The author Nathaniel Ames was the son of the statesman, Fisher Ames (1758-1808), of Dedham, Massachusetts, and was a congressman from 1789 to 1797. Nathaniel was named for his grandfather, Nathaniel Ames, famous for the Ames Almanacs, which were the inspiration to Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanac”.
Although sometimes described as a juvenile title, Ames’s book would need a very mature juvenile to appreciate his satiric style.
p. 8, part of “Crossing the line” ceremony: As ringing the bell is now only practised by the Dutch, most modern editions read, ” heave the lead” for “ring the bell.” Several able papers, both in support and confutation of this new reading, may be found in the “Philosophical transactions” for the last century. I forbear intruding my own opinions on a subject, which may hereafter become the source of jealousy and heartburnings between this country and Holland.
Indeed, the whole Dutch nation have entered into the argument, with such zeal, that on board both men of war and merchant-men, the bell is rung, not only at “krout time,” but not a single glass of “schnaps”
“can be served out, without due tintinnabulary notice being given thereof.
p. 126: …opposition is the very food that enterprize lives upon. History furnishes us with plenty of proof of this fact; the Christian religion, so persecuted by the Roman Emperors, seemed to acquire fresh vigor from being watered by the blood of saints; the Huguenots in France, and the Lollards and Wickliffites in Great Britain, were hunted down like wild beasts;—that ‘sweet ounce of man’s flesh,’ John Calvin, burned bishop Servetus, who was, if I mistake not, a Unitarian, still that ‘infidel’ sect continues to increase, election and faith without works notwithstanding. I omit the Salem witches, as every body knows that Molly Pitcher maintained her Delphic tripod to the last, in spite of persecution and broken windows.
I will adduce one more instance to prove that opposition is the food of enterprize. Every modest man of pure and correct taste, every man, in fact who prizes modesty in a female, has decided that Tom Moore’s poems and Don Juan, are not proper books for the eye of a passably modest woman. The consequence is, that there are hardly a dozen females throughout the United States, that have not a splendidly bound copy of Moore’s bawdiest poems, or Don Juan on her dressing table.
p. 173: Rats and white ants aboard ships passing through the tropics ‘are the most destructive insects in the world, no wood is safe from their ravages; masts are eaten asunder, furniture reduced to dust, books, papers, clothes, any thing and every thing, that is not metal or stone is devoured by them in most incredibly short time.’
p. 241-42: Landsmen have generally very strange and very absurd notions of sailors. The look upon them as specimens of total depravity, they regard them as vessels of wrath, children of the devil.
Some few indeed, on the principle that ‘the greater the sinner, the greater the Saint’ have volunteered a feeble crusade against the vices and sins of seamen and have accordingly stuffed ships full of tracts which have entirely defeated their own object, as they are of that gloomy species which represent the Almighty as a kind of ‘spiritual and everlasting’ being, whose thirst for human blood is gratified but not appeased by inflicting everlasting damnation upon infants who did not live long enough in this world to be able to commit sin, and heathen, ‘poor benighted brethren,’ who did not know any better than to commit it.
The writers of these tracts not only inculcate the maxim “ignorantia legis neminem excusat,” ignorance of the law excuses nobody, but they take a peculiar delight in informing their terrified and despairing readers that the gates of mercy are forever shut against them.
It is true they allow that out of the whole marine population of a country, free grace might pick out one or two to be saved, but they intimate that they will probably be captains or mates and sailors consider the chance not worth trying for, pay but little attention to the ‘serious calls’ of these ‘gospel trumpeters,’ as far as my own observation extends have quietly handed over to the cook all the tracts which a blind sectarian zeal had intruded; upon their notice.
Sailors universally are extremely fond of reading and are far better judges of books than they are allowed credit for. The bible, from the laudable exertions of the different bible societies, is to be found in almost every ship and the men are generally very fond of reading it.
I have observed however that they are very much puzzled to reconcile the doctrine of election and free grace, as laid down in these tracts, with the promise to the dying thief upon the cross, or [of] there being ‘more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, than over ninety and nine just persons,’ &c.
I once undertook to explain the operations of free grace (no easy matter) to a well informed sailor, but he could not see through it. ‘Why d—n it,’ said the perplexed seamen [sic] turning his quid and hitching up his trowsers. ‘If we can do nothing of ourselves, why would it not be best to heave to, and let free grace come up with us?’
I must confess I did not see why the plan was not a good one. If our prayers and our alms do not ‘go up as memorials before God,’ it is hardly worth while to perform them, they become works of supererogation, we are doing more than our duty requires of us.
The tracts above mentioned inform us that good works are no recommendation to Almighty favor, that the practicing the moral and social virtues is only a ‘loss of time, and hindrance of business.’ [Goes on to speak of miraculous conversions of seamen.]
p. 255: I found I could undergo a vast deal of ease, without any perceptible injury to my health, or disparagement to my appetite and spirits…. I had one day a ‘lookout’ in the main top mast cross trees from twelve to four. I slept from one till half past four, when I was waked by the firing of Admiral Guise’s squadron, which I was stationed aloft to look out for, and the batteries on shore.
I was immediately relieved and sent down on deck, where I went with a beating heart; fortunately the first lieutenant was on deck. ‘Ar’nt you a pretty fellow?’ I had few or no doubts of my ‘prettiness,’ but did not see what it had to do with the case in hearing. ‘You were asleep, sir.’ ‘No, sir, I was reading.’ ‘Let me see your book,’ and I produced from my bosom a volume of ‘Woodstock,” that had just arrived on the coast. ‘Next time you have a look-out, don’t you take a book aloft with you.’
We were generally well supplied with books by the kindness of the officers, whose friends sent out Scott’s novels, and other new and interesting works, as fast as published in America. Philadelphia and Baltimore newspapers we had pretty regularly; but few masters of vessels north of those places ever troubled themselves to bring out any. They are also very negligent in delivering letters entrusted to their care; one Boston captain, an intimate acquaintance of mine, and who knew that I was on board the frigate, carried a letter directed to me all over the Pacific, till it had acquired the respectable age of nineteen months, fifteen of which it had passed in his cabin.
p. 258, Ames: he ends his sketches with a typical day at sea: So that with hearing and telling news, reading, sleeping, playing chess and checkers, dancing, theatricals, &c. our time passed pleasantly ‘free from thought, from sorrow free.’
I have thus, most gentle, and I presume by this time dormant, reader, brought them to the conclusion of my sea life. If thou hast patience to turn over a leave or two, ‘you shall see what you shall see.’
p. 280-83 is a scurrilous if magnificent tirade against women preachers.