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NOTE: This work was previously published in [Etext #2672]
The Complete Writings of Charles Dudley Warner Volume 2

2warn10.txt or 2warn10.zip





Saunterings

By Charles Dudley Warner




MISAPPREHENSIONS CORRECTED

I should not like to ask an indulgent and idle public to saunter
about with me under a misapprehension.  It would be more agreeable to
invite it to go nowhere than somewhere; for almost every one has been
somewhere, and has written about it.  The only compromise I can
suggest is, that we shall go somewhere, and not learn anything about
it.  The instinct of the public against any thing like information in
a volume of this kind is perfectly justifiable; and the reader will
perhaps discover that this is illy adapted for a text-book in
schools, or for the use of competitive candidates in the
civil-service examinations.

Years ago, people used to saunter over the Atlantic, and spend weeks
in filling journals with their monotonous emotions.  That is all
changed now, and there is a misapprehension that the Atlantic has
been practically subdued; but no one ever gets beyond the rolling
forties" without having this impression corrected.

I confess to have been deceived about this Atlantic, the roughest and
windiest of oceans.  If you look at it on the map, it does n't appear
to be much, and, indeed, it is spoken of as a ferry.  What with the
eight and nine days' passages over it, and the laying of the cable,
which annihilates distance, I had the impression that its tedious
three thousand and odd miles had been, somehow, partly done away
with; but they are all there.  When one has sailed a thousand miles
due east and finds that he is then nowhere in particular, but is
still out, pitching about on an uneasy sea, under an inconstant sky,
and that a thousand miles more will not make any perceptible change,
he begins to have some conception of the unconquerable ocean.
Columbus rises in my estimation.

I was feeling uncomfortable that nothing had been done for the memory
of Christopher Columbus, when I heard some months ago that thirty-
seven guns had been fired off for him in Boston.  It is to be hoped
that they were some satisfaction to him.  They were discharged by
countrymen of his, who are justly proud that he should have been
able, after a search of only a few weeks, to find a land where the
hand-organ had never been heard.  The Italians, as a people, have not
profited much by this discovery; not so much, indeed, as the
Spaniards, who got a reputation by it which even now gilds their
decay.  That Columbus was born in Genoa entitles the Italians to
celebrate the great achievement of his life; though why they should
discharge exactly thirty-seven guns I do not know.  Columbus did not
discover the United States: that we partly found ourselves, and
partly bought, and gouged the Mexicans out of.  He did not even
appear to know that there was a continent here.  He discovered the
West Indies, which he thought were the East; and ten guns would be
enough for them.  It is probable that he did open the way to the
discovery of the New World.  If he had waited, however, somebody else
would have discovered it,--perhaps some Englishman; and then we might
have been spared all the old French and Spanish wars.  Columbus let
the Spaniards into the New World; and their civilization has
uniformly been a curse to it.  If he had brought Italians, who
neither at that time showed, nor since have shown, much inclination
to come, we should have had the opera, and made it a paying
institution by this time.  Columbus was evidently a person who liked
to sail about, and did n't care much for consequences.

Perhaps it is not an open question whether Columbus did a good thing
in first coming over here, one that we ought to celebrate with
salutes and dinners.  The Indians never thanked him, for one party.
The Africans had small ground to be gratified for the market he
opened for them.  Here are two continents that had no use for him.
He led Spain into a dance of great expectations, which ended in her
gorgeous ruin.  He introduced tobacco into Europe, and laid the
foundation for more tracts and nervous diseases than the Romans had
in a thousand years.  He introduced the potato into Ireland
indirectly; and that caused such a rapid increase of population, that
the great famine was the result, and an enormous emigration to New
York--hence Tweed and the constituency of the Ring.  Columbus is
really responsible for New York.  He is responsible for our whole
tremendous experiment of democracy, open to all comers, the best
three in five to win.  We cannot yet tell how it is coming out, what
with the foreigners and the communists and the women.  On our great
stage we are playing a piece of mingled tragedy and comedy, with what
denouement we cannot yet say.  If it comes out well, we ought to
erect a monument to Christopher as high as the one at Washington
expects to be; and we presume it is well to fire a salute
occasionally to keep the ancient mariner in mind while we are trying
our great experiment.  And this reminds me that he ought to have had
a naval salute.

