About this Recording
NAX35812 - MELVILLE, H.: Moby Dick (Unabridged)

Herman Melville


In 1841, Herman Melville, former bank clerk, farm worker and schoolteacher and still searching for a vocation, signed up for a three-year voyage on the whaling ship Acushnet. He had a taste for adventure and the sea.

Exactly twenty years before, the whaleship Essex, a three-masted schooner, was attacked in mid-Pacific by an enraged sperm whale. The whale repeatedly rammed the ship until it broke up and sank, consigning its crew to a fearful 4,000 mile journey to safety.

These two unconnected events provided Melville with the narrative background to Moby-Dick, now widely regarded as the greatest American novel. However, the recognition came too late for Melville who spent the last twenty years of his life as a customs inspector for the port of New York, still writing poetry but having abandoned writing novels after successive failures.

Herman Melville was born in 1819 into fairly prosperous circumstances but in 1830 his father’s business failed and the family had to leave New York to avoid creditors. At the age of 15, Melville was forced to leave school and earn a living as a clerk to help support the family. It was the first of a number of jobs as he tried to find a medium for his rugged abilities.

In 1839 two articles appeared—his first publications; but later that year he signed on board the St Lawrence as a common seaman, sailing from New York City to Liverpool and back. Once again he tried various jobs but was unable to settle, and in 1842 he signed on as a ‘Green Hand’ aboard the New Bedford whaleship Acushnet heading for the main whaling grounds in the South Pacific. Beset by boredom and a difficult captain, Melville and a friend jumped ship at the Marquesas Islands. There followed a further two years of different ships as he toured around the South Pacific, spending time in Tahiti and Hawaii. These apparently aimless but eventful years proved a turning point in Melville’s life. He read voraciously while on board—absorbing everything he could lay his hands on; and at the same time his vivid experiences in a vital and sensuous land gave him a store of memories on which he was able to draw for his books to come.

During this journey, he met the teenage son of Owen Chase, the sailor on Essex which had been sunk by an eighty-five-foot sperm whale in 1821. William Henry Chase lent Melville his father’s account of the experience. Melville wrote later: “The reading of this wondrous story upon the landless sea and so close to the very latitude of the shipwreck had a surprising effect on me.”

Before Melville could develop this story he had to establish his skills as a writer. Within months of his return he had drafted his first book, a semi-fictional narrative of his time in the South Seas. It was published in 1846, in London by Murray under the title Narrrative of a Four Months’ Residence among the Natives of a Valley of the Marquesas Islands, and as Typee by Wiley and Putnam in New York. It was greeted well in both countries, creating some surprise in that a work of such literary competency could have been written by an ordinary seaman. Sales were respectable at 6,000 copies. And he followed it quickly with his second book, Omoo, which mined much the same ground.

The works gave Melville a literary presence though they did not make him rich. He felt sufficiently optimistic about his future as a writer to marry Elizabeth Shaw, the daughter of Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, and set up home in New York City. While he knew he was writing to the popular taste for glamourous adventures with Typee and Omoo, he was determined to attempt something different with his third book. He called Mardi ‘a romance of Polynesian adventure’—in other words, a novel, imaginative fiction. He experimented with various literary genres, and took on philosophical issues in a catholic technique that he was to develop much further in Moby-Dick. It was published in 1849 with disappointing results. It was badly received by critics and didn’t sell well.

Nevertheless, Melville was convinced he could make his living through writing. He wrote various reviews and other pieces of journalism; and he decided to produce two more books which would cater for the prevailing tastes. Redburn (1849) and White Jacket (1850). They would contain, he assured his publishers, ‘no metaphysics, nothing but cakes and ale’. Instead, there was the usual fare of life on the high seas. He compared his writing work here to ‘sawing wood’, regarding Redburn, for example, as ‘tolerable entertainment’. He added: ‘My only desire for their “success” (as it is called) springs from my pocket and not from my heart. It is my earnest desire to write those sort of books which are said to fail’.

This note presaged his next three novels, starting with Moby-Dick. By this time two factors had made considerable impressions on his life. Now a father—his son Malcolm was born in 1849—he decided to move to a home in the country which, he hoped, would be more conducive to writing. He found a farm with a view of Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts, and it was to be his home for the next thirteen years. He called it Arrowhead, after some Native American relics he found there. He tried to maintain a life of strict discipline, rising early and settling down to a morning of writing before fulfilling other duties. His mother and three sisters came to live at Arrowhead and helped with proofreading and other work, but Melville soon found himself under financial pressure. It was not turning out to be the quiet refuge he had hoped: his only retreat was his second-floor library. Arrowhead, built in 1780, is now a Melville museum.

