Maria Jane Jewsbury, "Extracts from a Lady's Log-Book"

Maria Jane Jewsbury, "Extracts from a Lady's Log-Book," Athenaeum 1 Dec. 1832: 777-778.

(Not kept for the Admiralty)

[A Lady's Log-book will interest the general reader, by its novelty, but to the many friends of the admired writer, this will have great personal interest.]

    SPEAKING of the sea after twenty-four hours experience, I am inclined to speak of it with high delight; but my praise cannot be very discriminating, since the greater portion of the twenty-four hours has been spent at anchor. Very smooth, pleasant voyaging this; no sickness, no rolling, no disagreeable of any kind; as the man when he lay at the foot of the hill he had to mount, said—"Oh, that this were working!"—so I say, Oh, that this were sailing. However, such lazy motion is not likely to continue. To-morrow, to adopt the phraseology of Francis Moore, we may probably "expect sickness more or less," and couches may probably rob the dinner-table of passengers and appetites. However, come it may, as come it will, I am inclined to promise myself much positive pleasure from our long sojourn on the waters. There is a novelty in all the ship arrangements, a contrivance, that interests me no little, and that, to speak truth, has done more to rob departure from England of melancholy, than any considerations of a more exalted nature. William Howitt says in his Book of the Seasons—"Thanks be to God for mountains!" I am more than ever inclined to say, "Thanks be to God for trifles!" They are sources of pleasure, and may be made sources of benefit; often, by turning an annoyance into an amusement. Thus, our cabin, though one of the two best in the ship, for convenience, light, air, and size, has a rather ludicrous drawback: a good portion of some eighty dozen of poultry, ducks, geese, fowls, pigeons, &c., &c., have their local habitation in pens over our heads; and all day, and almost all night, they peck, crow, quack, gabble, and quarrel according to their several natures. The sound of their beaks resembles a shower of hail; they are of necessity cramped for room, and like children, are always crying out for food. They disturb one grievously, but then they amuse; and when, at daybreak, their cries are joined by the low of our three cows, the grunt of some of our twenty pigs, and the bleating of a few of our sixty sheep, I am transported to a farm-yard.

     —I believe the true log of the day, would be simply, "All sick." However, there are degrees of sickness as of stature, and I only attained to pretty decided uneasiness. Lying down cured me; something too might be effected by the conversation of a character so original, and so native to seas and ships, that she deserves a place in one of Mr. Cooper's nautical novels. She is my voyaging attendant, and having in a similar capacity made seventeen voyages to and from India, five of them in this vessel, may be said to have no home but the water. Monsieur Forbin was deeply offended by meeting a lady's maid with a pink parasol at the foot of one of the Pyramids of Egypt—the real lady's maid, with or without the pink parasol, is far more inappropriate on shipboard. But my treasure of the deep belongs not to this species. Staid, straight, Scotch, and respectable, her heart and accent full of the Tweed, and her talk of all quarters of the world. Something of a merchant too,—trading at all the touching points, and, from a collection of red morocco Bibles to stores of ribbons and pins, having articles for barter from England to the poles. Add to this, a memory that is a perfect Newgate Calendar for Scotland, with such sea habitudes, that from the poop to the galley, she is at home, is never tired, never out of temper, and never without a history appropriate or inappropriate to the book, matter, or conversation in hand. I have called her Sea Kitty—and here at least she will never lose the name. On land she is like many others—on the ocean she is like nothing but herself: in her eyes, the sea, like the king, can do no wrong, and next to the ocean, the captain:—her temporary master and mistress whilst faithfully served, and duly had in honour in all matters touching their world, the land, are somewhat regarded as children in whatever touches hers—the ocean: she is a nautical Leatherstocking.

     —To-day we may be said really to have commenced our voyage. Our pilot is gone, and the last faint trace of the Devonshire coast is melted into the sky; I watched it gradually disappear, rock, headland and cultivated hill, so that I should recognize particular fields again by their shape—yet, contrary to all the declarations of poetry and fiction, the farewell look affected me singularly little. The truth is, that occasions for great emotion are rarely times of great emotion; we are the slaves of passing events and necessities; and even against my will, the beauty and novelty of the scene charmed away sadness. Last night, the wind was fair for our purpose (blowing us out of the channel), but it was rather rough, and the sea was splendid; the magnificent swelling of the waves, the dazzling foam of their curled heads, running hither and thither—with the bright and quiet stars looking down from above—all awoke wonder, how one could be a pilgrim of the waters, and ever yield to poor, vain, foolish thoughts! And yet, alas! both with one's self, and others, folly and vanity come to sea!—to sea, where one seems to have breath and being immediately in the presence of Deity!

An event occurred just as dinner was served, and, to the utter discomfiture of curls, all the ladies hastened on deck to see a steamer from Portugal hailed. We had not been long enough from land to regard it with much sentiment; added to which, the vessel was such an ugly common thing, with such a crewish looking crew, that I thought we did them too much honour by standing to have our curls blown out. Our captain wanted information of the two Dons, Pedro and Miguel; the master of the steamer cared for nothing but the bearing of the Scilly Islands. After a little mutual trumpeting, we separated; certainly the steamer bore away at a gallant rate, but looking as ugly as possible, the picture of a fat woman with her arms a-kimbo, or of three single boats rolled into one. I dislike steam-boats: there is nothing calm in their speed, or dignified in their motion; on they go, splashing and dashing, the bullies of the water, or, when their smoke is visible—Beelzebub's frigates.

