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story of a princess — Elizabeth, if I remember
■ — having intrusted to his care an extraor-
dinary casket of jewels, upon some extraor-
dinary occasion, — ^but, as I am not certain of
the name or circumstance at this distance of
time, I must leave it to the Poyal daughters
of England to settle the honor among them-
selves in private. I cannot call to mind
half his pleasant wonders ; but I perfectly
remember, that in the course of his travels
he had seen a phoenix ; and he obligingly un-
deceived us of the vulgar error, that there
is but one of that species at a time, assuring
us that they were not unconnnon in some
parts of Upper Egypt. Hitherto he had
found the most implicit listeners. His
dreammg fancies had transi^orted us be-
yond the "ignorant present." But when
(still hardying more and more in his triumphs
over our simplicity) he went on to affirm
that he had actually sailed through the
legs of the Colossus at Rhodes, it really be-
came necessary to make a stand. .\nd^
here I must do justice to the good sense



and intrepidity of one of qui- party, a youtli
that had hitherto been one of his most
deferential auditors, Avho, from his recent
reading-, made bold to assure the gentle-
m;u], that there must be some mistake, as
" the Colossus in question had been destroyed
long since ; " to whose opinion, delivered
T/itli all modesty, our hero was obliging
enough to concede thus much, that " the
figure was indeed a little damaged." This
^v;ls the only opposition he met with, and it
did not at all seem to stagger him, for he
proceeded with his fables, which the same
youth appeared to swallow with still more
(;omplacency than ever, — confirmed, as it
were, by the extreme candor of that conces-
5iion. With these prodigies he wheedled
us on till we came in sight of the Reculvers,
^vhich one of our own company (having been
the voyage before) immediately recognizing,
;md pointing out to us, was considered by
us as no ordinary seaman.

All this time sat upon the edge of the
deck quite a different character. It was a
lad, apparently very poor, very infirm, and
very patient. His eye was ever on the sea,
with a smile ; and, if he caught now and
then some snatches of these wild legends, it
was by accident, and tliey seemed not to
concern him. Tlie waves to him whispered
more pleasant stories. lie was as one, being
with us, but not of us. lie heard thebell of
dinner ring without stirring : and when.



«0 ^\it m\^i (^:^'J,^■aM,(i of ^lia.



some of us pulled out our private stores —
our cold meat and our salads, — he produced
iioue, and seemed to want none. Only a
solitary biscuit he had laid in ; provision for
the one or two days and nigiits, to which
these vessels then were oftentimes obliged
to ijrolong- their voyage. Upon a nearer ac-
quaintance with him, w^hicli he seemed
neither to court nor decline, we learned that
he was going to Margate, ^yith the hoj^e
of being admitted into the Tnfirraary there
for sea-bathing. His disease was a scrofula
which appeared to have eaten all over him.
He expressed great hopes of a cure; and
when we asked him whether he, had any
friends where he was going, he replied " he
had wo friends."

These pleasant, and some mournful pas-
sages with the first sight of the sea, co-oper-
ating with youth, and a sense of holidays,
and out-of-door adventure, to me that had
been pent up in populous cities for many
months before, — have left upon my mind
the fragrance as of svunmer days gone by,
bequeathing nothing but their remembrance
for cold and wintry hours to chew upon.

Will it be thought a digression (it may
spare some unwelcome comparisons) if I en-
deavor to account for the dissatisfaction
which I have heard so many persons con-
fess to have felt (as I did myself feel in part
on this occasion) at the siijht 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
them — scarcely goes deep enough into tlie
question. Let the same person see a lion,
an elepliant, 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 defi-
nite object, as those wild beasts, or that
mountain compassable by the eye, but all
the sea at once, tue commensurate antag-
onist OF THE EARTH ? I do uot 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. lie comes to
it for the first time, — all that he has been
reading of it all liis life, and that the most
enthusiastic part of life, — all he has gathered
from narratives of wandei'ing seamen, —
what he has gained from true voyages, and
what he cherishes as credulously from ro-
mance and poetry — crowding their images



62 m\t 3:a,st (^^^n\\^ of (T^tia.



a,nd exacting strange tributes from expecta-
tion. He thinks of tlie great deep, and of
those who go down into it ; of its thousand
isles, and of tlie vast continents it waslies ;
of its receiving tlie 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 laboring round the stormy Cape ; "

of fatal rocks, and the "still-vexed Ber^
moothes ; " of great Avhirlpools, and the
watersix)ut ; of sunken ships, and sumlesf»
treasures swallowed up in the unrestor-
ing depths ; of fishes and quaint monsters,
to which all that is terrible on earth

