But what does he want of them? No roses, no violets, no Cologne-water
in the sea.
Furthermore, as his windpipe solely opens into the tube of his
spouting canal, and as that long canal--like the grand Erie Canal--
is furnished with a sort of locks (that open and shut)
for the downward retention of air or the upward exclusion of water,
therefore the whale has no voice; unless you insult him by saying,
that when he so strangely rumbles, he talks through his nose.
But then again, what has the whale to say? Seldom have I known
any profound being that had anything to say to this world,
unless forced to stammer out something by way of getting a living.
Oh! happy that the world is such an excellent listener!
Now, the spouting canal of the Sperm Whale, chiefly intended as it
is for the conveyance of air, and for several feet laid along,
horizontally, just beneath the upper surface of his head,
and a little to one side; this curious canal is very much
like a gas-pipe laid down in a city on one side of a street.
But the question returns whether this gas-pipe is also a water-pipe;
in other words, whether the spout of the Sperm Whale is the mere
vapor of the exhaled breath, or whether that exhaled breath is
mixed with water taken in at the mouth, and discharged through
the spiracle. It is certain that the mouth indirectly communicates
with the spouting canal; but it cannot be proved that this
is for the purpose of discharging water through the spiracle.
Because the greatest necessity for so doing would seem to be,
when in feeding he accidentally takes in water. But the Sperm Whale's
food is far beneath the surface, and there he cannot spout
even if he would. Besides, if you regard him very closely,
and time him with your watch, you will find that when unmolested,
there is an undeviating rhyme between the periods of his jets
and the ordinary periods of respiration.
But why pester one with all this reasoning on the subject?
Speak out! You have seen him spout; then declare what
the spout is; can you not tell water from air? My dear sir,
in this world it is not so easy to settle these plain things.
I have ever found your plain things the knottiest of all.
And as for this whale spout, you might almost stand in it,
and yet be undecided as to what it is precisely.
The central body of it is hidden in the snowy sparkling mist
enveloping it; and how can you certainly tell whether any water
falls from it, when, always, when you are close enough to a whale
to get a close view of his spout, he is in a prodigious commotion,
the water cascading all around him. And if at such times
you should think that you really perceived drops of moisture
in the spout, how do you know that they are not merely condensed
from its vapor; or how do you know that they are not those
identical drops superficially lodged in the spout-hole fissure,
which is countersunk into the summit of the whale's head?
For even when tranquilly swimming through the mid-day sea in a calm,
with his elevated hump sun-dried as a dromedary's in the desert;
even then, the whale always carries a small basin of water on
his head, as under a blazing sun you will sometimes see a cavity
in a rock filled up with rain.
Nor is it at all prudent for the hunter to be over curious touching
the precise nature of the whale spout. It will not do for him
to be peering into it, and putting his face in it. You cannot go
with your pitcher to this fountain and fill it, and bring it away.
For even when coming into slight contact with the outer,
vapory shreds of the jet, which will often happen, your skin will
feverishly smart, from the acridness of the thing so touching it.
And I know one, who coming into still closer contact with the spout,
whether with some scientific object in view, or otherwise, I cannot say,
the skin peeled off from his cheek and arm. Wherefore, among whalemen,
the spout is deemed poisonous; they try to evade it.
Another thing; I have heard it said, and I do not much doubt it,
that if the jet is fairly spouted into your eyes, it will blind you.
The wisest thing the investigator can do then, it seems to me,
is to let this deadly spout alone.
Still, we can hypothesize, even if we cannot prove and establish.
My hypothesis is this: that the spout is nothing but mist.
And besides other reasons, to this conclusion I am impelled,
by considerations touching the great inherent dignity and sublimity
of the Sperm Whale; I account him no common, shallow being,
inasmuch as it is an undisputed fact that he is never found
on soundings, or near shores; all other whales sometimes are.
He is both ponderous and profound. And I am convinced that from
the heads of all ponderous profound beings, such as Plato, Pyrrho,
the Devil, Jupiter, Dante, and so on, there always goes up a certain
semi-visible steam, while in the act of thinking deep thoughts.
While composing a little treatise on Eternity, I had the curiosity
to place a mirror before me; and ere long saw reflected there,
a curious involved worming and undulation in the atmosphere over my head.
The invariable moisture of my hair, while plunged in deep thought,
after six cups of hot tea in my thin shingled attic, of an August noon;
this seems an additional argument for the above supposition.
And how nobly it raises our conceit of the mighty, misty monster,
to behold him solemnly sailing through a calm tropical sea;
his vast, mild head overhung by a canopy of vapor,
engendered by his incommunicable contemplations, and that vapor--
as you will sometimes see it--glorified by a rainbow,
as if Heaven itself had put its seal upon his thoughts.
For d'ye see, rainbows do not visit the clear air;
they only irradiate vapor. And so, through all the thick
mists of the dim doubts in my mind, divine intuitions now
and then shoot, enkindling my fog with a heavenly ray.
And for this I thank God; for all have doubts; many deny;
but doubts or denials, few along with them, have intuitions.
Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly;
this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes
a man who regards them both with equal eye.
Other poets have warbled the praises of the soft eye of the antelope,
and the lovely plumage of the bird that never alights; less celestial,
I celebrate a tail.
Reckoning the largest sized Sperm Whale's tail to begin at
that point of the trunk where it tapers to about the girth
of a man, it comprises upon its upper surface alone, an area
of at least fifty square feet. The compact round body of its
root expands into two broad, firm, flat palms or flukes,
gradually shoaling away to less than an inch in thickness.
At the crotch or junction, these flukes slightly overlap, then sideways
recede from each other like wings, leaving a wide vacancy between.
In no living thing are the lines of beauty more exquisitely
defined than in the crescentic borders of these flukes.
At its utmost expansion in the full grown whale, the tail
will considerably exceed twenty feet across.
The entire member seems a dense webbed bed of welded sinews;
but cut into it, and you find that three distinct strata
compose it:--upper, middle, and lower. The fibres in the upper
and lower layers, are long and horizontal; those of the middle one,
very short, and running crosswise between the outside layers.
