2 The Carpet Bag
I stuffed a shirt or two into my old carpet-bag, tucked it under my arm, and started for Cape HornCape Horn: southern tip of South America. and the Pacific. Quitting the good city of old Manhatto, I duly arrived in New BedfordNew Bedford: Located on the Acushnet River in Massachusetts and founded by Nantucket Quakers in the whaling trade, New Bedford was the world’s foremost whaling port in the early 19th century. Melville arrived in New Bedford, with his brother Gansevoort, in mid-December 1840 a couple weeks before his January 3, 1841 departure on the whaling ship Acushnet, out of Fairhaven, New Bedford's sister city across the Acushnet River.. It was on a Saturday night in December. Much was I disappointed upon learning that the little packetpacket: mail and passenger vessel making scheduled trips between the same ports. for NantucketNantucket: The island, twenty-five miles south of Cape Cod, was indeed superseded by New Bedford in the whaling trade. Melville did not visit Nantucket until 1852. See Ch. 14. had already sailed, and that no way of reaching that place would offer, till the following Monday.
As most young candidates for the pains and penalties of whaling stop at this same New Bedford, thence to embark on their voyage, it may as well be related that I, for one, had no idea of so doing. For my mind was made up to sail in no other than a Nantucket craft, because there was a fine, boisterous something about everything connected with that famous old island, which amazingly pleased me. Besides though New Bedford has of late been gradually monopolizing the business of whaling, and though in this matter poor old Nantucket is now much behind her, yet Nantucket was her great original—the Tyre of this CarthageTyre of this Carthage: Ancient cities on the Mediterranean Sea, now in Syria and Tunisia, respectively. By tradition, Phoenicians from Tyre founded Carthage.;—the place where the first dead American whale was stranded. Where else but from Nantucket did those aboriginal whalemen, the Red-Men, first sally out in canoes to give chase to the Leviathan? And where but from Nantucket, too, did that first adventurous little sloop put forth, partly laden with imported cobble-stones—so goes the story—to throw at the whales, in order to discover when they were nigh enough to risk a harpoon from the bowsprit?
Now having a night, a day, and still another night following before me in New Bedford, ere I could embark for my destined port, it became a matter of concernment where I was to eat and sleep meanwhile. It was a very dubious-looking, nay, a very dark and dismal night, bitingly cold and cheerless. I knew no one in the place. With anxious grapnelsgrapnels: small, anchor-like devices for dragging the sea floor; here, his fingers. I had sounded my pocket, and only brought up a few pieces of silver,—So, wherever you go, Ishmael, said I to myself, as I stood in the middle of a dreary street shouldering my bag, and comparing the gloom towards the north with the darkness towards the south—wherever in your wisdom you may conclude to lodge for the night, my dear Ishmael, be sure to inquire the price, and don’t be too particular.
With halting steps I paced the streets, and passed the sign of “The Crossed Harpoons”—but it looked too expensive and jolly there. Further on, from the bright red windows of the “Sword-Fish Inn,” there came such fervent rays, that it seemed to have melted the packed snow and ice from before the house, for everywhere else the congealed frost lay ten inches thick in a hard, asphaltic pavement,—rather weary for me, when I struck my foot against the flinty projections, because from hard, remorseless service the soles of my boots were in a most miserable plight. Too expensive and jolly, again thought I, pausing one moment to watch the broad glare in the street, and hear the sounds of the tinkling glasses within. But go on, Ishmael, said I at last; don’t you hear? get away from before the door; your patched boots are stopping the way. So on I went. I now by instinct followed the streets that took me waterward, for there, doubtless, were the cheapest, if not the cheeriest inns.
Such dreary streets! blocks of blackness, not houses, on either hand, and here and there a candle, like a candle moving about in a tomb. At this hour of the night, of the last day of the week, that quarter of the town proved all but deserted. But presently I came to a smoky light proceeding from a low, wide building, the door of which stood invitingly open. It had a careless look, as if it were meant for the uses of the public; so, entering, the first thing I did was to stumble over an ash-boxash-box: ashes were kept to spread on icy walkways. in the porch. Ha! thought I, ha, as the flying particles almost choked me, are these ashes from that destroyed city, GomorrahGomorrah: In Genesis 19, God destroys the wicked cities Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone (sulfur).? But “The Crossed Harpoons,” and “The Sword-Fish?”—this, then, must needs be the sign of “The Trap.” However, I picked myself up and hearing a loud voice within, pushed on and opened a second, interior door.
It seemed the great Black ParliamentBlack Parliament: In 1320, the so-called Black Parliament gathered in judgment on conspirators against Scotland’s King Robert I. sitting in TophetTophet: hell.. A hundred black faces turned round in their rows to peer; and beyond, a black Angel of Doom was beating a book in a pulpit. It was a negro churchnegro church: Fugitive slave and famed orator Frederick Douglass (1818–1895) lived in New Bedford at the time Melville arrived there in December 1840 and shipped out from neighboring Fairhaven in January 1841 on the Acushnet. Douglass sometimes preached to Black congregants at a small church that might be the model for the "negro church" into which Ishmael stumbles. See Robert K. Wallace, Douglass and Melville, 20; see also Bryant, Herman Melville: A Half Known Life, vol. 2, ch. 64.; and the preacher’s text was about the blackness of darknessthe blackness of darkness: The Epistle of Jude, verse 13, refers to the "ungodly" among us as "Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever." Thomas Carlyle also quotes "blackness of darkness" in Sartor Resartus (Book 2, Ch. 4). See also a replay of the phrase in Ch. 96., and the weeping and wailing and teeth-gnashing there. Ha, Ishmael, muttered I, backing out, Wretched entertainment at the sign of “The Trap!”
