There is, perhaps, no contrivance in the wide world more wonderful thana ship--a full-rigged, well-manned, gigantic ship!
Those who regard familiar objects in art and nature as mere matters ofcourse, and do not trouble themselves to wander out of the beaten trackof everyday thought, may not at first feel the force or admit the truthof this statement. Let such folk endeavour to shake themselvesvigorously out of this beaten track of everyday thought. Let them knittheir brows and clench their teeth, and gaze steadfastly into the fire,or up at the sky, and try to realise what is involved in the idea of--aship.
What would the men of old have said, if you had told them that youintended to take yonder large wooden house, launch it upon the sea, andproceed in it out of sight of land for a few days? "Poor fellow," theywould have replied, "you are mad!" Ah! many a wise philosopher has beendeemed mad, not only by men of old, but by men of modern days. This"mad" idea has long since been fulfilled; for what is a ship but awooden house made to float upon the sea, and sail with its inmateshither and thither, at the will of the guiding spirit, over a tracklessunstable ocean for months together? It is a self-sustaining movablehotel upon the sea. It is an oasis in the desert of waters, soskilfully contrived as to be capable of advancing against wind and tide,and of outliving the wildest storms--the bitterest fury of winds andwaves. It is the residence of a community, whose country for the timebeing is the ocean; or, as in the case of the _Great Eastern_ steamship,it is a _town_ with some thousands of inhabitants launched upon thedeep.
Ships are, as it were, the electric sparks of the world, by means ofwhich the superabundance of different countries is carried forth tofill, reciprocally, the voids in each. They are not only the media ofintercourse between the various families of the human race, whereby ourshores are enriched with the produce of other lands, but they are thebearers of inestimable treasures of knowledge from clime to clime, andof gospel light to the uttermost ends of the earth.
But for ships, we should never have heard of the wonders of the coralisles and the beauties of the golden South, or the phenomena andtempests of the icy North. But for ships, the stirring adventures andperils of Magellan, Drake, Cook, etcetera, had never been encountered;and even the far-famed Robinson Crusoe himself had never gladdened, andsaddened, and romantically maddened the heart of youth with his escapes,his fights, his parrots, and his philosophy, as he now does, and as hewill continue to do till the end of time.
Some account, then, of ships and boats, with anecdotes illustrative ofthe perils to which they are frequently exposed, cannot fail, we think,to prove interesting to all, especially to boys, for whose particularedification we now write. Boys, of all creatures in this world, arepassionately fond of boats and ships; they make them of every shape andsize, with every sort of tool, and hack and cut their fingers in theoperation, as we know from early personal experience. They sail them,and wet their garments in so doing, to the well-known sorrow of allright-minded mammas. They lose them, too, and break their hearts,almost, at the calamity. They make little ones when they are little,and big ones when they grow big; and when they grow bigger they notunfrequently forsake the toy for the reality, embark in some noblecraft, and wed the stormy sea.
A word in your ear, reader, at this point. Do not think that becauseyou fall in love with a _ship_ you will naturally and necessarily fallin love with the _sea_! Some do, and some don't: with those who do, itis well; with those who don't, and yet go to sea, it is remarkably ill.Think _philosophically_ about "going to sea," my lads. Try honestly toresist your own inclination _as long as possible_, and only go if youfind that _you can't help it_! In such a case you will probably findthat you are cut out for it--not otherwise. We love the sea with a trueand deep affection, and often have we tossed upon her foam-topped waves;but we don't wish to be a sailor--by no manner of means!
And now, boys, come along, and we will conduct you as pleasantly andprofitably as we can from a ship's cradle, through all her stormyexistence, to her grave.