MOBY DICK; OR THE WHALE
By Herman Melville
(Supplied by a Late Consumptive Usher to a Grammar School)
The pale Usher--threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him
now. He was ever dusting his old lexicons and grammars, with a queer
handkerchief, mockingly embellished with all the gay flags of all
the known nations of the world. He loved to dust his old grammars; it
somehow mildly reminded him of his mortality.
"While you take in hand to school others, and to teach them by what
name a whale-fish is to be called in our tongue leaving out, through
ignorance, the letter H, which almost alone maketh the signification of
the word, you deliver that which is not true." --HACKLUYT
"WHALE.... Sw. and Dan. HVAL. This animal is named from roundness or
rolling; for in Dan. HVALT is arched or vaulted." --WEBSTER'S DICTIONARY
"WHALE.... It is more immediately from the Dut. and Ger. WALLEN; A.S.
WALW-IAN, to roll, to wallow." --RICHARDSON'S DICTIONARY
EXTRACTS (Supplied by a Sub-Sub-Librarian).
It will be seen that this mere painstaking burrower and grub-worm of a
poor devil of a Sub-Sub appears to have gone through the long Vaticans
and street-stalls of the earth, picking up whatever random allusions to
whales he could anyways find in any book whatsoever, sacred or
profane. Therefore you must not, in every case at least, take the
higgledy-piggledy whale statements, however authentic, in these
extracts, for veritable gospel cetology. Far from it. As touching the
ancient authors generally, as well as the poets here appearing, these
extracts are solely valuable or entertaining, as affording a glancing
bird's eye view of what has been promiscuously said, thought, fancied,
and sung of Leviathan, by many nations and generations, including our
So fare thee well, poor devil of a Sub-Sub, whose commentator I am. Thou
belongest to that hopeless, sallow tribe which no wine of this world
will ever warm; and for whom even Pale Sherry would be too rosy-strong;
but with whom one sometimes loves to sit, and feel poor-devilish, too;
and grow convivial upon tears; and say to them bluntly, with full eyes
and empty glasses, and in not altogether unpleasant sadness--Give it up,
Sub-Subs! For by how much the more pains ye take to please the world,
by so much the more shall ye for ever go thankless! Would that I could
clear out Hampton Court and the Tuileries for ye! But gulp down your
tears and hie aloft to the royal-mast with your hearts; for your friends
who have gone before are clearing out the seven-storied heavens, and
making refugees of long-pampered Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael, against
your coming. Here ye strike but splintered hearts together--there, ye
shall strike unsplinterable glasses!
"And God created great whales." --GENESIS.
"Leviathan maketh a path to shine after him; One would think the deep to
be hoary." --JOB.
"Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah." --JONAH.
"There go the ships; there is that Leviathan whom thou hast made to play
"In that day, the Lord with his sore, and great, and strong sword,
shall punish Leviathan the piercing serpent, even Leviathan that crooked
serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea." --ISAIAH
"And what thing soever besides cometh within the chaos of this monster's
mouth, be it beast, boat, or stone, down it goes all incontinently that
foul great swallow of his, and perisheth in the bottomless gulf of his
paunch." --HOLLAND'S PLUTARCH'S MORALS.
"The Indian Sea breedeth the most and the biggest fishes that are: among
which the Whales and Whirlpooles called Balaene, take up as much in
length as four acres or arpens of land." --HOLLAND'S PLINY.
"Scarcely had we proceeded two days on the sea, when about sunrise a
great many Whales and other monsters of the sea, appeared. Among the
former, one was of a most monstrous size.... This came towards us,
open-mouthed, raising the waves on all sides, and beating the sea before
him into a foam." --TOOKE'S LUCIAN. "THE TRUE HISTORY."
"He visited this country also with a view of catching horse-whales,
which had bones of very great value for their teeth, of which he brought
some to the king.... The best whales were catched in his own country, of
which some were forty-eight, some fifty yards long. He said that he was
one of six who had killed sixty in two days." --OTHER OR OTHER'S VERBAL
NARRATIVE TAKEN DOWN FROM HIS MOUTH BY KING ALFRED, A.D. 890.
"And whereas all the other things, whether beast or vessel, that
enter into the dreadful gulf of this monster's (whale's) mouth, are
immediately lost and swallowed up, the sea-gudgeon retires into it in
great security, and there sleeps." --MONTAIGNE. --APOLOGY FOR RAIMOND
"Let us fly, let us fly! Old Nick take me if is not Leviathan described
by the noble prophet Moses in the life of patient Job." --RABELAIS.
"This whale's liver was two cartloads." --STOWE'S ANNALS.
"The great Leviathan that maketh the seas to seethe like boiling pan."
--LORD BACON'S VERSION OF THE PSALMS.
"Touching that monstrous bulk of the whale or ork we have received
nothing certain. They grow exceeding fat, insomuch that an incredible
quantity of oil will be extracted out of one whale." --IBID. "HISTORY OF
LIFE AND DEATH."
"The sovereignest thing on earth is parmacetti for an inward bruise."
"Very like a whale." --HAMLET.
"Which to secure, no skill of leach's art
Mote him availle, but to returne againe
To his wound's worker, that with lowly dart,
Dinting his breast, had bred his restless paine,
Like as the wounded whale to shore flies thro' the maine."
--THE FAERIE QUEEN.
"Immense as whales, the motion of whose vast bodies can in a peaceful
calm trouble the ocean til it boil." --SIR WILLIAM DAVENANT. PREFACE TO
"What spermacetti is, men might justly doubt, since the learned
Hosmannus in his work of thirty years, saith plainly, Nescio quid sit."
--SIR T. BROWNE. OF SPERMA CETI AND THE SPERMA CETI WHALE. VIDE HIS V.
"Like Spencer's Talus with his modern flail
He threatens ruin with his ponderous tail.
Their fixed jav'lins in his side he wears,
And on his back a grove of pikes appears."
--WALLER'S BATTLE OF THE SUMMER ISLANDS.
"By art is created that great Leviathan, called a Commonwealth or
State--(in Latin, Civitas) which is but an artificial man." --OPENING
SENTENCE OF HOBBES'S LEVIATHAN.
"Silly Mansoul swallowed it without chewing, as if it had been a sprat
in the mouth of a whale." --PILGRIM'S PROGRESS.
"That sea beast
Leviathan, which God of all his works
Created hugest that swim the ocean stream." --PARADISE LOST.
Hugest of living creatures, in the deep
Stretched like a promontory sleeps or swims,
And seems a moving land; and at his gills
Draws in, and at his breath spouts out a sea." --IBID.
"The mighty whales which swim in a sea of water, and have a sea of oil
swimming in them." --FULLLER'S PROFANE AND HOLY STATE.
"So close behind some promontory lie
The huge Leviathan to attend their prey,
And give no chance, but swallow in the fry,
Which through their gaping jaws mistake the way."
--DRYDEN'S ANNUS MIRABILIS.
"While the whale is floating at the stern of the ship, they cut off his
head, and tow it with a boat as near the shore as it will come; but it
will be aground in twelve or thirteen feet water." --THOMAS EDGE'S TEN
VOYAGES TO SPITZBERGEN, IN PURCHAS.
"In their way they saw many whales sporting in the ocean, and in
wantonness fuzzing up the water through their pipes and vents, which
nature has placed on their shoulders." --SIR T. HERBERT'S VOYAGES INTO
ASIA AND AFRICA. HARRIS COLL.
"Here they saw such huge troops of whales, that they were forced to
proceed with a great deal of caution for fear they should run their ship
upon them." --SCHOUTEN'S SIXTH CIRCUMNAVIGATION.
"We set sail from the Elbe, wind N.E. in the ship called The
Jonas-in-the-Whale.... Some say the whale can't open his mouth, but that
is a fable.... They frequently climb up the masts to see whether they
can see a whale, for the first discoverer has a ducat for his pains....
I was told of a whale taken near Shetland, that had above a barrel of
herrings in his belly.... One of our harpooneers told me that he caught
once a whale in Spitzbergen that was white all over." --A VOYAGE TO
GREENLAND, A.D. 1671 HARRIS COLL.
"Several whales have come in upon this coast (Fife) Anno 1652, one
eighty feet in length of the whale-bone kind came in, which (as I was
informed), besides a vast quantity of oil, did afford 500 weight of
baleen. The jaws of it stand for a gate in the garden of Pitferren."
--SIBBALD'S FIFE AND KINROSS.
"Myself have agreed to try whether I can master and kill this
Sperma-ceti whale, for I could never hear of any of that sort that was
killed by any man, such is his fierceness and swiftness." --RICHARD
STRAFFORD'S LETTER FROM THE BERMUDAS. PHIL. TRANS. A.D. 1668.
"Whales in the sea God's voice obey." --N. E. PRIMER.
"We saw also abundance of large whales, there being more in those
southern seas, as I may say, by a hundred to one; than we have to the
northward of us." --CAPTAIN COWLEY'S VOYAGE ROUND THE GLOBE, A.D. 1729.
"... and the breath of the whale is frequently attended with such an
insupportable smell, as to bring on a disorder of the brain." --ULLOA'S
"To fifty chosen sylphs of special note,
We trust the important charge, the petticoat.
Oft have we known that seven-fold fence to fail,
Tho' stuffed with hoops and armed with ribs of whale."
--RAPE OF THE LOCK.
"If we compare land animals in respect to magnitude, with those
that take up their abode in the deep, we shall find they will appear
contemptible in the comparison. The whale is doubtless the largest
animal in creation." --GOLDSMITH, NAT. HIST.
"If you should write a fable for little fishes, you would make them
speak like great wales." --GOLDSMITH TO JOHNSON.
"In the afternoon we saw what was supposed to be a rock, but it was
found to be a dead whale, which some Asiatics had killed, and were then
towing ashore. They seemed to endeavor to conceal themselves behind the
whale, in order to avoid being seen by us." --COOK'S VOYAGES.
"The larger whales, they seldom venture to attack. They stand in so
great dread of some of them, that when out at sea they are afraid to
mention even their names, and carry dung, lime-stone, juniper-wood,
and some other articles of the same nature in their boats, in order to
terrify and prevent their too near approach." --UNO VON TROIL'S LETTERS
ON BANKS'S AND SOLANDER'S VOYAGE TO ICELAND IN 1772.
"The Spermacetti Whale found by the Nantuckois, is an active, fierce
animal, and requires vast address and boldness in the fishermen."
--THOMAS JEFFERSON'S WHALE MEMORIAL TO THE FRENCH MINISTER IN 1778.
"And pray, sir, what in the world is equal to it?" --EDMUND BURKE'S
REFERENCE IN PARLIAMENT TO THE NANTUCKET WHALE-FISHERY.
"Spain--a great whale stranded on the shores of Europe." --EDMUND BURKE.
"A tenth branch of the king's ordinary revenue, said to be grounded on
the consideration of his guarding and protecting the seas from pirates
and robbers, is the right to royal fish, which are whale and sturgeon.
And these, when either thrown ashore or caught near the coast, are the
property of the king." --BLACKSTONE.
"Soon to the sport of death the crews repair:
Rodmond unerring o'er his head suspends
The barbed steel, and every turn attends."
"Bright shone the roofs, the domes, the spires,
And rockets blew self driven,
To hang their momentary fire
Around the vault of heaven.
"So fire with water to compare,
The ocean serves on high,
Up-spouted by a whale in air,
To express unwieldy joy." --COWPER, ON THE QUEEN'S
VISIT TO LONDON.
"Ten or fifteen gallons of blood are thrown out of the heart at
a stroke, with immense velocity." --JOHN HUNTER'S ACCOUNT OF THE
DISSECTION OF A WHALE. (A SMALL SIZED ONE.)
"The aorta of a whale is larger in the bore than the main pipe of the
water-works at London Bridge, and the water roaring in its passage
through that pipe is inferior in impetus and velocity to the blood
gushing from the whale's heart." --PALEY'S THEOLOGY.
"The whale is a mammiferous animal without hind feet." --BARON CUVIER.
"In 40 degrees south, we saw Spermacetti Whales, but did not take
any till the first of May, the sea being then covered with them."
--COLNETT'S VOYAGE FOR THE PURPOSE OF EXTENDING THE SPERMACETI WHALE
"In the free element beneath me swam,
Floundered and dived, in play, in chace, in battle,
Fishes of every colour, form, and kind;
Which language cannot paint, and mariner
Had never seen; from dread Leviathan
To insect millions peopling every wave:
Gather'd in shoals immense, like floating islands,
Led by mysterious instincts through that waste
And trackless region, though on every side
Assaulted by voracious enemies,
Whales, sharks, and monsters, arm'd in front or jaw,
With swords, saws, spiral horns, or hooked fangs."
--MONTGOMERY'S WORLD BEFORE THE FLOOD.
"Io! Paean! Io! sing.
To the finny people's king.
Not a mightier whale than this
In the vast Atlantic is;
Not a fatter fish than he,
Flounders round the Polar Sea."
--CHARLES LAMB'S TRIUMPH OF THE WHALE.
"In the year 1690 some persons were on a high hill observing the
whales spouting and sporting with each other, when one observed:
there--pointing to the sea--is a green pasture where our children's
grand-children will go for bread." --OBED MACY'S HISTORY OF NANTUCKET.
"I built a cottage for Susan and myself and made a gateway in the form
of a Gothic Arch, by setting up a whale's jaw bones." --HAWTHORNE'S
TWICE TOLD TALES.
"She came to bespeak a monument for her first love, who had been killed
by a whale in the Pacific ocean, no less than forty years ago." --IBID.
"No, Sir, 'tis a Right Whale," answered Tom; "I saw his sprout; he threw
up a pair of as pretty rainbows as a Christian would wish to look at.
He's a raal oil-butt, that fellow!" --COOPER'S PILOT.
"The papers were brought in, and we saw in the Berlin Gazette
that whales had been introduced on the stage there." --ECKERMANN'S
CONVERSATIONS WITH GOETHE.
"My God! Mr. Chace, what is the matter?" I answered, "we have been stove
by a whale." --"NARRATIVE OF THE SHIPWRECK OF THE WHALE SHIP ESSEX OF
NANTUCKET, WHICH WAS ATTACKED AND FINALLY DESTROYED BY A LARGE SPERM
WHALE IN THE PACIFIC OCEAN." BY OWEN CHACE OF NANTUCKET, FIRST MATE OF
SAID VESSEL. NEW YORK, 1821.
"A mariner sat in the shrouds one night,
The wind was piping free;
Now bright, now dimmed, was the moonlight pale,
And the phospher gleamed in the wake of the whale,
As it floundered in the sea."
--ELIZABETH OAKES SMITH.
"The quantity of line withdrawn from the boats engaged in the capture
of this one whale, amounted altogether to 10,440 yards or nearly six
"Sometimes the whale shakes its tremendous tail in the air, which,
cracking like a whip, resounds to the distance of three or four miles."
"Mad with the agonies he endures from these fresh attacks, the
infuriated Sperm Whale rolls over and over; he rears his enormous head,
and with wide expanded jaws snaps at everything around him; he rushes
at the boats with his head; they are propelled before him with vast
swiftness, and sometimes utterly destroyed.... It is a matter of great
astonishment that the consideration of the habits of so interesting,
and, in a commercial point of view, so important an animal (as the Sperm
Whale) should have been so entirely neglected, or should have excited
so little curiosity among the numerous, and many of them competent
observers, that of late years, must have possessed the most abundant
and the most convenient opportunities of witnessing their habitudes."
--THOMAS BEALE'S HISTORY OF THE SPERM WHALE, 1839.
"The Cachalot" (Sperm Whale) "is not only better armed than the True
Whale" (Greenland or Right Whale) "in possessing a formidable weapon
at either extremity of its body, but also more frequently displays a
disposition to employ these weapons offensively and in manner at once so
artful, bold, and mischievous, as to lead to its being regarded as the
most dangerous to attack of all the known species of the whale tribe."
--FREDERICK DEBELL BENNETT'S WHALING VOYAGE ROUND THE GLOBE, 1840.
October 13. "There she blows," was sung out from the mast-head.
"Where away?" demanded the captain.
"Three points off the lee bow, sir."
"Raise up your wheel. Steady!" "Steady, sir."
"Mast-head ahoy! Do you see that whale now?"
"Ay ay, sir! A shoal of Sperm Whales! There she blows! There she
"Sing out! sing out every time!"
"Ay Ay, sir! There she blows! there--there--THAR she
"How far off?"
"Two miles and a half."
"Thunder and lightning! so near! Call all hands."
--J. ROSS BROWNE'S ETCHINGS OF A WHALING CRUIZE. 1846.
"The Whale-ship Globe, on board of which vessel occurred the horrid
transactions we are about to relate, belonged to the island of
Nantucket." --"NARRATIVE OF THE GLOBE," BY LAY AND HUSSEY SURVIVORS.
Being once pursued by a whale which he had wounded, he parried the
assault for some time with a lance; but the furious monster at length
rushed on the boat; himself and comrades only being preserved by leaping
into the water when they saw the onset was inevitable." --MISSIONARY
JOURNAL OF TYERMAN AND BENNETT.
"Nantucket itself," said Mr. Webster, "is a very striking and peculiar
portion of the National interest. There is a population of eight or nine
thousand persons living here in the sea, adding largely every year
to the National wealth by the boldest and most persevering industry."
--REPORT OF DANIEL WEBSTER'S SPEECH IN THE U. S. SENATE, ON THE
APPLICATION FOR THE ERECTION OF A BREAKWATER AT NANTUCKET. 1828.
"The whale fell directly over him, and probably killed him in a moment."
--"THE WHALE AND HIS CAPTORS, OR THE WHALEMAN'S ADVENTURES AND THE
WHALE'S BIOGRAPHY, GATHERED ON THE HOMEWARD CRUISE OF THE COMMODORE
PREBLE." BY REV. HENRY T. CHEEVER.
"If you make the least damn bit of noise," replied Samuel, "I will send
you to hell." --LIFE OF SAMUEL COMSTOCK (THE MUTINEER), BY HIS BROTHER,
WILLIAM COMSTOCK. ANOTHER VERSION OF THE WHALE-SHIP GLOBE NARRATIVE.
"The voyages of the Dutch and English to the Northern Ocean, in order,
if possible, to discover a passage through it to India, though they
failed of their main object, laid-open the haunts of the whale."
--MCCULLOCH'S COMMERCIAL DICTIONARY.
"These things are reciprocal; the ball rebounds, only to bound forward
again; for now in laying open the haunts of the whale, the whalemen seem
to have indirectly hit upon new clews to that same mystic North-West
Passage." --FROM "SOMETHING" UNPUBLISHED.
"It is impossible to meet a whale-ship on the ocean without being struck
by her near appearance. The vessel under short sail, with look-outs at
the mast-heads, eagerly scanning the wide expanse around them, has a
totally different air from those engaged in regular voyage." --CURRENTS
AND WHALING. U.S. EX. EX.
"Pedestrians in the vicinity of London and elsewhere may recollect
having seen large curved bones set upright in the earth, either to form
arches over gateways, or entrances to alcoves, and they may perhaps
have been told that these were the ribs of whales." --TALES OF A WHALE
VOYAGER TO THE ARCTIC OCEAN.
"It was not till the boats returned from the pursuit of these whales,
that the whites saw their ship in bloody possession of the savages
enrolled among the crew." --NEWSPAPER ACCOUNT OF THE TAKING AND RETAKING
OF THE WHALE-SHIP HOBOMACK.
"It is generally well known that out of the crews of Whaling vessels
(American) few ever return in the ships on board of which they
departed." --CRUISE IN A WHALE BOAT.
"Suddenly a mighty mass emerged from the water, and shot up
perpendicularly into the air. It was the while." --MIRIAM COFFIN OR THE
"The Whale is harpooned to be sure; but bethink you, how you would
manage a powerful unbroken colt, with the mere appliance of a rope tied
to the root of his tail." --A CHAPTER ON WHALING IN RIBS AND TRUCKS.
"On one occasion I saw two of these monsters (whales) probably male and
female, slowly swimming, one after the other, within less than a stone's
throw of the shore" (Terra Del Fuego), "over which the beech tree
extended its branches." --DARWIN'S VOYAGE OF A NATURALIST.
"'Stern all!' exclaimed the mate, as upon turning his head, he saw the
distended jaws of a large Sperm Whale close to the head of the boat,
threatening it with instant destruction;--'Stern all, for your lives!'"
--WHARTON THE WHALE KILLER.
"So be cheery, my lads, let your hearts never fail, While the bold
harpooneer is striking the whale!" --NANTUCKET SONG.
"Oh, the rare old Whale, mid storm and gale
In his ocean home will be
A giant in might, where might is right,
And King of the boundless sea."
CHAPTER 1. Loomings.
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago--never mind how long precisely--having
little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on
shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of
the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating
the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth;
whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find
myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up
the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get
such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to
prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically
knocking people's hats off--then, I account it high time to get to sea
as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a
philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly
take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew
it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very
nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by
wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs--commerce surrounds it with
her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme
downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and
cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land.
Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.
Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears
Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What
do you see?--Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand
thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some
leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some
looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the
rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these
are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster--tied to
counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are
the green fields gone? What do they here?
But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and
seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the
extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder
warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh the water
as they possibly can without falling in. And there they stand--miles of
them--leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets
and avenues--north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite.
Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all
those ships attract them thither?
Once more. Say you are in the country; in some high land of lakes. Take
almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a
dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic
in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest
reveries--stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will
infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region.
Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this
experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical
professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for
But here is an artist. He desires to paint you the dreamiest, shadiest,
quietest, most enchanting bit of romantic landscape in all the valley of
the Saco. What is the chief element he employs? There stand his trees,
each with a hollow trunk, as if a hermit and a crucifix were within; and
here sleeps his meadow, and there sleep his cattle; and up from yonder
cottage goes a sleepy smoke. Deep into distant woodlands winds a
mazy way, reaching to overlapping spurs of mountains bathed in their
hill-side blue. But though the picture lies thus tranced, and though
this pine-tree shakes down its sighs like leaves upon this shepherd's
head, yet all were vain, unless the shepherd's eye were fixed upon the
magic stream before him. Go visit the Prairies in June, when for scores
on scores of miles you wade knee-deep among Tiger-lilies--what is the
one charm wanting?--Water--there is not a drop of water there! Were
Niagara but a cataract of sand, would you travel your thousand miles to
see it? Why did the poor poet of Tennessee, upon suddenly receiving two
handfuls of silver, deliberate whether to buy him a coat, which he sadly
needed, or invest his money in a pedestrian trip to Rockaway Beach? Why
is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at
some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your first voyage as a
passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first
told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the
old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate
deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning.
And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because
he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain,
plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see
in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of
life; and this is the key to it all.
Now, when I say that I am in the habit of going to sea whenever I begin
to grow hazy about the eyes, and begin to be over conscious of my lungs,
I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever go to sea as a passenger.
For to go as a passenger you must needs have a purse, and a purse is
but a rag unless you have something in it. Besides, passengers get
sea-sick--grow quarrelsome--don't sleep of nights--do not enjoy
themselves much, as a general thing;--no, I never go as a passenger;
nor, though I am something of a salt, do I ever go to sea as a
Commodore, or a Captain, or a Cook. I abandon the glory and distinction
of such offices to those who like them. For my part, I abominate all
honourable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind
whatsoever. It is quite as much as I can do to take care of myself,
without taking care of ships, barques, brigs, schooners, and what not.
And as for going as cook,--though I confess there is considerable glory
in that, a cook being a sort of officer on ship-board--yet, somehow,
I never fancied broiling fowls;--though once broiled, judiciously
buttered, and judgmatically salted and peppered, there is no one who
will speak more respectfully, not to say reverentially, of a broiled
fowl than I will. It is out of the idolatrous dotings of the old
Egyptians upon broiled ibis and roasted river horse, that you see the
mummies of those creatures in their huge bake-houses the pyramids.
No, when I go to sea, I go as a simple sailor, right before the mast,
plumb down into the forecastle, aloft there to the royal mast-head.
True, they rather order me about some, and make me jump from spar to
spar, like a grasshopper in a May meadow. And at first, this sort
of thing is unpleasant enough. It touches one's sense of honour,
particularly if you come of an old established family in the land, the
Van Rensselaers, or Randolphs, or Hardicanutes. And more than all,
if just previous to putting your hand into the tar-pot, you have been
lording it as a country schoolmaster, making the tallest boys stand
in awe of you. The transition is a keen one, I assure you, from a
schoolmaster to a sailor, and requires a strong decoction of Seneca and
the Stoics to enable you to grin and bear it. But even this wears off in
What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a broom
and sweep down the decks? What does that indignity amount to, weighed,
I mean, in the scales of the New Testament? Do you think the archangel
Gabriel thinks anything the less of me, because I promptly and
respectfully obey that old hunks in that particular instance? Who ain't
a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old sea-captains may
order me about--however they may thump and punch me about, I have the
satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is
one way or other served in much the same way--either in a physical
or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is
passed round, and all hands should rub each other's shoulder-blades, and
Again, I always go to sea as a sailor, because they make a point of
paying me for my trouble, whereas they never pay passengers a single
penny that I ever heard of. On the contrary, passengers themselves must
pay. And there is all the difference in the world between paying
and being paid. The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable
infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us. But BEING
PAID,--what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man
receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly
believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account
can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves
Finally, I always go to sea as a sailor, because of the wholesome
exercise and pure air of the fore-castle deck. For as in this world,
head winds are far more prevalent than winds from astern (that is,
if you never violate the Pythagorean maxim), so for the most part the
Commodore on the quarter-deck gets his atmosphere at second hand from
the sailors on the forecastle. He thinks he breathes it first; but not
so. In much the same way do the commonalty lead their leaders in many
other things, at the same time that the leaders little suspect it.
But wherefore it was that after having repeatedly smelt the sea as a
merchant sailor, I should now take it into my head to go on a whaling
voyage; this the invisible police officer of the Fates, who has the
constant surveillance of me, and secretly dogs me, and influences me
in some unaccountable way--he can better answer than any one else. And,
doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand
programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as
a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances.
I take it that this part of the bill must have run something like this:
"GRAND CONTESTED ELECTION FOR THE PRESIDENCY OF THE UNITED STATES.
"WHALING VOYAGE BY ONE ISHMAEL.
"BLOODY BATTLE IN AFFGHANISTAN."
Though I cannot tell why it was exactly that those stage managers, the
Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage, when others
were set down for magnificent parts in high tragedies, and short and
easy parts in genteel comedies, and jolly parts in farces--though
I cannot tell why this was exactly; yet, now that I recall all the
circumstances, I think I can see a little into the springs and motives
which being cunningly presented to me under various disguises, induced
me to set about performing the part I did, besides cajoling me into the
delusion that it was a choice resulting from my own unbiased freewill
and discriminating judgment.
Chief among these motives was the overwhelming idea of the great
whale himself. Such a portentous and mysterious monster roused all my
curiosity. Then the wild and distant seas where he rolled his island
bulk; the undeliverable, nameless perils of the whale; these, with all
the attending marvels of a thousand Patagonian sights and sounds, helped
to sway me to my wish. With other men, perhaps, such things would not
have been inducements; but as for me, I am tormented with an everlasting
itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on
barbarous coasts. Not ignoring what is good, I am quick to perceive a
horror, and could still be social with it--would they let me--since it
is but well to be on friendly terms with all the inmates of the place
one lodges in.
By reason of these things, then, the whaling voyage was welcome; the
great flood-gates of the wonder-world swung open, and in the wild
conceits that swayed me to my purpose, two and two there floated into
my inmost soul, endless processions of the whale, and, mid most of them
all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air.
CHAPTER 2. The Carpet-Bag.
I stuffed a shirt or two into my old carpet-bag, tucked it under my arm,
and started for Cape Horn and the Pacific. Quitting the good city of
old Manhatto, I duly arrived in New Bedford. It was a Saturday night in
December. Much was I disappointed upon learning that the little packet
for Nantucket had already sailed, and that no way of reaching that place
would offer, till the following Monday.
As most young candidates for the pains and penalties of whaling stop at
this same New Bedford, thence to embark on their voyage, it may as well
be related that I, for one, had no idea of so doing. For my mind was
made up to sail in no other than a Nantucket craft, because there was a
fine, boisterous something about everything connected with that famous
old island, which amazingly pleased me. Besides though New Bedford has
of late been gradually monopolising the business of whaling, and though
in this matter poor old Nantucket is now much behind her, yet Nantucket
was her great original--the Tyre of this Carthage;--the place where the
first dead American whale was stranded. Where else but from Nantucket
did those aboriginal whalemen, the Red-Men, first sally out in canoes to
give chase to the Leviathan? And where but from Nantucket, too, did that
first adventurous little sloop put forth, partly laden with imported
cobblestones--so goes the story--to throw at the whales, in order to
discover when they were nigh enough to risk a harpoon from the bowsprit?
Now having a night, a day, and still another night following before me
in New Bedford, ere I could embark for my destined port, it became a
matter of concernment where I was to eat and sleep meanwhile. It was a
very dubious-looking, nay, a very dark and dismal night, bitingly cold
and cheerless. I knew no one in the place. With anxious grapnels I had
sounded my pocket, and only brought up a few pieces of silver,--So,
wherever you go, Ishmael, said I to myself, as I stood in the middle of
a dreary street shouldering my bag, and comparing the gloom towards the
north with the darkness towards the south--wherever in your wisdom you
may conclude to lodge for the night, my dear Ishmael, be sure to inquire
the price, and don't be too particular.
With halting steps I paced the streets, and passed the sign of "The
Crossed Harpoons"--but it looked too expensive and jolly there. Further
on, from the bright red windows of the "Sword-Fish Inn," there came such
fervent rays, that it seemed to have melted the packed snow and ice from
before the house, for everywhere else the congealed frost lay ten inches
thick in a hard, asphaltic pavement,--rather weary for me, when I struck
my foot against the flinty projections, because from hard, remorseless
service the soles of my boots were in a most miserable plight. Too
expensive and jolly, again thought I, pausing one moment to watch the
broad glare in the street, and hear the sounds of the tinkling glasses
within. But go on, Ishmael, said I at last; don't you hear? get away
from before the door; your patched boots are stopping the way. So on I
went. I now by instinct followed the streets that took me waterward, for
there, doubtless, were the cheapest, if not the cheeriest inns.
Such dreary streets! blocks of blackness, not houses, on either hand,
and here and there a candle, like a candle moving about in a tomb. At
this hour of the night, of the last day of the week, that quarter of
the town proved all but deserted. But presently I came to a smoky light
proceeding from a low, wide building, the door of which stood invitingly
open. It had a careless look, as if it were meant for the uses of the
public; so, entering, the first thing I did was to stumble over an
ash-box in the porch. Ha! thought I, ha, as the flying particles almost
choked me, are these ashes from that destroyed city, Gomorrah? But "The
Crossed Harpoons," and "The Sword-Fish?"--this, then must needs be the
sign of "The Trap." However, I picked myself up and hearing a loud voice
within, pushed on and opened a second, interior door.
It seemed the great Black Parliament sitting in Tophet. A hundred black
faces turned round in their rows to peer; and beyond, a black Angel
of Doom was beating a book in a pulpit. It was a negro church; and the
preacher's text was about the blackness of darkness, and the weeping and
wailing and teeth-gnashing there. Ha, Ishmael, muttered I, backing out,
Wretched entertainment at the sign of 'The Trap!'
Moving on, I at last came to a dim sort of light not far from the docks,
and heard a forlorn creaking in the air; and looking up, saw a swinging
sign over the door with a white painting upon it, faintly representing
a tall straight jet of misty spray, and these words underneath--"The
Spouter Inn:--Peter Coffin."
Coffin?--Spouter?--Rather ominous in that particular connexion, thought
I. But it is a common name in Nantucket, they say, and I suppose this
Peter here is an emigrant from there. As the light looked so dim, and
the place, for the time, looked quiet enough, and the dilapidated little
wooden house itself looked as if it might have been carted here from
the ruins of some burnt district, and as the swinging sign had a
poverty-stricken sort of creak to it, I thought that here was the very
spot for cheap lodgings, and the best of pea coffee.
It was a queer sort of place--a gable-ended old house, one side palsied
as it were, and leaning over sadly. It stood on a sharp bleak corner,
where that tempestuous wind Euroclydon kept up a worse howling than ever
it did about poor Paul's tossed craft. Euroclydon, nevertheless, is a
mighty pleasant zephyr to any one in-doors, with his feet on the hob
quietly toasting for bed. "In judging of that tempestuous wind called
Euroclydon," says an old writer--of whose works I possess the only copy
extant--"it maketh a marvellous difference, whether thou lookest out at
it from a glass window where the frost is all on the outside, or whether
thou observest it from that sashless window, where the frost is on both
sides, and of which the wight Death is the only glazier." True enough,
thought I, as this passage occurred to my mind--old black-letter, thou
reasonest well. Yes, these eyes are windows, and this body of mine is
the house. What a pity they didn't stop up the chinks and the crannies
though, and thrust in a little lint here and there. But it's too late
to make any improvements now. The universe is finished; the copestone
is on, and the chips were carted off a million years ago. Poor Lazarus
there, chattering his teeth against the curbstone for his pillow, and
shaking off his tatters with his shiverings, he might plug up both ears
with rags, and put a corn-cob into his mouth, and yet that would not
keep out the tempestuous Euroclydon. Euroclydon! says old Dives, in his
red silken wrapper--(he had a redder one afterwards) pooh, pooh! What
a fine frosty night; how Orion glitters; what northern lights! Let them
talk of their oriental summer climes of everlasting conservatories; give
me the privilege of making my own summer with my own coals.
But what thinks Lazarus? Can he warm his blue hands by holding them up
to the grand northern lights? Would not Lazarus rather be in Sumatra
than here? Would he not far rather lay him down lengthwise along the
line of the equator; yea, ye gods! go down to the fiery pit itself, in
order to keep out this frost?
Now, that Lazarus should lie stranded there on the curbstone before the
door of Dives, this is more wonderful than that an iceberg should be
moored to one of the Moluccas. Yet Dives himself, he too lives like a
Czar in an ice palace made of frozen sighs, and being a president of a
temperance society, he only drinks the tepid tears of orphans.
But no more of this blubbering now, we are going a-whaling, and there is
plenty of that yet to come. Let us scrape the ice from our frosted feet,
and see what sort of a place this "Spouter" may be.
CHAPTER 3. The Spouter-Inn.
Entering that gable-ended Spouter-Inn, you found yourself in a wide,
low, straggling entry with old-fashioned wainscots, reminding one of
the bulwarks of some condemned old craft. On one side hung a very large
oilpainting so thoroughly besmoked, and every way defaced, that in the
unequal crosslights by which you viewed it, it was only by diligent
study and a series of systematic visits to it, and careful inquiry of
the neighbors, that you could any way arrive at an understanding of its
purpose. Such unaccountable masses of shades and shadows, that at first
you almost thought some ambitious young artist, in the time of the New
England hags, had endeavored to delineate chaos bewitched. But by dint
of much and earnest contemplation, and oft repeated ponderings, and
especially by throwing open the little window towards the back of the
entry, you at last come to the conclusion that such an idea, however
wild, might not be altogether unwarranted.
But what most puzzled and confounded you was a long, limber, portentous,
black mass of something hovering in the centre of the picture over three
blue, dim, perpendicular lines floating in a nameless yeast. A boggy,
soggy, squitchy picture truly, enough to drive a nervous man distracted.
Yet was there a sort of indefinite, half-attained, unimaginable
sublimity about it that fairly froze you to it, till you involuntarily
took an oath with yourself to find out what that marvellous painting
meant. Ever and anon a bright, but, alas, deceptive idea would dart you
through.--It's the Black Sea in a midnight gale.--It's the unnatural
combat of the four primal elements.--It's a blasted heath.--It's a
Hyperborean winter scene.--It's the breaking-up of the icebound stream
of Time. But at last all these fancies yielded to that one portentous
something in the picture's midst. THAT once found out, and all the rest
were plain. But stop; does it not bear a faint resemblance to a gigantic
fish? even the great leviathan himself?
In fact, the artist's design seemed this: a final theory of my own,
partly based upon the aggregated opinions of many aged persons with whom
I conversed upon the subject. The picture represents a Cape-Horner in a
great hurricane; the half-foundered ship weltering there with its three
dismantled masts alone visible; and an exasperated whale, purposing to
spring clean over the craft, is in the enormous act of impaling himself
upon the three mast-heads.
The opposite wall of this entry was hung all over with a heathenish
array of monstrous clubs and spears. Some were thickly set with
glittering teeth resembling ivory saws; others were tufted with knots of
human hair; and one was sickle-shaped, with a vast handle sweeping round
like the segment made in the new-mown grass by a long-armed mower. You
shuddered as you gazed, and wondered what monstrous cannibal and savage
could ever have gone a death-harvesting with such a hacking, horrifying
implement. Mixed with these were rusty old whaling lances and harpoons
all broken and deformed. Some were storied weapons. With this once long
lance, now wildly elbowed, fifty years ago did Nathan Swain kill fifteen
whales between a sunrise and a sunset. And that harpoon--so like a
corkscrew now--was flung in Javan seas, and run away with by a whale,
years afterwards slain off the Cape of Blanco. The original iron entered
nigh the tail, and, like a restless needle sojourning in the body of a
man, travelled full forty feet, and at last was found imbedded in the
Crossing this dusky entry, and on through yon low-arched way--cut
through what in old times must have been a great central chimney with
fireplaces all round--you enter the public room. A still duskier place
is this, with such low ponderous beams above, and such old wrinkled
planks beneath, that you would almost fancy you trod some old craft's
cockpits, especially of such a howling night, when this corner-anchored
old ark rocked so furiously. On one side stood a long, low, shelf-like
table covered with cracked glass cases, filled with dusty rarities
gathered from this wide world's remotest nooks. Projecting from the
further angle of the room stands a dark-looking den--the bar--a rude
attempt at a right whale's head. Be that how it may, there stands the
vast arched bone of the whale's jaw, so wide, a coach might almost drive
beneath it. Within are shabby shelves, ranged round with old decanters,
bottles, flasks; and in those jaws of swift destruction, like another
cursed Jonah (by which name indeed they called him), bustles a little
withered old man, who, for their money, dearly sells the sailors
deliriums and death.
Abominable are the tumblers into which he pours his poison. Though
true cylinders without--within, the villanous green goggling glasses
deceitfully tapered downwards to a cheating bottom. Parallel meridians
rudely pecked into the glass, surround these footpads' goblets. Fill to
THIS mark, and your charge is but a penny; to THIS a penny more; and so
on to the full glass--the Cape Horn measure, which you may gulp down for
Upon entering the place I found a number of young seamen gathered about
a table, examining by a dim light divers specimens of SKRIMSHANDER. I
sought the landlord, and telling him I desired to be accommodated with a
room, received for answer that his house was full--not a bed unoccupied.
"But avast," he added, tapping his forehead, "you haint no objections
to sharing a harpooneer's blanket, have ye? I s'pose you are goin'
a-whalin', so you'd better get used to that sort of thing."
I told him that I never liked to sleep two in a bed; that if I should
ever do so, it would depend upon who the harpooneer might be, and
that if he (the landlord) really had no other place for me, and the
harpooneer was not decidedly objectionable, why rather than wander
further about a strange town on so bitter a night, I would put up with
the half of any decent man's blanket.
"I thought so. All right; take a seat. Supper?--you want supper?
Supper'll be ready directly."
I sat down on an old wooden settle, carved all over like a bench on the
Battery. At one end a ruminating tar was still further adorning it with
his jack-knife, stooping over and diligently working away at the space
between his legs. He was trying his hand at a ship under full sail, but
he didn't make much headway, I thought.
At last some four or five of us were summoned to our meal in an
adjoining room. It was cold as Iceland--no fire at all--the landlord
said he couldn't afford it. Nothing but two dismal tallow candles, each
in a winding sheet. We were fain to button up our monkey jackets, and
hold to our lips cups of scalding tea with our half frozen fingers. But
the fare was of the most substantial kind--not only meat and potatoes,
but dumplings; good heavens! dumplings for supper! One young fellow in
a green box coat, addressed himself to these dumplings in a most direful
"My boy," said the landlord, "you'll have the nightmare to a dead
"Landlord," I whispered, "that aint the harpooneer is it?"
"Oh, no," said he, looking a sort of diabolically funny, "the harpooneer
is a dark complexioned chap. He never eats dumplings, he don't--he eats
nothing but steaks, and he likes 'em rare."
"The devil he does," says I. "Where is that harpooneer? Is he here?"
"He'll be here afore long," was the answer.
I could not help it, but I began to feel suspicious of this "dark
complexioned" harpooneer. At any rate, I made up my mind that if it so
turned out that we should sleep together, he must undress and get into
bed before I did.
Supper over, the company went back to the bar-room, when, knowing not
what else to do with myself, I resolved to spend the rest of the evening
as a looker on.
Presently a rioting noise was heard without. Starting up, the landlord
cried, "That's the Grampus's crew. I seed her reported in the offing
this morning; a three years' voyage, and a full ship. Hurrah, boys; now
we'll have the latest news from the Feegees."
A tramping of sea boots was heard in the entry; the door was flung open,
and in rolled a wild set of mariners enough. Enveloped in their shaggy
watch coats, and with their heads muffled in woollen comforters, all
bedarned and ragged, and their beards stiff with icicles, they seemed an
eruption of bears from Labrador. They had just landed from their boat,
and this was the first house they entered. No wonder, then, that they
made a straight wake for the whale's mouth--the bar--when the wrinkled
little old Jonah, there officiating, soon poured them out brimmers all
round. One complained of a bad cold in his head, upon which Jonah
mixed him a pitch-like potion of gin and molasses, which he swore was a
sovereign cure for all colds and catarrhs whatsoever, never mind of how
long standing, or whether caught off the coast of Labrador, or on the
weather side of an ice-island.
The liquor soon mounted into their heads, as it generally does even
with the arrantest topers newly landed from sea, and they began capering
about most obstreperously.
