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Page 518


Seat thyself sultanically among the moons of Saturn, and
take high abstracted man alone; and he seems a wonder, a
grandeur, and a woe. But from the same point, take mankind
in mass, and for the most part, they seem a mob of unnecessary
duplicates, both contemporary and hereditary. But most humble
though he was, and far from furnishing an example of the
high, humane abstraction; the Pequod's carpenter was no
duplicate; hence, he now comes in person on this stage.

Like all sea-going ship carpenters, and more especially those
belonging to whaling vessels, he was, to a certain off-handed,
practical extent, alike experienced in numerous trades and callings
collateral to his own; the carpenter's pursuit being the
ancient and outbranching trunk of all those numerous handicrafts
which more or less have to do with wood as an auxiliary material.
But, besides the application to him of the generic remark
above, this carpenter of the Pequod was singularly efficient in
those thousand nameless mechanical emergencies continually
recurring in a large ship, upon a three or four years' voyage, in
uncivilized and far-distant seas. For not to speak of his readiness
in ordinary duties:—repairing stove boats, sprung spars,
reforming the shape of clumsy-bladed oars, inserting bull's eyes
in the deck, or new tree-nails in the side planks, and other
miscellaneous matters more directly pertaining to his special
business; he was moreover unhesitatingly expert in all manner
of conflicting aptitudes, both useful and capricious.

The one grand stage where he enacted all his various parts
so manifold, was his vice-bench; a long rude ponderous table
furnished with several vices, of different sizes, and both of iron


Page 519
and of wood. At all times except when whales were alongside,
this bench was securely lashed athwartships against the rear of
the Try-works.

A belaying pin is found too large to be easily inserted into
its hole: the carpenter claps it into one of his ever-ready vices,
and straightway files it smaller. A lost land-bird of strange
plumage strays on board, and is made a captive: out of clean
shaved rods of right-whale bone, and cross-beams of sperm
whale ivory, the carpenter makes a pagoda-looking cage for it.
An oarsman sprains his wrist: the carpenter concocts a soothing
lotion. Stubb longed for vermillion stars to be painted upon the
blade of his every oar; screwing each oar in his big vice of wood,
the carpenter symmetrically supplies the constellation. A sailor
takes a fancy to wear shark-bone ear-rings: the carpenter drills
his ears. Another has the toothache: the carpenter out pincers,
and clapping one hand upon his bench bids him be seated there;
but the poor fellow unmanageably winces under the unconcluded
operation; whirling round the handle of his wooden vice, the
carpenter signs him to clap his jaw in that, if he would have
him draw the tooth.

Thus, this carpenter was prepared at all points, and alike indifferent
and without respect in all. Teeth he accounted bits
of ivory; heads he deemed but top-blocks; men themselves he
lightly held for capstans. But while now upon so wide a field
thus variously accomplished, and with such liveliness of expertness
in him, too; all this would seem to argue some uncommon
vivacity of intelligence. But not precisely so. For nothing was
this man more remarkable, than for a certain impersonal stolidity
as it were; impersonal, I say; for it so shaded off into the surrounding
infinite of things, that it seemed one with the general
stolidity discernible in the whole visible world; which while
pauselessly active in uncounted modes, still eternally holds its
peace, and ignores you, though you dig foundations for cathedrals.
Yet was this half-horrible stolidity in him, involving, too,


Page 520
as it appeared, an all-ramifying heartlessness;—yet was it oddly
dashed at times, with an old, crutch-like, antediluvian, wheezing
humorousness, not unstreaked now and then with a certain
grizzled wittiness; such as might have served to pass the time
during the midnight watch on the bearded forecastle of Noah's
ark. Was it that this old carpenter had been a life-long wanderer,
whose much rolling, to and fro, not only had gathered
no moss; but what is more, had rubbed off whatever small
outward clingings might have originally pertained to him?
He was a stript abstract; an unfractioned integral; uncompromised
as a new-born babe; living without premediated reference
to this world or the next. You might almost say, that this
strange uncompromisedness in him involved a sort of unintelligence;
for in his numerous trades, he did not seem to work so
much by reason or by instinct, or simply because he had been
tutored to it, or by any intermixture of all these, even or uneven;
but merely by a kind of deaf and dumb, spontaneous literal
process. He was a pure manipulator; his brain, if he had ever
had one, must have early oozed along into the muscles of his
fingers. He was like one of those unreasoning but still highly
useful, multum in parvo, Sheffield contrivances, assuming the
exterior—though a little swelled—of a common pocket knife;
but containing, not only blades of various sizes, but also screwdrivers,
cork-screws, tweezers, awls, pens, rulers, nail-filers, countersinkers.
So, if his superiors wanted to use the carpenter for
a screw-driver, all they had to do was to open that part of
him, and the screw was fast: or if for tweezers, take him up by
the legs, and there they were.

Yet, as previously hinted, this omnitooled, open-and-shut
carpenter, was, after all, no mere machine of an automaton. If
he did not have a common soul in him, he had a subtle something
that somehow anomalously did its duty. What that was,
whether essence of quicksilver, or a few drops of hartshorn, there
is no telling. But there it was; and there it had abided for


Page 521
now some sixty years or more. And this it was, this same
unaccountable, cunning life-principle in him; this it was, that
kept him a great part of the time soliloquizing; but only like
an unreasoning wheel, which also hummingly soliloquizes; or
rather, his body was a sentry-box and this soliloquizer on guard
there, and talking all the time to keep himself awake.