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



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miles. At any rate--though indeed such a test at such a time might be

deceptive--spoutings might be discovered from our low boat that

seemed playing up almost from the rim of the horizon. I mention this

circumstance, because, as if the cows and calves had been purposely

locked up in this innermost fold; and as if the wide extent of the

herd had hitherto prevented them from learning the precise cause of its

stopping; or, possibly, being so young, unsophisticated, and every way

innocent and inexperienced; however it may have been, these smaller

whales--now and then visiting our becalmed boat from the margin of the

lake--evinced a wondrous fearlessness and confidence, or else a still

becharmed panic which it was impossible not to marvel at. Like household

dogs they came snuffling round us, right up to our gunwales, and

touching them; till it almost seemed that some spell had suddenly

domesticated them. Queequeg patted their foreheads; Starbuck scratched

their backs with his lance; but fearful of the consequences, for the

time refrained from darting it.


But far beneath this wondrous world upon the surface, another and still

stranger world met our eyes as we gazed over the side. For, suspended

in those watery vaults, floated the forms of the nursing mothers of the

whales, and those that by their enormous girth seemed shortly to

become mothers. The lake, as I have hinted, was to a considerable depth

exceedingly transparent; and as human infants while suckling will calmly

and fixedly gaze away from the breast, as if leading two different

lives at the time; and while yet drawing mortal nourishment, be still

spiritually feasting upon some unearthly reminiscence;--even so did the

young of these whales seem looking up towards us, but not at us, as if

we were but a bit of Gulfweed in their new-born sight. Floating on their

sides, the mothers also seemed quietly eyeing us. One of these little

infants, that from certain queer tokens seemed hardly a day old, might

have measured some fourteen feet in length, and some six feet in

girth. He was a little frisky; though as yet his body seemed scarce yet

recovered from that irksome position it had so lately occupied in the

maternal reticule; where, tail to head, and all ready for the final

spring, the unborn whale lies bent like a Tartar's bow. The delicate

side-fins, and the palms of his flukes, still freshly retained the

plaited crumpled appearance of a baby's ears newly arrived from foreign

parts.
"Line! line!" cried Queequeg, looking over the gunwale; "him fast! him

fast!--Who line him! Who struck?--Two whale; one big, one little!"


"What ails ye, man?" cried Starbuck.
"Look-e here," said Queequeg, pointing down.
As when the stricken whale, that from the tub has reeled out hundreds of

fathoms of rope; as, after deep sounding, he floats up again, and shows

the slackened curling line buoyantly rising and spiralling towards the

air; so now, Starbuck saw long coils of the umbilical cord of Madame

Leviathan, by which the young cub seemed still tethered to its dam. Not

seldom in the rapid vicissitudes of the chase, this natural line, with

the maternal end loose, becomes entangled with the hempen one, so that

the cub is thereby trapped. Some of the subtlest secrets of the seas

seemed divulged to us in this enchanted pond. We saw young Leviathan

amours in the deep.*

*The sperm whale, as with all other species of the Leviathan, but unlike

most other fish, breeds indifferently at all seasons; after a gestation

which may probably be set down at nine months, producing but one at a

time; though in some few known instances giving birth to an Esau and

Jacob:--a contingency provided for in suckling by two teats, curiously

situated, one on each side of the anus; but the breasts themselves

extend upwards from that. When by chance these precious parts in a

nursing whale are cut by the hunter's lance, the mother's pouring milk

and blood rivallingly discolour the sea for rods. The milk is very sweet

and rich; it has been tasted by man; it might do well with strawberries.

When overflowing with mutual esteem, the whales salute MORE HOMINUM.

And thus, though surrounded by circle upon circle of consternations

and affrights, did these inscrutable creatures at the centre freely and

fearlessly indulge in all peaceful concernments; yea, serenely revelled

in dalliance and delight. But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of

my being, do I myself still for ever centrally disport in mute calm; and

while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and

deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy.


Meanwhile, as we thus lay entranced, the occasional sudden frantic

spectacles in the distance evinced the activity of the other boats,

still engaged in drugging the whales on the frontier of the host; or

possibly carrying on the war within the first circle, where abundance of

room and some convenient retreats were afforded them. But the sight

of the enraged drugged whales now and then blindly darting to and fro

across the circles, was nothing to what at last met our eyes. It is

sometimes the custom when fast to a whale more than commonly powerful

and alert, to seek to hamstring him, as it were, by sundering or

maiming his gigantic tail-tendon. It is done by darting a short-handled

cutting-spade, to which is attached a rope for hauling it back again.