This triune structure, as much as anything else, imparts power
to the tail. To the student of old Roman walls, the middle layer
will furnish a curious parallel to the thin course of tiles always
alternating with the stone in those wonderful relics of the antique,
and which undoubtedly contribute so much to the great strength
of the masonry.
But as if this vast local power in the tendinous tail were not enough,
the whole bulk of the leviathan is knit over with a warp and woof
of muscular fibres and filaments, which passing on either side
the loins and running down into the flukes, insensibly blend with them,
and largely contribute to their might; so that in the tail the confluent
measureless force of the whole whale seems concentrated to a point.
Could annihilation occur to matter, this were the thing to do it.
Nor does this--its amazing strength, at all tend to cripple
the graceful flexion of its motions; where infantileness of ease
undulates through a Titanism of power. On the contrary,
those motions derive their most appalling beauty from it.
Real strength never impairs beauty or harmony, but it often bestows it;
and in everything imposingly beautiful, strength has much to do with
the magic. Take away the tied tendons that all over seem bursting
from the marble in the carved Hercules, and its charm would be gone.
As devout Eckerman lifted the linen sheet from the naked corpse
of Goethe, he was overwhelmed with the massive chest of the man,
that seemed as a Roman triumphal arch. When Angelo paints even
God the Father in human form, mark what robustness is there.
And whatever they may reveal of the divine love in the Son,
the soft, curled, hermaphroditical Italian pictures, in which
his idea has been most successfully embodied; these pictures,
so destitute as they are of all brawniness, hint nothing of any power,
but the mere negative, feminine one of submission and endurance,
which on all hands it is conceded, form the peculiar practical
virtues of his teachings.
Such is the subtle elasticity of the organ I treat of, that whether
wielded in sport, or in earnest, or in anger, whatever be the mood
it be in, its flexions are invariably marked by exceeding grace.
Therein no fairy's arm can transcend it.
Five great motions are peculiar to it. First, when used as a
fin for progression; Second, when used as a mace in battle;
Third, in sweeping; Fourth, in lobtailing; Fifth, in peaking flukes.
First: Being horizontal in its position, the Leviathan's tail acts
in a different manner from the tails of all other sea creatures.
It never wriggles. In man or fish, wriggling is a sign of inferiority.
To the whale his tail is the sole means of propulsion.
Scroll-wise coiled forwards beneath the body, and then rapidly
sprung backwards, it is this which gives that singular darting,
leaping motion to the monster when furiously swimming.
His side-fins only serve to steer by.
Second: It is a little significant, that while one sperm whale only
fights another sperm whale with his head and jaw, nevertheless, in his
conflicts with man, he chiefly and contemptuously uses his tail.
In striking at a boat, he swiftly curves away his flukes from it,
and the blow is only inflicted by the recoil. If it be made
in the unobstructed air, especially if it descend to its mark,
the stroke is then simply irresistible. No ribs of man or boat
can withstand it. Your only salvation lies in eluding it;
but if it comes sideways through the opposing water, then partly
owing to the light buoyancy of the whale-boat, and the elasticity
of its materials, a cracked rib or a dashed plank or two, a sort
of stitch in the side, is generally the most serious result.
These submerged side blows are so often received in the fishery,
that they are accounted mere child's play. Some one strips off
a frock, and the hole is stopped.
Third: I cannot demonstrate it, but it seems to me, that in
the whale the sense of touch is concentrated in the tail;
for in this respect there is a delicacy in it only equalled by
the daintiness of the elephant's trunk. This delicacy is chiefly
evinced in the action of sweeping, when in maidenly gentleness
the whale with a certain soft slowness moves his immense flukes
from side to side upon the surface of the sea; and if he feel
but a sailor's whisker, woe to that sailor, whiskers and all.
What tenderness there is in that preliminary touch!
Had this tail any prehensile power, I should straightway bethink
me of Darmonodes' elephant that so frequented the flower-market,
and with low salutations presented nosegays to damsels,
and then caressed their zones. On more accounts than one,
a pity it is that the whale does not possess this prehensile
virtue in his tail; for I have heard of yet another elephant,
that when wounded in the fight, curved round his trunk and
extracted the dart.
Fourth: Stealing unawares upon the whale in the fancied security
of the middle of solitary seas, you find him unbent from the vast
corpulence of his dignity, and kitten-like, he plays on the ocean
as if it were a hearth. But still you see his power in his play.
The broad palms of his tail are flirted high into the air! then
smiting the surface, the thunderous concussion resounds for miles.
You would almost think a great gun had been discharged;
and if you noticed the light wreath of vapor from the spiracle
at his other extremity, you would think that that was the smoke
from the touch-hole.
Fifth: As in the ordinary floating posture of the leviathan the flukes
lies considerably below the level of his back, they are then completely
out of sight beneath the surface; but when he is about to plunge
into the deeps, his entire flukes with at least thirty feet of his
body are tossed erect in the air, and so remain vibrating a moment,
till they downwards shoot out of view. Excepting the sublime breach--
somewhere else to be described--this peaking of the whale's flukes
is perhaps the grandest sight to be seen in all animated nature.
Out of the bottomless profundities the gigantic tail seems spasmodically
snatching at the highest heaven. So in dreams, have I seen majestic
Satan thrusting forth his tormented colossal claw from the flame
Baltic of Hell. But in gazing at such scenes, it is all in all what
mood you are in; if in the Dantean, the devils will occur to you;
if in that of Isaiah, the archangels. Standing at the mast-head
of my ship during a sunrise that crimsoned sky and sea, I once saw
a large herd of whales in the east, all heading towards the sun,
and for a moment vibrating in concert with peaked flukes. As it seemed
to me at the time, such a grand embodiment of adoration of the gods
was never beheld, even in Persia, the home of the fire worshippers.
As Ptolemy Philopater testified of the African elephant, I then
testified of the whale, pronouncing him the most devout of all beings.
For according to King Juba, the military elephants of antiquity often
hailed the morning with their trunks uplifted in the profoundest silence.
