Thursday, 21 April 2016

Chapter 112 "The Blacksmith", or The sea is for the broken-hearted

This is probably 1 of those chapters that most people forget, so I have to write about it.
Look at these lines in the 1st paragraph (the alliteration!):
"No murmur, no impatience, no petulance did come from him. Silent, slow, and solemn; bowing over still further his chronically broken back, he toiled away, as if toil were life itself, and the heavy beating of his hammer the heavy beating of his heart. And so it was."
Chapter 112 is 1 of the saddest chapters in Moby Dick. Perth the blacksmith is sadness saddened. 
"He was an old man, who, at the age of nearly sixty, had postponedly encountered that thing in sorrow's technicals called ruin."
"Sorrow's technicals". I need to steal that phrase.
Ishmael goes on to write about the tragedy of Perth's life.
"... one night, under cover of darkness, and further concealed in a most cunning disguisement, a desperate burglar slid into his happy home, and robbed them all of everything. And darker yet to tell, the blacksmith himself did ignorantly conduct this burglar into his family's heart. It was the Bottle Conjuror! Upon the opening of that fatal cork, forth flew the fiend, and shrivelled up his home. Now, for prudent, most wise, and economic reasons, the blacksmith's shop was in the basement of his dwelling, but with a separate entrance to it; so that always had the young and loving healthy wife listened with no unhappy nervousness, but with vigorous pleasure, to the stout ringing of her young-armed old husband's hammer; whose reverberations, muffled by passing through the floors and walls, came up to her, not unsweetly, in her nursery; and so, to stout Labor's iron lullaby, the blacksmith's infants were rocked to slumber."
"The blows of the basement hammer every day grew more and more between; and each blow every day grew fainter than the last; the wife sat frozen at the window, with tearless eyes, glitteringly gazing into the weeping faces of her children; the bellows fell; the forge choked up with cinders; the house was sold; the mother dived down into the long church-yard grass; her children twice followed her thither; and the houseless, familyless old man staggered off a vagabond in crape; his every woe unreverenced; his grey head a scorn to flaxen curls!"
I have nothing intelligent to say. Melville's writing is so good that it paralyses me and takes away my speech. I can merely stand here, beatific, and murmur: look at that, see how well-written it is. 
Is Perth going to be an important character? one wonders. Why do we need to know about him, and his life? Then come these lines: 
"Death seems the only desirable sequel for a career like this; but Death is only a launching into the region of the strange Untried; it is but the first salutation to the possibilities of the immense Remote, the Wild, the Watery, the Unshored; therefore, to the death-longing eyes of such men, who still have left in them some interior compunctions against suicide, does the all-contributed and all-receptive ocean alluringly spread forth his whole plain of unimaginable, taking terrors, and wonderful, new-life adventures; and from the hearts of infinite Pacifics, the thousand mermaids sing to them—"Come hither, broken-hearted; here is another life without the guilt of intermediate death; here are wonders supernatural, without dying for them. Come hither! bury thyself in a life which, to your now equally abhorred and abhorring, landed world, is more oblivious than death. Come hither! put up thy gravestone, too, within the churchyard, and come hither, till we marry thee!"
Hearkening to these voices, East and West, by early sunrise, and by fall of eve, the blacksmith's soul responded, Aye, I come! And so Perth went a-whaling." 
That sounds like Ishmael at the start of the story (except that, unlike Ishmael, Perth ceases to live and only exists, and functions like a machine): 
"... Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me." 
Is going to sea a way of preventing suicide, or a different way of committing suicide? Is going to sea getting away from the world and its sorrows, or coming closer to death and feeling it more strongly? 


  1. melville covers the gamut. splendid stuff... "hypos": i suppose more or less from being "hipped", or uppity, or unruly...

  2. From one source on the Net.

    "hypos--(obsolete) Melancholy; a fit of ‘hypochondria’; a morbid depression (obsolete by 1881 according to Eric Partridge."

    1. Yeah Fred's right.
      *thinking* Maybe I should go to sea...