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I have given no small attention to that not unvexed subject,
the skin of the whale. I have had controversies about it with
experienced whalemen afloat, and learned naturalists ashore.
My original opinion remains unchanged; but it is only an

The question is, what and where is the skin of the whale?
Already yo know what his blubber is. That blubber is something
of the consistence of firm, close-grained beef, but tougher,
more elastic and compact, and ranges from eight or ten to
twelve and fifteen inches in thickness.

Now, however preposterous if may at first seem to talk of
any creature's skin as being of that sort of consistence and
thickness, yet in point of fact these are no arguments against
such a presumption; because you cannot raise any other dense
enveloping layer from the whale's body but that same blubber;
and the outermost enveloping layer of any animal, if reasonably
dense, what can that be but the skin? True, from the unmarred
dead body of the whale, you may scrape off with your hand
an infinitely thin, transparent substance, somewhat resembling
the thinnest shreads of isinglass, only it is almost as flexible and
soft as satin; that is, previous to being dried, when it not only


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contracts and thickens, but becomes rather hard and brittle. I
have several such dried bits, which I use for marks in my whalebooks.
It is transparent, as I said before; and being laid upon
the printed page, I have sometimes pleased myself with fancying
it exerted a magnifying influence. At any rate, it is pleasant
to read about whales through their own spectacles, as you may
say. But what I am driving at here is this. That same infinitely
thin, isinglass substance, which, I admit, invests the
entire body of the whale, is not so much to be regarded as the
skin of the creature, as the skin of the skin, so to speak; for it
were simply ridiculous to say, that the proper skin of the tremendous
whale is thinner and more tender than the skin of a
new-born child. But no more of this.

Assuming the blubber to be the skin of the whale; then,
when this skin, as in the case of a very large Sperm Whale,
will yield the bulk of one hundred barrels of oil; and, when it
is considered that, in quantity, or rather weight, that oil, in its
expressed state, is only three fourths, and not the entire substance
of the coat; some idea may hence be had of the enormousness
of that animated mass, a mere part of whose mere
integument yields such a lake of liquid as that. Reckoning
ten barrels to the ton, you have ten tons for the net weight of
only three quarters of the stuff of the whale's skin.

In life, the visible surface of the Sperm Whale is not the least
among the many marvels he presents. Almost invariably it is
all over obliquely crossed and re-crossed with numberless straight
marks in thick array, something like those in the finest Italian
line engravings. But these marks do not seem to be impressed
upon the isinglass substance above mentioned, but seem to be
seen through it, as if they were engraved upon the body itself.
Nor is this all. In some instances, to the quick, observant eye,
those linear marks, as in a veritable engraving, but afford the
ground for far other delineations. These are hieroglyphical;
that is, if you call those mysterious cyphers on the walls of


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pyramids hieroglyphies, then that is the proper word to use in
the present connexion. by my retentive memory of the hieroglyphics
upon one Sperm Whale in particular, I was much
struck with a plate representing the old Indian characters chiselled
on the famous hieroglyphic palisades on the banks of the
Upper Mississippi. Like those mystic rocks, too, the mystic-marked
whale remains undecipherable. This allusioh to the
Indian rocks reminds me of another thing. Besides all the
other phenomena which the exterior of the Sperm Whale presents,
he not seldom displays the back, and more especially his
flanks, effaced in great part of the regular linear appearance, by
reason of numerous rude scratches, altogether of an irregular,
random aspect. I should say that those New England rocks on
the sea-coast, which Agassiz imagines to bear the marks of
violent scraping contact with vast floating icebergs—I should
say, that those rocks must not a little resemble the Sperm Whale
in this particular. It also seems to me that such scratches in
the whale are probably made by hostile contact with other
whales; for I have most remarked them in the large, full-grown
bulls of the species.

A word or two more concerning this matter of the skin or
blubber of the whale. It has already been said, that it is stript
from him in long pieces, called blanket-pieces. Like most seaterms,
this one is very happy and significant. For the whale is
indeed wrapt up in his blubber as in a real blanket or counterpane;
or, still better, an Indian poncho slipt over his head, and
skirting his extremity. It is by reason of this cosy blanketing
of his body, that the whale is enabled to keep himself comfortable
in all weathers, in all seas, times, and tides. What would
become of a Greenland whale, say, in those shuddering, icy
seas of the North, if unsupplied with his cosy surtout? True,
other fish are found exceedingly brisk in those Hyperborean
waters; but these, be it observed, are your cold-blooded, lungless
fish, whose very bellies are refrigerators; creatures, that


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warm themselves under the lee of an iceberg, as a traveller in
winter would bask before an inn fire; whereas, like man, the
whale has lungs and warm blood. Freeze his blood, and he
dies. How wonderful is it then—except after explanation—
that this great monster, to whom corporeal warmth is as indispensable
as it is to man; how wonderful that he should be
found at home, immersed to his lips for life in those Arctic
waters! where, when seamen fall overboard, they are sometimes
found, months afterwards, perpendicularly frozen into the hearts
of fields of ice, as a fly is found glued in amber. But more
surprising is it to know, as has been proved by experiment, that
the blood of a Polar whale is warmer than that of a Borneo
negro in summer.

It does seem to me, that herein we see the rare virtue of a
strong individual vitality, and the rare virtue of thick walls,
and the rare virtue of interior spaciousness. Oh, man! admire
and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain
warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without
being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at
the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter's, and like the
great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of
thine own.

But how easy and how hopeless to teach these fine things!
Of erections, how few are domed like St. Peter's! of creatures,
how few vast as the whale!