Chapters

42 The Whiteness of the Whale CHAPTER 42 THE WHITENESS OF THE WHALE.THE WHITENESS OF THE WHALE: In their edition of Moby-Dick, Mansfield and Vincent list many possible sources for Melville’s disquisition on whiteness, including some of his favorite authors and an 1836 article in a magazine edited by Hawthorne (704–6). What the white whale was to Ahab, has been hinted; what, at times, he was to me, as yet remains unsaid. Aside from those more obvious considerations touching Moby Dick, which could not but occasionally awaken in any man’s soul some alarm, there was another thought, or rather vague, nameless horror concerning him, which at times by its intensity completely overpowered all the rest; and yet so mystical and well nigh ineffable was it, that I almost despair of putting it in a comprehensible form. It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me. But how can I hope to explain myself here; and yet, in some dim, random way, explain myself I must, else all these chapters might be naught. Though in many natural objects, whiteness refiningly enhances beauty, as if imparting some special virtue of its own, as in marbles, japonicasjaponicas: white camelias (Camelia japonica)., and pearls; and though various nations have in some way recognised a certain royal pre-eminence in this hue; even the barbaric, grand old kings of PeguPegu: Sixteenth-century capital (now named Bago) of the kingdom of Burma, now Myanmar. placing the title “Lord of the White Elephants” above all their other magniloquent ascriptions of dominion; and the modern kings of SiamSiam: the official name of Thailand until 1939 unfurling the same snow-white quadruped in the royal standard; and the HanoverianHanoverian: belonging to the north central German province of Hanover. flag bearing the one figure of a snow-white charger; and the great Austrian Empire, Cæsarian heir to overlording RomeAustrian Empire . . . Rome: The Holy Roman Empire (ca. 800–1806) claimed to be the successor of the Roman empire., having for the imperial color the same imperial hue; and though this pre-eminence in it applies to the human race itself, giving the white man ideal mastership over every dusky tribe; and though, besides all this, whiteness has been even made significant of gladness, for among the Romans a white stoneamong the Romans a white stone marked a joyful day: This use of a white stone appears in Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia, but Melville might have seen it in Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel, 1.10. marked a joyful day; and though in other mortal sympathies and symbolizings, this same hue is made the emblem of many touching, noble things—the innocence of brides, the benignity of age; though among the Red Men of America the giving of the white belt of wampumwampum: small cylindrical beads made from quahog shells that were strung together and worn as a decorative belt or used as money. was the deepest pledge of honor; though in many climes, whiteness typifies the majesty of Justice in the ermine of the Judge, and contributes to the daily state of kings and queens drawn by milk-white steeds; though even in the higher mysteries of the most august religions it has been made the symbol of the divine spotlessness and power, by the Persian fire worshippersPersian fire worshippers: Zoroastrians, followers of the sixth-century BCE Zoroaster or Zarathustra, venerate fire but do not worship it. Fedallah, first appearing in Ch. 48, is a Parsi, or Zoroastrian. Persia was historically the common name for Iran., the white forked flame being held the holiest on the altar; and in the Greek mythologies, Great Jove himself being made incarnate in a snow-white bullsnow-white bull: Zeus charmed and carried off Europa by taking on this form; mentioned again in Ch. 133.; and though to the noble Iroquois, the midwinter sacrifice of the sacred White Dogsacred White Dog: Melville’s source for this ceremony, and probably for the white wampum, above, was Lewis H. Morgan's League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee or Iroquois, an advance excerpt of which was published in the Literary World 7 (Dec. 28, 1850): 521-523. was by far the holiest festival of their theology, that spotless, faithful creature being held the purest envoy they could send to the Great Spirit with the annual tidings of their own fidelity; and though directly from the Latin word for white, all Christian priests derive the name of one part of their sacred vesture, the albLatin word for white . . . the alb or tunic, worn beneath the cassock: The long linen alb (from Latin albus for white) is actually an outer garment. or tunic, worn beneath the cassock; and though