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Chapter 102: A Bower in the Arsacides.


Hitherto, in descriptively treating of the Sperm Whale, I have chiefly
dwelt upon the marvels of his outer aspect; or separately and in detail
upon some few interior structural features. But to a large and thorough
sweeping comprehension of him, it behooves me now to unbutton him still
further, and untagging the points of his hose, unbuckling his garters,
and casting loose the hooks and the eyes of the joints of his innermost
bones, set him before you in his ultimatum; that is to say, in his
unconditional skeleton.

But how now, Ishmael? How is it, that you, a mere oarsman in the
fishery, pretend to know aught about the subterranean parts of the
whale? Did erudite Stubb, mounted upon your capstan, deliver lectures
on the anatomy of the Cetacea; and by help of the windlass, hold up a
specimen rib for exhibition? Explain thyself, Ishmael. Can you land
a full-grown whale on your deck for examination, as a cook dishes a
roast-pig? Surely not. A veritable witness have you hitherto been,
Ishmael; but have a care how you seize the privilege of Jonah alone;
the privilege of discoursing upon the joists and beams; the rafters,
ridge-pole, sleepers, and under-pinnings, making up the frame-work of
leviathan; and belike of the tallow-vats, dairy-rooms, butteries, and
cheeseries in his bowels.

I confess, that since Jonah, few whalemen have penetrated very far
beneath the skin of the adult whale; nevertheless, I have been blessed
with an opportunity to dissect him in miniature. In a ship I belonged
to, a small cub Sperm Whale was once bodily hoisted to the deck for his
poke or bag, to make sheaths for the barbs of the harpoons, and for the
heads of the lances. Think you I let that chance go, without using my
boat-hatchet and jack-knife, and breaking the seal and reading all the
contents of that young cub?

And as for my exact knowledge of the bones of the leviathan in their
gigantic, full grown development, for that rare knowledge I am indebted
to my late royal friend Tranquo, king of Tranque, one of the Arsacides.
For being at Tranque, years ago, when attached to the trading-ship Dey
of Algiers, I was invited to spend part of the Arsacidean holidays with
the lord of Tranque, at his retired palm villa at Pupella; a sea-side
glen not very far distant from what our sailors called Bamboo-Town, his

Among many other fine qualities, my royal friend Tranquo, being gifted
with a devout love for all matters of barbaric vertu, had brought
together in Pupella whatever rare things the more ingenious of his
people could invent; chiefly carved woods of wonderful devices,
chiselled shells, inlaid spears, costly paddles, aromatic canoes;
and all these distributed among whatever natural wonders, the
wonder-freighted, tribute-rendering waves had cast upon his shores.

Chief among these latter was a great Sperm Whale, which, after an
unusually long raging gale, had been found dead and stranded, with his
head against a cocoa-nut tree, whose plumage-like, tufted droopings
seemed his verdant jet. When the vast body had at last been stripped of
its fathom-deep enfoldings, and the bones become dust dry in the sun,
then the skeleton was carefully transported up the Pupella glen, where a
grand temple of lordly palms now sheltered it.

The ribs were hung with trophies; the vertebrae were carved with
Arsacidean annals, in strange hieroglyphics; in the skull, the priests
kept up an unextinguished aromatic flame, so that the mystic head
again sent forth its vapoury spout; while, suspended from a bough, the
terrific lower jaw vibrated over all the devotees, like the hair-hung
sword that so affrighted Damocles.

It was a wondrous sight. The wood was green as mosses of the Icy
Glen; the trees stood high and haughty, feeling their living sap; the
industrious earth beneath was as a weaver's loom, with a gorgeous carpet
on it, whereof the ground-vine tendrils formed the warp and woof, and
the living flowers the figures. All the trees, with all their laden
branches; all the shrubs, and ferns, and grasses; the message-carrying
air; all these unceasingly were active. Through the lacings of the
leaves, the great sun seemed a flying shuttle weaving the unwearied
verdure. Oh, busy weaver! unseen weaver!--pause!--one word!--whither
flows the fabric? what palace may it deck? wherefore all these ceaseless
toilings? Speak, weaver!--stay thy hand!--but one single word with
thee! Nay--the shuttle flies--the figures float from forth the loom; the
freshet-rushing carpet for ever slides away. The weaver-god, he weaves;
and by that weaving is he deafened, that he hears no mortal voice; and
by that humming, we, too, who look on the loom are deafened; and only
when we escape it shall we hear the thousand voices that speak through
it. For even so it is in all material factories. The spoken words that
are inaudible among the flying spindles; those same words are plainly
heard without the walls, bursting from the opened casements. Thereby
have villainies been detected. Ah, mortal! then, be heedful; for so, in
all this din of the great world's loom, thy subtlest thinkings may be
overheard afar.

