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by Herman Melville

Moby-Dick Literature and Writing Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)

Quote #1

And, as for me, if, by any possibility, there be any as yet undiscovered prime thing in me; if I shall ever deserve any real repute in that small but high hushed world which I might not be unreasonably ambitious of; if hereafter I shall do anything that, upon the whole, a man might rather have done than to have left undone; if, at my death, my executors, or more properly my creditors, find any precious MSS. in my desk, then here I prospectively ascribe all the honour and the glory to whaling; for a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard. (24.22)

Even before he’s done telling the story of the Pequod, Ishmael’s already imagining the prestige that his manuscript will garner when it’s finished. Or perhaps this is a moment where Melville’s own voice shines through, and he’s thinking about his own role as the author of Moby-Dick.

Quote #2

What then remains? nothing but to take hold of the whales bodily, in their entire liberal volume, and boldly sort them that way. And this is the Bibliographical system here adopted; and it is the only one that can possibly succeed, for it alone is practicable. (32.25)

It’s no accident that Ishmael divides whales into categories taken from libraries. Moby-Dick is a book titled with the name of a whale, and Moby Dick is a whale that can only be understood if he’s treated like a book.

Quote #3

Finally: It was stated at the outset, that this system would not be here, and at once, perfected. You cannot but plainly see that I have kept my word. But I now leave my cetological System standing thus unfinished, even as the great Cathedral of Cologne was left, with the crane still standing upon the top of the uncompleted tower. For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught – nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience! (32.44)

Through the cracks in this quotation, we can see Melville’s anxieties about his work on Moby-Dick peeking through. Yet, the claim that the book is just a draft, or the draft of a draft, is more than just a worry that it’s not good enough. It’s a claim that all great literature and writing only begins with the author, developing its full greatness only as it persists in a culture over time.

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