among the holy pomps of the Romish faith, white is specially employed in the celebration of the Passion of our Lord; though in the Vision of St. John, white robes are given to the redeemed, and the four-and-twenty elders stand clothed in white before the great white throne, and the Holy One that sitteth there white like woolwhite robes . . . elders . . . white throne . . . white like wool: These references occur in Revelation 1.14, 4.4, 7.9, and 20.11.; yet for all these accumulated associations, with whatever is sweet, and honorable, and sublime, there yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights in blood. This elusive quality it is, which causes the thought of whiteness, when divorced from more kindly associations, and coupled with any object terrible in itself, to heighten that terror to the furthest bounds. Witness the white bear of the poles, and the white shark of the tropics; what but their smooth, flaky whiteness makes them the transcendent horrors they are? That ghastly whiteness it is which imparts such an abhorrent mildness, even more loathsome than terrific, to the dumb gloating of their aspect. So that not the fierce-fanged tiger in his heraldic coatheraldic coat: striped, as in a coat of arms. can so stagger courage as the white-shrouded bear or shark.* Bethink thee of the albatross: whence come those clouds of spiritual wonderment and pale dread, in which that white phantom sails in all imaginations? Not ColeridgeNot Coleridge first threw that spell: In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (1798), a seaman is cursed for wantonly killing an albatross believed to have brought good luck, and in penance wanders the world teaching reverence for life. first threw that spell; but God’s great, unflattering laureate, Nature.* ___________________________________________________ * [Melville's Note] With reference to the Polar bear, it may possibly be urged by him who would fain go still deeper into this matter, that it is not the whiteness, separately regarded, which heightens the intolerable hideousness of that brute; for, analysed, that heightened hideousness, it might be said, only arises from the circumstance, that the irresponsible ferociousness of the creature stands invested in the fleece of celestial innocence and love; and hence, by bringing together two such opposite emotions in our minds, the Polar bear frightens us with so unnatural a contrast. But even assuming all this to be true; yet, were it not for the whiteness, you would not have that intensified terror. As for the white shark, the white gliding ghostliness of repose in that creature, when beheld in his ordinary moods, strangely tallies with the same quality in the Polar quadruped. This peculiarity is most vividly hit by the French in the name they bestow upon that fish. The Romish mass for the dead begins with “Requiem eternam” (eternal rest), whence Requiem denominating the mass itself, and any other funereal music. Now, in allusion to the white, silent stillness of death in this shark, and the mild deadliness of his habits, the French call him Requin. [Melville's note, concluded] * [Melville's Note] I remember the first albatross I ever saw. It was during a prolonged gale, in waters hard upon the Antarctic seas. From my forenoon watch below, I ascended to the overclouded deck; and there, dashed upon the [Melville's note, continued below] ____________________________________ Most famous in our Western annals and Indian traditions is that of the White SteedWhite Steed of the Praries: Probably from James Hall’s The Wilderness and the Warpath (1846); see Mansfield and Vincent's edition of Moby-Dick, 711. “Praries” was an acceptable, alternative spelling in Melville’s copy of Daniel Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language. of the Praries; a magnificent milk-white charger, large-eyed, small-headed, bluff-chested, and with the dignity of a thousand monarchs in his lofty, overscorning carriage. He was the elected XerxesXerxes: Fifth-century BCE Persian king who invaded Greece with a huge army and fleet. of vast herds of wild horses, whose pastures in those days were only fenced by the ___________________________________________________ [Melville's note, continued from above] main hatches, I saw a regal, feathery thing of unspotted whiteness, and with a hooked, Roman bill sublime. At intervals, it arched forth its vast archangel wingsREVISION NARRATIVE: vast archangel wings // Melville’s British editor altered Ishmael’s footnote on the albatross, reducing its religious references. The word “archangel” was removed probably because of the irreverent elevation of a bird to the status of archangel. See similar expurgations of "archangel" in Chs. 1, 71, and 135. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin., as if to embrace some holy ark. Wondrous flutterings and throbbings shook it. Though bodily unharmed, it uttered cries, as some king’s ghost in supernatural distress. Through its inexpressible, strange eyes, methought I peeped to secrets which took hold of GodREVISION NARRATIVE: secrets which took hold of God // Probably Melville’s British editor revised the words “secrets which took hold of God” (implying that there are secrets more powerful than God) to “secrets not below the heavens.” To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin.. As Abraham before the angels As Abraham before the angels: That is, recognizing their otherworldliness (Genesis 18.2)., I bowed myself; the white thing was so white, its wings so wide, and in those for ever exiled waters, I had lost the miserable warping memories of traditions and of towns. Long I gazed at that prodigy of plumage. I cannot tell, can only hint, the things that darted through me then. But at last I awoke; and turning, asked a sailor what bird was this. A goney, he replied. Goney! I never had heard that name before; is it conceivable that this glorious thing is utterly unknown to men ashore! never! But some time after, I learned that goney was some seaman’s name for albatross. So that by no possibility could Coleridge’s wild RhymeColeridge's wild Rhyme: Coleridge's lengthy poem first appeared "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in the 1798 Lyrical Ballads have had aught to do with those mystical impressions which were mine, when I saw that bird upon our deck. For neither had I then read the Rhyme, nor knew the bird to be an albatross. Yet, in saying this, I do but indirectly burnish a little brighter the noble merit of the poem and the poet. I assert, then, that in the wondrous bodily whiteness of the bird chiefly lurks the secret of the spell; a truth the more evinced in this, that by a solecismsolecism: grammatical mistake in speech or writing of terms there are birds called grey albatrosses; and these I have frequently seen, but never with such emotions as when I beheld the Antarctic fowl. But how had the mystic thing been caught? Whisper it not, and I will tell; with a treacherous hook and line, as the fowl floated on the sea. At last the Captain made a postmanthe Captain made a postman of it: Melville’s passage derives from J. Ross Browne's Etchings of a Whaling Cruise (1846): “The mate set him adrift with a tally around his neck, dated, and marked with the name of the vessel.” of it; tying a lettered, leathern tally round its neck, with the ship’s time and place; and then letting it escape. But I doubt not, that leathern tally, meant for man, was taken off in Heaven, when the white fowl flew to join the wing-folding, the invoking, and adoring cherubim!REVISION NARRATIVE: But I doubt not, that leathern tally, meant for man, was taken off in Heaven, when the white fowl flew to join the wing-folding, the invoking, and adoring cherubim! // The image of humans sending messages (“leathern tally”) via the albatross is not blasphemous, but the thought that the bird might be a spiritual messenger between humanity and heaven, capable of joining the ranks of heaven’s angels (“cherubim”), was not acceptable, and the British edition expurgated the entire sentence. To compare American and British pages, click their corresponding thumbnails in the right margin: American (before "Most famous" above) and British (before "But I doubt not"). [Melville's note, concluded] ____________________________________ Rocky Mountains and the Alleghanies. At their flaming head he westward trooped it like that chosen starchosen star: The planet Venus, called Vesper or Hesperus, the evening star. which every evening leads on the hosts of light. The flashing cascade of his mane, the curving comet of his tail, invested him with housingshousings: ceremonial harness more resplendent than gold and silver-beaters could have furnished him. A most imperial and archangelical apparition of that unfallen, western world, which to the eyes of the old trappers and hunters revived the glories of those primeval times when Adam walked majestic as a god, bluff-bowedbluff-bowed: here, broad-chested. and fearless as this mighty steed. Whether marching amid his aides and marshals in the van van: short for vanguard. of countless cohorts that endlessly streamed it over the plains, like an Ohiolike an Ohio: like the wide Ohio River, separating northern and southern states. Melville steamed up the Ohio, on his return home from his 1840 tour of the west. (See Bryant, Herman Melville: A Half Known Life, vol. 2, ch. 61.); or whether