June 12, 1848. — On board H.M.S. Scourge. Lat. 34° N., long. 40° 22′ W. — No ship has been in sight for five days. The routine of the Scourge has grown familiar; and one tires of unbroken fine weather and smooth seas. No resource for me but the officers’ Little Library. Therefore I have been sleepily poring over Dana’s “Two Years before the Mast”: a pleasant, rough kind of book, but with something too much hauling of ropes and “handing” of sails in it. Dana’s voyage was a strange one. He shipped himself as a common sailor, on board a Boston ship bound to California, on a two years’ trading voyage, and subjected himself to short rations and the insolence of a brutal captain; and all because he had heard the sea was good for weak eyes. In fact, he cured the weakness in his eyes. Now, I have weak eyes, too. Cannot I assume this present sea-faring of mine, and my residence in Bermuda, to be merely a method I have adopted for the strengthening of my eyes? And I will probably have no insolence, or hard work, or hard fare to put up with, as poor Dana had; neither will I be one whit more a prisoner than he was.
Mr. Dana is now, I believe, a successful lawyer in Boston; and therefore, perhaps, more a prisoner, drudge, and slave now than ever. Truly I may think my own position sad enough; but what would I say if I were in poor Mr. Dana’s?
I have been reading, also, “The Amber Witch,” a most beautiful German story, translated into admirable English, by Lady Duff Gordon.
We are in the region now of flying-fish and dolphins — not Arion’s dolphins, nor, indeed, any dolphins at all, but what the ichthyological terminology of the British navy calls dolphins. Sometimes, also, we pass through whole flotillas of “Portuguese men-of-war,” as the naval branch of the United Service calls those beautiful little floating mollusks that cruise in these parts under their opaline sails of purple and rose-coloured membrane. And again, we are often surrounded by the Gulf-weed, which diffuses itself hereabouts, after its long navigation from the Gulf of Mexico — if such be really its history, which I doubt.
Met a large ship to-day. We passed at a distance of two miles. She shows French colours, and is supposed to be a West-Indiaman, homeward bound, and for France. In a few days the vineyards on Garonne-bank, or the quays of Nantes or Havre, will welcome her snowy sails. Oh, had I the wings of a dove! —
14th. — Gulf-weed, Portuguese men-of-war, flying-fish.
15th. — Flying-fish, Portuguese men-of-war. Gulf-weed.
16th. —Gulf-weed, flying-fish, Portuguese men-of-war.
17th. — Reading — for want of something better — “Macaulay’s Essays.” He is a born Edinburgh Reviewer, this Macaulay; and, indeed, a type-reviewer — an authentic specimen-page of nineteenth century “literature.” He has the right, omniscient tone, and air, and the true knack of administering reverential flattery to British civilization, British prowess, honour, enlightenment, and all that, especially to the great nineteenth century and its astounding civilization, that is, to his readers. It is altogether a new thing in the history of mankind, this triumphant glorification of a current century upon being the century it is. No former age, before Christ or after, ever took any pride in itself and sneered at the wisdom of its ancestors; and the new phenomenon indicates, I believe, not higher wisdom, but deeper stupidity. The nineteenth century is come, but not gone; and what now, if it should be, hereafter, memorable among centuries for something quite other than its wondrous enlightenment? Mr. Macaulay, however, is well satisfied with it for his part, and in his essay on Milton penny-a-lines thus:
“Every girl who has read Mrs. Marcet’s little dialogues on political economy, could teach Montague or Walpole many lessons on finance. Any intelligent man may now, by resolutely applying himself for a few years to mathematics, learn more than the great Newton knew after half a century of study and meditation.”
And so on. If Pythagoras, now, could only have been introduced to Mrs. Marcet, or even to one of her premium girls, how humbly would he have sat at her feet! Could Aristotle or Hipparchus but have seen Mr. Pinnock before they died, how would they have sung nunc dimittas! This nineteenth century man, and indeed the century generally, can see no difference between being told a thing —conning it in a catechism, or “little dialogue” — and knowing it; between getting by heart a list of results, what you call facts, and mastering science.
