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I shall ere long paint to you as well as one can without canvas,
something like the true form of the whale as he actually appears
to the eye of the whaleman when in his own absolute body
the whale is moored alongside the whale-ship so that he can be


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fairly stepped upon there. It may be worth while, therefore,
previously to advert to those curious imaginary portraits of him
which even down to the present day confidently challenge the
faith of the landsman. It is time to set the world right in this
matter, by proving such pictures of the whale all wrong.

It may be that the primal source of all those pictorial delusions
will be found among the oldest Hindoo, Egyptian, and
Grecian sculptures. For ever since those inventive but unscrupulous
times when on the marble panellings of temples, the pedestals
of statues, and on shields, medallions, cups, and coins,
the dolphin was drawn in scales of chain-armor like Saladin's,
and a helmeted head like St. George's; ever since then has
something of the same sort of license prevailed, not only in
most popular pictures of the whale, but in many scientific presentations
of him.

Now, by all odds, the most ancient extant portrait anyways
purporting to be the whale's, is to be found in the famous cavern-pagoda
of Elephanta, in India. The Brahmins maintain
that in the almost endless sculptures of that immemorial pagoda,
all the trades and pursuits, every conceivable avocation of
man, were prefigured ages before any of them actually came
into being. No wonder then, that in some sort our noble profession
of whaling should have been there shadowed forth. The
Hindoo whale referred to, occurs in a separate department of
the wall, depicting the incarnation of Vishnu in the form of
leviathan, learnedly known as the Matse Avatar. But though
this sculpture is half man and half whale, so as only to give the
tail of the latter, yet that small section of him is all wrong.
It looks more like the tapering tail of an anaconda, than the
broad palms of the true whale's majestic flukes.

But go to the old Galleries, and look now at a great Christian
painter's portrait of this fish; for he succeeds no better than the
antediluvian Hindoo. It is Guido's picture of Perseus rescuing
Andromeda from the sea-monster or whale. Where did Guido


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get the model of such a strange creature as that? Nor does
Hogarth, in painting the same scene in his own “Perseus Descending,”
make out one whit better. The huge corpulence of
that Hogarthian monster undulates on the surface, scarcely
drawing one inch of water. It has a sort of howdah on its
back, and its distended tusked mouth into which the billows
are rolling, might be taken for the Traitors' Gate leading from
the Thames by water into the Tower. Then, there are the
Prodromus whales of old Scotch Sibbald, and Jonah's whale,
as depicted in the prints of old Bibles and the cuts of old primers.
What shall be said of these? As for the book-binder's
whale winding like a vine-stalk round the stock of a descending
anchor—as stamped and gilded on the backs and title-pages
of many books both old and new—that is a very picturesque
but purely fabulous creature, imitated, I take it, from the like
figures on antique vases. Though universally denominated a
dolphin, I nevertheless call this book-binder's fish an attempt
at a whale; because it was so intended when the device
was first introduced. It was introduced by an old Italian publisher
somewhere about the 15th century, during the Revival of
Learning; and in those days, and even down to a comparatively
late period, dolphins were popularly supposed to be a species of
the Leviathan.

In the vignettes and other embellishments of some ancient
books you will at times meet with very curious touches at the
whale, where all manner of spouts, jets d'eau, hot springs and
cold, Saratoga and Baden-Baden, come bubbling up from his
unexhausted brain. In the title-page of the original edition of
the “Advancement of Learning” you will find some curious

But quitting all these unprofessional attempts, let us glance
at those pictures of leviathan purporting to be sober, scientific
delineations, by those who know. In old Harris's collection of
voyages there are some plates of whales extracted from a Dutch


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book of voyages, A. D. 1671, entitled “A Whaling Voyage to
Spitzbergen in the ship Jonas in the Whale, Peter Peterson of
Friesland, master.” In one of those plates the whales, like
great rafts of logs, are represented lying among ice-isles, with
white bears running over their living backs. In another plate,
the prodigious blunder is made of representing the whale with
perpendicular flukes.

Then again, there is an imposing quarto, written by one Captain
Colnett, a Post Captain in the English navy, entitled “A
Voyage round Cape Horn into the South Seas, for the purpose
of extending the Spermaceti Whale Fisheries.” In this book
is an outline purporting to be a “Picture of a Physeter or
Spermaceti whale, drawn by scale from one killed on the coast
of Mexico, August, 1793, and hoisted on deck.” I doubt not
the captain had this veracious picture taken for the benefit of
his marines. To mention but one thing about it, let me say
that it has an eye which applied, according to the accompanying
scale, to a full grown sperm whale, would make the eye of
that whale a bow-window some five feet long. Ah, my gallant
captain, why did ye not give us Jonah looking out of that

Nor are the most conscientious compilations of Natural History
for the benefit of the young and tender, free from the same
heinousness of mistake. Look at that popular work “Goldsmith's
Animated Nature.” In the abridged London edition of
1807, there are plates of an alleged “whale” and a “narwhale.”
I do not wish to seem inelegant, but this unsightly whale looks
much like an amputated sow; and, as for the narwhale, one
glimpse at it is enough to amaze one, that in this nineteenth
century such a hippogriff could be palmed for genuine upon any
intelligent public of schoolboys.

