114 The Gilder
Penetrating further and further into the heart of the Japanese cruising ground, the Pequod was soon all astir in the fishery. Often, in mild, pleasant weather, for twelve, fifteen, eighteen, and twenty hours on the stretch, they were engaged in the boats, steadily pulling, or sailing, or paddling after the whales, or for an interlude of sixty or seventy minutes calmly awaiting their uprising; though with but small success for their pains.
At such times, under an abated sun; afloat all day upon smooth, slow heaving swells; seated in his boat, light as a birch canoe; and so sociably mixing with the soft waves themselves, that like hearth-stone cats they purr against the gunwale; these are the times of dreamy quietude, when beholding the tranquil beauty and brilliancy of the ocean’s skin, one forgets the tiger heart that pants beneath it; and would not willingly remember, that this velvet paw but conceals a remorseless fang.
These are the times, when in his whale-boat the rover softly feels a certain filial, confident, land-like feeling towards the sea; that he regards it as so much flowery earth; and the distant ship revealing only the tops of her masts, seems struggling forward, not through high rolling waves, but through the tall grass of a rolling prairie: as when the western emigrants’ horses only show their erected ears, while their hidden bodies widely wade through the amazing verdure.
The long-drawn virgin vales; the mild blue hill-sides; as over these there steals the hush, the hum; you almost swear that play-wearied children lie sleeping in these solitudes, in some glad May-time, when the flowers of the woods are plucked. And all this mixes with your most mystic mood; so that fact and fancy, half-way meeting, interpenetrate, and form one seamless whole.
Nor did such soothing scenes, however temporary, fail of at least as temporary an effect on Ahab. But if these secret golden keys did seem to open in him his own secret golden treasuries, yet did his breath upon them prove but tarnishing.
Oh, grassy glades! "Oh, grassy glades!": Ahab or Ishmael? // Ishmael opens Ch. 114 with an ocean reverie—a contemplation of the mildness of the sea that puts one in a “mystic mood.” Not so with Ahab, whose very breath seems to tarnish the soothing scene. Despite Ahab’s tarnishing effect, some readers take the “gilder” in the chapter title to refer to that craftsman who gilds or applies gold leaf to an object. But a more plausible suggestion is that “The Gilder” refers to the Dutch gold coin of that name. The chapter concludes with three crewmembers, each soliloquizing on the “same golden sea,” and the first speaker, presumably Ahab, takes the scene to be a “golden key” to unlock the “golden treasury” of his mind and offer us a meditation, as if it were a gilder. Structurally, the chapter is a replay of Ch. 99, “The Doubloon,” which also involves a series of individuals addressing what in that case is an actual not metaphoric gold coin. But the structure of “The Gilder” is made ambiguous by its punctuation, or lack thereof, for while Ishmael brings Ahab forward to speak first, the ensuing monolog (“Oh, grassy glades!”) in both the American and British editions has no quotation marks to indicate that Ahab is speaking. Without this punctuation, the speech appears to belong to Ishmael, and readers often attribute the lines to the narrator, not Ahab. The editors of the NN Moby-Dick emended the text by adding quotation marks at the beginning and end of the paragraph, thereby assigning it unambiguously to Ahab. MEL makes no change.oh, ever vernal endless landscapes in the soul; in ye,—though long parched by the dead drought of the earthy life,—in ye, men yet may roll, like young horses in new morning clover; and for some few fleeting moments, feel the cool dew of the life immortal on them. Would to God these blessed calms would last. But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm. There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause:—through infancy’s unconscious spellinfancy’s unconscious spell . . . mankind’s pondering repose of If: In its structure the passage (like Stubb’s comical zodiac speech in Ch. 99) is modeled on Jaques’s “seven ages” of life speech in Shakespeare's As You Like It 2.7, and also echoes a speech by Touchstone from the same play, ending, “your If is the only peace-maker; much virtue in it” (5.4). For the philosophical If, compare Plinlimmon’s pamphlet in Pierre, Book 14, part 3., boyhood’s thoughtless faith, adolescence’ doubt (the common doom), then scepticism, then disbelief, resting at last in manhood’s pondering repose of If. But once gone through, we trace the round again; and are infants, boys, and men, and Ifs eternally. Where lies the final harbor, whence we unmoor no more? In what rapt ether sails the world, of which the weariest will never weary? Where is the foundling’s father hidden? Our souls are like those orphans whose unwedded mothers die in bearing them: the secret of our paternity lies in their grave, and we must there to learn it.
And that same day, too, gazing far down from his boat’s side into that same golden sea, Starbuck lowly murmured:—
“Loveliness unfathomable, as ever lover saw in his young bride’s eye!—Tell me not of thy teeth-tiered sharks, and thy kidnapping cannibal ways. Let faith oust fact; let fancy oust memory; I look deep down and do believe.”
And Stubb, fish-like, with sparkling scales, leaped up in that same golden light:—
“I am Stubb, and Stubb has his history; but here Stubb takes oaths that he has always been jolly!”