Still more edifying, even than Edinburgh wisdom, is the current Edinburgh ethics. Herein, also, the world has a new development; and as I am now about to retire a little while from the great business of this stirring age, to hide me, as it were, in a hole of the rock, while the loud-sounding century, with its steam-engines, printing-presses, and omniscient popular literature, flares and rushes roaring and gibbering by, I have a mind to set down a few of Macaulay’s sentences, as a kind of land-marks, just to remind me where the world and I parted. For I do, indeed, account this Reviewer a real type, and recognised spokesman of his age; and by the same token he is now, by virtue of his very reviewing, too, a Cabinet Minister.
In his essay on Lord Bacon, he freely admits the treacherous, thoroughly false, and unprincipled character of the statesmen of that age; thinks, however, we must not be too hard on them; says, “it is impossible to deny that they committed many acts which would justly bring down, on a statesman of our time, censures of the most serious kind” [as that a man is a liar, an extortioner, a hypocrite, a suborner]; “but when we consider the state of morality in their age, and the unscrupulous character of the adversaries against whom they had to contend,” etc.
And the state of morality, it seems, varies, not with the age only, but with the climate also, in a wonderful manner. For the essayist, writing of Lord Clive and his villainies in India, pleads in behalf of Clive, that “he knew he had to deal with men destitute of what in Europe is called honour; with men who would give any promise, without hesitation, and break any promise without shame; with men who would unscrupulously employ corruption, perjury, forgery, to compass their ends.” And they knew that they had to deal with men destitute of what in Asia is called honesty — men who would unscrupulously employ corruption, perjury, forgery, etc. — so, what were the poor men to do, on either side? — the state of morality was so low! When one is tempted to commit any wickedness, he ought, apparently, to ascertain this point — what is the state of morality? How range the quotations? Is this an age (or a climate) adapted for open robbery? Or does the air agree better with swindling and cheating? Or must one cant and pray, and pretend anxiety to convert the heathen — to compass one’s ends? But to come back to Lord Clive, the great founder of British power in India; when the essayist comes to that point at which he cannot get over fairly telling us how Clive swindled Omichund by a forged paper, he says:
“But Clive was not a man to do anything by halves [too much British energy for that]. We almost blush to write it. He forged Admiral Watson’s name.”
Almost blush — but not just quite. Oh! Babington Macaulay. This approximation to blushing, on the part of the blue-and-yellow Reviewer, is a graceful, touching tribute to the lofty morality of our blessed century.
For morality, now — Lord bless you — ranges very high; and Religion, also: through all our nineteenth-century British literature there runs a tone of polite, though distant recognition of Almighty God, as one of the Great Powers; and though not resident, is actually maintained at His court. Yet British civilization gives Him assurances of friendly relations; and “our venerable Church,” and our “beautiful liturgy,” are relied upon as a sort of diplomatic Concordat, or Pragmatic Sanction, whereby we, occupied as we are, in grave commercial and political pursuits, carrying on our business, selling our cotton, and civilizing our heathen — bind ourselves, to let Him alone, if He lets us alone — if He will keep looking apart, contemplating the illustrious mare-milkers, and blameless Ethiopians, and never-minding us, we will keep up a most respectable Church for Him, and make our lower orders venerate it, and pay for it handsomely, and we will suffer no national infidelity, like the horrid French.
For the venerable Church of England, and for our beautiful liturgy, the essayist has a becoming respect; and in his essay on Hallam’s Constitutional History, I find a sentence or two on this point worth transcribing. He is writing about the villains who reformed religion in England, and the other miscreants who accomplished the Glorious Revolution, and he says:
“It was, in one sense, fortunate, as we have already said, for the Church of England, that the Reformation in this country was effected by men who cared little about religion. And in the same manner it was fortunate for our civil Government that the Revolution was effected by men who cared little about their political principles. At such a crisis splendid talents and strong passions [by strong passions he means any kind of belief or principle] might have done more harm than good.”
But then he immediately adds — for we must keep up an elevated tone of morality now —
“But narrowness of intellect, and flexibility of principle, though they may be serviceable, can never be respectable.”