with his circumambientcircumambient: surrounding. subjects browsing all around at the horizon, the White Steed gallopingly reviewed them with warm nostrils reddening through his cool milkiness; in whatever aspect he presented himself, always to the bravest Indians he was the object of trembling reverence and awe. Nor can it be questioned from what stands on legendary record of this noble horse, that it was his spiritual whiteness chiefly, which so clothed him with divineness; and that this divineness had that in it which, though commanding worship, at the same time enforced a certain nameless terror. But there are other instances where this whiteness loses all that accessory and strange glory which invests it in the White Steed and Albatross. What is it that in the Albino man so peculiarly repels and often shocks the eye, as that sometimes he is loathed by his own kith and kin! It is that whiteness which invests him, a thing expressed by the name he bears. The Albino is as well made as other men—has no substantive deformity—and yet this mere aspect of all-pervading whiteness makes him more strangely hideous than the ugliest abortion. Why should this be so? Nor, in quite other aspects, does Nature in her least palpable but not the less malicious agencies, fail to enlist among her forces this crowning attribute of the terrible. From its snowy aspect, the gauntleted ghost of the Southern Seas has been denominated the White SquallWhite Squall: sudden, violent tropical storm with a characteristic white cloud. See Pip's monologue at the end of Ch. 40: "But those chaps there are worse yet—they are your white squalls, they.". Nor, in some historic instances, has the art of human malice omitted so potent an auxiliary. How wildly it heightens the effect of that passage in Froissartthat passage in Froissart . . . White Hoods of Ghent murder . . . in the market-place!: Sir John [Jean] Froissart (ca. 1337–1410) wrote Chronicles of England, France and Spain, translated by John Bourchier, Lord Berners (1523–25). The original title contained “and the Adjoining Countries”; Ghent, Belgium is where the described murder in a local war took place., when, masked in the snowy symbol of their faction, the desperate White Hoods of Ghent murder their bailiff in the market-place! Nor, in some things, does the common, hereditary experience of all mankind fail to bear witness to the supernaturalism of this hue. It cannot well be doubted, that the one visible quality in the aspect of the dead which most appals the gazer, is the marble pallor lingering there; as if indeed that pallor were as much like the badge of consternation in the other world, as of mortal trepidation here. And from that pallor of the dead, we borrow the expressive hue of the shroud in which we wrap them. Nor even in our superstitions do we fail to throw the same snowy mantle round our phantoms; all ghosts rising in a milk-white fog—Yea, while these terrors seize us, let us add, that even the king of terrors, when personified by the evangelist, rides on his pallid horsepallid horse: Revelation 6.8: “and I looked, and behold a pale horse and his name that sat on him was Death.” John the Evangelist (meaning gospel writer) is credited with the book of Revelation.. Therefore, in his other moods, symbolize whatever grand or gracious thing he will by whiteness, no man can deny that in its profoundest idealized significance it calls up a peculiar apparition to the soul. But though without dissent this point be fixed, how is mortal man to account for it? To analyse it, would seem impossible. Can we, then, by the citation of some of those instances wherein this thing of whiteness—though for the time either wholly or in great part stripped of all direct associations calculated to impart to it aught fearful, but, nevertheless, is found to exert over us the same sorcery, however modified;—can we thus hope to light upon some chance clue to conduct us to the hidden cause we seek? Let us try. But in a matter like this, subtlety appeals to subtlety, and without imagination no man can follow another into these halls. And though, doubtless, some at least of the imaginative impressions about to be presented may have been shared by most men, yet few perhaps were entirely conscious of them at the time, and therefore may not be able to recall them now. Why to the man of untutored ideality, who happens to be but loosely acquainted with the peculiar character of the day, does the bare mention of WhitsuntideWhitsuntide: The week beginning with Whitsunday (Pentecost), seventh Sunday after Easter; formerly a time of baptism of new converts, robed in white. marshal in the fancy such long, dreary, speechless processions of slow-pacing