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pulpit 11
ship 9
mapple 7
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ladder 7
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man 5
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first 4
without 4
chapel 3
little 3
step 3
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life 2
perpendicular 2
youth 2
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back 2
quick 2
lofty 2
itself 2
headed 2
chaplain 2
water 2
hat 2
forth 2

Chapter 8: The Pulpit.

	


I had not been seated very long ere a man of a certain venerable
robustness entered; immediately as the storm-pelted door flew back upon
admitting him, a quick regardful eyeing of him by all the congregation,
sufficiently attested that this fine old man was the chaplain. Yes, it
was the famous Father Mapple, so called by the whalemen, among whom he
was a very great favourite. He had been a sailor and a harpooneer in his
youth, but for many years past had dedicated his life to the ministry.
At the time I now write of, Father Mapple was in the hardy winter of a
healthy old age; that sort of old age which seems merging into a second
flowering youth, for among all the fissures of his wrinkles, there shone
certain mild gleams of a newly developing bloom--the spring verdure
peeping forth even beneath February's snow. No one having previously
heard his history, could for the first time behold Father Mapple without
the utmost interest, because there were certain engrafted clerical
peculiarities about him, imputable to that adventurous maritime life
he had led. When he entered I observed that he carried no umbrella, and
certainly had not come in his carriage, for his tarpaulin hat ran down
with melting sleet, and his great pilot cloth jacket seemed almost to
drag him to the floor with the weight of the water it had absorbed.
However, hat and coat and overshoes were one by one removed, and hung up
in a little space in an adjacent corner; when, arrayed in a decent suit,
he quietly approached the pulpit.

Like most old fashioned pulpits, it was a very lofty one, and since a
regular stairs to such a height would, by its long angle with the floor,
seriously contract the already small area of the chapel, the architect,
it seemed, had acted upon the hint of Father Mapple, and finished the
pulpit without a stairs, substituting a perpendicular side ladder, like
those used in mounting a ship from a boat at sea. The wife of a whaling
captain had provided the chapel with a handsome pair of red worsted
man-ropes for this ladder, which, being itself nicely headed, and
stained with a mahogany colour, the whole contrivance, considering what
manner of chapel it was, seemed by no means in bad taste. Halting for
an instant at the foot of the ladder, and with both hands grasping the
ornamental knobs of the man-ropes, Father Mapple cast a look upwards,
and then with a truly sailor-like but still reverential dexterity, hand
over hand, mounted the steps as if ascending the main-top of his vessel.

The perpendicular parts of this side ladder, as is usually the case with
swinging ones, were of cloth-covered rope, only the rounds were of wood,
so that at every step there was a joint. At my first glimpse of the
pulpit, it had not escaped me that however convenient for a ship,
these joints in the present instance seemed unnecessary. For I was not
prepared to see Father Mapple after gaining the height, slowly turn
round, and stooping over the pulpit, deliberately drag up the ladder
step by step, till the whole was deposited within, leaving him
impregnable in his little Quebec.

I pondered some time without fully comprehending the reason for this.
Father Mapple enjoyed such a wide reputation for sincerity and sanctity,
that I could not suspect him of courting notoriety by any mere tricks
of the stage. No, thought I, there must be some sober reason for this
thing; furthermore, it must symbolize something unseen. Can it be,
then, that by that act of physical isolation, he signifies his spiritual
withdrawal for the time, from all outward worldly ties and connexions?
Yes, for replenished with the meat and wine of the word, to the faithful
man of God, this pulpit, I see, is a self-containing stronghold--a lofty
Ehrenbreitstein, with a perennial well of water within the walls.

But the side ladder was not the only strange feature of the place,
borrowed from the chaplain's former sea-farings. Between the marble
cenotaphs on either hand of the pulpit, the wall which formed its back
was adorned with a large painting representing a gallant ship beating
against a terrible storm off a lee coast of black rocks and snowy
breakers. But high above the flying scud and dark-rolling clouds, there
floated a little isle of sunlight, from which beamed forth an angel's
face; and this bright face shed a distinct spot of radiance upon the
ship's tossed deck, something like that silver plate now inserted into
the Victory's plank where Nelson fell. "Ah, noble ship," the angel
seemed to say, "beat on, beat on, thou noble ship, and bear a hardy
helm; for lo! the sun is breaking through; the clouds are rolling
off--serenest azure is at hand."

Nor was the pulpit itself without a trace of the same sea-taste that
had achieved the ladder and the picture. Its panelled front was in
the likeness of a ship's bluff bows, and the Holy Bible rested on a
projecting piece of scroll work, fashioned after a ship's fiddle-headed
beak.

What could be more full of meaning?--for the pulpit is ever this earth's
foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the
world. From thence it is the storm of God's quick wrath is first
descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is
the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favourable winds.
Yes, the world's a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete;
and the pulpit is its prow.