(Enter Ahab: Then, all)
It was not a great while after the affair of the pipe, that
one morning shortly after breakfast, Ahab, as was his wont, ascended the cabin-gangway to the deck. There most sea-captains
usually walk at that hour, as country gentlemen, after the same meal, take a few turns in the garden.
Soon his steady,
ivory stride was heard, as to and fro he paced his old rounds, upon planks so familiar to his tread, that they were all over
dented, like geological stones, with the peculiar mark of his walk. Did you fixedly gaze, too, upon that ribbed and dented
brow; there also, you would see still stranger foot-prints- the foot-prints of his one unsleeping, ever-pacing thought.
on the occasion in question, those dents looked deeper, even as his nervous step that morning left a deeper mark. And, so
full of his thought was Ahab, that at every uniform turn that he made, now at the main-mast and now at the binnacle, you could
almost see that thought turn in him as he turned, and pace in him as he paced; so completely possessing him, indeed, that
it all but seemed the inward mould of every outer movement.
"D'ye mark him, Flask?" whispered Stubb; "the chick that's
in him pecks the shell. 'Twill soon be out."
The hours wore on;- Ahab now shut up within his cabin; anon, pacing the
deck, with the same intense bigotry of purpose in his aspect.
It drew near the close of day. Suddenly he came to a
halt by the bulwarks, and inserting his bone leg into the auger-hole there, and with one hand grasping a shroud, he ordered
Starbuck to send everybody aft.
"Sir!" said the mate, astonished at an order seldom or never given on ship-board except
in some extraordinary case.
"Send everybody aft," repeated Ahab. "Mast-heads, there! come down!"
entire ship's company were assembled, and with curious and not wholly unapprehensive faces, were eyeing him, for he looked
not unlike the weather horizon when a storm is coming up, Ahab, after rapidly glancing over the bulwarks, and then darting
his eyes among the crew, started from his standpoint; and as though not a soul were nigh him resumed his heavy turns upon
the deck. With bent head and half-slouched hat he continued to pace, unmindful of the wondering whispering among the men;
till Stubb cautiously whispered to Flask, that Ahab must have summoned them there for the purpose of witnessing a pedestrian
feat. But this did not last long. Vehemently pausing, he cried:-
"What do ye do when ye see a whale, men?"
out for him!" was the impulsive rejoinder from a score of clubbed voices.
"Good!" cried Ahab, with a wild approval
in his tones; observing the hearty animation into which his unexpected question had so magnetically thrown them.
what do ye next, men?"
"Lower away, and after him!"
"And what tune is it ye pull to, men?"
whale or a stove boat!"
More and more strangely and fiercely glad and approving, grew the countenance of the old man
at every shout; while the mariners began to gaze curiously at each other, as if marvelling how it was that they themselves
became so excited at such seemingly purposeless questions.
But, they were all eagerness again, as Ahab, now half-revolving
in his pivot-hole, with one hand reaching high up a shroud, and tightly, almost convulsively grasping it, addressed them thus:-
"All ye mast-headers have before now heard me give orders about a white whale. Look ye! d'ye see this Spanish ounce
of gold?"- holding up a broad bright coin to the sun- "it is a sixteen dollar piece, men. D'ye see it? Mr. Starbuck, hand
me yon top-maul."
While the mate was getting the hammer, Ahab, without speaking, was slowly rubbing the gold piece
against the skirts of his jacket, as if to heighten its lustre, and without using any words was meanwhile lowly humming to
himself, producing a sound so strangely muffled and inarticulate that it seemed the mechanical humming of the wheels of his
vitality in him.
Receiving the top-maul from Starbuck, he advanced towards the main-mast with the hammer uplifted
in one hand, exhibiting the gold with the other, and with a high raised voice exclaiming: "Whosoever of ye raises me a white-headed
whale with a wrinkled brow and a crooked jaw; whosoever of ye raises me that white-headed whale, with three holes punctured
in his starboard fluke- look ye, whosoever of ye raises me that same white whale, he shall have this gold ounce, my boys!"