I observed, however, that one of them held somewhat aloof, and though
he seemed desirous not to spoil the hilarity of his shipmates by his own
sober face, yet upon the whole he refrained from making as much noise
as the rest. This man interested me at once; and since the sea-gods
had ordained that he should soon become my shipmate (though but a
sleeping-partner one, so far as this narrative is concerned), I will
here venture upon a little description of him. He stood full six feet
in height, with noble shoulders, and a chest like a coffer-dam. I have
seldom seen such brawn in a man. His face was deeply brown and burnt,
making his white teeth dazzling by the contrast; while in the deep
shadows of his eyes floated some reminiscences that did not seem to give
him much joy. His voice at once announced that he was a Southerner,
and from his fine stature, I thought he must be one of those tall
mountaineers from the Alleghanian Ridge in Virginia. When the revelry
of his companions had mounted to its height, this man slipped away
unobserved, and I saw no more of him till he became my comrade on the
sea. In a few minutes, however, he was missed by his shipmates, and
being, it seems, for some reason a huge favourite with them, they raised
a cry of "Bulkington! Bulkington! where's Bulkington?" and darted out of
the house in pursuit of him.
It was now about nine o'clock, and the room seeming almost
supernaturally quiet after these orgies, I began to congratulate myself
upon a little plan that had occurred to me just previous to the entrance
of the seamen.
No man prefers to sleep two in a bed. In fact, you would a good deal
rather not sleep with your own brother. I don't know how it is, but
people like to be private when they are sleeping. And when it comes to
sleeping with an unknown stranger, in a strange inn, in a strange
town, and that stranger a harpooneer, then your objections indefinitely
multiply. Nor was there any earthly reason why I as a sailor should
sleep two in a bed, more than anybody else; for sailors no more sleep
two in a bed at sea, than bachelor Kings do ashore. To be sure they
all sleep together in one apartment, but you have your own hammock, and
cover yourself with your own blanket, and sleep in your own skin.
The more I pondered over this harpooneer, the more I abominated the
thought of sleeping with him. It was fair to presume that being a
harpooneer, his linen or woollen, as the case might be, would not be of
the tidiest, certainly none of the finest. I began to twitch all over.
Besides, it was getting late, and my decent harpooneer ought to be
home and going bedwards. Suppose now, he should tumble in upon me at
midnight--how could I tell from what vile hole he had been coming?
"Landlord! I've changed my mind about that harpooneer.--I shan't sleep
with him. I'll try the bench here."
"Just as you please; I'm sorry I cant spare ye a tablecloth for a
mattress, and it's a plaguy rough board here"--feeling of the knots and
notches. "But wait a bit, Skrimshander; I've got a carpenter's plane
there in the bar--wait, I say, and I'll make ye snug enough." So saying
he procured the plane; and with his old silk handkerchief first dusting
the bench, vigorously set to planing away at my bed, the while grinning
like an ape. The shavings flew right and left; till at last the
plane-iron came bump against an indestructible knot. The landlord was
near spraining his wrist, and I told him for heaven's sake to quit--the
bed was soft enough to suit me, and I did not know how all the planing
in the world could make eider down of a pine plank. So gathering up the
shavings with another grin, and throwing them into the great stove in
the middle of the room, he went about his business, and left me in a
I now took the measure of the bench, and found that it was a foot too
short; but that could be mended with a chair. But it was a foot too
narrow, and the other bench in the room was about four inches higher
than the planed one--so there was no yoking them. I then placed the
first bench lengthwise along the only clear space against the wall,
leaving a little interval between, for my back to settle down in. But I
soon found that there came such a draught of cold air over me from under
the sill of the window, that this plan would never do at all, especially
as another current from the rickety door met the one from the window,
and both together formed a series of small whirlwinds in the immediate
vicinity of the spot where I had thought to spend the night.
The devil fetch that harpooneer, thought I, but stop, couldn't I steal
a march on him--bolt his door inside, and jump into his bed, not to be
wakened by the most violent knockings? It seemed no bad idea; but upon
second thoughts I dismissed it. For who could tell but what the next
morning, so soon as I popped out of the room, the harpooneer might be
standing in the entry, all ready to knock me down!
Still, looking round me again, and seeing no possible chance of spending
a sufferable night unless in some other person's bed, I began to think
that after all I might be cherishing unwarrantable prejudices against
this unknown harpooneer. Thinks I, I'll wait awhile; he must be dropping
in before long. I'll have a good look at him then, and perhaps we may
become jolly good bedfellows after all--there's no telling.
But though the other boarders kept coming in by ones, twos, and threes,
and going to bed, yet no sign of my harpooneer.
"Landlord!" said I, "what sort of a chap is he--does he always keep such
late hours?" It was now hard upon twelve o'clock.
The landlord chuckled again with his lean chuckle, and seemed to
be mightily tickled at something beyond my comprehension. "No," he
answered, "generally he's an early bird--airley to bed and airley to
rise--yes, he's the bird what catches the worm. But to-night he went out
a peddling, you see, and I don't see what on airth keeps him so late,
unless, may be, he can't sell his head."
"Can't sell his head?--What sort of a bamboozingly story is this you
are telling me?" getting into a towering rage. "Do you pretend to say,
landlord, that this harpooneer is actually engaged this blessed Saturday
night, or rather Sunday morning, in peddling his head around this town?"
"That's precisely it," said the landlord, "and I told him he couldn't
sell it here, the market's overstocked."
"With what?" shouted I.
"With heads to be sure; ain't there too many heads in the world?"
"I tell you what it is, landlord," said I quite calmly, "you'd better
stop spinning that yarn to me--I'm not green."
"May be not," taking out a stick and whittling a toothpick, "but I
rayther guess you'll be done BROWN if that ere harpooneer hears you a
slanderin' his head."
"I'll break it for him," said I, now flying into a passion again at this
unaccountable farrago of the landlord's.
"It's broke a'ready," said he.
"Broke," said I--"BROKE, do you mean?"
"Sartain, and that's the very reason he can't sell it, I guess."
"Landlord," said I, going up to him as cool as Mt. Hecla in a
snow-storm--"landlord, stop whittling. You and I must understand one
another, and that too without delay. I come to your house and want a
bed; you tell me you can only give me half a one; that the other half
belongs to a certain harpooneer. And about this harpooneer, whom I
have not yet seen, you persist in telling me the most mystifying and
exasperating stories tending to beget in me an uncomfortable feeling
towards the man whom you design for my bedfellow--a sort of connexion,
landlord, which is an intimate and confidential one in the highest
degree. I now demand of you to speak out and tell me who and what this
harpooneer is, and whether I shall be in all respects safe to spend the
night with him. And in the first place, you will be so good as to unsay
that story about selling his head, which if true I take to be good
evidence that this harpooneer is stark mad, and I've no idea of sleeping
with a madman; and you, sir, YOU I mean, landlord, YOU, sir, by trying
to induce me to do so knowingly, would thereby render yourself liable to
a criminal prosecution."
"Wall," said the landlord, fetching a long breath, "that's a purty long
sarmon for a chap that rips a little now and then. But be easy, be easy,
this here harpooneer I have been tellin' you of has just arrived from
the south seas, where he bought up a lot of 'balmed New Zealand heads
(great curios, you know), and he's sold all on 'em but one, and that one
he's trying to sell to-night, cause to-morrow's Sunday, and it would not
do to be sellin' human heads about the streets when folks is goin' to
churches. He wanted to, last Sunday, but I stopped him just as he was
goin' out of the door with four heads strung on a string, for all the
airth like a string of inions."
This account cleared up the otherwise unaccountable mystery, and showed
that the landlord, after all, had had no idea of fooling me--but at
the same time what could I think of a harpooneer who stayed out of a
Saturday night clean into the holy Sabbath, engaged in such a cannibal
business as selling the heads of dead idolators?
"Depend upon it, landlord, that harpooneer is a dangerous man."
"He pays reg'lar," was the rejoinder. "But come, it's getting dreadful
late, you had better be turning flukes--it's a nice bed; Sal and me
slept in that ere bed the night we were spliced. There's plenty of room
for two to kick about in that bed; it's an almighty big bed that. Why,
afore we give it up, Sal used to put our Sam and little Johnny in the
foot of it. But I got a dreaming and sprawling about one night, and
somehow, Sam got pitched on the floor, and came near breaking his arm.
Arter that, Sal said it wouldn't do. Come along here, I'll give ye a
glim in a jiffy;" and so saying he lighted a candle and held it towards
me, offering to lead the way. But I stood irresolute; when looking at a
clock in the corner, he exclaimed "I vum it's Sunday--you won't see that
harpooneer to-night; he's come to anchor somewhere--come along then; DO
come; WON'T ye come?"
I considered the matter a moment, and then up stairs we went, and I was
ushered into a small room, cold as a clam, and furnished, sure enough,
with a prodigious bed, almost big enough indeed for any four harpooneers
to sleep abreast.
"There," said the landlord, placing the candle on a crazy old sea chest
that did double duty as a wash-stand and centre table; "there, make
yourself comfortable now, and good night to ye." I turned round from
eyeing the bed, but he had disappeared.
Folding back the counterpane, I stooped over the bed. Though none of the
most elegant, it yet stood the scrutiny tolerably well. I then glanced
round the room; and besides the bedstead and centre table, could see
no other furniture belonging to the place, but a rude shelf, the four
walls, and a papered fireboard representing a man striking a whale. Of
things not properly belonging to the room, there was a hammock lashed
up, and thrown upon the floor in one corner; also a large seaman's bag,
containing the harpooneer's wardrobe, no doubt in lieu of a land trunk.
Likewise, there was a parcel of outlandish bone fish hooks on the shelf
over the fire-place, and a tall harpoon standing at the head of the bed.
But what is this on the chest? I took it up, and held it close to the
light, and felt it, and smelt it, and tried every way possible to arrive
at some satisfactory conclusion concerning it. I can compare it to
nothing but a large door mat, ornamented at the edges with little
tinkling tags something like the stained porcupine quills round an
Indian moccasin. There was a hole or slit in the middle of this mat,
as you see the same in South American ponchos. But could it be possible
that any sober harpooneer would get into a door mat, and parade the
streets of any Christian town in that sort of guise? I put it on, to try
it, and it weighed me down like a hamper, being uncommonly shaggy and
thick, and I thought a little damp, as though this mysterious harpooneer
had been wearing it of a rainy day. I went up in it to a bit of glass
stuck against the wall, and I never saw such a sight in my life. I tore
myself out of it in such a hurry that I gave myself a kink in the neck.
I sat down on the side of the bed, and commenced thinking about this
head-peddling harpooneer, and his door mat. After thinking some time on
the bed-side, I got up and took off my monkey jacket, and then stood in
the middle of the room thinking. I then took off my coat, and thought
a little more in my shirt sleeves. But beginning to feel very cold now,
half undressed as I was, and remembering what the landlord said about
the harpooneer's not coming home at all that night, it being so very
late, I made no more ado, but jumped out of my pantaloons and boots, and
then blowing out the light tumbled into bed, and commended myself to the
care of heaven.
Whether that mattress was stuffed with corn-cobs or broken crockery,
there is no telling, but I rolled about a good deal, and could not sleep
for a long time. At last I slid off into a light doze, and had pretty
nearly made a good offing towards the land of Nod, when I heard a heavy
footfall in the passage, and saw a glimmer of light come into the room
from under the door.
Lord save me, thinks I, that must be the harpooneer, the infernal
head-peddler. But I lay perfectly still, and resolved not to say a word
till spoken to. Holding a light in one hand, and that identical New
Zealand head in the other, the stranger entered the room, and without
looking towards the bed, placed his candle a good way off from me on the
floor in one corner, and then began working away at the knotted cords
of the large bag I before spoke of as being in the room. I was all
eagerness to see his face, but he kept it averted for some time while
employed in unlacing the bag's mouth. This accomplished, however, he
turned round--when, good heavens! what a sight! Such a face! It was of
a dark, purplish, yellow colour, here and there stuck over with large
blackish looking squares. Yes, it's just as I thought, he's a terrible
bedfellow; he's been in a fight, got dreadfully cut, and here he is,
just from the surgeon. But at that moment he chanced to turn his face
so towards the light, that I plainly saw they could not be
sticking-plasters at all, those black squares on his cheeks. They were
stains of some sort or other. At first I knew not what to make of this;
but soon an inkling of the truth occurred to me. I remembered a story of
a white man--a whaleman too--who, falling among the cannibals, had been
tattooed by them. I concluded that this harpooneer, in the course of his
distant voyages, must have met with a similar adventure. And what is it,
thought I, after all! It's only his outside; a man can be honest in any
sort of skin. But then, what to make of his unearthly complexion, that
part of it, I mean, lying round about, and completely independent of the
squares of tattooing. To be sure, it might be nothing but a good coat of
tropical tanning; but I never heard of a hot sun's tanning a white man
into a purplish yellow one. However, I had never been in the South Seas;
and perhaps the sun there produced these extraordinary effects upon the
skin. Now, while all these ideas were passing through me like lightning,
this harpooneer never noticed me at all. But, after some difficulty
having opened his bag, he commenced fumbling in it, and presently pulled
out a sort of tomahawk, and a seal-skin wallet with the hair on. Placing
these on the old chest in the middle of the room, he then took the New
Zealand head--a ghastly thing enough--and crammed it down into the bag.
He now took off his hat--a new beaver hat--when I came nigh singing out
with fresh surprise. There was no hair on his head--none to speak of at
least--nothing but a small scalp-knot twisted up on his forehead. His
bald purplish head now looked for all the world like a mildewed skull.
Had not the stranger stood between me and the door, I would have bolted
out of it quicker than ever I bolted a dinner.
Even as it was, I thought something of slipping out of the window, but
it was the second floor back. I am no coward, but what to make of
this head-peddling purple rascal altogether passed my comprehension.
Ignorance is the parent of fear, and being completely nonplussed and
confounded about the stranger, I confess I was now as much afraid of him
as if it was the devil himself who had thus broken into my room at
the dead of night. In fact, I was so afraid of him that I was not
game enough just then to address him, and demand a satisfactory answer
concerning what seemed inexplicable in him.
Meanwhile, he continued the business of undressing, and at last showed
his chest and arms. As I live, these covered parts of him were checkered
with the same squares as his face; his back, too, was all over the same
dark squares; he seemed to have been in a Thirty Years' War, and just
escaped from it with a sticking-plaster shirt. Still more, his very
legs were marked, as if a parcel of dark green frogs were running up
the trunks of young palms. It was now quite plain that he must be some
abominable savage or other shipped aboard of a whaleman in the South
Seas, and so landed in this Christian country. I quaked to think of it.
A peddler of heads too--perhaps the heads of his own brothers. He might
take a fancy to mine--heavens! look at that tomahawk!
But there was no time for shuddering, for now the savage went about
something that completely fascinated my attention, and convinced me that
he must indeed be a heathen. Going to his heavy grego, or wrapall, or
dreadnaught, which he had previously hung on a chair, he fumbled in the
pockets, and produced at length a curious little deformed image with
a hunch on its back, and exactly the colour of a three days' old Congo
baby. Remembering the embalmed head, at first I almost thought that
this black manikin was a real baby preserved in some similar manner. But
seeing that it was not at all limber, and that it glistened a good deal
like polished ebony, I concluded that it must be nothing but a wooden
idol, which indeed it proved to be. For now the savage goes up to the
empty fire-place, and removing the papered fire-board, sets up this
little hunch-backed image, like a tenpin, between the andirons. The
chimney jambs and all the bricks inside were very sooty, so that I
thought this fire-place made a very appropriate little shrine or chapel
for his Congo idol.
I now screwed my eyes hard towards the half hidden image, feeling but
ill at ease meantime--to see what was next to follow. First he takes
about a double handful of shavings out of his grego pocket, and places
them carefully before the idol; then laying a bit of ship biscuit on
top and applying the flame from the lamp, he kindled the shavings into
a sacrificial blaze. Presently, after many hasty snatches into the fire,
and still hastier withdrawals of his fingers (whereby he seemed to be
scorching them badly), he at last succeeded in drawing out the biscuit;
then blowing off the heat and ashes a little, he made a polite offer of
it to the little negro. But the little devil did not seem to fancy such
dry sort of fare at all; he never moved his lips. All these strange
antics were accompanied by still stranger guttural noises from the
devotee, who seemed to be praying in a sing-song or else singing some
pagan psalmody or other, during which his face twitched about in the
most unnatural manner. At last extinguishing the fire, he took the idol
up very unceremoniously, and bagged it again in his grego pocket as
carelessly as if he were a sportsman bagging a dead woodcock.
All these queer proceedings increased my uncomfortableness, and
seeing him now exhibiting strong symptoms of concluding his business
operations, and jumping into bed with me, I thought it was high time,
now or never, before the light was put out, to break the spell in which
I had so long been bound.
But the interval I spent in deliberating what to say, was a fatal one.
Taking up his tomahawk from the table, he examined the head of it for an
instant, and then holding it to the light, with his mouth at the handle,
he puffed out great clouds of tobacco smoke. The next moment the light
was extinguished, and this wild cannibal, tomahawk between his teeth,
sprang into bed with me. I sang out, I could not help it now; and giving
a sudden grunt of astonishment he began feeling me.
Stammering out something, I knew not what, I rolled away from him
against the wall, and then conjured him, whoever or whatever he might
be, to keep quiet, and let me get up and light the lamp again. But his
guttural responses satisfied me at once that he but ill comprehended my
"Who-e debel you?"--he at last said--"you no speak-e, dam-me, I kill-e."
And so saying the lighted tomahawk began flourishing about me in the
"Landlord, for God's sake, Peter Coffin!" shouted I. "Landlord! Watch!
Coffin! Angels! save me!"
"Speak-e! tell-ee me who-ee be, or dam-me, I kill-e!" again growled the
cannibal, while his horrid flourishings of the tomahawk scattered the
hot tobacco ashes about me till I thought my linen would get on fire.
But thank heaven, at that moment the landlord came into the room light
in hand, and leaping from the bed I ran up to him.
"Don't be afraid now," said he, grinning again, "Queequeg here wouldn't
harm a hair of your head."
"Stop your grinning," shouted I, "and why didn't you tell me that that
infernal harpooneer was a cannibal?"
"I thought ye know'd it;--didn't I tell ye, he was a peddlin' heads
around town?--but turn flukes again and go to sleep. Queequeg, look
here--you sabbee me, I sabbee--you this man sleepe you--you sabbee?"
"Me sabbee plenty"--grunted Queequeg, puffing away at his pipe and
sitting up in bed.
"You gettee in," he added, motioning to me with his tomahawk, and
throwing the clothes to one side. He really did this in not only a civil
but a really kind and charitable way. I stood looking at him a moment.
For all his tattooings he was on the whole a clean, comely looking
cannibal. What's all this fuss I have been making about, thought I to
myself--the man's a human being just as I am: he has just as much reason
to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him. Better sleep with a sober
cannibal than a drunken Christian.
"Landlord," said I, "tell him to stash his tomahawk there, or pipe, or
whatever you call it; tell him to stop smoking, in short, and I will
turn in with him. But I don't fancy having a man smoking in bed with me.
It's dangerous. Besides, I ain't insured."
This being told to Queequeg, he at once complied, and again politely
motioned me to get into bed--rolling over to one side as much as to
say--"I won't touch a leg of ye."
"Good night, landlord," said I, "you may go."
I turned in, and never slept better in my life.
CHAPTER 4. The Counterpane.
Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg's arm thrown
over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost
thought I had been his wife. The counterpane was of patchwork, full of
odd little parti-coloured squares and triangles; and this arm of his
tattooed all over with an interminable Cretan labyrinth of a figure,
no two parts of which were of one precise shade--owing I suppose to
his keeping his arm at sea unmethodically in sun and shade, his shirt
sleeves irregularly rolled up at various times--this same arm of his, I
say, looked for all the world like a strip of that same patchwork quilt.
Indeed, partly lying on it as the arm did when I first awoke, I could
hardly tell it from the quilt, they so blended their hues together; and
it was only by the sense of weight and pressure that I could tell that
Queequeg was hugging me.
My sensations were strange. Let me try to explain them. When I was a
child, I well remember a somewhat similar circumstance that befell me;
whether it was a reality or a dream, I never could entirely settle.
The circumstance was this. I had been cutting up some caper or other--I
think it was trying to crawl up the chimney, as I had seen a little
sweep do a few days previous; and my stepmother who, somehow or other,
was all the time whipping me, or sending me to bed supperless,--my
mother dragged me by the legs out of the chimney and packed me off to
bed, though it was only two o'clock in the afternoon of the 21st June,
the longest day in the year in our hemisphere. I felt dreadfully. But
there was no help for it, so up stairs I went to my little room in the
third floor, undressed myself as slowly as possible so as to kill time,
and with a bitter sigh got between the sheets.
