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Crossing the deck, let us now have a good long look at the
Right Whale's head.

As in general shape the noble Sperm Whale's head may be
compared to a Roman war-chariot (especially in front, where it
is so broadly rounded); so, at a broad view, the Right Whale's
head bears a rather inelegant resemblance to a gigantic galliottoed
shoe. Two hundred years ago an old Dutch voyager
likened its shape to that of a shoemaker's last. And in this
same last or shoe, that old woman of the nursery tale, with the
swarming brood, might very comfortably be lodged, she and
all her progeny.

But as you come nearer to this great head it begins to
assume different aspects, according to your point of view. If
you stand on its summit and look at these two f-shaped spout-holes,
you would take the whole head for an enormous bassviol,
and these spiracles, the apertures in its sounding-board.
Then, again, if you fix your eye upon this strange, crested,
comb-like incrustation on the top of the mass—this green,
barnacled thing, which the Greenlanders call the “crown,”
and the Southern fishers the “bonnet” of the Right Whale;
fixing your eyes solely on this, you would take the head for the
trunk of some huge oak, with a bird's nest in its crotch. At
any rate, when you watch those live crabs that nestle here on
this bonnet, such an idea will be almost sure to occur to you;
unless, indeed, your fancy has been fixed by the technical term


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“crown” also bestowed upon it; in which case you will take
great interest in thinking how this mighty monster is actually a
diademed king of the sea, whose green crown has been put
together for him in this marvellous manner. But if this whale
be a king, he is a very sulky looking fellow to grace a diadem.
Look at that hanging lower lip! what a huge sulk and pout is
there! a sulk and pout, by carpenter's measurement, about
twenty feet long and five feet deep; a sulk and pout that will
yield you some 500 gallons of oil and more.

A great pity, now, that this unfortunate whale should be
hare-lipped. The fissure is about a foot across. Probably the
mother during an important interval was sailing down the
Peruvian coast, when earthquakes caused the beach to gape.
Over this lip, as over a slippery threshold, we now slide into the
mouth. Upon my word were I at Mackinaw, I should take
this to be the inside of an Indian wigwam. Good Lord! is
this the road that Jonah went? The roof is about twelve feet
high, and runs to a pretty sharp angle, as if there were a regular
ridge-pole there; while these ribbed, arched, hairy sides,
present us with those wondrous, half vertical, scimetar-shaped
slats of whalebone, say three hundred on a side, which depending
from the upper part of the head or crown bone, form those
Venetian blinds which have elsewhere been cursorily mentioned.
The edges of these bones are fringed with hairy fibres,
through which the Right Whale strains the water, and in whose
intricacies he retains the small fish, when open-mouthed he
goes through the seas of brit in feeding time. In the central
blinds of bone, as they stand in their natural order, there are
certain curious marks, curves, hollows, and ridges, whereby some
whalemen calculate the creature's age, as the age of an oak by
its circular rings. Though the certainty of this criterion is far
from demonstrable, yet it has the savor of analogical probability.
At any rate, if we yield to it, we must grant a far


Page 373
greater age to the Right Whale than at first glance will seem

In old times, there seem to have prevailed the most curious
fancies concerning these blinds. One voyager in Purchas calls
them the wondrous “whiskers” inside of the whale's mouth;[1] another, “hogs' bristles;” a third old gentleman in Hackluyt uses
the following elegant language: “There are about two hundred
and fifty fins growing on each side of his upper chop, which arch
over his tongue on each side of his mouth.”

As every one knows, these same “hogs' bristles,” “fins,”
“whiskers,” “blinds,” or whatever you please, furnish to the ladies
their busks and other stiffening contrivances. But in this
particular, the demand has long been on the decline. It was in
Queen Anne's time that the bone was in its glory, the farthingale
being then all the fashion. And as those ancient dames
moved about gaily, though in the jaws of the whale, as you
may say; even so, in a shower, with the like thoughtlessness, do
we nowadays fly under the same jaws for protection; the umbrella
being a tent spread over the same bone.

But now forget all about blinds and whiskers for a moment,
and, standing in the Right Whale's mouth, look around you
afresh. Seeing all these colonnades of bone so methodically
ranged about, would you not think you were inside of the great
Haarlem organ, and gazing upon its thousand pipes? For a
carpet to the organ we have a rug of the softest Turkey—the
tongue, which is glued, as it were, to the floor of the mouth.
It is very fat and tender, and apt to tear in pieces in hoisting it
on deck. This particular tongue now before us; at a passing
glance I should say it was a six-barreler; that is, it will yield
you about that amount of oil.


Page 374

Ere this, you must have plainly seen the truth of what I
started with—that the Sperm Whale and the Right Whale have
almost entirely different heads. To sum up, then: in the Right
Whale's there is no great well of sperm; no ivory teeth at all;
no long, slender mandible of a lower jaw, like the Sperm Whale's.
Nor in the Sperm Whale are there any of those blinds of bone;
no huge lower lip; and scarcely anything of a tongue. Again,
the Right Whale has two external spout-holes, the Sperm Whale
only one.

Look your last, now, on these venerable hooded heads, while
they yet lie together; for one will soon sink, unrecorded, in the
sea; the other will not be very long in following.

Can you catch the expression of the Sperm Whale's there?
It is the same he died with, only some of the longer wrinkles in
the forehead seem now faded away. I think his broad brow to
be full of a prairie-like placidity, born of a speculative indifference
as to death. But mark the other head's expression. See
that amazing lower lip, pressed by accident against the vessel's
side, so as firmly to embrace the jaw. Does not this whole head
seem to speak of an enormous practical resolution in facing
death? This Right Whale I take to have been a Stoic; the
Sperm Whale, a Platonian, who might have taken up Spinoza
in his latter years.


This reminds us that the Right Whale really has a sort of whisker,
or rather a moustache, consisting of a few scattered white hairs on the
upper part of the outer end of the lower jaw. Sometimes these tufts impart
a rather brigandish expression to his otherwise solemn countenance.