Hitherto, in descriptively treating of the Sperm Whale, I have chiefly dwel_pon the marvels of his outer aspect; or separately and in detail upon som_ew interior structural features. But to a large and thorough sweepin_omprehension of him, it behoves me now to unbutton him still further, an_ntagging the points of his hose, unbuckling his garters, and casting loos_he hooks and the eyes of the joints of his innermost bones, set him befor_ou in his ultimatum; that is to say, in his unconditional skeleton.
But how now, Ishmael? How is it, that you, a mere oarsman in the fishery,
pretend to know aught about the subterranean parts of the whale? Did erudit_tubb, mounted upon your capstan, deliver lectures on the anatomy of th_etacea; and by help of the windlass, hold up a specimen rib for exhibition?
Explain thyself, Ishmael. Can you land a full-grown whale on your deck fo_xamination, as a cook dishes a roast-pig? Surely not. A veritable witnes_ave you hitherto been, Ishmael; but have a care how you seize the privileg_f Jonah alone; the privilege of discoursing upon the joists and beams; th_afters, ridge-pole, sleepers, and under-pinnings, making up the frame-work o_eviathan; and belike of the tallow-vats, dairy-rooms, butteries, an_heeseries in his bowels.
I confess, that since Jonah, few whalemen have penetrated very far beneath th_kin of the adult whale; nevertheless, I have been blessed with an opportunit_o dissect him in miniature. In a ship I belonged to, a small cub Sperm Whal_as once bodily hoisted to the deck for his poke or bag, to make sheaths fo_he barbs of the harpoons, and for the heads of the lances. Think you I le_hat chance go, without using my boat-hatchet and jack-knife, and breaking th_eal and reading all the contents of that young cub?
And as for my exact knowledge of the bones of the leviathan in their gigantic,
full grown development, for that rare knowledge I am indebted to my late roya_riend Tranquo, king of Tranque, one of the Arsacides. For being at Tranque,
years ago, when attached to the trading-ship Dey of Algiers, I was invited t_pend part of the Arsacidean holidays with the lord of Tranque, at his retire_alm villa at Pupella; a sea-side glen not very far distant from what ou_ailors called Bamboo-Town, his capital.
Among many other fine qualities, my royal friend Tranquo, being gifted with _evout love for all matters of barbaric vertu, had brought together in Pupell_hatever rare things the more ingenious of his people could invent; chiefl_arved woods of wonderful devices, chiselled shells, inlaid spears, costl_addles, aromatic canoes; and all these distributed among whatever natura_onders, the wonder-freighted, tribute-rendering waves had cast upon hi_hores.
Chief among these latter was a great Sperm Whale, which, after an unusuall_ong raging gale, had been found dead and stranded, with his head against _ocoa-nut tree, whose plumage-like, tufted droopings seemed his verdant jet.
When the vast body had at last been stripped of its fathomdeep enfoldings, an_he bones become dust dry in the sun, then the skeleton was carefull_ransported up the Pupella glen, where a grand temple of lordly palms no_heltered it.
The ribs were hung with trophies; the vertebrae were carved with Arsacidea_nnals, in strange hieroglyphics; in the skull, the priests kept up a_nextinguished aromatic flame, so that the mystic head again sent forth it_apory spout; while, suspended from a bough, the terrific lower jaw vibrate_ver all the devotees, like the hair-hung sword that so affrighted Damocles.
It was a wondrous sight. The wood was green as mosses of the Icy Glen; th_rees stood high and haughty, feeling their living sap; the industrious eart_eneath was as a weaver’s loom, with a gorgeous carpet on it, whereof th_round-vine tendrils formed the warp and woof, and the living flowers th_igures. All the trees, with all their laden branches; all the shrubs, an_erns, and grasses; the message-carrying air; all these unceasingly wer_ctive. Through the lacings of the leaves, the great sun seemed a flyin_huttle weaving the unwearied verdure. Oh, busy weaver! unsee_eaver!—pause!—one word!— whither flows the fabric? what palace may it deck?
wherefore all these ceaseless toilings? Speak, weaver!—stay thy hand!— but on_ingle word with thee! Nay—the shuttle flies— the figures float from forth th_oom; the fresher-rushing carpet for ever slides away. The weaver-god, h_eaves; and by that weaving is he deafened, that he hears no mortal voice; an_y that humming, we, too, who look on the loom are deafened; and only when w_scape it shall we hear the thousand voices that speak through it. For even s_t is in all material factories. The spoken words that are inaudible among th_lying spindles; those same words are plainly heard without the walls,
bursting from the opened casements. Thereby have villainies been detected. Ah,
mortal! then, be heedful; for so, in all this din of the great world’s loom,
thy subtlest thinkings may be overheard afar.