I lay there dismally calculating that sixteen entire hours must elapse
before I could hope for a resurrection. Sixteen hours in bed! the
small of my back ached to think of it. And it was so light too; the
sun shining in at the window, and a great rattling of coaches in the
streets, and the sound of gay voices all over the house. I felt worse
and worse--at last I got up, dressed, and softly going down in my
stockinged feet, sought out my stepmother, and suddenly threw myself
at her feet, beseeching her as a particular favour to give me a good
slippering for my misbehaviour; anything indeed but condemning me to lie
abed such an unendurable length of time. But she was the best and most
conscientious of stepmothers, and back I had to go to my room. For
several hours I lay there broad awake, feeling a great deal worse than I
have ever done since, even from the greatest subsequent misfortunes. At
last I must have fallen into a troubled nightmare of a doze; and slowly
waking from it--half steeped in dreams--I opened my eyes, and the before
sun-lit room was now wrapped in outer darkness. Instantly I felt a shock
running through all my frame; nothing was to be seen, and nothing was
to be heard; but a supernatural hand seemed placed in mine. My arm hung
over the counterpane, and the nameless, unimaginable, silent form
or phantom, to which the hand belonged, seemed closely seated by my
bed-side. For what seemed ages piled on ages, I lay there, frozen with
the most awful fears, not daring to drag away my hand; yet ever thinking
that if I could but stir it one single inch, the horrid spell would be
broken. I knew not how this consciousness at last glided away from me;
but waking in the morning, I shudderingly remembered it all, and for
days and weeks and months afterwards I lost myself in confounding
attempts to explain the mystery. Nay, to this very hour, I often puzzle
myself with it.
Now, take away the awful fear, and my sensations at feeling the
supernatural hand in mine were very similar, in their strangeness, to
those which I experienced on waking up and seeing Queequeg's pagan
arm thrown round me. But at length all the past night's events soberly
recurred, one by one, in fixed reality, and then I lay only alive to
the comical predicament. For though I tried to move his arm--unlock his
bridegroom clasp--yet, sleeping as he was, he still hugged me tightly,
as though naught but death should part us twain. I now strove to rouse
him--"Queequeg!"--but his only answer was a snore. I then rolled over,
my neck feeling as if it were in a horse-collar; and suddenly felt a
slight scratch. Throwing aside the counterpane, there lay the tomahawk
sleeping by the savage's side, as if it were a hatchet-faced baby. A
pretty pickle, truly, thought I; abed here in a strange house in the
broad day, with a cannibal and a tomahawk! "Queequeg!--in the name of
goodness, Queequeg, wake!" At length, by dint of much wriggling, and
loud and incessant expostulations upon the unbecomingness of his
hugging a fellow male in that matrimonial sort of style, I succeeded in
extracting a grunt; and presently, he drew back his arm, shook himself
all over like a Newfoundland dog just from the water, and sat up in bed,
stiff as a pike-staff, looking at me, and rubbing his eyes as if he
did not altogether remember how I came to be there, though a dim
consciousness of knowing something about me seemed slowly dawning over
him. Meanwhile, I lay quietly eyeing him, having no serious misgivings
now, and bent upon narrowly observing so curious a creature. When, at
last, his mind seemed made up touching the character of his bedfellow,
and he became, as it were, reconciled to the fact; he jumped out upon
the floor, and by certain signs and sounds gave me to understand that,
if it pleased me, he would dress first and then leave me to dress
afterwards, leaving the whole apartment to myself. Thinks I, Queequeg,
under the circumstances, this is a very civilized overture; but, the
truth is, these savages have an innate sense of delicacy, say what
you will; it is marvellous how essentially polite they are. I pay this
particular compliment to Queequeg, because he treated me with so much
civility and consideration, while I was guilty of great rudeness;
staring at him from the bed, and watching all his toilette motions; for
the time my curiosity getting the better of my breeding. Nevertheless,
a man like Queequeg you don't see every day, he and his ways were well
worth unusual regarding.
He commenced dressing at top by donning his beaver hat, a very tall one,
by the by, and then--still minus his trowsers--he hunted up his boots.
What under the heavens he did it for, I cannot tell, but his next
movement was to crush himself--boots in hand, and hat on--under the bed;
when, from sundry violent gaspings and strainings, I inferred he was
hard at work booting himself; though by no law of propriety that I ever
heard of, is any man required to be private when putting on his
boots. But Queequeg, do you see, was a creature in the transition
stage--neither caterpillar nor butterfly. He was just enough civilized
to show off his outlandishness in the strangest possible manners. His
education was not yet completed. He was an undergraduate. If he had not
been a small degree civilized, he very probably would not have troubled
himself with boots at all; but then, if he had not been still a savage,
he never would have dreamt of getting under the bed to put them on. At
last, he emerged with his hat very much dented and crushed down over his
eyes, and began creaking and limping about the room, as if, not
being much accustomed to boots, his pair of damp, wrinkled cowhide
ones--probably not made to order either--rather pinched and tormented
him at the first go off of a bitter cold morning.
Seeing, now, that there were no curtains to the window, and that the
street being very narrow, the house opposite commanded a plain view
into the room, and observing more and more the indecorous figure that
Queequeg made, staving about with little else but his hat and boots on;
I begged him as well as I could, to accelerate his toilet somewhat,
and particularly to get into his pantaloons as soon as possible. He
complied, and then proceeded to wash himself. At that time in the
morning any Christian would have washed his face; but Queequeg, to
my amazement, contented himself with restricting his ablutions to his
chest, arms, and hands. He then donned his waistcoat, and taking up a
piece of hard soap on the wash-stand centre table, dipped it into water
and commenced lathering his face. I was watching to see where he kept
his razor, when lo and behold, he takes the harpoon from the bed corner,
slips out the long wooden stock, unsheathes the head, whets it a little
on his boot, and striding up to the bit of mirror against the wall,
begins a vigorous scraping, or rather harpooning of his cheeks. Thinks
I, Queequeg, this is using Rogers's best cutlery with a vengeance.
Afterwards I wondered the less at this operation when I came to know of
what fine steel the head of a harpoon is made, and how exceedingly sharp
the long straight edges are always kept.
The rest of his toilet was soon achieved, and he proudly marched out of
the room, wrapped up in his great pilot monkey jacket, and sporting his
harpoon like a marshal's baton.
CHAPTER 5. Breakfast.
I quickly followed suit, and descending into the bar-room accosted the
grinning landlord very pleasantly. I cherished no malice towards him,
though he had been skylarking with me not a little in the matter of my
However, a good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce a
good thing; the more's the pity. So, if any one man, in his own
proper person, afford stuff for a good joke to anybody, let him not be
backward, but let him cheerfully allow himself to spend and be spent in
that way. And the man that has anything bountifully laughable about him,
be sure there is more in that man than you perhaps think for.
The bar-room was now full of the boarders who had been dropping in the
night previous, and whom I had not as yet had a good look at. They were
nearly all whalemen; chief mates, and second mates, and third mates, and
sea carpenters, and sea coopers, and sea blacksmiths, and harpooneers,
and ship keepers; a brown and brawny company, with bosky beards; an
unshorn, shaggy set, all wearing monkey jackets for morning gowns.
You could pretty plainly tell how long each one had been ashore. This
young fellow's healthy cheek is like a sun-toasted pear in hue, and
would seem to smell almost as musky; he cannot have been three days
landed from his Indian voyage. That man next him looks a few shades
lighter; you might say a touch of satin wood is in him. In the
complexion of a third still lingers a tropic tawn, but slightly bleached
withal; HE doubtless has tarried whole weeks ashore. But who could show
a cheek like Queequeg? which, barred with various tints, seemed like the
Andes' western slope, to show forth in one array, contrasting climates,
zone by zone.
"Grub, ho!" now cried the landlord, flinging open a door, and in we went
They say that men who have seen the world, thereby become quite at ease
in manner, quite self-possessed in company. Not always, though: Ledyard,
the great New England traveller, and Mungo Park, the Scotch one; of all
men, they possessed the least assurance in the parlor. But perhaps the
mere crossing of Siberia in a sledge drawn by dogs as Ledyard did, or
the taking a long solitary walk on an empty stomach, in the negro heart
of Africa, which was the sum of poor Mungo's performances--this kind of
travel, I say, may not be the very best mode of attaining a high social
polish. Still, for the most part, that sort of thing is to be had
These reflections just here are occasioned by the circumstance that
after we were all seated at the table, and I was preparing to hear some
good stories about whaling; to my no small surprise, nearly every
man maintained a profound silence. And not only that, but they looked
embarrassed. Yes, here were a set of sea-dogs, many of whom without the
slightest bashfulness had boarded great whales on the high seas--entire
strangers to them--and duelled them dead without winking; and yet, here
they sat at a social breakfast table--all of the same calling, all of
kindred tastes--looking round as sheepishly at each other as though they
had never been out of sight of some sheepfold among the Green Mountains.
A curious sight; these bashful bears, these timid warrior whalemen!
But as for Queequeg--why, Queequeg sat there among them--at the head of
the table, too, it so chanced; as cool as an icicle. To be sure I cannot
say much for his breeding. His greatest admirer could not have cordially
justified his bringing his harpoon into breakfast with him, and using it
there without ceremony; reaching over the table with it, to the imminent
jeopardy of many heads, and grappling the beefsteaks towards him. But
THAT was certainly very coolly done by him, and every one knows that in
most people's estimation, to do anything coolly is to do it genteelly.
We will not speak of all Queequeg's peculiarities here; how he eschewed
coffee and hot rolls, and applied his undivided attention to beefsteaks,
done rare. Enough, that when breakfast was over he withdrew like the
rest into the public room, lighted his tomahawk-pipe, and was sitting
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
question mangles Jonah! For the instant he almost turns to flee again.
But he rallies. 'I seek a passage in this ship to Tarshish; how soon
sail ye, sir?' Thus far the busy Captain had not looked up to Jonah,
though the man now stands before him; but no sooner does he hear that
hollow voice, than he darts a scrutinizing glance. 'We sail with the
next coming tide,' at last he slowly answered, still intently eyeing
him. 'No sooner, sir?'--'Soon enough for any honest man that goes a
passenger.' Ha! Jonah, that's another stab. But he swiftly calls away
the Captain from that scent. 'I'll sail with ye,'--he says,--'the
passage money how much is that?--I'll pay now.' For it is particularly
written, shipmates, as if it were a thing not to be overlooked in this
history, 'that he paid the fare thereof' ere the craft did sail. And
taken with the context, this is full of meaning.
"Now Jonah's Captain, shipmates, was one whose discernment detects crime
in any, but whose cupidity exposes it only in the penniless. In this
world, shipmates, sin that pays its way can travel freely, and without
a passport; whereas Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all frontiers.
So Jonah's Captain prepares to test the length of Jonah's purse, ere he
judge him openly. He charges him thrice the usual sum; and it's assented
to. Then the Captain knows that Jonah is a fugitive; but at the same
time resolves to help a flight that paves its rear with gold. Yet when
Jonah fairly takes out his purse, prudent suspicions still molest the
Captain. He rings every coin to find a counterfeit. Not a forger, any
way, he mutters; and Jonah is put down for his passage. 'Point out my
state-room, Sir,' says Jonah now, 'I'm travel-weary; I need sleep.'
'Thou lookest like it,' says the Captain, 'there's thy room.' Jonah
enters, and would lock the door, but the lock contains no key. Hearing
him foolishly fumbling there, the Captain laughs lowly to himself, and
mutters something about the doors of convicts' cells being never allowed
to be locked within. All dressed and dusty as he is, Jonah throws
himself into his berth, and finds the little state-room ceiling almost
resting on his forehead. The air is close, and Jonah gasps. Then, in
that contracted hole, sunk, too, beneath the ship's water-line, Jonah
feels the heralding presentiment of that stifling hour, when the whale
shall hold him in the smallest of his bowels' wards.
"Screwed at its axis against the side, a swinging lamp slightly
oscillates in Jonah's room; and the ship, heeling over towards the wharf
with the weight of the last bales received, the lamp, flame and all,
though in slight motion, still maintains a permanent obliquity with
reference to the room; though, in truth, infallibly straight itself, it
but made obvious the false, lying levels among which it hung. The lamp
alarms and frightens Jonah; as lying in his berth his tormented eyes
roll round the place, and this thus far successful fugitive finds no
refuge for his restless glance. But that contradiction in the lamp more
and more appals him. The floor, the ceiling, and the side, are all awry.
'Oh! so my conscience hangs in me!' he groans, 'straight upwards, so it
burns; but the chambers of my soul are all in crookedness!'
"Like one who after a night of drunken revelry hies to his bed, still
reeling, but with conscience yet pricking him, as the plungings of the
Roman race-horse but so much the more strike his steel tags into him; as
one who in that miserable plight still turns and turns in giddy anguish,
praying God for annihilation until the fit be passed; and at last amid
the whirl of woe he feels, a deep stupor steals over him, as over the
man who bleeds to death, for conscience is the wound, and there's naught
to staunch it; so, after sore wrestlings in his berth, Jonah's prodigy
of ponderous misery drags him drowning down to sleep.
"And now the time of tide has come; the ship casts off her cables; and
from the deserted wharf the uncheered ship for Tarshish, all careening,
glides to sea. That ship, my friends, was the first of recorded
smugglers! the contraband was Jonah. But the sea rebels; he will not
bear the wicked burden. A dreadful storm comes on, the ship is like to
break. But now when the boatswain calls all hands to lighten her;
when boxes, bales, and jars are clattering overboard; when the wind
is shrieking, and the men are yelling, and every plank thunders with
trampling feet right over Jonah's head; in all this raging tumult, Jonah
sleeps his hideous sleep. He sees no black sky and raging sea, feels not
the reeling timbers, and little hears he or heeds he the far rush of the
mighty whale, which even now with open mouth is cleaving the seas after
him. Aye, shipmates, Jonah was gone down into the sides of the ship--a
berth in the cabin as I have taken it, and was fast asleep. But the
frightened master comes to him, and shrieks in his dead ear, 'What
meanest thou, O, sleeper! arise!' Startled from his lethargy by that
direful cry, Jonah staggers to his feet, and stumbling to the deck,
grasps a shroud, to look out upon the sea. But at that moment he is
sprung upon by a panther billow leaping over the bulwarks. Wave after
wave thus leaps into the ship, and finding no speedy vent runs roaring
fore and aft, till the mariners come nigh to drowning while yet afloat.
And ever, as the white moon shows her affrighted face from the steep
gullies in the blackness overhead, aghast Jonah sees the rearing
bowsprit pointing high upward, but soon beat downward again towards the
"Terrors upon terrors run shouting through his soul. In all his cringing
attitudes, the God-fugitive is now too plainly known. The sailors mark
him; more and more certain grow their suspicions of him, and at last,
fully to test the truth, by referring the whole matter to high Heaven,
they fall to casting lots, to see for whose cause this great tempest was
upon them. The lot is Jonah's; that discovered, then how furiously they
mob him with their questions. 'What is thine occupation? Whence comest
thou? Thy country? What people? But mark now, my shipmates, the behavior
of poor Jonah. The eager mariners but ask him who he is, and where
from; whereas, they not only receive an answer to those questions,
but likewise another answer to a question not put by them, but the
unsolicited answer is forced from Jonah by the hard hand of God that is
"'I am a Hebrew,' he cries--and then--'I fear the Lord the God of Heaven
who hath made the sea and the dry land!' Fear him, O Jonah? Aye, well
mightest thou fear the Lord God THEN! Straightway, he now goes on to
make a full confession; whereupon the mariners became more and more
appalled, but still are pitiful. For when Jonah, not yet supplicating
God for mercy, since he but too well knew the darkness of his
deserts,--when wretched Jonah cries out to them to take him and cast him
forth into the sea, for he knew that for HIS sake this great tempest
was upon them; they mercifully turn from him, and seek by other means to
save the ship. But all in vain; the indignant gale howls louder;
then, with one hand raised invokingly to God, with the other they not
unreluctantly lay hold of Jonah.
"And now behold Jonah taken up as an anchor and dropped into the sea;
when instantly an oily calmness floats out from the east, and the sea
is still, as Jonah carries down the gale with him, leaving smooth
water behind. He goes down in the whirling heart of such a masterless
commotion that he scarce heeds the moment when he drops seething into
the yawning jaws awaiting him; and the whale shoots-to all his ivory
teeth, like so many white bolts, upon his prison. Then Jonah prayed unto
the Lord out of the fish's belly. But observe his prayer, and learn a
weighty lesson. For sinful as he is, Jonah does not weep and wail for
direct deliverance. He feels that his dreadful punishment is just. He
leaves all his deliverance to God, contenting himself with this, that
spite of all his pains and pangs, he will still look towards His holy
temple. And here, shipmates, is true and faithful repentance; not
clamorous for pardon, but grateful for punishment. And how pleasing to
God was this conduct in Jonah, is shown in the eventual deliverance of
him from the sea and the whale. Shipmates, I do not place Jonah before
you to be copied for his sin but I do place him before you as a model
for repentance. Sin not; but if you do, take heed to repent of it like
While he was speaking these words, the howling of the shrieking,
slanting storm without seemed to add new power to the preacher, who,
when describing Jonah's sea-storm, seemed tossed by a storm himself.
His deep chest heaved as with a ground-swell; his tossed arms seemed the
warring elements at work; and the thunders that rolled away from off his
swarthy brow, and the light leaping from his eye, made all his simple
hearers look on him with a quick fear that was strange to them.
There now came a lull in his look, as he silently turned over the leaves
of the Book once more; and, at last, standing motionless, with closed
eyes, for the moment, seemed communing with God and himself.
But again he leaned over towards the people, and bowing his head lowly,
with an aspect of the deepest yet manliest humility, he spake these
"Shipmates, God has laid but one hand upon you; both his hands press
upon me. I have read ye by what murky light may be mine the lesson that
Jonah teaches to all sinners; and therefore to ye, and still more to me,
for I am a greater sinner than ye. And now how gladly would I come down
from this mast-head and sit on the hatches there where you sit, and
listen as you listen, while some one of you reads ME that other and more
awful lesson which Jonah teaches to ME, as a pilot of the living God.
How being an anointed pilot-prophet, or speaker of true things, and
bidden by the Lord to sound those unwelcome truths in the ears of a
wicked Nineveh, Jonah, appalled at the hostility he should raise, fled
from his mission, and sought to escape his duty and his God by taking
ship at Joppa. But God is everywhere; Tarshish he never reached. As we
have seen, God came upon him in the whale, and swallowed him down to
living gulfs of doom, and with swift slantings tore him along 'into the
midst of the seas,' where the eddying depths sucked him ten thousand
fathoms down, and 'the weeds were wrapped about his head,' and all the
watery world of woe bowled over him. Yet even then beyond the reach of
any plummet--'out of the belly of hell'--when the whale grounded upon
the ocean's utmost bones, even then, God heard the engulphed, repenting
prophet when he cried. Then God spake unto the fish; and from the
shuddering cold and blackness of the sea, the whale came breeching
up towards the warm and pleasant sun, and all the delights of air and
earth; and 'vomited out Jonah upon the dry land;' when the word of the
Lord came a second time; and Jonah, bruised and beaten--his ears, like
two sea-shells, still multitudinously murmuring of the ocean--Jonah
did the Almighty's bidding. And what was that, shipmates? To preach the
Truth to the face of Falsehood! That was it!
"This, shipmates, this is that other lesson; and woe to that pilot of
the living God who slights it. Woe to him whom this world charms from
Gospel duty! Woe to him who seeks to pour oil upon the waters when God
has brewed them into a gale! Woe to him who seeks to please rather than
to appal! Woe to him whose good name is more to him than goodness! Woe
to him who, in this world, courts not dishonour! Woe to him who would
not be true, even though to be false were salvation! Yea, woe to him
who, as the great Pilot Paul has it, while preaching to others is
himself a castaway!"
He dropped and fell away from himself for a moment; then lifting his
face to them again, showed a deep joy in his eyes, as he cried out with
a heavenly enthusiasm,--"But oh! shipmates! on the starboard hand of
every woe, there is a sure delight; and higher the top of that delight,
than the bottom of the woe is deep. Is not the main-truck higher than
the kelson is low? Delight is to him--a far, far upward, and inward
delight--who against the proud gods and commodores of this earth, ever
stands forth his own inexorable self. Delight is to him whose strong
arms yet support him, when the ship of this base treacherous world has
gone down beneath him. Delight is to him, who gives no quarter in the
truth, and kills, burns, and destroys all sin though he pluck it out
from under the robes of Senators and Judges. Delight,--top-gallant
delight is to him, who acknowledges no law or lord, but the Lord his
God, and is only a patriot to heaven. Delight is to him, whom all the
waves of the billows of the seas of the boisterous mob can never shake
from this sure Keel of the Ages. And eternal delight and deliciousness
will be his, who coming to lay him down, can say with his final
breath--O Father!--chiefly known to me by Thy rod--mortal or immortal,
here I die. I have striven to be Thine, more than to be this world's, or
mine own. Yet this is nothing: I leave eternity to Thee; for what is man
that he should live out the lifetime of his God?"
He said no more, but slowly waving a benediction, covered his face with
his hands, and so remained kneeling, till all the people had departed,
and he was left alone in the place.
CHAPTER 10. A Bosom Friend.
Returning to the Spouter-Inn from the Chapel, I found Queequeg there
quite alone; he having left the Chapel before the benediction some time.
He was sitting on a bench before the fire, with his feet on the stove
hearth, and in one hand was holding close up to his face that little
negro idol of his; peering hard into its face, and with a jack-knife
gently whittling away at its nose, meanwhile humming to himself in his
But being now interrupted, he put up the image; and pretty soon, going
to the table, took up a large book there, and placing it on his lap
began counting the pages with deliberate regularity; at every fiftieth
page--as I fancied--stopping a moment, looking vacantly around him, and
giving utterance to a long-drawn gurgling whistle of astonishment. He
would then begin again at the next fifty; seeming to commence at number
one each time, as though he could not count more than fifty, and it was
only by such a large number of fifties being found together, that his
astonishment at the multitude of pages was excited.
