55 Monstrous Pictures of Whales
OF THE MONSTROUS PICTURES OF WHALES.
Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales: According to Mansfield and Vincent's edition of Moby-Dick, the chapter title draws from two sources: Pseudodoxia Epidemica (1646) by English physician Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682) and popularly called Vulgar Errors, which includes “Of Many Things Questionable as They are Commonly Described in Pictures” (Book 5); and A History and Description of the Northern Whale Fishery (1820) by William Scoresby Jr., which distinguishes between true and false pictures of whales.
I shall ere long paint to youI shall . . . paint to you: Melville’s expression, instead of the expected “describe for you,” stresses not only the substitution of painting for verbal description, but also the attempt to communicate “to you” the reality of an otherwise inaccessible objective world. Chs. 55–57 discuss the depictions of whales (in art, illustration, popular culture, and myth) from gross error to reasonable approximation, although Ishmael concludes that the whale itself “must remain unpainted to the last.” See Stuart M. Frank's Herman Melville's Picture Gallery, which reproduces sources and analogues for all visual references in Chs. 55-57. Melville sustained his life-long study of art by collecting more than three hundred prints and engravings. as well as one can without canvas, something like the true form of the whale as he actually appears to the eye of the whaleman when in his own absoluteabsolute: actual, certain. body the whale is moored alongside the whale-ship so that he can be fairly stepped upon there. It may be worth while, therefore, previously to advert to those curious imaginary portraits of him which even down to the present day confidently challenge the faith of the landsman. It is time to set the world right in this matter, by proving such pictures of the whale all wrong.
It may be that the primal source of all those pictorial delusions will be found among the oldest Hindoo, Egyptian, and Grecian sculptures. For ever since those inventive but unscrupulous times when on the marble panellings of temples, the pedestals of statuespedestals of statues: The Mazarin Venus, a Roman reproduction (discovered around 1510) of the Greek original carved by Praxiteles ca. 350 BCE, is a typical example of an ancient sculpture that incorporated dolphins as part of the pedestal design., and on shields, medallions, cups, and coins, the dolphin was drawn in scales of chain-armordolphin was drawn in scales of chain-armor: As numerous examples attest, dolphins were often inaccurately portrayed with scales because they were considered fish rather than mammals. like
Saladin’slike Saladin's: The Sunni Muslim Salah al Din (1138–1193) from Tikrit (in what is now Iraq) defeated the Shi’ites of Egypt and became the renowned sultan and knight who expelled the Christian occupiers of Jerusalem in the Second Crusade, only to be defeated in the Third. Melville may have read about Saladin in Sir Walter Scott’s chivalric novel The Talisman (1825). The reference here is to Saladin's chain-mail armor. During his 1849 visit to the Horse Armoury at the Tower of London, Melville admired “some fine Turkish armor (chain)” (NN Journals 15, 275). Though Saladin was not a Turk, Melville may have had the image of Turkish chain armor in mind as he incorporated Saladin's armor in the depictions of dolphins., and a helmeted head like St. George'shelmeted head like St. George’s: St. George was the late third-century Roman soldier and Christian from Cappadocia (in present-day Turkey) who defied Emperor Diocletian’s order to persecute Christians and was himself tortured and martyred. The patron saint of England and Portugal, St. George is most often depicted in medieval armor slaying a dragon. (In this regard, see Perseus and Andromeda in note below.) Images of St. George's helmet in the form of a dolphin mask are abundant, though Melville might have known of the "helmeted head" from his reading.; ever since then has something of the same sort of license prevailed, not only in most popular pictures of the whale, but in many scientific presentations of him.