pilgrims, down-cast and hooded with new-fallen snow? Or, to the unread, unsophisticated Protestant of the Middle American States, why does the passing mention of a White Friar or a White NunWhite Friar or a White Nun: Mendicant, or begging, orders of Carmelite friars and nuns, who dressed in white., evoke such an eyeless statue in the soul? Or what is there apart from the traditions of dungeoned warriors and kings (which will not wholly account for it) that makes the White Towerthe White Tower of London . . . an untravelled American: Built in 1078 and later whitewashed, surrounded by thirteen buildings including the infamous Byward and Bloody towers, the White Tower is the oldest structure in the Tower of London. Melville, not quite “an untravelled American,” visited it in 1849. of London tell so much more strongly on the imagination of an untravelled American, than those other storied structures, its neighbors—the Byward Tower, or even the Bloody? And those sublimer towers, the White MountainsWhite Mountains of New Hampshire: This section of the Appalachian Mountains has the highest peaks in the northeastern United States. of New Hampshire, whence, in peculiar moods, comes that gigantic ghostliness over the soul at the bare mention of that name, while the thought of Virginia’s Blue Ridge is full of a soft, dewy, distant dreaminess? Or why, irrespective of all latitudes and longitudes, does the name of the White SeaWhite Sea . . . Yellow Sea: Respectively, the White Sea, on Russia’s northern coast, and the Yellow Sea, between China and the Korean Peninsula. exert such a spectralness over the fancy, while that of the Yellow Sea lulls us with mortal thoughts of long lacquered mild afternoons on the waves, followed by the gaudiest and yet sleepiest of sunsets? Or, to choose a wholly unsubstantial instance, purely addressed to the fancy, why, in reading the old fairy tales of Central Europe, does “the tall pale man” of the Hartz forestsHartz forests . . . imps of the Blocksburg?: The Brocken, also known as the Blocksberg and the highest peak of the Harz Mountains of central Germany, is the location of reputed witches’ ceremonies on May Day eve, as described in Goethe’s Faust and alluded to in Redburn. In German folklore, supernatural beings inhabited these dense mountain forests., whose changeless pallor unrustlingly glides through the green of the groves—why is this phantom more terrible than all the whooping imps of the Blocksburg? Nor is it, altogether, the remembrance of her cathedral-toppling earthquakescathedral-toppling earthquakes: The results of an earthquake that destroyed Lima, the capital of Peru, in 1746, and of another in 1828, were still visible in 1844 when, as an ordinary seaman aboard the frigate United States, Melville visited the city on liberty.; nor the stampedoes of her frantic seas; nor the tearlessness of arid skiestearlessness of arid skies: In the Navy, Melville was stationed in Callao, Lima's port city, during Peru's rainless, dry season; hence one explanation for the "tearlessness" of the city's arid skies. See "tearless Lima," below, for another. that never rain; nor the sight of her wide field of leaning spires, wrenched cope-stones, and crosses all adroop (like canted yardscanted yards: the yards, or cross-pieces from which the sails hang, are tilted from the horizontal on anchored naval vessels as a sign of mourning. of anchored fleets); and her suburban avenues of house-walls lying over upon each other, as a tossed pack of cards;—it is not these things alone which make tearless Limatearless Lima: Melville drew upon Rev. Charles Stewart's Visit to the South Seas, for his depiction of Lima. In addition to the city's earthquake ruins (see above), Stewart witnessed, in 1829, the skeletal remains of unburied casualties of Peru's recent revolutionary insurrections. Of the corpses, he wrote that the city center was "white with fragments of the human form." Stewart, who was his ship’s chaplain, was so struck with the horror of so many unburied bodies that he wrote that he could not preach to the ship’s crew the optimistic passage from Revelation 24: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death.” Though the scripture figures the end of death and tears, Stewart could feel no comfort in it after seeing Lima. Ishmael expresses some sense of Stewart’s despair when he calls Lima “the strangest, saddest city thou can’st see.” Given the “higher horror” it represents, Melville calls Lima “tearless,” not only meteorologically (see "tearlessness" above) but also ironically in reference to Stewart’s inability to preach the “wipe away all tears” passage in Revelation. See Bryant, Melville: A Half Known Life, vo. 2, ch. 