Moving on, I at last came to a dim sort of lightREVISION NARRATIVE: dim sort of light // In the British version, the phrase is expanded to “dim sort of out-hanging light.” The expansion is surely Melville’s revision: He probably inserted “out-hanging” on the revised copy of Moby-Dick he sent to England to render the more descriptive British version. The editors of the NN Moby-Dick include the revision; however, in keeping with its principle of not mixing versions, MEL makes no change but describes the change through revision annotation. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin. not far from the docks, and heard a forlorn creaking in the air; and looking up, saw a swinging sign over the door with a white painting upon it, faintly representing a tall straight jet of misty spray, and these words underneath—“The Spouter-Inn:—Peter Coffin.”
Coffin?—Spouter?—Rather ominous in that particular connexion, thought I. But it is a common name in Nantucket, they say, and I suppose this Peter here is an emigrant from there. As the light looked so dim, and the place, for the time, looked quiet enough, and the dilapidated little wooden house itself looked as if it might have been carted here from the ruins of some burnt districtburnt district: Common expression for any urban area destroyed by fire, but also refers to western New York State’s “burned-over district,” scene of heated revivalism in the 1830s., and as the swinging sign had a poverty-stricken sort of creak to it, I thought that here was the very spot for cheap lodgings, and the best of pea coffeepea coffee: made from roasted green peas or chickpeas..
It was a queer sort of place—a gable-ended old house, one side palsied as it were, and leaning over sadly. It stood on a sharp bleak corner, where that tempestuous wind EuroclydonEuroclydon: the wind that wrecked St. Paul’s ship in Acts 27. kept up a worse howling than ever it did about poor Paul’s REVISION NARRATIVE: poor Paul’s // Melville's British editor revised the mildly irreverent “poor Paul's” to “St. Paul's.” To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin. tossed craft. Euroclydon, nevertheless, is a mighty pleasant zephyr to any one in-doors, with his feet on the hob quietly toasting for bed. “In judging of that tempestuous wind called Euroclydon,” says an old writer—of whose works I possess the only copy extant—“it maketh a marvellous difference, whether thou lookest out at it from a glass window where the frost is all on the outside, or whether thou observest it from that sashless window, where the frost is on both sides, and of which the wight Death is the only glazierwight . . . glazier: wight means any person; a glazier installs window glass; the quotation is Ishmael’s invention..” True enough, thought I, as this passage occurred to my mind—old black-letterblack-letter: old book printed in a heavy typeface resembling hand-written manuscript., thou reasonest well. Yes, these eyes are windows, and this body of mine is the house. What a pity they didn’t stop up the chinks and the crannies though, and thrust in a little lint here and there. But it’s too late to make any improvements now. The universe is finished; the copestonecopestone: stone placed at the top of a wall or other structure; compare Ch. 32, last paragraph. is on, and the chips were carted off a million years ago. Poor Lazarus there, chattering his teeth against the curbstone for his pillow, and shaking off his tatters with his shiverings, he might plug up both ears with rags, and put a corn-cob into his mouth, and yet that would not keep out the tempestuous Euroclydon. Euroclydon! says old Dives, in his red silken wrapper—(he had a redder one afterwards) pooh, pooh! REVISION NARRATIVE: Lazarus and Dives // Melville's British editor expurgated this passage in bold and the chapter's three concluding paragraphs. In Luke 16:19–23, the homeless and sore-ridden Lazarus lies at the gates of a scornful rich man (elsewhere called Dives) begging for crumbs. When both die, Lazarus goes to heaven, and Dives burns in hell, begging Lazarus to send him water. In this passage, Ishmael elaborates on the inequality of rich and poor by comparing the differences we feel between a tight window that keeps the warmth inside and a sashless or ill-framed window that lets the frost come through. He then compares this difference to the living Lazarus and Dives, the one chattering out in the cold, the other enjoying “a fine frosty night” from inside his summery room. But Melville’s religiously and politically sensitive British editor expurgated all reference to the parable, found in the passages in boldface. The excision of the last three paragraphs inadvertently reassigns Dives’s jolly words (“What a fine frosty night . . . making my own summer with my own coals”) to Ishmael, thus making Ishmael seem to conclude his otherwise empathetic reflections on the poor by incongruously voicing Dives’s privileged point of view. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin. What a fine frosty night; how Orion glitters; what northern lights! Let them talk of their oriental summer climes of everlasting conservatories; give me the privilege of making my own summer with my own coals.
But what thinks Lazarus? Can he warm his blue hands by holding them up to the grand northern lights? Would not Lazarus rather be in SumatraSumatra: island in the Indian Ocean, now part of Indonesia. than here? Would he not far rather lay him down lengthwise along the line of the equator; yea, ye gods! go down to the fiery pit itself, in order to keep out this frost?
Now, that Lazarus should lie stranded there on the curbstone before the door of Dives, this is more wonderful than that an iceberg should be moored to one of the MoluccasThe Moluccas, or Maluku Islands, are also in Indonesia.. Yet Dives himself, he too lives like a Czar in an ice palaceCzar in an ice palace: Building an ice palace was an annual event in czarist St. Petersburg, Russia, made of frozen sighs, and being a president of a temperance societytemperance society: organization promoting complete abstinence from alcohol., he only drinks the tepid tears of orphans.
But no more of this blubbering now, we are going a-whaling, and there is plenty of that yet to come. Let us scrape the ice from our frosted feet, and see what sort of a place this “Spouter” may be.