Now, by all odds, the most ancient extant portrait anyways purporting to be the whale’s, is to be found in the famous cavern-pagoda of Elephantacavern-pagoda of Elephanta: Located on the island of Gharapuri in Mumbai (old Bombay) Harbor, Elephanta is a network of two Buddhist and five Hindu caves with sculptures relating to the destroyer-god Shiva. Despite the word “pagoda,” Elephanta does not resemble the tower-like Buddhist pagoda; Ishmael may be using the word to mean “temple.” Melville’s source is Maurice’s Indian Antiquities (6 vols., 1793-1800). See also note on Elephanta in Ch.7., in India. The Brahmins maintain that in the almost endless sculptures of that immemorial pagoda, all the trades and pursuits, every conceivable avocation of man, were prefigured ages before any of them actually came into being. No wonder then, that in some sort our noble profession of whaling should have been there shadowed forth. The Hindoo whale referred to, occurs in a separate department of the wall, depicting the incarnation of VishnuVishnu: Hinduism's preserver god who, along with Brahma (creator) and Shiva (destroyer), is one of the religion's three principal deities. in the form of leviathan, learnedly known as the
Matse AvatarMatse Avatar: Matsya, usually depicted as a human head and torso with a fish tail, is the first avatar or manifestation of the Hindu deity Vishnu, generally associated with salvation. As Vincent notes in The Trying-Out of Moby-Dick, the caves of Elephanta do not contain a sculpture of the “Matse Avatar”: “Melville’s error, if such it be, probably occurred from hasty reading in [Thomas] Maurice’s Indian Antiquities where Maurice passes rapidly, without adequate transition, from a description of the Cave of Elephanta to an account of the Matse Avatar” (280). Although there is no direct evidence that Melville read Indian Antiquities, its engraving of the Matse Avatar bears a strong resemblance to Melville’s description. See also, Bruce M. Sullivan and Patricia Wong Hall, "The Whale Avatar of the Hindoos in Melville’s Moby Dick," Literature and Theology 15.4 (2001).. But though this sculpture is half man and half whale, so as only to give the tail of the latter, yet that small section of him is all wrong. It looks more like the tapering tail of an anaconda, than the broad palms of the true whale’s majestic flukes.
But go to the old Galleries, and look now at a great Christian painter’s portrait of this fish; for he succeeds no better than the antediluvian Hindoo. It is
In the famous painting of Perseus rescuing Andromeda from the sea-monster by Renaissance Italian Guido Reni (1575–1642), Greek hero Perseus, riding Pegasus, slays the sea-dragon that is about to devour the sacrificial Andromeda, chained to the rocks by her father King Cepheus. Other references to the Perseus myth occur in Chs. 28 and 82. Melville could have seen Guido’s painting in one of several visits he made to London’s National Gallery in 1849, though he does not list it in his journal. of Perseus rescuing Andromeda from the sea-monster or whale. Where did Guido get the model of such a strange creature as that?
Nor does Hogarth, in painting the same scene in his own “Perseus Descending,”Hogarth . . . “Perseus Descending”: The works of English painter and printmaker William Hogarth (1697-1764) were widely available to nineteenth-century Americans, and Melville may have seen examples of his works during his 1849 visit to London. He refers to Andromeda’s rescue again in his unpublished poem “Naples in the Time of Bomba.” Hogarth's rendering of the rescue of Andromeda, "Perseus Descending,” appears as an illustration for Lewis Theobald’s verse drama Perseus and Andromeda (London, 1730). make out one whit better. The huge corpulence of that Hogarthian monster undulates on the surface, scarcely drawing one inch of water. It has a sort of howdah on its back, and its distended tusked mouth into which the billows are rolling, might be taken for the
Traitors’ GateTraitors’ Gate . . . Tower: The Tower of London, a walled compound of several buildings on the north bank of the Thames, was for centuries the State Prison of England. Prisoners arrived by boat, often at night, through the low-arched, gated inlet called Traitors' Gate. leading from the Thames by water into the Tower. Then, there are the Prodromus whales of old Scotch SibbaldProdromus whales of old Scotch Sibbald: Melville's "Prodromus whales" is a conflation of two sources by Scottish physician, historian, and naturalist Sir Robert Sibbald (1641–1722). Sibbald's Scotia Illustrata; Sive Prodromus Naturalis in quo Regionis Natura (1683), informally called Sibbald’s Prodromus (i.e. his Introduction), does not, in fact, include pictures of whales. Instead, the illustrations that