there quietly digesting and smoking with his inseparable hat on, when I
sallied out for a stroll.
CHAPTER 6. The Street.
If I had been astonished at first catching a glimpse of so outlandish
an individual as Queequeg circulating among the polite society of a
civilized town, that astonishment soon departed upon taking my first
daylight stroll through the streets of New Bedford.
In thoroughfares nigh the docks, any considerable seaport will
frequently offer to view the queerest looking nondescripts from foreign
parts. Even in Broadway and Chestnut streets, Mediterranean mariners
will sometimes jostle the affrighted ladies. Regent Street is not
unknown to Lascars and Malays; and at Bombay, in the Apollo Green, live
Yankees have often scared the natives. But New Bedford beats all Water
Street and Wapping. In these last-mentioned haunts you see only sailors;
but in New Bedford, actual cannibals stand chatting at street corners;
savages outright; many of whom yet carry on their bones unholy flesh. It
makes a stranger stare.
But, besides the Feegeeans, Tongatobooarrs, Erromanggoans, Pannangians,
and Brighggians, and, besides the wild specimens of the whaling-craft
which unheeded reel about the streets, you will see other sights still
more curious, certainly more comical. There weekly arrive in this town
scores of green Vermonters and New Hampshire men, all athirst for gain
and glory in the fishery. They are mostly young, of stalwart frames;
fellows who have felled forests, and now seek to drop the axe and snatch
the whale-lance. Many are as green as the Green Mountains whence they
came. In some things you would think them but a few hours old. Look
there! that chap strutting round the corner. He wears a beaver hat and
swallow-tailed coat, girdled with a sailor-belt and sheath-knife. Here
comes another with a sou'-wester and a bombazine cloak.
No town-bred dandy will compare with a country-bred one--I mean a
downright bumpkin dandy--a fellow that, in the dog-days, will mow his
two acres in buckskin gloves for fear of tanning his hands. Now when a
country dandy like this takes it into his head to make a distinguished
reputation, and joins the great whale-fishery, you should see the
comical things he does upon reaching the seaport. In bespeaking his
sea-outfit, he orders bell-buttons to his waistcoats; straps to his
canvas trowsers. Ah, poor Hay-Seed! how bitterly will burst those straps
in the first howling gale, when thou art driven, straps, buttons, and
all, down the throat of the tempest.
But think not that this famous town has only harpooneers, cannibals, and
bumpkins to show her visitors. Not at all. Still New Bedford is a queer
place. Had it not been for us whalemen, that tract of land would this
day perhaps have been in as howling condition as the coast of Labrador.
As it is, parts of her back country are enough to frighten one, they
look so bony. The town itself is perhaps the dearest place to live
in, in all New England. It is a land of oil, true enough: but not like
Canaan; a land, also, of corn and wine. The streets do not run with
milk; nor in the spring-time do they pave them with fresh eggs. Yet, in
spite of this, nowhere in all America will you find more patrician-like
houses; parks and gardens more opulent, than in New Bedford. Whence came
they? how planted upon this once scraggy scoria of a country?
Go and gaze upon the iron emblematical harpoons round yonder lofty
mansion, and your question will be answered. Yes; all these brave houses
and flowery gardens came from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.
One and all, they were harpooned and dragged up hither from the bottom
of the sea. Can Herr Alexander perform a feat like that?
In New Bedford, fathers, they say, give whales for dowers to their
daughters, and portion off their nieces with a few porpoises a-piece.
You must go to New Bedford to see a brilliant wedding; for, they say,
they have reservoirs of oil in every house, and every night recklessly
burn their lengths in spermaceti candles.
In summer time, the town is sweet to see; full of fine maples--long
avenues of green and gold. And in August, high in air, the beautiful and
bountiful horse-chestnuts, candelabra-wise, proffer the passer-by their
tapering upright cones of congregated blossoms. So omnipotent is art;
which in many a district of New Bedford has superinduced bright terraces
of flowers upon the barren refuse rocks thrown aside at creation's final
And the women of New Bedford, they bloom like their own red roses. But
roses only bloom in summer; whereas the fine carnation of their cheeks
is perennial as sunlight in the seventh heavens. Elsewhere match that
bloom of theirs, ye cannot, save in Salem, where they tell me the young
girls breathe such musk, their sailor sweethearts smell them miles off
shore, as though they were drawing nigh the odorous Moluccas instead of
the Puritanic sands.
CHAPTER 7. The Chapel.
In this same New Bedford there stands a Whaleman's Chapel, and few are
the moody fishermen, shortly bound for the Indian Ocean or Pacific, who
fail to make a Sunday visit to the spot. I am sure that I did not.
