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Page 506


From his mighty bulk the whale affords a most congenial theme
whereon to enlarge, amplify, and generally expatiate. Would
you, you could not compress him. By good rights he should
only be treated of in imperial folio. Not to tell over again his
furlongs from spiracle to tail, and the yards he measures about
the waist; only think of the gigantic involutions of his intestines,
where they lie in him like great cables and hausers coiled away
in the subterranean orlop-deck of a line-of-battle-ship.

Since I have undertaken to manhandle this Leviathan, it
behoves me to approve myself omnisciently exhaustive in the
enterprise; not overlooking the minutest seminal germs of his
blood, and spinning him out to the uttermost coil of his bowels.
Having already described him in most of his present habitatory
and anatomical peculiarities, it now remains to magnify him in
an archæological, fossiliferous, and antediluvian point of view.
Applied to any other creature than the Leviathan—to an ant
or a flea—such portly terms might justly be deemed unwarrantably
grandiloquent. But when Leviathan is the text, the
case is altered. Fain am I to stagger to this emprise under the
weightiest words of the dictionary. And here be it said, that
whenever it has been convenient to consult one in the course of
these dissertations. I have invariably used a huge quarto edition
of Johnson, expressly purchased for that purpose; because that
famous lexicographer's uncommon personal bulk more fitted
him to compile a lexicon to be used by a whale author like me.

One often hears of writers that rise and swell with their subject,
though it may seem but an ordinary one. How, then,


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with me, writing of this Leviathan? Unconsciously my chirography
expands into placard capitals. Give me a condor's quill!
Give me Vesuvius' crater for an inkstand! Friends, hold my
arms! For in the mere act of penning my thoughts of this
Leviathan, they weary me, and make me faint with their outreaching
comprehensiveness of sweep, as if to include the
whole circle of the sciences, and all the generations of whales,
and men, and mastodons, past, present, and to come, with all
the revolving panoramas of empire on earth, and throughout
the whole universe, not excluding its suburbs. Such, and so
magnifying, is the virtue of a large and liberal theme! We
expand to its bulk. To produce a mighty book, you must
choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can
ever be written on the flea, though many there be who have tried

Ere entering upon the subject of Fossil Whales, I present my
credentials as a geologist, by stating that in my miscellaneous
time I have been a stone-mason, and also a great digger of
ditches, canals and wells, wine-vaults, cellars, and cisterns of all
sorts. Likewise, by way of preliminary, I desire to remind the
reader, that while in the earlier geological strata there are
found the fossils of monsters now almost completely extinct;
the subsequent relics discovered in what are called the Tertiary
formations seem the connecting, or at any rate intercepted
links, between the antichronical creatures, and those whose
remote posterity are said to have entered the Ark; all the
Fossil Whales hitherto discovered belong to the Tertiary period,
which is the last preceding the superficial formations. And
though none of them precisely answer to any known species of
the present time, they are yet sufficiently akin to them in general
respects, to justify their taking rank as Cetacean fossils.

Detached broken fossils of pre-adamite whales, fragments of
their bones and skeletons, have within thirty years past, at
various intervals, been found at the base of the Alps, in Lombardy,


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in France, in England, in Scotland, and in the States of
Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Among the more curious
of such remains is part of a skull, which in the year 1779 was
disinterred in the Rue Dauphiné in Paris, a short street opening
almost directly upon the palace of the Tuileries; and bones
disinterred in excavating the great docks of Antwerp, in Napoleon's
time. Cuvier pronounced these fragments to have belonged
to some utterly unknown Leviathanic species.

But by far the most wonderful of all cetacean relics was the
almost complete vast skeleton of an extinct monster, found in
the year 1842, on the plantation of Judge Creagh, in Alabama.
The awe-stricken credulous slaves in the vicinity took it for the
bones of one of the fallen angels. The Alabama doctors
declared it a huge reptile, and bestowed upon it the name of
Basilosaurus. But some specimen bones of it being taken
across the sea to Owen, the English Anatomist, it turned out
that this alleged reptile was a whale, though of a departed species.
A significant illustration of the fact, again and again repeated
in this book, that the skeleton of the whale furnishes but little
clue to the shape of his fully invested body. So Owen rechristened
the monster Zeuglodon; and in his paper read before
the London Geological Society, pronounced it, in substance, one
of the most extraordinary creatures which the mutations of the
globe have blotted out of existence.

When I stand among these mighty Leviathan skeletons,
skulls, tusks, jaws, ribs, and vertebræ, all characterized by partial
resemblances to the existing breeds of sea monsters; but at the
same time bearing on the other hand similar affinities to the
annihilated antichronical Leviathans, their incalculable seniors;
I am, by a flood, borne back to that wondrous period, ere time
itself can be said to have begun; for time began with man.
Here Saturn's grey chaos rolls over me, and I obtain dim, shuddering
glimpses into those Polar eternities; when wedged
bastions of ice pressed hard upon what are now the Tropics;


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and in all the 25,000 miles of this world's circumference, not an
inhabitable hand's breadth of land was visible. Then the whole
world was the whale's; and, king of creation, he left his wake
along the present lines of the Andes and the Himmalehs. Who
can show a pedigree like Leviathan? Ahab's harpoon had shed
older blood than the Pharaoh's. Methuselah seems a schoolboy.
I look round to shake hands with Shem. I am horror-struck
at this antemosaic, unsourced existence of the unspeakable
terrors of the whale, which, having been before all time, must
needs exist after all humane ages are over.

But not alone has this Leviathan left his pre-adamite traces
in the stereotype plates of nature, and in limestone and marl
bequeathed his ancient bust; but upon Egyptian tablets, whose
antiquity seems to claim for them an almost fossiliferous character,
we find the unmistakable print of his fin. In an apartment
of the great temple of Denderah, some fifty years ago, there was
discovered upon the granite ceiling a sculptured and painted
planisphere, abounding in centaurs, griffins, and dolphins, similar
to the grotesque figures on the celestial globe of the moderns.
Gliding among them, old Leviathan swam as of yore; was there
swimming in that planisphere, centuries before Solomon was

Nor must there be omitted another strange attestation of the
antiquity of the whale, in his own osseous post-diluvian reality,
as set down by the venerable John Leo, the old Barbary traveller.

“Not far from the Sea-side, they have a Temple, the Rafters
and Beams of which are made of Whale-Bones; for Whales
of a monstrous size are oftentimes cast up dead upon that shore.
The Common People imagine, that by a secret Power bestowed
by God upon the Temple, no Whale can pass it without immediate
death. But the truth of the Matter is, that on either side
of the Temple, there are Rocks that shoot two Miles into the
Sea, and wound the Whales when they ligh upon 'em. They


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keep a Whale's Rib of an incredible length for a Miracle, which
lying upon the Ground with its convex part uppermost, makes
an Arch, the Head of which cannot be reached by a Man upon
a Camel's Back. This Rib (says John Leo) is said to have layn
there a hundred Years before I saw it. Their Historians affirm,
that a Prophet who prophesy'd of Mahomet, came from this
Temple, and some do not stand to assert, that the Prophet
Jonas was cast forth by the Whale at the Base of the Temple.”

In this Afric Temple of the Whale I leave you, reader, and
if you be a Nantucketer, and a whaleman, you will silently worship