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

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back, upon my soul, my little man, I kicked my leg right off! And then,

presto! Ahab seemed a pyramid, and I, like a blazing fool, kept kicking

at it. But what was still more curious, Flask--you know how curious all

dreams are--through all this rage that I was in, I somehow seemed to be

thinking to myself, that after all, it was not much of an insult, that

kick from Ahab. 'Why,' thinks I, 'what's the row? It's not a real leg,

only a false leg.' And there's a mighty difference between a living

thump and a dead thump. That's what makes a blow from the hand, Flask,

fifty times more savage to bear than a blow from a cane. The living

member--that makes the living insult, my little man. And thinks I to

myself all the while, mind, while I was stubbing my silly toes against

that cursed pyramid--so confoundedly contradictory was it all, all

the while, I say, I was thinking to myself, 'what's his leg now, but

a cane--a whalebone cane. Yes,' thinks I, 'it was only a playful

cudgelling--in fact, only a whaleboning that he gave me--not a base

kick. Besides,' thinks I, 'look at it once; why, the end of it--the foot

part--what a small sort of end it is; whereas, if a broad footed farmer

kicked me, THERE'S a devilish broad insult. But this insult is whittled

down to a point only.' But now comes the greatest joke of the

dream, Flask. While I was battering away at the pyramid, a sort of

badger-haired old merman, with a hump on his back, takes me by the

shoulders, and slews me round. 'What are you 'bout?' says he. Slid! man,

but I was frightened. Such a phiz! But, somehow, next moment I was over

the fright. 'What am I about?' says I at last. 'And what business is

that of yours, I should like to know, Mr. Humpback? Do YOU want a kick?'

By the lord, Flask, I had no sooner said that, than he turned round his

stern to me, bent over, and dragging up a lot of seaweed he had for a

clout--what do you think, I saw?--why thunder alive, man, his stern

was stuck full of marlinspikes, with the points out. Says I, on second

thoughts, 'I guess I won't kick you, old fellow.' 'Wise Stubb,' said he,

'wise Stubb;' and kept muttering it all the time, a sort of eating of

his own gums like a chimney hag. Seeing he wasn't going to stop saying

over his 'wise Stubb, wise Stubb,' I thought I might as well fall to

kicking the pyramid again. But I had only just lifted my foot for it,

when he roared out, 'Stop that kicking!' 'Halloa,' says I, 'what's

the matter now, old fellow?' 'Look ye here,' says he; 'let's argue

the insult. Captain Ahab kicked ye, didn't he?' 'Yes, he did,' says

I--'right HERE it was.' 'Very good,' says he--'he used his ivory leg,

didn't he?' 'Yes, he did,' says I. 'Well then,' says he, 'wise Stubb,

what have you to complain of? Didn't he kick with right good will? it

wasn't a common pitch pine leg he kicked with, was it? No, you were

kicked by a great man, and with a beautiful ivory leg, Stubb. It's an

honour; I consider it an honour. Listen, wise Stubb. In old England the

greatest lords think it great glory to be slapped by a queen, and made

garter-knights of; but, be YOUR boast, Stubb, that ye were kicked by

old Ahab, and made a wise man of. Remember what I say; BE kicked by him;

account his kicks honours; and on no account kick back; for you can't

help yourself, wise Stubb. Don't you see that pyramid?' With that, he

all of a sudden seemed somehow, in some queer fashion, to swim off into

the air. I snored; rolled over; and there I was in my hammock! Now, what

do you think of that dream, Flask?"
"I don't know; it seems a sort of foolish to me, tho.'"
"May be; may be. But it's made a wise man of me, Flask. D'ye see Ahab

standing there, sideways looking over the stern? Well, the best thing

you can do, Flask, is to let the old man alone; never speak to him,

whatever he says. Halloa! What's that he shouts? Hark!"

