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humane. It is very rare to hear a complaint against an officer of one of
these vessels; yet it is not easy to appreciate the embarrassments they
have frequently to encounter from whimsical, irritable, ignorant, and
exacting passengers. As a rule, the eastern men of this country make the
best packet-officers. They are less accustomed to sail with foreigners
than those who have been trained in the other ports, but acquire habits of
thought and justice by commanding their countrymen; for, of all the seamen
of the known world, I take it the most subordinate, the least troublesome,
and the easiest to govern, so long as he is not oppressed is the native
American. This, indeed, is true, both ashore and afloat, for very obvious
reasons: they who are accustomed to reason themselves, being the most
likely to submit to reasonable regulations; and they who are habituated to
plenty, are the least likely to be injured by prosperity, which causes
quite as much trouble in this world as adversity. It is this prosperity,
too suddenly acquired, which spoils most of the labouring Europeans who
emigrate; while they seldom acquire the real, frank independence of
feeling which characterizes the natives. They adopt an insolent and rude
manner as its substitute, mistaking the shadow for the substance. This
opinion of the American seamen is precisely the converse of what is
generally believed in Europe, however, and more particularly in England;
for, following out the one-sided political theories in which they have
been nurtured, disorganization, in the minds of the inhabitants of the old
world, is inseparable from popular institutions.

The early part of the season of 1826 was remarkable for the quantities of
ice that had drifted from the north into the track of European and
American ships. The Crisis, a London packet, had been missing nearly three
months when we sailed. She was known to have been full of passengers, and
the worst fears were felt for her safety; ten years have since elapsed,
and no vestige of this unhappy ship has ever been found!

Our master prudently decided that safety was of much more importance than
speed, and he kept the Hudson well to the southward. Instead of crossing
the banks, we were as low as 40°, when in their meridian; and although we
had some of the usual signs, in distant piles of fog, and exceedingly
chilly and disagreeable weather, for a day or two, we saw no ice. About
the 15th, the wind got round to the southward and eastward, and we began
to fall off, more than we wished even, to the northward.

All the charts for the last fifty years have three rocks laid down to the
westward of Ireland, which are known as the "Three Chimneys." Most
American mariners have little faith in their existence, and yet, I fancy,
no seaman draws near the spot where they are said to be, without keeping a
good look-out for the danger. The master of the Hudson once carried a
lieutenant of the English navy, as a passenger, who assured him that he
had actually seen these "Three Chimneys." He may have been mistaken, and
he may not. Our course lay far to the southward of them; but the wind
gradually hauled ahead, in such a way as to bring us as near as might be
to the very spot where they ought to appear, if properly laid down. The
look-outs of a merchant-ship are of no great value, except in serious
cases, and I passed nearly a whole night on deck, quite as much incited by
my precious charge, as by curiosity, in order to ascertain all that eyes
could ascertain under the circumstances. No signs of these rocks, however,
were seen from the Hudson.

It is surprising in the present state of commerce, and with the vast
interests which are at stake, that any facts affecting the ordinary
navigation between the two hemispheres should be left in doubt. There is
a shoal, and I believe a reef, laid down near the tail of the great
bank, whose existence is still uncertain. Seamen respect this danger
more than that of the "Three Chimneys," for it lies very much in the
track of ships between Liverpool and New York; still, while tacking, or
giving it a berth, they do not know whether they are not losing a wind
for a groundless apprehension! Our own government would do well to
employ a light cruiser, or two, in ascertaining just these facts (many
more might he added to the list), during the summer months. Our own
brief naval history is pregnant with instances of the calamities that
befall ships. No man can say when, or how, the Insurgente, the
Pickering, the Wasp, the Epervier, the Lynx, and the Hornet disappeared.
We know that they are gone; and of all the brave spirits they held, not
one has been left to relate the histories of the different disasters. We
have some plausible conjectures concerning the manner in which the two
latter were wrecked; but an impenetrable mystery conceals the fate of
the four others. They may have run on unknown reefs. These reefs may be
constantly heaving up from the depths of the ocean, by subterranean
efforts; for a marine rock is merely the summit of a submarine
mountain.[2]