There is something almost heroic in the idea of firing off guns for a
man who has been stone-dead for about four centuries.  It must have
had a lively and festive sound in Boston, when the meaning of the
salute was explained.  No one could hear those great guns without a
quicker beating of the heart in gratitude to the great discoverer who
had made Boston possible.  We are trying to "realize" to ourselves
the importance of the 12th of October as an anniversary of our
potential existence.  If any one wants to see how vivid is the
gratitude to Columbus, let him start out among our business-houses
with a subscription-paper to raise money for powder to be exploded in
his honor.  And yet Columbus was a well-meaning man; and if he did
not discover a perfect continent, he found the only one that was
left.

Columbus made voyaging on the Atlantic popular, and is responsible
for much of the delusion concerning it.  Its great practical use in
this fast age is to give one an idea of distance and of monotony.

I have listened in my time with more or less pleasure to very
rollicking songs about the sea, the flashing brine, the spray and the
tempest's roar, the wet sheet and the flowing sea, a life on the
ocean wave, and all the rest of it.  To paraphrase a land proverb,
let me write the songs of the sea, and I care not who goes to sea and
sings 'em.  A square yard of solid ground is worth miles of the
pitching, turbulent stuff.  Its inability to stand still for one
second is the plague of it.  To lie on deck when the sun shines, and
swing up and down, while the waves run hither and thither and toss
their white caps, is all well enough to lie in your narrow berth and
roll from side to side all night long; to walk uphill to your
state-room door, and, when you get there, find you have got to the
bottom of the hill, and opening the door is like lifting up a
trap-door in the floor; to deliberately start for some object, and,
before you know it, to be flung against it like a bag of sand; to
attempt to sit down on your sofa, and find you are sitting up; to
slip and slide and grasp at everything within reach, and to meet
everybody leaning and walking on a slant, as if a heavy wind were
blowing, and the laws of gravitation were reversed; to lie in your
berth, and hear all the dishes on the cabin-table go sousing off
against the wall in a general smash; to sit at table holding your
soup-plate with one hand, and watching for a chance to put your spoon
in when it comes high tide on your side of the dish; to vigilantly
watch, the lurch of the heavy dishes while holding your glass and
your plate and your knife and fork, and not to notice it when Brown,
who sits next you, gets the whole swash of the gravy from the
roast-beef dish on his light-colored pantaloons, and see the look of
dismay that only Brown can assume on such an occasion; to see Mrs.
Brown advance to the table, suddenly stop and hesitate, two waiters
rush at her, with whom she struggles wildly, only to go down in a
heap with them in the opposite corner; to see her partially recover,
but only to shoot back again through her state-room door, and be seen
no more;--all this is quite pleasant and refreshing if you are tired
of land, but you get quite enough of it in a couple of weeks.  You
become, in time, even a little tired of the Jew who goes about
wishing "he vas a veek older;" and the eccentric man, who looks at no
one, and streaks about the cabin and on deck, without any purpose,
and plays shuffle-board alone, always beating himself, and goes on
the deck occasionally through the sky-light instead of by the cabin
door, washes himself at the salt-water pump, and won't sleep in his
state-room, saying he is n't used to sleeping in a bed,--as if the
hard narrow, uneasy shelf of a berth was anything like a bed!--and
you have heard at last pretty nearly all about the officers, and
their twenty and thirty years of sea-life, and every ocean and port
on the habitable globe where they have been.  There comes a day when
you are quite ready for land, and the scream of the "gull" is a
welcome sound.

Even the sailors lose the vivacity of the first of the voyage.  The
first two or three days we had their quaint and half-doleful singing
in chorus as they pulled at the ropes: now they are satisfied with
short ha-ho's, and uncadenced grunts.  It used to be that the leader
sang, in ever-varying lines of nonsense, and the chorus struck in
with fine effect, like this:


"I wish I was in Liverpool town.
     Handy-pan, handy O!

O captain!  where 'd you ship your crew
     Handy-pan, handy O!

Oh!  pull away, my bully crew,
     Handy-pan, handy O!"


There are verses enough of this sort to reach across the Atlantic;
and they are not the worst thing about it either, or the most
tedious.  One learns to respect this ocean, but not to love it; and
he leaves it with mingled feelings about Columbus.

And now, having crossed it,--a fact that cannot be concealed,--let us

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