In the Company of Whales A Peaceful Journey through Moby Dick Part XVI Chapters 73 to 76 read by Jason.
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Published in 1851, Moby Dick was based in part on author Herman Melville’s own experiences on a whaleship. The novel tells the story of Ahab, the captain of a whaling vessel called The Pequod, who has a three-year mission to collect and sell the valuable oil of whales at the behest of the ship’s owners.
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CHAPTER LXXIII. STUBB AND FLASK KILL A RIGHT WHALE; AND THEN HAVE ATALK OVER HIM
It must be borne in mind that all this time we have a Sperm Whale’sprodigious head hanging to the Pequod’s side. But we must let itcontinue hanging there a while till we can get a chance to attend toit. For the present other matters press, and the best we can do now forthe head, is to pray heaven the tackles may hold.
Now, during the past night and forenoon, the Pequod had graduallydrifted into a sea, which, by its occasional patches of yellow brit,gave unusual tokens of the vicinity of Right Whales, a species of theLeviathan that but few supposed to be at this particular time lurkinganywhere near. And though all hands commonly disdained the capture ofthose inferior creatures; and though the Pequod was not commissioned tocruise for them at all, and though she had passed numbers of them nearthe Crozetts without lowering a boat; yet now that a Sperm Whale hadbeen brought alongside and beheaded, to the surprise of all, theannouncement was made that a Right Whale should be captured that day,if opportunity offered.
Nor was this long wanting. Tall spouts were seen to leeward; and twoboats, Stubb’s and Flask’s, were detached in pursuit. Pulling furtherand further away, they at last became almost invisible to the men atthe mast-head. But suddenly in the distance, they saw a great heap oftumultuous white water, and soon after news came from aloft that one orboth the boats must be fast. An interval passed and the boats were inplain sight, in the act of being dragged right towards the ship by thetowing whale. So close did the monster come to the hull, that at firstit seemed as if he meant it malice; but suddenly going down in amaelstrom, within three rods of the planks, he wholly disappeared fromview, as if diving under the keel. “Cut, cut!” was the cry from theship to the boats, which, for one instant, seemed on the point of beingbrought with a deadly dash against the vessel’s side. But having plentyof line yet in the tubs, and the whale not sounding very rapidly, theypaid out abundance of rope, and at the same time pulled with all theirmight so as to get ahead of the ship. For a few minutes the strugglewas intensely critical; for while they still slacked out the tightenedline in one direction, and still plied their oars in another, thecontending strain threatened to take them under. But it was only a fewfeet advance they sought to gain. And they stuck to it till they didgain it; when instantly, a swift tremor was felt running like lightningalong the keel, as the strained line, scraping beneath the ship,suddenly rose to view under her bows, snapping and quivering; and soflinging off its drippings, that the drops fell like bits of brokenglass on the water, while the whale beyond also rose to sight, and oncemore the boats were free to fly. But the fagged whale abated his speed,and blindly altering his course, went round the stern of the shiptowing the two boats after him, so that they performed a completecircuit.
Meantime, they hauled more and more upon their lines, till closeflanking him on both sides, Stubb answered Flask with lance for lance;and thus round and round the Pequod the battle went, while themultitudes of sharks that had before swum round the Sperm Whale’s body,rushed to the fresh blood that was spilled, thirstily drinking at everynew gash, as the eager Israelites did at the new bursting fountainsthat poured from the smitten rock.
At last his spout grew thick, and with a frightful roll and vomit, heturned upon his back a corpse.
While the two headsmen were engaged in making fast cords to his flukes,and in other ways getting the mass in readiness for towing, someconversation ensued between them.
“I wonder what the old man wants with this lump of foul lard,” saidStubb, not without some disgust at the thought of having to do with soignoble a leviathan.
“Wants with it?” said Flask, coiling some spare line in the boat’s bow,“did you never hear that the ship which but once has a Sperm Whale’shead hoisted on her starboard side, and at the same time a RightWhale’s on the larboard; did you never hear, Stubb, that that ship cannever afterwards capsize?”
