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

Download 4.14 Mb.
Date conversion29.04.2016
Size4.14 Mb.
1   ...   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   ...   56
But though without dissent this point be fixed, how is mortal man to

account for it? To analyse it, would seem impossible. Can we, then,

by the citation of some of those instances wherein this thing of

whiteness--though for the time either wholly or in great part stripped

of all direct associations calculated to impart to it aught fearful,

but nevertheless, is found to exert over us the same sorcery, however

modified;--can we thus hope to light upon some chance clue to conduct us

to the hidden cause we seek?

Let us try. But in a matter like this, subtlety appeals to subtlety,

and without imagination no man can follow another into these halls. And

though, doubtless, some at least of the imaginative impressions about

to be presented may have been shared by most men, yet few perhaps were

entirely conscious of them at the time, and therefore may not be able to

recall them now.

Why to the man of untutored ideality, who happens to be but loosely

acquainted with the peculiar character of the day, does the bare mention

of Whitsuntide marshal in the fancy such long, dreary, speechless

processions of slow-pacing pilgrims, down-cast and hooded with

new-fallen snow? Or, to the unread, unsophisticated Protestant of the

Middle American States, why does the passing mention of a White Friar or

a White Nun, evoke such an eyeless statue in the soul?
Or what is there apart from the traditions of dungeoned warriors and

kings (which will not wholly account for it) that makes the White

Tower of London tell so much more strongly on the imagination of

an untravelled American, than those other storied structures, its

neighbors--the Byward Tower, or even the Bloody? And those sublimer

towers, the White Mountains of New Hampshire, whence, in peculiar moods,

comes that gigantic ghostliness over the soul at the bare mention of

that name, while the thought of Virginia's Blue Ridge is full of a soft,

dewy, distant dreaminess? Or why, irrespective of all latitudes and

longitudes, does the name of the White Sea exert such a spectralness

over the fancy, while that of the Yellow Sea lulls us with mortal

thoughts of long lacquered mild afternoons on the waves, followed by

the gaudiest and yet sleepiest of sunsets? Or, to choose a wholly

unsubstantial instance, purely addressed to the fancy, why, in reading

the old fairy tales of Central Europe, does "the tall pale man" of the

Hartz forests, whose changeless pallor unrustlingly glides through the

green of the groves--why is this phantom more terrible than all the

whooping imps of the Blocksburg?

Nor is it, altogether, the remembrance of her cathedral-toppling

earthquakes; nor the stampedoes of her frantic seas; nor the

tearlessness of arid skies that never rain; nor the sight of her wide

field of leaning spires, wrenched cope-stones, and crosses all adroop

(like canted yards of anchored fleets); and her suburban avenues of

house-walls lying over upon each other, as a tossed pack of cards;--it

is not these things alone which make tearless Lima, the strangest,

saddest city thou can'st see. For Lima has taken the white veil; and

there is a higher horror in this whiteness of her woe. Old as Pizarro,

this whiteness keeps her ruins for ever new; admits not the cheerful

greenness of complete decay; spreads over her broken ramparts the rigid

pallor of an apoplexy that fixes its own distortions.

I know that, to the common apprehension, this phenomenon of whiteness

is not confessed to be the prime agent in exaggerating the terror of

objects otherwise terrible; nor to the unimaginative mind is there aught

of terror in those appearances whose awfulness to another mind almost

solely consists in this one phenomenon, especially when exhibited under

any form at all approaching to muteness or universality. What I mean

by these two statements may perhaps be respectively elucidated by the

following examples.

First: The mariner, when drawing nigh the coasts of foreign lands, if by

night he hear the roar of breakers, starts to vigilance, and feels just

enough of trepidation to sharpen all his faculties; but under precisely

similar circumstances, let him be called from his hammock to view his

ship sailing through a midnight sea of milky whiteness--as if from

encircling headlands shoals of combed white bears were swimming round

him, then he feels a silent, superstitious dread; the shrouded phantom

of the whitened waters is horrible to him as a real ghost; in vain the

lead assures him he is still off soundings; heart and helm they both go

down; he never rests till blue water is under him again. Yet where is

the mariner who will tell thee, "Sir, it was not so much the fear of

striking hidden rocks, as the fear of that hideous whiteness that so

stirred me?"
Second: To the native Indian of Peru, the continual sight of the

snowhowdahed Andes conveys naught of dread, except, perhaps, in the

mere fancying of the eternal frosted desolateness reigning at such vast

altitudes, and the natural conceit of what a fearfulness it would be

to lose oneself in such inhuman solitudes. Much the same is it with the

backwoodsman of the West, who with comparative indifference views an

unbounded prairie sheeted with driven snow, no shadow of tree or twig

to break the fixed trance of whiteness. Not so the sailor, beholding the

scenery of the Antarctic seas; where at times, by some infernal trick

of legerdemain in the powers of frost and air, he, shivering and half

shipwrecked, instead of rainbows speaking hope and solace to his misery,

views what seems a boundless churchyard grinning upon him with its lean

ice monuments and splintered crosses.
But thou sayest, methinks that white-lead chapter about whiteness is but

