Life in a Man-of-War, or Scenes in “Old Ironsides” during her Cruise in the Pacific

p. 3, Preface:
CRITICS avaunt! curl not your lips with scorn,
Do let my humble Sketches pass scot-free—
you will find them but the uncouth “YARNS”
Of an unlettered wanderer on the sea.

I had made up my mind whilst on our homeward bound passage, to slip the moorings of the present little Craft and let her glide before the public without anything in the shape of prefaratory [sic] remark; but as soon as I mentioned the circumstance to some of the literati of the galley, they condemned loudly and emphatically my determination. “What,” cried one old weatherworn customer, “print your book without a preface, that ain’t ship-shape no how; I thought you had more savey than all that; damme, man, now-a-days a book without a preface is like a topmast without a fid, its whole dependance gone, small as it is.”—Aye,” chimed in a second, “or like a purser’s jacket, without naval buttons; nothing to set off the quality of the article.”—” Or like,” remarked a third, “a sailor’s jack-knife without a laniard, a most essential thing wanting.”—” Or like a gun without a touch-hole,” cried a fourth, “well enough to look at, but that little thing required to give it force and effect. They would have assailed me with fifty other nautical similies, to prove that my work would’nt be worth a single cent without the appendage they were so anxious for; and to save myself from their incessant solicitations, I promised I would try my hand at something of the kind; and so, readers, I have made a beginning. The present little work consists but of a few of the “sayings and doings” on board of “Old Ironsides” during our cruise—for the numerous incidents, both of a serious and laughable nature, that transpire daily, aye hourly, on board an armed ship upon a foreign station, would furnish materials sufficient to fit out a craft in the literary line, to which this in size would be but a mere cock-boat; and I assure you the cruise of ” Old Ironsides” in the Pacific was of this nature; but from the many disadvantages one in my capacity had necessarily to labour under whilst endeavouring to note the passing events as they occurred, as well as the difficulties I had to struggle against—the interruptions I was subject to, and the noise and outcry that assailed me on every side, whilst indulging in my “scribbling vein”—I was constrained to let many a scene pass unnoticed, and to touch on others slightly and superficially.

p. 96, embracing a poetic mode:
literary group of three or four,
Discussing the merits of some novel o’er:—

“Have you read Marryatt’s ‘Phantom Ship’ all through?”
Eagerly asks one of this book-learned crew:
“I have,” is the reply, ” and I must own,
In my opinion, it has not that tone
Of interest—nor the language half the zest
Of Simple, Faithful, Easy, or the rest.”
“You’re wrong, there, mate!” another tar breaks forth,
“Your criticism is not of any worth;
Your brain’s too shallow, and your mind too small
For you to judge of works like those at all.
I’ve read the books you speak of with delight,
And who such a thrilling work but him could write!
God knows, from time to time, we’ve had enough
Of ‘ Flying Dutchmen’ and such sort of stuff;
But stale as that yarn is, his all-powerful mind
Has with such feeling and such plot combined
The incidents, that many would look blue
If you but hinted that it was not true.
I’m sure I never thought ‘twould come to pass
Have Marryatt’s works reviewed by such an ass;
For, believe me, the gallant captain little thought,
When he launched forth those books with learning fraught,
That they’d be censured, and by such as you,
Amongst the smokers of a frigate’s crew!”
Two bells have struck, the boatswain’s pipe once more
Loudly proclaims the breakfast hour is o’er.

p. 103, continued:
One you perceive encircled by a crowd
Reading a “Sun” or “Weekly Herald” loud,
His eager auditors,uite mute and still
With oped mouth swallowing of news their fill.
Near yonder gun sits an industrious blade
With all the et ceteras of a tailor’s trade,
Working a collar for some graceless wight
Who in a bit of flash takes great delight;
Upon it flags and stars of every hue
And parti-coloured eagles meet the view,
On which the owner bends his ardent gaze.

p. 105-11, a Chapter called “The Literary Tars” is about the ship’s library books and begins: “R eader ! don’t spoil your pretty countenance with a sneer, nor turn up your nose with disgust at the title of this sketch.—Methinks I hear you with a pish exclaim, “Literary Tars—quotha, upon my word the Belles Lettres are becoming fearfully defiled, when the wild reckless sailor, ruffles the leaves with his clumsy and tar-besmeared fingers.” But the bard of Avon says, in the above motto, that “there are water rats as well as land rats;” why then should it be considered a strange or unaccountable coincidence if we had our book-worms on the forecastle of a tight Yankee frigate, as well as in the boudoir or the drawing-room.—The ” march of mind” is abroad, and making rapid strides in both the hemispheres; why then should it not on its journey take a sly peep amongst the worthies of a man-of-war? why should not the wanderer on the mighty deep, as well as the sojourner on terra firma, hail with feelings of delight, the appearance of a sheet filled with the feelings of delight, the appearance of a sheet filled with the soul-thrilling poetry of the inestimable Moore, or the quaint, racy prose of the inimitable Dickens.

