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.. < chapter xli 9 MOBY DICK >

I, Ishmael, was one of that crew; my shouts
had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded with theirs; and
stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the
dread in my soul. A wild, mystical, sympathetical feeling was in me; Ahab's
quenchless feud seemed mine. With greedy ears I learned the history of that
murderous monster against whom I and all the others had taken our oaths of
violence and revenge. For some time past, though at intervals only, the
unaccompanied, secluded White Whale had haunted those uncivilized seas mostly
frequented by the Sperm Whale fishermen. But not all of them knew of his
existence; only a few of them, comparatively, had knowingly seen him; while
the number who as yet had actually and knowingly given battle to him, was
small indeed. For, owing to the large number of whale-cruisers; the
disorderly way they were sprinkled over the entire watery circumference,
many of them adventurously pushing their quest along solitary latitudes, so
as seldom or never for a whole twelvemonth or more on a stretch, to encounter
a single news-telling sail of any sort; the inordinate length of each
separate voyage; the irregularity of the times of sailing from home; all
these, with other circumstances, direct and indirect, long obstructed
..


the spread through the whole world-wide whaling-fleet of the special
individualizing tidings concerning Moby Dick. It was hardly to be doubted,
that several vessels reported to have encountered, at such or such a time, or
on such or such a meridian, a Sperm Whale of uncommon magnitude and
malignity, which whale, after doing great mischief to his assailants, had
completely escaped them; to some minds it was not an unfair presumption, I
say, that the whale in question must have been no other than moby Dick. Yet
as of late the Sperm Whale fishery had been marked by various and not
unfrequent instances of great ferocity, cunning, and malice in the monster
attacked; therefore it was, that those who by accident ignorantly gave
battle to Moby Dick; such hunters, perhaps, for the most part, were content
to ascribe the peculiar terror he bred, more, as it were, to the perils of
the Sperm Whale fishery at large, than to the individual cause. In that way,
mostly, the disastrous encounter between Ahab and the whale had hitherto been
popularly regarded. And as for those who, previously hearing of the White
Whale, by chance caught sight of him; in the beginning of the thing they had
every one of them, almost, as boldly and fearlessly lowered for him, as for
any other whale of that species. But at length, such calamities did ensue in
these assaults --not restricted to sprained wrists and ancles, broken limbs,
or devouring amputations --but fatal to the last degree of fatality; those
repeated disastrous repulses, all accumulating and piling their terrors upon
Moby Dick; those things had gone far to shake the fortitude of many brave
hunters, to whom the story of the White Whale had eventually come. Nor did
wild rumors of all sorts fail to exaggerate, and still the more horrify the
true histories of these deadly encounters. For not only do fabulous rumors
naturally grow out of the very body of all surprising terrible events, --as the
smitten tree gives birth to its fungi; but, in maritime life, far more than
in that of terra firma, wild rumors abound, wherever there is any adequate
reality for them to cling to. And as the sea surpasses the land in this
matter, so the whale fishery surpasses every other sort of maritime life, in
the wonderfulness and fearfulness of the
..


rumors which sometimes circulate there. For not only are whalemen as a body
unexempt from that ignorance and superstitiousness hereditary to all sailors;
but of all sailors, they are by all odds the most directly brought into
contact with whatever is appallingly astonishing in the sea; face to face
they not only eye its greatest marvels, but, hand to jaw, give battle to
them. Alone, in such remotest waters, that though you sailed a thousand
miles, and passed a thousand shores, you would not come to any chiselled
hearthstone, or aught hospitable beneath that part of the sun; in such
latitudes and longitudes, pursuing too such a calling as he does, the whaleman
is wrapped by influences all tending to make his fancy pregnant with many a
mighty birth. No wonder, then, that ever gathering volume from the mere
transit over the widest watery spaces, the outblown rumors of the White Whale
did in the end incorporate with themselves all manner of morbid hints, and
half-formed foetal suggestions of supernatural agencies, which eventually
invested Moby Dick with new terrors unborrowed from anything that visibly
appears. So that in many cases such a panic did he finally strike, that few
who by those rumors, at least, had heard of the White Whale, few of those
hunters were willing to encounter the perils of his jaw. But there were still
other and more vital practical influences at work. Not even at the present
day has the original prestige of the Sperm Whale, as fearfully distinguished
from all other species of the leviathan, died out of the minds of the whalemen

as a body. There are those this day among them, who, though intelligent and
courageous enough in offering battle to the Greenland or Right whale, would
perhaps --either from professional inexperience, or incompetency, or timidity,
decline a contest with the Sperm Whale; at any rate, there are plenty of
whalemen, especially among those whaling nations not sailing under the
American flag, who have never hostilely encountered the Sperm Whale, but
whose sole knowledge of the leviathan is restricted to the ignoble monster
primitively pursued in the North; seated on their hatches, these men will
hearken with a childish fire-side interest and awe, to the wild, strange
tales of
..