Melville refers to appear (not surprisingly) in Sibbald's book on whales: Phalainologia Nova; Sive Observationes de Rarioribus quibusdam Balaenis in Scotiae Littus Nuper Ejectus (1692). In short, Melville's phrase draws "Prodromus" from one book and "whales" from another. Melville's confusion did not come from any lack of familiarity with Sibbald. The Melville family celebrated its Scotch lineage, and the Melville family library probably included his 1710 History of Fife and Kinross, which treats the region of Scotland where Melville’s grandfather was raised, and which Melville quotes in "Extracts." Even so, according to Frank’s Herman Melville's Picture Gallery, Melville could have also been exposed to Sibbald's whale images through other, more readily available sources—Bonnaterre, Lacépède, Desmarest—which reprinted Sibbald’s plates. Whether Melville knew Sibbald directly or second-hand, his confusion in the conflated phrase "Prodromus whales" is forgivable., and Jonah’s whaleJonah’s whale: Like most children of his day, Melville’s first acquaintance with depictions of the whale was through antiquated illustrations from the book of Jonah, appearing in Bibles well into the nineteenth century, and through similar pictures in children’s primers such as the New England Primer, quoted in “Extracts.”, as depicted in the prints of old Bibles and the cuts of old primers. What shall be said of these? As for the
book-binder’s whalebook-binder's whale . . . on antique vases: In 1502, Renaissance Venetian bookmaker Aldus Manutius—“the old Italian publisher” mentioned below—adopted the emblem of a dolphin wound around an anchor as the "device" (logo) for his printing house. The figure remains a popular representation of the ancient Roman saying festina lente (hasten slowly) that originally appeared on coins, sculpture, and “antique vases.” See also book-binder’s fish, below. winding like a vine-stalk round the stock of a descending anchor—as stamped and gilded on the backs and title-pages of many books both old and new—that is a very picturesque but purely fabulous creature, imitated, I take it, from the like figures on antique vases. Though universally denominated a dolphin, I nevertheless call this book-binder’s fishbook-binder’s fish . . . species of the Leviathan: In one of Melville’s sources, Pseudodoxia Epidemica (Vulgar Errors), Sir Thomas Browne alludes to Manutius’s dolphin and anchor figure (see book-binder’s whale, above), but Ishmael takes issue with Browne and all others by facetiously claiming that the creature represented was intended to be a whale not a dolphin. Ishmael’s conclusion that dolphins are only “popularly supposed” to be a “species of the Leviathan” also implies, contrary to fact, that dolphins are not cetaceans (whales). But as the NN editors argue, this distinction is in keeping with Ishmael’s facetious “Cetology” (Ch. 32) that classifies whales as fish. Whereas “dolphin” and “porpoise” are words used for the same cetacean creature related to all whales, Ishmael reserves the word “porpoise” in Ch. 32, exclusively for these smaller cetaceans, and may have taken the word “dolphin” to indicate the fish of the same name, noted among sailors and poets for changing color when dying. an attempt at a whale; because it was so intended when the device was first introduced. It was introduced by an old Italian publisher somewhere about the 15th century, during the Revival of Learning; and in those days, and even down to a comparatively late period, dolphins were popularly supposed to be a species of the Leviathan.
In the vignettes and other embellishments of some ancient books you will at times meet with very curious touches at the whale, where all manner of spouts, jets d’eaujets d’eau: French for fountains., hot springs and cold,
Saratoga and Baden-BadenSaratoga and Baden-Baden: Fashionable mineral-water resorts in upstate New York and southern Germany, respectively. Melville had often visited relatives in Gansevoort, New York, a few miles from Saratoga Springs, but did not tour Baden-Baden until 1857., come bubbling up from his unexhausted brain. In the title-page of the original edition of the “Advancement of Learning"“Advancement of Learning”: Sir Francis Bacon’s Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning (1605) is the first great book of philosophy written in English. However, "title-page of the original edition” and many subsequent editions do not, in fact, have whale decorations. Melville may have had in mind the title-page of the 1840 London edition, which depicts a dolphin-like “whale” on either side of a reproduction of Manutius’s dolphin and anchor emblem. See Frank's Herman Melville's Picture Gallery; see also “book-binder’s whale” above. you will find some curious whales.