"Mast-head, there! Look sharp, all of ye! There are whales hereabouts!
"If ye see a white one, split your lungs for him!
"What do you think of that now, Flask? ain't there a small drop of

something queer about that, eh? A white whale--did ye mark that, man?

Look ye--there's something special in the wind. Stand by for it, Flask.

Ahab has that that's bloody on his mind. But, mum; he comes this way."

CHAPTER 32. Cetology.

Already we are boldly launched upon the deep; but soon we shall be lost

in its unshored, harbourless immensities. Ere that come to pass; ere the

Pequod's weedy hull rolls side by side with the barnacled hulls of the

leviathan; at the outset it is but well to attend to a matter almost

indispensable to a thorough appreciative understanding of the more

special leviathanic revelations and allusions of all sorts which are to

It is some systematized exhibition of the whale in his broad genera,

that I would now fain put before you. Yet is it no easy task. The

classification of the constituents of a chaos, nothing less is here

essayed. Listen to what the best and latest authorities have laid down.

"No branch of Zoology is so much involved as that which is entitled

Cetology," says Captain Scoresby, A.D. 1820.

"It is not my intention, were it in my power, to enter into the

inquiry as to the true method of dividing the cetacea into groups and

families.... Utter confusion exists among the historians of this animal"

(sperm whale), says Surgeon Beale, A.D. 1839.

"Unfitness to pursue our research in the unfathomable waters."

"Impenetrable veil covering our knowledge of the cetacea." "A field

strewn with thorns." "All these incomplete indications but serve to

torture us naturalists."

Thus speak of the whale, the great Cuvier, and John Hunter, and Lesson,

those lights of zoology and anatomy. Nevertheless, though of real

knowledge there be little, yet of books there are a plenty; and so in

some small degree, with cetology, or the science of whales. Many are

the men, small and great, old and new, landsmen and seamen, who have at

large or in little, written of the whale. Run over a few:--The Authors

of the Bible; Aristotle; Pliny; Aldrovandi; Sir Thomas Browne; Gesner;

Ray; Linnaeus; Rondeletius; Willoughby; Green; Artedi; Sibbald; Brisson;

Marten; Lacepede; Bonneterre; Desmarest; Baron Cuvier; Frederick Cuvier;

John Hunter; Owen; Scoresby; Beale; Bennett; J. Ross Browne; the

Author of Miriam Coffin; Olmstead; and the Rev. T. Cheever. But to what

ultimate generalizing purpose all these have written, the above cited

extracts will show.
Of the names in this list of whale authors, only those following Owen

ever saw living whales; and but one of them was a real professional

harpooneer and whaleman. I mean Captain Scoresby. On the separate

subject of the Greenland or right-whale, he is the best existing

authority. But Scoresby knew nothing and says nothing of the great

sperm whale, compared with which the Greenland whale is almost unworthy

mentioning. And here be it said, that the Greenland whale is an usurper

upon the throne of the seas. He is not even by any means the largest

of the whales. Yet, owing to the long priority of his claims, and the

profound ignorance which, till some seventy years back, invested the

then fabulous or utterly unknown sperm-whale, and which ignorance to

this present day still reigns in all but some few scientific retreats

and whale-ports; this usurpation has been every way complete. Reference

to nearly all the leviathanic allusions in the great poets of past days,

will satisfy you that the Greenland whale, without one rival, was to

them the monarch of the seas. But the time has at last come for a new

proclamation. This is Charing Cross; hear ye! good people all,--the

Greenland whale is deposed,--the great sperm whale now reigneth!

There are only two books in being which at all pretend to put the living

sperm whale before you, and at the same time, in the remotest degree

succeed in the attempt. Those books are Beale's and Bennett's; both in

their time surgeons to English South-Sea whale-ships, and both exact and

reliable men. The original matter touching the sperm whale to be found

in their volumes is necessarily small; but so far as it goes, it is of

excellent quality, though mostly confined to scientific description. As

yet, however, the sperm whale, scientific or poetic, lives not complete

in any literature. Far above all other hunted whales, his is an

unwritten life.

