Mrs. Morrell followed her husband’s larger and multi-voyage 1832 narrative by only one year, and was considerably more successful with her account of the last of her husband’s voyages. No doubt its greater appeal lay in the unusual phenomenon of a woman’s account of such a voyage. The pair deserve a dual biography.
p. 113-14: A great deal of information of these seas may be found in Horsburgh’s Directory; a work which my husband praised so highly that
studied it as a country justice does the Farmer’s Almanac, not only for dates, but for matters of opinion. This cool and intrepid navigator spent
a good proportion of his life in the East India seas, for the East India Company, and was a great matter-of-fact man, to which were united
sound judgment and wonderful perseverance. Such a man is truly a benefactor to mankind; he shows us how to shun evil, and how to take
the best advantage of our situation. This East India Company, whatever politicians may say about monopoly and exclusive privileges, has done more to make safe the navigation of those seas, than all the world besides. Governments are not generally disposed to do much for a general interest; our own has hardly made a chart for the navigator. I was mortified that in every country we visited, we had to sail by charts of other nations; we even left our own "sublime port," the harbour of New-York, by an English chart. I am not wise enough to understand this. when next to the English we are the greatest wanderers over the globe, and have as much at stake as any other nation but the English every-
where, from the north to the south pole. Nor had we any books on board written by our countrymen, giving us particulars of those seas which we visited. I have understood, however, that one or two volumes have lately been written upon this subject by our countrymen, which give some account of a part of our course, but I have not seen them; we had nothing of the kind with us when we sailed. Our books were generally English, and to these alone we had recourse. Much may be written, however, without interfering with what has been done.
p.139-43, where Mrs. Morrell follows a lengthy disquisition on African fauna (from elephants to ostrich) with a tribute to Portuguese author Camoens and his Lusiad. What appears to be a simple reading of the epic at sea turns into a thoughtful exercise in literary criticism:
The Cape of Good Hope promises, under present auspices, to be an opening for civilization to enter Africa; and not half of the wonders and the treasures of this country are as yet known. The region over which we have lately traversed, and where we now were, was one of epic grandeur, although still so much unknown. Camoens, who was born soon after Gama doubled the stormy Cape, and who wrote before Shakspeare or Milton, made the voyage of Vasco de Gama the subject of an heroic poem. Among the first recollections of this poet were the tales of the adventures of this great navigator. Delighted with his romantic theme, Camoens, who had tried his hand in madrigals and sonnets, in early life, contemplated an epic, which he called the Lusiad; and to bring it to perfection he visited those seas and countries which had been discovered by Gama. His life was one of trials and misfortunes; he lived with kings and expired with beggars. He held honourable employment under some of the viceroys, and at one time accumulated no small portion of wealth, which was afterward lost in a shipwreck. He was too open, bold, and satirical to live in a court of parasites and flatterers, and he despised the whole of them, from the highest to the lowest. He died with the patriotic expression “Oh my country!” on his lips, and with more reason than most men who have used this lamentation. Portugal was then the first of all the maritime powers, but Spain and other countries were in the days of Camoens contending with, and indeed rivalling Portugal. The epic of Camoens is divided into ten books, and, for the age, was full of poetry. To his credit, too, after all the fiction he has introduced, sometimes revelling in heathen mythology, mingled with scriptural allusions, it abounds in truths. He carries his hero around the Cape, and brings him in competition with all the Moorish princes, who had held the best portions of the traffic of the Indies for ages. His struggles with these warlike merchants are finely described, and all the new sensations which this mighty struggle produced. Everywhere, after his time, the navigators of these regions inscribed on the bark of trees wherever they landed this proud inscription, “T ALENT DE BIEN FAIRE.” The reader of the Lusiad of Camoens will find in it at all times many beautiful passages; but when reading it on the, very spots he describes, it seems to bring author and reader together, although nearly three centuries have elapsed since the poet visited them. Camoens was surely an observer of nature, as well as an accurate historian. He describes the high-born cavalier preparing for his departure to unknown regions with graphic accuracy and in an elegant style. De Gama leads all his sailors to a chapel the night before he departs, and spends the night in prayer. On the road from this place to his fleet his friends met him, and prayers, tears, and wailings filled the air. Full of his glory he moved firmly onward: no one but those who have parted with friends to go on long and perilous voyages can realize this part of the scene. Oh! it is true to nature; it is true to the life, humbler life than the proud Spanish don. Many a mother, wife, and sister, at such times, has breathed in spirit the lines of Camoens;
“Cursed be the man who first on floating wood
Forsook the beach, and braved the treacherous flood!”
