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   ...   41   42   43   44   45   46   47   48   ...   56

yard-sticks--the great skull echoed--and seizing that lucky chance, I

quickly concluded my own admeasurements.

These admeasurements I now propose to set before you. But first, be

it recorded, that, in this matter, I am not free to utter any fancied

measurement I please. Because there are skeleton authorities you can

refer to, to test my accuracy. There is a Leviathanic Museum, they tell

me, in Hull, England, one of the whaling ports of that country, where

they have some fine specimens of fin-backs and other whales. Likewise, I

have heard that in the museum of Manchester, in New Hampshire, they have

what the proprietors call "the only perfect specimen of a Greenland or

River Whale in the United States." Moreover, at a place in Yorkshire,

England, Burton Constable by name, a certain Sir Clifford Constable has

in his possession the skeleton of a Sperm Whale, but of moderate size,

by no means of the full-grown magnitude of my friend King Tranquo's.

In both cases, the stranded whales to which these two skeletons

belonged, were originally claimed by their proprietors upon similar

grounds. King Tranquo seizing his because he wanted it; and Sir

Clifford, because he was lord of the seignories of those parts. Sir

Clifford's whale has been articulated throughout; so that, like a

great chest of drawers, you can open and shut him, in all his bony

cavities--spread out his ribs like a gigantic fan--and swing all day

upon his lower jaw. Locks are to be put upon some of his trap-doors and

shutters; and a footman will show round future visitors with a bunch of

keys at his side. Sir Clifford thinks of charging twopence for a peep at

the whispering gallery in the spinal column; threepence to hear the echo

in the hollow of his cerebellum; and sixpence for the unrivalled view

from his forehead.
The skeleton dimensions I shall now proceed to set down are copied

verbatim from my right arm, where I had them tattooed; as in my wild

wanderings at that period, there was no other secure way of preserving

such valuable statistics. But as I was crowded for space, and wished

the other parts of my body to remain a blank page for a poem I was

then composing--at least, what untattooed parts might remain--I did not

trouble myself with the odd inches; nor, indeed, should inches at all

enter into a congenial admeasurement of the whale.

CHAPTER 103. Measurement of The Whale's Skeleton.

In the first place, I wish to lay before you a particular, plain

statement, touching the living bulk of this leviathan, whose skeleton we

are briefly to exhibit. Such a statement may prove useful here.
According to a careful calculation I have made, and which I partly base

upon Captain Scoresby's estimate, of seventy tons for the largest

sized Greenland whale of sixty feet in length; according to my careful

calculation, I say, a Sperm Whale of the largest magnitude, between

eighty-five and ninety feet in length, and something less than forty

feet in its fullest circumference, such a whale will weigh at least

ninety tons; so that, reckoning thirteen men to a ton, he would

considerably outweigh the combined population of a whole village of one

thousand one hundred inhabitants.
Think you not then that brains, like yoked cattle, should be put to this

leviathan, to make him at all budge to any landsman's imagination?

Having already in various ways put before you his skull, spout-hole,

jaw, teeth, tail, forehead, fins, and divers other parts, I shall now

simply point out what is most interesting in the general bulk of his

unobstructed bones. But as the colossal skull embraces so very large

a proportion of the entire extent of the skeleton; as it is by far the

most complicated part; and as nothing is to be repeated concerning it in

this chapter, you must not fail to carry it in your mind, or under your

arm, as we proceed, otherwise you will not gain a complete notion of the

general structure we are about to view.
In length, the Sperm Whale's skeleton at Tranque measured seventy-two

Feet; so that when fully invested and extended in life, he must have

been ninety feet long; for in the whale, the skeleton loses about one

fifth in length compared with the living body. Of this seventy-two feet,

his skull and jaw comprised some twenty feet, leaving some fifty feet of

plain back-bone. Attached to this back-bone, for something less than a

third of its length, was the mighty circular basket of ribs which once

enclosed his vitals.

To me this vast ivory-ribbed chest, with the long, unrelieved spine,

extending far away from it in a straight line, not a little resembled

the hull of a great ship new-laid upon the stocks, when only some twenty

of her naked bow-ribs are inserted, and the keel is otherwise, for the

time, but a long, disconnected timber.
The ribs were ten on a side. The first, to begin from the neck,

was nearly six feet long; the second, third, and fourth were each

successively longer, till you came to the climax of the fifth, or one

of the middle ribs, which measured eight feet and some inches. From

that part, the remaining ribs diminished, till the tenth and last only

spanned five feet and some inches. In general thickness, they all bore

a seemly correspondence to their length. The middle ribs were the most

arched. In some of the Arsacides they are used for beams whereon to lay

footpath bridges over small streams.
In considering these ribs, I could not but be struck anew with the

