Tuesday, August 28, 2018

‘for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head’

As I attempt to wind down writing in this blog—for who isn’t tired of my nattering on, and, plus, I would like PeaPickleFarm.com to be devoted to wax and candles, and all the other stuff to be basically filed away, preserved elsewhere, ended or extended in some other fashion—I pause after reading Chapter 25 of “Moby-Dick; or, The Whale,” by Herman Melville, to compose a blog post. I’d like to share some quotes from the book. First, take note: There are 135 chapters. The boat has barely left harbor. I’ve a long way to go. But there is something about all the various books I have undertaken the reading of due to their direct or indirect association with wax that I have so enjoyed and that, somehow, seem so present even though for the most part the books are very old. Moby Dick was published in 1851.

We’ll start at the very place I paused, Chapter 25: Postscript, because nobody ever told me Moby Dick is funny. But it is. First, background. In Chapter 24: The Advocate, Melville, or should I say our narrator, Ishmael, offers a defense of whale hunters, who, it seems, the world looks a little down on, as if they were, perhaps, of a lower class, I’m sure you can imagine, the necessary butchers of the sea, but who wants to see them? Ishmael himself is just leaving Nantucket, heading out to sea on the Pequod, embarking on a three-year whale-hunting voyage, and in his defense of whale hunters we get one of the first mentions of light—the light that whale-hunters, via the whale, provide.
But, though the world scouts at us whale hunters, yet does it unwittingly pay us the profoundest homage; yea, an all-abandoning adoration! for almost all the tapers, lamps, and candles that burn round the globe, burn, as before so many shrines, to our glory!
Through whale hunters, the world gets at the whale’s spermaceti, for candles, and the whale’s sperm oil, for lamps and, as we are to learn in Chapter 25, for anointing royalty.
It is well known that at the coronation of kings and queens, even modern ones, a certain curious process of seasoning them for their functions is gone through. There is a saltcellar of state, so called, and there may be a caster of state. How they use the salt, precisely—who knows? Certain I am, however, that a king’s head is solemnly oiled at his coronation, even as a head of salad. Can it be, though, that they anoint it with a view of making its interior run well, as they anoint machinery? Much might be ruminated here, concerning the essential dignity of this regal process, because in common life we esteem but meanly and contemptibly a fellow who anoints his hair, and palpably smells of that anointing. In truth, a mature man who uses hair-oil, unless medicinally, that man had probably got a quoggy spot in him somewhere. As a general rule, he can’t amount to much in his totality.
But the only thing to be considered here, is this—what kind of oil is used at coronation? Certainly it cannot be olive oil, nor macassar oil, nor castor oil, nor bear’s oil, nor train oil, nor cod liver oil. What then can it possibly be, but sperm oil in its unmanufactured, unpolluted state, the sweetest of all oils?
Think of that, ye loyal Britons! we whalemen supply your kings and queens with coronation stuff!
Forgive me for imagining Donald Trump’s coronation and wondering: darest we wait that long? to rub his head with oil in the vain hope of “making its interior run well”?

In Chapter 17: The Ramadan, Ishmael offers a fine take on the human condition.
… let him be, I say: and Heaven have mercy on us all—Presbyterians and Pagans alike—for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.
That’s it. Though as long as I am here, perhaps a little final seasoning from Chapter 2: The Carpet-Bag.
—pooh, pooh! What a fine frosty night; how Orion glitters; what northern lights! Let them talk of their oriental summer climes of everlasting conservatories; give me the privilege of making my own summer with my own coals.
Now, back to not writing blog posts.