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Chapter 45: The Affidavit.


So far as what there may be of a narrative in this book; and, indeed, as
indirectly touching one or two very interesting and curious particulars
in the habits of sperm whales, the foregoing chapter, in its earlier
part, is as important a one as will be found in this volume; but the
leading matter of it requires to be still further and more familiarly
enlarged upon, in order to be adequately understood, and moreover to
take away any incredulity which a profound ignorance of the entire
subject may induce in some minds, as to the natural verity of the main
points of this affair.

I care not to perform this part of my task methodically; but shall
be content to produce the desired impression by separate citations of
items, practically or reliably known to me as a whaleman; and from these
citations, I take it--the conclusion aimed at will naturally follow of

First: I have personally known three instances where a whale, after
receiving a harpoon, has effected a complete escape; and, after an
interval (in one instance of three years), has been again struck by
the same hand, and slain; when the two irons, both marked by the same
private cypher, have been taken from the body. In the instance where
three years intervened between the flinging of the two harpoons; and I
think it may have been something more than that; the man who darted
them happening, in the interval, to go in a trading ship on a voyage to
Africa, went ashore there, joined a discovery party, and penetrated far
into the interior, where he travelled for a period of nearly two years,
often endangered by serpents, savages, tigers, poisonous miasmas,
with all the other common perils incident to wandering in the heart of
unknown regions. Meanwhile, the whale he had struck must also have
been on its travels; no doubt it had thrice circumnavigated the globe,
brushing with its flanks all the coasts of Africa; but to no purpose.
This man and this whale again came together, and the one vanquished the
other. I say I, myself, have known three instances similar to this; that
is in two of them I saw the whales struck; and, upon the second attack,
saw the two irons with the respective marks cut in them, afterwards
taken from the dead fish. In the three-year instance, it so fell out
that I was in the boat both times, first and last, and the last time
distinctly recognised a peculiar sort of huge mole under the whale's
eye, which I had observed there three years previous. I say three years,
but I am pretty sure it was more than that. Here are three instances,
then, which I personally know the truth of; but I have heard of many
other instances from persons whose veracity in the matter there is no
good ground to impeach.

Secondly: It is well known in the Sperm Whale Fishery, however ignorant
the world ashore may be of it, that there have been several memorable
historical instances where a particular whale in the ocean has been at
distant times and places popularly cognisable. Why such a whale became
thus marked was not altogether and originally owing to his bodily
peculiarities as distinguished from other whales; for however peculiar
in that respect any chance whale may be, they soon put an end to his
peculiarities by killing him, and boiling him down into a peculiarly
valuable oil. No: the reason was this: that from the fatal experiences
of the fishery there hung a terrible prestige of perilousness about
such a whale as there did about Rinaldo Rinaldini, insomuch that
most fishermen were content to recognise him by merely touching their
tarpaulins when he would be discovered lounging by them on the sea,
without seeking to cultivate a more intimate acquaintance. Like some
poor devils ashore that happen to know an irascible great man, they
make distant unobtrusive salutations to him in the street, lest if they
pursued the acquaintance further, they might receive a summary thump for
their presumption.

But not only did each of these famous whales enjoy great individual
celebrity--Nay, you may call it an ocean-wide renown; not only was he
famous in life and now is immortal in forecastle stories after death,
but he was admitted into all the rights, privileges, and distinctions of
a name; had as much a name indeed as Cambyses or Caesar. Was it not so,
O Timor Tom! thou famed leviathan, scarred like an iceberg, who so long
did'st lurk in the Oriental straits of that name, whose spout was oft
seen from the palmy beach of Ombay? Was it not so, O New Zealand Jack!
thou terror of all cruisers that crossed their wakes in the vicinity of
the Tattoo Land? Was it not so, O Morquan! King of Japan, whose lofty
jet they say at times assumed the semblance of a snow-white cross
against the sky? Was it not so, O Don Miguel! thou Chilian whale, marked
like an old tortoise with mystic hieroglyphics upon the back! In plain
prose, here are four whales as well known to the students of Cetacean
History as Marius or Sylla to the classic scholar.

