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In the tribunal,—shaking all the tribes
FEELINGS EXCITED BY A LONG VOYAGE.
WASHINGTON IRVING. To an American visiting Europe, the long voyage he has to make is an excellent preparative. From the moment you lose sight of the land you have left, all is vacancy until you step on the opposite shore, and are launched at once into the bustle and novelties of another world.
I have said that at sea all is vacancy. I should correct the expression. To one given up to day-dreaming, and fond of losing himself in reveries, a sea voyage is full of subjects for meditation ; but then they are the wonders of the deep, and of the air, and rather tend to abstract the mind from worldly themes. I delighted to loll over the quarter-railing, or climb to the maintop on a calm day, and muse for hours together on the tranquil bosom of a summer's sea; or to gaze upon the piles of golden clouds just peering above the horizon, fancy them some fairy realms, and people them with a creation of my own; or, watch the gentle undulating billows rolling their silver volumes, as if to die away on those happy shores.
There was a delicious sensation of mingled security and awe, with which I looked down from my giddy height on the monsters of the deep at their uncouth gambols. Shoals of porpoises tumbling about the bow of the ship; the grampus slowly heaving his huge from above the surface; or the ravenous shark, darting like a spectre, through the blue waters. My imagination would conjure up all that I had heard or read of the watery world beneath me; of the finny herds that roam its fathomless valleys ; of shapeless monsters that lurk among the
foundations of the earth ; and those wild phantasms that swell the tales of fishermen and sailors.
Sometimes a distant sail gliding along the edge of the ocean would be another theme of idle speculation. How interesting this fragment of a world hastening to rejoin the great mass of existence ! What a glorious monument of human invention, that has thus triumphed over wind and wave; has brought the ends of the earth in communion ; has established an interchange of blessings, pouring into the sterile regions of the north all the luxuries of the south ; diffused the light of knowledge and the charities of cultivated life; and has thus bound together those scattered portions of the human race, between which nature seemed to have thrown an insurmountable barrier !
We one day descried some shapeless object drifting at a distance. At sea, every thing that breaks the monotony of the surrounding expanse attracts attention. It proved to be the mast of a ship that must have been completely wrecked ; for there were the remains of handkerchiefs, by which some of the crew had fastened themselves to this spar, to prevent their being washed off by the waves. There was no trace by which the name of the ship could be ascertained. The wreck had evidently drifted about for many months; clusters of shell-fish had fastened about it, and long sea-weeds flaunted at its sides. But where, thought I, is the crew? Their struggle has long been over ;-they have gone down amidst the roar of the tempest ;their bones lie whitening in the caverns of the deep. Silence oblivion, like the waves, have closed over them, and no one can tell the story of their end. What sighs have been wafted after that ship! what prayers offered up at the deserted fire-side of home ! How often has the mistress, the wife, and the mother, pored over the daily news, to catch some casual intelligence of this rover of the deep! How has expectation darkened into anxiety—anxiety into dread—and dread into despair! Alas! not one memento shall ever return for love to cherish. All that shall ever be known is, that she sailed from her port, “and was never heard of more!" The sight of the wreck, as usual, gave rise to many
dismal anecdotes. This was particularly the care in the evening, when
the weather, which had hitherto been "fair, began to look wild and threatening, and gave indications of one of those sudden storms that will sometimes break in upon the serenity of a summer voyage. As we sat round the dull light of a lamp, in the cabin, that made the gloom more ghastly, every one had his tale of shipwreck and disaster. I was particularly struck with a short one related by the captain. “ As I was once sailing,” said he, “ in a fine stout ship, across the banks of Newfoundland, one of the heavy fogs that prevail in those parts rendered it impossible for me to see far a-head, even in the day-time; but at night the weather was so thick that we could not distinguish any object at twice the length of our ship. I kept lights at the mast-head, and a constant watch forward to look out for fishingsmacks, which are accustomed to lie at anchor on the banks. The wind was blowing a smacking breeze, and we were going at a great rate through the water. Suddenly the watch gave the alarm of “a sail a-head !” but it was scarcely uttered till we were upon her. She was a small schooner at anchor, with her broad-side towards us. The crew were all asleep, and had neglected to hoist a light.
We struck her just amid-ships. The force, the size, and weight of our vessel, bore her down below the waves; we passed over her, and were hurried on in
As the crashing wreck was sinking beneath us, I had a glimpse of two or three half-naked wretches, rushing from her cabin ; they had just started from their beds to be swallowed shrieking by the waves.
