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Chapter 24: The Advocate.


As Queequeg and I are now fairly embarked in this business of whaling;
and as this business of whaling has somehow come to be regarded among
landsmen as a rather unpoetical and disreputable pursuit; therefore, I
am all anxiety to convince ye, ye landsmen, of the injustice hereby done
to us hunters of whales.

In the first place, it may be deemed almost superfluous to establish
the fact, that among people at large, the business of whaling is not
accounted on a level with what are called the liberal professions. If a
stranger were introduced into any miscellaneous metropolitan society,
it would but slightly advance the general opinion of his merits, were
he presented to the company as a harpooneer, say; and if in emulation
of the naval officers he should append the initials S.W.F. (Sperm
Whale Fishery) to his visiting card, such a procedure would be deemed
pre-eminently presuming and ridiculous.

Doubtless one leading reason why the world declines honouring us
whalemen, is this: they think that, at best, our vocation amounts to a
butchering sort of business; and that when actively engaged therein, we
are surrounded by all manner of defilements. Butchers we are, that is
true. But butchers, also, and butchers of the bloodiest badge have been
all Martial Commanders whom the world invariably delights to honour. And
as for the matter of the alleged uncleanliness of our business, ye shall
soon be initiated into certain facts hitherto pretty generally unknown,
and which, upon the whole, will triumphantly plant the sperm whale-ship
at least among the cleanliest things of this tidy earth. But even
granting the charge in question to be true; what disordered slippery
decks of a whale-ship are comparable to the unspeakable carrion of those
battle-fields from which so many soldiers return to drink in all ladies'
plaudits? And if the idea of peril so much enhances the popular conceit
of the soldier's profession; let me assure ye that many a veteran
who has freely marched up to a battery, would quickly recoil at the
apparition of the sperm whale's vast tail, fanning into eddies the air
over his head. For what are the comprehensible terrors of man compared
with the interlinked terrors and wonders of God!

But, though the world scouts at us whale hunters, yet does it
unwittingly pay us the profoundest homage; yea, an all-abounding
adoration! for almost all the tapers, lamps, and candles that burn round
the globe, burn, as before so many shrines, to our glory!

But look at this matter in other lights; weigh it in all sorts of
scales; see what we whalemen are, and have been.

Why did the Dutch in De Witt's time have admirals of their whaling
fleets? Why did Louis XVI. of France, at his own personal expense, fit
out whaling ships from Dunkirk, and politely invite to that town some
score or two of families from our own island of Nantucket? Why did
Britain between the years 1750 and 1788 pay to her whalemen in bounties
upwards of L1,000,000? And lastly, how comes it that we whalemen of
America now outnumber all the rest of the banded whalemen in the world;
sail a navy of upwards of seven hundred vessels; manned by eighteen
thousand men; yearly consuming 4,000,000 of dollars; the ships worth,
at the time of sailing, ,000,000! and every year importing into our
harbors a well reaped harvest of ,000,000. How comes all this, if
there be not something puissant in whaling?

But this is not the half; look again.

I freely assert, that the cosmopolite philosopher cannot, for his life,
point out one single peaceful influence, which within the last sixty
years has operated more potentially upon the whole broad world, taken in
one aggregate, than the high and mighty business of whaling. One way
and another, it has begotten events so remarkable in themselves, and so
continuously momentous in their sequential issues, that whaling may
well be regarded as that Egyptian mother, who bore offspring themselves
pregnant from her womb. It would be a hopeless, endless task to
catalogue all these things. Let a handful suffice. For many years past
the whale-ship has been the pioneer in ferreting out the remotest and
least known parts of the earth. She has explored seas and archipelagoes
which had no chart, where no Cook or Vancouver had ever sailed. If
American and European men-of-war now peacefully ride in once savage
harbors, let them fire salutes to the honour and glory of the
whale-ship, which originally showed them the way, and first interpreted
between them and the savages. They may celebrate as they will the heroes
of Exploring Expeditions, your Cooks, your Krusensterns; but I say that
scores of anonymous Captains have sailed out of Nantucket, that were
as great, and greater than your Cook and your Krusenstern. For in their
succourless empty-handedness, they, in the heathenish sharked waters,
and by the beaches of unrecorded, javelin islands, battled with virgin
wonders and terrors that Cook with all his marines and muskets would
not willingly have dared. All that is made such a flourish of in the old
South Sea Voyages, those things were but the life-time commonplaces of
our heroic Nantucketers. Often, adventures which Vancouver dedicates
three chapters to, these men accounted unworthy of being set down in the
ship's common log. Ah, the world! Oh, the world!

