« PreviousContinue »
Entered according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1841,
BY JAMES T. DEAN,
In the Clerk's office of the District Court of the Southern District of New York
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 22. After riding out a north-east gale of three days, at anchor in Lyme Haven Bay, we this morning passed the light-house on Cape Henry, and in a few hours afterward, with all sail set to a freshening breeze, saw the land of our fathers fade away in the blue distance.
None but they who have experienced them, can fully know the tenderness of the affections with which one finds himself at last, however long may have been the expectation, thus hurried away from those bound to him by the closest ties of the heart, without a possibility of farther interchange of thought and sympathy, or another last mutual benediction; hurried away for years from all the sweet charities of home, to be exposed to dangers unnumbered, and to meet a destiny unknown. Busy Apprehension whispers her thousands of fears of all that may befal himself, and her tens of thousands of all that may befal those he most loves, before his long absence shall have accomplished its course; till he who ever knew the worth of prayer, must involuntarily seek relief in out-breathings of the heart to Him who knoweth all things, and maketh all work together for good to those who love and serve Him. How high the privilege, how rich the consolation, at such times, of being permitted to look up, though it be only in the secret aspirations of the spirit, to that glorious Being, and of saying unto Him in meekness and serenity, Father! be it unto me and unto mine as seemeth good in thy sight: not my will but thine be done!' How joyous the persuasion that such prayer is heard; and that the protecting power and sanctifying grace of the Omniscient and the Omnipotent will be vouchsafed alike to him who goeth and to those who are left behind! Such, in some faint degree at least, were the aspirations, and such the confidence with which we now gazed by the hour upon the shores rapidly receding from our quickening sail.
Soon the top-sails of a solitary coaster alone broke the regularity of the western horizon: the ocean had already become to us an
'illimitable sea,' and the sun sank from our view in a mass of tossing waters only. While scarce half of his crimsoned disk had thus disappeared, the moon, in the first night of her fulness, rose majestically from the purple mists of the eastern sky, exhibiting a beautiful illustration of a lesson of truth in a favorite hymn :
The unwearied Sun, from day to day,
And publishes to every land
The work of an Almighty hand:
The Moon takes up the wondrous tale,
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 29. A week at sea; but with winds so perseveringly ahead as to have made little advance on our passage. The temperature of May, however, with bright skies and balmy breezes, mornings and evenings of surpassing beauty, and nights of glorious splendor, forbid impatience in thus loitering on our way.
Life at sea can scarce have a remaining novelty for one who has passed years upon its bosom; but there are associations in a first return to it, which come upon the heart with a moving power, and bring with them reflections salutary and sublime. The works of the Deity are every where glorious, and the meanest exhibitions of his creative and upholding power, when rightly contemplated, may well give rise to thoughts too vast for the compass even of an angel's mind; but there are few objects like the broad ocean, in its varied aspects by night and by day, in the calm and in the storm, for impressions of the majesty of the Creator, and the comparative insignificance of man. Did not daily and hourly observation of the character of the majority of those who go down to the sea in ships, and do business in great waters,' too unhappily prove the contrary, it would seem almost impossible that the most careless and unreflecting should not be made, when thrown upon the bosom of the deep, so to feel the sublimity and glory of Him who alone commands the winds and the waves and they obey Him,' and the fearfulness of their dependence on his power, as to have their affections unchangingly fixed in his reverence and love.
In the comparative security of an abode on land, the contemplation of the heavens, too, may well lead to the daily and nightly repetition of the sublime language of the Psalmist : When I consider thy heavens, and the works of thy fingers, the moon and the sun which Thou hast ordained, what is man that Thou art mindful of him, or the son of man that Thou visitest him!' But it is only here, in the midst of the ocean with an unfathomable abyss of waters beneath and around, and no other resting place for the vision but the equally wide spread firmament on high — that the soul can enter fully into its power, and in the deep consciousness of its own littleness and weakness, make application in their full force of the moral lessons it conveys.
As thus witnessed, the teachings of the dawning light and splendor of the rising day; the gorgeous coloring of the setting sun, and sullen broodings of the after darkness on the deep; the peering of unnumbered stars, and coming of the silvery moon; are to the lover of na
ture indescribably fascinating, and ought not to be transitorily profitable to the heart.
At sea, as on shore, the eventide, with its sober shadow, is found to be most favorable for the indulgence of a meditative mood; and in the retirement of my own little apartment, with an open port to command the imagery around, I have mused by the hour, watching with unsated delight the varying shades on sea and sky, from twilight to deep darkness, till the moon, still in her splendor, has made her way from the watery beds of the east, to the unclouded serenity of the zenith; and my thoughts in following her have passed from the dark and fleeting shadows of this life, to the unchanging glory and immortality of that which is to come.