“I don’t know, but I heard that gamboge ghost of a Fedallah saying so,and he seems to know all about ships’ charms. But I sometimes thinkhe’ll charm the ship to no good at last. I don’t half like that chap,Stubb. Did you ever notice how that tusk of his is a sort of carvedinto a snake’s head, Stubb?”
“Sink him! I never look at him at all; but if ever I get a chance of adark night, and he standing hard by the bulwarks, and no one by; lookdown there, Flask”—pointing into the sea with a peculiar motion of bothhands—“Aye, will I! Flask, I take that Fedallah to be the devil indisguise. Do you believe that cock and bull story about his having beenstowed away on board ship? He’s the devil, I say. The reason why youdon’t see his tail, is because he tucks it up out of sight; he carriesit coiled away in his pocket, I guess. Blast him! now that I think ofit, he’s always wanting oakum to stuff into the toes of his boots.”
“He sleeps in his boots, don’t he? He hasn’t got any hammock; but I’veseen him lay of nights in a coil of rigging.”
“No doubt, and it’s because of his cursed tail; he coils it down, do yesee, in the eye of the rigging.”
“What’s the old man have so much to do with him for?”
“Striking up a swap or a bargain, I suppose.”
“Why, do ye see, the old man is hard bent after that White Whale, andthe devil there is trying to come round him, and get him to swap awayhis silver watch, or his soul, or something of that sort, and thenhe’ll surrender Moby Dick.”
“Pooh! Stubb, you are skylarking; how can Fedallah do that?”
“I don’t know, Flask, but the devil is a curious chap, and a wickedone, I tell ye. Why, they say as how he went a sauntering into the oldflag-ship once, switching his tail about devilish easy andgentlemanlike, and inquiring if the old governor was at home. Well, hewas at home, and asked the devil what he wanted. The devil, switchinghis hoofs, up and says, ‘I want John.’ ‘What for?’ says the oldgovernor, ‘What business is that of yours,’ says the devil, gettingmad,—‘I want to use him.’ ‘Take him,’ says the governor—and by theLord, Flask, if the devil didn’t give John the Asiatic cholera beforehe got through with him, I’ll eat this whale in one mouthful. But looksharp—aint you all ready there? Well, then, pull ahead, and let’s getthe whale alongside.”
“I think I remember some such story as you were telling,” said Flask,when at last the two boats were slowly advancing with their burdentowards the ship, “but I can’t remember where.”
“Three Spaniards? Adventures of those three bloody-minded soldadoes?Did ye read it there, Flask? I guess ye did?”
“No; never saw such a book; heard of it, though. But now, tell me,Stubb, do you suppose that that devil you was speaking of just now, wasthe same you say is now on board the Pequod?”
“Am I the same man that helped kill this whale? Doesn’t the devil livefor ever; who ever heard that the devil was dead? Did you ever see anyparson a wearing mourning for the devil? And if the devil has alatch-key to get into the admiral’s cabin, don’t you suppose he cancrawl into a port-hole? Tell me that, Mr. Flask?”
“How old do you suppose Fedallah is, Stubb?”
“Do you see that mainmast there?” pointing to the ship; “well, that’sthe figure one; now take all the hoops in the Pequod’s hold, and string’em along in a row with that mast, for oughts, do you see; well, thatwouldn’t begin to be Fedallah’s age. Nor all the coopers in creationcouldn’t show hoops enough to make oughts enough.”
“But see here, Stubb, I thought you a little boasted just now, that youmeant to give Fedallah a sea-toss, if you got a good chance. Now, ifhe’s so old as all those hoops of yours come to, and if he is going tolive for ever, what good will it do to pitch him overboard—tell methat?”
“Give him a good ducking, anyhow.”
“But he’d crawl back.”
“Duck him again; and keep ducking him.”
“Suppose he should take it into his head to duck you, though—yes, anddrown you—what then?”
“I should like to see him try it; I’d give him such a pair of blackeyes that he wouldn’t dare to show his face in the admiral’s cabinagain for a long while, let alone down in the orlop there, where helives, and hereabouts on the upper decks where he sneaks so much. Damnthe devil, Flask; do you suppose I’m afraid of the devil? Who’s afraidof him, except the old governor who daresn’t catch him and put him indouble-darbies, as he deserves, but lets him go about kidnappingpeople; aye, and signed a bond with him, that all the people the devilkidnapped, he’d roast for him? There’s a governor!”
