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

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terror to all tyros, especially by night. On one side, lit by a dull

lantern, a space has been left clear for the workmen. They generally

go in pairs,--a pike-and-gaffman and a spade-man. The whaling-pike is

similar to a frigate's boarding-weapon of the same name. The gaff is

something like a boat-hook. With his gaff, the gaffman hooks on to a

sheet of blubber, and strives to hold it from slipping, as the ship

pitches and lurches about. Meanwhile, the spade-man stands on the sheet

itself, perpendicularly chopping it into the portable horse-pieces. This

spade is sharp as hone can make it; the spademan's feet are shoeless;

the thing he stands on will sometimes irresistibly slide away from

him, like a sledge. If he cuts off one of his own toes, or one of his

assistants', would you be very much astonished? Toes are scarce among

veteran blubber-room men.

CHAPTER 95. The Cassock.

Had you stepped on board the Pequod at a certain juncture of this

post-mortemizing of the whale; and had you strolled forward nigh the

windlass, pretty sure am I that you would have scanned with no small

curiosity a very strange, enigmatical object, which you would have seen

there, lying along lengthwise in the lee scuppers. Not the wondrous

cistern in the whale's huge head; not the prodigy of his unhinged lower

jaw; not the miracle of his symmetrical tail; none of these would so

surprise you, as half a glimpse of that unaccountable cone,--longer than

a Kentuckian is tall, nigh a foot in diameter at the base, and jet-black

as Yojo, the ebony idol of Queequeg. And an idol, indeed, it is; or,

rather, in old times, its likeness was. Such an idol as that found in

the secret groves of Queen Maachah in Judea; and for worshipping which,

King Asa, her son, did depose her, and destroyed the idol, and burnt it

for an abomination at the brook Kedron, as darkly set forth in the 15th

chapter of the First Book of Kings.
Look at the sailor, called the mincer, who now comes along, and assisted

by two allies, heavily backs the grandissimus, as the mariners call it,

and with bowed shoulders, staggers off with it as if he were a grenadier

carrying a dead comrade from the field. Extending it upon the forecastle

deck, he now proceeds cylindrically to remove its dark pelt, as an

African hunter the pelt of a boa. This done he turns the pelt inside

out, like a pantaloon leg; gives it a good stretching, so as almost to

double its diameter; and at last hangs it, well spread, in the rigging,

to dry. Ere long, it is taken down; when removing some three feet of it,

towards the pointed extremity, and then cutting two slits for arm-holes

at the other end, he lengthwise slips himself bodily into it. The mincer

now stands before you invested in the full canonicals of his calling.

Immemorial to all his order, this investiture alone will adequately

protect him, while employed in the peculiar functions of his office.

That office consists in mincing the horse-pieces of blubber for the

pots; an operation which is conducted at a curious wooden horse, planted

endwise against the bulwarks, and with a capacious tub beneath it, into

which the minced pieces drop, fast as the sheets from a rapt orator's

desk. Arrayed in decent black; occupying a conspicuous pulpit; intent

on bible leaves; what a candidate for an archbishopric, what a lad for a

Pope were this mincer!*

*Bible leaves! Bible leaves! This is the invariable cry from the mates

to the mincer. It enjoins him to be careful, and cut his work into as

thin slices as possible, inasmuch as by so doing the business of

boiling out the oil is much accelerated, and its quantity considerably

increased, besides perhaps improving it in quality.

CHAPTER 96. The Try-Works.

Besides her hoisted boats, an American whaler is outwardly distinguished

by her try-works. She presents the curious anomaly of the most solid

masonry joining with oak and hemp in constituting the completed ship.

It is as if from the open field a brick-kiln were transported to her

The try-works are planted between the foremast and mainmast, the most

roomy part of the deck. The timbers beneath are of a peculiar strength,

fitted to sustain the weight of an almost solid mass of brick and

mortar, some ten feet by eight square, and five in height. The

foundation does not penetrate the deck, but the masonry is firmly

secured to the surface by ponderous knees of iron bracing it on all

sides, and screwing it down to the timbers. On the flanks it is cased

with wood, and at top completely covered by a large, sloping, battened

hatchway. Removing this hatch we expose the great try-pots, two in

number, and each of several barrels' capacity. When not in use, they are

kept remarkably clean. Sometimes they are polished with soapstone

and sand, till they shine within like silver punch-bowls. During the

night-watches some cynical old sailors will crawl into them and coil

themselves away there for a nap. While employed in polishing them--one

man in each pot, side by side--many confidential communications

are carried on, over the iron lips. It is a place also for profound

mathematical meditation. It was in the left hand try-pot of the Pequod,

with the soapstone diligently circling round me, that I was first

indirectly struck by the remarkable fact, that in geometry all bodies

gliding along the cycloid, my soapstone for example, will descend from

any point in precisely the same time.
Removing the fire-board from the front of the try-works, the bare

