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   ...   30   31   32   33   34   35   36   37   ...   56

well of sperm; no ivory teeth at all; no long, slender mandible of a

lower jaw, like the Sperm Whale's. Nor in the Sperm Whale are there any

of those blinds of bone; no huge lower lip; and scarcely anything of a

tongue. Again, the Right Whale has two external spout-holes, the Sperm

Whale only one.

Look your last, now, on these venerable hooded heads, while they yet lie

together; for one will soon sink, unrecorded, in the sea; the other will

not be very long in following.
Can you catch the expression of the Sperm Whale's there? It is the same

he died with, only some of the longer wrinkles in the forehead seem

now faded away. I think his broad brow to be full of a prairie-like

placidity, born of a speculative indifference as to death. But mark the

other head's expression. See that amazing lower lip, pressed by accident

against the vessel's side, so as firmly to embrace the jaw. Does not

this whole head seem to speak of an enormous practical resolution in

facing death? This Right Whale I take to have been a Stoic; the Sperm

Whale, a Platonian, who might have taken up Spinoza in his latter years.

CHAPTER 76. The Battering-Ram.

Ere quitting, for the nonce, the Sperm Whale's head, I would have

you, as a sensible physiologist, simply--particularly remark its front

aspect, in all its compacted collectedness. I would have you investigate

it now with the sole view of forming to yourself some unexaggerated,

intelligent estimate of whatever battering-ram power may be lodged

there. Here is a vital point; for you must either satisfactorily settle

this matter with yourself, or for ever remain an infidel as to one of

the most appalling, but not the less true events, perhaps anywhere to be

found in all recorded history.
You observe that in the ordinary swimming position of the Sperm Whale,

the front of his head presents an almost wholly vertical plane to the

water; you observe that the lower part of that front slopes considerably

backwards, so as to furnish more of a retreat for the long socket which

receives the boom-like lower jaw; you observe that the mouth is entirely

under the head, much in the same way, indeed, as though your own mouth

were entirely under your chin. Moreover you observe that the whale has

no external nose; and that what nose he has--his spout hole--is on the

top of his head; you observe that his eyes and ears are at the sides

of his head, nearly one third of his entire length from the front.

Wherefore, you must now have perceived that the front of the Sperm

Whale's head is a dead, blind wall, without a single organ or tender

prominence of any sort whatsoever. Furthermore, you are now to consider

that only in the extreme, lower, backward sloping part of the front of

the head, is there the slightest vestige of bone; and not till you

get near twenty feet from the forehead do you come to the full cranial

development. So that this whole enormous boneless mass is as one wad.

Finally, though, as will soon be revealed, its contents partly comprise

the most delicate oil; yet, you are now to be apprised of the nature of

the substance which so impregnably invests all that apparent effeminacy.

In some previous place I have described to you how the blubber wraps the

body of the whale, as the rind wraps an orange. Just so with the head;

but with this difference: about the head this envelope, though not so

thick, is of a boneless toughness, inestimable by any man who has not

handled it. The severest pointed harpoon, the sharpest lance darted by

the strongest human arm, impotently rebounds from it. It is as though

the forehead of the Sperm Whale were paved with horses' hoofs. I do not

think that any sensation lurks in it.

Bethink yourself also of another thing. When two large, loaded Indiamen

chance to crowd and crush towards each other in the docks, what do the

sailors do? They do not suspend between them, at the point of coming

contact, any merely hard substance, like iron or wood. No, they hold

there a large, round wad of tow and cork, enveloped in the thickest

and toughest of ox-hide. That bravely and uninjured takes the jam which

would have snapped all their oaken handspikes and iron crow-bars. By

itself this sufficiently illustrates the obvious fact I drive at. But

supplementary to this, it has hypothetically occurred to me, that

as ordinary fish possess what is called a swimming bladder in them,

capable, at will, of distension or contraction; and as the Sperm Whale,

as far as I know, has no such provision in him; considering, too,

the otherwise inexplicable manner in which he now depresses his head

altogether beneath the surface, and anon swims with it high elevated out

of the water; considering the unobstructed elasticity of its envelope;