     —We are in the Bay—and, if it is generally what it has been to us, in the much calumniated Bay of Biscay. The sea is quiet, and the wind so fair, that its continuance would blow us to Madeira in a week. It seems magical: in five days we have traversed the space that this very ship and captain have been, beforetime, three weeks in accomplishing. Whilst our present propitious circumstances hold, except the want of newspapers, and a hall-door to walk out at, we have no need of land. I have just cut a pine; we have fresh fruit, bread, and vegetables every day. Wonderful is the ingenuity of man! More wonderful still the protecting kindness of Providence! Here are we floating in ease and security over this fathomless, and, to the eye, illimitable element. On deck, our band is playing all kinds of home tunes, and there comes a strange blending of the dashing of waves, the boatswain's whistle, and "I'd be a Butterfly," waltzes, and quadrilles—sounds of English towns and streets. With regard to the said band, music is music at sea, and it behoves one not to be finical, otherwise discontented recollections might arise of orchestras one has heard in days of yore. However, any music is at times valuable, because its mere noise brightens the spirits, sets people talking, and by the time we reach Bombay, our musicians may have learned to play in time. The orders transmitted to them (in nautical phrase) are amusing—they are playing an ugly tune, or a pretty one badly—"Bid those follows take a reef in"—or they suddenly stop—"Ask those fellows why they have hove to," says the captain to the steward, a person grave as Sancho's in the island of Barrataria. These poor fellows (the musicians) occupy an anomalous position on board. They are to play morning, noon, and night, should we require them to do so; they play us to dress, and to meals; they play to keep the men in step when the anchor is weighed, and yet upon occasion they have to haul at the ropes and go aloft,—as Wordsworth says,

Something between a hindrance and a help.

If one of them fell into the sea, we should note them by their instruments, (fell overboard, the key bugle, & c.) for they seem musical abstractions.

Maria Jane Jewsbury, "Extracts from a Lady's Log-Book," Athenaeum 22 Dec. 1832: 824 - 825.

(Not kept for the Admiralty)

—Hitherto I have spoken of the agreeable side of a sea life; to-day and yesterday, from being unwell, I have done little, but say with Mariana in 'The Moated Grange,' "I am aweary, aweary." There is both comfort and discomfort in knowing that one shall be weary and unweary, well and unwell, sick and unsick of every thing and person on board, full twice a week before the voyage ends. An active mind may countervail much of this; but much will yet remain, the consequence of varying wind and wave. The ear becomes fretted with the ceaseless sound of "many waters;" the eye aches with traversingtheir monotonous expanse; and the mind is perfectly fevered for want of one retired spot, one moment's perfect stillness. Now is the time to be tormented with longings after English green-lanes—English hay-fields—anything, but the universal brininess that makes all one eats, drinks, touches, breathes, thinks, and feels—salt. Now is the time to adventure a new reading of Shakespeare, and vow that Hamlet had an eye to a sea voyage, when he exclaimed—"Oh flesh, how art thou fishified!" Now, one gets uncharitable, and reverses the good-day impression of one's fellow passengers. Now, one votes that the band (their instruments, at least) be thrown overboard; that the piano in the next cabin do follow them; that the musical snuff-boxes, together with their owners, be sent either to the hold or to the main-top. Now, are the excellent breakfasts and dinners turned away from with distaste; and now, does the crazed appetite sympathize with the South American woman, when she longed "to pick the little bones of a little Tapoona boy's head." Now, are the steward and cook perplexed with the strange and diverse fancies of the ailing passengers.

Since I have been unwell, Sea-Kitty has been induced to alter the tack of her consolations. The shirks and the dolphins being all too briny for taste, she started off into a vein of very fair prose poetry, touching the fruits of Madeira, reminiscences of English wild flowers, and a certain CHRISTMAS Day in India! a hot CHRISTMAS Day!

—My first squall, and my second Sunday at sea. About midnight, I was awakened by what appeared the noise of a forest of wild beasts let loose overhead. The wind—it seemed as if I had never heard wind before,—whilst the sea looked more than enough disposed

To come in spite of sorrow,
And at my window bid good morrow.

And to this, rolling, lurching, pitching, heaving, and groaning on the part of the ship, and I fancied I had good right to be alarmed. Presently, suspecting what might happen, in walked Mrs. — — , in what she called her storm-dressing gown, with a nonchalance that might have comforted any one. "It's nothing, just nothing at all, Mem."
          "That what is something?"
          "Why when all things that are lashed down, break loose in a moment—when the sea comes over the hammock rails—when—" and she drew such a picture of a real storm and of what she termed "a hurricane," that my squall was certainly constrained to hide its diminished head. Presently the wind lowered; I grew calm, and she went below, "just to look round if any of the people were leaving port-holes open that ought to be shut; passengers don't know any better at first."