[Footnote 2: There is a touching incident connected with the fortunes of
two young officers of the navy, that is not generally known. When the
Essex frigate was captured in the Pacific, by the Phoebe and Cherub, two
of the officers of the former were left in the ship, in order to make
certain affidavits that were necessary to the condemnation. The remainder
were paroled and returned to America. After a considerable interval, some
uneasiness was felt at the protracted absence of those who had been left
in the Essex. On inquiry it was found, that, after accompanying the ship
to Rio Janeiro, they had been exchanged, according to agreement, and
suffered to go where they pleased. After some delay, they took passage in
a Swedish brig bound to Norway, as the only means which offered to get to
Europe, whence they intended to return home. About this time great
interest was also felt for the sloop Wasp. She had sailed for the mouth of
the British Channel, where she fell in with and took the Reindeer,
carrying her prisoners into France. Shortly after she had an action with
and took the Avon, but was compelled to abandon her prize by others of the
enemy's cruisers, one of which (the Castilian) actually came up with her
and gave her a broad-side. About twenty days after the latter action she
took a merchant-brig, near the Western Islands, and sent her into
Philadelphia. This was the last that had been heard of her. Months and
even years went by, and no farther intelligence was obtained. All this
time, too, the gentlemen of the Essex were missing. Government ordered
inquiries to be made in Sweden for the master of the brig in which they
had embarked; he was absent on a long voyage, and a weary period elapsed
before he could be found. When this did happen, he was required to give an
account of his passengers. By producing his logbook and proper receipts,
he proved that he had fallen in with the Wasp, near the line, about a
fortnight after she had taken the merchant-brig named, when the young
officers in question availed themselves of the occasion to return to their
flag. Since that time, a period of twenty-one years, the Wasp has not been
heard of.]

We were eighteen days out, when, early one morning, we made an American
ship, on our weather quarter. Both vessels had everything set that would
draw, and were going about five knots, close on the wind. The stranger
made a signal to speak us, and, on the Hudson's main-topsail being laid to
the mast, he came down under our stern, and ranged up alongside to
leeward. He proved to be a ship called the "London Packet," from
Charlestown, bound to Havre, and his chronometer having stopped, he wanted
to get the longitude.

When we had given him our meridian, a trial of sailing commenced, which
continued without intermission for three entire days. During this time, we
had the wind from all quarters, and of every degree of force, from the
lightest air to a double-reefed-topsail breeze. We were never a mile
separated, and frequently we were for hours within a cable's length of
each other. One night the two ships nearly got foul, in a very light air.
The result showed, that they sailed as nearly alike, one being deep and
the other light, as might well happen to two vessels. On the third day,
both ships being under reefed topsails, with the wind at east, and in
thick weather, after holding her own with us for two watches, the London
Packet edged a little off the wind, while the Hudson still hugged it, and
we soon lost sight of our consort in the mist.

We were ten days longer struggling with adverse winds. During this time
the ship made all possible traverses, our vigilant master resorting to
every expedient of an experienced seaman to get to the eastward. We were
driven up as high as fifty-four, where we fell into the track of the St.
Lawrence traders. The sea seemed covered with them, and I believe we made
more than a hundred, most of which were brigs. All these we passed without
difficulty. At length a stiff breeze came from the south-west, and we laid
our course for the mouth of the British Channel under studding-sails.

On the 28th we got bottom in about sixty fathoms water. The 29th was thick
weather, with a very light, but a fair wind; we were now quite sensibly
within the influence of the tides. Towards evening the horizon brightened
a little, and we made the Bill of Portland, resembling a faint bluish
cloud. It was soon obscured, and most of the landsmen were incredulous
about its having been seen at all. In the course of the night, however, we
got a good view of the Eddystone.