a white flag hung out from a craven soul; thou surrenderest to a hypo,

Tell me, why this strong young colt, foaled in some peaceful valley of

Vermont, far removed from all beasts of prey--why is it that upon the

sunniest day, if you but shake a fresh buffalo robe behind him, so that

he cannot even see it, but only smells its wild animal muskiness--why

will he start, snort, and with bursting eyes paw the ground in phrensies

of affright? There is no remembrance in him of any gorings of wild

creatures in his green northern home, so that the strange muskiness he

smells cannot recall to him anything associated with the experience of

former perils; for what knows he, this New England colt, of the black

bisons of distant Oregon?

No; but here thou beholdest even in a dumb brute, the instinct of the

knowledge of the demonism in the world. Though thousands of miles from

Oregon, still when he smells that savage musk, the rending, goring bison

herds are as present as to the deserted wild foal of the prairies, which

this instant they may be trampling into dust.
Thus, then, the muffled rollings of a milky sea; the bleak rustlings

of the festooned frosts of mountains; the desolate shiftings of the

windrowed snows of prairies; all these, to Ishmael, are as the shaking

of that buffalo robe to the frightened colt!

Though neither knows where lie the nameless things of which the mystic

sign gives forth such hints; yet with me, as with the colt, somewhere

those things must exist. Though in many of its aspects this visible

world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright.

But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and

learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange

and far more portentous--why, as we have seen, it is at once the

most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay, the very veil of the

Christian's Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in

things the most appalling to mankind.

Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids

and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the

thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky

way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a colour as

the visible absence of colour; and at the same time the concrete of all

colours; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness,

full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows--a colourless, all-colour

of atheism from which we shrink? And when we consider that other theory

of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues--every stately

or lovely emblazoning--the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea,

and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of

young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent

in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature

absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but

the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that

the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great

principle of light, for ever remains white or colourless in itself, and

if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even

tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge--pondering all this, the

palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in

Lapland, who refuse to wear coloured and colouring glasses upon their

eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental

white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these

things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery


CHAPTER 43. Hark!

"HIST! Did you hear that noise, Cabaco?"
It was the middle-watch; a fair moonlight; the seamen were standing in a

cordon, extending from one of the fresh-water butts in the waist, to the

scuttle-butt near the taffrail. In this manner, they passed the buckets

to fill the scuttle-butt. Standing, for the most part, on the hallowed

precincts of the quarter-deck, they were careful not to speak or rustle

their feet. From hand to hand, the buckets went in the deepest silence,

only broken by the occasional flap of a sail, and the steady hum of the

unceasingly advancing keel.

It was in the midst of this repose, that Archy, one of the cordon, whose

post was near the after-hatches, whispered to his neighbor, a Cholo, the

words above.
"Hist! did you hear that noise, Cabaco?"
"Take the bucket, will ye, Archy? what noise d'ye mean?"
"There it is again--under the hatches--don't you hear it--a cough--it

sounded like a cough."

"Cough be damned! Pass along that return bucket."
"There again--there it is!--it sounds like two or three sleepers turning

over, now!"

"Caramba! have done, shipmate, will ye? It's the three soaked biscuits

ye eat for supper turning over inside of ye--nothing else. Look to the

"Say what ye will, shipmate; I've sharp ears."
"Aye, you are the chap, ain't ye, that heard the hum of the old

Quakeress's knitting-needles fifty miles at sea from Nantucket; you're

the chap."
"Grin away; we'll see what turns up. Hark ye, Cabaco, there is somebody

down in the after-hold that has not yet been seen on deck; and I suspect

our old Mogul knows something of it too. I heard Stubb tell Flask, one

morning watch, that there was something of that sort in the wind."

"Tish! the bucket!"

CHAPTER 44. The Chart.

