Oh, woe on woe! Oh, Death, why canst thou not sometimes be timely? Hadst thou taken this old blacksmith to thyself ere his full ruin came upon him, then had the young widow had a delicious grief, and her orphans a truly venerable, legendary sire to dream of in their after years; and all of them a care-killing competency. But Death plucked down some virtuous elder brother, on whose whistling daily toil solely hung the responsibilities of some other family, and left the worse than useless old man standing, till the hideous rot of life should make him easier to harvest.
Shipkeeper. Perth, the Blacksmith, possesses a sad story, and one that is not uncommon in fisheries, navies, the merchant marine, all lives lived at sea. A life he had, a family—and all was lost. The sea took him up from his ruined life, the fishery taking advantage of the sad fact that with the loss of his family nothing remained to keep him ashore, and his only companions now were his hammer, his forge, and the heavy beating his heart.
Perth does Ahab’s bidding in Chapter 113: The Forge, and delivers to the Captain a special harpoon, intended only for one target, the White Whale himself. And though Ahab’s request is certainly a strange one, the Blacksmith aboard any whaler is not a stranger to such requests. Indeed he is often surrounded by shipmates begging favors of this sad Haephestus and his heavy hammer. A harpoon or lance forged with extra care by such competent hands will surely increase the chances of a successful strike, but only with the one blade that has been carefully worked over.
Original Image Courtesy of The New Bedford Whaling Museum.