Chapters

14 Nantucket CHAPTER 14 NANTUCKET. Nothing more happened on the passage worthy the mentioning; so, after a fine run, we safely arrived in NantucketNantucket: Melville did not visit this island off Massachusetts until after the publication of Moby-Dick. His main sources for this chapter were Miriam Coffin (1834) by Joseph C. Hart (d. 1855), and The History of Nantucket (1835) by Obed Macy (1762-1844). For Melville's copy of Macy, see Sealts #345.. Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely than the Eddystone lighthouseEddystone Lighthouse: on a reef fourteen miles off England’s Channel Coast.. Look at it—a mere hillock, and elbow of sand; all beach, without a background. There is more sand there than you would use in twenty years as a substitute for blotting paper. Some gamesome wightsgamesome wights: humorous people. will tell you that they have to plant weeds there, they don’t grow naturally; that they import Canada thistles; that they have to send beyond seas for a spilespile: wooden plug. to stop a leak in an oil cask; that pieces of wood in Nantucket are carried about like bits of the true cross in Rome; that people there plant toadstools before their houses, to get under the shade in summer time; that one blade of grass makes an oasis, three blades in a day’s walk a prairie; that they wear quicksand shoes, something like Laplander snow-shoes; that they are so shut up, belted about, every way inclosed, surrounded, and made an utter island of by the ocean, that to their very chairs and tables small clams will sometimes be found adhering, as to the backs of sea turtles. But these extravaganzasextravanganzas: tall tales. only show that Nantucket is no Illinois. Look now at the wondrous traditional story of how this island was settled by the red-men. Thus goes the legend. In olden times an eagle swooped down upon the New England coast, and carried off an infant Indian in his talons. With loud lament the parents saw their child borne out of sight over the wide waters. They resolved to follow in the same direction. Setting out in their canoes, after a perilous passage they discovered the island, and there they found an empty ivory casket,—the poor little Indian’s skeleton. What wonder, then, that these Nantucketers, born on a beach, should take to the sea for a livelihood! They first caught crabs and quohogsquohogs: quahog, a thick-shelled American clam. in the sand; grown bolder, they waded out with nets for mackerel; more experienced, they pushed off in boats and captured cod; and at last, launching a navy of great ships on the sea, explored this watery world; put an incessant belt of circumnavigations round it; peeped in at Bhering’s StraitsBhering’s Straits: The Bering Strait separates Alaska and Asia.; and in all seasons and all oceans declared everlasting war with the mightiest animated mass that has survived the flood; most monstrous and most mountainous! That HimmalehanHimmalehan: as huge as the Himalayas., salt-sea Mastodonsalt-sea Mastodon: Fossilized remains of mastodons had been found in Missouri (1840) and along the Hudson River (1844–45). The skeleton called “Missourium” and the “Missouri Leviathan” appears in Representative Men (1847), where Emerson refers to Swedenborg as “one of the Missouriums and mastodons of literature.” The discovery of three mastodons in upstate New York in 1845 made news just as Melville returned from sea. In his first draft of Typee, he described the fatherly Marheyo as having a “heart like a mastodon’s” but removed the simile, saving the image for Moby-Dick, five years later., clothed with such portentousness of unconscious power, that his very panics are more to be dreaded than his most fearless and malicious assaults! And thus have these naked Nantucketers, these sea hermits, issuing from their ant-hill in the sea, overrun and conquered the watery world like so many Alexanders; parcelling out among them the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans, as the three pirate powers did Polandas the three pirate powers did Poland: From 1772 to 1795, Russia, Prussia, and Austria partitioned Poland.. Let America add Mexico to TexasLet America add Mexico to Texas, and pile Cuba upon Canada; let the English overswarm all India: In these projected examples, Ishmael argues that U.S. and British imperialism pales against Nantucket's expansion into three oceans. The United States annexed Texas (an independent republic since 1836) in 1845, and acquired all or parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming and Utah at the end of the Mexican War (1848). For decades, some in the U.S. had also advocated expanding into Canada and taking Cuba as well. By 1850, the British Empire controlled most of India. Compare these lines to the conclusion of Ch. 89., and pile Cuba upon Canada; let the English overswarm all India, and hang out their blazing banner from the sun; two thirds of this terraqueous globeterraqueous globe: Meaning “world of earth and water,” the trope is repeated in Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) and also appears in Carlyle's controversial 1849 "Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question," which Melville could have read in popular American magazine reprints in June 1850, more than a year before the completion of Moby-Dick. Both Melville and Carlyle found a kindred spirit in the works of 17th-century writer Thomas Browne (1605-1682), who was one of the first to use "terraqueous globe" in reference to European explorations in and around Africa and the Americas; see Sir Thomas Browne's Works, vol. 4, p. 251. The rest of the paragraph echoes William Starbuck Mayo's Kaloolah and Horatio Hastings Weld's "A Chapter on Whaling" in Ribs and Trucks. are the Nantucketer’s. For the sea is his; he owns it, as Emperors own empires; other seamen having but a right of way through it. Merchant ships are but extension bridges; armed ones but floating forts; even pirates and privateers, though following the sea as highwaymen the road, they but plunder other ships, other fragments of the land like themselves, without seeking to draw their living from the bottomless deep itself. The Nantucketer, he alone resides and riots on the seahe alone resides and riots on the sea: The editors of the NN Moby-Dick argue that “riots” does not effectively introduce the “word pattern” in the paragraph that includes the idea of “rest.” They also argue that “riots” may have been a transcriber’s misreading of some other word in Melville’s manuscript. Thus, they revise “riots” to “rests.” The assumption is that Melville would have intended a thesis statement encompassing the details to come in his paragraph. However, one image—that of the prairie cock—in the paragraph does, in fact, evoke riotous (that is, extravagant) behavior. And while the last words stress “rest” (in the sense of death), that fact does not argue for an emendation. MEL retains “riots.”; he alone, in Bible language, goes down to it in shipsgoes down to it in ships: “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep” (Psalms 107:23–24).; to and fro ploughing it as his own special plantation. There is his home; there lies his business, which a Noah’s flood would not interrupt, though it overwhelmed all the millions in China. He lives on the sea, as prairie cocks in the prairie; he hides among the waves, he climbs them as chamoischamois: European goat-like antelope. hunters climb the Alps. For years he knows not the land; so that when he comes to it at last, it smells like another world, more strangely than the moon would to an Earthsman. With the landless gull, that at sunset folds her wings and is rocked to sleep between billows; so at nightfall, the Nantucketer, out of sight of land, furls his sails, and lays him to his rest, while under his very pillow rush herds of walruses and whales.