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

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trembles, quivers, and nods her frighted mast-heads to the sky. More

and more she leans over to the whale, while every gasping heave of the

windlass is answered by a helping heave from the billows; till at last,

a swift, startling snap is heard; with a great swash the ship rolls

upwards and backwards from the whale, and the triumphant tackle rises

into sight dragging after it the disengaged semicircular end of the

first strip of blubber. Now as the blubber envelopes the whale precisely

as the rind does an orange, so is it stripped off from the body

precisely as an orange is sometimes stripped by spiralizing it. For the

strain constantly kept up by the windlass continually keeps the whale

rolling over and over in the water, and as the blubber in one strip

uniformly peels off along the line called the "scarf," simultaneously

cut by the spades of Starbuck and Stubb, the mates; and just as fast as

it is thus peeled off, and indeed by that very act itself, it is all the

time being hoisted higher and higher aloft till its upper end grazes the

main-top; the men at the windlass then cease heaving, and for a moment

or two the prodigious blood-dripping mass sways to and fro as if let

down from the sky, and every one present must take good heed to dodge

it when it swings, else it may box his ears and pitch him headlong


One of the attending harpooneers now advances with a long, keen weapon

called a boarding-sword, and watching his chance he dexterously slices

out a considerable hole in the lower part of the swaying mass. Into this

hole, the end of the second alternating great tackle is then hooked

so as to retain a hold upon the blubber, in order to prepare for what

follows. Whereupon, this accomplished swordsman, warning all hands to

stand off, once more makes a scientific dash at the mass, and with a few

sidelong, desperate, lunging slicings, severs it completely in twain;

so that while the short lower part is still fast, the long upper strip,

called a blanket-piece, swings clear, and is all ready for lowering.

The heavers forward now resume their song, and while the one tackle is

peeling and hoisting a second strip from the whale, the other is slowly

slackened away, and down goes the first strip through the main hatchway

right beneath, into an unfurnished parlor called the blubber-room. Into

this twilight apartment sundry nimble hands keep coiling away the long

blanket-piece as if it were a great live mass of plaited serpents.

And thus the work proceeds; the two tackles hoisting and lowering

simultaneously; both whale and windlass heaving, the heavers singing,

the blubber-room gentlemen coiling, the mates scarfing, the ship

straining, and all hands swearing occasionally, by way of assuaging the

general friction.

CHAPTER 68. The Blanket.

I have given no small attention to that not unvexed subject, the skin of

the whale. I have had controversies about it with experienced whalemen

afloat, and learned naturalists ashore. My original opinion remains

unchanged; but it is only an opinion.

The question is, what and where is the skin of the whale? Already you

know what his blubber is. That blubber is something of the consistence

of firm, close-grained beef, but tougher, more elastic and compact, and

ranges from eight or ten to twelve and fifteen inches in thickness.

Now, however preposterous it may at first seem to talk of any creature's

skin as being of that sort of consistence and thickness, yet in point

of fact these are no arguments against such a presumption; because you

cannot raise any other dense enveloping layer from the whale's body but

that same blubber; and the outermost enveloping layer of any animal, if

reasonably dense, what can that be but the skin? True, from the unmarred

dead body of the whale, you may scrape off with your hand an infinitely

thin, transparent substance, somewhat resembling the thinnest shreds

of isinglass, only it is almost as flexible and soft as satin; that is,

previous to being dried, when it not only contracts and thickens, but

becomes rather hard and brittle. I have several such dried bits, which

I use for marks in my whale-books. It is transparent, as I said before;

and being laid upon the printed page, I have sometimes pleased myself

with fancying it exerted a magnifying influence. At any rate, it is

pleasant to read about whales through their own spectacles, as you may

say. But what I am driving at here is this. That same infinitely thin,

isinglass substance, which, I admit, invests the entire body of the

whale, is not so much to be regarded as the skin of the creature, as

the skin of the skin, so to speak; for it were simply ridiculous to say,

that the proper skin of the tremendous whale is thinner and more tender

than the skin of a new-born child. But no more of this.
Assuming the blubber to be the skin of the whale; then, when this skin,

as in the case of a very large Sperm Whale, will yield the bulk of one

hundred barrels of oil; and, when it is considered that, in quantity, or

rather weight, that oil, in its expressed state, is only three fourths,

and not the entire substance of the coat; some idea may hence be had

of the enormousness of that animated mass, a mere part of whose mere

integument yields such a lake of liquid as that. Reckoning ten barrels

to the ton, you have ten tons for the net weight of only three quarters

of the stuff of the whale's skin.
In life, the visible surface of the Sperm Whale is not the least among

