Page images
PDF
EPUB

been in the habit of rehearsing from day to day, been heard and regarded ? No–for if they had, he should scarce have sustained this hard turn in his fortune. But then,-how had he prayed ? -earnestly, as he used to petition his mother for any thing, when he wanted it against her inclination ? No-he cannot say he had. But her he had actually present before him; now the object of his prayers is far remote from his view ; yet he had often heard his master say, (who, he could not help thinking, must know that God was a spirit, not confined by the incumbrance of flesh as themselves were; and if so, why may he not be virtually present, although they are unable to perceive him. If then he is a purely spiritual being, whose space is diffused through all nature, and truly he believed it must be so, why may he not be ever present with him, and able to hear him; and why should not he himself have a full idea of the being, though not of any corporeal parts or form of God, and so have actually somewhat to be intent upon in his prayers ?-and not do as he had hitherto done, say so many words only upon his knees, which he could not help thinking“ might be as well without either sense or meaning in themselves, as without a proper object in the mind to direct them unto.” By these and similar reflections, he is wrought up to a strain of pious fervour, extremely simple and touching. : “ These thoughts agitated me at least two miles, working stronger and stronger in me; till at length, bursting into tears, Have I been doing nothing, says I, in the sight of God, under the name of prayers, for so many years? Yes, it is certainly so. Well, by the grace of God, it shall be so no longer ; I will try somewhat more. So looking round about me, to see if I was quite alone, I stepped into an adjoining copse, and could scarce refrain falling on my knees, till I came to a proper place for kneeling in. I then poured forth my whole soul and spirit to God; and all my strength, and every member, every faculty, was to the utmost employed, for a considerable time, in the most agreeable as well as useful duty. I would, indeed, have began with my accustomed prayers, and had repeated some words of them ; when, as though against and contrary to my design, I was carried away by such rapturous effusions, that to this hour, when I reflect thereon, I cannot believe but I was moved to them by a much more than human impulse. However, this ecstasy did not last above a quarter of an hour; but it was considerably longer before my spirits subsided to their usual frame. When I had a little composed myself, how was I altered; how did I condemn myself for all my past disquiet! what calm thanks did I return for the ease and satisfaction of mind I then enjoyed! and coming to a small rivulet, I drank a hearty draught of water, and contentedly proceeded on my journey."

Such was the pure and simple devotion of elder and better days, ere men had learnt what it was to feel pride or shame in the worship of the Deity. Alas! that since those times, the

allay of human vanity, and the disgusting cant of hypocrisy, should have had such abundant harvests, as, like the tares in the parable, to have choked the effusions of genuine piety; and constraining us, from mere dread of sinister imputations, to confine our own language within the bounds of a strict and freezing formality, should have made us regard, with coldness or suspicion, every warmer and stronger expression of devotional feeling in others.

After having refreshed himself on his arrival at the seaport—the place of his destination-he walked the same evening down to the key, asking all he met, who looked like sea-faring men, for employment, but without success ; till, at length, he was engaged as ship’s steward, by the master of a vessel, bound for Africa. This person at first shook his head at the softness of Peter's hand, and told him “it would not do ;" but he appears to have felt that our hero's inner man was of a much þardier and more vigorous stamp than his exterior promised. “ I told him I was determined for the sea, and that my hand and heart should go together; and I hoped my hand would soon harden, though not my heart.”

What happened during the first fourteen days of their passage he was unable to say, having been all that time so sick and weak, as scarcely to keep life and soul together. But growing better as they sailed farther, he passed a pleasant interval enough ; till one evening, being within sixty leagues of the Cape of Palmas, in the African seas, calm weather, they espied a strange sail ; and the wind not permitting them to make much way, during night, about peep of dawn they perceived they were infallibly fallen in with a French privateer, who, hoisting French colours, called out to them to strike. The privateer being a light ship, and a small breeze arising, run up close to us; first firing one gun, then another, still calling out to us to strike; but we neither returned fire nor answer, till he came almost within pistol-shot of us, and seeing us a small vessel, thought to board us directly; but then our captain ordered a broadside, and immediately all hands to come on deck ; himself standing there at the time of our first fire with his fusee in his hand, and near him I stood with another.” This unequal fight is maintained with great gallantry, and described with equal spirit, till at length, in a volley of small arms from the privateer, the captain is shot through the heart, when the men begin to droop, and the loss of the ship becomes inevitable. A prisoner on board the Glorieux, he has ample leisure for bitter reflection; being turned into the hold, along with the remainder of the survivors, chained two and two, where they lay till the fetters on their legs had almost eaten to the bone, and. the stench of the place had well nigh suffocated them. At

