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.
There 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 here?
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 in. And there they stand--miles of
them--leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets and 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