Chapters

56 Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales CHAPTER 56 OF THE LESS ERRONEOUS PICTURES OF WHALES, AND THE TRUE PICTURES OF WHALING SCENES. In connexion with the monstrous pictures of whales, I am strongly tempted here to enter upon those still more monstrous stories of them which are to be found in certain books, both ancient and modern, especially in Pliny, Purchas, Hackluyt, Harris, Cuvier, &c.Pliny, Purchas, Hackluyt, Harris, Cuvier, &c.: All are cited in “Extracts.” Richard Hakluyt (1552–1616) was not himself an explorer but compiled important collections of travel writing by British explorers. His associate, Samuel Purchas (1577?-1626), published Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas His Pilgrimes (1625) with additional works of the navigators found in Hakluyt’s papers at his death. For Harris, see "Harris's collection" in Ch. 55. For Pliny, see Ch. 32. For the brothers Georges-Frédéric and Baron Georges Cuvier, see Chs. 32 and 55. But I pass that matter by. I know of only four published outlinesoutlines: schematic drawings. of the great Sperm Whale; Colnett’s, Huggins’sHuggins's: William John Huggins (1781-1845), the marine painter to King William IV of England, is noted for his realistic depictions of sperm whale hunting, popularized through prints. Melville may not have known Huggins's widely-distributed 1834 colored aquatint, “South Sea Whale Fishery,” but, according to Stuart M. Frank in Herman Melville's Picture Gallery, he certainly knew Beale's unattributed vignette from it, which adorns the head of Chapter 12 of his Natural History of the Sperm Whale., Frederick Cuvier’s, and Beale’s. In the previous chapter Colnett and Cuvier have been referred to. Huggins’s is far better than theirs; but, by great odds, Beale’s is the bestBeale’s is the best: Melville's assertion that "Beale’s is the best" refers to Beale's outline of a whale showing the pattern that whalers follow in peeling away the blubber. For Melville's treatment of Thomas Beale’s outline renderings of whales depicted by James Colnett, Huggins, and Georges-Frédéric Cuvier, see note on "Frederick Cuvier" in Ch. 55.. All Beale’s drawings of this whale are good, excepting the middle figureexcepting the middle figure: In his copy of Thomas Beale's Natural History of the Sperm Whale, Melville noted of this drawing depicting three whales in various poses that the second figure, a leaping whale, is “wretchedly cropped & dwarfed.” in the picture of three whales in various attitudes, capping his second chapter. His frontispiece, boats attacking Sperm Whales, though no doubt calculated to excite the civil scepticism of some parlor men, is admirably correct and life-like in its general effect. Some of the Sperm Whale drawings in J. Ross BrowneSperm Whale drawings in J. Ross Browne: In his otherwise favorable review of J. Ross Browne’s Etchings of a Whaling Cruise (1846), in Literary World (March 6, 1847), Melville remarks that its illustrations are “coarsely or harshly drawn.” Examples of "wretchedly engraved" images are found on pp. 121, 122, 292, and 297. Browne is cited in Extracts. are pretty correct in contour; but they are wretchedly engraved. That is not his fault though. Of the Right Whale, the best outline pictures are in Scoresby; but they are drawn on too small a scale to convey a desirable impression. He has but one pictureone picture of whaling scenes . . . is a sad deficiency: Scoresby’s inaccurate frontispiece in An Account of the Arctic Regions, with a History and Description of the Northern Whale Fishery is taken from James Waddel’s widely reprinted “Dangers of the Whale Fishery.” of whaling scenes, and this is a sad deficiency, because it is by such pictures only, when at all well done, that you can derive anything like a truthful idea of the living whale as seen by his living hunters. But, taken for all in all, by far the finest, though in some details not the most correct, presentations of whales and whaling scenes to be anywhere found, are two large French engravings, well executed, and taken from paintings by one Garnerypaintings by one Garnery: Engravings of pictures by French marine painter Ambroise Louis Garneray (1783-1857) were widely known in the mid-nineteenth century.. Respectively, they represent attacks on the Sperm and Right Whale. In the first engraving first engraving: The precision of Melville’s description of Garneray's picture, "Pêche du Cachalot," indicates that he must have owned copies of this lithograph, probably in black and white rather than color. Stuart M. Frank attests to the popularity of this print and its reissue in London in 1836 and by Currier & Ives in New York in 1857 (Melville's Picture Gallery, 71). See also "second engraving," below. a noble Sperm Whale is depicted in full majesty of might, just risen beneath the boat from the profundities of the ocean, and bearing high in the air upon his back the terrific wreck of the stoven planks. The prow of the boat is partially unbroken, and is drawn just balancing upon the monster’s spine; and standing in that prow, for that one single incomputable flash of time, you behold an oarsman, half shrouded by the incensed boiling spout of the whale, and in the act of leaping, as if from a precipice. The action of the whole thing is wonderfully good and true. The half-emptied line-tub floats on the whitened sea; the wooden poles of the spilled harpoons obliquely bob in it; the heads of the swimming crew are scattered about the whale in contrasting expressions of affright; while in the black stormy distance the ship is bearing down upon the scene. Serious fault might be found with the anatomical details of this whale, but let that pass; since, for the life of me, I could not draw so good a one. In the second engravingsecond engraving: Melville also is likely to have owned a copy of the second of Garneray's paired engravings on the whale hunt, featuring the right whale and titled "Pêche de la Baleine." See "first engraving," above, and Frank, Melville's Picture Gallery, 73., the boat is in the act of drawing alongside the barnacled flank of a large running Right Whale, that rolls his black weedy bulk in the sea like some mossy rock-slide from the PatagonianPatagonian cliffs: The reference to Patagonia, the southern reach of South American, in Chile and Argentina, suggests wildness and inaccessibility. cliffs. His jets are