A whale wounded (as we afterwards learned) in this part, but not

effectually, as it seemed, had broken away from the boat, carrying along

with him half of the harpoon line; and in the extraordinary agony of

the wound, he was now dashing among the revolving circles like the lone

mounted desperado Arnold, at the battle of Saratoga, carrying dismay

wherever he went.
But agonizing as was the wound of this whale, and an appalling spectacle

enough, any way; yet the peculiar horror with which he seemed to

inspire the rest of the herd, was owing to a cause which at first the

intervening distance obscured from us. But at length we perceived that

by one of the unimaginable accidents of the fishery, this whale had

become entangled in the harpoon-line that he towed; he had also run

away with the cutting-spade in him; and while the free end of the rope

attached to that weapon, had permanently caught in the coils of the

harpoon-line round his tail, the cutting-spade itself had worked loose

from his flesh. So that tormented to madness, he was now churning

through the water, violently flailing with his flexible tail, and

tossing the keen spade about him, wounding and murdering his own

comrades.
This terrific object seemed to recall the whole herd from their

stationary fright. First, the whales forming the margin of our lake

began to crowd a little, and tumble against each other, as if lifted

by half spent billows from afar; then the lake itself began faintly to

heave and swell; the submarine bridal-chambers and nurseries vanished;

in more and more contracting orbits the whales in the more central

circles began to swim in thickening clusters. Yes, the long calm was

departing. A low advancing hum was soon heard; and then like to the

tumultuous masses of block-ice when the great river Hudson breaks up in

Spring, the entire host of whales came tumbling upon their inner centre,

as if to pile themselves up in one common mountain. Instantly Starbuck

and Queequeg changed places; Starbuck taking the stern.


"Oars! Oars!" he intensely whispered, seizing the helm--"gripe your

oars, and clutch your souls, now! My God, men, stand by! Shove him off,

you Queequeg--the whale there!--prick him!--hit him! Stand up--stand

up, and stay so! Spring, men--pull, men; never mind their backs--scrape

them!--scrape away!"
The boat was now all but jammed between two vast black bulks, leaving a

narrow Dardanelles between their long lengths. But by desperate endeavor

we at last shot into a temporary opening; then giving way rapidly,

and at the same time earnestly watching for another outlet. After many

similar hair-breadth escapes, we at last swiftly glided into what had

just been one of the outer circles, but now crossed by random whales,

all violently making for one centre. This lucky salvation was cheaply

purchased by the loss of Queequeg's hat, who, while standing in the bows

to prick the fugitive whales, had his hat taken clean from his head by

the air-eddy made by the sudden tossing of a pair of broad flukes close

by.
Riotous and disordered as the universal commotion now was, it soon

resolved itself into what seemed a systematic movement; for having

clumped together at last in one dense body, they then renewed their

onward flight with augmented fleetness. Further pursuit was useless; but

the boats still lingered in their wake to pick up what drugged whales

might be dropped astern, and likewise to secure one which Flask had

killed and waifed. The waif is a pennoned pole, two or three of which

are carried by every boat; and which, when additional game is at hand,

are inserted upright into the floating body of a dead whale, both to

mark its place on the sea, and also as token of prior possession, should

the boats of any other ship draw near.
The result of this lowering was somewhat illustrative of that sagacious

saying in the Fishery,--the more whales the less fish. Of all the

drugged whales only one was captured. The rest contrived to escape for

the time, but only to be taken, as will hereafter be seen, by some other

craft than the Pequod.

CHAPTER 88. Schools and Schoolmasters.

The previous chapter gave account of an immense body or herd of Sperm

Whales, and there was also then given the probable cause inducing those

vast aggregations.
Now, though such great bodies are at times encountered, yet, as must

have been seen, even at the present day, small detached bands are

occasionally observed, embracing from twenty to fifty individuals each.

Such bands are known as schools. They generally are of two sorts; those

composed almost entirely of females, and those mustering none but young

vigorous males, or bulls, as they are familiarly designated.


In cavalier attendance upon the school of females, you invariably see a

male of full grown magnitude, but not old; who, upon any alarm, evinces

his gallantry by falling in the rear and covering the flight of his

ladies. In truth, this gentleman is a luxurious Ottoman, swimming about

over the watery world, surroundingly accompanied by all the solaces

and endearments of the harem. The contrast between this Ottoman and

his concubines is striking; because, while he is always of the largest

leviathanic proportions, the ladies, even at full growth, are not

more than one-third of the bulk of an average-sized male. They are

comparatively delicate, indeed; I dare say, not to exceed half a dozen

yards round the waist. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied, that upon the

whole they are hereditarily entitled to EMBONPOINT.