Southern whaling. Nor is the pre-eminent tremendousness of the great Sperm
Whale anywhere more feelingly comprehended, than on board of those prows which
stem him. And as if the now tested reality of his might had in former
legendary times thrown its shadow before it; we find some book naturalists
--Olassen and Povelson --declaring the Sperm Whale not only to be a
consternation to every other creature in the sea, but also to be so incredibly
ferocious as continually to be athirst for human blood. Nor even down to so
late a time as Cuvier's, were these or almost similar impressions effaced.
For in his Natural History, the Baron himself affirms that at sight of the
Sperm Whale, all fish (sharks included) are struck with the most lively
terrors, and often in the precipitancy of their flight dash themselves
against the rocks with such violence as to cause instantaneous death. And
however the general experiences in the fishery may amend such reports as
these; yet in their full terribleness, even to the bloodthirsty item of
Povelson, the superstitious belief in them is, in some vicissitudes of their
vocation, revived in the minds of the hunters. So that overawed by the rumors
and portents concerning him, not a few of the fishermen recalled, in reference
to Moby Dick, the earlier days of the Sperm Whale fishery, when it was
oftentimes hard to induce long practised Right whalemen to embark in the
perils of this new and daring warfare; such men protesting that although
other leviathans might be hopefully pursued, yet to chase and point lance at
such an apparition as the Sperm Whale was not for mortal man. That to attempt
it, would be inevitably to be torn into a quick eternity. on this head, there

are some remarkable documents that may be consulted. Nevertheless, some there
were, who even in the face of these things were ready to give chase to Moby
Dick; and a still greater number who, chancing only to hear of him distantly
and vaguely, without the specific details of any certain calamity, and
without superstitious accompaniments, were sufficiently hardy not to flee
from the battle if offered. One of the wild suggestings referred to, as at
last coming to be linked with the White Whale in the minds of the
superstitiously inclined, was the unearthly conceit that Moby Dick was
..


ubiquitous; that he had actually been encountered in opposite latitudes at
one and the same instant of time. Nor, credulous as such minds must have been,
was this conceit altogether without some faint show of superstitious
probability. For as the secrets of the currents in the seas have never yet
been divulged, even to the most erudite research; so the hidden ways of the
Sperm Whale when beneath the surface remain, in great part, unaccountable to
his pursuers; and from time to time have originated the most curious and
contradictory speculations regarding them, especially concerning the mystic
modes whereby, after sounding to a great depth, he transports himself with
such vast swiftness to the most widely distant points. It is a thing well
known to both American and English whale-ships, and as well a thing placed
upon authoritative record years ago by Scoresby, that some whales have been
captured far north in the Pacific, in whose bodies have been found the barbs
of harpoons darted in the Greenland seas. Nor is it to be gainsaid, that in
some of these instances it has been declared that the interval of time between
the two assaults could not have exceeded very many days. Hence, by inference,
it has been believed by some whalemen, that the nor' west passage, so long a
problem to man, was never a problem to the whale. So that here, in the real
living experience of living men, the prodigies related in old times of the
inland Strello mountain in Portugal (near whose top there was said to be a
lake in which the wrecks of ships floated up to the surface); and that still
more wonderful story of the Arethusa fountain near Syracuse (whose waters
were believed to have come from the Holy Land by an underground passage);
these fabulous narrations are almost fully equalled by the realities of the
whaleman. Forced into familiarity, then, with such prodigies as these; and
knowing that after repeated, intrepid assaults, the White Whale had escaped
alive; it cannot be much matter of surprise that some whalemen should go
still further in their superstitions; declaring Moby Dick not only ubiquitous,
but immortal (for immortality is but ubiquity in time); that though groves
of spears should be planted in his flanks, he would still swim away unharmed;

or if indeed he should ever be made to spout thick
..