92; see also “The Town-Ho’s Story” (Ch. 54), which is set in Lima., the strangest, saddest city thou can’st see. For Lima has taken the white veil; and there is a higher horror in this whiteness of her woe. Old as PizarroPizarro: Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro (ca. 1475-1541), conqueror of the Incas and founder of Lima., this whiteness keeps her ruins for ever new; admits not the cheerful greenness of complete decay; spreads over her broken ramparts the rigid pallor of an apoplexy that fixes its own distortions. I know that, to the common apprehension, this phenomenon of whiteness is not confessed to be the prime agent in exaggerating the terror of objects otherwise terrible; nor to the unimaginative mind is there aught of terror in those appearances whose awfulness to another mind almost solely consists in this one phenomenon, especially when exhibited under any form at all approaching to muteness or universalityuniversality: completeness; uncontrastedness. . What I mean by these two statements may perhaps be respectively elucidated by the following examples. First: The mariner, when drawing nigh the coasts of foreign lands, if by night he hear the roar of breakers, starts to vigilance, and feels just enough of trepidation to sharpen all his faculties; but under precisely similar circumstances, let him be called from his hammock to view his ship sailing through a midnight sea of milky whiteness—as if from encircling headlands shoalsshoals: large numbers (usually of sea-creatures). of combed white bears were swimming round him, then he feels a silent, superstitious dreadsuperstitious dread: Mansfield and Vincent, in their edition of Moby-Dick, cite Frederick Debell Bennett's Narrative of a Whaling Voyage round the Globe (I, 290) as a possible source for this passage.; the shrouded phantom of the whitened waters is horrible to him as a real ghost; in vain the leadlead: lead weight attached to a marked line, used for measuring water depth. assures him he is still off soundings; heart and helmheart and helm they both go down: The sailors’ hearts sink in dread, while the officer on deck commands, “down helm,” that is, to steer the ship into the wind and thereby slow it as much as possible. they both go down; he never rests till blue water is under him again. Yet where is the mariner who will tell thee, “Sir, it was not so much the fear of striking hidden rocks, as the fear of that hideous whiteness that so stirred me?” Second: To the native Indian of Peru, the continual sight of the snow-howdahed Andessnow-howdahed Andes: The Andes Mountains of South America include the highest peaks in the Western Hemisphere; many are perpetually snow-covered. A howdah is a sometimes canopied seat for elephant riders. conveys naught of dread, except, perhaps, in the mere fancying of the eternal frosted desolateness reigning at such vast altitudes, and the natural conceit of what a fearfulness it would be to lose oneself in such inhuman solitudes. Much the same is it with the backwoodsman of the West, who with comparative indifference views an unbounded prairie sheeted with driven snow, no shadow of tree or twig to break the fixed trance of whiteness. Not so the sailor, beholding the scenery of the Antarctic seasAntarctic seas: seas around the continent of Antarctica, which are perpetually cold and beset by icebergs.; where at times, by some infernal trick of legerdemain in the powers of frost and air, he, shivering and half shipwrecked, instead of rainbows speaking hope and solace to his misery, views what seems a boundless church-yard grinning upon him with its lean ice monuments and splintered crosses. But thou sayest, methinks this white-lead chapter about whiteness is but a white flag hung out from a craven soul; thou surrenderest to a hypo, Ishmael. Tell me, why this strong young colt, foaled in some peaceful valley of Vermont, far removed from all beasts of prey—why is it that upon the sunniest day, if you but shake a fresh buffalo robe behind him, so that he cannot even see it, but only smells its wild animal muskiness—why will he start, snort, and with bursting eyes paw the ground in phrensies of affright? There is no remembrance in him of any gorings of wild creatures in his green northern home, so that the strange muskiness he smells cannot recall to him anything associated with the ex-perience of former perils; for what knows he, this New England colt, of the black bisonsblack bisons of distant Oregon?: Melville had reviewed Francis Parkman’s The California and Oregon Trail, with its buffalo-hunting account, in Literary World, 31 March 1849. In their edition of Moby-Dick, Mansfield and Vincent note two unrelated passages in