Nevertheless, he was part of literary circles, having met the poet Oliver Wendell Holmes and the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. They met on an outing in 1850—the year of publication of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter; and Melville and Hawthorne particularly struck up a close friendship. Hawthorne was 46, Melville 31, but the older man had favourably reviewed Typee, and so knew of the younger man’s work; in return, Melville had reviewed Hawthorne. Their close relationship lasted just two years, however, as their lives took different turns.

It was during this time that Melville started work on Moby-Dick. ‘To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be that have tried it,’ he wrote. His book about the whale was to be just that.

It was written under difficult circumstances. Begun in 1850 when his family had moved to Arrowhead and White Jacket was coming out, he threw himself into it. Sarah Morewood, a neighbour, wrote to a mutual friend: ‘…I hear that he is now engaged in a new work as frequently not to leave his room till quite dark in the evening—when he for the first time during the whole day partakes of solid food—he must therefore write under a state of morbid excitement which will soon injure his health.’ Melville had to borrow money to pay for Arrowhead and was now finding it equally difficult to find enough to maintain the growing family.

This did not deter him from his purpose: a great American novel beckoned. It was to become the great American novel, with Ahab as a Lear figure but interwoven with immense detail on whales and whaling.

On 1 May 1850, he wrote to a friend, Richard Henry Dana: ‘About the “whaling voyage”—I am half way in the work, & am very glad that your suggestion so jumps with mine. It will be a strange sort of book, tho’, I fear; blubber is blubber you know; tho’ you may get oil out of it, the poetry runs as hard as sap from a frozen maple tree; & to cook the thing up, one must needs throw in a little fancy, which from the nature of the thing, must be ungainly as the gambols of the whales themselves. Yet I mean to give the truth of the thing, spite of this.’

The following month he wrote to his English publisher, Richard Bentley, ‘In the latter part of the coming autumn I shall have ready a new work; and I write you now to propose its publication in England. The book is a romance of adventure, founded upon certain wild legends in the Southern Sperm Whale Fisheries, and illustrated by the author’s own personal experience, of two years & more, as a harpooneer.’

‘Should you be inclined to undertake the book, I think that it will be worth to you 200 pounds. Could you be positively put in possession of the copyright, it might be worth to you a larger sum—considering its great novelty; for I do not know that the subject treated of has ever been worked up by a romancer; or, indeed, by any writer, in any adequate manner.’

In June 1851 Melville wrote to Hawthorne: ‘In a week or so I go to New York, to bury myself in a third-storey room. And work and slave on my “Whale”. That is the only way I can finish it now—I am so pulled hither and thither by circumstances…What I feel most moved to write, that is banned—it will not pay. Yet, altogether, write the other way I cannot.’

And in September he wrote of Moby- Dick to Sarah Morewood. ‘It is of the horrible texture of a fabric that should be woven of ships’ cables and hausers. A Polar wind blows through it, & birds of prey hover over it. Warn all gentle fastidious people from so much as peeping into the book—on risk of a lumbago & sciatics.’—Letter to Sarah Morewood, September 1851.

He suspected he was writing a work that would not be understood or well-received by the public. And he was right. It was an extraordinary book in many ways. It drew on the memories of Owen Chase, but also on an article in Knickerbocker Magazine in 1839 about the capture of a white sperm whale called Mocha Dick (it was near the Mocha Islands). The whale was reputed to have attacked ships.

But these accounts were only the start for Melville. He was intent on mixing philosophy and reflection with high comedy and tragic obsession, with adventure and (for the time) contentious blasphemy. He was revolutionary (or at least highly liberal) in giving indigenous figures as Queequeg the same humanity and nobility as the Americans on the boat.

The literary medium is ever-changing. It begins as a story told by Ishmael, yet Ishmael disappears as a narrator for large parts. It mixes fiction with extensive scientific information about whales and whale history. It presents strongly-defined characters such as Captain Ahab, Starbuck, Queequeg, and above all Moby-Dick himself in a story that pulses with expectation. Yet the story is told in rich, dramatic language, which, though powerfully used demonstrates Melville’s knowledge of and love for The Bible and Shakespeare. Moby-Dick is not an easy read.

So, Melville knew that success was likely to be elusive. It was not just about artistic accolades. There was the issue of money, and he thought he would make more money in the end by paying for the stereotype plates himself and then selling them on. It didn’t help. Moby-Dick was published in October 1851 in London by Bentley and November 1851 by Harpers in the USA. It was a confusing time for everyone. Bentley demanded that certain sections with sexual or blasphemous overtones should be adjusted and in the end, the three-volume British edition was shorter than the American edition by 2000 words—even if it was handsomely presented. Bizarrely, Bentley omitted to put in the Epilogue, making readers wonder how there was anyone left to tell the tale!

