The Project Gutenberg ebook of Moby Dick; or The Whale, by Herman Melville



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to us hunters of whales.
In the first place, it may be deemed almost superfluous to establish

the fact, that among people at large, the business of whaling is not

accounted on a level with what are called the liberal professions. If a

stranger were introduced into any miscellaneous metropolitan society,

it would but slightly advance the general opinion of his merits, were

he presented to the company as a harpooneer, say; and if in emulation

of the naval officers he should append the initials S.W.F. (Sperm

Whale Fishery) to his visiting card, such a procedure would be deemed

pre-eminently presuming and ridiculous.
Doubtless one leading reason why the world declines honouring us

whalemen, is this: they think that, at best, our vocation amounts to a

butchering sort of business; and that when actively engaged therein, we

are surrounded by all manner of defilements. Butchers we are, that is

true. But butchers, also, and butchers of the bloodiest badge have been

all Martial Commanders whom the world invariably delights to honour. And

as for the matter of the alleged uncleanliness of our business, ye shall

soon be initiated into certain facts hitherto pretty generally unknown,

and which, upon the whole, will triumphantly plant the sperm whale-ship

at least among the cleanliest things of this tidy earth. But even

granting the charge in question to be true; what disordered slippery

decks of a whale-ship are comparable to the unspeakable carrion of those

battle-fields from which so many soldiers return to drink in all ladies'

plaudits? And if the idea of peril so much enhances the popular conceit

of the soldier's profession; let me assure ye that many a veteran

who has freely marched up to a battery, would quickly recoil at the

apparition of the sperm whale's vast tail, fanning into eddies the air

over his head. For what are the comprehensible terrors of man compared

with the interlinked terrors and wonders of God!
But, though the world scouts at us whale hunters, yet does it

unwittingly pay us the profoundest homage; yea, an all-abounding

adoration! for almost all the tapers, lamps, and candles that burn round

the globe, burn, as before so many shrines, to our glory!


But look at this matter in other lights; weigh it in all sorts of

scales; see what we whalemen are, and have been.


Why did the Dutch in De Witt's time have admirals of their whaling

fleets? Why did Louis XVI. of France, at his own personal expense, fit

out whaling ships from Dunkirk, and politely invite to that town some

score or two of families from our own island of Nantucket? Why did

Britain between the years 1750 and 1788 pay to her whalemen in bounties

upwards of L1,000,000? And lastly, how comes it that we whalemen of

America now outnumber all the rest of the banded whalemen in the world;

sail a navy of upwards of seven hundred vessels; manned by eighteen

thousand men; yearly consuming 4,000,000 of dollars; the ships worth,

at the time of sailing, $20,000,000! and every year importing into our

harbors a well reaped harvest of $7,000,000. How comes all this, if

there be not something puissant in whaling?


But this is not the half; look again.
I freely assert, that the cosmopolite philosopher cannot, for his life,

point out one single peaceful influence, which within the last sixty

years has operated more potentially upon the whole broad world, taken in

one aggregate, than the high and mighty business of whaling. One way

and another, it has begotten events so remarkable in themselves, and so

continuously momentous in their sequential issues, that whaling may

well be regarded as that Egyptian mother, who bore offspring themselves

pregnant from her womb. It would be a hopeless, endless task to

catalogue all these things. Let a handful suffice. For many years past

the whale-ship has been the pioneer in ferreting out the remotest and

least known parts of the earth. She has explored seas and archipelagoes

which had no chart, where no Cook or Vancouver had ever sailed. If

American and European men-of-war now peacefully ride in once savage

harbors, let them fire salutes to the honour and glory of the

whale-ship, which originally showed them the way, and first interpreted

between them and the savages. They may celebrate as they will the heroes

of Exploring Expeditions, your Cooks, your Krusensterns; but I say that

scores of anonymous Captains have sailed out of Nantucket, that were

as great, and greater than your Cook and your Krusenstern. For in their

succourless empty-handedness, they, in the heathenish sharked waters,

and by the beaches of unrecorded, javelin islands, battled with virgin

wonders and terrors that Cook with all his marines and muskets would

not willingly have dared. All that is made such a flourish of in the old

South Sea Voyages, those things were but the life-time commonplaces of

our heroic Nantucketers. Often, adventures which Vancouver dedicates

three chapters to, these men accounted unworthy of being set down in the

ship's common log. Ah, the world! Oh, the world!
Until the whale fishery rounded Cape Horn, no commerce but colonial,

scarcely any intercourse but colonial, was carried on between Europe and

the long line of the opulent Spanish provinces on the Pacific coast.

It was the whaleman who first broke through the jealous policy of the

Spanish crown, touching those colonies; and, if space permitted, it

might be distinctly shown how from those whalemen at last eventuated the

liberation of Peru, Chili, and Bolivia from the yoke of Old Spain, and

the establishment of the eternal democracy in those parts.