The chance comparison in this chapter, between the whale and the elephant,
so far as some aspects of the tail of the one and the trunk of the other
are concerned, should not tend to place those two opposite organs on
an equality, much less the creatures to which they respectively belong.
For as the mightiest elephant is but a terrier to Leviathan, so,
compared with Leviathan's tail, his trunk is but the stalk of a lily.
The most direful blow from the elephant's trunk were as the playful tap
of a fan, compared with the measureless crush and crash of the sperm
whale's ponderous flukes, which in repeated instances have one after
the other hurled entire boats with all their oars and crews into the air,
very much as an Indian juggler tosses his balls.*
*Though all comparison in the way of general bulk between the whale
and the elephant is preposterous, inasmuch as in that particular
the elephant stands in much the same respect to the whale that
a dog does to the elephant; nevertheless, there are not wanting
some points of curious similitude; among these is the spout.
It is well known that the elephant will often draw up water or dust
in his trunk, and then elevating it, jet it forth in a stream.
The more I consider this mighty tail, the more do I deplore my inability
to express it. At times there are gestures in it, which, though they
would well grace the hand of man, remain wholly inexplicable.
In an extensive herd, so remarkable, occasionally, are these
mystic gestures, that I have heard hunters who have declared them akin
to Free-Mason signs and symbols; that the whale, indeed, by these
methods intelligently conversed with the world. Nor are there wanting
other motions of the whale in his general body, full of strangeness,
and unaccountable to his most experienced assailant. Dissect him
how I may, then, I but go skin deep. I know him not, and never will.
But if I know not even the tail of this whale, how understand his
head? much more, how comprehend his face, when face he has none?
Thou shalt see my back parts, my tail, he seems to say, but my face
shall not be seen. But I cannot completely make out his back parts;
and hint what he will about his face, I say again he has no face.
The Grand Armada
The long and narrow peninsula of Malacca, extending south-eastward
from the territories of Birmah, forms the most southerly point of
all Asia. In a continuous line from that peninsula stretch the long
islands of Sumatra, Java, Bally, and Timor; which, with many others,
form a vast mole, or rampart, lengthwise connecting Asia with Australia,
and dividing the long unbroken Indian ocean from the thickly studded
oriental archipelagoes. This rampart is pierced by several sally-ports
for the convenience of ships and whales; conspicuous among which are
the straits of Sunda and Malacca. By the straits of Sunda, chiefly,
vessels bound to China from the west, emerge into the China seas.
Those narrow straits of Sunda divide Sumatra from Java; and standing
midway in that vast rampart of islands, buttressed by that bold
green promontory, known to seamen as Java Head; they not a little
correspond to the central gateway opening into some vast walled empire:
and considering the inexhaustible wealth of spices, and silks,
and jewels, and gold, and ivory, with which the thousand islands
of that oriental sea are enriched, it seems a significant provision
of nature, that such treasures, by the very formation of the land,
should at least bear the appearance, however ineffectual,
of being guarded from the all-grasping western world. The shores
of the Straits of Sunda are unsupplied with those domineering
fortresses which guard the entrances to the Mediterranean, the Baltic,
and the Propontis. Unlike the Danes, these Orientals do not demand
the obsequious homage of lowered top-sails from the endless
procession of ships before the wind, which for centuries past,
by night and by day, have passed between the islands of Sumatra
and Java, freighted with the costliest cargoes of the east.
But while they freely waive a ceremonial like this, they do by no
means renounce their claim to more solid tribute.
Time out of mind the piratical proas of the Malays,
lurking among the low shaded coves and islets of Sumatra,
have sallied out upon the vessels sailing through the straits,
fiercely demanding tribute at the point of their spears.
Though by the repeated bloody chastisements they have received
at the hands of European cruisers, the audacity of these corsairs
has of late been somewhat repressed; yet, even at the present day,
we occasionally hear of English and American vessels, which,
in those waters, have been remorselessly boarded and pillaged.
With a fair, fresh wind, the Pequod was now drawing nigh to these straits;
Ahab purposing to pass through them into the Java sea, and thence,
cruising northwards, over waters known to be frequented here and there
by the Sperm Whale, sweep inshore by the Philippine Islands, and gain
the far coast of Japan, in time for the great whaling season there.
By these means, the circumnavigating Pequod would sweep almost all the
known Sperm Whale cruising grounds of the world, previous to descending
upon the Line in the Pacific; where Ahab, though everywhere else
foiled in his pursuit, firmly counted upon giving battle to Moby Dick,
in the sea he was most known to frequent; and at a season when he might
most reasonably be presumed to be haunting it.
But how now? in this zoned quest, does Ahab touch no land? does
his crew drink air? Surely, he will stop for water. Nay. For a
long time, now, the circus-running sun has raced within his
fiery ring, and needs no sustenance but what's in himself.
So Ahab. Mark this, too, in the whaler. While other
hulls are loaded down with alien stuff, to be transferred
to foreign wharves; the world-wandering whale-ship carries
no cargo but herself and crew, their weapons and their wants.
She has a whole lake's contents bottled in her ample hold.
She is ballasted with utilities; not altogether with unusable
pig-lead and kentledge. She carries years' water in her.
Clear old prime Nantucket water; which, when three years afloat,
the Nantucketer, in the Pacific, prefers to drink before
the brackish fluid, but yesterday rafted off in casks,
from the Peruvian or Indian streams. Hence it is, that,
while other ships may have gone to China from New York,
and back again, touching at a score of ports, the whale-ship,
in all that interval, may not have sighted one grain of soil;
her crew having seen no man but floating seamen like themselves.
So that did you carry them the news that another flood had come;
they would only answer--"Well, boys, here's the ark!"
Now, as many Sperm Whales had been captured off the western
coast of Java, in the near vicinity of the Straits of Sunda;
indeed, as most of the ground, roundabout, was generally
recognised by the fishermen as an excellent spot for cruising;
therefore, as the Pequod gained more and more upon Java Head,
the look-outs were repeatedly hailed, and admonished to keep wide awake.
But though the green palmy cliffs of the land soon loomed on
the starboard bow, and with delighted nostrils the fresh cinnamon
was snuffed in the air, yet not a single jet was descried.