Now the various species of whales need some sort of popular

comprehensive classification, if only an easy outline one for the

present, hereafter to be filled in all its departments by subsequent

laborers. As no better man advances to take this matter in hand, I

hereupon offer my own poor endeavors. I promise nothing complete;

because any human thing supposed to be complete, must for that very

reason infallibly be faulty. I shall not pretend to a minute anatomical

description of the various species, or--in this place at least--to much

of any description. My object here is simply to project the draught of a

systematization of cetology. I am the architect, not the builder.

But it is a ponderous task; no ordinary letter-sorter in the Post-Office

is equal to it. To grope down into the bottom of the sea after them;

to have one's hands among the unspeakable foundations, ribs, and very

pelvis of the world; this is a fearful thing. What am I that I should

essay to hook the nose of this leviathan! The awful tauntings in Job

might well appal me. Will he the (leviathan) make a covenant with thee?

Behold the hope of him is vain! But I have swam through libraries and

sailed through oceans; I have had to do with whales with these visible

hands; I am in earnest; and I will try. There are some preliminaries to

First: The uncertain, unsettled condition of this science of Cetology

is in the very vestibule attested by the fact, that in some quarters it

still remains a moot point whether a whale be a fish. In his System of

Nature, A.D. 1776, Linnaeus declares, "I hereby separate the whales from

the fish." But of my own knowledge, I know that down to the year 1850,

sharks and shad, alewives and herring, against Linnaeus's express edict,

were still found dividing the possession of the same seas with the

The grounds upon which Linnaeus would fain have banished the whales from

the waters, he states as follows: "On account of their warm bilocular

heart, their lungs, their movable eyelids, their hollow ears, penem

intrantem feminam mammis lactantem," and finally, "ex lege naturae jure

meritoque." I submitted all this to my friends Simeon Macey and Charley

Coffin, of Nantucket, both messmates of mine in a certain voyage, and

they united in the opinion that the reasons set forth were altogether

insufficient. Charley profanely hinted they were humbug.

Be it known that, waiving all argument, I take the good old fashioned

ground that the whale is a fish, and call upon holy Jonah to back me.

This fundamental thing settled, the next point is, in what internal

respect does the whale differ from other fish. Above, Linnaeus has given

you those items. But in brief, they are these: lungs and warm blood;

whereas, all other fish are lungless and cold blooded.

Next: how shall we define the whale, by his obvious externals, so as

conspicuously to label him for all time to come? To be short, then, a


him. However contracted, that definition is the result of expanded

meditation. A walrus spouts much like a whale, but the walrus is not a

fish, because he is amphibious. But the last term of the definition is

still more cogent, as coupled with the first. Almost any one must have

noticed that all the fish familiar to landsmen have not a flat, but a

vertical, or up-and-down tail. Whereas, among spouting fish the tail,

though it may be similarly shaped, invariably assumes a horizontal

By the above definition of what a whale is, I do by no means exclude

from the leviathanic brotherhood any sea creature hitherto identified

with the whale by the best informed Nantucketers; nor, on the other

hand, link with it any fish hitherto authoritatively regarded as alien.*

Hence, all the smaller, spouting, and horizontal tailed fish must be

included in this ground-plan of Cetology. Now, then, come the grand

divisions of the entire whale host.

*I am aware that down to the present time, the fish styled Lamatins and

Dugongs (Pig-fish and Sow-fish of the Coffins of Nantucket) are included

by many naturalists among the whales. But as these pig-fish are a noisy,

contemptible set, mostly lurking in the mouths of rivers, and feeding on

wet hay, and especially as they do not spout, I deny their credentials

as whales; and have presented them with their passports to quit the

Kingdom of Cetology.

