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As Queequeg and I are now fairly embarked in this business
of whaling; and as this business of whaling has somehow come
to be regarded among landsmen as a rather unpoetical and disreputable
pursuit; therefore, I am all anxiety to convince ye,
ye landsmen, of the injustice hereby done to us hunters of

In the first place, it may be deemed almost superfluous to


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establish the fact, that among people at large, the business of
whaling is not accounted on a level with what are called the
liberal professions. If a stranger were introduced into any
miscellaneous metropolitan society, it would but slightly advance
the general opinion of his merits, were he presented to the
company as a harpooneer, say; and if in emulation of the
naval officers he should append the initials S. W. F. (Sperm
Whale Fishery) to his visiting card, such a procedure would
be deemed pre-eminently presuming and ridiculous.

Doubtless one leading reason why the world declines honoring
us whalemen, is this: they think that, at best, our vocation
amounts to a butchering sort of business; and that when actively
engaged therein, we are surrounded by all manner of defilements.
Butchers we are, that is true. But butchers, also, and butchers
of the bloodiest badge have been all Martial Commanders
whom the world invariably delights to honor. And as for the
matter of the alleged uncleanliness of our business, ye shall
soon be initiated into certain facts hitherto pretty generally
unknown, and which, upon the whole, will triumphantly plant
the sperm whale-ship at least among the cleanliest things of
this tidy earth. But even granting the charge in question to
be true; what disordered slippery decks of a whale-ship are
comparable to the unspeakable carrion of those battle-fields
from which so many soldiers return to drink in all ladies'
plaudits? And if the idea of peril so much enhances the
popular conceit of the soldier's profession; let me assure ye
that many a veteran who has freely marched up to a battery,
would quickly recoil at the apparition of the sperm whale's
vast tail, fanning into eddies the air over his head. For what
are the comprehensible terrors of man compared with the interlinked
terrors and wonders of God!

But, though the world scouts at us whale hunters, yet does
it unwittingly pay us the profoundest homage; yea, an all-abounding
adoration! for almost all the tapers, lamps, and


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candles that burn round the globe, burn, as before so many
shrines, to our glory!

But look at this matter in other lights; weigh it in all sorts
of scales; see what we whalemen are, and have been.

Why did the Dutch in De Witt's time have admirals of their
whaling fleets? Why did Louis XVI. of France, at his own
personal expense, fit out whaling ships from Dunkirk, and
politely invite to that town some score or two of families from
our own island of Nantucket? Why did Britain between the
years 1750 and 1788 pay to her whalemen in bounties upwards
of £1,000,000? And lastly, how comes it that we whalemen of
America now outnumber all the rest of the banded whalemen
in the world; sail a navy of upwards of seven hundred vessels;
manned by eighteen thousand men; yearly consuming 4,000,000
of dollars; the ships worth, at the time of sailing, $20,000,000;
and every year importing into our harbors a well reaped harvest
of $7,000,000. How comes all this, if there be not something
puissant in whaling?

But this is not the half; look again.

I freely assert, that the cosmopolite philosopher cannot, for
his life, point out one single peaceful influence, which within the
last sixty years has operated more potentially upon the whole
broad world, taken in one aggregate, than the high and mighty
business of whaling. One way and another, it has begotten events
so remarkable in themselves, and so continuously momentous in
their sequential issues, that whaling may well be regarded as
that Egyptian mother, who bore offspring themselves pregnant
from her womb. It would be a hopeless, endless task to
catalogue all these things. Let a handful suffice. For many
years past the whale-ship has been the pioneer in ferreting out
the remotest and least known parts of the earth. She has
explored seas and archipelagoes which had no chart, where
no Cook or Vancouver had ever sailed. If American and
European men-of-war now peacefully ride in once savage


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harbors, let them fire salutes to the honor and the glory of the
whale-ship, which originally showed them the way, and first interpreted
between them and the savages. They may celebrate
as they will the heroes of Exploring Expeditions, your Cookes,
your Krusensterns; but I say that scores of anonymous Captains
have sailed out of Nantucket, that were as great, and
greater than your Cooke and your Krusenstern. For in their
succorless empty-handedness, they, in the heathenish sharked
waters, and by the beaches of unrecorded, javelin islands,
battled with virgin wonders and terrors that Cooke with all his
marines and muskets would not willingly have dared. All that
is made such a flourish of in the old South Sea Voyages, those
things were but the life-time commonplaces of our heroic
Nantucketers. Often, adventures which Vancouver dedicates
three chapters to, these men accounted unworthy of
being set down in the ship's common log. Ah, the world! Oh,
the world!

