About All Kinds of Ships

Mark Twain

Download PDF

Children’s BooksMarc Twain – About All Kinds of Ships
< < <
> > >



We are victims of one common superstition—the superstition that we realise the changes that are daily taking place in the world because we read about them and know what they are. I should not have supposed that the modern ship could be a surprise to me, but it is. It seems to be as much of a surprise to me as it could have been if I had never read anything about it. I walk about this great vessel, the ‘Havel,’ as she ploughs her way through the Atlantic, and every detail that comes under my eye brings up the miniature counterpart of it as it existed in the little ships I crossed the ocean in, fourteen, seventeen, eighteen, and twenty years ago.

In the ‘Havel’ one can be in several respects more comfortable than he can be in the best hotels on the Continent of Europe. For instance, she has several bath-rooms, and they are as convenient and as nicely equipped as the bath-rooms in a fine private house in America; whereas in the hotels of the Continent one bath-room is considered sufficient, and it is generally shabby and located in some out-of-the-way corner of the house; moreover, you need to give notice so long beforehand that you get over wanting a bath by the time you get it. In the hotels there are a good many different kinds of noises, and they spoil sleep; in my room in the ship I hear no sounds. In the hotels they usually shut off the electric light at midnight; in the ship one may burn it in one’s room all night.

In the steamer ‘Batavia,’ twenty years ago, one candle set in the bulkhead between two state-rooms was there to light both rooms, but did not light either of them. It was extinguished at eleven at night, and so were all the saloon lamps, except one or two, which were left burning to help the passenger see how to break his neck trying to get around in the dark. The passengers sat at table on long benches made of the hardest kind of wood; in the ‘Havel’ one sits on a swivel chair with a cushioned back to it. In those old times the dinner bill of fare was always the same: a pint of some simple, homely soup or other, boiled codfish and potatoes, slab of boiled beef; stewed prunes for dessert—on Sundays ‘dog in a blanket,’ on Thursdays ‘plum duff.’ In the modern ship the menu is choice and elaborate, and is changed daily. In the old times dinner was a sad occasion; in our day a concealed orchestra enlivens it with charming music. In the old days the decks were always wet; in our day they are usually dry, for the promenade-deck is roofed over, and a sea seldom comes aboard. In a moderately disturbed sea, in the old days, a landsman could hardly keep his legs, but in such a sea in our day, the decks are as level as a table. In the old days the inside of a ship was the plainest and barrenest thing, and the most dismal and uncomfortable, that ingenuity could devise; the modern ship is a marvel of rich and costly decoration and sumptuous appointment, and is equipped with every comfort and convenience that money can buy. The old ships had no place of assembly but the dining-room; the new ones have several spacious and beautiful drawing-rooms. The old ships offered the passenger no chance to smoke except in the place that was called the ‘fiddle.’ It was a repulsive den made of rough boards (full of cracks), and its office was to protect the main hatch. It was grimy and dirty; there were no seats; the only light was a lamp of the rancid-oil-and-rag kind; the place was very cold, and never dry, for the seas broke in through the cracks every little while and drenched the cavern thoroughly. In the modern ship there are three or four large smoking-rooms, and they have card tables and cushioned sofas, and are heated by steam and lighted by electricity. There are few European hotels with such smoking-rooms.

The former ships were built of wood, and had two or three water-tight compartments in the hold with doors in them, which were often left open, particularly when the ship was going to hit a rock. The modern leviathan is built of steel, and the water-tight bulkheads have no doors in them; they divide the ship into nine or ten water-tight compartments and endow her with as many lives as a cat. Their complete efficiency was established by the happy results following the memorable accident to the ‘City of Paris’ a year or two ago.

