1826. Oxford Hilary Term begins.
Mariners form a distinct community, with peculiar manners, little known to their inland fellow countrymen, except through books. In this way Smollett has done much, and from Mr. Leigh Hunt's "Indicator," which may not be in every one's hands, though it ought to be, is extracted the following excellent description.
SEAMEN ON SHORE.
And first of the common sailor.—The moment the common sailor lands, he goes to see the watchmaker, or the old boy at the Ship. His first object is to spend his money: but his first sensation is the strange firmness of the earth, which he goes treading in a sort of heavy light way, half waggoner and half dancing master, his shoulders rolling and his feet touching and going; the same way, in short, in which he keeps himself prepared for all the rolling chances of the vessel, when on deck. There is always, to us, this appearance of lightness of foot and heavy strength of upper works, in a sailor. And he feels it himself. He lets his jacket fly open, and his shoulders slouch, and his hair grow long to be gathered into a heavy pigtail; but when full dressed, he prides himself on a certain gentility of toe; on a white stocking and a natty shoe, issuing lightly out of the flowing blue trowser. His arms are neutral, hanging and swinging in a curve aloof; his hands, half open, look as if they had just been handling ropes, and had no object in life but to handle them again. He is proud of appearing in a new hat and slops, with a belcher handkerchief flowing loosely round his neck, and the corner of another out of his pocket. Thus equipped, with pinchbeck buckles in his shoes (which he bought for gold) he puts some tobacco in his mouth, not as if he were going to use it directly, but as if he stuffed it in a pouch on one side, as a pelican does fish, to employ it hereafter: and so, with Bet Monson at his side, and perhaps a cane or whanghee twisted under his other arm, sallies forth to take possession of all Lubberland. He buys every thing that he comes athwart,—nuts, gingerbread, apples, shoe-strings, beer, brandy, gin, buckles, knives, a watch, (two, if he has money enough,) gowns and handkerchiefs for Bet, and his mother and sisters, dozens of "superfine best men's cotton stockings," dozens of "superfine best women's cotton ditto," best good check for shirts (though he has too much already), infinite needles and thread (to sew his trowsers with some day), a footman's laced hat, bear's grease to make his hair grow (by way of joke), several sticks, all sorts of jew articles, a flute (which he can't play and never intends), a leg of mutton which he carries somewhere to roast, and for a piece of which the landlord of the Ship makes him pay twice what he gave for the whole;—in short, all that money can be spent upon, which is every thing but medicine gratis; and this he would insist on paying for. He would buy all the painted parrots on an Italian's head, on purpose to break them, rather than not spend his money. He has fiddles and a dance at the Ship, with oceans of flip and grog; and gives the blind fiddler tobacco for sweetmeats, and half a crown for treading on his toe. He asks the landlady with a sigh, after her daughter Nance who first fired his heart with her silk stockings; and finding that she is married and in trouble, leaves five crowns for her; which the old lady appropriates as part payment for a shilling in advance. He goes to the port playhouse with Bet Monson, and a great red handkerchief full of apples, gingerbread nuts, and fresh beef; calls out for the fiddlers and Rule Britannia; pelts Tom Sikes in the pit; and compares Othello to the black ship's cook in his white night-cap. When he comes to London, he and some messmates take a hackney-coach, full of Bet Monsons and tobacco pipes, and go through the streets smoking and lolling out of window. He has ever been cautious of venturing on horseback; and among his other sights in foreign parts, relates with unfeigned astonishment how he has seen the Turks ride,—"Only," says he, guarding against the hearer's incredulity, "they have saddle-boxes to hold 'em in, fore and aft; and shovels like for stirrups." He will tell you how the Chinese drink, and the NEGURS dance, and the monkies pelt you with cocoa-nuts; and how king Domy would have built him a mud hut and made him a peer of the realm, if he would have stopped with him and taught him to make trowsers. He has a sister at a "school for young ladies," who blushes with a mixture of pleasure and shame at his appearance; and whose confusion he completes, by slipping fourpence into her hand, and saying out loud that he has "no more copper" about him. His mother and elder sisters at home doat on all he says and does, telling him however that he is a great sea-fellow, and was always wild ever since he was a hop-o'-my-thumb no higher than the window-locker. He tells his mother she would be a duchess in Paranaboo; at which the good old portly dame laughs and looks proud. When his sisters complain of his romping, he says that they are only sorry it is not the baker. He frightens them with a mask made after the New Zealand fashion, and is forgiven for his learning. Their mantle-piece is filled by him with shells and shark's teeth; and when he goes to sea again, there is no end of tears, and God bless you, and home-made gingerbread.