masonry of that side is exposed, penetrated by the two iron mouths of

the furnaces, directly underneath the pots. These mouths are fitted

with heavy doors of iron. The intense heat of the fire is prevented

from communicating itself to the deck, by means of a shallow reservoir

extending under the entire inclosed surface of the works. By a tunnel

inserted at the rear, this reservoir is kept replenished with water as

fast as it evaporates. There are no external chimneys; they open direct

from the rear wall. And here let us go back for a moment.
It was about nine o'clock at night that the Pequod's try-works were

first started on this present voyage. It belonged to Stubb to oversee

the business.
"All ready there? Off hatch, then, and start her. You cook, fire the

works." This was an easy thing, for the carpenter had been thrusting his

shavings into the furnace throughout the passage. Here be it said that

in a whaling voyage the first fire in the try-works has to be fed for a

time with wood. After that no wood is used, except as a means of quick

ignition to the staple fuel. In a word, after being tried out, the

crisp, shrivelled blubber, now called scraps or fritters, still contains

considerable of its unctuous properties. These fritters feed the flames.

Like a plethoric burning martyr, or a self-consuming misanthrope, once

ignited, the whale supplies his own fuel and burns by his own body.

Would that he consumed his own smoke! for his smoke is horrible to

inhale, and inhale it you must, and not only that, but you must live in

it for the time. It has an unspeakable, wild, Hindoo odor about it, such

as may lurk in the vicinity of funereal pyres. It smells like the left

wing of the day of judgment; it is an argument for the pit.
By midnight the works were in full operation. We were clear from the

carcase; sail had been made; the wind was freshening; the wild ocean

darkness was intense. But that darkness was licked up by the fierce

flames, which at intervals forked forth from the sooty flues, and

illuminated every lofty rope in the rigging, as with the famed Greek

fire. The burning ship drove on, as if remorselessly commissioned to

some vengeful deed. So the pitch and sulphur-freighted brigs of the

bold Hydriote, Canaris, issuing from their midnight harbors, with broad

sheets of flame for sails, bore down upon the Turkish frigates, and

folded them in conflagrations.

The hatch, removed from the top of the works, now afforded a wide hearth

in front of them. Standing on this were the Tartarean shapes of the

pagan harpooneers, always the whale-ship's stokers. With huge pronged

poles they pitched hissing masses of blubber into the scalding pots, or

stirred up the fires beneath, till the snaky flames darted, curling, out

of the doors to catch them by the feet. The smoke rolled away in sullen

heaps. To every pitch of the ship there was a pitch of the boiling oil,

which seemed all eagerness to leap into their faces. Opposite the mouth

of the works, on the further side of the wide wooden hearth, was the

windlass. This served for a sea-sofa. Here lounged the watch, when not

otherwise employed, looking into the red heat of the fire, till their

eyes felt scorched in their heads. Their tawny features, now all

begrimed with smoke and sweat, their matted beards, and the contrasting

barbaric brilliancy of their teeth, all these were strangely revealed in

the capricious emblazonings of the works. As they narrated to each other

their unholy adventures, their tales of terror told in words of mirth;

as their uncivilized laughter forked upwards out of them, like the

flames from the furnace; as to and fro, in their front, the harpooneers

wildly gesticulated with their huge pronged forks and dippers; as the

wind howled on, and the sea leaped, and the ship groaned and dived, and

yet steadfastly shot her red hell further and further into the blackness

of the sea and the night, and scornfully champed the white bone in

her mouth, and viciously spat round her on all sides; then the rushing

Pequod, freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning

a corpse, and plunging into that blackness of darkness, seemed the

material counterpart of her monomaniac commander's soul.

So seemed it to me, as I stood at her helm, and for long hours silently

guided the way of this fire-ship on the sea. Wrapped, for that interval,

in darkness myself, I but the better saw the redness, the madness, the

ghastliness of others. The continual sight of the fiend shapes before

me, capering half in smoke and half in fire, these at last begat kindred

visions in my soul, so soon as I began to yield to that unaccountable

drowsiness which ever would come over me at a midnight helm.
But that night, in particular, a strange (and ever since inexplicable)

thing occurred to me. Starting from a brief standing sleep, I was

horribly conscious of something fatally wrong. The jaw-bone tiller smote

my side, which leaned against it; in my ears was the low hum of sails,

just beginning to shake in the wind; I thought my eyes were open; I

was half conscious of putting my fingers to the lids and mechanically

stretching them still further apart. But, spite of all this, I could see

no compass before me to steer by; though it seemed but a minute since I

had been watching the card, by the steady binnacle lamp illuminating it.

