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Chapter 80: The Nut.


If the Sperm Whale be physiognomically a Sphinx, to the phrenologist his
brain seems that geometrical circle which it is impossible to square.

In the full-grown creature the skull will measure at least twenty feet
in length. Unhinge the lower jaw, and the side view of this skull is as
the side of a moderately inclined plane resting throughout on a level
base. But in life--as we have elsewhere seen--this inclined plane is
angularly filled up, and almost squared by the enormous superincumbent
mass of the junk and sperm. At the high end the skull forms a crater to
bed that part of the mass; while under the long floor of this crater--in
another cavity seldom exceeding ten inches in length and as many in
depth--reposes the mere handful of this monster's brain. The brain is at
least twenty feet from his apparent forehead in life; it is hidden
away behind its vast outworks, like the innermost citadel within the
amplified fortifications of Quebec. So like a choice casket is it
secreted in him, that I have known some whalemen who peremptorily deny
that the Sperm Whale has any other brain than that palpable semblance
of one formed by the cubic-yards of his sperm magazine. Lying in strange
folds, courses, and convolutions, to their apprehensions, it seems more
in keeping with the idea of his general might to regard that mystic part
of him as the seat of his intelligence.

It is plain, then, that phrenologically the head of this Leviathan, in
the creature's living intact state, is an entire delusion. As for his
true brain, you can then see no indications of it, nor feel any. The
whale, like all things that are mighty, wears a false brow to the common

If you unload his skull of its spermy heaps and then take a rear view
of its rear end, which is the high end, you will be struck by its
resemblance to the human skull, beheld in the same situation, and from
the same point of view. Indeed, place this reversed skull (scaled down
to the human magnitude) among a plate of men's skulls, and you would
involuntarily confound it with them; and remarking the depressions on
one part of its summit, in phrenological phrase you would say--This
man had no self-esteem, and no veneration. And by those negations,
considered along with the affirmative fact of his prodigious bulk and
power, you can best form to yourself the truest, though not the most
exhilarating conception of what the most exalted potency is.

But if from the comparative dimensions of the whale's proper brain, you
deem it incapable of being adequately charted, then I have another idea
for you. If you attentively regard almost any quadruped's spine,
you will be struck with the resemblance of its vertebrae to a strung
necklace of dwarfed skulls, all bearing rudimental resemblance to the
skull proper. It is a German conceit, that the vertebrae are absolutely
undeveloped skulls. But the curious external resemblance, I take it
the Germans were not the first men to perceive. A foreign friend once
pointed it out to me, in the skeleton of a foe he had slain, and with
the vertebrae of which he was inlaying, in a sort of basso-relievo, the
beaked prow of his canoe. Now, I consider that the phrenologists have
omitted an important thing in not pushing their investigations from the
cerebellum through the spinal canal. For I believe that much of a man's
character will be found betokened in his backbone. I would rather feel
your spine than your skull, whoever you are. A thin joist of a spine
never yet upheld a full and noble soul. I rejoice in my spine, as in the
firm audacious staff of that flag which I fling half out to the world.

Apply this spinal branch of phrenology to the Sperm Whale. His cranial
cavity is continuous with the first neck-vertebra; and in that vertebra
the bottom of the spinal canal will measure ten inches across, being
eight in height, and of a triangular figure with the base downwards. As
it passes through the remaining vertebrae the canal tapers in size, but
for a considerable distance remains of large capacity. Now, of course,
this canal is filled with much the same strangely fibrous substance--the
spinal cord--as the brain; and directly communicates with the brain.
And what is still more, for many feet after emerging from the brain's
cavity, the spinal cord remains of an undecreasing girth, almost
equal to that of the brain. Under all these circumstances, would it be
unreasonable to survey and map out the whale's spine phrenologically?
For, viewed in this light, the wonderful comparative smallness of his
brain proper is more than compensated by the wonderful comparative
magnitude of his spinal cord.

But leaving this hint to operate as it may with the phrenologists, I
would merely assume the spinal theory for a moment, in reference to the
Sperm Whale's hump. This august hump, if I mistake not, rises over one
of the larger vertebrae, and is, therefore, in some sort, the outer
convex mould of it. From its relative situation then, I should call this
high hump the organ of firmness or indomitableness in the Sperm Whale.
And that the great monster is indomitable, you will yet have reason to