Now, amid the green, life-restless loom of that Arsacidean wood, the great,
white, worshipped skeleton lay lounging—a gigantic idler! Yet, as the ever-
woven verdant warp and woof intermixed and hummed around him, the mighty idle_eemed the cunning weaver; himself all woven over with the vines; every mont_ssuming greener, fresher verdure; but himself a skeleton. Life folded Death;
Death trellised Life; the grim god wived with youthful Life, and begat hi_urly-headed glories.
Now, when with royal Tranquo I visited this wondrous whale, and saw the skul_n altar, and the artificial smoke ascending from where the real jet ha_ssued, I marvelled that the king should regard a chapel as an object o_ertu. He laughed. But more I marvelled that the priests should swear tha_moky jet of his was genuine. To and fro I paced before this skeleton— brushe_he vines aside—broke through the ribs—and with a ball of Arsacidean twine,
wandered, eddied long amid its many winding, shaded colonnades and arbors. Bu_oon my line was out; and following it back, I emerged from the opening wher_ entered. I saw no living thing within; naught was there but bones.
Cutting me a green measuring-rod, I once more dived within the skeleton. Fro_heir arrow-slit in the skull, the priests perceived me taking the altitude o_he final rib, “How now!” they shouted; “Dar’st thou measure this our god!
That’s for us.” “Aye, priests—well, how long do ye make him, then?” Bu_ereupon a fierce contest rose among them, concerning feet and inches; the_racked each other’s sconces with their yard-sticks— the great skul_choed—and seizing that lucky chance, I quickly concluded my ow_dmeasurements.
These admeasurements I now propose to set before you. But first, be i_ecorded, that, in this matter, I am not free to utter any fancie_easurements I please. Because there are skeleton authorities you can refe_o, to test my accuracy. There is a Leviathanic Museum, they tell me, in Hull,
England, one of the whaling ports of that country, where they have some fin_pecimens of fin-backs and other whales. Likewise, I have heard that in th_useum of Manchester, in New Hampshire, they have what the proprietors call
“the only perfect specimen of a Greenland or River Whale in the Unite_tates.” Moreover, at a place in Yorkshire, England, Burton Constable by name,
a certain Sir Clifford Constable has in his possession the skeleton of a Sper_hale, but of moderate size, by no means of the full-grown magnitude of m_riend King Tranquo’s.
In both cases, the stranded whales to which these two skeletons belonged, wer_riginally claimed by their proprietors upon similar grounds. King Tranqu_eizing his because he wanted it; and Sir Clifford, because he was lord of th_eignories of those parts. Sir Clifford’s whale has been articulate_hroughout; so that, like a great chest of drawers, you can open and shut him,
in all his bony cavities—spread out his ribs like a gigantic fan— and swin_ll day upon his lower jaw. Locks are to be put upon some of his trap-door_nd shutters; and a footman will show round future visitors with a bunch o_eys at his side. Sir Clifford thinks of charging twopence for a peep at th_hispering gallery in the spinal column; threepence to hear the echo in th_ollow of his cerebellum; and sixpence for the unrivalled view from hi_orehead.
The skeleton dimensions I shall now proceed to set down are copied verbati_rom my right arm, where I had them tattooed; as in my wild wanderings at tha_eriod, there was no other secure way of preserving such valuable statistics.
But as I was crowded for space, and wished the other parts of my body t_emain a blank page for a poem I was then composing— at least, what untattooe_arts might remain—I did not trouble myself with the odd inches; nor, indeed,
should inches at all enter into a congenial admeasurement of the whale.