Returning from my first morning stroll, I again sallied out upon this
special errand. The sky had changed from clear, sunny cold, to driving
sleet and mist. Wrapping myself in my shaggy jacket of the cloth called
bearskin, I fought my way against the stubborn storm. Entering, I
found a small scattered congregation of sailors, and sailors' wives and
widows. A muffled silence reigned, only broken at times by the shrieks
of the storm. Each silent worshipper seemed purposely sitting apart from
the other, as if each silent grief were insular and incommunicable. The
chaplain had not yet arrived; and there these silent islands of men and
women sat steadfastly eyeing several marble tablets, with black borders,
masoned into the wall on either side the pulpit. Three of them ran
something like the following, but I do not pretend to quote:--
SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF JOHN TALBOT, Who, at the age of eighteen, was
lost overboard, Near the Isle of Desolation, off Patagonia, November
1st, 1836. THIS TABLET Is erected to his Memory BY HIS SISTER.
SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF ROBERT LONG, WILLIS ELLERY, NATHAN COLEMAN,
WALTER CANNY, SETH MACY, AND SAMUEL GLEIG, Forming one of the boats'
crews OF THE SHIP ELIZA Who were towed out of sight by a Whale, On the
Off-shore Ground in the PACIFIC, December 31st, 1839. THIS MARBLE Is
here placed by their surviving SHIPMATES.
SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF The late CAPTAIN EZEKIEL HARDY, Who in the bows
of his boat was killed by a Sperm Whale on the coast of Japan, AUGUST
3d, 1833. THIS TABLET Is erected to his Memory BY HIS WIDOW.
Shaking off the sleet from my ice-glazed hat and jacket, I seated myself
near the door, and turning sideways was surprised to see Queequeg near
me. Affected by the solemnity of the scene, there was a wondering gaze
of incredulous curiosity in his countenance. This savage was the only
person present who seemed to notice my entrance; because he was the only
one who could not read, and, therefore, was not reading those frigid
inscriptions on the wall. Whether any of the relatives of the seamen
whose names appeared there were now among the congregation, I knew not;
but so many are the unrecorded accidents in the fishery, and so plainly
did several women present wear the countenance if not the trappings
of some unceasing grief, that I feel sure that here before me were
assembled those, in whose unhealing hearts the sight of those bleak
tablets sympathetically caused the old wounds to bleed afresh.
Oh! ye whose dead lie buried beneath the green grass; who standing among
flowers can say--here, HERE lies my beloved; ye know not the desolation
that broods in bosoms like these. What bitter blanks in those
black-bordered marbles which cover no ashes! What despair in those
immovable inscriptions! What deadly voids and unbidden infidelities in
the lines that seem to gnaw upon all Faith, and refuse resurrections to
the beings who have placelessly perished without a grave. As well might
those tablets stand in the cave of Elephanta as here.
In what census of living creatures, the dead of mankind are included;
why it is that a universal proverb says of them, that they tell no
tales, though containing more secrets than the Goodwin Sands; how it is
that to his name who yesterday departed for the other world, we prefix
so significant and infidel a word, and yet do not thus entitle him, if
he but embarks for the remotest Indies of this living earth; why the
Life Insurance Companies pay death-forfeitures upon immortals; in what
eternal, unstirring paralysis, and deadly, hopeless trance, yet lies
antique Adam who died sixty round centuries ago; how it is that we
still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are
dwelling in unspeakable bliss; why all the living so strive to hush all
the dead; wherefore but the rumor of a knocking in a tomb will terrify a
whole city. All these things are not without their meanings.
But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these
dead doubts she gathers her most vital hope.
It needs scarcely to be told, with what feelings, on the eve of a
Nantucket voyage, I regarded those marble tablets, and by the murky
light of that darkened, doleful day read the fate of the whalemen
who had gone before me. Yes, Ishmael, the same fate may be thine. But
somehow I grew merry again. Delightful inducements to embark, fine
chance for promotion, it seems--aye, a stove boat will make me an
immortal by brevet. Yes, there is death in this business of whaling--a
speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man into Eternity. But what
then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Life and Death.
Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my true
substance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too
much like oysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that
thick water the thinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the lees of my
better being. In fact take my body who will, take it I say, it is not
me. And therefore three cheers for Nantucket; and come a stove boat and
stove body when they will, for stave my soul, Jove himself cannot.
CHAPTER 8. The Pulpit.
I had not been seated very long ere a man of a certain venerable
robustness entered; immediately as the storm-pelted door flew back upon
admitting him, a quick regardful eyeing of him by all the congregation,
sufficiently attested that this fine old man was the chaplain. Yes, it
was the famous Father Mapple, so called by the whalemen, among whom he
was a very great favourite. He had been a sailor and a harpooneer in his
youth, but for many years past had dedicated his life to the ministry.