But this feeling is soon lost in a nobler one, which incorporates the pride of science and individual heroism. Woman, more than man, delights in glory; it is, perhaps, that she does not examine so deeply as to see the motives and means, but looks at things in the aggregate or the result; she feels the national glow that would sink every thing at the thought of honour.
“While thy bold prows triumphant ride along
By trembling China, to the isles unsung
By ancient bard, by ancient chief unknown,
Till ocean’s utmost shore thy commerce own.”
Some of the conceptions in the Lusiad are noble; but honest critics tell us that we are much indebted to the translator of this work into English
for our pleasure, the translation being superior to the original. This may be true, but, read as we have it, it is full of beauty and truth to those who
see the country while they read the poem, though it must be confessed that there is nothing wonderfully original in the machinery. The poet
copied Homer, Virgil, and Ariosto, after the manner of the schools; but his descriptions are natural, and that is enough. Although this is the epic of commerce, yet I believe that almost every other epic is read by merchants before the Lusiad.
It is surprising that commerce and letters should have been so long divorced, as it were; for they were once closely united. It was the
Phenicians [sic] who diffused letters over Europe, while they were drawing wealth from the commerce of the world. The schools of the Hebrews flourished most when their commerce was at the highest prosperity. Letters have at all times been the necessary consequence of commercial enterprise, and from the days of De Gama the difficulties of the navigator have extended the science of astronomy and mathematics. These difficulties are so forcibly impressed upon the mind every one who trusts himself on the ocean, that I am surprised that any one would go a mile from land a second time without knowing enough of the science of navigation to find a port when he wished. Woman as I am, I never would sail another voyage without some knowledge of this
science; enough to make ordinary calculations cannot lie very deep when so many pretend to it.
One great defect of the Lusiad was more owing to the laws of the schools than to the want of genius in the writer; this was a disposition to describe all the events, distances, escapes, &c., to the neglect of the natural world. Ichthyology, ornithology, conchology, and all natural history, were then beneath the epic standard. If these would have offended the critic of his day as not of sufficient importance, the voyager would now pardon him if he had descended to the description of the works of nature which were scattered around, and no doubt his copious mind was delighted with them all; but as he was writing an epic, he dared not interweave them with his verse. There is no want of feeling in the Lusiad, if there is of minute nature. Camoens was not a favourite of fortune; his name is added to those who live for others rather than for themselves. He had a just idea of the happiness of those minions of fortune who sail smoothly over the sea of life, and find prosperous gales every where, and yet felt what he forcibly described of the unfortunate man:
"—Through the dim shade, his fate casts o’er him
A shade that spreads its evening darkness o’er
His brightest virtues; while it shows his foibles,
Crowding and obvious as the midnight stars,
Which in the sunshine of prosperity
Never had been descried."
It made me almost sick to think of poor Camoens’s fate; that one so talented, so learned, so noble in his feelings, should have died so wretchedly, and found an ignoble grave. I tried to console myself with the reflection that he had been dead two centuries and a half, but could not; for where genius is impressed on the page, the immortal shade stands for ever before the reader. There is nothing of decay in the thought; all is fresh and blooming as it was before the ink was dry. Embalmed by the tears of ages, a moving story grows fresher by the lapse of time. To a feeling heart the meeting of Hector and Andromache was but yesterday, and the wailings of Jephthah’s daughter still sound in our ears.
p. 157: There is something for ever so new in the Scriptures that no human mind can feel satisfied of having reached near their full meaning. Some new thought will spring up in every text for contemplation. I do not believe there ever was a mutiny on board of a ship where the Bible was read diligently by the whole crew. Works of fancy and taste after a while grow tedious, from absorbing too much of our attention at once, while the Scriptures are not only interesting, but compel us to direct our reasonings and views to ourselves. If there ever was a book which could be called an awakener of our own thoughts, it is that which furnishes so many thoughts for us, the Bible. I have read it where Christianity was professed, followed, and held the highest claims to attention; I have read it where superstition abounds, and where infidelity, pagan infidelity, darkened the whole land: it was the same heaven-illumined page everywhere; but if ever peculiar glory rested on it, it was when we were near those who had never received its glad tidings, and who never knew the true God.