Now, amid the green, life-restless loom of that Arsacidean wood, the
great, white, worshipped skeleton lay lounging--a gigantic idler! Yet,
as the ever-woven verdant warp and woof intermixed and hummed around
him, the mighty idler seemed the cunning weaver; himself all woven
over with the vines; every month assuming greener, fresher verdure; but
himself a skeleton. Life folded Death; Death trellised Life; the grim
god wived with youthful Life, and begat him curly-headed glories.

Now, when with royal Tranquo I visited this wondrous whale, and saw the
skull an altar, and the artificial smoke ascending from where the real
jet had issued, I marvelled that the king should regard a chapel as
an object of vertu. He laughed. But more I marvelled that the priests
should swear that smoky jet of his was genuine. To and fro I paced
before this skeleton--brushed the vines aside--broke through the
ribs--and with a ball of Arsacidean twine, wandered, eddied long amid
its many winding, shaded colonnades and arbours. But soon my line was
out; and following it back, I emerged from the opening where I entered.
I saw no living thing within; naught was there but bones.

Cutting me a green measuring-rod, I once more dived within the skeleton.
From their arrow-slit in the skull, the priests perceived me taking the
altitude of the final rib, "How now!" they shouted; "Dar'st thou measure
this our god! That's for us." "Aye, priests--well, how long do ye make
him, then?" But hereupon a fierce contest rose among them, concerning
feet and inches; they cracked each other's sconces with their
yard-sticks--the great skull echoed--and seizing that lucky chance, I
quickly concluded my own admeasurements.

These admeasurements I now propose to set before you. But first, be
it recorded, that, in this matter, I am not free to utter any fancied
measurement I please. Because there are skeleton authorities you can
refer to, to test my accuracy. There is a Leviathanic Museum, they tell
me, in Hull, England, one of the whaling ports of that country, where
they have some fine specimens of fin-backs and other whales. Likewise, I
have heard that in the museum of Manchester, in New Hampshire, they have
what the proprietors call "the only perfect specimen of a Greenland or
River Whale in the United States." Moreover, at a place in Yorkshire,
England, Burton Constable by name, a certain Sir Clifford Constable has
in his possession the skeleton of a Sperm Whale, but of moderate size,
by no means of the full-grown magnitude of my friend King Tranquo's.

In both cases, the stranded whales to which these two skeletons
belonged, were originally claimed by their proprietors upon similar
grounds. King Tranquo seizing his because he wanted it; and Sir
Clifford, because he was lord of the seignories of those parts. Sir
Clifford's whale has been articulated throughout; so that, like a
great chest of drawers, you can open and shut him, in all his bony
cavities--spread out his ribs like a gigantic fan--and swing all day
upon his lower jaw. Locks are to be put upon some of his trap-doors and
shutters; and a footman will show round future visitors with a bunch of
keys at his side. Sir Clifford thinks of charging twopence for a peep at
the whispering gallery in the spinal column; threepence to hear the echo
in the hollow of his cerebellum; and sixpence for the unrivalled view
from his forehead.

The skeleton dimensions I shall now proceed to set down are copied
verbatim from my right arm, where I had them tattooed; as in my wild
wanderings at that period, there was no other secure way of preserving
such valuable statistics. But as I was crowded for space, and wished
the other parts of my body to remain a blank page for a poem I was
then composing--at least, what untattooed parts might remain--I did not
trouble myself with the odd inches; nor, indeed, should inches at all
enter into a congenial admeasurement of the whale.