Divine service was not held till the next evening, and in the cuddy (large dining cabin)—I could not personally attend, but, by leaving the door ajar, I could hear, and never did the celebration of Divine Service, whether in rustic church, crowded chapel, or gorgeous cathedral, come home so much to my heart and understanding. Doubtless there were personal reasons why the voice of "the white-robed priest" should affect me peculiarly, but there was much to solemnize and affect of a more general nature. Floating over the waters, severed from all communion with our fellows beings on land, we were yet, by the words we uttered, the feelings we experienced, the blessings we prayed for, and many of the evils we asked deliverance from, one with every Christian assembly and church in the world.

—I have been thinking much of various poetical descriptions of the sea, and in most I am struck with what, for want of a better term, I must be allowed to call fresh-water-ism. Now that I am really out to sea, I try in vain to realize those fancies which make it the abode of mermaids and men; of rocks strewn with pearls; caves abounding with

Jasper, and agate, and almondine,

fretted roofs, sparry pillars, golden thrones, and ten thousand other items illustrative of a palace, a jeweller's shop, a fancy ball, and a bazar. The sea, even when calm and shining, strikes me as too grand, too stern, too real, to be connected with anything that is pretty. We know almost as little of the depths of the ocean as we do of the depths of eternity—of which it is a great and awful emblem. It is singular, because the Jews could have only a limited acquaintance with it, that some of the scriptural expressions concerning the sea, have a truth, force, and majesty alone worthy of the object. An expression in Jeremiah is wonderfully precise;—"Though the waves thereof toss themselves"—thus describing that separate and individual motion of each billow, which they have from the greatest to the least. The continuous rolling is the result of all this individual "tossing," and so independent are the movements, that one might fancy every particular wave to have a particular will. The heaving is one of the mass beneath, and comes in voluminous rolls as of hills in motion; on the surface of these are the waves, that, far as the eye can reach, take a sharp, angular, spiral form, till the whole resembles an army of spear-heads in motion. The phrase used in the Prophet Jonah, "The sea wrought and was very tempestuous," may seem naked to those not on the element, but to any in the condition of Jonah's shipmaster, there will be a power surpassing hyperbole, in the graphic simplicity of the expression, "the sea wrought." In the forty-sixth, or, as it is often called, in Luther's Psalm, there is a beautiful touch concerning the ocean, which never struck me when on land. After declaring that "we will not be moved through the waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof"—the writer suddenly takes comfort from a thought couched in the form of a simile, which has a beautiful connexion with the preceding description—"There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of our God." He must have been tossed, stunned, wearied, if not endangered on the deep, before he could have imagined this exquisite transition to the peace, the refreshing, and the stability of an inland river, "wherein shall go no galley with oars, neither shall gallant ship pass thereby."

—With all my salt-water babble, I have said nothing of the mode in which the day slips from one—I dare not say the mode of employing a day, for, in truth, the instances are few, of persons achieving much on shipboard. If you worked the ship, there would be occupation and interest: as a mere passenger, the business of the vessel goes on before your eyes, like a cabalistic process; and if danger really arose, you would have to lie still, listening to every species of noise, command, and effort, with the comfortable conviction, that if you go to the bottom, you will hardly understand how or the why. "But how do you pass your time?" inquires some one. Why, those who have canaries air and feed them; those who have legs, sea legs, I mean, use them by the hour; those who have cigars, smoke them by legions; those who have appointments in the service, compare them; those who have not been in India, ask questions, which those who have been there, answer; those who have books, borrow and lend, oftener than read them; those who have appetites, (and happy are they,) eat; those who have the power, (and they are yet happier,) sleep; those who have minds, (and they are the happiest of all,) think, and are the better for it. Ladies have many advantages in this cooped up life. They have, even here, chests of drawers to arrange, disarrange, and re-arrange; they have muslin to hem, caps to quill, their outfits to discuss, and new tunes to play till they become old. They have been trained to sit still, or to walk in a style that resembles sitting still in motion. Morover, they are not required to shave and in a rolling sea.

—Off Madeira. Strange that a spot wherein none of has a single acquaintance, should be looked forward to as a perfect land of Canaan. "When we get to Madeira," has either begun or ended every body's third sentence for the last two days, coupled of course with some appropriate scheme. "Lots of grapes"—"The Nunnery"—"A long ride on mules"—"Clothes washed"—"Wine"—"Parties"—&c.&c. Now, when I get to Madeira, I will be put in a garden so thickly planted, that everything shall be shut out, particularly Capt. Basil Hall's "element of which one never tires;" I will rejoice in being once more on the solid, solid earth; I will endeavour to get to some place so still, so retired, so perfectly free from sights, that I might say with truth—

A Convent, ev'n a hermit's cell
Would break the silence of this dell.

After that—the sea again, with fresh spirits, renewed energy, and revived health. Meanwhile,—nearly a calm tries the patience and wastes time;—yet is the moonlit sea like a vast plain studded with glow-worms; and the noonday sea like lapis lazuli, flecked with silver.