Almost renouncing all thought of falling in with any game hereabouts,
the ship had well nigh entered the straits, when the customary
cheering cry was heard from aloft, and ere long a spectacle
of singular magnificence saluted us.
But here be it premised, that owing to the unwearied activity
with which of late they have been hunted over all four oceans,
the Sperm Whales, instead of almost invariably sailing in small
detached companies, as in former times, are now frequently met
with in extensive herds, sometimes embracing so great a multitude,
that it would almost seem as if numerous nations of them had sworn
solemn league and covenant for mutual assistance and protection.
To this aggregation of the Sperm Whale into such immense caravans,
may be imputed the circumstance that even in the best cruising grounds,
you may now sometimes sail for weeks and months together,
without being greeted by a single spout; and then be suddenly
saluted by what sometimes seems thousands on thousands.
Broad on both bows, at the distance of some two or three miles,
and forming a great semicircle, embracing one half of the level horizon,
a continuous chain of whale-jets were up-playing and sparkling
in the noon-day air. Unlike the straight perpendicular twin-jets
of the Right Whale, which, dividing at top, falls over in two branches,
like the cleft drooping boughs of a willow, the single forward-slanting
spout of the Sperm Whale presents a thick curled bush of white mist,
continually rising and falling away to leeward.
Seen from the Pequod's deck, then, as she would rise on a high hill
of the sea, this host of vapory spouts, individually curling up into
the air, and beheld through a blending atmosphere of bluish haze,
showed like the thousand cheerful chimneys of some dense metropolis,
descried of a balmy autumnal morning, by some horseman on a height.
As marching armies approaching an unfriendly defile in the mountains,
accelerate their march, all eagerness to place that perilous passage in
their rear, and once more expand in comparative security upon the plain;
even so did this vast fleet of whales now seem hurrying forward through
the straits; gradually contracting the wings of their semicircle,
and swimming on, in one solid, but still crescentic centre.
Crowding all sail the Pequod pressed after them; the harpooneers
handling their weapons, and loudly cheering from the heads
of their yet suspended boats. If the wind only held,
little doubt had they, that chased through these Straits
of Sunda, the vast host would only deploy into the Oriental
seas to witness the capture of not a few of their number.
And who could tell whether, in that congregated caravan,
Moby Dick himself might not temporarily be swimming,
like the worshipped white-elephant in the coronation procession
of the Siamese! So with stun-sail piled on stun-sail, we
sailed along, driving these leviathans before us; when, of a sudden,
the voice of Tashtego was heard, loudly directing attention
to something in our wake.
Corresponding to the crescent in our van, we beheld another in our rear.
It seemed formed of detached white vapors, rising and falling something
like the spouts of the whales; only they did not so completely come
and go; for they constantly hovered, without finally disappearing.
Levelling his glass at this sight, Ahab quickly revolved in his
pivot-hole, crying, "Aloft there, and rig whips and buckets to wet
the sails;--Malays, sir, and after us!"
As if too long lurking behind the headlands, till the Pequod
should fairly have entered the straits, these rascally Asiatics
were now in hot pursuit, to make up for their over-cautious delay.
But when the swift Pequod, with a fresh leading wind, was herself
in hot chase; how very kind of these tawny philanthropists
to assist in speeding her on to her own chosen pursuit,--
mere riding-whips and rowels to her, that they were.
As with glass under arm, Ahab to-and-fro paced the deck;
in his forward turn beholding the monsters he chased,
and in the after one the bloodthirsty pirates chasing him;
some such fancy as the above seemed his. And when he glanced
upon the green walls of the watery defile in which the ship
was then sailing, and bethought him that through that gate lay
the route to his vengeance, and beheld, how that through that same
gate he was now both chasing and being chased to his deadly end;
and not only that, but a herd of remorseless wild pirates
and inhuman atheistical devils were infernally cheering him
on with their curses;--when all these conceits had passed
through his brain, Ahab's brow was left gaunt and ribbed,
like the black sand beach after some stormy tide has been gnawing it,
without being able to drag the firm thing from its place.
But thoughts like these troubled very few of the reckless crew; and when,
after steadily dropping and dropping the pirates astern, the Pequod
at last shot by the vivid green Cockatoo Point on the Sumatra side,
emerging at last upon the broad waters beyond; then, the harpooneers
seemed more to grieve that the swift whales had been gaining upon
the ship, than to rejoice that the ship had so victoriously gained
upon the Malays. But still driving on in the wake of the whales,
at length they seemed abating their speed; gradually the ship neared them;
and the wind now dying away, word was passed to spring to the boats.
But no sooner did the herd, by some presumed wonderful instinct of the
Sperm Whale, become notified of the three keels that were after them,--
though as yet a mile in their rear,--than they rallied again, and forming
in close ranks and battalions, so that their spouts all looked like
flashing lines of stacked bayonets, moved on with redoubled velocity.
Stripped to our shirts and drawers, we sprang to the white-ash,
and after several hours' pulling were almost disposed to renounce
the chase, when a general pausing commotion among the whales gave
animating tokens that they were now at last under the influence
of that strange perplexity of inert irresolution, which, when the
fishermen perceive it in the whale, they say he is gallied*. The
compact martial columns in which they had been hitherto rapidly
and steadily swimming, were now broken up in one measureless rout;
and like King Porus' elephants in the Indian battle with Alexander,
they seemed going mad with consternation. In all directions
expanding in vast irregular circles, and aimlessly swimming hither
and thither, by their short thick spoutings, they plainly betrayed
their distraction of panic. This was still more strangely evinced
by those of their number, who, completely paralysed as it were,
helplessly floated like water-logged dismantled ships on the sea.
Had these Leviathans been but a flock of simple sheep,
pursued over the pasture by three fierce wolves, they could not
possibly have evinced such excessive dismay. But this occasional
timidity is characteristic of almost all herding creatures.
Though banding together in tens of thousands, the lion-maned
buffaloes of the West have fled before a solitary horseman.
