The Pleasures of a life at Sea

Pleasure I. – I have always considered the mere exemption from misery to be a positive pleasure – a truth verified in being relieved from all the horrors and consequent depression of sea sickness, and in being able to join in the laugh against those who are not so fortunate as yourself. At first I was in ecstasy at my emancipation and was unmerciful in lautering and jeering the unfortunates – but afterwards a feeling of sympathy would arise and induce me to render them assistance.

Pleasure II. – Oceans of Grog after a long dearth – none of your twelve water stuff – but such grog as a seaman loves, and alone knows how to mix – Every face enwreathed in smiles – every eye radiant with delight, and every voice tuneful with the burden of that standard old song “The Mariner’s Compass is Grog.” Every heart also is one that can feel for another, and every messmate in distress is sure of relief.

Pleasure III.A skylark – a lark – a spree is the order of the day – men as happy as men can be, playing their rough jokes, and venting their rude wit at each other’s expence, while the merry catch and cheerful glass occasionally pass round. Delightful thing to spin a yarn of wind and storms – and the wonders of the vasty deep to the eager and credulous Newcome. Tell your story with a grave face, and, if he shew any symptoms of doubt, clench it, and he will take it for gospel. Bring him from the midst of dinner, or rouse him out of sweet slumber to come upon deck in a down-pour of rain, in order to see the flying Dutchman, or one of old Neptune’s Nymphs. If he cannot (as how should be) see anything have several hands ready to join in the same story, until at last (delightful fun) being persuaded that what so many see must be true, and ashamed of being more blind than the rest, he acknowledges that he behold a ship, or fish, or fiery dragon, where the eyes of an Argus could descry nought save sea and sky.

Pleasure IV. – Who can traverse the wide world of waters & say that all is barren and monotonous? If there is any such, then I assert that ‘tis his mind that is barren as the sterile ground and that his mental eye either slumbers, or is wholly shut to the numerous sources of pleasure, which might be awakened by the objects around him. Truly as King David hath declared, those that go down into the mighty deep see many wonders unknown to others & thence derive additional cause to admire & adore the great Source of Light & Life. Look at those huge porpoises, disporting themselves in regular order, now leaping out of their native element with wonderful muscular exertion, now darting down to the depths of the sea, and now lightly yet rapid skimming the surface of the waves. Observe again the elegant dolphin, and the sprightly Bonito steering with rapid fin the vessel of their body, and watch, at every movement, the beautiful and varied tint of their colours – more vivid and resplendent than human art can imitate. A thousand other instances of the wonders of the fishy tribe present themselves to your observation, and afford endless food for pleasant contemplation & speculative theory.

The inanimate world also calls forth a feeling of delight derived from the purest source. The Sun rising from the bed of the Ocean with the clouds tinged by his rays, and the light gradually becoming brighter and brighter over that one spot, till the greater Ruler of the day is himself seen in overpowering brilliance – and then his setting at night, in gorgeous majesty, sealed in a triumphant car of clouds, now of purple, now of gold, or intermingled hues, with a light so softened and mellowed, that your eye can bear to look upon all this glory, until he finally disappears. And then the Moon, how dear, how lovely to sailors. Oh how I love her mild, benignant light, dispelling the dreary darkness and bringing to mind the thoughts of home and former scenes. The Moon may be the favourite of Lovers – but the delight of the seafaring man is far deeper and more reasonable than that what arises from the feverish and evanescent ardours of the enamoured swain. To the former all her motions – her risings and settings are interesting p but tho’ she is dear to him at all times he loves her best in the wane, when during the live-long night he can look upon her light cold face, and thiThe Pleasures f nk of those dear objects between whom and himself the vasty ocean rolls, without one portion, one iota of the affection he bears them being impaired by the distance.

Again to the contemplative mind the waves of the sea – at one time calm as a mirror, at another time lashed into fury by impetuous winds – now following each other in long regular swells, now running in such rapid succession, as if in competition for the race – now deep blue, like the cloudless canopy of heaven – now a light sea green, like the dress of old Neptune – now dark and dreary in aspect, and then lighted up wish millions of animalculae, presenting the appearance of a field of gold, or of fiery sparks, when broken into ripples by the wind – in all these different states of quiescent repose, and turbulent uproar, the sea is a source of great delights, & the contemplation of it, together with the thoughts, which would naturally arise, has often bequieted many an otherwise tedious hour.

The frequent lightnings in tropical climates every night occurring indeed – the curious meteor, known by the name of Corpo Santo or Compasant – the Aurora borealis – the huge waterspout, moving with frightful turning velocity, like the moving sands of the desert – and the various atmospheric phenomena, many of which are only to be met with in certain and distant parts of the globe – one and all are the sources of delight to the beholder, and to see which I have always considered to be one of the greatest pleasures of a sea life.

Pleasure V.To part with friends for aye – to bid a last adieu to those you both esteem and love has always been allowed to be a task heart-rendering in the extreme – but to separate but for a season with the reasonable hope of a happy return will or rather ought not to call forth too much sorrow, as my Shipmate Jeremy Gribble would lead us to imagine, altho’ I do not question the sincerity of his feelings, nor the tenderness of his heart. And is it not a great pleasure to return again from a distant and perilous voyage in safety and in happiness, and does not the reunion of parted friends assume a character of deeper delight and more heartfelt joy, than if they had [lived] in an unbroken intimacy all their lives. Assuredly so. The affections of the seafarer are more brought into play than those of persons in ordinary life, who pursue the calm unruffled tenor of their way, while their most exciting emotions lie buried in the depths of their hearts. And we shall find in the very nature and circumstances of a sea the explanatory cause of so great a difference. The seaman has escaped the multitudinous & myriamorphous perils of the deep – of the winds – of rocks & of shoals – he has passed unscathed thro’ various climes with all their horrors and fatal diseases, and therefore it is that the emotions of his soul are thus profound. He has run the risk of losing for ever the sight of the objects of all his care and anxiety, and in proportion in the pleasure he receives from their embrace. His pleasure too is enhanced on every successive return, and his feelings are each time as lively and as strong as if he had never experienced them before.

Pleasure VI. –  The alternations of a sea life – the  vicissitudes of winds and weather – the succession of novel objects altogether form fruitful sources of pleasure. Hope and anxiety alternately predominate. The excitement of danger, & the relief experienced from its absence serve to keep the mind from stagnating. Many a vacant [hour] is pleasantly filled up with delightful anticipations of some change – and the prospect of beholding new scenery, & fearful events in foreign parts convey, to the seaman a sensation to which the mere fireside traveller is a stranger. The plodding mechanic, the gain-seeking Merchant, and indeed every description of people on shore may be contented with their situation, and envy not the joys of the mariner, because they can have no conception of them, but I assert nevertheless that contentment and indifference are not positive but negative pleasures, and that more sources of delight are opened up at sea, because it is a principle of the human mind to prefer a state of excitement to one of repose. Even in the storm, or sweeping hurricane – in scenes where danger and death encompass you around, all the faculties of your mind, all your fortitude and courage are called forth & this very exertion produces pleasure – & hence it is that many men long accustomed to this food of excitement can seldom find delight in the tame insipidities of a shore-going life.