First: According to magnitude I divide the whales into three primary

BOOKS (subdivisible into CHAPTERS), and these shall comprehend them all,

both small and large.
As the type of the FOLIO I present the SPERM WHALE; of the OCTAVO, the


FOLIOS. Among these I here include the following chapters:--I. The SPERM


BOOK I. (FOLIO), CHAPTER I. (SPERM WHALE).--This whale, among the

English of old vaguely known as the Trumpa whale, and the Physeter

whale, and the Anvil Headed whale, is the present Cachalot of the

French, and the Pottsfich of the Germans, and the Macrocephalus of the

Long Words. He is, without doubt, the largest inhabitant of the globe;

the most formidable of all whales to encounter; the most majestic in

aspect; and lastly, by far the most valuable in commerce; he being

the only creature from which that valuable substance, spermaceti, is

obtained. All his peculiarities will, in many other places, be enlarged

upon. It is chiefly with his name that I now have to do. Philologically

considered, it is absurd. Some centuries ago, when the Sperm whale was

almost wholly unknown in his own proper individuality, and when his oil

was only accidentally obtained from the stranded fish; in those days

spermaceti, it would seem, was popularly supposed to be derived from a

creature identical with the one then known in England as the Greenland

or Right Whale. It was the idea also, that this same spermaceti was that

quickening humor of the Greenland Whale which the first syllable of

the word literally expresses. In those times, also, spermaceti was

exceedingly scarce, not being used for light, but only as an ointment

and medicament. It was only to be had from the druggists as you nowadays

buy an ounce of rhubarb. When, as I opine, in the course of time, the

true nature of spermaceti became known, its original name was still

retained by the dealers; no doubt to enhance its value by a notion so

strangely significant of its scarcity. And so the appellation must at

last have come to be bestowed upon the whale from which this spermaceti

was really derived.

BOOK I. (FOLIO), CHAPTER II. (RIGHT WHALE).--In one respect this is the

most venerable of the leviathans, being the one first regularly hunted

by man. It yields the article commonly known as whalebone or baleen; and

the oil specially known as "whale oil," an inferior article in commerce.

Among the fishermen, he is indiscriminately designated by all the

following titles: The Whale; the Greenland Whale; the Black Whale;

the Great Whale; the True Whale; the Right Whale. There is a deal of

obscurity concerning the identity of the species thus multitudinously

baptised. What then is the whale, which I include in the second species

of my Folios? It is the Great Mysticetus of the English naturalists; the

Greenland Whale of the English whalemen; the Baliene Ordinaire of the

French whalemen; the Growlands Walfish of the Swedes. It is the whale

which for more than two centuries past has been hunted by the Dutch and

English in the Arctic seas; it is the whale which the American fishermen

have long pursued in the Indian ocean, on the Brazil Banks, on the Nor'

West Coast, and various other parts of the world, designated by them

Right Whale Cruising Grounds.
Some pretend to see a difference between the Greenland whale of the

English and the right whale of the Americans. But they precisely agree

in all their grand features; nor has there yet been presented a single

determinate fact upon which to ground a radical distinction. It is by

endless subdivisions based upon the most inconclusive differences, that

some departments of natural history become so repellingly intricate. The

right whale will be elsewhere treated of at some length, with reference

to elucidating the sperm whale.

