BOOK II. (Octavo), CHAPTER I. (Grampus).- Though this fish, whose loud sonorous breathing, or rather blowing, has furnished a proverb to landsmen, is so well known a denizen of the deep, yet is he not popularly classed among whales. But possessing all the grand distinctive features of the leviathan, most naturalists have recognised him for one. He is of moderate octave size, varying from fifteen to twenty-five feet in length, and of corresponding dimensions round the waist. He swims in herds; he is never regularly hunted, though his oil is considerable in quantity, and pretty good for light. By some fishermen his approach is regarded as premonitory of the advance of the great sperm whale.
BOOK II. (Octavo), CHAPTER II. (Black Fish).- I give
the popular fishermen's names for all these fish, for generally they are
the best. Where any name happens to be vague or inexpressive, I shall
say so, and suggest another. I do so now touching the Black Fish, so
called because blackness is the rule among almost all whales. So, call
him the Hyena Whale, if you please. His voracity is well known and from
the circumstance that the inner angles of his lips are curved upwards,
he carries an everlasting Mephistophelean grin on his face. This whale
averages some sixteen or eighteen feet in length. He is found in almost
all latitudes. He has a peculiar way of showing his dorsal hooked fin in
swimming, which looks something like a Roman nose. When not more
profitably employed, the sperm whale hunters sometimes capture the Hyena
whale, to keep up the supply of cheap oil for domestic employment- as
some frugal housekeepers, in the absence of company, and quite alone by
themselves, burn unsavory tallow instead of odorous wax. Though their
blubber is very thin, some of these whales will yield you upwards of
thirty gallons of oil.
BOOK II. (Octavo), CHAPTER III. (Narwhale),
that is, Nostril whale.- Another instance of a curiously named whale,
so named I suppose from his peculiar horn being originally mistaken for a
peaked nose. The creature is some sixteen feet in length, while its
horn averages five feet, though some exceed ten, and even attain to
fifteen feet. Strictly speaking, this horn is but a lengthened tusk,
growing out from the jaw in a line a little depressed from the
horizontal. But it is only found on the sinister side, which has an ill
effect, giving its owner something analogous to the aspect of a clumsy
left-handed man. What precise purpose this ivory horn or lance answers,
it would be hard to say. It does not seem to be used like the blade of
the sword-fish and bill-fish; though some sailors tell me that the
Narwhale employs it for a rake in turning over the bottom of the sea for
food. Charley Coffin said it was used for an ice-piercer; for the
Narwhale, rising to the surface of the Polar Sea, and finding it sheeted
with ice, thrusts his horn up, and so breaks through. But you cannot
prove either of these surmises to be correct. My own opinion is, that
however this one-sided horn may really be used by the Narwhale- however
that may be- it would certainly be very convenient to him for a folder
in reading pamphlets. The Narwhale I have heard called the Tusked whale,
the Horned whale, and the Unicorn whale. He is certainly a curious
example of the Unicornism to be found in almost every kingdom of
animated nature. From certain cloistered old authors I have gathered
that this same sea-unicorn's horn was in ancient days regarded as the
great antidote against poison, and as such, preparations of it brought
immense prices. It was also distilled to a volatile salts for fainting
ladies the same way that the horns of the male deer are manufactured
into hartshorn. Originally it was in itself accounted an object of great
curiosity. Black Letter tells me that Sir Martin Frobisher on his
return from that voyage, when Queen Bess did gallantly wave her jewelled
hand to him from a window of Greenwich Palace, as his bold ship sailed
down the Thames; "when Sir Martin returned from that voyage," saith
Black Letter, "on bended knees he presented to her highness a prodigious
long horn of the Narwhale, which for a long period after hung in the
castle at Windsor." An Irish author avers that the Earl of Leicester, on
bended knees, did likewise present to her highness another horn,
pertaining to a land beast of the unicorn nature.
