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Old Cuff
by [?]

“Qualia multa mari nautae patiuntur in alto!”


What Yankee man-of-war’s-man is there, ashore or afloat, who has “helped Uncle Sam,” any time between the beginning of the “long embargo,” and the year 1827, who does not know or has not heard of Old Cuff? His real patronymic appellation is nobody’s business;–perhaps it would puzzle himself to give any account of it: nor is it worth while to inquire how the name of Cuff, generally bestowed upon the woolly-headed and flat-nosed descendants of Ham, should be given to a white man; and as for the praenomen, as the Romans would call it, of “old,” it is well known to all my short-jacketed readers, that it seldom has, in “sea dic.” or nautical language, any reference to antiquity on the part of the bearer thereof; but is merely a familiar or affectionate distinction; as the commander of a merchantman, although perhaps under twenty years of age, is invariably called the “old man,” by all hands on board.

Old Cuff, when I knew him, was just turned of forty, and was, of course, of venerable standing; as it is I presume, well known to every body that a sailor’s life does not average much more than forty years, from exposure, hardships, and privations. Though not stricken in years, according to the usual signification of the phrase, Old Cuff had certainly lived a great deal, and had seen a great deal, there being scarcely a habitable corner of the world that he had not visited, or of the private history and internal economy of which he could not relate many anecdotes; so that he might, without arrogance or vanity, have assumed to himself the proposed motto of the Jesuits:

“Quae regio in terris nostri non plena laboris!”

He commenced his career as cook and cabin-boy on board a “horse-jockey;” one of those vessels which carry horses, mules, and other cattle to the West Indies; a title bestowed upon them by sailors, who are very much in the habit of indulging in that figure of speech called by rhetoricians metonymy; in this instance applying the genuine name of all Connecticut men, and some Rhode Islanders, to a fore-topsail schooner, or hermaphrodite brig, as the case might be. He was next, by a sort of metamorphosis, or rather metastasis, not uncommon with those of “steady habits,” a travelling tin-pedler; and his adventures and hard bargains, during a visit or two to the western and southern states, might prove highly entertaining to my readers, had I not seen some twenty or thirty of them lately going the rounds of the newspapers, which Old Cuff has often very gravely assured us, in our “quarter watches” in the main-top, were actually perpetrated by himself. By a transition still easier, and perhaps more natural, from a tin-pedler he transmuted himself into an itinerant preacher, and from conscientious motives endeavored to repair the injury he had done to the pockets of his customers with his white-oak nutmegs, horn gun-flints, and bass-wood cucumber seeds, by supplying them with pure unadulterated orthodox Calvinism, fresh from the Saybrook Platform. Nor did he confine his usefulness to beating the “drum ecclesiastic;” during the long winters in the country, he “kept school,” as it is somewhat perversely called; whereas, in nine cases out of ten, it is the school that “keeps” the schoolmaster.

But “the sow that was washed returned to her wallowing in the mire;” and in like manner Cuff left off steering the souls of sinners through the temptations and sorrows of this wicked world, or the infant mind through the intricacies of a–b ab, and once more betook himself to steering vessels across the ocean. He went to sea as mate, and shortly after as master, of a merchantman. He was chiefly employed in the West India trade.