One curious thing which is at once noticeable in the great modern ship is the absence of hubbub, clatter, rush of feet, roaring of orders. That is all gone by. The elaborate manœuvres necessary in working the vessel into her dock are conducted without sound: one sees nothing of the processes, hears no commands. A Sabbath stillness and solemnity reign in place of the turmoil and racket of the earlier days. The modern ship has a spacious bridge, fenced chin-high with sail-cloth, and floored with wooden gratings; and this bridge, with its fenced fore-and-aft annexes, could accommodate a seated audience of a hundred and fifty men. There are three steering equipments, each competent if the others should break. From the bridge the ship is steered, and also handled. The handling is not done by shout or whistle, but by signalling with patent automatic gongs. There are three tell-tales with plainly lettered dials—for steering, handling the engines, and for communicating orders to the invisible mates who are conducting the landing of the ship or casting off. The officer who is astern is out of sight, and too far away to hear trumpet calls; but the gongs near him tell him to haul in, pay out, make fast, let go, and so on; he hears, but the passengers do not, and so the ship seems to land herself without human help.

This great bridge is thirty or forty feet above the water, but the sea climbs up there sometimes; so there is another bridge twelve or fifteen feet higher still, for use in these emergencies. The force of water is a strange thing. It slips between one’s fingers like air, but upon occasion it acts like a solid body, and will bend a thin iron rod. In the ‘Havel’ it has splintered a heavy oaken rail into broom-straws, instead of merely breaking it in two as would have been the seemingly natural thing for it to do. At the time of the awful Johnstown disaster, according to the testimony of several witnesses, rocks were carried some distance on the surface of the stupendous torrent; and at St. Helena, many years ago, a vast sea-wave carried a battery of cannon forty feet up a steep slope, and deposited the guns there in a row. But the water has done a still stranger thing, and it is one which is credibly vouched for. A marlinspike is an implement about a foot long which tapers from its butt to the other extremity, and ends in a sharp point. It is made of iron, and is heavy. A wave came aboard a ship in a storm and raged aft, breast high, carrying a marlinspike point-first with it, and with such lightning-like swiftness and force as to drive it three or four inches into a sailor’s body and kill him.

In all ways the ocean greyhound of to-day is imposing and impressive to one who carries in his head no ship-pictures of a recent date. In bulk she comes near to rivalling the Ark; yet this monstrous mass of steel is driven five hundred miles through the waves in twenty-four hours. I remember the brag run of a steamer which I travelled in once on the Pacific—it was two hundred and nine miles in twenty-four hours; a year or so later I was a passenger in the excursion-tub ‘Quaker City,’ and on one occasion, in a level and glassy sea, it was claimed that she reeled off two hundred and eleven miles between noon and noon, but it was probably a campaign lie. That little steamer had seventy passengers and a crew of forty men, and seemed a good deal of a beehive; but in this present ship we are living in a sort of solitude, these soft summer days, with sometimes a hundred passengers scattered about the spacious distances, and sometimes nobody in sight at all; yet, hidden somewhere in the vessel’s bulk, there are (including crew) near eleven hundred people.

The stateliest lines in the literature of the sea are these:

Britannia needs no bulwark, no towers along the steep—

Her march is o’er the mountain wave, her home is on the deep!

There it is. In those old times the little ships climbed over the waves and wallowed down into the trough on the other side; the giant ship of our day does not climb over the waves, but crushes her way through them. Her formidable weight and mass and impetus give her mastery over any but extraordinary storm-waves.

The ingenuity of man! I mean in this passing generation. To-day I found in the chart-room a frame of removable wooden slats on the wall, and on the slats was painted uninforming information like this:

Double-Bottom No. 1Full
Double-Bottom No. 2Full
Double-Bottom No. 3Full
Double-Bottom No. 4Full

While I was trying to think out what kind of a game this might be, and how a stranger might best go to work to beat it, a sailor came in and pulled out the ‘Empty’ end of the first slat and put it back with its reverse side to the front, marked ‘Full.’ He made some other change, I did not notice what. The slat-frame was soon explained. Its function was to indicate how the ballast in the ship was distributed. The striking thing was, that that ballast was water. I did not knew that a ship had ever been ballasted with water. I had merely read, some time or other, that such an experiment was to be tried. But that is the modern way; between the experimental trial of a new thing and its adoption there is no wasted time, if the trial proves its value.