The Narwhale has
a very picturesque, leopard-like look, being of a milk-white ground
color, dotted with round and oblong spots of black. His oil is very
superior, clear and fine; but there is little of it, and he is seldom
hunted. He is mostly found in the circumpolar seas.
(Octavo), CHAPTER IV. (Killer).- Of this whale little is precisely known
to the Nantucketer, and nothing at all to the professed naturalists.
From what I have seen of him at a distance, I should say that he was
about the bigness of a grampus. He is very savage- a sort of Feegee
fish. He sometimes takes the great Folio whales by the lip, and hangs
there like a leech, till the mighty brute is worried to death. The
Killer is never hunted. I never heard what sort of oil he has. Exception
might be taken to the name bestowed upon this whale, on the ground of
its indistinctness. For we are all killers, on land and on sea;
Bonapartes and Sharks included.
BOOK II. (Octavo), CHAPTER V.
(Thrasher).- This gentleman is famous for his tail which he uses for a
ferule in thrashing his foes. He mounts the Folio whale's back, and as
he swims, he works his passage by flogging him; as some schoolmasters
get along in the world by a similar process. Still less is known of the
Thrasher than of the Killer. Both are outlaws, even in the lawless seas.
Thus ends BOOK II. (Octavo), and begins BOOK III, (Duodecimo.)
These include the smaller whales. I. The Huzza Porpoise. II. The
Algerine Porpoise. III. The Mealy-mouthed Porpoise.
To those who
have not chanced specially to study the subject, it may possibly seem
strange, that fishes not commonly exceeding four or five feet should be
marshalled among WHALES- a word, which, in the popular sense, always
conveys an idea of hugeness. But the creatures set down above as
Duodecimoes are infallibly whales, by the terms of my definition of what
a whale is- i.e. a spouting fish, with a horizontal tail.
III. (Duodecimo), CHAPTER 1. (Huzza Porpoise).- This is the common
porpoise found all over the globe. The name is of my own bestowal; for
there are more than one sort of porpoises, and something must be done to
distinguish them. I call him thus, because he always swims in hilarious
shoals, which upon the broad sea keep tossing themselves to heaven like
caps in a Fourth-of-July crowd. Their appearance is generally hailed
with delight by the mariner. Full of fine spirits, they invariably come
from the breezy billows to windward. They are the lads that always live
before the wind. They are accounted a lucky omen. If you yourself can
withstand three cheers at beholding these vivacious fish, then heaven
help ye; the spirit of godly gamesomeness is not in ye. A well-fed,
plump Huzza Porpoise will yield you one good gallon of good oil. But the
fine and delicate fluid extracted from his jaws is exceedingly
valuable. It is in request among jewellers and watchmakers. Sailors put
in on their hones. Porpoise meat is good eating, you know. It may never
have occurred to you that a porpoise spouts. Indeed, his spout is so
small that it is not very readily discernible. But the next time you
have a chance, watch him; and you will then see the great Sperm whale
himself in miniature.
BOOK III. (Duodecimo), CHAPTER II. (Algerine
Porpoise).- A pirate. Very savage. He is only found, I think, in the
Pacific. He is somewhat larger than the Huzza Porpoise, but much of the
same general make. Provoke him, and he will buckle to a shark. I have
lowered for him many times, but never yet saw him captured.
III. (Duodecimo), CHAPTER III. (Mealy-mouthed Porpoise).- The largest
kind of Porpoise; and only found in the Pacific, so far as it is known.
