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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMoby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 57 Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in Stone; in Mountains; in Stars.
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Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 57 Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in Stone; in Mountains; in Stars. Post by :phylaw Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :1956

Click below to download : Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 57 Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in Stone; in Mountains; in Stars. (Format : PDF)

Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 57 Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in Stone; in Mountains; in Stars.

On Tower-hill, as you go down to the London docks, you may have seen
a crippled beggar (or KEDGER, as the sailors say) holding a painted
board before him, representing the tragic scene in which he lost his
leg. There are three whales and three boats; and one of the boats
(presumed to contain the missing leg in all its original integrity)
is being crunched by the jaws of the foremost whale. Any time these
ten years, they tell me, has that man held up that picture, and
exhibited that stump to an incredulous world. But the time of his
justification has now come. His three whales are as good whales as
were ever published in Wapping, at any rate; and his stump as
unquestionable a stump as any you will find in the western clearings.
But, though for ever mounted on that stump, never a stump-speech
does the poor whaleman make; but, with downcast eyes, stands ruefully
contemplating his own amputation.

Throughout the Pacific, and also in Nantucket, and New Bedford, and
Sag Harbor, you will come across lively sketches of whales and
whaling-scenes, graven by the fishermen themselves on Sperm
Whale-teeth, or ladies' busks wrought out of the Right Whale-bone,
and other like skrimshander articles, as the whalemen call the
numerous little ingenious contrivances they elaborately carve out of
the rough material, in their hours of ocean leisure. Some of them
have little boxes of dentistical-looking implements, specially
intended for the skrimshandering business. But, in general, they
toil with their jack-knives alone; and, with that almost omnipotent
tool of the sailor, they will turn you out anything you please, in
the way of a mariner's fancy.

Long exile from Christendom and civilization inevitably restores a
man to that condition in which God placed him, i.e. what is called
savagery. Your true whale-hunter is as much a savage as an Iroquois.
I myself am a savage, owning no allegiance but to the King of the
Cannibals; and ready at any moment to rebel against him.

Now, one of the peculiar characteristics of the savage in his
domestic hours, is his wonderful patience of industry. An ancient
Hawaiian war-club or spear-paddle, in its full multiplicity and
elaboration of carving, is as great a trophy of human perseverance as
a Latin lexicon. For, with but a bit of broken sea-shell or a
shark's tooth, that miraculous intricacy of wooden net-work has been
achieved; and it has cost steady years of steady application.

As with the Hawaiian savage, so with the white sailor-savage. With
the same marvellous patience, and with the same single shark's tooth,
of his one poor jack-knife, he will carve you a bit of bone
sculpture, not quite as workmanlike, but as close packed in its
maziness of design, as the Greek savage, Achilles's shield; and full
of barbaric spirit and suggestiveness, as the prints of that fine old
Dutch savage, Albert Durer.

Wooden whales, or whales cut in profile out of the small dark slabs
of the noble South Sea war-wood, are frequently met with in the
forecastles of American whalers. Some of them are done with much
accuracy.

At some old gable-roofed country houses you will see brass whales
hung by the tail for knockers to the road-side door. When the porter
is sleepy, the anvil-headed whale would be best. But these knocking
whales are seldom remarkable as faithful essays. On the spires of
some old-fashioned churches you will see sheet-iron whales placed
there for weather-cocks; but they are so elevated, and besides that
are to all intents and purposes so labelled with "HANDS OFF!" you
cannot examine them closely enough to decide upon their merit.

In bony, ribby regions of the earth, where at the base of high broken
cliffs masses of rock lie strewn in fantastic groupings upon the
plain, you will often discover images as of the petrified forms of
the Leviathan partly merged in grass, which of a windy day breaks
against them in a surf of green surges.

Then, again, in mountainous countries where the traveller is
continually girdled by amphitheatrical heights; here and there from
some lucky point of view you will catch passing glimpses of the
profiles of whales defined along the undulating ridges. But you must
be a thorough whaleman, to see these sights; and not only that, but
if you wish to return to such a sight again, you must be sure and
take the exact intersecting latitude and longitude of your first
stand-point, else so chance-like are such observations of the hills,
that your precise, previous stand-point would require a laborious
re-discovery; like the Soloma Islands, which still remain incognita,
though once high-ruffed Mendanna trod them and old Figuera
chronicled them.

Nor when expandingly lifted by your subject, can you fail to trace
out great whales in the starry heavens, and boats in pursuit of them;
as when long filled with thoughts of war the Eastern nations saw
armies locked in battle among the clouds. Thus at the North have I
chased Leviathan round and round the Pole with the revolutions of the
bright points that first defined him to me. And beneath the
effulgent Antarctic skies I have boarded the Argo-Navis, and joined
the chase against the starry Cetus far beyond the utmost stretch of
Hydrus and the Flying Fish.

With a frigate's anchors for my bridle-bitts and fasces of harpoons
for spurs, would I could mount that whale and leap the topmost skies,
to see whether the fabled heavens with all their countless tents
really lie encamped beyond my mortal sight!

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