On the wall, near the slat-frame, there was an outline drawing of the ship, and this betrayed the fact that this vessel has twenty-two considerable lakes of water in her. These lakes are in her bottom; they are imprisoned between her real bottom and a false bottom. They are separated from each other, thwartships, by water-tight bulkheads, and separated down the middle by a bulkhead running from the bow four-fifths of the way to the stern. It is a chain of lakes four hundred feet long and from five to seven feet deep. Fourteen of the lakes contain fresh water brought from shore, and the aggregate weight of it is four hundred tons. The rest of the lakes contain salt water—six hundred and eighteen tons. Upwards of a thousand tons of water altogether.

Think how handy this ballast is. The ship leaves port with the lakes all full. As she lightens forward, through consumption of coal, she loses trim—her head rises, her stern sinks down. Then they spill one of the sternward lakes into the sea, and the trim is restored. This can be repeated right along as occasion may require. Also, a lake at one end of the ship can be moved to the other end by pipes and steam pumps. When the sailor changed the slat-frame to-day, he was posting a transference of that kind. The seas had been increasing, and the vessel’s head needed more weighting, to keep it from rising on the waves instead of ploughing through them; therefore, twenty-five tons of water had been transferred to the bow from a lake situated well towards the stern.

A water compartment is kept either full or empty. The body of water must be compact, so that it cannot slosh around. A shifting ballast would not do, of course.

The modern ship is full of beautiful ingenuities, but it seems to me that this one is the king. I would rather be the originator of that idea than of any of the others. Perhaps the trim of a ship was never perfectly ordered and preserved until now. A vessel out of trim will not steer, her speed is maimed, she strains and labours in the seas. Poor creature! for six thousand years she has had no comfort until these latest days. For six thousand years she swam through the best and cheapest ballast in the world, the only perfect ballast, but she couldn’t tell her master, and he had not the wit to find it out for himself. It is odd to reflect that there is nearly as much water inside of this ship as there is outside, and yet there is no danger.


The progress made in the great art of ship-building since Noah’s time is quite noticeable. Also, the looseness of the navigation laws in the time of Noah is in quite striking contrast with the strictness of the navigation laws of our time. It would not be possible for Noah to do in our day what he was permitted to do in his own. Experience has taught us the necessity of being more particular, more conservative, more careful of human life. Noah would not be allowed to sail from Bremen in our day. The inspectors would come and examine the Ark, and make all sorts of objections. A person who knows Germany can imagine the scene and the conversation without difficulty and without missing a detail. The inspector would be in a beautiful military uniform; he would be respectful, dignified, kindly, the perfect gentleman, but steady as the north star to the last requirement of his duty. He would make Noah tell him where he was born, and how old he was, and what religious sect he belonged to, and the amount of his income, and the grade and position he claimed socially, and the name and style of his occupation, and how many wives and children he had, and how many servants, and the name, sex, and age of the whole of them; and if he hadn’t a passport he would be courteously required to get one right away. Then he would take up the matter of the Ark:

‘What is her length?’

‘Six hundred feet.’




‘Fifty or sixty.’

‘Built of——’


‘What kind?’

‘Shittim and gopher.’

‘Interior and exterior decorations?’

‘Pitched within and without.’




‘Half male, the others female.’


‘From a hundred years up.’

‘Up to where?’

‘Six hundred.’

‘Ah! going to Chicago; good idea, too. Surgeon’s name?’

‘We have no surgeon.’

‘Must provide a surgeon. Also an undertaker—particularly the undertaker. These people must not be left without the necessities of life at their age. Crew?’

‘The same eight.’

‘The same eight?’

‘The same eight.’

‘And half of them women?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Have they ever served as seamen?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Have the men?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Have any of you ever been to sea?’

‘No, sir.’

‘Where were you reared?’

‘On a farm—all of us.’

‘This vessel requires a crew of eight hundred men, she not being a steamer. You must provide them. She must have four mates and nine cooks. Who is captain?’

‘I am, sir.’

‘You must get a captain. Also a chambermaid. Also sick nurses for the old people. Who designed this vessel?’

‘I did, sir.’

‘Is it your first attempt?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘I partly suspected it. Cargo?’



‘All kinds.’

‘Wild or tame?’

‘Mainly wild.’

‘Foreign or domestic?’

‘Mainly foreign.’

‘Principal wild ones?’

