Ishmael’s surprised to find the company of whalemen lodging at the Spouter Inn such quiet and evidently shy company over breakfast. He, a great spouter himself, was expecting stories. MK illustrates the line wherein Ishmael contrasts the “sheepish,” “bashful,” and “timid” manners of the whalemen at the “social breakfast table” with their unabashed bravery upon the high seas, where they have “duelled [great whales] dead without winking.” The canvas inspired by this line becomes the first of MK’s many illustrations of whales for his enterprise (excluding that “portentous, black mass” that occupies the dingy canvas in the entryway to the Inn), but this is only a partial view. Just the top of a leviathanic head breaches the bottom margin of the canvas and extends halfway up its length before tilting outward to the right; the curvature of its brow is just within frame near the middle of the right margin. The body of the whale is composed mostly of overlapping, variously sized lateral shapes like razor clam shells, outlined in black and shaded black-grey along their upper edges. The body of the whale is colorless, apart from this shading, so the printed text of the found page is visible behind it: fragments of histories of artillery fire and maneuvers asail read through. Just above curvature of the whale’s brow a black-and-white engraving of galleon warship is printed on the upper third of the found page, partially obscured by graphic clouds of grey and white over pink that originate spoutwise from the foremost point of the whale’s head where emanates a sloped column of grey and white bands with one pink band shot through it.
Standing astride the whale’s back, braced against its rise, is the broad figure of Bulkington, his green monkey-jacket buttoned up tight and a bulky silhouetted lance tilted to his side. Just below the tip of the lancehead is an overlarge lidless anthropomorphic eye drawn to one side of the great whale, its striated blue iris and watery black pupil rolled upward in its socket toward Bulkington. Upon the ponderous body of the whale the enlarged human eye looks oddly, its passive, dewy form juxtaposing the graphic spout emanating sharply from the whale’s head, that band of pink shot through the grey and white expelling the whale’s lifespot. But the eye isn’t so much the whale’s as it’s Ishmael’s, turned up into his own head and imagining the “war stories” he expected to be regaled with over breakfast. The wave formations atop the wedge of seascape painted behind Bulkington in the background of the illustration evoke the horizon-line of Ishmael’s own water-bag head. It’s funny that Ishmael, a greenhand to whaling at this point in his own story, jokes that you would have thought these “timid warrior whalemen” a fold of sheep upon the Green Mountains, sheepish as they were. Veteran soldiers, however, are often less embarrassed about remembering their past battles than about remembering how to be sociable animals once more.
In the light of day, and with a fair prospect of breakfast before him, Ishmael gets a better look at his fellow lodgers at the Spouter Inn, some of whom he saw arriving the night previous. In the text of MD Ishmael registers several precise physical characteristics of these specimen “whalemen” in his description – “a brown and brawny company, with bosky beards; an unshorn, shaggy set, all wearing monkey jackets for morning gowns.” These attributes are ellided out of MK’s isolated line from “Breakfast” which serves the title of his illustration, whose matter instead is a list of the whalemen’s ranks on the hierarchy of the whaleship or what form of labor they bring to the fishery: “They were nearly all whalemen; chief mates, and second mates, and third mates, and sea carpenters, and sea coopers, and sea blacksmiths, and harpooneers, and ship keepers.”
Notably absent from MK’s illustration of this company of whalemen upon the landscape-oriented canvas is the cylindrical peglike figure of the landlubber. Workers in whaling are differently drawn, imbued with either the elemental mediums native to their labor (primarily water, fire, and air) or the tools of their various trades. One of figures on this canvas is recognizable, the broadest of the 5 standing to the far right of the frame. It’s Bulkington (from 14); notable among the minor differences in his reappearance on this canvas: his brickwork cofferdam of a chest beneath his unbuttoned pea-green monkey jacket is painted over in pale blue and yellow stripes, his fluid-blue visor-eye has been replaced with a green-grey balene-band. The figure standing on the far left of the canvas is clearly the “chief mate” (aka first mate), as there’s a large black 1 painted on his red/blue silough-shaped body; even its head is drawn in the shape of a large blocked number one, colored white: three hashmarks about a mouth, a slouch of red for a cap, with a furl of ink black eddying from the top of it. Whereas the coffer-dam chest of Bulkington walls up water within (as previously shown in the depths of the visor-eye featured in his individual portrait), the silough-bodied chief mate keeps the air in or rather keeps it out, the excess of what it can’t contain – whether absence or presence of a certain air – excreting in the form of black cloud that briefly forms the shape of a whale before breaking apart and rejoining the sky.