Had you followed Captain Ahab down into his cabin after the squall that

took place on the night succeeding that wild ratification of his purpose

with his crew, you would have seen him go to a locker in the transom,

and bringing out a large wrinkled roll of yellowish sea charts, spread

them before him on his screwed-down table. Then seating himself before

it, you would have seen him intently study the various lines and

shadings which there met his eye; and with slow but steady pencil trace

additional courses over spaces that before were blank. At intervals, he

would refer to piles of old log-books beside him, wherein were set down

the seasons and places in which, on various former voyages of various

ships, sperm whales had been captured or seen.
While thus employed, the heavy pewter lamp suspended in chains over his

head, continually rocked with the motion of the ship, and for ever threw

shifting gleams and shadows of lines upon his wrinkled brow, till it

almost seemed that while he himself was marking out lines and courses

on the wrinkled charts, some invisible pencil was also tracing lines and

courses upon the deeply marked chart of his forehead.

But it was not this night in particular that, in the solitude of his

cabin, Ahab thus pondered over his charts. Almost every night they were

brought out; almost every night some pencil marks were effaced, and

others were substituted. For with the charts of all four oceans before

him, Ahab was threading a maze of currents and eddies, with a view to

the more certain accomplishment of that monomaniac thought of his soul.

Now, to any one not fully acquainted with the ways of the leviathans,

it might seem an absurdly hopeless task thus to seek out one solitary

creature in the unhooped oceans of this planet. But not so did it

seem to Ahab, who knew the sets of all tides and currents; and thereby

calculating the driftings of the sperm whale's food; and, also, calling

to mind the regular, ascertained seasons for hunting him in particular

latitudes; could arrive at reasonable surmises, almost approaching to

certainties, concerning the timeliest day to be upon this or that ground

in search of his prey.
So assured, indeed, is the fact concerning the periodicalness of the

sperm whale's resorting to given waters, that many hunters believe that,

could he be closely observed and studied throughout the world; were the

logs for one voyage of the entire whale fleet carefully collated,

then the migrations of the sperm whale would be found to correspond in

invariability to those of the herring-shoals or the flights of swallows.

On this hint, attempts have been made to construct elaborate migratory

charts of the sperm whale.*

*Since the above was written, the statement is happily borne

out by an official circular, issued by Lieutenant Maury, of

the National Observatory, Washington, April 16th, 1851. By

that circular, it appears that precisely such a chart is in

course of completion; and portions of it are presented in

the circular. "This chart divides the ocean into districts

of five degrees of latitude by five degrees of longitude;

perpendicularly through each of which districts are twelve

columns for the twelve months; and horizontally through each

of which districts are three lines; one to show the number

of days that have been spent in each month in every

district, and the two others to show the number of days in

which whales, sperm or right, have been seen."
Besides, when making a passage from one feeding-ground to another, the

sperm whales, guided by some infallible instinct--say, rather, secret

intelligence from the Deity--mostly swim in VEINS, as they are called;

continuing their way along a given ocean-line with such undeviating

exactitude, that no ship ever sailed her course, by any chart, with

one tithe of such marvellous precision. Though, in these cases, the

direction taken by any one whale be straight as a surveyor's parallel,

and though the line of advance be strictly confined to its own

unavoidable, straight wake, yet the arbitrary VEIN in which at these

times he is said to swim, generally embraces some few miles in width

(more or less, as the vein is presumed to expand or contract); but

never exceeds the visual sweep from the whale-ship's mast-heads,

when circumspectly gliding along this magic zone. The sum is, that at

particular seasons within that breadth and along that path, migrating

whales may with great confidence be looked for.
And hence not only at substantiated times, upon well known separate

feeding-grounds, could Ahab hope to encounter his prey; but in crossing

the widest expanses of water between those grounds he could, by his

art, so place and time himself on his way, as even then not to be wholly

without prospect of a meeting.
There was a circumstance which at first sight seemed to entangle his

