MELVILLE: Moby Dick [Chapters 82-92]

Welcome to Part 13 of this series on Moby Dick. In this lecture we will discuss Chapters 82-92.

In Chapter 82, Ishmael explains that the history of whaling is rife with heroes, prophets, and even gods. “Perseus, St. George, Hercules, Jonah, and Vishnoo! there’s a member-roll for you! What club but the whaleman’s can head off like that?”

In Chapter 83, Ishmael provides answers to several questions posed by a Nantucket sailor about the veracity of the story of Jonah and the Whale. The Nantucket sailor, named Sag Harbor, objects that a man could not survive in the gastric juices of the whale, nor be swallowed by a Right Whale, considering that the Right Whale has a large enough mouth to swallow a man, but does not have a large enough windpipe. Ishmael responds that Jonah could have survived within the mouth of the whale, which is nearly 12 feet high.

In Chapter 84, Ishmael describes another whale chase in which Stubb kills a whale. During this battle, Stubb utilizes a pitch-pole to kill the exceedingly strong and swift whale. A pitch-pole is longer than a regular harpoon, and can be cast further. From a distance of nearly 40 feet, Stubb throws the pitch-pole, and it strikes the whale in its spout-hole, causing the whale to spout blood. Stubb rejoices after his successful throw. “Tis July’s immortal Fourth; all fountains must run wine today!”

In Chapter 85, Ishmael discusses the mystery of the whale’s spout. No one is certain whether the whale spouts air or water. But Ishmael concludes that the whale spouts the same mist that emits from the heads of intelligent men, while they are in deep thought. He supports this assertion with an observation that he once made concerning himself. While in deep thought about Eternity, he noticed in a mirror a haze and sweat emitting from his brow. He thanks God for this phenomenon; for “Rainbows do not visit the clear air; they only irradiate vapour. And so, through all the thick mists of the dim doubts in my mind, divine intuitions now and then shoot, enkindling my fog with a heavenly ray.”

In Chapter 86, Ishmael discusses the whale’s tail. He describes the tail in terms of awe. He notes the tremendous power and beauty that it possesses, and remarks that the image of a whale’s tail in the air when it is about to dive is the most impressive sight in nature. “Standing at the mast-head of my ship during a sunrise that crimsoned sky and sea, I once saw a large herd of whales in the east, all heading towards the sun, and for a moment vibrating in concert with peaked flukes. As it seemed to me at the time, such a grand embodiment of adoration of the gods was never beheld, even in Persia, the home of the fire worshippers.”

In Chapter 87, the Pequod’s crew chases a school of whales. During the chase, Ishmael’s boat floats into the center of the circle of whales. The center is as calm as a lake, and Ishmael can see newly born whales nursing with their mothers. “And as human infants while suckling will calmly and fixedly gaze away from the breast, as if leading two different lives at the time; and while yet drawing mortal nourishment, be still spiritually feasting upon some unearthly reminiscence;—even so did the young of these whales seem looking up towards us, but not at us, as if we were but a bit of Gulfweed in their new-born sight.” Melville’s supposition that babies contemplate the metaphysical realm from which they come into this earthly realm is interesting. Perhaps we lose the memory of our life before birth because of the progress of time; or perhaps we have no memory of this time because we did not exist.

In Chapter 88, Ishmael explains that a school of whales comprises a harem of females and one male. He also makes a humorous comparison between the life of a male whale and the life of a young lascivious man who matures and condemns his past transgressions, warning younger men against the mistakes he made with women. “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.”

In Chapter 89, Ishmael explains the whaling terms – Fast Fish and Loose Fish. A Fast Fish is a whale that is connected to a boat by a harpoon line or a whale that bears a marker placed there by a boat crew. The party that harpooned the whale or placed the marker on the whale has a claim to the whale. A Loose Fish, on the other hand, is any other whale; and is fair game to all whalers. Ishmael compares the minds of people to Fast and Loose Fish. “What are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World but Loose-Fish? What all men’s minds and opinions but Loose-Fish? What is the principle of religious belief in them but a Loose-Fish? What to the ostentatious smuggling verbalists are the thoughts of thinkers but Loose-Fish? What is the great globe itself but a Loose-Fish? And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?”

