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Page 35


If I had been astonished at first catching a glimpse of so
outlandish an individual as Queequeg circulating among the
polite society of a civilized town, that astonishment soon
departed upon taking my first daylight stroll through the
streets of New Bedford.

In thoroughfares nigh the docks, any considerable seaport
will frequently offer to view the queerest looking nondescripts
from foreign parts. Even in Broadway and Chestnut streets,
Mediterranean mariners will sometimes jostle the affrighted
ladies. Regent street is not unknown to Lascars and Malays;
and at Bombay, in the Apollo Green, live Yankees have often
scared the natives. But New Bedford beats all Water street
and Wapping. In these last-mentioned haunts you see only
sailors; but in New Bedford, actual cannibals stand chatting at
street corners; savages outright; many of whom yet carry on
their bones unholy flesh. It makes a stranger stare.

But, besides the Feegeeans, Tongatabooarrs, Erromanggoans,
Pannangians, and Brighggians, and, besides the wild specimens
of the whaling-craft which unheeded reel about the streets, you
will see other sights still more curious, certainly more comical.
There weekly arrive in this town scores of green Vermonters and
New Hampshire men, all athirst for gain and glory in the
fishery. They are mostly young, of stalwart frames; fellows
who have felled forests, and now seek to drop the axe and
snatch the whale-lance. Many are as green as the Green
Mountains whence they came. In some things you would
think them but a few hours old. Look there! that chap strutting
round the corner. He wears a beaver hat and swallow-tailed


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coat, girdled with a sailor-belt and sheath-knife. Here
comes another with a sou'-wester and a bombazine cloak.

No town-bred dandy will compare with a country-bred one—
I mean a downright bumpkin dandy—a fellow that, in the
dog-days, will mow his two acres in buckskin gloves for fear of
tanning his hands. Now when a country dandy like this takes
it into his head to make a distinguished reputation, and joins
the great whale-fishery, you should see the comical things he
does upon reaching the seaport. In bespeaking his sea-outfit,
he orders bell-buttons to his waistcoats; straps to his canvas
trowsers. Ah, poor Hay-Seed! how bitterly will burst those
straps in the first howling gale, when thou art driven, straps,
buttons, and all, down the throat of the tempest.

But think not that this famous town has only harpooneers,
cannibals, and bumpkins to show her visitors. Not at all. Still
New Bedford is a queer place. Had it not been for us whalemen,
that tract of land would this day perhaps have been in as
howling condition as the coast of Labrador. As it is, parts of
her back country are enough to frighten one, they look so bony.
The town itself is perhaps the dearest place to live in, in all
New England. It is a land of oil, true enough: but not like
Canaan; a land, also, of corn and wine. The streets do not
run with milk; nor in the spring-time do they pave them with
fresh eggs. Yet, in spite of this, nowhere in all America will
you find more patrician-like houses; parks and gardens more
opulent, than in New Bedford. Whence came they? how
planted upon this once scraggy scoria of a country?

Go and gaze upon the iron emblematical harpoons round
yonder lofty mansion, and your question will be answered.
Yes; all these brave houses and flowery gardens came from the
Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. One and all, they were
harpooned and dragged up hither from the bottom of the sea.
Can Herr Alexander perform a feat like that?

In New Bedford, fathers, they say, give whales for dowers to


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their daughters, and portion off their nieces with a few porpoises
a-piece. You must go to New Bedford to see a brilliant wedding;
for, they say, they have reservoirs of oil in every house,
and every night recklessly burn their lengths in spermaceti

In summer time, the town is sweet to see; full of fine
maples—long avenues of green and gold. And in August,
high in air, the beautiful and bountiful horse-chestnuts, candelabra-wise,
proffer the passer-by their tapering upright cones of
congregated blossoms. So omnipotent is art; which in many
a district of New Bedford has superinduced bright terraces of
flowers upon the barren refuse rocks thrown aside at creation's
final day.

And the women of New Bedford, they bloom like their own
red roses. But roses only bloom in summer; whereas the fine
carnation of their cheeks is perennial as sunlight in the seventh
heavens. Elsewhere match that bloom of theirs, ye cannot,
save in Salem, where they tell me the young girls breathe such
musk, their sailor sweethearts smell them miles off shore, as
though they were drawing nigh the odorous Moluccas instead of
the Puritanic sands.