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Voyaging At Sea
by [?]

A philosopher has described the active life of man as a continuous effort to forget the facts of his own existence. It is vain to pin such philosophers to a definite meaning; but I think the writer meant vaguely to hint in a lofty way that the human mind incessantly longs for change. We all crave to be something that we are not; we all wish to know the facts concerning states of existence other than our own; and it is this craving curiosity that produces every form of social and spiritual activity. Yet, with all this restless desire, this uneasy yearning, only a few of us are ever able to pass beyond one piteously narrow sphere, and we rest in blank ignorance of the existence that goes on without the bounds of our tiny domain. How many people know that by simply going on board a ship and sailing for a couple of days they would pass practically into another moral world, and change their mental as well as their bodily habits? I have been moved to these reflections by observing the vast amount of nautical literature which appears during the holiday season, and by seeing the complete ignorance and misconception which are palmed off upon the public. It is a fact that only a few English people know anything about the mightiest of God’s works. To them life on the ocean is represented by a series of phrases which seem to have been transplanted from copy-books. They speak of “the bounding main,” “the raging billows,” “seas mountains high,” “the breath of the gale,” “the seething breakers,” and so on; but regarding the commonplace, quiet everyday life at sea they know nothing. Strangely enough, only Mr. Clark Russell has attempted to give in literary form a vivid, veracious account of sea-life, and his thrice-noble books are far too little known, so that the strongest maritime nation in the whole world is ignorant of vital facts concerning the men who make her prosperity. Let any one who is well informed enter a theatre when a nautical drama is presented; he will find the most ridiculous spectacle that the mind of man can conceive. On one occasion, when a cat came on to the stage at Drury Lane and ran across the heaving billows of the canvas ocean, the audience roared with laughter; but to the judicious critic the real cause for mirth was the behaviour of the nautical persons who figured in the drama. The same ignorance holds everywhere. Seamen scarcely ever think of describing their life to people on shore, and the majority of landsmen regard a sea-voyage as a dull affair, to be begun with regret and ended with joy. Dull! Alas, it is dull for people who have dim eyes and commonplace minds; but for the man who has learned to gaze aright at the Creator’s works there is not a heavy minute from the time when the dawn trembles in the gray sky until the hour when, with stars and sea-winds in her raiment, night sinks on the sea. Dull! As well describe the rush of the turbulent Strand or the populous splendour of Regent Street by that word! I have always held that a man cannot be considered as educated if he is unable to wait an hour in a railway-station for a train without ennui. What is education good for if it does not give us resources which may enable us to gather delight or instruction from every sight and sound that may fall on our nerves? The most melancholy spectacle in the world is presented by the stolid citizen who yawns over his Bradshaw while the swift panoramas of Charing Cross or Euston are gliding by him. Men who are rightly constituted find delight in the very quietude and isolation of sea-life; they know how to derive pure entertainment from the pageant of the sky and the music of winds and waters, and they experience a piquant delight by reason of the contrast between the loneliness of the sea and the eager struggling life of the City. Proceeding, as is my custom, by examples, I shall give precise descriptions of specimen days which anybody may spend on the wandering wastes of the ocean. “All things pertaining to the life of man are of interest to me,” said the Roman; and he showed his wisdom by that saying.