I heard their drowning cry mingling with the wind. The blast that bore it to our ears, swept us out of all further hearing. I shall never forget that cry! It was some time before we could put the ship about, she was under such headway. We returned, as nearly as we could guess, to the place where the smack was anchored. We cruised about for several hours in the depse fog. We fired several guns, and listened if we might hear the halloo of any survivors; but all was silent-we never heard nor saw any thing of them more !"
It was a fine sunny morning when the thrilling cry of “land !” was given from the mast-head. I question whether Columbus, when he discovered the new world, felt a more delicious throng of sensations than rush into an American's bosom when he first comes in sight.of Europe. There is a volume of associations in the very name.
It is the land of promise, teeming with every thing of which his childhood has heard, or on which his studious years have pondered.
From that time until the period of arrival, it was all feverish excitement. The ships of war that prowled like guardian giants round the coast ; the headlands of Ireland, stretching out into the channel ; the Welsh mountains, towering into the clouds ; all were objects of intense interest. As we sailed up
the Mersey, I reconnoitred the shores with a telescope. My eye dwelt with delight on neat cottages, with their trim shrubberies and green grass-plots. I saw the mouldering ruins of an abbey overrun with ivy, and the taper spire of a village church rising from the brow of a neighbouring hill-all were characteristic of England.
The tide and wind were so favourable, that the ship was enabled to come at once on the pier. It was thronged with people; some idle lookers-on, others eager expectants of friends or relatives. I could distinguish the merchant to whom the ship belonged. I knew him by his calculating brow and restless air. His hands were thrust in his pockets ; he was whistling thoughtfully, and walking to and fro, a small space having been accorded to him by the crowd, in deference to his temporary importance. There were repeated cheerings and salutations interchanged between the shore and the ship, as friends happened to recognise each other. But I particularly noticed one young woman of humble dress, but interesting demeanour. She was leaning forward from among the crowd; her eye hurried over the ship as it neared the shore, to catch some wished-for countenance. She seemed disappointed and agitated, when I heard a faint voice call her name. It was from a poor sailor, who had been ill all the voyage, and had excited the sympathy of every one on board. When the weather was fine, his messmates had spread a mattress for him on deck in the shade ; but of late his illness had so increased, that he had taken to his hammock, and only breathed a wish that he might see his wife before he died. He had been helped on deck as we came up the river, and was now leaning against the shrouds, with a countenance so wasted, so pale, and so ghastly, that it is no wonder even the eye of affection did not recognise him. But at the sound of his voice, her
eye darted on his features, it read at once a whole volume of sorrow; she clasped her hands, uttered a faint shriek, and stood wringing them in silent agony.
All now was hurry and bustle. The meetings of acquaintances—the greetings of friends—the consultations of men of business. I alone was solitary and idle. I had no friend to meet, no cheering to receive. I stepped upon the land of my forefathers—but felt that I was a stranger in the land.
THE WIDOW · AND HER SON.
WASHINGTON IRVING. During my residence in the country, I used frequently to attend at the old village church. Its shadowy aisles, its mouldering monuments, its dark oaken pannelling, all reverend with the gloom of departed years, seemed to fit it for the haunt of solemn meditation. A Sunday, too, in the country, is so holy in its repose ; such a pensive quiet reigns over the face of nature, that every restless passion is charmed down, feel all the natural religion of the soul gently springing up within us.
"Sweet day, so pure, so calm, so bright,
The bridal of the earth and sky." I do not pretend to be what is called a devout man ; but there are feelings that visit me in a country church, amid the beautiful serenity of nature, which I experience no where else ; and if not a more religious, I think I am a better man on Sunday, than on any other day of the seven.
But in this church I felt myself continually thrown back upon the world by the frigidity and pomp of the poor worms around me. The only being that seemed thoroughly to feel the humble and prostrate piety of a true Christian, was a poor decrepid old woman, bending under the weight of years and infirmities. She bore the traces of something better than abject poverty. The lingerings of decent pride were visible in her appearance. Her dress, though humble in the extreme, was scrupulously clean. Some trivial respect, too, had been awarded her, for she did not take her seat among the village poor, but sat alone on the steps of the altar. She seemed to have survived all love, all friendship, all society; and to have nothing left her but the hopes of heaven. When I saw her feebly rising and bending her aged form in prayer-habitually conning her prayer-book, which her palsied hand and failing eyes would not permit her to read, but which she evidently knew by heart - I felt persuaded that the faltering voice of that poor woman arose to heaven far before the responses of the clerk, the swell of the organ, or the chanting of the choir.