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sperm 9
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one 3
genius 3
lavater 3
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beholding 2
view 2
nor 2
day 2
expression 2
god 2
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leviathan 2
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mountain 2
snow 2
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wrinkles 2
full 2
gall 2
feel 2
eyes 2
track 2
thoughts 2
any 2
semi 2

Chapter 79: The Prairie.


To scan the lines of his face, or feel the bumps on the head of this
Leviathan; this is a thing which no Physiognomist or Phrenologist has as
yet undertaken. Such an enterprise would seem almost as hopeful as for
Lavater to have scrutinized the wrinkles on the Rock of Gibraltar,
or for Gall to have mounted a ladder and manipulated the Dome of the
Pantheon. Still, in that famous work of his, Lavater not only treats
of the various faces of men, but also attentively studies the faces
of horses, birds, serpents, and fish; and dwells in detail upon the
modifications of expression discernible therein. Nor have Gall and
his disciple Spurzheim failed to throw out some hints touching the
phrenological characteristics of other beings than man. Therefore,
though I am but ill qualified for a pioneer, in the application of these
two semi-sciences to the whale, I will do my endeavor. I try all things;
I achieve what I can.

Physiognomically regarded, the Sperm Whale is an anomalous creature.
He has no proper nose. And since the nose is the central and most
conspicuous of the features; and since it perhaps most modifies and
finally controls their combined expression; hence it would seem that its
entire absence, as an external appendage, must very largely affect
the countenance of the whale. For as in landscape gardening, a spire,
cupola, monument, or tower of some sort, is deemed almost indispensable
to the completion of the scene; so no face can be physiognomically in
keeping without the elevated open-work belfry of the nose. Dash the nose
from Phidias's marble Jove, and what a sorry remainder! Nevertheless,
Leviathan is of so mighty a magnitude, all his proportions are so
stately, that the same deficiency which in the sculptured Jove were
hideous, in him is no blemish at all. Nay, it is an added grandeur. A
nose to the whale would have been impertinent. As on your physiognomical
voyage you sail round his vast head in your jolly-boat, your noble
conceptions of him are never insulted by the reflection that he has a
nose to be pulled. A pestilent conceit, which so often will insist upon
obtruding even when beholding the mightiest royal beadle on his throne.

In some particulars, perhaps the most imposing physiognomical view to
be had of the Sperm Whale, is that of the full front of his head. This
aspect is sublime.

In thought, a fine human brow is like the East when troubled with the
morning. In the repose of the pasture, the curled brow of the bull has a
touch of the grand in it. Pushing heavy cannon up mountain defiles, the
elephant's brow is majestic. Human or animal, the mystical brow is as
that great golden seal affixed by the German Emperors to their decrees.
It signifies--"God: done this day by my hand." But in most creatures,
nay in man himself, very often the brow is but a mere strip of alpine
land lying along the snow line. Few are the foreheads which like
Shakespeare's or Melancthon's rise so high, and descend so low, that the
eyes themselves seem clear, eternal, tideless mountain lakes; and all
above them in the forehead's wrinkles, you seem to track the antlered
thoughts descending there to drink, as the Highland hunters track the
snow prints of the deer. But in the great Sperm Whale, this high and
mighty god-like dignity inherent in the brow is so immensely amplified,
that gazing on it, in that full front view, you feel the Deity and the
dread powers more forcibly than in beholding any other object in living
nature. For you see no one point precisely; not one distinct feature is
revealed; no nose, eyes, ears, or mouth; no face; he has none, proper;
nothing but that one broad firmament of a forehead, pleated with
riddles; dumbly lowering with the doom of boats, and ships, and men.
Nor, in profile, does this wondrous brow diminish; though that way
viewed its grandeur does not domineer upon you so. In profile, you
plainly perceive that horizontal, semi-crescentic depression in the
forehead's middle, which, in man, is Lavater's mark of genius.

But how? Genius in the Sperm Whale? Has the Sperm Whale ever written
a book, spoken a speech? No, his great genius is declared in his
doing nothing particular to prove it. It is moreover declared in his
pyramidical silence. And this reminds me that had the great Sperm Whale
been known to the young Orient World, he would have been deified by
their child-magian thoughts. They deified the crocodile of the Nile,
because the crocodile is tongueless; and the Sperm Whale has no
tongue, or at least it is so exceedingly small, as to be incapable of
protrusion. If hereafter any highly cultured, poetical nation shall lure
back to their birth-right, the merry May-day gods of old; and livingly
enthrone them again in the now egotistical sky; in the now unhaunted
hill; then be sure, exalted to Jove's high seat, the great Sperm Whale
shall lord it.

Champollion deciphered the wrinkled granite hieroglyphics. But there is
no Champollion to decipher the Egypt of every man's and every being's
face. Physiognomy, like every other human science, is but a passing
fable. If then, Sir William Jones, who read in thirty languages, could
not read the simplest peasant's face in its profounder and more subtle
meanings, how may unlettered Ishmael hope to read the awful Chaldee of
the Sperm Whale's brow? I but put that brow before you. Read it if you