"Huzza! huzza!" cried the seamen, as with swinging tarpaulins they hailed the act of nailing the gold to the mast.
"It's a white whale, I say," resumed Ahab, as he threw down the topmaul: "a white whale. Skin your eyes for him, men;
look sharp for white water; if ye see but a bubble, sing out."
All this while Tashtego, Daggoo, and Queequeg had looked
on with even more intense interest and surprise than the rest, and at the mention of the wrinkled brow and crooked jaw they
had started as if each was separately touched by some specific recollection.
"Captain Ahab," said Tashtego, "that
white whale must be the same that some call Moby Dick."
"Moby Dick?" shouted Ahab. "Do ye know the white whale then,
"Does he fan-tail a little curious, sir, before he goes down?" said the Gay-Header deliberately.
has he a curious spout, too," said Daggoo, "very bushy, even for a parmacetty, and mighty quick, Captain Ahab?"
he have one, two, three- oh! good many iron in him hide, too, Captain," cried Queequeg disjointedly, "all twiske-tee be-twisk,
like him- him-" faltering hard for a word, and screwing his hand round and round as though uncorking a bottle- "like him-
"Corkscrew!" cried Ahab, "aye, Queequeg, the harpoons lie all twisted and wrenched in him; aye, Daggoo, his
spout is a big one, like a whole shock of wheat, and white as a pile of our Nantucket wool after the great annual sheep-shearing;
aye, Tashtego, and he fan-tails like a split jib in a squall. Death and devils! men, it is Moby Dick ye have seen- Moby Dick-
"Captain Ahab," said Starbuck, who, with Stubb and Flask, had thus far been eyeing his superior with increasing
surprise, but at last seemed struck with a thought which somewhat explained all the wonder. "Captain Ahab, I have heard of
Moby Dick- but it was not Moby Dick that took off thy leg?"
"Who told thee that?" cried Ahab; then pausing, "Aye,
Starbuck; aye, my hearties all round; it was Moby Dick that dismasted me; Moby Dick that brought me to this dead stump I stand
on now. Aye, aye," he shouted with a terrific, loud, animal sob, like that of a heart-stricken moose; "Aye, aye! it was that
accursed white whale that razeed me; made a poor pegging lubber of me for ever and a day!" Then tossing both arms, with measureless
imprecations he shouted out: "Aye, aye! and I'll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom,
and round perdition's flames before I give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! to chase that white whale on
both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out. What say ye, men, will ye splice
hands on it, now? I think ye do look brave."
"Aye, aye!" shouted the harpooneers and seamen, running closer to the
excited old man: "A sharp eye for the white whale; a sharp lance for Moby Dick!"
"God bless ye," he seemed to half
sob and half shout. "God bless ye, men. Steward! go draw the great measure of grog. But what's this long face about, Mr. Starbuck;
wilt thou not chase the white whale! art not game for Moby Dick?"
"I am game for his crooked jaw, and for the jaws
of Death too, Captain Ahab, if it fairly comes in the way of the business we follow; but I came here to hunt whales, not my
commander's vengeance. How many barrels will thy vengeance yield thee even if thou gettest it, Captain Ahab? it will not fetch
thee much in our Nantucket market."
"Nantucket market! Hoot! But come closer, Starbuck; thou requirest a little lower
layer. If money's to be the measurer, man, and the accountants have computed their great counting-house the globe, by girdling
it with guineas, one to every three parts of an inch; then, let me tell thee, that my vengeance will fetch a great premium
"He smites his chest," whispered Stubb, "what's that for? methinks it rings most vast, but hollow."
on a dumb brute!" cried Starbuck, "that simply smote thee from blindest instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing,
Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous."
"Hark ye yet again- the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as
pasteboard masks. But in each event- in the living act, the undoubted deed- there, some unknown but still reasoning thing
puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike though the mask! How
can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me.
Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with
an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the
white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted
me. For could the sun do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play herein, jealousy presiding
over all creations. But not my master, man, is even that fair play. Who's over me? Truth hath no confines. Take off thine
eye! more intolerable than fiends' glarings is a doltish stare! So, so; thou reddenest and palest; my heat has melted thee
to anger-glow. But look ye, Starbuck, what is said in heat, that thing unsays itself. There are men from whom warm words are
small indignity. I meant not to incense thee. Let it go. Look! see yonder Turkish cheeks of spotted tawn- living, breathing
pictures painted by the sun. The Pagan leopards- the unrecking and unworshipping things, that live; and seek, and give no
reasons for the torrid life they feel! The crew, man, the crew! Are they not one and all with Ahab, in this matter of the
whale? See Stubb! he laughs! See yonder Chilian! he snorts to think of it. Stand up amid the general hurricane, thy one tost
sapling cannot, Starbuck! And what is it? Reckon it. 'Tis but to help strike a fin; no wondrous feat for Starbuck. What is
it more? From this one poor hunt, then, the best lance out of all Nantucket, surely he will not hang back, when every foremast-hand
has clutched a whetstone. Ah! constrainings seize thee; I see! the billow lifts thee! Speak, but speak!- Aye, aye! thy silence,
then, that voices thee. (Aside) Something shot from my dilated nostrils, he has inhaled it in his lungs. Starbuck now is mine;
cannot oppose me now, without rebellion."
"God keep me!- keep us all!" murmured Starbuck, lowly.
But in his
joy at the enchanted, tacit acquiescence of the mate, Ahab did not hear his foreboding invocation; nor yet the low laugh from
the hold; nor yet the presaging vibrations of the winds in the cordage; nor yet the hollow flap of the sails against the masts,
as for a moment their hearts sank in. For again Starbuck's downcast eyes lighted up with the stubbornness of life; the subterranean
laugh died away; the winds blew on; the sails filled out; the ship heaved and rolled as before. Ah, ye admonitions and warnings!
why stay ye not when ye come? But rather are ye predictions than warnings, ye shadows! Yet not so much predictions from without,
as verifications of the fore-going things within. For with little external to constrain us, the innermost necessities in our
being, these still drive us on.
"The measure! the measure!" cried Ahab.
Receiving the brimming pewter, and
turning to the harpooneers, he ordered them to produce their weapons. Then ranging them before him near the capstan, with
their harpoons in their hands, while his three mates stood at his side with their lances, and the rest of the ship's company
formed a circle round the group; he stood for an instant searchingly eyeing every man of his crew. But those wild eyes met
his, as the bloodshot eves of the prairie wolves meet the eye of their leader, ere he rushes on at their head in the trail
of the bison; but, alas! only to fall into the hidden snare of the Indian.
"Drink and pass!" he cried, handing the
heavy charged flagon to the nearest seaman. "The crew alone now drink. Round with it, round! Short draughts- long swallows,
men; 'tis hot as Satan's hoof. So, so; it goes round excellently. It spiralizes in ye; forks out at the serpent-snapping eye.
Well done; almost drained. That way it went, this way it comes. Hand it me- here's a hollow! Men, ye seem the years; so brimming
life is gulped and gone. Steward, refill!
"Attend now, my braves. I have mustered ye all round this capstan; and ye
mates, flank me with your lances; and ye harpooneers, stand there with your irons; and ye, stout mariners, ring me in, that
I may in some sort revive a noble custom of my fishermen fathers before me. O men, you will yet see that- Ha! boy, come back?
bad pennies come not sooner. Hand it me. Why, now, this pewter had run brimming again, wert not thou St. Vitus' imp- away,
"Advance, ye mates! Cross your lances full before me. Well done! Let me touch the axis." So saying, with
extended arm, he grasped the three level, radiating lances at their crossed centre; while so doing, suddenly and nervously
twitched them; meanwhile glancing intently from Starbuck to Stubb; from Stubb to Flask. It seemed as though, by some nameless,
interior volition, he would fain have shocked into them the same fiery emotion accumulated within the Leyden jar of his own
magnetic life. The three mates quailed before his strong, sustained, and mystic aspect. Stubb and Flask looked sideways from
him; the honest eye of Starbuck fell downright.
