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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Erich Raspe (1736–1794)

A Rather Large Whale

From “Adventures of Baron Münchausen”

I EMBARKED at Portsmouth, in a first-rate English man-of-war of one hundred guns and fourteen hundred men, for North America. Nothing worth relating happened till we arrived within three hundred leagues of the river St. Lawrence, when the ship struck with amazing force against (as we supposed) a rock. However, upon heaving the lead, we could find no bottom, even with three hundred fathoms. What made this circumstance the more wonderful, and indeed beyond all comprehension, was, that the violence of the shock was such that we lost our rudder, broke our bowsprit in the middle, and split all our masts from top to bottom, two of which went by the board. A poor fellow, who was aloft furling the main-sheet, was flung at least three leagues from the ship; but he fortunately saved his life by laying hold of the tail of a large sea-gull, which brought him back and lodged him on the very spot whence he was thrown. Another proof of the violence of the shock was the force with which the people between decks were driven against the floors above them. My head particularly was pressed into my stomach, where it continued some months before it returned to its natural situation.

While we were all in a state of astonishment at the general and unaccountable confusion in which we were involved, the whole was suddenly explained by the appearance of a large whale, which had been basking, asleep, within sixteen feet of the surface of the water. This animal was so much displeased with the disturbance which our ship had given him—for in our passage we had with our rudder scratched his nose—that he beat in all the gallery and part of the quarter-deck with his tail, and almost at the same instant took the main-sheet anchor, which was suspended, as it usually is, from the head, between his teeth, and ran away with the ship at least sixty leagues, at the rate of twelve leagues an hour, when, fortunately, the cable broke, and we lost both the whale and the anchor. However, upon our return to Europe, some months after, we found the same whale within a few leagues of the same spot, floating dead upon the water. It measured above half a mile in length. As we could take only a small quantity of such a monstrous animal on board, we got our boats out, and with much difficulty cut off his head, where, to our great joy, we found the anchor, and above forty fathoms of the cable, concealed on the left side of his mouth, just under his tongue. Perhaps this was the cause of his death, as that side of his tongue was much swelled with severe inflammation.

This was the only extraordinary circumstance that happened on this voyage. One part of our distress, however, I had like to have forgot. While the whale was running away with the ship she sprang a leak, and the water poured in so fast that all our pumps could not keep us from sinking. It was, however, my good fortune to discover it first. I found a large hole about a foot in diameter, and you will naturally suppose this circumstance gives me infinite pleasure, when I inform you that this noble vessel was preserved, with all its crew, by a most happy thought of mine. In short, I sat down over it, and could have covered it had it been even larger. Nor will you be surprised at this when I inform you that I am descended from Dutch parents.

My situation, while I sat there, was rather cool, but the carpenter’s art soon relieved me.