But this is not all. New Zealand Tom and Don Miguel, after at various
times creating great havoc among the boats of different vessels, were
finally gone in quest of, systematically hunted out, chased and killed
by valiant whaling captains, who heaved up their anchors with
that express object as much in view, as in setting out through the
Narragansett Woods, Captain Butler of old had it in his mind to capture
that notorious murderous savage Annawon, the headmost warrior of the
Indian King Philip.

I do not know where I can find a better place than just here, to make
mention of one or two other things, which to me seem important, as in
printed form establishing in all respects the reasonableness of the
whole story of the White Whale, more especially the catastrophe. For
this is one of those disheartening instances where truth requires full
as much bolstering as error. So ignorant are most landsmen of some of
the plainest and most palpable wonders of the world, that without
some hints touching the plain facts, historical and otherwise, of the
fishery, they might scout at Moby Dick as a monstrous fable, or still
worse and more detestable, a hideous and intolerable allegory.

First: Though most men have some vague flitting ideas of the general
perils of the grand fishery, yet they have nothing like a fixed, vivid
conception of those perils, and the frequency with which they recur.
One reason perhaps is, that not one in fifty of the actual disasters and
deaths by casualties in the fishery, ever finds a public record at home,
however transient and immediately forgotten that record. Do you suppose
that that poor fellow there, who this moment perhaps caught by the
whale-line off the coast of New Guinea, is being carried down to the
bottom of the sea by the sounding leviathan--do you suppose that that
poor fellow's name will appear in the newspaper obituary you will read
to-morrow at your breakfast? No: because the mails are very irregular
between here and New Guinea. In fact, did you ever hear what might be
called regular news direct or indirect from New Guinea? Yet I tell you
that upon one particular voyage which I made to the Pacific, among many
others we spoke thirty different ships, every one of which had had a
death by a whale, some of them more than one, and three that had each
lost a boat's crew. For God's sake, be economical with your lamps and
candles! not a gallon you burn, but at least one drop of man's blood was
spilled for it.

Secondly: People ashore have indeed some indefinite idea that a whale is
an enormous creature of enormous power; but I have ever found that when
narrating to them some specific example of this two-fold enormousness,
they have significantly complimented me upon my facetiousness; when, I
declare upon my soul, I had no more idea of being facetious than Moses,
when he wrote the history of the plagues of Egypt.

But fortunately the special point I here seek can be established upon
testimony entirely independent of my own. That point is this: The Sperm
Whale is in some cases sufficiently powerful, knowing, and judiciously
malicious, as with direct aforethought to stave in, utterly destroy, and
sink a large ship; and what is more, the Sperm Whale HAS done it.

First: In the year 1820 the ship Essex, Captain Pollard, of Nantucket,
was cruising in the Pacific Ocean. One day she saw spouts, lowered her
boats, and gave chase to a shoal of sperm whales. Ere long, several of
the whales were wounded; when, suddenly, a very large whale escaping
from the boats, issued from the shoal, and bore directly down upon the
ship. Dashing his forehead against her hull, he so stove her in, that in
less than "ten minutes" she settled down and fell over. Not a surviving
plank of her has been seen since. After the severest exposure, part of
the crew reached the land in their boats. Being returned home at last,
Captain Pollard once more sailed for the Pacific in command of another
ship, but the gods shipwrecked him again upon unknown rocks and
breakers; for the second time his ship was utterly lost, and forthwith
forswearing the sea, he has never tempted it since. At this day Captain
Pollard is a resident of Nantucket. I have seen Owen Chace, who was
chief mate of the Essex at the time of the tragedy; I have read his
plain and faithful narrative; I have conversed with his son; and all
this within a few miles of the scene of the catastrophe.*

*The following are extracts from Chace's narrative: "Every fact seemed
to warrant me in concluding that it was anything but chance which
directed his operations; he made two several attacks upon the ship, at
a short interval between them, both of which, according to their
direction, were calculated to do us the most injury, by being made
ahead, and thereby combining the speed of the two objects for the shock;
to effect which, the exact manoeuvres which he made were necessary. His
aspect was most horrible, and such as indicated resentment and fury. He
came directly from the shoal which we had just before entered, and in
which we had struck three of his companions, as if fired with revenge
for their sufferings." Again: "At all events, the whole circumstances
taken together, all happening before my own eyes, and producing, at the
time, impressions in my mind of decided, calculating mischief, on the
part of the whale (many of which impressions I cannot now recall),
induce me to be satisfied that I am correct in my opinion."