It is very curious to watch this harem and its lord in their indolent

ramblings. Like fashionables, they are for ever on the move in leisurely

search of variety. You meet them on the Line in time for the full flower

of the Equatorial feeding season, having just returned, perhaps, from

spending the summer in the Northern seas, and so cheating summer of all

unpleasant weariness and warmth. By the time they have lounged up and

down the promenade of the Equator awhile, they start for the Oriental

waters in anticipation of the cool season there, and so evade the other

excessive temperature of the year.
When serenely advancing on one of these journeys, if any strange

suspicious sights are seen, my lord whale keeps a wary eye on his

interesting family. Should any unwarrantably pert young Leviathan coming

that way, presume to draw confidentially close to one of the ladies,

with what prodigious fury the Bashaw assails him, and chases him away!

High times, indeed, if unprincipled young rakes like him are to be

permitted to invade the sanctity of domestic bliss; though do what the

Bashaw will, he cannot keep the most notorious Lothario out of his bed;

for, alas! all fish bed in common. As ashore, the ladies often cause the

most terrible duels among their rival admirers; just so with the whales,

who sometimes come to deadly battle, and all for love. They fence with

their long lower jaws, sometimes locking them together, and so striving

for the supremacy like elks that warringly interweave their antlers. Not

a few are captured having the deep scars of these encounters,--furrowed

heads, broken teeth, scolloped fins; and in some instances, wrenched and

dislocated mouths.


But supposing the invader of domestic bliss to betake himself away at

the first rush of the harem's lord, then is it very diverting to watch

that lord. Gently he insinuates his vast bulk among them again and

revels there awhile, still in tantalizing vicinity to young Lothario,

like pious Solomon devoutly worshipping among his thousand concubines.

Granting other whales to be in sight, the fishermen will seldom give

chase to one of these Grand Turks; for these Grand Turks are too lavish

of their strength, and hence their unctuousness is small. As for the

sons and the daughters they beget, why, those sons and daughters must

take care of themselves; at least, with only the maternal help. For

like certain other omnivorous roving lovers that might be named, my Lord

Whale has no taste for the nursery, however much for the bower; and so,

being a great traveller, he leaves his anonymous babies all over the

world; every baby an exotic. In good time, nevertheless, as the ardour

of youth declines; as years and dumps increase; as reflection lends

her solemn pauses; in short, as a general lassitude overtakes the sated

Turk; then a love of ease and virtue supplants the love for maidens; our

Ottoman enters upon the impotent, repentant, admonitory stage of life,

forswears, disbands the harem, and grown to an exemplary, sulky old

soul, goes about all alone among the meridians and parallels saying his

prayers, and warning each young Leviathan from his amorous errors.
Now, as the harem of whales is called by the fishermen a school, so

is the lord and master of that school technically known as the

schoolmaster. It is therefore not in strict character, however admirably

satirical, that after going to school himself, he should then go abroad

inculcating not what he learned there, but the folly of it. His title,

schoolmaster, would very naturally seem derived from the name bestowed

upon the harem itself, but some have surmised that the man who first

thus entitled this sort of Ottoman whale, must have read the memoirs of

Vidocq, and informed himself what sort of a country-schoolmaster that

famous Frenchman was in his younger days, and what was the nature of

those occult lessons he inculcated into some of his pupils.
The same secludedness and isolation to which the schoolmaster whale

betakes himself in his advancing years, is true of all aged Sperm

Whales. Almost universally, a lone whale--as a solitary Leviathan is

called--proves an ancient one. Like venerable moss-bearded Daniel Boone,

he will have no one near him but Nature herself; and her he takes to

wife in the wilderness of waters, and the best of wives she is, though

she keeps so many moody secrets.
The schools composing none but young and vigorous males, previously

mentioned, offer a strong contrast to the harem schools. For while

those female whales are characteristically timid, the young males, or

forty-barrel-bulls, as they call them, are by far the most pugnacious

of all Leviathans, and proverbially the most dangerous to encounter;

excepting those wondrous grey-headed, grizzled whales, sometimes met,

and these will fight you like grim fiends exasperated by a penal gout.
The Forty-barrel-bull schools are larger than the harem schools. Like

a mob of young collegians, they are full of fight, fun, and wickedness,

tumbling round the world at such a reckless, rollicking rate, that no

prudent underwriter would insure them any more than he would a riotous

lad at Yale or Harvard. They soon relinquish this turbulence though,

and when about three-fourths grown, break up, and separately go about in

quest of settlements, that is, harems.
Another point of difference between the male and female schools is

still more characteristic of the sexes. Say you strike a

Forty-barrel-bull--poor devil! all his comrades quit him. But strike

a member of the harem school, and her companions swim around her with

every token of concern, sometimes lingering so near her and so long, as

themselves to fall a prey.