‘Megatherium, elephant, rhinoceros, lion, tiger, wolf, snakes—all the wild things of all climes—two of each.’

‘Securely caged?’

‘No, not caged.’

‘They must have iron cages. Who feeds and waters the menagerie?’

‘We do.’

‘The old people?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘It is dangerous—for both. The animals must be cared for by a competent force. How many animals are there?’

‘Big ones, seven thousand; big and little together, ninety-eight thousand.’

‘You must provide twelve hundred keepers. How is the vessel lighted?’

‘By two windows.’

‘Where are they?’

‘Up under the eaves.’

‘Two windows for a tunnel six hundred feet long and sixty-five feet deep? You must put in the electric light—a few arc lights and fifteen hundred incandescents. What do you do in case of leaks? How many pumps have you?’

‘None, sir.’

‘You must provide pumps. How do you get water for the passengers and the animals?’

‘We let down the buckets from the windows.’

‘It is inadequate. What is your motive power?’

‘What is my which?’

‘Motive power. What power do you use in driving the ship?’


‘You must provide sails or steam. What is the nature of your steering apparatus?’

‘We haven’t any.’

‘Haven’t you a rudder?’

‘No, sir.’

‘How do you steer the vessel?’

‘We don’t.’

‘You must provide a rudder, and properly equip it. How many anchors have you?’


‘You must provide six. One is not permitted to sail a vessel like this without that protection. How many life-boats have you?’

‘None, sir.’

‘Provide twenty-five. How many life-preservers?’


‘You will provide two thousand. How long are you expecting your voyage to last?’

‘Eleven or twelve months.’

‘Eleven or twelve months. Pretty slow—but you will be in time for the Exposition. What is your ship sheathed with—copper?’

‘Her hull is bare—not sheathed at all.’

‘Dear man, the wood-boring creatures of the sea would riddle her like a sieve and send her to the bottom in three months. She cannot be allowed to go away in this condition; she must be sheathed. Just a word more: Have you reflected that Chicago is an inland city, and not reachable with a vessel like this?’

‘Shecargo? What is Shecargo? I am not going to Shecargo.’

‘Indeed? Then may I ask what the animals are for?’

‘Just to breed others from.’

‘Others? Is it possible that you haven’t enough?’

‘For the present needs of civilisation, yes; but the rest are going to be drowned in a flood, and these are to renew the supply.’

‘A flood?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Are you sure of that?’

‘Perfectly sure. It is going to rain forty days and forty nights.’

‘Give yourself no concern about that, dear sir, it often does that here.’

‘Not this kind of rain. This is going to cover the mountain-tops, and the earth will pass from sight.’

‘Privately—but of course not officially—I am sorry you revealed this, for it compels me to withdraw the option I gave you as to sails or steam. I must require you to use steam. Your ship cannot carry the hundredth part of an eleven-months’ water-supply for the animals. You will have to have condensed water.’

‘But I tell you I am going to dip water from outside with buckets.’

‘It will not answer. Before the flood reaches the mountain-tops the fresh waters will have joined the salt seas, and it will all be salt. You must put in steam and condense your water. I will now bid you good-day, sir. Did I understand you to say that this was your very first attempt at ship-building?’

‘My very first, sir, I give you the honest truth. I built this Ark without having ever had the slightest training or experience or instruction in marine architecture.’

‘It is a remarkable work, sir, a most remarkable work. I consider that it contains more features that are new—absolutely new and unhackneyed—than are to be found in any other vessel that swims the seas.’

‘This compliment does me infinite honour, dear sir, infinite; and I shall cherish the memory of it while life shall last. Sir, I offer my duty, and most grateful thanks. Adieu.’

No, the German inspector would be limitlessly courteous to Noah, and would make him feel that he was among friends, but he wouldn’t let him go to sea with that Ark.


