Chapters

79 The Prairie CHAPTER 79 THE PRAIRIE. The American title for Chapter 79, "The Praire," was an accepted spelling at the time, but it is changed to "The Prairie" in the British edition. NN, Longman, and MEL adopt the change. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin. To scan the lines of his face, or feel the bumps on the head of this Leviathan; this is a thing which no Physiognomist or Phrenologist has as yet undertaken. Such an enterprise would seem almost as hopeful as for LavaterLavater . . . Gall . . . Spurzheim: The Swiss physiognomist Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741–1801) studied facial contours as a key to character. The English title of his foundational work, referred to later in the chapter, is Essays on Physiognomy (1789–98), bought by Melville in 1849. The second pseudo-science, phrenology—briefly espoused by Poe and more fully by Whitman, though not Melville—presumed that skull contour reveals mental and emotional characteristics. The claim was originated by the German Franz Joseph Gall (1758–1828) and promoted by his long-time assistant, Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776–1832). Melville had referred to all three men in Mardi, and in Ch. 10 of Moby-Dick, Ishmael compares Queequeg “phrenologically” to George Washington. to have scrutinized the wrinkles on the Rock of Gibraltar, or for Gall to have mounted a ladder and manipulated the Dome of the Pantheonmanipulated the Dome of the Pantheon: Built in the second century BCE, this temple, with a dome larger than that of the world’s largest cathedral, St. Peter’s, still stands in Rome. In phrenology, to manipulate was to feel the contours of the skull.. Still, in that famous work of his, Lavater not only treats of the various faces of men, but also attentively studies the faces of horses, birds, serpents, and fish; and dwells in detail upon the modifications of expression discernible therein. Nor have Gall and his disciple Spurzheim failed to throw out some hints touching the phrenological characteristics of other beings than man. Therefore, though I am but ill qualified for a pioneer, in the application of these two semi-sciences to the whale, I will do my endeavor. I try all things; I achieve what I can. Physiognomically regarded, the Sperm Whale is an anomalous creature. He has no proper nose. And since the nose is the central and most conspicuous of the features; and since it perhaps most modifies and finally controls their combined expression; hence it would seem that its entire absence, as an external appendage, must very largely affect the countenance of the whale. For as in landscape gardening, a spire, cupola, monument, or tower of some sort, is deemed almost indispensable to the completion of the scene; so no face can be physiognomically in keeping without the elevated open-work belfry of the nose. Dash the nose from Phidias’s marble JovePhidias’s marble Jove: Melville apparently means the statue of Zeus at Olympia by the great fifth-century BCE Greek sculptor Phidias. The huge sculpture, destroyed in antiquity, was in fact not made of marble. It is also alluded to in Mardi., and what a sorry remainder! Nevertheless, Leviathan is of so mighty a magnitude, all his proportions are so stately, that the same deficiency which in the sculptured Jove were hideous, in him is no blemish at all. Nay, it is an added grandeur. A nose to the whale would have been impertinent. As on your physiognomical voyage you sail round his vast head in your jolly-boatjolly-boat: small, wide work boat., your noble conceptions of him are never insulted by the reflection that he has a nose to be pulleda nose to be pulled: Literally or metaphorically, nose-pulling was a sign of disrespect for an official.. A pestilent conceit, which so often will insist upon obtruding even when beholding the mightiest royal beadle on his throneREVISION NARRATIVE: the mightiest royal beadle on his throne // A beadle is a minor church, court, or academic official. In obsolete usage, the word also designates a herald of authority or town crier, one who announces proclamations or bears a symbolic staff of power in royal or academic processions. A beadle would not, however, sit on a throne. The British edition replaces “royal beadle” with “royalty,” but since the passage has us imagine ourselves tweaking the nose of royalty, it is a wonder that Melville's editor, who elsewhere censored slights against monarchy, did not strike the sentence entirely. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin.. In some particulars, perhaps the most imposing physiognomical view to be had of the Sperm Whale, is that of the full front of his head. This aspect is sublime. In thought, a fine human brow is like the East when troubled with the morning. In the repose of the pasture, the curled brow of the bull has a touch of the grand in it. Pushing heavy cannon up mountain defiles, the elephant’s brow is majestic. Human or animal, the mystical brow is as that great golden seal affixed by the German emperorsthe German emperors: The Holy Roman emperors, also referred to in Ch. 34. to their decrees. It signifies—“God: done this day by my hand.” But in most creatures, nay in man himself, very often the brow is but a mere strip of alpine land lying along the snow line. Few are the foreheads which like Shakspeare’s or Melancthon’sforeheads which like Shakespeare's or Melanchthon's rise so high: A drawing of the head of Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560), follower of Martin Luther, with its high, bold forehead, appears in the article on phrenology in Chambers' Information for the People (Edinburgh, 1842; Philadelphia, 1847) as an example of the highest intellectual development. Images of Shakspeare based on the famous First Folio engraved portrait, show the same feature. rise so high, and descend so