There is, perhaps, no contrivance in the wide world more wonderful than a ship—a full-rigged, well-manned, gigantic ship!
Those who regard familiar objects in art and nature as mere matters of course, and do not trouble themselves to wander out of the beaten track of everyday thought, may not at first feel the force or admit the truth of this statement. Let such folk endeavour to shake themselves vigorously out of this beaten track of everyday thought. Let them knit their brows and clench their teeth, and gaze steadfastly into the fire, or up at the sky, and try to realise what is involved in the idea of—a ship.
What would the men of old have said, if you had told them that you intended to take yonder large wooden house, launch it upon the sea, and proceed in it out of sight of land for a few days? “Poor fellow,” they would have replied, “you are mad!” Ah! many a wise philosopher has been deemed mad, not only by men of old, but by men of modern days. This “mad” idea has long since been fulfilled; for what is a ship but a wooden house made to float upon the sea, and sail with its inmates hither and thither, at the will of the guiding spirit, over a trackless unstable ocean for months together? It is a self-sustaining movable hotel upon the sea. It is an oasis in the desert of waters, so skilfully contrived as to be capable of advancing against wind and tide, and of outliving the wildest storms—the bitterest fury of winds and waves. It is the residence of a community, whose country for the time being is the ocean; or, as in the case of the Great Eastern steamship, it is a town with some thousands of inhabitants launched upon the deep.
Ships are, as it were, the electric sparks of the world, by means of which the superabundance of different countries is carried forth to fill, reciprocally, the voids in each. They are not only the media of intercourse between the various families of the human race, whereby our shores are enriched with the produce of other lands, but they are the bearers of inestimable treasures of knowledge from clime to clime, and of gospel light to the uttermost ends of the earth.
But for ships, we should never have heard of the wonders of the coral isles and the beauties of the golden South, or the phenomena and tempests of the icy North. But for ships, the stirring adventures and perils of Magellan, Drake, Cook, etcetera, had never been encountered; and even the far-famed Robinson Crusoe himself had never gladdened, and saddened, and romantically maddened the heart of youth with his escapes, his fights, his parrots, and his philosophy, as he now does, and as he will continue to do till the end of time.
Some account, then, of ships and boats, with anecdotes illustrative of the perils to which they are frequently exposed, cannot fail, we think, to prove interesting to all, especially to boys, for whose particular edification we now write. Boys, of all creatures in this world, are passionately fond of boats and ships; they make them of every shape and size, with every sort of tool, and hack and cut their fingers in the operation, as we know from early personal experience. They sail them, and wet their garments in so doing, to the well-known sorrow of all right-minded mammas. They lose them, too, and break their hearts, almost, at the calamity. They make little ones when they are little, and big ones when they grow big; and when they grow bigger they not unfrequently forsake the toy for the reality, embark in some noble craft, and wed the stormy sea.
A word in your ear, reader, at this point. Do not think that because you fall in love with a ship you will naturally and necessarily fall in love with the sea! Some do, and some don’t: with those who do, it is well; with those who don’t, and yet go to sea, it is remarkably ill. Think philosophically about “going to sea,” my lads. Try honestly to resist your own inclination as long as possible, and only go if you find that you can’t help it! In such a case you will probably find that you are cut out for it—not otherwise. We love the sea with a true and deep affection, and often have we tossed upon her foam-topped waves; but we don’t wish to be a sailor—by no manner of means!
And now, boys, come along, and we will conduct you as pleasantly and profitably as we can from a ship’s cradle, through all her stormy existence, to her grave.