Moby-Dick was regarded with surprise by some—even positively by some critics in England—but in the main it received a drubbing. One of the worst reviews came from the literary magazine The Athenaeum, which did not mix its words. It was, said the reviewer, ‘an ill compounded mixture of romance and matter of fact’. It continued, ‘The style of his tale is, in places disfigured by mad (rather than bad) English…our author must be henceforth numbered in the company of the incorrigibles who occasionally tantalize us with indications of genius while they constantly summon us to endure monstrosities, carelessness and other such harassing manifestations of bad taste as daring or disordered ingenuity can devise.’ To make matters worse, The Boston Post reprinted the review, the reviewer saying that he couldn’t be bothered to read more than half of it. And he went on to criticize the price—$1.50.

Few noticed that it was a new kind of novel, its blend of metaphysics, fact, narrative, analysis and character a departure from the standard books being produced at the time. Hawthorne did appreciate its worth.

‘What a book Melville has written! It gives me an idea of much greater power than his preceding ones. It hardly seemed to me that the review of it, in the Literary World, did justice to its best points’ he wrote.

‘But it is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation,’ wrote Melville, but he was already working on his next novel, Pierre, and hoping to break through with that. During his lifetime, Moby-Dick sold just over 3,000 copies.

By November 1851, Melville knew that his ‘mighty book’ was not going to be the success he had dreamed of, yet he was philosophical. In a note to Hawthorne, he wrote: ‘So, now, let us add Moby-Dick to our blessing, and step from that. Leviathan is not the biggest fish;—I have heard of Krakens.’

He wrote two more novels in search of artistic success but neither made an impression: Pierrein 1852, and in 1857 The Confidence Man. In between, he wrote short stories—including Bartelby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street. He failed in a bid to gain a US consulship (Hawthorne’s attempt to use his influence failed, and it may have been his embarrassment at this which contributed to the cooling of their friendship). He tried lecturing, again without success. All the while, the United States was moving closer to civil war. In 1863, Melville was forced to sell Arrowhead to his younger brother Allan. By 1866, when he was finally appointed to the steady job of customs inspector, he had stopped writing novels—though the novella Billy Budd was found unpublished in his papers after his death.

He concentrated on writing poetry—occasionally published in journals and magazines, or in editions paid for by friends and family. Herman Melville died on 28 September 1891 at the age of 72 and was buried in New York City, largely forgotten as a writer—and only remembered for Typee and Omoo. His last novel had appeared some 30 years before and Moby- Dick was not recognised as the masterpiece it is now considered to be.

Some obituaries did acknowledge that an outstanding writer had died.

From the Springfield, Massachusetts, Republican, October 4 1891

‘There has died and been buried in this city, during the current week, at an advanced age, a man who is so little known, even by name, to the generation now in the vigor of life that only one newspaper contained an obituary account of him, and this was but of three or four lines. Yet forty years ago the appearance of a new book by Herman Melville was esteemed a literary event, not only throughout his own country, but so far as the English-speaking race extended. To the ponderous and quarterly British reviews of that time, the author of Typee was about the most interesting of literary Americans, and men who made few exceptions to the British rule of not reading an American book not only made Melville one of them, but paid him the further compliment of discussing him as an unquestionable literary force. Yet when a visiting British writer a few years ago inquired at a gathering in New- York of distinctly literary Americans what had become of Herman Melville, not only was there not one among them who was able to tell him, but there was scarcely one among them who had ever heard of the man concerning whom he inquired, albeit that man was then living within a half mile of the place of the conversation. Years ago the books by which Melville’s reputation had been made had long been out of print and out of demand. The latest book, now about a quarter of a century old, Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War, fell flat, and he has died an absolutely forgotten man.’

From the New York Mail and Express, October 8 1891

‘Herman Melville, one of the most original and virile of American literary men, died at his home on Twenty-sixth Street, New York, a few days ago, at the age of 72. He had long been forgotten, and was no doubt unknown to the most of those who are reading the magazine literature and the novels of the day. Nevertheless, it is probable that no work of imagination more powerful and often poetic has been written by an American than Melville’s romance of Moby-Dick; or the Whale, published just 40 years ago; and it was Melville who was the first of all writers to describe with imaginative grace based upon personal knowledge, those attractive, gentle, cruel and war-like peoples, the inhabitants of the South Sea islands. His Typee, Omoo and Mardi made a sensation in the late forties, when they were published, such as we can hardly understand now; and from that time until Pierre Loti began to write there has been nothing to rival these brilliant books of adventure, sufficiently tinged with romance to enchain the attention of the passing reader as well as the critic. Melville wrote many books, but ceased to write so long ago as 1857, having since that date published only two volumes of verse which had no obvious relation to his previous work, and gave no addition to his literary reputation…