length, Monsieur finding that his prisoners were too numerous to be trusted, and fearing that, by the great addition of mouths, he might be reduced to short allowance, commits them, without a moment's hesitation, to the number of twenty-one, to the prize's boat; and turns them adrift, with two days' provisions, to shift for themselves. Here, when they came to reflect on their condition, the prospect before them was black enough; though at first they had readily embraced the alternative, rather than remain to perish in a loathsome confinement.

The scene which ensues is painted with a master's hand, and is conceived with all the liveliness and force of actual experience. The gradual declension from the cravings of famine, to the indolence and imbecility of despair, and thence to the furious longings of the cannibal, when each“ began to look with an evil eye upon his fellow,” is worked with such strokes of deep and genuine suffering, as to make us feel, for the moment, all the horrors of their condition; and when, at length, at the sight of a distant sail, they strain their throats but are unable to raise a cry, “ that might be heard fifty yards,” we feel a choking sensation in our own, as if in like manner deprived of the power of utterance.

“ We now judged we were above two hundred leagues from land, in about eight degrees north latitude; and it blowing north-east, a pretty stiff gale, we could make no way, but rather lost, for we aimed at some port in Africa, having neither sail, compass, nor any other instrument to direct us; so that all the observation we could make was by the sun for running southward, or as the wind carried us, for we had lost the north-pole. As we had little above two days' provisions, we perceived a necessity of almost starving voluntarily, to avoid doing it quite; seeing it must be many days before we could reach shore, if ever we did, having visibly driven a great deal more southward than we were; nay, unless a sudden change happened, we were sure of perishing, unless delivered by some ship that Providence might send in our way. In short, the ninth day came, but no relief with it; and though we had lived at quarter allowance, and but just saved life, our food, except a little water, was all gone, and this caused us quite to despair. On the twelfth day four of our company died with hunger, in a very miserable way; and yet the survivors had not strength left to move them to pity their fellows. In truth, we had sat still, attempting nothing in several days; as we found that, unless the wind shifted, we only consumed the little strength we had left to no manner of purpose. On the fourteenth day, and in the night, five more died, and a sixth was near expiring; and yet we, the survivors, were so indolent, we could scarce lend a hand to throw them overboard. On the fifteenth day, in the morning, our carpenter, weak as he was, started up, and as the sixth man was just dead, cut his throat, and, whilst warm, would let out what blood would flow; then pulling off his old jacket, invited us to dinner, and cutting a large

slice off the corpse, devoured it with as much seeming relish as if it had been ox-beef. His example prevailed with the rest of us, one after another, to taste and eat; and as there had been a heavy dew or rain in the night, and we had spread out every thing we had of linen and woollen to receive it, we were a little refreshed by wringing our clothes, and sipping what came from them; after which we covered them up from the sun, stowing them all close together to keep in the moisture, which served us to suck at for two days after, a little and a little at a time; for now we were in greater distress for water than for meat. It has surprised me, many times since, to think how we could make so light a thing of eating our fellow-creature just dead before our eyes; but I will assure you, when we had once tasted, we looked on the blessing to be so great, that we cut and eat with as little remorse as we should have had for feeding on the best meat in an English market: and most certainly, when this corpse had failed, if another had not dropped by fair means, we should have used foul, by murdering one of our number as a supply for the rest.