But quitting all these unprofessional attempts, let us glance at those pictures of leviathan purporting to be sober, scientific delineations, by those who know. In old Harris’s collectionHarris’s collection of voyages . . . Dutch book . . . bears running . . . perpendicular flukes: The 1705 edition of John Harris's compendium of travel writings—Navigantium atque Itinerantium Bibliotheca or A Compleat Collection of Voyages and Travels—includes the Dutch book and two plates that Melville cites: Voyage to Spitzbergen and Greenland in 1671, by Friedrich Martens (or Marten), which is also cited in “Extracts.” In the notes for their edition of Moby-Dick, Mansfield and Vincent consulted a later edition of Harris that omitted the Martens text and plates and, therefore, erred in suggesting two other sources for Ishmael's observation. In addition, Frank's Melville's Picture Gallery reproduces two plates, also from a later edition of Harris: One depicting a whale with erroneous perpendicular flukes fits Melville’s description, but the other with bears and whales does not. Only the original 1705 Harris edition has both plates as Melville describes them. See both notes at the end of this paragraph. of voyages there are some plates of whales extracted from a Dutch book of voyages, A. D. 1671, entitled “A Whaling Voyage to SpitzbergenA Whaling Voyage to Spitzbergen . . . Peterson of Friesland, master: Melville's quotation is, in fact, from Ch. 39 of the cited work, included in his source, the 1705 Harris's collection (see above): “We set sail from the Elbe, wind N.E. in the Ship call’d the Jonas in the Whale, Peter Petersen of Frieseland Master” (I, 617). in the ship Jonas in the Whale, Peter Peterson of Friesland, master.” In one of those platesone of those plates: Ishmael refers to the second of four plates from A Voyage to Spitzbergen & Greenland in 1671 appearing in Harris’s collection (see note above). In this second image, whales appear like "rafts of logs" among the icebergs, and, in a detail from that plate, a white bear (in the lower right quadrant) can be seen atop one whale. the whales, like great rafts of logs, are represented lying among ice-isles, with white bears running over their living backs. In another plateanother plate . . . prodigious blunder . . . perpendicular flukes: The 1705 edition of Harris's collection (see above) includes a plate that erroneously depicts two right whales (or Greenland whales) with perpendicular flukes. Below them in this engraving is a “Fin Fish,” a toothed whale (presumably an orca or “killer whale")., the prodigious blunder is made of representing the whale with perpendicular flukes.
Then again, there is an imposing quarto, written by one Captain ColnettCaptain Colnett: British explorer of the Pacific James Colnett (1755?-1806). His Voyage to the South Atlantic and Round Cape Horn is also cited in “Extracts.” Colnett’s diagram, or "outline," with its misplaced and oversized eye (see below), was reproduced in Thomas Beale's Natural History of the Sperm Whale., a Post Captain in the English navy, entitled “A Voyage round Cape Horn into the South Seas, for the purpose of extending the Spermaceti Whale Fisheries.” In this book is an outlineoutline: Colnett's "outline" of a sperm whale appears after p. 179 in his Voyage to the South Atlantic and Round Cape Horn. purporting to be a “Picture of a Physeter or Spermaceti whale, drawn by scale from one killed on the coast of Mexico, August, 1793, and hoisted on deck.” I doubt not the captain had this veracious picture taken for the benefit of his marinesfor the benefit of his marines: Marines, placed on naval vessels mainly to keep the peace, were considered by sailors to be ill-informed seamen and therefore gullible; hence, the expression “Tell it to the marines,” meaning “You can’t fool me.” Here, Ishmael's sarcasm is that only a marine would believe the veracity of Colnett's erroneous diagram.. To mention but one thing about it, let me say that it has an eye which applied, according to the accompanying scale, to a full grown sperm whale, would make the eye of that whale a bow-window some five feet long. Ah, my gallant captain, why did ye not give us Jonah looking out of that eye!
Nor are the most conscientious compilations of Natural History for the benefit of the young and tender, free from the same heinousness of mistake. Look at that popular work “Goldsmith’s Animated NatureGoldsmith’s Animated Nature: British writer Oliver Goldsmith (1730?-1774) made ends meet by publishing semi-reliable non-fiction, including A History of the Earth and Animated Nature (1774), which is noted for certain amusing lapses. However, the illustrations added to the posthumous 1807 abridged edition, especially Melville's rightly characterized “amputated sow” of a whale and the “hippogriff” narwhale, were never approved by Goldsmith. See Frank, Melville's Picture Gallery..” In the abridged London edition of 1807, there are plates of an alleged “whale” and a "narwhale." I do not wish to seem inelegant, but this unsightly whale looks much like an amputated sow; and, as for the narwhale, one glimpse at it is enough to amaze one, that in this nineteenth century such a hippogriffhippogriff: legendary animal, half horse and half griffin (which is itself part lion and part eagle). could be palmed for genuine upon any intelligent public of schoolboys.
Then, again, in 1825, Bernard Germain,
Count de LacépèdeBernard Germain, Count de Lacépède: The erudite French naturalist Étienne de La Ville-sur-Illon, Comte de Lacépède (1756-1825), published his Histoire Naturelle des Cétacés in 1804, not 1825 (the year of his death), and according to Mansfield and Vincent's edition of Moby-Dick, Melville probably took this disparaging reference from the similar one found in William Scoresby's History and Description of the Northern Whale Fishery.,
a great naturalist, published a scientific systemized whale book, wherein are several pictures of the different species of the Levia-than. All these are not only incorrect, but the picture of the Mysticetus or Greenland whaleMysticetus: Comte de Lacépède's inaccurate picture of the Greenland whale appears in his Histoire Naturelle des Cétacés (see above). (that is to say, the Right whale), even Scoresby, a long experienced man as touching that species, declares not to have its counterpart in nature.