The only English name, by which he has hitherto been designated, is that
of the fisher- Right-Whale Porpoise, from the circumstance that he is
chiefly found in the vicinity of that Folio. In shape, he differs in
some degree from the Huzza Porpoise, being of a less rotund and jolly
girth; indeed, he is of quite a neat and gentleman-like figure. He has
no fins on his back (most other porpoises have), he has a lovely tail,
and sentimental Indian eyes of a hazel hue. But his mealy-mouth spoils
him. Though his entire back down to his side fins is of a deep sable,
yet a boundary line, distinct as the mark in a ship's hull, called the
"bright waist," that line streaks him from stem to stern, with two
separate colors, black above and white below. The white comprises part
of his head, and the whole of his mouth, which makes him look as if he
had just escaped from a felonious visit to a meal-bag. A most mean and
mealy aspect! His oil is much like that of the common porpoise.
the DUODECIMO, this system does not proceed, inasmuch as the Porpoise
is the smallest of the whales. Above, you have all the Leviathans of
note. But there are a rabble of uncertain, fugitive, half-fabulous
whales, which, as an American whaleman, I know by reputation, but not
personally. I shall enumerate them by their fore-castle appellations;
for possibly such a list may be valuable to future investigators, who
may complete what I have here but begun. If any of the following whales,
shall hereafter be caught and marked, then he can readily be
incorporated into this System, according to his Folio, Octavo, or
Duodecimo magnitude:- The Bottle-Nose Whale; the Junk Whale; the
Pudding-Headed Whale; the Cape Whale; the Leading Whale; the Cannon
Whale; the Scragg Whale; the Coppered Whale; the Elephant Whale; the
Iceberg Whale; the Quog Whale; the Blue Whale; &c. From Icelandic,
Dutch, and old English authorities, there might be quoted other lists of
uncertain whales, blessed with all manner of uncouth names. But I omit
them as altogether obsolete; and can hardly help suspecting them for
mere sounds, full of Leviathanism, but signifying nothing.
It was stated at the outset, that this system would not be here, and at
once, perfected. You cannot but plainly see that I have kept my word.
But I now leave my cetological System standing thus unfinished, even as
the great Cathedral of Cologne was left, with the cranes still standing
upon the top of the uncompleted tower. For small erections may be
finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave
the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything.
This whole book is but a draught- nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh,
Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!
Yes, this passage is rather lengthy, and, yes, it contains the last of Melville's chapter on Cetology. Near the end, Melville/Ishmael all but admits that his categorization and enumeration is not complete, and may never be complete. As a compendium of 19th-century whale knowledge, it is fairly impressive to me, a self-proclaimed novice of the subject. In fact, my personal knowledge is limited to seeing Free Willy a couple of times and visiting Sea World in Florida in the mid-1980s. Thus, Melville, even though he died almost 120 years ago, is still better informed than me on the subject.
But that's the case with most writers. I have a good friend who wrote a book on the giant squid. The first time he spoke of the subject to me, he said he was writing a "short essay." A few months later, I asked him how the essay was coming. He shook his head, said something like, "I think I may be writing a book." Time warp several years, and my friend releases a book-length meditation on the giant squid and its first photographer, Moses Harvey. My friend became an expert on squidology. (I made that word up.)
Today, I finished a short essay on my sister and the aliens of the original Star Trek series. I wasn't planning on doing this. My original intention was a simple reflection on Christmas and my sister and Mr. Spock. Instead, I found myself studying the physiology of Vulcans and Gorn. I mapped out the anatomy of the Horta and Medusans. In short, I gave myself a crash course on Trekkian aliens. It was a fascinating rabbit hole to fall down, just as my friend stumbled into the rabbit hole of squids and Melville of whales. As I said, it's what writers do.
I have been in the rabbit hole of Bigfoot for a couple years now, working on a collection of poems. Now I am embarking on another revision of a Christmas essay, and this essay takes me right down the Bigfoot rabbit hole again. A place with which I have become quite comfortable. Therefore, I am hoping I will be able to finish this rewrite in a short space of time.
I hope people aren't getting tired of me writing and talking about Bigfoot. I imagine, when Melville was writing Moby-Dick, his friends would sometimes look at him and say, "For God's sake, Manny! Stop with the whale shit!" I haven't heard any Bigfoot complaints from family or friends. Yet. I'm sure they will eventually come.
Tonight, however, Saint Marty is thankful for rabbit holes.