considering the unique interior of his head; it has hypothetically

occurred to me, I say, that those mystical lung-celled honeycombs there

may possibly have some hitherto unknown and unsuspected connexion with

the outer air, so as to be susceptible to atmospheric distension and

contraction. If this be so, fancy the irresistibleness of that might, to

which the most impalpable and destructive of all elements contributes.
Now, mark. Unerringly impelling this dead, impregnable, uninjurable

wall, and this most buoyant thing within; there swims behind it all a

mass of tremendous life, only to be adequately estimated as piled wood

is--by the cord; and all obedient to one volition, as the smallest

insect. So that when I shall hereafter detail to you all the

specialities and concentrations of potency everywhere lurking in this

expansive monster; when I shall show you some of his more inconsiderable

braining feats; I trust you will have renounced all ignorant

incredulity, and be ready to abide by this; that though the Sperm Whale

stove a passage through the Isthmus of Darien, and mixed the Atlantic

with the Pacific, you would not elevate one hair of your eye-brow. For

unless you own the whale, you are but a provincial and sentimentalist

in Truth. But clear Truth is a thing for salamander giants only to

encounter; how small the chances for the provincials then? What befell

the weakling youth lifting the dread goddess's veil at Lais?

CHAPTER 77. The Great Heidelburgh Tun.

Now comes the Baling of the Case. But to comprehend it aright, you must

know something of the curious internal structure of the thing operated

Regarding the Sperm Whale's head as a solid oblong, you may, on an

inclined plane, sideways divide it into two quoins,* whereof the lower

is the bony structure, forming the cranium and jaws, and the upper an

unctuous mass wholly free from bones; its broad forward end forming the

expanded vertical apparent forehead of the whale. At the middle of the

forehead horizontally subdivide this upper quoin, and then you have two

almost equal parts, which before were naturally divided by an internal

wall of a thick tendinous substance.

*Quoin is not a Euclidean term. It belongs to the pure nautical

mathematics. I know not that it has been defined before. A quoin is a

solid which differs from a wedge in having its sharp end formed by the

steep inclination of one side, instead of the mutual tapering of both


The lower subdivided part, called the junk, is one immense honeycomb

of oil, formed by the crossing and recrossing, into ten thousand

infiltrated cells, of tough elastic white fibres throughout its whole

extent. The upper part, known as the Case, may be regarded as the great

Heidelburgh Tun of the Sperm Whale. And as that famous great tierce is

mystically carved in front, so the whale's vast plaited forehead forms

innumerable strange devices for the emblematical adornment of his

wondrous tun. Moreover, as that of Heidelburgh was always replenished

with the most excellent of the wines of the Rhenish valleys, so the tun

of the whale contains by far the most precious of all his oily vintages;

namely, the highly-prized spermaceti, in its absolutely pure, limpid,

and odoriferous state. Nor is this precious substance found unalloyed

in any other part of the creature. Though in life it remains perfectly

fluid, yet, upon exposure to the air, after death, it soon begins to

concrete; sending forth beautiful crystalline shoots, as when the

first thin delicate ice is just forming in water. A large whale's

case generally yields about five hundred gallons of sperm, though from

unavoidable circumstances, considerable of it is spilled, leaks, and

dribbles away, or is otherwise irrevocably lost in the ticklish business

of securing what you can.
I know not with what fine and costly material the Heidelburgh Tun

