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

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contiguity of the frantic thing, of which, for the time, it was no

longer an integral. But as the mind does not exist unless leagued with

the soul, therefore it must have been that, in Ahab's case, yielding up

all his thoughts and fancies to his one supreme purpose; that purpose,

by its own sheer inveteracy of will, forced itself against gods and

devils into a kind of self-assumed, independent being of its own. Nay,

could grimly live and burn, while the common vitality to which it was

conjoined, fled horror-stricken from the unbidden and unfathered birth.

Therefore, the tormented spirit that glared out of bodily eyes, when

what seemed Ahab rushed from his room, was for the time but a vacated

thing, a formless somnambulistic being, a ray of living light, to be

sure, but without an object to colour, and therefore a blankness in

itself. God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature

in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a

vulture feeds upon that heart for ever; that vulture the very creature

he creates.

CHAPTER 45. The Affidavit.

So far as what there may be of a narrative in this book; and, indeed, as

indirectly touching one or two very interesting and curious particulars

in the habits of sperm whales, the foregoing chapter, in its earlier

part, is as important a one as will be found in this volume; but the

leading matter of it requires to be still further and more familiarly

enlarged upon, in order to be adequately understood, and moreover to

take away any incredulity which a profound ignorance of the entire

subject may induce in some minds, as to the natural verity of the main

points of this affair.
I care not to perform this part of my task methodically; but shall

be content to produce the desired impression by separate citations of

items, practically or reliably known to me as a whaleman; and from these

citations, I take it--the conclusion aimed at will naturally follow of

First: I have personally known three instances where a whale, after

receiving a harpoon, has effected a complete escape; and, after an

interval (in one instance of three years), has been again struck by

the same hand, and slain; when the two irons, both marked by the same

private cypher, have been taken from the body. In the instance where

three years intervened between the flinging of the two harpoons; and I

think it may have been something more than that; the man who darted

them happening, in the interval, to go in a trading ship on a voyage to

Africa, went ashore there, joined a discovery party, and penetrated far

into the interior, where he travelled for a period of nearly two years,

often endangered by serpents, savages, tigers, poisonous miasmas,

with all the other common perils incident to wandering in the heart of

unknown regions. Meanwhile, the whale he had struck must also have

been on its travels; no doubt it had thrice circumnavigated the globe,

brushing with its flanks all the coasts of Africa; but to no purpose.

This man and this whale again came together, and the one vanquished the

other. I say I, myself, have known three instances similar to this; that

is in two of them I saw the whales struck; and, upon the second attack,

saw the two irons with the respective marks cut in them, afterwards

taken from the dead fish. In the three-year instance, it so fell out

that I was in the boat both times, first and last, and the last time

distinctly recognised a peculiar sort of huge mole under the whale's

eye, which I had observed there three years previous. I say three years,

but I am pretty sure it was more than that. Here are three instances,

then, which I personally know the truth of; but I have heard of many

other instances from persons whose veracity in the matter there is no

good ground to impeach.
Secondly: It is well known in the Sperm Whale Fishery, however ignorant

the world ashore may be of it, that there have been several memorable

historical instances where a particular whale in the ocean has been at

distant times and places popularly cognisable. Why such a whale became

thus marked was not altogether and originally owing to his bodily

peculiarities as distinguished from other whales; for however peculiar

in that respect any chance whale may be, they soon put an end to his

peculiarities by killing him, and boiling him down into a peculiarly

valuable oil. No: the reason was this: that from the fatal experiences

of the fishery there hung a terrible prestige of perilousness about

such a whale as there did about Rinaldo Rinaldini, insomuch that

most fishermen were content to recognise him by merely touching their

tarpaulins when he would be discovered lounging by them on the sea,

without seeking to cultivate a more intimate acquaintance. Like some

poor devils ashore that happen to know an irascible great man, they

make distant unobtrusive salutations to him in the street, lest if they

pursued the acquaintance further, they might receive a summary thump for

their presumption.

