An 1840 Cooper work in which he served as amanuensis in telling the narrative of Ned Evans attempting to “lay before the world the experience of a common seaman,” such as Cooper himself knew, and which follows that pattern of degradation and conversion. I confess to an early impression that the work was more novel than narrative, and it certainly is an hybrid genre of edited narrative, or a semi-imaginary reconstruction. The repeated cycle of debauchment does become tiresome.
Cooper said in an 1845 letter to George Bancroft that this fictional account of life at sea “can give you some notion of a common sailor’s career” (Blum, p. 218). Hard to believe the preoccupation with religion was that prevalent among the common sailor.
p. 120: All the disposition to morality that had been aroused within me at Philadelphia completely gone, and I thought as little of church and of religion as ever. It is true I had bought a Bible on board the Superior, and I was in the practice of reading in it, from time to time, though it was only the narratives, such as those of Samson and Goliath, that formed any interest for me. The history of Jonah and the whale I read at least twenty times. I cannot remember that the morality, or thought, or devotion, of a single passage ever struck me on these occasions. In a word, I read this sacred book for amusement, and not for light.
p. 170, on returning to a life of hedonism: All the disposition to morality that had been aroused within me, at Philadelphia, was completely gone, and I thought little of church and of religion, as ever. It is true I had bought a Bible on board the Superior, and I was in the practice of reading it, from time to time, though it was only the narratives, such as those of Sampson and Goliah, that formed any interest for me. The history of Jonah and the whale, I read at least twenty times.
p. 191-92: A Roman Catholic in the hospital had a prayer-book in English, which he lent to me, and I got into the habit of reading a prayer in it daily, as a sort of worshipping of the Almighty. This was the first act of mine, that approached private worship, since the day I left Mr. Marchinton’s if I except the few hasty mental petitions put up in moments of danger.
After a time, I began to think it would never do for me, a Protestant born and baptized, to be studying a Romish prayer-book; and I hunted up one that was Protestant, and which had been written expressly for seamen. This I took to my room, and used in place of the Romish book. Dr. Terrill had a number of Bibles under his charge, and I obtained one of these, also, and I actually got into the practice of reading a chapter every night, as well as of reading a prayer. I also knocked off from drink, and ceased to swear. My reading in the Bible, now, was not for the stories, but seriously to improve my mind and morals.
Volume II, p. 193: It seemed improbable to me [Christ as Son of God], and I was falling into the danger which is so apt to beset the new beginner—that of self-sufficiency, and the substituting of human wisdom for faith. The steward was not slow in discovering this; and he produced some of Tom Paine’s works, by way of strengthening me in the unbelief, I now read Tom Paine, instead of the Bible, and soon had practical evidence of the bad effects of his miserable system. I soon got stern-way on me in morals; began to drink as before, though seldom intoxicated, and grew indifferent to my Bible and Prayer-book, as well as careless of the future. I began to think that the things of this world were to be enjoyed, and he was the wisest who made the most of his time.
p. 192-93, where he meets a new steward who had just joined the hospital. This man was ready enough to converse with me about the bible, but he turned out to be a Deist. Notwithstanding my own disposition to think more seriously of my own situation, I had many misgivings on the Saviour’s being the Son of God. It seemed improbable to me, and I was falling into the danger which is so apt to beset the new beginner—that of self-sufficiency, and the substituting of human wisdom for faith. The steward was not slow in discovering this; and he produced some of Tom Paine’s works, by way of strengthening me in the unbelief. I now read Tom Paine, instead of the bible, and soon had practical evidence of the bad effects of his miserable system.
p. 209-10: I went to the Sailor’s Retreat, Staten Island, and of course got out of reach of liquor. Here I staid eight or ten days, until my wounds healed. While at the Retreat, the last day I remained there indeed, which was a Sunday, the physician came in, and told me that a clergyman of the Dutch Reformed Church, of the name of Miller, was about to have service down stairs, and that I had better go down and be present. To this request, not only civilly but kindly made, I answered that I had seen enough of the acts of religious men to satisfy me, and that I believed a story I was then reading in a Magazine, would do me as much good as a sermon. … As soon as his back was turned some of my companions began to applaud the spirit I had shown, and the answer I had given the doctor. But I was not satisfied with myself. I had more respect for such things than I was willing to own, and conscience upbraided me for the manner in which I had slighted so well-meaning a request. Suddenly telling those around me that my mind was changed, and that I would go below and hear what was said.
p. 225, in Malaysia, on meeting an “old black” about to leave town: he inquired if I had a bible. I told him yes; still, he would not rest until he had pressed upon me a large bible, in English, which language he spoke very well. This book had prayers for seamen bound up with it. It was, in fact, a sort of English prayer-book, as well as bible. This I accepted, and have now with me. As soon as the old man went away, leaving his son behind him for the moment, I began to read in my Pilgrim’s Progress. The young man expressed a desire to examine the book, understanding English perfectly. After reading it for a short time, he earnestly begged the book, telling me he had two sisters, who would be infinitely pleased to possess it. I could not refuse him, and he promised to send another book in its place, which I should find equally good. He thus left me, taking the Pilgrim’s Progress with him. Half an hour later a servant brought me the promised book, which proved to be Doddridge’s Rise and Progress.
p. 244: I read with these men for two or three weeks; Chapman, the American, being the man who considered his own moral condition the most hopeless. When unable to go myself, I would send my books, and we had the Bible and Pilgrim’s Progress, watch and watch, between us.
p. 249: One day, the last time I was with him, I read the narrative of the thief on the cross. He listened to it eagerly, and when I had ended, for the first time, he displayed some signs of hope and joy. As I left him he took leave of me, saying we should never meet again. He asked my prayers, and I promised them. I went to my own ward, and, while actually engaged in redeeming my promise, one came to tell me he had gone. He sent me a message, to say he died a happy man. The poor fellow—happy fellow, would be a better term—sent back all the books he had borrowed; and it will serve to give some idea of the condition we were in, in a temporal sense, if I add, that he also sent me a few coppers, in order that they might contribute to the comfort of his countrymen.