Why not? If scoundrels and blockheads can rear good, serviceable, visible churches for the saving of men, and glorious constitutions for the governing of men, what hinders them from being respectable? What else is respectable? Or, indeed, what is the use of the splendid talents and the strong passions at all?
I am wasting my time, and exasperating the natural benignity of my temper, with this oceanic review of the Edinburgh Reviewer. But my time at least is not precious just now; and I will plunge into the man’s essay on Lord Bacon, which cannot fail to be the most characteristic piece of British literature in the volumes.
This must be done tomorrow; for there are two sails reported in sight on the weather-bow, which is an event of high interest at sea; besides, the sun is drawing near his evening bath — a grand imperial ceremony, at which I always assist.
The ships in sight are — one American and one Carthaginian.
18th. — Last night, after two bells (one o’clock), I was awakened by a great trampling, pushing, hauling, and thumping on deck. Something unusual was certainly going forward. Got up; went through the cabin, and to the foot of the companion-ladder; found the skylights of the cabin removed, and smooth deck laid in their place — the captain out on deck — the companion-ladder blocked up at the top. The deck was cleared for action. I heard loud words of command. Spirit of the Constitution! Has war been declared since we came to sea? Is Baudin — is Trehouart upon us? May the Powers grant it! Oh, Trehouart, Admiral of Heaven! — lay yourself alongside here. You can easily wing our accursed paddle, or send two or three fifty-pounders into us amidships, to derange the economy of our engine-room. I ran through the lieutenant’s room, telling a boy who was there to run up before me and report me to my sergeant. At the foot of one of the funnels I found a ladder that brought me on deck. Ah! there was no enemy (no friend) in sight; it was only British discipline that had started British prowess from his sleep, to practise in the dead of the night. We were alone on the wide, silent sea, and were going to bombard the moon. Four times we shelled her with our huge mortar; not, if truth must be told, with actual bombshells, but with quarter-charges of powder; four times we thundered at her with our long-gun; four times with our carronades; and then, British energy having blotted the white moonshine awhile with his gunpowder smoke, tumbled into his hammock again. No living soul, but those on board, heard that cannonade — for fishes are notoriously deaf. On the convex of the great globe we are all alone here: and even here amongst the guns the whole effect is mean, for there is no echo, and each report is a mere belch, far indeed from the reverberating thunderous roll of heavy guns alongshore. It is a pitiful pyrotechny; and the black thunder-bearing Scourge seems, in this silent immensity, but a small black spiteful spitfire doing its paltry worst to trouble the still empire of great ambrosial night. But the smoke soon melts away, drifting off to leeward, and the solemn Moon (unharmed apparently) looks down as mildly on ship and ocean as before the battery was opened upon her. Forgive the impudent spitfire, O soft Moon! Sink her not to the depths with a discharge of thy terrible aerolite grape — for thou, too, as I do remember, art potent in artillery. “What is to become of us, mortals,” saith Jean Paul, “dwelling on this bare convexity, and the Moon going round bombarding us with stones, like a Turk!” Let there be peace between us and thee, O Tephra! Oh, fairest huntress Iocheaira! Call to mind those nights on Latmos, and be gracious to mortal man. We have war-engines enough, argument enough, and diabolic rage enough, to tear, blow up, crush, and batter one another — ay, enough to glut thee in thy character of Hecate, without thy ordnance of meteor-stones. Needs not that thou exact human sacrifices, beautiful Bendis! Gentle Astarte, queen of Heaven! There be ill-favoured demons enough unto whom we may immolate our brothers — Mammon and Moloch, and the truly enlightened God of civilization, fair-spoken Belial. Do thou, O Moon! wheel thy bright orbit, weave thy mystic nodes, and fill thy horns in peace!
Fine rant this.