erect, full, and black like soot; so that from so abounding a smoke in the chimney, you would think there must be a brave supper cooking in the great bowels below. Sea fowls are pecking at the small crabs, shell-fish, and other sea candies and maccaroni, which the Right Whale sometimes carries on his pestilent back. And all the while the thick-lipped leviathan is rushing through the deep, leaving tons of tumultuous white curds in his wake, and causing the slight boat to rock in the swells like a skiff caught nigh the paddle-wheels of an ocean steamer. Thus, the foreground is all raging commotion; but behind, in admirable artistic contrast, is the glassy level of a sea becalmed, the drooping unstarchedunstarched: not smoothed by wind pressure. sails of the powerless ship, and the inert mass of a dead whale, a conquered fortress, with the flag of capture lazily hanging from the whale-polewhale-pole: pole with small flag to mark ownership of a floating whale carcass; also waif-pole; see Ch. 89. inserted into his spout-hole. Who Garnery the painter is, or was, I know not. But my life for it he was either practically conversant with his subject, or else marvellously tutored by some experienced whaleman. The French are the lads for painting action. Go and gaze upon all the paintings of Europe, and where will you find such a gallery of living and breathing commotion on canvas, as in that triumphal hall at VersaillesVersailles . . . the consecutive great battles of France: Melville toured Paris and its environs in December, 1849, as part of his trip to England. During his visit to the Palace of Versailles (formerly King Louis XIV’s residence, now and in Melville’s day a museum), he observed “splendid paintings of battles” (NN Journals 33) from all periods, including the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars.; where the beholder fights his way, pell-mell, through the consecutive great battles of France; where every sword seems a flash of the Northern Lights, and the successive armed kings and Emperors dash by, like a charge of crowned centaurs? Not wholly unworthy of a place in that gallery, are these sea battle-pieces of Garnery. The natural aptitude of the French for seizing the picturesqueness of things seems to be peculiarly evinced in what paintings and engravings they have of their whaling scenes. With not one tenth of England’s experience in the fishery, and not the thousandth part of that of the Americans, they have nevertheless furnished both nations with the only finished sketches at all capable of conveying the real spirit of the whale hunt. For the most part, the English and American whale draughtsmen seem entirely content with presenting the mechanical outline of things, such as the vacant profile of the whale; which, so far as picturesqueness of effect is concerned, is about tantamount to sketching the profile of a pyramid. Even Scoresby, the justly renowned Right whaleman, after giving us a stiff full length of the Greenland whaleGreenland whale: Variously named the Baleinus Mysticetus, Right Whale, and Greenland Whale, this species was one of the easiest and most profitable to catch. Consequently, it was almost destroyed in the nineteenth century and is still an endangered species., and three or four delicate miniatures of narwhales and porpoises, treats us to a series of classical engravings of boat hooks, chopping knives, and grapnels; and with the microscopic diligence of a LeuwenhoeckLeuwenhoeck: Dutch naturalist Anton van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723), renowned for his work in microscopy. submits to the inspection of a shivering world ninety-six fac-similes of magnified Arctic snow crystals. I mean no disparagementI mean no disparagement: Despite his disclaimer, Melville is clearly teasing Scoresby for the combining of his narwhale and porpoise pictures with his fulsomely pedantic engravings of boat hooks and snow crystals (featured above). Among the illustrations in his An Account of the Arctic Regions, Scoresby included four plates with 24 snow crystals, giving Melville his figure of “ninety-six fac-similes.” The “boat hooks, chopping knives, and grapnels” are one plate among five that illustrate types of whaling tools in relentless detail. to the excellent voyager (I honor him for a veteran), but in so important a matter it was certainly an oversight not to have procured for every crystal a sworn affidavit taken before a Greenland Justice of the Peace. In addition to those fine engravings from Garnery, there are two other French engravings worthy of note, by some one who subscribes himself “H. Durand“H. Durand”: Although “Durand” was a pseudonym used by French engravers, Stuart Frank (in Herman Melville's Picture Gallery) identifies the two pictures that Melville describes as probably “Whaler at Anchor” and “French Whaler Fishing," engraved by French marine artist Henri Durand-Brager (1814–1879). See images of both in respective links below..” One of them, though not precisely adapted to our present purpose, nevertheless deserves mention on other accounts. It is a quiet noon-scene among the isles of the Pacific; a French whaler anchored, inshore, in a calm, and lazily taking water on board; the loosened sails of the ship, and the long leaves of the palms in the background, both drooping together in the breezeless air. The effect is very fine, when considered with reference to its presenting the hardy fishermen under one of their few aspects of oriental repose. The other engraving is quite a different affair: the ship hove-to upon the open sea, and in the very heart of the Leviathanic life, with a Right Whale alongside; the vessel (in the act of cutting-in) hove over to the monster as if to a quay; and a boat, hurriedly pushing off from this scene of activity, is about givingabout giving: starting to give. chase to whales in the distance. The harpoons and lances lie levelled for use; three oarsmen are just setting the mast in its hole; while from a sudden roll of the sea, the little craft stands half-erect out of the water, like a rearing horse. From the ship, the smoke of the torments of the boiling whale is going up like the smoke over a village of smithiessmithies: blacksmith shops.; and to windward, a black cloud, rising up with earnest of squallswith earnest of squalls: indicating approaching storms and rains, seems to quicken the activity of the excited seamen.