That great America on the other side of the sphere, Australia, was given

to the enlightened world by the whaleman. After its first blunder-born

discovery by a Dutchman, all other ships long shunned those shores

as pestiferously barbarous; but the whale-ship touched there. The

whale-ship is the true mother of that now mighty colony. Moreover,

in the infancy of the first Australian settlement, the emigrants were

several times saved from starvation by the benevolent biscuit of the

whale-ship luckily dropping an anchor in their waters. The uncounted

isles of all Polynesia confess the same truth, and do commercial homage

to the whale-ship, that cleared the way for the missionary and the

merchant, and in many cases carried the primitive missionaries to their

first destinations. If that double-bolted land, Japan, is ever to become

hospitable, it is the whale-ship alone to whom the credit will be due;

for already she is on the threshold.


But if, in the face of all this, you still declare that whaling has no

aesthetically noble associations connected with it, then am I ready to

shiver fifty lances with you there, and unhorse you with a split helmet

every time.


The whale has no famous author, and whaling no famous chronicler, you

will say.


THE WHALE NO FAMOUS AUTHOR, AND WHALING NO FAMOUS CHRONICLER? Who wrote

the first account of our Leviathan? Who but mighty Job! And who composed

the first narrative of a whaling-voyage? Who, but no less a prince than

Alfred the Great, who, with his own royal pen, took down the words from

Other, the Norwegian whale-hunter of those times! And who pronounced our

glowing eulogy in Parliament? Who, but Edmund Burke!


True enough, but then whalemen themselves are poor devils; they have no

good blood in their veins.


NO GOOD BLOOD IN THEIR VEINS? They have something better than royal

blood there. The grandmother of Benjamin Franklin was Mary Morrel;

afterwards, by marriage, Mary Folger, one of the old settlers

of Nantucket, and the ancestress to a long line of Folgers and

harpooneers--all kith and kin to noble Benjamin--this day darting the

barbed iron from one side of the world to the other.


Good again; but then all confess that somehow whaling is not

respectable.


WHALING NOT RESPECTABLE? Whaling is imperial! By old English statutory

law, the whale is declared "a royal fish."*


Oh, that's only nominal! The whale himself has never figured in any

grand imposing way.


THE WHALE NEVER FIGURED IN ANY GRAND IMPOSING WAY? In one of the mighty

triumphs given to a Roman general upon his entering the world's capital,

the bones of a whale, brought all the way from the Syrian coast, were

the most conspicuous object in the cymballed procession.*

*See subsequent chapters for something more on this head.

Grant it, since you cite it; but, say what you will, there is no real

dignity in whaling.
NO DIGNITY IN WHALING? The dignity of our calling the very heavens

attest. Cetus is a constellation in the South! No more! Drive down your

hat in presence of the Czar, and take it off to Queequeg! No more! I

know a man that, in his lifetime, has taken three hundred and fifty

whales. I account that man more honourable than that great captain of

antiquity who boasted of taking as many walled towns.


And, as for me, if, by any possibility, there be any as yet undiscovered

prime thing in me; if I shall ever deserve any real repute in that small

but high hushed world which I might not be unreasonably ambitious of; if

hereafter I shall do anything that, upon the whole, a man might rather

have done than to have left undone; if, at my death, my executors, or

more properly my creditors, find any precious MSS. in my desk, then here

I prospectively ascribe all the honour and the glory to whaling; for a

whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.


CHAPTER 25. Postscript.

In behalf of the dignity of whaling, I would fain advance naught but

substantiated facts. But after embattling his facts, an advocate who

should wholly suppress a not unreasonable surmise, which might

tell eloquently upon his cause--such an advocate, would he not be

blameworthy?
It is well known that at the coronation of kings and queens, even modern

ones, a certain curious process of seasoning them for their functions is

gone through. There is a saltcellar of state, so called, and there

may be a castor of state. How they use the salt, precisely--who knows?

Certain I am, however, that a king's head is solemnly oiled at his

coronation, even as a head of salad. Can it be, though, that they

anoint it with a view of making its interior run well, as they anoint

machinery? Much might be ruminated here, concerning the essential

dignity of this regal process, because in common life we esteem but

meanly and contemptibly a fellow who anoints his hair, and palpably

smells of that anointing. In truth, a mature man who uses hair-oil,

unless medicinally, that man has probably got a quoggy spot in him

somewhere. As a general rule, he can't amount to much in his totality.
But the only thing to be considered here, is this--what kind of oil is

used at coronations? Certainly it cannot be olive oil, nor macassar oil,

nor castor oil, nor bear's oil, nor train oil, nor cod-liver oil. What

then can it possibly be, but sperm oil in its unmanufactured, unpolluted

state, the sweetest of all oils?
Think of that, ye loyal Britons! we whalemen supply your kings and

queens with coronation stuff!