the many marvels he presents. Almost invariably it is all over obliquely

crossed and re-crossed with numberless straight marks in thick array,

something like those in the finest Italian line engravings. But these

marks do not seem to be impressed upon the isinglass substance above

mentioned, but seem to be seen through it, as if they were engraved

upon the body itself. Nor is this all. In some instances, to the quick,

observant eye, those linear marks, as in a veritable engraving, but

afford the ground for far other delineations. These are hieroglyphical;

that is, if you call those mysterious cyphers on the walls of pyramids

hieroglyphics, then that is the proper word to use in the present

connexion. By my retentive memory of the hieroglyphics upon one Sperm

Whale in particular, I was much struck with a plate representing the old

Indian characters chiselled on the famous hieroglyphic palisades on

the banks of the Upper Mississippi. Like those mystic rocks, too, the

mystic-marked whale remains undecipherable. This allusion to the Indian

rocks reminds me of another thing. Besides all the other phenomena which

the exterior of the Sperm Whale presents, he not seldom displays the

back, and more especially his flanks, effaced in great part of the

regular linear appearance, by reason of numerous rude scratches,

altogether of an irregular, random aspect. I should say that those New

England rocks on the sea-coast, which Agassiz imagines to bear the marks

of violent scraping contact with vast floating icebergs--I should say,

that those rocks must not a little resemble the Sperm Whale in this

particular. It also seems to me that such scratches in the whale are

probably made by hostile contact with other whales; for I have most

remarked them in the large, full-grown bulls of the species.
A word or two more concerning this matter of the skin or blubber of

the whale. It has already been said, that it is stript from him in long

pieces, called blanket-pieces. Like most sea-terms, this one is very

happy and significant. For the whale is indeed wrapt up in his blubber

as in a real blanket or counterpane; or, still better, an Indian poncho

slipt over his head, and skirting his extremity. It is by reason of this

cosy blanketing of his body, that the whale is enabled to keep himself

comfortable in all weathers, in all seas, times, and tides. What would

become of a Greenland whale, say, in those shuddering, icy seas of the

North, if unsupplied with his cosy surtout? True, other fish are

found exceedingly brisk in those Hyperborean waters; but these, be it

observed, are your cold-blooded, lungless fish, whose very bellies

are refrigerators; creatures, that warm themselves under the lee of

an iceberg, as a traveller in winter would bask before an inn fire;

whereas, like man, the whale has lungs and warm blood. Freeze his blood,

and he dies. How wonderful is it then--except after explanation--that

this great monster, to whom corporeal warmth is as indispensable as it

is to man; how wonderful that he should be found at home, immersed

to his lips for life in those Arctic waters! where, when seamen fall

overboard, they are sometimes found, months afterwards, perpendicularly

frozen into the hearts of fields of ice, as a fly is found glued

in amber. But more surprising is it to know, as has been proved by

experiment, that the blood of a Polar whale is warmer than that of a

Borneo negro in summer.

It does seem to me, that herein we see the rare virtue of a strong

individual vitality, and the rare virtue of thick walls, and the rare

virtue of interior spaciousness. Oh, man! admire and model thyself after

the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in

this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood

fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter's, and like the

great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.
But how easy and how hopeless to teach these fine things! Of erections,

how few are domed like St. Peter's! of creatures, how few vast as the


CHAPTER 69. The Funeral.

Haul in the chains! Let the carcase go astern!
The vast tackles have now done their duty. The peeled white body of the

beheaded whale flashes like a marble sepulchre; though changed in hue,

it has not perceptibly lost anything in bulk. It is still colossal.

Slowly it floats more and more away, the water round it torn and

splashed by the insatiate sharks, and the air above vexed with rapacious

flights of screaming fowls, whose beaks are like so many insulting

poniards in the whale. The vast white headless phantom floats further

and further from the ship, and every rod that it so floats, what seem

square roods of sharks and cubic roods of fowls, augment the murderous

din. For hours and hours from the almost stationary ship that hideous

sight is seen. Beneath the unclouded and mild azure sky, upon the fair

face of the pleasant sea, wafted by the joyous breezes, that great mass

of death floats on and on, till lost in infinite perspectives.
There's a most doleful and most mocking funeral! The sea-vultures all in

pious mourning, the air-sharks all punctiliously in black or speckled.