Witness, too, all human beings, how when herded together in the sheepfold
of a theatre's pit, they will, at the slightest alarm of fire,
rush helter-skelter for the outlets, crowding, trampling, jamming,
and remorselessly dashing each other to death. Best, therefore,
withhold any amazement at the strangely gallied whales before us,
for there is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not
infinitely outdone by the madness of men.
* To gally, or gallow, is to frighten excessively--
to confound with fright. It is an old Saxon word.
It occurs once in Shakespeare:--
The wrathful skies Gallow the very wanderers of the dark And make
them keep their caves.
To common language, the word is now completely obsolete.
When the polite landsman first hears it from the gaunt Nantucketer, he is
apt to set it down as one of the whaleman's self-derived savageries.
Much the same is it with many other sinewy Saxonisms of this sort,
which emigrated to New-England rocks with the noble brawn of the old
English emigrants in the time of the Commonwealth. Thus, some of
the best and furthest-descended English words--the etymological Howards
and Percys--are now democratised, nay, plebeianised--so to speak--
in the New World.
Though many of the whales, as has been said, were in violent motion,
yet it is to be observed that as a whole the herd neither
advanced nor retreated, but collectively remained in one place.
As is customary in those cases, the boats at once separated,
each making for some one lone whale on the outskirts of the shoal.
In about three minutes' time, Queequeg's harpoon was flung;
the stricken fish darted blinding spray in our faces, and then
running away with us like light, steered straight for the heart
of the herd. Though such a movement on the part of the whale
struck under such circumstances, is in no wise unprecedented;
and indeed is almost always more or less anticipated; yet does it
present one of the more perilous vicissitudes of the fishery.
For as the swift monster drags you deeper and deeper into the
frantic shoal, you bid adieu to circumspect life and only exist
in a delirious throb.
As, blind and deaf, the whale plunged forward, as if by sheer power
of speed to rid himself of the iron leech that had fastened to him;
as we thus tore a white gash in the sea, on all sides menaced
as we flew, by the crazed creatures to and fro rushing about us;
our beset boat was like a ship mobbed by ice-isles in a tempest,
and striving to steer through their complicated channels and straits,
knowing not at what moment it may be locked in and crushed.
But not a bit daunted, Queequeg steered us manfully; now sheering
off from this monster directly across our route in advance;
now edging away from that, whose colossal flukes were suspended overhead,
while all the time, Starbuck stood up in the bows, lance in hand,
pricking out of our way whatever whales he could reach by short darts,
for there was no time to make long ones. Nor were the oarsmen
quite idle, though their wonted duty was now altogether dispensed with.
They chiefly attended to the shouting part of the business.
"Out of the way, Commodore!" cried one, to a great dromedary that of
a sudden rose bodily to the surface, and for an instant threatened
to swamp us. "Hard down with your tail, there!" cried a second
to another, which, close to our gunwale, seemed calmly cooling
himself with his own fan-like extremity.
All whale-boats carry certain curious contrivances,
originally invented by the Nantucket Indians, called druggs.
Two thick squares of wood of equal size are stoutly
clenched together, so that they cross each other's grain at
right angles; a line of considerable length is then attached
to the middle of this block, and the other end of the line
being looped, it can in a moment be fastened to a harpoon.
It is chiefly among gallied whales that this drugg is used.
For then, more whales are close round you than you can
possibly chase at one time. But sperm whales are not every
day encountered; while you may, then, you must kill all you can.
And if you cannot kill them all at once, you must wing them,
so that they can be afterwards killed at your leisure. Hence it is,
that at times like these the drug, comes into requisition.
Our boat was furnished with three of them. The first and second were
successfully darted, and we saw the whales staggeringly running off,
fettered by the enormous sidelong resistance of the towing drugg.
They were cramped like malefactors with the chain and ball.
But upon flinging the third, in the act of tossing overboard
the clumsy wooden block, it caught under one of the seats of the boat,
and in an instant tore it out and carried it away, dropping the
oarsman in the boat's bottom as the seat slid from under him.
On both sides the sea came in at the wounded planks, but we
stuffed two or three drawers and shirts in, and so stopped
the leaks for the time.
It had been next to impossible to dart these drugged-harpoons,
were it not that as we advanced into the herd, our whale's way
greatly diminished; moreover, that as we went still further
and further from the circumference of commotion, the direful
disorders seemed waning. So that when at last the jerking
harpoon drew out, and the towing whale sideways vanished;
then, with the tapering force of his parting momentum, we glided
between two whales into the innermost heart of the shoal, as if
from some mountain torrent we had slid into a serene valley lake.
Here the storms in the roaring glens between the outermost whales,
were heard but not felt. In this central expanse the sea
presented that smooth satin-like surface, called a sleek,
produced by the subtle moisture thrown off by the whale
in his more quiet moods. Yes, we were now in that enchanted
calm which they say lurks at the heart of every commotion.
And still in the distracted distance we beheld the tumults of
the outer concentric circles, and saw successive pods of whales,
eight or ten in each, swiftly going round and round, like multiplied
spans of horses in a ring; and so closely shoulder to shoulder,
that a Titanic circus-rider might easily have over-arched
the middle ones, and so have gone round on their backs.
Owing to the density of the crowd of reposing whales,
more immediately surrounding the embayed axis of the herd,
no possible chance of escape was at present afforded us.
We must watch for a breach in the living wall that hemmed us in;
the wall that had only admitted us in order to shut us up.
Keeping at the centre of the lake, we were occasionally
visited by small tame cows and calves; the women and children
of this routed host.
Now, inclusive of the occasional wide intervals between
the revolving outer circles, and inclusive of the spaces
between the various pods in any one of those circles,
the entire area at this juncture, embraced by the whole multitude,
must have contained at least two or three square miles.
At any rate--though indeed such a test at such a time might
be deceptive--spoutings might be discovered from our low boat
that seemed playing up almost from the rim of the horizon.
I mention this circumstance, because, as if the cows and
calves had been purposely locked up in this innermost fold;
and as if the wide extent of the herd had hitherto prevented them
from learning the precise cause of its stopping; or, possibly,
being so young, unsophisticated, and every way innocent
and inexperienced; however it may have been, these smaller whales--
now and then visiting our becalmed boat from the margin of the lake--
evinced a wondrous fearlessness and confidence, or else a still
becharmed panic which it was impossible not to marvel at.