p. 106-08: When sailing on the boundless Ocean for weeks and weeks together, each day bringing forth the same dull, unvaried round of employment; the same tiresome monotony still pervading the scene; what can be a greater resource to help to dispel the foul fiend ennui, than the interesting or amusing volume; it is at a time like this, the unsophisticated tar pores over with pleasurable feelings the pages of history, or imbibes, with heated imagination, the melting pathos of some of our beautiful modern poets. Who will say then, that some of the inmates of a vessel-of-war do not thirst after literature? To illustrate the fact, just glance your eye along our ships’ decks when lying in port; under the break of the poop you may observe a group of mizzen-topmen, eagerly listening to some more talented shipmate, who with voice and effect worthy of the subject, is reading aloud passages from one of the splendid and romantic poems of the celebrated Byron:–In the larboard gangway a crowd are assembled, distorting their risible muscles at the trying though ludicrous scenes in Marryatt’s Jacob Faithful or Midshipman Easy:–Again, on the starboard side amongst the main-topmen, a little coterie are gathered together, wrapped in profound silence, every ear intent, with open mouth, swallowing some of Cooper’s thrilling descriptions of nautical life, or digesting the eccentricities of Scott’s liquor-loving Peter Peebles, or the original and trite remarks of Boz’s inimitable Sam Weller; and even the hard old salts on the forecastle, with the bronze of every climate upon their furrowed cheeks, are huddled together around the trunk, hearing, with enthusiastic imagination and eyes beaming with delight, some lettered “sheet-anchor-man” describe the glorious exploits and brilliant achievements of Columbia’s ships in the last war.

p. 106-07: Whilst we lay in New York, three or four hundred volumes were purchased, comprising the whole of the Family Library; the works of Scott, Marryatt, Cooper, Irving, Bulwer, &c.; and when the circumstance was made known throughout the ship, the greater part of our jolly tars came forward with avidity and subscribed their mites towards repaying the purchase money, and felt pleased to think that they had now in their possession a stock of intellectual food to beguile the heavy tediousness of the cruise, or to refresh their thirst for mental acquirements. The little collection of books was put under charge of the ship’s Yeoman, in the fore-passage and their remained until the multiplied duties generally attending a vessel-of-war upon the commencement of a foreign cruise, had in some measure subsided, —and the first Sunday the news flew through the ship that books were about to be issued, an all-impatient crowd immediately surrounded the ladders leading to the fore-passage, and a scene of uproar and confusion, laughable in the extreme, took place. The several volumes had been numbered, and the titles placed on a catalogue, which was forcibly dragged from one to the other, the weakest going to the wall, to ascertain what books were below that might suit their several tastes; and if the Yeoman had’nt his hands full, to try to keep peace and endeavour to satisfy the clamorous demands of all parties, I wonder at it.

There was a soft-pated “Johnny Raw,” a steady cook on the berth-deck, with scarcely sense enough to know which was banyan day, loudly vociferating for number one hundred and sixty, which, as soon a presented, proved to be an essay on conchology; he carried it off at all events, triumphantly, though whether he could read the title page or not, I have my doubts. Next came a light hearted harum-scarum foretopman, up to all manner of mischief, with an eye even at this time seeking for a fit object amongst the crowd to play his intolerable pranks upon; he called for anything at all to pass the time away, number two hundred and four would answer as well as any, ‘twas his ship’s number, and therefore he chose it: the number in question was brought up, and our foretopman stalked off with Mason Good’s Book of Nature, under his arm, to edify himself and the worthies of the larboard gangway.

Now came pushing through the crowd an old veteran mastman of fifty winters, enquiring for one of Marryatt’s nautical novels; the work requested—a little pocket edition—was passed up, which the old Triton eagerly grabbed. “Po, po!” cried the pragmatical Bill Garnet, who, as a matter of course could not absent himself on this particular occasion: “That book is too small altogether for old Grummet; pass him up the largest Bible you’ve got, he only wants it for a pillow to lay his head on between the guns this afternoon—don’t you see the snatch-blocks that he’s been used to this some time back have chafed all the hair on the top of his head.” “I know how to keep a book as it ought to be, and that’s more than you do, Mr. replied the man of the mast, a little fretted at Bill’s allusion to his somnolency—for which he was remarkable. “I have good reason to know that, old boy,” cried Garnet with a knowing leer, “for them song books of mine I lent you three months ago, you are keeping so slick that I never expect to see them again;” this remarked of Garnet’s caused a laugh all round the crowd, and Grummet took his departure without making a reply. One of the [p. 110] galley cooks now popped his curly head amongst the assemblage, and asked in quite a polite style for Moore’s “Loves of the Angels.” “Never mind,” cried Flukes, the main-top wag—“I’ve got Sitting on a Rail and Gumbo Squash in my ditty-bag I can let you have, they will answer you just the same; you will be more at home with them at all events.” “I’d have you to understand,” replied the “gemman”—his lips thickening and his nose dilating with anger, “that I don’t read such foolish stupid stuff as you have just mentioned—nothing less than Moore or Byron in the shape of poetry do I think palatable; and when I read prose, always give me a philosophical treatise; I always like something heavy to digest.” “Then that duff that we had for dinner in our mess to-day would just suit you to a ravelling,” remarked Pat Bradley, “for in my opinion, it was as hard and as heavy as a thirty-two pound shot—that would sit solid enough on your stomach, I tell you.”