Until the whale fishery rounded Cape Horn, no commerce
but colonial, scarcely any intercourse but colonial, was carried
on between Europe and the long line of the opulent Spanish
provinces on the Pacific coast. It was the whaleman who first
broke through the jealous policy of the Spanish crown, touching
those colonies; and, if space permitted, it might be distinctly
shown how from those whalemen at last eventuated the liberation
of Peru, Chili, and Bolivia from the yoke of Old Spain,
and the establishment of the eternal democracy in those parts.

That great America on the other side of the sphere, Australia,
was given to the enlightened world by the whaleman.
After its first blunder-born discovery by a Dutchman, all other
ships long shunned those shores as pestiferously barbarous; but
the whale-ship touched there. The whale-ship is the true
mother of that now mighty colony. Moreover, in the infancy
of the first Australian settlement, the emigrants were several
times saved from starvation by the benevolent biscuit of the


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whale-ship luckily dropping an anchor in their waters. The
uncounted isles of all Polynesia confess the same truth, and
do commercial homage to the whale-ship, that cleared the way
for the missionary and the merchant, and in many cases carried
the primitive missionaries to their first destinations. If that
double-bolted land, Japan, is ever to become hospitable, it is the
whale-ship alone to whom the credit will be due; for already
she is on the threshold.

But if, in the face of all this, you still declare that whaling
has no æsthetically noble associations connected with it, then am
I ready to shiver fifty lances with you there, and unhorse you
with a split helmet every time.

The whale has no famous author, and whaling no famous
chronicler, you will say.

The whale no famous author, and whaling no famous chronicler?
Who wrote the first account of our Leviathan? Who
but mighty Job! And who composed the first narrative of a
whaling-voyage? Who, but no less a prince than Alfred the
Great, who, with his own royal pen, took down the words from
Other, the Norwegian whale-hunter of those times! And who
pronounced our glowing eulogy in Parliament? Who, but
Edmund Burke!

True enough, but then whalemen themselves are poor devils;
they have no good blood in their veins.

No good blood in their veins? They have something better
than royal blood there. The grandmother of Benjamin Franklin
was Mary Morrel; afterwards, by marriage, Mary Folger,
one of the old settlers of Nantucket, and the ancestress to a
long line of Folgers and harpooneers—all kith and kin to noble
Benjamin—this day darting the barbed iron from one side of
the world to the other.

Good again; but then all confess that somehow whaling is
not respectable.

Whaling not respectable? Whaling is imperial! By


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old English statutory law, the whale is declared “a royal

Oh, that's only nominal! The whale himself has never
figured in any grand imposing way.

The whale never figured in any grand imposing way? In
one of the mighty triumphs given to a Roman general upon
his entering the world's capital, the bones of a whale, brought
all the way from the Syrian coast, were the most conspicuous
object in the cymballed procession.*

Grant it, since you cite it; but, say what you will, there is
no real dignity in whaling.

No dignity in whaling? The dignity of our calling the
very heavens attest. Cetus is a constellation in the South! No
more! Drive down your hat in presence of the Czar, and
take it off to Queequeg! No more! I know a man that, in his
lifetime, has taken three hundred and fifty whales. I account
that man more honorable than that great captain of antiquity
who boasted of taking as many walled towns.

And, as for me, if, by any possibility, there be any as yet
undiscovered prime thing in me; if I shall ever deserve any real
repute in that small but high hushed world which I might
not be unreasonably ambitious of; if hereafter I shall do anything
that, upon the whole, a man might rather have done
than to have left undone; if, at my death, my executors, or
more properly my creditors, find any precious MSS. in my desk,
then here I prospectively ascribe all the honor and the glory
to whaling; for a whale-ship was my Yale College and my


See subsequent chapters for something more on this head.