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So far as what there may be of a narrative in this book; and,
indeed, as indirectly touching one or two very interesting and
curious particulars in the habits of sperm whales, the foregoing
chapter, in its earlier part, is as important a one as will be


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found in this volume; but the leading matter of it requires to
be still further and more familiarly enlarged upon, in order to
be adequately understood, and moreover to take away any incredulity
which a profound ignorance of the entire subject may
induce in some minds, as to the natural verity of the main
points of this affair.

I care not to perform this part of my task methodically; but
shall be content to produce the desired impression by separate
citations of items, practically or reliably known to me as a
whaleman; and from these citations, I take it—the conclusion
aimed at will naturally follow of itself.

First: I have personally known three instances where a
whale, after receiving a harpoon, has effected a complete escape;
and, after an interval (in one instance of three years), has been
again struck by the same hand, and slain; when the two irons,
both marked by the same private cypher, have been taken from
the body. In the instance where three years intervened
between the flinging of the two harpoons; and I think it may
have been something more than that; the man who darted
them happening, in the interval, to go in a trading ship on a
voyage to Africa, went ashore there, joined a discovery party,
and penetrated far into the interior, where he travelled for a
period of nearly two years, often endangered by serpents, savages,
tigers, poisonous miasmas, with all the other common perils incident
to wandering in the heart of unknown regions. Meanwhile,
the whale he had struck must also have been on its
travels; no doubt it had thrice circumnavigated the globe,
brushing with its flanks all the coasts of Africa; but to no
purpose. This man and this whale again came together, and
the one vanquished the other. I say I, myself, have known
three instances similar to this; that is in two of them I saw
the whales struck; and, upon the second attack, saw the two
irons with the respective marks cut in them, afterwards taken
from the dead fish. In the three-year instance, it so fell out


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that I was in the boat both times, first and last, and the last
time distinctly recognized a peculiar sort of huge mole under
the whale's eye, which I had observed there three years previous.
I say three years, but I am pretty sure it was more than
that. Here are three instances, then, which I personally know
the truth of; but I have heard of many other instances from
persons whose veracity in the matter there is no good ground
to impeach.

Secondly: It is well known in the Sperm Whale Fishery,
however ignorant the world ashore may be of it, that there have
been several memorable historical instances where a particular
whale in the ocean has been at distant times and places popularly
cognisable. Why such a whale became thus marked was
not altogether and originally owing to his bodily peculiarities as
distinguished from other whales; for however peculiar in that
respect any chance whale may be, they soon put an end to his
peculiarities by killing him, and boiling him down into a peculiarly
valuable oil. No: the reason was this: that from the
fatal experiences of the fishery there hung a terrible prestige of
perilousness about such a whale as there did about Rinaldo
Rinaldini, insomuch that most fishermen were content to recognise
him by merely touching their tarpaulins when he would be
discovered lounging by them on the sea, without seeking to cultivate
a more intimate acquaintance. Like some poor devils
ashore that happen to know an irascible great man, they make
distant unobtrusive salutations to him in the street, lest if they
pursued the acquaintance further, they might receive a summary
thump for their presumption.

But not only did each of these famous whales enjoy great
individual celebrity—nay, you may call it an ocean-wide renown;
not only was he famous in life and now is immortal in forecastle
stories after death, but he was admitted into all the rights, privileges,
and distinctions of a name; had as much a name indeed as
Cambyses or Cæsar. Was it not so, O Timor Tom! thou famed


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leviathan, scarred like an iceberg, who so long did'st lurk in the
Oriental straits of that name, whose spout was oft seen from
the palmy beach of Ombay? Was it not so, O New Zealand
Jack! thou terror of all cruisers that crossed their wakes in
the vicinity of the Tattoo Land? Was it not so, O Morquan!
King of Japan, whose lofty jet they saw at times assumed the
semblance of a snow-white cross against the sky? Was it not
so, O Don Miguel! thou Chilian whale, marked like an old
tortoise with mystic hieroglyphics upon the back! In plain
prose, here are four whales as well known to the students of
Cetacean History as Marius or Sylla to the classic scholar.