Going on deck early on the morning of the 30th, a glorious view
presented itself. The day was fine, clear, and exhilarating, and the
wind was blowing fresh from the westward Ninety-seven sail, which had
come into the Channel, like ourselves, during the thick weather, were in
plain sight. The majority were English, but we recognized the build of
half the maritime nations of Christendom in the brilliant fleet.
Everybody was busy, and the blue waters were glittering with canvass. A
frigate was in the midst of us, walking through the crowd like a giant
stepping among pigmies. Our own good vessel left everything behind her
also, with the exception of two or three other bright-sided ships, which
happened to be as fast as herself.

I found the master busy with the glass; and, as soon as he caught my
eye, he made a sign for me to come forward. "Look at that ship directly
ahead of us!" The vessel alluded to led the fleet, being nearly
hull-down to the eastward. It was the Don Quixote, which had left the
port of New York one month before, about the same distance in our
advance. "Now look here, inshore of us," added the master: "it is an
American; but I cannot make her out." "Look again: she has a new cloth
in her main-top-gallant sail." This was true enough, and by that sign,
the vessel was our late competitor, the London Packet!

As respects the Don Quixote, we had made a journey of some five thousand
miles, and not varied our distance, on arriving, a league. There was
probably some accident in this; for the Don Quixote had the reputation of
a fast ship, while the Hudson was merely a pretty fair sailer. We had
probably got the best of the winds. But a hard and close trial of three
days had shown that neither the Hudson nor the London Packet, in their
present trims, could go ahead of the other in any wind. And yet here,
after a separation of ten days, during which time our ship had tacked and
wore fifty times, had calms, foul winds and fair, and had run fully a
thousand miles, there was not a league's difference between the two
vessels!

I have related these circumstances, because I think they are connected
with causes that have a great influence on the success of American
navigation. On passing several of the British ships to-day, I observed
that their officers were below, or at least out of sight; and in one
instance, a vessel of a very fair mould, and with every appearance of a
good sailer, actually lay with some of her light sails aback, long enough
to permit us to come up with and pass her. The Hudson probably went with
this wind some fifteen or twenty miles farther than this loiterer; while I
much question if she could have gone as far, had the latter been well
attended to. The secret is to be found in the fact, that so large a
portion of American ship-masters are also ship-owners, as to have erected
a standard of activity and vigilance, below which few are permitted to
fall. These men work for themselves, and, like all their countrymen, are
looking out for something more than a mere support.

About noon we got a Cowes pilot. He brought no news, but told us the
English vessel I have just named was sixty days from Leghorn, and that she
had been once a privateer. We were just thirty from New York.

We had distant glimpses of the land all day, and several of the passengers
determined to make their way to the shore in the pilot-boat. These Channel
craft are sloops of about thirty or forty tons, and are rather picturesque
and pretty boats, more especially when under low sail. They are usually
fitted to take passengers, frequently earning more in this way than by
their pilotage. They have the long sliding bowsprit, a short lower mast,
very long cross-trees, with a taunt topmast, and, though not so "wicked"
to the eye, I think them prettier objects at sea than our own schooners.
The party from the Hudson had scarcely got on board their new vessel when
it fell calm, and the master and myself paid them a visit. They looked
like a set of smugglers waiting for the darkness to run in. On our return
we rowed round the ship. One cannot approach a vessel at sea, in this
manner, without being struck with the boldness of the experiment which
launched such massive and complicated fabrics on the ocean. The pure water
is a medium almost as transparent as the atmosphere, and the very keel is
seen, usually so near the surface, in consequence of refraction, as to
give us but a very indifferent opinion of the security of the whole
machine. I do not remember ever looking at my own vessel, when at sea,
from a boat, without wondering at my own folly in seeking such a home.

In the afternoon the breeze sprang up again, and we soon lost sight of our
friends, who were hauling in for the still distant land. All that
afternoon and night we had a fresh and a favourable wind. The next day I
went on deck, while the people were washing the ship. It was Sunday, and
there was a flat calm. The entire scene admirably suited a day of rest.
The Channel was like a mirror, unruffled by a breath of air, and some
twenty or thirty vessels lay scattered about the view, with their sails
festooned and drooping, thrown into as many picturesque positions by the
eddying waters. Our own ship had got close in with the land; so near,
indeed, as to render a horse or a man on the shore distinctly visible. We
were on the coast of Dorsetshire. A range of low cliffs lay directly abeam
of us, and, as the land rose to a ridge behind them, we had a distinct
view of a fair expanse of nearly houseless fields. We had left America
verdant and smiling, but we found England brown and parched, there having
been a long continuance of dry easterly winds.

