Besides her hoisted boats, an American whaler is outwardly distinguished by her try-works. She presents the curious anomaly of the most solid masonry joining with oak and hemp in constituting the completed ship. It is as if from the open field a brick-kiln were transported to her planks.
The try-works are planted between the
foremast and mainmast, the most roomy part of the deck. The timbers
beneath are of a peculiar strength, fitted to sustain the weight of an
almost solid mass of brick and mortar, some ten feet by eight square,
and five in height. The foundation does not penetrate the deck, but the
masonry is firmly secured to the surface by ponderous knees of iron
bracing it on all sides, and screwing it down to the timbers. On the
flanks it is cased with wood, and at top completely covered by a large,
sloping, battened hatchway. Removing this hatch we expose the great
try-pots, two in number, and each of several barrels' capacity. When not
in use, they are kept remarkably clean. Sometimes they are polished
with soapstone and sand, till they shine within like silver punchbowls.
During the night-watches some cynical old sailors will crawl into them
and coil themselves away there for a nap. While employed in polishing
them- one man in each pot, side by side- many confidential
communications are carried on, over the iron lips. It is a place also
for profound mathematical meditation. It was in the left hand try-pot of
the Pequod, with the soapstone diligently circling round me, that I was
first indirectly struck by the remarkable fact, that in geometry all
bodies gliding along the cycloid, my soapstone for example, will descend
from any point in precisely the same time.
fire-board from the front of the try-works, the bare masonry of that
side is exposed, penetrated by the two iron mouths of the furnaces,
directly underneath the pots. These mouths are fitted with heavy doors
of iron. The intense heat of the fire is prevented from communicating
itself to the deck, by means of a shallow reservoir extending under the
entire inclosed surface of the works. By a tunnel inserted at the rear,
this reservoir is kept replenished with water as fast as it evaporates.
There are no external chimneys; they open direct from the rear wall. And
here let us go back for a moment.
It was about nine o'clock at
night that the Pequod's try-works were first started on this present
voyage. It belonged to Stubb to oversee the business.
there? Off hatch, then, and start her. You cook, fire the works." This
was an easy thing, for the carpenter had been thrusting his shavings
into the furnace throughout the passage. Here be it said in a whaling
voyage the first fire in the try-works has to be fed for a time with
wood. After that no wood is used, except as a means of quick ignition to
the staple fuel. In a word, after being tried out, the crisp,
shrivelled blubber, now called scraps or fritters, still contains
considerable of its unctuous properties. These fritters feed the flames.
Like a plethoric burning martyr, or a self-consuming misanthrope, once
ignited, the whale supplies his own fuel and burns by his own body.
Would that he consumed his own smoke! for his smoke is horrible to
inhale, and inhale it you must, and not only that, but you must live in
it for the time. It has an unspeakable, wild, Hindoo odor about it, such
as may lurk in the vicinity of funereal pyres. It smells like the left
wing of the day of judgment; it is an argument for the pit.
midnight the works were in full operation. We were clear from the
carcass; sail had been made; the wind was freshening; the wild ocean
darkness was intense. But that darkness was licked up by the fierce
flames, which at intervals forked forth from the sooty flues, and
illuminated every lofty rope in the rigging, as with the famed Greek
fire. The burning ship drove on, as if remorselessly commissioned to
some vengeful deed. So the pitch and sulphur-freighted brigs of the bold
Hydriote, Canaris, issuing from their midnight harbors, with broad
sheets of flame for sails, bore down upon the Turkish frigates, and
folded them in conflagrations.
The hatch, removed from the top of
the works, now afforded a wide hearth in front of them. Standing on this
were the Tartarean shapes of the pagan harpooneers, always the
whale-ship's stokers. With huge pronged poles they pitched hissing
masses of blubber into the scalding pots, or stirred up the fires
beneath, till the snaky flames darted, curling, out of the doors to
catch them by the feet. The smoke rolled away in sullen heaps. To every
pitch of the ship there was a pitch of the boiling oil, which seemed all
eagerness to leap into their faces. Opposite the mouth of the works, on
the further side of the wide wooden hearth, was the windlass. This
served for a sea-sofa. Here lounged the watch, when not otherwise
employed, looking into the red heat of the fire, till their eyes felt
scorched in their heads. Their tawny features, now all begrimed with
smoke and sweat, their matted beards, and the contrasting barbaric
brilliancy of their teeth, all these were strangely revealed in the
capricious emblazonings of the works. As they narrated to each other
their unholy adventures, their tales of terror told in words of mirth;
as their uncivilized laughter forked upwards out of them, like the
flames from the furnace; as to and fro, in their front, the harpooneers
wildly gesticulated with their huge pronged forks and dippers; as the
wind howled on, and the sea leaped, and the ship groaned and dived, and
yet steadfastly shot her red hell further and further into the blackness
of the sea and the night, and scornfully champed the white bone in her
mouth, and viciously spat round her on all sides; then the rushing
Pequod, freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning a
corpse, and plunging into that blackness of darkness, seemed the
material counterpart of her monomaniac commander's soul.
