In my last post, I referred to the opening of "Moby Dick," by Herman Melville. Here it is. I'd never noticed the last sentence below, even though it's a theme I often return to.
"Call me Ishmael. 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.
now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as
Indian isles by coral reefs- commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right
and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme downtown is the
battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by
breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at
the crowds of water-gazers there.
Circumambulate the city of a
dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and
from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?- Posted like
silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of
mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against the spiles;
some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships
from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a
still better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent
up in lath and plaster- tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched
to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they
But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the
water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content
them but the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee
of yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh
the water as they possibly can without falling And there they stand-
miles of them- leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys,
streets avenues- north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite.
Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all
those ships attract them thither?
Once more. Say you are in the
country; in some high land of lakes. Take almost any path you please,
and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a
pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of
men be plunged in his deepest reveries- stand that man on his legs, set
his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water
there be in all that region. Should you ever be athirst in the great
American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be
supplied with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows,
meditation and water are wedded for ever."