Saturday, April 9, 2011

To Rake for Ambergris in the Paunch of the Leviathan

Presently a breeze sprang up; Stubb feigned to cast off from the whale; hoisting his boats, the Frenchman soon increased his distance, while the Pequod slid in between him and Stubb’s whale. Whereupon Stubb quickly pulled to the floating body, and hailing the Pequod to give notice of his intentions, at once proceeded to reap the fruit of his unrighteous cunning. Seizing his sharp boat-spade, he commenced an excavation in the body, a little behind the side fin. You would almost have thought he was digging a cellar there in the sea; and when at length his spade struck against the gaunt ribs, it was like turning up old Roman tiles and pottery buried in fat English loam. His boat’s crew were all in high excitement, eagerly helping their chief, and looking anxious as gold-hunters.

And all the time numberless fowls were diving, and ducking, and screaming, and yelling, and fighting around them. Stubb was beginning to look disappointed, especially as the horrible nosegay increased, when suddenly from out the very heart of this plague, there stole a faint stream of perfume, which flowed through the tide of bad smells without being absorbed by it, as one river will flow into and then along with another, without at all blending with it for a time.

“I have it, I have it,” cried Stubb, with delight, striking something in the subterranean regions, “a purse! a purse!”

Dropping his spade, he thrust both hands in, and drew out handfuls of something that looked like ripe Windsor soap, or rich mottled old cheese; very unctuous and savory withal. You might easily dent it with your thumb; it is of a hue between yellow and ash color. And this, good friends, is ambergris, worth a gold guinea an ounce to any druggist. Some six handfulls were obtained; but more was unavoidably lost in the sea, and still more, perhaps, might have been secured were it not for impatient Ahab’s loud command to Stubb to desist, and come on board, else the ship would bid them good-bye.


Guerilla Perfumer said...

Avery do you know if Ambergris has to come either from a long dead animal (as Stubb and his matey's found) or washed up on beach after bobbing around in the ocean? Or can it be from a fresh kill and therefore is pretty unsound to say the least?

Avery Gilbert said...

Guerilla Perfumer:

Off the top of my head, not sure of the relative fragrance value of fresh-from-the-carcass versus ocean floating ambergris. Also not sure how reliable Herman Melville is nose-wise.

I was sent a chunk of something once from a beach in Hawaii but it didn't have much odor; no one I contacted at the big fragrance houses would touch it with a ten foot harpoon, even to merely authenticate it. I'll do a little research when I get a chance.