The cliffs terminated suddenly, a little way ahead of the ship, and the
land retired inward, with a wide sweep, forming a large, though not a very
deep bay, that was bounded by rather low shores. It was under these very
cliffs, on which we were looking with so much pleasure and security, and
at so short a distance, that the well-known and terrible wreck of an
Indiaman occurred, when the master, with his two daughters, and hundreds
of other lives, were lost. The pilot pointed out the precise spot where
that ill-fated vessel went to pieces. But the sea in its anger, and the
sea at rest, are very different powers. The place had no terrors for us.

Ahead of us, near twenty miles distant, lay a high hazy bluff, that was
just visible. This was the western extremity of the Isle of Wight, and the
end of our passage in the Hudson. A sloop of war was pointing her head in
towards this bluff, and all the vessels in sight now began to take new
forms, varying and increasing the picturesque character of the view. We
soon got a light air ourselves, and succeeded in laying the ship's head
off shore, towards which we had been gradually drifting nearer than was
desirable. The wind came fresh and fair about ten, when we directed our
course towards the distant bluff. Everything was again in motion. The
cliffs behind us gradually sunk, as those before us rose, and lost their
indistinctness; the blue of the latter soon became grey, and, ere long,
white as chalk, this being the material of which they are, in truth,
composed.

We saw a small whale (it might have been a large grampus) floundering
ahead of us, and acting as an extra pilot, for he appeared to be steering,
like ourselves, for the Needles. These Needles are fragments of the chalk
cliffs, that have been pointed and rendered picturesque by the action of
the weather, and our course lay directly past them. They form a line from
the extremity of the Isle of Wight, and are awkwardly placed for vessels
that come this way in thick weather, or in the dark. The sloop of war got
round them first, and we were not far behind her. When fairly within the
Needles the ship was embayed, our course now lying between Hampshire and
the Isle of Wight, through a channel of no great width. The country was
not particularly beautiful, and still looked parched; though we got a
distant view of one pretty town, Lymington, in Hampshire. This place, in
the distance, appeared not unlike a large New England village, though
there was less glare to the houses. The cliffs, however, were very fine,
without being of any extraordinary elevation. Though much inferior to the
shores of the Mediterranean, they as much surpass anything I remember to
have seen on our own coast, between Cape Anne and Cape Florida; which, for
its extent, a part of India, perhaps, excepted, is, I take it, just the
flattest, and tamest, and least interesting coast in the entire world.

The master pointed out a mass of dark herbage on a distant height, which
resembled a copse of wood that had been studiously clipped into square
forms at its different angles. It was visible only for a few moments,
through a vista in the hills. This was Carisbrooke Castle, buried in ivy.

There was another little castle, on a low point of land, which was erected
by Henry VIII. as a part of a system of marine defence. It would scarcely
serve to scale the guns of a modern twenty-four-pounder frigate, judging
of its means of resistance and annoyance by the eye. These things are
by-gones for England, a country that has little need of marine batteries.

About three, we reached a broad basin, the land retiring on each side of
us. The estuary to the northward is called Southampton Water, the town of
that name being seated on its margin. The opening in the Isle of Wight is
little more than a very wide mouth to a very diminutive river or creek,
and Cowes, divided into East and West, lines its shores. The anchorage in
the arm of the sea off this little haven was well filled with vessels,
chiefly the yachts of amateur seamen, and the port itself contained little
more than pilot-boats and crafts of a smaller size. The Hudson brought up
among the former. Hauling up the forecourse of a merchant-ship is like
lifting the curtain again on the drama of the land. These vessels rarely
furl this sail; and they who have not experienced it, cannot imagine what
a change it produces on those who have lived a month or six weeks beneath
its shadow. The sound of the chain running out was very grateful, and I
believe, though well satisfied with the ship as such, that everybody was
glad to get a nearer view of our great mother earth.