But this is not all. New Zealand Tom and Don Miguel, after
at various times creating great havoc among the boats of different
vessels, were finally gone in quest of, systematically hunted
out, chased and killed by valiant whaling captains, who heaved
up their anchors with that express object as much in view, as
in setting out through the Narragansett Woods, Captain
Butler of old had it in his mind to capture that notorious murderous
savage Annawon, the headmost warrior of the Indian
King Philip.

I do not know where I can find a better place than just here,
to make mention of one or two other things, which to me seem
important, as in printed form establishing in all respects the reasonableness
of the whole story of the White Whale, more especially
the catastrophe. For this is one of those disheartening
instances where truth requires full as much bolstering as error.
So ignorant are most landsmen of some of the plainest and
most palpable wonders of the world, that without some hints
touching the plain facts, historical and otherwise, of the fishery,
they might scout at Moby Dick as a monstrous fable, or still
worse and more detestable, a hideous and intolerable allegory.

First: Though most men have some vague flitting ideas of the
general perils of the grand fishery, yet they have nothing like a
fixed, vivid conception of those perils, and the frequency with


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which they recur. One reason perhaps is, that not one in fifty
of the actual disasters and deaths by casualties in the fishery,
ever finds a public record at home, however transient and immediately
forgotten that record. Do you suppose that that poor
fellow there, who this moment perhaps caught by the whale-line
off the coast of New Guinea, is being carried down to the
bottom of the sea by the sounding leviathan—do you suppose
that that poor fellow's name will appear in the newspaper obituary
you will read to-morrow at your breakfast? No: because
the mails are very irregular between here and New Guinea. In
fact, did you ever hear what might be called regular news direct
or indirect from New Guinea? Yet I tell you that upon one
particular voyage which I made to the Pacific, among many
others we spoke thirty different ships, every one of which had
had a death by a whale, some of them more than one, and
three that had each lost a boat's crew. For God's sake, be economical
with your lamps and candles! not a gallon you burn,
but at least one drop of man's blood was spilled for it.

Secondly: People ashore have indeed some indefinite idea
that a whale is an enormous creature of enormous power; but I
have ever found that when narrating to them some specific example
of this two-fold enormousness, they have significantly
complimented me upon my facetiousness; when, I declare upon
my soul, I had no more idea of being facetious than Moses,
when he wrote the history of the plagues of Egypt.

But fortunately the special point I here seek can be
established upon testimony entirely independent of my own.
That point is this: The Sperm Whale is in some cases sufficiently
powerful, knowing, and judiciously malicious, as with
direct aforethought to stave in, utterly destroy, and sink a large
ship; and what is more, the Sperm Whale has done it.

First: In the year 1820 the ship Essex, Captain Pollard, of
Nantucket, was cruising in the Pacific Ocean. One day she
saw spouts, lowered her boats, and gave chase to a shoal of


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sperm whales. Ere long, several of the whales were wounded;
when, suddenly, a very large whale escaping from the boats,
issued from the shoal, and bore directly down upon the ship.
Dashing his forehead against her hull, he so stove her in, that
in less than “ten minutes” she settled down and fell over. Not
a surviving plank of her has been seen since. After the severest
exposure, part of the crew reached the land in their boats.
Being returned home at last, Captain Pollard once more sailed
for the Pacific in command of another ship, but the gods shipwrecked
him again upon unknown rocks and breakers; for the
second time his ship was utterly lost, and forthwith forswearing
the sea, he has never tempted it since. At this day Captain
Pollard is a resident of Nantucket. I have seen Owen Chace,
who was chief mate of the Essex at the time of the tragedy;
I have read his plain and faithful narrative; I have conversed
with his son; and all this within a few miles of the scene of the


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Secondly: The ship Union, also of Nantucket, was in the
year 1807 totally lost off the Azores by a similar onset, but the
authentic particulars of this catastrophe I have never chanced
to encounter, though from the whale hunters I have now and
then heard casual allusions to it.