CHAPTER 89. Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish.

The allusion to the waif and waif-poles in the last chapter but one,

necessitates some account of the laws and regulations of the whale

fishery, of which the waif may be deemed the grand symbol and badge.
It frequently happens that when several ships are cruising in company,

a whale may be struck by one vessel, then escape, and be finally killed

and captured by another vessel; and herein are indirectly comprised

many minor contingencies, all partaking of this one grand feature. For

example,--after a weary and perilous chase and capture of a whale,

the body may get loose from the ship by reason of a violent storm; and

drifting far away to leeward, be retaken by a second whaler, who, in a

calm, snugly tows it alongside, without risk of life or line. Thus

the most vexatious and violent disputes would often arise between

the fishermen, were there not some written or unwritten, universal,

undisputed law applicable to all cases.
Perhaps the only formal whaling code authorized by legislative

enactment, was that of Holland. It was decreed by the States-General in

A.D. 1695. But though no other nation has ever had any written whaling

law, yet the American fishermen have been their own legislators and

lawyers in this matter. They have provided a system which for terse

comprehensiveness surpasses Justinian's Pandects and the By-laws of

the Chinese Society for the Suppression of Meddling with other People's

Business. Yes; these laws might be engraven on a Queen Anne's forthing,

or the barb of a harpoon, and worn round the neck, so small are they.
I. A Fast-Fish belongs to the party fast to it.
II. A Loose-Fish is fair game for anybody who can soonest catch it.
But what plays the mischief with this masterly code is the admirable

brevity of it, which necessitates a vast volume of commentaries to

expound it.
First: What is a Fast-Fish? Alive or dead a fish is technically fast,

when it is connected with an occupied ship or boat, by any medium at all

controllable by the occupant or occupants,--a mast, an oar, a nine-inch

cable, a telegraph wire, or a strand of cobweb, it is all the same.

Likewise a fish is technically fast when it bears a waif, or any other

recognised symbol of possession; so long as the party waifing it plainly

evince their ability at any time to take it alongside, as well as their

intention so to do.


These are scientific commentaries; but the commentaries of the whalemen

themselves sometimes consist in hard words and harder knocks--the

Coke-upon-Littleton of the fist. True, among the more upright and

honourable whalemen allowances are always made for peculiar cases,

where it would be an outrageous moral injustice for one party to claim

possession of a whale previously chased or killed by another party. But

others are by no means so scrupulous.
Some fifty years ago there was a curious case of whale-trover litigated

in England, wherein the plaintiffs set forth that after a hard chase of

a whale in the Northern seas; and when indeed they (the plaintiffs) had

succeeded in harpooning the fish; they were at last, through peril of

their lives, obliged to forsake not only their lines, but their boat

itself. Ultimately the defendants (the crew of another ship) came up

with the whale, struck, killed, seized, and finally appropriated it

before the very eyes of the plaintiffs. And when those defendants were

remonstrated with, their captain snapped his fingers in the plaintiffs'

teeth, and assured them that by way of doxology to the deed he had done,

he would now retain their line, harpoons, and boat, which had remained

attached to the whale at the time of the seizure. Wherefore the

plaintiffs now sued for the recovery of the value of their whale, line,

harpoons, and boat.


Mr. Erskine was counsel for the defendants; Lord Ellenborough was

the judge. In the course of the defence, the witty Erskine went on

to illustrate his position, by alluding to a recent crim. con.

case, wherein a gentleman, after in vain trying to bridle his wife's

viciousness, had at last abandoned her upon the seas of life; but in

the course of years, repenting of that step, he instituted an action to

recover possession of her. Erskine was on the other side; and he

then supported it by saying, that though the gentleman had originally

harpooned the lady, and had once had her fast, and only by reason of the

great stress of her plunging viciousness, had at last abandoned her; yet

abandon her he did, so that she became a loose-fish; and therefore

when a subsequent gentleman re-harpooned her, the lady then became that

subsequent gentleman's property, along with whatever harpoon might have

been found sticking in her.


Now in the present case Erskine contended that the examples of the whale

and the lady were reciprocally illustrative of each other.


These pleadings, and the counter pleadings, being duly heard, the very

learned Judge in set terms decided, to wit,--That as for the boat, he

awarded it to the plaintiffs, because they had merely abandoned it

to save their lives; but that with regard to the controverted whale,

harpoons, and line, they belonged to the defendants; the whale, because

it was a Loose-Fish at the time of the final capture; and the harpoons

and line because when the fish made off with them, it (the fish)

acquired a property in those articles; and hence anybody who afterwards

took the fish had a right to them. Now the defendants afterwards took

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