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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 73

Melville was too much a transcendentalist—too richly a romancer—not to invest the chase with some kind of moral or poetic significance. As he handles the story, Ahab, who has lost a leg in the jaws of the whale, is driven by a wild passion of revenge which has maddened him. “All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick.” Infected himself, Ahab infects his crew with his frenzy, and leaving behind them the vivid actualities of Nantucket they move into a Pacific which seems less a fact than a truth, less a truth than an eternal symbol of the universe. “There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath; like those fabled undulations of the Ephesian sod over the buried Evangelist St. John. And meet it is, that over these sea-pastures, wide-rolling watery prairies and Potters’ Fields of all four continents, the waves should rise and fall, and ebb and flow unceasingly; for here, millions of mixed shades and shadows, drowned dreams, somnambulisms, reveries; all that we call lives and souls, lie dreaming, dreaming, still; tossing like slumberers in their beds; the ever-rolling waves but made so by their restlessness. To any meditative Magian rover, this serene Pacific, once beheld, must ever after be the sea of his adoption. It rolls the midmost waters of the world, the Indian Ocean and Atlantic being but its arms. The same waves wash the moles of the new-built Californian towns, but yesterday



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