But not only did each of these famous whales enjoy great individual

celebrity--Nay, you may call it an ocean-wide renown; not only was he

famous in life and now is immortal in forecastle stories after death,

but he was admitted into all the rights, privileges, and distinctions of

a name; had as much a name indeed as Cambyses or Caesar. Was it not so,

O Timor Tom! thou famed leviathan, scarred like an iceberg, who so long

did'st lurk in the Oriental straits of that name, whose spout was oft

seen from the palmy beach of Ombay? Was it not so, O New Zealand Jack!

thou terror of all cruisers that crossed their wakes in the vicinity of

the Tattoo Land? Was it not so, O Morquan! King of Japan, whose lofty

jet they say at times assumed the semblance of a snow-white cross

against the sky? Was it not so, O Don Miguel! thou Chilian whale, marked

like an old tortoise with mystic hieroglyphics upon the back! In plain

prose, here are four whales as well known to the students of Cetacean

History as Marius or Sylla to the classic scholar.
But this is not all. New Zealand Tom and Don Miguel, after at various

times creating great havoc among the boats of different vessels, were

finally gone in quest of, systematically hunted out, chased and killed

by valiant whaling captains, who heaved up their anchors with

that express object as much in view, as in setting out through the

Narragansett Woods, Captain Butler of old had it in his mind to capture

that notorious murderous savage Annawon, the headmost warrior of the

Indian King Philip.

I do not know where I can find a better place than just here, to make

mention of one or two other things, which to me seem important, as in

printed form establishing in all respects the reasonableness of the

whole story of the White Whale, more especially the catastrophe. For

this is one of those disheartening instances where truth requires full

as much bolstering as error. So ignorant are most landsmen of some of

the plainest and most palpable wonders of the world, that without

some hints touching the plain facts, historical and otherwise, of the

fishery, they might scout at Moby Dick as a monstrous fable, or still

worse and more detestable, a hideous and intolerable allegory.

First: Though most men have some vague flitting ideas of the general

perils of the grand fishery, yet they have nothing like a fixed, vivid

conception of those perils, and the frequency with which they recur.

One reason perhaps is, that not one in fifty of the actual disasters and

deaths by casualties in the fishery, ever finds a public record at home,

however transient and immediately forgotten that record. Do you suppose

that that poor fellow there, who this moment perhaps caught by the

whale-line off the coast of New Guinea, is being carried down to the

bottom of the sea by the sounding leviathan--do you suppose that that

poor fellow's name will appear in the newspaper obituary you will read

to-morrow at your breakfast? No: because the mails are very irregular

between here and New Guinea. In fact, did you ever hear what might be

called regular news direct or indirect from New Guinea? Yet I tell you

that upon one particular voyage which I made to the Pacific, among many

others we spoke thirty different ships, every one of which had had a

death by a whale, some of them more than one, and three that had each

lost a boat's crew. For God's sake, be economical with your lamps and

candles! not a gallon you burn, but at least one drop of man's blood was

spilled for it.
Secondly: People ashore have indeed some indefinite idea that a whale is

an enormous creature of enormous power; but I have ever found that when

narrating to them some specific example of this two-fold enormousness,

they have significantly complimented me upon my facetiousness; when, I

declare upon my soul, I had no more idea of being facetious than Moses,

when he wrote the history of the plagues of Egypt.

But fortunately the special point I here seek can be established upon

testimony entirely independent of my own. That point is this: The Sperm

Whale is in some cases sufficiently powerful, knowing, and judiciously

malicious, as with direct aforethought to stave in, utterly destroy, and

sink a large ship; and what is more, the Sperm Whale HAS done it.
First: In the year 1820 the ship Essex, Captain Pollard, of Nantucket,

was cruising in the Pacific Ocean. One day she saw spouts, lowered her

boats, and gave chase to a shoal of sperm whales. Ere long, several of

the whales were wounded; when, suddenly, a very large whale escaping

from the boats, issued from the shoal, and bore directly down upon the

ship. Dashing his forehead against her hull, he so stove her in, that in

less than "ten minutes" she settled down and fell over. Not a surviving

plank of her has been seen since. After the severest exposure, part of

the crew reached the land in their boats. Being returned home at last,

Captain Pollard once more sailed for the Pacific in command of another

ship, but the gods shipwrecked him again upon unknown rocks and

breakers; for the second time his ship was utterly lost, and forthwith

forswearing the sea, he has never tempted it since. At this day Captain

Pollard is a resident of Nantucket. I have seen Owen Chace, who was

chief mate of the Essex at the time of the tragedy; I have read his

plain and faithful narrative; I have conversed with his son; and all

this within a few miles of the scene of the catastrophe.*

*The following are extracts from Chace's narrative: "Every fact seemed

to warrant me in concluding that it was anything but chance which

directed his operations; he made two several attacks upon the ship, at

a short interval between them, both of which, according to their

direction, were calculated to do us the most injury, by being made

ahead, and thereby combining the speed of the two objects for the shock;

to effect which, the exact manoeuvres which he made were necessary. His

aspect was most horrible, and such as indicated resentment and fury. He

came directly from the shoal which we had just before entered, and in

which we had struck three of his companions, as if fired with revenge

for their sufferings." Again: "At all events, the whole circumstances

taken together, all happening before my own eyes, and producing, at the

time, impressions in my mind of decided, calculating mischief, on the

part of the whale (many of which impressions I cannot now recall),

induce me to be satisfied that I am correct in my opinion."

