Top Words

Click a word to see its frequency and other chapters in which it appears.

Word Occurrences
whales 12
savage 7
whale 6
some 5
out 5
stump 5
see 4
any 4
old 4
has 4
three 3
one 3
boats 3
against 3
point 3
war 3
would 3
much 2
bone 2
leg 2
hours 2
steady 2
sailor 2
long 2
man 2
hawaiian 2
tooth 2
time 2
bit 2
years 2
high 2
broken 2
placed 2
little 2
iron 2
sheet 2
wood 2
teeth 2
poor 2
sea 2
lie 2
whaleman 2
same 2
wooden 2
shark 2
come 2
full 2
patience 2
jack 2
carve 2

Chapter 57: Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in

	
Stone; in Mountains; in Stars.


On Tower-hill, as you go down to the London docks, you may have seen a
crippled beggar (or KEDGER, as the sailors say) holding a painted board
before him, representing the tragic scene in which he lost his leg.
There are three whales and three boats; and one of the boats (presumed
to contain the missing leg in all its original integrity) is being
crunched by the jaws of the foremost whale. Any time these ten years,
they tell me, has that man held up that picture, and exhibited that
stump to an incredulous world. But the time of his justification has
now come. His three whales are as good whales as were ever published in
Wapping, at any rate; and his stump as unquestionable a stump as any you
will find in the western clearings. But, though for ever mounted on
that stump, never a stump-speech does the poor whaleman make; but, with
downcast eyes, stands ruefully contemplating his own amputation.

Throughout the Pacific, and also in Nantucket, and New Bedford, and
Sag Harbor, you will come across lively sketches of whales and
whaling-scenes, graven by the fishermen themselves on Sperm Whale-teeth,
or ladies' busks wrought out of the Right Whale-bone, and other
like skrimshander articles, as the whalemen call the numerous little
ingenious contrivances they elaborately carve out of the rough material,
in their hours of ocean leisure. Some of them have little boxes
of dentistical-looking implements, specially intended for the
skrimshandering business. But, in general, they toil with their
jack-knives alone; and, with that almost omnipotent tool of the sailor,
they will turn you out anything you please, in the way of a mariner's
fancy.

Long exile from Christendom and civilization inevitably restores a man
to that condition in which God placed him, i.e. what is called savagery.
Your true whale-hunter is as much a savage as an Iroquois. I myself am a
savage, owning no allegiance but to the King of the Cannibals; and ready
at any moment to rebel against him.

Now, one of the peculiar characteristics of the savage in his domestic
hours, is his wonderful patience of industry. An ancient Hawaiian
war-club or spear-paddle, in its full multiplicity and elaboration of
carving, is as great a trophy of human perseverance as a Latin lexicon.
For, with but a bit of broken sea-shell or a shark's tooth, that
miraculous intricacy of wooden net-work has been achieved; and it has
cost steady years of steady application.

As with the Hawaiian savage, so with the white sailor-savage. With the
same marvellous patience, and with the same single shark's tooth, of
his one poor jack-knife, he will carve you a bit of bone sculpture, not
quite as workmanlike, but as close packed in its maziness of design,
as the Greek savage, Achilles's shield; and full of barbaric spirit
and suggestiveness, as the prints of that fine old Dutch savage, Albert
Durer.

Wooden whales, or whales cut in profile out of the small dark slabs of
the noble South Sea war-wood, are frequently met with in the forecastles
of American whalers. Some of them are done with much accuracy.

At some old gable-roofed country houses you will see brass whales hung
by the tail for knockers to the road-side door. When the porter is
sleepy, the anvil-headed whale would be best. But these knocking
whales are seldom remarkable as faithful essays. On the spires of some
old-fashioned churches you will see sheet-iron whales placed there for
weather-cocks; but they are so elevated, and besides that are to all
intents and purposes so labelled with "HANDS OFF!" you cannot examine
them closely enough to decide upon their merit.

In bony, ribby regions of the earth, where at the base of high broken
cliffs masses of rock lie strewn in fantastic groupings upon the
plain, you will often discover images as of the petrified forms of the
Leviathan partly merged in grass, which of a windy day breaks against
them in a surf of green surges.

Then, again, in mountainous countries where the traveller is continually
girdled by amphitheatrical heights; here and there from some lucky
point of view you will catch passing glimpses of the profiles of
whales defined along the undulating ridges. But you must be a thorough
whaleman, to see these sights; and not only that, but if you wish
to return to such a sight again, you must be sure and take the exact
intersecting latitude and longitude of your first stand-point, else
so chance-like are such observations of the hills, that your precise,
previous stand-point would require a laborious re-discovery; like the
Soloma Islands, which still remain incognita, though once high-ruffed
Mendanna trod them and old Figuera chronicled them.

Nor when expandingly lifted by your subject, can you fail to trace out
great whales in the starry heavens, and boats in pursuit of them; as
when long filled with thoughts of war the Eastern nations saw armies
locked in battle among the clouds. Thus at the North have I chased
Leviathan round and round the Pole with the revolutions of the bright
points that first defined him to me. And beneath the effulgent Antarctic
skies I have boarded the Argo-Navis, and joined the chase against the
starry Cetus far beyond the utmost stretch of Hydrus and the Flying
Fish.

With a frigate's anchors for my bridle-bitts and fasces of harpoons for
spurs, would I could mount that whale and leap the topmost skies, to
see whether the fabled heavens with all their countless tents really lie
encamped beyond my mortal sight!