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(WASHINGTON IRVING.) Washington Irving, of whom America has just reason to be proud, was born in
New York in 1783. He died in the latter part of 1859, full of years and honours.
To one given to day dreaming, and fond of losing himself in reveries, a sea voyage is full of subjects for meditation; but then they are the wonders of the deep and of the air, and rather tend to abstract the mind from worldly themes. I delighted to loll over the quarter railing, or climb to the main-top, of a calm day, and muse for hours together on the tranquil bosom of a summer's sea; to gaze upon the piles of golden clouds just peering above the horizon, fancy them some fairy realms, and people them with a creation of my own; to watch the gentle undulating billows, rolling their silver volumes, as if to die away on those happy shores.
There was a delicious sensation of mingled security and awe with which I looked down, from my giddy height, on the monsters of the deep at their uncouth gambols ;-shoals of porpoises tumbling about the bow of the ship; the grampus slowly heaving his huge form above the surface; or the ravenous shark darting, like a spectre, through the blue waters. My imagination would conjure up all that I had heard or read of the watery world beneath me; of the finny herds that roam its fathomless valleys; of the shapeless monsters that lurk among the very foundations of the earth; and of those wild phantasms that swell the tales of fishermen and sailors.
Sometimes a distant sail, gliding along the edge of the ocean, would be another theme of idle speculation. How interesting this fragment of a world, hastening to rejoin the great mass of existence! What a glorious monument of human invention, which has in a manner triumphed over wind and wave; has brought the ends of the world into communion; has established an interchange of blessings, pouring into the sterile regions of the north all the luxuries of the south ; has diffused the light of knowledge and the charities of cultivated life ; and has thus bound together those scattered portions of the human race, between which nature seemed to have thrown an insurmountable barrier.
We one day descried some shapeless object drifting at a distance. At sea, everything that breaks the monotony of the surrounding expanse attracts attention. It proved to be the mast of a ship that must have been completely wrecked; for there were the remains of handkerchiefs, by which some of the crew had fastened themselves to this spar, to prevent their being washed off by the waves. There was no trace by which the name of the ship could be ascertained. The wreck had evidently drifted about for many months; clusters of shell-fish had fastened about it, and long seaweeds flaunted at its sides. But where, thought I, are the crew? Their struggle has long been over-they have gone down amidst the roar of the tempest—their bones lie whitening among the caverns of the deep. Silence, oblivion, like the waves, have closed over them, and no one can tell the story of their end. What sighs have been wafted after that ship! What prayers offered up at the deserted fireside at home! How often has the mistress, the wife, the mother, pored over the daily news to catch some casual intelligence of this rover of the deep! How has expectation darkened into anxiety-anxiety into dread- and dread into despair! Alas! not one memento may ever return for love to cherish. All that may ever be known, is, that she sailed from her port, “and was never heard of more.”
The sight of this wreck, as usual, gave rise to many dismal anecdotes. This was particularly the case in the evening, when the weather, which had hitherto been fair, began to look wild and threatening, and gave indications of one of those sudden storms which will sometimes break in upon the serenity of a summer voyage. As we sat round the dull light of a lamp in the cabin that made the gloom more ghastly, every one had his tale of shipwreck and disaster.
The storm increased with the night. The sea was lashed into tremendous confusion. There was a fearful, sullen sound of rushing waves and broken surges. Deep called unto deep. At times, the black volume of clouds overhead seemed rent asunder by flashes of lightning wliich quivered along the foaming billows, and made the succedding darkness doubly terrible. The thunders bellowed over the wild waste of waters, and were echoed and prolonged by the mountain waves. As I saw the ship staggering and plunging among these roaring caverns, it seemed miraculous that she regained her balance or preserved her buoyancy. Her yards would dip into the water ; hèf bow was almost buried beneath the waves. Sometimes an impending surge appeared ready to overwhelmi her, and nothing but a dexterous movement of the helin preserved her from the shock.
When I retired to my cabin, the awful scene still followed mė. The whistling of the wind through the rigging sounded liké funétal wailings. The creaking of the masts, the straining and groaning of bulk-heads, as the ship laboured in the weltering sea, were frightful. As I heard the waves rushing along the sides of the ship, and roaring in my very ear, it seemed as if Death were raging round this floating prison, seeking for his prèy: the mere starting of a nail, the yawning of a seam, might give him entrance.
