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What does "as important a one as will be found in this volume" mean in this passage?

So far as what there may be of a narrative in this book; and, indeed, as indirectly touching one or two very interesting and curious particulars in the habits of sperm whales, the foregoing chapter, in its earlier part, is as important a one as will be found in this volume; but the leading matter of it requires to be still further and more familiarly enlarged upon, in order to be adequately understood, and moreover to take away any incredulity which a profound ignorance of the entire subject may induce in some minds, as to the natural verity of the main points of this affair.

MOBY-DICK By Herman Melville

Does it mean that (a) the previous chapter is as important as ANY OTHER chapter in this book, or that (b) the previous chapter is as important as any of the LATER chapters that follow it in the book?

Because "will be found" is used instead of "is found", I'm suspecting that it is making a comparison with chapters that are yet to be read or encountered in the book, but I'm not really sure.

2 Answers 2

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I would understand "a one" to refer to "a chapter". And the "as..as..." construction means that "the foregoing chapter is no less important than any other found in this volume". The fact that Melville feels the need to mention this is probably because that chapter doesn't seem to deal the the main part of the story - and Melville (playing the role of editor) wants to emphasise its importance.

"Will be found" would seem to be relative to the time when the book was authored, and so the reading of any chapter by any reader was in the future at that time. So it says that the foregoing chapter is no less important than any other in the book.

Though, actually, it doesn't really matter. The sense you should get is "That chapter is important! (Even if you don't think so)" rather than any detailed ordering of the chapters in order of importance.

This style, of breaking the narrative to write self-referentially about the book, is very unusual.

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As I read it, it refers to the word "narrative".

Is there a narrative in this book?
Yes, the (earlier part of) the foregoing chapter is a narrative, and it's as important as any narrative that occurs in this book.

I think "will be found" refers to a complete reading of the book, not just to parts not yet read.

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