“Do you suppose Fedallah wants to kidnap Captain Ahab?”
“Do I suppose it? You’ll know it before long, Flask. But I am going nowto keep a sharp look-out on him; and if I see anything very suspiciousgoing on, I’ll just take him by the nape of his neck, and say—Lookhere, Beelzebub, you don’t do it; and if he makes any fuss, by the LordI’ll make a grab into his pocket for his tail, take it to the capstan,and give him such a wrenching and heaving, that his tail will comeshort off at the stump—do you see; and then, I rather guess when hefinds himself docked in that queer fashion, he’ll sneak off without thepoor satisfaction of feeling his tail between his legs.”
“And what will you do with the tail, Stubb?”
“Do with it? Sell it for an ox whip when we get home;—what else?”
“Now, do you mean what you say, and have been saying all along, Stubb?”
“Mean or not mean, here we are at the ship.”
The boats were here hailed, to tow the whale on the larboard side,where fluke chains and other necessaries were already prepared forsecuring him.
“Didn’t I tell you so?” said Flask; “yes, you’ll soon see this rightwhale’s head hoisted up opposite that parmacetti’s.”
In good time, Flask’s saying proved true. As before, the Pequod steeplyleaned over towards the sperm whale’s head, now, by the counterpoise ofboth heads, she regained her even keel; though sorely strained, you maywell believe. So, when on one side you hoist in Locke’s head, you goover that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant’s and you comeback again; but in very poor plight. Thus, some minds for ever keeptrimming boat. Oh, ye foolish! throw all these thunder-heads overboard,and then you will float light and right.
In disposing of the body of a right whale, when brought alongside theship, the same preliminary proceedings commonly take place as in thecase of a sperm whale; only, in the latter instance, the head is cutoff whole, but in the former the lips and tongue are separately removedand hoisted on deck, with all the well known black bone attached towhat is called the crown-piece. But nothing like this, in the presentcase, had been done. The carcases of both whales had dropped astern;and the head-laden ship not a little resembled a mule carrying a pairof overburdening panniers.
Meantime, Fedallah was calmly eyeing the right whale’s head, and everand anon glancing from the deep wrinkles there to the lines in his ownhand. And Ahab chanced so to stand, that the Parsee occupied hisshadow; while, if the Parsee’s shadow was there at all it seemed onlyto blend with, and lengthen Ahab’s. As the crew toiled on, Laplandishspeculations were bandied among them, concerning all these passingthings.
CHAPTER LXXIV. THE SPERM WHALE’S HEAD—CONTRASTED VIEW
Here, now, are two great whales, laying their heads together; let usjoin them, and lay together our own.
Of the grand order of folio leviathans, the Sperm Whale and the RightWhale are by far the most noteworthy. They are the only whalesregularly hunted by man. To the Nantucketer, they present the twoextremes of all the known varieties of the whale. As the externaldifference between them is mainly observable in their heads; and as ahead of each is this moment hanging from the Pequod’s side; and as wemay freely go from one to the other, by merely stepping across thedeck:—where, I should like to know, will you obtain a better chance tostudy practical cetology than here?
In the first place, you are struck by the general contrast betweenthese heads. Both are massive enough in all conscience; but there is acertain mathematical symmetry in the Sperm Whale’s which the RightWhale’s sadly lacks. There is more character in the Sperm Whale’s head.As you behold it, you involuntarily yield the immense superiority tohim, in point of pervading dignity. In the present instance, too, thisdignity is heightened by the pepper and salt color of his head at thesummit, giving token of advanced age and large experience. In short, heis what the fishermen technically call a “grey-headed whale.”
Let us now note what is least dissimilar in these heads—namely, the twomost important organs, the eye and the ear. Far back on the side of thehead, and low down, near the angle of either whale’s jaw, if younarrowly search, you will at last see a lashless eye, which you wouldfancy to be a young colt’s eye; so out of all proportion is it to themagnitude of the head.