" Water, as I said before, to moisten our mouths, was now our greatest hardship, for every man had so often drank his own, that we voided scarce any thing but blood, and that but a few drops at a time; our mouths and tongues were quite flayed with drought, and our teeth just falling from our jaws; for, though we had tried, by placing all the dead men's jackets and shirts over one another, to strain some of the sea-water through them by small quantities, yet that would not deprive it of its pernicious qualities; and though it refreshed a little in going down, we were so sick, and strained ourselves so much after it, that it came up again, and made us more miserable than before. Our corpse now stunk so, what was left of it, that we could no longer bear it on board, and every man began to look with an evil eye on his fellow, to think whose turn it would be next; for the carpenter had started the question, and preached us into the necessity of it; and we had agreed, the next morning, to put it to the lot who should be the sacrifice. In this distress of thought, it was so ordered, by good Providence, that, on the twenty-first day, we thought we spied a sail coming from the north-west, which caused us to delay our lots, till we should see whether it would discover us or not: we hung up some jackets upon our oars, to be seen as far off as we could, but had so little strength we could make no way towards it; however, it happened to direct its course so much to our relief, that, an hour before sun-set, it was within a league of us, but seemed to bear away more eastward, and our fear was, that they should not know our distress, for we were not able to make any noise from our throats that might be heard fifty yards; but the carpenter, who was still the best man amongst us, with much ado, getting one of the guns to go off, in less than half an hour she came up with us, and, seeing our deplorable condition, took us all on board, to the number of eleveu, of whom four more died in as many days after.”

We cannot, we think, pass a higher eulogium upon this striking picture of human wretchedness, than by saying, that it

appears to us to contain the sum and substance of a noble poet's description of a similar scene; divested, indeed, of those poetic graces, and touches of finer sentiment, with which his genius has relieved the images of gaunt famine and grim despair, but at the same time unalloyed by the intermixture of any of the levity and drollery with which it has pleased that exquisite player upon the feelings of mankind to burlesque the sufferings of our common nature, and irritate and perplex the mind of his reader. Here we are not cheated into commiseration, to become a mockery even to ourselves ;-here our sympathy may flow on unchecked by any ludicrous or degrading considerations; nor, whilst we deeply feel for fancied woes, is our pity liable to be profaned by the sneer of scorn and the laughter of derision. Grateful as we are, and as every one must be, that speaks our mother tongue, to a.genius, who has with such a lavish and a bounteous hand enriched and adorned our literature, we yet hardly know whether we owe him many thanks for having so sported with our better feelings, and associated in our minds burlesque and ludicrous ideas with the appalling image of human infirmity. To shake our sides with laughter at the follies of men may be true philosophy,—for folly is properly met with derision,—but why else do we suffer ourselves to be wrought upon by scenes of imaginary distress, than for the wholesome exercise of those feelings, which were all the portion that man had left to solace his woes withal, and mitigate the rigour of his fate? In scenes too of this description there lurks a moral, which he who dwells upon in the right spirit of mind shall extract for his soul's medicine ;-it may serve to sober his joys, in the moment of insolent exultation, and check the soaring of his pride, even at its highest pitch of flight. “We know what we are," sighs poor Ophelia,“ but know not what we shall be;" and would that the reflection of her slumbering senses were the deeply seated and ever present thought of our own waking reason. Partakers of the same nature, heirs to the same infirmities, subject to the same mischances, if man scorn and mock his fellow man-heaven befriend him! 'Twere an unreasonable philosophy that should teach us to scoff at our brother's fall, when the gulf down which he has been precipitated may yawn equally for ourselves. It was with a better sentiment, and in a higher view of morality, that the noble poet (if report, that has told so many lies of him, belied him not in this also) was pleased, in his hours of revelry, to quaff rich draughts of wine from the scull of one, who might, in his time, have been a gay and lusty reveller too. To twine the cypress ever round the bowl,—to moderate our exulting spirits by never ceasing reflections on our own decay,—to chasten our joys by the constant remembrance of the miseries of the less happy and less

eason, seated and reflection of henow not what know what his

« PreviousContinue »