The crown of Melville’s sea experience was the marvelous romance of Moby-Dick, the White whale, whose mysterious and magical existence is still a superstition of whalers,—at least such whalers as have not lost touch with the old days of Nantucket and New Bedford glory and grief. This book was dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Hawthorne must have enjoyed it, and have regarded himself as honored in the inscription. This story is unique; and in the divisions late critics have made of novels, as it is not a love-story (the only love being that of the serious mate Starbuck for his wife in Nantucket, whom he will never see again), it is the other thing, a hate-story. And nothing stranger was ever motive for a tale than Capt Ahab’s insane passion for revenge on the mysterious and invincible White whale, Moby Dick, who robbed him of a leg, and to a perpetual and fatal chase of him the captain binds his crew. The scene of this vow is marvelously done, and so are many other scenes, some of them truthful depictions of whaling as Melville knew it; some of the wildest fabrications of imagination. An immense amount of knowledge of the whale is given in this amazing book, which swells, too, with a humor often as grotesque as Jean Paul’s, but not so genial as it is sardonic. Character is drawn with great power too, from Queequeg the ex-cannibal, and Tashtego the Gay Header, to the crazy and awful Ahab, the grave Yankee Starbuck, and the terrible White whale, with his charmed life, that one feels can never end. Certainly it is hard to find a more wonderful book than this Moby Dick, and it ought to be read by this generation, amid whose feeble mental food, furnished by the small realists and fantasts of the day, it would appear as Hercules among the pygmies, or as Moby Dick himself among a school of minnows.’

Moby-Dick was remembered in select circles in the USA, but more so in the UK under its English title of The Whale. The early years of the 20th century saw greater interest kindled and it exploded in 1919, the centenary of Melville’s birth. Within months there appeared articles and reviews, and suddenly he was elevated to the same level as Hawthorne and even Henry James. E.M. Forster played a key role in the revival of interest (he also championed Billy Budd which was newly discovered) and he was joined by many other literary figures including D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. Moby-Dick was compared to Don Quixote, Gulliver’s Travels, Tristram Shandy and The Pickwick Papers, and it began to be taught in American schools.

It is now safely positioned as one of the world’s foremost classics. According to F.R. Leavis, the influential English literary critic, Moby-Dick is the greatest novel in the English language—remarkable praise from a considered source.

Notes by Nicolas Soames

Notes and comments from Moby-Dick which prefaced the first editions.

(Supplied by a Late Consumptive Usher to a Grammar School)

The pale Usher—threadbare in coat, heart, body, and brain; I see him now. He was ever dusting his old lexicons and grammars, with a queer handkerchief, mockingly embellished with all the gay flags of all the known nations of the world. He loved to dust his old grammars; it somehow mildly reminded him of his mortality.

‘While you take in hand to school others, and to teach them by what name a whalefish is to be called in our tongue leaving out, through ignorance, the letter H, which almost alone maketh the signification of the word, you deliver that which is not true.’—HACKLUYT

‘WHALE. … Sw. and Dan. HVAL. This animal is named from roundness or rolling; for in Dan. HVALT is arched or vaulted.’—WEBSTER’S DICTIONARY

‘WHALE. … It is more immediately from the Dut. and Ger. WALLEN; A.S. WALWIAN, to roll, to wallow.’—RICHARDSON’S DICTIONARY


EXTRACTS (Supplied by a Sub-Sub-Librarian). It will be seen that this mere painstaking burrower and grub-worm of a poor devil of a Sub-Sub appears to have gone through the long Vaticans and street-stalls of the earth, picking up whatever random allusions to whales he could anyways find in any book whatsoever, sacred or profane. Therefore you must not, in every case at least, take the higgledy-piggledy whale statements, however authentic, in these extracts, for veritable gospel cetology. Far from it. As touching the ancient authors generally, as well as the poets here appearing, these extracts are solely valuable or entertaining, as affording a glancing bird’s-eye view of what has been promiscuously said, thought, fancied, and sung of Leviathan, by many nations and generations, including our own.

So fare thee well, poor devil of a Sub- Sub, whose commentator I am. Thou belongest to that hopeless, sallow tribe which no wine of this world will ever warm; and for whom even Pale Sherry would be too rosy-strong; but with whom one sometimes loves to sit, and feel poordevilish, too; and grow convivial upon tears; and say to them bluntly, with full eyes and empty glasses, and in not altogether unpleasant sadness—Give it up, Sub-Subs! For by how much the more pains ye take to please the world, by so much the more shall ye for ever go thankless! Would that I could clear out Hampton Court and the Tuileries for ye! But gulp down your tears and hie aloft to the royal-mast with your hearts; for your friends who have gone before are clearing out the seven-storied heavens, and making refugees of long-pampered Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael, against your coming. Here ye strike but splintered hearts together—there, ye shall strike unsplinterable glasses!