Now, from this peculiar sideway position of the whale’s eyes, it isplain that he can never see an object which is exactly ahead, no morethan he can one exactly astern. In a word, the position of the whale’seyes corresponds to that of a man’s ears; and you may fancy, foryourself, how it would fare with you, did you sideways survey objectsthrough your ears. You would find that you could only command somethirty degrees of vision in advance of the straight side-line of sight;and about thirty more behind it. If your bitterest foe were walkingstraight towards you, with dagger uplifted in broad day, you would notbe able to see him, any more than if he were stealing upon you frombehind. In a word, you would have two backs, so to speak; but, at thesame time, also, two fronts (side fronts): for what is it that makesthe front of a man—what, indeed, but his eyes?
Moreover, while in most other animals that I can now think of, the eyesare so planted as imperceptibly to blend their visual power, so as toproduce one picture and not two to the brain; the peculiar position ofthe whale’s eyes, effectually divided as they are by many cubic feet ofsolid head, which towers between them like a great mountain separatingtwo lakes in valleys; this, of course, must wholly separate theimpressions which each independent organ imparts. The whale, therefore,must see one distinct picture on this side, and another distinctpicture on that side; while all between must be profound darkness andnothingness to him. Man may, in effect, be said to look out on theworld from a sentry-box with two joined sashes for his window. But withthe whale, these two sashes are separately inserted, making twodistinct windows, but sadly impairing the view. This peculiarity of thewhale’s eyes is a thing always to be borne in mind in the fishery; andto be remembered by the reader in some subsequent scenes.
A curious and most puzzling question might be started concerning thisvisual matter as touching the Leviathan. But I must be content with ahint. So long as a man’s eyes are open in the light, the act of seeingis involuntary; that is, he cannot then help mechanically seeingwhatever objects are before him. Nevertheless, any one’s experiencewill teach him, that though he can take in an undiscriminating sweep ofthings at one glance, it is quite impossible for him, attentively, andcompletely, to examine any two things—however large or however small—atone and the same instant of time; never mind if they lie side by sideand touch each other. But if you now come to separate these twoobjects, and surround each by a circle of profound darkness; then, inorder to see one of them, in such a manner as to bring your mind tobear on it, the other will be utterly excluded from your contemporaryconsciousness. How is it, then, with the whale? True, both his eyes, inthemselves, must simultaneously act; but is his brain so much morecomprehensive, combining, and subtle than man’s, that he can at thesame moment of time attentively examine two distinct prospects, one onone side of him, and the other in an exactly opposite direction? If hecan, then is it as marvellous a thing in him, as if a man were ablesimultaneously to go through the demonstrations of two distinctproblems in Euclid. Nor, strictly investigated, is there anyincongruity in this comparison.
It may be but an idle whim, but it has always seemed to me, that theextraordinary vacillations of movement displayed by some whales whenbeset by three or four boats; the timidity and liability to queerfrights, so common to such whales; I think that all this indirectlyproceeds from the helpless perplexity of volition, in which theirdivided and diametrically opposite powers of vision must involve them.
But the ear of the whale is full as curious as the eye. If you are anentire stranger to their race, you might hunt over these two heads forhours, and never discover that organ. The ear has no external leafwhatever; and into the hole itself you can hardly insert a quill, sowondrously minute is it. It is lodged a little behind the eye. Withrespect to their ears, this important difference is to be observedbetween the sperm whale and the right. While the ear of the former hasan external opening, that of the latter is entirely and evenly coveredover with a membrane, so as to be quite imperceptible from without.
Is it not curious, that so vast a being as the whale should see theworld through so small an eye, and hear the thunder through an earwhich is smaller than a hare’s? But if his eyes were broad as the lensof Herschel’s great telescope; and his ears capacious as the porches ofcathedrals; would that make him any longer of sight, or sharper ofhearing? Not at all.—Why then do you try to “enlarge” your mind?Subtilize it.