Between Noah’s time and the time of Columbus naval architecture underwent some changes, and from being unspeakably bad was improved to a point which may be described as less unspeakably bad. I have read somewhere, some time or other, that one of Columbus’s ships was a ninety-ton vessel. By comparing that ship with the ocean greyhounds of our time one is able to get down to a comprehension of how small that Spanish bark was, and how little fitted she would be to run opposition in the Atlantic passenger trade to-day. It would take seventy-four of her to match the tonnage of the ‘Havel’ and carry the ‘Havel’s’ trip. If I remember rightly, it took her ten weeks to make the passage. With our ideas this would now be considered an objectionable gait. She probably had a captain, a mate, and a crew consisting of four seamen and a boy. The crew of a modern greyhound numbers two hundred and fifty persons.

Columbus’s ship being small and very old, we know that we may draw from these two facts several absolute certainties in the way of minor details which history has left unrecorded. For instance, being small, we know that she rolled and pitched and tumbled in any ordinary sea, and stood on her head or her tail, or lay down with her ear in the water, when storm-seas ran high; also, that she was used to having billows plunge aboard and wash her decks from stem to stern; also, that the storm-racks were on the table all the way over, and that, nevertheless, a man’s soup was oftener landed in his lap than in his stomach; also, that the dining-saloon was about ten feet by seven, dark, airless, and suffocating with oil-stench; also, that there was only about one state-room—the size of a grave—with a tier of two or three berths in it, of the dimensions and comfortableness of coffins, and that when the light was out, the darkness in there was so thick and real that you could bite into it and chew it like gum; also, that the only promenade was on the lofty poop-deck astern (for the ship was shaped like a high-quarter shoe)—a streak sixteen feet long by three feet wide, all the rest of the vessel being littered with ropes and flooded by the seas.

We know all these things to be true, from the mere fact that we know the vessel was small. As the vessel was old, certain other truths follow as matters of course. For instance, she was full of rats, she was full of cockroaches, the heavy seas made her seams open and shut like your fingers, and she leaked like a basket; where leakage is, there also, of necessity, is bilgewater; and where bilgewater is, only the dead can enjoy life. This is on account of the smell. In the presence of bilgewater, Limburger cheese becomes odourless and ashamed.

From these absolutely sure data we can competently picture the daily life of the great discoverer. In the early morning he paid his devotions at the shrine of the Virgin. At eight bells he appeared on the poop-deck promenade. If the weather was chilly, he came up clad from plumed helmet to spurred heel in magnificent plate armour inlaid with arabesques of gold, having previously warmed it at the galley fire. If the weather was warm, he came up in the ordinary sailor toggery of the time: great slouch hat of blue velvet, with a flowing brush of snowy ostrich plumes, fastened on with a flashing cluster of diamonds and emeralds; gold-embroidered doublet of green velvet, with slashed sleeves exposing under-sleeves of crimson satin; deep collar and cuff-ruffles of rich limp lace; trunk hose of pink velvet, with big knee knots of brocaded yellow ribbon; pearl-tinted silk stockings, clocked and daintily embroidered; lemon-coloured buskins of unborn kid, funnel-topped, and drooping low to expose the pretty stockings; deep gauntlets of finest white heretic skin, from the factory of the Holy Inquisition, formerly part of the person of a lady of rank; rapier with sheath crusted with jewels, and hanging from a broad baldric upholstered with rubies and sapphires.

He walked the promenade thoughtfully; he noted the aspects of the sky and the course of the wind; he kept an eye out for drifting vegetation and other signs of land; he jawed the man at the wheel for pastime; he got out an imitation egg and kept himself in practice on his old trick of making it stand on its end; now and then he hove a life-line below and fished up a sailor who was drowning on the quarter-deck; the rest of his watch he gaped and yawned and stretched and said he wouldn’t make the trip again to discover six Americas. For that was the kind of natural human person Columbus was when not posing for posterity.

At noon he took the sun and ascertained that the good ship had made three hundred yards in twenty-four hours, and this enabled him to win the pool. Anybody can win the pool when nobody but himself has the privilege of straightening out the ship’s run and getting it right.

The Admiral has breakfasted alone, in state: bacon, beans, and gin; at noon he dines alone in state: bacon, beans, and gin; at six he sups alone in state: bacon, beans, and gin; at 11 P.M. he takes a night relish, alone, in state: bacon, beans, and gin. At none of these orgies is there any music; the ship-orchestra is modern. After his final meal he returned thanks for his many blessings, a little over-rating their value, perhaps, and then he laid off his silken splendours or his gilded hardware, and turned in, in his little coffin-bunk, and blew out his flickering stencher, and began to refresh his lungs with inverted sighs freighted with the rich odours of rancid oil and bilgewater. The sighs returned as snores, and then the rats and the cockroaches swarmed out in brigades and divisions and army corps and had a circus all over him.