After breakfast, when the sun burned too fiercely on deck, went below, threw off coat and waistcoat for coolness, and began to read Macaulay on Bacon — “the great English teacher,” as the reviewer calls him. And to do the reviewer justice, he understands Bacon, knows what Bacon did, and what he did not; and therefore sets small store by that illustrious Chimera’s new “method” of investigating truth. He is not ignorant; but knows that Lord Bacon’s discovery of the inductive “method,” or Novum Organum, is the most genuine piece of mare’s-nesting recorded in the history of letters. And, to do Bacon himself justice, for all the impudence of his title (Instauratio Scientiarum) and the pretentiousness of his outrageous phraseology, he hardly pretended to be the original discoverer of wisdom, to the extent that many Baconians, learned stupid asses, have pretended for him. Apart from the “induction” and the “method,” and the utterly inexcusable terminology (far worse even than the coinage of Jeremy Bentham), Bacon’s true distinction as a “philosopher” was this — I accept the essayist’s description —
“The philosophy which he taught was essentially new. Its object was the good of mankind, in the sense in which the mass of mankind always have understood, and always will understand, the word good. The aim of the Platonic philosopher was to raise us far above vulgar wants; the aim of the Baconian philosophy was to supply our vulgar wants. The former aim was noble; but the latter was attainable.”
What the mass of mankind understand by the word good is, of course, pudding and praise and profit, comfort,’ power, luxury, supply of vulgar wants — all, in short, which Bacon included under the word commoda; and to minister to mankind in these things is, according to the great English teacher, the highest aim — the only aim and end — of true philosophy or wisdom. O Plato! O Jesu!
“The former aim was noble, but the latter was attainable.” On the contrary, I affirm that the former aim was both noble and, to many men, attainable; the latter not only ignoble, but to all men unattainable, and to the noblest men most.
The essayist makes himself very merry with the absurdities of what they called philosophy in times of ante-Baconian darkness.
“It disdained to be useful, and was content to be stationary. It dealt largely in theories of moral perfection, which were so sublime that they never could be more than theories; it attempts to solve insoluble enigmas; in exhortations to the attainment of unattainable frames of mind. It could not condescend to the humble office of ministering to the comfort of human beings.”
Now the truth is, that Plato and Pythagoras did not undervalue comfort, and wealth, and human commoda at all; but they thought the task of attending to such matters was the business of ingenious tradespeople, and not of wise men and philosophers. If James Watt had appeared at Athens or Crotona with his steam-engine, he would certainly have got the credit of a clever person and praiseworthy mechanic — all he deserved; but they never would have thought of calling him philosopher for that. They did actually imagine — those ancient wise men — that it is true wisdom to raise our thoughts and aspirations above what the mass of mankind calls good — to regard truth, fortitude, honesty, purity, as the great objects of human effort, and not the supply of vulgar wants.
What a very poor fool Jesus Christ would have been, judged by the “new philosophy,” — for His aim and Plato’s were one. He disdained to be useful in the matter of our little comforts — yes, indeed, “He could not condescend to the humble office of ministering to the comfort of human beings.” On the contrary, “whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are holy, if there be any virtue —”
Why, good Messiah! this is the mere Academy over again. Have you considered that these are unattainable frames of mind? You offer us living bread, and water which he that drinketh shall not thirst again; – very beautiful, but too romantic. Can you help us to butter the mere farinaceous bread we have got, to butter it first on one side and then on the other? – to improve the elemental taste and somewhat too paradisiac weakness of this water? These are our vulgar wants; these are what the mass of mankind agrees to call good. Whatsoever things are snug, whatsoever things are influential – if there be any comfort, if there be any money, think on these things. Henceforth we acknowledge no light of the world which does not light our way to good things like these.
Almost this sounds profanely; but the profanity belongs to the essayist. His comparison of Plato’s philosophy with modern inventive genius is exactly as reasonable as if he had compared the Christian religion with the same. Ancient philosophy was indeed natural religion — was an earnest striving after spiritual truth and good; it dealt with the supersensuous and nobler part of man; and its “aim” was to purify his nature, and give him hope of an immortal destiny amongst the enthroned gods on sainted seats.
Just so, says the essayist; that was what they called wisdom — this is what I, Lord Bacon and I, call wisdom. “The end which the great Lord Bacon proposed to himself was the multiplying of human enjoyments and the mitigating of human sufferings.” Anything beyond this we simply ignore; let all the inquirings, all the aspirings of mankind stop here. Leave off dreaming of your unattainable frames of mind, and be content with the truth as it is in Bacon.