p. 157-58: On the 19th of April we crossed the equator, but we were now all such old, experienced sailors that Neptune did not think it worth while to payus a visit, nor did we expect him. If he had come on board he would have found our stock of liquor nearly the same as when he saw us before, except a little which had been used as medicine; and if he had brought his log-book, as sailors playfully say he keeps, of all bad deeds done during his absence, I question whether he would have found a single oath recorded, or one vile or blasphemous expression set down to anyone of the crew of the Antarctic; and, heathen as he is, he would have been delighted to know how much time they had devoted to reading the Bible.
p. 182-86: In Bordeaux I found a file of American newspapers. It was true that they contained nothing new or interesting to most readers; but to me they were dear as the light that visited my eyes. There were the little squabbles of editors; the complaints of some neglected actors, the puffs required to vend patent medicines, or to call the attention to a sale of the last importation of bonnets or fans. All was delightful to me, for I knew that the interesting Mr. A was to preach in street, on a particular evening, and that the learned Dr. M would give a lecture on such an evening on political economy, or on steam-engines, or internal improvements, or on the raising of hemp, or the last public sale of domestic manufactures. This medley was delightful. I could rejoice at the hymeneal register, and drop a tear over the obituary notices. The exile never kissed the ground on his return to his native land with more enthusiasm than I read these newspapers; only some fifty days old. To me they seemed as thrown on the breakfast-table all wet from the press. I read all the advertisements, as delicious morsels of information; not a word was omitted. The speeches of politicians at dinners given for their political services were read with attention, in truth devoured. It made not a cent’s difference on which side they spoke, for they were my countrymen, and they had a right to differ among themselves; nor was I sure I wished them to agree if they found more pleasure in disputing? I felt no disposition to set them right if I could have had the power given me, for I did not know who was right, but thought them all so. The number of new publications I saw advertised was such that it seemed as if all that my countrymen had been doing while I was absent had been to cultivate their minds; and I was happy to find that they had enjoyed themselves in this way. I expected to find every one so improved that I should hardly dare to see my old friends. I learned the "whereabouts" of all the state and general government politicians, and what they had been saying and doing in my absence. I picked up a few American books in this city, of recent date, and these were greeted as old friends, and read with delight; but I made no criticisms, for one long absent from home never complains of any thing from that quarter. I could wish that all who criticise their own people were obliged to wait before they commenced their review until they had got three or four thousand miles from home, and I’really think we, should have much less vituperation. If any writer of distinction could see his works in distant countries, and know what ubiquity he possesses, he must he happy indeed if he is conscious that what he has written is not exceptionable on the score of principle. Irving, Cooper, Webster, and several of our poets are found at many places we visited; and those and other American names were familiar in Asia and Africa as well as in Europe. I must say, however, that English vessels are more likely to bring out recent literary and scientific productions than our own, but do not equal us in general in the extent of the useful library made up for the voyage. Hardly a single vessel thinks of putting to sea for a long voyage without taking several hundred volumes. Master mariners have found out that officers and men on a long voyage can do their duties, and have some time to improve their minds too. The selection is often not the best that might be made for this purpose, particularly of books relating to our own country, for there are but few who visit other countries that know much about our own. It would be doing a service, if some one cquainted with books were to make out a catalogue of such as should be collected for ordinary and for long voyages. All the approved naval journals and voyages are indispensable as guides for the purpose of obtaining the most information in the shortest time. Some good commercial dictionaries, and geographies, and gazetteers should be always at hand; and works of taste should not be forgotten. An interesting work appears with double charms on shipboard. The mind is then concentrated, and cannot be dissipated by amusements or trifles—it comes with all its force to asubject. Not only a matter of taste but a moral lesson sinks deeper in the mind when there is nothing to distract our attention. The great mathematician of our country, who is considered greater in Europe than in America, gained most of his information during voyages at sea.
His name and his commentaries on La Place’s great mathematical work are familiar to all men of science in France. Dr. Bowditch performed many long voyages, as factor and master, from the United States to India; always having with him good officers, he had leisure to go through those long and difficult calculations which have laid the foundation of his great fame, so valuable and so dear to his country. Every person at sea is constantly reminded of him, as his Navigator is on every officer’s table. This book, I believe, has taken the place of all others among our mariners, and is highly esteemed b ynavigators of other countries.