" Be hut as huggs to frighten bahes withal,
Compared v.'itli the creatures in the sea's entral;"

of naked savages, and Juan Fernandez ; of
pearls and shells ; of coral beds, and of en-
chanted isles ; of mermaids' grots ; —

I do not assert that in sober earnest he ex-
pects to be shown all these wonders at once,
but he is under the tyranny of a mighty fac-
ulty which haunts him with confused hints
and shadows of all these ; and when the
actual object opens lirst upon him, seen (in
tame weather too, most likely) from our unro-
mantic 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 montli of a river, was it mucli
more tlian the river widening? and, even
out of sight of hind, wliat liad lie but a flat
Avatery liorizon about him, notliing compar-
able to the vast o'er-curtaining sky, his
familiar object, seen daily witliout dread
or amazement? — Who, in similar circum-
stances, has not been tempted to exclaim
with Charoba, in the poem of Gebir,

" Is this the mighty oceau ? is this all ? "

I love town, or country ; but this detest-
able Cinque Port is neither. I hate these
scrubbed shoots, thrusting out their starved
foliage from between the horrid fissures of
dusty innutritions rocks, which the ama-
teur calls " verdure to the edge of the sea."
I require woods, and they show me stunted
coppices. I cry out for the water-brooks,
and pant for fresh streams, and inland
murmurs. I cannot stand all day on the
naked beach, watching the capricious hues
of the sea, shifting like the colors of a dying
mullet. I am tired of looking out at the
windows of this island-prison. 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. Tt binds me in with chains, as
of iron. jNIy 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
sometliing; — with a few straggling fisher-
men's huts scattered about, artless as its
cliffs, and with their materials filched from
them, it were something. I could abide to
dwell with Meshech ; to assort with fisher-
swains, and smugglers. There are, or I
dream there are, many of this latter occupa-
tion 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 mackerel
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 countrymen — townsfolk or brethren
perchance — whistling to the sheathing or
unsheathing of their cutlasses (their only
solace), who, under the mild name of Pre-
ventive Service, kept 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



^\it p^t (^^mp ot mm. 65

is the visitants from town, that come here
to saij that they have been here, with no
more rehsh of the sea than a pond-]ierch or
a dace might be supposed to have, that are
my aversion. I feel hke a foohsh dace in
these regions, and have as httle toleration
for myself here as for them. What can
they want here ? if they had a true I'elish
of the ocean, Avhy have they brought all
this land luggage with them ? or why pitch
their civilized 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 f i^in 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. The}'- are, mostly, as I have said,
stockbrokers ; 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 countenances. A day or
two they go wandering on the shingles, pick-
ing up cockle-shells, and thinking them
great things ; but, in a poor week, imagina-
tion slackens : they begin to discover that
cockles produce no pearls, and then — O



then ! — if I conld interpret for the pretty
creatures ( I know they have not the courage
to confess it themselves), how giadly would
they exchange their seaside rambles for a
Sunday- walk on the greensward of their
accustomed Twickenham meadows !

I would ask of one of these sea-charmed
emigrants, Avho think they truly lo%'e 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 in Lothbury.
"What vehement laughter would it not excite
among

*' The daughters of Cheapside, and ■nives of Lom-
bard Street ! '^

I am sure that no town-bred or inland-
born subjects can feel their true and natural
nourishment at these sea-places. Nature,
where she does not mean us for mariners
and vagabonds, bids us stay at home. The
salt foam seems to nourish a spleen. I am
not half so good-natured as by the milder
waters of my natural river. I would ex-
change these sea-gulls for swans, and scud
a swallow forever about the banks of
Tamesis.



^\\t iTast (^^^n\p of eUii. 67



The Convalesce

A PEETTY severe fit of indisposition which,
Ymder tlie name of a nervous fever, has
made a prisoner of nie for some weeks past,
and is but slowly leaving me, has reduced
ine to an incapacity of reflecting upon any
topic foreign to itself. Expect no healthy
conclusions from me this month, reader ; I
can offer you only sick men's dreams.

And truly the whole state of sickness is
such ; for what else is it but a magniiicent
dream for a man to lie a-bed, and draw day-
light curtains about him ; and, shutting out
the sun, to induce a total oblivion of all the
works which are going on under it? To
become insensible to all the operations of
life, except the beatings of one feeble pulse ?