"In vain!" cried Ahab; "but, maybe, 'tis well. For did ye three but
once take the full-forced shock, then mine own electric thing, that had perhaps expired from out me. Perchance, too, it would
have dropped ye dead. Perchance ye need it not. Down lances! And now, ye mates, I do appoint ye three cupbearers to my three
pagan kinsmen there- yon three most honorable gentlemen and noblemen, my valiant harpooneers. Disdain the task? What, when
the great Pope washes the feet of beggars, using his tiara for ewer? Oh, my sweet cardinals! your own condescension, that
shall bend ye to it. I do not order ye; ye will it. Cut your seizings and draw the poles, ye harpooneers!"
obeying the order, the three harpooneers now stood with the detached iron part of their harpoons, some three feet long, held,
barbs up, before him.
"Stab me not with that keen steel! Cant them; cant them over! know ye not the goblet end? Turn
up the socket! So, so; now, ye cup-bearers, advance. The irons! take them; hold them while I fill!" Forthwith, slowly going
from one officer to the other, he brimmed the harpoon sockets with the fiery waters from the pewter.
"Now, three to
three, ye stand. Commend the murderous chalices! Bestow them, ye who are now made parties to this indissoluble league. Ha!
Starbuck! but the deed is done! Yon ratifying sun now waits to sit upon it. Drink, ye harpooneers! drink and swear, ye men
that man the deathful whaleboat's bow- Death to Moby Dick! God hunt us all, if we do not hunt Moby Dick to his death!" The
long, barbed steel goblets were lifted; and to cries and maledictions against the white whale, the spirits were simultaneously
quaffed down with a hiss. Starbuck paled, and turned, and shivered. Once more, and finally, the replenished pewter went the
rounds among the frantic crew; when, waving his free hand to them, they all dispersed; and Ahab retired within his cabin.
Literature Network » Herman Melville » Moby Dick » Chapter 36
I, Ishmael, was one of that crew; my shouts had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded
with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul. A wild, mystical,
sympathetical feeling was in me; Ahab's quenchless feud seemed mine. With greedy ears I learned the history of that murderous
monster against whom I and all the others had taken our oaths of violence and revenge.
For some time past, though
at intervals only, the unaccompanied, secluded White Whale had haunted those uncivilized seas mostly frequented by the Sperm
Whale fishermen. But not all of them knew of his existence; a few of them, comparatively, had knowingly seen him; while the
number who as yet had actually and knowingly given battle to him, was small indeed. For, owing to the large number of whale-cruisers;
the disorderly way they were sprinkled over the entire watery circumference, many of them adventurously pushing their quest
along solitary latitudes, so as seldom or never for a whole twelvemonth or more on a stretch, to encounter a single news-telling
sail of any sort; the inordinate length of each separate voyage; the irregularity of the times of sailing from home; all these,
with other circumstances, direct and indirect, long obstructed the spread through the whole world-wide whaling-fleet of the
special individualizing tidings concerning Moby Dick. It was hardly to be doubted, that several vessels reported to have encountered,
at such or such a time, or on such or such a meridian, a Sperm Whale of uncommon magnitude and malignity, which whale, after
doing great mischief to his assailants, has completely escaped them; to some minds it was not an unfair presumption, I say,
that the whale in question must have been no other than Moby Dick. Yet as of late the Sperm Whale fishery had been marked
by various and not unfrequent instances of great ferocity, cunning, and malice in the monster attacked; therefore it was,
that those who by accident ignorantly gave battle to Moby Dick; such hunters, perhaps, for the most part, were content to
ascribe the peculiar terror he bred, more, as it were, to the perils of the Sperm Whale fishery at large, than to the individual
cause. In that way, mostly, the disastrous encounter between Ahab and the whale had hitherto been popularly regarded.
