Chapters

96 The Try-Works CHAPTER 96 THE TRY-WORKS. Besides her hoisted boats, an American whaler is outwardly distinguished by her try-works. She presents the curious anomaly of the most solid masonry joining with oak and hemp in constituting the completed ship. It is as if from the open field a brick-kiln were transported to her planks. The try-works are planted between the foremast and main-mast, the most roomy part of the deck. The timbers beneath are of a peculiar strength, fitted to sustain the weight of an almost solid mass of brick and mortar, some ten feet by eight square, and five in height. The foundation does not penetrate the deck, but the masonry is firmly secured to the surface by ponderous knees of iron bracing it on all sides, and screwing it down to the timbers. On the flanks it is cased with wood, and at top completely covered by a large, sloping, battenedbattened: tightly covered. hatchway. Removing this hatch we expose the great try-pots, two in number, and each of several barrels’ capacity. When not in use, they are kept remarkably clean. Sometimes they are polished with soapstone and sand, till they shine within like silver punch-bowls. During the night-watches some cynical old sailors will crawl into them and coil themselves away there for a nap. While employed in polishing them—one man in each pot, side by side—many confidential communications are carried on, over the iron lips. It is a place also for profound mathematical meditation. It was in the left hand try-pot of the Pequod, with the soapstone diligently circling round me, that I was first indirectly struck by the remarkable fact, that in geometry all bodies gliding along the cycloidcycloid: Melville is correct in this mathematical observation about a cycloid, which is a geometrical curve created by a point on the circumference of a circle that rolls in a straight line., my soapstone for example, will descend from any point in precisely the same time. Removing the fire-board from the front of the try-works, the bare masonry of that side is exposed, penetrated by the two iron mouths of the furnaces, directly underneath the pots. These mouths are fitted with heavy doors of iron. The intense heat of the fire is prevented from communicating itself to the deck, by means of a shallow reservoir extending under the entire inclosed surface of the works. By a tunnel inserted at the rear, this reservoir is kept replenished with water as fast as it evaporates. There are no external chimneys; they open direct from the rear wall. And here let us go back for a moment. It was about nine o’clock at night that the Pequod’s try-works were first started on this present voyage. It belonged to Stubb to oversee the business. “All ready there? Off hatch, then, and start her. You cook, fire the works.” This was an easy thing, for the carpenter had been thrusting his shavings into the furnace throughout the passage. Here be it said that in a whaling voyage the first fire in the try-works has to be fed for a time with wood. After that no wood is used, except as a means of quick ignition to the staple fuel. In a word, after being tried out, the crisp, shrivelled blubber, now called scraps or fritters, still contains considerable of its unctuous properties. These fritters feed the flames. Like a plethoric burning martyr, orREVISION NARRATIVE: Burning Martyrs 1 // The British edition made two expurgations in Melville’s seemingly innocuous explanation of how to fire up the try-works furnace. According to Ishmael, once the fire is started with wood, and once pieces of blubber have been rendered like crisp bacon, these remnant fritters are used to fuel the fire. Thus, the whale can be said to supply the fuel by which it is burned. But calling the whale in this condition “a plethoric burning martyr” verged on blasphemy and was cut, if not for the reference to victims such as Wycliffe and Cranmer (both burned at the stake for their religious views and mentioned in Ch. 35) then for the word “plethoric” (which means a superabundance of blood and implies a pathological excessiveness). See also the last sentence of the paragraph. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin. a self-consuming misanthrope, once ignited, the whale supplies his own fuel and burns by his own body. Would that he consumed his own smoke! for his smoke is horrible to inhale, and inhale it you must, and not only that, but you must live in it for the time. It has an unspeakable, wild, Hindoo odor about it, such as may lurk in the vicinity of funereal pyres. It smells like the left wing of the day of judgment; it is an argument for the pit.REVISION NARRATIVE: Burning Martyrs 2 // According to Matthew 25.41, on Judgment Day the condemned stand to God’s left; “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Whaling writers often treated a night scene of trying-out as an image of the pit, as if it were a scene from Dante’s Inferno. J. Ross Browne’s description, in Etchings from a Whaling Cruise, including the awful smell of the smoke, seems the image Melville had in mind. According to Mansfield and Vincent (797), Frederick Debell Bennett’s Narrative of a Whaling Voyage, "A Chapter on Whaling" in H. H. Weld's Ribs and Trucks, and the anonymous “The Whale and Whale Catching” also made the comparison. Despite these precedents, Melville's sentence was cut, probably not so much for its irreverence, as for its presumed crudeness in evoking the “unspeakable” smell of damnation and hell. See also "a plethoric burning martyr," above. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin. By midnight the works were in full operation. We were clear from the carcaseREVISION NARRATIVE: We were clear from the carcase // According to the OED, “carcase” was a common alternate spelling of “carcass,” or the dead body usually of an animal. In the British edition, “carcase” is changed to “case.” The word might be a typo, but the dropping of an entire syllable (car-) required to make such an error would be atypical of the other, smaller typos found in the British version. The word “case” is a likely but problematic revision: who performed it and why is not clear. In Ch. 77, Ishmael explains that the “case” (or what he calls the Great Heidelburgh Tun) of a whale is the top portion of the interior head that contains a vast well of liquid spermaceti. According to Thomas Beale’s Natural History of the Sperm Whale (Melville’s primary whaling source in that chapter), the whale’s body is stripped first and then disposed of before the case (in the head hanging from the stern) is bailed and dropped, sinking immediately. However, Melville’s description of the butchering of the whale reverses Beale’s sequencing, making the stripping of the carcass follow the bailing of the case. Thus, here in Ch. 96, the American version’s description ends with the Pequod getting “clear from the carcase” and makes no mention of the disposal of the head. However, in the British version, the ship gets “clear from the case”; that is, its last act is to dispose of the head, and there is no mention of the stripped carcass. Neither American nor British reading adequately accounts for the full and actual whaling practice. It seems unlikely that an editor would have any reason to change “carcase” to “case,” but Melville would have been equally ill-advised to revise because the change to “case” contradicts the whaling process as he has described it. To compare American and British pages, click the thumbnails in the right margin.; sail had been made; the wind was freshening; the wild ocean darkness was intense. But that darkness was licked up by the fierce flames, which at intervals forked forth from the sooty flues, and illuminated every lofty rope in the rigging, as with the famed Greek firefamed Greek fire: This petroleum-based substance, whose exact composition is still unknown, was introduced by the Byzantine Greeks in the seventh century. Launched at the enemy, it caught fire spontaneously and could not be extinguished with water.. The burning ship drove on, as if remorselessly commissioned to some vengeful deed. So the pitch and sulphur-freighted brigs of the bold Hydriote, CanarisHydriote, Canaris: Konstantínos Kanáris (1790–1877) was not himself a Hydriote, or native of Hydra, a Greek island, but in June, 1822, during the Greek war of independence from Turkey (1821–29), he led the Greek fleet based at Hydra and used a fire-ship to destroy the enemy’s flagship., issuing from their midnight harbors, with broad sheets of flame for sails, bore down upon the Turkish frigates, and folded them in conflagrations. The hatch, removed from the top of the works, now afforded a wide hearth in front of them. Standing on this were the Tartarean shapes of the pagan harpooneers, always the whale-ship’s stokers. With huge pronged poles they pitched hissing masses of blubber into the scalding pots, or stirred up the fires beneath, till the snaky flames darted, curling, out of the doors to catch them by the feet. The smoke rolled away in sullen heaps. To every pitch of the ship there was a pitch of the boiling oil, which seemed all eagerness to leap into their faces. Opposite the mouth of the works, on the further side of the wide wooden hearth, was the windlass. This served for a sea-sofa. Here lounged the watch, when not otherwise employed, looking into the red heat of the fire, till their eyes felt scorched in their heads. Their tawny features, now all begrimed with smoke and sweat, their matted beards, and the contrasting barbaric brilliancy of their teeth, all these were strangely revealed in the capricious emblazonings of the works. As they narrated to each other their unholy adventures, their tales of terror told in words of mirth; as their uncivilized laughter forked upwards out of them, like the flames from the furnace; as to and fro, in their front, the harpooneers wildly gesticulated with their huge pronged forks and dippers; as the wind howled on, and the sea leaped, and the ship groaned and dived, and yet steadfastly shot her red hell further and further into the blackness of the sea and the night, and scornfully champed the white bone in her mouthwhite bone in her mouth: foamy wave at the bow. , and viciously spat round her on all sides; then the rushing Pequod, freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning a corpse, and plunging into that blackness of darknessblackness of darkness: From Jude 13, referring to the punishment of the wicked, and quoted in “The Carpet-Bag” (see also "blackness of darkness" in Ch. 2)., seemed the material counterpart of her monomaniac commander’s soul. So seemed it to me, as I stood at her helm, and for long hours silently guided the way of this fire-ship on the sea. Wrapped, for that interval, in darkness myself, I but the better saw the redness, the madness, the ghastliness of others. The continual sight of the fiend shapes before me, capering half in smoke and half in fire, these at last begat kindred visions in my soul, so soon as I began to yield to that unaccountable drowsiness which ever would come over me at a midnight