With much interest I sat watching him. Savage though he was, and
hideously marred about the face--at least to my taste--his countenance
yet had a something in it which was by no means disagreeable. You cannot
hide the soul. Through all his unearthly tattooings, I thought I saw
the traces of a simple honest heart; and in his large, deep eyes,
fiery black and bold, there seemed tokens of a spirit that would dare a
thousand devils. And besides all this, there was a certain lofty bearing
about the Pagan, which even his uncouthness could not altogether maim.
He looked like a man who had never cringed and never had had a creditor.
Whether it was, too, that his head being shaved, his forehead was drawn
out in freer and brighter relief, and looked more expansive than it
otherwise would, this I will not venture to decide; but certain it was
his head was phrenologically an excellent one. It may seem ridiculous,
but it reminded me of General Washington's head, as seen in the popular
busts of him. It had the same long regularly graded retreating slope
from above the brows, which were likewise very projecting, like two
long promontories thickly wooded on top. Queequeg was George Washington
Whilst I was thus closely scanning him, half-pretending meanwhile to be
looking out at the storm from the casement, he never heeded my presence,
never troubled himself with so much as a single glance; but appeared
wholly occupied with counting the pages of the marvellous book.
Considering how sociably we had been sleeping together the night
previous, and especially considering the affectionate arm I had found
thrown over me upon waking in the morning, I thought this indifference
of his very strange. But savages are strange beings; at times you do not
know exactly how to take them. At first they are overawing; their calm
self-collectedness of simplicity seems a Socratic wisdom. I had noticed
also that Queequeg never consorted at all, or but very little, with the
other seamen in the inn. He made no advances whatever; appeared to have
no desire to enlarge the circle of his acquaintances. All this struck
me as mighty singular; yet, upon second thoughts, there was something
almost sublime in it. Here was a man some twenty thousand miles from
home, by the way of Cape Horn, that is--which was the only way he could
get there--thrown among people as strange to him as though he were in
the planet Jupiter; and yet he seemed entirely at his ease; preserving
the utmost serenity; content with his own companionship; always equal to
himself. Surely this was a touch of fine philosophy; though no doubt he
had never heard there was such a thing as that. But, perhaps, to be
true philosophers, we mortals should not be conscious of so living or
so striving. So soon as I hear that such or such a man gives himself
out for a philosopher, I conclude that, like the dyspeptic old woman, he
must have "broken his digester."
As I sat there in that now lonely room; the fire burning low, in that
mild stage when, after its first intensity has warmed the air, it then
only glows to be looked at; the evening shades and phantoms gathering
round the casements, and peering in upon us silent, solitary twain;
the storm booming without in solemn swells; I began to be sensible of
strange feelings. I felt a melting in me. No more my splintered heart
and maddened hand were turned against the wolfish world. This soothing
savage had redeemed it. There he sat, his very indifference speaking a
nature in which there lurked no civilized hypocrisies and bland deceits.
Wild he was; a very sight of sights to see; yet I began to feel myself
mysteriously drawn towards him. And those same things that would have
repelled most others, they were the very magnets that thus drew me. I'll
try a pagan friend, thought I, since Christian kindness has proved but
hollow courtesy. I drew my bench near him, and made some friendly signs
and hints, doing my best to talk with him meanwhile. At first he little
noticed these advances; but presently, upon my referring to his last
night's hospitalities, he made out to ask me whether we were again to be
bedfellows. I told him yes; whereat I thought he looked pleased, perhaps
a little complimented.
We then turned over the book together, and I endeavored to explain to
him the purpose of the printing, and the meaning of the few pictures
that were in it. Thus I soon engaged his interest; and from that we went
to jabbering the best we could about the various outer sights to be seen
in this famous town. Soon I proposed a social smoke; and, producing
his pouch and tomahawk, he quietly offered me a puff. And then we sat
exchanging puffs from that wild pipe of his, and keeping it regularly
passing between us.
If there yet lurked any ice of indifference towards me in the Pagan's
breast, this pleasant, genial smoke we had, soon thawed it out, and left
us cronies. He seemed to take to me quite as naturally and unbiddenly as
I to him; and when our smoke was over, he pressed his forehead against
mine, clasped me round the waist, and said that henceforth we were
married; meaning, in his country's phrase, that we were bosom friends;
he would gladly die for me, if need should be. In a countryman, this
sudden flame of friendship would have seemed far too premature, a thing
to be much distrusted; but in this simple savage those old rules would
After supper, and another social chat and smoke, we went to our room
together. He made me a present of his embalmed head; took out his
enormous tobacco wallet, and groping under the tobacco, drew out
some thirty dollars in silver; then spreading them on the table, and
mechanically dividing them into two equal portions, pushed one of them
towards me, and said it was mine. I was going to remonstrate; but he
silenced me by pouring them into my trowsers' pockets. I let them stay.
He then went about his evening prayers, took out his idol, and removed
the paper fireboard. By certain signs and symptoms, I thought he seemed
anxious for me to join him; but well knowing what was to follow, I
deliberated a moment whether, in case he invited me, I would comply or
I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible
Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this wild idolator in
worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I. Do
you suppose now, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and
earth--pagans and all included--can possibly be jealous of an
insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible! But what is worship?--to do
the will of God--THAT is worship. And what is the will of God?--to do to
my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me--THAT is the
will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that
this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular
Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him
in his; ergo, I must turn idolator. So I kindled the shavings; helped
prop up the innocent little idol; offered him burnt biscuit with
Queequeg; salamed before him twice or thrice; kissed his nose; and that
done, we undressed and went to bed, at peace with our own consciences
and all the world. But we did not go to sleep without some little chat.
How it is I know not; but there is no place like a bed for confidential
disclosures between friends. Man and wife, they say, there open the very
bottom of their souls to each other; and some old couples often lie
and chat over old times till nearly morning. Thus, then, in our hearts'
honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg--a cosy, loving pair.
CHAPTER 11. Nightgown.
We had lain thus in bed, chatting and napping at short intervals, and
Queequeg now and then affectionately throwing his brown tattooed legs
over mine, and then drawing them back; so entirely sociable and free
and easy were we; when, at last, by reason of our confabulations, what
little nappishness remained in us altogether departed, and we felt like
getting up again, though day-break was yet some way down the future.
Yes, we became very wakeful; so much so that our recumbent position
began to grow wearisome, and by little and little we found ourselves
sitting up; the clothes well tucked around us, leaning against the
head-board with our four knees drawn up close together, and our two
noses bending over them, as if our kneepans were warming-pans. We felt
very nice and snug, the more so since it was so chilly out of doors;
indeed out of bed-clothes too, seeing that there was no fire in the
room. The more so, I say, because truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some
small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world
that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If
you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so
a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more. But if,
like Queequeg and me in the bed, the tip of your nose or the crown
of your head be slightly chilled, why then, indeed, in the general
consciousness you feel most delightfully and unmistakably warm. For this
reason a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which
is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich. For the height of this
sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and
your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the
one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.
We had been sitting in this crouching manner for some time, when all at
once I thought I would open my eyes; for when between sheets, whether
by day or by night, and whether asleep or awake, I have a way of always
keeping my eyes shut, in order the more to concentrate the snugness
of being in bed. Because no man can ever feel his own identity aright
except his eyes be closed; as if darkness were indeed the proper element
of our essences, though light be more congenial to our clayey part. Upon
opening my eyes then, and coming out of my own pleasant and self-created
darkness into the imposed and coarse outer gloom of the unilluminated
twelve-o'clock-at-night, I experienced a disagreeable revulsion. Nor did
I at all object to the hint from Queequeg that perhaps it were best to
strike a light, seeing that we were so wide awake; and besides he felt
a strong desire to have a few quiet puffs from his Tomahawk. Be it said,
that though I had felt such a strong repugnance to his smoking in the
bed the night before, yet see how elastic our stiff prejudices grow when
love once comes to bend them. For now I liked nothing better than to
have Queequeg smoking by me, even in bed, because he seemed to be full
of such serene household joy then. I no more felt unduly concerned for
the landlord's policy of insurance. I was only alive to the condensed
confidential comfortableness of sharing a pipe and a blanket with a real
friend. With our shaggy jackets drawn about our shoulders, we now passed
the Tomahawk from one to the other, till slowly there grew over us a
blue hanging tester of smoke, illuminated by the flame of the new-lit
Whether it was that this undulating tester rolled the savage away to far
distant scenes, I know not, but he now spoke of his native island; and,
eager to hear his history, I begged him to go on and tell it. He gladly
complied. Though at the time I but ill comprehended not a few of his
words, yet subsequent disclosures, when I had become more familiar with
his broken phraseology, now enable me to present the whole story such as
it may prove in the mere skeleton I give.
CHAPTER 12. Biographical.
Queequeg was a native of Rokovoko, an island far away to the West and
South. It is not down in any map; true places never are.
When a new-hatched savage running wild about his native woodlands in
a grass clout, followed by the nibbling goats, as if he were a green
sapling; even then, in Queequeg's ambitious soul, lurked a strong desire
to see something more of Christendom than a specimen whaler or two. His
father was a High Chief, a King; his uncle a High Priest; and on the
maternal side he boasted aunts who were the wives of unconquerable
warriors. There was excellent blood in his veins--royal stuff; though
sadly vitiated, I fear, by the cannibal propensity he nourished in his
A Sag Harbor ship visited his father's bay, and Queequeg sought a
passage to Christian lands. But the ship, having her full complement of
seamen, spurned his suit; and not all the King his father's influence
could prevail. But Queequeg vowed a vow. Alone in his canoe, he paddled
off to a distant strait, which he knew the ship must pass through when
she quitted the island. On one side was a coral reef; on the other a low
tongue of land, covered with mangrove thickets that grew out into the
water. Hiding his canoe, still afloat, among these thickets, with its
prow seaward, he sat down in the stern, paddle low in hand; and when the
ship was gliding by, like a flash he darted out; gained her side; with
one backward dash of his foot capsized and sank his canoe; climbed up
the chains; and throwing himself at full length upon the deck, grappled
a ring-bolt there, and swore not to let it go, though hacked in pieces.
In vain the captain threatened to throw him overboard; suspended a
cutlass over his naked wrists; Queequeg was the son of a King, and
Queequeg budged not. Struck by his desperate dauntlessness, and his wild
desire to visit Christendom, the captain at last relented, and told
him he might make himself at home. But this fine young savage--this sea
Prince of Wales, never saw the Captain's cabin. They put him down among
the sailors, and made a whaleman of him. But like Czar Peter content to
toil in the shipyards of foreign cities, Queequeg disdained no seeming
ignominy, if thereby he might happily gain the power of enlightening his
untutored countrymen. For at bottom--so he told me--he was actuated by a
profound desire to learn among the Christians, the arts whereby to
make his people still happier than they were; and more than that,
still better than they were. But, alas! the practices of whalemen soon
convinced him that even Christians could be both miserable and wicked;
infinitely more so, than all his father's heathens. Arrived at last in
old Sag Harbor; and seeing what the sailors did there; and then going on
to Nantucket, and seeing how they spent their wages in that place also,
poor Queequeg gave it up for lost. Thought he, it's a wicked world in
all meridians; I'll die a pagan.
And thus an old idolator at heart, he yet lived among these Christians,
wore their clothes, and tried to talk their gibberish. Hence the queer
ways about him, though now some time from home.
By hints, I asked him whether he did not propose going back, and having
a coronation; since he might now consider his father dead and gone, he
being very old and feeble at the last accounts. He answered no, not yet;
and added that he was fearful Christianity, or rather Christians, had
unfitted him for ascending the pure and undefiled throne of thirty pagan
Kings before him. But by and by, he said, he would return,--as soon as
he felt himself baptized again. For the nonce, however, he proposed to
sail about, and sow his wild oats in all four oceans. They had made a
harpooneer of him, and that barbed iron was in lieu of a sceptre now.
I asked him what might be his immediate purpose, touching his future
movements. He answered, to go to sea again, in his old vocation. Upon
this, I told him that whaling was my own design, and informed him of my
intention to sail out of Nantucket, as being the most promising port for
an adventurous whaleman to embark from. He at once resolved to accompany
me to that island, ship aboard the same vessel, get into the same watch,
the same boat, the same mess with me, in short to share my every hap;
with both my hands in his, boldly dip into the Potluck of both worlds.
To all this I joyously assented; for besides the affection I now felt
for Queequeg, he was an experienced harpooneer, and as such, could not
fail to be of great usefulness to one, who, like me, was wholly ignorant
of the mysteries of whaling, though well acquainted with the sea, as
known to merchant seamen.
His story being ended with his pipe's last dying puff, Queequeg embraced
me, pressed his forehead against mine, and blowing out the light, we
rolled over from each other, this way and that, and very soon were
CHAPTER 13. Wheelbarrow.
Next morning, Monday, after disposing of the embalmed head to a barber,
for a block, I settled my own and comrade's bill; using, however, my
comrade's money. The grinning landlord, as well as the boarders, seemed
amazingly tickled at the sudden friendship which had sprung up between
me and Queequeg--especially as Peter Coffin's cock and bull stories
about him had previously so much alarmed me concerning the very person
whom I now companied with.
We borrowed a wheelbarrow, and embarking our things, including my own
poor carpet-bag, and Queequeg's canvas sack and hammock, away we went
down to "the Moss," the little Nantucket packet schooner moored at the
wharf. As we were going along the people stared; not at Queequeg
so much--for they were used to seeing cannibals like him in their
streets,--but at seeing him and me upon such confidential terms. But we
heeded them not, going along wheeling the barrow by turns, and Queequeg
now and then stopping to adjust the sheath on his harpoon barbs. I asked
him why he carried such a troublesome thing with him ashore, and
whether all whaling ships did not find their own harpoons. To this, in
substance, he replied, that though what I hinted was true enough, yet
he had a particular affection for his own harpoon, because it was of
assured stuff, well tried in many a mortal combat, and deeply intimate
with the hearts of whales. In short, like many inland reapers
and mowers, who go into the farmers' meadows armed with their own
scythes--though in no wise obliged to furnish them--even so, Queequeg,
for his own private reasons, preferred his own harpoon.
Shifting the barrow from my hand to his, he told me a funny story about
the first wheelbarrow he had ever seen. It was in Sag Harbor. The owners
of his ship, it seems, had lent him one, in which to carry his
heavy chest to his boarding house. Not to seem ignorant about the
thing--though in truth he was entirely so, concerning the precise way in
which to manage the barrow--Queequeg puts his chest upon it; lashes it
fast; and then shoulders the barrow and marches up the wharf. "Why,"
said I, "Queequeg, you might have known better than that, one would
think. Didn't the people laugh?"
Upon this, he told me another story. The people of his island of
Rokovoko, it seems, at their wedding feasts express the fragrant water
of young cocoanuts into a large stained calabash like a punchbowl; and
this punchbowl always forms the great central ornament on the braided
mat where the feast is held. Now a certain grand merchant ship once
touched at Rokovoko, and its commander--from all accounts, a very
stately punctilious gentleman, at least for a sea captain--this
commander was invited to the wedding feast of Queequeg's sister, a
pretty young princess just turned of ten. Well; when all the wedding
guests were assembled at the bride's bamboo cottage, this Captain
marches in, and being assigned the post of honour, placed himself over
against the punchbowl, and between the High Priest and his majesty the
King, Queequeg's father. Grace being said,--for those people have their
grace as well as we--though Queequeg told me that unlike us, who at such
times look downwards to our platters, they, on the contrary, copying the
ducks, glance upwards to the great Giver of all feasts--Grace, I say,
being said, the High Priest opens the banquet by the immemorial ceremony
of the island; that is, dipping his consecrated and consecrating fingers
into the bowl before the blessed beverage circulates. Seeing himself
placed next the Priest, and noting the ceremony, and thinking
himself--being Captain of a ship--as having plain precedence over a
mere island King, especially in the King's own house--the Captain coolly
proceeds to wash his hands in the punchbowl;--taking it I suppose for a
huge finger-glass. "Now," said Queequeg, "what you tink now?--Didn't our
At last, passage paid, and luggage safe, we stood on board the schooner.
Hoisting sail, it glided down the Acushnet river. On one side, New
Bedford rose in terraces of streets, their ice-covered trees all
glittering in the clear, cold air. Huge hills and mountains of casks on
casks were piled upon her wharves, and side by side the world-wandering
whale ships lay silent and safely moored at last; while from others
came a sound of carpenters and coopers, with blended noises of fires and
forges to melt the pitch, all betokening that new cruises were on the
start; that one most perilous and long voyage ended, only begins a
second; and a second ended, only begins a third, and so on, for ever
and for aye. Such is the endlessness, yea, the intolerableness of all
Gaining the more open water, the bracing breeze waxed fresh; the little
Moss tossed the quick foam from her bows, as a young colt his snortings.
How I snuffed that Tartar air!--how I spurned that turnpike earth!--that
common highway all over dented with the marks of slavish heels and
hoofs; and turned me to admire the magnanimity of the sea which will
permit no records.
At the same foam-fountain, Queequeg seemed to drink and reel with me.
His dusky nostrils swelled apart; he showed his filed and pointed teeth.
On, on we flew; and our offing gained, the Moss did homage to the
blast; ducked and dived her bows as a slave before the Sultan. Sideways
leaning, we sideways darted; every ropeyarn tingling like a wire; the
two tall masts buckling like Indian canes in land tornadoes. So full of
this reeling scene were we, as we stood by the plunging bowsprit, that
for some time we did not notice the jeering glances of the passengers, a
lubber-like assembly, who marvelled that two fellow beings should be so
companionable; as though a white man were anything more dignified than a
whitewashed negro. But there were some boobies and bumpkins there, who,
by their intense greenness, must have come from the heart and centre of
all verdure. Queequeg caught one of these young saplings mimicking him
behind his back. I thought the bumpkin's hour of doom was come. Dropping
his harpoon, the brawny savage caught him in his arms, and by an almost
miraculous dexterity and strength, sent him high up bodily into the air;
then slightly tapping his stern in mid-somerset, the fellow landed with
bursting lungs upon his feet, while Queequeg, turning his back upon him,
lighted his tomahawk pipe and passed it to me for a puff.
"Capting! Capting!" yelled the bumpkin, running towards that officer;
"Capting, Capting, here's the devil."
"Hallo, _you_ sir," cried the Captain, a gaunt rib of the sea, stalking
up to Queequeg, "what in thunder do you mean by that? Don't you know you
might have killed that chap?"
"What him say?" said Queequeg, as he mildly turned to me.
"He say," said I, "that you came near kill-e that man there," pointing
to the still shivering greenhorn.
"Kill-e," cried Queequeg, twisting his tattooed face into an unearthly
expression of disdain, "ah! him bevy small-e fish-e; Queequeg no kill-e
so small-e fish-e; Queequeg kill-e big whale!"
"Look you," roared the Captain, "I'll kill-e YOU, you cannibal, if you
try any more of your tricks aboard here; so mind your eye."
But it so happened just then, that it was high time for the Captain to
mind his own eye. The prodigious strain upon the main-sail had parted
the weather-sheet, and the tremendous boom was now flying from side to
side, completely sweeping the entire after part of the deck. The poor
fellow whom Queequeg had handled so roughly, was swept overboard; all
hands were in a panic; and to attempt snatching at the boom to stay it,
seemed madness. It flew from right to left, and back again, almost
in one ticking of a watch, and every instant seemed on the point of
snapping into splinters. Nothing was done, and nothing seemed capable of
being done; those on deck rushed towards the bows, and stood eyeing the
boom as if it were the lower jaw of an exasperated whale. In the
midst of this consternation, Queequeg dropped deftly to his knees, and
crawling under the path of the boom, whipped hold of a rope, secured one
end to the bulwarks, and then flinging the other like a lasso, caught it
round the boom as it swept over his head, and at the next jerk, the spar
was that way trapped, and all was safe. The schooner was run into the
wind, and while the hands were clearing away the stern boat, Queequeg,
stripped to the waist, darted from the side with a long living arc of
a leap. For three minutes or more he was seen swimming like a dog,
throwing his long arms straight out before him, and by turns revealing
his brawny shoulders through the freezing foam. I looked at the grand
and glorious fellow, but saw no one to be saved. The greenhorn had gone
down. Shooting himself perpendicularly from the water, Queequeg, now
took an instant's glance around him, and seeming to see just how matters
were, dived down and disappeared. A few minutes more, and he rose again,
one arm still striking out, and with the other dragging a lifeless form.
The boat soon picked them up. The poor bumpkin was restored. All hands
voted Queequeg a noble trump; the captain begged his pardon. From that
hour I clove to Queequeg like a barnacle; yea, till poor Queequeg took
his last long dive.
Was there ever such unconsciousness? He did not seem to think that he at
all deserved a medal from the Humane and Magnanimous Societies. He only
asked for water--fresh water--something to wipe the brine off; that
done, he put on dry clothes, lighted his pipe, and leaning against the
bulwarks, and mildly eyeing those around him, seemed to be saying
to himself--"It's a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians. We
cannibals must help these Christians."