I can imagine an enlightened inductive Baconian standing by with scornful nose as he listens to the Sermon on the Mount, and then taking the Preacher sternly to task —
“What mean you by all this — ‘Bless them that curse you’ — ‘Love your enemies’ — ‘Be ye perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect!’ What mortal man ever attained these frames of mind? Why not turn your considerable talents, friend, to something useful, something within reach? Can you make anything? — improve anything? — You are, if I mistake not, a carpenter by trade, and have been working somewhere in Galilee; now, have you invented any little improvement in your own respectable trade? Have you improved the saw, the lathe, the plane? Can you render the loom a more perfect machine, or make a better job of the potter’s wheel? Have you in any shape economised materials, economised human labour, added to human enjoyment? Have you done, or can you show the way to do, any of all these things? No! Then away with him! Crucify him!”
Ah! but the enlightened Briton would say, “Now you talk of religion; that is our strong point in this admirable age and country. Is not there our venerable Church? — our beautiful liturgy? There is a department for all that, with the excellent Archbishop of Canterbury at the head of it. If information is wanted about the other world, or salvation, or anything in that line, you can apply at the head-office, or some of the subordinate stations.”
True, there is a department, and offices, and salaries, more than enough; yet the very fact is, that modern British civilisation (which may be called the child of this great British teacher) is not only not Christian, but is not so much as Pagan. It takes not the smallest account of anything higher or greater than earth bestows. The hopeless confusion of ideas that made Bacon and Macaulay institute a comparison between ancient philosophy and modern ingenuity, is grown characteristic of the national mind and heart, and foreshadows national death. The mass of mankind agree to call money, power, and pleasure, good; and behold! the Spirit of the Age has looked on it, and pronounced it very good. The highest phase of human intellect and virtue is to be what this base spirit calls a philanthropist — that is, one who, by new inventions and comfortable contrivances, mitigates human suffering, heightens human pleasure. The grandest effort of godlike genius is to augment human power — power over the elements, power over uncivilised men — and all for our own comfort. Nay, by tremendous enginery of steam and electricity, and gunpowder — by capital and the “law of progress,” and the superhuman power of co-operation, this foul Spirit of the Age does veritably count upon scaling the heavens. The failure of Otus and Ephialtes, of Typhaeus and Enceladus, of the builders of Shinar, never daunts him a whit — for why? — they knew little of co-operation; electricity and steam and the principle of the arch were utterly hidden from them; civil engineering was in its infancy; how should they not fail?
The very capital generated and circulated, and utilised on so grand a scale by civilised men now-a-days, seems to modern Britons a power mighty enough to wield worlds; and its numen is worshipped by them accordingly, with filthy rites. The God of mere nature will, they assure themselves, think twice before He disturbs and quarrels with such a power as this; for indeed it is faithfully believed in the City, by the moneyed circles there, that God the Father has money invested in the three-per-cents, which makes Him careful not to disturb the peace of the world, or suffer the blessed march of “civilisation” to be stopped.
Semble then, first, that the peace of the world is maintained so long as it is only the unmoneyed circle that are robbed, starved, and slain; and, second, that nothing civilises either gods or men like holding stock.
But I am strong in the belief that the portentous confusion both of language and thought, which has brought us to all this, and which is no accidental misunderstanding, but a radical confounding of the English national intellect and language, a chronic addlement of the general brain, getting steadily worse now for two hundred years, is indeed more alarming than the gibbering of Babel, and is symptomatic of a more disastrous ending. By terrible signs and wonders it shall be made known that comfort is not the chief end of man. I do affirm, I — that Capital is not the ruler of the world — that the Almighty has no pecuniary interest in the stability of the funds or the European balance of power — finally, that no engineering, civil or military, can raise man above the heavens or shake the throne of God.
On that day some nations that do now bestride the narrow world will learn lessons of true philosophy, but not new philosophy, in sackcloth and ashes. And other nations, low enough in the dust now, will arise from their sackcloth and begin a new national life — to repeat, it may be, the same crimes and suffer the same penalties. For the progress of the species is circular; or possibly in trochoidal curves, with some sort of cycloid for deferent; or more properly it oscillates, describing an arc of a circle, pendulum-wise; and even measures time (by aeons) in that manner; or let us say, in one word, the world wags.