Until the whale fishery rounded Cape Horn, no commerce but colonial,
scarcely any intercourse but colonial, was carried on between Europe and
the long line of the opulent Spanish provinces on the Pacific coast.
It was the whaleman who first broke through the jealous policy of the
Spanish crown, touching those colonies; and, if space permitted, it
might be distinctly shown how from those whalemen at last eventuated the
liberation of Peru, Chili, and Bolivia from the yoke of Old Spain, and
the establishment of the eternal democracy in those parts.

That great America on the other side of the sphere, Australia, was given
to the enlightened world by the whaleman. After its first blunder-born
discovery by a Dutchman, all other ships long shunned those shores
as pestiferously barbarous; but the whale-ship touched there. The
whale-ship is the true mother of that now mighty colony. Moreover,
in the infancy of the first Australian settlement, the emigrants were
several times saved from starvation by the benevolent biscuit of the
whale-ship luckily dropping an anchor in their waters. The uncounted
isles of all Polynesia confess the same truth, and do commercial homage
to the whale-ship, that cleared the way for the missionary and the
merchant, and in many cases carried the primitive missionaries to their
first destinations. If that double-bolted land, Japan, is ever to become
hospitable, it is the whale-ship alone to whom the credit will be due;
for already she is on the threshold.

But if, in the face of all this, you still declare that whaling has no
aesthetically noble associations connected with it, then am I ready to
shiver fifty lances with you there, and unhorse you with a split helmet
every time.

The whale has no famous author, and whaling no famous chronicler, you
will say.

the first account of our Leviathan? Who but mighty Job! And who composed
the first narrative of a whaling-voyage? Who, but no less a prince than
Alfred the Great, who, with his own royal pen, took down the words from
Other, the Norwegian whale-hunter of those times! And who pronounced our
glowing eulogy in Parliament? Who, but Edmund Burke!

True enough, but then whalemen themselves are poor devils; they have no
good blood in their veins.

NO GOOD BLOOD IN THEIR VEINS? They have something better than royal
blood there. The grandmother of Benjamin Franklin was Mary Morrel;
afterwards, by marriage, Mary Folger, one of the old settlers
of Nantucket, and the ancestress to a long line of Folgers and
harpooneers--all kith and kin to noble Benjamin--this day darting the
barbed iron from one side of the world to the other.

Good again; but then all confess that somehow whaling is not

WHALING NOT RESPECTABLE? Whaling is imperial! By old English statutory
law, the whale is declared "a royal fish."*

Oh, that's only nominal! The whale himself has never figured in any
grand imposing way.

triumphs given to a Roman general upon his entering the world's capital,
the bones of a whale, brought all the way from the Syrian coast, were
the most conspicuous object in the cymballed procession.*

*See subsequent chapters for something more on this head.

Grant it, since you cite it; but, say what you will, there is no real
dignity in whaling.

NO DIGNITY IN WHALING? The dignity of our calling the very heavens
attest. Cetus is a constellation in the South! No more! Drive down your
hat in presence of the Czar, and take it off to Queequeg! No more! I
know a man that, in his lifetime, has taken three hundred and fifty
whales. I account that man more honourable than that great captain of
antiquity who boasted of taking as many walled towns.

And, as for me, if, by any possibility, there be any as yet undiscovered
prime thing in me; if I shall ever deserve any real repute in that small
but high hushed world which I might not be unreasonably ambitious of; if
hereafter I shall do anything that, upon the whole, a man might rather
have done than to have left undone; if, at my death, my executors, or
more properly my creditors, find any precious MSS. in my desk, then here
I prospectively ascribe all the honour and the glory to whaling; for a
whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.