Let us now with whatever levers and steam-engines we have at hand, cantover the sperm whale’s head, so that it may lie bottom up; then,ascending by a ladder to the summit, have a peep down the mouth; andwere it not that the body is now completely separated from it, with alantern we might descend into the great Kentucky Mammoth Cave of hisstomach. But let us hold on here by this tooth, and look about us wherewe are. What a really beautiful and chaste-looking mouth! from floor toceiling, lined, or rather papered with a glistening white membrane,glossy as bridal satins.
But come out now, and look at this portentous lower jaw, which seemslike the long narrow lid of an immense snuff-box, with a hinge at oneend, instead of one side. If you pry it up, so as to get it overhead,and expose its rows of teeth, it seems a terrific portcullis; and such,alas! it proves to many a poor wight in the fishery, upon whom thesespikes fall with impaling force. But far more terrible is it to behold,when fathoms down in the sea, you see some sulky whale, floating theresuspended, with his prodigious jaw, some fifteen feet long, hangingstraight down at right-angles with his body, for all the world like aship’s jib-boom. This whale is not dead; he is only dispirited; out ofsorts, perhaps; hypochondriac; and so supine, that the hinges of hisjaw have relaxed, leaving him there in that ungainly sort of plight, areproach to all his tribe, who must, no doubt, imprecate lock-jaws uponhim.
In most cases this lower jaw—being easily unhinged by a practisedartist—is disengaged and hoisted on deck for the purpose of extractingthe ivory teeth, and furnishing a supply of that hard white whalebonewith which the fishermen fashion all sorts of curious articles,including canes, umbrella-stocks, and handles to riding-whips.
With a long, weary hoist the jaw is dragged on board, as if it were ananchor; and when the proper time comes—some few days after the otherwork—Queequeg, Daggoo, and Tashtego, being all accomplished dentists,are set to drawing teeth. With a keen cutting-spade, Queequeg lancesthe gums; then the jaw is lashed down to ringbolts, and a tackle beingrigged from aloft, they drag out these teeth, as Michigan oxen dragstumps of old oaks out of wild wood-lands. There are generallyforty-two teeth in all; in old whales, much worn down, but undecayed;nor filled after our artificial fashion. The jaw is afterwards sawninto slabs, and piled away like joists for building houses.
CHAPTER LXXV. THE RIGHT WHALE’S HEAD—CONTRASTED VIEW
Crossing the deck, let us now have a good long look at the RightWhale’s head.
As in general shape the noble Sperm Whale’s head may be compared to aRoman war-chariot (especially in front, where it is so broadlyrounded); so, at a broad view, the Right Whale’s head bears a ratherinelegant resemblance to a gigantic galliot-toed shoe. Two hundredyears ago an old Dutch voyager likened its shape to that of ashoemaker’s last. And in this same last or shoe, that old woman of thenursery tale, with the swarming brood, might very comfortably belodged, she and all her progeny.
But as you come nearer to this great head it begins to assume differentaspects, according to your point of view. If you stand on its summitand look at these two f-shaped spout-holes, you would take the wholehead for an enormous bass-viol, and these spiracles, the apertures inits sounding-board. Then, again, if you fix your eye upon this strange,crested, comb-like incrustation on the top of the mass—this green,barnacled thing, which the Greenlanders call the “crown,” and theSouthern fishers the “bonnet” of the Right Whale; fixing your eyessolely on this, you would take the head for the trunk of some huge oak,with a bird’s nest in its crotch. At any rate, when you watch thoselive crabs that nestle here on this bonnet, such an idea will be almostsure to occur to you; unless, indeed, your fancy has been fixed by thetechnical term “crown” also bestowed upon it; in which case you willtake great interest in thinking how this mighty monster is actually adiademed king of the sea, whose green crown has been put together forhim in this marvellous manner. But if this whale be a king, he is avery sulky looking fellow to grace a diadem. Look at that hanging lowerlip! what a huge sulk and pout is there! a sulk and pout, bycarpenter’s measurement, about twenty feet long and five feet deep; asulk and pout that will yield you some 500 gallons of oil and more.