Nothing seemed before me but a jet gloom, now and then made ghastly by

flashes of redness. Uppermost was the impression, that whatever swift,

rushing thing I stood on was not so much bound to any haven ahead as

rushing from all havens astern. A stark, bewildered feeling, as of

death, came over me. Convulsively my hands grasped the tiller, but with

the crazy conceit that the tiller was, somehow, in some enchanted way,

inverted. My God! what is the matter with me? thought I. Lo! in my brief

sleep I had turned myself about, and was fronting the ship's stern, with

my back to her prow and the compass. In an instant I faced back, just

in time to prevent the vessel from flying up into the wind, and very

probably capsizing her. How glad and how grateful the relief from this

unnatural hallucination of the night, and the fatal contingency of being

brought by the lee!

Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man! Never dream with thy

hand on the helm! Turn not thy back to the compass; accept the first

hint of the hitching tiller; believe not the artificial fire, when its

redness makes all things look ghastly. To-morrow, in the natural sun,

the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils in the forking

flames, the morn will show in far other, at least gentler, relief; the

glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true lamp--all others but liars!
Nevertheless the sun hides not Virginia's Dismal Swamp, nor Rome's

accursed Campagna, nor wide Sahara, nor all the millions of miles of

deserts and of griefs beneath the moon. The sun hides not the ocean,

which is the dark side of this earth, and which is two thirds of this

earth. So, therefore, that mortal man who hath more of joy than sorrow

in him, that mortal man cannot be true--not true, or undeveloped. With

books the same. The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the

truest of all books is Solomon's, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered

steel of woe. "All is vanity." ALL. This wilful world hath not got hold

of unchristian Solomon's wisdom yet. But he who dodges hospitals and

jails, and walks fast crossing graveyards, and would rather talk of

operas than hell; calls Cowper, Young, Pascal, Rousseau, poor devils all

of sick men; and throughout a care-free lifetime swears by Rabelais as

passing wise, and therefore jolly;--not that man is fitted to sit

down on tomb-stones, and break the green damp mould with unfathomably

wondrous Solomon.

But even Solomon, he says, "the man that wandereth out of the way

of understanding shall remain" (I.E., even while living) "in the

congregation of the dead." Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it

invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom

that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill

eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges,

and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces.

And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the

mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still

higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.

CHAPTER 97. The Lamp.

Had you descended from the Pequod's try-works to the Pequod's

forecastle, where the off duty watch were sleeping, for one single

moment you would have almost thought you were standing in some

illuminated shrine of canonized kings and counsellors. There they lay

in their triangular oaken vaults, each mariner a chiselled muteness; a

score of lamps flashing upon his hooded eyes.

In merchantmen, oil for the sailor is more scarce than the milk of

queens. To dress in the dark, and eat in the dark, and stumble in

darkness to his pallet, this is his usual lot. But the whaleman, as he

seeks the food of light, so he lives in light. He makes his berth an

Aladdin's lamp, and lays him down in it; so that in the pitchiest night

the ship's black hull still houses an illumination.

See with what entire freedom the whaleman takes his handful of

lamps--often but old bottles and vials, though--to the copper cooler at

the try-works, and replenishes them there, as mugs of ale at a vat. He

burns, too, the purest of oil, in its unmanufactured, and, therefore,

unvitiated state; a fluid unknown to solar, lunar, or astral

contrivances ashore. It is sweet as early grass butter in April. He

goes and hunts for his oil, so as to be sure of its freshness and

genuineness, even as the traveller on the prairie hunts up his own

supper of game.

CHAPTER 98. Stowing Down and Clearing Up.

Already has it been related how the great leviathan is afar off

descried from the mast-head; how he is chased over the watery moors, and

slaughtered in the valleys of the deep; how he is then towed alongside

and beheaded; and how (on the principle which entitled the headsman of

old to the garments in which the beheaded was killed) his great padded

surtout becomes the property of his executioner; how, in due time, he

is condemned to the pots, and, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, his

spermaceti, oil, and bone pass unscathed through the fire;--but now it

remains to conclude the last chapter of this part of the description by

rehearsing--singing, if I may--the romantic proceeding of decanting off

his oil into the casks and striking them down into the hold, where

once again leviathan returns to his native profundities, sliding along

beneath the surface as before; but, alas! never more to rise and blow.
While still warm, the oil, like hot punch, is received into the

six-barrel casks; and while, perhaps, the ship is pitching and rolling

this way and that in the midnight sea, the enormous casks are slewed

round and headed over, end for end, and sometimes perilously scoot

across the slippery deck, like so many land slides, till at last

man-handled and stayed in their course; and all round the hoops, rap,

rap, go as many hammers as can play upon them, for now, EX OFFICIO,

every sailor is a cooper.

