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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMoby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 88 Schools and Schoolmasters.
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Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 88 Schools and Schoolmasters. Post by :mort48 Category :Long Stories Author :Herman Melville Date :February 2011 Read :3406

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Moby Dick (or The Whale) - Chapter 88 Schools and Schoolmasters.

The previous chapter gave account of an immense body or herd of Sperm
Whales, and there was also then given the probable cause inducing
those vast aggregations.

Now, though such great bodies are at times encountered, yet, as must
have been seen, even at the present day, small detached bands are
occasionally observed, embracing from twenty to fifty individuals
each. Such bands are known as schools. They generally are of two
sorts; those composed almost entirely of females, and those mustering
none but young vigorous males, or bulls, as they are familiarly

In cavalier attendance upon the school of females, you invariably see
a male of full grown magnitude, but not old; who, upon any alarm,
evinces his gallantry by falling in the rear and covering the flight
of his ladies. In truth, this gentleman is a luxurious Ottoman,
swimming about over the watery world, surroundingly accompanied by
all the solaces and endearments of the harem. The contrast between
this Ottoman and his concubines is striking; because, while he is
always of the largest leviathanic proportions, the ladies, even at
full growth, are not more than one-third of the bulk of an
average-sized male. They are comparatively delicate, indeed; I dare
say, not to exceed half a dozen yards round the waist. Nevertheless,
it cannot be denied, that upon the whole they are hereditarily
entitled to EMBONPOINT.

It is very curious to watch this harem and its lord in their indolent
ramblings. Like fashionables, they are for ever on the move in
leisurely search of variety. You meet them on the Line in time for
the full flower of the Equatorial feeding season, having just
returned, perhaps, from spending the summer in the Northern seas, and
so cheating summer of all unpleasant weariness and warmth. By the
time they have lounged up and down the promenade of the Equator
awhile, they start for the Oriental waters in anticipation of the
cool season there, and so evade the other excessive temperature of
the year.

When serenely advancing on one of these journeys, if any strange
suspicious sights are seen, my lord whale keeps a wary eye on his
interesting family. Should any unwarrantably pert young Leviathan
coming that way, presume to draw confidentially close to one of the
ladies, with what prodigious fury the Bashaw assails him, and chases
him away! High times, indeed, if unprincipled young rakes like him
are to be permitted to invade the sanctity of domestic bliss; though
do what the Bashaw will, he cannot keep the most notorious Lothario
out of his bed; for, alas! all fish bed in common. As ashore, the
ladies often cause the most terrible duels among their rival
admirers; just so with the whales, who sometimes come to deadly
battle, and all for love. They fence with their long lower jaws,
sometimes locking them together, and so striving for the supremacy
like elks that warringly interweave their antlers. Not a few are
captured having the deep scars of these encounters,--furrowed heads,
broken teeth, scolloped fins; and in some instances, wrenched and
dislocated mouths.

But supposing the invader of domestic bliss to betake himself away at
the first rush of the harem's lord, then is it very diverting to
watch that lord. Gently he insinuates his vast bulk among them again
and revels there awhile, still in tantalizing vicinity to young
Lothario, like pious Solomon devoutly worshipping among his thousand
concubines. Granting other whales to be in sight, the fishermen
will seldom give chase to one of these Grand Turks; for these Grand
Turks are too lavish of their strength, and hence their unctuousness
is small. As for the sons and the daughters they beget, why, those sons
and daughters must take care of themselves; at least, with only the
maternal help. For like certain other omnivorous roving lovers that
might be named, my Lord Whale has no taste for the nursery, however
much for the bower; and so, being a great traveller, he leaves his
anonymous babies all over the world; every baby an exotic. In good
time, nevertheless, as the ardour of youth declines; as years and
dumps increase; as reflection lends her solemn pauses; in short, as a
general lassitude overtakes the sated Turk; then a love of ease and
virtue supplants the love for maidens; our Ottoman enters upon the
impotent, repentant, admonitory stage of life, forswears, disbands
the harem, and grown to an exemplary, sulky old soul, goes about all
alone among the meridians and parallels saying his prayers, and
warning each young Leviathan from his amorous errors.

Now, as the harem of whales is called by the fishermen a school, so
is the lord and master of that school technically known as the
schoolmaster. It is therefore not in strict character, however
admirably satirical, that after going to school himself, he should
then go abroad inculcating not what he learned there, but the folly
of it. His title, schoolmaster, would very naturally seem derived
from the name bestowed upon the harem itself, but some have surmised
that the man who first thus entitled this sort of Ottoman whale, must
have read the memoirs of Vidocq, and informed himself what sort of a
country-schoolmaster that famous Frenchman was in his younger days,
and what was the nature of those occult lessons he inculcated into
some of his pupils.

The same secludedness and isolation to which the schoolmaster whale
betakes himself in his advancing years, is true of all aged Sperm
Whales. Almost universally, a lone whale--as a solitary Leviathan is
called--proves an ancient one. Like venerable moss-bearded Daniel
Boone, he will have no one near him but Nature herself; and her he
takes to wife in the wilderness of waters, and the best of wives she
is, though she keeps so many moody secrets.

The schools composing none but young and vigorous males, previously
mentioned, offer a strong contrast to the harem schools. For while
those female whales are characteristically timid, the young males, or
forty-barrel-bulls, as they call them, are by far the most pugnacious
of all Leviathans, and proverbially the most dangerous to encounter;
excepting those wondrous grey-headed, grizzled whales, sometimes met,
and these will fight you like grim fiends exasperated by a penal

The Forty-barrel-bull schools are larger than the harem schools.
Like a mob of young collegians, they are full of fight, fun, and
wickedness, tumbling round the world at such a reckless, rollicking
rate, that no prudent underwriter would insure them any more than he
would a riotous lad at Yale or Harvard. They soon relinquish this
turbulence though, and when about three-fourths grown, break up, and
separately go about in quest of settlements, that is, harems.

Another point of difference between the male and female schools is
still more characteristic of the sexes. Say you strike a
Forty-barrel-bull--poor devil! all his comrades quit him. But strike
a member of the harem school, and her companions swim around her with
every token of concern, sometimes lingering so near her and so long,
as themselves to fall a prey.

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