The principal character is that of the captain, an old weather-beaten whaler. The points in his peculiar disposition are strongly painted. He is afflicted with a species of monomania, and having lost one of his legs in a conflict with a white whale of enormous size and tremendous power, he registers a vow of vengeance against this particular fish, which thus
“Was doomed to death, but fated not to die.”
In the pursuit of this absurd species of vengeance, the captain, Ahab, at length meets with his old antagonist, well known from its having “a milky white head and hump, all crows feet and wrinkles, and harpoons sticking in near his starboard fin.” He encounters this formidable enemy, and loses his life in the attack, and the whale, after staving in the bows of the ship, escapes, leaving the vessel to founder at sea with all hands.
A MILK-WHITE Hind, immortal and unchanged,
Fed on the lawns and in the forest ranged;
Without unspotted, innocent within,
She feared no danger, for she knew no sin.
Yet had she oft been chased with horns and hounds,
And Scythian shafts, and many wingèd wounds
Aimed at her heart; was often forced to fly,And doomed to death, though fated not to die.
Dryden's fable of true faith, all three parts of it, graced the compendium of Select British Poets, Or, New Elegant Extracts from Chaucer to the Present, edited by William Hazlitt (London, 1824).
As shown previously on Melvilliana, the 1837 Catalogue of Books in the Library of the Young Men's Association of the City of Albany listed "Hazlett's Select British Poets" on page 14, under "H." Hazlitt's 1824 volume supplemented the works of older poets like Dryden with new "extracts" by contemporary Romantic poets. This edition of Hazlitt's Select British Poets was available in Albany, New York bookstores by late 1826, four years before Herman Melville moved there from New York City with his family. In 1835-7 Melville belonged to the Albany Young Men's Association where Hazlitt's anthology was available in the library along with two different sets of "British Poets," numbered 1112 (12 vols.) and 1390 (11 vols.) in the 1837 Catalogue. The 1828 Catalogue of Books in the Albany Library lists a four-volume set of "Dryden's Poems" in addition to "Dryden's Virgil" in three volumes.
Dryden's "immortal" white doe ("She") represents the Roman Catholic Church; the panther stands for the protestant Church of England. That alliterative phrase "forced to fly" (or "forc'd to fly" in early versions) verbally links Dryden's doe to Melville's in the 1850 review essay Hawthorne and His Mosses. There Melville famously painted Truth as a shy white doe, sacred or just scared.
For in this world of lies, Truth is forced to fly like a scared white doe in the woodlands ; and only by cunning glimpses will she reveal herself, as in Shakspeare and other masters of the great Art of Telling the Truth, — even though it be covertly and by snatches.
-- "Hawthorne and His Mosses," Literary World vol. 7 - August 17, 1850 page 126.
Justifying his emendation to "sacred white doe," Hershel Parker cites Dryden's poem along with Wordsworth's White Doe of Rylstone as influential analogues:
Mrs. Melville wrote "scared." In Herman Melville: A Biography (1.756) Parker introduced the emendation of "sacred white doe" instead of "scared white doe" on the analogy of John Dryden's "milk-white Hind" in "The Hind and the Panther" (1687) and William Wordsworth's "White Doe of Rylstone" (1807).... --Third Norton Critical Edition of Moby-Dick, edited by Hershel Parker (W. W. Norton & Company, 2018) page 551 note 9.
In the same footnote Parker calls attention to the manuscript correction of "Truth is found," as the scribe Melville's wife Elizabeth Melville first wrote, to "Truth is forced." Let's look now since images of the manuscript version in Mrs. Melville's hand, mostly, are so easy to access courtesy of NYPL Digital Collections.
Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. "“Hawthorne and his mosses”" The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1850. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/23ebb010-184f-0133-f66c-58d385a7bbd0
Sure enough there's
found, canceled and replaced by "forced" to give the correct reading
forced to fly.
In a wicked world, Melville's Truth-doe is "forced to fly" like Dryden's Church of Rome, allegorized as a hunted white hind or female deer. The glimpse of Dryden's sacred white doe in the Morning Herald shows that one London reviewer recognized Melville's white whale as equally elusive and immortal.
- London Morning Herald notices of The Whale
- Sacred White Deer in and around Pittsfield
- Legend of the White Deer