‘And God created great whales.’—GENESIS.

‘Leviathan maketh a path to shine after him; One would think the deep to be hoary.’—JOB.

‘Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.’—JONAH.

‘There go the ships; there is that Leviathan whom thou hast made to play therein.’—PSALMS.

‘In that day, the Lord with his sore, and great, and strong sword, shall punish Leviathan the piercing serpent, even Leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.’—ISAIAH.

‘And what thing soever besides cometh within the chaos of this monster’s mouth, be it beast, boat, or stone, down it goes all incontinently that foul great swallow of his, and perisheth in the bottomless gulf of his paunch.’—HOLLAND’S PLUTARCH’S MORALS.

‘The Indian Sea breedeth the most and the biggest fishes that are: among which the Whales and Whirlpooles called Balaene, take up as much in length as four acres or arpens of land.’—HOLLAND’S PLINY.

‘Scarcely had we proceeded two days on the sea, when about sunrise a great many Whales and other monsters of the sea, appeared. Among the former, one was of a most monstrous size. … This came towards us, open-mouthed, raising the waves on all sides, and beating the sea before him into a foam.’—TOOKE’S LUCIAN. ‘THE TRUE HISTORY.’

‘He visited this country also with a view of catching horse-whales, which had bones of very great value for their teeth, of which he brought some to the king. … The best whales were catched in his own country, of which some were forty-eight, some fifty yards long. He said that he was one of six who had killed sixty in two days.’—OTHER OR OCTHER’S VERBAL NARRATIVE TAKEN DOWN FROM HIS MOUTH BY KING ALFRED, A.D. 890.

‘And whereas all the other things, whether beast or vessel, that enter into the dreadful gulf of this monster’s (whale’s) mouth, are immediately lost and swallowed up, the seagudgeon retires into it in great security, and there sleeps.’—MONTAIGNE.—APOLOGY FOR RAIMOND SEBOND.

‘Let us fly, let us fly! Old Nick take me if is not Leviathan described by the noble prophet Moses in the life of patient Job.’—RABELAIS.

‘This whale’s liver was two cartloads.’—STOWE’S ANNALS.

‘The great Leviathan that maketh the seas to seethe like boiling pan.’—LORD BACON’S VERSION OF THE PSALMS.

‘Touching that monstrous bulk of the whale or ork we have received nothing certain. They grow exceeding fat, insomuch that an incredible quantity of oil will be extracted out of one whale.’—IBID. ‘HISTORY OF LIFE AND DEATH.’

‘The sovereignest thing on earth is parmacetti for an inward bruise.’—KING HENRY.

‘Very like a whale.’—HAMLET.

‘Which to secure, no skill of leach’s art Mote him availle, but to returne againe To his wound’s worker, that with lowly dart, Dinting his breast, had bred his restless paine, Like as the wounded whale to shore flies thro’ the maine.’—THE FAERIE QUEEN.

‘Immense as whales, the motion of whose vast bodies can in a peaceful calm trouble the ocean til it boil.’—SIR WILLIAM DAVENANT. PREFACE TO GONDIBERT.

‘What spermacetti is, men might justly doubt, since the learned Hosmannus in his work of thirty years, saith plainly, Nescio quid sit.’—SIR T. BROWNE. OF SPERMA CETI AND THE SPERMA CETI WHALE. VIDE HIS V. E.

‘Like Spencer’s Talus with his modern flail He threatens ruin with his ponderous tail. … Their fixed jav’lins in his side he wears, And on his back a grove of pikes appears.’—WALLER’S BATTLE OF THE SUMMER ISLANDS.

‘By art is created that great Leviathan, called a Commonwealth or State—(in Latin, Civitas) which is but an artificial man.’—OPENING SENTENCE OF HOBBES’S LEVIATHAN.

‘Silly Mansoul swallowed it without chewing, as if it had been a sprat in the mouth of a whale.’—PILGRIM’S PROGRESS.

‘That sea beast Leviathan, which God of all his works Created hugest that swim the ocean stream.’—PARADISE LOST.

‘There Leviathan, Hugest of living creatures, in the deep Stretched like a promontory sleeps or swims, And seems a moving land; and at his gills Draws in, and at his breath spouts out a sea.’—IBID.

