Chapters

6 The Street CHAPTER 6 THE STREET. If I had been astonished at first catching a glimpse of so outlandish an individual as Queequeg circulating among the polite society of a civilized town, that astonishment soon departed upon taking my first daylight stroll through the streets of New Bedford. In thoroughfares nigh the docks, any considerable seaport will frequently offer to view the queerest looking nondescripts from foreign parts. Even in Broadway and ChestnutBroadway and Chestnut streets . . . Lascars and Malays . . . Bombay, in the Apollo Green: Broadway is in Manhattan, Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, Regent Street in London. Water Street and Wapping High Street, below, are in Liverpool and London, respectively. Lascars and Malays are sailors from India and present-day Malaysia. Apollo Green is a gathering place in Bombay, the Indian seaport now known as Mumbai. streets, Mediterranean mariners will sometimes jostle the affrighted ladies. Regent street is not unknown to Lascars and Malays; and at Bombay, in the Apollo Green, live Yankees have often scared the natives. But New Bedford beats all Water street and Wapping. In these last-mentioned haunts you see only sailors; but in New Bedford, actual cannibals stand chatting at street corners; savages outright; many of whom yet carry on their bones unholy flesh. It makes a stranger stare. But, besides the Feegeeans, Tongatabooans, Erromanggoans, Pannangians, and BrighggiansFeegeeans, . . . and Brighggians: Melville's list of actual Pacific island peoples ends with his invention: "Brighggians.", and, besides the wild specimens of the whaling-craft which unheeded reel about the streets, you will see other sights still more curious, certainly more comical. There weekly arrive in this town scores of green Vermonters and New Hampshire men, all athirst for gain and glory in the fishery. They are mostly young, of stalwart frames; fellows who have felled forests, and now seek to drop the axe and snatch the whale-lance. Many are as green as the Green Mountains whence they came. In some things you would think them but a few hours old. Look there! that chap strutting round the corner. He wears a beaver hat and swallow-tailed coatswallow-tailed coat: black formal coat with split tail., girdled with a sailor-belt and sheath-knife. Here comes another with a sou’-wester and a bombazine cloaksou’-wester and a bombazine cloak: waterproof sailor’s hat with an extra-wide brim at the back; bombazine is a fine fabric of silk and either wool or cotton. . No town-bred dandy will compare with a country-bred one—I mean a downright bumpkin dandy—a fellow that, in the dog-daysdog-days: in the Northern Hemisphere, the oppressively hot days of July to September, associated with Sirius, the “dog star.”, will mow his two acres in buckskin gloves for fear of tanning his hands. Now when a country dandy like this takes it into his head to make a distinguished reputation, and joins the great whale-fishery, you should see the comical things he does upon reaching the seaport. In bespeaking his sea-outfit, he orders bell-buttons to his waistcoats; strapsstraps: attachments to trouser bottoms to keep the pants neatly stretched. to his canvas trowsers. Ah, poor Hay-Seed! how bitterly will burst those straps in the first howling gale, when thou art driven, straps, buttons, and all, down the throat of the tempest. But think not that this famous town has only harpooneers, cannibals, and bumpkins to show her visitors. Not at all. Still New Bedford is a queer place. Had it not been for us whalemen, that tract of land would this day perhaps have been in as howling condition as the coast of Labrador. As it is, parts of her back country are enough to frighten one, they look so bony. The town itself is perhaps the dearest place to live in, in all New England. It is a land of oil, true enough: but not like CanaanCanaan: Biblical Promised Land rich in agricultural products, Canaan was “flowing with milk and honey”; but its oil was olive, not whale.; a land, also, of corn and wine. The streets do not run with milk; nor in the spring-time do they pave them with fresh eggs. Yet, in spite of this, nowhere in all America will you find more patrician-like houses; parks and gardens more opulent, than in New Bedford. Whence came they? how planted upon this once scraggy scoriascoria: slag; lava. of a country? Go and gaze upon the iron emblematical harpoons round yonder lofty mansion, and your question will be answered. Yes; all these brave houses and flowery gardens came from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. One and all, they were harpooned and dragged up hither from the bottom of the sea. Can Herr Alexander perform a feat like that?REVISION NARRATIVE: Can Herr Alexander perform a feat like that? // German magician Johann Friedrich Alexander Heimburgher (1819-1909), who performed as Herr Alexander in the United States in the 1840s, was reported in a Boston newspaper for the day in November 1846 on which Melville arrived in that city for a visit: His "latest trick is an apparent suicide, wherein, like Cato, the magician falls upon a sword.” Compare Ishmael’s first paragraph, Ch. 1. (See Collamer M. Abbott, “Ishmael and Herr Alexander,” MSEx 84: 10-11.) This sentence does not appear in the British edition: either because of a printer's error or because Melville or an editor did not think British readers would catch the allusion. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin. In New Bedford, fathers, they say, give whales for dowersdowers: dowries; cash or property given by a bride’s family to a bridegroom to ensure support of the future wife. to their daughters, and portion off their nieces with a few porpoises a-piece. You must go to New Bedford to see a brilliant wedding; for, they say, they have reservoirs of oil in every house, and every night recklessly burn their lengths in spermacetispermaceti: waxy oil from the sperm whale’s head, from which the finest candles were made. candles. In summer time, the town is sweet to see; full of fine maples—long avenues of green and gold. And in August, high in air, the beautiful and bountiful horsechestnuts, candelabra-wise, proffer the passer-by their tapering upright cones of congregated blossoms. So omnipotent is art; which in many a district of New Bedford has superinduced bright terraces of flowers upon the barren refuse rocks thrown aside at creation’s final day. And the women of New Bedford, they bloom like their own red roses. But roses only bloom in summer; whereas the fine carnation of their cheeks is perennial as sunlight in the seventh heavensseventh heavens: In Jewish and Islamic tradition, the highest level of Heaven. This concept of heavenly levels, conflated with medieval notions of the firmament (“the heavens”), made the plural, “seventh heavens,” a common term.. Elsewhere match that bloom of theirs, ye cannot, save in SalemSalem: Famous Massachusetts port city, home of Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864). The humorous comparison with the Moluccas (Maluku Islands or “Spice Islands” of Indonesia) echoes John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Luís de Camões's The Lusiad., where they tell me the young girls breathe such musk, their sailor sweethearts smell them miles off shore, as though they were drawing nigh the odorous Moluccas instead of the Puritanic sands.