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:
to the memory
Who, at the age of eighteen, was lost overboard
Near the Isle of Desolation, off Patagonia,
November 1st, 1836.
Is erected to his Memory
by his sister.
to the memory
ROBERT long, WILLIS ELLERY,
Nathan COLEMAN, WALTER CANNY, SETH Macy,
and Samuel GLEIG,
Forming one of the boats’ crews
the ship ELIZA
Who were towed out of sight by a Whale,
On the Off-shore Ground in the
December 31st, 1839.
Is here placed by their surviving
to the memory
captain Ezekiel hardy,
Who in the bows of his boat was killed by a
Sperm Whale on the coast of Japan,
August 3d, 1833.
Is erected to his Memory
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.