‘The mighty whales which swim in a sea of water, and have a sea of oil swimming in them.’—FULLLER’S PROFANE AND HOLY STATE.

‘So close behind some promontory lie The huge Leviathan to attend their prey, And give no chance, but swallow in the fry, Which through their gaping jaws mistake the way.’—DRYDEN’S ANNUS MIRABILIS.

‘While the whale is floating at the stern of the ship, they cut off his head, and tow it with a boat as near the shore as it will come; but it will be aground in twelve or thirteen feet water.’—THOMAS EDGE’S TEN VOYAGES TO SPITZBERGEN, IN PURCHAS.

‘In their way they saw many whales sporting in the ocean, and in wantonness fuzzing up the water through their pipes and vents, which nature has placed on their shoulders.’—SIR T. HERBERT’S VOYAGES INTO ASIA AND AFRICA. HARRIS COLL.

‘Here they saw such huge troops of whales, that they were forced to proceed with a great deal of caution for fear they should run their ship upon them.’—SCHOUTEN’S SIXTH CIRCUMNAVIGATION.

‘We set sail from the Elbe, wind N.E. in the ship called The Jonas-in-the-Whale. … Some say the whale can’t open his mouth, but that is a fable. … They frequently climb up the masts to see whether they can see a whale, for the first discoverer has a ducat for his pains. … I was told of a whale taken near Shetland, that had above a barrel of herrings in his belly. … One of our harpooneers told me that he caught once a whale in Spitzbergen that was white all over.’—A VOYAGE TO GREENLAND, A.D. 1671 HARRIS COLL.

‘Several whales have come in upon this coast (Fife) Anno 1652, one eighty feet in length of the whale-bone kind came in, which (as I was informed), besides a vast quantity of oil, did afford 500 weight of baleen. The jaws of it stand for a gate in the garden of Pitferren.’—SIBBALD’S FIFE AND KINROSS.

‘Myself have agreed to try whether I can master and kill this Sperma-ceti whale, for I could never hear of any of that sort that was killed by any man, such is his fierceness and swiftness.’—RICHARD STRAFFORD’S LETTER FROM THE BERMUDAS. PHIL. TRANS. A.D. 1668.

‘Whales in the sea God’s voice obey.’—N.E. PRIMER.

‘We saw also abundance of large whales, there being more in those southern seas, as I may say, by a hundred to one; than we have to the northward of us.’—CAPTAIN COWLEY’S VOYAGE ROUND THE GLOBE, A.D. 1729.

‘…and the breath of the whale is frequently attended with such an insupportable smell, as to bring on a disorder of the brain.’—ULLOA’S SOUTH AMERICA.

‘To fifty chosen sylphs of special note, We trust the important charge, the petticoat. Oft have we known that seven-fold fence to fail, Tho’ stuffed with hoops and armed with ribs of whale.’—RAPE OF THE LOCK.

‘If we compare land animals in respect to magnitude, with those that take up their abode in the deep, we shall find they will appear contemptible in the comparison. The whale is doubtless the largest animal in creation.’—GOLDSMITH, NAT. HIST.

‘If you should write a fable for little fishes, you would make them speak like great whales.’—GOLDSMITH TO JOHNSON.

‘In the afternoon we saw what was supposed to be a rock, but it was found to be a dead whale, which some Asiatics had killed, and were then towing ashore. They seemed to endeavor to conceal themselves behind the whale, in order to avoid being seen by us.’—COOK’S VOYAGES.

‘The larger whales, they seldom venture to attack. They stand in so great dread of some of them, that when out at sea they are afraid to mention even their names, and carry dung, lime-stone, juniper-wood, and some other articles of the same nature in their boats, in order to terrify and prevent their too near approach.’—UNO VON TROIL’S LETTERS ON BANKS’S AND SOLANDER’S VOYAGE TO ICELAND IN 1772.

‘The Spermacetti Whale found by the Nantuckois, is an active, fierce animal, and requires vast address and boldness in the fishermen.’—THOMAS JEFFERSON’S WHALE MEMORIAL TO THE FRENCH MINISTER IN 1778.

‘And pray, sir, what in the world is equal to it?’—EDMUND BURKE’S REFERENCE IN PARLIAMENT TO THE NANTUCKET WHALEFISHERY. ‘Spain—a great whale stranded on the shores of Europe.’—EDMUND BURKE. (SOMEWHERE.)

‘A tenth branch of the king’s ordinary revenue, said to be grounded on the consideration of his guarding and protecting the seas from pirates and robbers, is the right to royal fish, which are whale and sturgeon. And these, when either thrown ashore or caught near the coast, are the property of the king.’—BLACKSTONE.