A fine day, however, with a tranquil sea and favouring breeze, soon put all these dismal reflections to flight. It is impossible to resist the gladdening influence of fine weather and fair wind at sea. When the ship is decked out in all her canvas, every sail swelled, and careering gaily over the curling waves, how lofty, how gallant she appears—how shie seems to lord it over the deep!
I might fill å volume with the reveries of a sea voyage, for with me it is almost a continual reverie-but it is time to get to shore.
It was a fine sunny morning when the thrilling cry of “Land !" was given from the mast-head. None but those who have experienced it can form an idea of the delicious throng of sensations which rush into an American's bosom, when he first comes in sight of Europe. There is a volume of associations with the very name. It is the land of promise, teeming with everything of which his childhood has heard, or on which his studious years hiave pondered. From that time until the moment of artival, it iras ali feverish excitement. The ships of war, that prowled like guardian giants along the coast; the headlands of Ireland, stretching out into the Channel; the Welsh mountains, towering into the clouds; all were objects of intense interest. As we sailed up the Mersey, I reconnoitred the shores with a telescope. My eye dwelt with delight on neat cottages, with their trim shrubberies and green grass plots. I saw the mouldering ruin of an abbey overrun with ivy, and the taper spire of a village church, rising from the brow of a neighbouring hill, -all were characteristic of England.
The tide and wind were so favourable that the ship was enabled to come at once to the pier. It was thronged with people; some, idle lookers on; others eager expectants of friends or relatives. I could distinguish the merchant to whom the ship was consigned; I knew him by his calculat
Ι ing brow and restless air. His hands were thrust into his pockets; he was whistling thoughtfully, and walking to and fro, a small space having been accorded him by the crowd, in deference to his temporary importance. There were repeated cheerings and salutations interchanged between the shore and the ship, as friends happened to recognise each other.
I particularly noticed one young woman of humble dress, but interesting demeanour. She was leaning forward from among the crowd ; hurried over the ship as it neared the shore, to catch some wished-for countenance. She seemed disappointed and agitated, when I heard a faint voice call her name. It was from a poor sailor who had been ill all the voyage, and had excited the sympathy of every one on board. When the weather was fine, his messmates had spread a mattress for him on deck in the shade, but of late his illness had so increased, that he had taken to his hammock, and only breathed a wish that he might see his wife before he died. He had been helped on deck as we came up the river, and was now leaning against the shrouds, with a countenance so wasted, so pale, so ghastly, that it was no wonder even the eye of affection did not recognise him. But at the sound of his voice, her eye darted on his features : it read at once a whole volume of sorrow; she uttered a faint shriek, clasped her hands, and stood wringing them in silent agony.
All now was hurry and bustle. The meetings of acquaintances—the greetings of friends—the consultations of men of business. I alone was solitary and idle. I had no friend to meet, no cheering to receive. I stepped upon the land of my forefathers—but felt that I was a stranger in the land.
IX.–VISION OF SUDDEN DEATH.
(THOMAS DE QUINCEY.)
The incident here described occurred while Mr. De Quincey was travelling by
mail-coach, the coachman being asleep, and the pace being about thirteen miles an hour. The morning twilight added to the danger and the suspense.
BEFORE us lay an avenue, straight as an arrow, six hundred yards, perhaps, in length; and the umbrageous trees, which rose in a regular line from either side, meeting high overhead, gave to it the character of a cathedral aisle. These trees lent a deeper solemnity to the early light; but there was still light enough to perceive, at the further end of this Gothic aisle, a light, reedy gig, in which were seated a young man, and by his side a young lady. The little carriage is creeping on at one mile an hour, and the parties within it are naturally bending down their heads. Between them and eternity, to all human calculation, there is but a minute and a half. I shouted, and the young man heard me not. A second time I shouted; and now he heard me, for now he raised his head.
For seven seconds, it might be, of his seventy, the stranger settled his countenance steadfastly upon us, as if to search and value every element in the conflict before him. For five seconds more he sat immovably, like one that mused on some great purpose. For five he sat with eyes upraised, like one that prayed in sorrow, under some extremity of doubt, for wisdom to guide him toward the better choice.
Then suddenly he rose, stood upright, and, by a sudden strain upon the reins, raising his horse's fore-feet from the ground, he slewed him round on the pivot of his hind legs,