Like household dogs they came snuffling round us,
right up to our gunwales, and touching them; till it almost
seemed that some spell had suddenly domesticated them.
Queequeg patted their foreheads; Starbuck scratched their backs
with his lance; but fearful of the consequences, for the time
refrained from darting it.
But far beneath this wondrous world upon the surface, another and
still stranger world met our eyes as we gazed over the side.
For, suspended in those watery vaults, floated the forms
of the nursing mothers of the whales, and those that by their
enormous girth seemed shortly to become mothers. The lake, as I
have hinted, was to a considerable depth exceedingly transparent;
and as human infants while suckling will calmly and fixedly gaze
away from the breast, as if leading two different lives at the time;
and while yet drawing mortal nourishment, be still spiritually
feasting upon some unearthly reminiscence;--even so did the young
of these whales seem looking up towards us, but not at us,
as if we were but a bit of Gulfweed in their new-born sight.
Floating on their sides, the mothers also seemed quietly eyeing us.
One of these little infants, that from certain queer tokens seemed
hardly a day old, might have measured some fourteen feet in length,
and some six feet in girth. He was a little frisky; though as yet
his body seemed scarce yet recovered from that irksome position it
had so lately occupied in the maternal reticule; where, tail to head,
and all ready for the final spring, the unborn whale lies bent like a
Tartar's bow. The delicate side-fins, and the palms of his flukes,
still freshly retained the plaited crumpled appearance of a baby's
ears newly arrived from foreign parts.
"Line! line!" cried Queequeg, looking over the gunwale;
"him fast! him fast!--Who line him! Who struck?--Two whale;
one big, one little!"
"What ails ye, man?" cried Starbuck.
"Look-e here," said Queequeg, pointing down.
As when the stricken whale, that from the tub has reeled
out hundreds of fathoms of rope; as, after deep sounding,
he floats up again, and shows the slackened curling line
buoyantly rising and spiralling towards the air; so now,
Starbuck saw long coils of the umbilical cord of Madame Leviathan,
by which the young cub seemed still tethered to its dam.
Not seldom in the rapid vicissitudes of the chase, this natural line,
with the maternal end loose, becomes entangled with the hempen one,
so that the cub is thereby trapped. Some of the subtlest secrets
of the seas seemed divulged to us in this enchanted pond.
We saw young Leviathan amours in the deep.*
*The sperm whale, as with all other species of the Leviathan,
but unlike most other fish, breeds indifferently at all seasons;
after a gestation which may probably be set down at nine months,
producing but one at a time; though in some few known instances
giving birth to an Esau and Jacob:--a contingency provided for
in suckling by two teats, curiously situated, one on each side
of the anus; but the breasts themselves extend upwards from that.
When by chance these precious parts in a nursing whale are cut by
the hunter's lance, the mother's pouring milk and blood rivallingly
discolor the sea for rods. The milk is very sweet and rich;
it has been tasted by man; it might do well with strawberries.
When overflowing with mutual esteem, the whales salute more hominum.
And thus, though surrounded by circle upon circle of consternations
and affrights, did these inscrutable creatures at the centre
freely and fearlessly indulge in all peaceful concernments;
yea, serenely revelled in dalliance and delight.
But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being,
do I myself still for ever centrally disport in mute calm;
and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me,
deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal
mildness of joy.
Meanwhile, as we thus lay entranced, the occasional sudden frantic
spectacles in the distance evinced the activity of the other boats,
still engaged in drugging the whales on the frontier of the host;
or possibly carrying on the war within the first circle,
where abundance of room and some convenient retreats were afforded them.
But the sight of the enraged drugged whales now and then blindly darting
to and fro across the circles, was nothing to what at last met our eyes.
It is sometimes the custom when fast to a whale more than commonly
powerful and alert, to seek to hamstring him, as it were,
by sundering or maiming his gigantic tail-tendon. It is done by
darting a short-handled cutting-spade, to which is attached a rope
for hauling it back again. A whale wounded (as we afterwards learned)
in this part, but not effectually, as it seemed, had broken away
from the boat, carrying along with him half of the harpoon line;
and in the extraordinary agony of the wound, he was now dashing
among the revolving circles like the lone mounted desperado Arnold,
at the battle of Saratoga, carrying dismay wherever he went.
But agonizing as was the wound of this whale, and an appalling
spectacle enough, any way; yet the peculiar horror with which
he seemed to inspire the rest of the herd, was owing to a cause
which at first the intervening distance obscured from us.
But at length we perceived that by one of the unimaginable accidents
of the fishery, this whale had become entangled in the harpoon-line
that he towed; he had also run away with the cutting-spade in him;
and while the free end of the rope attached to that weapon,
had permanently caught in the coils of the harpoon-line round
his tail, the cutting-spade itself had worked loose from his flesh.
So that tormented to madness, he was now churning through the water,
violently flailing with his flexible tail, and tossing the keen
spade about him, wounding and murdering his own comrades.
This terrific object seemed to recall the whole herd from their
stationary fright. First, the whales forming the margin of our lake
began to crowd a little, and tumble against each other, as if lifted
by half spent billows from afar; then the lake itself began faintly
to heave and swell; the submarine bridal-chambers and nurseries vanished;
in more and more contracting orbits the whales in the more central circles
began to swim in thickening clusters. Yes, the long calm was departing.
A low advancing hum was soon heard; and then like to the tumultuous
masses of block-ice when the great river Hudson breaks up in Spring,
the entire host of whales came tumbling upon their inner centre,
as if to pile themselves up in one common mountain. Instantly Starbuck
and Queequeg changed places; Starbuck taking the stern.
"Oars! Oars!" he intensely whispered, seizing the helm--"gripe
your oars, and clutch your souls, now! My God, men, stand by!
Shove him off, you Queequeg--the whale there!--prick him!--hit him!
Stand up--stand up, and stay so! Spring men--pull, men; never mind
their backs--scrape them!--scrape away!"
