University of Virginia Library

Search this document 




Ere quitting, for the nonce, the Sperm Whale's head, I would
have you, as a sensible physiologist, simply—particularly remark
its front aspect, in all its compacted collectedness. I would
have you investigate it now with the sole view of forming to


Page 375
yourself some unexaggerated, intelligent estimate of whatever
battering-ram power may be lodged there. Here is a vital
point; for you must either satisfactorily settle this matter with
yourself, or for ever remain an infidel as to one of the most
appalling, but not the less true events, perhaps anywhere to be
found in all recorded history.

You observe that in the ordinary swimming position of the
Sperm Whale, the front of his head presents an almost wholly
vertical plane to the water; you observe that the lower part of
that front slopes considerably backwards, so as to furnish more
of a retreat for the long socket which receives the boom-like
lower jaw; you observe that the mouth is entirely under the
head, much in the same way, indeed, as though your own
mouth were entirely under your chin. Moreover you observe
that the whale has no external nose; and that what nose he
has—his spout hole—is on the top of his head; you observe that
his eyes and ears are at the sides of his head, nearly one third
of his entire length from the front. Wherefore, you must now
have perceived that the front of the Sperm Whale's head is a
dead, blind wall, without a single organ or tender prominence
of any sort whatsoever. Furthermore, you are now to consider
that only in the extreme, lower, backward sloping part of the
front of the head, is there the slightest vestige of bone; and
not till you get near twenty feet from the forehead do you come
to the full cranial development. So that this whole enormous
boneless mass is as one wad. Finally, though, as will soon be
revealed, its contents partly comprise the most delicate oil; yet,
you are now to be apprised of the nature of the substance
which so impregnably invests all that apparent effeminacy. In
some previous place I have described to you how the blubber
wraps the body of the whale, as the rind wraps an orange.
Just so with the head; but with this difference: about the
head this envelope, though not so thick, is of a boneless toughness,
inestimable by any man who has not handled it. The


Page 376
severest pointed harpoon, the sharpest lance darted by the
strongest human arm, impotently rebounds from it. It is as
though the forehead of the Sperm Whale were paved with
horses' hoofs. I do not think that any sensation lurks in it.

Bethink yourself also of another thing. When two large,
loaded Indiamen chance to crowd and crush towards each other
in the docks, what do the sailors do? They do not suspend between
them, at the point of coming contact, any merely hard
substance, like iron or wood. No, they hold there a large,
round wad of tow and cork, enveloped in the thickest and
toughest of ox-hide. That bravely and uninjured takes the
jam which would have snapped all their oaken handspikes
and iron crow-bars. By itself this sufficiently illustrates the
obvious fact I drive at. But supplementary to this, it has
hypothetically occurred to me, that as ordinary fish possess what
is called a swimming bladder in them, capable, at will, of distension
or contraction; and as the Sperm Whale, as far as I
know, has no such provision in him; considering, too, the
otherwise inexplicable manner in which he now depresses his
head altogether beneath the surface, and anon swims with it
high elevated out of the water; considering the unobstructed
elasticity of its envelop; considering the unique interior of his
head; it has hypothetically occurred to me, I say, that those
mystical lung-celled honeycombs there may possibly have some
hitherto unknown and unsuspected connexion with the outer
air, so as to be susceptible to atmospheric distension and contraction.
If this be so, fancy the irresistibleness of that might,
to which the most impalpable and destructive of all elements

Now, mark. Unerringly impelling this dead, impregnable,
uninjurable wall, and this most buoyant thing within; there
swims behind it all a mass of tremendous life, only to be adequately
estimated as piled wood is—by the cord; and all
obedient to one volition, as the smallest insect. So that when I


Page 377
shall hereafter detail to you all the specialities and concentrations
of potency everywhere lurking in this expansive monster; when
I shall show you some of his more inconsiderable braining
feats; I trust you will have renounced all ignorant incredulity,
and be ready to abide by this; that though the Sperm Whale
stove a passage through the Isthmus of Darien, and mixed the
Atlantic with the Pacific, you would not elevate one hair of
your eye-brow. For unless you own the whale, you are but a
provincial and sentimentalist in Truth. But clear Truth is a
thing for salamander giants only to encounter; how small the
chances for the provincials then? What befel the weakling
youth lifting the dread goddess's veil at Lais?