circumstance, so variously repeated in this book, that the skeleton of

the whale is by no means the mould of his invested form. The largest of

the Tranque ribs, one of the middle ones, occupied that part of the fish

which, in life, is greatest in depth. Now, the greatest depth of the

invested body of this particular whale must have been at least sixteen

feet; whereas, the corresponding rib measured but little more than eight

feet. So that this rib only conveyed half of the true notion of the

living magnitude of that part. Besides, for some way, where I now saw

but a naked spine, all that had been once wrapped round with tons of

added bulk in flesh, muscle, blood, and bowels. Still more, for the

ample fins, I here saw but a few disordered joints; and in place of the

weighty and majestic, but boneless flukes, an utter blank!
How vain and foolish, then, thought I, for timid untravelled man to try

to comprehend aright this wondrous whale, by merely poring over his dead

attenuated skeleton, stretched in this peaceful wood. No. Only in the

heart of quickest perils; only when within the eddyings of his angry

flukes; only on the profound unbounded sea, can the fully invested whale

be truly and livingly found out.

But the spine. For that, the best way we can consider it is, with a

crane, to pile its bones high up on end. No speedy enterprise. But now

it's done, it looks much like Pompey's Pillar.
There are forty and odd vertebrae in all, which in the skeleton are

not locked together. They mostly lie like the great knobbed blocks on

a Gothic spire, forming solid courses of heavy masonry. The largest,

a middle one, is in width something less than three feet, and in depth

more than four. The smallest, where the spine tapers away into the

tail, is only two inches in width, and looks something like a white

billiard-ball. I was told that there were still smaller ones, but they

had been lost by some little cannibal urchins, the priest's children,

who had stolen them to play marbles with. Thus we see how that the

spine of even the hugest of living things tapers off at last into simple

child's play.

CHAPTER 104. The Fossil Whale.

From his mighty bulk the whale affords a most congenial theme whereon

to enlarge, amplify, and generally expatiate. Would you, you could not

compress him. By good rights he should only be treated of in imperial

folio. Not to tell over again his furlongs from spiracle to tail,

and the yards he measures about the waist; only think of the gigantic

involutions of his intestines, where they lie in him like great

cables and hawsers coiled away in the subterranean orlop-deck of a


Since I have undertaken to manhandle this Leviathan, it behooves me

to approve myself omnisciently exhaustive in the enterprise; not

overlooking the minutest seminal germs of his blood, and spinning him

out to the uttermost coil of his bowels. Having already described him

in most of his present habitatory and anatomical peculiarities, it

now remains to magnify him in an archaeological, fossiliferous, and

antediluvian point of view. Applied to any other creature than the

Leviathan--to an ant or a flea--such portly terms might justly be deemed

unwarrantably grandiloquent. But when Leviathan is the text, the case is

altered. Fain am I to stagger to this emprise under the weightiest

words of the dictionary. And here be it said, that whenever it has been

convenient to consult one in the course of these dissertations, I have

invariably used a huge quarto edition of Johnson, expressly purchased

for that purpose; because that famous lexicographer's uncommon personal

bulk more fitted him to compile a lexicon to be used by a whale author

like me.
One often hears of writers that rise and swell with their subject,

though it may seem but an ordinary one. How, then, with me, writing

of this Leviathan? Unconsciously my chirography expands into placard

capitals. Give me a condor's quill! Give me Vesuvius' crater for an

inkstand! Friends, hold my arms! For in the mere act of penning my

thoughts of this Leviathan, they weary me, and make me faint with their

outreaching comprehensiveness of sweep, as if to include the whole

circle of the sciences, and all the generations of whales, and men, and

mastodons, past, present, and to come, with all the revolving panoramas

of empire on earth, and throughout the whole universe, not excluding its

suburbs. Such, and so magnifying, is the virtue of a large and liberal

theme! We expand to its bulk. To produce a mighty book, you must choose

a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the

flea, though many there be who have tried it.
Ere entering upon the subject of Fossil Whales, I present my credentials

as a geologist, by stating that in my miscellaneous time I have been

a stone-mason, and also a great digger of ditches, canals and wells,

wine-vaults, cellars, and cisterns of all sorts. Likewise, by way of

preliminary, I desire to remind the reader, that while in the earlier

geological strata there are found the fossils of monsters now almost

completely extinct; the subsequent relics discovered in what are called

the Tertiary formations seem the connecting, or at any rate intercepted

links, between the antichronical creatures, and those whose remote

posterity are said to have entered the Ark; all the Fossil Whales

hitherto discovered belong to the Tertiary period, which is the last

preceding the superficial formations. And though none of them

precisely answer to any known species of the present time, they are yet

sufficiently akin to them in general respects, to justify their taking

rank as Cetacean fossils.
Detached broken fossils of pre-adamite whales, fragments of their bones

and skeletons, have within thirty years past, at various intervals, been

found at the base of the Alps, in Lombardy, in France, in England, in

Scotland, and in the States of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

Among the more curious of such remains is part of a skull, which in the

year 1779 was disinterred in the Rue Dauphine in Paris, a short street

opening almost directly upon the palace of the Tuileries; and bones

disinterred in excavating the great docks of Antwerp, in Napoleon's

time. Cuvier pronounced these fragments to have belonged to some utterly

unknown Leviathanic species.