If there be a regal solitude, it is a sick-
bed. How the patient lords it there ! what
caprices he acts without control ! hoAv king-
like he sways his pillow — tumbling, and
tossing, and shifting, and lowering, and
thumping, and flatting, and molding it, to
the ever- varying requisitions of his throb-
bing temples.

He changes sides oftener than a ]")olitician.
Now he lies full length, then half length,



G8 ^\tt f a!5t (^^mp at m\^.

obliquely, transversely, head and feet quite-
across the bed; and none accuses him of
tergiversation. Within the four curtains
he is absolute. They are his Mare Clau-
sum.

How sickness enlarges the dimensions of
a man's self to himself ! he is his own ex-
elusive object. Supreme selfishness is in-
culcated upon him as his only duty. 'Tis
the Two Tables of the Law to him. He has
nothing to think of but how to get well.
What passes out of doors, or within tliem,
so he hear not the jarring of them, affects
him not.

A little while ago he was greatly con-
cerned in the event of a lawsuit, which was
to be the making or the marring of his dear-
est friend. He was to be seen trudging about
upon this man's errand to fifty quarters of
the town at once, jogging this witness, re-
freshing that solicitor. The cause was ta
come on yesterday. He is absolutely as
indifferent to the decision, as if it M'cre a
question to be tried at Pekin. Peradvent-
ure from some whispering, going on about
the house, not intended for his hearing,
he picks up enough to make him under-
stand, that things went cross-grained in the
Court yesterday, and his friend is ruined.
But the word "friend," and the word "ruin,'*
disturb him no more than so much jargon.
He is not to think of anything but iiow to
get better.



^U p.st (^^^inp of mix, 69



What a world of foreign cares are merged
in that absorbing consideration !

lie has put on the strong armor of sick-
ness, he is wrapped in tlie callous hide of
suffering ; he keeps his sympathy, like some
curious vintage, under trusty lock and key,
for his own use only.

He lies pitying himself, honing and moan-
ing to himself ! he yearneth over himself ;
his bowels are even melted within him, to
think what he suffers ; he is not ashamed to
weep over himself.

He is forever x)lotting how to do some
good to himself ; studying little stratagems
and artificial alleviations.

He makes the most of himself ; dividing
himself, by an allowable fiction, into as many
distinct individuals, as he hath sore and sor-
rowing members. Sometimes he meditates
■ — as of a thing apart from him — upon liis
poor aching head, and tliat dull pain which,
dozing or waking, lay in it all the past night
like a log, or palpable substance of pain, not
to be removed without opening the very
skull, as it seemed, to take it thence. Or he
pities his long, clammy, attenuated fingers.
He compassionates himself all over ; and his
bed is a very discipline of liumanity, and
tender heart.

lie is his own sympathizer ; and instinc-
tively feels that none can so well perform
iihat office for him. He cares for few specta-
tors to his tragedy. Only that punctual face



70 (The p.st (!!^,$,$ay,^ of miix.



of the old nurse i^leases him, that an-
nounces his brotlis and his cordials. lie
likes it because it is so unmoved, and because
he can pour forth his feverish ejacula-
tion before it as unreservedly as to his
bedpost.

To the "\;^'orld*s business he is dead. He
understands not what the callings and occu-
pations of mortals are ; only he has a glim-
mering conceit of some such thing, Avheii
the doctor makes bis daily call ; and even
in the lines on that busy face he reads no
multiplicity of patients, but solely conceives
of himself as the sic/c man. To what other
uneasy couch the good man is hastening,
when he slips out of his chamber, folding
up his thin douceur so carefully, for fear or
rustling — is no speculation which he can at
present entertain. He thinks only of the
regular return of the same iDhenomenc.i at
the same hour to-morrow.

Household rumors touch him not. Some
faint murmur, indicative of life going on
within the house, soothes him, while he
knows not distinctly what it is. He is not
to know anything, not to think of anything.
Servants gliding up or doA^mi the distant
staircase, treading as upon velvet, gently
keep his ear awake so long as he troubles
not himself further than with some feeble
guess at their errands. Exacter knowledge
would be a burden to him ; he can just en-
dure the pressure of conjecture.:;. He opens.





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Online LibraryCharles LambThe last essays of Elia → online text (page 4 of 15)