it to me, as I stood at her helm, and for long hours silently guided
the way of this fire-ship on the sea. Wrapped, for that interval, in
darkness myself, I but the better saw the redness, the madness, the
ghastliness of others. The continual sight of the fiend shapes before
me, capering half in smoke and half in fire, these at last begat kindred
visions in my soul, so soon as I began to yield to that unaccountable
drowsiness which ever would come over me at a midnight helm.
that night, in particular, a strange (and ever since inexplicable) thing
occurred to me. Starting from a brief standing sleep, I was horribly
conscious of something fatally wrong. The jaw-bone tiller smote my side,
which leaned against it; in my ears was the low hum of sails, just
beginning to shake in the wind; I thought my eyes were open; I was half
conscious of putting my fingers to the lids and mechanically stretching
them still further apart. But, spite of all this, I could see no compass
before me to steer by; though it seemed but a minute since I had been
watching the card, by the steady binnacle lamp illuminating it. Nothing
seemed before me but a jet gloom, now and then made ghastly by flashes
of redness. Uppermost was the impression, that whatever swift, rushing
thing I stood on was not so much bound to any haven ahead as rushing
from all havens astern. A stark, bewildered feeling, as of death, came
over me. Convulsively my hands grasped the tiller, but with the crazy
conceit that the tiller was, somehow, in some enchanted way, inverted.
My God! what is the matter with me? thought I. Lo! in my brief sleep I
had turned myself about, and was fronting the ship's stern, with my back
to her prow and the compass. In an instant I faced back, just in time
to prevent the vessel from flying up into the wind, and very probably
capsizing her. How glad and how grateful the relief from this unnatural
hallucination of the night, and the fatal contingency of being brought
by the lee!
Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man!
Never dream with thy hand on the helm! Turn not thy back to the compass;
accept the first hint of the hitching tiller; believe not the
artificial fire, when its redness makes all things look ghastly.
To-morrow, in the natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who
glared like devils in the forking flames, the morn will show in far
other, at least gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the
only true lamp- all others but liars!
Nevertheless the sun hides
not Virginia's Dismal Swamp, nor Rome's accursed Campagna, nor wide
Sahara, nor all the millions of miles of deserts and of griefs beneath
the moon. The sun hides not the ocean, which is the dark side of this
earth, and which is two thirds of this earth. So, therefore, that mortal
man who hath more of joy than sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be
true- not true, or undeveloped. With books the same. The truest of all
men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon's,
and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. "All is vanity."
ALL. This wilful world hath not got hold of unchristian Solomon's wisdom
yet. But he who dodges hospitals and jails, and walks fast crossing
graveyards, and would rather talk of operas than hell; calls Cowper,
Young, Pascal, Rousseau, poor devils all of sick men; and throughout a
care-free lifetime swears by Rabelais as passing wise, and therefore
jolly;- not that man is fitted to sit down on tomb-stones, and break the
green damp mould with unfathomably wondrous Solomon.
Solomon, he says, "the man that wandereth out of the way of
understanding shall remain" (i.e. even while living) "in the
congregation of the dead." Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it
invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom
that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill
eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges,
and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And
even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the
mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still
higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.
So, the eagle is in the mountain, soaring over all the other birds. It never gets low enough for the other birds to touch it. It stays above the fire and smoke, in the sunlight. That's what this chapter is about. Ishmael is piloting the Pequod blindly, through the dark. It's all about defying death.
Greetings from the Boyne Mountain Resort. I arrived yesterday, spent most of the afternoon climbing up and down water slides with my son and daughter, and then enjoyed a good meal. It was a lovely way to kick off my vacation.
In about an hour-and-a-half, I'm heading out to do a three-hour zipline tour through the forest. My daughter talked me into it. That means that I'm going to be sailing over the trees like the eagle in the passage above. I'm not completely sold on the idea of soaring above the ground, strapped to a thin metal cable. In fact, I think that it's kind of an insane idea. My daughter insists that I'm going to love it.
I am not an eagle. When I go on an airplane, I usually have to take something to keep myself calm. The last long airplane trip I took, I had Ativan and alcohol to help me through the experience. On the downside, I barely remember arriving at my destination. I was VERY relaxed. God invented gravity for a purpose--to keep human beings on the ground.
However, for my daughter and her boyfriend, I will allow myself to be strapped into a harness, attached to a cable, and pushed off a platform at the top of a tree. It's a test of love.
Saint Marty is thankful this morning for alcohol, which he will be consuming after his zipline tour.