CHAPTER 26. Knights and Squires.

The chief mate of the Pequod was Starbuck, a native of Nantucket, and a

Quaker by descent. He was a long, earnest man, and though born on an icy

coast, seemed well adapted to endure hot latitudes, his flesh being hard

as twice-baked biscuit. Transported to the Indies, his live blood would

not spoil like bottled ale. He must have been born in some time of

general drought and famine, or upon one of those fast days for which

his state is famous. Only some thirty arid summers had he seen; those

summers had dried up all his physical superfluousness. But this, his

thinness, so to speak, seemed no more the token of wasting anxieties and

cares, than it seemed the indication of any bodily blight. It was merely

the condensation of the man. He was by no means ill-looking; quite the

contrary. His pure tight skin was an excellent fit; and closely wrapped

up in it, and embalmed with inner health and strength, like a revivified

Egyptian, this Starbuck seemed prepared to endure for long ages to come,

and to endure always, as now; for be it Polar snow or torrid sun, like

a patent chronometer, his interior vitality was warranted to do well

in all climates. Looking into his eyes, you seemed to see there the yet

lingering images of those thousand-fold perils he had calmly confronted

through life. A staid, steadfast man, whose life for the most part was a

telling pantomime of action, and not a tame chapter of sounds. Yet, for

all his hardy sobriety and fortitude, there were certain qualities

in him which at times affected, and in some cases seemed well nigh to

overbalance all the rest. Uncommonly conscientious for a seaman, and

endued with a deep natural reverence, the wild watery loneliness of his

life did therefore strongly incline him to superstition; but to that

sort of superstition, which in some organizations seems rather to

spring, somehow, from intelligence than from ignorance. Outward portents

and inward presentiments were his. And if at times these things bent the

welded iron of his soul, much more did his far-away domestic memories

of his young Cape wife and child, tend to bend him still more from the

original ruggedness of his nature, and open him still further to those

latent influences which, in some honest-hearted men, restrain the gush

of dare-devil daring, so often evinced by others in the more perilous

vicissitudes of the fishery. "I will have no man in my boat," said

Starbuck, "who is not afraid of a whale." By this, he seemed to mean,

not only that the most reliable and useful courage was that which arises

from the fair estimation of the encountered peril, but that an utterly

fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.


"Aye, aye," said Stubb, the second mate, "Starbuck, there, is as careful

a man as you'll find anywhere in this fishery." But we shall ere long

see what that word "careful" precisely means when used by a man like

Stubb, or almost any other whale hunter.


Starbuck was no crusader after perils; in him courage was not a

sentiment; but a thing simply useful to him, and always at hand upon all

mortally practical occasions. Besides, he thought, perhaps, that in this

business of whaling, courage was one of the great staple outfits of

the ship, like her beef and her bread, and not to be foolishly wasted.

Wherefore he had no fancy for lowering for whales after sun-down; nor

for persisting in fighting a fish that too much persisted in fighting

him. For, thought Starbuck, I am here in this critical ocean to kill

whales for my living, and not to be killed by them for theirs; and that

hundreds of men had been so killed Starbuck well knew. What doom was

his own father's? Where, in the bottomless deeps, could he find the torn

limbs of his brother?


With memories like these in him, and, moreover, given to a certain

superstitiousness, as has been said; the courage of this Starbuck which

could, nevertheless, still flourish, must indeed have been extreme. But

it was not in reasonable nature that a man so organized, and with such

terrible experiences and remembrances as he had; it was not in nature

that these things should fail in latently engendering an element in

him, which, under suitable circumstances, would break out from its

confinement, and burn all his courage up. And brave as he might be, it

was that sort of bravery chiefly, visible in some intrepid men, which,

while generally abiding firm in the conflict with seas, or winds, or

whales, or any of the ordinary irrational horrors of the world, yet

cannot withstand those more terrific, because more spiritual terrors,

which sometimes menace you from the concentrating brow of an enraged and

mighty man.


