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6. The Street
If I had been astonished at first catching a glimpse of so outlandish an individual as
Queequeg circulating among the polite society of a civilized town, that astonishment
soon departed upon taking my first daylight stroll through the streets of New Bedford.
In thoroughfares nigh the docks, any considerable seaport will frequently offer to view
the queerest looking nondescripts from foreign parts. Even in Broadway and Chestnut
streets, Mediterranean mariners will sometimes jostle the affrighted ladies. Regent
Street is not unknown to Lascars and Malays; and at Bombay, in the Apollo Green, live
Yankees have often scared the natives. But New Bedford beats all Water Street and
Wapping. In these last-mentioned haunts you see only sailors; but in New Bedford,
actual cannibals stand chatting at street corners; savages outright; many of whom yet
carry on their bones unholy flesh. It makes a stranger stare.
But, besides the Feegeeans, Tongatobooarrs, Erromanggoans, Pannangians, and
Brighggians, and, besides the wild specimens of the whaling-craft which unheeded reel
about the streets, you will see other sights still more curious, certainly more comical.
There weekly arrive in this town scores of green Vermonters and New Hampshire men,
all athirst for gain and glory in the fishery. They are mostly young, of stalwart frames;
fellows who have felled forests, and now seek to drop the axe and snatch the whale-
lance. Many are as green as the Green Mountains whence they came. In some things
you would think them but a few hours old. Look there! that chap strutting round the
corner. He wears a beaver hat and swallow-tailed coat, girdled with a sailor-belt and
sheath-knife. Here comes another with a sou'-wester and a bombazine cloak.
No town-bred dandy will compare with a country-bred one--I mean a downright bumpkin
dandy--a fellow that, in the dog-days, will mow his two acres in buckskin gloves for fear
of tanning his hands. Now when a country dandy like this takes it into his head to make
a distinguished reputation, and joins the great whale-fishery, you should see the comical
things he does upon reaching the seaport. In bespeaking his sea-outfit, he orders bell-
buttons to his waistcoats; straps to his canvas trowsers. Ah, poor Hay-Seed! how
bitterly will burst those straps in the first howling gale, when thou art driven, straps,
buttons, and all, down the throat of the tempest.
But think not that this famous town has only harpooneers, cannibals, and bumpkins to
show her visitors. Not at all. Still New Bedford is a queer place. Had it not been for us
whalemen, that tract of land would this day perhaps have been in as howling condition
as the coast of Labrador. As it is, parts of her back country are enough to frighten one,
they look so bony. The town itself is perhaps the dearest place to live in, in all New
England. It is a land of oil, true enough: but not like Canaan; a land, also, of corn and
wine. The streets do not run with milk; nor in the spring-time do they pave them with
fresh eggs. Yet, in spite of this, nowhere in all America will you find more patrician-like