The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Moby Dick
MOBY DICK, or 'The White Whale,' by Herman Melville, Is a strange, conglomerate book, embodying much lore that the author had acquired during whaling voyages in almost every ocean, and by long study of almost everything directly or indirectly concerned with whales and the whale fisheries. As a romance, it tells of the cruise of a Nantucket ship commanded by a crazed captain whose one thought is the capture of the ferocious monster that had maimed him on an earlier voyage. Relatively few, however, of the 135 chapters are occupied with the account of Captain Ahab and his search for the white whale, Moby Dick. The author gives exciting accounts of the pursuit and capture of whales under various conditions. He describes in detail the equipment of a whaling vessel and traces the complicated processes of cutting up the carcass, trying out the blubber and securing the sperm oil. He gives much scientific information regarding the habits and the anatomy of whales, intermixed with ingenious and sometimes facetious speculations of his own, and he has much to say of the whale in legend and in literature. He also portrays vividly many members of a whaling crew that included American Indians, negroes, East Indians and South Sea islanders, as well as Europeans of several nationalities. The book will prove disappointing to the reader who is impatient of delays and digressions in a story, but it contains few pages that are not interesting in themselves; and the effect produced by the mixture of erudition, speculation, poetical rhapsody and narrative of real and imagined occurrences is most impressive.
William B. Cairns.