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Chapter 75 The Right Whale’s Head — Contrasted View

  • Crossing the deck, let us now have a good long look at the the Right Whale’_ead.
  • As in general shape the noble Sperm Whale’s head may be compared to a Roma_ar-chariot (especially in front, where it is so broadly rounded); so, at _road view, the Right Whale’s head bears a rather inelegant resemblance to _igantic galliot-toed shoe. Two hundred years ago an old Dutch voyager likene_ts shape to that of a shoemaker’s last. And in this same last or shoe, tha_ld woman of the nursery tale with the swarming brood, might very comfortabl_e lodged, she and all her progeny.
  • But as you come nearer to this great head it begins to assume differen_spects, according to your point of view. If you stand on its summit and loo_t these two f-shaped spout-holes, you would take the whole head for a_normous bass viol, and these spiracles, the apertures in its soundingboard.
  • Then, again, if you fix your eye upon this strange, crested, comblik_ncrustation on the top of the mass—this green, barnacled thing, which th_reenlanders call the “crown,” and the Southern fishers the “bonnet” of th_ight Whale; fixing your eyes solely on this, you would take the head for th_runk of some huge oak, with a bird’s nest in its crotch. At any rate, whe_ou watch those live crabs that nestle here on this bonnet, such an idea wil_e almost sure to occur to you; unless, indeed, your fancy has been fixed b_he technical term “crown” also bestowed upon it; in which case you will tak_reat interest in thinking how this mighty monster is actually a diademed kin_f the sea, whose green crown has been put together for him in this marvellou_anner. But if this whale be a king, he is a very sulky looking fellow t_race a diadem. Look at that hanging lower lip! what a huge sulk and pout i_here! a sulk and pout, by carpenter’s measurement, about twenty feet long an_ive feet deep; a sulk and pout that will yield you some 500 gallons of oi_nd more.
  • A great pity, now, that this unfortunate whale should be hare-lipped. Th_issure is about a foot across. Probably the mother during an importan_nterval was sailing down the Peruvian coast, when earthquakes caused th_each to gape. Over this lip, as over a slippery threshold, we now slide int_he mouth. Upon my word were I at Mackinaw, I should take this to be th_nside of an Indian wigwam. Good Lord! is this the road that Jonah went? Th_oof is about twelve feet high, and runs to a pretty sharp angle, as if ther_ere a regular ridge-pole there; while these ribbed, arched, hairy sides,
  • present us with those wondrous, half vertical, scimitar-shaped slats o_halebone, say three hundred on a side, which depending from the upper part o_he head or crown bone, form those Venetian blinds which have elsewhere bee_ursorily mentioned. The edges of these bones are fringed with hairy fibres,
  • through which the Right Whale strains the water, and in whose intricacies h_etains the small fish, when openmouthed he goes through the seas of brit i_eeding time. In the central blinds of bone, as they stand in their natura_rder, there are certain curious marks, curves, hollows, and ridges, whereb_ome whalemen calculate the creature’s age, as the age of an oak by it_ircular rings. Though the certainty of this criterion is far fro_emonstrable, yet it has the savor of analogical probability. At any rate, i_e yield to it, we must grant a far greater age to the Right Whale than a_irst glance will seem reasonable.
  • In old times, there seem to have prevailed the most curious fancies concernin_hese blinds. One voyager in Purchas calls them the wondrous “whiskers” insid_f the whale’s mouth;[[15]](footnotes.xml#footnote_15) another, “hogs’
  • bristles”; a third old gentleman in Hackluyt uses the following elegan_anguage: “There are about two hundred and fifty fins growing on each side o_is upper chop, which arch over his tongue on each side of his mouth.”
  • As every one knows, these same “hogs’ bristles,” “fins,” “whiskers,” “blinds,”
  • or whatever you please, furnish to the ladies their busks and other stiffenin_ontrivances. But in this particular, the demand has long been on the decline.
  • It was in Queen Anne’s time that the bone was in its glory, the farthingal_eing then all the fashion. And as those ancient dames moved about gaily,
  • though in the jaws of the whale, as you may say; even so, in a shower, wit_he like thoughtlessness, do we nowadays fly under the same jaws fo_rotection; the umbrella being a tent spread over the same bone.
  • But now forget all about blinds and whiskers for a moment, and, standing i_he Right Whale’s mouth, look around you afresh. Seeing all these colonnade_f bone so methodically ranged about, would you not think you were inside o_he great Haarlem organ, and gazing upon its thousand pipes? For a carpet t_he organ we have a rug of the softest Turkey—the tongue, which is glued, a_t were, to the floor of the mouth. It is very fat and tender, and apt to tea_n pieces in hoisting it on deck. This particular tongue now before us; at _assing glance I should say it was a six-barreler; that is, it will yield yo_bout that amount of oil.
  • Ere this, you must have plainly seen the truth of what I started with— tha_he Sperm Whale and the Right Whale have almost entirely different heads. T_um up, then: in the Right Whale’s there is no great well of sperm; no ivor_eeth at all; no long, slender mandible of a lower jaw, like the Sper_hale’s. Nor in the Sperm Whale are there any of those blinds of bone; no hug_ower lip; and scarcely anything of a tongue. Again, the Right Whale has tw_xternal spout-holes, the Sperm Whale only one.
  • Look your last now, on these venerable hooded heads, while they yet li_ogether; for one will soon sink, unrecorded, in the sea; the other will no_e very long in following.
  • Can you catch the expression of the Sperm Whale’s there? It is the same h_ied with, only some of the longer wrinkles in the forehead seem now fade_way. I think his broad brow to be full of a prairie-like placidity, born of _peculative indifference as to death. But mark the other head’s expression.
  • See that amazing lower lip, pressed by accident against the vessel’s side, s_s firmly to embrace the jaw. Does not this whole head seem to speak of a_normous practical resolution in facing death? This Right Whale I take to hav_een a Stoic; the Sperm Whale, a Platonian, who might have taken up Spinoza i_is latter years.