Saturday, November 21, 2015

Enjoying Moby Dick

For some time now I have reading Moby Dick. It has many short chapters, but as someone recently said they are short but DENSE. I am thoroughly enjoying it, but tend to put it down for a period of time when things get especially busy. I am in the mode right now of trying for a chapter a day. Herman Melville was a superb writer on this, which is why it is such a classic. This week I ran across a section that I wanted to share. I am going to try to set the stage first.

The whaling ship that holds Captain Ahab and his crew is named the Pequod. I am over half way through the book, and they have just killed their first whale, a large sperm whale. The 2nd mate named Stubb had the honor of the kill. After towing the dead whale to the Pequod and securing it to the ship for the night, they proceeded to cut whale steaks, arouse the cook 'Fleece' to cook their steaks, and in the light of burning whale oil dine on deck in the dead of night. Meanwhile, "thousands on thousands of sharks swarmed around the dead whale feasting on its fatness." The sharks were making so much noise that Stubb summoned Fleece from the kitchen, to stand before him waiting for his orders. By his own confession, Fleece was an old black man 'bout 90 years old just waked from his hammock. Stubb proceeds to order Fleece to preach to the whales to quiet them down so he can enjoy his steak. Fleece goes to the rail, leans out over as far as he can go, and begins his 'sermon'. After a few colorful sentences, Stubb stops him and tells him that he can't swear in his preaching. He tries again several times but each time is stopped and reprimanded for his swearing and commanded to speak to them 'gentlemanly' to convert them.  Once more the sermon proceeds:

    "Your voraciousness fellow-critters, I don't blame ye so much for; that is your nature and can't be helped; but to govern that wicked nature, that is de point. You is sharks, certain; but if you govern the shark in you, why then you will be an angel; for all an angel is, is nothing more than de shark well governed. Now, look here, brethren, just try one time to be civil, a helping yourselves from that whale. Don't be tearin' de blubber out of your neighbour's mouth, I say. Does not one shark have as good a right as another to dat whale? And, by golly, none of you has de right to that whale; that whale belong to some one else. I know some of you has very big mouths, bigger than others; but the big mouths sometimes has the small bellies; so that the bigness of de mouth is not to swaller with, but to bite off de blubber for the small fry of sharks, that can't get into the fight to help themselves.
    Well done, old Fleece! cried Stubb, that's Christianity! ....Give the benediction, Fleece, and I'll away to my supper.
    (Fleece raised his shrill voice and holding both hands out over the fishy mob, cried-)Cussed fellow-critters! Kick up the biggest row as ever you can; fill your bellies 'till they bust, then die!" (You'll never be converted)

I got such a kick out of this. What a great scene...who could have dreamed up preaching to thousands of attacking sharks? And Mr. Melville used it to illustrate a great truth. I just love the old authors, and they way they wrote and knew Christianity so much better than I ever could.

*By the way, the above quote is edited to a more modern interpretation, by me.

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