Moby Dick

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Chapter1

1 Looming s. Call me Ishmael. Some years ago?never mind how long precisely?having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery pa rt of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; w henever it is a d amp, drizzly Nov ember in my soul; whenever I fi nd myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever m y hypos get such an upp er hand of me, that i t requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the str eet, and methodically knocking people?s hats off?then, I a ccoun t it hig h time to get to sea as soon as I ca n. Thi s is my substitu te for pisto l and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I qu ietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the sa me feelings t owards the ocean with me. 22 of 1047 Moby Dick There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs? commerce surrounds it with her sur f. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there. Circumamb ulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenti es Slip, and from thence, by Whit ehall, northward. What do you see??Posted like silen t sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousand s of mortal me n fixed in ocean reveries. Some l eaning against the spil es; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high al oft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster?tied to co unters, nailed to benches, cli nched to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they here? But look! here come m ore crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them bu t the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder warehouses 23 of 1047 Moby Dick will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in. And there they stand?miles of them?leagues. Inla nders all, they come from lanes and alleys, stree ts and avenues?north, east, south, and west. Yet he re they all unite. Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compa sses of all those ships attract them thither ? Once more. Say you are in the country; in some high land of lakes. Take almost an y path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magi c in it. Let the most absent-mi nded of me n be plunged in his deepest reveries?stand that man on hi s legs, set hi s feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region. Should you ev er be athirst in the great American desert, try t his experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows, me ditat ion and water are wedded for ever. But here is an artist. He desires to paint you the dreamiest, shadiest, qui etest, most enchanting bit of romantic landscape in all th e valley of the Saco. What is the chief element he employs? There stand his trees, each with a hollow trunk, as if a hermit and a crucifix were 24 of 1047 Moby Dick within; and here sleeps his meadow, and there sleep his cattle; and up from yo nder cottage goes a sleepy smoke. Deep into d istant woodl ands wind s a mazy w ay, reaching to overlapping spurs of mountains b athed in their hill-side blue. But though the picture lies thus tranced, and thoug h this pine-tree shakes down i ts sighs like leaves upon this shepherd?s head, yet all were vain, unless the shepherd?s eye were fixed upon the ma gic stream before him. Go visit the Prairies in June, when for scores on scores of miles you wade knee- deep among Tiger-lilies?what is the one charm wanting??Water?there is not a drop of water there! Were Niag ara but a cataract of sand, would you travel your thousand miles to see it? Why did the poor poet of Tennesse e, upon suddenly receiving two handfuls of silver, deliberate whether to buy hi m a coat, which he sadly needed, or in vest his money in a pedestrian trip to Rockaway Beach? Wh y is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystica l vibration, when first tol d that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Wh y did the old Persi ans hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without 25 of 1047 Moby Dick meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, w ho because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, p lunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the u ngraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all. Now, when I say that I am in the ha bit of going to sea whenever I begin to grow hazy about the eyes, and begin to be over conscio us of my l ungs, I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever go to sea as a passenger. For to go as a passenger you must needs have a purse, and a purse is but a rag unless you have so mething in i t. Besides, p assengers get sea-sick?grow quarrelsome?d on?t sleep of nights? do not enjoy themselves much, as a general thing;?no, I never go as a passenger; nor, though I am something of a salt, do I ever go to sea as a Commodore, or a Captain, or a Cook. I abandon the glory and distinction of such offices to those who like them. For my part, I abo minate all honourable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind whatsoever. It is qu ite as much a s I can do to take care of myself, without taking care of ships, barques, brigs, schooners, and what not. And as for going as cook,?though I confess there is c onsiderable glory in that, a cook being a sort of officer on ship-board?yet, 26 of 1047 Moby Dick somehow, I never fancied br oiling fowls;?though once broiled, judiciously buttered, and ju dgmatically salted and peppered, t here is no one who will spea k more respectfully, not to say reveren tially, of a broiled fowl than I will. It is out of the