Here are his reflections some time after quitting the ship, during

a black night an open boat, when almost despairing of reaching any

hospitable shore. "The dark ocean and swelling waters were nothing; the

fears of being swallowed up by some dreadful tempest, or dashed

upon hidden rocks, with all the other ordinary subjects of fearful

contemplation, seemed scarcely entitled to a moment's thought; the


wholly engrossed my reflections, until day again made its appearance."

In another place--p. 45,--he speaks of "THE MYSTERIOUS AND MORTAL ATTACK


Secondly: The ship Union, also of Nantucket, was in the year 1807

totally lost off the Azores by a similar onset, but the authentic

particulars of this catastrophe I have never chanced to encounter,

though from the whale hunters I have now and then heard casual allusions

to it.
Thirdly: Some eighteen or twenty years ago Commodore J---, then

commanding an American sloop-of-war of the first class, happened to be

dining with a party of whaling captains, on board a Nantucket ship in

the harbor of Oahu, Sandwich Islands. Conversation turning upon whales,

the Commodore was pleased to be sceptical touching the amazing strength

ascribed to them by the professional gentlemen present. He peremptorily

denied for example, that any whale could so smite his stout sloop-of-war

as to cause her to leak so much as a thimbleful. Very good; but there

is more coming. Some weeks after, the Commodore set sail in this

impregnable craft for Valparaiso. But he was stopped on the way by a

portly sperm whale, that begged a few moments' confidential business

with him. That business consisted in fetching the Commodore's craft such

a thwack, that with all his pumps going he made straight for the nearest

port to heave down and repair. I am not superstitious, but I consider

the Commodore's interview with that whale as providential. Was not Saul

of Tarsus converted from unbelief by a similar fright? I tell you, the

sperm whale will stand no nonsense.
I will now refer you to Langsdorff's Voyages for a little circumstance

in point, peculiarly interesting to the writer hereof. Langsdorff, you

must know by the way, was attached to the Russian Admiral Krusenstern's

famous Discovery Expedition in the beginning of the present century.

Captain Langsdorff thus begins his seventeenth chapter:
"By the thirteenth of May our ship was ready to sail, and the next day

we were out in the open sea, on our way to Ochotsh. The weather was very

clear and fine, but so intolerably cold that we were obliged to keep on

our fur clothing. For some days we had very little wind; it was not

till the nineteenth that a brisk gale from the northwest sprang up. An

uncommon large whale, the body of which was larger than the ship itself,

lay almost at the surface of the water, but was not perceived by any

one on board till the moment when the ship, which was in full sail,

was almost upon him, so that it was impossible to prevent its striking

against him. We were thus placed in the most imminent danger, as this

gigantic creature, setting up its back, raised the ship three feet at

least out of the water. The masts reeled, and the sails fell altogether,

while we who were below all sprang instantly upon the deck, concluding

that we had struck upon some rock; instead of this we saw the monster

sailing off with the utmost gravity and solemnity. Captain D'Wolf

applied immediately to the pumps to examine whether or not the vessel

had received any damage from the shock, but we found that very happily

it had escaped entirely uninjured."

Now, the Captain D'Wolf here alluded to as commanding the ship in

question, is a New Englander, who, after a long life of unusual

adventures as a sea-captain, this day resides in the village of

Dorchester near Boston. I have the honour of being a nephew of his. I

have particularly questioned him concerning this passage in Langsdorff.

He substantiates every word. The ship, however, was by no means a large

one: a Russian craft built on the Siberian coast, and purchased by my

uncle after bartering away the vessel in which he sailed from home.

In that up and down manly book of old-fashioned adventure, so full, too,

of honest wonders--the voyage of Lionel Wafer, one of ancient Dampier's

old chums--I found a little matter set down so like that just quoted

from Langsdorff, that I cannot forbear inserting it here for a

corroborative example, if such be needed.
Lionel, it seems, was on his way to "John Ferdinando," as he calls

the modern Juan Fernandes. "In our way thither," he says, "about four

o'clock in the morning, when we were about one hundred and fifty leagues

from the Main of America, our ship felt a terrible shock, which put our

men in such consternation that they could hardly tell where they were

or what to think; but every one began to prepare for death. And, indeed,

the shock was so sudden and violent, that we took it for granted the

ship had struck against a rock; but when the amazement was a little

over, we cast the lead, and sounded, but found no ground..... The

suddenness of the shock made the guns leap in their carriages, and

several of the men were shaken out of their hammocks. Captain Davis, who

lay with his head on a gun, was thrown out of his cabin!" Lionel then

goes on to impute the shock to an earthquake, and seems to substantiate

the imputation by stating that a great earthquake, somewhere about

that time, did actually do great mischief along the Spanish land. But

I should not much wonder if, in the darkness of that early hour of the

morning, the shock was after all caused by an unseen whale vertically

bumping the hull from beneath.