Such was the daily life of the great discoverer in his marine basket during several historic weeks; and the difference between his ship and his comforts and ours is visible almost at a glance.

When he returned, the King of Spain, marvelling, said—as history records:

‘This ship seems to be leaky. Did she leak badly?’

‘You shall judge for yourself, sire. I pumped the Atlantic Ocean through her sixteen times on the passage.’

This is General Horace Porter’s account. Other authorities say fifteen.

It can be shown that the differences between that ship and the one I am writing these historical contributions in, are in several respects remarkable. Take the matter of decoration, for instance. I have been looking around again, yesterday and to-day, and have noted several details which I conceive to have been absent from Columbus’s ship, or at least slurred over and not elaborated and perfected. I observe state-room doors three inches thick, of solid oak, and polished. I note companionway vestibules with walls, doors, and ceilings panelled in polished hard-woods, some light, some dark, all dainty and delicate joiner-work, and yet every joint compact and tight; with beautiful pictures inserted, composed of blue tiles—some of the pictures containing as many as sixty tiles—and the joinings of those tiles perfect. These are daring experiments. One would have said that the first time the ship went straining and labouring through a storm-tumbled sea those tiles would gape apart and drop out. That they have not done so is evidence that the joiner’s art has advanced a good deal since the days when ships were so shackly that when a giant sea gave them a wrench the doors came unbolted. I find the walls of the dining-saloon upholstered with mellow pictures wrought in tapestry, and the ceiling aglow with pictures done in oil. In other places of assembly I find great panels filled with embossed Spanish leather, the figures rich with gilding and bronze. Everywhere I find sumptuous masses of colour—colour, colour, colour—colour all about, colour of every shade and tint and variety; and as a result, the ship is bright and cheery to the eye, and this cheeriness invades one’s spirit and contents it. To fully appreciate the force and spiritual value of this radiant and opulent dream of colour, one must stand outside at night in the pitch dark and the rain, and look in through a port, and observe it in the lavish splendour of the electric lights. The old-time ships were dull, plain, graceless, gloomy, and horribly depressing. They compelled the blues; one could not escape the blues in them. The modern idea is right: to surround the passenger with conveniences, luxuries, and abundance of inspiriting colour. As a result, the ship is the pleasantest place one can be in, except, perhaps, one’s home.


One thing is gone, to return no more for ever—the romance of the sea. Soft sentimentality about the sea has retired from the activities of this life, and is but a memory of the past, already remote and much faded. But within the recollection of men still living, it was in the breast of every individual; and the further any individual lived from salt water the more of it he kept in stock. It was as pervasive, as universal, as the atmosphere itself. The mere mention of the sea, the romantic sea, would make any company of people sentimental and mawkish at once. The great majority of the songs that were sung by the young people of the back settlements had the melancholy wanderer for subject, and his mouthings about the sea for refrain. Picnic parties, paddling down a creek in a canoe when the twilight shadows were gathering, always sang

Homeward bound, homeward bound

From a foreign shore;

and this was also a favourite in the West with the passengers on sternwheel steamboats. There was another—

My boat is by the shore,

And my bark is on the sea,

But before I go, Tom Moore,

Here’s a double health to thee.

And this one, also—

Oh, pilot, ’tis a fearful night,

There’s danger on the deep.

And this—

A life on the ocean wave,

And a home on the rolling deep,

Where the scattered waters rave,

And the winds their revels keep!

And this—

A wet sheet and a flowing sea,

And a wind that follows fair.

And this—

My foot is on my gallant deck,

Once more the rover is free!

And the ‘Larboard Watch’—the person referred to below is at the masthead, or somewhere up there—

Oh, who can tell what joy he feels,

As o’er the foam his vessel reels,

And his tired eyelids slumb’ring fall,

He rouses at the welcome call

Of ‘Larboard watch—ahoy!’

