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Had you followed Captain Ahab down into his cabin after
the squall that took place on the night succeeding that wild
ratification of his purpose with his crew, you would have seen
him go to a locker in the transom, and bringing out a large


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wrinkled roll of yellowish sea charts, spread them before him
on his screwed-down table. Then seating himself before it, you
would have seen him intently study the various lines and
shadings which there met his eye; and with slow but steady
pencil trace additional courses over spaces that before were
blank. At intervals, he would refer to piles of old log-books
beside him, wherein were set down the seasons and places in
which, on various former voyages of various ships, sperm whales
had been captured or seen.

While thus employed, the heavy pewter lamp suspended in
chains over his head, continually rocked with the motion of the
ship, and for ever threw shifting gleams and shadows of lines
upon his wrinkled brow, till it almost seemed that while he
himself was marking out lines and courses on the wrinkled
charts, some invisible pencil was also tracing lines and courses
upon the deeply marked chart of his forehead.

But it was not this night in particular that, in the solitude of
his cabin, Ahab thus pondered over his charts. Almost every
night they were brought out; almost every night some pencil
marks were effaced, and others were substituted. For with the
charts of all four oceans before him, Ahab was threading a
maze of currents and eddies, with a view to the more certain
accomplishment of that monomaniac thought of his soul.

Now, to any one not fully acquainted with the ways of the
leviathans, it might seem an absurdly hopeless task thus to seek
out one solitary creature in the unhooped oceans of this planet.
But not so did it seem to Ahab, who knew the sets of all tides
and currents; and thereby calculating the driftings of the sperm
whale's food; and, also, calling to mind the regular, ascertained
seasons for hunting him in particular latitudes; could arrive at
reasonable surmises, almost approaching to certainties, concerning
the timeliest day to be upon this or that ground in search
of his prey.

So assured, indeed, is the fact concerning the periodicalness


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of the sperm whale's resorting to given waters, that many
hunters believe that, could he be closely observed and studied
throughout the world; were the logs for one voyage of the entire
whale fleet carefully collated, then the migrations of the sperm
whale would be found to correspond in invariability to those of
the herring-shoals or the flights of swallows. On this hint,
attempts have been made to construct elaborate migratory
charts of the sperm whale.[1]

Besides, when making a passage from one feeding-ground to
another, the sperm whales, guided by some infallible instinct—
say, rather, secret intelligence from the Deity—mostly swim in
veins, as they are called; continuing their way along a given
ocean-line with such undeviating exactitude, that no ship ever
sailed her course, by any chart, with one tithe of such marvellous
precision. Though, in these cases, the direction taken by any one
whale be straight as a surveyor's parallel, and though the line of
advance be strictly confined to its own unavoidable, straight
wake, yet the arbitrary vein in which at these times he
is said to swim, generally embraces some few miles in width
(more or less, as the vein is presumed to expand or contract);
but never exceeds the visual sweep from the whale-ship's
mast-heads, when circumspectly gliding along this magic zone.
The sum is, that at particular seasons within that breadth and


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along that path, migrating whales may with great confidence
be looked for.

And hence not only at substantiated times, upon well known separate
feeding-grounds, could Ahab hope to encounter his prey;
but incrossing the widest expanses of water between those grounds
he could, by his art, so place and time himself on his way, as
even then not to be wholly without prospect of a meeting.

There was a circumstance which at first sight seemed to entangle
his delirious but still methodical scheme. But not so in
the reality, perhaps. Though the gregarious sperm whales have
their regular seasons for particular grounds, yet in general you
cannot conclude that the herds which haunted such and such a
latitude or longitude this year, say, will turn out to be identically
the same with those that were found there the preceding
season; though there are peculiar and unquestionable instances
where the contrary of this has proved true. In general, the
same remark, only within a less wide limit, applies to the solitaries
and hermits among the matured, aged sperm whales. So
that though Moby Dick had in a former year been seen, for example,
on what is called the Seychelle ground in the Indian
ocean, or Volcano Bay on the Japanese Coast; yet it did not
follow, that were the Pequod to visit either of those spots at any
subsequent corresponding season, she would infallibly encounter
him there. So, too, with some other feeding grounds, where he
had at times revealed himself. But all these seemed only his
casual stopping-places and ocean-inns, so to speak, not his places
of prolonged abode. And where Ahab's chances of accomplishing
his object have hitherto been spoken of, allusion
has only been made to whatever way-side, antecedent, extra
prospects were his, ere a particular set time or place were attained,
when all possibilities would become probabilities, and,
as Ahab fondly thought, every possibility the next thing to a
certainty. That particular set time and place were conjoined in
the one technical phrase—the Season-on-the-Line. For there


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and then, for several consecutive years, Moby Dick had been
periodically descried, lingering in those waters for awhile, as the
sun, in its annual round, loiters for a predicted interval in any
one sign of the Zodiac. There it was, too, that most of the
deadly encounters with the white whale had taken place; there
the waves were storied with his deeds; there also was that tragic
spot where the monomaniac old man had found the awful motive
to his vengeance. But in the cautious comprehensiveness
and unloitering vigilance with which Ahab threw his brooding
soul into this unfaltering hunt, he would not permit himself to
rest all his hopes upon the one crowning fact above mentioned,
however flattering it might be to those hopes; nor in the sleeplessness
of his vow could he so tranquillize his unquiet heart as
to postpone all intervening quest.