helm. But that night, in particular, a strange (and ever since inexplicable) thing occurred to me. Starting from a brief standing sleep, I was horribly conscious of something fatally wrong. The jaw-bone tiller smote my side, which leaned against it; in my ears was the low hum of sails, just beginning to shake in the wind; I thought my eyes were open; I was half conscious of putting my fingers to the lids and mechanically stretching them still further apart. But, spite of all this, I could see no compass before me to steer by; though it seemed but a minute since I had been watching the cardcard: short for “compass card,” flat surface on which the directional points are marked., by the steady binnacle lamp illuminating it. Nothing seemed before me but a jet gloom, now and then made ghastly by flashes of redness. Uppermost was the impression, that whatever swift, rushing thing I stood on was not so much bound to any haven ahead as rushing from all havens astern. A stark, bewildered feeling, as of death, came over me. Convulsively my hands grasped the tiller, but with the crazy conceit that the tiller was, somehow, in some enchanted way, inverted. My God! what is the matter with me? thought I. Lo! in my brief sleep I had turned myself about, and was fronting the ship’s stern, with my back to her prow and the compass. In an instant I faced back, just in time to prevent the vessel from flying up into the wind, and very probably capsizing her. How glad and how grateful the relief from this unnatural hallucination of the night, and the fatal contingency of being brought by the leebrought by the lee: Unexpectedly turned so that the wind hits the lee side of the sails, a situation that might capsize the vessel. Ishmael, steering the Pequod, has fallen asleep or into a trance, during which he has turned 180 degrees: once facing forward as usual with the tiller at one side, he is now facing astern with the tiller on his other side.! Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man! Never dream with thy hand on the helm! Turn not thy back to the compass; accept the first hint of the hitching tiller; believe not the artificial fire, when its redness makes all things look ghastly. To-morrow, in the natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils in the forking flames, the morn will show in far other, at least gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true lamp—all others but liars! Nevertheless the sun hides not Virginia’s Dismal Swamp, nor Rome’s accursed Campagna, nor wide Sahara, nor all the millions of miles of desertsVirginia’s Dismal Swamp . . . Rome's accursed Campagna . . . wide Sahara: The heavily forested Great Dismal Swamp, on the coastal plain of southern Virginia and northern North Carolina, once covered 2,000 square miles; the Campagna, infamous for its malaria, is the once marshy plain surrounding Rome; the Sahara Desert, covering more than three million square miles in northern Africa, is the largest on Earth. and of griefs beneath the moon. The sun hides not the ocean, which is the dark sidethe ocean, which is the dark side of this earth, and which is two thirds of this earth: Mansfield and Vincent (800) find an echo here of Emerson’s essay “The Tragic” (1844): “As the salt sea covers more than two-thirds of the surface of the globe, so sorrow encroaches in man on felicity.” of this earth, and which is two thirds of this earth. So, therefore, that mortal man who hath more of joy than sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be true—not true, or undevelopedor undeveloped: or else immature.. With books the same. The truest of all men was the Man of SorrowsMan of Sorrows . . . the truest of all books is Solomon’s . . . Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe . . . “All is vanity.”: Jesus, as prefigured in Isaiah 53.3, is the Man of sorrows. The book of Ecclesiastes is attributed to King Solomon. Steel, hard yet flexible, can be hammered into a fine sword that will bend without breaking. The famous passage on Vanity is from Ecclesiastes 1.2., and the truest of all books is Solomon’s, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. “All is vanity.” ALL. This wilful world hath not got hold of unchristian Solomon’s wisdom yet. But he who dodges hospitals and jails, and walks fast crossing grave-yards, and would rather talk of operas than hell; calls Cowper, Young, Pascal, RousseauCowper, Young, Pascal, Rousseau: English poet William Cowper (pronounced Cooper, 1731–1800); Edward Young (1683–1765), who wrote the well-known Night Thoughts, a poem on death; French mathematician and philosopher of religion Blaise Pascal (1623–1662); and revolutionary political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), all exemplify a melancholy view of individual life or of humanity as a whole., poor devils all of sick men; and throughout a care-free lifetime swears by RabelaisRabelais: François Rabelais (1494–1553), priest, physician, and author of the comic, satiric, scatological Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532–34). as passing wise, and therefore jolly;—not that man is fitted to sit down on tomb-stones, and break the green damp mould with unfathomably wondrous Solomon. But even Solomon, he says, “the man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain” (i. e. even while living) “in the congregation of the dead“the man that wandereth . . . congregation of the dead.”: Exact quotation from Proverbs 21.16, another book attributed to Solomon..” Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.