In life but few of them would have helped the whale, I ween, if

peradventure he had needed it; but upon the banquet of his funeral they

most piously do pounce. Oh, horrible vultureism of earth! from which not

the mightiest whale is free.

Nor is this the end. Desecrated as the body is, a vengeful ghost

survives and hovers over it to scare. Espied by some timid man-of-war or

blundering discovery-vessel from afar, when the distance obscuring the

swarming fowls, nevertheless still shows the white mass floating in

the sun, and the white spray heaving high against it; straightway the

whale's unharming corpse, with trembling fingers is set down in the


afterwards, perhaps, ships shun the place; leaping over it as silly

sheep leap over a vacuum, because their leader originally leaped there

when a stick was held. There's your law of precedents; there's your

utility of traditions; there's the story of your obstinate survival of

old beliefs never bottomed on the earth, and now not even hovering in

the air! There's orthodoxy!
Thus, while in life the great whale's body may have been a real terror

to his foes, in his death his ghost becomes a powerless panic to a

Are you a believer in ghosts, my friend? There are other ghosts than

the Cock-Lane one, and far deeper men than Doctor Johnson who believe in


CHAPTER 70. The Sphynx.

It should not have been omitted that previous to completely stripping

the body of the leviathan, he was beheaded. Now, the beheading of the

Sperm Whale is a scientific anatomical feat, upon which experienced

whale surgeons very much pride themselves: and not without reason.

Consider that the whale has nothing that can properly be called a neck;

on the contrary, where his head and body seem to join, there, in that

very place, is the thickest part of him. Remember, also, that the

surgeon must operate from above, some eight or ten feet intervening

between him and his subject, and that subject almost hidden in a

discoloured, rolling, and oftentimes tumultuous and bursting sea. Bear

in mind, too, that under these untoward circumstances he has to cut many

feet deep in the flesh; and in that subterraneous manner, without so

much as getting one single peep into the ever-contracting gash thus

made, he must skilfully steer clear of all adjacent, interdicted parts,

and exactly divide the spine at a critical point hard by its insertion

into the skull. Do you not marvel, then, at Stubb's boast, that he

demanded but ten minutes to behead a sperm whale?
When first severed, the head is dropped astern and held there by a cable

till the body is stripped. That done, if it belong to a small whale

it is hoisted on deck to be deliberately disposed of. But, with a full

grown leviathan this is impossible; for the sperm whale's head embraces

nearly one third of his entire bulk, and completely to suspend such a

burden as that, even by the immense tackles of a whaler, this were as

vain a thing as to attempt weighing a Dutch barn in jewellers' scales.
The Pequod's whale being decapitated and the body stripped, the head was

hoisted against the ship's side--about half way out of the sea, so that

it might yet in great part be buoyed up by its native element. And there

with the strained craft steeply leaning over to it, by reason of the

enormous downward drag from the lower mast-head, and every yard-arm

on that side projecting like a crane over the waves; there, that

blood-dripping head hung to the Pequod's waist like the giant

Holofernes's from the girdle of Judith.

When this last task was accomplished it was noon, and the seamen went

below to their dinner. Silence reigned over the before tumultuous but

now deserted deck. An intense copper calm, like a universal yellow

lotus, was more and more unfolding its noiseless measureless leaves upon

the sea.
A short space elapsed, and up into this noiselessness came Ahab alone

from his cabin. Taking a few turns on the quarter-deck, he paused to

gaze over the side, then slowly getting into the main-chains he

took Stubb's long spade--still remaining there after the whale's

Decapitation--and striking it into the lower part of the half-suspended

mass, placed its other end crutch-wise under one arm, and so stood

leaning over with eyes attentively fixed on this head.
It was a black and hooded head; and hanging there in the midst of so

intense a calm, it seemed the Sphynx's in the desert. "Speak, thou vast

and venerable head," muttered Ahab, "which, though ungarnished with a

beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head,

and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast

dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has

moved amid this world's foundations. Where unrecorded names and navies

rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this

frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there,

in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast

been where bell or diver never went; hast slept by many a sailor's side,

where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou

saw'st the locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart

to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when

heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw'st the murdered mate when tossed

by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper

midnight of the insatiate maw; and his murderers still sailed on

unharmed--while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that

would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O

head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of

Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!"
"Sail ho!" cried a triumphant voice from the main-mast-head.
"Aye? Well, now, that's cheering," cried Ahab, suddenly erecting

himself, while whole thunder-clouds swept aside from his brow.

"That lively cry upon this deadly calm might almost convert a better

man.--Where away?"