The boat was now all but jammed between two vast black bulks,
leaving a narrow Dardanelles between their long lengths.
But by desperate endeavor we at last shot into a temporary opening;
then giving way rapidly, and at the same time earnestly watching
for another outlet. After many similar hair-breadth escapes, we at
last swiftly glided into what had just been one of the outer circles,
but now crossed by random whales, all violently making for one centre.
This lucky salvation was cheaply purchased by the loss of Queequeg's
hat, who, while standing in the bows to prick the fugitive whales,
had his hat taken clean from his head by the air-eddy made by the sudden
tossing of a pair of broad flukes close by.
Riotous and disordered as the universal commotion now was,
it soon resolved itself into what seemed a systematic movement;
for having clumped together at last in one dense body,
they then renewed their onward flight with augmented fleetness.
Further pursuit was useless; but the boats still lingered in their
wake to pick up what drugged whales might be dropped astern,
and likewise to secure one which Flask had killed and waited.
The waif is a pennoned pole, two or three of which are carried
by every boat; and which, when additional game is at hand,
are inserted upright into the floating body of a dead whale,
both to mark its place on the sea, and also as token of
prior possession, should the boats of any other ship draw near.
The result of this lowering was somewhat illustrative of that
sagacious saying in the Fishery,--the more whales the less fish.
Of all the drugged whales only one was captured.
The rest contrived to escape for the time, but only to be taken,
as will hereafter be seen, by some other craft than the Pequod.
Schools and Schoolmasters
The previous chapter gave account of an immense body or herd
of Sperm Whales, and there was also then given the probable
cause inducing those vast aggregations.
Now, though such great bodies are at times encountered, yet, as must
have been seen, even at the present day, small detached bands are
occasionally observed, embracing from twenty to fifty individuals each.
Such bands are known as schools. They generally are of two sorts;
those composed almost entirely of females, and those mustering none
but young vigorous males, or bulls as they are familiarly designated.
In cavalier attendance upon the school of females, you invariably see
a male of full grown magnitude, but not old; who, upon any alarm,
evinces his gallantry by falling in the rear and covering the flight
of his ladies. In truth, this gentleman is a luxurious Ottoman,
swimming about over the watery world, surroundingly accompanied by all
the solaces and endearments of the harem. The contrast between this
Ottoman and his concubines is striking; because, while he is always
of the largest leviathanic proportions, the ladies, even at full growth,
are not more than one-third of the bulk of an average-sized male.
They are comparatively delicate, indeed; I dare say, not to exceed half
a dozen yards round the waist. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied,
that upon the whole they are hereditarily entitled to en bon point.
It is very curious to watch this harem and its lord in their
indolent ramblings. Like fashionables, they are for ever
on the move in leisurely search of variety. You meet them
on the Line in time for the full flower of the Equatorial
feeding season, having just returned, perhaps, from spending
the summer in the Northern seas, and so cheating summer of all
unpleasant weariness and warmth. By the time they have lounged
up and down the promenade of the Equator awhile, they start
for the Oriental waters in anticipation of the cool season there,
and so evade the other excessive temperature of the year.
When serenely advancing on one of these journeys, if any strange
suspicious sights are seen, my lord whale keeps a wary eye on his
interesting family. Should any unwarrantably pert young Leviathan coming
that way, presume to draw confidentially close to one of the ladies,
with what prodigious fury the Bashaw assails him, and chases him away!
High times, indeed, if unprincipled young rakes like him
are to be permitted to invade the sanctity of domestic bliss;
though do what the Bashaw will, he cannot keep the most notorious
Lothario out of his bed; for alas! all fish bed in common.
As ashore, the ladies often cause the most terrible duels among
their rival admirers; just so with the whales, who sometimes come
to deadly battle, and all for love. They fence with their long
lower jaws, sometimes locking them together, and so striving for
the supremacy like elks that warringly interweave their antlers.
Not a few are captured having the deep scars of these encounters,--
furrowed heads, broken teeth, scolloped fins; and in some instances,
wrenched and dislocated mouths.
But supposing the invader of domestic bliss to betake himself away
at the first rush of the harem's lord, then is it very diverting
to watch that lord. Gently he insinuates his vast bulk among
them again and revels there awhile, still in tantalizing vicinity
to young Lothario, like pious Solomon devoutly worshipping among
his thousand concubines. Granting other whales to be in sight,
the fisherman will seldom give chase to one of these Grand Turks;
for these Grand Turks are too lavish of their strength,
and hence their unctuousness is small. As for the sons and
the daughters they beget, why, those sons and daughters must
take care of themselves; at least, with only the maternal help.
For like certain other omnivorous roving lovers that might be named,
my Lord Whale has no taste for the nursery, however much
for the bower; and so, being a great traveller, he leaves his
anonymous babies all over the world; every baby an exotic.
In good time, nevertheless, as the ardor of youth declines;
as years and dumps increase; as reflection lends her solemn pauses;
in short, as a general lassitude overtakes the sated Turk;
then a love of ease and virtue supplants the love for maidens;
our Ottoman enters upon the impotent, repentant, admonitory stage
of life, forswears, disbands the harem, and grown to an exemplary,
sulky old soul, goes about all alone among the meridians and
parallels saying his prayers, and warning each young Leviathan
from his amorous errors.
Now, as the harem of whales is called by the fishermen a school, so is
the lord and master of that school technically known as the schoolmaster.
It is therefore not in strict character, however admirably satirical,
that after going to school himself, he should then go abroad
inculcating not what he learned there, but the folly of it.
His title, schoolmaster, would very naturally seem derived from
the name bestowed upon the harem itself, but some have surmised
that the man who first thus entitled this sort of Ottoman whale,
must have read the memoirs of Vidocq, and informed himself what sort
of a country-schoolmaster that famous Frenchman was in his younger days,
and what was the nature of those occult lessons he inculcated into
some of his pupils.
The same secludedness and isolation to which the schoolmaster
whale betakes himself in his advancing years, is true
of all aged Sperm Whales. Almost universally, a lone whale--
as a solitary Leviathan is called--proves an ancient one.