Parkman, one about Indians flapping buffalo robes and another about a horse’s fear on seeing buffalo (716), but Ishmael’s explanation of instinct and sense perception combining to reveal hidden demonism to him as well as to the Vermont colt does more than simply combine Parkman's separate passages. of distant Oregon? No: but here thou beholdest even in a dumb brute, the instinct of the knowledge of the demonism in the worldREVISION NARRATIVE: the demonism in the world // The British edition alters the prepositional phrase to “demonism of the world.” The shift in prepositions—which echoes the New Testament distinction between being “in” the world but not necessarily “of” it—is significant. The original “in” suggests that the "instinct of the knowledge of demonism" is one of various features related to the world; whereas the revision to “of the world” suggests that this instinct of knowing is an inherent and pervasive quality that defines the world. Melville, an editor, or possibly a printer (accidentally) may have performed the change. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin.. Though thousands of miles from Oregon, still when he smells that savage musk, the rending, goring bison herds are as present as to the deserted wild foal of the prairies, which this instant they may be trampling into dust. Thus, then, the muffled rollings of a milky sea; the bleak rustlings of the festooned frosts of mountains; the desolate shiftings of the windrowed snows of prairies; all these, to Ishmael, are as the shaking of that buffalo robe to the frightened colt! Though neither knows where lie the nameless things of which the mystic sign gives forth such hints; yet with me, as with the colt, somewhere those things must exist. Though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright. But not yet have we solved the incantationincantation: spell, enchantment. of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and far more portentous—why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay, the very veil of the Christian’s Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind. Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color, and at the same time the concrete of all colorsconcrete of all colors: While we perceive white as an absence of color, sunlight, which we take to be white, contains the full spectrum of color; it is the "concretion" or coming together of all colors.; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows—a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink? And when we consider that other theorythat other theory of the natural philosophers: Enlightenment philosopher-scientists such as John Locke (1632-1704) argued that differences between qualities inherent in objects and those “secondary” ones, such as color, are products of human perception. of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues—every stately or lovely emblazoning—the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house withinREVISION NARRATIVE: Nature as Harlot // One of the most crippling expurgations in the British version of Moby-Dick is the removal of this line from “The Whiteness of the Whale.” Ishmael calls the chapter an attempt to “explain myself,” and by "essaying" on whiteness, he hopes to get to the heart of what appalls him about Moby Dick. His “dim, random way” is, in fact, quite methodical; and in his final paragraph, he explains that the whale's whiteness instills fear because it symbolizes the “dumb blankness,” or nothingness, of the world. But the consequence of this metaphysical view is that given this nothingness, nature—with all its color—is itself not real, or worse, just so many “subtile deceits.” Ishmael’s intensity mounts as he reaches for the concluding line: “Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?” But before he poses this question, his dismay at the physical world’s deceptiveness achieves its most forceful expression: “so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within.” The British edition expurgates the line not only for its graphic images of a painted prostitute and a warehouse for dead bodies but also for its equating “deified Nature,” that is, God’s creation, with prostitution and death. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin.; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge—pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like wilful travellers in LaplandLapland: a region including parts of northern Scandinavia, Russia, and Finland that contains rugged mountains, swamps, and meadowlands; it is the home of the Sami people, often called Lapps., who refuse to wear colored and coloring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?