In Chapter 90, Ishmael describes the unjust law of England that awards any beached whale to the King of England. The law is unjust because a whaling crew that chases a whale at great trouble, peril, and expense will not be able to claim the whale should it beach itself. Ishmael explains that the justification of this law is absurd. “We must needs inquire then on what principle the Sovereign is originally invested with that right. The law itself has already been set forth. But Plowdon gives us the reason for it. Says Plowdon, the whale so caught belongs to the King and Queen, “because of its superior excellence.” And by the soundest commentators this has ever been held a cogent argument in such matters.”

In Chapter 91, the Pequod encounters another whaling ship called the Bouton de Rose, which means Rose Bud in French. The Rose Bud has two whales along its sides – one whale that died from natural causes, and another whale that died from indigestion. Both whales are emitting a terrible stench. Stubb convinces the captain of the Rose Bud, who is an amateur whaler, that he will not be able to extract oil from these whales considering the matter of their deaths, but rather the crew has a high probability of contracting illness from handling the rancid blubber. The Rose Bud releases the two whales and sails away. Stubb retrieves the whale which died from indigestion in order to extract the valuable ambergris from its stomach.

In Chapter 92, Ishmael explains that ambergris is used in perfumes, and is found in the stomachs of whales that die from indigestion. He remarks upon the paradox that such a sweet smelling substance is produced within such a foul-smelling carcass. “Now that the incorruption of this most fragrant ambergris should be found in the heart of such decay; is this nothing? Bethink thee of that saying of St. Paul in Corinthians, about corruption and incorruption; how that we are sown in dishonour, but raised in glory.”

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Chapter 82
“Perseus, St. George, Hercules, Jonah, and Vishnoo! there’s a member-roll for you! What club but the whaleman’s can head off like that?”

Chapter 83
“All these foolish arguments of old Sag-Harbor only evinced his foolish pride of reason—a thing still more reprehensible in him, seeing that he had but little learning except what he had picked up from the sun and the sea.

Chapter 84
“Towards noon whales were raised; but so soon as the ship sailed down to them, they turned and fled with swift precipitancy; a disordered flight, as of Cleopatra’s barges from Actium.”

Chapter 85
“How obvious is it, too, that this necessity for the whale’s rising exposes him to all the fatal hazards of the chase. For not by hook or by net could this vast leviathan be caught, when sailing a thousand fathoms beneath the sunlight. Not so much thy skill, then, O hunter, as the great necessities that strike the victory to thee!”

“What has the whale to say? Seldom have I known any profound being that had anything to say to this world, unless forced to stammer out something by way of getting a living. Oh! happy that the world is such an excellent listener!”

“My hypothesis is this: that the spout is nothing but mist. And besides other reasons, to this conclusion I am impelled, by considerations touching the great inherent dignity and sublimity of the Sperm Whale; I account him no common, shallow being, inasmuch as it is an undisputed fact that he is never found on soundings, or near shores; all other whales sometimes are. He is both ponderous and profound. And I am convinced that from the heads of all ponderous profound beings, such as Plato, Pyrrho, the Devil, Jupiter, Dante, and so on, there always goes up a certain semi-visible steam, while in the act of thinking deep thoughts. While composing a little treatise on Eternity, I had the curiosity to place a mirror before me; and ere long saw reflected there, a curious involved worming and undulation in the atmosphere over my head. The invariable moisture of my hair, while plunged in deep thought, after six cups of hot tea in my thin shingled attic, of an August noon; this seems an additional argument for the above supposition.”

“And how nobly it raises our conceit of the mighty, misty monster, to behold him solemnly sailing through a calm tropical sea; his vast, mild head overhung by a canopy of vapour, engendered by his incommunicable contemplations, and that vapour—as you will sometimes see it—glorified by a rainbow, as if Heaven itself had put its seal upon his thoughts. For, d’ye see, rainbows do not visit the clear air; they only irradiate vapour. And so, through all the thick mists of the dim doubts in my mind, divine intuitions now and then shoot, enkindling my fog with a heavenly ray. And for this I thank God; for all have doubts; many deny; but doubts or denials, few along with them, have intuitions. Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye.”