But by far the most wonderful of all Cetacean relics was the almost

complete vast skeleton of an extinct monster, found in the year 1842, on

the plantation of Judge Creagh, in Alabama. The awe-stricken credulous

slaves in the vicinity took it for the bones of one of the fallen

angels. The Alabama doctors declared it a huge reptile, and bestowed

upon it the name of Basilosaurus. But some specimen bones of it being

taken across the sea to Owen, the English Anatomist, it turned out

that this alleged reptile was a whale, though of a departed species. A

significant illustration of the fact, again and again repeated in this

book, that the skeleton of the whale furnishes but little clue to the

shape of his fully invested body. So Owen rechristened the monster

Zeuglodon; and in his paper read before the London Geological Society,

pronounced it, in substance, one of the most extraordinary creatures

which the mutations of the globe have blotted out of existence.

When I stand among these mighty Leviathan skeletons, skulls, tusks,

jaws, ribs, and vertebrae, all characterized by partial resemblances to

the existing breeds of sea-monsters; but at the same time bearing on

the other hand similar affinities to the annihilated antichronical

Leviathans, their incalculable seniors; I am, by a flood, borne back

to that wondrous period, ere time itself can be said to have begun;

for time began with man. Here Saturn's grey chaos rolls over me, and I

obtain dim, shuddering glimpses into those Polar eternities; when wedged

bastions of ice pressed hard upon what are now the Tropics; and in

all the 25,000 miles of this world's circumference, not an inhabitable

hand's breadth of land was visible. Then the whole world was the

whale's; and, king of creation, he left his wake along the present lines

of the Andes and the Himmalehs. Who can show a pedigree like Leviathan?

Ahab's harpoon had shed older blood than the Pharaoh's. Methuselah seems

a school-boy. I look round to shake hands with Shem. I am horror-struck

at this antemosaic, unsourced existence of the unspeakable terrors of

the whale, which, having been before all time, must needs exist after

all humane ages are over.

But not alone has this Leviathan left his pre-adamite traces in the

stereotype plates of nature, and in limestone and marl bequeathed his

ancient bust; but upon Egyptian tablets, whose antiquity seems to claim

for them an almost fossiliferous character, we find the unmistakable

print of his fin. In an apartment of the great temple of Denderah,

some fifty years ago, there was discovered upon the granite ceiling a

sculptured and painted planisphere, abounding in centaurs, griffins, and

dolphins, similar to the grotesque figures on the celestial globe of the

moderns. Gliding among them, old Leviathan swam as of yore; was there

swimming in that planisphere, centuries before Solomon was cradled.

Nor must there be omitted another strange attestation of the antiquity

of the whale, in his own osseous post-diluvian reality, as set down by

the venerable John Leo, the old Barbary traveller.
"Not far from the Sea-side, they have a Temple, the Rafters and Beams

of which are made of Whale-Bones; for Whales of a monstrous size are

oftentimes cast up dead upon that shore. The Common People imagine, that

by a secret Power bestowed by God upon the temple, no Whale can pass it

without immediate death. But the truth of the Matter is, that on either

side of the Temple, there are Rocks that shoot two Miles into the Sea,

and wound the Whales when they light upon 'em. They keep a Whale's Rib

of an incredible length for a Miracle, which lying upon the Ground with

its convex part uppermost, makes an Arch, the Head of which cannot be

reached by a Man upon a Camel's Back. This Rib (says John Leo) is said

to have layn there a hundred Years before I saw it. Their Historians

affirm, that a Prophet who prophesy'd of Mahomet, came from this Temple,

and some do not stand to assert, that the Prophet Jonas was cast forth

by the Whale at the Base of the Temple."

In this Afric Temple of the Whale I leave you, reader, and if you be a

Nantucketer, and a whaleman, you will silently worship there.

CHAPTER 105. Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish?--Will He Perish?

Inasmuch, then, as this Leviathan comes floundering down upon us from

the head-waters of the Eternities, it may be fitly inquired, whether,

in the long course of his generations, he has not degenerated from the

original bulk of his sires.