"Three points on the starboard bow, sir, and bringing down her breeze to

"Better and better, man. Would now St. Paul would come along that way,

and to my breezelessness bring his breeze! O Nature, and O soul of man!

how far beyond all utterance are your linked analogies! not the smallest

atom stirs or lives on matter, but has its cunning duplicate in mind."

CHAPTER 71. The Jeroboam's Story.

Hand in hand, ship and breeze blew on; but the breeze came faster than

the ship, and soon the Pequod began to rock.

By and by, through the glass the stranger's boats and manned mast-heads

proved her a whale-ship. But as she was so far to windward, and shooting

by, apparently making a passage to some other ground, the Pequod could

not hope to reach her. So the signal was set to see what response would

be made.
Here be it said, that like the vessels of military marines, the ships of

the American Whale Fleet have each a private signal; all which signals

being collected in a book with the names of the respective vessels

attached, every captain is provided with it. Thereby, the whale

commanders are enabled to recognise each other upon the ocean, even at

considerable distances and with no small facility.

The Pequod's signal was at last responded to by the stranger's setting

her own; which proved the ship to be the Jeroboam of Nantucket. Squaring

her yards, she bore down, ranged abeam under the Pequod's lee, and

lowered a boat; it soon drew nigh; but, as the side-ladder was being

rigged by Starbuck's order to accommodate the visiting captain, the

stranger in question waved his hand from his boat's stern in token

of that proceeding being entirely unnecessary. It turned out that

the Jeroboam had a malignant epidemic on board, and that Mayhew, her

captain, was fearful of infecting the Pequod's company. For, though

himself and boat's crew remained untainted, and though his ship was half

a rifle-shot off, and an incorruptible sea and air rolling and flowing

between; yet conscientiously adhering to the timid quarantine of the

land, he peremptorily refused to come into direct contact with the

But this did by no means prevent all communications. Preserving an

interval of some few yards between itself and the ship, the Jeroboam's

boat by the occasional use of its oars contrived to keep parallel to the

Pequod, as she heavily forged through the sea (for by this time it blew

very fresh), with her main-topsail aback; though, indeed, at times by

the sudden onset of a large rolling wave, the boat would be pushed some

way ahead; but would be soon skilfully brought to her proper bearings

again. Subject to this, and other the like interruptions now and then, a

conversation was sustained between the two parties; but at intervals not

without still another interruption of a very different sort.
Pulling an oar in the Jeroboam's boat, was a man of a singular

appearance, even in that wild whaling life where individual notabilities

make up all totalities. He was a small, short, youngish man, sprinkled

all over his face with freckles, and wearing redundant yellow hair. A

long-skirted, cabalistically-cut coat of a faded walnut tinge enveloped

him; the overlapping sleeves of which were rolled up on his wrists. A

deep, settled, fanatic delirium was in his eyes.
So soon as this figure had been first descried, Stubb had

exclaimed--"That's he! that's he!--the long-togged scaramouch the

Town-Ho's company told us of!" Stubb here alluded to a strange story

told of the Jeroboam, and a certain man among her crew, some time

previous when the Pequod spoke the Town-Ho. According to this account

and what was subsequently learned, it seemed that the scaramouch in

question had gained a wonderful ascendency over almost everybody in the

Jeroboam. His story was this:

He had been originally nurtured among the crazy society of Neskyeuna

Shakers, where he had been a great prophet; in their cracked, secret

meetings having several times descended from heaven by the way of a

trap-door, announcing the speedy opening of the seventh vial, which he

carried in his vest-pocket; but, which, instead of containing gunpowder,

was supposed to be charged with laudanum. A strange, apostolic whim

having seized him, he had left Neskyeuna for Nantucket, where, with

that cunning peculiar to craziness, he assumed a steady, common-sense

exterior, and offered himself as a green-hand candidate for the

Jeroboam's whaling voyage. They engaged him; but straightway upon

the ship's getting out of sight of land, his insanity broke out in a

freshet. He announced himself as the archangel Gabriel, and commanded

the captain to jump overboard. He published his manifesto, whereby

he set himself forth as the deliverer of the isles of the sea and

vicar-general of all Oceanica. The unflinching earnestness with which he

declared these things;--the dark, daring play of his sleepless, excited

imagination, and all the preternatural terrors of real delirium, united

to invest this Gabriel in the minds of the majority of the ignorant

crew, with an atmosphere of sacredness. Moreover, they were afraid of

him. As such a man, however, was not of much practical use in the ship,

especially as he refused to work except when he pleased, the incredulous

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