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Chapter 101 The Decanter

  • Ere the English ship fades from sight be it set down here, that she haile_rom London, and was named after the late Samuel Enderby, merchant of tha_ity, the original of the famous whaling house of enderby and sons; a hous_hich in my poor whaleman’s opinion, comes not far behind the united roya_ouses of the Tudors and Bourbons, in point of real historical interest. Ho_ong, prior to the year of our Lord 1775, this great whaling house was i_xistence, my numerous fish-documents do not make plain; but in that year
  • (1775) it fitted out the first English ships that ever regularly hunted th_perm Whale; though for some score of years previous (ever since 1726) ou_aliant Coffins and Maceys of Nantucket and the Vineyard had in large fleet_ursued the Leviathan, but only in the North and South Atlantic: no_lsewhere. Be it distinctly recorded here, that the Nantucketers were th_irst among mankind to harpoon with civilized steel the great Sperm Whale; an_hat for half a century they were the only people of the whole globe who s_arpooned him.
  • In 1778, a fine ship, the Amelia, fitted out for the express purpose, and a_he sole charge of the vigorous Enderbys, boldly rounded Cape Horn, and wa_he first among the nations to lower a whale-boat of any sort in the grea_outh Sea. The voyage was a skilful and lucky one; and returning to her bert_ith her hold full of the precious sperm, the Amelia’s example was soo_ollowed by other ships, English and American, and thus the vast Sperm Whal_rounds of the Pacific were thrown open. But not content with this good deed,
  • the indefatigable house again bestirred itself: Samuel and all his Sons—ho_any, their mother only knows—and under their immediate auspices, and partly,
  • I think, at their expense, the British government was induced to send th_loop-of-war Rattler on a whaling voyage of discovery into the South Sea.
  • Commanded by a naval Post-Captain, the Rattler made a rattling voyage of it,
  • and did some service; how much does not appear. But this is not all. In 1819,
  • the same house fitted out a discovery whale ship of their own, to go on _asting cruise to the remote waters of Japan. That ship— well called the
  • “Syren”—made a noble experimental cruise; and it was thus that the grea_apanese Whaling Ground first became generally known. The Syren in this famou_oyage was commanded by a Captain Coffin, a Nantucketer.
  • All honor to the Enderbies, therefore, whose house, I think, exists to th_resent day; though doubtless the original Samuel must long ago have slippe_is cable for the great South Sea of the other world.
  • The ship named after him was worthy of the honor, being a very fast sailer an_ noble craft every way. I boarded her once at midnight somewhere off th_atagonian coast, and drank good flip down in the forecastle. It was a fin_am we had, and they were all trumps—every soul on board. A short life t_hem, and a jolly death. And that fine gam I had— long, very long after ol_hab touched her planks with his ivory heel— it minds me of the noble, solid,
  • Saxon hospitality of that ship; and may my parson forget me, and the devi_emember me, if I ever lose sight of it. Flip? Did I say we had flip? Yes, an_e flipped it at the rate of ten gallons the hour; and when the squall came
  • (for it’s squally off there by Patagonia), and all hands— visitors an_ll—were called to reef topsails, we were so top-heavy that we had to swin_ach other aloft in bowlines; and we ignorantly furled the skirts of ou_ackets into the sails, so that we hung there, reefed fast in the howlin_ale, a warning example to all drunken tars. However, the masts did not g_verboard; and by and by we scrambled down, so sober, that we had to pass th_lip again, though the savage salt spray bursting down the forecastle scuttle,
  • rather too much diluted and pickled it for my taste.
  • The beef was fine—tough, but with body in it. They said it was bullbeef;
  • others, that it was dromedary beef; but I do not know, for certain, how tha_as. They had dumplings too; small, but substantial, symmetrically globular,
  • and indestructible dumplings. I fancied that you could feel them, and rol_hem about in you after they were swallowed. If you stooped over too fa_orward, you risked their pitching out of you like billiard-balls. The bread—
  • but that couldn’t be helped; besides, it was an anti-scorbutic, in short, th_read contained the only fresh fare they had. But the forecastle was not ver_ight, and it was very easy to step over into a dark corner when you ate it.
  • But all in all, taking her from truck to helm, considering the dimensions o_he cook’s boilers, including his own live parchment boilers; fore and aft, _ay, the Samuel Enderby was a jolly ship; of good fare and plenty; fine fli_nd strong; crack fellows all, and capital from boot heels to hat-band.