The tallest figure, standing center canvas and occupying its full height is one of the other mates, second or third: I’m inclined to think third. Standing next to this figure, which is colored mostly brown, is a black silhouetted lance, its line spiraling around its shaft and disappearing behind the figure’s back. The figure’s proximity to the lance might represent a recent promotion since the implement whose use was reserved for those aboard the whaleboats deserving the honor and glory of the kill (if not the dart that secured it) – the lance – is not the shape of the tool emblazoned in blue on its body and protruding like a finial out of the top of its tubular head – that’s a harpoon. I read a story in the beady eyes of this tall illustrated whaleman where a long-darter of whales finally ships out a mate. Like the newly minted mate the squat blacksmith to its one side is imbued with the icons of its trade: a squared off slag red body is cut across by a yellow lightning bolt, flecked black. Upon the flat terracotta head featuring a double row of white block teeth and a black visor-eye is a chalice-shaped vessel with a row of white bubbles rising from its middle, like a quench. The figure standing to the other side of the third mate stands taller than the blacksmith but shorter than the rest; it’s draped in a powder blue coat with golden, fringed epaulets, pinned large about its middle is an emblem: a circle of golden cordage frames a black anchor against a field of seafoam green. The rounded head of this figure is colored white but a pattern of lines and circles gives it the appearance of riveted metal plates cut across by a red visor-eye; atop its head is a golden fin or frond resembling the horn of a gramophone or an ear trumpet. This would be the ship-keeper, who bore the responsibility for the ship’s movements and communications between the crew when the captain was away. The anchor emblem on the figure’s chest is nearly identical to the one spouted before the face of that right whale of a captain who Ishmael foresees ordering him “GET!” when he ships (in 4); it signals the singularity in the hierarchy of the whaleship’s power structure whereby it must distribute itself incrementally down the ladder of command, with the captain on top, whose “complete dominion” can transfer and indeed does frequently transfer to another, even one upon its lowest rung.
Presumably, Ishmael would’ve discovered after a certain brief period of casual conversation and repeated meetings the respective positions and occupations of the various whaleman about the Spouter Inn and is not claiming to be able to distinguish at sight their positions in the whaleship’s hierarchy and its division of labor when he sees them before his first breakfast in New Bedford. MK is in the opposite position of having to make the duties and specialized labors of the whaleman visible. Of course, there is no real urgency of his doing so here; he might have illustrated any number of charming lines for this page. I would suggest he chose this moment as a sort of practice run along the rungs of the whaleship’s hierarchy for his portraits to come of the main cast of “knights and squires,” tradesmen, servants, and men-before-the-mast comprising the crew of the Pequod. Before we even know that ship to be hiring crew, MK is working out how to conjure them.
Bulkington – Ishmael’s soon-to-be shipmate whose “apotheosis” punctuates the poetic rhapsody marking the Pequod’s passage from harbor to open ocean in The Lee Shore – is first spotted by our narrator in the Spouter Inn. In this canvas MK spots him first spotting this specimen whaleman.
In MD, Bulkington is described as dark complexioned – “face… deeply brown and burnt” – phrasing which has lent support to interpretations of him as dark-skinned by birth and sunbaked by his career asea. Melville’s text does not identify this brief character as Black so unambiguously as those inhabitants of the “negro church” Ishmael trips into and degrades in The Carpet-bag, but if Bulkington is Black, then he’s only the second individual Black person described in their individuality in MD, after the “black Angel of Doom.” In MK’s illustrations, Bulkington’s is the third black face, after the Angel of Doom and the “young fellow” illustrated just prior in 13.
Bulkington’s head – painted small in the upper-left corner of the canvas, facing right, with an undersized, tufted pea green sailor’s cap perched aloft – is not given the elongated peglike appearance of a landsman but appears rather like that shape hammered down to a stump, a brow-like formation overhanging in the silhouette of his face at the base of which another tunnel-like mouth is filled-in with two even rows of shock-white blocks for teeth. The prominence of these teeth is a detail from Ishmael’s description of Bulkington that, notably, does not derive from the titular quote for this canvas; another such detail is reflected in MK’s representation of Bulkington’s eyes as a single elongated band of deep blue, like a helmet’s vizor rendered fluid. In MD, Bulkington’s eyes are described as shadowed, and “floating” in them Ishmael espies “reminiscences that did not seem to bring him [Bulkington] much joy” before he quietly retreats from the raucous society of his fellow, recently-landed shipmates, and they go out into the dark streets hollering after him. In MK’s illustration, Bulkington’s brawn and bulk are given a more enduring presence.
Bulkington’s “coffer-dam” of a chest is the most prominent feature of his physical characterization in this canvas, occupying more than the whole left half of the found page upon which it’s painted: the first sheet of a “Glossary of hand stitches,” rotated 90 degrees right. His pea green monkey jacket – markedly out of proportion to his small, black head – is geometrically shaped with a long sloping corner forming the shoulder, which mimics the contour and placement of the yellow-gold illustration of a featherstitch still visible on the found page just to the right. The billowing visual effect of Bulkington’s jacket is buttressed by two more details of the canvas: 1) the topmost part of the green jacket is painted so as to just overlap the lower row of white teeth, making the figure appear neckless or as if viewed from below, and 2) a waist-belt comprised of a grey-black band sandwiched between two thin lines of blue paint, below which the jacket appears to angle out sharply. Bulkington is swole, but in a fashion rather heavy and static than airy. Indeed, MK adds a feature to the canvas to concretize this bulk: where the found page has been painted over white to accommodate the subject, from below the waving tapered front hem of the monkey jacket, a brick wall extends composed of neatly patterned black lines.
The way MK illustrates him, it would be a wonder for Bulkington to slip from a crowded room unseen, much less to fall into water only to evaporate into thin air. A coffer-dam is a structure designed to enclose and contain great water pressure while submerged. What force, then, could break this body and release the native element therein – brimming just below its surface, as seen by that narrow channel of a vizor-eye – so as to transmogrify it to air? Spoiler: Moby Dick.