was coated within, but in superlative richness that coating could not

possibly have compared with the silken pearl-coloured membrane, like the

lining of a fine pelisse, forming the inner surface of the Sperm Whale's

It will have been seen that the Heidelburgh Tun of the Sperm Whale

embraces the entire length of the entire top of the head; and since--as

has been elsewhere set forth--the head embraces one third of the whole

length of the creature, then setting that length down at eighty feet for

a good sized whale, you have more than twenty-six feet for the depth

of the tun, when it is lengthwise hoisted up and down against a ship's

As in decapitating the whale, the operator's instrument is brought close

to the spot where an entrance is subsequently forced into the spermaceti

magazine; he has, therefore, to be uncommonly heedful, lest a careless,

untimely stroke should invade the sanctuary and wastingly let out its

invaluable contents. It is this decapitated end of the head, also, which

is at last elevated out of the water, and retained in that position by

the enormous cutting tackles, whose hempen combinations, on one side,

make quite a wilderness of ropes in that quarter.

Thus much being said, attend now, I pray you, to that marvellous and--in

this particular instance--almost fatal operation whereby the Sperm

Whale's great Heidelburgh Tun is tapped.

CHAPTER 78. Cistern and Buckets.

Nimble as a cat, Tashtego mounts aloft; and without altering his erect

posture, runs straight out upon the overhanging mainyard-arm, to the

part where it exactly projects over the hoisted Tun. He has carried

with him a light tackle called a whip, consisting of only two parts,

travelling through a single-sheaved block. Securing this block, so that

it hangs down from the yard-arm, he swings one end of the rope, till it

is caught and firmly held by a hand on deck. Then, hand-over-hand, down

the other part, the Indian drops through the air, till dexterously he

lands on the summit of the head. There--still high elevated above the

rest of the company, to whom he vivaciously cries--he seems some Turkish

Muezzin calling the good people to prayers from the top of a tower. A

short-handled sharp spade being sent up to him, he diligently searches

for the proper place to begin breaking into the Tun. In this business

he proceeds very heedfully, like a treasure-hunter in some old house,

sounding the walls to find where the gold is masoned in. By the time

this cautious search is over, a stout iron-bound bucket, precisely like

a well-bucket, has been attached to one end of the whip; while the other

end, being stretched across the deck, is there held by two or three

alert hands. These last now hoist the bucket within grasp of the Indian,

to whom another person has reached up a very long pole. Inserting this

pole into the bucket, Tashtego downward guides the bucket into the Tun,

till it entirely disappears; then giving the word to the seamen at the

whip, up comes the bucket again, all bubbling like a dairy-maid's pail

of new milk. Carefully lowered from its height, the full-freighted

vessel is caught by an appointed hand, and quickly emptied into a large

tub. Then remounting aloft, it again goes through the same round until

the deep cistern will yield no more. Towards the end, Tashtego has to

ram his long pole harder and harder, and deeper and deeper into the Tun,

until some twenty feet of the pole have gone down.
Now, the people of the Pequod had been baling some time in this way;

several tubs had been filled with the fragrant sperm; when all at once a

queer accident happened. Whether it was that Tashtego, that wild Indian,

was so heedless and reckless as to let go for a moment his one-handed

hold on the great cabled tackles suspending the head; or whether the

place where he stood was so treacherous and oozy; or whether the Evil

One himself would have it to fall out so, without stating his particular

reasons; how it was exactly, there is no telling now; but, on a sudden,

as the eightieth or ninetieth bucket came suckingly up--my God! poor

Tashtego--like the twin reciprocating bucket in a veritable well,

dropped head-foremost down into this great Tun of Heidelburgh, and with

a horrible oily gurgling, went clean out of sight!

"Man overboard!" cried Daggoo, who amid the general consternation first

came to his senses. "Swing the bucket this way!" and putting one foot

into it, so as the better to secure his slippery hand-hold on the whip

itself, the hoisters ran him high up to the top of the head, almost

before Tashtego could have reached its interior bottom. Meantime,

there was a terrible tumult. Looking over the side, they saw the before

lifeless head throbbing and heaving just below the surface of the sea,

as if that moment seized with some momentous idea; whereas it was only

the poor Indian unconsciously revealing by those struggles the perilous

depth to which he had sunk.