Thirdly: Some eighteen or twenty years ago Commodore
J— then commanding an American sloop-of-war of the first
class, happened to be dining with a party of whaling captains,
on board a Nantucket ship in the harbor of Oahu, Sandwich
Islands. Conversation turning upon whales, the Commodore
was pleased to be sceptical touching the amazing strength
ascribed to them by the professional gentlemen present. He
peremptorily denied for example, that any whale could so smite his
stout sloop-of-war as to cause her to leak so much as a thimbleful.
Very good; but there is more coming. Some weeks
after, the commodore set sail in this impregnable craft for Valparaiso.
But he was stopped on the way by a portly sperm
whale, that begged a few moments' confidential business with
him. That business consisted in fetching the Commodore's
craft such a thwack, that with all his pumps going he made
straight for the nearest port to heave down and repair. I am
not superstitious, but I consider the Commodore's interview with
that whale as providential. Was not Saul of Tarsus converted
from unbelief by a similar fright? I tell you, the sperm whale
will stand no nonsense.


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I will now refer you to Langsdorff's Voyages for a little circumstance
in point, peculiarly interesting to the writer hereof.
Langsdorff, you must know by the way, was attached to the
Russian Admiral Krusenstern's famous Discovery Expedition in
the beginning of the present century. Captain Langsdorff thus
begins his seventeenth chapter.

“By the thirteenth of May our ship was ready to sail, and
the next day we were out in the open sea, on our way to
Ochotsh. The weather was very clear and fine, but so intolerably
cold that we were obliged to keep on our fur clothing. For
some days we had very little wind; it was not till the nineteenth
that a brisk gale from the northwest sprang up. An
uncommon large whale, the body of which was larger than the
ship itself, lay almost at the surface of the water, but was not
perceived by any one on board till the moment when the ship,
which was in full sail, was almost upon him, so that it was impossible
to prevent its striking against him. We were thus
placed in the most imminent danger, as this gigantic creature,
setting up its back, raised the ship three feet at least out of the
water. The masts reeled, and the sails fell altogether, while we
who were below all sprang instantly upon the deck, concluding
that we had struck upon some rock; instead of this we saw the
monster sailing off with the utmost gravity and solemnity.
Captain D'Wolf applied immediately to the pumps to examine
whether or not the vessel had received any damage from the
shock, but we found that very happily it had escaped entirely

Now, the Captain D'Wolf here alluded to as commanding
the ship in question, is a New Englander, who, after a long life
of unusual adventures as a sea-captain, this day resides in the
village of Dorchester near Boston. I have the honor of being
a nephew of his. I have particularly questioned him concerning
this passage in Langsdorff. He substantiates every word.
The ship, however, was by no means a large one: a Russian


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craft built on the Siberian coast, and purchased by my uncle
after bartering away the vessel in which he sailed from home.

In that up and down manly book of old-fashioned adventure,
so full, too, of honest wonders—the voyage of Lionel Wafer,
one of ancient Dampier's old chums—I found a little matter
set down so like that just quoted from Langsdorff, that I cannot
forbear inserting it here for a corroborative example, if such be

Lionel, it seems, was on his way to “John Ferdinando,” as
he calls the modern Juan Fernandes. “In our way thither,” he
says, “about four o'clock in the morning, when we were about
one hundred and fifty leagues from the Main of America,
our ship felt a terrible shock, which put our men in such consternation
that they could hardly tell where they were or what
to think; but every one began to prepare for death. And,
indeed, the shock was so sudden and violent, that we took it
for granted the ship had struck against a rock; but when the
amazement was a little over, we cast the lead, and sounded, but
found no ground. * * * * *
The suddenness of the shock made the guns leap in their
carriages, and several of the men were shaken out of their hammocks.
Captain Davis, who lay with his head on a gun, was
thrown out of his cabin!” Lionel then goes on to impute the
shock to an earthquake, and seems to substantiate the imputation
by stating that a great earthquake, somewhere about that
time, did actually do great mischief along the Spanish land.
But I should not much wonder if, in the darkness of that early
hour of the morning, the shock was after all caused by an unseen
whale vertically bumping the hull from beneath.

