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;[](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.