as for those who, previously hearing of the White Whale, by chance caught sight of him; in the beginning of the thing they
had every one of them, almost, as boldly and fearlessly lowered for him, as for any other whale of that species. But at length,
such calamities did ensue in these assaults- not restricted to sprained wrists and ankles, broken limbs, or devouring amputations-
but fatal to the last degree of fatality; those repeated disastrous repulses, all accumulating and piling their terrors upon
Moby Dick; those things had gone far to shake the fortitude of many brave hunters, to whom the story of the White Whale had
Nor did wild rumors of all sorts fail to exaggerate, and still the more horrify the true histories
of these deadly encounters. For not only do fabulous rumors naturally grow out of the very body of all surprising terrible
events,- as the smitten tree gives birth to its fungi; but, in maritime life, far more than in that of terra firma, wild rumors
abound, wherever there is any adequate reality for them to cling to. And as the sea surpasses the land in this matter, so
the whale fishery surpasses every other sort of maritime life, in the wonderfulness and fearfulness of the rumors which sometimes
circulate there. For not only are whalemen as a body unexempt from that ignorance and superstitiousness hereditary to all
sailors; but of all sailors, they are by all odds the most directly brought into contact with whatever is appallingly astonishing
in the sea; face to face they not only eye its greatest marvels, but, hand to jaw, give battle to them. Alone, in such remotest
waters, that though you sailed a thousand miles, and passed a thousand shores, you would not come to any chiselled hearth-stone,
or aught hospitable beneath that part of the sun; in such latitudes and longitudes, pursuing too such a calling as he does,
the whaleman is wrapped by influences all tending to make his fancy pregnant with many a mighty birth. No wonder, then, that
ever gathering volume from the mere transit over the wildest watery spaces, the outblown rumors of the White Whale did in
the end incorporate with themselves all manner of morbid hints, and half-formed foetal suggestions of supernatural agencies,
which eventually invested Moby Dick with new terrors unborrowed from anything that visibly appears. So that in many cases
such a panic did he finally strike, that few who by those rumors, at least, had heard of the White Whale, few of those hunters
were willing to encounter the perils of his jaw.
But there were still other and more vital practical influences at
work. Nor even at the present day has the original prestige of the Sperm Whale, as fearfully distinguished from all other
species of the leviathan, died out of the minds of the whalemen as a body. There are those this day among them, who, though
intelligent and courageous enough in offering battle to the Greenland or Right whale, would perhaps- either from professional
inexperience, or incompetency, or timidity, decline a contest with the Sperm Whale; at any rate, there are plenty of whalemen,
especially among those whaling nations not sailing under the American flag, who have never hostilely encountered the Sperm
Whale, but whose sole knowledge of the leviathan is restricted to the ignoble monster primitively pursued in the North; seated
on their hatches, these men will hearken with a childish fireside interest and awe, to the wild, strange tales of Southern
whaling. Nor is the preeminent tremendousness of the great Sperm Whale anywhere more feelingly comprehended, than on board
of those prows which stem him.
And as if the now tested reality of his might had in former legendary times thrown
its shadow before it; we find some book naturalists- Olassen and Povelson- declaring the Sperm Whale not only to be a consternation
to every other creature in the sea, but also to be so incredibly ferocious as continually to be athirst for human blood. Nor
even down to so late a time as Cuvier's, were these or almost similar impressions effaced. For in his Natural History, the
Baron himself affirms that at sight of the Sperm Whale, all fish (sharks included) are "struck with the most lively terrors,"
and "often in the precipitancy of their flight dash themselves against the rocks with such violence as to cause instantaneous
death." And however the general experiences in the fishery may amend such reports as these; yet in their full terribleness,
even to the bloodthirsty item of Povelson, the superstitious belief in them is, in some vicissitudes of their vocation, revived
in the minds of the hunters.