CHAPTER 14. Nantucket.
Nothing more happened on the passage worthy the mentioning; so, after a
fine run, we safely arrived in Nantucket.
Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of
the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely
than the Eddystone lighthouse. Look at it--a mere hillock, and elbow of
sand; all beach, without a background. There is more sand there than
you would use in twenty years as a substitute for blotting paper. Some
gamesome wights will tell you that they have to plant weeds there, they
don't grow naturally; that they import Canada thistles; that they have
to send beyond seas for a spile to stop a leak in an oil cask; that
pieces of wood in Nantucket are carried about like bits of the true
cross in Rome; that people there plant toadstools before their houses,
to get under the shade in summer time; that one blade of grass makes an
oasis, three blades in a day's walk a prairie; that they wear quicksand
shoes, something like Laplander snow-shoes; that they are so shut up,
belted about, every way inclosed, surrounded, and made an utter island
of by the ocean, that to their very chairs and tables small clams will
sometimes be found adhering, as to the backs of sea turtles. But these
extravaganzas only show that Nantucket is no Illinois.
Look now at the wondrous traditional story of how this island was
settled by the red-men. Thus goes the legend. In olden times an eagle
swooped down upon the New England coast, and carried off an infant
Indian in his talons. With loud lament the parents saw their child borne
out of sight over the wide waters. They resolved to follow in the same
direction. Setting out in their canoes, after a perilous passage they
discovered the island, and there they found an empty ivory casket,--the
poor little Indian's skeleton.
What wonder, then, that these Nantucketers, born on a beach, should take
to the sea for a livelihood! They first caught crabs and quohogs in
the sand; grown bolder, they waded out with nets for mackerel; more
experienced, they pushed off in boats and captured cod; and at last,
launching a navy of great ships on the sea, explored this watery world;
put an incessant belt of circumnavigations round it; peeped in
at Behring's Straits; and in all seasons and all oceans declared
everlasting war with the mightiest animated mass that has survived the
flood; most monstrous and most mountainous! That Himmalehan, salt-sea
Mastodon, clothed with such portentousness of unconscious power, that
his very panics are more to be dreaded than his most fearless and
And thus have these naked Nantucketers, these sea hermits, issuing from
their ant-hill in the sea, overrun and conquered the watery world like
so many Alexanders; parcelling out among them the Atlantic, Pacific, and
Indian oceans, as the three pirate powers did Poland. Let America add
Mexico to Texas, and pile Cuba upon Canada; let the English overswarm
all India, and hang out their blazing banner from the sun; two thirds
of this terraqueous globe are the Nantucketer's. For the sea is his; he
owns it, as Emperors own empires; other seamen having but a right of
way through it. Merchant ships are but extension bridges; armed ones but
floating forts; even pirates and privateers, though following the sea
as highwaymen the road, they but plunder other ships, other fragments of
the land like themselves, without seeking to draw their living from the
bottomless deep itself. The Nantucketer, he alone resides and riots on
the sea; he alone, in Bible language, goes down to it in ships; to and
fro ploughing it as his own special plantation. THERE is his home; THERE
lies his business, which a Noah's flood would not interrupt, though it
overwhelmed all the millions in China. He lives on the sea, as prairie
cocks in the prairie; he hides among the waves, he climbs them as
chamois hunters climb the Alps. For years he knows not the land; so
that when he comes to it at last, it smells like another world, more
strangely than the moon would to an Earthsman. With the landless gull,
that at sunset folds her wings and is rocked to sleep between billows;
so at nightfall, the Nantucketer, out of sight of land, furls his sails,
and lays him to his rest, while under his very pillow rush herds of
walruses and whales.
CHAPTER 15. Chowder.
It was quite late in the evening when the little Moss came snugly
to anchor, and Queequeg and I went ashore; so we could attend to no
business that day, at least none but a supper and a bed. The landlord of
the Spouter-Inn had recommended us to his cousin Hosea Hussey of the
Try Pots, whom he asserted to be the proprietor of one of the best kept
hotels in all Nantucket, and moreover he had assured us that Cousin
Hosea, as he called him, was famous for his chowders. In short, he
plainly hinted that we could not possibly do better than try pot-luck at
the Try Pots. But the directions he had given us about keeping a yellow
warehouse on our starboard hand till we opened a white church to the
larboard, and then keeping that on the larboard hand till we made a
corner three points to the starboard, and that done, then ask the first
man we met where the place was: these crooked directions of his very
much puzzled us at first, especially as, at the outset, Queequeg
insisted that the yellow warehouse--our first point of departure--must
be left on the larboard hand, whereas I had understood Peter Coffin to
say it was on the starboard. However, by dint of beating about a little
in the dark, and now and then knocking up a peaceable inhabitant
to inquire the way, we at last came to something which there was no
Two enormous wooden pots painted black, and suspended by asses' ears,
swung from the cross-trees of an old top-mast, planted in front of an
old doorway. The horns of the cross-trees were sawed off on the other
side, so that this old top-mast looked not a little like a gallows.
Perhaps I was over sensitive to such impressions at the time, but I
could not help staring at this gallows with a vague misgiving. A sort of
crick was in my neck as I gazed up to the two remaining horns; yes, TWO
of them, one for Queequeg, and one for me. It's ominous, thinks I. A
Coffin my Innkeeper upon landing in my first whaling port; tombstones
staring at me in the whalemen's chapel; and here a gallows! and a pair
of prodigious black pots too! Are these last throwing out oblique hints
I was called from these reflections by the sight of a freckled woman
with yellow hair and a yellow gown, standing in the porch of the inn,
under a dull red lamp swinging there, that looked much like an injured
eye, and carrying on a brisk scolding with a man in a purple woollen
"Get along with ye," said she to the man, "or I'll be combing ye!"
"Come on, Queequeg," said I, "all right. There's Mrs. Hussey."
And so it turned out; Mr. Hosea Hussey being from home, but leaving
Mrs. Hussey entirely competent to attend to all his affairs. Upon
making known our desires for a supper and a bed, Mrs. Hussey, postponing
further scolding for the present, ushered us into a little room, and
seating us at a table spread with the relics of a recently concluded
repast, turned round to us and said--"Clam or Cod?"
"What's that about Cods, ma'am?" said I, with much politeness.
"Clam or Cod?" she repeated.
"A clam for supper? a cold clam; is THAT what you mean, Mrs. Hussey?"
says I, "but that's a rather cold and clammy reception in the winter
time, ain't it, Mrs. Hussey?"
But being in a great hurry to resume scolding the man in the purple
Shirt, who was waiting for it in the entry, and seeming to hear nothing
but the word "clam," Mrs. Hussey hurried towards an open door leading to
the kitchen, and bawling out "clam for two," disappeared.
"Queequeg," said I, "do you think that we can make out a supper for us
both on one clam?"
However, a warm savory steam from the kitchen served to belie the
apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking chowder
came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh, sweet friends!
hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than
hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into
little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned
with pepper and salt. Our appetites being sharpened by the frosty
voyage, and in particular, Queequeg seeing his favourite fishing food
before him, and the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we despatched
it with great expedition: when leaning back a moment and bethinking
me of Mrs. Hussey's clam and cod announcement, I thought I would try
a little experiment. Stepping to the kitchen door, I uttered the word
"cod" with great emphasis, and resumed my seat. In a few moments the
savoury steam came forth again, but with a different flavor, and in good
time a fine cod-chowder was placed before us.
We resumed business; and while plying our spoons in the bowl, thinks I
to myself, I wonder now if this here has any effect on the head?
What's that stultifying saying about chowder-headed people? "But look,
Queequeg, ain't that a live eel in your bowl? Where's your harpoon?"
Fishiest of all fishy places was the Try Pots, which well deserved
its name; for the pots there were always boiling chowders. Chowder for
breakfast, and chowder for dinner, and chowder for supper, till you
began to look for fish-bones coming through your clothes. The area
before the house was paved with clam-shells. Mrs. Hussey wore a polished
necklace of codfish vertebra; and Hosea Hussey had his account books
bound in superior old shark-skin. There was a fishy flavor to the milk,
too, which I could not at all account for, till one morning happening
to take a stroll along the beach among some fishermen's boats, I saw
Hosea's brindled cow feeding on fish remnants, and marching along the
sand with each foot in a cod's decapitated head, looking very slip-shod,
I assure ye.
Supper concluded, we received a lamp, and directions from Mrs. Hussey
concerning the nearest way to bed; but, as Queequeg was about to precede
me up the stairs, the lady reached forth her arm, and demanded his
harpoon; she allowed no harpoon in her chambers. "Why not?" said I;
"every true whaleman sleeps with his harpoon--but why not?" "Because
it's dangerous," says she. "Ever since young Stiggs coming from that
unfort'nt v'y'ge of his, when he was gone four years and a half, with
only three barrels of _ile_, was found dead in my first floor back, with
his harpoon in his side; ever since then I allow no boarders to take
sich dangerous weepons in their rooms at night. So, Mr. Queequeg" (for
she had learned his name), "I will just take this here iron, and keep
it for you till morning. But the chowder; clam or cod to-morrow for
"Both," says I; "and let's have a couple of smoked herring by way of
CHAPTER 16. The Ship.
In bed we concocted our plans for the morrow. But to my surprise and
no small concern, Queequeg now gave me to understand, that he had been
diligently consulting Yojo--the name of his black little god--and Yojo
had told him two or three times over, and strongly insisted upon it
everyway, that instead of our going together among the whaling-fleet in
harbor, and in concert selecting our craft; instead of this, I say, Yojo
earnestly enjoined that the selection of the ship should rest wholly
with me, inasmuch as Yojo purposed befriending us; and, in order to
do so, had already pitched upon a vessel, which, if left to myself, I,
Ishmael, should infallibly light upon, for all the world as though it
had turned out by chance; and in that vessel I must immediately ship
myself, for the present irrespective of Queequeg.
I have forgotten to mention that, in many things, Queequeg placed great
confidence in the excellence of Yojo's judgment and surprising forecast
of things; and cherished Yojo with considerable esteem, as a rather good
sort of god, who perhaps meant well enough upon the whole, but in all
cases did not succeed in his benevolent designs.
Now, this plan of Queequeg's, or rather Yojo's, touching the selection
of our craft; I did not like that plan at all. I had not a little relied
upon Queequeg's sagacity to point out the whaler best fitted to carry
us and our fortunes securely. But as all my remonstrances produced
no effect upon Queequeg, I was obliged to acquiesce; and accordingly
prepared to set about this business with a determined rushing sort
of energy and vigor, that should quickly settle that trifling little
affair. Next morning early, leaving Queequeg shut up with Yojo in our
little bedroom--for it seemed that it was some sort of Lent or Ramadan,
or day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer with Queequeg and Yojo that
day; HOW it was I never could find out, for, though I applied myself
to it several times, I never could master his liturgies and XXXIX
Articles--leaving Queequeg, then, fasting on his tomahawk pipe, and Yojo
warming himself at his sacrificial fire of shavings, I sallied out among
the shipping. After much prolonged sauntering and many random inquiries,
I learnt that there were three ships up for three-years' voyages--The
Devil-dam, the Tit-bit, and the Pequod. DEVIL-DAM, I do not know the
origin of; TIT-BIT is obvious; PEQUOD, you will no doubt remember, was
the name of a celebrated tribe of Massachusetts Indians; now extinct
as the ancient Medes. I peered and pryed about the Devil-dam; from her,
hopped over to the Tit-bit; and finally, going on board the Pequod,
looked around her for a moment, and then decided that this was the very
ship for us.
You may have seen many a quaint craft in your day, for aught I
know;--square-toed luggers; mountainous Japanese junks; butter-box
galliots, and what not; but take my word for it, you never saw such a
rare old craft as this same rare old Pequod. She was a ship of the old
school, rather small if anything; with an old-fashioned claw-footed look
about her. Long seasoned and weather-stained in the typhoons and calms
of all four oceans, her old hull's complexion was darkened like a French
grenadier's, who has alike fought in Egypt and Siberia. Her venerable
bows looked bearded. Her masts--cut somewhere on the coast of Japan,
where her original ones were lost overboard in a gale--her masts stood
stiffly up like the spines of the three old kings of Cologne. Her
ancient decks were worn and wrinkled, like the pilgrim-worshipped
flag-stone in Canterbury Cathedral where Becket bled. But to all these
her old antiquities, were added new and marvellous features, pertaining
to the wild business that for more than half a century she had followed.
Old Captain Peleg, many years her chief-mate, before he commanded
another vessel of his own, and now a retired seaman, and one of the
principal owners of the Pequod,--this old Peleg, during the term of his
chief-mateship, had built upon her original grotesqueness, and inlaid
it, all over, with a quaintness both of material and device, unmatched
by anything except it be Thorkill-Hake's carved buckler or bedstead. She
was apparelled like any barbaric Ethiopian emperor, his neck heavy with
pendants of polished ivory. She was a thing of trophies. A cannibal of
a craft, tricking herself forth in the chased bones of her enemies. All
round, her unpanelled, open bulwarks were garnished like one continuous
jaw, with the long sharp teeth of the sperm whale, inserted there for
pins, to fasten her old hempen thews and tendons to. Those thews ran not
through base blocks of land wood, but deftly travelled over sheaves of
sea-ivory. Scorning a turnstile wheel at her reverend helm, she sported
there a tiller; and that tiller was in one mass, curiously carved
from the long narrow lower jaw of her hereditary foe. The helmsman who
steered by that tiller in a tempest, felt like the Tartar, when he holds
back his fiery steed by clutching its jaw. A noble craft, but somehow a
most melancholy! All noble things are touched with that.
Now when I looked about the quarter-deck, for some one having authority,
in order to propose myself as a candidate for the voyage, at first I saw
nobody; but I could not well overlook a strange sort of tent, or
rather wigwam, pitched a little behind the main-mast. It seemed only
a temporary erection used in port. It was of a conical shape, some ten
feet high; consisting of the long, huge slabs of limber black bone taken
from the middle and highest part of the jaws of the right-whale.
Planted with their broad ends on the deck, a circle of these slabs laced
together, mutually sloped towards each other, and at the apex united in
a tufted point, where the loose hairy fibres waved to and fro like the
top-knot on some old Pottowottamie Sachem's head. A triangular opening
faced towards the bows of the ship, so that the insider commanded a
complete view forward.
And half concealed in this queer tenement, I at length found one who
by his aspect seemed to have authority; and who, it being noon, and
the ship's work suspended, was now enjoying respite from the burden of
command. He was seated on an old-fashioned oaken chair, wriggling all
over with curious carving; and the bottom of which was formed of a
stout interlacing of the same elastic stuff of which the wigwam was
There was nothing so very particular, perhaps, about the appearance of
the elderly man I saw; he was brown and brawny, like most old seamen,
and heavily rolled up in blue pilot-cloth, cut in the Quaker style;
only there was a fine and almost microscopic net-work of the minutest
wrinkles interlacing round his eyes, which must have arisen from
his continual sailings in many hard gales, and always looking to
windward;--for this causes the muscles about the eyes to become pursed
together. Such eye-wrinkles are very effectual in a scowl.
"Is this the Captain of the Pequod?" said I, advancing to the door of
"Supposing it be the captain of the Pequod, what dost thou want of him?"
"I was thinking of shipping."
"Thou wast, wast thou? I see thou art no Nantucketer--ever been in a
"No, Sir, I never have."
"Dost know nothing at all about whaling, I dare say--eh?
"Nothing, Sir; but I have no doubt I shall soon learn. I've been several
voyages in the merchant service, and I think that--"
"Merchant service be damned. Talk not that lingo to me. Dost see that
leg?--I'll take that leg away from thy stern, if ever thou talkest of
the marchant service to me again. Marchant service indeed! I suppose now
ye feel considerable proud of having served in those marchant ships.
But flukes! man, what makes thee want to go a whaling, eh?--it looks
a little suspicious, don't it, eh?--Hast not been a pirate, hast
thou?--Didst not rob thy last Captain, didst thou?--Dost not think of
murdering the officers when thou gettest to sea?"
I protested my innocence of these things. I saw that under the mask
of these half humorous innuendoes, this old seaman, as an insulated
Quakerish Nantucketer, was full of his insular prejudices, and rather
distrustful of all aliens, unless they hailed from Cape Cod or the
"But what takes thee a-whaling? I want to know that before I think of
"Well, sir, I want to see what whaling is. I want to see the world."
"Want to see what whaling is, eh? Have ye clapped eye on Captain Ahab?"
"Who is Captain Ahab, sir?"
"Aye, aye, I thought so. Captain Ahab is the Captain of this ship."
"I am mistaken then. I thought I was speaking to the Captain himself."
"Thou art speaking to Captain Peleg--that's who ye are speaking to,
young man. It belongs to me and Captain Bildad to see the Pequod fitted
out for the voyage, and supplied with all her needs, including crew. We
are part owners and agents. But as I was going to say, if thou wantest
to know what whaling is, as thou tellest ye do, I can put ye in a way of
finding it out before ye bind yourself to it, past backing out. Clap
eye on Captain Ahab, young man, and thou wilt find that he has only one
"What do you mean, sir? Was the other one lost by a whale?"
"Lost by a whale! Young man, come nearer to me: it was devoured,
chewed up, crunched by the monstrousest parmacetty that ever chipped a
I was a little alarmed by his energy, perhaps also a little touched at
the hearty grief in his concluding exclamation, but said as calmly as I
could, "What you say is no doubt true enough, sir; but how could I know
there was any peculiar ferocity in that particular whale, though indeed
I might have inferred as much from the simple fact of the accident."
"Look ye now, young man, thy lungs are a sort of soft, d'ye see; thou
dost not talk shark a bit. SURE, ye've been to sea before now; sure of
"Sir," said I, "I thought I told you that I had been four voyages in the
"Hard down out of that! Mind what I said about the marchant
service--don't aggravate me--I won't have it. But let us understand each
other. I have given thee a hint about what whaling is; do ye yet feel
inclined for it?"
"I do, sir."
"Very good. Now, art thou the man to pitch a harpoon down a live whale's
throat, and then jump after it? Answer, quick!"
"I am, sir, if it should be positively indispensable to do so; not to be
got rid of, that is; which I don't take to be the fact."
"Good again. Now then, thou not only wantest to go a-whaling, to find
out by experience what whaling is, but ye also want to go in order to
see the world? Was not that what ye said? I thought so. Well then, just
step forward there, and take a peep over the weather-bow, and then back
to me and tell me what ye see there."
For a moment I stood a little puzzled by this curious request, not
knowing exactly how to take it, whether humorously or in earnest. But
concentrating all his crow's feet into one scowl, Captain Peleg started
me on the errand.
Going forward and glancing over the weather bow, I perceived that the
ship swinging to her anchor with the flood-tide, was now obliquely
pointing towards the open ocean. The prospect was unlimited, but
exceedingly monotonous and forbidding; not the slightest variety that I
"Well, what's the report?" said Peleg when I came back; "what did ye
"Not much," I replied--"nothing but water; considerable horizon though,
and there's a squall coming up, I think."
"Well, what does thou think then of seeing the world? Do ye wish to go
round Cape Horn to see any more of it, eh? Can't ye see the world where
I was a little staggered, but go a-whaling I must, and I would; and the
Pequod was as good a ship as any--I thought the best--and all this I now
repeated to Peleg. Seeing me so determined, he expressed his willingness
to ship me.
"And thou mayest as well sign the papers right off," he added--"come
along with ye." And so saying, he led the way below deck into the cabin.
Seated on the transom was what seemed to me a most uncommon and
surprising figure. It turned out to be Captain Bildad, who along with
Captain Peleg was one of the largest owners of the vessel; the other
shares, as is sometimes the case in these ports, being held by a crowd
of old annuitants; widows, fatherless children, and chancery wards; each
owning about the value of a timber head, or a foot of plank, or a nail
or two in the ship. People in Nantucket invest their money in whaling
vessels, the same way that you do yours in approved state stocks
bringing in good interest.
Now, Bildad, like Peleg, and indeed many other Nantucketers, was a
Quaker, the island having been originally settled by that sect; and to
this day its inhabitants in general retain in an uncommon measure the
peculiarities of the Quaker, only variously and anomalously modified
by things altogether alien and heterogeneous. For some of these same
Quakers are the most sanguinary of all sailors and whale-hunters. They
are fighting Quakers; they are Quakers with a vengeance.
So that there are instances among them of men, who, named with Scripture
names--a singularly common fashion on the island--and in childhood
naturally imbibing the stately dramatic thee and thou of the Quaker
idiom; still, from the audacious, daring, and boundless adventure
of their subsequent lives, strangely blend with these unoutgrown
peculiarities, a thousand bold dashes of character, not unworthy a
Scandinavian sea-king, or a poetical Pagan Roman. And when these things
unite in a man of greatly superior natural force, with a globular brain
and a ponderous heart; who has also by the stillness and seclusion
of many long night-watches in the remotest waters, and beneath
constellations never seen here at the north, been led to think
untraditionally and independently; receiving all nature's sweet or
savage impressions fresh from her own virgin voluntary and confiding
breast, and thereby chiefly, but with some help from accidental
advantages, to learn a bold and nervous lofty language--that man makes
one in a whole nation's census--a mighty pageant creature, formed for
noble tragedies. Nor will it at all detract from him, dramatically
regarded, if either by birth or other circumstances, he have what seems
a half wilful overruling morbidness at the bottom of his nature. For all
men tragically great are made so through a certain morbidness. Be sure
of this, O young ambition, all mortal greatness is but disease. But,
as yet we have not to do with such an one, but with quite another; and
still a man, who, if indeed peculiar, it only results again from another
phase of the Quaker, modified by individual circumstances.
