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Chapter 101: The Decanter.

	


Ere the English ship fades from sight, be it set down here, that
she hailed from London, and was named after the late Samuel Enderby,
merchant of that city, the original of the famous whaling house of
Enderby & Sons; a house which in my poor whaleman's opinion, comes not
far behind the united royal houses of the Tudors and Bourbons, in point
of real historical interest. How long, prior to the year of our
Lord 1775, this great whaling house was in existence, my numerous
fish-documents do not make plain; but in that year (1775) it fitted
out the first English ships that ever regularly hunted the Sperm Whale;
though for some score of years previous (ever since 1726) our valiant
Coffins and Maceys of Nantucket and the Vineyard had in large fleets
pursued that Leviathan, but only in the North and South Atlantic: not
elsewhere. Be it distinctly recorded here, that the Nantucketers were
the first among mankind to harpoon with civilized steel the great Sperm
Whale; and that for half a century they were the only people of the
whole globe who so harpooned him.

In 1778, a fine ship, the Amelia, fitted out for the express purpose,
and at the sole charge of the vigorous Enderbys, boldly rounded Cape
Horn, and was the first among the nations to lower a whale-boat of any
sort in the great South Sea. The voyage was a skilful and lucky one;
and returning to her berth with her hold full of the precious sperm, the
Amelia's example was soon followed by other ships, English and American,
and thus the vast Sperm Whale grounds of the Pacific were thrown open.
But not content with this good deed, the indefatigable house again
bestirred itself: Samuel and all his Sons--how many, their mother only
knows--and under their immediate auspices, and partly, I think, at their
expense, the British government was induced to send the sloop-of-war
Rattler on a whaling voyage of discovery into the South Sea. Commanded
by a naval Post-Captain, the Rattler made a rattling voyage of it, and
did some service; how much does not appear. But this is not all. In
1819, the same house fitted out a discovery whale ship of their own, to
go on a tasting cruise to the remote waters of Japan. That ship--well
called the "Syren"--made a noble experimental cruise; and it was thus
that the great Japanese Whaling Ground first became generally known.
The Syren in this famous voyage was commanded by a Captain Coffin, a
Nantucketer.

All honour to the Enderbies, therefore, whose house, I think, exists to
the present day; though doubtless the original Samuel must long ago have
slipped his cable for the great South Sea of the other world.

The ship named after him was worthy of the honour, being a very fast
sailer and a noble craft every way. I boarded her once at midnight
somewhere off the Patagonian coast, and drank good flip down in the
forecastle. It was a fine gam we had, and they were all trumps--every
soul on board. A short life to them, and a jolly death. And that fine
gam I had--long, very long after old Ahab touched her planks with his
ivory heel--it minds me of the noble, solid, Saxon hospitality of that
ship; and may my parson forget me, and the devil remember me, if I ever
lose sight of it. Flip? Did I say we had flip? Yes, and we flipped it
at the rate of ten gallons the hour; and when the squall came (for it's
squally off there by Patagonia), and all hands--visitors and all--were
called to reef topsails, we were so top-heavy that we had to swing each
other aloft in bowlines; and we ignorantly furled the skirts of our
jackets into the sails, so that we hung there, reefed fast in the
howling gale, a warning example to all drunken tars. However, the masts
did not go overboard; and by and by we scrambled down, so sober, that we
had to pass the flip again, though the savage salt spray bursting down
the forecastle scuttle, rather too much diluted and pickled it to my
taste.

The beef was fine--tough, but with body in it. They said it was
bull-beef; others, that it was dromedary beef; but I do not know, for
certain, how that was. They had dumplings too; small, but substantial,
symmetrically globular, and indestructible dumplings. I fancied that you
could feel them, and roll them about in you after they were swallowed.
If you stooped over too far forward, you risked their pitching out
of you like billiard-balls. The bread--but that couldn't be helped;
besides, it was an anti-scorbutic; in short, the bread contained the
only fresh fare they had. But the forecastle was not very light, and it
was very easy to step over into a dark corner when you ate it. But all
in all, taking her from truck to helm, considering the dimensions of the
cook's boilers, including his own live parchment boilers; fore and aft,
I say, the Samuel Enderby was a jolly ship; of good fare and plenty;
fine flip and strong; crack fellows all, and capital from boot heels to
hat-band.