Here are his reflections some time after quitting the ship, during
a black night an open boat, when almost despairing of reaching any
hospitable shore. "The dark ocean and swelling waters were nothing; the
fears of being swallowed up by some dreadful tempest, or dashed
upon hidden rocks, with all the other ordinary subjects of fearful
contemplation, seemed scarcely entitled to a moment's thought; the
wholly engrossed my reflections, until day again made its appearance."

In another place--p. 45,--he speaks of "THE MYSTERIOUS AND MORTAL ATTACK

Secondly: The ship Union, also of Nantucket, was in the year 1807
totally lost off the Azores by a similar onset, but the authentic
particulars of this catastrophe I have never chanced to encounter,
though from the whale hunters I have now and then heard casual allusions
to it.

Thirdly: Some eighteen or twenty years ago Commodore J---, then
commanding an American sloop-of-war of the first class, happened to be
dining with a party of whaling captains, on board a Nantucket ship in
the harbor of Oahu, Sandwich Islands. Conversation turning upon whales,
the Commodore was pleased to be sceptical touching the amazing strength
ascribed to them by the professional gentlemen present. He peremptorily
denied for example, that any whale could so smite his stout sloop-of-war
as to cause her to leak so much as a thimbleful. Very good; but there
is more coming. Some weeks after, the Commodore set sail in this
impregnable craft for Valparaiso. But he was stopped on the way by a
portly sperm whale, that begged a few moments' confidential business
with him. That business consisted in fetching the Commodore's craft such
a thwack, that with all his pumps going he made straight for the nearest
port to heave down and repair. I am not superstitious, but I consider
the Commodore's interview with that whale as providential. Was not Saul
of Tarsus converted from unbelief by a similar fright? I tell you, the
sperm whale will stand no nonsense.

I will now refer you to Langsdorff's Voyages for a little circumstance
in point, peculiarly interesting to the writer hereof. Langsdorff, you
must know by the way, was attached to the Russian Admiral Krusenstern's
famous Discovery Expedition in the beginning of the present century.
Captain Langsdorff thus begins his seventeenth chapter:

"By the thirteenth of May our ship was ready to sail, and the next day
we were out in the open sea, on our way to Ochotsh. The weather was very
clear and fine, but so intolerably cold that we were obliged to keep on
our fur clothing. For some days we had very little wind; it was not
till the nineteenth that a brisk gale from the northwest sprang up. An
uncommon large whale, the body of which was larger than the ship itself,
lay almost at the surface of the water, but was not perceived by any
one on board till the moment when the ship, which was in full sail,
was almost upon him, so that it was impossible to prevent its striking
against him. We were thus placed in the most imminent danger, as this
gigantic creature, setting up its back, raised the ship three feet at
least out of the water. The masts reeled, and the sails fell altogether,
while we who were below all sprang instantly upon the deck, concluding
that we had struck upon some rock; instead of this we saw the monster
sailing off with the utmost gravity and solemnity. Captain D'Wolf
applied immediately to the pumps to examine whether or not the vessel
had received any damage from the shock, but we found that very happily
it had escaped entirely uninjured."

Now, the Captain D'Wolf here alluded to as commanding the ship in
question, is a New Englander, who, after a long life of unusual
adventures as a sea-captain, this day resides in the village of
Dorchester near Boston. I have the honour of being a nephew of his. I
have particularly questioned him concerning this passage in Langsdorff.
He substantiates every word. The ship, however, was by no means a large
one: a Russian craft built on the Siberian coast, and purchased by my
uncle after bartering away the vessel in which he sailed from home.

In that up and down manly book of old-fashioned adventure, so full, too,
of honest wonders--the voyage of Lionel Wafer, one of ancient Dampier's
old chums--I found a little matter set down so like that just quoted
from Langsdorff, that I cannot forbear inserting it here for a
corroborative example, if such be needed.