But the placing of the cap-sheafcap-sheaf: the bundle of harvested grain stalks that tops off a stack of sheaves; hence, the final touch. to all this blundering business was reserved for the scientific Frederick CuvierFrederick Cuvier, brother to the famous Baron . . . squash: Naturalist Georges-Frédéric Cuvier (1773-1838) wrote De l’Histoire Naturelle des Cétacés, ou Receuil et Examen des Faits dont se Compose l’Histoire Naturelle de ces Animaux (1836). His brother, Baron Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), was also a noted naturalist and early paleontologist (see Ch. 104). Melville draws this paragraph directly from Beale's The Natural History of the Sperm Whale, echoing his identification of Cuvier as “the brother of the illustrious Baron.” To demonstrate the inaccuracy of what Ishmael calls Cuvier’s squash-like whale, Beale placed his own accurate outline drawing of a sperm whale, based on works by James Colnett (see note above), British painter William John Huggins (1781–1845), and his own observation, next to Georges-Frédéric Cuvier's distorted depiction. See Frank, Melville's Picture Gallery., brother to the famous Baron. In 1836, he published a Natural History of Whales, in which he gives what he calls a picture of the Sperm Whale. Before showing that picture to any Nantucketer, you had best provide for your summary retreat from Nantucket. In a word, Frederick Cuvier’s Sperm Whale is not a Sperm Whale, but a squash. Of course, he never had the benefit of a whaling voyage (such men seldom have), but whence he derived that picture, who can tell? Perhaps he got it as his scientific predecessor in the same field, DesmarestDesmarest, got one of his authentic abortions . . . from a Chinese drawing: Naturalist Anselme Desmarest (1784–1838) published an expanded, annotated version of Lacépède’s Histoire Naturelle des Cétacés, but Mansfield and Vincent in their edition of Moby-Dick note that Melville again drew upon Beale’s critique of other naturalists in The Natural History of the Sperm Whale, including his disparaging reference to a Chinese drawing, for this paragraph. In Herman Melville's Picture Gallery, Frank adds that Beale misreads Desmarest, whose original commentary refers to Japanese, not Chinese, whaling., got one of his authentic abortions; that is, from a Chinese drawing. And what sort of lively lads with the pencil those Chinese are, many queer cups and saucers inform us.
As for the sign-painters’ whales seen in the streets hanging over the shops of oil-dealers, what shall be said of them? They are generally Richard III. whalesRichard III . . . humps: According to tradition, the fifteenth-century English king was "hunchbacked." With the 2012 discovery of his remains, scholars believe that Richard had scoliosis, or curvature of the spine. The Tragedy of Richard III (1597) was the Shakespearean play most often staged in the antebellum United States., with dromedary humps, and very savage; breakfasting on three or four sailor tarts, that is whaleboats full of mariners: their deformities floundering in seas of blood and blue paint.
But these manifold mistakes in depicting the whale are not so very surprising after all. Consider! Most of the scientific drawings have been taken from the stranded fishstranded fish: Although Melville does not cite any particular images of stranded whales, they are a common enough sight, and an occasion for profit-making as well as scientific study. In Herman Melville's Picture Gallery, Frank reprints an 1828 French lithograph depicting the celebrated “Ostend Whale,” stranded on the coast of Belgium in 1827, which is being “visited” by a line of top-hatted civilians and military officers, all placed in juxtaposition to an elephant (ridden by four Osage Indians then on European tour) and a giraffe to contrast the largest creatures on land and sea.; and these are about as correct as a drawing of a wrecked ship, with broken back, would correctly represent the noble animal itself in all its undashed pride of hull and spars. Though elephants have stood for their full-lengths, the living Leviathan has never yet fairly floated himself for his portrait. The living whale, in his full majesty and significance, is only to be seen at sea in unfathomable waters; and afloat the vast bulk of him is out of sight, like a launched line-of-battle shipline-of-battle ship: a wooden warship of the late 1600s to the early 1800s, armed powerfully enough to participate when such vessels took positions in a line, confronting those of the enemy; also known as a ship of the line.; and out of that element it is a thing eternally impossible for mortal man to hoist him bodily into the air, so as to preserve all his mighty swells and undulations. And, not to speak of the highly presumable difference of contour between a young sucking whale and a full-grown Platonian Leviathanyoung sucking whale and . . . Platonian Leviathan: The contrast drawn between infant and adult whales is comically diverted to a metaphysical level, evoking the Platonic view—expressed in the chapter’s first sentence with the words “true form” and “absolute body”—that reality exists in the ideal conceptual form of an object and not in its actual physical state. To know an object, then, one must “see” it as an idea rather than an actual thing. See also "bodiless as objects, not as agents" in Ch. 135; yet, even in the case of one of those young sucking whales hoisted to a ship’s deck, such is then the outlandish, eel-like, limbered, varying shape of him, that his precise expression the devil himself could not catch.