So that overawed by the rumors and portents concerning him, not a few of the fishermen
recalled, in reference to Moby Dick, the earlier days of the Sperm Whale fishery, when it was oftentimes hard to induce long
practised Right whalemen to embark in the perils of this new and daring warfare; such men protesting that although other leviathans
might be hopefully pursued, yet to chase and point lances at such an apparition as the Sperm Whale was not for mortal man.
That to attempt it, would be inevitably to be torn into a quick eternity. On this head, there are some remarkable documents
that may be consulted.
Nevertheless, some there were, who even in the face of these things were ready to give chase
to Moby Dick; and a still greater number who, chancing only to hear of him distantly and vaguely, without the specific details
of any certain calamity, and without superstitious accompaniments were sufficiently hardy not to flee from the battle if offered.
One of the wild suggestions referred to, as at last coming to be linked with the White Whale in the minds of the superstitiously
inclined, was the unearthly conceit that Moby Dick was ubiquitous; that he had actually been encountered in opposite latitudes
at one and the same instant of time.
Nor, credulous as such minds must have been, was this conceit altogether without
some faint show of superstitious probability. For as the secrets of the currents in the seas have never yet been divulged,
even to the most erudite research; so the hidden ways of the Sperm Whale when beneath the surface remain, in great part, unaccountable
to his pursuers; and from time to time have originated the most curious and contradictory speculations regarding them, especially
concerning the mystic modes whereby, after sounding to a great depth, he transports himself with such vast swiftness to the
most widely distant points.
It is a thing well known to both American and English whale-ships, and as well a thing
placed upon authoritative record years ago by Scoresby, that some whales have been captured far north in the Pacific, in whose
bodies have been found the barbs of harpoons darted in the Greenland seas. Nor is it to be gainsaid, that in some of these
instances it has been declared that the interval of time between the two assaults could not have exceeded very many days.
Hence, by inference, it has been believed by some whalemen, that the Nor' West Passage, so long a problem to man, was never
a problem to the whale. So that here, in the real living experience of living men, the prodigies related in old times of the
inland Strello mountain in Portugal (near whose top there was said to be a lake in which the wrecks of ships floated up to
the surface); and that still more wonderful story of the Arethusa fountain near Syracuse (whose waters were believed to have
come from the Holy Land by an underground passage); these fabulous narrations are almost fully equalled by the realities of
Forced into familiarity, then, with such prodigies as these; and knowing that after repeated, intrepid
assaults, the White Whale had escaped alive; it cannot be much matter of surprise that some whalemen should go still further
in their superstitions; declaring Moby Dick not only ubiquitous, but immortal (for immortality is but ubiquity in time); that
though groves of spears should be planted in his flanks, he would still swim away unharmed; or if indeed he should ever be
made to spout thick blood, such a sight would be but a ghastly deception; for again in unensanguined billows hundreds of leagues
away, his unsullied jet would once more be seen.
But even stripped of these supernatural surmisings, there was enough
in the earthly make and incontestable character of the monster to strike the imagination with unwonted power. For, it was
not so much his uncommon bulk that so much distinguished him from other sperm whales, but, as was elsewhere thrown out- a
peculiar snow-white wrinkled forehead, and a high, pyramidical white hump. These were his prominent features; the tokens whereby,
even in the limitless, uncharted seas, he revealed his identity, at a long distance, to those who knew him.
of his body was so streaked, and spotted, and marbled with the same shrouded hue, that, in the end, he had gained his distinctive
appellation of the White Whale; a name, indeed, literally justified by his vivid aspect, when seen gliding at high noon through
a dark blue sea, leaving a milky-way wake of creamy foam, all spangled with golden gleamings.
Nor was it his unwonted
magnitude, nor his remarkable hue, nor yet his deformed lower jaw, that so much invested the whale with natural terror, as
that unexampled, intelligent malignity which, according to specific accounts, he had over and over again evinced in his assaults.