Another crimson evening is upon us. The sun, in a conflagration of clouds, flames on the very rim of Ocean. He, too, the unwearied Sun, is chasing his own shadow round and round the world.
“The Sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place whence he rose. All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers came, thither’ they return again. The waters wear the stones: Thou washest away the things which grow out of the dust of the earth; and thou destroyest the hope of man. Thou prevailest for ever against him, and he passeth.”
19th. — One other observation upon the “great English teacher,” and then I bid him farewell. Try to measure the value of him and his teaching, even in respect of human comfort, power, and luxury, the great end of it all. First, he never discovered, or even thoroughly learned, or, properly speaking, knew, anything himself. He had a smattering, like Lord Brougham, of the science of his age; of the one chancellor it might be said, as it has been of the other, “if he had known little law he would then have known a little of everything.” But I crave his lordship’s pardon — his, now I remember, was a nobler mission — not to toil himself, amidst laboratory fumes, forges, and furnaces, but to direct others how to toil: to survey and lay out great leading paths of investigation, to take a vast comprehensive view of the whole field of science, and allot the labourers their tasks. This man, then, living in an age of extraordinary intellectual and experimental activity — shortly after Galileo had demonstrated the true solar and planetary motions and Kepler had fixed their laws — after the telescope and the mariner’s compass and the printing-press had been invented (and all without the Organum) — this smattering chancellor, who never himself discovered anything, except his law, is supposed to have shown quite a new way, given quite a fresh impulse and a worthy aim to “philosophy.” I want the evidence; but there is none. Therefore I dogmatically affirm that no chemist, no geologist, no mechanist, physician, astronomer, engineer, or other “philosopher,” ever since Bacon’s day, in any investigation or series of experiments, thought once of the instantiae, or the vindemiae, or any of the other uncouth verbiage which makes up that preposterous book. I affirm, further, that of those men who have really carried forward science and the arts, not one in forty ever read that book — that of those who read it not one in forty understood it — and that of those who understood it, not one at all made use of it.
Hereupon the essayist, you may be sure, would tell me that although indeed they did not read, understand, or value the teachings of that book, or know the things treated of therein by Bacon’s names, yet they did pursue their inquiries, and conduct their experiments with due regard to the very instantiae of the “Organum,” and gather in their vintages by the very process our great teacher taught — yes, they did so, just as Tubal Cain and Daedalus, Archimedes, Aristotle, Colombus, and Kepler did before them, and not otherwise.
What Lord Bacon really did, then, the whole result and upshot of his teaching — if anything at all — was this — to cause mechanical ingenuity and experimental or empiric investigations into the laws of bodies (with a sole view to use and comfort) to be substituted for Philosophy and dignified with that venerable name. And the popular essayist, not being an ill-informed man, nor behind, nor before his age, acknowledges that this is what Bacon did and pronounces that he did well.
Now I am tired of Macualay and his Essays, and see with surprise that I have filled up some fourteen pages with a tirade against him. He is, after all, a very clever and dexterous artificer in words; one of the deftest of the nineteenth century. His Lay of Horatius and his ballad of Naseby might be imposed at first upon anybody, for poems, for true Song. I took them for such myself not long ago: but the thing is impossible.
“And what’s impossible can’t be,
And never, never, comes to pass.”
It has grown intolerably hot: and there is no escape: not a breath of cool air can any longer be won, for the calm is like death, and the sea, burnished as a brazen mirror, flashes back fiercely the glare of the ardent sim, as if we were between two fiery furnaces. The little pennon of slender feathers, set up on the ship’s quarter, though we are steaming eight knots an hour, hangs straight against its shaft. The fat sergeant wipes the sweat from his brow. The water is hot in the tank — the wine hot in the bottles, and the sea-water, with solution of gunpowder, will cool it no longer. What true philosopher will teach man to cool his wine, without ice, under a tropic sun? Not a sail on the sea; nor a wing in the sky; nor anything to indicate that this wondrous ocean is not shoreless. What if we have missed Bermuda? No matter; I have no objection to circumnavigate the globe. But the sailing-master, for his part, seems pretty confident that to-morrow, about mid-day, we shall make the islands.