‘Soon to the sport of death the crews repair: Rodmond unerring o’er his head suspends The barbed steel, and every turn attends.’—FALCONER’S SHIPWRECK.

‘Bright shone the roofs, the domes, the spires, And rockets blew self driven, To hang their momentary fire Around the vault of heaven.’

‘So fire with water to compare, The ocean serves on high, Up-spouted by a whale in air, To express unwieldy joy.’—COWPER, ON THE QUEEN’S VISIT TO LONDON.

‘Ten or fifteen gallons of blood are thrown out of the heart at a stroke, with immense velocity.’—JOHN HUNTER’S ACCOUNT OF THE DISSECTION OF A WHALE. (A SMALL SIZED ONE.)

‘The aorta of a whale is larger in the bore than the main pipe of the water-works at London Bridge, and the water roaring in its passage through that pipe is inferior in impetus and velocity to the blood gushing from the whale’s heart.’—PALEY’S THEOLOGY.

‘The whale is a mammiferous animal without hind feet.’—BARON CUVIER.

‘In 40 degrees south, we saw Spermacetti Whales, but did not take any till the first of May, the sea being then covered with them.’—COLNETT’S VOYAGE FOR THE PURPOSE OF EXTENDING THE SPERMACETI WHALE FISHERY.

‘In the free element beneath me swam, Floundered and dived, in play, in chace, in battle, Fishes of every colour, form, and kind; Which language cannot paint, and mariner Had never seen; from dread Leviathan To insect millions peopling every wave: Gather’d in shoals immense, like floating islands, Led by mysterious instincts through that waste And trackless region, though on every side Assaulted by voracious enemies, Whales, sharks, and monsters, arm’d in front or jaw, With swords, saws, spiral horns, or hooked fangs.’—MONTGOMERY’S WORLD BEFORE THE FLOOD.

‘Io! Paean! Io! sing. To the finny people’s king. Not a mightier whale than this In the vast Atlantic is; Not a fatter fish than he, Flounders round the Polar Sea.’—CHARLES LAMB’S TRIUMPH OF THE WHALE.

‘In the year 1690 some persons were on a high hill observing the whales spouting and sporting with each other, when one observed: there—pointing to the sea—is a green pasture where our children’s grandchildren will go for bread.’—OBED MACY’S HISTORY OF NANTUCKET.

‘I built a cottage for Susan and myself and made a gateway in the form of a Gothic Arch, by setting up a whale’s jaw bones.’—HAWTHORNE’S TWICE TOLD TALES. ‘She came to bespeak a monument for her first love, who had been killed by a whale in the Pacific ocean, no less than forty years ago.’—IBID.

‘“No, Sir, ‘tis a Right Whale,” answered Tom; “I saw his sprout; he threw up a pair of as pretty rainbows as a Christian would wish to look at. He’s a raal oil-butt, that fellow!”’—COOPER’S PILOT.

‘The papers were brought in, and we saw in the Berlin Gazette that whales had been introduced on the stage there.’—ECKERMANN’S CONVERSATIONS WITH GOETHE.


‘A mariner sat in the shrouds one night, The wind was piping free; Now bright, now dimmed, was the moonlight pale, And the phospher gleamed in the wake of the whale, As it floundered in the sea.’—ELIZABETH OAKES SMITH.

‘The quantity of line withdrawn from the boats engaged in the capture of this one whale, amounted altogether to 10,440 yards or nearly six English miles. …’

‘Sometimes the whale shakes its tremendous tail in the air, which, cracking like a whip, resounds to the distance of three or four miles.’—SCORESBY.

‘Mad with the agonies he endures from these fresh attacks, the infuriated Sperm Whale rolls over and over; he rears his enormous head, and with wide expanded jaws snaps at everything around him; he rushes at the boats with his head; they are propelled before him with vast swiftness, and sometimes utterly destroyed. … It is a matter of great astonishment that the consideration of the habits of so interesting, and, in a commercial point of view, so important an animal (as the Sperm Whale) should have been so entirely neglected, or should have excited so little curiosity among the numerous, and many of them competent observers, that of late years, must have possessed the most abundant and the most convenient opportunities of witnessing their habitudes.’—THOMAS BEALE’S HISTORY OF THE SPERM WHALE, 1839.

‘“The Cachalot’ (Sperm Whale) is not only better armed than the True Whale (Greenland or Right Whale) in possessing a formidable weapon at either extremity of its body, but also more frequently displays a disposition to employ these weapons offensively and in manner at once so artful, bold, and mischievous, as to lead to its being regarded as the most dangerous to attack of all the known species of the whale tribe.”’—FREDERICK DEBELL BENNETT’S WHALING VOYAGE ROUND THE GLOBE, 1840.