A great pity, now, that this unfortunate whale should be hare-lipped.The fissure is about a foot across. Probably the mother during animportant interval was sailing down the Peruvian coast, whenearthquakes caused the beach to gape. Over this lip, as over a slipperythreshold, we now slide into the mouth. Upon my word were I atMackinaw, I should take this to be the inside of an Indian wigwam. GoodLord! is this the road that Jonah went? The roof is about twelve feethigh, and runs to a pretty sharp angle, as if there were a regularridge-pole there; while these ribbed, arched, hairy sides, present uswith those wondrous, half vertical, scimetar-shaped slats ofwhale-bone, say three hundred on a side, which depending from the upperpart of the head or crown bone, form those Venetian blinds which haveelsewhere been cursorily mentioned. The edges of these bones arefringed with hairy fibres, through which the Right Whale strains thewater, and in whose intricacies he retains the small fish, whenopen-mouthed he goes through the seas of brit in feeding time. In thecentral blinds of bone, as they stand in their natural order, there arecertain curious marks, curves, hollows, and ridges, whereby somewhalemen calculate the creature’s age, as the age of an oak by itscircular rings. Though the certainty of this criterion is far fromdemonstrable, yet it has the savor of analogical probability. At anyrate, if we yield to it, we must grant a far greater age to the RightWhale than at first glance will seem reasonable.
In old times, there seem to have prevailed the most curious fanciesconcerning these blinds. One voyager in Purchas calls them the wondrous“whiskers” inside of the whale’s mouth; another, “hogs’ bristles;”a third old gentleman in Hackluyt uses the following elegant language:“There are about two hundred and fifty fins growing on each side of hisupper chop, which arch over his tongue on each side of his mouth.”
This reminds us that the Right Whale really has a sort of whisker, or rather a moustache, consisting of a few scattered white hairs on the upper part of the outer end of the lower jaw. Sometimes these tufts impart a rather brigandish expression to his otherwise solemn countenance.
As every one knows, these same “hogs’ bristles,” “fins,” “whiskers,”“blinds,” or whatever you please, furnish to the ladies their busks andother stiffening contrivances. But in this particular, the demand haslong been on the decline. It was in Queen Anne’s time that the bone wasin its glory, the farthingale being then all the fashion. And as thoseancient dames moved about gaily, though in the jaws of the whale, asyou may say; even so, in a shower, with the like thoughtlessness, do wenowadays fly under the same jaws for protection; the umbrella being atent spread over the same bone.
But now forget all about blinds and whiskers for a moment, and,standing in the Right Whale’s mouth, look around you afresh. Seeing allthese colonnades of bone so methodically ranged about, would you notthink you were inside the great Haarlem organ, and gazing upon itsthousand pipes? For a carpet to the organ we have a rug of the softestTurkey—the tongue, which is glued, as it were, to the floor of themouth. It is very fat and tender, and apt to tear in pieces in hoistingit on deck. This particular tongue now before us; at a passing glance Ishould say it was a six-barreler; that is, it will yield you about thatamount of oil.
Ere this, you must have plainly seen the truth of what I startedwith—that the Sperm Whale and the Right Whale have almost entirelydifferent heads. To sum up, then; in the Right Whale’s there is nogreat well of sperm; no ivory teeth at all; no long, slender mandibleof a lower jaw, like the Sperm Whale’s. Nor in the Sperm Whale arethere any of those blinds of bone; no huge lower lip; and scarcelyanything of a tongue. Again, the Right Whale has two externalspout-holes, the Sperm Whale only one.
Look your last, now, on these venerable hooded heads, while they yetlie together; for one will soon sink, unrecorded, in the sea; the otherwill not be very long in following.
Can you catch the expression of the Sperm Whale’s there? It is the samehe died with, only some of the longer wrinkles in the forehead seem nowfaded away. I think his broad brow to be full of a prairie-likeplacidity, born of a speculative indifference as to death. But mark theother head’s expression. See that amazing lower lip, pressed byaccident against the vessel’s side, so as firmly to embrace the jaw.Does not this whole head seem to speak of an enormous practicalresolution in facing death? This Right Whale I take to have been aStoic; the Sperm Whale, a Platonian, who might have taken up Spinoza inhis latter years.