But upon investigation we find, that not only are the whales of the

present day superior in magnitude to those whose fossil remains are

found in the Tertiary system (embracing a distinct geological period

prior to man), but of the whales found in that Tertiary system, those

belonging to its latter formations exceed in size those of its earlier

Of all the pre-adamite whales yet exhumed, by far the largest is the

Alabama one mentioned in the last chapter, and that was less than

seventy feet in length in the skeleton. Whereas, we have already seen,

that the tape-measure gives seventy-two feet for the skeleton of a large

sized modern whale. And I have heard, on whalemen's authority, that

Sperm Whales have been captured near a hundred feet long at the time of

But may it not be, that while the whales of the present hour are an

advance in magnitude upon those of all previous geological periods; may

it not be, that since Adam's time they have degenerated?

Assuredly, we must conclude so, if we are to credit the accounts of such

gentlemen as Pliny, and the ancient naturalists generally. For Pliny

tells us of Whales that embraced acres of living bulk, and Aldrovandus

of others which measured eight hundred feet in length--Rope Walks and

Thames Tunnels of Whales! And even in the days of Banks and Solander,

Cooke's naturalists, we find a Danish member of the Academy of Sciences

setting down certain Iceland Whales (reydan-siskur, or Wrinkled Bellies)

at one hundred and twenty yards; that is, three hundred and sixty feet.

And Lacepede, the French naturalist, in his elaborate history of whales,

in the very beginning of his work (page 3), sets down the Right Whale at

one hundred metres, three hundred and twenty-eight feet. And this work

was published so late as A.D. 1825.

But will any whaleman believe these stories? No. The whale of to-day is

as big as his ancestors in Pliny's time. And if ever I go where Pliny

is, I, a whaleman (more than he was), will make bold to tell him so.

Because I cannot understand how it is, that while the Egyptian mummies

that were buried thousands of years before even Pliny was born, do not

measure so much in their coffins as a modern Kentuckian in his socks;

and while the cattle and other animals sculptured on the oldest Egyptian

and Nineveh tablets, by the relative proportions in which they are

drawn, just as plainly prove that the high-bred, stall-fed, prize cattle

of Smithfield, not only equal, but far exceed in magnitude the fattest

of Pharaoh's fat kine; in the face of all this, I will not admit that of

all animals the whale alone should have degenerated.

But still another inquiry remains; one often agitated by the more

recondite Nantucketers. Whether owing to the almost omniscient look-outs

at the mast-heads of the whaleships, now penetrating even through

Behring's straits, and into the remotest secret drawers and lockers

of the world; and the thousand harpoons and lances darted along all

continental coasts; the moot point is, whether Leviathan can long endure

so wide a chase, and so remorseless a havoc; whether he must not at last

be exterminated from the waters, and the last whale, like the last man,

smoke his last pipe, and then himself evaporate in the final puff.
Comparing the humped herds of whales with the humped herds of buffalo,

which, not forty years ago, overspread by tens of thousands the prairies

of Illinois and Missouri, and shook their iron manes and scowled with

their thunder-clotted brows upon the sites of populous river-capitals,

where now the polite broker sells you land at a dollar an inch; in such

a comparison an irresistible argument would seem furnished, to show that

the hunted whale cannot now escape speedy extinction.
But you must look at this matter in every light. Though so short a

period ago--not a good lifetime--the census of the buffalo in Illinois

exceeded the census of men now in London, and though at the present day

not one horn or hoof of them remains in all that region; and though the

cause of this wondrous extermination was the spear of man; yet the far

different nature of the whale-hunt peremptorily forbids so inglorious an

end to the Leviathan. Forty men in one ship hunting the Sperm Whales for

forty-eight months think they have done extremely well, and thank God,

if at last they carry home the oil of forty fish. Whereas, in the days

of the old Canadian and Indian hunters and trappers of the West, when

the far west (in whose sunset suns still rise) was a wilderness and

a virgin, the same number of moccasined men, for the same number of

months, mounted on horse instead of sailing in ships, would have slain

not forty, but forty thousand and more buffaloes; a fact that, if need

were, could be statistically stated.
Nor, considered aright, does it seem any argument in favour of the

gradual extinction of the Sperm Whale, for example, that in former years

(the latter part of the last century, say) these Leviathans, in

small pods, were encountered much oftener than at present, and, in

consequence, the voyages were not so prolonged, and were also much more

remunerative. Because, as has been elsewhere noticed, those whales,

influenced by some views to safety, now swim the seas in immense

caravans, so that to a large degree the scattered solitaries, yokes, and

pods, and schools of other days are now aggregated into vast but widely

separated, unfrequent armies. That is all. And equally fallacious seems

the conceit, that because the so-called whale-bone whales no longer

haunt many grounds in former years abounding with them, hence that

species also is declining. For they are only being driven from

promontory to cape; and if one coast is no longer enlivened with

their jets, then, be sure, some other and remoter strand has been very

1   ...   41   42   43   44   45   46   47   48   ...   56

The database is protected by copyright © 2016
send message

    Main page