idolatrous dotings of the old Egyptians upon broiled ibis and ro asted river horse, that you see the mummies of tho se creatures in their huge bake-houses the pyramids. No, when I go to sea, I go as a si mple sailor, right before the mast, plumb down into the forecastle, alof t there to the royal mast-head. True, they rather order me about some, and make me jump fr om spar to spar, like a grasshopper in a May meadow. An d at first, thi s sort of thing is unpleasant enough. It touches one?s sense of honour, par ticularly if you come of an o ld e stablished family in the land, the Van Rensselaers, or Randolphs, or Hardicanutes. And more than all, if just pr evious to putting your hand into the tar-pot, y ou have been lording it as a country schoolmaster, making the tallest boys stand in awe of y ou. The transition is a keen one, I assure you, from a schoolmaster to a sailo r, and requires a strong decoction of Seneca and the St oics to enable you to grin and bear it. But even this wears off in time. 27 of 1047 Moby Dick What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a broom and sweep down the decks? What does that indignity amount to, weig hed, I mean, in the scales of the New Testament? Do you think the archangel Gabriel thinks anything the less of me, because I promptly and respectfully obey that old hunks in that particular instance? Who ain?t a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old sea-cap tains may order me about?however they may thump and punch me about, I ha ve the sati sfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way?eit her in a physical or metaphysical poin t of vi ew, that is; and so the universal thump is passe d round, and all hands should rub each other?s shoulder-blades, and be c ontent. Again, I alw ays go to sea as a sailor, because they make a point of paying me for my trouble, whereas they never pay passenge rs a single p enny that I ever heard o f. On the contrary, passengers themselves must pay. And there is all the difference in the world between paying and being paid. The act of paying is p erhaps the most uncomfortable inflictio n th at the two orc hard thie ves entailed upon us. But BEING PAID,?what will compare with it? The urbane activ ity with w hich a man receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly believe 28 of 1047 Moby Dick money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monie d man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition! Finally, I always go to sea as a sail or, because of the wholesome exercise and pure air of the fore-castle deck. For as in this world, head winds ar e far more prevalent than winds from astern (that is, if y ou never violate the Pythagorean maxim), so for the most part the Commodore on the quarter-deck g ets his atmosphere at second hand from the sailors on the forecastle. He thinks he breathes it first; but not so. In much the sa me way do the commo nalty lead th eir lead ers in many other things, at the same time that th e leaders little suspect it. But wherefore it was that after having repeatedly smelt the sea as a merchant sail or, I should now take it into my head to go on a whaling voyage; this the invi sible police officer of the Fates, who has the const ant surveillance of me, and secretly dogs me, and influences me in some unaccountab le way?he can be tter answer than any one else. And, doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand pr ogramme of Providence that was drawn up a long ti me ago. It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances. 29 of 1047 Moby Dick I take it that this part of the bill must have run something like this: ?GRAND CONTESTED ELEC TION FOR THE PRESIDENCY OF THE UNITED STATES . ?WHALING VOYA GE BY ONE ISHMAEL. ?BLOODY BATTLE IN AFFGHANISTAN.? Though I cannot tell why it was exactly that those stage managers, the Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage, when others were set down for magnificent parts in hi gh tragedies, and short and easy parts in genteel comedies , and jolly parts in farces?though I cannot tell why this w as exactly; y et, now that I recall all the circumstances, I think I can see a little into the springs and motives which being cunningly presented to me under various disguises, induced me to set about performing the part I did, be sides cajoling me into the delusion that it w as a choi ce resul ting from my own unbiased freewill and discriminating judgment. Chief amon g these moti ves was the overwhelming idea of the great whale himself. Such a portentous and mysterious monster rou sed all my curiosity. Then the wild and distant seas where he roll ed his island bulk; the undeliverabl e, nameless perils of the whale; these, with all the attending marvels of a thousand Patagonian sights and 30 of 1047 Moby Dick sounds, help ed to sway me to my wish. With other men, perhaps, such things w ould not h ave been inducements; but as for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous co asts. Not ign oring what is good, I am quick to perceive a horror, and could st ill be social with it?would they let me?since it is but well to be on friendly terms with all the inmates of the place one lodges in. By reason of these things, th en, the whaling voy age was welcome; the great fl ood-gates of the wonder-world swung open, and in the wild conceits that sway ed me to my purpose, two and two there floated into my inmost soul, endless processions of the whale, and, mid most of them all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill i n the air. 31 of 1047 Moby Dick
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