Category Archives: first sentences of Moby Dick

Oh, Ahab! what shall be grand in thee, it must needs be plucked at from the skies, and dived for in the deep, and featured in the unbodied air!

CHAPTER 33. THE SPECKSNYDER.

Concerning the officers of the whale-craft, this seems as good a place as any to set down a little domestic peculiarity on ship-board, arising from the existence of the harpooneer class of officers, a class unknown of course in any other marine than the whale-fleet.

The large importance attached to the harpooneer’s vocation is evinced by the fact, that originally in the old Dutch Fishery, two centuries and more ago, the command of a whale ship was not wholly lodged in the person now called the captain, but was divided between him and an officer called the Specksnyder. Literally this word means Fat-Cutter; usage, however, in time made it equivalent to Chief Harpooneer. In those days, the captain’s authority was restricted to the navigation and general management of the vessel; while over the whale-hunting department and all its concerns, the Specksnyder or Chief Harpooneer reigned supreme. In the British Greenland Fishery, under the corrupted title of Specksioneer, this old Dutch official is still retained, but his former dignity is sadly abridged. At present he ranks simply as senior Harpooneer; and as such, is but one of the captain’s more inferior subalterns. Nevertheless, as upon the good conduct of the harpooneers the success of a whaling voyage largely depends, and since in the American Fishery he is not only an important officer in the boat, but under certain circumstances (night watches on a whaling ground) the command of the ship’s deck is also his; therefore the grand political maxim of the sea demands, that he should nominally live apart from the men before the mast, and be in some way distinguished as their professional superior; though always, by them, familiarly regarded as their social equal.

Now, the grand distinction drawn between officer and man at sea, is this—the first lives aft, the last forward. Hence, in whale-ships and merchantmen alike, the mates have their quarters with the captain; and so, too, in most of the American whalers the harpooneers are lodged in the after part of the ship. That is to say, they take their meals in the captain’s cabin, and sleep in a place indirectly communicating with it.

Though the long period of a Southern whaling voyage (by far the longest of all voyages now or ever made by man), the peculiar perils of it, and the community of interest prevailing among a company, all of whom, high or low, depend for their profits, not upon fixed wages, but upon their common luck, together with their common vigilance, intrepidity, and hard work; though all these things do in some cases tend to beget a less rigorous discipline than in merchantmen generally; yet, never mind how much like an old Mesopotamian family these whalemen may, in some primitive instances, live together; for all that, the punctilious externals, at least, of the quarter-deck are seldom materially relaxed, and in no instance done away. Indeed, many are the Nantucket ships in which you will see the skipper parading his quarter-deck with an elated grandeur not surpassed in any military navy; nay, extorting almost as much outward homage as if he wore the imperial purple, and not the shabbiest of pilot-cloth.

And though of all men the moody captain of the Pequod was the least given to that sort of shallowest assumption; and though the only homage he ever exacted, was implicit, instantaneous obedience; though he required no man to remove the shoes from his feet ere stepping upon the quarter-deck; and though there were times when, owing to peculiar circumstances connected with events hereafter to be detailed, he addressed them in unusual terms, whether of condescension or IN TERROREM, or otherwise; yet even Captain Ahab was by no means unobservant of the paramount forms and usages of the sea.

Nor, perhaps, will it fail to be eventually perceived, that behind those forms and usages, as it were, he sometimes masked himself; incidentally making use of them for other and more private ends than they were legitimately intended to subserve. That certain sultanism of his brain, which had otherwise in a good degree remained unmanifested; through those forms that same sultanism became incarnate in an irresistible dictatorship. For be a man’s intellectual superiority what it will, it can never assume the practical, available supremacy over other men, without the aid of some sort of external arts and entrenchments, always, in themselves, more or less paltry and base. This it is, that for ever keeps God’s true princes of the Empire from the world’s hustings; and leaves the highest honours that this air can give, to those men who become famous more through their infinite inferiority to the choice hidden handful of the Divine Inert, than through their undoubted superiority over the dead level of the mass. Such large virtue lurks in these small things when extreme political superstitions invest them, that in some royal instances even to idiot imbecility they have imparted potency. But when, as in the case of Nicholas the Czar, the ringed crown of geographical empire encircles an imperial brain; then, the plebeian herds crouch abased before the tremendous centralization. Nor, will the tragic dramatist who would depict mortal indomitableness in its fullest sweep and direct swing, ever forget a hint, incidentally so important in his art, as the one now alluded to.

But Ahab, my Captain, still moves before me in all his Nantucket grimness and shagginess; and in this episode touching Emperors and Kings, I must not conceal that I have only to do with a poor old whale-hunter like him; and, therefore, all outward majestical trappings and housings are denied me. Oh, Ahab! what shall be grand in thee, it must needs be plucked at from the skies, and dived for in the deep, and featured in the unbodied air!

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four chapters, first three sentences each: The Cabin-Table. The Mast-Head. The Quarter-Deck. Sunset.

The Cabin-Table. The Mast-Head. The Quarter-Deck. Sunset.

