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membrance for cold and wintry hours to chew upon.
Will it be thought a digression (it may spare some unwelcome comparisons), if I endeavour to account for the dissatisfaction which I have heard so many persons confess to have felt (as I did myself feel in part on this occasion), at the sight of the sea for the first time? I think the reason usually given-referring to the incapacity of actual objects for satisfying our preconceptions of themscarcely goes deep enough into the question. Let the same person see a lion, an elephant, a mountain, for the first time in his life, and he shall perhaps feel himself a little mortified. The things do not fill up that space, which the idea of them seemed to take up in his mind. But they have still a correspondency to his first notion, and in time grow up to it, so as to produce a very similar impression : enlarging themselves (if I may say so) upon familiarity. But the sea remains a disappointment.Is it not, that in the latter we had expected to behold (absurdly, I grant, but, I am afraid, by the law of imagination unavoidably) not a definite object, as those wild beasts, or that mountain compassable by the eye, but all the sea at once, THE COMMENSURATE ANTAGONIST OF THE EARTH? I do not say we tell ourselves so much, but the craving of the mind is to be satisfied with nothing less. I will suppose the case of a young person of fifteen (as I then was) knowing nothing of the sea, but from description. He comes to it for the first time—all that he has been reading of it all his life, and that the most enthusiastic part of life,
--all he has gathered from narratives of wandering seamen ; what he has gained from true voyages, and what he cherishes as credulously from romance and poetry ; crowding their images, and exacting strange tributes from expectation.--He thinks of the great deep, and of those who go down unto it; of its thousand isles, and of the vast continents it washes ; of its receiving the mighty Plate, or Orellana, into its bosom, without disturbance, or sense of augmentation ; of Biscay swells, and the mariner
For many a day, and many a dreadful night,
Incessant labouring round the stormy Cape ; of fatal rocks, and the “ still-vexed Bermoothes ;” of great whirlpools, and the water-spout ; of sunken ships, and sumless treasures swallowed up in the unrestoring depths : of fishes and quaint monsters, to which all that is terrible on earth
Be but as buggs to frighten babes withal,
Compared with the creatures in the sea's entral ; of naked savages, and Juan Fernandez; of pearls, and shells ; of coral beds, and of enchanted isles ; of mermaids' grots-
I do not assert that in sober earnest he expects to be shown all these wonders at once, but he is under the tyranny of a mighty faculty, which haunts him with confused hints and shadows of all these ; and when the actual object opens first upon him, seen (in tame weather too most likely) from our unromantic coasts—a speck, a slip of sea-water, as it shows to him—what can it prove but a very unsatisfying and even diminutive entertainment ?
Or if he has come to it from the mouth of a river, was it much more than the river widening ? and, even out of sight of land, what had he but a flat watery horizon about him, nothing comparable to the vast o'er-curtaining sky, his familiar object, seen daily without dread or amazement ?—Who, in similar circumstances, has not been tempted to exclaim with Charoba, in the poem of Gebir,
Is this the mighty ocean? is this all ? I love town, or country; but this detestable Cinque Port is neither. I hate these scrubbed shoots, thrusting out their starved foliage from between the horrid fissures of dusty innutritious rocks; which the amateur calls “verdure to the edge of the sea. I require woods, and they show me stunted coppices. I cry out for the waterbrooks, and pant for fresh streams, and inland
I cannot stand all day on the naked beach, watching the capricious hues of the sea, shifting like the colours of a dying mullet. I am tired of looking out at the windows of this islandprison. I would fain retire into the interior of my cage. While I gaze upon the sea, I want to be on it, over it, across it. It binds me in with chains, as of iron. My thoughts are abroad. I should not so feel in Staffordshire. There is no home for me here. There is no sense of home at Hastings. It is a place of fugitive resort, an heterogeneous assemblage of sea-mews and stock-brokers, Amphitrites of the town, and misses that coquet with the Ocean. If it were what it was in its primitive shape, and what it ought to have remained,
a fair honest fishing-town, and no more, it were something—with a few straggling fishermen's huts scattered about, artless as its cliffs, and with their materials filched from them, it were something. I could abide to dwell with Meschek; to assort with fisher-swains, and smugglers. There are, or I dream there are, many of this latter occupation here. Their faces become the place. I like a smuggler. He is the only honest thief. He robs nothing but the revenue,-an abstraction I never greatly cared about. I could go out with them in their mackarel boats, or about their less ostensible business, with some satisfaction. I can even tolerate those poor victims to monotony, who from day to day pace along the beach, in endless progress and recurrence, to watch their illicit countrymentownsfolk or brethren perchance-whistling to the sheathing and unsheathing of their cutlasses (their only solace), who under the mild name of preventive service, keep up a legitimated civil warfare in the deplorable absence of a foreign one, to show their detestation of run hollands, and zeal for old England. But it is the visitants from town, that come here to say that they have been here, with no more relish of the sea than a pond perch, or a dace might be supposed to have, that are my aversion. I feel like a foolish dace in these regions, and have as little toleration for myself here, as for them. What can they want here ? if they had a true relish of the ocean, why have they brought all this land luggage with them ? or why pitch their civilised tents in the desert ? What mean these scanty book-rooms--marine libraries as they entitle
them--if the sea were, as they would have us believe, a book “to read strange matter in ? " what are their foolish concert-rooms, if they come, as they would fain be thought to do, to listen to the music of the waves ? All is false and hollow pretension. They come, because it is the fashion, and to spoil the nature of the place. They are mostiy, as I have said, stock-brokers ; but I have watched the better sort of them--now and then, an honest citizen (of the old stamp), in the simplicity of his heart, shall bring down his wife and daughters, to taste the sea breezes. I always know the date of their arrival. It is easy to see it in their countenance. A day or two they go wandering on the shingles, picking up cockle-shells, and thinking them great things; but, in a poor week, imagination slackens : they begin to discover that cockles produce no pearls, and then-O then !--if I could interpret for the pretty creatures (I know they have not the courage to confess it themselves) how gladly would they exchange their sea-side rambles for a Sunday walk on the green-sward of their accustomed Twickenham meadows !
I would ask of one of these sea-charmed emigrants, who think they truly love the sea, with its wild usages, what would their feelings be, if some of the unsophisticated aborigines of this place, encouraged by their courteous questionings here, should venture, on the faith of such assured sympathy between them, to return the visit, and come up to see-London. I must imagine them with their fishing-tackle on their back, as we carry our town necessaries. What a sensation would it cause