Chapter 57 Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in Stone;
in Mountains; in Stars
On Tower-hill, as you go down to the London docks, you may have seen _rippled beggar (or kedger, as the sailors say) holding a painted board befor_im, representing the tragic scene in which he lost his leg. There are thre_hales and three boats; and one of the boats (presumed to contain the missin_eg in all its original integrity) is being crunched by the jaws of th_oremost whale. Any time these ten years, they tell me, has that man held u_hat picture, and exhibited that stump to an incredulous world. But the tim_f his justification has now come. His three whales are as good whales as wer_ver published in Wapping, at any rate; and his stump as unquestionable _tump as any you will find in the western clearings. But, though for eve_ounted on that stump, never a stump-speech does the poor whaleman make; but,
with downcast eyes, stands ruefully contemplating his own amputation.
Throughout the Pacific, and also in Nantucket, and New Bedford, and Sa_arbor, you will come across lively sketches of whales and whaling-scenes,
graven by the fishermen themselves on Sperm Whale-teeth, or ladies’ busk_rought out of the Right Whale-bone, and other like skrimshander articles, a_he whalemen call the numerous little ingenious contrivances they elaboratel_arve out of the rough material, in their hours of ocean leisure. Some of the_ave little boxes of dentistical-looking implements, specially intended fo_he skrimshandering business. But, in general, they toil with their jack-
knives alone; and, with that almost omnipotent tool of the sailor, they wil_urn you out anything you please, in the way of a mariner’s fancy.
Long exile from Christendom and civilization inevitably restores a man to tha_ondition in which God placed him, i.e. what is called savagery. Your tru_hale-hunter is as much a savage as an Iroquois. I myself am a savage, ownin_o allegiance but to the King of the Cannibals; and ready at any moment t_ebel against him.
Now, one of the peculiar characteristics of the savage in his domestic hours,
is his wonderful patience of industry. An ancient Hawaiian war-club or spear-
paddle, in its full multiplicity and elaboration of carving, is as great _rophy of human perseverance as a Latin lexicon. For, with but a bit of broke_ea-shell or a shark’s tooth, that miraculous intricacy of wooden net-work ha_een achieved; and it has cost steady years of steady application.
As with the Hawaiian savage, so with the white sailor-savage. With the sam_arvellous patience, and with the same single shark’s tooth, of his one poo_ack-knife, he will carve you a bit of bone sculpture, not quite a_orkmanlike, but as close packed in its maziness of design, as the Gree_avage, Achilles’s shield; and full of barbaric spirit and suggestiveness, a_he prints of that fine old Dutch savage, Albert Durer.
Wooden whales, or whales cut in profile out of the small dark slabs of th_oble South Sea war-wood, are frequently met with in the forecastles o_merican whalers. Some of them are done with much accuracy.
At some old gable-roofed country houses you will see brass whales hung by th_ail for knockers to the road-side door. When the porter is sleepy, the anvil-
headed whale would be best. But these knocking whales are seldom remarkable a_aithful essays. On the spires of some old-fashioned churches you will se_heet-iron whales placed there for weathercocks; but they are so elevated, an_esides that are to all intents and purposes so labelled with “Hands off!” yo_annot examine them closely enough to decide upon their merit.
In bony, ribby regions of the earth, where at the base of high broken cliff_asses of rock lie strewn in fantastic groupings upon the plain, you wil_ften discover images as of the petrified forms of the Leviathan partly merge_n grass, which of a windy day breaks against them in a surf of green surges.
Then, again, in mountainous countries where the traveller is continuall_irdled by amphitheatrical heights; here and there from some lucky point o_iew you will catch passing glimpses of the profiles of whales defined alon_he undulating ridges. But you must be a thorough whaleman, to see thes_ights; and not only that, but if you wish to return to such a sight again,
you must be sure and take the exact intersecting latitude and longitude o_our first stand-point, else so chance-like are such observations of th_ills, that your precise, previous stand-point would require a laborious re-
discovery; like the Solomon islands, which still remain incognita, though onc_igh-ruffed Mendanna trod them and old Figuera chronicled them.
Nor when expandingly lifted by your subject, can you fail to trace out grea_hales in the starry heavens, and boats in pursuit of them; as when lon_illed with thoughts of war the Eastern nations saw armies locked in battl_mong the clouds. Thus at the North have I chased Leviathan round and roun_he Pole with the revolutions of the bright points that first defined him t_e. And beneath the effulgent Antarctic skies I have boarded the Argo-Navis,
and joined the chase against the starry Cetus far beyond the utmost stretch o_ydrus and the Flying Fish.
With a frigate’s anchors for my bridle-bitts and fasces of harpoons for spurs,
would I could mount that whale and leap the topmost skies, to see whether th_abled heavens with all their countless tents really lie encamped beyond m_ortal sight!