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Chapter 104 The Fossil Whale

  • From his mighty bulk the whale affords a most congenial theme whereon t_nlarge, amplify, and generally expatiate. Would you, you could not compres_im. By good rights he should only be treated of in imperial folio. Not t_ell over again his furlongs from spiracle to tail, and the yards he measure_bout the waist; only think of the gigantic involutions of his intestines,
  • where they lie in him like great cables and hawsers coiled away in th_ubterranean orlop-deck of a line-of-battle-ship.
  • Since I have undertaken to manhandle this Leviathan, it behoves me to approv_yself omnisciently exhaustive in the enterprise; not overlooking the minutes_eminal germs of his blood, and spinning him out to the uttermost coil of hi_owels. Having already described him in most of his present habitatory an_natomical peculiarities, it now remains to magnify him in an archaeological,
  • fossiliferous, and antediluvian point of view. Applied to any other creatur_han the Leviathan—to an ant or a flea— such portly terms might justly b_eemed unwarrantably grandiloquent. But when Leviathan is the text, the cas_s altered. Fain am I to stagger to this enterprise under the weightiest word_f the dictionary. And here be it said, that whenever it has been convenien_o consult one in the course of these dissertations, I have invariably used _uge quarto edition of Johnson, expressly purchased for that purpose; becaus_hat famous lexicographer’s uncommon personal bulk more fitted him to compil_ lexicon to be used by a whale author like me.
  • One often hears of writers that rise and swell with their subject, though i_ay seem but an ordinary one. How, then, with me, writing of this Leviathan?
  • Unconsciously my chirography expands into placard capitals. Give me a condor’_uill! Give me Vesuvius’ crater for an inkstand! Friends, hold my arms! For i_he mere act of penning my thoughts of this Leviathan, they weary me, and mak_e faint with their outreaching comprehensiveness of sweep, as if to includ_he whole circle of the sciences, and all the generations of whales, and men,
  • and mastodons, past, present, and to come, with all the revolving panoramas o_mpire on earth, and throughout the whole universe, not excluding its suburbs.
  • Such, and so magnifying, is the virtue of a large and liberal theme! We expan_o its bulk. To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. N_reat and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many ther_e who have tried it.
  • Ere entering upon the subject of Fossil Whales, I present my credentials as _eologist, by stating that in my miscellaneous time I have been a stone-mason,
  • and also a great digger of ditches, canals and wells, wine-vaults, cellars,
  • and cisterns of all sorts. Likewise, by way of preliminary, I desire to remin_he reader, that while in the earlier geological strata there are found th_ossils of monsters now almost completely extinct; the subsequent relic_iscovered in what are called the Tertiary formations seem the connecting, o_t any rate intercepted links, between the antichronical creatures, and thos_hose remote posterity are said to have entered the Ark; all the Fossil Whale_itherto discovered belong to the Tertiary period, which is the last precedin_he superficial formations. And though none of them precisely answer to an_nown species of the present time, they are yet sufficiently akin to them i_eneral respects, to justify their taking ranks as Cetacean fossils.
  • Detached broken fossils of pre-adamite whales, fragments of their bones an_keletons, have within thirty years past, at various intervals, been found a_he base of the Alps, in Lombardy, in France, in England, in Scotland, and i_he States of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Among the more curious o_uch remains is part of a skull, which in the year 1779 was disinterred in th_ue Dauphine in Paris, a short street opening almost directly upon the palac_f the Tuileries; and bones disinterred in excavating the great docks o_ntwerp, in Napoleon’s time. Cuvier pronounced these fragments to hav_elonged to some utterly unknown Leviathanic species.
  • But by far the most wonderful of all Cetacean relics was the almost complet_ast skeleton of an extinct monster, found in the year 1842, on the plantatio_f Judge Creagh, in Alabama. The awe-stricken credulous slaves in the vicinit_ook it for the bones of one of the fallen angels. The Alabama doctor_eclared it a huge reptile, and bestowed upon it the name of Basilosaurus. Bu_ome specimen bones of it being taken across the sea to Owen, the Englis_natomist, it turned out that this alleged reptile was a whale, though of _eparted species. A significant illustration of the fact, again and agai_epeated in this book, that the skeleton of the whale furnishes but littl_lue to the shape of his fully invested body. So Owen rechristened the monste_euglodon; and in his paper read before the London Geological Society,
  • pronounced it, in substance, one of the most extraordinary creatures which th_utations of the globe have blotted out of existence.
  • When I stand among these mighty Leviathan skeletons, skulls, tusks, jaws,
  • ribs, and vertebrae, all characterized by partial resemblances to the existin_reeds of sea-monsters; but at the same time bearing on the other hand simila_ffinities to the annihilated antichronical Leviathans, their incalculabl_eniors; I am, by a flood, borne back to that wondrous period, ere time itsel_an be said to have begun; for time began with man. Here Saturn’s grey chao_olls over me, and I obtain dim, shuddering glimpses into those Pola_ternities; when wedged bastions of ice pressed hard upon what are now th_ropics; and in all the 25,000 miles of this world’s circumference, not a_nhabitable hand’s breadth of land was visible. Then the whole world was th_hale’s; and, king of creation, he left his wake along the present lines o_he Andes and the Himmalehs. Who can show a pedigree like Leviathan? Ahab’_arpoon had shed older blood than the Pharaoh’s. Methuselah seems a schoolboy.
  • I look round to shake hands with Shem. I am horror-struck at this antemosaic,
  • unsourced existence of the unspeakable terrors of the whale, which, havin_een before all time, must needs exist after all humane ages are over.
  • But not alone has this Leviathan left his pre-adamite traces in the stereotyp_lates of nature, and in limestone and marl bequeathed his ancient bust; bu_pon Egyptian tablets, whose antiquity seems to claim for them an almos_ossiliferous character, we find the unmistakable print of his fin. In a_partment of the great temple of Denderah, some fifty years ago, there wa_iscovered upon the granite ceiling a sculptured and painted planisphere,
  • abounding in centaurs, griffins, and dolphins, similar to the grotesqu_igures on the celestial globe of the moderns. Gliding among them, ol_eviathan swam as of yore; was there swimming in that planisphere, centurie_efore Solomon was cradled.
  • Nor must there be omitted another strange attestation of the antiquity of th_hale, in his own osseous postdiluvian reality, as set down by the venerabl_ohn Leo, the old Barbary traveller.
  • “Not far from the Sea-side, they have a Temple, the Rafters and Beams of whic_re made of Whale-Bones; for Whales of a monstrous size are oftentimes cast u_ead upon that shore. The Common People imagine, that by a secret Powe_estowed by God upon the Temple, no Whale can pass it without immediate death.
  • But the truth of the Matter is, that on either side of the Temple, there ar_ocks that shoot two Miles into the Sea, and wound the Whales when they ligh_pon ’em. They keep a Whale’s Rib of an incredible length for a Miracle, whic_ying upon the Ground with its convex part uppermost, makes an Arch, the Hea_f which cannot be reached by a Man upon a Camel’s Back. This Rib (says Joh_eo) is said to have layn there a hundred Years before I saw it. Thei_istorians affirm, that a Prophet who prophesy’d of Mahomet, came from thi_emple, and some do not stand to assert, that the Prophet Jonas was cast fort_y the Whale at the Base of the Temple.”
  • In this Afric Temple of the Whale I leave you, reader, and if you be _antucketer, and a whaleman, you will silently worship there.