More than all, his treacherous retreats struck more of dismay than perhaps aught else. For, when swimming before his exulting
pursuers, with every apparent symptom of alarm, he had several times been known to turn round suddenly, and, bearing down
upon them, either stave their boats to splinters, or drive them back in consternation to their ship.
fatalities had attended his chase. But though similar disasters, however little bruited ashore, were by no means unusual in
the fishery; yet, in most instances, such seemed the White Whale's infernal aforethought of ferocity, that every dismembering
or death that he caused, was not wholly regarded as having been inflicted by an unintelligent agent.
to what pitches of inflamed, distracted fury the minds of his more desperate hunters were impelled, when amid the chips of
chewed boats, and the sinking limbs of torn comrades, they swam out of the white curds of the whale's direful wrath into the
serene, exasperating sunlight, that smiled on, as if at a birth or a bridal.
His three boats stove around him, and
oars and men both whirling in the eddies; one captain, seizing the line-knife from his broken prow, had dashed at the whale,
as an Arkansas duellist at his foe, blindly seeking with a six inch blade to reach the fathom-deep life of the whale. That
captain was Ahab. And then it was, that suddenly sweeping his sickle-shaped lower jaw beneath him, Moby Dick had reaped away
Ahab's leg, as a mower a blade of grass in the field. No turbaned Turk, no hired Venetian or Malay, could have smote him with
more seeming malice. Small reason was there to doubt, then, that ever since that almost fatal encounter, Ahab had cherished
a wild vindictiveness against the whale, all the more fell for that in his frantic morbidness he at last came to identify
with him, not only all his bodily woes, but all his intellectual and spiritual exasperations. The White Whale swam before
him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left
living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion
even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue
devil;- Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale,
he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all
truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all
evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale's white
hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a
mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.
It is not probable that this monomania in him took its instant rise
at the precise time of his bodily dismemberment. Then, in darting at the monster, knife in hand, he had but given loose to
a sudden, passionate, corporal animosity; and when he received the stroke that tore him, he probably but felt the agonizing
bodily laceration, but nothing more. Yet, when by this collision forced to turn towards home, and for long months of days
and weeks, Ahab and anguish lay stretched together in one hammock, rounding in mid winter that dreary, howling Patagonian
Cape; then it was, that his torn body and gashed soul bled into one another; and so interfusing, made him mad. That it was
only then, on the homeward voyage, after the encounter, that the final monomania seized him, seems all but certain from the
fact that, at intervals during the passage, he was a raving lunatic; and, though unlimbed of a leg, yet such vital strength
yet lurked in his Egyptian chest, and was moreover intensified by his delirium, that his mates were forced to lace him fast,
even there, as he sailed, raving in his hammock. In a strait-jacket, he swung to the mad rockings of the gales. And, when
running into more sufferable latitudes, the ship, with mild stun'sails spread, floated across the tranquil tropics, and, to
all appearances, the old man's delirium seemed left behind him with the Cape Horn swells, and he came forth from his dark
den into the blessed light and air; even then, when he bore that firm, collected front, however pale, and issued his calm
orders once again; and his mates thanked God the direful madness was now gone; even then, Ahab, in his hidden self, raved
on. Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured
into some still subtler form. Ahab's full lunacy subsided not, but deepeningly contracted; like the unabated Hudson, when
that noble Northman flows narrowly, but unfathomably through the Highland gorge. But, as in his narrow-flowing monomania,
not one jot of Ahab's broad madness had been left behind; so in that broad madness, not one jot of his great natural intellect
had perished. That before living agent, now became the living instrument. If such a furious trope may stand, his special lunacy
stormed his general sanity, and carried it, and turned all its concentred cannon upon its own mad mark; so that far from having
lost his strength, Ahab, to that one end, did now possess a thousand fold more potency than ever he had sanely brought to
bear upon any one reasonable object.
