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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index M > Herman Melville Quotes

Thumbnail of Herman Melville (source)
Herman Melville
(1 Aug 1819 - 28 Sep 1891)

American author , whose best known work Moby Dick (1851), among other stories of the sea, was created from his real-life experience of eighteen months working on a whaling ship. His other novels were based on other diverse experiences including traveling for days through a jungle, and living with friendly cannibals.

Science Quotes by Herman Melville (7 quotes)

Portrait of Herman Melville, head and shoulders, facing left
Portrait of Herman Melville (May 1870)
by Joseph Oriel Eaton (1829–1875) (source)
“Advance, ye mates! Cross your lances full before me. Well done! Let me touch the axis.” So saying, with extended arm, he grasped the three level, radiating lances at their crossed centre; while so doing, suddenly and nervously twitched them; meanwhile, glancing intently from Starbuck to Stubb; from Stubb to Flask. It seemed as though, by some nameless, interior volition, he would fain have shocked into them the same fiery emotion accumulated within the Leyden jar of his own magnetic life. The three mates quailed before his strong, sustained, and mystic aspect. Stubb and Flask looked sideways from him; the honest eye of Starbuck fell downright.
“In vain!&rsdquo; cried Ahab; “but, maybe, ’tis well. For did ye three but once take the full-forced shock, then mine own electric thing, that had perhaps expired from out me. Perchance, too, it would have dropped ye dead.…”
[Commentary by Henry Schlesinger: Electricity—mysterious and powerful as it seemed at the time—served as a perfect metaphor for Captain Ahab’s primal obsession and madness, which he transmits through the crew as if through an electrical circuit in Moby-Dick.]
— Herman Melville
Extract from Herman Melville, Moby-Dick and comment by Henry Schlesinger from his The Battery: How Portable Power Sparked a Technological Revolution (2010), 64.
Science quotes on:  |  Accumulation (51)  |  Advance (298)  |  Arm (82)  |  Aspect (129)  |  Captain (16)  |  Circuit (29)  |  Death (406)  |  Doing (277)  |  Dropped (17)  |  Electric (76)  |  Electrical (57)  |  Electricity (168)  |  Emotion (106)  |  Extend (129)  |  Eye (440)  |  Honest (53)  |  Interior (35)  |  Leyden Jar (2)  |  Life (1870)  |  Look (584)  |  Madness (33)  |  Magnetic (44)  |  Metaphor (37)  |  Mine (78)  |  Mysterious (83)  |  Mystic (23)  |  Obsession (13)  |  Perfect (223)  |  Powerful (145)  |  Quail (2)  |  Shock (38)  |  Strong (182)  |  Suddenly (91)  |  Sustain (52)  |  Thing (1914)  |  Through (846)  |  Time (1911)  |  Touch (146)  |  Vain (86)  |  Volition (3)

However baby man may brag of his science and skill, and however much, in a flattering future, that science and skill may augment; yet for ever and for ever, to the crack of doom, the sea will insult and murder him, and pulverise the stateliest, stiffest frigate he can make; nevertheless, by the continual repetition of these very impressions, man has lost that sense of the full awfulness of the sea which aboriginally belongs to it.
— Herman Melville
In Moby Dick (1851, 1892), 261.
Science quotes on:  |  Aboriginal (3)  |  Doom (34)  |  Insult (16)  |  Murder (16)  |  Pulverize (3)  |  Sailor (21)  |  Sea (326)  |  Ship (69)  |  Shipwreck (8)  |  Skill (116)

