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Steering north-eastward from the Crozetts, we fell in with
vast meadows of brit, the minute, yellow substance, upon which
the Right Whale largely feeds. For leagues and leagues it
undulated round us, so that we seemed to be sailing through
boundless fields of ripe and golden wheat.

On the second day, numbers of Right Whales were seen,
who, secure from the attack of a Sperm Whaler like the
Pequod, with open jaws sluggishly swam through the brit,
which, adhering to the fringing fibres of that wondrous Venetian
blind in their mouths, was in that manner separated from the
water that escaped at the lip.

As morning mowers, who side by side slowly and seethingly
advance their scythes through the long wet grass of marshy
meads; even so these monsters swam, making a strange, grassy,
cutting sound; and leaving behind them endless swaths of
blue upon the yellow sea.[1]

But it was only the sound they made as they parted the brit
which at all reminded one of mowers. Seen from the mast-heads,
especially when they paused and were stationary for a


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while, their vast black forms looked more like lifeless masses of
rock than anything else. And as in the great hunting
countries of India, the stranger at a distance will sometimes
pass on the plains recumbent elephants without knowing them
to be such, taking them for bare, blackened elevations of the
soil; even so, often, with him, who for the first time beholds
this species of the leviathans of the sea. And even when recognised
at last, their immense magnitude renders it very hard
really to believe that such bulky masses of overgrowth can
possibly be instinct, in all parts, with the same sort of life that
lives in a dog or a horse.

Indeed, in other respects, you can hardly regard any creatures
of the deep with the same feelings that you do those of the
shore. For though some old naturalists have maintained that
all creatures of the land are of their kind in the sea; and
though taking a broad general view of the thing, this may very
well be; yet coming to specialities, where, for example, does the
ocean furnish any fish that in disposition answers to the
sagacious kindness of the dog? The accursed shark alone can
in any generic respect be said to bear comparative analogy to

But though, to landsmen in general, the native inhabitants of
the seas have ever been regarded with emotions unspeakably
unsocial and repelling; though we know the sea to be an everlasting
terra incognita, so that Columbus sailed over numberless
unknown worlds to discover his one superficial western one;
though, by vast odds, the most terrific of all mortal disasters
have immemorially and indiscriminately befallen tens and
hundreds of thousands of those who have gone upon the
waters; though but a moment's consideration will teach, that
however baby man may brag of his science and skill, and
however much, in a flattering future, that science and skill may
augment; yet for ever and for ever, to the crack of doom, the
sea will insult and murder him, and pulverize the stateliest,


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stiffest frigate he can make; nevertheless, by the continual
repetition of these very impressions, man has lost that sense of
the full awfulness of the sea which aboriginally belongs to it.

The first boat we read of, floated on an ocean, that with
Portuguese vengeance had whelmed a whole world without
leaving so much as a widow. That same ocean rolls now;
that same ocean destroyed the wrecked ships of last year.
Yea, foolish mortals, Noah's flood is not yet subsided; two
thirds of the fair world it yet covers.

Wherein differ the sea and the land, that a miracle upon one
is not a miracle upon the other? Preternatural terrors rested
upon the Hebrews, when under the feet of Korah and his company
the live ground opened and swallowed them up for ever; yet
not a modern sun ever sets, but in precisely the same manner
the live sea swallows up ships and crews.

But not only is the sea such a foe to man who is an alien to
it, but it is also a fiend to its own offspring; worse than the
Persian host who murdered his own guests; sparing not the
creatures which itself hath spawned. Like a savage tigress
that tossing in the jungle overlays her own cubs, so the sea
dashes even the mightiest whales against the rocks, and leaves
them there side by side with the split wrecks of ships. No
mercy, no power but its own controls it. Panting and snorting
like a mad battle steed that has lost its rider, the masterless
ocean overruns the globe.

Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded
creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and
treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider
also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most
remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many
species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism
of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other,
carrying on eternal war since the world began.

Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and


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most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land;
and do you not find a strange analogy to something in
yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant
land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of
peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half
known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle,
thou canst never return!


That part of the sea known among whalemen as the “Brazil Banks”
does not bear that name as the Banks of Newfoundland do, because
of there being shallows and soundings there, but because of this remarkable
meadow-like appearance, caused by the vast drifts of brit continually
floating in those latitudes, where the Right Whale is often chased.