Like Captain Peleg, Captain Bildad was a well-to-do, retired whaleman.
But unlike Captain Peleg--who cared not a rush for what are called
serious things, and indeed deemed those self-same serious things the
veriest of all trifles--Captain Bildad had not only been originally
educated according to the strictest sect of Nantucket Quakerism, but all
his subsequent ocean life, and the sight of many unclad, lovely island
creatures, round the Horn--all that had not moved this native born
Quaker one single jot, had not so much as altered one angle of his
vest. Still, for all this immutableness, was there some lack of
common consistency about worthy Captain Peleg. Though refusing, from
conscientious scruples, to bear arms against land invaders, yet himself
had illimitably invaded the Atlantic and Pacific; and though a sworn foe
to human bloodshed, yet had he in his straight-bodied coat, spilled tuns
upon tuns of leviathan gore. How now in the contemplative evening of his
days, the pious Bildad reconciled these things in the reminiscence, I do
not know; but it did not seem to concern him much, and very probably
he had long since come to the sage and sensible conclusion that a man's
religion is one thing, and this practical world quite another. This
world pays dividends. Rising from a little cabin-boy in short clothes
of the drabbest drab, to a harpooneer in a broad shad-bellied waistcoat;
from that becoming boat-header, chief-mate, and captain, and finally a
ship owner; Bildad, as I hinted before, had concluded his adventurous
career by wholly retiring from active life at the goodly age of
sixty, and dedicating his remaining days to the quiet receiving of his
Now, Bildad, I am sorry to say, had the reputation of being an
incorrigible old hunks, and in his sea-going days, a bitter, hard
task-master. They told me in Nantucket, though it certainly seems a
curious story, that when he sailed the old Categut whaleman, his crew,
upon arriving home, were mostly all carried ashore to the hospital, sore
exhausted and worn out. For a pious man, especially for a Quaker, he was
certainly rather hard-hearted, to say the least. He never used to swear,
though, at his men, they said; but somehow he got an inordinate
quantity of cruel, unmitigated hard work out of them. When Bildad was a
chief-mate, to have his drab-coloured eye intently looking at you, made
you feel completely nervous, till you could clutch something--a hammer
or a marling-spike, and go to work like mad, at something or other,
never mind what. Indolence and idleness perished before him. His own
person was the exact embodiment of his utilitarian character. On his
long, gaunt body, he carried no spare flesh, no superfluous beard,
his chin having a soft, economical nap to it, like the worn nap of his
Such, then, was the person that I saw seated on the transom when I
followed Captain Peleg down into the cabin. The space between the decks
was small; and there, bolt-upright, sat old Bildad, who always sat so,
and never leaned, and this to save his coat tails. His broad-brim was
placed beside him; his legs were stiffly crossed; his drab vesture was
buttoned up to his chin; and spectacles on nose, he seemed absorbed in
reading from a ponderous volume.
"Bildad," cried Captain Peleg, "at it again, Bildad, eh? Ye have been
studying those Scriptures, now, for the last thirty years, to my certain
knowledge. How far ye got, Bildad?"
As if long habituated to such profane talk from his old shipmate,
Bildad, without noticing his present irreverence, quietly looked up, and
seeing me, glanced again inquiringly towards Peleg.
"He says he's our man, Bildad," said Peleg, "he wants to ship."
"Dost thee?" said Bildad, in a hollow tone, and turning round to me.
"I dost," said I unconsciously, he was so intense a Quaker.
"What do ye think of him, Bildad?" said Peleg.
"He'll do," said Bildad, eyeing me, and then went on spelling away at
his book in a mumbling tone quite audible.
I thought him the queerest old Quaker I ever saw, especially as Peleg,
his friend and old shipmate, seemed such a blusterer. But I said
nothing, only looking round me sharply. Peleg now threw open a chest,
and drawing forth the ship's articles, placed pen and ink before him,
and seated himself at a little table. I began to think it was high time
to settle with myself at what terms I would be willing to engage for the
voyage. I was already aware that in the whaling business they paid no
wages; but all hands, including the captain, received certain shares of
the profits called lays, and that these lays were proportioned to the
degree of importance pertaining to the respective duties of the ship's
company. I was also aware that being a green hand at whaling, my own
lay would not be very large; but considering that I was used to the sea,
could steer a ship, splice a rope, and all that, I made no doubt that
from all I had heard I should be offered at least the 275th lay--that
is, the 275th part of the clear net proceeds of the voyage, whatever
that might eventually amount to. And though the 275th lay was what they
call a rather LONG LAY, yet it was better than nothing; and if we had a
lucky voyage, might pretty nearly pay for the clothing I would wear out
on it, not to speak of my three years' beef and board, for which I would
not have to pay one stiver.
It might be thought that this was a poor way to accumulate a princely
fortune--and so it was, a very poor way indeed. But I am one of those
that never take on about princely fortunes, and am quite content if the
world is ready to board and lodge me, while I am putting up at this grim
sign of the Thunder Cloud. Upon the whole, I thought that the 275th lay
would be about the fair thing, but would not have been surprised had I
been offered the 200th, considering I was of a broad-shouldered make.
But one thing, nevertheless, that made me a little distrustful about
receiving a generous share of the profits was this: Ashore, I had heard
something of both Captain Peleg and his unaccountable old crony Bildad;
how that they being the principal proprietors of the Pequod, therefore
the other and more inconsiderable and scattered owners, left nearly the
whole management of the ship's affairs to these two. And I did not know
but what the stingy old Bildad might have a mighty deal to say about
shipping hands, especially as I now found him on board the Pequod,
quite at home there in the cabin, and reading his Bible as if at his
own fireside. Now while Peleg was vainly trying to mend a pen with his
jack-knife, old Bildad, to my no small surprise, considering that he was
such an interested party in these proceedings; Bildad never heeded
us, but went on mumbling to himself out of his book, "LAY not up for
yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth--"
"Well, Captain Bildad," interrupted Peleg, "what d'ye say, what lay
shall we give this young man?"
"Thou knowest best," was the sepulchral reply, "the seven hundred and
seventy-seventh wouldn't be too much, would it?--'where moth and rust do
corrupt, but LAY--'"
LAY, indeed, thought I, and such a lay! the seven hundred and
seventy-seventh! Well, old Bildad, you are determined that I, for one,
shall not LAY up many LAYS here below, where moth and rust do corrupt.
It was an exceedingly LONG LAY that, indeed; and though from the
magnitude of the figure it might at first deceive a landsman, yet
the slightest consideration will show that though seven hundred and
seventy-seven is a pretty large number, yet, when you come to make
a TEENTH of it, you will then see, I say, that the seven hundred and
seventy-seventh part of a farthing is a good deal less than seven
hundred and seventy-seven gold doubloons; and so I thought at the time.
"Why, blast your eyes, Bildad," cried Peleg, "thou dost not want to
swindle this young man! he must have more than that."
"Seven hundred and seventy-seventh," again said Bildad, without lifting
his eyes; and then went on mumbling--"for where your treasure is, there
will your heart be also."
"I am going to put him down for the three hundredth," said Peleg, "do ye
hear that, Bildad! The three hundredth lay, I say."
Bildad laid down his book, and turning solemnly towards him said,
"Captain Peleg, thou hast a generous heart; but thou must consider the
duty thou owest to the other owners of this ship--widows and orphans,
many of them--and that if we too abundantly reward the labors of this
young man, we may be taking the bread from those widows and those
orphans. The seven hundred and seventy-seventh lay, Captain Peleg."
"Thou Bildad!" roared Peleg, starting up and clattering about the
cabin. "Blast ye, Captain Bildad, if I had followed thy advice in these
matters, I would afore now had a conscience to lug about that would be
heavy enough to founder the largest ship that ever sailed round Cape
"Captain Peleg," said Bildad steadily, "thy conscience may be drawing
ten inches of water, or ten fathoms, I can't tell; but as thou art still
an impenitent man, Captain Peleg, I greatly fear lest thy conscience be
but a leaky one; and will in the end sink thee foundering down to the
fiery pit, Captain Peleg."
"Fiery pit! fiery pit! ye insult me, man; past all natural bearing, ye
insult me. It's an all-fired outrage to tell any human creature that
he's bound to hell. Flukes and flames! Bildad, say that again to me, and
start my soul-bolts, but I'll--I'll--yes, I'll swallow a live goat with
all his hair and horns on. Out of the cabin, ye canting, drab-coloured
son of a wooden gun--a straight wake with ye!"
As he thundered out this he made a rush at Bildad, but with a marvellous
oblique, sliding celerity, Bildad for that time eluded him.
Alarmed at this terrible outburst between the two principal and
responsible owners of the ship, and feeling half a mind to give up
all idea of sailing in a vessel so questionably owned and temporarily
commanded, I stepped aside from the door to give egress to Bildad, who,
I made no doubt, was all eagerness to vanish from before the awakened
wrath of Peleg. But to my astonishment, he sat down again on the
transom very quietly, and seemed to have not the slightest intention of
withdrawing. He seemed quite used to impenitent Peleg and his ways. As
for Peleg, after letting off his rage as he had, there seemed no more
left in him, and he, too, sat down like a lamb, though he twitched a
little as if still nervously agitated. "Whew!" he whistled at last--"the
squall's gone off to leeward, I think. Bildad, thou used to be good at
sharpening a lance, mend that pen, will ye. My jack-knife here needs
the grindstone. That's he; thank ye, Bildad. Now then, my young man,
Ishmael's thy name, didn't ye say? Well then, down ye go here, Ishmael,
for the three hundredth lay."
"Captain Peleg," said I, "I have a friend with me who wants to ship
too--shall I bring him down to-morrow?"
"To be sure," said Peleg. "Fetch him along, and we'll look at him."
"What lay does he want?" groaned Bildad, glancing up from the book in
which he had again been burying himself.
"Oh! never thee mind about that, Bildad," said Peleg. "Has he ever
whaled it any?" turning to me.
"Killed more whales than I can count, Captain Peleg."
"Well, bring him along then."
And, after signing the papers, off I went; nothing doubting but that I
had done a good morning's work, and that the Pequod was the identical
ship that Yojo had provided to carry Queequeg and me round the Cape.
But I had not proceeded far, when I began to bethink me that the Captain
with whom I was to sail yet remained unseen by me; though, indeed, in
many cases, a whale-ship will be completely fitted out, and receive all
her crew on board, ere the captain makes himself visible by arriving
to take command; for sometimes these voyages are so prolonged, and the
shore intervals at home so exceedingly brief, that if the captain have
a family, or any absorbing concernment of that sort, he does not trouble
himself much about his ship in port, but leaves her to the owners till
all is ready for sea. However, it is always as well to have a look at
him before irrevocably committing yourself into his hands. Turning back
I accosted Captain Peleg, inquiring where Captain Ahab was to be found.
"And what dost thou want of Captain Ahab? It's all right enough; thou
"Yes, but I should like to see him."
"But I don't think thou wilt be able to at present. I don't know exactly
what's the matter with him; but he keeps close inside the house; a sort
of sick, and yet he don't look so. In fact, he ain't sick; but no, he
isn't well either. Any how, young man, he won't always see me, so I
don't suppose he will thee. He's a queer man, Captain Ahab--so some
think--but a good one. Oh, thou'lt like him well enough; no fear, no
fear. He's a grand, ungodly, god-like man, Captain Ahab; doesn't speak
much; but, when he does speak, then you may well listen. Mark ye, be
forewarned; Ahab's above the common; Ahab's been in colleges, as well as
'mong the cannibals; been used to deeper wonders than the waves; fixed
his fiery lance in mightier, stranger foes than whales. His lance!
aye, the keenest and the surest that out of all our isle! Oh! he ain't
Captain Bildad; no, and he ain't Captain Peleg; HE'S AHAB, boy; and Ahab
of old, thou knowest, was a crowned king!"
"And a very vile one. When that wicked king was slain, the dogs, did
they not lick his blood?"
"Come hither to me--hither, hither," said Peleg, with a significance in
his eye that almost startled me. "Look ye, lad; never say that on board
the Pequod. Never say it anywhere. Captain Ahab did not name himself.
'Twas a foolish, ignorant whim of his crazy, widowed mother, who died
when he was only a twelvemonth old. And yet the old squaw Tistig, at
Gayhead, said that the name would somehow prove prophetic. And, perhaps,
other fools like her may tell thee the same. I wish to warn thee. It's a
lie. I know Captain Ahab well; I've sailed with him as mate years ago;
I know what he is--a good man--not a pious, good man, like Bildad, but
a swearing good man--something like me--only there's a good deal more of
him. Aye, aye, I know that he was never very jolly; and I know that on
the passage home, he was a little out of his mind for a spell; but it
was the sharp shooting pains in his bleeding stump that brought that
about, as any one might see. I know, too, that ever since he lost
his leg last voyage by that accursed whale, he's been a kind of
moody--desperate moody, and savage sometimes; but that will all pass
off. And once for all, let me tell thee and assure thee, young man, it's
better to sail with a moody good captain than a laughing bad one. So
good-bye to thee--and wrong not Captain Ahab, because he happens to
have a wicked name. Besides, my boy, he has a wife--not three voyages
wedded--a sweet, resigned girl. Think of that; by that sweet girl that
old man has a child: hold ye then there can be any utter, hopeless
harm in Ahab? No, no, my lad; stricken, blasted, if he be, Ahab has his
As I walked away, I was full of thoughtfulness; what had been
incidentally revealed to me of Captain Ahab, filled me with a certain
wild vagueness of painfulness concerning him. And somehow, at the time,
I felt a sympathy and a sorrow for him, but for I don't know what,
unless it was the cruel loss of his leg. And yet I also felt a strange
awe of him; but that sort of awe, which I cannot at all describe, was
not exactly awe; I do not know what it was. But I felt it; and it did
not disincline me towards him; though I felt impatience at what seemed
like mystery in him, so imperfectly as he was known to me then. However,
my thoughts were at length carried in other directions, so that for the
present dark Ahab slipped my mind.
CHAPTER 17. The Ramadan.
As Queequeg's Ramadan, or Fasting and Humiliation, was to continue all
day, I did not choose to disturb him till towards night-fall; for I
cherish the greatest respect towards everybody's religious obligations,
never mind how comical, and could not find it in my heart to undervalue
even a congregation of ants worshipping a toad-stool; or those other
creatures in certain parts of our earth, who with a degree of footmanism
quite unprecedented in other planets, bow down before the torso of
a deceased landed proprietor merely on account of the inordinate
possessions yet owned and rented in his name.
I say, we good Presbyterian Christians should be charitable in these
things, and not fancy ourselves so vastly superior to other mortals,
pagans and what not, because of their half-crazy conceits on these
subjects. There was Queequeg, now, certainly entertaining the most
absurd notions about Yojo and his Ramadan;--but what of that? Queequeg
thought he knew what he was about, I suppose; he seemed to be content;
and there let him rest. All our arguing with him would not avail; let
him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all--Presbyterians and Pagans
alike--for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and
sadly need mending.
Towards evening, when I felt assured that all his performances and
rituals must be over, I went up to his room and knocked at the door; but
no answer. I tried to open it, but it was fastened inside. "Queequeg,"
said I softly through the key-hole:--all silent. "I say, Queequeg! why
don't you speak? It's I--Ishmael." But all remained still as before. I
began to grow alarmed. I had allowed him such abundant time; I thought
he might have had an apoplectic fit. I looked through the key-hole; but
the door opening into an odd corner of the room, the key-hole prospect
was but a crooked and sinister one. I could only see part of the
foot-board of the bed and a line of the wall, but nothing more. I
was surprised to behold resting against the wall the wooden shaft of
Queequeg's harpoon, which the landlady the evening previous had taken
from him, before our mounting to the chamber. That's strange, thought I;
but at any rate, since the harpoon stands yonder, and he seldom or
never goes abroad without it, therefore he must be inside here, and no
"Queequeg!--Queequeg!"--all still. Something must have happened.
Apoplexy! I tried to burst open the door; but it stubbornly resisted.
Running down stairs, I quickly stated my suspicions to the first person
I met--the chamber-maid. "La! la!" she cried, "I thought something must
be the matter. I went to make the bed after breakfast, and the door was
locked; and not a mouse to be heard; and it's been just so silent ever
since. But I thought, may be, you had both gone off and locked your
baggage in for safe keeping. La! la, ma'am!--Mistress! murder! Mrs.
Hussey! apoplexy!"--and with these cries, she ran towards the kitchen, I
Mrs. Hussey soon appeared, with a mustard-pot in one hand and a
vinegar-cruet in the other, having just broken away from the occupation
of attending to the castors, and scolding her little black boy meantime.
"Wood-house!" cried I, "which way to it? Run for God's sake, and fetch
something to pry open the door--the axe!--the axe! he's had a stroke;
depend upon it!"--and so saying I was unmethodically rushing up stairs
again empty-handed, when Mrs. Hussey interposed the mustard-pot and
vinegar-cruet, and the entire castor of her countenance.
"What's the matter with you, young man?"
"Get the axe! For God's sake, run for the doctor, some one, while I pry
"Look here," said the landlady, quickly putting down the vinegar-cruet,
so as to have one hand free; "look here; are you talking about prying
open any of my doors?"--and with that she seized my arm. "What's the
matter with you? What's the matter with you, shipmate?"
In as calm, but rapid a manner as possible, I gave her to understand the
whole case. Unconsciously clapping the vinegar-cruet to one side of her
nose, she ruminated for an instant; then exclaimed--"No! I haven't seen
it since I put it there." Running to a little closet under the landing
of the stairs, she glanced in, and returning, told me that Queequeg's
harpoon was missing. "He's killed himself," she cried. "It's unfort'nate
Stiggs done over again there goes another counterpane--God pity his poor
mother!--it will be the ruin of my house. Has the poor lad a sister?
Where's that girl?--there, Betty, go to Snarles the Painter, and tell
him to paint me a sign, with--"no suicides permitted here, and no
smoking in the parlor;"--might as well kill both birds at once. Kill?
The Lord be merciful to his ghost! What's that noise there? You, young
man, avast there!"
And running up after me, she caught me as I was again trying to force
open the door.
"I don't allow it; I won't have my premises spoiled. Go for the
locksmith, there's one about a mile from here. But avast!" putting her
hand in her side-pocket, "here's a key that'll fit, I guess; let's
see." And with that, she turned it in the lock; but, alas! Queequeg's
supplemental bolt remained unwithdrawn within.
"Have to burst it open," said I, and was running down the entry a
little, for a good start, when the landlady caught at me, again vowing
I should not break down her premises; but I tore from her, and with a
sudden bodily rush dashed myself full against the mark.
With a prodigious noise the door flew open, and the knob slamming
against the wall, sent the plaster to the ceiling; and there, good
heavens! there sat Queequeg, altogether cool and self-collected; right
in the middle of the room; squatting on his hams, and holding Yojo on
top of his head. He looked neither one way nor the other way, but sat
like a carved image with scarce a sign of active life.
"Queequeg," said I, going up to him, "Queequeg, what's the matter with
"He hain't been a sittin' so all day, has he?" said the landlady.
But all we said, not a word could we drag out of him; I almost felt
like pushing him over, so as to change his position, for it was almost
intolerable, it seemed so painfully and unnaturally constrained;
especially, as in all probability he had been sitting so for upwards of
eight or ten hours, going too without his regular meals.
"Mrs. Hussey," said I, "he's ALIVE at all events; so leave us, if you
please, and I will see to this strange affair myself."
Closing the door upon the landlady, I endeavored to prevail upon
Queequeg to take a chair; but in vain. There he sat; and all he could
do--for all my polite arts and blandishments--he would not move a peg,
nor say a single word, nor even look at me, nor notice my presence in
the slightest way.
I wonder, thought I, if this can possibly be a part of his Ramadan; do
they fast on their hams that way in his native island. It must be so;
yes, it's part of his creed, I suppose; well, then, let him rest; he'll
get up sooner or later, no doubt. It can't last for ever, thank God,
and his Ramadan only comes once a year; and I don't believe it's very
I went down to supper. After sitting a long time listening to the long
stories of some sailors who had just come from a plum-pudding voyage, as
they called it (that is, a short whaling-voyage in a schooner or brig,
confined to the north of the line, in the Atlantic Ocean only); after
listening to these plum-puddingers till nearly eleven o'clock, I went
up stairs to go to bed, feeling quite sure by this time Queequeg must
certainly have brought his Ramadan to a termination. But no; there he
was just where I had left him; he had not stirred an inch. I began to
grow vexed with him; it seemed so downright senseless and insane to be
sitting there all day and half the night on his hams in a cold room,
holding a piece of wood on his head.
"For heaven's sake, Queequeg, get up and shake yourself; get up and have
some supper. You'll starve; you'll kill yourself, Queequeg." But not a
word did he reply.