  • But why was it, think ye, that the Samuel Enderby, and some other Englis_halers I know of—not all though—were such famous, hospitable ships; tha_assed round the beef, and the bread, and the can, and the joke; and were no_oon weary of eating, and drinking, and laughing? I will tell you. Th_bounding good cheer of these English whalers is matter for historica_esearch. Nor have I been at all sparing of historical whale research, when i_as seemed needed.
  • The English were preceded in the whale fishery by the Hollanders, Zealanders,
  • and Danes; from whom they derived many terms still extant in the fishery; an_hat is yet more, their fat old fashions, touching plenty to eat and drink.
  • For, as a general thing, the English merchant-ship scrimps her crew; but no_o the English whaler. Hence, in the English, this thing of whaling good chee_s not normal and natural, but incidental and particular; and, therefore, mus_ave some special origin, which is here pointed out, and will be still furthe_lucidated.
  • During my researches in the Leviathanic histories, I stumbled upon an ancien_utch volume, which, by the musty whaling smell of it, I knew must be abou_halers. The title was, “Dan Coopman,” wherefore I concluded that this must b_he invaluable memoirs of some Amsterdam cooper in the fishery, as every whal_hip must carry its cooper. I was reinforced in this opinion by seeing that i_as the production of one “Fitz Swackhammer.” But my friend Dr. Snodhead, _ery learned man, professor of Low Dutch and High German in the college o_anta Claus and St. Potts, to whom I handed the work for translation, givin_im a box of sperm candles for his trouble—this same Dr. Snodhead, so soon a_e spied the book, assured me that “Dan Coopman” did not mean “The Cooper,”
  • but “The Merchant.” In short, this ancient and learned Low Dutch book treate_f the commerce of Holland; and, among other subjects, contained a ver_nteresting account of its whale fishery. And in this chapter it was, headed,
  • “Smeer,” or “Fat,” that I found a long detailed list of the outfits for th_arders and cellars of 180 sail of Dutch whalemen; from which list, a_ranslated by Dr. Snodhead, I transcribe the following:
  • 0084400,000 lbs. of beef.
  • 60,000 lbs. Friesland pork.
  • 150,000 lbs. of stock fish.
  • 550,000 lbs. of biscuit.
  • 72,000 lbs. of soft bread.
  • 2,800 firkins of butter.
  • 20,000 lbs. of Texel and Leyden cheese.
  • 144,000 lbs. cheese (probably an inferior article).
  • 550 ankers of Geneva.
  • 10,800 barrels of beer.
  • Most statistical tables are parchingly dry in the reading; not so in th_resent case, however, where the reader is flooded with whole pipes, barrels,
  • quarts, and gills of good gin and good cheer.
  • At the time, I devoted three days to the studious digesting of all this beer,
  • beef, and bread, during which many profound thoughts were incidentall_uggested to me, capable of a transcendental and Platonic application; and,
  • furthermore, I compiled supplementary tables of my own, touching the probabl_uantity of stock-fish, &c., consumed by every Low Dutch harpooneer in tha_ncient Greenland and Spitzbergen whale fishery. In the first place, th_mount of butter, and Texel and Leyden cheese consumed, seems amazing. _mpute it, though, to their naturally unctuous natures, being rendered stil_ore unctuous by the nature of their vocation, and especially by thei_ursuing their game in those frigid Polar Seas, on the very coasts of tha_squimaux country where the convivial natives pledge each other in bumpers o_rain oil.
  • The quantity of the beer, too, is very large, 10,800 barrels. Now, as thos_olar fisheries could only be prosecuted in the short summer of that climate,
  • so that the whole cruise of one of these Dutch whalemen, including the shor_oyage to and from the Spitzbergen sea, did not much exceed three months, say,
  • and reckoning 30 men to each of their fleet of 180 sail, we have 5,400 Lo_utch seamen in all; therefore, I say, we have precisely two barrels of bee_er man, for a twelve weeks’ allowance, exclusive of his fair proportion o_hat 550 ankers of gin. Now, whether these gin and beer harpooneers, s_uddled as one might fancy them to have been, were the right sort of men t_tand up in a boat’s head, and take good aim at flying whales; this would see_omewhat improbable. Yet they did aim at them, and hit them too. But this wa_ery far North, be it remembered, where beer agrees well with th_onstitution; upon the Equator, in our southern fishery, beer would be apt t_ake the harpooneer sleepy at the mast-head and boozy in his boat; an_rievous loss might ensue to Nantucket and New Bedford.
  • But no more; enough has been said to show that the old Dutch whalers of two o_hree centuries ago were high livers; and that the English whalers have no_eglected so excellent an example. For, say they, when cruising in an empt_hip, if you can get nothing better out of the world, get a good dinner out o_t, at least. And this empties the decanter.