blood, such a sight would be but a ghastly deception; for again in
unensanguined billows hundreds of leagues away, his unsullied jet would once
more be seen. But even stripped of these supernatural surmisings, there was
enough in the earthly make and incontestable character of the monster to
strike the imagination with unwonted power. For, it was not so much his
uncommon bulk that so much distinguished him from other sperm whales, but, as
was elsewhere thrown out --a peculiar snow-white wrinkled forehead, and a
high, pyramidical white hump. These were his prominent features; the tokens
whereby, even in the limitless, uncharted seas, he revealed his identity, at
a long distance, to those who knew him. The rest of his body was so streaked,
and spotted, and marbled with the same shrouded hue, that, in the end, he had

gained his distinctive appellation of the white Whale; a name, indeed,
literally justified by his vivid aspect, when seen gliding at high noon
through a dark blue sea, leaving a milky-way wake of creamy foam, all
spangled with golden gleamings. Nor was it his unwonted magnitude, nor his
remarkable hue, nor yet his deformed lower jaw, that so much invested the
whale with natural terror, as that unexampled, intelligent malignity which,
according to specific accounts, he had over and over again evinced in his
assaults. More than all, his treacherous retreats struck more of dismay than
perhaps aught else. For, when swimming before his exulting pursuers, with
every apparent symptom of alarm, he had several times been known to turn
around suddenly, and, bearing down upon them, either stave their boats to
splinters, or drive them back in consternation to their ship. Already several
fatalities had attended his chase. But though similar disasters, however
little bruited ashore, were by no means unusual in the fishery; yet, in most
instances, such seemed the White Whale's infernal aforethought of ferocity,
that every dismembering or death that he caused, was not wholly regarded as
having been inflicted by an unintelligent agent. Judge, then, to what pitches
of inflamed, distracted fury the
..


minds of his more desperate hunters were impelled, when amid the chips of
chewed boats, and the sinking limbs of torn comrades, they swam out of the
white curds of the whale's direful wrath into the serene, exasperating
sunlight, that smiled on, as if at a birth or a bridal. His three boats stove
around him, and oars and men both whirling in the eddies; one captain,
seizing the line-knife from his broken prow, had dashed at the whale, as an
Arkansas duellist at his foe, blindly seeking with a six inch blade to reach
the fathom-deep life of the whale. That captain was Ahab. And then it was,
that suddenly sweeping his sickle-shaped lower jaw beneath him, Moby Dick had
reaped away ahab's leg, as a mower a blade of grass in the field. No turbaned
Turk, no hired Venetian or Malay, could have smote him with more seeming
malice. Small reason was there to doubt, then, that ever since that almost
fatal encounter, Ahab had cherished a wild vindictiveness against the whale,
all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to
identify with him, not only all his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and
spiritual exasperations. The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac
incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in
them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That
intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion
even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient
Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil; -- Ahab did not fall down
and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the
abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that
most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth
with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the
subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly
personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the
whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole
race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst
his hot heart's shell upon it.
..


It is not probable that this monomania in him took its instant rise at the
precise time of his bodily dismemberment. Then, in darting at the monster,
knife in hand, he had but given loose to a sudden, passionate, corporal
animosity; and when he received the stroke that tore him, he probably but
felt the agonizing bodily laceration, but nothing more. Yet, when by this
collision forced to turn towards home, and for long months of days and weeks,
ahab and anguish lay stretched together in one hammock, rounding in mid
winter that dreary, howling Patagonian Cape; then it was, that his torn body
and gashed soul bled into one another; and so interfusing, made him mad.
That it was only then, on the homeward voyage, after the encounter, that the
final monomania seized him, seems all but certain from the fact that, at
intervals during the passage, he was a raving lunatic; and, though unlimbed
of a leg, yet such vital strength yet lurked in his Egyptian chest, and was
moreover intensified by his delirium, that his mates were forced to lace him
fast, even there, as he sailed, raving in his hammock. In a strait-jacket,
he swung to the mad rockings of the gales. And, when running into more
sufferable latitudes, the ship, with mild stun'sails spread, floated across
the tranquil tropics, and, to all appearances, the old man's delirium seemed
left behind him with the Cape Horn swells, and he came forth from his dark
den into the blessed light and air; even then, when he bore that firm,
collected front, however pale, and issued his calm orders once again; and
his mates thanked God the direful madness was now gone; even then, Ahab, in
his hidden self, raved on. Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most
feline thing. When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured
into some still subtler form. Ahab's full lunacy subsided not, but
deepeningly contracted; like the unabated Hudson, when that noble Northman
flows narrowly, but unfathomably through the Highland gorge. But, as in his
narrow-flowing monomania, not one jot of Ahab's broad madness had been left
behind; so in that broad madness, not one jot of his great natural intellect
had perished. That before living agent, now became the living instrument. If
such a furious trope may stand, his special lunacy
..