Lionel, it seems, was on his way to "John Ferdinando," as he calls
the modern Juan Fernandes. "In our way thither," he says, "about four
o'clock in the morning, when we were about one hundred and fifty leagues
from the Main of America, our ship felt a terrible shock, which put our
men in such consternation that they could hardly tell where they were
or what to think; but every one began to prepare for death. And, indeed,
the shock was so sudden and violent, that we took it for granted the
ship had struck against a rock; but when the amazement was a little
over, we cast the lead, and sounded, but found no ground..... The
suddenness of the shock made the guns leap in their carriages, and
several of the men were shaken out of their hammocks. Captain Davis, who
lay with his head on a gun, was thrown out of his cabin!" Lionel then
goes on to impute the shock to an earthquake, and seems to substantiate
the imputation by stating that a great earthquake, somewhere about
that time, did actually do great mischief along the Spanish land. But
I should not much wonder if, in the darkness of that early hour of the
morning, the shock was after all caused by an unseen whale vertically
bumping the hull from beneath.

I might proceed with several more examples, one way or another known to
me, of the great power and malice at times of the sperm whale. In more
than one instance, he has been known, not only to chase the assailing
boats back to their ships, but to pursue the ship itself, and long
withstand all the lances hurled at him from its decks. The English ship
Pusie Hall can tell a story on that head; and, as for his strength,
let me say, that there have been examples where the lines attached to a
running sperm whale have, in a calm, been transferred to the ship, and
secured there; the whale towing her great hull through the water, as a
horse walks off with a cart. Again, it is very often observed that, if
the sperm whale, once struck, is allowed time to rally, he then acts,
not so often with blind rage, as with wilful, deliberate designs of
destruction to his pursuers; nor is it without conveying some eloquent
indication of his character, that upon being attacked he will frequently
open his mouth, and retain it in that dread expansion for several
consecutive minutes. But I must be content with only one more and a
concluding illustration; a remarkable and most significant one, by which
you will not fail to see, that not only is the most marvellous event in
this book corroborated by plain facts of the present day, but that these
marvels (like all marvels) are mere repetitions of the ages; so that for
the millionth time we say amen with Solomon--Verily there is nothing new
under the sun.

In the sixth Christian century lived Procopius, a Christian magistrate
of Constantinople, in the days when Justinian was Emperor and Belisarius
general. As many know, he wrote the history of his own times, a work
every way of uncommon value. By the best authorities, he has always been
considered a most trustworthy and unexaggerating historian, except in
some one or two particulars, not at all affecting the matter presently
to be mentioned.

Now, in this history of his, Procopius mentions that, during the term
of his prefecture at Constantinople, a great sea-monster was captured
in the neighboring Propontis, or Sea of Marmora, after having destroyed
vessels at intervals in those waters for a period of more than fifty
years. A fact thus set down in substantial history cannot easily be
gainsaid. Nor is there any reason it should be. Of what precise species
this sea-monster was, is not mentioned. But as he destroyed ships, as
well as for other reasons, he must have been a whale; and I am strongly
inclined to think a sperm whale. And I will tell you why. For a long
time I fancied that the sperm whale had been always unknown in the
Mediterranean and the deep waters connecting with it. Even now I am
certain that those seas are not, and perhaps never can be, in the
present constitution of things, a place for his habitual gregarious
resort. But further investigations have recently proved to me, that in
modern times there have been isolated instances of the presence of the
sperm whale in the Mediterranean. I am told, on good authority, that
on the Barbary coast, a Commodore Davis of the British navy found
the skeleton of a sperm whale. Now, as a vessel of war readily passes
through the Dardanelles, hence a sperm whale could, by the same route,
pass out of the Mediterranean into the Propontis.

In the Propontis, as far as I can learn, none of that peculiar substance
called BRIT is to be found, the aliment of the right whale. But I have
every reason to believe that the food of the sperm whale--squid or
cuttle-fish--lurks at the bottom of that sea, because large creatures,
but by no means the largest of that sort, have been found at its
surface. If, then, you properly put these statements together, and
reason upon them a bit, you will clearly perceive that, according to all
human reasoning, Procopius's sea-monster, that for half a century stove
the ships of a Roman Emperor, must in all probability have been a sperm