I might proceed with several more examples, one way or
another known to me, of the great power and malice at times
of the sperm whale. In more than one instance, he has been
known, not only to chase the assailing boats back to their ships,
but to pursue the ship itself, and long withstand all the lances


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hurled at him from its decks. The English ship Pusie Hall
can tell a story on that head; and, as for his strength, let me
say, that there have been examples where the lines attached to
a running sperm whale have, in a calm, been transferred to the
ship, and secured there; the whale towing her great hull
through the water, as a horse walks off with a cart. Again, it
is very often observed that, if the sperm whale, once struck, is
allowed time to rally, he then acts, not so often with blind rage,
as with wilful, deliberate designs of destruction to his pursuers;
nor is it without conveying some eloquent indication of his character,
that upon being attacked he will frequently open his
mouth, and retain it in that dread expansion for several consecutive
minutes. But I must be content with only one more and
a concluding illustration; a remarkable and most significant
one, by which you will not fail to see, that not only is the most
marvellous event in this book corroborated by plain facts of the
present day, but that these marvels (like all marvels) are mere
repetitions of the ages; so that for the millionth time we say
amen with Solomon—Verily there is nothing new under the

In the sixth Christian century lived Procopius, a Christian
magistrate of Constantinople, in the days when Justinian was
Emperor and Belisarius general. As many know, he wrote the
history of his own times, a work every way of uncommon
value. By the best authorities, he has always been considered
a most trustworthy and unexaggerating historian, except in
some one or two particulars, not at all affecting the matter presently
to be mentioned.

Now, in this history of his, Procopius mentions that, during
the term of his prefecture at Constantinople, a great sea-monster
was captured in the neighboring Propontis, or Sea of Marmora,
after having destroyed vessels at intervals in those waters for a
period of more than fifty years. A fact thus set down in substantial
history cannot easily be gainsaid. Nor is there any


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reason it should be. Of what precise species this sea-monster
was, is not mentioned. But as he destroyed ships, as well as
for other reasons, he must have been a whale; and I am
strongly inclined to think a sperm whale. And I will tell you
why. For a long time I fancied that the sperm whale had
been always unknown in the Mediterranean and the deep waters
connecting with it. Even now I am certain that those seas are not,
and perhaps never can be, in the present constitution of things,
a place for his habitual gregarious resort. But further investigations
have recently proved to me, that in modern times there
have been isolated instances of the presence of the sperm
whale in the Mediterranean. I am told, on good authority,
that on the Barbary coast, a Commodore Davis of the British
navy found the skeleton of a sperm whale. Now, as a vessel
of war readily passes through the Dardanelles, hence a sperm
whale could, by the same route, pass out of the Mediterranean
into the Propontis.

In the Propontis, as far as I can learn, none of that peculiar
substance called brit is to be found, the aliment of the right
whale. But I have every reason to believe that the food of
the sperm whale—squid or cuttle-fish—lurks at the bottom of
that sea, because large creatures, but by no means the largest of
that sort, have been found at its surface. If, then, you properly
put these statements together, and reason upon them a bit, you
will clearly perceive that, according to all human reasoning,
Procopius's sea-monster, that for half a century stove the ships
of a Roman Emperor, must in all probability have been a sperm


The following are extracts from Chace's narrative: “Every fact
seemed to warrant me in concluding that it was anything but chance
which directed his operations; he made two several attacks upon the
ship, at a short interval between them, both of which, according to their
direction, were calculated to do us the most injury, by being made ahead,
and thereby combining the speed of the two objects for the shock; to
effect which, the exact manœuvres which he made were necessary. His
aspect was most horrible, and such as indicated resentment and fury. He
came directly from the shoal which we had just before entered, and in which
we had struck three of his companions, as if fired with revenge for their sufferings.”
Again: “At all events, the whole circumstances taken together,
all happening before my own eyes, and producing, at the time, impressions
in my mind of decided, calculating mischief, on the part of the whale
(many of which impressions I cannot now recall), induce me to be satisfied
that I am correct in my opinion.”

Here are his reflections some time after quitting the ship, during a black
night in an open boat, when almost despairing of reaching any hospitable
shore. “The dark ocean and swelling waters were nothing; the fears of
being swallowed up by some dreadful tempest, or dashed upon hidden
rocks, with all the other ordinary subjects of fearful contemplation,
seemed scarcely entitled to a moment's thought; the dismal looking
wreck, and the horrid aspect and revenge of the whale, wholly engrossed
my reflections, until day again made its appearance.”

In another place—p. 45,—he speaks of “the mysterious and mortal
attack of the animal.