At the time I now write of, Father Mapple was in the hardy winter of a
healthy old age; that sort of old age which seems merging into a second
flowering youth, for among all the fissures of his wrinkles, there shone
certain mild gleams of a newly developing bloom--the spring verdure
peeping forth even beneath February's snow. No one having previously
heard his history, could for the first time behold Father Mapple without
the utmost interest, because there were certain engrafted clerical
peculiarities about him, imputable to that adventurous maritime life
he had led. When he entered I observed that he carried no umbrella, and
certainly had not come in his carriage, for his tarpaulin hat ran down
with melting sleet, and his great pilot cloth jacket seemed almost to
drag him to the floor with the weight of the water it had absorbed.
However, hat and coat and overshoes were one by one removed, and hung up
in a little space in an adjacent corner; when, arrayed in a decent suit,
he quietly approached the pulpit.
Like most old fashioned pulpits, it was a very lofty one, and since a
regular stairs to such a height would, by its long angle with the floor,
seriously contract the already small area of the chapel, the architect,
it seemed, had acted upon the hint of Father Mapple, and finished the
pulpit without a stairs, substituting a perpendicular side ladder, like
those used in mounting a ship from a boat at sea. The wife of a whaling
captain had provided the chapel with a handsome pair of red worsted
man-ropes for this ladder, which, being itself nicely headed, and
stained with a mahogany colour, the whole contrivance, considering what
manner of chapel it was, seemed by no means in bad taste. Halting for
an instant at the foot of the ladder, and with both hands grasping the
ornamental knobs of the man-ropes, Father Mapple cast a look upwards,
and then with a truly sailor-like but still reverential dexterity, hand
over hand, mounted the steps as if ascending the main-top of his vessel.
The perpendicular parts of this side ladder, as is usually the case with
swinging ones, were of cloth-covered rope, only the rounds were of wood,
so that at every step there was a joint. At my first glimpse of the
pulpit, it had not escaped me that however convenient for a ship,
these joints in the present instance seemed unnecessary. For I was not
prepared to see Father Mapple after gaining the height, slowly turn
round, and stooping over the pulpit, deliberately drag up the ladder
step by step, till the whole was deposited within, leaving him
impregnable in his little Quebec.
I pondered some time without fully comprehending the reason for this.
Father Mapple enjoyed such a wide reputation for sincerity and sanctity,
that I could not suspect him of courting notoriety by any mere tricks
of the stage. No, thought I, there must be some sober reason for this
thing; furthermore, it must symbolize something unseen. Can it be,
then, that by that act of physical isolation, he signifies his spiritual
withdrawal for the time, from all outward worldly ties and connexions?
Yes, for replenished with the meat and wine of the word, to the faithful
man of God, this pulpit, I see, is a self-containing stronghold--a lofty
Ehrenbreitstein, with a perennial well of water within the walls.
But the side ladder was not the only strange feature of the place,
borrowed from the chaplain's former sea-farings. Between the marble
cenotaphs on either hand of the pulpit, the wall which formed its back
was adorned with a large painting representing a gallant ship beating
against a terrible storm off a lee coast of black rocks and snowy
breakers. But high above the flying scud and dark-rolling clouds, there
floated a little isle of sunlight, from which beamed forth an angel's
face; and this bright face shed a distinct spot of radiance upon the
ship's tossed deck, something like that silver plate now inserted into
the Victory's plank where Nelson fell. "Ah, noble ship," the angel
seemed to say, "beat on, beat on, thou noble ship, and bear a hardy
helm; for lo! the sun is breaking through; the clouds are rolling
off--serenest azure is at hand."
Nor was the pulpit itself without a trace of the same sea-taste that
had achieved the ladder and the picture. Its panelled front was in
the likeness of a ship's bluff bows, and the Holy Bible rested on a
projecting piece of scroll work, fashioned after a ship's fiddle-headed
What could be more full of meaning?--for the pulpit is ever this earth's
foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the
world. From thence it is the storm of God's quick wrath is first
descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is
the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favourable winds.
Yes, the world's a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete;
and the pulpit is its prow.
CHAPTER 9. The Sermon.
Father Mapple rose, and in a mild voice of unassuming authority ordered
the scattered people to condense. "Starboard gangway, there! side away
to larboard--larboard gangway to starboard! Midships! midships!"
There was a low rumbling of heavy sea-boots among the benches, and a
still slighter shuffling of women's shoes, and all was quiet again, and
every eye on the preacher.
He paused a little; then kneeling in the pulpit's bows, folded his large
brown hands across his chest, uplifted his closed eyes, and offered
a prayer so deeply devout that he seemed kneeling and praying at the
bottom of the sea.
This ended, in prolonged solemn tones, like the continual tolling of
a bell in a ship that is foundering at sea in a fog--in such tones he
commenced reading the following hymn; but changing his manner towards
the concluding stanzas, burst forth with a pealing exultation and joy--
"The ribs and terrors in the whale,
Arched over me a dismal gloom,
While all God's sun-lit waves rolled by,
And lift me deepening down to doom.
