University of Virginia Library

Search this document 




Now comes the Baling of the Case. But to comprehend it
aright, you must know something of the curious internal structure
of the thing operated upon.

Regarding the Sperm Whale's head as a solid oblong, you
may, on an inclined plane, sideways divide it into two quoins,[1]
whereof the lower is the bony structure, forming the cranium
and jaws, and the upper an unctuous mass wholly free from
bones; its broad forward end forming the expanded vertical
apparent forehead of the whale. At the middle of the forehead
horizontally subdivide this upper quoin, and then you have two


Page 378
almost equal parts, which before were naturally divided by an
internal wall of a thick tendinous substance.

The lower subdivided part, called the junk, is one immense
honeycomb of oil, formed by the crossing and re-crossing, into
ten thousand infiltrated cells, of tough elastic white fibres
throughout its whole extent. The upper part, known as the
Case, may be regarded as the great Heidelburgh Tun of the
Sperm Whale. And as that famous great tierce is mystically
carved in front, so the whale's vast plaited forehead forms innumerable
strange devices for the emblematical adornment of his
wondrous tun. Moreover, as that of Heidelburgh was always
replenished with the most excellent of the wines of the Rhenish
valleys, so the tun of the whale contains by far the most precious
of all his oily vintages; namely, the highly-prized spermaceti,
in its absolutely pure, limpid, and odoriferous state.
Nor is this precious substance found unalloyed in any other part
of the creature. Though in life it remains perfectly fluid, yet,
upon exposure to the air, after death, it soon begins to concrete;
sending forth beautiful crystalline shoots, as when the first thin
delicate ice is just forming in water. A large whale's case
generally yields about five hundred gallons of sperm, though
from unavoidable circumstances, considerable of it is spilled,
leaks, and dribbles away, or is otherwise irrevocably lost in the
ticklish business of securing what you can.

I know not with what fine and costly material the Heidelburgh
Tun was coated within, but in superlative richness that
coating could not possibly have compared with the silken pearl-colored
membrane, like the lining of a fine pelisse, forming the
inner surface of the Sperm Whale's case.

It will have been seen that the Heidelburgh Tun of the Sperm
Whale embraces the entire length of the entire top of the head;
and since—as has been elsewhere set forth—the head embraces
one third of the whole length of the creature, then setting that
length down at eighty feet for a good sized whale, you have more


Page 379
than twenty-six feet for the depth of the tun, when it is lengthwise
hoisted up and down against a ship's side.

As in decapitating the whale, the operator's instrument is
brought close to the spot where an entrance is subsequently
forced into the spermaceti magazine; he has, therefore, to be
uncommonly heedful, lest a careless, untimely stroke should
invade the sanctuary and wastingly let out its invaluable contents.
It is this decapitated end of the head, also, which is at
last elevated out of the water, and retained in that position by
the enormous cutting tackles, whose hempen combinations, on
one side, make quite a wilderness of ropes in that quarter.

Thus much being said, attend now, I pray you, to that marvellous
and—in this particular instance—almost fatal operation
whereby the Sperm Whale's great Heidelburgh Tun is tapped.


Quoin is not a Euclidean term. It belongs to the pure nautical
mathematics. I know not that it has been defined before. A quoin is a
solid which differs from a wedge in having its sharp end formed by the
steep inclination of one side, instead of the mutual tapering of both sides.