BOOK I. (FOLIO), CHAPTER III. (FIN-BACK).--Under this head I reckon

a monster which, by the various names of Fin-Back, Tall-Spout, and

Long-John, has been seen almost in every sea and is commonly the whale

whose distant jet is so often descried by passengers crossing the

Atlantic, in the New York packet-tracks. In the length he attains, and

in his baleen, the Fin-back resembles the right whale, but is of a less

portly girth, and a lighter colour, approaching to olive. His great lips

present a cable-like aspect, formed by the intertwisting, slanting folds

of large wrinkles. His grand distinguishing feature, the fin, from which

he derives his name, is often a conspicuous object. This fin is some

three or four feet long, growing vertically from the hinder part of the

back, of an angular shape, and with a very sharp pointed end. Even if

not the slightest other part of the creature be visible, this isolated

fin will, at times, be seen plainly projecting from the surface. When

the sea is moderately calm, and slightly marked with spherical ripples,

and this gnomon-like fin stands up and casts shadows upon the wrinkled

surface, it may well be supposed that the watery circle surrounding it

somewhat resembles a dial, with its style and wavy hour-lines graved on

it. On that Ahaz-dial the shadow often goes back. The Fin-Back is not

gregarious. He seems a whale-hater, as some men are man-haters. Very

shy; always going solitary; unexpectedly rising to the surface in the

remotest and most sullen waters; his straight and single lofty jet

rising like a tall misanthropic spear upon a barren plain; gifted with

such wondrous power and velocity in swimming, as to defy all present

pursuit from man; this leviathan seems the banished and unconquerable

Cain of his race, bearing for his mark that style upon his back. From

having the baleen in his mouth, the Fin-Back is sometimes included with

the right whale, among a theoretic species denominated WHALEBONE WHALES,

that is, whales with baleen. Of these so called Whalebone whales, there

would seem to be several varieties, most of which, however, are little

known. Broad-nosed whales and beaked whales; pike-headed whales; bunched

whales; under-jawed whales and rostrated whales, are the fishermen's

names for a few sorts.
In connection with this appellative of "Whalebone whales," it is of

great importance to mention, that however such a nomenclature may be

convenient in facilitating allusions to some kind of whales, yet it is

in vain to attempt a clear classification of the Leviathan, founded upon

either his baleen, or hump, or fin, or teeth; notwithstanding that those

marked parts or features very obviously seem better adapted to afford

the basis for a regular system of Cetology than any other detached

bodily distinctions, which the whale, in his kinds, presents. How

then? The baleen, hump, back-fin, and teeth; these are things whose

peculiarities are indiscriminately dispersed among all sorts of whales,

without any regard to what may be the nature of their structure in other

and more essential particulars. Thus, the sperm whale and the humpbacked

whale, each has a hump; but there the similitude ceases. Then, this same

humpbacked whale and the Greenland whale, each of these has baleen;

but there again the similitude ceases. And it is just the same with the

other parts above mentioned. In various sorts of whales, they form such

irregular combinations; or, in the case of any one of them detached,

such an irregular isolation; as utterly to defy all general

methodization formed upon such a basis. On this rock every one of the

whale-naturalists has split.

But it may possibly be conceived that, in the internal parts of the

whale, in his anatomy--there, at least, we shall be able to hit the

right classification. Nay; what thing, for example, is there in the

Greenland whale's anatomy more striking than his baleen? Yet we have

seen that by his baleen it is impossible correctly to classify the

Greenland whale. And if you descend into the bowels of the various

leviathans, why there you will not find distinctions a fiftieth part as

available to the systematizer as those external ones already enumerated.

What then remains? nothing but to take hold of the whales bodily, in

their entire liberal volume, and boldly sort them that way. And this is

the Bibliographical system here adopted; and it is the only one that can

possibly succeed, for it alone is practicable. To proceed.

BOOK I. (FOLIO) CHAPTER IV. (HUMP-BACK).--This whale is often seen on

the northern American coast. He has been frequently captured there, and

towed into harbor. He has a great pack on him like a peddler; or you

might call him the Elephant and Castle whale. At any rate, the popular

name for him does not sufficiently distinguish him, since the sperm

whale also has a hump though a smaller one. His oil is not very

valuable. He has baleen. He is the most gamesome and light-hearted of

all the whales, making more gay foam and white water generally than any

other of them.
BOOK I. (FOLIO), CHAPTER V. (RAZOR-BACK).--Of this whale little is known

but his name. I have seen him at a distance off Cape Horn. Of a retiring

nature, he eludes both hunters and philosophers. Though no coward, he

has never yet shown any part of him but his back, which rises in a long

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