At this instant, while Daggoo, on the summit of the head, was clearing

the whip--which had somehow got foul of the great cutting tackles--a

sharp cracking noise was heard; and to the unspeakable horror of all,

one of the two enormous hooks suspending the head tore out, and with

a vast vibration the enormous mass sideways swung, till the drunk ship

reeled and shook as if smitten by an iceberg. The one remaining hook,

upon which the entire strain now depended, seemed every instant to be

on the point of giving way; an event still more likely from the violent

motions of the head.
"Come down, come down!" yelled the seamen to Daggoo, but with one hand

holding on to the heavy tackles, so that if the head should drop, he

would still remain suspended; the negro having cleared the foul line,

rammed down the bucket into the now collapsed well, meaning that the

buried harpooneer should grasp it, and so be hoisted out.
"In heaven's name, man," cried Stubb, "are you ramming home a cartridge

there?--Avast! How will that help him; jamming that iron-bound bucket on

top of his head? Avast, will ye!"
"Stand clear of the tackle!" cried a voice like the bursting of a

Almost in the same instant, with a thunder-boom, the enormous mass

dropped into the sea, like Niagara's Table-Rock into the whirlpool; the

suddenly relieved hull rolled away from it, to far down her glittering

copper; and all caught their breath, as half swinging--now over the

sailors' heads, and now over the water--Daggoo, through a thick mist of

spray, was dimly beheld clinging to the pendulous tackles, while poor,

buried-alive Tashtego was sinking utterly down to the bottom of the sea!

But hardly had the blinding vapour cleared away, when a naked figure

with a boarding-sword in his hand, was for one swift moment seen

hovering over the bulwarks. The next, a loud splash announced that my

brave Queequeg had dived to the rescue. One packed rush was made to the

side, and every eye counted every ripple, as moment followed moment, and

no sign of either the sinker or the diver could be seen. Some hands now

jumped into a boat alongside, and pushed a little off from the ship.
"Ha! ha!" cried Daggoo, all at once, from his now quiet, swinging perch

overhead; and looking further off from the side, we saw an arm thrust

upright from the blue waves; a sight strange to see, as an arm thrust

forth from the grass over a grave.

"Both! both!--it is both!"--cried Daggoo again with a joyful shout; and

soon after, Queequeg was seen boldly striking out with one hand, and

with the other clutching the long hair of the Indian. Drawn into the

waiting boat, they were quickly brought to the deck; but Tashtego was

long in coming to, and Queequeg did not look very brisk.
Now, how had this noble rescue been accomplished? Why, diving after

the slowly descending head, Queequeg with his keen sword had made

side lunges near its bottom, so as to scuttle a large hole there; then

dropping his sword, had thrust his long arm far inwards and upwards,

and so hauled out poor Tash by the head. He averred, that upon first

thrusting in for him, a leg was presented; but well knowing that that

was not as it ought to be, and might occasion great trouble;--he had

thrust back the leg, and by a dexterous heave and toss, had wrought a

somerset upon the Indian; so that with the next trial, he came forth in

the good old way--head foremost. As for the great head itself, that was

doing as well as could be expected.
And thus, through the courage and great skill in obstetrics of Queequeg,

the deliverance, or rather, delivery of Tashtego, was successfully

accomplished, in the teeth, too, of the most untoward and apparently

hopeless impediments; which is a lesson by no means to be forgotten.

Midwifery should be taught in the same course with fencing and boxing,

riding and rowing.

I know that this queer adventure of the Gay-Header's will be sure to

seem incredible to some landsmen, though they themselves may have either

seen or heard of some one's falling into a cistern ashore; an accident

which not seldom happens, and with much less reason too than the

Indian's, considering the exceeding slipperiness of the curb of the

Sperm Whale's well.