I might proceed with several more examples, one way or another known to

me, of the great power and malice at times of the sperm whale. In more

than one instance, he has been known, not only to chase the assailing

boats back to their ships, but to pursue the ship itself, and long

withstand all the lances hurled at him from its decks. The English ship

Pusie Hall can tell a story on that head; and, as for his strength,

let me say, that there have been examples where the lines attached to a

running sperm whale have, in a calm, been transferred to the ship, and

secured there; the whale towing her great hull through the water, as a

horse walks off with a cart. Again, it is very often observed that, if

the sperm whale, once struck, is allowed time to rally, he then acts,

not so often with blind rage, as with wilful, deliberate designs of

destruction to his pursuers; nor is it without conveying some eloquent

indication of his character, that upon being attacked he will frequently

open his mouth, and retain it in that dread expansion for several

consecutive minutes. But I must be content with only one more and a

concluding illustration; a remarkable and most significant one, by which

you will not fail to see, that not only is the most marvellous event in

this book corroborated by plain facts of the present day, but that these

marvels (like all marvels) are mere repetitions of the ages; so that for

the millionth time we say amen with Solomon--Verily there is nothing new

under the sun.

In the sixth Christian century lived Procopius, a Christian magistrate

of Constantinople, in the days when Justinian was Emperor and Belisarius

general. As many know, he wrote the history of his own times, a work

every way of uncommon value. By the best authorities, he has always been

considered a most trustworthy and unexaggerating historian, except in

some one or two particulars, not at all affecting the matter presently

to be mentioned.
Now, in this history of his, Procopius mentions that, during the term

of his prefecture at Constantinople, a great sea-monster was captured

in the neighboring Propontis, or Sea of Marmora, after having destroyed

vessels at intervals in those waters for a period of more than fifty

years. A fact thus set down in substantial history cannot easily be

gainsaid. Nor is there any reason it should be. Of what precise species

this sea-monster was, is not mentioned. But as he destroyed ships, as

well as for other reasons, he must have been a whale; and I am strongly

inclined to think a sperm whale. And I will tell you why. For a long

time I fancied that the sperm whale had been always unknown in the

Mediterranean and the deep waters connecting with it. Even now I am

certain that those seas are not, and perhaps never can be, in the

present constitution of things, a place for his habitual gregarious

resort. But further investigations have recently proved to me, that in

modern times there have been isolated instances of the presence of the

sperm whale in the Mediterranean. I am told, on good authority, that

on the Barbary coast, a Commodore Davis of the British navy found

the skeleton of a sperm whale. Now, as a vessel of war readily passes

through the Dardanelles, hence a sperm whale could, by the same route,

pass out of the Mediterranean into the Propontis.

In the Propontis, as far as I can learn, none of that peculiar substance

called BRIT is to be found, the aliment of the right whale. But I have

every reason to believe that the food of the sperm whale--squid or

cuttle-fish--lurks at the bottom of that sea, because large creatures,

but by no means the largest of that sort, have been found at its

surface. If, then, you properly put these statements together, and

reason upon them a bit, you will clearly perceive that, according to all

human reasoning, Procopius's sea-monster, that for half a century stove

the ships of a Roman Emperor, must in all probability have been a sperm


CHAPTER 46. Surmises.

Though, consumed with the hot fire of his purpose, Ahab in all his

thoughts and actions ever had in view the ultimate capture of Moby Dick;

though he seemed ready to sacrifice all mortal interests to that one

passion; nevertheless it may have been that he was by nature and long

habituation far too wedded to a fiery whaleman's ways, altogether to

abandon the collateral prosecution of the voyage. Or at least if

this were otherwise, there were not wanting other motives much more

influential with him. It would be refining too much, perhaps, even

considering his monomania, to hint that his vindictiveness towards the

White Whale might have possibly extended itself in some degree to all

sperm whales, and that the more monsters he slew by so much the more he

multiplied the chances that each subsequently encountered whale would

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