low, that the eyes themselves seem clear, eternal, tideless mountain lakes; and all above them in the forehead’s wrinkles, you seem to track the antlered thoughts descending there to drink, as the Highland hunters track the snow prints of the deer. But in the great Sperm Whale, this high and mighty god-like dignityREVISION NARRATIVE: high and mighty god-like dignity // Here, in the American version, the sperm whale's dignity is like that of a high and mighty god. However, the British version adds a second “and” to give “high and mighty and god-like.” The additional "and" signals a subtle but real aggrandizement: Not only is the Sperm Whale’s brow both “high and mighty” as with such dignified mortals as Shakespeare, but it is furthermore “god-like.” Because an editor is not likely to bother making such a subtle distinction, Melville is more likely to have performed it. For a similar revision, see "nobler, sadder souls" in Ch. 41. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin. inherent in the brow is so immensely amplified, that gazing on it, in that full front view, you feel the Deity and the dread powers more forcibly than in beholding any other object in living nature. For you see no one point precisely; not one distinct feature is revealed; no nose, eyes, ears, or mouth; no face; he has none, proper; nothing but that one broad firmament of a forehead, pleated with riddles; dumbly lowering withdumbly lowering with: silently, angrily threatening. the doom of boats, and ships, and men. Nor, in profile, does this wondrous brow diminish; though that way viewed, its grandeur does not domineer upon you so. In profile, you plainly perceive that horizontal, semi-crescentic depression in the forehead’s middle, which, in man, is Lavater’s mark of genius. But how? Genius in the Sperm Whale? Has the Sperm Whale ever written a book, spoken a speech? No, his great genius is declared in his doing nothing particular to prove it. It is moreover declared in his pyramidical silencepyramidical silence: Both Ahab and the whale are previously described as pyramid-like (Chs. 31 and 41, respectively). Melville visited the pyramids on his 1857 tour of the Holy Land, and his journal entry recording the experience indicates his fascination with the image: “It was in these pyramids that was conceived the idea of Jehovah. Terrible mixture of the cunning and awful” (NN Journals 76). See also Melville’s late poem “The Great Pyramid.” Melville also develops the images of "pyramid" and "hieroglyphs" as well as "silence" more fully in Pierre—“Silence is the only Voice of our God.”—which he was composing as he completed Moby-Dick.. And this reminds me that had the great Sperm Whale been known to the young Orient World, he would have been deified by their child-magian thoughtschild-magian thoughts: Both childlike and wise; the Magi, Persian Zoroastrian priests, were renowned for their mysticism and wisdom. See also Melville’s late poem “Magian Wine.”. They deified the crocodile of the Nile, because the crocodile is tonguelessthe crocodile is tongueless: A folk belief; the crocodile’s tongue is, however, immobile. As Ishmael asserts, the Sperm Whale’s tongue is small and limited in movement, implying that it is not an organ of sound.; and the Sperm Whale has no tongue, or at least it is so exceedingly small, as to be incapable of protrusion. If hereafter any highly cultured, poetical nation shall lure back to their birth-right, the merry May-day gods of oldmerry May-day gods of old: In summer 1849, Melville purchased Hawthorne's 1837 Twice-Told Tales, which includes "The May-Pole of Merry Mount," a fictional account of the Puritan repression of pagan wedding revelries in the early colonial era. Ishmael's phrase "the merry May-day gods of old" suggests Melville had read Hawthorne's tale.; and livingly enthrone them again in the now egotistical skythe now egotistical sky: Ishmael claims that if the pagan "May-day gods of old" whose presence once hovered in the hills of the natural world were to be reinstalled, they would replace the monotheistic (and therefore "egotistical") God of Judeo-Christianity, and would again be revered in the constellations—while the Sperm Whale would replace Jove (Zeus), king of the gods.; in the now unhaunted hill; then be sure, exalted to Jove’s high seat, the great Sperm Whale shall lord it. ChampollionChampollion: Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832) deciphered the multilingual Rosetta Stone, making possible an understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs. See also "mysterious cyphers" in Ch. 68. deciphered the wrinkled granite hieroglyphics. But there is no Champollion to decipher the Egypt of every man’s and every being’s face. Physiognomy, like every other human science, is but a passing fable. If then, Sir William JonesSir William Jones: English orientalist, philologist, and jurist Sir William Jones (1746-1794) learned 28 languages, many self-taught. Discussing the difficulty of learning Polynesian dialects in Typee, Melville facetiously claims that Jones would have "despaired of mastering" the conjugation of a Hawaiian verb (Ch. 30)., who read in thirty languages, could not read the simplest peasant’s face in its profounder and more subtle meanings, how may unlettered Ishmael hope to read the awful Chaldeeawful Chaldee: Here, "awful" means "awe-inducing." Chaldee was the common term for the ancient Babylonian language inscribed in cuneiform. Biblical Aramaic, also called Chaldee, is a separate language. "Chaldee" may also refer to the lost original language supposedly spoken by Adam and Eve, as explained by Noah Webster in An American Dictionary of the English Language (1846). See Jack Scherting, "The Chaldee Allusion in Moby-Dick" (Melville Society Extracts 49). of the Sperm Whale’s brow? I but put that brow before you. Read it if you can.