CHAPTER LXXVI. THE BATTERING-RAM
Ere quitting, for the nonce, the Sperm Whale’s head, I would have you,as a sensible physiologist, simply—particularly remark its frontaspect, in all its compacted collectedness. I would have youinvestigate it now with the sole view of forming to yourself someunexaggerated, intelligent estimate of whatever battering-ram power maybe lodged there. Here is a vital point; for you must eithersatisfactorily settle this matter with yourself, or for ever remain aninfidel as to one of the most appalling, but not the less true events,perhaps anywhere to be found in all recorded history.
You observe that in the ordinary swimming position of the Sperm Whale,the front of his head presents an almost wholly vertical plane to thewater; you observe that the lower part of that front slopesconsiderably backwards, so as to furnish more of a retreat for the longsocket which receives the boom-like lower jaw; you observe that themouth is entirely under the head, much in the same way, indeed, asthough your own mouth were entirely under your chin. Moreover youobserve that the whale has no external nose; and that what nose hehas—his spout hole—is on the top of his head; you observe that his eyesand ears are at the sides of his head, nearly one third of his entirelength from the front. Wherefore, you must now have perceived that thefront of the Sperm Whale’s head is a dead, blind wall, without a singleorgan or tender prominence of any sort whatsoever. Furthermore, you arenow to consider that only in the extreme, lower, backward sloping partof the front of the head, is there the slightest vestige of bone; andnot till you get near twenty feet from the forehead do you come to thefull cranial development. So that this whole enormous boneless mass isas one wad. Finally, though, as will soon be revealed, its contentspartly comprise the most delicate oil; yet, you are now to be apprisedof the nature of the substance which so impregnably invests all thatapparent effeminacy. In some previous place I have described to you howthe blubber wraps the body of the whale, as the rind wraps an orange.Just so with the head; but with this difference: about the head thisenvelope, though not so thick, is of a boneless toughness, inestimableby any man who has not handled it. The severest pointed harpoon, thesharpest lance darted by the strongest human arm, impotently reboundsfrom it. It is as though the forehead of the Sperm Whale were pavedwith horses’ hoofs. I do not think that any sensation lurks in it.
Bethink yourself also of another thing. When two large, loaded Indiamenchance to crowd and crush towards each other in the docks, what do thesailors do? They do not suspend between them, at the point of comingcontact, any merely hard substance, like iron or wood. No, they holdthere a large, round wad of tow and cork, enveloped in the thickest andtoughest of ox-hide. That bravely and uninjured takes the jam whichwould have snapped all their oaken handspikes and iron crowbars. Byitself this sufficiently illustrates the obvious fact I drive at. Butsupplementary to this, it has hypothetically occurred to me, that asordinary fish possess what is called a swimming bladder in them,capable, at will, of distension or contraction; and as the Sperm Whale,as far as I know, has no such provision in him; considering, too, theotherwise inexplicable manner in which he now depresses his headaltogether beneath the surface, and anon swims with it high elevatedout of the water; considering the unobstructed elasticity of itsenvelop; considering the unique interior of his head; it hashypothetically occurred to me, I say, that those mystical lung-celledhoneycombs there may possibly have some hitherto unknown andunsuspected connexion with the outer air, so as to be susceptible toatmospheric distension and contraction. If this be so, fancy theirresistibleness of that might, to which the most impalpable anddestructive of all elements contributes.
Now, mark. Unerringly impelling this dead, impregnable, uninjurablewall, and this most buoyant thing within; there swims behind it all amass of tremendous life, only to be adequately estimated as piled woodis—by the cord; and all obedient to one volition, as the smallestinsect. So that when I shall hereafter detail to you all thespecialities and concentrations of potency everywhere lurking in thisexpansive monster; when I shall show you some of his moreinconsiderable braining feats; I trust you will have renounced allignorant incredulity, and be ready to abide by this; that though theSperm Whale stove a passage through the Isthmus of Darien, and mixedthe Atlantic with the Pacific, you would not elevate one hair of youreye-brow. For unless you own the whale, you are but a provincial andsentimentalist in Truth. But clear Truth is a thing for salamandergiants only to encounter; how small the chances for the provincialsthen? What befel the weakling youth lifting the dread goddess’s veil atLais?