But were the coming narrative to reveal in any instance, the complete

abasement of poor Starbuck's fortitude, scarce might I have the heart to

write it; for it is a thing most sorrowful, nay shocking, to expose

the fall of valour in the soul. Men may seem detestable as joint

stock-companies and nations; knaves, fools, and murderers there may be;

men may have mean and meagre faces; but man, in the ideal, is so noble

and so sparkling, such a grand and glowing creature, that over any

ignominious blemish in him all his fellows should run to throw their

costliest robes. That immaculate manliness we feel within ourselves,

so far within us, that it remains intact though all the outer character

seem gone; bleeds with keenest anguish at the undraped spectacle of

a valor-ruined man. Nor can piety itself, at such a shameful sight,

completely stifle her upbraidings against the permitting stars. But this

august dignity I treat of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, but

that abounding dignity which has no robed investiture. Thou shalt see it

shining in the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike; that democratic

dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself! The

great God absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy! His

omnipresence, our divine equality!
If, then, to meanest mariners, and renegades and castaways, I shall

hereafter ascribe high qualities, though dark; weave round them tragic

graces; if even the most mournful, perchance the most abased, among them

all, shall at times lift himself to the exalted mounts; if I shall touch

that workman's arm with some ethereal light; if I shall spread a rainbow

over his disastrous set of sun; then against all mortal critics bear

me out in it, thou Just Spirit of Equality, which hast spread one royal

mantle of humanity over all my kind! Bear me out in it, thou great

democratic God! who didst not refuse to the swart convict, Bunyan, the

pale, poetic pearl; Thou who didst clothe with doubly hammered leaves

of finest gold, the stumped and paupered arm of old Cervantes; Thou who

didst pick up Andrew Jackson from the pebbles; who didst hurl him upon a

war-horse; who didst thunder him higher than a throne! Thou who, in all

Thy mighty, earthly marchings, ever cullest Thy selectest champions from

the kingly commons; bear me out in it, O God!

CHAPTER 27. Knights and Squires.

Stubb was the second mate. He was a native of Cape Cod; and hence,

according to local usage, was called a Cape-Cod-man. A happy-go-lucky;

neither craven nor valiant; taking perils as they came with an

indifferent air; and while engaged in the most imminent crisis of the

chase, toiling away, calm and collected as a journeyman joiner engaged

for the year. Good-humored, easy, and careless, he presided over his

whale-boat as if the most deadly encounter were but a dinner, and his

crew all invited guests. He was as particular about the comfortable

arrangement of his part of the boat, as an old stage-driver is about the

snugness of his box. When close to the whale, in the very death-lock of

the fight, he handled his unpitying lance coolly and off-handedly, as

a whistling tinker his hammer. He would hum over his old rigadig tunes

while flank and flank with the most exasperated monster. Long usage had,

for this Stubb, converted the jaws of death into an easy chair. What he

thought of death itself, there is no telling. Whether he ever thought of

it at all, might be a question; but, if he ever did chance to cast his

mind that way after a comfortable dinner, no doubt, like a good sailor,

he took it to be a sort of call of the watch to tumble aloft, and bestir

themselves there, about something which he would find out when he obeyed

the order, and not sooner.


What, perhaps, with other things, made Stubb such an easy-going,

unfearing man, so cheerily trudging off with the burden of life in a

world full of grave pedlars, all bowed to the ground with their packs;

what helped to bring about that almost impious good-humor of his; that

thing must have been his pipe. For, like his nose, his short, black

little pipe was one of the regular features of his face. You would

almost as soon have expected him to turn out of his bunk without his

nose as without his pipe. He kept a whole row of pipes there ready

loaded, stuck in a rack, within easy reach of his hand; and, whenever he

turned in, he smoked them all out in succession, lighting one from

the other to the end of the chapter; then loading them again to be in

readiness anew. For, when Stubb dressed, instead of first putting his

legs into his trowsers, he put his pipe into his mouth.
I say this continual smoking must have been one cause, at least, of his

peculiar disposition; for every one knows that this earthly air, whether

ashore or afloat, is terribly infected with the nameless miseries of

the numberless mortals who have died exhaling it; and as in time of the

cholera, some people go about with a camphorated handkerchief to their

mouths; so, likewise, against all mortal tribulations, Stubb's tobacco

smoke might have operated as a sort of disinfecting agent.
The third mate was Flask, a native of Tisbury, in Martha's Vineyard. A

short, stout, ruddy young fellow, very pugnacious concerning whales,

who somehow seemed to think that the great leviathans had personally

and hereditarily affronted him; and therefore it was a sort of point of

honour with him, to destroy them whenever encountered. So utterly lost

was he to all sense of reverence for the many marvels of their majestic

bulk and mystic ways; and so dead to anything like an apprehension of

any possible danger from encountering them; that in his poor opinion,

the wondrous whale was but a species of magnified mouse, or at least

water-rat, requiring only a little circumvention and some small

application of time and trouble in order to kill and boil. This

ignorant, unconscious fearlessness of his made him a little waggish in

the matter of whales; he followed these fish for the fun of it; and a

three years' voyage round Cape Horn was only a jolly joke that lasted

that length of time. As a carpenter's nails are divided into wrought

nails and cut nails; so mankind may be similarly divided. Little Flask

was one of the wrought ones; made to clinch tight and last long. They

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