Then, again, in 1825, Bernard Germain, Count de Lacépède,
a great naturalist, published a scientific systemized whale book,
wherein are several pictures of the different species of the Leviathan.


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All these are not only incorrect, but the picture of the
Mysticetus or Greenland whale (that is to say, the Right whale),
even Scoresby, a long experienced man as touching that species,
declares not to have its counterpart in nature.

But the placing of the cap-sheaf to all this blundering business
was reserved for the scientific Frederick Cuvier, brother to
the famous Baron. In 1836, he published a Natural History
of Whales, in which he gives what he calls a picture of the
Sperm Whale. Before showing that picture to any Nantucketer,
you had best provide for your summary retreat from Nantucket.
In a word, Frederick Cuvier's Sperm Whale is not a Sperm Whale,
but a squash. Of course, he never had the benefit of a whaling
voyage (such men seldom have), but whence he derived
that picture, who can tell? Perhaps he got it as his scientific
predecessor in the same field, Desmarest, got one of his authentic
abortions; that is, from a Chinese drawing. And what sort
of lively lads with the pencil those Chinese are, many queer cups
and saucers inform us.

As for the sign-painters' whales seen in the streets hanging
over the shops of oil-dealers, what shall be said of them? They
are generally Richard III. whales, with dromedary humps, and
very savage; breakfasting on three or four sailor tarts, that is
whaleboats full of mariners: their deformities floundering in
seas of blood and blue paint.

But these manifold mistakes in depicting the whale are not so
very surprising after all. Consider! Most of the scientific drawings
have been taken from the stranded fish; and these are
about as correct as a drawing of a wrecked ship, with broken
back, would correctly represent the noble animal itself in all its
undashed pride of hull and spars. Though elephants have
stood for their full-lengths, the living Leviathan has never yet
fairly floated himself for his portrait. The living whale, in his
full majesty and significance, is only to be seen at sea in unfathomable
waters; and afloat the vast bulk of him is out of


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sight, like a launched line-of-battle ship; and out of that element
it is a thing eternally impossible for mortal man to hoist
him bodily into the air, so as to preserve all his mighty swells
and undulations. And, not to speak of the highly presumable
difference of contour between a young sucking whale and a full-grown
Platonian Leviathan; yet, even in the case of one of
those young sucking whales hoisted to a ship's deck, such is
then the outlandish, eel-like, limbered, varying shape of him,
that his precise expression the devil himself could not catch.

But it may be fancied, that from the naked skeleton of the
stranded whale, accurate hints may be derived touching his true
form. Not at all. For it is one of the more curious things
about this Leviathan, that his skeleton gives very little idea of
his general shape. Though Jeremy Bentham's skeleton, which
hangs for candelabra in the library of one of his executors,
correctly conveys the idea of a burly-browed utilitarian old
gentleman, with all Jeremy's other leading personal characteristics;
yet nothing of this kind could be inferred from any leviathan's
articulated bones. In fact, as the great Hunter says, the
mere skeleton of the whale bears the same relation to the fully
invested and padded animal as the insect does to the chrysalis
that so roundingly envelopes it. This peculiarity is strikingly
evinced in the head, as in some part of this book will be incidentally
shown. It is also very curiously displayed in the side
fin, the bones of which almost exactly answer to the bones of the
human hand, minus only the thumb. This fin has four regular
bone-fingers, the index, middle, ring, and little finger. But all
these are permanently lodged in their fleshy covering, as the
human fingers in an artificial covering. “However recklessly
the whale may sometimes serve us,” said humorous Stubb one
day, “he can never be truly said to handle us without mittens.”

For all these reasons, then, any way you may look at it, you
must needs conclude that the great Leviathan is that one creature
in the world which must remain unpainted to the last.


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True, one portrait may hit the mark much nearer than another,
but none can hit it with any very considerable degree of exactness.
So there is no earthly way of finding out precisely what
the whale really looks like. And the only mode in which you
can derive even a tolerable idea of his living contour, is by
going a whaling yourself; but by so doing, you run no small
risk of being eternally stove and sunk by him. Wherefore, it
seems to me you had best not be too fastidious in your curiosity
touching this Leviathan.