delirious but still methodical scheme. But not so in the reality,

perhaps. Though the gregarious sperm whales have their regular seasons

for particular grounds, yet in general you cannot conclude that the

herds which haunted such and such a latitude or longitude this year,

say, will turn out to be identically the same with those that were found

there the preceding season; though there are peculiar and unquestionable

instances where the contrary of this has proved true. In general, the

same remark, only within a less wide limit, applies to the solitaries

and hermits among the matured, aged sperm whales. So that though Moby

Dick had in a former year been seen, for example, on what is called the

Seychelle ground in the Indian ocean, or Volcano Bay on the Japanese

Coast; yet it did not follow, that were the Pequod to visit either of

those spots at any subsequent corresponding season, she would infallibly

encounter him there. So, too, with some other feeding grounds, where

he had at times revealed himself. But all these seemed only his casual

stopping-places and ocean-inns, so to speak, not his places of prolonged

abode. And where Ahab's chances of accomplishing his object have

hitherto been spoken of, allusion has only been made to whatever

way-side, antecedent, extra prospects were his, ere a particular

set time or place were attained, when all possibilities would become

probabilities, and, as Ahab fondly thought, every possibility the next

thing to a certainty. That particular set time and place were conjoined

in the one technical phrase--the Season-on-the-Line. For there and then,

for several consecutive years, Moby Dick had been periodically descried,

lingering in those waters for awhile, as the sun, in its annual round,

loiters for a predicted interval in any one sign of the Zodiac. There

it was, too, that most of the deadly encounters with the white whale had

taken place; there the waves were storied with his deeds; there also was

that tragic spot where the monomaniac old man had found the awful motive

to his vengeance. But in the cautious comprehensiveness and unloitering

vigilance with which Ahab threw his brooding soul into this unfaltering

hunt, he would not permit himself to rest all his hopes upon the one

crowning fact above mentioned, however flattering it might be to those

hopes; nor in the sleeplessness of his vow could he so tranquillize his

unquiet heart as to postpone all intervening quest.

Now, the Pequod had sailed from Nantucket at the very beginning of the

Season-on-the-Line. No possible endeavor then could enable her commander

to make the great passage southwards, double Cape Horn, and then running

down sixty degrees of latitude arrive in the equatorial Pacific in time

to cruise there. Therefore, he must wait for the next ensuing season.

Yet the premature hour of the Pequod's sailing had, perhaps, been

correctly selected by Ahab, with a view to this very complexion of

things. Because, an interval of three hundred and sixty-five days

and nights was before him; an interval which, instead of impatiently

enduring ashore, he would spend in a miscellaneous hunt; if by chance

the White Whale, spending his vacation in seas far remote from his

periodical feeding-grounds, should turn up his wrinkled brow off the

Persian Gulf, or in the Bengal Bay, or China Seas, or in any other

waters haunted by his race. So that Monsoons, Pampas, Nor'-Westers,

Harmattans, Trades; any wind but the Levanter and Simoon, might

blow Moby Dick into the devious zig-zag world-circle of the Pequod's

circumnavigating wake.
But granting all this; yet, regarded discreetly and coolly, seems it not

but a mad idea, this; that in the broad boundless ocean, one solitary

whale, even if encountered, should be thought capable of individual

recognition from his hunter, even as a white-bearded Mufti in the

thronged thoroughfares of Constantinople? Yes. For the peculiar

snow-white brow of Moby Dick, and his snow-white hump, could not but

be unmistakable. And have I not tallied the whale, Ahab would mutter

to himself, as after poring over his charts till long after midnight he

would throw himself back in reveries--tallied him, and shall he escape?

His broad fins are bored, and scalloped out like a lost sheep's ear! And

here, his mad mind would run on in a breathless race; till a weariness

and faintness of pondering came over him; and in the open air of the

deck he would seek to recover his strength. Ah, God! what trances

of torments does that man endure who is consumed with one unachieved

revengeful desire. He sleeps with clenched hands; and wakes with his own

bloody nails in his palms.

Often, when forced from his hammock by exhausting and intolerably vivid

dreams of the night, which, resuming his own intense thoughts through

the day, carried them on amid a clashing of phrensies, and whirled them

round and round and round in his blazing brain, till the very throbbing

of his life-spot became insufferable anguish; and when, as was sometimes

the case, these spiritual throes in him heaved his being up from its

base, and a chasm seemed opening in him, from which forked flames and

lightnings shot up, and accursed fiends beckoned him to leap down among

them; when this hell in himself yawned beneath him, a wild cry would be

heard through the ship; and with glaring eyes Ahab would burst from his

state room, as though escaping from a bed that was on fire. Yet these,

perhaps, instead of being the unsuppressable symptoms of some latent

weakness, or fright at his own resolve, were but the plainest tokens

of its intensity. For, at such times, crazy Ahab, the scheming,

unappeasedly steadfast hunter of the white whale; this Ahab that had

gone to his hammock, was not the agent that so caused him to burst from

it in horror again. The latter was the eternal, living principle or

soul in him; and in sleep, being for the time dissociated from the

characterizing mind, which at other times employed it for its outer

vehicle or agent, it spontaneously sought escape from the scorching

1   ...   16   17   18   19   20   21   22   23   ...   56

The database is protected by copyright © 2016
send message

    Main page