‘October 13. “There she blows,” was sung out from the mast-head. “Where away?” demanded the captain. “Three points off the lee bow, sir.” “Raise up your wheel. Steady!” “Steady, sir.” “Mast-head ahoy! Do you see that whale now?” “Ay ay, sir! A shoal of Sperm Whales! There she blows! There she breaches!” “Sing out! sing out every time!” “Ay Ay, sir! There she blows! there—there—THAR she blows—bowes—bo-o-os!” “How far off?” “Two miles and a half.” “Thunder and lightning! so near! Call all hands.”’—J. ROSS BROWNE’S ETCHINGS OF A WHALING CRUIZE. 1846.

‘The Whale-ship Globe, on board of which vessel occurred the horrid transactions we are about to relate, belonged to the island of Nantucket.’—‘NARRATIVE OF THE GLOBE,’ BY LAY AND HUSSEY SURVIVORS. A.D. 1828.

‘Being once pursued by a whale which he had wounded, he parried the assault for some time with a lance; but the furious monster at length rushed on the boat; himself and comrades only being preserved by leaping into the water when they saw the onset was inevitable.’—MISSIONARY JOURNAL OF TYERMAN AND BENNETT.

‘“Nantucket itself,” said Mr. Webster, “is a very striking and peculiar portion of the National interest. There is a population of eight or nine thousand persons living here in the sea, adding largely every year to the National wealth by the boldest and most persevering industry.”’—REPORT OF DANIEL WEBSTER’S SPEECH IN THE U.S. SENATE, ON THE APPLICATION FOR THE ERECTION OF A BREAKWATER AT NANTUCKET. 1828.


‘“If you make the least damn bit of noise,” replied Samuel, “I will send you to hell.”’—LIFE OF SAMUEL COMSTOCK (THE MUTINEER), BY HIS BROTHER, WILLIAM COMSTOCK. ANOTHER VERSION OF THE WHALE-SHIP GLOBE NARRATIVE.

‘The voyages of the Dutch and English to the Northern Ocean, in order, if possible, to discover a passage through it to India, though they failed of their main object, laid-open the haunts of the whale.’—MCCULLOCH’S COMMERCIAL DICTIONARY.

‘These things are reciprocal; the ball rebounds, only to bound forward again; for now in laying open the haunts of the whale, the whalemen seem to have indirectly hit upon new clews to that same mystic North- West Passage.’—FROM ‘SOMETHING’ UNPUBLISHED.

‘It is impossible to meet a whale-ship on the ocean without being struck by her near appearance. The vessel under short sail, with look-outs at the mast-heads, eagerly scanning the wide expanse around them, has a totally different air from those engaged in regular voyage.’—CURRENTS AND WHALING. U.S. EX. EX.

‘Pedestrians in the vicinity of London and elsewhere may recollect having seen large curved bones set upright in the earth, either to form arches over gateways, or entrances to alcoves, and they may perhaps have been told that these were the ribs of whales.’—TALES OF A WHALE VOYAGER TO THE ARCTIC OCEAN.

‘It was not till the boats returned from the pursuit of these whales, that the whites saw their ship in bloody possession of the savages enrolled among the crew.’—NEWSPAPER ACCOUNT OF THE TAKING AND RETAKING OF THE WHALE-SHIP HOBOMACK.

‘It is generally well known that out of the crews of Whaling vessels (American) few ever return in the ships on board of which they departed.’—CRUISE IN A WHALE BOAT.

‘Suddenly a mighty mass emerged from the water, and shot up perpendicularly into the air. It was the whale.’—MIRIAM COFFIN OR THE WHALE FISHERMAN.

‘The Whale is harpooned to be sure; but bethink you, how you would manage a powerful unbroken colt, with the mere appliance of a rope tied to the root of his tail.’—A CHAPTER ON WHALING IN RIBS AND TRUCKS.

‘On one occasion I saw two of these monsters (whales) probably male and female, slowly swimming, one after the other, within less than a stone’s throw of the shore’ (Terra Del Fuego), ‘over which the beech tree extended its branches.’—DARWIN’S VOYAGE OF A NATURALIST.

‘“Stern all!” exclaimed the mate, as upon turning his head, he saw the distended jaws of a large Sperm Whale close to the head of the boat, threatening it with instant destruction;—“Stern all, for your lives!”’—WHARTON THE WHALE KILLER.

‘So be cheery, my lads, let your hearts never fail, While the bold harpooneer is striking the whale!’—NANTUCKET SONG.

‘Oh, the rare old Whale, mid storm and gale In his ocean home will be A giant in might, where might is right, And King of the boundless sea.’—WHALE SONG.

Close the window