Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 26 Knights and Squires

  • The chief mate of the Pequod was Starbuck, a native of Nantucket, and a Quake_y descent. He was a long, earnest man, and though born on an icy coast,
  • seemed well adapted to endure hot latitudes, his flesh being hard as twice-
  • baked biscuit. Transported to the Indies, his live blood would not spoil lik_ottled ale. He must have been born in some time of general drought an_amine, or upon one of those fast days for which his state is famous. Onl_ome thirty arid summers had he seen; those summers had dried up all hi_hysical superfluousness. But this, his thinness, so to speak, seemed no mor_he token of wasting anxieties and cares, than it seemed the indication of an_odily blight. It was merely the condensation of the man. He was by no mean_ll-looking; quite the contrary. His pure tight skin was an excellent fit; an_losely wrapped up in it, and embalmed with inner health and strength, like _evivified Egyptian, this Starbuck seemed prepared to endure for long ages t_ome, and to endure always, as now; for be it Polar snow or torrid sun, like _atent chronometer, his interior vitality was warranted to do well in al_limates. Looking into his eyes, you seemed to see there the yet lingerin_mages of those thousand-fold perils he had calmly confronted through life. _taid, steadfast man, whose life for the most part was a telling pantomime o_ction, and not a tame chapter of sounds. Yet, for all his hardy sobriety an_ortitude, there were certain qualities in him which at times affected, and i_ome cases seemed well nigh to overbalance all the rest. Uncommonl_onscientious for a seaman, and endued with a deep natural reverence, the wil_atery loneliness of his life did therefore strongly incline him t_uperstition; but to that sort of superstition, which in some organization_eems rather to spring, somehow, from intelligence than from ignorance.
  • Outward portents and inward presentiments were his. And if at times thes_hings bent the welded iron of his soul, much more did his far-away domesti_emories of his young Cape wife and child, tend to bend him still more fro_he original ruggedness of his nature, and open him still further to thos_atent influences which, in some honest-hearted men, restrain the gush o_are-devil daring, so often evinced by others in the more perilou_icissitudes of the fishery. “I will have no man in my boat,” said Starbuck,
  • “who is not afraid of a whale.” By this, he seemed to mean, not only that th_ost reliable and useful courage was that which arises from the fai_stimation of the encountered peril, but that an utterly fearless man is a fa_ore dangerous comrade than a coward.
  • “Aye, aye,” said Stubb, the second mate, “Starbuck, there, is as careful a ma_s you’ll find anywhere in this fishery.” But we shall ere long see what tha_ord “careful” precisely means when used by a man like Stubb, or almost an_ther whale hunter.
  • Starbuck was no crusader after perils; in him courage was not a sentiment; bu_ thing simply useful to him, and always at hand upon all mortally practica_ccasions. Besides, he thought, perhaps, that in this business of whaling,
  • courage was one of the great staple outfits of the ship, like her beef and he_read, and not to be foolishly wasted. Wherefore he had no fancy for lowerin_or whales after sun-down; nor for persisting in fighting a fish that too muc_ersisted in fighting him. For, thought Starbuck, I am here in this critica_cean to kill whales for my living, and not to be killed by them for theirs;
  • and that hundreds of men had been so killed Starbuck well knew. What doom wa_is own father’s? Where, in the bottomless deeps, could he find the torn limb_f his brother?
  • With memories like these in him, and, moreover, given to a certai_uperstitiousness, as has been said; the courage of this Starbuck, whic_ould, nevertheless, still flourish, must indeed have been extreme. But it wa_ot in reasonable nature that a man so organized, and with such terribl_xperiences and remembrances as he had; it was not in nature that these thing_hould fail in latently engendering an element in him, which, under suitabl_ircumstances, would break out from its confinement, and burn all his courag_p. And brave as he might be, it was that sort of bravery chiefly, visible i_ome intrepid men, which, while generally abiding firm in the conflict wit_eas, or winds, or whales, or any of the ordinary irrational horrors of th_orld, yet cannot withstand those more terrific, because more spiritua_errors, which sometimes menace you from the concentrating brow of an enrage_nd mighty man.
  • But were the coming narrative to reveal in any instance, the complet_basement of poor Starbuck’s fortitude, scarce might I have the heart to writ_t; for it is a thing most sorrowful, nay shocking, to expose the fall o_alor in the soul. Men may seem detestable as joint stock-companies an_ations; knaves, fools, and murderers there may be; men may have mean an_eagre faces; but, man, in the ideal, is so noble and so sparkling, such _rand and glowing creature, that over any ignominious blemish in him all hi_ellows should run to throw their costliest robes. That immaculate manlines_e feel within ourselves, so far within us, that it remains intact though al_he outer character seem gone; bleeds with keenest anguish at the undrape_pectacle of a valor-ruined man. Nor can piety itself, at such a shamefu_ight, completely stifle her upbraidings against the permitting stars. Bu_his august dignity I treat of, is not the dignity of kings and robes, bu_hat abounding dignity which has no robed investiture. Thou shalt see i_hining in the arm that wields a pick or drives a spike; that democrati_ignity which, on all hands, radiates without end from God; Himself! The grea_od absolute! The centre and circumference of all democracy! His omnipresence,
  • our divine equality!
  • If, then, to meanest mariners, and renegades and castaways, I shall hereafte_scribe high qualities, though dark; weave round them tragic graces; if eve_he most mournful, perchance the most abased, among them all, shall at time_ift himself to the exalted mounts; if I shall touch that workman’s arm wit_ome ethereal light; if I shall spread a rainbow over his disastrous set o_un; then against all mortal critics bear me out in it, thou just Spirit o_quality, which hast spread one royal mantle of humanity over all my kind!
  • Bear me out in it, thou great democratic God! who didst not refuse to th_wart convict, Bunyan, the pale, poetic pearl; Thou who didst clothe wit_oubly hammered leaves of finest gold, the stumped and paupered arm of ol_ervantes; Thou who didst pick up Andrew Jackson from the pebbles; who dids_url him upon a war-horse; who didst thunder him higher than a throne! Tho_ho, in all Thy mighty, earthly marchings, ever cullest Thy selectes_hampions from the kingly commoners; bear me out in it, O God!