But why was it, think ye, that the Samuel Enderby, and some other
English whalers I know of--not all though--were such famous, hospitable
ships; that passed round the beef, and the bread, and the can, and the
joke; and were not soon weary of eating, and drinking, and laughing?
I will tell you. The abounding good cheer of these English whalers
is matter for historical research. Nor have I been at all sparing of
historical whale research, when it has seemed needed.

The English were preceded in the whale fishery by the Hollanders,
Zealanders, and Danes; from whom they derived many terms still extant
in the fishery; and what is yet more, their fat old fashions,
touching plenty to eat and drink. For, as a general thing, the English
merchant-ship scrimps her crew; but not so the English whaler. Hence, in
the English, this thing of whaling good cheer is not normal and natural,
but incidental and particular; and, therefore, must have some special
origin, which is here pointed out, and will be still further elucidated.

During my researches in the Leviathanic histories, I stumbled upon an
ancient Dutch volume, which, by the musty whaling smell of it, I
knew must be about whalers. The title was, "Dan Coopman," wherefore I
concluded that this must be the invaluable memoirs of some Amsterdam
cooper in the fishery, as every whale ship must carry its cooper. I was
reinforced in this opinion by seeing that it was the production of one
"Fitz Swackhammer." But my friend Dr. Snodhead, a very learned man,
professor of Low Dutch and High German in the college of Santa Claus and
St. Pott's, to whom I handed the work for translation, giving him a box
of sperm candles for his trouble--this same Dr. Snodhead, so soon as he
spied the book, assured me that "Dan Coopman" did not mean "The Cooper,"
but "The Merchant." In short, this ancient and learned Low Dutch book
treated of the commerce of Holland; and, among other subjects, contained
a very interesting account of its whale fishery. And in this chapter it
was, headed, "Smeer," or "Fat," that I found a long detailed list of the
outfits for the larders and cellars of 180 sail of Dutch whalemen; from
which list, as translated by Dr. Snodhead, I transcribe the following:

400,000 lbs. of beef. 60,000 lbs. Friesland pork. 150,000 lbs. of stock
fish. 550,000 lbs. of biscuit. 72,000 lbs. of soft bread. 2,800 firkins
of butter. 20,000 lbs. Texel & Leyden cheese. 144,000 lbs. cheese
(probably an inferior article). 550 ankers of Geneva. 10,800 barrels of
beer.

Most statistical tables are parchingly dry in the reading; not so in
the present case, however, where the reader is flooded with whole pipes,
barrels, quarts, and gills of good gin and good cheer.

At the time, I devoted three days to the studious digesting of all
this beer, beef, and bread, during which many profound thoughts were
incidentally suggested to me, capable of a transcendental and Platonic
application; and, furthermore, I compiled supplementary tables of my
own, touching the probable quantity of stock-fish, etc., consumed by
every Low Dutch harpooneer in that ancient Greenland and Spitzbergen
whale fishery. In the first place, the amount of butter, and Texel and
Leyden cheese consumed, seems amazing. I impute it, though, to their
naturally unctuous natures, being rendered still more unctuous by the
nature of their vocation, and especially by their pursuing their game
in those frigid Polar Seas, on the very coasts of that Esquimaux country
where the convivial natives pledge each other in bumpers of train oil.

The quantity of beer, too, is very large, 10,800 barrels. Now, as those
polar fisheries could only be prosecuted in the short summer of that
climate, so that the whole cruise of one of these Dutch whalemen,
including the short voyage to and from the Spitzbergen sea, did not much
exceed three months, say, and reckoning 30 men to each of their fleet
of 180 sail, we have 5,400 Low Dutch seamen in all; therefore, I say,
we have precisely two barrels of beer per man, for a twelve weeks'
allowance, exclusive of his fair proportion of that 550 ankers of gin.
Now, whether these gin and beer harpooneers, so fuddled as one might
fancy them to have been, were the right sort of men to stand up in
a boat's head, and take good aim at flying whales; this would seem
somewhat improbable. Yet they did aim at them, and hit them too. But
this was very far North, be it remembered, where beer agrees well with
the constitution; upon the Equator, in our southern fishery, beer would
be apt to make the harpooneer sleepy at the mast-head and boozy in his
boat; and grievous loss might ensue to Nantucket and New Bedford.

But no more; enough has been said to show that the old Dutch whalers
of two or three centuries ago were high livers; and that the English
whalers have not neglected so excellent an example. For, say they, when
cruising in an empty ship, if you can get nothing better out of the
world, get a good dinner out of it, at least. And this empties the
decanter.