This is much; yet Ahab's larger, darker, deeper part remains unhinted. But vain
to popularize profundities, and all truth is profound. Winding far down from within the very heart of this spiked Hotel de
Cluny where we here stand- however grand and wonderful, now quit it;- and take your way, ye nobler, sadder souls, to those
vast Roman halls of Thermes; where far beneath the fantastic towers of man's upper earth, his root of grandeur, his whole
awful essence sits in bearded state; an antique buried beneath antiquities, and throned on torsoes! So with a broken throne,
the great gods mock that captive king; so like a Caryatid, he patient sits, upholding on his frozen brow the piled entablatures
of ages. Wind ye down there, ye prouder, sadder souls! question that proud, sad king! A family likeness! aye, he did beget
ye, ye young exiled royalties; and from your grim sire only will the old State-secret come.
Now, in his heart, Ahab
had some glimpse of this, namely; all my means are sane, my motive and my object mad. Yet without power to kill, or change,
or shun the fact; he likewise knew that to mankind he did long dissemble; in some sort, did still. But that thing of his dissembling
was only subject to his perceptibility, not to his will determinate. Nevertheless, so well did he succeed in that dissembling,
that when with ivory leg he stepped ashore at last, no Nantucketer thought him otherwise than but naturally grieved, and that
to the quick, with the terrible casualty which had overtaken him.
The report of his undeniable delirium at sea was
likewise popularly ascribed to a kindred cause. And so too, all the added moodiness which always afterwards, to the very day
of sailing in the Pequod on the present voyage, sat brooding on his brow. Nor is it so very unlikely, that far from disrusting
his fitness for another whaling voyage, on account of such dark symptoms, the calculating people of that prudent isle were
inclined to harbor the conceit, that for those very reasons he was all the better qualified and set on edge, for a pursuit
so full of rage and wildness as the bloody hunt of whales. Gnawed within and scorched without, with the infixed, unrelenting
fangs of some incurable idea; such an one, could he be found, would seem the very man to dart his iron and lift his lance
against the most appalling of all brutes. Or, if for any reason thought to be corporeally incapacitated for that, yet such
an one would seem superlatively competent to cheer and howl on his underlings to the attack. But be all this as it may, certain
it is, that with the mad secret of his unabated rage bolted up and keyed in him, Ahab had purposely sailed upon the present
voyage with the one only and all-engrossing object of hunting the White Whale. Had any one of his old acquaintances on shore
but half dreamed of what was lurking in him then, how soon would their aghast and righteous souls have wrenched the ship from
such a fiendish man! They were bent on profitable cruises, the profit to be counted down in dollars from the mint. He was
intent on an audacious, immitigable, and supernatural revenge.
Here, then, was this grey-headed, ungodly old man,
chasing with curses Job's whale round the world, at the head of a crew, too, chiefly made up of mongrel renegades, and castaways,
and cannibals- morally enfeebled also, by the incompetence of mere unaided virtue or right-mindedness in Starbuck, the invunerable
jollity of indifference and recklessness in Stubb, and the pervading mediocrity in Flask. Such a crew, so officered, seemed
specially picked and packed by some infernal fatality to help him to his monomaniac revenge. How it was that they so aboundingly
responded to the old man's ire- by what evil magic their souls were possessed, that at times his hate seemed almost theirs;
the White Whale as much their insufferable foe as his; how all this came to be- what the White Whale was to them, or how to
their unconscious understandings, also, in some dim, unsuspected way, he might have seemed the gliding great demon of the
seas of life,- all this to explain, would be to dive deeper than Ishmael can go. The subterranean miner that works in us all,
how can one tell whither leads his shaft by the ever shifting, muffled sound of his pick? Who does not feel the irresistible
arm drag? What skiff in tow of a seventy-four can stand still? For one, I gave myself up to the abandonment of the time and
the place; but while yet all a-rush to encounter the whale, could see naught in that brute but the deadliest ill.
Literature Network » Herman Melville » Moby Dick » Chapter 41