Chapters

104 The Fossil Whale CHAPTER 104 THE FOSSIL WHALE. From his mighty bulk the whale affords a most congenial theme whereon to enlarge, amplify, and generally expatiate. Would you, you could not compress him. By good rights he should only be treated of in imperial folioimperial folio: In bookmaking, a “folio” is the largest in size, made of single sheets of paper (typically 17 x 22 inches) that have been folded only once. Within this single-fold category, folios vary in size depending on the size of the paper used. The "imperial" and “Elephant” folios are the largest of the large. See Melville's previous play on book size and whale classification in Ch. 32.. Not to tell over again his furlongsfurlong: 1/8th of a US statute mile, or 220 yards. from spiracle to tail, and the yards he measures about the waist; only think of the gigantic involutions of his intestines, where they lie in him like great cables and hausers coiled away in the subterranean orlop-deck of a line-of-battle-ship. Since I have undertaken to manhandle this Leviathan, it behoves me to approveapprove: prove. myself omnisciently exhaustive in the enterprise; not overlooking the minutest seminal germsgerms: cells. of his blood, and spinning him out to the uttermost coil of his bowels. Having already described him in most of his present habitatory and anatomical peculiarities, it now remains to magnify him in an archæological, fossiliferous, and antediluvianantediluvian: before the biblical flood. point of view. Applied to any other creature than the Leviathan—to an ant or a flea—such portly terms might justly be deemed unwarrantably grandiloquent. But when Leviathan is the text, the case is altered. Fain am I to stagger to this empriseFain . . . emprise: eager to undertake the enterprise under the weightiest words of the dictionary. And here be it said, that whenever it has been convenient to consult one in the course of these dissertations, I have invariably used a huge quarto edition of JohnsonREVISION NARRATIVE: huge quarto edition of Johnson // After the single-fold folio (see “imperial folio,” above), the quarto is the second-largest size of books: It consists of standard sheets of paper folded twice to give pages one-fourth the size of a single sheet. Although smaller than a folio, the quarto is still larger than the standard octavo. Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was originally published in folio format in 1755 but appeared in still-hefty quarto editions as early as 1808. In the British version, “edition” has been deleted from Ishmael’s phrase “a huge quarto edition of Johnson” to give “a huge quarto of Johnson.” No doubt Melville requested the revision as it enhances Ishmael’s joke: Not only is Johnson’s large-format dictionary appropriate for the weightiest words needed to describe Leviathan, but also the legendarily portly Johnson was a quarto of a man. See also Johnson in Chs. 53 and 69. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin., expressly purchased for that purpose; because that famous lexicographer’s uncommon personal bulk more fitted him to compile a lexicon to be used by a whale author like me. One often hears of writers that rise and swell with their subject, though it may seem but an ordinary one. How, then, with me, writing of this Leviathan? Unconsciously my chirographychirography: penmanship. expands into placard capitals. Give me a condor’s quill! Give me Vesuvius’ cratercondor's quill . . . Vesuvius’ crater: Stationed on the US frigate United States, in Callao, the port of Lima, Peru, in 1843, Melville could have witnessed the Andean condor—a vulture with a wingspan of over 10 feet—in person. Images of Vesuvius, the famous active volcano and crater looming above Naples, were published well before and throughout Melville’s day. According to Dennis Berthold, Vesuvius (which had erupted in 1850) was a metaphor of revolution as well as of size. As such, combined with the preceding South American “condor’s quill,” it signals Melville’s attention to worldwide revolutionary eruptions, repeatedly evoked elsewhere in Moby-Dick. (See, for example, notes on "eternal democracy" in Ch. 24, on "sea-Parisians" in Ch. 54, and "Hydriote" in Ch. 96.) for an inkstand! Friends, hold my arms! For in the mere act of penning my thoughts of this Leviathan, they weary me, and make me faint with their outreaching comprehensiveness of sweep, as if to include the whole circle of the sciences, and all the generations of whales, and men, and mastodons, past, present, and to come, with all the revolving panoramas of empire on earth, and throughout the whole universe, not excluding its suburbsREVISION NARRATIVE: the whole universe, not excluding its suburbs // In the British edition, “not excluding its suburbs” is deleted, probably at Melville’s request. Ishmael’s famous seriocomic paragraph on the writing of his narrative combines humorous exaggeration with more serious notions of the “comprehensiveness” of his ideas and the crafting of “a mighty book.” In fact, so comprehensive are his thoughts that they embrace “the whole universe, not excluding its suburbs.” The flippant absurdity of the “whole universe” as somehow having “suburbs,” is a serviceable joke in keeping with Ishmael’s inveterate self-deflation. At the same time, its removal allows the sentence to end on a more serious note, one that does not detract the reader’s attention from the notion of a “mighty theme” to come. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin.. Such, and so magnifying, is the virtue of a large and liberal theme! We expand to its bulk. To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the fleawritten on the flea: Perhaps a reference to Robert Southey's prose compendium The Doctor (1834–47), which gives twenty-three pages to discussing the flea (Mansfield and Vincent, 810)., though many there be who have tried it. Ere entering upon the subject of Fossil Whales, I present my credentials as a geologist, by stating that in my miscellaneous timemy miscellaneous time: Ishmael’s list of occupations during his “miscellaneous time” searching for employment does not correspond to what we know of Melville’s random odd jobs during his adolescence and young manhood. As a boy and teenager when not at school, he worked as a clerk in his brother Gansevoort’s hat shop, in his Uncle Peter’s bank in Albany, and on his Uncle Thomas’s farm in Pittsfield, where he also taught school for a semester. In 1838-1839, he studied engineering and surveying but failed to get a job on the Erie Canal expansion project, became a sailor aboard a packet to Liverpool, taught school again in 1840, toured the West, hung out in Manhattan, and went to sea again, from 1841 to 1844. While he no doubt did his share of digging on the farm, no evidence survives that he dug ditches, canals, cisterns, or wells. See Bryant, Herman Melville: A Half Known Life, vol. 1, Chs. 28-36. I have been a stone-mason, and also a great digger of ditches, canals and wells, wine-vaults, cellars, and cisterns of all sorts. Likewise, by way of preliminary, I desire to remind the reader, that while in the earlier geological strata there are found the fossils of monsters now almost completely extinct; the subsequent relics discovered in what are called the Tertiary formations seem the connecting, or at any rate intercepted links, between the ante-chronicalante-chronical: before recorded time. creatures, and those whose remote posterity are said to have entered the Ark; all the Fossil Whales hitherto discovered belong to the Tertiary periodTertiary period . . . superficial formations: In geology, the “Tertiary period” is 26 to 66 million years ago; the "superficial formations" Melville mentions were, in his day, also called "Quaternary." In Ch. 104, Melville’s familiarity with geologic time uses terms found in both the Penny Cyclopaedia article on “Whales” and Robert Chambers' Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1846). Melville also employs biblical time when useful, as in “pre-Adamite” in the following paragraph, “Adam’s time” in Ch. 105, and the supposed date of the Flood in “Epilogue.”, which is the last preceding the superficial formations. And though none of them precisely answer to any known species of the present time, they are yet sufficiently akin to them in general respects, to justify their taking rank as Cetacean fossils. Detached broken fossils of pre-adamitepre-adamite: before Adam. whales, fragments of their bones and skeletons, have within thirty years past, at various intervals, been found at the base of the Alps, in Lom-bardy, in France, in England, in Scotland, and in the States of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Among the more curious of such remains is part of a skull, which in the year 1779 was disinterred in the Rue Dauphiné in ParisRue Dauphiné in Paris . . . Tuilleries: The royal palace called the Tuilleries (destroyed in 1871) was far from the Rue Dauphine (no accent mark), across the Seine. Melville is referring to the Rue du Dauphin, but may have confused the name with the Dauphiné region of the French Alps., a short street opening almost directly upon the palace of the Tuileries; and bones disinterred in excavating the great docks of Antwerp, in Napoleon’s time. CuvierCuvier: Baron Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), brother of Frederick Cuvier (see Ch. 55) and founder of modern paleontology, initiated the systematic study of the extinction of individual species; his early geological and fossil discoveries were found in digs in Paris and its environs. pronounced these fragments to have belonged