But, peradventure, it may be sagaciously urged, how is this? We thought

the tissued, infiltrated head of the Sperm Whale, was the lightest and

most corky part about him; and yet thou makest it sink in an element of

a far greater specific gravity than itself. We have thee there. Not at

all, but I have ye; for at the time poor Tash fell in, the case had been

nearly emptied of its lighter contents, leaving little but the dense

tendinous wall of the well--a double welded, hammered substance, as I

have before said, much heavier than the sea water, and a lump of which

sinks in it like lead almost. But the tendency to rapid sinking in this

substance was in the present instance materially counteracted by the

other parts of the head remaining undetached from it, so that it sank

very slowly and deliberately indeed, affording Queequeg a fair chance

for performing his agile obstetrics on the run, as you may say. Yes, it

was a running delivery, so it was.

Now, had Tashtego perished in that head, it had been a very precious

perishing; smothered in the very whitest and daintiest of fragrant

spermaceti; coffined, hearsed, and tombed in the secret inner chamber

and sanctum sanctorum of the whale. Only one sweeter end can readily be

recalled--the delicious death of an Ohio honey-hunter, who seeking honey

in the crotch of a hollow tree, found such exceeding store of it, that

leaning too far over, it sucked him in, so that he died embalmed.

How many, think ye, have likewise fallen into Plato's honey head, and

sweetly perished there?

CHAPTER 79. The Prairie.

To scan the lines of his face, or feel the bumps on the head of this

Leviathan; this is a thing which no Physiognomist or Phrenologist has as

yet undertaken. Such an enterprise would seem almost as hopeful as for

Lavater to have scrutinized the wrinkles on the Rock of Gibraltar,

or for Gall to have mounted a ladder and manipulated the Dome of the

Pantheon. Still, in that famous work of his, Lavater not only treats

of the various faces of men, but also attentively studies the faces

of horses, birds, serpents, and fish; and dwells in detail upon the

modifications of expression discernible therein. Nor have Gall and

his disciple Spurzheim failed to throw out some hints touching the

phrenological characteristics of other beings than man. Therefore,

though I am but ill qualified for a pioneer, in the application of these

two semi-sciences to the whale, I will do my endeavor. I try all things;

I achieve what I can.

Physiognomically regarded, the Sperm Whale is an anomalous creature.

He has no proper nose. And since the nose is the central and most

conspicuous of the features; and since it perhaps most modifies and

finally controls their combined expression; hence it would seem that its

entire absence, as an external appendage, must very largely affect

the countenance of the whale. For as in landscape gardening, a spire,

cupola, monument, or tower of some sort, is deemed almost indispensable

to the completion of the scene; so no face can be physiognomically in

keeping without the elevated open-work belfry of the nose. Dash the nose

from Phidias's marble Jove, and what a sorry remainder! Nevertheless,

Leviathan is of so mighty a magnitude, all his proportions are so

stately, that the same deficiency which in the sculptured Jove were

hideous, in him is no blemish at all. Nay, it is an added grandeur. A

nose to the whale would have been impertinent. As on your physiognomical

voyage you sail round his vast head in your jolly-boat, your noble

conceptions of him are never insulted by the reflection that he has a

nose to be pulled. A pestilent conceit, which so often will insist upon

obtruding even when beholding the mightiest royal beadle on his throne.

In some particulars, perhaps the most imposing physiognomical view to

be had of the Sperm Whale, is that of the full front of his head. This

aspect is sublime.
In thought, a fine human brow is like the East when troubled with the

morning. In the repose of the pasture, the curled brow of the bull has a

touch of the grand in it. Pushing heavy cannon up mountain defiles, the

elephant's brow is majestic. Human or animal, the mystical brow is as

that great golden seal affixed by the German Emperors to their decrees.

1   ...   30   31   32   33   34   35   36   37   ...   56

The database is protected by copyright © 2016
send message

    Main page