20th. – Bermuda! About ten o’clock to-day, after the amber morning mist had lifted itself from the sea, the man at the masthead sang out “Land!” It was the first land visible since leaving Ireland, and every one was eager for a glimpse of it. I looked ahead more curiously than anyone else; having at present more interest in Bermuda than my shipmates have. Soon it became visible from the top of the paddle-box; several low “hummocks” of land, sharply defined against the sky and quite near to us; for no point of Bermuda is more than 180 feet high, and it cannot be seen until you are almost upon it. Half an hour more and we lay-to for a pilot: presently a boat came off: the boatmen were mulattoes, with palmetto hats; the pilot himself an utter negro. Soon we passed the dangerous entrance that lies between the easternmost island (crowned by a battery of Carthaginian cannon) and a great reef that bounds the archipelago on the north; and then we coasted along two of the largest islands for about ten miles, and had a near view of the land, the houses and the people. Almost with glasses we might have inspected the domestic arrangements through their open doors. There is a thick population all along here: their houses are uniformly white, both walls and roof, but uncomfortable-looking for the want of chimneys; the cooking-house being usually a small detached building. The rocks, wherever laid bare (except those long washed by the sea), are white or cream-coloured. The whole surface of all the islands is made up of hundreds of low hillocks, many of them covered with a pitiful scraggy brush of cedars; and cedars are their only tree. The land not under wood is of a brownish green colour, and of a most naked and arid, hungry and thirsty visage. No wonder: for not one single stream, not one spring, rill, or well, gushes, trickles, or bubbles in all the three hundred isles, with their three thousand hills. The hills are too low, and the land too narrow, and all the rock is a porous calcareous concretion, which drinks up all the rain that falls on it, and would drink ten times as much, and be thirsty afterwards. Heavens! what a burned and blasted country.
“Where never fountain or fresh current flowed
Against the eastern ray, translucent, pure,
With touch ethereal of heaven’s fiery rod!”
The people, it seems, have to be assiduous in catching the rain; cunning in spouts and tanks; and their stone is at any rate good for filtering water when they have it. I can see no cultivation of any sort, except some gardens; and there is very little of the land cultivated at all. On the whole, this place bears to my eyes an unkindly and foreign aspect; and as we coasted along here mile after mile, and saw nothing but the small hills and shrubby cedars, and parched soil, I thought with keen desidenum upon our own green Banba of Streams. In that hour’s sailing I could not help continually murmuring to myself:
“A plenteous place is Ireland for hospitable cheer,
Ullagone dhu, oh!
Where the wholesome fruit is bursting from the yellow barley ear,
Ullagone dhu, oh!
There is honey in the trees, where her misty vales expand,
And the forest-paths in summer are by falling waters fanned
There is a dew at high noontide there, and springs in the yellow sand,
On the fair hills of holy Ireland.”
But, after all, these are fertile and fine islands; they bring forth and nourish thousands of creatures to all appearance human; have two towns even; cities of articulate-speaking men, one of them being the seat of government and “legislature”; have a dockyard, two barracks, two newspapers, absolute “organs of opinion” (with editors, I suppose, puffs, and other appurtenances); what is better, have abundance of fruit, vegetables, and fish; and I can see some cows, and plenty of goats, pigs, poultry. Verily, the land is a good land. It was here, amongst these very cedars, that noster George Berkeley desired to establish a missionary college, with a view to convert red Americans to Christianity, and gave up his fat deanery of Derry that he might take up house here as Principal of his college at £100 a year. The English minister (Sir Robert Walpole, I think) promised a grant of £20,000 for that college; and on the strength of this promise Berkeley left Derry, went to New England, where he stayed a year, expecting the grant and charter, soliciting objurgating, reminding, remonstrating — till his heart was nearly broken, and then he came home to Ireland, almost in despair. Good man! he little knew what a plague Ministers thought him, with his missionary colleges; they had quite another plan for the conversion of the red people — to convert them, namely, into red humus. But they gave George a bishopric at Cloyne, and there he philosophised and fiddled till he died. It was to Bermuda, also, that Prospero, on a certain night, sent his Ariel “to fetch dew.” Albeit, one might hardly know these isles for the still-vexed Bermoothes, for they lie sleeping on the glassy sea to-day, as tranquil as an infant on its mother’s bosom.
