Roving has always been, and still is, my ruling passion, the joy of myheart, the very sunshine of my existence. In childhood, in boyhood, andin man's estate I have been a rover; not a mere rambler among the woodyglens and upon the hill-tops of my own native land, but an enthusiasticrover throughout the length and breadth of the wide, wide world.
It was a wild, black night of howling storm, the night on which I wasborn on the foaming bosom of the broad Atlantic Ocean. My father was asea-captain; my grandfather was a sea-captain; my great-grandfather hadbeen a marine. Nobody could tell positively what occupation _his_father had followed; but my dear mother used to assert that he had beena midshipman, whose grandfather, on the mother's side, had been anadmiral in the Royal Navy. At any rate, we knew that as far back as ourfamily could be traced, it had been intimately connected with the greatwatery waste. Indeed, this was the case on both sides of the house; formy mother always went to sea with my father on his long voyages, and sospent the greater part of her life upon the water.
Thus it was, I suppose, that I came to inherit a roving disposition.Soon after I was born, my father, being old, retired from a seafaringlife, purchased a small cottage in a fishing village on the west coastof England, and settled down to spend the evening of his life on theshores of that sea which had for so many years been his home. It wasnot long after this that I began to show the roving spirit that dweltwithin me. For some time past my infant legs had been gaining strength,so that I came to be dissatisfied with rubbing the skin off my chubbyknees by walking on them, and made many attempts to stand up and walklike a man--all of which attempts, however, resulted in my sitting downviolently and in sudden surprise. One day I took advantage of my dearmother's absence to make another effort; and, to my joy, I actuallysucceeded in reaching the doorstep, over which I tumbled into a pool ofmuddy water that lay before my father's cottage door. Ah, how vividly Iremember the horror of my poor mother when she found me sweltering inthe mud amongst a group of cackling ducks, and the tenderness with whichshe stripped off my dripping clothes and washed my dirty little body!From this time forth my rambles became more frequent and, as I grewolder, more distant, until at last I had wandered far and near on theshore and in the woods around our humble dwelling, and did not restcontent until my father bound me apprentice to a coasting-vessel and letme go to sea.
For some years I was happy in visiting the seaports, and in coastingalong the shores, of my native land. My Christian name was Ralph; andmy comrades added to this the name of Rover, in consequence of thepassion which I always evinced for travelling. Rover was not my realname; but as I never received any other, I came at last to answer to itas naturally as to my proper name. And as it is not a bad one, I see nogood reason why I should not introduce myself to the reader as RalphRover. My shipmates were kind, good-natured fellows, and they and I goton very well together. They did, indeed, very frequently make game ofand banter me, but not unkindly; and I overheard them sometimes sayingthat Ralph Rover was a "queer, old-fashioned fellow." This, I mustconfess, surprised me much; and I pondered the saying long, but couldcome at no satisfactory conclusion as to that wherein myold-fashionedness lay. It is true I was a quiet lad, and seldom spokeexcept when spoken to. Moreover, I never could understand the jokes ofmy companions even when they were explained to me, which dulness inapprehension occasioned me much grief. However, I tried to make up forit by smiling and looking pleased when I observed that they werelaughing at some witticism which I had failed to detect. I was alsovery fond of inquiring into the nature of things and their causes, andoften fell into fits of abstraction while thus engaged in my mind. Butin all this I saw nothing that did not seem to be exceedingly natural,and could by no means understand why my comrades should call me "anold-fashioned fellow."
Now, while engaged in the coasting trade I fell in with many seamen whohad travelled to almost every quarter of the globe; and I freely confessthat my heart glowed ardently within me as they recounted their wildadventures in foreign lands--the dreadful storms they had weathered, theappalling dangers they had escaped, the wonderful creatures they hadseen both on the land and in the sea, and the interesting lands andstrange people they had visited. But of all the places of which theytold me, none captivated and charmed my imagination so much as the CoralIslands of the Southern Seas. They told me of thousands of beautiful,fertile islands that had been formed by a small creature called thecoral insect, where summer reigned nearly all the year round, where thetrees were laden with a constant harvest of luxuriant fruit, where theclimate was almost perpetually delightful; yet where, strange to say,men were wild, bloodthirsty savages, excepting in those favoured islesto which the Gospel of our Saviour had been conveyed. These excitingaccounts had so great an effect upon my mind that, when I reached theage of fifteen, I resolved to make a voyage to the South Seas.
I had no little difficulty, at first, in prevailing on my dear parentsto let me go; but when I urged on my father that he would never havebecome a great captain had he remained in the coasting trade, he saw thetruth of what I said and gave his consent. My dear mother, seeing thatmy father had made up his mind, no longer offered opposition to mywishes. "But, oh Ralph!" she said on the day I bade her adieu, "comeback soon to us, my dear boy; for we are getting old now, Ralph, and maynot have many years to live."
I will not take up my readers' time with a minute account of all thatoccurred before I took my final leave of my dear parents. Suffice it tosay that my father placed me under the charge of an old messmate of hisown, a merchant captain, who was on the point of sailing to the SouthSeas in his own ship, the _Arrow_. My mother gave me her blessing and asmall Bible; and her last request was that I would never forget to reada chapter every day and say my prayers, which I promised, with tears inmy eyes, that I would certainly do.
Soon afterwards I went on board the _Arrow_, which was a fine, largeship, and set sail for the islands of the Pacific Ocean.