It is some systematised exhibition of the whale in his broad genera, that I would now fain put before you. Yet is it no easy task. The classification of the constituents of a chaos, nothing less is here essayed. Listen to what the best and latest authorities have laid down.
“No branch of Zoology is so much involved as that which is entitled Cetology,” says Captain Scoresby, A.D. 1820.
“It is not my intention, were it in my power, to enter into the inquiry as to the true method of dividing the cetacea into groups and families. * * * Utter confusion exists among the historians of this animal” (sperm whale), says Surgeon Beale. A. D. 1839.
“Unfitness to pursue our research in the unfathomable waters.” “Impenetrable veil covering our knowledge of the cetacea.” “A field strewn with thorns.” “All these incomplete indications but serve to torture us naturalists.”
Thus speak of the whale, the great Cuvier, and John Hunter, and Lesson, those lights of zoology and anatomy. Nevertheless, though of real knowledges there be little, yet of books there are plenty; and so in some small degree, with cetology, or the science of whales. Many are the men, small and great, old and new, landsmen and seamen, who have at large or in little, written of the whale. Run over a few:— The Authors of the Bible; Aristotle; Pliny; Aldrovandi; Sir Thomas Browne; Gesner; Ray; Linnæus; Rondeletius; Willoughby; Green; Artedi; Sibbald; Brisson; Marten; Lacépède; Bonneterre; Desmarest; Baron Cuvier; Frederick Cuvier; John Hunter; Owen; Scoresby; Beale; Bennett; J. Ross Browne; the Author of Miriam Coffin; Olmstead; and the Rev. T. Cheever. But to what ultimate generalising purpose all these have written, the above cited extracts will show.
Of the names in this list of whale authors, only those following Owen ever saw living whales; and but one of them was a real professional harpooner and whaleman. I mean Captain Scoresby.
— Herman Melville
Opening of Chap. 32, 'Cetology', in Moby Dick (1851, 1892), 126-127.
Science quotes on:  |  Aristotle (179)  |  Authority (99)  |  Bible (105)  |  Sir Thomas Browne (23)  |  Captain (16)  |  Cetacean (3)  |  Cetology (2)  |  Chaos (99)  |  Classification (102)  |  Confusion (61)  |  Baron Georges Cuvier (34)  |  Family (101)  |  Genus (27)  |  Group (83)  |  Harpoon (3)  |  Historian (59)  |  John Hunter (8)  |  Carolus Linnaeus (36)  |  Sir Richard Owen (17)  |  Pliny the Elder (18)  |  Professional (77)  |  Surgeon (64)  |  Task (152)  |  Whale (45)  |  Whaleman (2)  |  Zoology (38)

Science! Curse thee, thou vain toy…!
— Herman Melville
In Moby Dick (1851, 1892), 467.
Science quotes on:  |  Curse (20)  |  Toy (22)  |  Vain (86)

See with what entire freedom the whaleman takes his handful of lamps—often but old bottles and vials, though. … He burns, too, the purest of oil. … It is sweet as early grass butter in April. He goes and hunts for his oil, so as to be sure of its freshness and genuineness, even as the traveler on the prairie hunts up his own supper of game.
— Herman Melville
Describing the whale oil lamps that provided copious illumination for the whalemen throughout their ship, which contrasts with the darkness endured by sailors on merchant ships. In Moby-Dick (1851, 1892), 401.
Science quotes on:  |  April (9)  |  Bottle (17)  |  Burn (99)  |  Burning (49)  |  Butter (8)  |  Contrast (45)  |  Copious (6)  |  Darkness (72)  |  Early (196)  |  Energy (373)  |  Freedom (145)  |  Freshness (8)  |  Game (104)  |  Grass (49)  |  Handful (14)  |  Hunt (32)  |  Hunting (23)  |  Illumination (15)  |  Lamp (37)  |  Oil (67)  |  Old (499)  |  Prairie (4)  |  Purity (15)  |  Sailor (21)  |  See (1094)  |  Ship (69)  |  Supper (10)  |  Sweet (40)  |  Sweetness (12)  |  Throughout (98)  |  Traveler (33)  |  Vial (4)  |  Whale (45)  |  Whaleman (2)

The fact is, that among his hunters at least, the whale would by all hands be considered a noble dish, were there not so much of him; but when you come to sit down before a meat-pie nearly one hundred feet long, it takes away your appetite.
— Herman Melville
In Moby Dick (1851, 1892), 284.
Science quotes on:  |  Appetite (20)  |  Hunter (28)  |  Pie (4)  |  Whale (45)

The uncertain, unsettled condition of this science of Cetology is in the very vestibule attested by the fact, that in some quarters it still remains a moot point whether a whale be a fish. In his System of Nature, A.D. 1776, Linnæus declares, “I hereby separate the whales from the fish.” But of my own knowledge, I know that down to the year 1850, sharks and shads, alewives and herring, against Linnæus’s express edict, were still found dividing the possession of the same seas with the Leviathan.
The grounds upon which Linnæus would fain have banished the whales from the waters, he states as follows: “On account of their warm bilocular heart, their lungs, their movable eyelids, their hollow ears, penem intrantem feminam mammis lactantem,” and finally, “ex lege naturæ jure meritoque.” I submitted all this to my friends Simeon Macey and Charley Coffin, of Nantucket, both messmates of mine in a certain voyage, and they united in the opinion that the reasons set forth were altogether insufficient. Charley profanely hinted they were humbug.
— Herman Melville
In Moby Dick (1851, 1892), 128-129.
Science quotes on:  |  Cetology (2)  |  Eyelid (2)  |  Fish (130)  |  Heart (243)  |  Humbug (6)  |  Carolus Linnaeus (36)  |  Lung (37)  |  Mammal (41)  |  Whale (45)

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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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