And was it not here, too, that “metaphysical” Waller, having transported himself hither to shun the evil days, dreamed his “Dream of the Summer Islands?” and has not Moore, also, sung these cedars? Bermuda, then, has its associations; is even classical; in fact, is apparently a genuine fragment of the flowery earth, peering above the Atlantic flood here. At any rate, it is habitable; and truly, if I am to be allowed some moderate liberty here, say the range of one of the islands, I might bring out all my flock, and we could cultivate arrowroot, oranges, and potatoes, dwelling primitively in a white-roofed cottage, with the sea in front, and a forest of cedar behind. This might be; possibly the “instructions,” the sealed orders Captain Wingrove carries out, may admit of such an arrangement. The climate is said to be somewhat unhealthy; but my little ones would surely grow strong in the vital sunshine, and so we might hibernate (aestivate) here, until either the term assigned me by my kidnappers is past, or some “reason of state” (for British statesmanship is deep, deep) shall come to set me free.
At last we arrived at the anchorage in front of the government island, where the dock-yard is established. This island is at the extreme northwest of the whole group, and its name is nothing less than Ireland. On one side of us, as we come to anchor, lies the huge trans-Atlantic steam-junk, Great Western; on the other side we find ourselves under the guns of a stately line-of-battle ship of seventy-four guns, with the square red flag at the mast head denoting that she carries an admiral. A small government steamer is moving about in the bay; the dock, or camber, sheltered by its breakwater, has several ships lying in it, and scores of boats, of a peculiar and most graceful rig, are flying in all directions — so that the scene is a very lively one to those who have been three weeks in the solitudes of the ocean.
This admiral, whose station includes the West Indies and North America, I find to be no other than the old Lord Cochrane — or Lord Dundonald, as they call him now — the very man who cut out the Esmeralda from the roads of Callao — the Chilian admiral under O’Higgins — the Greek navarch under the Congress of Epidaurus — who has sworn more oaths of allegiance to revolutionary provisional governments than any living man — who has been fighting the aquatic half of wars of independence all over the terraqueous globe, from his youth up. I have no doubt, however, that he regards Irish revolutionists as highly immoral characters.
The evening has been delicious, and I have spent it, until sunset, chatting on deck with the officers, and surveying the islands around through a glass. Ireland island seems a strong fortress. A handsome range of buildings crowns the hill in the middle of the island; this is a barrack, with government storehouses adjoining, all having arched and bomb-proof roofs. In front of this the hill is deeply scarped down to the level of the dockyard; and in rear the slope is cut into terraces, mounted with cannon. The barrack hill communicates, by a long, sweeping line of fortifications, with another hill on the extreme north of the island, which is occupied with other government buildings, and surrounded by powerful batteries. In the crescent formed by all these works, to the eastward, is the naval dockyard, with its stores, offices, and wet dock. Some of these are vast and sumptuous buildings.
There is no such naval establishment as this in Ireland – I mean the other Ireland. The Carthaginians have always taken good care of that.
Inside the camber I see moored three great clumsy hulks, roofed over, and peopled by men in white linen blouses and straw hats — and on the back of every man’s blouse, certain characters and figures, and the queen’s broad arrow. They seem to be drilled and marched like troops. Now, am I to be enlisted in these rueful squadrons, and marked for the queen’s own these fourteen years to come? — I trust not. But if it be so, be it so.
The sun has gone down, “Like battle target red,” behind the cedars. The skimming Bermudian boats, with their black crews of marketmen and washerwomen, have vanished under the dusky shores. The flag-ship has fired her evening gun; and I have retired, for the last time, to my cabin on board the Scourge. The captain has reported himself and his errand to the admiral; the admiral has communicated with the Governor: — to-morrow, I will know my appointed home.