Now, the Pequod had sailed from Nantucket at the very beginning
of the Season-on-the-Line. No possible endeavor then
could enable her commander to make the great passage southwards,
double Cape Horn, and then running down sixty degrees
of latitude arrive in the equatorial Pacific in time to cruise there.
Therefore, he must wait for the next ensuing season. Yet the
premature hour of the Pequod's sailing had, perhaps, been correctly
selected by Ahab, with a view to this very complexion of
things. Because, an interval of three hundred and sixty-five
days and nights was before him; an interval which, instead of
impatiently enduring ashore, he would spend in a miscellaneous
hunt; if by chance the White Whale, spending his vacation in
seas far remote from his periodical feeding-grounds, should turn
up his wrinkled brow off the Persian Gulf, or in the Bengal
Bay, or China Seas, or in any other waters haunted by his race.
So that Monsoons, Pampas, Nor-Westers, Harmattans, Trades;
any wind but the Levanter and Simoom, might blow Moby Dick
into the devious zig-zag world-circle of the Pequod's circumnavigating

But granting all this; yet, regarded discreetly and coolly,


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seems it not but a mad idea, this; that in the broad boundless
ocean, one solitary whale, even if encountered, should be thought
capable of individual recognition from his hunter, even as a
white-bearded Mufti in the thronged thoroughfares of Constantinople?
Yes. For the peculiar snow-white brow of Moby Dick,
and his snow-white hump, could not but be unmistakable. And
have I not tallied the whale, Ahab would mutter to himself, as
after poring over his charts till long after midnight he would
throw himself back in reveries—tallied him, and shall he
escape? His broad fins are bored, and scalloped out like a
lost sheep's ear! And here, his mad mind would run on in a
breathless race; till a weariness and faintness of pondering
came over him; and in the open air of the deck he would seek
to recover his strength. Ah, God! what trances of torments
does that man endure who is consumed with one unachieved revengeful
desire. He sleeps with clenched hands; and wakes
with his own bloody nails in his palms.

Often, when forced from his hammock by exhausting and
intolerably vivid dreams of the night, which, resuming his own
intense thoughts through the day, carried them on amid a clashing
of phrensies, and whirled them round and round in his
blazing brain, till the very throbbing of his life-spot became
insufferable anguish; and when, as was sometimes the case,
these spiritual throes in him heaved his being up from its base,
and a chasm seemed opening in him, from which forked flames
and lightnings shot up, and accursed fiends beckoned him to
leap down among them; when this hell in himself yawned
beneath him, a wild cry would be heard through the ship; and
with glaring eyes Ahab would burst from his state room, as
though escaping from a bed that was on fire. Yet these, perhaps,
instead of being the unsuppressable symptoms of some latent
weakness, or fright at his own resolve, were but the plainest tokens
of its intensity. For, at such times, crazy Ahab, the scheming,
unappeasedly steadfast hunter of the white whale; this Ahab


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that had gone to his hammock, was not the agent that so caused
him to burst from it in horror again. The latter was the eternal,
living principle or soul in him; and in sleep, being for the time
dissociated from the characterizing mind, which at other times
employed it for its outer vehicle or agent, it spontaneously
sought escape from the scorching contiguity of the frantic
thing, of which, for the time, it was no longer an integral. But
as the mind does not exist unless leagued with the soul, therefore
it must have been that, in Ahab's case, yielding up all his
thoughts and fancies to his one supreme purpose; that purpose,
by its own sheer inveteracy of will, forced itself against gods
and devils into a kind of self-assumed, independent being of
its own. Nay, could grimly live and burn, while the common
vitality to which it was conjoined, fled horror-stricken from the
unbidden and unfathered birth. Therefore, the tormented
spirit that glared out of bodily eyes, when what seemed Ahab
rushed from his room, was for the time but a vacated thing, a
formless somnambulistic being, a ray of living light, to be sure,
but without an object to color, and therefore a blankness in
itself. God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a
creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes
him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart for ever;
that vulture the very creature he creates.


Since the above was written, the statement is happily borne out by
an official circular, issued by Lieutenant Maury, of the National Observatory,
Washington, April 16th, 1851. By that circular, it appears that
precisely such a chart is in course of completion; and portions of it are
presented in the circular. “This chart divides the ocean into districts of
five degrees of latitude by five degrees of longitude; perpendicularly
through each of which districts are twelve columns for the twelve
months; and horizontally through each of which districts are three lines;
one to show the number of days that have been spent in each month in
every district, and the two others to show the number of days in which
whales, sperm or right, have been seen.”