It has been well remarked by an eloquent writer, that the resemblances between natural and spiritual things are such, other evidence aside, as to establish at least a probability that creation and christianity have one and the same author; and that nature wears the appearance of having been actually designed for the illustration of the Bible. 'I look,' he says, 'on the natural firmament, with its glorious inlay of stars, and it is to me, as the breast-plate of the great High Priest, ardent with gems oracular,' from which as from the Urim and Thummim on Aaron's ephod, come messages full of divinity. And when I turn to the page of Scripture and perceive the nicest resemblance between the characters in which this page is written and those which glow before me on the crowded concave, I feel that in trusting myself to the declarations of the Bible, I cling to Him who speaks to me from every point, and by every splendor of the visible universe; whose voice is in the marchings of the planets, and the rushing of whose melodies is in the wings of the day-light.'
Such in a measure at least have been my own readings in the book of nature and O! if there is so much of the shadowings forth of the magnificence and power, the glory and honor of the Deity, in a world of degradation, to a race fallen from its first estate, and if there be still left to man, in his guilt and thraldom, a perception so keen to the beauty and sublimity which throw a halo round the works of God, what flight of the imagination, or what vision of the spirit, can anticipate those revelations of beatitude, which 'eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, but which God hath prepared for them that love Him!'
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 14.-A wreck! a wreck!' cried from aloft this afternoon, broke upon a quietude on board ship, approaching to listlessness and ennui, from a continuance of light winds, verging on an entire calm. I had just been reflecting, in connexion with the total want of incident in our passage thus far, on the length of time one may be at sea, and on the number of voyages, even, that may made, without the occurrence of any of the varied phenomena which are sometimes crowded upon the observation in a single short passage. Though now more than three weeks on the bosom of the Atlantic, nothing had crossed our way worthy of comment: the little peterel gracefully treading the waters in our wake, a nautilus occasionally floating past under the impetus of its purple sail, and the silvery flight of a flying-fish escaping from the foaming furrow of our prow, have been the only external objects, beside the sea and sky, to arrest
even a momentary attention; and I was despairing of meeting with any thing new and exciting, when a cry, never before heard, directed our eager attention toward an object previously seen only on the sand-beach, or amidst the breakers of a rocky shore.
The weather was so near a calm, that the whole ocean seemed one vast mirror, except in the gigantic undulations of a long swell from the north-east, the effect of some late but distant gale in that direction. The wreck was four or five miles to the windward of the ship, and the improbability of being able to reach it before dark, against so light an air as was stirring, added to the certainty almost of its having been long abandoned, led at first to a determination of not making the attempt, and of keeping on our course. Even with a glass it was impossible to make out distinctly its condition; except that it was dismasted and water-logged. At one time, however, it was thought that a small boat could be distinguished near it, and at another, as a sluggish roll afforded a partial view of the deck, that a human form could be discerned; possibilities which by degrees gained such hold on the imagination and feelings, that the fear of abandoning, by any chance, a perishing fellow being to hopeless despair, predominated over every other consideration, and an order to wear ship and beat up to the wreck was given.
It soon became evident, however, that with so little wind the ship could not before night accomplish the intervening distance, and a boat was directed to be lowered, the more speedily to put an end to all suspense in the case. New impulse was thus given to the excitement of feeling already existing, and there was no want of volunteers to accompany the officer in command of the cutter despatched. for myself, mounting midway up the fore-rigging, the better to watch the progress of the boat over the heavy swells of the sea, and the alternate rising, toppling, and sinking again of the helpless object of our search, I gave myself up so fully to the associations induced by the spectacle, that while, in fancy, all the frightful images of privation, suffering and death, in this form, of which I had ever read, crowded before me; despite the dictates of sober reason, and the greater probability of its proving only some long-abandoned craft, without any evidence of a perished crew; I became nervous almost to trembling, in the expectation of some report of misery, if not picture of horror, on the return of the boat. The darkness which soon came brooding over the sea, the light hoisted at the mizzen-peak as a guide to the absent, the irregular gleamings from the lantern with which it was evident they were now examining the wreck, all had a tendency still farther to excite the imagination, and deepen a feeling of gloom; till, at the end of an hour, the plashing of approaching oars, and the prompt response, 'All's well!' to the hail of the ship, at once put an end to our suspense, and a flight to all figments of fancy in the case.
It was the hull of a large brig, for the most part under water, with the appearance of having been weeks, if not months, in the same state. That which had at one time seemed a boat, was a part of the wreck projecting above the water, at some distance from the principal mass; and that which at a distance through a glass presented the outline of a human body, was found to be only the stump of a broken spar. The whole was too far submerged, and too much saturated