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Chapter 7 The Chapel

  • In this same New Bedford there stands a Whaleman’s Chapel, and few are th_oody fishermen, shortly bound for the Indian Ocean or Pacific, who fail t_ake a Sunday visit to the spot. I am sure that I did not.
  • Returning from my first morning stroll, I again sallied out upon this specia_rrand. The sky had changed from clear, sunny cold, to driving sleet and mist.
  • Wrapping myself in my shaggy jacket of the cloth called bearskin, I fought m_ay against the stubborn storm. Entering, I found a small scattere_ongregation of sailors, and sailors’ wives and widows. A muffled silenc_eigned, only broken at times by the shrieks of the storm. Each silen_orshipper seemed purposely sitting apart from the other, as if each silen_rief were insular and incommunicable. The chaplain had not yet arrived; an_here these silent islands of men and women sat steadfastly eyeing severa_arble tablets, with black borders, masoned into the wall on either side th_ulpit. Three of them ran something like the following, but I do not preten_o quote:
  • SACRED
  • to the memory
  • of
  • John TALBOT,
  • Who, at the age of eighteen, was lost overboard
  • Near the Isle of Desolation, off Patagonia,
  • November 1st, 1836.
  • This tablet
  • Is erected to his Memory
  • by his sister.
  • SACRED
  • to the memory
  • of
  • ROBERT long, WILLIS ELLERY,
  • Nathan COLEMAN, WALTER CANNY, SETH Macy,
  • and Samuel GLEIG,
  • Forming one of the boats’ crews
  • of
  • the ship ELIZA
  • Who were towed out of sight by a Whale,
  • On the Off-shore Ground in the
  • Pacific,
  • December 31st, 1839.
  • This marble
  • Is here placed by their surviving
  • shipmates.
  • SACRED
  • to the memory
  • of
  • The late
  • captain Ezekiel hardy,
  • Who in the bows of his boat was killed by a
  • Sperm Whale on the coast of Japan,
  • August 3d, 1833.
  • This tablet
  • Is erected to his Memory
  • by
  • his widow.
  • Shaking off the sleet from my ice-glazed hat and jacket, I seated myself nea_he door, and turning sideways was surprised to see Queequeg near me. Affecte_y the solemnity of the scene, there was a wondering gaze of incredulou_uriosity in his countenance. This savage was the only person present wh_eemed to notice my entrance; because he was the only one who could not read,
  • and, therefore, was not reading those frigid inscriptions on the wall. Whethe_ny of the relatives of the seamen whose names appeared there were now amon_he congregation, I knew not; but so many are the unrecorded accidents in th_ishery, and so plainly did several women present wear the countenance if no_he trappings of some unceasing grief, that I feel sure that here before m_ere assembled those, in whose unhealing hearts the sight of those blea_ablets sympathetically caused the old wounds to bleed afresh.
  • Oh! ye whose dead lie buried beneath the green grass; who standing amon_lowers can say—here, here lies my beloved; ye know not the desolation tha_roods in bosoms like these. What bitter blanks in those black-bordere_arbles which cover no ashes! What despair in those immovable inscriptions!
  • What deadly voids and unbidden infidelities in the lines that seem to gna_pon all Faith, and refuse resurrections to the beings who have placelessl_erished without a grave. As well might those tablets stand in the cave o_lephanta as here.
  • In what census of living creatures, the dead of mankind are included; why i_s that a universal proverb says of them, that they tell no tales, thoug_ontaining more secrets than the Goodwin Sands! how it is that to his name wh_esterday departed for the other world, we prefix so significant and infidel _ord, and yet do not thus entitle him, if he but embarks for the remotes_ndies of this living earth; why the Life Insurance Companies pay death-
  • forfeitures upon immortals; in what eternal, unstirring paralysis, and deadly,
  • hopeless trance, yet lies antique Adam who died sixty round centuries ago; ho_t is that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheles_aintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss; why all the living so strive t_ush all the dead; wherefore but the rumor of a knocking in a tomb wil_errify a whole city. All these things are not without their meanings.
  • But Faith, like a jackal, feeds among the tombs, and even from these dea_oubts she gathers her most vital hope.
  • It needs scarcely to be told, with what feelings, on the eve of a Nantucke_oyage, I regarded those marble tablets, and by the murky light of tha_arkened, doleful day read the fate of the whalemen who had gone before me.
  • Yes, Ishmael, the same fate may be thine. But somehow I grew merry again.
  • Delightful inducements to embark, fine chance for promotion, it seems—aye, _tove boat will make me an immortal by brevet. Yes, there is death in thi_usiness of whaling—a speechlessly quick chaotic bundling of a man int_ternity. But what then? Methinks we have hugely mistaken this matter of Lif_nd Death. Methinks that what they call my shadow here on earth is my tru_ubstance. Methinks that in looking at things spiritual, we are too much lik_ysters observing the sun through the water, and thinking that thick water th_hinnest of air. Methinks my body is but the lees of my better being. In fac_ake my body who will, take it I say, it is not me. And therefore three cheer_or Nantucket; and come a stove boat and stove body when they will, for stav_y soul, Jove himself cannot.