University of Virginia Library

Search this document 




Page 125


The chief mate of the Pequod was Starbuck, a native of
Nantucket, and a Quaker by descent. He was a long, earnest
man, and though born on an icy coast, seemed well adapted to
endure hot latitudes, his flesh being hard as twice-baked
biscuit. Transported to the Indies, his live blood would not
spoil like bottled ale. He must have been born in some time
of general drought and famine, or upon one of those fast days
for which his state is famous. Only some thirty arid summers
had he seen; those summers had dried up all his physical
superfluousness. But this, his thinness, so to speak, seemed
no more the token of wasting anxieties and cares, than it
seemed the indication of any bodily blight. It was merely
the condensation of the man. He was by no means ill-looking;
quite the contrary. His pure tight skin was an excellent fit;
and closely wrapped up in it, and embalmed with inner health
and strength, like a revivified Egyptian, this Starbuck seemed prepared
to endure for long ages to come, and to endure always,
as now; for be it Polar snow or torrid sun, like a patent
chronometer, his interior vitality was warranted to do well in
all climates. Looking into his eyes, you seemed to see there
the yet lingering images of those thousand-fold perils he had
calmly confronted through life. A staid, steadfast man, whose
life for the most part was a telling pantomime of action, and not
a tame chapter of sounds. Yet, for all his hardy sobriety and
fortitude, there were certain qualities in him which at times
affected, and in some cases seemed well nigh to overbalance all
the rest. Uncommonly conscientious for a seaman, and endued


Page 126
with a deep natural reverence, the wild watery loneliness of his
life did therefore strongly incline him to superstition; but to
that sort of superstition, which in some organizations seems
rather to spring, somehow, from intelligence than from ignorance.
Outward portents and inward presentiments were his.
And if at times these things bent the welded iron of his soul,
much more did his far-away domestic memories of his young
Cape wife and child, tend to bend him still more from
the original ruggedness of his nature, and open him still further
to those latent influences which, in some honest-hearted men,
restrain the gush of dare-devil daring, so often evinced by others
in the more perilous vicissitudes of the fishery. “I will have no
man in my boat,” said Starbuck, “who is not afraid of a whale.”
By this, he seemed to mean, not only that the most reliable
and useful courage was that which arises from the fair estimation
of the encountered peril, but that an utterly fearless man
is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.

“Aye, aye,” said Stubb, the second mate, “Starbuck, there,
is as careful a man as you'll find anywhere in this fishery.”
But we shall ere long see what that word “careful” precisely
means when used by a man like Stbub, or almost any other
whale hunter.

Starbuck was no crusader after perils; in him courage was
not a sentiment; but a thing simply useful to him, and always
at hand upon all mortally practical occasions. Besides, he
thought, perhaps, that in this business of whaling, courage was
one of the great staple outfits of the ship, like her beef and her
bread, and not to be foolishly wasted. Wherefore he had no
fancy for lowering for whales after sun down; nor for persisting
in fighting a fish that too much persisted in fighting him.
For, thought Starbuck, I am here in this critical ocean to kill
whales for my living, and not to be killed by them for theirs;
and that hundreds of men had been so killed Starbuck well
knew. What doom was his own father's? Where, in


Page 127
the bottomless deeps, could he find the torn limbs of his

With memories like these in him, and, moreover, given to a
certain superstitiousness, as has been said; the courage of this
Starbuck which could, nevertheless, still flourish, must indeed
have been extreme. But it was not in reasonable nature that
a man so organized, and with such terrible experiences and
remembrances as he had; it was not in nature that these
things should fail in latently engendering an element in him,
which, under suitable circumstances, would break out from its
confinement, and burn all his courage up. And brave as he
might be, it was that sort of bravery chiefly, visible in some
intrepid men, which, while generally abiding firm in the conflict
with seas, or winds, or whales, or any of the ordinary irrational
horrors of the world, yet cannot withstand those more terrific,
because more spiritual terrors, which sometimes menace you
from the concentrating brow of an enraged and mighty man.

But were the coming narrative to reveal, in any instance, the
complete abasement of poor Starbuck's fortitude, scarce might
I have the heart to write it; for it is a thing most sorrowful,
nay shocking, to expose the fall of valor in the soul. Men
may seem detestable as joint stock-companies and nations;
knaves, fools, and murderers there may be; men may have
mean and meagre faces; but man, in the ideal, is so noble and
so sparkling, such a grand and glowing creature, that over any
ignominious blemish in him all his fellows should run to throw
their costliest robes. That immaculate manliness we feel within
ourselves, so far within us, that it remains intact though all the
outer character seem gone; bleeds with keenest anguish at the
undraped spectacle of a valor-ruined man. Nor can piety itself,
at such a shameful sight, completely stifle her upbraidings
against the permitting stars. But this august dignity I treat
of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, but that abounding
dignity which has no robed investiture. Thou shalt see it


Page 128
shining in the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike; that
democratic dignity which, on all hands, radiates without end
from God; Himself! The great God absolute! The centre
and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence, our
divine equality!

If, then, to meanest mariners, and renegades and castaways, I
shall hereafter ascribe high qualities, though dark; weave round
them tragic graces; if even the most mournful, perchance the
most abased, among them all, shall at times lift himself to the
exalted mounts; if I shall touch that workman's arm with some
ethereal light; if I shall spread a rainbow over his disastrous
set of sun; then against all mortal critics bear me out in it, thou
just Spirit of Equality, which hast spread one royal mantle of
humanity over all my kind! Bear me out in it, thou great
democratic God! who didst not refuse to the swart convict,
Bunyan, the pale, poetic pearl; Thou who didst clothe with
doubly hammered leaves of finest gold, the stumped and paupered
arm of old Cervantes; Thou who didst pick up Andrew
Jackson from the pebbles; who didst hurl him upon a warhorse;
who didst thunder him higher than a throne! Thou
who, in all Thy mighty, earthly marchings, ever cullest Thy
selectest champions from the kingly commons; bear me out in
it, O God!