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Chapter 76: The Battering-Ram.


Ere quitting, for the nonce, the Sperm Whale's head, I would have
you, as a sensible physiologist, simply--particularly remark its front
aspect, in all its compacted collectedness. I would have you investigate
it now with the sole view of forming to yourself some unexaggerated,
intelligent estimate of whatever battering-ram power may be lodged
there. Here is a vital point; for you must either satisfactorily settle
this matter with yourself, or for ever remain an infidel as to one of
the most appalling, but not the less true events, perhaps anywhere to be
found in all recorded history.

You observe that in the ordinary swimming position of the Sperm Whale,
the front of his head presents an almost wholly vertical plane to the
water; you observe that the lower part of that front slopes considerably
backwards, so as to furnish more of a retreat for the long socket which
receives the boom-like lower jaw; you observe that the mouth is entirely
under the head, much in the same way, indeed, as though your own mouth
were entirely under your chin. Moreover you observe that the whale has
no external nose; and that what nose he has--his spout hole--is on the
top of his head; you observe that his eyes and ears are at the sides
of his head, nearly one third of his entire length from the front.
Wherefore, you must now have perceived that the front of the Sperm
Whale's head is a dead, blind wall, without a single organ or tender
prominence of any sort whatsoever. Furthermore, you are now to consider
that only in the extreme, lower, backward sloping part of the front of
the head, is there the slightest vestige of bone; and not till you
get near twenty feet from the forehead do you come to the full cranial
development. So that this whole enormous boneless mass is as one wad.
Finally, though, as will soon be revealed, its contents partly comprise
the most delicate oil; yet, you are now to be apprised of the nature of
the substance which so impregnably invests all that apparent effeminacy.
In some previous place I have described to you how the blubber wraps the
body of the whale, as the rind wraps an orange. Just so with the head;
but with this difference: about the head this envelope, though not so
thick, is of a boneless toughness, inestimable by any man who has not
handled it. The severest pointed harpoon, the sharpest lance darted by
the strongest human arm, impotently rebounds from it. It is as though
the forehead of the Sperm Whale were paved with horses' hoofs. I do not
think that any sensation lurks in it.

Bethink yourself also of another thing. When two large, loaded Indiamen
chance to crowd and crush towards each other in the docks, what do the
sailors do? They do not suspend between them, at the point of coming
contact, any merely hard substance, like iron or wood. No, they hold
there a large, round wad of tow and cork, enveloped in the thickest
and toughest of ox-hide. That bravely and uninjured takes the jam which
would have snapped all their oaken handspikes and iron crow-bars. By
itself this sufficiently illustrates the obvious fact I drive at. But
supplementary to this, it has hypothetically occurred to me, that
as ordinary fish possess what is called a swimming bladder in them,
capable, at will, of distension or contraction; and as the Sperm Whale,
as far as I know, has no such provision in him; considering, too,
the otherwise inexplicable manner in which he now depresses his head
altogether beneath the surface, and anon swims with it high elevated out
of the water; considering the unobstructed elasticity of its envelope;
considering the unique interior of his head; it has hypothetically
occurred to me, I say, that those mystical lung-celled honeycombs there
may possibly have some hitherto unknown and unsuspected connexion with
the outer air, so as to be susceptible to atmospheric distension and
contraction. If this be so, fancy the irresistibleness of that might, to
which the most impalpable and destructive of all elements contributes.

Now, mark. Unerringly impelling this dead, impregnable, uninjurable
wall, and this most buoyant thing within; there swims behind it all a
mass of tremendous life, only to be adequately estimated as piled wood
is--by the cord; and all obedient to one volition, as the smallest
insect. So that when I shall hereafter detail to you all the
specialities and concentrations of potency everywhere lurking in this
expansive monster; when I shall show you some of his more inconsiderable
braining feats; I trust you will have renounced all ignorant
incredulity, and be ready to abide by this; that though the Sperm Whale
stove a passage through the Isthmus of Darien, and mixed the Atlantic
with the Pacific, you would not elevate one hair of your eye-brow. For
unless you own the whale, you are but a provincial and sentimentalist
in Truth. But clear Truth is a thing for salamander giants only to
encounter; how small the chances for the provincials then? What befell
the weakling youth lifting the dread goddess's veil at Lais?