Chapter 86
“Real strength never impairs beauty or harmony, but it often bestows it; and in everything imposingly beautiful, strength has much to do with the magic. Take away the tied tendons that all over seem bursting from the marble in the carved Hercules, and its charm would be gone. As devout Eckerman lifted the linen sheet from the naked corpse of Goethe, he was overwhelmed with the massive chest of the man, that seemed as a Roman triumphal arch. When Angelo paints even God the Father in human form, mark what robustness is there. And whatever they may reveal of the divine love in the Son, the soft, curled, hermaphroditical Italian pictures, in which his idea has been most successfully embodied; these pictures, so destitute as they are of all brawniness, hint nothing of any power, but the mere negative, feminine one of submission and endurance, which on all hands it is conceded, form the peculiar practical virtues of his teachings.”

“When he is about to plunge into the deeps, his entire flukes with at least thirty feet of his body are tossed erect in the air, and so remain vibrating a moment, till they downwards shoot out of view. Excepting the sublime breach—somewhere else to be described—this peaking of the whale’s flukes is perhaps the grandest sight to be seen in all animated nature. Out of the bottomless profundities the gigantic tail seems spasmodically snatching at the highest heaven. So in dreams, have I seen majestic Satan thrusting forth his tormented colossal claw from the flame Baltic of Hell. But in gazing at such scenes, it is all in all what mood you are in; if in the Dantean, the devils will occur to you; if in that of Isaiah, the archangels. Standing at the mast-head of my ship during a sunrise that crimsoned sky and sea, I once saw a large herd of whales in the east, all heading towards the sun, and for a moment vibrating in concert with peaked flukes. As it seemed to me at the time, such a grand embodiment of adoration of the gods was never beheld, even in Persia, the home of the fire worshippers. As Ptolemy Philopater testified of the African elephant, I then testified of the whale, pronouncing him the most devout of all beings. For according to King Juba, the military elephants of antiquity often hailed the morning with their trunks uplifted in the profoundest silence.”

Chapter 87
“Had these Leviathans been but a flock of simple sheep, pursued over the pasture by three fierce wolves, they could not possibly have evinced such excessive dismay. But this occasional timidity is characteristic of almost all herding creatures. Though banding together in tens of thousands, the lion-maned buffaloes of the West have fled before a solitary horseman. Witness, too, all human beings, how when herded together in the sheepfold of a theatre’s pit, they will, at the slightest alarm of fire, rush helter-skelter for the outlets, crowding, trampling, jamming, and remorselessly dashing each other to death. Best, therefore, withhold any amazement at the strangely gallied whales before us, for there is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.”

“But far beneath this wondrous world upon the surface, another and still stranger world met our eyes as we gazed over the side. For, suspended in those watery vaults, floated the forms of the nursing mothers of the whales, and those that by their enormous girth seemed shortly to become mothers. The lake, as I have hinted, was to a considerable depth exceedingly transparent; and as human infants while suckling will calmly and fixedly gaze away from the breast, as if leading two different lives at the time; and while yet drawing mortal nourishment, be still spiritually feasting upon some unearthly reminiscence;—even so did the young of these whales seem looking up towards us, but not at us, as if we were but a bit of Gulfweed in their new-born sight.”

“The result of this lowering was somewhat illustrative of that sagacious saying in the Fishery,—the more whales the less fish.”

Chapter 88
“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

Chapter 89
“What are the Rights of Man and the Liberties of the World but Loose-Fish? What all men’s minds and opinions but Loose-Fish? What is the principle of religious belief in them but a Loose-Fish? What to the ostentatious smuggling verbalists are the thoughts of thinkers but Loose-Fish? What is the great globe itself but a Loose-Fish? And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?”

Chapter 90
“We must needs inquire then on what principle the Sovereign is originally invested with that right. The law itself has already been set forth. But Plowdon gives us the reason for it. Says Plowdon, the whale so caught belongs to the King and Queen, “because of its superior excellence.” And by the soundest commentators this has ever been held a cogent argument in such matters.”

Chapter 91
“Why, since he takes it so easy, tell him that now I have eyed him carefully, I’m quite certain that he’s no more fit to command a whale-ship than a St. Jago monkey. In fact, tell him from me he’s a baboon.”

Chapter 92
“Now that the incorruption of this most fragrant ambergris should be found in the heart of such decay; is this nothing? Bethink thee of that saying of St. Paul in Corinthians, about corruption and incorruption; how that we are sown in dishonour, but raised in glory.”

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