Yes, and there was for ever and always some jackass-voiced person braying out—

Rocked in the cradle of the deep,

I lay me down in peace to sleep!

Other favourites had these suggestive titles: ‘The Storm at Sea;’ ‘The Bird at Sea;’ ‘The Sailor Boy’s Dream;’ ‘The Captive Pirate’s Lament;’ ‘We are far from Home on the Stormy Main’—and so on, and so on, the list is endless. Everybody on a farm lived chiefly amid the dangers of the deep in those days, in fancy.

But all that is gone now. Not a vestige of it is left. The iron-clad, with her unsentimental aspect and frigid attention to business, banished romance from the war-marine, and the unsentimental steamer has banished it from the commercial marine. The dangers and uncertainties which made sea life romantic have disappeared and carried the poetic element along with them. In our day the passengers never sing sea-songs on board a ship, and the band never plays them. Pathetic songs about the wanderer in strange lands far from home, once so popular and contributing such fire and colour to the imagination by reason of the rarity of that kind of wanderer, have lost their charm and fallen silent, because everybody is a wanderer in the far lands now, and the interest in that detail is dead. Nobody is worried about the wanderer; there are no perils of the sea for him, there are no uncertainties. He is safer in the ship than he would probably be at home, for there he is always liable to have to attend some friend’s funeral, and stand over the grave in the sleet, bareheaded—and that means pneumonia for him, if he gets his deserts; and the uncertainties of his voyage are reduced to whether he will arrive on the other side in the appointed afternoon, or have to wait till morning.

The first ship I was ever in was a sailing vessel. She was twenty-eight days going from San Francisco to the Sandwich Islands. But the main reason for this particularly slow passage was, that she got becalmed, and lay in one spot fourteen days in the centre of the Pacific, two thousand miles from land. I hear no sea-songs in this present vessel, but I heard the entire layout in that one. There were a dozen young people—they are pretty old now I reckon—and they used to group themselves on the stern, in the starlight or the moonlight, every evening, and sing sea-songs till after midnight, in that hot, silent, motionless calm. They had no sense of humour, and they always sang ‘Homeward Bound,’ without reflecting that that was practically ridiculous, since they were standing still and not proceeding in any direction at all; and they often followed that song with ‘Are we almost there, are we almost there, said the dying girl as she drew near home?’

It was a very pleasant company of young people, and I wonder where they are now. Gone, oh, none knows whither; and the bloom and grace and beauty of their youth, where is that? Among them was a liar; all tried to reform him, but none could do it. And so, gradually, he was left to himself, none of us would associate with him. Many a time since I have seen in fancy that forsaken figure, leaning forlorn against the taffrail, and have reflected that perhaps if we had tried harder, and been more patient, we might have won him from his fault and persuaded him to relinquish it. But it is hard to tell; with him the vice was extreme, and was probably incurable. I like to think—and, indeed, I do think—that I did the best that in me lay to lead him to higher and better ways.

There was a singular circumstance. The ship lay becalmed that entire fortnight in exactly the same spot. Then a handsome breeze came fanning over the sea, and we spread our white wings for flight. But the vessel did not budge. The sails bellied out, the gale strained at the ropes, but the vessel moved not a hair’s breadth from her place. The captain was surprised. It was some hours before we found out what the cause of the detention was. It was barnacles. They collect very fast in that part of the Pacific. They had fastened themselves to the ship’s bottom; then others had fastened themselves to the first bunch, others to these, and so on, down and down and down, and the last bunch had glued the column hard and fast to the bottom of the sea, which is five miles deep at that point. So the ship was simply become the handle of a walking-cane five miles long—yes, and no more movable by wind and sail than a continent is. It was regarded by every one as remarkable.

Well, the next week—however, Sandy Hook is in sight.

< < <
> > >

Children’s BooksMarc Twain – About All Kinds of Ships

Copyright holders –  Public Domain Book

Si vous avez aimé ce site, abonnez-vous, mettez des likes, écrivez des commentaires!

Partager sur les réseaux sociaux

Découvrez nos Derniers Posts

© 2023 Akirill.com – All Rights Reserved

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s