“I’d advise Snowball to get an essay on the rudiments of coffee-making,” chimed in Garnet, “for the d——d stuff he sold me yesterday was like so much bilge-water; look out for yourself if you come that load over me again, I’d capsize your apple-cart for you;” this twittering on facts caused the darkie to disappear pretty quick, for he knew Garnet was not a fellow to be tampered with. A wild scamp of a mizzen-topman now sung out lustily for some book or another; “you know what will suit me,” he remarked to the Yeoman; “Yes! Yes!” cried Flukes, “pass him up the Youth’s easy road to the Gallows; that will fit him exactly” ….[This was] interrupted by the ship’s barber enquiring at a hazard for number one hundred and twenty; it was passed up to him and proved to be a Treatise on Physiology; “my gracious!” cried the man of soap-suds, this is too dull altogether for me.”—“Then it’s exactly like your razors, Patterson,” remarked Garnet; for he was determined to have a rap at the poor shaver some how or another. “Here’s a first-rate work on Phlebotomy you can have,” remarked Flukes, “’twill answer you to a hair.” In what manner will that answer me?” enquired the barber. “Why you know phlebotomy means blood-letting,” continued the main-top wag; “and I’m sure every time you take a razor in hand, you do plenty of that work; now this might teach you to scarify a man’s countenance on quite a new principle.” The poor barber could’nt stomach this innuendo at all; it cut him too close; and finding the main-topman was too keen a blade to handle—his wit having too sharp an edge, he quickly made himself scarce, fearing a second attack.

The crowd now began gradually to disappear from around the ladders, in fact the greater part of the books were served out; and in every part of the ship, from the old weather-beaten quarter-gunner to the youthful, interesting messenger boy, all might be perceived pouring over some volume, with a face as demure and lengthened as a well fed limb of the law when perusing a brief upon which great expectations rested; and on this evening in particular, our lads might well be called “literary tars.”

p. 112-13: To beguile the monotony that hangs like an incubus upon

him, the sailor has recourse to divers methods; the merry song, the romantic tale, the facetious anecdote, are all brought in force to kill this foul fiend ennui; and when a theatrical representation takes place, or a batch of six-months-old newspapers go the round of the ship, they furnish a topic for conversation and discussion at least for a month. [Another chapter, p 121-129, is on “Aquatic Theatricals.”]

p. 129-30: At this distant corner of the globe, communications from friends or acquaintances in the happy land of Columbia, are like angel’s visits, “few and far between;” and poor Jack, if he can but get a glance at a small batch of newspapers, twice within the twelvemonth, blesses his stars for this literary treat. On the tenth of August, a couple of large bags well filled with letters and packages of journals, arrived at Callao, (where we were then lying,) and were quickly distributed to their several owners. In a little time, in every part of the ship you Could perceive our frigate’s newsmongers on the alert, reading aloud Heralds, Suns, Expresses and Brother Jonathans, to attentive crowds, who were swallowing with true relish their precious contents…. Now on board a frigate, the precincts of the galley on the gun-deck…is the regular news-room; and here during meal hours, the events of the passing day, the nation’s rise and fall, shinplasters and the banks, and the political state of our beloved country, are as eagerly and enthusiastically argued, as if tens of thousands of dollars depended upon the issue of the debate. This spot was crowded more than ever upon the day I have above adverted to, and as it was the first news they had had of the serious appearance the boundary question had taken, they gave forth their opinions upon the subject loudly and emphatically. “So the lads in Maine are determined to stand Johnny Bull’s encroachments no longer upon their property,” broke forth a serious looking old tar, after reading a leading article from one of the journals just received on the subject of affairs in that state, written with true Yankee spirit; “them ere down-easters are not to be fooled with I tell you, and as for old Governor Fairfield, he’s as hot as Chili pepper on anything that touches the privileges of his state; they’re at loggerheads afore this, I’d bet my breakfast-grog.”—” I don’t believe a single word of it,” cried old Bowser, the forecastle-man; “believe me, ’tis all flummery, I’ve heard the same old story afore I shipped this time; do you think for the sake of a few acres of land they’re going to have another war with England, with whom you may say we’re now on the same footing as brothers? for my part I never wish to see it.”—” Why, you’re not showing the white feather already I hope, Bowser?” remarked Flakes, the maintop wag; “damme, if they do come to the brush, we’ll give as good as they’ll send, I promise you.” “You’re mighty fine at pitching a galley yarn, I hav’nt the least doubt, Mr. Flukes,” replied Bowser; “and as for being scared at a mouthful of smoke or gunpowder, I’ve took too many doses of that stuff on this same old craft’s gun-deck last war, to be frightened at its spoiling my complexion this time of my life.” –