His officer on shore does much of all this, only, generally speaking, in a higher taste. The moment he lands he buys quantities of jewellery and other valuables, for all the females of his acquaintance; and is taken in for every article. He sends in a cart load of fresh meat to the ship, though he is going to town next day; and calling in at a chandler's for some candles, is persuaded to buy a dozen of green wax, with which he lights up the ship at evening; regretting that the fine moonlight hinders the effect of the colour. A man, with a bundle beneath his arm, accosts him in an undertone; and, with a look in which respect for his knowledge is mixed with an avowed zeal for his own interest, asks if his honour will just step under the gangway here, and inspect some real India shawls. The gallant lieutenant says to himself, "this fellow knows what's what by his face;" and so he proves it by being taken in on the spot. When he brings the shawls home, he says to his sister with an air of triumph, "there Poll, there's something for you; only cost me twelve, and is worth twenty, if it's worth a dollar." She turns pale—"Twenty what, my dear George? Why, you haven't given twelve dollars for it, I hope?" "Not I, by the Lord."—"That's lucky; because you see, my dear George, that all together is not worth more than fourteen or fifteen shillings." "Fourteen or fifteen what! Why, it's real India, en't it? Why the fellow told me so; or I'm sure I'd as soon"—(here he tries to hide his blushes with a bluster) "I'd as soon have given him twelve douses on the chaps as twelve guineas." "Twelve GUINEAS," exclaims the sister; and then drawling forth "Why—my—DEAR—George," is proceeding to show him what the articles would have cost him at Condell's, when he interrupts her by requesting her to go and choose for herself a tea-table service. He then makes his escape to some messmates at a coffee-house, and drowns his recollection of the shawls in the best wine, and a discussion on the comparative merits of the English and West Indian beauties and tables. At the theatre afterwards, where he has never been before, he takes a lady at the back of one of the boxes for a woman of quality: and when after returning his long respectful gaze with a smile, she turns aside and puts her handkerchief to her mouth, he thinks it is in derision, till his friend undeceives him. He is introduced to the lady; and ever afterwards, at first sight of a woman of quality (without any disparagement either to those charming personages), expects her to give him a smile. He thinks the other ladies much better creatures than they are taken for; and for their parts, they tell him, that if all men were like himself, they would trust the sex again:—which, for aught we know, is the truth. He has, indeed, what he thinks a very liberal opinion of ladies in general; judging them all, in a manner, with the eye of a seaman's experience. Yet he will believe nevertheless in the "true-love" of any given damsel whom he seeks in the way of marriage, let him roam as much, or remain as long at a distance as he pleases. It is not that he wants feeling; but that he has read of it, time out of mind, in songs; and he looks upon constancy as a sort of exploit, answering to those which he performs at sea. He is nice in his watches and linen. He makes you presents of cornelians, antique seals, cocoa-nuts set in silver, and other valuables. When he shakes hands with you, it is like being caught in a windlass. He would not swagger about the streets in his uniform, for the world. He is generally modest in company, though liable to be irritated by what he thinks ungentlemanly behaviour. He is also liable to be rendered irritable by sickness; partly because he has been used to command others, and to be served with all possible deference and alacrity; and partly, because the idea of suffering pain, without any honour or profit to get by it, is unprofessional, and he is not accustomed to it. He treats talents unlike his own with great respect. He often perceives his own so little felt that it teaches him this feeling for that of others. Besides, he admires the quantity of information which people can get, without travelling like himself; especially when he sees how interesting his own becomes, to them as well as to every body else. When he tells a story, particularly if full of wonders, he takes care to maintain his character for truth and simplicity, by qualifying it with all possible reservations, concessions, and anticipations of objection; such as "in case, at such times as, so to speak, as it were, at least, at any rate." He seldom uses sea-terms but when jocosely provoked by something contrary to his habits of life; as for instance, if he is always meeting you on horseback, he asks if you never mean to walk the deck again; or if he finds you studying day after day, he says you are always overhauling your log-book. He makes more new acquaintances, and forgets his old ones less, than any other man in the busy world; for he is so compelled to make his home every where, remembers his native one as such a place of enjoyment, has all his friendly recollections so fixed upon his mind at sea, and has so much to tell and to hear when he returns, that change and separation lose with him the most heartless part of their nature. He also sees such a variety of customs and manners, that he becomes charitable in his opinions altogether; and charity, while it diffuses the affections, cannot let the old ones go. Half the secret of human intercourse is to make allowance for each other.
When the officer is superannuated or retires, he becomes, if intelligent and inquiring, one of the most agreeable old men in the world, equally welcome to the silent for his card-playing, and to the conversational for his recollections. He is fond of astronomy and books of voyages; and is immortal with all who know him, for having been round the world, or seen the Transit of Venus, or had one of his fingers carried of by a New Zealand hatchet, or a present of feathers from an Otaheitean beauty. If not elevated by his acquirements above some of his humbler tastes, he delights in a corner-cupboard holding his cocoa-nuts and punch-bowl; has his summer-house castellated and planted with wooden cannon; and sets up the figure of his old ship, the Britannia or the Lovely Nancy, for a statue in the garden; where it stares eternally with red cheeks and round black eyes, as if in astonishment at its situation.
Mean Temperature . . . 36 . 20.