to some utterly unknown Leviathanic speciesutterly unknown Leviathanic species: With the exception of the references to Napoleon and the Tuilleries, all the details in this paragraph are mentioned in the Penny Cyclopaedia article on “Whales,” Melville’s likely source here and in the following paragraph, as well as in Ch. 105.. But by far the most wonderful of all cetacean relics was the almost complete vast skeleton of an extinct monster, found in the year 1842, on the plantation of Judge CreaghJudge Creagh: Melville’s generally correct description in this paragraph on fossil discoveries in the US is laced with minor inaccuracies. As early as the 1830s, plantation owners in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana had unearthed fossil remains of what one Judge Jonathan Creagh took to be a sea monster. In 1835 (not 1842) Creagh sent the relics to Richard Harlan in Philadelphia, who mistakenly identified the “monster” as a prehistoric reptile, naming it Basilosaurus (regal lizard). Four years later, the eminent English paleontologist Sir Richard Owen determined that Basilosaurus was actually a mammalian relative of the whale, which he christened Zeuglodon (a term no longer applied). Creagh’s further discovery in 1842 of an almost complete set of fossilized remains fully substantiated the identity of the prehistoric whale. Soon after, amateur paleontologist and showman Albert Koch (discoverer of the mastodon called Missourium) displayed full skeletons throughout the United States and Europe. Melville may have seen his exhibits in Albany or New York City, or read an 1845 review of the spectacle in the New York Evangelist (the journal that later attacked Typee) proclaiming: “Perhaps when we touch his ribs, we are touching the residuum of some of Cain’s descendants that perished in the Deluge” (as quoted in Carl Zimmer, "The Equation of a Whale," Discover 1998). Perhaps it is this absurd speculation of urban religionists that Melville, in his rendition, converts into the naïve wonderment of plantation slaves who think they have seen the remnants of fallen angels. (See also Mansfield and Vincent's edition of Moby-Dick, 810; Howard Vincent, The Trying-Out of Moby-Dick, 346.), in Alabama. The awe-stricken credulous slaves in the vicinity took it for the bones of one of the fallen angels. The Alabama doctors declared it a huge reptile, and bestowed upon it the name of Basilosaurus. But some specimen bones of it being taken across the sea to Owen, the English Anatomist, it turned out that this alleged reptile was a whale, though of a departed species. A significant illustration of the fact, again and again repeated in this book, that the skeleton of the whale furnishes but little clue to the shape of his fully invested body. So Owen rechristened the monster Zeuglodon; and in his paper read before the London Geological Society, pronounced it, in substance, one of the most extraordinary creatures which the mutations of the globe have blotted out of existence. When I stand among these mighty Leviathan skeletons, skulls, tusks, jaws, ribs, and vertebræ, all characterized by partial resemblances to the existing breeds of sea monsters; but at the same time bearing on the other hand similar affinities to the annihilated ante-chronical Leviathans, their incalculable seniors; I am, by a flood, borne back to that wondrous period, ere time itself can be said to have begun; for time began with man. Here Saturn’s grey chaosSaturn’s grey chaos: Saturn is the Roman equivalent of the Greek god, Kronos, and was also associated with Chronos (Time). He was one of the Titans, who preceded the Olympian gods. Astrologically, the planet Saturn is associated with ashy colors. rolls over me, and I obtain dim, shuddering glimpses into those Polar eternities; when wedged bastions of ice pressed hard upon what are now the Tropics; and in all the 25,000 miles of this world’s circumference, not an inhabitable hand’s breadth of land was visible. Then the whole world was the whale’s; and, king of creation, he left his wake along the present lines of the Andes and the Himmalehs. Who can show a pedigree like LeviathanREVISION NARRATIVE: a pedigree like Leviathan // The word “the” has been added (probably by Melville) to give “the Leviathan” in the British edition. Throughout Moby-Dick, Melville uses “Leviathan” (both upper- and lower-case) either in reference to the biblical creature (twenty-six times), in which case the definite article is not used, or as a term referring to a specific whale or to whales in general (sixty-seven times), in which case the definite or indefinite article (or a word such as each, any, this, or that) is used. Since Melville is referring to “ante-chronical” (that is, prehistoric) whales, the evolutionary ancestors of the present species, and not a biblical or mythic beast, the insertion of “the” is justified. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin.? Ahab’s harpoon had shed older blood than the Pharaohs’. MethuselahMethuselah . . . Shem: Grandson of Cain, Methuselah lived to be 969; Shem was Noah’s first son (Genesis 5.27; 5.32). seems a schoolboy. I look round to shake hands with Shem. I am horror-struck at this antemosaicantemosaic: before Moses., unsourced existence of the unspeakable terrors of the whale, which, having been before all time, must needs exist after all humane agesREVISION NARRATIVE: all humane ages // In the British edition, “humane” has been altered to “human,” which in context seems to be the more likely word. That is, when humankind ceases to exist, the “terrors of the whale” will continue. Hence, the alteration may be a correction, and one performed by Melville or an editor. Also plausible is that Melville intended “humane” to suggest that humankind’s period of existence is characterized by a sense of benevolence and compassion in stark contrast to the “terrors” symbolized by the whale. In this case, the word “human” may not have been a correction (or revision for that matter), but simply a typo. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin. are over. But not alone has this Leviathan left his pre-adamite traces in the stereotype platesstereotype plates of nature: Ishmael compares the geological strata containing fossils that one finds in nature to the stereotyping process of printing in which a solid plate is created from a molded imprint of pages set in movable type. of nature, and in limestone and marllimestone and marl: Marl is a crumbly, earthy material heavy in calcium. Melville’s Penny Cyclopaedia source refers to “marly limestone.” bequeathed his ancient bust; but upon Egyptian tablets, whose antiquity seems to claim for them an almost fossiliferous character, we find the unmistakable print of his fin. In an apartment of the great temple of Denderahthe great temple of Denderah: A first-century BCE temple at Tentyra, near Dendera, Egypt, whose interior is drawn and discussed at length by the French scholar Vivant Denon in Travels in Upper and Lower Egypt (English trans. 1803; see Mansfield and Vincent, 810–11). Melville echoes Denon in “great temple,” “ceiling,” and “plani-sphere.” Contrary to Ishmael’s belief expressed later in the paragraph, the temple postdates Solomon., some fifty years ago, there was discovered upon the granite ceiling a sculptured and painted planisphere, abounding in centaurs, griffins, and dolphins, similar to the grotesque figures on the celestial globe of the moderns. Gliding among them, old Leviathan swam as of yore; was there swimming in that planisphereplanisphere: a flat, cardboard display with a rotating disk for locating stars in all seasons of the night sky., centuries before Solomon was cradled. Nor must there be omitted another strange attestation of the antiquity of the whale, in his own osseousosseous: skeletal. post-diluvian reality, as set down by the venerable John LeoJohn Leo: Sixteenth-century Arab commercial and diplomatic traveller al-Hasan al-Zayati (c. 1485-c. 1554), renamed Giovanni Leone and Leo Africanus by his Christian captors, whose Description of Africa (1550; English trans., 1600) was long valued in Europe for its account of the Islamic world. Melville quotes the lengthy passage from Leo in the paragraph below from Harris's Compleat Collection of Voyages and Travels, also cited in “Extracts” and in Chs. 55, 56, and 83., the old Barbary traveller. “Not far from the Sea-side, they have a Temple, the Rafters and Beams of which are made of Whale-Bones; for Whales of a monstrous size are oftentimes cast up dead upon that shore. The Common People imagine, that by a secret Power bestowed by God upon the Temple, no Whale can pass it without immediate death. But the truth of the Matter is, that on either side of the Temple, there are Rocks that shoot two Miles into the Sea, and wound the Whales when they light upon ’em. They keep a Whale’s Rib of an incredible length for a Miracle, which lying upon the Ground with its convex part uppermost, makes an Arch, the Head of which cannot be reached by a Man upon a Camel’s Back. This Rib (says John Leo) is said to have layn there a hundred Years before I saw it. Their Historians affirm, that a Prophet who prophesy’d of Mahometa Prophet . . . Mahomet: The prophet is unidentified. Mahomet is the Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam (ca. 570–632 CE)., came from this Temple, and some do not standstand: hesitate. to assert, that the Prophet JonasJonas: Jonah. was cast forth by the Whale at the Base of the Temple.” In this Afric Temple of the Whale I leave you, reader, and if you be a Nantucketer, and a whaleman, you will silently worship there.