Moby Dick HTML version

8. The Pulpit
I had not been seated very long ere a man of a certain venerable robustness entered;
immediately as the storm-pelted door flew back upon admitting him, a quick regardful
eyeing of him by all the congregation, sufficiently attested that this fine old man was the
chaplain. Yes, it was the famous Father Mapple, so called by the whalemen, among
whom he was a very great favourite. He had been a sailor and a harpooneer in his
youth, but for many years past had dedicated his life to the ministry. At the time I now
write of, Father Mapple was in the hardy winter of a healthy old age; that sort of old age
which seems merging into a second flowering youth, for among all the fissures of his
wrinkles, there shone certain mild gleams of a newly developing bloom--the spring
verdure peeping forth even beneath February's snow. No one having previously heard
his history, could for the first time behold Father Mapple without the utmost interest,
because there were certain engrafted clerical peculiarities about him, imputable to that
adventurous maritime life he had led. When he entered I observed that he carried no
umbrella, and certainly had not come in his carriage, for his tarpaulin hat ran down with
melting sleet, and his great pilot cloth jacket seemed almost to drag him to the floor with
the weight of the water it had absorbed. However, hat and coat and overshoes were
one by one removed, and hung up in a little space in an adjacent corner; when, arrayed
in a decent suit, he quietly approached the pulpit.
Like most old fashioned pulpits, it was a very lofty one, and since a regular stairs to
such a height would, by its long angle with the floor, seriously contract the already small
area of the chapel, the architect, it seemed, had acted upon the hint of Father Mapple,
and finished the pulpit without a stairs, substituting a perpendicular side ladder, like
those used in mounting a ship from a boat at sea. The wife of a whaling captain had
provided the chapel with a handsome pair of red worsted man-ropes for this ladder,
which, being itself nicely headed, and stained with a mahogany colour, the whole
contrivance, considering what manner of chapel it was, seemed by no means in bad
taste. Halting for an instant at the foot of the ladder, and with both hands grasping the
ornamental knobs of the man-ropes, Father Mapple cast a look upwards, and then with
a truly sailor-like but still reverential dexterity, hand over hand, mounted the steps as if
ascending the main-top of his vessel.
The perpendicular parts of this side ladder, as is usually the case with swinging ones,
were of cloth-covered rope, only the rounds were of wood, so that at every step there
was a joint. At my first glimpse of the pulpit, it had not escaped me that however
convenient for a ship, these joints in the present instance seemed unnecessary. For I
was not prepared to see Father Mapple after gaining the height, slowly turn round, and
stooping over the pulpit, deliberately drag up the ladder step by step, till the whole was
deposited within, leaving him impregnable in his little Quebec.
I pondered some time without fully comprehending the reason for this. Father Mapple
enjoyed such a wide reputation for sincerity and sanctity, that I could not suspect him of
courting notoriety by any mere tricks of the stage. No, thought I, there must be some