Like venerable moss-bearded Daniel Boone, he will have no
one near him but Nature herself; and her he takes to wife
in the wilderness of waters, and the best of wives she is,
though she keeps so many moody secrets.
The schools composing none but young and vigorous males,
previously mentioned, offer a strong contrast to the harem schools.
For while those female whales are characteristically timid,
the young males, or forty-barrel-bulls, as they call them,
are by far the most pugnacious of all Leviathans, and proverbially
the most dangerous to encounter; excepting those wondrous
grey-headed, grizzled whales, sometimes met, and these will fight
you like grim fiends exasperated by a penal gout.
The Forty-barrel-bull schools are larger than the harem schools.
Like a mob of young collegians, they are full of fight, fun,
and wickedness, tumbling round the world at such a reckless,
rollicking rate, that no prudent underwriter would insure them
any more than he would a riotous lad at Yale or Harvard. They soon
relinquish this turbulence though, and when about three-fourths grown,
break up, and separately go about in quest of settlements,
that is, harems.
Another point of difference between the male and female schools
is still more characteristic of the sexes. Say you strike
a Forty-barrel-bull--poor devil! all his comrades quit him.
But strike a member of the harem school, and her companions swim
around her with every token of concern, sometimes lingering
so near her and so long, as themselves to fall a prey.
Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish
The allusion to the waifs and waif-poles in the last chapter
but one, necessitates some account of the laws and regulations
of the whale fishery, of which the waif may be deemed the grand
symbol and badge.
It frequently happens that when several ships are cruising in company,
a whale may be struck by one vessel, then escape, and be finally killed
and captured by another vessel; and herein are indirectly comprised
many minor contingencies, all partaking of this one grand feature.
For example,--after a weary and perilous chase and capture of a whale,
the body may get loose from the ship by reason of a violent storm;
and drifting far away to leeward, be retaken by a second whaler, who,
in a calm, snugly tows it alongside, without risk of life or line.
Thus the most vexatious and violent disputes would often arise between
the fishermen, were there not some written or unwritten, universal,
undisputed law applicable to all cases.
Perhaps the only formal whaling code authorized by legislative enactment,
was that of Holland. It was decreed by the States-General in A.D. 1695.
But though no other nation has ever had any written whaling law,
yet the American fishermen have been their own legislators
and lawyers in this matter. They have provided a system which
for terse comprehensiveness surpasses Justinian's Pandects and
the By-laws of the Chinese Society for the Suppression of Meddling
with other People's Business. Yes; these laws might be engraven
on a Queen Anne's farthing, or the barb of a harpoon, and worn
round the neck, so small are they.
I. A Fast-Fish belongs to the party fast to it.
II. A Loose-Fish is fair game for anybody who can soonest catch it.
But what plays the mischief with this masterly code is the admirable
brevity of it, which necessitates a vast volume of commentaries
to expound it.
First: What is a Fast-Fish? Alive or dead a fish is technically fast,
when it is connected with an occupied ship or boat, by any medium
at all controllable by the occupant or occupants,--a mast, an oar,
a nine-inch cable, a telegraph wire, or a strand of cobweb, it is all
the same. Likewise a fish is technically fast when it bears a waif,
or any other recognized symbol of possession; so long as the party
wailing it plainly evince their ability at any time to take it alongside,
as well as their intention so to do.
These are scientific commentaries; but the commentaries of the whalemen
themselves sometimes consist in hard words and harder knocks--
the Coke-upon-Littleton of the fist. True, among the more upright
and honorable whalemen allowances are always made for peculiar cases,
where it would be an outrageous moral injustice for one party to claim
possession of a whale previously chased or killed by another party.
But others are by no means so scrupulous.
Some fifty years ago there was a curious case of whale-trover
litigated in England, wherein the plaintiffs set forth
that after a hard chase of a whale in the Northern seas;
and when indeed they (the plaintiffs) had succeeded in harpooning
the fish; they were at last, through peril of their lives,
obliged to forsake not only their lines, but their boat itself.
Ultimately the defendants (the crew of another ship)
came up with the whale, struck, killed, seized, and finally
appropriated it before the very eyes of the plaintiffs.
And when those defendants were remonstrated with, their captain
snapped his fingers in the plaintiffs' teeth, and assured
them that by way of doxology to the deed he had done,
he would now retain their line, harpoons, and boat, which had
remained attached to the whale at the time of the seizure.
Wherefore the plaintiffs now sued for the recovery of the value
of their whale, line, harpoons, and boat.
Mr. Erskine was counsel for the defendants; Lord Ellenborough
was the judge. In the course of the defence, the witty
Erskine went on to illustrate his position, by alluding to a
recent crim. con. case, wherein a gentleman, after in vain
trying to bridle his wife's viciousness, had at last abandoned
her upon the seas of life; but in the course of years, repenting of
that step, he instituted an action to recover possession of her.
Erskine was on the other side; and he then supported it by saying,
that though the gentleman had originally harpooned the lady,
and had once had her fast, and only by reason of the great
stress of her plunging viciousness, had at last abandoned her;
yet abandon her he did, so that she became a loose-fish;
and therefore when a subsequent gentleman re-harpooned her,
the lady then became that subsequent gentleman's property,
along with whatever harpoon might have been found sticking in her.
Now in the present case Erskine contended that the examples of the whale
and the lady were reciprocally illustrative of each other.
These pleadings, and the counter pleadings, being duly heard,
the very learned Judge in set terms decided, to wit,--
That as for the boat, he awarded it to the plaintiffs,
because they had merely abandoned it to save their lives;
but that with regard to the controverted whale, harpoons,
and line, they belonged to the defendants; the whale,
because it was a Loose-Fish at the time of the final capture;
and the harpoons and line because when the fish made off
with them, it (the fish) acquired a property in those articles;
and hence anybody who afterwards took the fish had a right to them.
Now the defendants afterwards took the fish; ergo, the aforesaid
articles were theirs.
A common man looking at this decision of the very learned Judge,
might possibly object to it. But ploughed up to the primary rock
of the matter, the two great principles laid down in the twin