stormed his general sanity, and carried it, and turned all its concentred
cannon upon its own mad mark; so that far from having lost his strength,
Ahab, to that one end, did now possess a thousand fold more potency than ever
he had sanely brought to bear upon any one reasonable object. This is much;
yet Ahab's larger, darker, deeper part remains unhinted. But vain to
popularize profundities, and all truth is profound. Winding far down from
within the very heart of this spiked Hotel de Cluny where we here stand
--however grand and wonderful, now quit it; --and take your way, ye nobler,
sadder souls, to those vast Roman halls of Thermes; where far beneath the
fantastic towers of man's upper earth, his root of grandeur, his whole awful
essence sits in bearded state; an antique buried beneath antiquities, and
throned on torsoes! So with a broken throne, the great gods mock that
captive king; so like a Caryatid, he patient sits, upholding on his frozen
brow the piled entablatures of ages. Wind ye down there, ye prouder, sadder
souls! question that proud, sad king! A family likeness! aye, he did beget
ye, ye young exiled royalties; and from your grim sire only will the old
State-secret come. Now, in his heart, Ahab had some glimpse of this, namely:
all my means are sane, my motive and my object mad. Yet without power to
kill, or change, or shun the fact; he likewise knew that to mankind he did
now long dissemble; in some sort, did still. But that thing of his
dissembling was only subject to his perceptibility, not to his will
determinate. Nevertheless, so well did he succeed in that dissembling, that
when with ivory leg he stepped ashore at last, no Nantucketer thought him
otherwise than but naturally grieved, and that to the quick, with the
terrible casualty which had overtaken him. The report of his undeniable
delirium at sea was likewise popularly ascribed to a kindred cause. And so
too, all the added moodiness which always afterwards, to the very day of
sailing in the pequod on the present voyage, sat brooding on his brow. Nor is
it so very unlikely, that far from distrusting his fitness for another whaling
voyage, on account of such dark symptoms, the calculating people of that
prudent isle were inclined to
..


harbor the conceit, that for those very reasons he was all the better
qualified and set on edge, for a pursuit so full of rage and wildness as the
bloody hunt of whales. Gnawed within and scorched without, with the infixed,
unrelenting fangs of some incurable idea; such an one, could he be found,
would seem the very man to dart his iron and lift his lance against the most
appalling of all brutes. Or, if for any reason thought to be corporeally
incapacitated for that, yet such an one would seem superlatively competent to
cheer and howl on his underlings to the attack. But be all this as it may,
certain it is, that with the mad secret of his unabated rage bolted up and
keyed in him, Ahab had purposely sailed upon the present voyage with the
one only and all-engrossing object of hunting the White Whale. Had any one of
his old acquaintances on shore but half dreamed of what was lurking in him
then, how soon would their aghast and righteous souls have wrenched the ship
from such a fiendish man! They were bent on profitable cruises, the profit
to be counted down in dollars from the mint. He was intent on an audacious,
immitigable, and supernatural revenge. Here, then, was this grey-headed,
ungodly old man, chasing with curses a Job's whale round the world, at the
head of a crew, too, chiefly made up of mongrel renegades, and castaways, and
cannibals --morally enfeebled also, by the incompetence of mere unaided virtue
or right-mindedness in Starbuck, the invulnerable jollity of indifference
and recklessness in Stubb, and the pervading mediocrity in Flask. Such a
crew, so officered, seemed specially picked and packed by some infernal
fatality to help him to his monomaniac revenge. How it was that they so
aboundingly responded to the old man's ire --by what evil magic their souls
were possessed, that at times his hate seemed almost theirs; the White Whale
as much their insufferable foe as his; how all this came to be --what the
White Whale was to them, or how to their unconscious understandings, also, in
some dim, unsuspected way, he might have seemed the gliding great demon of
the seas of life, --all this to explain, would be to dive deeper than Ishmael
can go. The subterranean miner that works in us all, how can one tell
whither leads his shaft by the ever shifting, muffled sound of his pick? Who
does not feel the
..


irresistible arm drag? What skiff in tow of a seventy-four can stand still?
For one, I gave myself up to the abandonment of the time and the place; but
while yet all a-rush to encounter the whale, could see naught in that brute
but the deadliest ill.
..