Despairing of him, therefore, I determined to go to bed and to sleep;
and no doubt, before a great while, he would follow me. But previous to
turning in, I took my heavy bearskin jacket, and threw it over him, as
it promised to be a very cold night; and he had nothing but his ordinary
round jacket on. For some time, do all I would, I could not get into
the faintest doze. I had blown out the candle; and the mere thought
of Queequeg--not four feet off--sitting there in that uneasy position,
stark alone in the cold and dark; this made me really wretched. Think of
it; sleeping all night in the same room with a wide awake pagan on his
hams in this dreary, unaccountable Ramadan!
But somehow I dropped off at last, and knew nothing more till break of
day; when, looking over the bedside, there squatted Queequeg, as if he
had been screwed down to the floor. But as soon as the first glimpse of
sun entered the window, up he got, with stiff and grating joints,
but with a cheerful look; limped towards me where I lay; pressed his
forehead again against mine; and said his Ramadan was over.
Now, as I before hinted, I have no objection to any person's religion,
be it what it may, so long as that person does not kill or insult any
other person, because that other person don't believe it also. But when
a man's religion becomes really frantic; when it is a positive torment
to him; and, in fine, makes this earth of ours an uncomfortable inn to
lodge in; then I think it high time to take that individual aside and
argue the point with him.
And just so I now did with Queequeg. "Queequeg," said I, "get into bed
now, and lie and listen to me." I then went on, beginning with the rise
and progress of the primitive religions, and coming down to the various
religions of the present time, during which time I labored to show
Queequeg that all these Lents, Ramadans, and prolonged ham-squattings in
cold, cheerless rooms were stark nonsense; bad for the health; useless
for the soul; opposed, in short, to the obvious laws of Hygiene and
common sense. I told him, too, that he being in other things such an
extremely sensible and sagacious savage, it pained me, very badly pained
me, to see him now so deplorably foolish about this ridiculous Ramadan
of his. Besides, argued I, fasting makes the body cave in; hence the
spirit caves in; and all thoughts born of a fast must necessarily be
half-starved. This is the reason why most dyspeptic religionists cherish
such melancholy notions about their hereafters. In one word, Queequeg,
said I, rather digressively; hell is an idea first born on an undigested
apple-dumpling; and since then perpetuated through the hereditary
dyspepsias nurtured by Ramadans.
I then asked Queequeg whether he himself was ever troubled with
dyspepsia; expressing the idea very plainly, so that he could take it
in. He said no; only upon one memorable occasion. It was after a great
feast given by his father the king, on the gaining of a great battle
wherein fifty of the enemy had been killed by about two o'clock in the
afternoon, and all cooked and eaten that very evening.
"No more, Queequeg," said I, shuddering; "that will do;" for I knew the
inferences without his further hinting them. I had seen a sailor who had
visited that very island, and he told me that it was the custom, when
a great battle had been gained there, to barbecue all the slain in the
yard or garden of the victor; and then, one by one, they were placed
in great wooden trenchers, and garnished round like a pilau, with
breadfruit and cocoanuts; and with some parsley in their mouths, were
sent round with the victor's compliments to all his friends, just as
though these presents were so many Christmas turkeys.
After all, I do not think that my remarks about religion made much
impression upon Queequeg. Because, in the first place, he somehow seemed
dull of hearing on that important subject, unless considered from his
own point of view; and, in the second place, he did not more than one
third understand me, couch my ideas simply as I would; and, finally, he
no doubt thought he knew a good deal more about the true religion than
I did. He looked at me with a sort of condescending concern and
compassion, as though he thought it a great pity that such a sensible
young man should be so hopelessly lost to evangelical pagan piety.
At last we rose and dressed; and Queequeg, taking a prodigiously hearty
breakfast of chowders of all sorts, so that the landlady should not
make much profit by reason of his Ramadan, we sallied out to board the
Pequod, sauntering along, and picking our teeth with halibut bones.
CHAPTER 18. His Mark.
As we were walking down the end of the wharf towards the ship, Queequeg
carrying his harpoon, Captain Peleg in his gruff voice loudly hailed us
from his wigwam, saying he had not suspected my friend was a cannibal,
and furthermore announcing that he let no cannibals on board that craft,
unless they previously produced their papers.
"What do you mean by that, Captain Peleg?" said I, now jumping on the
bulwarks, and leaving my comrade standing on the wharf.
"I mean," he replied, "he must show his papers."
"Yes," said Captain Bildad in his hollow voice, sticking his head from
behind Peleg's, out of the wigwam. "He must show that he's converted.
Son of darkness," he added, turning to Queequeg, "art thou at present in
communion with any Christian church?"
"Why," said I, "he's a member of the first Congregational Church." Here
be it said, that many tattooed savages sailing in Nantucket ships at
last come to be converted into the churches.
"First Congregational Church," cried Bildad, "what! that worships in
Deacon Deuteronomy Coleman's meeting-house?" and so saying, taking
out his spectacles, he rubbed them with his great yellow bandana
handkerchief, and putting them on very carefully, came out of the
wigwam, and leaning stiffly over the bulwarks, took a good long look at
"How long hath he been a member?" he then said, turning to me; "not very
long, I rather guess, young man."
"No," said Peleg, "and he hasn't been baptized right either, or it would
have washed some of that devil's blue off his face."
"Do tell, now," cried Bildad, "is this Philistine a regular member of
Deacon Deuteronomy's meeting? I never saw him going there, and I pass it
every Lord's day."
"I don't know anything about Deacon Deuteronomy or his meeting," said
I; "all I know is, that Queequeg here is a born member of the First
Congregational Church. He is a deacon himself, Queequeg is."
"Young man," said Bildad sternly, "thou art skylarking with me--explain
thyself, thou young Hittite. What church dost thee mean? answer me."
Finding myself thus hard pushed, I replied. "I mean, sir, the same
ancient Catholic Church to which you and I, and Captain Peleg there,
and Queequeg here, and all of us, and every mother's son and soul of
us belong; the great and everlasting First Congregation of this whole
worshipping world; we all belong to that; only some of us cherish some
queer crotchets no ways touching the grand belief; in THAT we all join
"Splice, thou mean'st SPLICE hands," cried Peleg, drawing nearer. "Young
man, you'd better ship for a missionary, instead of a fore-mast hand;
I never heard a better sermon. Deacon Deuteronomy--why Father Mapple
himself couldn't beat it, and he's reckoned something. Come aboard, come
aboard; never mind about the papers. I say, tell Quohog there--what's
that you call him? tell Quohog to step along. By the great anchor, what
a harpoon he's got there! looks like good stuff that; and he handles it
about right. I say, Quohog, or whatever your name is, did you ever stand
in the head of a whale-boat? did you ever strike a fish?"
Without saying a word, Queequeg, in his wild sort of way, jumped upon
the bulwarks, from thence into the bows of one of the whale-boats
hanging to the side; and then bracing his left knee, and poising his
harpoon, cried out in some such way as this:--
"Cap'ain, you see him small drop tar on water dere? You see him? well,
spose him one whale eye, well, den!" and taking sharp aim at it, he
darted the iron right over old Bildad's broad brim, clean across the
ship's decks, and struck the glistening tar spot out of sight.
"Now," said Queequeg, quietly hauling in the line, "spos-ee him whale-e
eye; why, dad whale dead."
"Quick, Bildad," said Peleg, his partner, who, aghast at the close
vicinity of the flying harpoon, had retreated towards the cabin gangway.
"Quick, I say, you Bildad, and get the ship's papers. We must have
Hedgehog there, I mean Quohog, in one of our boats. Look ye, Quohog,
we'll give ye the ninetieth lay, and that's more than ever was given a
harpooneer yet out of Nantucket."
So down we went into the cabin, and to my great joy Queequeg was soon
enrolled among the same ship's company to which I myself belonged.
When all preliminaries were over and Peleg had got everything ready for
signing, he turned to me and said, "I guess, Quohog there don't know how
to write, does he? I say, Quohog, blast ye! dost thou sign thy name or
make thy mark?"
But at this question, Queequeg, who had twice or thrice before taken
part in similar ceremonies, looked no ways abashed; but taking the
offered pen, copied upon the paper, in the proper place, an exact
counterpart of a queer round figure which was tattooed upon his arm; so
that through Captain Peleg's obstinate mistake touching his appellative,
it stood something like this:--
Quohog. his X mark.
Meanwhile Captain Bildad sat earnestly and steadfastly eyeing Queequeg,
and at last rising solemnly and fumbling in the huge pockets of his
broad-skirted drab coat, took out a bundle of tracts, and selecting
one entitled "The Latter Day Coming; or No Time to Lose," placed it in
Queequeg's hands, and then grasping them and the book with both his,
looked earnestly into his eyes, and said, "Son of darkness, I must do my
duty by thee; I am part owner of this ship, and feel concerned for the
souls of all its crew; if thou still clingest to thy Pagan ways, which I
sadly fear, I beseech thee, remain not for aye a Belial bondsman. Spurn
the idol Bell, and the hideous dragon; turn from the wrath to come; mind
thine eye, I say; oh! goodness gracious! steer clear of the fiery pit!"
Something of the salt sea yet lingered in old Bildad's language,
heterogeneously mixed with Scriptural and domestic phrases.
"Avast there, avast there, Bildad, avast now spoiling our harpooneer,"
cried Peleg. "Pious harpooneers never make good voyagers--it takes the shark
out of 'em; no harpooneer is worth a straw who aint pretty sharkish.
There was young Nat Swaine, once the bravest boat-header out of all
Nantucket and the Vineyard; he joined the meeting, and never came to
good. He got so frightened about his plaguy soul, that he shrinked and
sheered away from whales, for fear of after-claps, in case he got stove
and went to Davy Jones."
"Peleg! Peleg!" said Bildad, lifting his eyes and hands, "thou thyself,
as I myself, hast seen many a perilous time; thou knowest, Peleg, what
it is to have the fear of death; how, then, can'st thou prate in this
ungodly guise. Thou beliest thine own heart, Peleg. Tell me, when this
same Pequod here had her three masts overboard in that typhoon on Japan,
that same voyage when thou went mate with Captain Ahab, did'st thou not
think of Death and the Judgment then?"
"Hear him, hear him now," cried Peleg, marching across the cabin, and
thrusting his hands far down into his pockets,--"hear him, all of ye.
Think of that! When every moment we thought the ship would sink!
Death and the Judgment then? What? With all three masts making such an
everlasting thundering against the side; and every sea breaking over us,
fore and aft. Think of Death and the Judgment then? No! no time to think
about Death then. Life was what Captain Ahab and I was thinking of;
and how to save all hands--how to rig jury-masts--how to get into the
nearest port; that was what I was thinking of."
Bildad said no more, but buttoning up his coat, stalked on deck,
where we followed him. There he stood, very quietly overlooking some
sailmakers who were mending a top-sail in the waist. Now and then
he stooped to pick up a patch, or save an end of tarred twine, which
otherwise might have been wasted.
CHAPTER 19. The Prophet.
"Shipmates, have ye shipped in that ship?"
Queequeg and I had just left the Pequod, and were sauntering away from
the water, for the moment each occupied with his own thoughts, when
the above words were put to us by a stranger, who, pausing before us,
levelled his massive forefinger at the vessel in question. He was but
shabbily apparelled in faded jacket and patched trowsers; a rag of a
black handkerchief investing his neck. A confluent small-pox had in all
directions flowed over his face, and left it like the complicated ribbed
bed of a torrent, when the rushing waters have been dried up.
"Have ye shipped in her?" he repeated.
"You mean the ship Pequod, I suppose," said I, trying to gain a little
more time for an uninterrupted look at him.
"Aye, the Pequod--that ship there," he said, drawing back his whole
arm, and then rapidly shoving it straight out from him, with the fixed
bayonet of his pointed finger darted full at the object.
"Yes," said I, "we have just signed the articles."
"Anything down there about your souls?"
"Oh, perhaps you hav'n't got any," he said quickly. "No matter though,
I know many chaps that hav'n't got any,--good luck to 'em; and they are
all the better off for it. A soul's a sort of a fifth wheel to a wagon."
"What are you jabbering about, shipmate?" said I.
"HE'S got enough, though, to make up for all deficiencies of that sort
in other chaps," abruptly said the stranger, placing a nervous emphasis
upon the word HE.
"Queequeg," said I, "let's go; this fellow has broken loose from
somewhere; he's talking about something and somebody we don't know."
"Stop!" cried the stranger. "Ye said true--ye hav'n't seen Old Thunder
yet, have ye?"
"Who's Old Thunder?" said I, again riveted with the insane earnestness
of his manner.
"What! the captain of our ship, the Pequod?"
"Aye, among some of us old sailor chaps, he goes by that name. Ye
hav'n't seen him yet, have ye?"
"No, we hav'n't. He's sick they say, but is getting better, and will be
all right again before long."
"All right again before long!" laughed the stranger, with a solemnly
derisive sort of laugh. "Look ye; when Captain Ahab is all right, then
this left arm of mine will be all right; not before."
"What do you know about him?"
"What did they TELL you about him? Say that!"
"They didn't tell much of anything about him; only I've heard that he's
a good whale-hunter, and a good captain to his crew."
"That's true, that's true--yes, both true enough. But you must jump when
he gives an order. Step and growl; growl and go--that's the word with
Captain Ahab. But nothing about that thing that happened to him off Cape
Horn, long ago, when he lay like dead for three days and nights;
nothing about that deadly skrimmage with the Spaniard afore the altar in
Santa?--heard nothing about that, eh? Nothing about the silver calabash
he spat into? And nothing about his losing his leg last voyage,
according to the prophecy. Didn't ye hear a word about them matters and
something more, eh? No, I don't think ye did; how could ye? Who knows
it? Not all Nantucket, I guess. But hows'ever, mayhap, ye've heard tell
about the leg, and how he lost it; aye, ye have heard of that, I dare
say. Oh yes, THAT every one knows a'most--I mean they know he's only one
leg; and that a parmacetti took the other off."
"My friend," said I, "what all this gibberish of yours is about, I
don't know, and I don't much care; for it seems to me that you must be a
little damaged in the head. But if you are speaking of Captain Ahab, of
that ship there, the Pequod, then let me tell you, that I know all about
the loss of his leg."
"ALL about it, eh--sure you do?--all?"
With finger pointed and eye levelled at the Pequod, the beggar-like
stranger stood a moment, as if in a troubled reverie; then starting a
little, turned and said:--"Ye've shipped, have ye? Names down on the
papers? Well, well, what's signed, is signed; and what's to be, will be;
and then again, perhaps it won't be, after all. Anyhow, it's all fixed
and arranged a'ready; and some sailors or other must go with him, I
suppose; as well these as any other men, God pity 'em! Morning to ye,
shipmates, morning; the ineffable heavens bless ye; I'm sorry I stopped
"Look here, friend," said I, "if you have anything important to tell
us, out with it; but if you are only trying to bamboozle us, you are
mistaken in your game; that's all I have to say."
"And it's said very well, and I like to hear a chap talk up that way;
you are just the man for him--the likes of ye. Morning to ye, shipmates,
morning! Oh! when ye get there, tell 'em I've concluded not to make one
"Ah, my dear fellow, you can't fool us that way--you can't fool us. It
is the easiest thing in the world for a man to look as if he had a great
secret in him."
"Morning to ye, shipmates, morning."
"Morning it is," said I. "Come along, Queequeg, let's leave this crazy
man. But stop, tell me your name, will you?"
Elijah! thought I, and we walked away, both commenting, after each
other's fashion, upon this ragged old sailor; and agreed that he was
nothing but a humbug, trying to be a bugbear. But we had not gone
perhaps above a hundred yards, when chancing to turn a corner, and
looking back as I did so, who should be seen but Elijah following us,
though at a distance. Somehow, the sight of him struck me so, that I
said nothing to Queequeg of his being behind, but passed on with my
comrade, anxious to see whether the stranger would turn the same corner
that we did. He did; and then it seemed to me that he was dogging
us, but with what intent I could not for the life of me imagine. This
circumstance, coupled with his ambiguous, half-hinting, half-revealing,
shrouded sort of talk, now begat in me all kinds of vague wonderments
and half-apprehensions, and all connected with the Pequod; and Captain
Ahab; and the leg he had lost; and the Cape Horn fit; and the silver
calabash; and what Captain Peleg had said of him, when I left the ship
the day previous; and the prediction of the squaw Tistig; and the voyage
we had bound ourselves to sail; and a hundred other shadowy things.
I was resolved to satisfy myself whether this ragged Elijah was really
dogging us or not, and with that intent crossed the way with Queequeg,
and on that side of it retraced our steps. But Elijah passed on, without
seeming to notice us. This relieved me; and once more, and finally as it
seemed to me, I pronounced him in my heart, a humbug.
CHAPTER 20. All Astir.
A day or two passed, and there was great activity aboard the Pequod.
Not only were the old sails being mended, but new sails were coming on
board, and bolts of canvas, and coils of rigging; in short, everything
betokened that the ship's preparations were hurrying to a close. Captain
Peleg seldom or never went ashore, but sat in his wigwam keeping a sharp
look-out upon the hands: Bildad did all the purchasing and providing
at the stores; and the men employed in the hold and on the rigging were
working till long after night-fall.
On the day following Queequeg's signing the articles, word was given at
all the inns where the ship's company were stopping, that their chests
must be on board before night, for there was no telling how soon
the vessel might be sailing. So Queequeg and I got down our traps,
resolving, however, to sleep ashore till the last. But it seems they
always give very long notice in these cases, and the ship did not sail
for several days. But no wonder; there was a good deal to be done, and
there is no telling how many things to be thought of, before the Pequod
was fully equipped.
Every one knows what a multitude of things--beds, sauce-pans, knives
and forks, shovels and tongs, napkins, nut-crackers, and what not, are
indispensable to the business of housekeeping. Just so with whaling,
which necessitates a three-years' housekeeping upon the wide ocean,
far from all grocers, costermongers, doctors, bakers, and bankers. And
though this also holds true of merchant vessels, yet not by any means
to the same extent as with whalemen. For besides the great length of the
whaling voyage, the numerous articles peculiar to the prosecution of the
fishery, and the impossibility of replacing them at the remote harbors
usually frequented, it must be remembered, that of all ships, whaling
vessels are the most exposed to accidents of all kinds, and especially
to the destruction and loss of the very things upon which the success of
the voyage most depends. Hence, the spare boats, spare spars, and spare
lines and harpoons, and spare everythings, almost, but a spare Captain
and duplicate ship.
At the period of our arrival at the Island, the heaviest storage of the
Pequod had been almost completed; comprising her beef, bread, water,
fuel, and iron hoops and staves. But, as before hinted, for some time
there was a continual fetching and carrying on board of divers odds and
ends of things, both large and small.
Chief among those who did this fetching and carrying was Captain
Bildad's sister, a lean old lady of a most determined and indefatigable
spirit, but withal very kindhearted, who seemed resolved that, if SHE
could help it, nothing should be found wanting in the Pequod, after once
fairly getting to sea. At one time she would come on board with a jar
of pickles for the steward's pantry; another time with a bunch of quills
for the chief mate's desk, where he kept his log; a third time with a
roll of flannel for the small of some one's rheumatic back. Never did
any woman better deserve her name, which was Charity--Aunt Charity, as
everybody called her. And like a sister of charity did this charitable
Aunt Charity bustle about hither and thither, ready to turn her hand
and heart to anything that promised to yield safety, comfort, and
consolation to all on board a ship in which her beloved brother
Bildad was concerned, and in which she herself owned a score or two of
But it was startling to see this excellent hearted Quakeress coming on
board, as she did the last day, with a long oil-ladle in one hand, and
a still longer whaling lance in the other. Nor was Bildad himself nor
Captain Peleg at all backward. As for Bildad, he carried about with him
a long list of the articles needed, and at every fresh arrival, down
went his mark opposite that article upon the paper. Every once in a
while Peleg came hobbling out of his whalebone den, roaring at the men
down the hatchways, roaring up to the riggers at the mast-head, and then
concluded by roaring back into his wigwam.
During these days of preparation, Queequeg and I often visited the
craft, and as often I asked about Captain Ahab, and how he was, and when
he was going to come on board his ship. To these questions they would
answer, that he was getting better and better, and was expected aboard
every day; meantime, the two captains, Peleg and Bildad, could attend
to everything necessary to fit the vessel for the voyage. If I had been
downright honest with myself, I would have seen very plainly in my heart
that I did but half fancy being committed this way to so long a voyage,
without once laying my eyes on the man who was to be the absolute
dictator of it, so soon as the ship sailed out upon the open sea.
But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be
already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his
suspicions even from himself. And much this way it was with me. I said
nothing, and tried to think nothing.
At last it was given out that some time next day the ship would
certainly sail. So next morning, Queequeg and I took a very early start.
CHAPTER 21. Going Aboard.
It was nearly six o'clock, but only grey imperfect misty dawn, when we
drew nigh the wharf.
"There are some sailors running ahead there, if I see right," said I to
Queequeg, "it can't be shadows; she's off by sunrise, I guess; come on!"
"Avast!" cried a voice, whose owner at the same time coming close behind
us, laid a hand upon both our shoulders, and then insinuating himself
between us, stood stooping forward a little, in the uncertain twilight,
strangely peering from Queequeg to me. It was Elijah.
"Hands off, will you," said I.
"Lookee here," said Queequeg, shaking