"I saw the opening maw of hell,
With endless pains and sorrows there;
Which none but they that feel can tell--
Oh, I was plunging to despair.
"In black distress, I called my God,
When I could scarce believe him mine,
He bowed his ear to my complaints--
No more the whale did me confine.
"With speed he flew to my relief,
As on a radiant dolphin borne;
Awful, yet bright, as lightning shone
The face of my Deliverer God.
"My song for ever shall record
That terrible, that joyful hour;
I give the glory to my God,
His all the mercy and the power."
Nearly all joined in singing this hymn, which swelled high above the
howling of the storm. A brief pause ensued; the preacher slowly turned
over the leaves of the Bible, and at last, folding his hand down upon
the proper page, said: "Beloved shipmates, clinch the last verse of the
first chapter of Jonah--'And God had prepared a great fish to swallow up
"Shipmates, this book, containing only four chapters--four yarns--is one
of the smallest strands in the mighty cable of the Scriptures. Yet what
depths of the soul does Jonah's deep sealine sound! what a pregnant
lesson to us is this prophet! What a noble thing is that canticle in the
fish's belly! How billow-like and boisterously grand! We feel the floods
surging over us; we sound with him to the kelpy bottom of the waters;
sea-weed and all the slime of the sea is about us! But WHAT is this
lesson that the book of Jonah teaches? Shipmates, it is a two-stranded
lesson; a lesson to us all as sinful men, and a lesson to me as a pilot
of the living God. As sinful men, it is a lesson to us all, because it
is a story of the sin, hard-heartedness, suddenly awakened fears, the
swift punishment, repentance, prayers, and finally the deliverance and
joy of Jonah. As with all sinners among men, the sin of this son of
Amittai was in his wilful disobedience of the command of God--never
mind now what that command was, or how conveyed--which he found a hard
command. But all the things that God would have us do are hard for us to
do--remember that--and hence, he oftener commands us than endeavors to
persuade. And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; and it is in
this disobeying ourselves, wherein the hardness of obeying God consists.
"With this sin of disobedience in him, Jonah still further flouts at
God, by seeking to flee from Him. He thinks that a ship made by men will
carry him into countries where God does not reign, but only the Captains
of this earth. He skulks about the wharves of Joppa, and seeks a ship
that's bound for Tarshish. There lurks, perhaps, a hitherto unheeded
meaning here. By all accounts Tarshish could have been no other city
than the modern Cadiz. That's the opinion of learned men. And where is
Cadiz, shipmates? Cadiz is in Spain; as far by water, from Joppa,
as Jonah could possibly have sailed in those ancient days, when the
Atlantic was an almost unknown sea. Because Joppa, the modern Jaffa,
shipmates, is on the most easterly coast of the Mediterranean, the
Syrian; and Tarshish or Cadiz more than two thousand miles to the
westward from that, just outside the Straits of Gibraltar. See ye
not then, shipmates, that Jonah sought to flee world-wide from God?
Miserable man! Oh! most contemptible and worthy of all scorn; with
slouched hat and guilty eye, skulking from his God; prowling among the
shipping like a vile burglar hastening to cross the seas. So disordered,
self-condemning is his look, that had there been policemen in those
days, Jonah, on the mere suspicion of something wrong, had been arrested
ere he touched a deck. How plainly he's a fugitive! no baggage, not a
hat-box, valise, or carpet-bag,--no friends accompany him to the wharf
with their adieux. At last, after much dodging search, he finds the
Tarshish ship receiving the last items of her cargo; and as he steps on
board to see its Captain in the cabin, all the sailors for the moment
desist from hoisting in the goods, to mark the stranger's evil eye.
Jonah sees this; but in vain he tries to look all ease and confidence;
in vain essays his wretched smile. Strong intuitions of the man assure
the mariners he can be no innocent. In their gamesome but still serious
way, one whispers to the other--"Jack, he's robbed a widow;" or, "Joe,
do you mark him; he's a bigamist;" or, "Harry lad, I guess he's the
adulterer that broke jail in old Gomorrah, or belike, one of the missing
murderers from Sodom." Another runs to read the bill that's stuck
against the spile upon the wharf to which the ship is moored, offering
five hundred gold coins for the apprehension of a parricide, and
containing a description of his person. He reads, and looks from Jonah
to the bill; while all his sympathetic shipmates now crowd round Jonah,
prepared to lay their hands upon him. Frighted Jonah trembles, and
summoning all his boldness to his face, only looks so much the more a
coward. He will not confess himself suspected; but that itself is strong
suspicion. So he makes the best of it; and when the sailors find him
not to be the man that is advertised, they let him pass, and he descends
into the cabin.
"'Who's there?' cries the Captain at his busy desk, hurriedly making
out his papers for the Customs--'Who's there?' Oh! how that harmless