The Delicate Point – an engraving from the Sea Stories
collection of short stories. Click on the image for a
I’d like to present another quotation I found in an old book. This one was published in 1862, and comes from a collection of short stories entitled Sea Stories by an author who simply calls himself Old Sailor.
The whole thing is a splendid piece of nonsense, as you’ll gather from the following short sample, which really needs to be read aloud in a kind of quiet roar:
‘a thorough-bred seaman is one of the drollest compounds in existence: a mixture of all that is ludicrous and grave – of undaunted courage and silly fear. I do not mean the every-day sailor, but the bold, daring, intrepid man-of-war’s man; him who in time of action primed his wit and his gun together without fear of either missing fire. He has a language peculiarly his own, and his figures of rhetoric are perfect reef-knots to the understanding of landsmen. If he speaks of his ship, his eloquence surpasses the orations of a Demosthenes, and he revels in the luxuriance of metaphor. the same powers of elocution, with precisely the same terms are applied to his wife, and it is a matter of doubt which engrosses the greatest portion of his affection; to him they are both lady-ships. Here him expatiate on his little barkey, as he calls his wooden island, though she may be able to carry a hundred and fifty guns, and a crew of a thousand men. “Oh, she is the fleetest of the fleet – sits on the water like a duck – stands under her canvas as stiff as a crutch – and turns to windward like a witch!” Of his wife he observes “What a clean run from stem to stern! She carries her t’gallants through every breeze, and in turning hank for hank never misses stays.” He will point to the bows of his ship, and swear she is as sharp as a wedge, never stops at a sea, but goes smack through all. He looks at his wife, admires her head-gear and bow-lines, compares her eyes to dolphin-strikers, boasts of her fancy and fashion-pieces, and declares that she darts along with the grace of a bonetta. When he parts with his wife to go on a cruise, no tear moistens his cheek; there is the honest pressure of the hand, the fervent kiss, and then he claps on the topsail-halliards, or walks round at the capstan to the lively sounds of music. But when he quits his ship, the being he has rigged with his own fingers, that has stood under him in many a dark and trying hour, whilst the wild waves have dashed over them with relentless fury, then – then – the scuppers of his heart are unplugged, and overflow with the soft droppings of sensibility.’
Gosh. If old salts really talked in this way in those days, it’s not surprising landsmen couldn’t understand them – and I’d guess most of their wives thought they were all barking mad too.
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