At length, when the last pint is casked, and all is cool, then the great

hatchways are unsealed, the bowels of the ship are thrown open, and down

go the casks to their final rest in the sea. This done, the hatches are

replaced, and hermetically closed, like a closet walled up.

In the sperm fishery, this is perhaps one of the most remarkable

incidents in all the business of whaling. One day the planks stream with

freshets of blood and oil; on the sacred quarter-deck enormous masses of

the whale's head are profanely piled; great rusty casks lie about, as

in a brewery yard; the smoke from the try-works has besooted all the

bulwarks; the mariners go about suffused with unctuousness; the entire

ship seems great leviathan himself; while on all hands the din is


But a day or two after, you look about you, and prick your ears in this

self-same ship; and were it not for the tell-tale boats and try-works,

you would all but swear you trod some silent merchant vessel, with a

most scrupulously neat commander. The unmanufactured sperm oil possesses

a singularly cleansing virtue. This is the reason why the decks never

look so white as just after what they call an affair of oil. Besides,

from the ashes of the burned scraps of the whale, a potent lye is

readily made; and whenever any adhesiveness from the back of the whale

remains clinging to the side, that lye quickly exterminates it. Hands

go diligently along the bulwarks, and with buckets of water and rags

restore them to their full tidiness. The soot is brushed from the lower

rigging. All the numerous implements which have been in use are likewise

faithfully cleansed and put away. The great hatch is scrubbed and placed

upon the try-works, completely hiding the pots; every cask is out of

sight; all tackles are coiled in unseen nooks; and when by the combined

and simultaneous industry of almost the entire ship's company, the

whole of this conscientious duty is at last concluded, then the crew

themselves proceed to their own ablutions; shift themselves from top to

toe; and finally issue to the immaculate deck, fresh and all aglow, as

bridegrooms new-leaped from out the daintiest Holland.

Now, with elated step, they pace the planks in twos and threes, and

humorously discourse of parlors, sofas, carpets, and fine cambrics;

propose to mat the deck; think of having hanging to the top; object not

to taking tea by moonlight on the piazza of the forecastle. To hint to

such musked mariners of oil, and bone, and blubber, were little short

of audacity. They know not the thing you distantly allude to. Away, and

bring us napkins!
But mark: aloft there, at the three mast heads, stand three men intent

on spying out more whales, which, if caught, infallibly will again

soil the old oaken furniture, and drop at least one small grease-spot

somewhere. Yes; and many is the time, when, after the severest

uninterrupted labors, which know no night; continuing straight through

for ninety-six hours; when from the boat, where they have swelled their

wrists with all day rowing on the Line,--they only step to the deck to

carry vast chains, and heave the heavy windlass, and cut and slash, yea,

and in their very sweatings to be smoked and burned anew by the combined

fires of the equatorial sun and the equatorial try-works; when, on the

heel of all this, they have finally bestirred themselves to cleanse the

ship, and make a spotless dairy room of it; many is the time the poor

fellows, just buttoning the necks of their clean frocks, are startled by

the cry of "There she blows!" and away they fly to fight another whale,

and go through the whole weary thing again. Oh! my friends, but this

is man-killing! Yet this is life. For hardly have we mortals by long

toilings extracted from this world's vast bulk its small but valuable

sperm; and then, with weary patience, cleansed ourselves from its

defilements, and learned to live here in clean tabernacles of the soul;

hardly is this done, when--THERE SHE BLOWS!--the ghost is spouted up,

and away we sail to fight some other world, and go through young life's

old routine again.

Oh! the metempsychosis! Oh! Pythagoras, that in bright Greece, two

thousand years ago, did die, so good, so wise, so mild; I sailed with

thee along the Peruvian coast last voyage--and, foolish as I am, taught

thee, a green simple boy, how to splice a rope!

CHAPTER 99. The Doubloon.

Ere now it has been related how Ahab was wont to pace his quarter-deck,

taking regular turns at either limit, the binnacle and mainmast; but

in the multiplicity of other things requiring narration it has not been

added how that sometimes in these walks, when most plunged in his mood,

he was wont to pause in turn at each spot, and stand there strangely

eyeing the particular object before him. When he halted before the

binnacle, with his glance fastened on the pointed needle in the compass,

that glance shot like a javelin with the pointed intensity of his

purpose; and when resuming his walk he again paused before the mainmast,

then, as the same riveted glance fastened upon the riveted gold coin

there, he still wore the same aspect of nailed firmness, only dashed

with a certain wild longing, if not hopefulness.

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