It was Sunday, but we were soon visited by boats from the town. Some came
to carry us ashore, others to see that we carried nothing off with us. At
first, the officer of the customs manifested a desire to make us all go
without the smallest article of dress, or anything belonging to our most
ordinary comforts; but he listened to remonstrances, and we were
eventually allowed to depart with our night-bags. As the Hudson was to
sail immediately for London, all our effects were sent within the hour to
the custom-house. At 3 P.M. July 2nd, 1826, we put foot in Europe, after a
passage of thirty-one days from the quarantine ground.




LETTER II.

Controversy at Cowes. - Custom-house Civility. - English Costume. - Fashion
in America. - Quadrilles in New York. - Cowes. - Nautical Gallantry.
English Beauty. - Isle of Wight Butter. - English Scenery. - M'Adamized
Roads. - Old Village Church. - Rural Interment. - Pauper's
Grave. - Carisbrooke Cattle. - Southampton. - Waiter at the Vine. - English
Costume. - Affinity with England. - Netley Abbey. - Southampton Cockneys.


TO MRS. POMEROY, COOPERSTOWN, NEW YORK.

We were no sooner on English ground, than we hurried to one of the two or
three small inns of West Cowes, or the principal quarter of the place, and
got rooms at the Fountain. Mr. and Mrs. - - had preceded us, and were
already in possession of a parlour adjoining our own. On casting an eye
out at the street, I found them, one at each window of their own room,
already engaged in a lively discussion of the comparative merits of Cowes
and Philadelphia! This propensity to exaggerate the value of whatever is
our own, and to depreciate that which is our neighbour's, a principle that
is connected with the very ground-work of poor human nature, forms a
material portion of travelling equipage of nearly every one who quits the
scenes of his own youth, to visit those of other people. A comparison
between Cowes and Philadelphia is even more absurd than a comparison
between New York and London, and yet, in this instance, it answered the
purpose of raising a lively controversy between an American wife and a
European husband.

The consul at Cowes had been an old acquaintance at school some
five-and-twenty years before, and an inquiry was set on foot for his
residence. He was absent in France, but his deputy soon presented himself
with an offer of services. We wished for our trunks, and it was soon
arranged that there should be an immediate examination. Within an hour we
were summoned to the store-house, where an officer attended on behalf of
the customs. Everything was done in a very expeditious and civil manner,
not only for us, but for a few steerage passengers, and this, too, without
the least necessity for a _douceur_, the usual _passe-partout_ of England.
America sends no manufactures to Europe; and, a little smuggling in
tobacco excepted, there is probably less of the contraband in our
commercial connexion with England, than ever before occurred between two
nations that have so large a trade. This, however, is only in reference to
what goes eastward, for immense amounts of the smaller manufactured
articles of all Europe find their way, duty free, into the United States.
There is also a regular system of smuggling through the Canadas, I have
been told.

While the ladies were enjoying the negative luxury of being liberated from
a ship, at the Fountain Inn, I strolled about the place. You know that I
had twice visited England professionally before I was eighteen; and, on
one occasion, the ship I was in anchored off this very island, though not
at this precise spot. I now thought the people altered. There had
certainly been so many important changes in myself during the same period,
that it becomes me to speak with hesitation on this point: but even the
common class seemed less peculiar, less English, _less provincial_, if one
might use such an expression, as applied to so great a nation; in short,
more like the rest of the world than formerly. Twenty years before,
England was engaged in a war, by which she was, in a degree, isolated from
most of Christendom. This insulated condition, sustained by a
consciousness of wealth, knowledge, and power, had served to produce a
decided peculiarity of manners, and even of appearance. In the article of
dress I could not be mistaken. In 1806 I had seen all the lower classes of
the English clad in something like _costumes_. The Channel waterman wore
the short dowlas petticoat; the Thames waterman, a jacket and breeches of
velveteen, and a badge; the gentleman and gentlewoman, attire such as was
certainly to be seen in no other part of the Christian world, the English



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperRecollections of Europe → online text (page 2 of 29)