It is noon; and Dough-Boy, the steward, thrusting his pale loaf-of-bread face from the cabin-scuttle, announces dinner to his lord and master; who, sitting in the lee quarter-boat, has just been taking an observation of the sun; and is now mutely reckoning the latitude on the smooth, medallion-shaped tablet, reserved for that daily purpose on the upper part of his ivory leg. From his complete inattention to the tidings, you would think that moody Ahab had not heard his menial. But presently, catching hold of the mizen shrouds, he swings himself to the deck, and in an even, unexhilarated voice, saying, “Dinner, Mr. Starbuck,” disappears into the cabin.

It was during the more pleasant weather, that in due rotation with the other seamen my first mast-head came round.

In most American whalemen the mast-heads are manned almost simultaneously with the vessel’s leaving her port; even though she may have fifteen thousand miles, and more, to sail ere reaching her proper cruising ground. And if, after a three, four, or five years’ voyage she is drawing nigh home with anything empty in her—say, an empty vial even—then, her mast-heads are kept manned to the last; and not till her skysail-poles sail in among the spires of the port, does she altogether relinquish the hope of capturing one whale more.

(ENTER AHAB: THEN, ALL)

It was not a great while after the affair of the pipe, that one morning shortly after breakfast, Ahab, as was his wont, ascended the cabin-gangway to the deck. There most sea-captains usually walk at that hour, as country gentlemen, after the same meal, take a few turns in the garden.

THE CABIN; BY THE STERN WINDOWS; AHAB SITTING ALONE, AND GAZING OUT.

I leave a white and turbid wake; pale waters, paler cheeks, where’er I sail. The envious billows sidelong swell to whelm my track; let them; but first I pass.

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first sentences of chapters 38 to 44: a story.

Dusk. First night watch. Midnight, Forecastle. Moby Dick. The whiteness of the whale. Hark! The chart.

My soul is more than matched; she’s overmanned; and by a madman! Insufferable sting, that sanity should ground arms on such a field!

Ha! ha! ha! ha! hem! clear my throat!—I've been thinking over it ever since, and that ha, ha's the final consequence.

Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish ladies!

I, Ishmael, was one of that crew; my shouts had gone up with the rest; my oath had been welded with theirs; and stronger I shouted, and more did I hammer and clinch my oath, because of the dread in my soul. What the white whale was to Ahab, has been hinted; what, at times, he was to me, as yet remains unsaid.

“HIST! Did you hear that noise, Cabaco?”

Had you followed Captain Ahab down into his cabin after the squall that took place on the night succeeding that wild ratification of his purpose with his crew, you would have seen him go to a locker in the transom, and bringing out a large wrinkled roll of yellowish sea charts, spread them before him on his screwed-down table.

 

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first sentences of chapters 45 to 58: a poem

The Town-Ho’s Story.
“thought, Flask!” cried Stubb; “leg catch
boat, stop plug-hole timber toe.” Days, weeks
pass, sail, ivory Pequod swept cruising-
grounds; Azores; Cape de Verdes; Plate, mouth
Rio de la Plata; Carrol Ground, stake, water
local, southerly St. Helena. South-eastward
Cape, distant Crozetts, cruising
ground Right Whalemen, sail loom, Goney.

The Affidavit. Surmises.
narrative;indirect touch interest curious habit
sperm whales, chapter, earlier part, found volume;
matter familiar enlarge, adequate, incredulity
profound ignorance induce minds, natural verity
main points.

The Mat-Maker. The First Lowering. The Hyena.
Ahab’s Boat and Crew. Fedallah. The Spirit-Spout.
The Albatross. The Gam.
consume fire purpose, Ahab action view capture Moby
Dick; sacrifice mortal interest passion; nature
wed fiery whaleman, abandon collateral prosecution.

Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales.
Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, and the True
Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in
Brit.
cloudy, sultry afternoon; seamen lazily lounge decks, vacant
gaze lead-coloured waters. phantoms, seem, flit deck, noise
less celerity, cast loose tackle band boat swung. queer
mixed affair life man universe practical joke, wit dim
discern, suspect joke expense.

Ahab whaler spoke: wind sea betoken storms.
Cape of Good Hope, watery region, corner highway,
meet traveller part. paint canvas, form
whale eye whaleman body whale moor whale-ship step.
Pictures of Whaling Scenes. Stone; in Mountains;
in Stars. Steering north-eastward Crozetts, fell
meadow brit, minute, yellow substance, Right Whale feeds.

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first sentence of chapter 59. Squid.

Slowly wading through the meadows of brit, the Pequod still held on her way north-eastward towards the island of Java; a gentle air impelling her keel, so that in the surrounding serenity her three tall tapering masts mildly waved to that languid breeze, as three mild palms on a plain.

first sentence of chapter 60. The Line.

With reference to the whaling scene shortly to be described, as well as for the better understanding of all similar scenes elsewhere presented, I have here to speak of the magical, sometimes horrible whale-line.

first chapter of chapter 61. Stubb Kills a Whale.

If to Starbuck the apparition of the Squid was a thing of portents, to Queequeg it was quite a different object.

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first sentence of chapter 63.. The Crotch.

Out of the trunk, the branches grow; out of them, the twigs.

first sentence of chapter 64. Stubb’s Supper.

Stubb’s whale had been killed some distance from the ship.

first sentence of chapter 67. Cutting In.

It was a Saturday night, and such a Sabbath as followed!