But it may be fancied, that from the naked skeletonthe naked skeleton of the stranded whale: Articulated whale skeletons were on display in U.S. and European museums from the early 1800s. In Ch. 102, “A Bower in the Arsacides,” Ishmael reports having only heard of such displays in New Hampshire and in Hull and Yorkshire, England, which suggests that Melville had not viewed such exhibits in person. of the stranded whale, accurate hints may be derived touching his true form. Not at all. For it is one of the more curious things about this Leviathan, that his skeleton gives very little idea of his general shape. Though Jeremy Bentham’s skeletonBentham’s skeleton . . . one of his executors: In his will, British utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832) requested that his mummified head and clothed skeleton be preserved and put on display as an “Auto-Icon” to encourage others to strive for greatness. His executor, the physician Southwood Smith, followed his instructions but mangled the head; a wax head was fashioned, and the auto-icon was seated in a glass and mahogany case with the original head in a hat box at Jeremy’s feet. The display remained at Smith’s lodgings until it was transferred in 1850 to the University of London, where it remains on view. Melville does not mention visiting Smith’s library in his journal of his trip to London in 1849, but the story of Bentham’s auto-icon was common knowledge. Ishmael’s remark that the skeleton was used as a candelabra is facetious, but may owe something to Edgar Allan Poe’s story “King Pest” (1835), in which, at a banquet, a fire is kindled in the skull of a skeleton hanging overhead; see Burton R. Pollin, "Traces of Poe in Melville." See also Revision Narrative for "hangs for candelabra.", which hangs for candelabraREVISION NARRATIVE: which hangs for candelabra // The British edition revises “which hangs for candelabra” to simply “which is preserved.” As noted above, the utilitarian philosopher did in fact have his clothed skeleton placed on display for the edification of the masses, but it was never used as a candelabra. Melville is not likely to have made this revision as it spoils a good joke; chances are an editor changed the text for the sake of accuracy and out of respect for Bentham’s reputation, if not his somewhat egocentric monument. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin. in the library of one of his executors, correctly conveys the idea of a burly-browed utilitarian old gentleman, with all Jeremy’s other leading personal characteristics; yet nothing of this kind could be inferred from any leviathan’s articulated bones. In fact, as the great
Hunter: Melville derived from Thomas Beale's The Natural History of the Sperm Whale
his understanding of the renowned Scots anatomist John Hunter (1728-1793),
who wrote his “Observations on the Structure and Oeconomy of Whales” in 1787. Melville also transcribed into his copy of Frederick Debell Bennett's Narrative of a Whaling Voyage round the Globe the essayist William Hazlitt’s comparison of Hunter’s “cutting up” a whale to Michelangelo’s "hew[ing] a block of marble" (Parker 1, 652).
says, the mere skeleton of the whale bears the same relation to the fully invested and padded animal as the insect does to the chrysalis that so roundingly envelopes it. This peculiarity is strikingly evinced in the head, as in some part of this booksome part of this book: See Chs. 74–80. will be incidentally shown. It is also very curiously displayed in the side fin, the bones of which almost exactly answer to the bones of the human hand, minus only the thumb. This fin has four regular bone-fingers, the index, middle, ring, and little finger. But all these are permanently lodged in their fleshy covering, as the human fingers in an artificial covering. “However recklessly the whale may sometimes serve us,” said humorous Stubb one day, “he can never be truly said to handle us without mittens.”
For all these reasons, then, any way you may look at it, you must needs conclude that the great Leviathan is that one creature in the world which must remain unpainted to the last. True, one portrait may hit the mark much nearer than another, but none can hit it with any very considerable degree of exactness. So there is no earthly way of finding out precisely what the whale really looks like. And the only mode in which you can derive even a tolerable idea of his living contour, is by going a whaling yourself; but by so doing, you run no small risk of being eternally stove and sunk by him. Wherefore, it seems to me you had best not be too fastidious in your curiosity touching this Leviathan.